One Phenomenal Day
April 3rd, 2011
~ Don Hovers Near the Blue Hole ~ |
Snorkeling For Dinner
Too much wind –
not enough wind – it’s always something! We opted to stay put because our next destination was
uninhabited isolation and the preferred mode of transportation was always free wind, of which
on this day there was none. After a leisurely breakfast, we decided to devote the day to hunting crawfish
and crab. A little islet off the southern end of the mainland looked promising for our prey, and the dingy
got us there in short time.
We spotted a nurse shark snoozing in the shade of the shallows. To Don,
that was the sign that this would be a good place to jump in the water and hunt for tasty crustaceans. Though
nurse sharks were fairly docile, attacks on humans had been recorded.
I’d always thought
Don and I were a good team when we were diving because one of us was brave and one
of us was judicious. I let the brave one go in first.
The seas in the Bahamas
were so crystal clear, it was often difficult to determine depths. Don plopped over the side
fins first, and came to an abrupt halt, confirming the water was only waist deep, and sending the nurse scurrying
away STAT. Don dug the anchor into a sandy patch and, with crossed fingers, I cut the engine (always afraid
it would never again start), put on my snorkel gear and rolled into the watery realm.
Spear Fishing the Invasive Lionfish The first thing we came upon was a lionfish, the beautiful but
invasive Australian species that were highly venomous and, displaced to an area with no natural predators,
were ferociously eating many of the native species. The Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, as
well as the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in the U.S. implored divers to kill
these pests whenever they were encountered.
| ~ Christmas Tree Worms ~
Rules for spear fishing, as well as lobstering in the Bahamas
varied from those of the U.S. In the States, spear guns were legal; however catching lobsters with
them was not allowed. The buggers had to be tickled out of their bunkers and bagged by hand. On this
side of the Gulfstream, spear guns were illegal altogether; only pole spears or Hawaiian
slings were sanctioned, and either could be used for buggin’ in the Bahamas.
Our weapon of choice was the pole spear, basically a long stiff solid rod with a
sharp tip on the business end, and a big rubber loop on the other. Similar to slingshot principles
only in reverse, the loop was stretched forward when grasping the pole and once released, the spear
was thus propelled into the unsuspecting prey. Don was a natural, and in short order the lionfish
was speared and proudly held aloft.
Years ago I had a friend who turned his fondness for fish tanks into a thriving business installing and maintaining saltwater aquariums in doctor’s lobbies, restaurants, and the like.
Back in high school, he’d once had a poignant engagement with a lionfish that resulted in hospitalization,
and this long buried memory surfaced as I watched the pierced but still alive prize
wiggling its way down the pole toward Don’s bare hand. We’d peddled past the
Bullock Harbour clinic, a modest concrete-block facility that, as a remedy for an exceptionally painful
and toxic sting, probably couldn’t administer much more than calamine lotion.
Becoming a bit frantic, I pointed the situation out to the wet warrior. Don turned
the spear around, jerked it and shook it, but the little monster had gravity defying momentum!
Finally, like Monty Python’s French knights, he whipped the pole and catapulted the fatally wounded fish onto the cay. I always wondered what
that poor beast’s last thoughts may have been as it went flying into the light.
We continued snorkeling around the little atoll until Don spied the prey for which we hungered.
Two long antennas poked out of a shallow depression – a (soon to be) dead giveaway of a spiny
lobster in hiding! Don successfully speared it and I efficiently stuffed it in our catch-net. A short
distance from there produced another lobster and two large spider crabs. With dinner bagged, Don turned
his attention to searching for conch.
| ~ This is My Shell! ~ |
There were numerous shells scattered around the sandy floor, but all were gashed open,
already exploited for their tasty morsels. Often, these discarded bulwarks we’d disturbed were
fiercely defended by bravely waved claws stretched out from otherwise impenetrable confines. One creature’s
castoff became another’s comfort.
Box Crab in Action
Having thoroughly explored the little islet, we wended our way over toward the mainland,
and continued snorkeling the shore along this uninhabited end of the island. Each
area bestowed us with a uniquely beguiling experience. Once, while diving down to check
the anchor set, I caught a glimpsed of movement by the fluke, but the sandy floor looked bare
and smooth. I thought perhaps it was sun dapple playing tricks with the mask lens, but I gingerly
probed the area with my spear tip and up popped a palm sized box crab who proceeded to bury himself
in the wink of an eye - leaving no evidence of his excavation.
I got Don’s attention, and then popped the beleaguered crustacean up again,
just so he could witness the speed at which this little creature was able to conceal
his existence. We pried the little Houdini up a few more times until he decided scuttling
away from these two annoying bullies was a better means of escape. Before we could turn to follow
his trail, he’d disappeared somewhere on the vast seabed floor.
Underwater Hot Tubs
We’d conclude our exploration of one area, haul ourselves up into Dinky Duck
and putter over to the next locale where inevitably, another marvel of nature would
unfold. Typically floating in no more than 3-5 feet of water, we encountered one area with
strange underwater depressions in the otherwise featureless sand, each about 10 foot in diameter
and as much as 15 feet deep. The really odd thing about these submerged dips was the noticeably
warmer water they seemed to hold. It felt like sitting in a giant underwater hot tub! Even more
bizarre was that the surrounding, shallower water, which should have absorbed more sunlight and
heat was instead, perceptibly frigid. We never saw any evidence of a possible cause for this contradictory
| ~ Inside a Bait Ball ~ |
Caught in a Bait Ball
Another little jaunt plunged us into the realm of
a giant bait ball. One moment, we were hovering over a pretty pink anemone, and the next,
we were surrounded by a swarm of silver sides, millions of thumb-sized fish in synchronized
motion, so thick it was impossible to see beyond the flashing reflection of their shiny scales.
Usually these little organisms scattered when anything bigger swam near their school, never
daring to get too close lest they be swallowed whole. They were given the fatalistic label
of ‘Bait Fish’ for a reason!
But on this day, at this one place, as one massive community of living organisms,
these sparkling, speeding, comets encircled us with their harmonized, shifting, swirling
underwater dance. Both Don and I were stunned into awed stillness by the spectacle. And then
the judicious one started to wonder if these little swimmers were, in fact being herded by
sharks and would we soon be regarded as the sticky white rice in the sushi.
Hauling ourselves back into the dinghy after each dive had sapped our energy, so
we headed back to Re Metau for our evening meal of fresh crab dip, and grilled lobster.
Though there was no abundance of rainbow colored tropical fish, nor were there acres
of flamboyantly vivid coral reefs, nature nevertheless revealed a profusion of miraculous
phenomena in each little underwater microcosm we explored that day, and all had
served to nourish, astonish, mystify, and delight us.