At 8:30 a.m. our group of six former SIT students now on vacation depart in a rickety wooden sailboat with a carved mast from a tree. Other tourists quickly flock to the boat and we find ourselves among interesting company such as a German who worked as a chef for the Olympics in B.C. Canada, and a man who lived in American as a boxer. Due to the winds, the sailboat forsakes the sail and uses a large motor on the back to lead us around the tip of the island through picturesque turquoise green water to a small marine reserve called Mnemba where we are going snorkeling for the day. Along the way, we see a pod of dolphins swimming off the starboard side of the boat.
When we reach the coastline of Pemba, a small private island next to Zanzibar, hints of the fish diversity are evident immediately. Through the clear waters we can see the reef formations but can’t yet make out the animals themselves. Our group gears up with mask, fins, and snorkel and jump in, only to be immediately stunned by more fish species than I can count even with my Fisheries classes, and so many types of coral the seascape resembles that of “Finding Nemo. “
I am instantly overwhelmed by seeing fish again after six months of only experiencing wildlife. Overeager, I leave the group and go shooting off on my own to find everything I possibly can. I find a huge congregation of long, thin fish huddled on the bottom, schools of black and white striped fish part ways as I move through the water just barely avoiding my goggles, and I see a large green and blue fish that appears to be eating either the sand or coral and can be found by listening for the scraping sound it makes while it eats. The science major in me can’t wait to identify all of these animals upon returning.
The best part of all came as the majority of people had already loaded up the boat again in preparation for lunch. Shannon, one of my friends that I came with, points underwater and reveals an octopus about 18 inches in diameter. Octopuses are definitely my favorite sea creature, but despite having the Giant Pacific species off of my own coast, I have never seen one in the wild. We spend a good 30 minutes watching this octopus as it moves along the sea floor in a clandestine manner, changing color in an instant and changing texture to match its surrounding whether rock or coral. Even so small, still so amazing.
For lunch our group goes to a nearby beach where the snorkeling company has prepared fruit, rice, and freshly caught tuna for us to eat under a small thatch shelter. Sitting there at lunch looking out over the water that resembled that of a motivational poster begging a caption of “Tranquility” or something similar, I am sure that the ocean will always be my home. This last six months was an experiment for me. I have always worked with marine issues, but wanted to experience the wildlife side of science before I entered a career field. While I definitely enjoyed seeing lions and elephants and learning all about their ecologies, nothing in the last six months quite took my breath away like floating on the surface and watching the tropical fish interact while filling their many intricate ocean niches.