Scuba Diving in the Caribbean
Preparing to Dive
Author's Note About This Article
Today we went scuba diving for the very first time. Michelle and I had no plans to do this when we came to the Caribbean Island of St. Croix, but one visit to the dive shop got us on our way. As first time divers, we were not allowed to take cameras, which is a good policy. When you are diving for the first time, all attention must be on doing the things that will make you a successful diver and keep you alive to dive again another day.
I say this to let you know why I have no original photos in this article. After we get certified, I'll be able to photograph the beautiful underwater scenes that we saw today.
Into the Depths of the Caribbean Sea
We stepped off the back of the boat and quickly resurfaced by inflating our buoyancy compensators. This very morning, we had practiced with the scuba gear in a resort pool for an hour. The setting had been safe, controlled, free of any real danger. But this was different. The surface was what the boat’s captain had called, sporty, meaning this was not an ideal day to be floating around in the Caribbean Sea.
Our dive instructor, Matt, signaled for us to begin deflating our vests, allowing us to descend into the blue waters of Scotch Bank, off St. Croix, and a whole new world opened up before us. As we hung suspended below the turbulent surface, my girlfriend, Michelle, and I did a slow high five in celebration. Matt pointed at each of us, then into the depths of a vast, subterranean world, and we began our virgin dive.
Life in the Sea
The Act of Moving Through the Underwater Environment
In retrospect, I see that scuba diving consists of two activities, distinct, yet intertwined. I was floating, flying even, propelling myself through the water with a measure of control that was completely new. Forward, backward and side to side were limitations I had previously taken for granted in the world above. But here, there were no such constraints. I was free to move up and down simply by varying the amount of air in my lungs. This new ability was as liberating to me as throwing the door open would be to a caged bird.
In addition to this freedom of movement was the environment through which we swam. We were diving along a coral reef with a shallow plateau on one side, and a wall on the other, which drops to a maximum depth of over 13,000 feet (2.5 miles), or nearly 4,000 meters. We passed over the wall and gazed into the depths. The coral reef is home to countless species of aquatic life. We moved slowly, watching fish of every color and every combination of colors imaginable. Shellfish hid in crevices, peering out at the intruders into their realm. Spotted eels, bodies buried in silt, heads protruding upward, watched as we passed over.
Exploring the Coral Reef
Maneuvering, Hovering, Changing Depths
When we spotted something we wanted to observe, we hovered, then slowly emptied our lungs which allowed us to drop toward the object of our curiosity. A deep breath carried us upward again, away from the coral structures, where we continued our journey. I wondered at this ability to stop and observe from every possible vantage point, to thoroughly examine a thing or creature, understanding how it survived in its native environment. I imagined what it would be like to have the ability to see the passage of moments in this same way, to hover, not just in space, but in time, to suspend a momentary occurrence, a kiss, a man rescuing a child from a fire, an assassin with his finger on the trigger, to analyze and comprehend the event, then release it to its ultimate conclusion.
Constant breathing through the regulator drowns out any underwater sounds. At one point I held my breath for a few seconds. I heard something, but had no idea what it might be. Later, aboard the boat, other divers asked if we had heard the whales singing. Humpback whales, several miles away, were the sounds I had been listening to.
Too soon, pressure gauges showed our oxygen tanks were getting low. Matt pointed us in a direction I would never have been able to determine on my own, the direction of the boat. Our heads broke the ocean’s surface, and one by one we climbed from the water onto the rear platform of the vessel where gravity reclaimed its hold on our bodies, and we struggled under the weight of scuba gear and against the tossing of waves.
An Underwater Hierarchy of Life
The Unique Qualities of Diving
As I write, I can hear waves rolling onto the beach, a reminder of the subterranean world that dominates this planet, a realm of quietness, of weightlessness and of countless creatures that call it home. I want to go there again, both as an adventure and as a retreat where I can gain new perspectives on living in the moment, truly seeing and comprehending what is going on around me. There are other places we can go and activities we can be involved in that will teach us many of these same lessons, but diving is unique in the sense that where we go, we cannot stay. We are, and always will be foreign observers in that undersea world where man can never be king, a realm with its own, unique hierarchy and way of life.