I Found Nemo (in the Red Sea)

| April 12, 2012

It seemed that we had found the perfect spot. There was no beach, but a shelf of Red Sea coral that seemed to start from nowhere. The hotel that owned it had built a pier, jutting out into the ocean. The coral reef was practically deserted, apart from two French children jumping off the pier to the 15-foot drop below.

coral shelf

I decided first to get acclimatised to the water and so I climbed down the metal stairs to the left of the pier, I put on my snorkelling mask and had a look in. I immediately pulled my head back. I was sitting on the last step, my legs dangling into the sea and below me was a bottomless pit. If it had not been under water, I would have been sitting on top of Canary Wharf.

The second time I attached my snorkel, braced myself and pushed off from the steps. I have never before appreciated how big the ocean is. It was at this moment I realised I had an inherent fear of open water. The black abyss of the Red Sea seemed to be hiding something, as if that shadow in the not so far off distance could suddenly shift into a shark[1]. I decided to turn my back on it and explore the reefs edge.

fish

My sisters had taken up jumping off the pier. I watched them under the water as they torpedoed down far under the surface upsetting schools of tiny silver fish that littered the ocean. They (the fish) seemed to be constantly darting around, swimming away from some unseen enemy in the anemone (I’ll see myself out). They skimmed through the top layer of coral reef in only about a foot of water. But below them, a rainbow drop of fish.

I was living out a childhood fantasy of being in the Little Mermaid and Finding Nemo at once. Two angel fish (Dory) were kissing in one slight cove, clownfish (Nemo) were swimming around coral columns, butterfly fish, parrot fish, lion fish, a menagerie of colours and sizes. I kept swimming, the only sounds where my own gentle breathing through the snorkel and every now and then a distant splash as another frantic school was disbursed by jumpers.

Underwater photography genius

Amazing Credit Flickr: Tim Sheerman-Chase

I went a little further up to where some sun beams where filtering through the sea, like it does with dust through a window. Here, the black abyss behind me was forgotten. The water, shallower, still had that blue hue, the sort of colour you imagine sea to be when you’re a kid and you’re colouring it in. A long column of coral stuck out far from the wall. Maybe a hundred years ago something had happened to make it separate from its main part or maybe it was last year. The sun beams illuminated the column like a renaissance painting of god’s hand to earth, contrasting the blue background by brightening the fish; around the column what looked like goldfish with purple tails swam peacefully in and out of holes, around the pillar and down deep to the sea floor where I could not see them.

I have no idea how long I watched them for. It is the most peaceful I have ever been in my entire life. Soon though, I decided it was time to swim back to the pier. The fish seemed to have gone hiding in the holes; the sun had passed the post to illuminate some more bits of coral. I turned to swim back facing the abyss once more. I spotted another school of fish further up, frantically swimming as ever. I swam slowly and without much movement behind them, still calm from the fish scene. The jumping had stopped. The ocean seemed impossibly quiet, the abyss pressing in closer into our haven. And that’s when the barracuda attacked the fish in front.

Barracuda

Braver Than Me Credit Flickr: StellaStyles

 

 


 [1] Strangely, a year later this did actually happen snorkeling in the Caribbean. Although on that occasion the shark in question turned out to be a turtle.

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Category: Inspiration

About the Author ()

When I was six, I decided that I was going to be a writer. I would write books in a tree house on a typewriter, my friend Lauren would draw the pictures and my other friend Natalie would send them off to be sold. Fifteen years and one degree in Creative Writing later I’m half way there (I got a typewriter for my 20th birthday), and with a need to see the whole world before I get old, travel writing fits quite neatly into my life plan. Places I want to go to in the next year are China, Japan, India, San Francisco and North London.

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