This is my final dispatch from Palmyra, a paradise unimaginable. Looking back, a week ago, I was nervous about entering the ocean. This afternoon, I could hardly wait to put on my mask and flippers to snorkel in the lagoon to see what was below. As a desert dweller, I realize I have never grasped the fact that we live on a water planet. I am just beginning to understand that now.
For me, the magic of Palmyra Atoll is found in the Coral Garden. The colors of the coral alone stop your heart: pink, purple, blue, gold, and green. Gliding over the garden, face down, you are inches away from the staggered terraces of table coral and staghorn, both in the genus Acropora. Tiny wrasses and gobies dart in and out like flames. Snorkeling through schools of angelfish and butterflyfish is like strolling through an art gallery in motion; each fish is a miniature abstract painting, yellow, white, and black. There is even a picassofish, who embodies the work of the famed artist. A little bird wrasse, turquoise-green, with a long, pointed beak, flies through the reef; its dorsal fins are wings. Pastel parrotfish gnaw on coral; we can thank them for creating sand. A striped damselfish keeps swimming up to my mask until I have no choice but to follow him.
Chouinard asks the right questions: "Why is every fish so outrageous? Why aren't they all silver? Why is America so bent on making everything the same?"
Coral reefs are a beautiful display of diversity. Each fish, large and small; each species of coral has its own special niche. And it all blends together perfectly.
"There is no fashion confusion," Yvon said smiling.
Jim Maragos, a world expert on Pacific corals, tells us this is the most beautiful, most pristine coral pool he has seen in his life. Of the 60 to 70 species found here, he has not found 20 of them anywhere else.