The man was dead.
He lay on the beach, his brown legs poking through the crowd. The elation I’d been feeling vanished and was replaced with sadness. Gripping my snorkel, I edged closer.
People were discussing what had happened. “Found out there”, a Sri Lankan girl said, pointing past the waves breaking on the reef. The palm trees were swaying gently, oblivious to the tragedy.
The crowd parted and I looked at the man. Wet clothes clung to his skinny body, he’d clearly been dead for days. Feeling sick I turned away, and looked out to where Jason and I had been snorkelling Hikkaduwa reef. Minutes earlier we’d been underwater searching for Hikkaduwa’s giant sea turtles. The contrast between the two situations couldn’t be greater.
The reef was a cornucopia of life. Swimming through the clear water, the coral was like a million exploding kaleidoscopes. The colours dazzled my eyes as I surveyed this underwater kingdom. Fish darted from every direction, blurs of orange purple green and yellow.
As we looked for the turtles, the current surged and sucked the shallow reef dry. The waves crashed above us, providing the vitality that fuelled this eco-system. I felt a hand grab my leg and swivelled to see Jason mouthing at me in panic. Beside him was a giant turtle.
Giant is no exaggeration. The huge reptile dwarfed Jason with a shell the size of a table. As if oblivious to our presence, it swam straight towards me. I rolled in the water and it missed hitting me by inches. The sky went dark as it passed.
Excitedly we chased the turtle, but couldn’t match its effortless glide. The turtle went through a rainbow of fish before disappearing off the reef. High on endorphins, my heart raced from this exhilarating encounter.
All around the reef teemed with life, an energy that rivalled any of the world’s greatest cities. It was this same life that was so absent when we left the water and saw the dead man on the beach, lying on the sand.