A Lesson Learned “Unda-da-Sea”

February 7, 2010 at 8:54 pm 9 comments


My fear of sharks has always consumed me. But my recently-discovered love of snorkeling has willed me to overcome my phobia. Living on a tropical island, namely one of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the world almost requires you to frequent the realms of sun, sea, and sand. I was tired of being the only person in my group of friends who stuck to sun-tanning and paddling around in bland water where no fish lived. So, one day I finally decided to learn how to snorkel. Scuba diving was a bit of a stretch for me at the time. Baby steps.

My dad had agreed to teach me. We bought a cheap snorkel and fixed it to an old-but-still-in-good-condition mask we had kicking around. It took about fifteen minutes, a lot of spluttering, and much fiddling with the pipe and mouthpiece contraption. A few gulps of seawater later, I had learned how to breathe through my mouth, and not my nose. This was quite a feat to accomplish, at least in my eyes. My dad seemed to find it all rather funny. There was a specific technique to breathing through a snorkel. You basically had to forget your nose existed. Breathe only through your mouth. And Lord help you if you tried to actually breathe through your nose! If you attempted this with your head above water, your mask would be sucked tightly onto your face like a greedy octopus. If you happened to have your face in the water when you tried to breathe like a normal human being (through your nose) this would lead to a mask full of water and a good amount of spluttering. You’d then have to learn how to “clear your mask”, an involved and splutter-filled process that I’ve still not really mastered.

Despite the choppy start, I realized that snorkeling was actually quite fun. And the sights it revealed were truly incredible. A week later, I went out with my friends on a boat trip to the Rock Islands. They were all glad I’d learned to snorkel and were going to show me all the best spots! I did my best to keep thoughts of sharks and body parts out of my head, and focused on enjoying myself instead.

After an hour and a half of speeding through a watery multitude of blue shades, we reached our first destination. Soft Coral Arch. The name says it all. My eyes saw only colour. Gorgeous pastels, shocking oranges, passionate reds, and regal purples. Every bit of coral was a sculpted masterpiece of nature. No sharks here. How could something so mean and vile ever be found in such a lovely, peaceful place?

About half an hour later, we pulled ourselves wetly back onto the boat. It took twenty minutes to zip over to the next spot: Turtle Cove. Isn’t that a magical name? Here, the water was turquoise above pure sand. Coral heads the size of dinner tables were teeming with colourful life. Graceful hawksbills glided anonymously through the water, in search of something to munch on. I slipped my lime-green flippers on and climbed slowly down the boat’s ladder into the ocean; a big splash would disturb all the cove’s inhabitants.

As I swam over to the first coral head, a sudden pang of fear echoed through my body: Sharks! But I quickly calmed myself down, repeating in my head, “It’s too shallow for them here, anyway. It’s too shallow for them here, anyway. It’s too shallow…”

With thoughts of evil killing machines temporarily barricaded from my mind, I continued snorkeling in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Eventually, it was time for lunch and everybody called me to come back to the boat with them.

“I’d like to stay in a bit longer,” I called back. “If that’s okay.” How ironic, right? Me, of all people, asking to stay in the sea longer.

“Okay. Just be careful, and we’ll keep an eye on you. Just stay in this area, so we can see you.” I smiled at my friends and said, “Thanks” before resuming my snorkeling.

I wasn’t sure if my brain had enough memory space to store all the amazing things I was seeing. Electric blue damselfish, neon pink and orange fish darting in and out of their coral apartments, schools of skipjacks in the deep blue distance. Fat sea cucumbers, timid teal-blue baby clams, dancing seaweed. Everything was alive!

