My old friend Nick and I have just had our first snorkel of the season in our beloved Gordon’s Bay. We’ve shared the space with groupers there for years. He and his wife were married at Clovelly and my wedding gift to them was a framed picture I had taken of Bluey, the giant grouper, in Gordon’s Bay.
We arrived at around 8.30am this morning to find a lone snorkeler exiting the water. He was dripping in Zen and told us if we quieted our minds the grouper would come to us. It was great to see someone else walking peacefully away from the experience we were just about to have. Quiet minds or not, they did come to us and we shared the bay with them.
The water was incredibly clear, refreshing and invigorating. My friend Rani and I always call a swim in the ocean ‘a blessing’. It is a blessing in that we are so grateful to have access to such a beautiful place but it is also a blessing in that the ocean creatures who live there bless us with their presence.
Nick and I were truly blessed this morning. One of the smaller blue groupers was the first I saw. He had his mouth wide open and was getting a good clean of his ridiculously white teeth from the tiny fish darting around his mouth. In 17 years of snorkelling a Gordon’s Bay, this was the first time I had seen one at a cleaning station in full swing.
The next was Bluey, a massive blue grouper who hung with us in about 6 feet of water. The three of us just hovered together in silence. He and we swayed together, making eye contact, as his eyes looked us up and down. Now and then he would change the direction he was facing looking at us and the direction of our bodies. He was waiting for us to kick him up a sea urchin but we just floated together. We were becoming together as Donna Haraway would say. My encounters with groupers are always a blessing for me and today was no different.
In the midst of lots of reading, it has become even more apparent how abysmally we treat the animals of the sea. And so these encounters are becoming even more sacred to me as the years pass.
As Nick and I were sitting on the rocks in the after glow, a kayak fisherman paddled up into the landing in the bay with two fishing rods in position. My heart sank as it always does at the sight of any fishing gear so I scurried over to him before he left. He was an amiable Englishman who informed me he had hooked a few pike but they had all snapped his lines. I had just been reading David A. Fennell’s work on fish pain and sentience and had learned that 43% of all hooked fish die after release sometimes as long as a week later. Those few pike were swimming around with hooks in their mouths, gills and gullets and would suffer and then be eaten by other fish who would suffer the same and so on and so on and so on. The cycle of suffering is immense and almost endless from one single fisherman.
I remember being at Bawley’s Point about 8 years back and finding a massive Australian Fur Seal washed up on the rocks. Its mouth was frozen in a horrific death mask grimace full of a large jumble of recreational fishing gear. The hooks and lures were protruding through its cheeks and lips exposing its teeth. It had died a long excruciating and cruel death at the hands of recreational fishermen. I find it much harder to share space with fishermen than with fish.
Last summer, my friend Pamela, her friend Steven and I went snorkelling at La Perouse. This was one of my favourite spots in my early days of snorkelling. Instead of the pristine oasis I recalled, we were greeted with garbage – everywhere. There were used sanitary pads floating in the water and no fish in sight. There were however more fishermen than we could count. As we were entering the water a large group of Korean spearfishermen were also coming in. My friend Pamela asked them to put their spear guns away while we snorkelled for safety reasons. They obliged. We saw absolutely nothing; lots and lots of algae and garbage and murky water but no fish. We eventually made our way under the bridge at Bare Island when a large shadow appeared. We looked up and saw a couple in a small dinghy with 4 fishing rods. “See any fish?” the woman asked us as we bobbed out of their way. “No” Pamela answered, “You caught them all.” She wasn’t kidding. I saw a single juvenile leatherjacket under the bridge just after that encounter and I’m sure it didn’t last the day.
As Nick and I talked about the ocean this morning he recounted an incident with his 6-year-old daughter Kristin. He was cooking fish for supper and asked her if she’d like some. “No” she said, “I only like fish in the sea.”
Amen to that Kristin.
What a blessing.

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