A pint of beer and an enormous serving of ribs is just the thing to relax after a busy few days of Arctic diving. Swimming five transects of 50 meters may not sound like hard work but when you throw in freezing water, leaking dry-suits, biting winds and dense forests of seaweed the business is definitely hard work! Just imagine yourself at 15 meters underwater … the chill begins to seep in through the suit after 10 minutes and the water seeps in much faster through the tear on my suit. Imagine yourself floating over a canopy of waving fronds of algae, each frond reaching two meters in length and entwined in a dense forest with the other fond that carpet the sea floor to a depth of two meters. Below this jungle is the sea floor that you need to swim along happily counting every single fish and moving crustacean or snail or anything else of interest really. So of course you dive headfirst into the waving mass of brown algae, tie off your transect line, untangle your camera, untangle your legs, untangle your camera again, try and find where your dive computer is, untangle your dive computer … and off you go … nose down, legs up and furiously scribbling notes with a pencil that insists on making an escape to some desk where people use such tools more sensibly.
It is probably a rather comic site for the fulmars and other birds watching curiously from the surface. I can picture them gazing down at the wildly flailing fins protruding from the jungle of kelp while bubbles burst to the surface in panicked gasps. The dark depths of the kelp forest would briefly be illuminated by a burst of flash followed in rapid succession by several others while the aquatic photographer attempts to photograph a tiny fish flitting through the fronds. “Queer creatures these humans” they must mutter to themselves!
Actually, apart from the various challenges of diving here in Svalbard, the past few days have been really fun, and we feel privileged to see a side of Svalbard hidden from many. The tough moments are more than balanced by the moments of sheer serenity when you float weightlessly over the surface gazing at seascapes rarely glimpsed. It is not like diving in the tropics here – the diversity is actually pretty low – but the closer you look the more you see. Soon what appears as a barren seafloor is bustling with life. Anemones wave in the current alongside colourful sponges, and the rocks crawl with hermit crabs, spider crabs and the occasional small fish. Overhead flocks of birds look on with interest and the occasional seal dashes past with barely a glimpse at these strange intruders into their domain. Well worth a slight chill and the condemnation of the anxiously waiting dog who views the whole game with disdain.