The first day I ever went scuba diving in the ocean was just off the Florida Keys back in 2007. I was so excited and nervous, but I dove right in. I knew there was a whole other world going on under the surface that I just had to see. As we sunk deeper and deeper, I was mystified by all of the fish, turtles and corals I was seeing. It was like a real-life Disney movie, playing before my mask. You could see the dramas of life for a fish unfold, as there were builders and destroyers, mutualistic relationships and enemies, and lastly, nomads and home-bodies. It’s not that different than watching the drama unfold in an afternoon of people watching in Manhattan. As I began swimming through a wide limestone tunnel in the reef, I turned to the left to see the biggest fish I had seen up until this point in my life: a Goliath Grouper! I quickly moved backwards and lost track of my buoyancy, causing me to rise head-first into the ceiling of the coral reef arch above me. Ouch!
Moments later, I woke up to a headache and the same giant fish in my face; He was not phased by my dramatic reaction. He was probably just wondering what weird animal was freaking out in his tunnel. Goliath Groupers have earth-toned colors with spotty scales while reaching 9 feet long and 800 lbs. Yeah, it’s a pretty big fish. The Goliath Grouper that I encountered looked like he would have been an excellent tuba player with the big, plump lips he was rockin’. He opened and shut his mouth every couple of seconds in order to respire, while motionless under his ledge. Each time his mouth opened, I imagined how he could just yawn and I would be swallowed hole.
By this time, which probably all happened in 2 minutes but felt like 30, my instructor swam by shaking his head and laughing to the point of making a bubble cloud in front of his face. He knew I was okay and didn’t want to over-react, causing me to give up and head back up to the boat. He wanted me to know that if accidents happen, that I needed to trust myself to stay calm and in control. I felt proud of myself for gaining control and not giving up on my lesson. My scuba instructor put his hands out wide, shaking them like jazz hands, to express how impressed he was with the size of this fish. He pulled me in closer to point out his gills and tail.
I remember the grouper’s eye watching us the whole time, as though he was aware of our curiosity, but was not afraid of our presence. I said ‘thank you’ to the fish for letting us hang out with him and we swam off to our next adventure.
Since that first dive, I have had many exciting and scary experiences while scuba diving around the world. But nothing will stop me from jumping right back in; even if it’s a deep dive, a shark dive or a dive where I must swim through another coral tunnel. Who knew that 4 years and 80 dives later, I would have a similar scary experience while diving, but this time, with an octopus.
But more on that next time!