The piercing scream exploded around me as though it were an incoming mortar shell. I whipped around and saw Stephi waving about, bubbles escaping from her mouth as she pointed down. I pushed up from the five meter depth and surfaced for air, waiting for her to do the same.
“Are you OK?” I asked, treading water just off Tumbatu Island, a 20-minute speedboat ride from Nungwi, in Zanzibar’s north.
“Did you see the Mantis shrimp?” Stephi bubbled out excitedly.
She’s a marine biologist and is easily excited by the smallest things in the water. I am too. But not to the point of waking up every sea creature across the Indian Ocean with a panicked scream.
“That’s why you screamed?” I playfully splashed water at her. “I thought a shark had made me part of its menu. Jesus, you scared the shit outta me.”
She laughed apologetically while I breathed deeply to slow down my heart beat so I could return to the underwater world, my go-to place for any cleansing.
The Tumbatu reef had an explosion of sea life. Although visibility was only 10 meters and strong currents pushed us north where the boat bobbed patiently, the amount of fish and coral was overwhelming. I didn’t know where to explore first. Depths were up to 5-7 meters. I dived down to play with the reef fish, surprising a small school as I swam around a huge coral. The lobster was too small to consider bringing up for lunch and a weird looking flat, white thing with blue dots rested on a sponge.
As we neared the boat a remora appeared, as most fish do, out of nowhere. They’re about half a meter in length and are fearless.
This one swam right up to us. Dane, who had driven us up to Nungwi and initiated the snorkel trip and I were wading, watching it. Stephi kept a keen eye on it. I swam after it, diving down to play with it. When it came close to Stephi she suddenly panicked, splashing at it, kicking with her fins to scare it off.
“What the hell are you doin’?” I laughed. “Are you scared of a remora?”
“They can stick to you,” she said, as she flailed her arms every time it approached. Dane and I laughed. “It’s true!” she tried to convince us. “They don’t only stick to sharks. You saw the huge, ridged suction cup on top of its head? If they stick to you, they can leave a huge bruise. The only way to get it off is to kill it.” She splashed again in a panic as it returned. I laughed and dived down.
I hovered at about 3 meters, keeping an eye on the fish, watching Dane dive down to 5 meters. The remora then swam up to him and snuck in close to his back, almost touching him. Dane didn’t notice, focusing on the coral he was exploring. Suddenly, the remora twisted into position.
Stephi already ripped out a bubble-exploding scream which had Dane whip around to me and I pointed up in exaggeration to stress the situation. Dane raced up to the surface, the remora having been millimetres from attaching itself to his shoulder.
“Are you serious?” he couldn’t believe it.
“I told you!” Stephi exclaimed.
The remora, realising it had no one to stick to, swam off in search of a more hospitable host while the current carried us to the boat.
It would’ve really sucked had it latched on to Dane.