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Diving Off the Map

Diving Off the Map

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Published by Niklas Spitz
the rays of the sun emanate down from the water's shimmering surface in bands of silver-blue crepuscular light as we hang there, a pod of effervescent humans, suspended in time and space
the rays of the sun emanate down from the water's shimmering surface in bands of silver-blue crepuscular light as we hang there, a pod of effervescent humans, suspended in time and space

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Published by: Niklas Spitz on Jul 17, 2012
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04/20/2013

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Diving Off The Map
It’s January 1998. We’re camped at Calabash cay, a remote marine research station on theeastern rim of Turneffe atoll, 51km off the coast of Belize - a group of biologically divers sandand mangrove islands and cays, lagoons, lushseagrass beds, all surrounded and protected by aliving coral reef ring. An exquisite and complex jewel of life in the middle of the Caribbean. This is your archetypal desert island. Pristine, palm lined,sandy bays, lapping turquoise waters. Uninhabited,as yet unspoilt, and there are about a dozen of uspaying “volunteers” camped under the decks of the elevated field operations structures. We’re trained to collect data along standard transects to assess reef habitat types. This meansgoing out to GPS located dive sites in teams of four, descending to the bottom and surveying the specified length and compass baring – one person leading the dive as navigator (D1) onerecording the frequency and species of fish (D2) one coral (D3) and the fourth algae (D4). Oneach subsequent dive, our positions are rotated, two dives a day, a maintenance shift andrecreational dives on Saturday. Also, on the weekends - we party - hard!After the first week of intense training and dive activity, I’m picking up the rhythm, feelingelated - bronzed, fitter and stronger day by day. Once the excruciatingly tacky and patronisingPADI part of the training is over, the diving gets better and better. Sitting on the edge of theboat, “buddy” checks (like, hello, have you got your air turned on?) backs to the water, holdingmask and regulator to face, fins crossed, on the count of 3, roll back, splash, breath, OK signal to captain, check group, hand signal OK to dive, down we go, into the other world. Breath. Slowmotion. Silence.I become adept at buoyancy control, able to hover at close proximity, inverted deep in somecomplex coral garden without impacting my environment. I begin to feel at home in thisfleeting dreamlike world. Of all the extra-ordinary creatures and landscapes here, it’s theSpotted Eagle Ray that fills me most with awe and reverence. The magnificent, slow,undulating motion of their wings, propelling them through the deep blue is nothing less thannuminous. Only in powering after a pair of these regal giants for a closer look, am I struck byhow inept I really am in this environment. They vanish effortlessly into the horizon of visibility
 
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with a few great wing beats. Their power and grace re-calibrates my sense of the mystery andmiracle of creation.Gazing up whilst at a 5 meter decompression safety stop, the rays of the sun emanate downfrom the water's shimmering surface in bands of silver-blue crepuscular light as we hang there, a pod of effervescent humans, suspended in time and space. The boat captain will havespotted the first of several teams approaching the surface by the colony of rising bubbles andidle over to the zone to wait - an ideal time for an already boarded team, to jump off the boatand moon unsuspecting, suspended divers. This is of course recorded in our log books as therare sighting of a school of moonfish. If you’ve ever been caused to laugh out loud under water, you’ll know it doesn’t work so well.[PDA entries]
<< Sat 2/14/98 7:46 am >>it's 7.30 and the mornings work is done. got an hour to chill today before my 1st dive, which being a sat.is a recreational dive. owning a computer means i get to do a comp. dive to 30m with the elite - including the science officer, whom i am tasked to murder! The stipulations being that the murder must becommitted on a rec. dive, with a tampon in a zip-lock bag. I've been waiting a week for the opportunity,whilst all those about me drop like flies and i don't know when it'll be me.<< Sat 2/14/98 11:53 am>>Cool Dive: (32.8m/32mins) "kinky computer passion dive" at Little Calabash with Vicki, Jerry & Kris whomet her watery fate (@ about 25m by tampon in a ziplock)Dramatic deep cliff drop off falling away into the great deep blue.big old greenback turtle. awe inspiring.
I have a clear visual dropping down over Kris silently, head down, fins up, gyrating through the vast body of blue light in a cool calculated descent until facing the hapless officer upside down,and presenting her with the instrument of her elimination, while still below us, the great reefwall reaches off into the twilight of visibility and down into the crushing depths.[Dive Log Book entries]
2/16/98 (am) / Dive 26 / Site “Haddy’s Octopussy” / D4 - AlgaeDepth 22m / Time 31 mins / 29ºCinflator hose stuck again (disconnected and used oral)
 
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Close encounters! Followed most of the dive by large Grey Angel and Queen Trigger fish2/16/98 (pm) / Dive 27 / Site “Slashing Sharks” / D1 - NavigationDepth 12m / Time 37 minsFound abandoned cage trap, drew knife to cut door open and out swam a considerable number of fish -including a large Grey Angel who swam up to my mask to thank me it seemed, before taking off.2/17/98 (am) / Dive 28 / Site “Yellow Jack City” / D2 – FishDepth 21.6m / Time 32 mins / 26ºC Very cool site – extraordinary topography along drop off – steep with spurs, columns, caves and groovybits. The mother of all Barracuda swinging round my feet with school of Jacks in close formation. Coralcliffs and overhangs.2/17/98 (pm) / Dive 29 / Site “Groupie Chicks” / D3 – CoralDepth 8m / Time 39 mins / 27ºCBeautiful, rich and diverse coral gardens. Magnificent spires of Pillar coral
I don’t know who names these dive sites but suspect Kris the marine biologist “ScienceOfficer” who is the most quirky and kinky I suspect, as she powers us out to our dive sitesrocking the helm in her slinky underwear.The evenings are spent barbecuing on the placid backwater lagoon, swimming under the tropical moonlight, catching up on reading or more often just crashing from exhaustion.But did I mention the weekend parties? Most of the kids coming out here are in their late teens, taking a break before going into university and are letting loose. The rum flows andnobody is shy. Theme parties bring out the creativity of limited costume resources from the jungle, everyone rising to the challenge. And as the evenings wear on, the palm fronds fray.Musical sexual positions in the Cabaña and spin the bottle on the pier get pretty wild withforfeits like licking spines, drinking rum out of belly buttons and (ahem) licking the full length of the Science Officer’s inner thigh.After the first month I secure an extended stay, taking on the title of “Equipments Officer”,partly due to a little finesse in my handy man skills and partly due to the “Expedition Leader”

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