17 February 2010


2000-year-old Brain Coral, Speyside, Tobago

When I last checked in, it was about mid-way through my stay in Tobago. It was raining at least part of every day, windy (much like Brooklyn this morning), and the waters were dense with suspended particles. Speaking of the moon-like qualities of the coral in my last posting, I learned an important lesson in dive planning a little late in the game: the closer you get to the full Moon, the more detritus is likely to get kicked up into the water, decreasing visibility. It was an unknown unknown to plan around the lunar calendar. (Digression: I'm just reminded of one of my favorite song lyrics from the B52's..."There's a moon in the sky / It's called the Moon." Ahem.)


Every morning I went out to dive, wondering if the visibility would improve. That Saturday was to be our last scheduled day in Speyside, and the moon was to be full. I had secured my Open Water Diver certification. From a technical standpoint, I had more control over the under-sea white balance settings on the borrowed G10 (at the dive master's suggestion, I brought a white hand towel from the hotel in the pocket of my BCD - that's "buoyancy control device" - to set the white balance at the bottom, lest everything turn out a wild shade of turquoise.) We took the speedboat out to a spot off of Little Tobago island, me clutching the cameras to my body as we tipped ourselves backward into the water, and descended down to the coral again and again. (Luckily there weren't too many other divers clamoring for the attentions of the dive master, requesting to dive other sites.)

Each time I saw the coral coming into focus in front of me I had to catch my breath a little. Its scale unnerved me a bit, and it was beautiful in the hazy water. I swam around it, trying to keep still -- the first time I photographed it, I looked up from my camera only to find that I had drifted upward at least 10 feet in only a few seconds. We had since added an extra pound to my weight belt to help stay a bit more stationary. My control underwater improved, but visibility never did despite adding a couple extra days of diving.

By the end of the trip my fears about SCUBA had receded -- save the time when my BCD failed to inflate -- and I would venture to say that I now would actually seek it out. All the better to find the 100,000-year-old clonal sea grass in Spain.

But I'll be sure to check the lunar calendar first.