Sitting on the Ocean Floor
By Robin V. Robinson
A few years ago, I spent a week diving in Kiribati, an island chain in the Pacific close to the equator. It’s far from anywhere, connected by only one flight a week from the US. As the lone diver that week, I had a dive guide to myself. “What would you like to see?” he asked.
The island was surrounded by beautiful corals, so I surprised the guide by answering “I’d like to sit on the bottom of the ocean, on the sand, and see what comes along.” Having never attempted this before, the guide was hesitant but agreed to try it.
We sailed to a sandy spot, descended about 40 feet, and emptied our floatation vests so that we were sitting comfortably. I could see sand all around me, but no fish or visible life. After about five minutes, nothing had happened. It was pleasant – sunny, and the water was warm on my skin. I relaxed and waited. After about 15 minutes, still nothing had appeared. I signaled to the guide to stay put, I was determined to give this a chance.
Then an unexpected thing happened. I suddenly felt like I was on dry land, on a sunny beach, relaxing in the sand. Yes, I was enjoying the beach, the sky, and the warmth, and I was breathing air. But wait…I was underwater, right? I literally checked for my breathing regulator, and found it in my mouth. Indeed, I was still underwater on the sand, but couldn’t shake the surreal feeling of being on dry land.
At that moment, I realized that sitting on the ocean floor really IS sitting on land, and that the underwater terrain and the above-water terrain are actually the same thing – connected, and made of the same stuff. We think of things in the ocean as “underwater” or separate from dry land. We think of the ocean as the “other” part of the planet, the part that maybe we put our feet in or enjoy looking at, except it’s always “out there.” But really, it’s all the same thing; it’s one planet.
My experience made me think about how people are not too comfortable with the ocean; after all, it can be cold and scary. I decided that perhaps by making images with features like sandy bottoms I could somehow acquaint people with an ocean that feels familiar. We need to know that the ocean is often just like our usual places. I hope that my photographs provide a change in perspective and a new way of feeling and thinking about the ocean. Perhaps if we feel more familiar with the ocean, we will care about it more and make it part of our big picture of concerns.
About 25 minutes into our dive, a school of Moorish Idols swam into view. I laughed in my mask as I lifted my camera to record their random pattern above the sand. They could have been birds.
You can see my artwork at the Art Ark Gallery in San Jose from June 2nd to July 17th. Come meet me at the opening reception on June 3rd from 5 to 9pm. Register here