Buoys and Moray Eels


Buoys are important. I don’t have to tell you guys who drive ships or submarines. Buoys tell you where it is safe to go, and where it isn’t.

But I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to snorkelers.

I was reminded of the importance of buoys not long ago while swimming at Hanauma Bay, in beautiful Hawaii. At Hanauma Bay there are a couple of buoys that mark how far out from shore you can safely venture. On the day in question, I had had a good day – I had seen multitudes of tropical fish, sea anemones, and even a sea turtle. Satisfied, I headed in.

That’s when came face to face with one of these.

Moray Eel
Moray Eel (from Wikipedia Commons)

I had never seen a Moray eel before, and the only pictures I had ever seen had them tucked inside of crevices with only their faces exposed. This beast was swimming freely, like a fish.

I would like to draw your attention to the part of the eel that I was focused on.

moray_midsize mouth

It is at about this point that I was reminded of what I saw a few years ago at Grande Island, near Subic Bay in the Philippines. Grande Island also has a snorkeling area with buoys, and one of the Sailors I was with decided to test the boundaries. He gave me a look that said, “I’m a rebel. Watch me as I disregard the buoy line. I am so cool.”

I watched him. No sooner had he crossed the imaginary line between the danger buoys than a beautiful tropical fish about six inches long shot from out of the depths like an underwater missile and slammed into his head.

At first it looked like his head exploded. Then I realized he was screaming out of surprise and fear, letting out a mass of air bubbles. Like a dog on a wet kitchen floor, he scrambled to shore, never to venture out again. As he left, I watched his snorkel gear sink to the bottom of the lagoon. It is probably still there.

I saw him later – humbled, shaken and nursing a small cut in his forehead. I thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

He should have stayed inside the buoys.

I was contemplating all that as I was screaming through my snorkel, trying to turn my not-so-svelte body around, and swimming away for all I was worth.

But the thing is, I was only twenty feet from shore, well inside the buoys. However, I had violated another rule of snorkeling, which is to never swim alone. I realized too late that if these were my final moments, if I was about to become the luau pig for a Hawaiian eel’s evening meal, no one would have known.

Everyone who survives a near-death experience learns from it, and I am no exception. (You may not consider this a near-death experience, but you weren’t the one staring down the gullet of a nasty looking eel.)

I know now that boundaries are important, but they don’t guarantee your safety. Sometimes danger lurks in unexpected – even beautiful – places.

I also learned that you should always swim with a buddy.

And if you think there’s a chance you might run into a Moray eel, have your buddy go first.


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