My name is Alex. I’m a biologist. I’ve wanted to be a diver since I was 8 years old when I was rummaging in the basement one day and uncovered a mildewy copy of a book by Hans Hass. Hans Hass is famous as a pioneer of under water colour photography. Sharks, stingrays, morays and giant mussels filled every page, and from that moment I was hooked!
So when people now ask me, “Why Carriacou?”, my answer is the same – from the first dive, I just loved this place – like that 8 year old back then, I was hooked! You see, I’m a dive guide and instructor now – after years of half-hearted office careers, I have finally come full circle, and I’m that person now that I wanted to be when I was a child. I love Carriacou – it’s homely and cozy and quiet – and I love sharing its treasures with people. Carriacou is like what the Caribbean used to be like years and years ago, both above and below the surface.
Above the surface you will find relaxed life, small shops and bars, a few hotels and restaurants, nothing of the overblown scale on some other Caribbean islands. Carriacou doesn’t go in for tourism or glitziness big style – fewer than a couple of thousand tourists find their way here each year, and only a fraction of them are divers. There are no cattle boats here. Don’t let that mislead you though – under water is pandemonium!
As you drop below the surface, aquatic life proliferates everywhere you look. A thousand creole wrasse make their way busily along the reef – a ribbon of blue purple fish swimming three abreast. I’m guiding the dive, so I stop to let them past. As we’re in their element I feel that they have right of way here. The adult creole wrasse are followed by a disordered school of pale blue juveniles, all mixed up with some hundred or so brown chromis that have decided to come along for the ride. These guys are what I call the usual suspects – they are everywhere on the reef, like a huge flock of small greyish brown birds, busying themselves picking minuscule fragments out of the water.
Then there are the tomtates and the smallmouth grunts bunching together, and, as a school of redfin parrotfish passes, it makes such a beautiful picture, I turn to my guest divers, with a gesture that says, “Look – look all around you! Isn’t that beautiful!” It’s hard to signal something like this – I settle for a sweeping gesture, which leaves me hovering, arms wide, but I think my meaning must have got through, because both my divers stop, look and nod enthusiastically.
As we carry on along the reef wall, one of the divers stops, then bangs on her tank. She has found a chain moray – it’s black with yellow chain-like markings – one of the most beautiful of the moray eels! As we approach it withdraws into its hole in the reef, but as we wait patiently the head reappears, mouth opening and closing. This is not a sign of aggression, but simply the way the eel breathes.
As I look around, I see that the eel shares its portion of the reef with others: a cleaning goby perches on one side of the eel’s retreat, and I can see two red banded coral shrimp and a tiny tiny Pederson shrimp nearby – a macro village. A little bit further on I spot the waving antennae of a lobster. I bang my tank to get my divers’ attention and waggle two fingers above my forehead. As we come closer we realise that we have found a lobster family – we count one, two, three… eight lobsters, all different sizes, from a giant granddaddy to a juvenile less that 4 inches long. We pass on from the lobsters and I see a flash of blue – there it is again… a queen triggerfish, turning and posing. These beautiful fish look like they are the work of an artist.
At this point, I feel a tug on my fin. One of my divers has reached half a tank – it’s time to turn around and make our way back to the boat. I lead the turn and ascend to a shallower depth.
At 10 meters (33 feet) we are near the reef top now, and new vistas open up: ferns, dotted here and there with flamingo tongues, small princess and stoplight parrotfish.
Visibility is good today, and some way away I can see a large porcupine fish rapidly retreating. I turn back and scan the reef beneath me – now, here is a familiar shape!
Before the thought has fully formed in my mind, I’m already banging on my tank: the shape that has caught my attention is the tail of a nurse shark, asleep in a crevice in the reef. Nurse sharks can grow up to 10 feet long, and this one’s a big guy – no worries though, because these sharks don’t have any teeth – their diet consists mostly of crustaceans. I can tell everybody is really excited by the shark – lots of bubbles are swirling away above us!
At this point I check my divers’ air one last time – 60 bar, not bad. I see a familiar expanse of finger coral stretching away like rolling hills and I know we’re not far from the mooring. I look up to the surface and see the reassuring shape of our boat. I turn to my divers and signal for a safety stop – I see a moment of resignation on their eyes, but hey, even the best dives have to end! We have been in the water for 55 minutes averaging around 15 meters (50 feet) in depth.
As we come up everybody is really excited.
“Did you see the shark?”
“How many lobsters??!”
“Oh my God, that was awesome!!!”
Everyone goes a little bit quiet at this point, as if only just realising that this was the last dive, and tomorrow afternoon they will be flying home. Still, by the time we get back to the dive centre, plans are already being made to come back, and we say “See you next year!” when we say goodbye. After they’ve left I sit down to log my dive, looking out at the sunlight glinting on the sparkling blue sea, and I think just how much I love my job!
If you want to find out more about diving on Carriacou, you can visit our website at www.deeferdiving.com
Or if you are interested in becoming a dive guide and instructor yourself, you can find more information at www.deeferdiving.com/padipro.html