By 7:30 a.m., the universe had already given me a half a dozen reasons to give up and go to bed.
The weather was cold and rainy as I loaded my dive gear into the car, blundering blindly in the pre-dawn darkness. Within 15 minutes of leaving the house, I got hopelessly lost thanks to Fiji’s frustrating habit of only labeling about 25% of its roadways. The drive took me about two hours, as I gravely miscalculated the distance from the resort to the nearest town. Once I finally found the turn off, my car got stuck twice in the muddy roadway (I fortunately remembered my Dad’s advice when he used getting stuck in the snow as a teaching opportunity — thanks Dad).
My next sign came as I was filling out my dive paperwork. One by one, each of the other five divers that signed up for the morning’s outing backed out, citing watered-down excuses like “My back hurts”, “I’m tired”, and “I want to hang out with my friends”. When it came time to board the boat, I was the only diver remaining. When I pressed my divemaster, Ilse, for information about my missing comrades, she replied casually, “It’s probably because the conditions have been so lousy. Almost everyone got sick on the boat yesterday”.
I had just a moment of hesitation before my stubbornness and overwhelming desire to dive took hold. And so curled up in a sweatshirt, cap low on my brow to protect from the blowing rain, we embarked on the 45 minute boat ride out to the site.
They weren’t kidding about the poor conditions. The boat rhythmically lurched above the waves and landed with a resounding thud that sent shocks straight through my spine. Anything on the boat that wasn't secured chaotically flung around the deck, leading Ilse and I on an uncoordinated (at least on my part) mission to collect the items. I was certain there was about a 68% chance of me either throwing up and/or dying before we reached the site.
Thankfully, I was saved by the instant bond of divers: I settled into a deep conversation with Ilse about our experiences as divemasters, each of us braced precariously between metal poles on each side of the boat so we wouldn't be flung off the side. It was a miraculous distraction. Even though I’ve felt seasick in waves a quarter of that size, I never once felt queasy, and the travel time passed quickly.
By the time we reached the dive site, I was nervous. Not for the physical act of diving, but rather for what was waiting below the surface. All of my diving up to this point had been in the Western Atlantic and Caribbean, where most of the conversation revolved around the damaged nature of the reefs. I was worried this Pacific reef would be just as worn.
It took me about 30 seconds underwater to realize what I was looking at. Stretched before me in every direction was piles of the most spectacular coral I’ve ever seen: branching Staghorn stacked five feet high, flat Tables that were actually the size of my dining room table, and colorful soft corals tucked in every nook of the rock formation. I was giddy.
There’s something rejuvenating about immersing yourself in a healthy reef. Every square inch is teeming with life, from minuscule neon nudibranchs to swaying anemones and beyond. And the color: fish of all sizes splashed in glowing yellows, blues, reds, and purples. It’s comforting to know that no matter what happens elsewhere in the world, this place exists, with each plant and animal interacting in turn to create a spectacular ecosystem.
Ilse and I drifted slowly along the reef, occasionally grabbing the other to point out some small crab or flatworm. We were visited by both a green sea turtle and a whitetip shark, each eyeing us lazily. After 50 minutes were emerged on the surface, freezing and thrilled.
The stressors of the morning were long forgotten. It didn’t matter how tired, cold, hungry, or sore I was, that dive was a reminder that every minute I get to spend alongside a coral reef is truly a gift. It was also a reminder of the importance of protecting our oceans; everyone should have the opportunity to experience the beauty of these coral reef ecosystems.
Lastly, it was a reminder that sometimes you should ignore signs from the universe. Especially when those signs conflict with diving.