Sometimes in life I catch myself thinking… “how did I get here?” This feeling only comes when a situation is just so surreal and incredible that I can hardly believe it to be real. I had this feeling the last time I went scuba diving here in Mozambique. The dive boat was flying over the glassy water, launching over smooth rolling waves, while a line of passing rain showers projected rainbows on the horizon in the early morning light. We pulled up to the dive spot, being soaked by a warm sprinkle of rain, to find two humpback whales breaching 30 meters from the boat, a school of tuna crashing baitfish right on the surface, birds swarming over the boat and as the sun peaked out over a cloud a massive double rainbow perfectly framing the green and sand colored dunes of the empty coastline. Yes, Mozambique has incredible scenery.
We geared up and dropped over the side of the boat before descending to 25m. The visibility was fantastic and the reef teeming with coral and fish. I heard the dive guide jiggle his underwater noise maker and frantically point up, signaling everyone to look. Hovering above the reef were two massive manta rays. Imagine a car with wings that is literally flapping and flying underwater. We watched them circle for ten minutes before moving on to further explore. Other highlights of this particular dive were the standard assortment of beautiful eels, tree corals, urchins, starfish, colorful reef fish, lobster, a turtle and a massive grouper about the size of full grown human. While on the boat riding home, we skimmed along the beach looking for whale sharks, and it wasn’t long before the captain stopped, after spotting an enormous shadow moving slowly parallel to the shore. Fins and snorkels were handed out and I jumped into the water to go for a little swim with this monster. The whale shark was peacefully swimming, not noticing the snorkelers at all, as a group of us hovered around this gliding, school bus-sized shark. Suddenly, emerging up from the depths were two more massive sharks, and for next thirty minutes, like a tiny fly compared to the size of a massive animal, I swam next to all three, observing the intricate patterns on the skin, the gaping mouths and the small beady eyes of these majestic creatures. It is quite a humbling experience to see one of these animals from a boat, let alone swim within reach of one.
Mozambique is blessed with some of the most amazing scuba diving in the world. Warm water Indian Ocean currents flow down from the north, between Mozambique and Madagascar, bringing clean tropical water and a tremendous variety of sea life. The remoteness of Mozambique is apparent as well, with hundreds of kilometers of empty, undeveloped coastline and coastal waters largely free of boats and traffic. People tell me that the local fishermen do have a negative effect on the wildlife, but to the ignorant eye, things appear pristine and untouched. Looks can be deceiving, however as I constantly hear reports of Chinese, Japanese and Russian fishing vessels sighted off the coast, dragging nets and long-line fishing, with the odd whaling boat or shark-finning boat seen as well. Mozambique has strict commercial laws protecting their coastal species, but absolutely zero Navy, therefore absolutely zero way of enforcing any of their laws. And if there were opportunities for enforcement, I would not be surprised if corrupted officials looked the other way on quota and size limits. It is a very sad situation to watch something as beautiful as Mozambique’s sea life be destroyed for the fleeting, unsustainable pursuit of economic gain. This is just another aspect of the same story of humanities relationship to the Earth right now; a relationship that is exploitative, species-selfish, ignorant, short sighted and destructive. But actually I wanted to talk about scuba diving. There are several aspects of diving that make it incredible.
Firstly, when underwater, using a weight belt to balance out the buoyancy of the air tank, I am completely weightless. Therefore I have the sensation of floating over the reef, suspended, moving with the ebb and flow of the underwater currents. One of my favorite things to do is hover almost upside down with my head down, one meter from the reef, observing everything in up close detail.
Another aspect that makes diving incredible is the careful attention to breathing. I am hooked up to a regulator and mouthpiece that is my life source underwater. The regulator has certain sounds associated with breathing, a high pitched vacuum like sound on the inhale followed by a gurgling, bubbly exhale as a plume of expired air is released. The cumulative effect of the sounds and experience of breathing through the regulator make the underwater breathing experience extremely meditative. It is very easy to be lulled into a trance like state, hovering weightless with careful attention to the breath. It is wonderfully peaceful and relaxing.
Finally, of course I must talk about the amazing sights and creatures that live below the sea. It is as if a massive jungle, with hundreds of plant species, animals, mountains, flowers, rivers, etc, was living right in your backyard and you had no idea. The first time I went diving I discovered a completely alien world, existing right here, without me ever really knowing about it. The reef ecosystem is so complex, strange, beautiful and diverse, that every time after I dive, I surface with a profound sense of awe and amazement for Natures’ imagination and creativity in the diverse forms that life can take on this planet. If I had to describe the environment underwater using one word only, I would have to say “psychedelic”. The colors of organisms are neon, the patterns on their skins and shells are ridiculously complex and fractal in nature, and everything is buzzing around in the current, constantly changing like a computer visualizer.
Another component of Scuba that I really enjoy is learning about the physics and physiology of being in the underwater environment. The human body is meant to function at normal atmospheric pressures, and to suddenly dive to 2-3 times atmospheric pressure obviously has interesting effects on the body. This is especially important to understand, as I have started diving with NITROX, which is a higher oxygen gas blend. Considering the partial pressures and making calculations is all part of diving, and adds an intellectual component that is fun. Due to the waters effects on light rays, colors are altered as well, making blood appear greenish/black and other cool effects. Underwater, sound waves travel faster than through air. Normally, we sense the direction of sounds due to the slight difference in the time it takes the sound wave to reach each ear drum. Due to the increased speed, underwater sounds appear to come from all directions at once, as the timing mechanism of our brains is thrown off. Often times there will be whales in the vicinity of the dive sites and I hear them singing; loud, slow, mournful sounding songs that I can feel vibrating in my ears and in my chest.
So if you aren’t convinced yet to get dive certified, or to come dive in Mozambique then you clearly do not realize what your missing out on. It is something that is just too amazing to not do.