UNDER THE MAGNIFYING GLASS
Their hairy little bodies hang tight around this little piece of coral sticking out of the ground. I had never seen this kind of creature, never mind a cluster of eight-legged spider-looking animals in bright yellow and blue stripes.
The sunrays reached them so well through the crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas that made their little hair sparkle.
Little did I know that I had found and seen something that had yet to be listed on the Reef Creatures book by Humann and DeLoach. They were included in the book several years later in the second edition and yet they are still considered very rare. By then I spotted them twice more, literally known as the Caribbean Sea Spider.
Vincent Van Gogh said that great things are done by a series of small things brought together.
When we explore under the surface of the oceans, we can see the realization of this quote in its fullness. There is something extremely special about how underwater creatures gather and live in unique ways in locations that seem to create flowerful gardens of beauty.
As divers, we are extraordinarily attracted to the big creatures of these oceans. We love to see the swimming turtles, the gliding rays; we hope to catch a glimpse of a shark or many sharks swimming by us. If we are lucky, we can hear the dolphins calling, and we can see them coming and going as they briefly touch us in a quick pause of their passage. We measure the beauty of the dive on the quantity of the animals we have seen but also on their size and magnitude. We travel the world to admire these creatures from closer and closer; to see the whales as they sing their songs, to be in the midst of chaos as birds, sharks, dolphins all gather to feast on the gathering schools of sardines.
We are sometimes trained to hit the water and upon descent to start swimming. We seem to believe that the more surface we cover, the more creatures we will see, and we will be able to tick off our wish lists.
What we do not realize is that we pass over a minute world so intricate that its form is an underwater galaxy. It is an amazing one to look at and to see if we would have to do the same as when we grab a telescope to stare at the stars. We would have to sit still and observe.
At the edge of this galaxy, we will find that all the creatures move at a rhythm that we are unfamiliar with, in a constant relationship with each other, and that should make us wonder and desire for more knowledge.
So, if you may, sit here with me at the edge of my galaxy and see what the magnifying lens brings to our eyes.
Undulating with the rhythm of the water movement, gentle branches of different corals open their little polyps to grab any particle of food within reach, they curl into themselves to open again for the next available one. Confused for plants, these are living creatures, animals; colonies of them to be precise, one like the other, growing and building as they expand like tall buildings in a city, cement block, after cement block. Other corals look like the pattern in that cement, undulated creations reminiscent of human brains, sand dunes and desert roses.
A tablet Van Gogh would have loved more than the one he had available spreads all around the corals in an explosion of shades of purples, reds, oranges, yellows. The different kind of sponge coat the areas left open by the corals. They insert themselves where space is left leaving yet more space for other creatures. Giant barrel sponges are shaped like ancient amphorae, lavender rope sponges crowned by golden zoanthid. A sudden movement makes a giant tunicate close to then reopen as soon as the perceived danger has passed. Branching anemone provides a tented shelter for few squat anemone shrimps and a banded clinging crab. They always hang on the edge of our vision, ready to retreat at the slightest stir, precious when seen.
The flapping white antennas of the Pederson cleaner shrimp advertise their presence like the Tall Boy found outside car dealerships, hoping that the swimming traffic of fish will stop by for a service clean up. A microscopic giant single claw and the delicate red and white striped antennas reveal the presence of a pistol shrimp, able to deliver a little click sound and a tiny electrical jolt through the water to ward off intruders.
A peppermint shrimp sticks its head out of the branching vase sponge and shares its space with a few dozen brittle starfish wrapping their delicate tentacles in and out of each tube. The white beard of a file clam reveals the red hidden behind it only to close too fast for a second look while the Christmas tree worm retreats disturbed by the water movement caused by the clam. One pause, one quiet moment and everything come out again peaking for a safe area. Blue, green and white ruffles crawl slowly in search of sea algae to eat, the Lettuce sea slug camouflage entirely with its food source.
Almost invisible to the human eye tiny mysid shrimp float in and out of the reaching spikes of long spine sea urchin, tucked in for the day, ready to come out when the sun goes down.
Fish swims in and out and all around this universe; it only takes a little time to spot all sorts of species and behaviors. Parrotfish fight amongst themselves, butterfly fish gingerly hang around in pairs as they inspect every niche available, trumpet fish pretends not to be seen while hanging upside down along a soft coral or a sponge, while a grouper clears its passage and a squirrel fish hides into a crevice sending out a vibrating warning: do not come any closer!
With a little patience, spiced with some curiosity and sprinkled with some skills, we can experience a new way of diving. Every dive site will become a new dive site at each visit, every coral head a discovery. Under the magnifying glass, the expanding universe is within arms’ length and yet still full of surprises. The more we look, the more we find, the more we observe, the more we understand, we can start seeing the symbiosis between the different species, the fights, the tolerance and cosmic balance created by nature.
The trick is to become as small as the creatures in it, sometimes as silent or as still as they are.