Saturday, October 19, 2013

Morning Light at the Aquarium

Spending my morning watching the underwater world come to life is one of my favorite experiences. The age old question of, "Do fish sleep?" Is not so easily answered. Let's just say that many tropical fish slow down at night, while others become more active. Watching the exchange as the nocturnal species find their hidey-holes, and the daylight fishes wake up is my first thought as the alarm goes off. 

This morning was a fantastic example of such a day. Fins, snorkel and mask in hand I head toward the water with excited expectation. Best for me is to be there about thirty minutes before the sun crests the water's edge. Finding a chair to take in the beginning of sunrise, I note the rain cloud headed my way, pouring fresh water on the distant jungle plants. In the area of the sunrise is a growing storm cloud. The possibilities are good for a lovely sunrise snorkel session. 
With barely a breeze, the reflection off the bay is strangely still. I note by the water level on the beach that I've arrived at high tide. A sea bird lands not far from me, hungrily eyeing an oblivious crab lazily walking along the sea wall. Colorful dragonflies flit about breakfasting on those irritating no-see-um flying bugs. The jungle birds have awakened with first light and are noisily beginning their day. 

Light is slowly increasing, and it is time to get into the water. In to my knees it occurs to me that the bath water temperature of twenty-eight sounds warm, but when the air is thirty-three, it is still really refreshing. Fins, mask, and finally snorkel give me fish powers, so they go on immediately. Now I'm ready to enter their world. 

Each beach is different. Sometimes the reef is far away, often at resorts it is quite close. Other locations don't have a reef at all, just a collection of rocks scattered about, which is what I'm seeing here. Previous experience at this bay tells me the best location is about thirty meters out. Gentle ankle and hip movements propel and steer while arms are held close to the body to reduce resistance.  

The coral munching noises are already loud this morning. Fish who search for small worms within the corals chomp repeatedly hoping to find a few juicy tidbits, all of which makes the strangest crunching noises. For me this is the sound of my morning accented by my steady breathing and an occasional splash from my fins. 

Occasionally I lift my eyes over the water level to check my heading. I'm using two particularly short palm trees at the other end of the bay as my reference point. While I'm up, I take a quick glance of the sunrise, noting that it is just moments away.

Along the way I experience sometimes extreme water temperature differences. Here in this little bay on Savai'i island, Samoa there are countless hot water vents flowing up from who knows how deep. One hundred years ago a mountain volcano caused a lava flow which covered this part of the island, leaving warm rock below that is still cooling down. Unfortunately visibility suffers thanks to the heat waves created where that warm water meets the cool.

Soon I come up on what I call an "aquarium". This is where magic happens. Usually when I arrive there isn't a whole lot of action. Sometimes I spy a sun-shy eel or two slithering back to their daytime hideaway. Mostly I see normally quite active fish just hovering in a protected area, waiting for the light of day. There are usually early risers who lazily float about with what seems like no real direction. 

As I quietly hover I see plenty of groupers, sergeants, damsels, and wrasses slowly becoming more active.  None of these are especially high in color, but they do dart about in interesting ways. Dotted throughout are some bright parrotfish, butterflyfish, and a pair of huge bannerfish. New to me is a small grouping of Saddled Butterflyfish with the characteristic large black spot behind the dorsal fin and extending to the tail. 

After hovering above the rocky fish heaven for a while I take a tour around the outer rim wondering who else might be hiding. My curiosity is rewarded with a Palolo worm. This one is rather long, perhaps close to a meter, but curled up partially hiding under a rock outcropping. He's rather ugly. I've heard it described as a brown "washing machine hose" with a hydra mouth. In a few days he and his family will spawn and set off a yearly Samoan feeding frenzy. The islanders collect the small worms which are produced seven days after the next full moon in October or November. I wave to him, wondering if his progeny will live to see this same date next year. 

A ray of light catches my eye close to the surface. The first sun beams are beginning to dance through the water. Soon slight movements of my fishy friends are accented by a glint of sun hitting colorful scales. It's here! My moment has arrived! This is what I've been waiting for. In my eyes, this is the perfect time to experience the ocean world. 

Schools of Bream are swishing around me, swooping down en masse into the crevasses of the rocks, coming out one after the other in what looks like a choreographed line dance through the water. A trio of large Moorish Idols add a bit of color to the aquarium, displaying their extra long dorsal fins which flow so beautifully over their backs and sometimes tickle their tail fin. A turquoise Rainbow Wrasse with stripes of purple, pink, and blue moves quite close to me, seemingly having accepted me as just another reef creature. I get a smile on my face when a Triggerfish takes an interest in me, cocking his whole body to the side in an attempt to get a better look at this strange creature invading his territory. This one looks like an artist's idea of an abstract of a fish, identifying him as a Picasso Triggerfish. 

The noise is felt before actually being heard. A low rumbling feeling rolling through the water. I pop my head up a bit to check in the direction of the sun and see what is happening shortly before it starts hitting me. A wave of rain is coming my way from a small but dark cloud. Cool droplets begin hitting my head and back, while underneath the aquarium seems completely undisturbed at the quick downpour. Fat drops hit the water surface and bounce back up a few centimeters as though they are trying to avoid becoming part of the ocean once again. 

Twisting around in the water to get a full view of my surroundings, I see  the suspect cloud from earlier has indeed let loose upon the bay, but it is a small one and the rain will soon be over, in fact it is less intense already. The sunrise is simply spectacular with puffy white storm clouds outlined by the sunlight. 

A quick turn toward my home beach and I see a figure with long legs sitting in my sunrise viewing chair. My Sweet No is there, back from her morning jog, signaling me to join her for breakfast. I make my way back to shore, keeping a close eye on the world unfolding under me with occasional looks up to check my position. On one such look up, a bit of color catches my eye in the area opposite the sun. A longer check reveals a huge rainbow. As I arrive at the shoreline, we both silently look up into the sky to take in this magnificent six color beauty which seems to touch down on each side of the bay. A perfect end to a fantastic morning visit to mother ocean. 


cliff1976 said...

What a beautiful post — loved it!

Goofball said...

Wow for the scenes you describe

wow, for the poetic way of writing it. I think this is your best post up till now!