by Rachel Fuhrman
Lounging here by the beautiful cove outside our Palauan hotel the Sea Passion on the last day of my trip, I have begun to reflect on the experiences that I’ve had on this trip, and I can honestly say that have been some of the most amazing of my life. Learning how to SCUBA dive was never on my list of things to do in my life but I am so glad that I chose to get over my fears of being in the ocean and get certified with this class.
From the very beginning we were pushed hard: from getting in the water at 7 a.m. for a 400 m., 12 minute swim test at Catalina in 61° water which I couldn’t see anything in, to learning all the underwater skills including weight-belt and BCD removal and retrieval, without panicking (that’s the key), to the time commitment required out in Catalina from Friday at 7 a.m. to Sunday at 6 p.m. We all really needed to be committed, and everybody found a way to do it in anticipation of how incredible Micronesia would be. We were not disappointed.
Yesterday was the first time that I had ever dived with a guide, and it was astonishing how much Robin was able to point out to us. He does the same dives all the time and essentially knows where all of the different organisms live, practically without even looking. I can’t even imagine having that kind of understanding of an underwater environment, one in which humans cannot even begin to survive in without the assistance of the SCUBA apparatus.
We took a long boat ride out, weaving through the majestic Rock Islands of Palau and stopped at our site for the first dive, which I believe is known as blue corner. I felt as if all of the dives I had previously done, all of the substrate surveys and invertebrate counts, were all leading up to these two fun dives (rather than strictly science dives).
We put our gear on and did a backwards roll entry off the small dive boat, and I immediately put my mask-clad face into the water to see the beautiful ecosystem below me. As we dropped down to about 50 feet, I could see clearly for at least 100 feet around me on all sides; there was an immensely dense forest of coral reef teeming with all kinds of life, unlike anything I had ever seen. On the first dive I saw napoleon wrasse, black tip and white tip sharks, grey reef sharks, and countless other species that were completely new to me. We came up after 40 minutes and took the boat to an island with the most beautiful beach I had ever been on, fully green with palm trees and a white sand beach, private and isolated from the world, and I sat down in the sand eating my bento box and trying to soak in my surroundings before we had to leave for the second dive. On the second dive we went through Ulong Channel, which we were essentially shot through via the current, which was almost too strong to swim against. At one point we finned into the current and watched the grey reef sharks use the current running through their gills to rest, because being negatively buoyant they cannot stop swimming or they die. As I came up from my the last dive that I’ll probably be doing for a little while, I felt at peace with the ocean, unafraid of the sharks, and at peace with myself. It was a great final dive and lovely way to end my trip here in Palau.
Rachel Fuhrman is a senior international relations major in USC Dornsife.