Amanda Chancellor goes diving off the east coast of Africa.
As the boat pulled away from the jetty heading to Mnemba Atoll Reef in Zanzibar I could see children playing on the beach, their silhouettes a work of art against the sunlit island. I was about to go scuba diving in open water for the first time. Fear had always gripped me as I floated above the water, the unknown lurking beneath me. I didn’t know why I was doing it; maybe I hoped everything would look different looking up for a change.
I glanced down at the water as I did the final steps of my pre-dive safety check. It was so clear I could see fish swimming around under the boat. I walked to the edge of the boat apprehensively. The sound of my heart beating in my ears was all I could hear apart from the lapping of the water against the edge. I took a step forward and jumped, my BCD (Buoyancy Control Device) keeping me afloat until I was ready to descend into the depths below. After the bubbles surrounding me had disappeared I noticed the tiny fish swimming around me, in brilliant colours of blue, green, pink and yellow. My hands and feet looked eerily pale in comparison.
I slowly let the air out of my BCD and began to descend, holding my nose to equalize the pressure in my ears. I wondered how stupid I must look to all the fish, a big uncoordinated creature coming into their world from above. After a minute or two we reached the ocean floor. Everything I saw before me, the coral, the sand, the fish, the rays; none if it scared me. I didn’t even flinch. I guess I was just scared of the unknown, not what was actually down there. I could see the bottom of the boat, floating above me. It was bizarre to see it from underneath, looking up to it, watching the splashes as people jumped in, and the clarity with which I could see underwater.
As I let the current carry me along, I saw something down here that I hadn’t expected to. Two local men with spears; they were fishing. It was something I had never dreamed of seeing. It was so utterly different to how it was done in Australia. Despite the cold water they were dressed only in shorts, water bubbles coming from their mouths as they stabbed at fish, trying to catch them. They were under for almost a minute before they had to go up for air and I let myself drift away with the current once more.
A large reef was up ahead, and it was this that I had been most anxious to see. According to my instructor it was where turtles were commonly found, and turtles were what had encouraged me to scuba dive in the first place. I approached it apprehensively, wondering if I would see what I desired. At first glance it seemed like there was nothing there, though after a few seconds of watching a turtle’s head appeared from behind a rock, its body gracefully following. It must have been amount 50cm long, it seemed to glide through the water rather than swim. And in seeing this I realized that the ocean wasn’t scary at all. It was just the unknown that I was afraid of.