In 2018 my mom and I traveled to Indonesia, more specifically Bali, to attend a conference on the protection and restoration of our oceans. In fact, that’s actually what the conference was called, “Our Ocean”. During the conference, I had the opportunity to speak with, meet, and present to high-level officials from all around the world on my work designing artificial coral reefs. After the conference, we decided to stay awhile and visit the beautiful surrounding area.
Last year I attended the same summit in Malta, a small dry island in the Mediterranean surrounded by beautiful turquoise waters. During the conference, I made good friends with a Peruvian man by the name of Daniel. Since then I haven’t seen him much; however, despite our separation, I would probably consider him my greatest friend.
On our last day in Bali, Daniel and I awoke early to snorkel and free dive in the beautifully vibrant reef in front of our hotel. I had finished packing up before him so I swam out alone while I waited.
The cool water bathed my skin and woke me from my early morning drowsiness. As I floated on the surface, the colorful world below me was already bustling with activity. As I watched I felt as though I were an eagle soaring over the world looking down upon a sprawling city beneath me, its citizens entirely oblivious to my presence. Every now and then I would startle a fish and it would scurry off before resuming its calm drifting over the reef as though it had forgotten what had startled it all together. As I floated above the reef I spotted a bare sandy patch among ancient coral heads covered in waving anemones like grass blown by the wind. As I passed over the spot, I exhaled the air from my lungs and sank down until finally coming to rest on the patch of pure white sand, and I was enveloped into a world I had previously only experienced from far above.
I was surrounded on all sides by a vast and expansive reef stretching well beyond my perception, leaving my mind to wonder just how far the reef expanded into the deep blue of the abyss. My surroundings were both peaceful and full of activity at the same time. The song of the reef filled my ears with the dull noise of the undersea world, while the occasional click or squeak piercing through the water as if from all sides like an echo with no clear direction. The whole reef seemed to do a waving dance back and forth like a metronome in perfect synchronization to its own tune. The anemones and soft corals waved back and forth and the fish were swung from side to side on an invisible string.
There is something so raw about diving down with nothing but a mask and feeling every movement, every sound, and every change in temperature as the current brings surges of cold water from the deep, and one is bathed in wave after wave of crystal clear water.
When I was sitting as though I was back on land, the strangest thing happens. My perspective completely changed, instead of watching as an eagle completely removed like a distant viewer peering through a window, I was instead a part of this vibrant, living, breathing, microcosm. No longer did I feel like myself, I instead felt as if I was both everything and nothing at the same time. I was no longer just some tourist in a foreign land but instead, just another piece of this submarine universe made up of thousands of living organisms not at all dissimilar to myself. Every care, worry, and sadness just melted away as I rejoiced in my new found company.
Unfortunately just as suddenly as I arrived, I had to return to the world from which I came. As the burning sensation built up in my chest and throat, and the pounding filled my ears I kicked off the sand leaving a puff of white powder suspended in the water. As I reach the surface, I gasp for air and feel the pounding dissipate and my calm restored. I float for a while at the surface as a gentle breeze sweeps across the water and cools me, and the sun bathes me in its light, warming my bare skin. I look down to where I once sat just as the sand is settling back into place as though I were never there.
When Daniel reached where I was floating, I showed my discovery and we spent the rest of the morning diving down and briefly exploring the vibrant living world hidden in front of our hotel, before having to again return to the surface. To this day I will never forget how it felt to truly be part of something so much bigger than myself.