The Zoo Below – Diving, if you are anything like me, is one of those pursuits that you’ll get round to eventually, especially when you live on a tropical island.  Many of us spend time on the water marvelling at the splendid scenery around us.  The Islands, with their stunning rock formations and lush hillsides, are merely a beautiful backdrop to what lies beneath the sea – a world of vibrant colours, life and freedom.

For my first Virgin dive I am heading out with Blue Water Divers, a dive operation based at Nanny Cay Marina and Soper’s Hole. The first dive is a resort course, and I anticipate it with as much eagerness as the thought of any other dive, considering it’s my first. With a briefing from the instructors, Ian and Albert, ten of us head out to the Bight at Norman Island to pick up two more divers and then over to Soldier Bay for a quick shallow dive. The certified divers go off first whilst the newbies stay up on deck.

After roughly 45 minutes of watching bubbles, the first diver comes out of the water and starts regaling us with the antics of a moray eel the group has been tracking. Visibility is good, the sun is shining and the view of the water from above is the same as it ever looks, except all this talk about marine life has got me well…very curious. There is treasure below of a sort.

The instructors do everything in our initial training to stress safety and comfort; and mostly it’s about the comfort level. We go back to the Bight again and do our safety checks, practice breathing and buoyancy and take a test dive under the dock. Sadly, my first find is a beer can which reminds me of how inconsiderate we are of our environment. We practice swimming with the tanks, all the time the instructors are around us checking but giving us enough room to gain confidence. Then we’re on the boat again, ready for the big drop.

Angel Fish Reef is east of the Bight.  It’s a popular spot for Blue Water Divers. The depth plummets to about 60 feet, and as it is actually formed from the Island, the chances are we will find a bit more than a beer can.   The first things that grab my attention after jumping in and descending down the line are the colours of the water.  Blues, turquoises and indigos dance around the sunbeams that penetrate the water.  I am in another world now; I have entered the zoo below.

At the 40 foot marker, according to my depth meter, I find aLookingGlass’ very own Dominic Timmis swimming beside me, snapping away with his new digital underwater camera. Dominic discovered diving last year – it has taken him no time to become a complete dive nut, and it doesn’t take me long to work out he is totally in his element. Diving with relaxed people generates a great deal of confidence and within minutes I am practising all manner of underwater breathing methods and somersaulting towards the reef, grinning. A barracuda acts as a parking attendant and nestles under the boat.  We follow Albert’s lead through the reef whilst Ian takes the certified divers in search of a seahorse he spotted a while ago.  I realise that we are essentially exploring wonderland.

 As we are coasting the walls of the reef, slowing down and regulating our breathing, most of the zoo comes to visit us, before moving along, fulfilling its life-long business of survival. In the sand, a lump shifts slightly and two small eyes look up directly at me, my shadow hovering over the top if it. A long tentacle rises out of the sand and an octopus appears, its shape defined only after a cloud of sand settles. The groups’ eyes all smile knowingly; this is a rare treat. It’s important not to harass marine life and as we watch the octopus make its way along the rocky ledge we hang back noting its colour change.  Its flaring tentacles also remind us that too close is uncomfortable for the animal.

The octopus glides and puffs across the sand towards the dive boat and for an hour we all gently follow it, its wafting arms guiding us on. We ascend in turn to the boat leaving the animal to go about its business. There is nothing but silence and the occasional sigh as everyone wallows a while in the memories of their experiences.  It’s not long, though, before the silence is broken and an excited debriefing starts.  We compare fins and fish; and everyone congratulates each other on their dives. I’m starting to feel very much at one with the whole diving experience; it’s incredible and quiet. The Blue Water team gets us ready to head back and before we know it all of our kit is stored and packed away.  While talking to the visitors on the boat I discover that although they have dived all around the world and seen some truly amazing things, the BVI is still their favourite sub aqua sortie.  They speak of ‘Natures Little Secrets,’ our tourism slogan, and recite with passion their adventures under water.  I am reminded again that the Caribbean we live in is a real gem.  Go diving – you’ll discover more than you ever dreamed you could.