Turtles, Sharks, and Lionfish!

I finally got back into scuba diving! I was certified 4 years ago but never had the chance, time, or money to continue the sport. What better opportunity than a summer in the Bahamas, right? I went out for my first open water dive in ages this morning. The first dive was to 90 feet so I decided to stay on the boat…what a mistake. There was a cold front moving through the area and the wind has been unbelievably consistent for the past few days. It feels great on the beach and in preventing the mosquitoes but not good for the dives. The water was rough and choppy. The waves could have easily been 5 foot. It made getting in and out of the water incredibly difficult and staying on the boat even harder! By the afternoon, the weather cleared up and the sun came back out.

My second dive was much better. It was to a spot called Brad’s Mountain. The dive was 45-60 ft deep and had great visibility with the sun shining once again. The water was once again a welcoming light turquoise instead of the cold dark navy blue in the morning. I slowly drifted lower and lower until I started to see the corals and fish. All around and beneath me, I saw schools of fish gliding in and out of the coral formations, cleaning stations filled with little yellow fish, and all sorts of brightly colored fish. As I popped my head into a brain coral jutting out from the sandy floor to take a closer look, I see out of the corner of my eye a large shape along a nearby clearing. The dive master puts his hand up on his head with his fingers up. It took me a few seconds to recognize…he just made the universal sign for a shark! Shortly after we were also fortunate enough to see a turtle up close and personal! I saw its head beneath a jagged rock formation only a few feet away. It had the most beautiful pale green color and was lined with black spots. As more divers started to congregate around the turtle, you could see the fear and survival instinct set in as it bolted out beneath its shelter and right through the wall of divers. We also saw a fully extended lion fish. But unfortunately I could only feel sadness while enjoying their beauty knowing they are as detrimental to the local ecosystem as they are magnificent.

The name is derived from the red and white poisonous spikes that form a lion-like mane around the fish. Lionfish are invasive species from the India and Pacific Ocean. They are fierce predators and can severely hurt the local reef fish populations. One study by Mark Hixon from Oregan State University found lionfish can kill up to 75% of local fish populations in just five weeks! I had an great time down there and saw an incredibly diverse ecosystem; I can only hope this will continue for the island’s burgeoning eco-tourism industry, its environmental health, and its fisherman. As my oxygen dropped below 1000 psi, I made my way back to the boat and started a slow ascent for the surface.