The world is blue, is green, is yellow as flashes of gold and purple swim by. My heart is racing. My breathing is anxious, until I accept I am being carried effortlessly by the current, a body of flesh like any other in the ocean, both predator and prey. Jeff Foott is giving me the "okay" sign underwater. He is as sleek and elegant as a seal.
All is in motion...my breathing begins to relax...emphasis on the exhale, then the inhale...my lungs are leading my body as my mind is slowly rearranged by everything I see.
Parrotfish. Triggerfish. Angelfish.
Matt Lange, the island manager employed by The Nature Conservancy, dives deep and investigates a large reddish-brown sea cucumber crawling on the bottom. Much of the coral is dead. Jim Maragos, the biologist with the Fish and Wildlife Service, had told us earlier the coral died due to a slug of warm water in 1997 - 1998.
"Coral bleaching," he said. "The warm water stresses the corals, and the pigmented algae that live inside the cells of the corals are expelled. The coral turns white. Sometimes the corals live through it, but most of the time they don't."
When I asked him what caused the warm water, he said, "That is the million dollar question. Global warming is one of the theories."
Jeff and I are snorkeling side by side. The reef is becoming shallower, and we are careful not to bump it. Here, the coral is healthy and vibrant with a myriad of tiny rainbow-colored wrasse darting in and out of coral cavities. Filtered light. Muted hues. I turn and kick to deeper water, a saunter in the sea.
Shark. We had been warned. Black-tipped. This one is about six feet long. I am struck by its elegant design, a silver knife cutting through the water. They say sharks can feel the vibrations of your heartbeat, how rapid or how slow -- I try to casually swim in the opposite direction. The black-tipped reef shark disappears. Within minutes, a round-about of needlefish, hundreds maybe even thousands, circle around us, creating their own column of silver light.