Sawda glances aloft, then seaward, then aloft again.
” Is that a fish or a dolphin?” Abeam of us, about fifty meters away, something surfaces. Was it a turtle?”
We wait for a while. On looking closer we see the entire dorsal portion of the animal, which was neither of a dolphin nor of a fish. Up on the Dhighi, Yoayela begins spinning the starter of the engine. But from high above, Sawda directs, “Not yet. Wait for a while and then start”
We all look in the direction where Sawda was looking. A big fish, or a dolphin, or a turtle, or a whale, be it anything, we were all excited and were hoping to see something big in the sea. A minute or so later, something surfaces, just like a great steaming volcano of muscle, head first and then the entire dorsal portion. Elrika shouts with excitement, ” A Dugong! “
Yoayela hurriedly starts the engine and turns the boat in the direction of the animal. Dugong and boat, the only two big things visible in the water approach each other.
At about six knots we were rapidly closing the gap. The brown gray mermaid shape body makes no course alteration and in no way reacts to the presence of the boat. When we are just about to approach the animal, we see one more animal, grey and then one more, brown—slightly smaller than the previous. Its beauty astonishes me and the thought of swimming with them makes me happy. We get closer; I get ready to jump in the water, with my mask and snorkel. We were about to close the gap, when in a flash of the eye the animal disappears.
We stop the engine, and wait, scanning the surface of the sea from one end to the other. One end was White Cliff Island, and on the other Reef Island. We were somewhere in between. We were there to identify feeding grounds of dugong and to survey coral reefs for its resilience potential. The blazing heat of the afternoon, added with reflection of the sea made the day seem hotter than it was. As I stand and turn seaward into the breeze, my attention refocuses from the dugong to a wider world.
Just when Yoayela decides to starts the engine to head back, Sawda shouts, “Dugong! ” It was east of us, some meters away, slowly swimming on the surface of the water, looking just unbelievable. It jets out some water out of its nostrils and pulls a deep drag of air. Yoayela starts the engine, and slowly we reach the site. I wear my mask-snorkel and fins and get ready to jump at the site of the dugong. But as we go closer the dugong disappears, once again. Forty minutes pass. I look everywhere, through the water and over the water, but do not sight the animal. We are 500 m off White-Cliff Island. We give-up and head back to where we began.
Boat throttles in the direction of White-cliff island. We were still in the realm of dugong. On our way back, I thought, may be we were all delusional. Suddenly a few clouds appear, and cover the sun, as if setting a stage for my thoughts. I look around and see. There is water, water everywhere. Even the sea that had seemed an intense blue before was now a pale substitute. Except for the feeling of awe that the dugong had left behind there was no tangible proof of the sighting.