When the last snorkel bag is jammed into the back of the rental car, my family piles in. Our crew, a group of thirteen, consists of snorkelers ranging in age from 8 to 73. We drive up the coast of West Maui to Honolua Bay, buzzing with energy for a morning snorkel at one of the most extraordinary locations in the world. We traipse along the dirt path in the woods and arrive at our snorkel spot. All of us, with the exception of my grandparents, are amateur snorkelers. My grandpa shows all the grandchildren how to spit in the goggles to prevent them from getting foggy and my grandma helps the inexperienced snorkelers adjust their masks so they don’t leak. A large rock on the edge of the water provides a place for us to sit to put our gear on before slipping into the water.
All at once I push off the rock into the water and feel the freezing cold water rushing around me. I put my face into the water and I spot a few small, drab fish darting around the sandy ocean bottom. Not exactly impressive. We swim further out along the right side of the bay to find what we really came for.
About 20 yards from shore, we come across some little patches of coral with cleaner wrasse swimming in and out of every crevice. Further out, the coral is even more dense and colorful. Enormous groups of coral straight out of Finding Nemo are everywhere providing shelter for a variety of colorful, unique fish. We spot blue tang (aka Dory), wrasse, butterfly fish, and even a few pufferfish. I turn my head and spot a massive parrotfish about three feet long swimming right by us entirely unconcerned. The more we saw, the more I became intrigued and amazed that an entire ecosystem as complex and remarkable as this one was operating underwater in what seemed like a world away from the beach.
The sun was out, but it’s bright rays were partially obscured, providing ideal conditions for excellent visibility. I feel a tap on my leg and I flip around to find my grandma pointing underneath a large chunk of coral. Hiding out in it’s little home, a sea turtle naps peacefully. Right as we were about to swim away, the creature begins to move and float in a graceful, fluid way towards the surface. The turtle moves it’s flippers in sweeping motions and sticks it’s head just above the waterline, takes in air, and then returns its spot underneath the coral in the same peaceful manner.
We swim back to shore and remove our flippers and masks. I’m a little cold, shaky, and in need of some salty trail mix. I tug my mask off which simultaneously yanks my hair. Relief washes over me as the pressure of the tight mask is finally released and I feel the red outline where the mask was. We trudge up the rocks to our little camp to get some water and a snack. The cool water tastes refreshing in comparison to the salty ocean.
Looking out over the bay, I watch many snorkelers putt around with their faces in the water, snorkels sticking straight up. I can imagine that they are looking at a ornate butterflyfish, a Nemo look alike, or even a turtle. I turn my attention to the bay as a whole, looking out over the distance watching waves and feeling the wind. I realize, despite the phenomenal landscape, equally majestic scenery exists just below the water’s surface.
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