At low tide boats in the harbor hover in one foot of silky water waiting for their respective owners to finish their morning ritual of tea or coffee. The sun is rising in the distance to the right as we motor out of the harbor of Tomia island. I admit I am curious and anxious for my first glimpse into diving here in Wakatobi, a collection of islands famed for their clear water and incredible biodiversity. It’s only about five minutes to our first dive site the captain tells us and the donning of wetsuits, the matching of fins to feet ensues. A cursory look over the side of the boat to check the conditions before we get in reveals very little, but the ocean’s deep blue color here implies depth.
Once in the water a gentle current sweeps us over a pinnacle into a confluence of currents. A school of 20 pound jack fish flanked by two giant trevally materialize and dart in bait ball formation 30 feet below the surface. Small baitfish scurry closer to the surface their iridescent blue scales catching the morning light. I dive under again and drop after drop they not only tolerate our presence, but almost seem mildly intrigued. They swirl and surround me through their own volition as I slowly sink from the surface trying not to disturb their ranks. It is a surreal sight, unlike anything any of us have experienced before. Time, like our underwater movements, seems suspended and slowed. Underwater we cannot yell to each other, but behind each mask is a set of crinkling eyes that matches the joyful smile in my own.
Our next dive takes us to an area 60 feet deep with a wonderland of fan corals. Some resemble human size underwater roses. Tiny reef fish hide in their congregated folds. Turtles and a few barracudas drift by. We finally stop pointing at each other every time we see something new and just enjoy the brilliance of nature. Sometimes happiness needs no words. Good thing, because here in Wakatobi especially, speechless, wide-eyed, and excited seems to be our new normal.