It was Perry’s first time out on the Hol Chan survey field. He was nervous. “You’re the expert.” He kept telling me. “I’m the student here.” I laughed, because what he said was totally true, I was the expert in what we were going to do, and he was the student, instead of what would normally be vise versa.
Juliano, who always goes by his nickname, Big Sexy, didn’t help to soothe Perry’s nerves either. “Watch out for snappers [turtles],” he laughs, “they’ll bite your head off! And they’re real aggressive this time o’ year. It’s mating season.” Perry paled. He gave a shaky laugh and looked a little perplexed.
Finally it was time to go. “All Aboard?” Gio calls. We scramble on to the boat. Maybe I should explain a little. I work with MarAlliance formerly known as the Belize Shark Project which is a marine conservation NGO in Belize. The Hol Chan survey field is Hol Chan Marine Reserve. It is a survey that monitors the local nurse sharks. We go out once a week to count the sharks, sex ratios, and see if any familiar ones are there. (Tagging is not allowed in reserves so we have to make do with sight identification.) So anyways, we were on the boat and Perry seems to calm down because he starts snapping photos of everything. The sky, the sea, me, Gio, Ishmael, the tourists, everything. By the time we arrive at Site A, his memory card is 45% full, meaning he took about 134 picture in just 10 minutes!
We were then allowed to go off exploring by ourselves, since we were classified as “scientists and researchers, and locals” and the dive masters figured we—or al least I—knew our way around. So I showed Perry the grasslands, the coral heads, and finally the channel. He was really excited, so it seemed, about all the variations of fish there were in a site that had only a 1/4 mile radius. We saw, Blue-lined grunts, Atlantic Blue Tangs, Barracuda, Spotted Eagle Rays, baby Nurse Sharks, among other specimen. We were just about to head back to the boat when we passed a snorkel group. The tour guide, was throwing chum into the sea, while a—oh Gosh!— a giant, green moray eel came swimming towards us. Female shrieks filled the air—wait a minute, filled the sea— and I solely wanted to scream too, but I couldn’t. When I get startled, or scared, I stay quiet, don’t move, or move like Lighting. The eel shied away from the noise and edged toward me. As if it thought I looked like good food, which is a compliment… I suppose.
Well, there I was, frozen in mid-ocean, with a long ferocious looking fish swimming slowly over to me. “Oh God,” I couldn’t help thinking, “those Disney animators sure did a swell job of drawing those electric eel for The Little Mermaid.” The eel came up to my face. It was wearing a very toothy grin. I tried to shoo it away while Perry was purposefully snapping picture after picture of this. The moray became uninterested once it knew I didn’t have any fish heads on me, so it turned around and went straight back to its hole. I found myself breathing again, and took a deep breath in. “Well, thats not something that happens to you everyday!” I thought.
And so, that is how I came to know Verde, the eel, and how Perry got to know his way round Hol Chan.