Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Exploring the “Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau”

When I was growing up, there were only three TV channels—ABC, NBC, and CBS—rather than the hundreds of channels available now. Occasionally, the networks would broadcast “specials,” rather than their normal offerings. One recurring special that I always enjoyed was “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” For a landlocked kid growing up in West Virginia, the alien world of life under the sea looked very interesting. I even thought about majoring in Marine Biology.

Over the past dozen years, I got the opportunity to see this undersea world a few times for myself on cruise vacations to the Caribbean. It was truly amazing. I brought my mask and snorkel with me when I left for the Peace Corps. However, I'm located on the Atlantic side, and I haven't really seen very many interesting sights during my snorkeling attempts at our local beach. Most of the fish I spied were just plain silver and the bottom was just sand for the most part, plus the waves churn things up, thus limiting visibility. Despite these limitations, it was cool to see what is under the surface—I just don't do it very often anymore. I did take my snorkel to Cabrits National Park once, and enjoyed the calmer waters and coral reef there on the Caribbean side, but until recently I had not done nearly as much snorkeling as I had planned.

Last weekend, I got to spend a couple of days with two wonderful Peace Corps Volunteers on this island who are getting ready to go home after their two year stint. They often go snorkeling together, and I got to tag along to two of their favorite spots. This experience has me excited to do more snorkeling while I am here, because observing the sealife under the waters is incredible.

The first day we went to Rodney's Rock, which is north of the capital city of Roseau. Unfortunately, I didn't get a good picture of this rocky, short peninsula that juts into the Caribbean from an otherwise straight coastline, but I did take the following picture from atop Rodney's Rock, looking towards the southern end of the island.

Here is the story of Rodney's Rock from Lenox Honychurch, a renowned Dominica historian:
“There is a rocky point along the west coast north of Jimmit that is composed of fractured volcanic lava ejected from the Trois Pitons volcano... The British named it Rodney's Rock following Admiral George Rodney's victory at the Battle of the Saintes in April 1782 (this battle is described on the sign photo in one of my recent blog posts). There is a local legend that the French, who occupied the island at the time, had placed lights upon the rock so as to disguise it as a ship anchored in the dark. This was done in an effort to delay Rodney as he sailed up the west coast in pursuit of the French fleet. The story goes that Rodney was indeed diverted by this trick and hung around all night pounding the supposed ship with cannon shot, only to find at dawn that it was merely a rock. As good as this story sounds, there is absolutely no proof that it actually happened and in any case at dawn Rodney was off of the Cabrits angling for an engagement with the French fleet.”
After a great time on Friday snorkeling at Rodney's Rock, we went to Champagne Reef (south of Roseau) on Saturday. Champagne Reef is very unique, because it has underwater geothermal springs which vent small gas bubbles, making it seem as if you are swimming through champagne in some areas. You can also feel the temperature differences as you swim through patches of heated water. In addition to the unusual view of the tiny bubbles, the sealife here is phenomenal. It is considered one of the top snorkeling sites in all of the Caribbean. Here is a picture of the sign at the entrance (look close and you will see some of the bubble streams).
I wish I could accurately share with you the incredible beauty that is underwater. Unfortunately, I can't take my camera into the sea. However, one of the two Peace Corps Volunteers with whom I went snorkling has been solving this problem by going to the Internet and finding pictures of what he has seen on his snorkeling adventures here. His photo album on Facebook provides better pictures than what is probably possible for amateurs to photograph (it is hard to get the fish to pose!), as well as the names of each specimen. He encouraged me to use his pictures—and yet even they don't adequately convey the vivid colors, graceful movements, and spectacular beauty that I witnessed at both Rodney's Rock and Champagne Reef.

One of my favorites was the French Angelfish. The yellow-green neon stripes were so bright against the stark black background they seemed to glow.

Although it is just black and white, the spotted drum was very interesting, with its combination of stripes and spots.
Another neon-colored stunner was the yellow tail damselfish. The way the light blue dots seem to jump out with their vivid color is amazing. Unfortunately, this example from his "catalog" doesn't seem to have much of a yellow tail like the ones I saw.
One of the biggest colorful fishes was called the Stoplight Parrotfish (don't ask me why—who knows how they come up with these names?). They were generally about two feet long, with subtle colors that would change as their angle changed.
Here is what the juvenile version of the Stoplight Parrotfish looks like. The red on the bottom was quite bright on some of them.
Again, even though it was just black and white, the Four-eyed Butterflyfish was still an elegant thing of beauty.
The picture below doesn't do justice to the bright blue colors on the ones I saw. This is called a Blue-headed Wrasse.
These are just a few of the astounding sea creatures I observed. I don't want to overwhelm you with too many at one time. I probably need to save some for blog stories yet to come. It is truly another world beneath the surface of the water. I'm looking forward to more snorkeling in the future.

Oh, and there is one other interesting thing I did at Rodney's Rock. Many people jump off the end of Rodney's Rock, because it is a vertical cliff into deep water. These two guys had done it before and wanted me to do it with them. One of them went around to a point off the side so that he could take our pictures as we jumped.

I carefully assessed the situation. It didn't seem all that high, and you didn't need to jump out a certain distance to hit the water—the water seemed to be directly below you, and it was indeed deep. I've done a lot of whitewater rafting over the years, and on several rivers there are large, steep rocks above a deep pool in the river. The rafting guides will often pull over and give folks the opportunity to take the plunge off of “Jump Rock” (as it is called on the New River in Fayette County, West Virginia).

In the picture above, I am sitting with my feet on a flat rock at the edge of the cliff, contemplating my next move. I was telling myself that this was “just like Jump Rock” back home in West Virginia. The photo makes it seem as if one would need to jump out, but that is just because the photographer is further away to my left, and so my sheer drop is obscured by other rocks between my spot and his.
I finally leaped out with outstretched arms to each side, and headed for the crystal blue waters below. If this photo had been snapped a nano-second earlier, it might have looked as if I was walking on the horizon line.
I popped up quickly and happily. In this final picture above, the photographer has already thrown my swim fins down to me, thus the yellow and black coloring visible on my feet. After snapping this picture, he threw my mask and snorkel so that I could enjoy the underwater scenery one last time as we swam back to the shore.

It was an incredible experience that I will long treasure!

1 comment:

  1. Man, were you lucky to have such an excellent photographer along! Also, Yellowtail Damselfish have translucent tails as juveniles; it changes to yellow when they mature.