After a little while, I decided to swim back to the boat for a break and a bite to eat. I was nearly there, when my heart almost stopped! About 6 feet in front of me, was a black tip reef shark. A shark! Everything about it was mean. Cold, grey eyes. Cold, grey skin. And those ominous black triangle tips on the fins to warn that it was serious. What was I going to do? Surely one of my friends was about to scream, “Shaaarrkk!” and I’d be hauled out of the water, saving me from my impending death. I waited, heart pounding, hearing only the sound of parrotfish nibbling at coral, but nothing happened. Nobody screamed, Nobody shouted, Nobody pulled me onto the boat, and Nobody threw me a life vest, or a rope, or anything. I was going to die, and Nobody cared.

Just when I thought my life was pretty much over, the rational part of my brain (which must have been about the size of a split-pea at the time) made an effort to kick in. “You know what,” it told me. “That shark isn’t actually doing anything to you. Look at it! It’s just swimming around. It’s not even that close to you, in fact, it’s getting further away. It’s okay, you know. It’s okay.”

The roaring sound which was my breathing reverberating inside the snorkel pipe began to die down. I was becoming calm. Calm, what a concept! I stayed quiet, and floated in one place, watching the animal. It was actually really quite graceful. Kind of majestic, the way a horse is on land. It swam away after a few minutes, but in that short amount of time, I realized that I wasn’t afraid anymore. I guess that old saying, “If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you” was true after all. It made sense.

I did some research later about shark attacks. While they were horrific, they were also accidental. Sharks didn’t live to eat people. They attacked us by mistake. It was all logical. If you swim around with an open wound, what do you expect a shark to do? And if you swim around with a surfboard, looking like a seal, what do you expect a shark to think? And in some ways, I came to see the sharks as the victims, not us. We humans have invaded their habitat. How can we expect them to know we’re not food? We should respect them and their environment, not condemn them for being who they are.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. sarahmunn  |  February 7, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    This is a creative narrative essay I wrote for my Writing class at school.

    Reply
  • 2. Christine Morrison  |  February 14, 2010 at 12:05 am

    Very well done Sarah – once again I could picture the whole thing as seen through your mask. I’ve signed on to get any new additions you put on, and will thoroughly enjoy reading them – thanks so much for sending me the link.

    Reply
    • 3. sarahmunn  |  February 14, 2010 at 1:36 pm

      Great. I’m glad I’ve achieved what I intended! Glad you liked it!

      Reply
  • 4. Cindy  |  February 14, 2010 at 1:29 pm

    Loved reading this article. you Reminded me when we were on our Honeymoon in 1980 in St. Lucia. It was not that long before the movie “Jaws” had made it’s debut. It was the month of May and very hot! I was very scared to go into the water because of sharks. It never crossed my mind there were other things far more dangerous than sharks in the Ocean. Eventually the heat was more bothersome than any old sharks that were waiting to eat me! After sputtering and swallowing sea water as you described, you couldn’t get me out of the water! Of course I ended up with a lovely sun burned back! Great story Sarah 🙂

    Reply
    • 5. sarahmunn  |  February 14, 2010 at 1:38 pm

      That’s cool that my article brought out memories! This was a creative narrative essay I wrote for school. I’m glad you could connect with it!

      Reply
  • 6. Martin  |  February 25, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    Nice writing. I enjoyed the story and obviously the happy ending, thank God. Loved the great and touching reflection at the end.

    Reply
    • 7. sarahmunn  |  February 26, 2010 at 11:24 am

      Thank you. I’m glad you liked it. That was a creative narrative essay I wrote for my Grade 11 Writing class.
      Yes, “shark-discrimination” is a real problem around the world. I definitely wanted to tie in something about that. =)

      Reply
  • 8. Maralyn  |  March 7, 2010 at 10:50 pm

    Lovely little story. I like how you combined the beauty and suspence of the story in a perfect balance. Nice job. 🙂

    Reply
    • 9. sarahmunn  |  March 8, 2010 at 8:14 am

      Thank you. This was also for my Grade 11 writing class. It is a creative, narrative essay, and I liked it, so thought I’d put it up here. I’m trying to get exposure for my writing with this blog, as I want to be a journalist, and later a novelist.
      Keep checking back for more posts!
      =) Sarah

      Reply

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