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Published: October 15th 2008
Direction Island during quiet time
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Sept. 28, 2008, Direction Island, Cocos Keeling, Australia
I sat on the dulled and polished coral that had been washed ashore on the southern-most tip of Cocos Keeling’s Direction Island. I looked out to sea to get a glimpse of what I was getting into. A procession of well-armed waves crashed on the break. The waves rolled over the coral and sand and picked up steam as they funneled into a narrow strait between Direction Island and Prison Island to the south.
The idea, albeit, probably not the safest I’d ever heard, was to put on a mask, fins and a snorkel and kick your way out into the main artery of the channel. The current would take one on a short and fast ride over a deep coral canyon, giving us some incredible views of marine life. Because the churning oxygen-rich water moved in quickly from the open Indian Ocean it was full of nutrients and fish and life. On the inside of the atoll, wildlife would just sit and wait for dinner to arrive as the current did all the work. Three others from the World Arc, who had started a few minutes before us, were already lined up a few hundred meters “downstream” holding onto a rope lined with buoys. They had just completed a fast ride through “The Rip.”
James and I cleared our masks and snorkels and started to make our way out into the water, agreeing to keep an eye out for each other, the buoys a few hundred meters away, the other three who had just finished their ride and the two islands. After a kick or two with our fins we began to look down below. It was easy to get disoriented with what was happening above. Down below, the funnel became even more pronounced, as the shallow beach waters made way for a deep canyon of coral. The water was diverted at higher and higher speeds into the center of the channel.
Fish teemed in all directions, hiding from the current behind big coral heads - and probably also hiding from us. A huge blue Humphead Maori Wrasse swam in front of us. Giant clams loomed from down below as we raced over them, moving at about 5 knots. Trevally, Sea Perch, Mullet and Parrot fish were everywhere. I dropped into the canyon about 20 feet deep for a closer look, which got me out of the current slightly. I could see Grouper in the caves. Huge fan coral waved in the current. Brain coral seemed to grow out of the sand.
Under a ledge, two large black-tipped reef sharks sat, slowly swaying their bodies and fins to keep them tucked away. I came up for air. I caught my breath and then kicked back up the current for a better look. I was directly over them and exhausted from the effort to get back up to them. They didn’t seem to be concerned. They swayed in the current, moving just enough to remain tucked away. I kicked just enough to stay above them, about 20 feet from harm’s way. The current was strong so staying in place was hard work. I figured I had one more dive in me before fatigue would settle in and the Rip would shoot me to the end of the ride down to the buoys.
Down I went. I got about 10 feet under the water and off the two sharks went, darting away before I could blink. I had a good view of both of them for about 15 seconds before they were gone. It was just as well, as I was getting tired. I stopped kicking and before I knew it, I was at the rope and buoys. My ride was over. James and I worked our way back to shore.
“That was great,” I said to James as we walked up onto the beach. “Should we do it again, after I catch my breath?”
“Yes, I’d like to get a better look at those sharks,” James said. “It was all too fast, including the sharks.”
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