Tonight we swim with the plankton that, hopefully, will sparkle and glow for us. First, however, we must see who are to be our swim partners this evening (our planktonic ones, that is). In the Plankton Lab we observe phytoplankton and zooplankton under microscopes. These are not like our own microscopes, but ones we WISH to have at school. They have screens! Whatever drifts in the tiny wells on the slides is thousands of times bigger than life and in living technicolor, on monitors in front of our eyes, easy to see and draw. Each tiny slide sample contains hundreds of plankton. It’s mind-boggling to imagine the numbers of microscopic plankton in our seas that support all life on Earth!
On to the float at the end of the pier we trek. Armed with data collecting equipment we test the water for salinity, determine the turbidity and depth of the water, and dredge up samples of the ocean floor to examine what is thriving in the sand. Data is a scientist’s lifeblood, but collecting it, at least at CIMI, can be the most fun!
We are now considered experienced snorkelers after our Orientation Snorkel yesterday. We get into our wetsuits more quickly, and take a moment for sheer pleasure before heading back into the sea. Nobody wants to stop jumping off the float into the clear waters below, scattering baitfish and waving to an occasional Garibaldi or Kelp Fish. Even a pelican joins us, but it is there for lunch, not pleasure. However, we must also be on our way to more serious pursuits like our friend the pelican. We don fins and masks and once again become part of Catalina Island’s underwater world to observe and learn.
James and Julia take us underwater with them.
Julia’s first snorkel ever: I don’t know what to do. One side of me says, “GIVE UP!” The other side says, “GO ON!” Wavy Garibaldies swim slowly under me guarding their rocky homes. I gather myself together and lower my head into the water. I can do this if I try. Phoenix is not about giving up. Excitement rushes through me again. I am proud!
James: Algae-battered ropes extend to the murky depths. Sea hares idle atop their boulders ignoring our curiosity. Drowsy leopard sharks wind their way through the water glancing up at us “land creatures.” Now I have proof that heaven is a place on Earth.
As night falls, we return to Dive Deck to suit up once again. This time we are definitely speedy. We have subdued those ornery suits and zip into them in record time. Armed with a snorkel safety light that twinkles above the water and a dive flashlight, we each moonwalk backwards across the beach and into the sea with our partner. All together, we swim off in search of nocturnal organisms and bioluminescence. The moon is full and lights up the ocean so we wonder if we will be able to see the glowing phytoplankton that we seek. Not to worry, even though we see nothing at first, as soon as we switch our lights off and swish our hands through the water, we are surrounded in every direction by sparks of white and green. It’s a magical phenomenon only Mother Nature can provide.
Ella takes us into the night waters.
Do I dare look down? “SHARK!” This is what I have been waiting for! I see a sneaky leopard shark emerge from the darkness. Soon after 40 more follow. Stingrays lurk in the depths. My heart thumps as I look under into a midnight paradise. My hand waves in front of my face revealing bioluminescent plankton not seen in broad daylight.
As we head back, TJ dives to the bottom and surfaces with a thorn back ray, depositing it gently on the safety float for all of us to see. We get to touch it and marvel at its silky-rough skin, depending on which way we run our finger over the flat fin. Soon we release it unharmed to bury itself in the sand at the bottom.
Getting out of our wetsuits is the fastest yet…..it is chilly and we are anxious to get to the delicious hot cocoa awaiting us in the Dive Shop. Filled with warmth on the inside and ready to rest our tired muscles, we say goodnight to the full moon and head to bed.