Sunday, October 14, 2007

October 14, 2007 - Beveridge Reef

A line from Below Another Sky, by Rick Ridgeway, pops into my head each time I look around. He described climbing in Antarctica as living inside a Rothko. The same can be said for spending a week at Beveridge Reef. A horizontal white line of breaking surf divides powder blue sky from aquamarine water. Other than the detritus of a few wrecks on the reef, there is nothing else for the eye to rest on. It is quite desolate.

But then you stick your head underwater and a whole kaleidoscope of colors reveals itself. Orange, blue, green, purple and pink coral provides the backdrop for schools of colorful tropical fish and red and midnight blue urchins. On our snorkeling excursions we've seen moray eels, turtles, sting rays, spotted eagle rays, and sharks. Lots of sharks.

Inside the lagoon, behind the reef, we primarily see white tips, a curious shark that travels in packs. They are reasonably large, and it is startling to turn around a and find three of them swimming towards you to check you out, because, well, they are sharks. And we've all seen Jaws. But white tip sharks aren't terribly aggressive. Sten actually saw one being herded by a big red snapper.

A white tip, sleeping in a coral cave.

Dinghy survival pack - GPS, VHF, and snacks

While drift snorkeling the pass, we came across sharks of a different feather: grey reef sharks. Since the white tips are mostly grey, with white tips on their first dorsal fin and tail, when we first saw the grey sharks in the pass, I kept looking for the white marks that would denote their benign nature. But these guys had no white marks. Rather, the trailing edge of their tails are a dark charcoal grey - the characteristic marking of a grey reef shark, among the mostly likely of sharks to attack divers. As we floated above them, individual sharks would circle up towards us to check us out. We were both on edge, ready to hop into the dinghy at the first threat display, which they typically will do before attacking.

On our second drift we floated over a ledge approximately 30 feet below us, that dropped off to a white sandy bottom at least 70 feet further down. Two large grey reef sharks stood out in bass relief against this pale background. The water clarity here is such that we had no trouble making them out. One of them noticed us and quickly swam up to check us out. I wasted no time scrambling into the dinghy. Sten, who thought he had beat a quick exit from the water was surprised to find me aboard and already taking off my gear. As we headed back to our side of the lagoon we talked about what made seeing the sharks so cool. I suggested it was the adrenaline rush of putting yourself close to a violent creature. Sten, who thinks a bit more deeply about these things, said that it was like seeing a lion in the grasslands or a bear in the woods - it is always interesting to see an apex predator in its natural environment.

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