Erin was brave to learn how to scuba dive and fortunately enjoyed the company of the Tennessee kids and the South Africans. Erin dove at Two Islands, Ribbon Reef #9 and Escape Reef. When we asked Erin what she saw under water, she exclaimed, “Everything!” We learned to identify so many types of coral: fingertip, staghorn, plate, soft, spaghetti, brain, boulder, mushroom, slipper, honeycomb… Have I left any out? We saw lots of parrot fish, sea cucumbers, starfish, clown fish, also known as anemone fish, butterfly fish, rabbit fish, five striped bandits, little damsels in a variety of colors and even reef sharks. Luckily none of us got scraped or stung by anything. Brad told us about one type of coral to avoid (looks like green seaweed) and a cone shell that sends a stinger out 23 cm to paralyze you, so don’t put it in your pocket! We avoided touching any coral or shells, and held our breath when we floated very close over top of the reef. Most of the reef was brown, but some corals were yellow, blue or purple, pink and green. The fish sported the brightest colors: bright yellow, green and electric blue. Even the lips of the giant clams were purple and green.
Brad, the marine biologist on board, helped me overcome my anxieties about snorkeling, and led me through three snorkel opportunities: at the fringe reef of Two Islands, Ribbon Reef No. 9 and the patch reef of Escape Reef, which was the most extensive and amazing. We had the chance to snorkel or dive at Ribbon Reef #3 but it was high tide and the swells were large, so it would have been difficult. Brad took the glass bottom boat out in every reef we visited, and he would point out the names of the corals and fish we saw. He explained about the polyps that extrude or retract, the way corals fight each other for space and depend on the light to live, how most of them latch on to rock, how the algae give them color, how old some of them are (30 year old boulder coral) and how they reproduce.
Erin and I both used the underwater camera while snorkeling and snapped photos of a sting ray, many giant clams (so cool!), many small colorful fish and lots of species of coral. Will upload some of these photos when I get home! My favorite day of discovery was this last snorkel at Escape Reef, because I was amazed at how extensive it was: 30 ft walls covered with coral and then it is like a maze to swim through. You really need to be there in the water in a coral reef to understand what it is really like, and it is an amazing ecosystem to witness and learn about.