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Shark on the Reef!

Piece titled: Buccoo Reef Cries Size: 92 x 61 cm Artist: Tricia Trotman-Maraj Medium: Acrylic on canvas.

Many years ago when I was eight my family and I visited Store Bay, Tobago for the first time. Whilst there I saw people boarding these glass bottom boats and asked my mother why they were doing that. She explained that they were going out to the coral reef. I had asked to get on but we couldn't afford the ride. Years later I returned to that beach, this time as a teacher accompanied by a full troop of equally excited Geography students. We boarded the boat and in about twenty minutes reached the spot where we were allowed to get off and snorkel for a bit. The sky and water merged into one except for the intermittent interruption of white sand and coconut trees along the coastline. The water was crystal clear and you could see every grain of sand thirty feet below. I was in heaven swimming amongst a large school of parrot fishes that showed their curiosity in me by taking little nips here and there. For a minute I felt like I was in one of those National Geographic documentaries until I saw it. It was hidden at first on the sea bed but with all of the commotion in the water it started to move. At first I thought it was an undercurrent that had disturbed the sand but its outline was clear, this thing was huge. Panic overcame me as I looked up out of the water to see how far away the boat was from my location. I looked back down to the sea bed and it had emerged from the sand. Its eyelid opened and it was looking directly at me. The boat was too far away and I couldn't swim fast enough. My life flashed before my eyes and I could already see the newspaper headline, 'Teacher Bitten by Shark in Tobago'. I tried to make peace with my maker but couldn't remember the words of the 23rd Psalm. The man killer started floating upward toward me. I froze with fear. Seeing this on television was certainly not the same as being face to face with it in the water. I held my breath and closed my eyes tightly expecting to feel a painful bite on my meaty thigh but nothing happened. I peaked through the goggles only to see the tail of the fish disappear into a sandy cloud.

Although I wasn't eaten that day and have visited the Buccoo Reef several times over this experience has remained with me. I was the only one to see the reef shark that day which I learned is harmless for the most part however what I have seen is the death of large parts of the reef at an alarmingly fast rate as poor environmental practices go unchecked. I wish I could see that shark again but there is no more coral in shallow water. Maybe one day I will venture into the deep. Share the blog for nature lovers everywhere.

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