You soak in your last glimpse of the horizon line, then you descend into the turquoise world, toying with your buoyancy until you weigh nothing: you are part of the sea now. Your feet propel you forward and there in front of you lies the silent city and boy is it bustling. Your curiosity mirrors their own as tiny heads peak out of coral pores. You know this is the most beautiful landscape you have ever seen. Fairy Basslets congregate with their bodies vertical at roofs edging the water surface as if they rule the city. A kaleidoscope of parrot fish hovers on the seafloor and you can hear the *click click*s of their snacking. You thank them for their service, recognizing that they are the clean up crew of this vibrant town, keeping corals from getting caked in algae, scraping it off with their teeth (2021). A striking squirrelfish brushes past you, its enormous eye glued to your foreign figure. You weave in and out of skyscrapers sculpted out of a medley of layered freeform shapes of all colors, decorated with dancing sea fans and Christmas tree worms. Everyone obeys the current and you wait to kick yourself forward until it lends you its gentle shove.

Barrier reef of Andros Island, Bahamas. Photo by Kira Quitel.

A venomous lionfish, covered in the patterns of a peppermint, traces the sandy substrate: an instance of our interference, something that we brought here and now are trying to eradicate. You were told by science to see it for its invasive nature and kill it with the proper equipment so that it does not take over, but you look at it and know it was nothing more than a bystander in this case. We are the ones to blame and it has to reap the consequences for our actions… as is the typical result of a human-affected-ecosystem dilemma. Your cynical rumination dissipates as a swarm of bar jacks passes by as one shimmering being, as if they are putting on a welcoming performance just for you making an appearance here in their underwater world.

You take it all in for a moment, how the system operates so beautifully. You look around at the Society of the Coral, this incredible diversity of life forms that these benthic creatures are capable of supporting. And how the fish respect and hold sacred the thing that gives them shelter, food, and life. An execution of reciprocity at its finest. 

You wish so badly that this was your world. Your world once reassembled this one, back when all the delicate balances were in place. The first humans understood this best. Now we have touched and shaken up every corner of the planet and our ignorance of the consequences to come for all life on earth makes you feel sick to your stomach.

But in this moment you are breathing pure turquoise bliss (metaphorically of course… the regulator is your true champion) and witnessing the Society of the Coral go through their daily labors and interactions with gentleness and intention and you know in this moment why it is you are alive. Now all that you can do is preach the way of the coral reef and use this incredible organism of organisms as a guide for you to restore your world’s beauty.

-Kira Quitel, Intern at Cape May Whale Watch and Research Center

Drexel University ’26

Sources:

Parrotfish. (2021). The Nature Conservancy.

https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/animals-we-protect/parrotfish/

Inspiration from Robin Wall Kimmerer’s “Braiding Sweetgrass” (2013)