On a trip to the Scottish sea lochs, SCUBA Magazine columnist Kirsty Andrews finds herself inspired by a vision of the natural world in all its glory.

Bristol Zoo, my childhood stomping ground and that of many others, closed its doors this year after 186 years in the centre of the city.

Zoos, of course, have their opponents and understandably so; the poor animals resident there have a sad kind of life, despite the best efforts of their keepers and this significant negative must be set against the valuable conservation efforts many of these institutions undertake.

Yet there must be something said for the pure sense of wonder instilled in countless young visitors on their visits to the zoo: the sights, sounds, smells there imprint on the psyche and for many, inspire a love of nature that lasts for good, educates and inspires.

It was quite the sight. Stories were all around, sucking me in. How lucky I was to see such marvels

So far, so non-SCUBA-themed. But for some reason I was thinking of the zoo on a dive recently. I was at one of my all-time favourite sites in Loch Carron, and as I looked around, I was filled with that familiar feeling of wonder at the variety of animal life going about its business all around me. Everywhere I could see there was activity. Featherstars held on to a megaclutch of hundreds of eggs in preparation for spawning; crustaceans of all kinds were seemingly happy to opportunistically eat each other whenever they could; butterfish and Yarrell’s blennies patrolled the reef and squat lobsters poked bravely from their crevices, intimidating all comers.

Feeding was a priority for most: brittlestars extended their arms up to catch passing food, while the dead man’s finger-eating nudibranch Tritonia hombergi chowed down on its favourite snack at will. There was something going on between the sea toads and the butterfish which I suspected was food-themed - an agreement to combine forces? I couldn’t be sure. More dives are needed to figure that out. 

It was quite the sight. Stories were all around, sucking me in. How lucky I was to see such marvels – the full lives of the creatures of a vibrant, healthy reef; not the limited, unnatural existence of a zoo animal. Underwater we are so lucky to witness so much, mostly uninhibited by our presence.

I do look back fondly on my childhood visits to the zoo. Even then I felt the need to know more, to document what I saw in drawings and stories, and that has stayed with me. I want others to feel that excitement, but more than that I want others to enjoy our sport; to benefit from our unique viewpoint on the sea and its inhabitants.

Nature documentaries are incredible these days, aren’t they? However, they don’t offer the full immersion (pun intended) that our sport can provide. Remember the first truly spectacular sight you saw underwater? I’ll bet you do. And you told others about it, and that contagious excitement was in your voice and your eyes as you spoke. Let’s pass on this wonderful ticket we have to an underwater world; it sure trounces a trip to the zoo.

Article ‘Look deep into nature’ by Kirsty Andrews first published in SCUBA magazine, Issue 137 July/August 2023.

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