Out Of My Depth, At Depth

Snapshot: “My first dive into Victoria’s cool underwater wonderland”

Twenty metres below the surface, I’m resting on my knees on the sandy sea floor of Port Phillip, waiting for my instructor to join me. I’ve descended to depth, whilst the rest are slowly falling from above, their new silhouettes taking a while for me to recognise who is who. At twenty metres below (well, 17.5 to be exact) I’m at this dives deepest depth, and this becomes the deepest I’d ever plunged into the underwater/marine world.

I let it all sink in and catch up to my excited self, letting myself be consumed by the new world around me.

It’s not every day you just drop into a new world for the first time – a new house, building, football field, vehicle – maybe. But dropping from terrestrial being into the marine world of our very distant evolutionary ancestors is as big a contrast in environmental composition as a human can experience on this planet.

Breathing, reliant on cylinders of compressed gas; vision, reliant on perspex windows suctioned over your face; speech impossible, only simple hand gestures remain; smell limited to the faint idea of the plastic of your mask; taste, the dry sensation of canned air infused with saliva and the remnant salt water I consumed upon entering the ocean.

Like nowhere else are the human senses under such abnormal conditions. Surrounded by our aquatic origins, we are uselessly versatile, at the complete mercy of whatever we interact with – and this is oddly liberating!

You’re totally overwhelmed by your immersion.

Much like the iconic inhabitants of our much more familiar above sea level landscapes, the life underwater in southern Australia is just as strongly beautiful and unique. Here, knees on the sandy floor, I explored the graveyard of shells and discarded lives at arms reach – limpets, barnacle particles, bivalves, even fragments of sea star – all bleached white from an age of absorbing the sun in the shallower water, before finding their way to deeper depths. Nearby a soaked underwater escarpment composed of the sharp sedimentary rock identical to the Port Phillip Heads is swaying in synchronisation in the slack tide. Smaller creatures – a fascinating array of colours and shapes – sea stars, sponges and the like, grip hard and some permanently to the rock. I venture over to peer closer, still waiting for my instructor, like a child exploring while waiting for their parents to stop talking. There is enough going on just in front of me to last an entire dive of exploration – or more!

I’m fascinated by the density of life, each square inch of rock is home to sometimes multiple creatures and species. It’s so true that the closer you look, the richer your landscapes become, and you can begin to construct the scene before you not visually but mentally, on the basis of experience and strong understanding. Since this first dive I always begin each drop to depth by aquatinting myself with the community of the small and colourful, those usually ignored and clinging to the rocks.

There’s beauty in the most simplest of things.

Aesthetic beauty and the fact that these are simple creatures living simple lives, of which some, like the barnacle, never move after fastening themselves to the rock. The little and erroneously dubbed ‘insignificant’ creatures.

Loosing my sense of direction in the defused underwater light, I am a complete visitor. Out of my depth at depth. Two thirds of the worlds surface is water. The deepest trench on earth delves to twelve kilometres below the surface. In our oceans there are volcanos, cliffs and desserts, from the shallows to utter darkness under many atmospheres worth of pressure. There are creatures great and small, some existing beyond light and warmth, or next to volcanic vents intruding into the darkness at many hundreds of degrees Celsius. Whale song can be heard hundreds of kilometres away. Octopuses have three brains. Camouflaging cuttlefish are colourblind. Male seahorses give birth to young.

It blows my mind..

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