This was a wild weekend to be sure! Our Saturday dive turned out to be one of the coolest yet, plus we had a camera so we got great pictures of the action. We went to the Warhead, a dive site along "The Wall", or the coral drop-off to the deep ocean, which often has charismatic megafauna like sharks and turtles passing through along this ledge. It was our lucky day because as soon as the group got to the edge, we heard our divemaster signalling that there was a shark ahead, and sure enough, a 6 ft reef shark was approaching directly at us-- only 5 ft away from the first diver in our group! The shark swam on by us as we all watched in awe. Sharks are definitely the favorite around here! It's crazy how no one is scared when you have this huge animal swimming less than 10 feet away from you.. but it is so calm down there and you know that the shark would never hurt you unless you provoked it. We saw a bunch of other fish--including the ever-present barracuda--and a great portion of reef as well before we had to head back to the mooring.
Sunday proved unexpected as I had just settled back into the room after brunch when my roommate, Kate, came bursting in saying that Aaron, the marine ecology professor, just offered to take her (and a group) out to look for her sunglasses, which had gotten dropped overboard during sharking the days prior. She told him it was fine, that he didn't have to do this on his day off, but he insisted and said to get a group together and they could look for some turtles as well. So... long story short, I got to join this group of 5 on a Sunday afternoon boat ride across the Caicos bank. Aaron likes to drive fast so we flew across the water to the north side of the islands towards a shallow sand flat that is the "hot zone" for turtles and nurse sharks. Almost immediately we saw a shark and so the plan was to chase it until it got tired and then "lasso" it with the cast net (this strategy had never been done before because the net was new, but we had a Southern girl who had used cast nets for catching shrimp so we were hopeful;). We were right on top of it a number of times but it maneuvered past the net so easily and the sun moving behind the clouds sporadically wasn't helping us. We ended up losing sight of the shark but within a few minutes spotted a turtle. The way this works is that one person stands on the bow of the boat and constantly has a finger pointing at the turtle so Aaron knows where to drive, and the rest of us are all standing/sitting to track the turtle (or shark) as well. As you can imagine, it is a very high-energy, high-enthusiasm scenario. The week prior, a girl caught the first turtle of the semester, and one of the guys on our boat had tried twice unsuccessfully that week and was determined to find success so he had a mask on and was ready to jump off the boat just as soon as we were close enough to the turtle. It was a tiny thing but SO fast... it zipped around a huge area of sand flat and it was hard for the boat to keep up with its changing directions! Finally we wore it out and it slowed a bit, and Charlie launched himself out of the boat like a champ and grabbed the turtle (if you can imagine an all-fours "tackle" coming from above, that is what this is). He got it, though he did end up with a turtle bite on his knee (not serious though)! We all helped Aaron take measurements and tag the turtle for his research and then we let it go again. Scouting for a little longer, we spotted another nurse shark and were even more determined to catch it. We chased it with the boat for quite and while and had MANY close tosses with the net, but with no luck. We lost this one again after a sharp turn and the sun in our eyes.
At that point--perfect timing as Aaron said, now that we had an angry shark in the water--we went to the spot where the sunglasses were supposed lost and we all five jumped in and snorkeled in a line across to cover as much area as possible. It was kind of a long shot with the sunglasses since the channel was so large an area and with tides and shifting sand flats, none of us were too surprised when we didn't find them. But we were all thrilled with the opportunity to go out so no one was complaining!
It was getting late in the afternoon so Aaron radioed that we'd were heading back to the school, but within minutes we found another (or perhaps the same) nurse shark and of course we couldn't leave without trying again. For a good ten minutes we chased it, in and out of the shallows, waiting for it to get close enough to the surface that we could net it. It started to get mad and ended up bumping against the bow of the boat which was the perfect opportunity for Payton to through the cast net... and shock of shocks, she got it!! There was so much screaming and excitement going on and Payton, Charlie, and I were all pulling on the net which now had a 6 ft nurse shark in it and we were all a bit in shock that it had actually happened. Aaron was beyond ecstatic and shouted commands for us to keep holding the net but no one touch the tail, he would grab it and with our side of the net we would all hoist in in the boat. Unfortunately the shark slipped tail-first out of the net before Aaron could grab hold of it, so we lost the shark. Technically though, we did successfully cast-net it, we just didn't get it onto the boat. ;) So we were still pleased even though it was definitely beyond time to head back to the center. I kept thinking that day and even now, as the days go by so faster (we're down to 22 days left), that this is the only time in my LIFE that I will get to do these things and see this wonder and live this life. It is too incredible to think about and I just feel so blessed to have gotten to see this tiny portion of the world out here in the middle of the Caribbean ocean.
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.