The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

Beyond The Picket Fence

Columnist Sherryanne De La Boise
(her great grandparents were life-long residents of Stronghurst)

Spice Island -Part 2

"Tis the season of pumpkin An exploding volcano seems similar to a toddler in a full-fledged tantrum with arms and legs flailing, completely enveloped in self annihilation.

It's a rare parent who can stand aside, let the child burn down and restore himself. Better for the child, but extremely hard to do, with the well-intended world watching, offering advice and willing to interfere. > If snatched up, held tight, making the child's world made small; those fits became sobs. But, even as an adult, I find it's just not the same as a good, hard cry to make problems go away, is it?

When the Banda Island volcano exploded in 1988, the lava caused the sea to boil. The coral reef was burned, obliterated. The few remaining fish were eaten.

Unyielding to international critics who wanted the natives to DO something, they walked away from the volcano and the sea to build new lives in other places.

Thirty years have passed and the ignored reef has magnificently restored itself, creating a new industry: tourism.

There are crevasses through which water passes by molten lava, is heated to boiling, then gushes back into the sea. These vents contain creatures not found elsewhere, creatures that might be our Darwinian precursors, just like the nutmeg, found only here in the Spice Islands. The National Geographic scientists are anxious to explore.

Touching and moving sea creatures is an absolute no-no. Yet as we scuba, the Poof has been picking up things la Show-and-Tell.

He brings over a huge 3' long sea cucumber, picked up from the sea floor. It looks like a giant green and brown poop. A very taciturn creature that just lounges on the ocean floor.

As I wonder what its skin feels like, another diver extends out a hand to pet it.

The unassuming sea cucumber suddenly expels a sticky mass all over the guy. His expression is priceless! He has been slimed.

The Poof doubles over with laughter, drops the hapless sea cucumber and leaving both the sea cucumber and its victim.

So, you understand why I am wary when the Poof indicates that I should swim closer to a set of moving tentacles poking out from under an overhang.

We have been told long tentacles grow from the volcanic vents and are an indicator of nearby boiling water. I don't want to get scalded.

The Poof jabs his metal poker at the tentacles. A beautiful, angry blue painted crayfish roars out. Claws snapping

(You saw him in the Quill, two weeks ago).

This is the equivalent of unfairly waking the heron with fireworks. Or, my children hiding and yelling "Boo" at me, just to see how high and how loudly they can get me to scream and flail my hands.

Well, the same holds true 40' below: A large green eel pops out of a crevice in the reef and barks at me.

I jump to the other side of my dive buddy and lose my regulator as, underwater, I loudly scream and my arms flail. The Poof is laughing heartily.

Composing myself on the underside of an Acropora table coral, I recover my dignity. This coral is about 15' across, looking like a giant mushroom with an overhead top of delicate mesh of little white branches.

That top is teeming with small juvenile fish that rise and sink above then sink into the coral, hoping to snatch a bite in the surf and hide in the safety of the crown

(An actual mushroom coral is much smaller and unattached and moved around by tides).

Suddenly, a metal box of chum (the stuff used to capture Jaws) is dropped on us.

Big fish, little fish, the water is a mass of confusion. It's mealtime!

A second box and a third metal box are dropped nearby. Motorboats zip overhead.

Later, we will learn that the locals are angry that we have invaded their reef, not utilizing their boats and dive masters.

This is a serious blunder in this part of the world. Bribes must be paid to the correct parties, especially as we are about to reach the land of cannibals.

The boats are dropping anchors, to drive us away. Not only are they damaging their reef, but the situation is very dangerous.

The dive master signals us to swim for quite a distance to get away.

We do, then we surface and are quickly loaded into our inflatable boats.

Once again, missing is our celebrity, Sexy Star.

In the meantime, charter boats are circling us and angrily shouting. We are yelling that we are missing a diver.

The reward for finding her is made sizeable (to compensate for their desire for harm to come to one of us).

They drop off their Chinese tourists in the snorkel area and help us locate her.

Yes, the self-proclaimed "Shark Whisperer" has decided to stay an additional 65 minutes, alone, at depth, to see if she could interact with any sharks attracted to the chum boxes. She ignored the signal to swim to safety.

The additional time that it takes to locate her will mean that we will not have time to do a second dive.

The Sexy Star is pitching a fit when I request the boat driver to drop me off at the snorkel site.

Some scuba folks demean snorkelers. Not me: The pool is open, and I'm in.

I am snorkeling with a lovely German woman, in her 70's, who was widowed, last month.

Her stern sister has taken the reservation of the late husband. He was her dive buddy. I'm sure there are lots of tears in that cabin.

Off in the distance, I see an inflatable boat with a shade canopy that is drifting over the reef in the snorkel area. And, sitting in that craft is none other than my husband, wedged between the Widow Wanda and Vixen Vickey, an adult beverage in his hand.

Seems that the inflatable has been retro fitted with a plexiglass bottom. A marine biologist is taking them on a tour of the reef.

That man has figured out how to see the reef without getting wet!

At that night's recap of the day's events, there will be talk of the advance pay made to local tribal leaders that did not trickle down to the dive guides.

ThThere will be discussion of the biology of the region. And, there will be pictures of many exotic fish, including the mermaid captured on film by a quick acting photographer, as the mermaid swam under and waved up to her husband in his glass bottomed boat.