During one of the Open Water certification dives, one of the volunteers hadn’t been able to complete all of the skills, because she’d had problems with her ears. This meant that she was a little bit behind the others and needed an extra dive to catch up once her ears had had some time out of the water. Jenny invited anyone else who wanted to come for a snorkel out to the back-reef (so still inside the lagoon) whilst she and Cannelle did the Open Water dive. A whole bunch of us, all desperate to get into the water at any opportunity, decided to join.
The site that we went to is called Barracuda Patch and is very aptly named as almost every time we go I see huge barracuda. They are massive. At least three or four feet long and they have such mean, snarly looking faces. Pretty epic to see if you ask me. This site is actually better to snorkel than to dive in my opinion, because the water is only about three metres deep so diving does feel a little bit pointless. When you snorkel you can duck down below the water to look in nooks and crannies, but you also get a better overall look of the reef. The water was clearing up and the visibility was improving as the waters got less rough so it was lovely conditions for a snorkel. We larked about for about forty minutes, when we started to head back towards the boat so we would be there when Jenny and Cannelle surfaced from their dive. As I approached the boat I saw Justin who popped his head up out the water and said casually,
“Oh you missed the manatee,” there was a moment when the world stood still.
“Are you serious?” I asked, not trusting Justin. He was the kind of guy who would say that just because he thought it was funny.
“Yeah of course,” he said.
“Where is it?” I asked, desperation edging into my voice.
“Over that way,” he said pointing about fifty metres away where I could see Ben’s snorkel poking out of the water. I didn’t miss a beat. I plunged my head down below the water and started swimming in that direction as fast as I could. I was swimming into the current and I could feel the strength of the water pushing me backwards as I fought against it. My heart was pounding in my chest, but whether it was from physical exertion or from the adrenaline coursing through me I couldn’t know. My snorkel is prone to leaking and I just prayed that it would last the journey without flooding my mouth with seawater. Time was precious and I wasn’t sure if I’d make it to the manatee before it disappeared. I didn’t even know if anyone could still see it.
I glanced up out the water and saw Ben was nearby. I slowed my swimming down and saw a bulbous gleam up ahead of me. I was panting through my tube and watched as the most incredible manatee loomed into sight. She swivelled herself around using her large paddle-like fins to get a better look at us. Her movements were slow and graceful. Surprisingly so for such a large and unwieldy creature. All I could hear was the noise of my own breathing and I could only feel the reverberation of my heard thudding in my chest. At one point I vaguely recall turning on my GoPro and holding it in the general direction of the manatee, checking once that she was in the frame but not wanting to watch her through the screen. I wanted to be with her in the moment, not through the medium of a lens.
After she’d had enough of us she turned and swam away, further into the sea grass.