With pen in hand, I lean forward over the blue, rubber covered table on the top deck of the dive boat to sign the diving log book of one of my Russian customers. Once signed, I reach for the Sea Fun Divers stamp to make the record official and as I place the inky stamp on the paper, I quickly sneak a read of my customer’s comments about his diving experience:
“Ordinary reef. Some eels, some worms.” End of comment.
I resist the urge to open my eyes wide in shock and simultaneously raise my eyebrows and crease my brow thus changing the whole demeanour of my face and perhaps indicate that I had a sneaky little read of his log book. Instead, I place the stamp back in its cover and return the pen to the customer with a subtle smile then get up off the seat and climb back down the ladder fireman style to return the stamp to the enclosed dry area where it belongs. With the majority of my work for the day now complete, I sit down with a hot cup of sweet milo and watch the watery world pass by as our boat steadily propels us back towards Chalong pier, a three hour journey from Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok part of the Phi Phi islands where we have just dived.
As I sip my milo, my customer’s printed words keep flashing before my eyes:
“Ordinary reef. Some eels, some worms.”
I am completely surprised by his experience of the day’s diving which was significantly different to my own. Admittedly, it was not the best diving I had ever experienced at Koh Bida Nai and Koh Bida Nok. We did not see any black tip reef sharks although we waited and looked none were to be seen, the visibility started off amazingly clear but it quickly reduced and became murky limiting sight to around 8 metres and unfortunately other dive boats customers jumped into the water not long after us which meant at times there were more divers around us than fish. But when I looked past all of these distractors, we were still submerged in an amazing world where life flourished and co-existed in a harmony of its own.
From regular diving, my eyes are becoming more adept at seeing and locating more hidden creatures such as tiny nail sized nudibranchs, dancing durban shrimp and even ghost pipefish and seahorses as I learn their regular hiding places. Even in the absence of seeing these harder to find creatures and just looking at the reef with my normal divers eyes, I know I had just seen so much more than an “ordinary reef” with “some eels, some worms."
There were all sorts of corals, staghorn, sea whip, gorgonian fans, table coral, giant sponges and colourful soft corals on rocky walls; shoals of glassfish made holes appear like solid rock; I swam through massive schools of blue striped snapper that I could part with my hands; there were all all sorts of anemone fish everywhere including classic nemo, the pale skunk clownfish and the bright tomato clownfish with its black spot, all not venturing too far from their anemone homes and some coming close to my face in a cute attempt to tell me with fierce tenacity to go away; moorish idols swam gracefully with their long banners streaming above them; lionfish hid against rocks their beautiful but poisonous manes spread out around them dancing ever so softly in the current; a giant moray eel hid its long black-speckled body between and beneath rocks scowling menacingly at me to keep away whilst a cleaner shrimp gently cleared its mouth of dead cells and parasites; colourful parrot fish chomped on coral leaving coral dust in their wake; sleek blue cleaner wrasse swam close to my head eyeing off my ears as possible targets for a nibbling clean feed; bright white nudibranchs slid in unison along the side of a boulder, their small antennae wobbling as they moved along; bashful yellow boxfish with their cute snout-like mouths and wary, wide eyes flutter out of sight to a new hiding spot beneath a coral ledge; a big bright blue-ringed angel fish passed by oblivious to my presence; a banded boxer shrimp gave away its hiding place with its long white antennae extending into the light and into my sight; and I watched little orange and black gobies watch me watch them with their googly eyes before quickly darting into hiding as I approached. This, not even the entire list of what I saw during the day’s dives, is substantially more than “some eels, some worms”.
Sometimes it is easy to lose sight of the magic in the world. There are times that I have dived in places where life seems to be scarce or damaged or polluted and I am all too ready to dismiss it as a boring dive. These are the times when I have to look a little bit harder for the magic but it is there, maybe not in huge proportions or an “in my face” kind of way like some really special places but it is always there. It just depends on how I look at the world around me. I have been privileged to dive in places where I’ve hit the diving jackpot. I have had angelic manta rays soar above my head, alien like mola mola stare at me in disbelief through their giant eyes and I have been literally mobbed by reef sharks and turtles in such numbers that I could not keep count. These dives are the ones that are easy to label as magic and can leave other dives seeming very ordinary but the more I dive, the more I look for the extraordinary in the ordinary. Some days it is enough just to watch the relationship between a pufferfish and a cleaner wrasse, a goby harmoniously guarding the hole of a shrimp, a juvenile yellow box fish with its fluttering dance or porcupine fish shyly blink its giant pretty eyes at me. These are simple but awesome moments that I feel privileged to witness and that capture my heart.
In their song “Wonder”, Lamb wrote:
Lately I find myself amazed,
At all around me, everything I see.
Like all of life’s ablaze with light
That suddenly I see, only now I see.
The wonder, the wonder of it all
More than we know.
Heaven’s not up there
But on earth below.
Indeed, in the underwater world, there is wonder every where. I only hope my customer doesn't miss the wonder of it all for the rest of his diving life.