Experimental Tropical Marine Ecology

Starlit Snorkeling
by -- October 8th, 2009

A tiny, bouncing sea-gerbil steals my heart.

It is 8:00 pm. Stars blink through a curtain of darkness like peepholes to another universe. The water laps calmly against the moored boats and the air is warm and still- perfect for night snorkeling.

Around the dock, the ground is furry with sea grass, sprinkled with white sea urchins that clutch the bottom of mangrove leaves like wide umbrellas. Schools of tiny fish glint blue in the beams of our flashlights; occasionally they dart forward, hitting our faces like bullets. Warily, we wander from the safety of the ladder, alert to the slightest shifting of suspending sediment. Suddenly, our beams illuminate a foot-and-a-half long barracuda that hangs motionless above the grass, waiting. Its long, stretched head shines eerily among the subtle greens and grays. We edge nearer, nearer, nearer, until- zing– it flies through the darkness like a streak of lightning.

Later, we uncover a splindly arrow crab with a tight, triangular body and brittle twig-like legs. Alien, it creeps through the grass like a spider. Then, off the corner of the dock, we glimpse a half-inflated, cream and beige colored puffer fish feeding among the grass. Hovering, tiny wing-like fins beating furiously, its rotund body bounces from reed to reed. I fall in love.

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