National Geographic : 1971 Aug
to compensate for the habitat's 2'/2 times sea level pressure. Nonetheless, some wag from a previous crew had posted a sign above one of the bubble windows reading, "In Case of Fire, Break Glass!" By the end of the first day I found myself completely ignoring, then forgetting, Big Brother ashore. There was simply too much to do to worry about the ceaseless scrutiny. I hoped that the reef animals would come to ignore us just as thoroughly, and continue their normal activities. Soon a pleasant rapport developed with the watchers topside. Before every dive, we had to clear with them a seemingly endless list of safety precautions and work plans. The whole scene seemed a little ridiculous at times. There we were, five aquanauts, intently watching what the fishes and other animals were up to. Meanwhile, teams of psychologists and other trained observers were intently watching what we were up to. And through our own viewing screens we could watch the watchers watching us-while fishes peered in through the portholes! Far from being bored, we resisted sleep, ate meals hastily, and spent six, eight, or ten hours a day outside the habitat, exploring coral heads and quietly observing the com ings and goings of our neighbors. One morning at 4:45 I stood by the hatch with Ann Hartline and Peggy Lucas, each of us with a weight belt, compass, watch, depth gauge, knife, strobe light, yellow emergency balloon, sonic homing device, lantern, cam era, collecting bag, and writing slate-all buckled, draped, or clutched somewhere on us. We wore standard twin-pack scuba tanks. Sunrise Brings a Change of Cast "Topside?" I call to the watch director. "Go ahead, bottomside." "We are ready to begin our dive." "You aren't serious. The sun isn't up." "Sure we're serious. It's great out there. Are we clear?" The watch director chuckles. "Go ahead, you wild women. You are clear." The hour is perfect for our work. First light brings dramatic changes on the reef. Night creatures-active since sunset-return at last to their crevices. Others go to deeper water. Day creatures emerge from various burrows and dens. In less than an hour there is a spectacular transformation. This is the time to see just who is up to what on the sea floor. We step from the habitat into the blue well 292 in our floor and slip into the dark water. Then we swim away from the floodlights and, with only our portable lamps to guide us, cross the reef to a place where we have seen a small damselfish guarding its eggs. Luminescent organisms sparkle in the water about us.* An occasional bright flash indicates the presence of darting fish. 5:20 a.m. We find a likely spot at 70-foot depth and settle down. The damselfish are still in their rock crannies; the sandy plain beside the reef is quiet. We switch off our lights and wait. Black shades to gray, and several damselfish cautiously emerge from a small clump of coral. "Gardens" of Eels Spring Up at Dawn 5:35 a.m. We notice the tip of a small black nose at the rim of a hole in the sand. Within minutes, dozens more appear, and soon an entire bed of garden eels has assumed the "up periscope" position. By day these lovely slender fish extend more than halfway out of their burrows, sway ing and bending continuously and feeding delicately upon passing small creatures. By night, who knows? Apparently the eels stay in their burrows, for although we always find their holes during evening dives, the owners seem to be tucked out of sight. Once Renate and I watched them retract at sunset, a pro cess that began as the sun went down and lasted about 45 minutes. 6:00 a.m. We watch a bicolor damselfish drive away a young queen triggerfish that noses too close for comfort. Not far away we find a basket star resting in a tight knot next to an anemone. By night we have seen the same creatures fully ex panded; as they snare plankton in their lacy arms, they resemble large doilies waving above the bottom. At last our air begins to run low, and we return to the habitat. Our sense of freedom and delight is so great that along the way we do somersaults, rolls, and loops. Back home once more, we have breakfast, then proceed to the routine of bandaging minor coral cuts and abrasions. In the afternoon Renate and I prepare for another excursion, this time using rebreathers, which emit few disturbing bubbles. Also, they will allow us four continuous hours on the sea floor. In that period we can visit Renate's *Dr. Paul A. Zahl discussed the phenomenon of bio luminescence in "Nature's Night Lights," NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, July 1971.