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Thursday, 30 June 2011

Great Barrier Reef First-Timer - Page 3

Written by Shelly Hallman
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I follow the others to the ocean bottom. We kneel in a circle around Mark. He holds his hand in a fist then opens his palm. A flat worm floats up, no bigger than a centimeter and as thin as paper. Black, decorated with electric blue it’s entire body ripples like the ruffled hem of a young girl’s dress twirling on a dance floor. Somehow I completely forget that I am several meters underwater and breathing out of a strange plastic piece. All of these extraneous details are lost in my fascination with the tiniest of ocean life. There are schools of colorful fish, big fish and zebra-striped fish swimming all about us, but I am spellbound by this thing floating before my eyes.

I focus so intently on imitating Mark’s moves that I forget about the others until one of them swims underneath me or knocks me with their arm. I refocus on Mark just as he stops and makes the sign for stingray, points, then lowers himself down. He nudges the stingray with the tip of his flipper; it stirs from the sandy ocean bottom. Ben freezes, hovering in place as the stingray swims right at him, avoiding him at the last minute, the sides of its body rippling hypnotically.

We all kneel on the ocean floor again. Mark points at us to take our masks off one at a time. Obediently, I take my mask off. I clinch my eyes tight and hold my nose and take a deep breath through my regulator. I blow out through my nose and feel the bubbles dance up my cheeks and over my forehead. Just keep breathing, I tell myself. Time slows to a stand still. I finally feel Mark tap my shoulder, indicating that I can put my mask back on. Slowly, I lift up my mask, thumb held securely in the nosepiece to ensure I don’t put it on upside down. I carefully slip the mask over my head and back onto my face. Pressing the top of my mask against my forehead, I lift my chin up and blow hard out of my nose. Three more blows and my mask is clear of ocean water. I’ve passed my first test, but I know it’s not over. Mark points at Ben and me and motions his hand twice across his throat—the alternate air source sign. My stomach drops. I look at Ben. His brown eyes are calm behind the shield of his diving mask. Riding on his confidence, I mimic Mark’s sign motioning my hand two times across my neck, squelch my fear and take the regulator out of my mouth. As coolly as I can, I reach for Ben’s alternate regulator and put it in my mouth. Air! I’m breathing air again! I’m not dead, I haven’t exploded, I’ve passed the test!

DSCN2408Now that the pressure to not die is gone I fully absorb the alien world surrounding me. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple; all the colors of the rainbow in vivid detail burst from every direction. From the teacup-size yellow fish swimming and twirling in pairs to the deep purple and pearly green of the giant clam that snaps at my hand, the sheer amount of life and color is amazing—just like Craig said. I feel like an astronaut, peacefully floating in space for the first time; truly one of the most wonderful experiences of my life.

©Shelly Hallman

(Page 3 of 3)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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