Narration By: Claire Paris, Biological Oceanographer and Free Diver
I have always been drawn to the sea. As a kid, I imagined the magic of the aquatic realm and found comfort underwater, mesmerized by the sounds of waves on the shoals and of my heart beat slowing down.
I am a biological oceanographer and a free diver. The ocean is where I push my mind and my body. I study the earliest days of a fish’s life, what we call its larval stage. All fish, even those that grow to become very large, begin their lives very small. They may be tiny, but we’ve learned they are far from defenseless. They are strong and self sufficient having evolved to survive the pelagic life. Like the mantra “ek ong kar”, they and the ocean are one.
Despite this, they must still find their way through the ocean’s currents to a safe home like a coral reef where they can live and grow. At first we thought some would find a suitable habitat by chance, while others would be lost in the vast ocean. But today we are discovering a different story. Fish larvae are skilled swimmers and work together by using the light from the sun, and the smells and sounds in the ocean to find their way home. Even when young, they are connected to the sea in ways we don’t entirely understand. When I observe them, I cannot help but think they know something about this blue world that I don’t.
Unlike a fish, I cannot extract oxygen from the water. But with long, deep inhales, I have learned to fill my lungs with air and slow the beat of my heart. Underwater, I find peace listening to my pulse slowing down and the sound of water over my body. I sink as pressure increases and I feel the water running faster over my face. I imagine that I am just like the tiny fish I study.
I explore the ocean with others like me, learning how to hold my breath and extend each visit below, just a little bit longer. But no matter how hard I train….my body will eventually force me to leave and return home to the air. Sometimes….in my dreams, I imagine I could hold my breath forever. I feel free. I wonder if I could, would I ever come back?