I woke up to the sound of female voices chanting “The power of love is here now” in a slow, hypnotic rhythm. The lyrics, “to create magic on earth,” echoed in my mind as I got out of bed. From the bathroom, I could see the neighboring resort’s immaculate tropical garden surrounding their crystal clear infinity pool. A group of people dressed in flowy yoga clothes held hands and sang, “Let the water wash away your tears. Let the earth hold you, take care of you, and nurture you.”
I couldn’t help but think of the irony of the situation. A few days ago, a river of plastic had flushed into the ocean right in front of this idyllic paradise. Yet here they were, singing to the earth to hold, take care of, and nurture them. I laughed grimly at the absurdity of it all.
I was in a particular mood today, filled with anticipation and nervousness. Today was the day we were going diving again. We had spent hundreds of hours underwater last year at our beloved house reef, enchanted by the beautiful colors, a gang of turtles that greeted us daily, and friendly reef fish. But it had been five months since I last held my breath and immersed myself in the underwater world here. I knew that in the current state of our ocean, five months was a long time. Change for the worse continues to increase exponentially, and I knew that what I was going to see underwater today would not be what I had left behind five months ago.
It had taken us 17 days to get our feet wet again because it was the rainy season in Bali. Mountains of trash that had accumulated on land were being flushed into the ocean by the rivers that usually ran dry. These mountains of plastic and other debris had turned into rivers of human shame, flooding the water that was supposed to “wash away our tears”. The water I had stared at for 17 days from my room didn’t wash away any tears; it caused them. But today was different. The sun was shining, and the river had stopped throwing up due to disgust towards humanity.
The morning routine completed, the coffee ingested, the wetsuit thrown on, and down we walked the 50m path to the volcanic rock beach. It was murky, but we paddled out a bit to where dirt particles had settled a little and we got about 10 m of visibility. By now it felt like routine. I’ve swam this route so many times before. We swam out to the sandy part where young green turtles used to graze on seagrass and curiously greet us. “I just hope that the turtles are still there” — @uwlunatics’ words were ringing in my head. But they were not. We were being welcomed by plastic bags and a whole lot of dirty water, bearing no life.
Thinking about Donnashella and her friends (that’s how I named one of the turtles), we swam towards the first coral reef structures and I began to ask myself if we can still call it a coral reef. What we encountered resembled more of a graveyard than a coral reef. A place that 5 months ago teemed with underwater life and beauty, now looked like 17-year-old me on my walk of shame after a night out with tequila and no sunrise.
What had made the house reef special were the beautiful, huge, and colorful Knotted Fan Corals that provided habitat for a variety of critters and fish. Some of them were branching as far as two meters, meaning they were around 200 years old, given the fact that they grow 1 cm per year. But today, if the fans were Lamborghinis 5 months ago, they were now tricycles. We couldn’t find the fish that had found shelter in the fans. Only jellyfish, the only marine animal that thrives with rising sea temperatures.
I had seen enough. On my way back to shore, I made my way through the sea of plastic on the surface and tried to suppress the load of feelings that threatened to overcome me. Back on land, I washed off all the dirt, but didn’t succeed in washing off the shame I felt for being part of a society that wipes out every living thing, including itself, while being ignorant enough to not even notice it.