I took a minute to marvel at my surroundings. Everywhere I looked I saw amazing things. Dazzlingly bright colored corals, purple sea fans, and yellow tube sponges were all around me. Just below I watched a sky-blue parrotfish cruise by next to a majestic trumpet fish, its elongated body making it look like a thin stick moving in the water. Even the crystal clear water provided a beautiful backdrop as the sun shone down through it, creating columns of light.
I was in forty feet of water at a dive site known as Palancar Garden in Cozumel, Mexico. I checked my gauges. I had plenty of air left so I signaled to my dive buddy, Mike, that we should head off towards the fork-shaped pinnacle of coral that stood thirty feet away. We were in search of a striped frogfish that the divemaster had talked about in the briefing back on the boat. These rare fish inhabit the reef or sandy bottoms, luring prey with a small boomerang-shaped object attached to its head by a translucent filament. It had its own built-in fishing rod! The divemaster said they were difficult to spot because they are so well camouflaged. Mike and I were determined to see this amazing fish on the dive. I knew that finding it would be one of those remarkable experiences that you tell your friends and family about.
I have had many moments while scuba diving that make me stop and appreciate what is in front of me: seeing the delicate beauty of a dwarf seahorse clinging to a blade of seagrass, taking in the scene that unfolds as you descend and a shipwreck comes into view for the first time, and watching my daughter as she smiles through her regulator because she’s having so much fun.
How did all this start?
The first time I tried scuba, in a pool under the supervision of an instructor, I was hesitant and a bit apprehensive. I mean, how can this work? How is it that I will be able to actually breathe underwater? But a few minutes later there I was using the regulator and scuba tank in the shallow end of the pool. Now I could stay underwater and look around to my heart’s content. It was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.
When we reached the fork-shaped pinnacle, Mike and I started to circle it - he towards the top and I ten feet below him. I looked carefully in each hole or depression, looking for any change in the pattern of the coral that might indicate that a hiding frogfish was there. Just as I was thinking we would have to return to the boat, Mike began frantically tapping on his tank to get my attention. I knew that could mean only one thing. I raced over to him, but it took me a minute to make out what he was pointing at. Then I felt a smile break out on my face. The frogfish was a deep red color with a dark pattern across its body. It was looking up and was perfectly still, except I could see the lure dancing back and forth in front of its mouth. After soaking the moment in a little longer, we backed away from our new friend and simulated an underwater high-five and then started to head back to the boat. On our ascent, I was already thinking about how much fun it was going to be to tell our friends on the boat about our discovery, and why I love scuba diving so much.
Paul Mickel is the owner of Underwater Adventures Dive Center in Short Hills, NJ. Underwater Adventures offers scuba instruction so that you can get your certification before your next warm water vacation. Go to www.underwater-adventures.com or call (973) 258-1300 for more information.