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Lydia Dibben

Chasing shoals of Stripped Surgeonfish and Sea Bream, they dart through the rocks and into crevices faster than you can move, but that’s half the fun. Every time your head turns there is something new to see; you’re enveloped in this world of flashing colour and movement, saturated with a hazy shade of turquoise. An Eagle ray flies through the water, wings flapping, more graceful than any bird in the sky. Diving below the surface for as long as your lungs allow, watching it all from behind a tempered glass window. Always wanting to be closer; to see better; to be accepted into that world. Before surfacing and releasing the held breath in a burst which pushes the water from your snorkel. You float for a while and something catches your eye; a tiny cuttlefish, about the size of your palm is hovering a few feet away. It’s body is a murky green with flecks of gold and orange surrounding a large silver eye, it seems to be watching you. Kicking your fins gently, you move towards it. Suddenly it shoots away and it’s colour changes, as if electricity is coursing through its body; it’s purple, then blue, then a shimmer of orange and yellow. It stops by a clump of seaweed and fades back to the original green, blending perfectly into the surroundings. A shout comes from a fellow volunteer, they’re in the water a few meters away, beckoning with excitement. You kick down and move towards their pointed finger, nothing jumps to your attention immediately; some rocks, sea grass, sand, a lone parrotfish moving gently from one feeding spot to the next. Then one of the rocks starts to move. You realise what you thought was a rock is actually the shell of a small Hawksbill turtle. It’s beautiful. Alternate flipper strokes propel it through the water, perfectly adapted to life in the ocean. You watch it for a few minutes, diving down once to marvel at the pattern of the shell and scales. As it swims away you wonder if it was born here, if it’s babies are in one of the nests on the island, you hope so.

Such encounters are magical, and a common experience for volunteers here. Countless species live in the waters surrounding Curieuse, you could snorkel everyday for the rest of the year and not run out of new creatures to watch and document. But that’s enough for today, your legs are tired but your mind is alive with new memories. Once back on the boat you hear snippets of excited chatter; turtles, rays, countless fish that need to be researched and identified once back on base. Somebody saw a shark, a large Oceanic Whitetip, just a few meters away from them. You feel a pang of jealousy, this area is a common place for shark sightings, and you looked and looked. But your time will come; just knowing that they’re around, in the same water you swim in lightens your spirits. Everyone is basking in the afternoon sun, sharing what they’ve seen and picking seaweed from hair and hair from masks. The mood is glorious, and you just can’t stop smiling. Back to base; back home.

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