Saturday, March 24, 2012

Bimini: 2 Hours of Turtle Love

Probably the worse thing about Bimini, for us anyways, is being stuck on shore when the weather is beautiful. Duncan and I were more or less stuck for over a week and we going a little stir crazy. Normally we would rent a boat, but the resort is really busy, so we were dry-docked. We went down to the beach each day and enjoyed a swim in the sea, but we were anxious to do some freediving.

Our first day out was a bit of bummer for me, as my first few dives left my sinuses pounding. I kept diving and they loosened a bit, only to get unbearable when I returned to the water post peanut butter and banana sandwich. Having fought this strep throat, flu, cold, and sinus infection thing for nearly 6 weeks, I finally broke down and started a series of antibiotics. I gave it a few days rest, but was missing the ocean like a kid staring at a Christmas present that they cannot open.

We made plans to hit the water with Sean, a former lab manager and I could hardly sleep because I was so darn excited. I got up early to make sure all the gear was ready and paced around waiting for 10:00 am to arrive. We loaded the boat and headed out. We decided just to bring the video camera, as the boat was small and we didn’t want to load it up with gear.

We made our way to the first reef and Sean said we might have a tiny guest as soon as we hit the water. Apparently they had made friends with a small green turtle on the last few visits and like he was on cue, our little friend appeared. Duncan had his legs over the side and the turtle started nibbling on his fins. As we slipped in the water he immediately came to the camera. He swam in circles around us, getting so close to the camera it was difficult to film him at times. I was giggling and chatting with him, completely amazed at his curiosity.

I suggested calling him “Einstein” because if he exhibits this curiosity with another large object (think tiger shark) his luck might not be the same. As I was dancing at the surface with the little green turtle he swam over the dome port and onto the monitor before flopping away. I thought he was going to end up as a new hat for me. Sean and I both laughed loudly through our snorkels.

If you have not seen a green turtle up close they are truly remarkable. They have gentle and inquisitive eyes and delicate little mouths. The markings on their shells are intricate designs with no two exactly alike. When they are small the colors are brighter because they have not been covered with algae, scars or barnacles. They are almost like cartoon characters at this size. Think, “Crush” from Finding Nemo.

I am not sure if Einstein understood what we were or if he was just lonely on his little reef. I say he, but at this size it is difficult to tell gender. He visited Duncan, Sean and I each in turn, giving tons of love to the camera and amusing all of us. We fed him a little snack and he ate until his little belly was full and he was tired of our fishy games.

It was a really special moment, completely wild and very rare. I have seen plenty of turtles on dives, but they usually do not stick around for very long. It is also really nice to see turtles making a come back in the Bahamas now that it is illegal to take them. For many years turtle meat and turtle soup were seen on menus across the islands and considered a delicacy.

We finished our dive after nearly 2 hours in the water and climbed back in the boat. Duncan and I both, were completely blown away and thanked Sean for one of the coolest animal encounters we have ever had. Those moments where you actually connect with a wild animal and communicate without saying a word are moments that define what it is to live. All the money in the world could never buy that and there are no rules, no stress, just two animals at peace with each other and the ocean.

As we enjoyed our peanut butter and Bimini Bread sandwiches we saw some fins in the distance. We pulled anchor and headed to see if they were bottlenose or spotted dolphins. We were all hoping for spotted because they are highly social and will happily play. Unfortunately they were bottlenose and they were in a feeding pattern, so we were of absolutely no interest to them. One showed off a bit doing a small jump behind us and one did a few close passes to check us out. It looked like it had been through the wars and was probably a large male that had seen many a battle over a prize female. They continued on about their business and we headed on our way.

We headed to our next site and warmed up a bit before slipping in. When I put my face in the water all I could see was massive schools of fish. Some artificial wreckage and healthy coral patches have created a sanctuary off the sand flats. Huge schools of grunts, snappers and jacks painted the landscape with a wall of juvenile grunts on one side. I dove down and began exploring the underwater paradise.

My lungs were stretched out and I felt comfortable now lying on the bottom and just watching the show. I found a pair of spot fin butterfly fish and watched them for a while. I love how they are always in pairs; it makes my heart happy to see love on the reef. We found a nurse shark wedged under some wreckage and got it to come out for a snack. Unimpressed by the snack it flicked its tail and left, annoyed no doubt that we had disturbed it.

We worked up and down the reef looking for fish and filming some critters. I followed a trumpet fish as it hung upside down in a feeding posture. There were several male sergeant majors guarding their eggs with the dark blue color morph they take on when doing so. Two spotted moray eels picked up morsels from the snack we left for the nurse shark. They darted in and out trying to get their piece of the pie. Spanish hogfish, yellow tail snapper, banded butterfly fish and blue striped grunts darted in the check out the commotions and enjoy a tidbit of the lobster that was quickly vanishing.

After nearly 3 hours in the water we decided to call it a day. I love salty skin in the sunshine as the breeze washes over, while you zip along over the water. The ocean around Bimini is literally and metaphorically a buried treasure. The lure of Bermuda Triangle, The Road to Atlantis, and random shipwrecks with stories of adventures past, all rest just off the white sand beaches of this island in the stream. There are always new spots to discover and explore, so the island changes for me every time I visit. We headed along the west shore of the south island and started looking for eagle rays. They have been everywhere since we have been here including 6 in the marina just cruising around. Sure enough, just a long the beach we found a large one cruising along. Pretty epic to say, “ let’s go look for eagle rays,” and then go and find them within a minute or two.

1 comment:

  1. Well, that answers my question in your next post!