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Jim Asks, Are We Taking it for Granted?

Posted: Dec 29, 2009

This is really more a question for all you local divers...

I can still remember the moment I realized that not everybody sees the ocean the same way.

I was diving Makena Landing…this was about 5 years ago, and I think I’d been certified for about 6 months. My dive buddy and I were just coming up to one of the caves when a big, beautiful Green sea turtle came swimming right past me. I quickly turned to signal to my dive buddy, got his attention and happily pointed out our new friend. His reaction?

(shrug)

I didn’t get it. Here’s this amazing, huge marine reptile, and my dive buddy didn’t seem to care. He just went back to looking around for interesting shells. Meanwhile, I kept watching the turtle. Noticing how with the tiniest of motions this Chelonia mydas could completely change orientations in the water (sea turtles are very maneuverable), how it had a tiny claw on the front of each flipper, and how the back flippers and tail folded together for streamlining when not needed. What an incredible animal!

Later on over a post-dive breakfast, I asked my buddy about this. “So, you didn’t think the turtle was cool?” I said. He just shrugged again. “It’s only a turtle," he said. “We see them all the time.”

Hmmm. Well, that’s true I suppose—we do see a lot of turtles in our waters…but let me ask you local divers out there: how many other places in the world do you think that’s true? Chelonia m. isn’t even really “common” here—the population was last listed as “threatened”, and in some parts of the world they are considered “critically endangered”. There are millions and millions of people who will never see a sea turtle, not once in their lives. And consider this: if someday (and hopefully, this day will never come) the Green sea turtle becomes extinct, no one will ever see one again.
Ever.

(a side note: we have another turtle species out here, the Hawksbill turtle, that is sadly a lot further down the road to extinction. It can happen, all too easily. More about Hawksbills in a future posting.)

Have I made you consider looking a little more closely next time a turtle joins you on a dive?

One of the advantages of being a dive instructor is that I get to see the reef through “new eyes” every day. I’m always diving with people who are diving the reef for the first time, and the wonder and amazement they get from seeing turtles and other marine life (marine life that we are lucky enough to see as part of our daily lives) keeps me from forgetting just how special scuba diving in Hawaii really is.

And it’s not just about turtles. Hawaii is one of the most isolated land masses in the world…and because of this, many of the “common” species we see every day are not found anywhere else. Nowhere. Those black-and-white Domino damselfish that we see over coral heads all the time? The scientific name is Dascyllus albisella and you won’t find them anywhere but here. How about those “mini-puffers”, (Canthigaster jactator) the Hawaiian spotted tobys? Only in our waters. Those red urchins with the fat spines that are all over our reefs? Slate pencil urchins (Heterocentrotus mammillatus) are only common here, and everywhere else, they’re usually dark brown, instead of that incredible red color. Those are just a few examples: there are hundreds of others. The more I learn about marine life, the more I appreciate just how fortunate we are to live where we live and dive where we dive.

I want everyone we dive with to feel that fortunate, too. Aloha, Jim

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