There is something intoxicatingly beautiful about the ocean.
Beautiful because of the satisfying swish-and-sigh of the waves as they tumble backwards and forwards, moving between continents as sure as time passes.
Intoxicating because of the slick oil that slips through my fingers as I play with the blackened seaweed growing at the side of the jetty.
It has been this way as long as I can remember, although I am told the ocean was once a gleaming glass sphere of turquoise and aqua; a whirl of cream cresting the top of every blue-green wave.
Now the oil fills the ocean like ink spilling from the broken nib of a pen, and when I trace my fingers along the mirror surface it swirls and ripples outwards, reflecting all the colours of the rainbow.
I have come here because I want to find signs of life.
If I’m honest, it’s because I want to see a dolphin. I used to trace photos and drawings of them in picture books when I was young, and my mother called them ‘the horses of the sea’. They look so graceful leaping through crystal blue waves, and apparently they used to squeak like children’s toys when they spoke to each other. I have been desperate to find one ever since then; and this jetty – this is the best place to see them.
Some say the last place to see them.
Others say they’ve already gone. That the mirror-black ripples have wrapped their slick tendrils around the dolphins and pulled them deep-deep down, into the depths, where only horrendous beasts and monsters which are as dark as the sea itself can survive.
I remove my hand from the water and settle back onto my heels.
I have to admit, the situation is worse than I was expecting. I hoped that there would have been some progress with a clean-up, but if anything it looks worse. All of humanity, it seems, infected with a cripplingly apathy that means they are unable to do anything – the ocean paying the price.
The snorkel and flippers have been tucked in my rucksack for the past few days, untouched. Now I pull them out. It took some finding to get them – but they’re what I need to explore the depths.
It feels like I’m drowning. The thick oily-water pinching at my body like a deadly hug, coating my skin in obsidian gloss that makes me look like a statue of myself. I get a hold of myself, take a deep breath, and dive.
I’m pleased I bought my waterproof pocket-torch, as without it, the cloaked seaweed hands and charcoaled corals make seeing in-front of me near impossible. I run a hand along the coral, and watch as some of the sticky blackness removes itself, puffing off into the water like a puff ball releasing spores in the autumn. Perhaps it will not be impossible to clear all of this up?
A breath of air, and I’m descending again, lips pressed tight against the liquid which laps around my snorkel – I can almost feel it whispering let me in with every swish, every sigh. I use a cloth to wipe away some of the oil from the corals, stowing the blackened cloth into my waterproof rucksack, revealing the corals’ colours underneath. They are not as colourful as I hoped they were, and they look almost dead in their skeletal forms, but we could bring them back. Not all hope is lost.
Breathe. Dive. Clean. Think. Breathe. Dive. Clean. Think. Breathe.
I continue through the treacle ocean in this cycle for an hour or so. Every cleaning wipe bringing a splash of colour, a burst of texture, into a blackened ghost town, burnt of life.
Apart from the plants and corals, I have seen nothing obviously alive. Nothing moving through this monstrous world except for my feet kicking kelp and seaweed which rocks with a gentle current.
Breathe. Dive. Clean. Think.
I’m quite far out from the jetty now – it’s just a speck of dull brown, surrounded by a world of blacks and greys.
It could be peaceful.
I think it was – once.
I have made a tiny dent against the dark underwater palace, and it makes a glimmer of something swirling and hopeful light in my heart like a flame.
And then I see the bubbles.
It’s hard to see them, but my torch makes them shine rainbow colours against the inky ocean.
They look like life.
I follow the trail.
The darkness hugs my body, trying to push me back with strong oily currents.
But I keep going.
I sweep back darkened seaweed, slick between my fingers, and sweep my torch around the area. It’s deeper than before, and the corals have retreated to leave a vast expanse of ocean. It’s exhilarating, hovering on the edge of a chasm of possibility.
And just as I go up to take a breath, I think that this is where we, humanity, stand now. On the edge – at a crossroad between doing what we always have, or taking a leap into the unknown and making things better.
My dolphin will wait for me, so long as I make the ocean a place worth waiting in.