We have officially found ourselves in the middle of Directed Research, and the shark habitat assessment crew and I have been spending countless hours snorkeling, face down in lemon shark nursery grounds. After spending that many hours in a place where sharks live, it was surprising to us that we still hadn’t seen a single one. That is, until I had a personal run-in with one the other day. There I was, measuring the vegetation on the sea floor, when all of a sudden I notice a large, dark figure swim up to me from the side. Before I can react, a four-foot nurse shark darts below me, almost grazing my hand with the side of its body. As I shriek into my snorkel with adrenaline in my veins, I remember all of the close encounters that our research crew has had with marine life so far…
Once we discovered a seahorse that found a cozy spot wrapped tightly around my thumb and clung on while I went in search for more. We also found flatworms, swimming through the sandflats. Every now and then, one would clumsily bump into my mask and I quickly realized that flatworms have no knowledge of personal space. Another night, we found sea hares sneakily climbing onto our legs while we sat in the water.
During one night transect, we discovered the most magical critters of all: bioluminescence. After turning off all of our flashlights, we found that the slightest movement in water produced a magical burst of light. Thousands of specks of lights exploded around us while we fluttered our hands and feet through it all. I couldn’t suppress the giggles that escaped my mouth as we sat in the pitch black of night with only the moonlight and the bioluminescence setting us aglow.
Whether it’s a close call with sharks, thumb-hugs from a seahorse, or lighting up the night with glowing bacteria, being out in the field really puts us in the middle of the nature that we came here to find, even when it’s unexpected. I guess that’s what happens when one spends several hours a day with their face in the sea.