Location: Ahe Atoll
Ahe is one of the strangest places I have had the fortune of traveling to. We are completely surrounded by a ring of coral and small islands that form only about twelve square kilometers of dry land, and yet the protected waters within are nearly 138 square kilometers. It feels out of place having a turbid ocean all around you but existing in a bubble of calm water. Ahe is sparsely populated with only 500 or so inhabitants, 100 of which live in the main village in the south. Most here are employed in the pearl farming business and tend to the large fields of oysters being cultivated for their precious pearls. They surgically implant the oysters in a process called nucleation with a foreign object (usually a graft of a low-quality pearl) to serve as a bead that the oyster will coat with more nacre until a fully formed pearl is produced and ready to be harvested. There are hundreds of buoys located within the lagoon that contain nets with hundreds of oysters growing within each net. I would estimate that there are at least 3000 pearls out there at various stages of growth in this lagoon alone. There are several atolls in the Tuamotus, and many are much larger than Ahe. The only way in and out of this Ahe is a cut in the northern end of the ring that is only 200m wide from land to land. The actual channel is only 50m wide, and the tide rips through it very quickly when it is ebbing and flooding. It creates a tidal gate that makes it impossible to leave or enter unless traversed at slack tide.
We have had a lovely day here in the southern portion of the lagoon. The calm and tranquil peace that is usually associated with the serene lagoon was utterly shattered by the simulated terrified screams of the rescue diver students who were in various states of faux panic or exhaustion at the surface. Each pair went to work with one student pretending to be in dire need of assistance while the other attempted to rescue or becalm their terrified compatriot. A few of the pairs went for this year’s best actor or actress award and put a look of awe and amazement in Tim’s eye. The divemaster candidates went with a pair of our best thespians (Amy and Bryant) for their Discover SCUBA Diving scenario. Discover SCUBA Diving is a PADI program where people who are not certified have a chance to go on a brief and ultra-controlled dive where an instructor or dive master is figuratively attached to the hip of the client throughout the entire dive. Since these first-time divers do an accelerated course and are only going on a dive that is heavily limited in scope, they can do things or run into problems that an open water student would not run into or that an OWS might have the means to solve themselves. It is a Divemaster’s or instructor’s role to assist the DSD clients with their problems and to make sure they have an exceptionally fun but also ultimately safe dive. If they don’t have fun or if the dive is unsafe, they may never become a certified diver and therefore never enjoy the delights of the underwater world. If they don’t enjoy the delights of the underwater world, they may never become a marine biologist, and if they never become a marine biologist, they may never discover the elusive spinner wrasse, and if they never discover the elusive spinner wrasse, Alex will be sad because he really wants that fish to be real so that he can get a better score on his fish ID book. Don’t make Alex sad, be a better PADI member.
Amy, Steph, and Meg pretending to be panicked divers
Jack, Alexa, and Amanda under sail from the passage into the Atoll
Seby attempting to throw a floatation device to a panicked Tim in the distance for rescue practice