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The Diver

I sliced my foot open on a broken bottle of Coors Light. It had fallen into the sand, half-buried, littered amongst the rest of the beach with rocks and pebbles. Waves and salt honed the edge, the clear glass sandblasted opaque, now stained bloodred, the price of waste pain in crimson droplets.

Later, I sat and wrapped a bandage slowly, failing to keep the grains of sand from penetrating the wound. It was going to sting and bite like an open sore, unforgettable. As I plunged towards the reef, I wondered if it might be infected. But I couldn’t let this stop me. The reef was too important. My mission was too important.

The reef was dying.

The schooner slipped through frigid waters and I slipped on my wetsuit. Dives like this were commonplace. Routine. I counted the minutes until we hit the buoy and circled the dive site. Besides me, the divers were as stark and expressionless as the expanse of blue ocean we traveled. Floating near me: unmarked bottles, seals, styrofoam flotillas, plastic dinner trays, seagulls, muddy brown oil.

The cut oozed in the sloshing, squelching booties and I considered the fact that sharks smell blood from miles away. Smell is a foreign term underwater. There is no scent, per-se, only the stranglehold of salt and cold. Strangled like the plastic around the necks of seals and seagulls we failed to rescue. 

Sometimes, plunging beneath the waves, it feels like we’re fighting a war we cannot win. Industry is death. One man’s garbage is another fish’s death rattle. It’s war down there.

The ship reaches the reef. The captain ties off and wishes me luck. I take a breath and dive into the battlefield. Beneath me is a sea of color. Red staghorn coral grows like hair from the rocks. Blue and green brain coral swirls like sherbet and I dive to observe the decay. Everything here is fleeting. Bleachbone remains rise like headstones. My clipboard counts the missing: starfish, frogspawn, a fugu puffer with a small tumor that I named Frank. I take a tally of the living and find it less than the week before.

The reef is passing like the ebb and flow of the tide. And despite the efforts to skim the plastic from the surface, despite the attempts to shore the edge of the reef with rocks, trenches dug to prevent erosion, regulations, nets, there is nothing. Nothing.

My wound bleeds free into the sea, but there are too few sharks to smell it.

I turn back to the divot where I know I will find a pair of clownfish. There used to be hundreds hosting a squad of bubble tip anemone. Now there are two. I watch them dance and hide and dart in and out of the purple amalgam and wonder if they understand the price of inevitability. Do clownfish mourn when they dream? Or can they only fight the current for so long?

Today marks the fifteenth week on the ocean. Fifteen weeks, a list that shrinks faster than my saving’s account, a shark’s tooth, and a desiccated turtle shell.

I swim back to the boat and am interrupted by a slowly gliding turtle. It’s a loggerhead, searching for squid, and I don’t have the heart to explain that the squid are all gone. We’ve grilled them up as we trawl for sardines. His back is patterned in shades of brown and blue that almost seem to glow as they reflect the still light of morning. And I stare at the shell and it looks almost like a map, as if I could follow the turtle to find far-green lands and wilderness.

But this is a pipe dream shattered like the broken glass of beer bottles strewn from careless beach-goers. Sometimes it feels like I’m fighting a war I cannot win, on a battlefield I can’t begin to understand, on a scale I cannot hope to comprehend.

The turtle swims to me and I scratch its chin.

Swim free, little turtle.

Fight the tides that drag you down.

Later, I check the list and find it wanting. Pray that somehow, somewhere, life might find its way back to the reef. Pray that I can make a difference. It’s the only thing that keeps me waking with the dawn, keeps me swimming out to the sea. That glimmer of hope reflecting like a rainbow prism through cut-glass. Fleeting beauty fading like sandblasted shores.

And maybe there is nothing we can do. But we won’t know unless we try.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Fiction, True Story

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