There are moments I want to remember and record. Textures, patterns, colours, sounds. The little pinpoints of phosphorescence in the inky ocean night. The reflections of clouds and native forest undulating along the surface during the day. The interface between air and water, that magical place where you submerge and are cut off from the terrestrial world, and you enter a parallel universe. Here is where sevengill sharks swim languidly out of the darkness, and girdled wrasse flit about your face like dive bombers looking for a target. Black corals glow white against the blue water, and purple Jason’s nudibranchs with their white spiky backs wave on the arms of hydroids. This place is special. It is a world that I have been very lucky to come to know intimately, and it is somewhere you should know too, before we lose it.
Words escape me though, when I try to find a way to share my experience of Fiordland National Park. Even its memory leaves me speechless. When I was there last week, I took hundreds of pictures and I sorted them and edited them excitedly between dives. But then I went to sit on the helipad one afternoon alone, and I lay back on its rough surface and looked out to the water and the fiord from beneath my arm, shading the sun from eyes. The water moved. It doesn’t do that in my pictures, I thought. The clouds that clung to the steep sides ever so silently and slowly crept along the native forest of the fiords. The air around me moved, and harmonic tui called in the distance. The ocean lapped at the base of our vessel. And I was overcome by it. There is no photograph that can make you experience Fiordland like being there. And there is no being there that can truly instil you with its diversity and complexity like spending years staring into those fiord walls throughout shifting seasons, and then diving beneath the surface.
They call it Shadowlands. Ata Whenua. And it is right here in New Zealand. And yet, how many New Zealanders have been there? How many know that an invasive seaweed threatens to alter the rare deepwater environment that is able to live shallow in five to twenty metres depth in Fiordland due to its unique tannin-stained freshwater layer? Who knows what we have to lose?
And perhaps it doesn’t matter what we lose, if nobody knows it is lost. “Matter” is a loose term, isn’t it? Some things seem to matter a whole lot, because they affect a whole lot of humans. “Matter” is a construct of our human construct, which is to say that things only matter to us insofar as they progress the human race. It comes down to this. What matters is the human race, and anything that will help the human race do what it wants to do, in the way that it wants to do it. The marine ecosystem in Fiordland National Park is trivial.
And yet to someone like myself that has come to know it well, it is not trivial. It is a wild place that reminds us our most primal understanding of who we are and where we have come from. What we are made of. And what we had better be prepared for. Even Fiordland isn’t ancient. On the scale of our earth it is relatively young, and on the scale of our cosmos, earth is too. Change is the only constant, and we will have to carry on accepting it in many different forms. I will have to accept that Fiordland is changing now too.
So go meet Fiordland and dive beneath the surface before it changes too.