My feet sink in the sugar sand with my back facing the most beautiful shade of aqua I have ever seen. I stare at the sign above the little worn down building that reads Dive Shack. I walk in searching for answers. This it? The room has dirty white walls with peeling paint and the stench of wet bikinis. “When does the next class start?” I asked the man with dreads. “When eva you want ita start ma’ma.” Oh! Am I actually doing this? My dad kept saying how cool it would be if my first ocean dive was in Jamaica. Now here I am in this shack signing up. No hesitation, just a deep desire to explore the sea. I run to my dad to tell him my decision. He supports me completely and follows quickly behind as I run for the beach.
We sign the paperwork and then I walk back to the “classroom.” The Jamaican man pops a VCR into a TV the size of my math book and as I sit here in my creaking chair I start to learn everything I need to know about sustaining life under the sea. Or as I would like to call it mermaid training.
There is so much information to digest. Most of the video goes into detail about the health risks that may come from scuba diving decompression sickness, the bends, how to equalize, and all these unknown terms.
Decompression sickness is injury due to bubble formation in blood and tissue. Ambient pressure increases at deeper depths, the partial pressure of inspired gases increase proportionately. If you ascend too rapidly, the dissolved nitrogen in the blood and tissue will become supersaturated and form bubbles that cause tissue injury through vascular occlusion, and over activation of blood clotting. Also known as extreme pain. Don’t go down to fast Taylor, I tell myself as the first part of my resort certification class comes to an end.
I keep replaying all of the information in my head over and over again as I leave the room. Dad’s waiting for me with a grin bigger then a Key West sunset. There’s no turning back now Taylor.
Next up; the pool class. Dad just keeps saying how excited he is for me as he escorts me to the 1989 style pool. The pool is shaped like one of those weird beans I refused to eat as a kid. Now I’m depending on this pool to get me ready for my big mermaid debut!
With little to say and the informative video playing on loop in my head I refocus myself to a simpler time, like when I use to pretend to be the little mermaid in the pool. One night dad was reading me the Little Mermaid before bed and I asked my dad if I could be a mermaid one day. He told me I could be anything I wanted to be. We left the book on the bed and headed for the backyard. I was confused since I was technically already tucked in. “Tonight you can be a mermaid.” Dad said. “What do you mean?” Dad picked me up and jumped in the water. We swam for hours. “Excuse me ma’am” says the instructor and just like that my day dream bubble had been burst. I keep this memory close to my mind through out the whole anxious process. At 13 I am finally going to be the closest thing to a mermaid there was! There is no way I’m turning back now.
I’m a Smallback I was meant to do this. I was born to have perpetually salty skin and wet hair.
I walk over to the area with all the scuba tanks and begin. Locate the O ring. Place the BC over the tank with the O ring facing the back of your head. Make sure the tank isn’t too close to the top of the BC so when you tilt your head it doesn’t hit the tank. (This is painful and could potentially knock you out underwater.) Now time to put the regulator on. Remove the dust cap and check the filter. Place the regulator on the tank’s O ring tighten all the way then un-tighten slightly with one flick of your writs. Connect the low-pressure inflator. Make sure your regulator in on your right side and pressure gauges on the left. Purge the regulator and turn on your air. Smell the air, taste the air. Now begin breathing. I check to see if the BC will inflate when I press the red button. This is getting real.
I get in the pool and go through the motions I saw in the video. We sit on the bottom just breathing. He signals for me to take off my mask reach my arm all the way out to the side and put the mask back on. Without hesitation I try. The mask leaves my face and the flood gates open. Water consumes my face. My first reaction is to inhale through my nose. I start to choke and bolt to the surface. My instructor pulls my arm and waves his finger. My eyes tingle from chlorine. I sit back on the bottom and slow my breathing through my regulator. I grasp my mask and put it on I try to clear it. I fail. I try not to panic this time and just try again. I tilt my head back and exhale as hard as I can through my nose. The force of my bubbles shoot all the water out the top of the mask leaving me time to secure it back on my face. I got it!! Still a little water in my nose, I tilt my head back again. Praying that I don’t get cocky and undo what i just proudly accomplished. I exhale again. A stream of bubbles explodes and my mask is clear. I did it, I actually did it. Now don’t make me do that again I think to myself. After what seemed like five minutes the instructor signals to surface. Okay now your ready to dive! That was it??? That’s all there was too it? I’m now trusted to dive underwater, breath artificial air, become the little mermaid. Hmm.. this is questionable.
We make our way to the dive boat with many other tourists from the resort. The instructor comes over to my dad and I and tells me that my dad is going to have to wait here. “Family members are not permitted on your first dive they are a distraction.”
WHAT! No, this can’t be happening I got my certification to dive with my dad… my 6″4 270 pound shark deflector. Now I have clips of shark week running through my mind leaving slashes in my desire to explore the sea. And there goes my confidence. Great.
I can’t let anyone know that I’m freaking out. I think of what moms disapproving remark would be and giggle.I women up and go for it. I enter the boat with my gear and wave goodbye to my grinning dad. Hopefully this won’t be the last time I see you.
