On the East Coast near my home, there is a tourist facility – sea adventures -scuba diving – but not for me! A slow, sedate walk out onto the reef was all I could manage, led by an expert guide. About a dozen of us signed up for the “feed the stingrays” experience. All strapped into rubber waders up to our armpits, each armed with a wooden pole, we formed a single file and edged into the water to walk out to the reef. An expert guide led our footsteps on the safe areas of rock – well, fairly safe – smoothed by the sea and slippery with kelp. This was my personal challenge – not to fall in. Many did apparently, but not on that day, thank heavens, as several of our group had expensive cameras slung round their necks. I erred on the side of cowardice and left mine ashore.
We arrived at the meeting place, a thin rim of rock where two worlds regularly touched and parted. Lining up, shoulder to shoulder, the poles were placed in front to form a temporary fence. Not that the creatures were aggressive, we were told, but sometimes,
in their curiosity and enthusiasm, they became boisterous and would try to climb up human legs. In truth we were the aliens, but they would welcome us into their world, so we were told. Within minutes they appeared. Dark shapes gliding beneath the surface, circling our group and bumping the poles. Our guide fed us information – facts and figures, interesting anecdotes – but the creatures beguiled us, enchanted us. Like nothing encountered except in myth and legend, science fiction. If I did not believe in undines – water sprites – my scepticism would have wavered. There was something childlike and contradictory about their play. Innocent, they knew nothing of the destruction we were capable of, and yet they seemed so wise, so ancient, as to inspire reverence. We fed them scraps of fish and they nibbled our fingers and bumped against our legs, diving and circling round us until the tide turned and we made our retreat to the shore.
The heat of high summer and the world comes and goes and carries on as it always does – as it always will. Among the greater and lesser tragedies that paraded across my TV screen, there was one small incident that was reported on one day with a few seconds of film, briefly mentioned the next, and then forgotten. Up North, somewhere near Auckland, in a closed off harbour lagoon, stingrays had established their colony. The locals, fed them, encouraged them to socialise. Then at low tide, someone – somehow – neglected to close the sluice gate and all the water ran out overnight. By the time the problem was noticed it was too late. The whole colony was dead or dying. An accident or what? Who knows? Nothing to be done. Something to be learned.