As a reminder that all life began in the ocean, the human body shows great adaptability for underwater ecosystems. Through advanced breathing and relaxing techniques, humans are capable of swimming in the ocean like any other sea creature, holding their breathes for long periods of time. This has proven to be extremely useful at the moment of approaching and investigating the marine wildlife.
The underwater creatures, known to be shy and aloof, are easily driven away by any strange noise, even the subtlest ones. With this in mind, the French filmmaker and marine researcher Pierre Cousteau leaves behind his diving gear and jumps into the skin of a free-diver.
His father, the renowned explorer and scientist Jacques Cousteau, was one of the inventors and promoters of scuba diving, but after witnessing the freedom and interaction of the free-divers —also known as apneists— with the animals, Pierre makes his decision. “We could see they were not disturbing the animals as much as we were with the diving equipment”, he explains.
After practicing some breathing techniques on board and taking precautions for the strong currents, they dive into the adventure. All fear and anxiety are left on the surface. The hostile world disappears and a feeling of belonging to a whole emerges.
Free-diving is also seen as a form of meditation and the apneists often talk of a sense of calmness achieved by practicing it. They can even feel a total loss of “I”, becoming one with the ocean. Swimming next to creatures of six to fourteen feet long and sixty to three hundred pounds
doesn’t seem that intimidating anymore.
Clouds of fish open before the explorers as they perform their gracious dance. Everywhere they look, the symphony of an untamed nature fills them with amazement. Just a few creatures abandon their routines to come and examine the intruders, for not everyone can afford to be curious in this environment. Schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks are always in the surroundings, not fleeing neither approaching the divers. Their reputation for being aggressive-killing machines is nowhere to be seen.
There is no need for being aggressive when those who come to visit treat you with respect. At a distance, a shadow appears. What seems to be a moving bus slowly approaches the team. With forty feet long, the biggest and oldest fish of the ocean emerges: the whale shark.
Its ancestors have inhabited the planet for more than sixty million years, and it is a privilege to swim by its side. Next to it, the free-divers seem small and fragile but they have nothing to worry for this is the kindest beast of the ocean, if not of the planet. This is the importance of creating and protecting marine reserves. In this case, thanks to the Galapagos Islands, we get to see how the ocean was, and should be, on a healthy planet. The expedition comes to an end and it is time to leave the ocean behind, for now.
The team has successfully overcome the challenge and they are ready to go home with a smile. “Free-diving in the Galapagos means coming so close to nature that we are reminded that we are a part of it”, Pierre concludes.
You can also read: The call of the ocean