Day 6: Wednesday 1 June
Sometime in the afternoon. Siesta time actually—all quiet at the Avalon compound. But no siesta for us. James and I are back at the “lab” after a largely fruitless search among the shallow Porites coral patches of the backreef for the particular sponge we know to harbor social shrimp here, an otherwise unremarkable, inconspicuous blob that fills the space among dead coral branches and can only be seen by very close inspection. Hunting and searching, swimming, fighting the surge, squinting at sponges and tiny crustaceans.
Meanwhile, another day of communion with the wraith-like silky sharks materializing out of the blue, gliding effortlessly by, and disintegrating again. Open air, warm blue water, bare feet, salt and damp, diesel fumes, baskets of gear and scuba tanks strewn around the cramped deck with nine people aboard, ravenous for lunch of rice and stewed fish and pineapple, wolfing it down with the boat rolling in the swell. Picking shrimp from the colorful, spiny chaos of the dead coral clumps all afternoon, stinking with sweat and waving off mosquitoes, sunburned, exhausted from thermoregulating for hours in the water and fighting surge on the backreef and swimming 100 meters with a mesh bag full of rock. Exhausted, damp, salty, tousled, sunburned . . .