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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The parable of the prawn and goby fish

The goby fish and the prawn chillaxing in their pad.

Bonege Two
After a run of a diving drought, I get a break with my friend Ned. We get up early; around 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday (!!!) to beat a path down to Bonege 2, an old WW2 wreck that I dived when I took my PADI course.

There is something about being the first person at the beach. Something slightly invigorating but also scary; you have no idea if there are crocs or sharks and no one has scared them away yet. So I guess that makes it our job to do the spooking of the large, scary animals away from the wreck.

Despite my neurotic tenancies, I get in the water and make the decent into the deep. The water clarity is pretty amazing; I can see the giant barracuda swimming calmly about 30 metres or so away and then it flits off into the deep. Ned is a perfect dive buddy; calm and relaxed. We do have to call the dive off early due to his ears not adjusting but it was totally worth it just to get back in the water. It leaves me wanting more, to discover more about the mysteries of the wreck.

Bonege One
The next weekend, I get my hands on some dive gear and commit to two dives; Bonege One and Two on Sunday morning. Its another early wake up call and this time my diving buddy is Stan, my eternally energetic neighbour.

The water is rough and I struggle in the waves, swimming on my back. I swallow more salt water than one should. Unfortunately, my buoyancy isn't quite right and I sink only a metre below the surface. We go back in and I'm a bit angry at myself. I need help to emerge from the waves and a friendly bloke holds me up as I stagger like ship wreck survivor onto the beach.

We take a moment and weight me down further. I get back into the water and sink quickly below the waves.
A great part of the dive is the beginning, right as you begin to sink under the surface. As you look up, the surface looks like rippled glass. As you sink below the waves into the deep, all the troubles of life seem to slip away. Everything becomes infinitely still as the feeling of weightlessness takes over. As I focus, fish come into view and begin to swim around me.

We float around a bit and then go down to the sea floor. The shelf quickly cuts down and disappears into the deep. As we swim along the floor a dark shadow appears into view. We have found the wreck of Bonege One.

I am sure that the designers of these warships never intended them to be stranded in the deep however the turrets, poles and hull seem to fit seamlessly in the underwater environment. Like a ghost, the ship sits quietly at the bottom, decaying and yet, with the coral, it grows and expands daily. It's original purpose of bringing death and dominance to the Pacific, now brings new life.

At first, I find his form of diving a bit unnerving. He sits on the bottom and just watches and waits. He is simply graceful underwater while I flail around, using my useless arms to motor through the wreck.

The wreck hosts the usual suspects: clown fish, trigger fish, large angel fish and a gazillion other specifies I can't name. I seem to struggle with my balance though and use my arms far too much. I'm terrified of touching the wreck, with its rusty pointy bits promising infected cuts.

I leave the water again but this time I don't require any assistance to get out (woot)!

Bonege Two (again)

Stan and I spend our surface interval talking about the dive and how I can improve my buddy skills. Stan is a big believer of getting down to the bottom and letting the underwater world pass by you. The key is: the calmer you are, the calmer the underwater life is around you and comes to you.

The water is decidedly much more rough. Even at the bottom of the sea floor, the currents are pushing us around like paper dolls. We quickly swim over Bonege 2 wreck and go deeper to get away from the currents. When we reach the bottom at 19 metres, Stan takes out his underwater torch and we begin to explore the chambers of the wreck.

Schools of small yellow fish hang out in the dark, waiting the storm out from above. They look surprised at our appearance and quickly swim off. As we look under the wreck, a small shark darts to escape the light from the torch. Its not a shark I've seen in the water before and we quickly identify as a baby tiger shark. I don't want to wait around to see its mother, so we circle back to shallower water.

You meet strange things at the bottom of the sea floor. Disco clams, jelly fish, blue spotted rays and my new favorite: the goby fish with its friend/symbiotic heterosexual life partner, the prawn.

The goby fish and the prawn live in perfect balance which each other. Their relationship works like this: the prawn is slightly blind but good at digging burrows. The goby has great eyes but no arms in which to dig a safe burrow for its eggs. The prawn digs and the goby keeps watch. These BFFs maintain constant physical contact through the prawn's antenna and the goby's tail. When the gobi flits into the burrow, the prawn follows. The fish earned the name as the “watchmen” of the prawns.

Together, they survive the predators of the deep. As we round a large circular piece of the wreck, we interrupt a pair of these weird prawn/gobys. Its to our credit that they just chill out and watch us, not at all bothered by these two weird looking creatures. The goby, which is about the length of my middle finger, watches us with big black dolls eyes while the prawn sits there, oblivious to us. I watch them for awhile, noticing their bizarre relationship of contact physical contact and complete genetic mismatch.

I have a couple of questions about these two. First, how did they figure out relationship ages ago? Did they get drunk one night and the prawn slurs to the goby “hey wanna come back to my burrow? I need someone to help me protect it. Plus I have Sky.” Second, now that they have hooked up through the ages, how do they find new ones each generation? I mean was there speed dating involved or ads in the paper: “wanted: one handsome goby to look after burrow for sexy blind prawn. Must have a sense of adventure and like sand.”

But more importantly, I wonder with this odd couple, if they ever fight? Do they try to change each other? Does the goby complain about the prawn leaving his dirty underwear around the house? Does the prawn wish the goby cooked more often and clean the dishes? Does the prawn ever think “man, I could do a lot better. This guy doesn't even care how hard I worked to dig my burrow!”questions don't get answered by watching them, they seem pretty happy to just let each other be...well...a prawn and a fish.

Despite these philosophical musings, I have to end the dive as my air begins to run low.

The climb out of the surf is horrific. I get washed up to shore with 50 pounds of gear on my back. Every time I try to get up, a large waves smacks me down. I swallow water and realise that I'm in real trouble if I can't sort myself out. I crawl up the shore, only to be dragged back into the water, then a wall of water pushes me back out onto the rough rocky beach.

I feel like every muscle and bone in my body has abandoned me. My body is getting tired and a small alarm bell rings off in my head. There are no other divers on the beach and Stan is nowhere to be found.

I cry out for help and a local guy comes out and grabs me, hauling me out of the waves. He cries out and says that its too dangerous to be diving. He's right but I'm too tired, embarrassed and pissed off to want to talk about it. After a moment of steading myself, I walk up the beach, bloodied knees and a bruised ego and meet Stan at the truck.

Despite the rough entry, I find that I can quickly steady myself and get the gear off. Two dives in a day for someone who isn't “diving fit” is exhausting and I make my way home quickly. I demolish a bowl of pasta and quickly beat a path towards my bed, thinking about the weird relationship of the goby and the prawn.

As I sink below the surface of consciousness, I think that if these two strange creatures, who really have nothing in common, genetically or otherwise, can live together, why can't the rest of us?