For the love of snorkeling, by Mackenzie Tewksbury, TCI

Kenzie’s story is about snorkeling in West Caicos & the Continental Shelf in the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Here she goes, swimming into the blue unknown with Big Blue Unlimited…

My alarm went off around 6:45 am on a Thursday morning in Provo to the smell of brewing coffee and I could hear my father packing up towels, snorkels and the GoPro. This could only mean one thing. In about an hour, we were going to be headed to Big Blue Unlimited for an all day snorkel tour to the edge of the banks.

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I sipped coffee at our dining room table while googling pictures of the edge of the banks, a spot where the ocean floor drops from about 40 feet to about 7000 feet in the matter of seconds. I was already in awe of what I was about to experience. We met our friends Matt and Aimee at the marina. Greeted with eager smiles, the Big Blue staff made me feel comfortable immediately. Our captain Ben and his assistant Ruper made the perfect combination of informative and humorous. After about a 30-minute boat ride and getting to know the other passengers, we geared up for our first snorkel spot at Northwest Point.

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We hopped into the water and followed Ben’s lead. The world we just jumped into was mesmerizing. We floated atop the water while we spotted Caribbean lobsters, barracudas, angelfish, and a million more. Matt and I even caught a glimpse of a reef shark, but it swam away before we could get the other’s attention. We knew that we were just warming up for the real event of the tour: The Wall.

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The next two snorkel stops fascinated me more than the first. I found myself just gazing at the miles and miles of coral reef that surrounded me. I weaved myself through each piece while watching a juvenile Yellowtail Damselfish with electric blue spots swim through the coral. We kept on cruising to West Caicos, but we all had worked up an appetite. Snorkeling is hard work! We devoured turkey and ham sandwiches made by the crew and learned that Ruper, an 18-year-old London native is on his gap year. When we asked him what he’s doing here, he responded with “I’m just living in Provo and looking at really cool fish.” Cheers to that, Ruper!

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After a few laughs, it was time to jump back into the water. This spot was about 40 feet deep and felt emptier than the spots prior. I mistakenly thought that meant we wouldn’t see a lot because within seconds my dad and I saw a barracuda hanging out by the sea floor. Then, things got interesting. I was swimming closer to the boat when a long, skinny silver fish joined me. It looked like an upside down shark. Ruper informed me that it was a Remora, or better known as a “suckerfish” and they liked to suction themselves to larger animals. I swam even faster after learning this; it felt as if I was going to be this Remora’s next victim.

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Loud shrieks echoed from the other side of the boat. A reef shark was on the prowl! Matt and Aimee followed the shark, but the sight of a shark sent a passenger flying back to the boat. She was out of breath and paralyzed with fear, telling us how big and ferocious the shark was. I sympathized with her, remembering the first time I saw a shark I didn’t know if it was going to eat me or just wanted to see what’s up. Now, it was time to head to the Wall. From the boat we could see the water change from a clear turquoise color to a deep dark blue. As we talked, I could feel pure excitement fill my body mixed with some serious jitters. But, I swallowed the fear and dove into the blue.

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I felt so alive. My heart raced as I swam further away from the boat. I had just plunged into a world that we don’t know much about and had no idea what I would see next. With my head underwater, I continued swimming into the blue. I observed the life as I noticed the ocean floor getting deeper and deeper. All of the sudden, I looked up to find my dad, but all I saw was blue. I couldn’t see anything in front of me, I couldn’t see anything below me, and I couldn’t see anything behind me. All I could hear was the quiet sounds of the underwater world.

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Floating still atop this world, I realized how incredible it was. For a moment, I panicked, and I remember imagining swimming head first into a smiling Great White Shark. But, I swallowed the fear, and embraced the reality I was in. I kept swimming into the unknown, realizing that the moment I had just lived is exactly what makes me love the ocean.

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On my journey back to the boat, I followed a school of Horse-eye Jacks and even found my dad while we snapped pictures of a spotted nurse shark about 40 feet down. After everyone made it to the boat, we started our trek back to Provo. I sat on the bow of the boat with Matt with the wind and sun in our face. “What a day,’ said Matt. “I think it’s time for a drink.”

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Yep, I thought to myself. He was right.

Mackenzie Tewksbury August 2015, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos Islands

 

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