I should have known right away that things would be different. I entered the channel at the dive start to Tori’s reef wearing sunglasses. I noticed my error immediately when I went to put my mask on. Not advisable. I stuffed the sunglasses in my dive vest and pressed on. Shore diving on Bonaire is straightforward and often quite easy. You enter the reef off shore, check the direction of the current, and if there is one, swim into it so your return is easier. If no current exists, dealer’s choice. That is what it was this day for Hettie & me as we dropped down to 60 feet. But after that, everything about this dive was not normal.
Five minutes north, I looked ahead. The water was fluid, dense like clear syrup. That is usually indicative of a temperature change. It was this time too, warm water flowing. I looked at the reef and all the soft coral, reliable indicators of current, were bent downwards. After 160 dives, I had never seen this and was immediately apprehensive. A current like that could not only take a diver away from shore but also downward. Not a good thing.
Plus, our usual stellar visibility was gone. Clouds of white sand were suspended above the reef. It was hard to see more than twenty feet ahead. I looked down at the coral and saw white sand cascading downward. It was an underwater sandstorm and avalanche combined. I saw schools of fish above the reef. They were seemingly unconcerned by the downward movement. Crowded groups were suspended in space above the fray hanging with no apparent effort. I relaxed. It seemed that the only speeding, downward force was in the first foot or so above the surface. We were safe.
After cruising through the sand cloud for ten minutes, normal visibility returned, but not normalcy. I saw four large cubera snappers, the largest about a yard long, on the hunt. I had only seen these fish patrolling solo before. Later I spotted a lionfish, an invasive species from the Indo-Pacific, leisurely drifting above the reef. This was another case of the strange. Lionfish usually hover deep in the recesses, protected and stalking smaller fish among the rock.
By the time we turned around 30 minutes later, I could not imagine that I would see more unusual events down under. But on the way back, Hettie pointed out two southern stingrays. I had not seen any in a year so deep. Later, the quartet of cubera snappers made an encore. The impressive sand storm had abated, but now a southerly current pressed against us. Even in the shallows of 15 feet returning to shore I had a surprise. I witnessed a ménage a trios of four-eye butterflyfish. These are normally seen in pairs. Ten yards later I ran into another trio of them.
By now the unusual was expected. With air running low, we returned to the land of gravity. I immediately yearned for the strange, down under.
**Apologies for the lack of photography. No underwater camera was available for me to record the wonder I encountered down below. I guess you just had to be there.