Sharks and turtles and Bubbles the fish, oh my!by Rachael Crawley Sigsbee
It had been more than a year since my husband, Shane, and I became dive certified on the south shores of Maui during our first trip to the island in 2009. Although we only had six dives under our belts when we returned for our month-long stay in Wailea in December 2010, we quickly eased into the fascinating world of life aquatic.
Dive 7 , Dec. 11, 2010
Molokini Crater, Maui, Hawaii
the reef at Molokini Crater
As we waited for the sun to set and our surface interval (the time divers stay above water between dives) to expire after a late afternoon dive at Molokini Crater, we could only envision the darkness and eerie calm that set on the vibrant, lively reef below. The water was smooth as ice, and almost as cold, too.
Equipped with green glow sticks attached to our tanks and an underwater spotlight in our grips, we slowly descended to the bottom of the ocean floor to find the same reef we dove earlier that day seem entirely unrecognizable. The nocturnal marine life had come out to play, including squid that looked as if belonged among the alien-like inhabitants in the deep crevasses of Mariana Trench. But they were friendly and slow-moving, unlike the other giants that lurked beyond the reef.
Sharks, they told us, were a common sighting at night. The other tropical, friendlier species were not. As we neared the end of the dive (and the end of my air), I began to make an early exit to the surface when we all spotted a six-foot white tip reef shark sitting motionless about 50 yards away. It was our first night dive, and this shark was exactly what we’d descended below to see.
Dive 8, Dec. 18, 2010
Cathedrals II, Lanai, Hawaii
approaching the entry point of the Cathedrals
A two-hour boat ride off the coast of the neighboring island of Lanai, the Cathedrals dive site is home to the only black coral in the world found above 200 feet, attracting divers from around the world looking for a glimpse of the phenomenon.
After entering the chilly waters off the coast of Maui’s southern neighbor, we made our way into a large underwater cavern surrounded by walls of volcanic rock, with minimal light streaming in from small openings in the rock above. (We later learned of fellow divers who were married in this underwater cathedral. Very fitting.)
Upon exiting the room, we swam underneath the black coral that quietly hung from the cavern’s ceiling in stalactite form. With claustrophobia setting in as we finished our first-ever cave dive, I swam toward the nearest exit as my mind began to be overcome with fear of suffocation. But before I made my exit, I was greeted by a curious yellow tang (think Bubbles *bubbles!* from Finding Nemo) about a foot away staring directly into my mask, seeming to find me more interesting than I did him. As it almost always happens on every dive we make, my fears were replaced with fascination with the fearlessness and friendliness of the small reef fish.
Dive 11 , Dec. 23, 2010
Turtle Town, Maui, Hawaii
the boat ride to Turtle Town
We had just finished a morning dive at Molokini Crater where we encountered few marine life due to the large masses of divers and snorkelers that pour into town during the holidays. En route to the next dive location, Turtle Town, not far from the shores of the beaches we frequent in Makena on Maui’s south shore, the boat crew guaranteed a better experience. We found that “better” was an understatement.
Visibility was low (only about 30 feet) due to torrential downpours the previous day, but what we found hiding in the coves at the bottom of the reef didn’t require much visibility. We rounded the first corner of the reef to find a green sea turtle, about 6 feet long and four feet in diameter, just a feet from us resting beneath the overhang of the volcanic rock. Our dive master, Cynthia, later explained that the turtle was probably about 100 years old and had more than likely inhabited these waters for most of her life. We saw two other green sea turtles similar in size on the opposite side of the reef, but not before we encountered the resident baby white tip reef shark.
Cynthia assured us that this shark is a regular among the turtles and keeps to himself for the most part. She led us to his usual hiding spot, but due to the low visibility, I found myself having to inch my way into a tight corner of the reef in order to get a glimpse of the 3-foot-long predator. As the sand settled, I was immediately greeted with two beady eyes and a half-opened mouth lined with razor sharp teeth staring straight at me just a few yards away. Although he made no indication that I was a threat, it only took me about five seconds to make my rapid exit. Needless to say, I would do it again in a heartbeat just for the sheer rush of being up close and personal to the most feared fish in the sea.