In search of KAT

Lonely Dugong KAT, Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Diving in Paradise is a sport I am lucky to do most weeks and in many cases, daily. Paradise is a tiny horseshoe shaped coral atoll in the middle of the Indian Ocean. For those who haven't a clue where I'm talking about - take out your atlas, draw a horizontal line out from Darwin, then another line from Sri Lanka to Perth and where the two lines meet, BINGO! This is where you will the external Australian territory, Cocos (Keeling) Islands, my home.

Direction Island, Cocos (Keeling) Islands

Everyday is different. There has never been a time when I have become blase or taken for granted this wonderful piece of Eden. Life on the Islands is easy, perfectly safe and fun. Most visitors find themselves quickly integrating into the community and becoming part of the local scene. Just wander down to the Cocos Club, the local watering hole, each evening and you soon get to know many of the Island's colourful characters.

Diving here is pretty darn awesome with pristine coral gardens, diverse marine life, steep drop-offs and perfectly white beaches where you can chill out and relax under the shade of a coconut palm. Best of all ... no crowds either on the beach or best of all, underwater! Expect an average of 20 metres visibility on most dives and the water a toasty warm 27 to 29 degrees C.

KAT descending, Cocos (Keeling) Islands

On this particular morning our day started out just a tad ordinary, slightly overcast and a bit breezy. However we're in paradise, so no matter what, the four of us, Christine, Dennis, Dieter and yours truly planned to have a great day and a couple of fun dives. Christine and Dennis are big fish junkies, (actually we all are!) They love seeing our sharks and mantas while still appreciating whatever dive site we visited. This day we decided to visit The Cannons, which is usually a top "fish" site rather than a pretty coral dive. All happy with the decision and we were away!

After a brief explanation on how the site got its name and what we were likely to see we descended into crystal clear waters. Just below the boat at 12 metres is a rocky outcrop, a favourite hangout for schools of Yellow-spot emperor (Gnathodentex aurolineatus) and Bluestriped snapper (Lutjanus kasmira). These fish are amazing, as they appear to hang suspended in time. As we moved closer to them, they parted and allowed us to slowly swim through the school while Dennis and I snapped away merrily with our cameras. Just below them was a smaller school of Harlequin sweetlips (Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides) suspended under a beautiful plate coral. A delicate gorgonian fan acted as a spectacular backdrop.

We moved towards the drop-off, which has a gentle slope to 30 metres before it falls sharply into an endless abyss, to see if any of our resident grey reef sharks were home. We weren't disappointed. Just out from the wall three good size sharks were lazily swimming in the gentle current, back and forth, not paying any attention to us. A huge school of neon fusilier came from the depths enveloping us in a curtain of blue and red. Following hot on their tails were four dogtooth tuna looking for an easy feed of some poor unsuspecting fusilier.

While we were watching the graceful sharks and stalking tuna, I heard a familiar high pitched whistle, one that I was hoping to hear. It sounded close, so indicating to Dieter, who had also heard it. We started to ascend and head away from the drop-off towards where our "whistling" friend usually hangs out. Again that high-pitched whistle was heard. This time Christine and Dennis could sense our excitement and they too started combing the area with expectation in their eyes. Perhaps today we were going to be treated with that occasional sighting. Swimming slowly, our eyes were searching for an unmistakable large shape.

Helen, Cocos (Keeling) Islands

We heard Dieter shaking his rattle excitedly while at the same time he was pointing towards the surface. There she was!! Followed closely by a small school of inquisitive batfish was our darling KAT, the dugong. What an awesome sight we were being treated to. This magical mammal of the ocean had come to pay us a visit after all. Her honey-coloured skin gleamed in the natural light as she slowly descended to our depth. Her entourage of batfish bid her farewell and returned to their usual haunt some distance away.

KAT came within a few metres of us before she turned and started swimming beside Dieter who was endeavouring to imitate her graceful movements. Mind you, that was a dangerous move on his part!! He had put himself between Dennis and me (the anxious and excited photographers) and our special subject!!! I used all sorts of explicit non-diving hand-signals to get him out of the way to no avail. He just smiled and kept right on swimming with her. "My dugong...I found her, so there!!" Regardless of this, we still managed to capture some special moments. She "played" with us for a while keeping a respectable distance before she headed back to the surface for a breath. KAT hung near the surface as we watched and hoped she would return for another game, however this was not to be. She took another breath and turned away from us. The last we saw of KAT was her tail disappearing into the direction she had come. We all stared at each other with that...WOW!! How was that!!look. Although her time with us was quite brief, it was truly special.

We slowly made our way back to the boat where we showed Dennis and Christine several very old and coral-encrusted cannons that we believe were collected from Home Island some years ago and dumped at this site. Christine was fascinated with the tiny Spotted Garden Eels that live in the sandy atrium around the cannons. They shyly pop up out of the sand only to descend slowly when you approach them too closely. After our safety stop, we climbed aboard, stowed the gear, up-anchored and headed for lunch and a well deserved surface interval on beautiful Direction Island. As we travelled we happily discussed our fantastic and memorable experience with KAT.

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