Author: Luke Shors

“The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef formed over millions of years”. Raj heard the divemaster say through his earbuds. It had been a decade since his last dive but a refresher in the pool had revived some rudimentary skill. Not neutrally buoyant like he should be but good enough to relax and enjoy the experience at 30 feet down. He flashed his dive buddy ‘A-Ok’ which she mirrored before pointing to a giant cuttlefish rippling color patterns on the sandy bottom. The cuttlefish held his gaze, both interested and unconcerned by the human interlopers.

“Coral are not plants but animals making their skeletons out of calcium carbonate. The colors you see are of the zooxanthellae inside.”

Raj watched four yellow and blue parrotfish swaying back and forth with the currents against a backdrop of vibrant red brain coral. Ahead he saw the rest of the dive group slowly following the master towards two sea turtles. Raj started to follow then gazed back where the cuttlefish had been. The cuttlefish was gone, but something else decloaked from the rock. Out of context, it didn’t register until it finally did: Humanlike, androgynous, barnacled and ancient, its expression powerfully sad.

“I thought this was a science tour,” Raj said over the microphone pivoting to the group.

“It is” replied the divemaster

“Well, then why did I see a mermaid?”

“Weird. Pretty certain that’s not in the program. Some cephalopods can create amazing disguises – might have been it” the divemaster replied. “If you follow me I want to show you how dolphins can direct schools of fish towards their friends’ mouths”.

Raj swam on feeling the fins pinch his feet as they propelled him onward. Just then the display screen on his scuba mask went down. The augmented reality view which had spatially anchored the holograms onto the coral frames vanished leaving the bleached coral reef stretching like the spine of some ancient planetary entity. Immediately there was channel cross-talk. Raj looked back to where the mer creature was only to find an endless expanse of sand and dead coral.

“Sorry, we seem to be having a technical problem everyone,” the divemaster said. “I’m sorry about that. Good news is that there’s a full refund if we can’t fix it.”

The guide paused before continuing “Since this is a science tour I’ll say that you can see what’s left of the reef. Unfortunately, coral is very sensitive to temperature and salinity, so the reef was lost in the first half of the 21st century with the pH changes due to C02.”
Raj started breathing deeply. Nothing to be frightened of he told himself. Just the remnants of the reef and the sand and blue water. If that was what his mind was saying his irregular breathing was telling him differently. It was death. Planetary death of the oceans and the remnants of an ecosystem that would never return. His buddy flashed the ‘ok’ sign. ‘Not ok’ he signed back.

“I’m going up the line,” he said over the channel to the group. He directed air into his BCD, ascending without looking back, skin-crawling to get topside.