French Frigate Shoals, October 8-29, 2006
In the Final Days...
By Andy CollinsÂ
There is something extremely peaceful about scuba diving along a stretch of sand and rubble, moving at less than a snails pace, examining every hole in the surface, every tiny piece of algae or sponge, with only the sound of my breathing. It is a sort of trance state, a meditation upon the oceanâs bottom, and the bounty of life that covers every centimeter of rubble, or the tiny burrows in the sand.
An ascidian (red/brown) and a sponge (orange).
Photo: Andy Collins
During our dive today I probably covered an area equivalent to an average bathroom.Â Most of the time I was laying on the sand bottom staring intently at tiny coral rubble mounds.Â I hardly looked up.Â I paid no attention to the fish.Â I listened only to my rhythmic breathing and I carefully inspected every surface.Â I had no idea of what I was looking at most of the time, I canât even place most of the organisms in the right categories, but this expedition, and the people that specialize in seeing the tiny, the weird and the well camouflaged, have opened my eyes to a strange world that I all but passed by before. It is like the difference between flying over the continental U.S. in an airplane and seeing the large features â the Grand Canyon, a city, a large farm â and actually driving or hiking through those areas and seeing the communities, the rows of corn, and stopping to have a cup of coffee at a small town cafe.Â Most of my previous dives I was flying high, looking at the fish, the corals, all the large features.Â There was an entire world I was passing by.
An ascidian (blue) with symbiotic algae, and a red algae growing on a dead coral branch.
Photo: Andy Collins
When I stopped to smell the algae, I saw tiny sponges in vibrant orange and yellow, an iridescent blue sea squirt with embedded green algae, a fibrous red algae growing like a vine upon the oval sections of a larger green algae.Â On one branch of dead coral the size of my thumb I saw at least five different organisms all competing for a tiny bit of space.Â The layers of life appeared endless, and I knew that what I was seeing were only the organisms that caught my eye, the colorful and the obvious.Â From what I have been seeing in the shipâs wet lab I know that there were so many other organisms camouflaged to perfection, immobile, waiting for my shadow to leave, or the appropriate prey to cross their path.Â In the lab I have seen tiny crabs indiscernible from rocks, translucent shrimp barely visible, and predatory flatworms like an old, dried leaf.Â I have also seen the shrimp, crabs, small crustaceans, worms and unpronounceable critters that live their lives embedded in the porous reef matrix itself, never coming to the surface. Moving on to the next mound inches away, I continue my meditation, and train my mind to see what has evolved over millions of years to not be seen.