We pull away from the marina and my mind hits a brick wall of beautiful. Suddenly all of the sharks swimming in my head vanish. I have never seen this shade of turquoise and emerald. The colors intertwine each other, in and out of the shallow and deep waters. The stark contrast of the rigid mountains pouring into the glassy ocean creates the most breathtaking scenery of this exotic land.
Before I know it the boat begins to slow down and my stomach starts to flip. My scenic tour has come to a pause. The dive master gives instruction to the veterans of the group and sends them on their way. I wait to be the last one off the boat incase there are any undesirables lurking in the water. I get the signal to enter the water. My gear is on and functional the rest is up to me.
Remember what you learned just don’t forget to breath. My lungs fill with the compressed gas and gives me life under the sea. I feel as if I belong to the sea in this moment. My anxiety starts to subside. I grab the anchor line and start to descend.
My ears begin to feel like they are going to explode. Then I hear this voice in the back of my head…equalize, one of the fundamentals to release the pressure. Just assented clear your ears and try again. No big deal. I got this.
I reach cruising depth and being to relax. My breathing is so peaceful. The bubbles tickle as they flee to the surface. Scuba is very therapeutic. Endorphins release and give me a chemical burst of ease and excitement I see the reef, we are so close. It looks dark from here but I’m the last one in the group..
I enjoy floating among the sea. My body feels as if I am flying through a new planet and I have some kind of super power.
I keep right up with the group and explore the five-story reef. There is no marine life in sight. Not a single fish. No grunts, no trumpet fish, no Parrot fish, no grouper, no angelfish. The reef looks like an old western ghost town. There is no sign of life. It’s as if we are looking at the aftermath of a terrible disaster. The reef looks burnt and decaying. I look in disbelief at the lack of color and inhabitance of this beautiful place.
I have heard of overfishing and watched shows with dad about it. I even learned about it in science class. I never thought that the decay was to this extent, I always imagined that it was something that my grandchildren would encounter in many years. But no, its 2009 and the reef is dead. Varying in shades of brown but none the less dead.
I begin to surface slower than all the rest. The voice in my head is back and it is warning me about ascending to fast. The list of reasons why I shouldn’t was longer then the rope that was guiding me. The instructor helps me on the boat and asks me how my first dive was. Was it everything you wanted it to be? I smile and nod with satisfaction. I did it. I completed my first dive with no complications and no shark interactions I would say that is most definitely everything I wanted it to be and more!
I ask my instructor why there was no inhabitance on the reef. He tells me that the people of Jamaica are so poor that they eat anything they can.“Jamaica is the most overfished waters in the Caribbean and probably the world!” the dive master tells me as we make are way back to the resort.
Since the people of Jamaica have over fished for so many years they killed the entire food chain. They even ate the smallest baby reef fish and these fish maintain the reef and give it life. They are the cleaning crew, the baby fish are the reason for recreation and the tools that carry the new coral to their new homes. With no fish to sustain the reef it has decayed over time. The people of Jamaica have bombarded the reef and rapidly removed all reminisce of life. They have been greedy and not given the reef enough time to replenish the damage they have done. So now in place of the once vibrant crowded fish haven sits a dark and gloomy reef graveyard.
In comparison to the rest of the world, the Caribbean’s marine environment has the largest proportion of coral reeds classified at a high risk of extinction. The reefs have experienced an 80 percent reduction in size since the 1970’s. It’s extremely urgent to preserve the now critically endangered Staghorn and Elkhorn corals as the decline in these species is adversely impacting on entire reef systems.
My eyes have been opened to a world that I can’t unsee. I have the bug, all I want to do is be underwater. I want to travel and explore. I must see these coral reefs before there are none left. You have to see the the vast beauty that lies beneath…The world beneath the waves.
A Review of SCUBA Diving Impacts and Implication for Coral … (n.d.). Retrieved October 28, 2016, from http://www.shs-conferences.org/articles/shsconf/pdf/2014/09/shsconf_4ictr2014_01093.pdf
By the 1830s the surface-supplied air helmet was perfected well enough to allow extensive salvage work. “Scuba Diving.” MarineBio Conservation Society ~ Marine Biology, Ocean Life Conservation, Sea Creatures, Biodiversity, Research…, marinebio.org/oceans/scuba/.
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Goprocaribbean. “PADI IDC Skill 1, Demonstrate Scuba Equipment Assembly.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Nov. 2009, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajkch1ugmpi.
“How Long Can A Person Stay Underwater When Scuba Diving?” ScubaDivingSmiles.com, www.scuba-diving-smiles.com/how-long-can-a-person-stay-underwater-when-scuba-diving.html.
Idol, By Jennifer. “The Real-Life Superheroes of Scuba Diving.” Scuba Diving, www.scubadiving.com/real-life-heroes-scuba-diving#page-5.
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“Scuba Diving in Jamaica | Dive Travel Planner | ScubaDiveJamaica.com.” Scuba Dive Jamaica,
Zainal Abidin Siti Zulaiha, Mohamed Badaruddin. “SCUBA Diving Impacts and Implications for Coral Reefs.” A Review of SCUBA Diving Impacts and Implication for Coral Reefs Conservation and Tourism Management.