Chance Encounters

By Matt Bagley

A Surreal Connection with Nature

Moments in time that truly feel surreal. Pivotal. It can be the people we meet or events that lead up to those moments. This was a combination of the two.

I can honestly say that today has been one of those experiences that I am thankful for and will treasure forever. I’m exhausted and overflowing with emotion at the same time and I can’t sleep at all.

If you follow my photography work then you will understand that I have a strong bond to the ocean. I’ve had salt water in my ears and sand on my feet since I could walk. I continue to be amazed by its beauty and everything it has to offer and the appreciation I have for it grows and grows.

This story starts around tuna but ends with something much greater. This year has been my first real experience with tuna, hearing stories from fishermen, seeing bust ups from the shoreline and looking down on them from above as I float in the ocean. The excitement around this fish truly is contagious.

Unlike most, I’ve been less interested in catching one and more interested in swimming with them. I’ve wanted to dive into the feeding vortex and have them spiral around me. It’s been difficult to make this happen as fishermen want to fish and most people are convinced that I’ll be eaten by a shark and they don’t want that on their conscience.

When I mentioned earlier about chance encounters this is what I mean; meeting a person with shared interests and the willingness to chase experiences, combined with a shear chance in nature.

It begins here.

Standing on the top of the boat and watching the sky for birds diving helps direct our movements. They act as a compass, a guide to a bait ball that hopefully is being pushed up by tuna... what else is underneath, who knows...

As the sun cuts through the sea fog we see the birds...

When I first hit the water it is a shock to the senses. My head is stinging as I forget to pull my hood on with excitement and my weight belt is loose, slipping around my body. My nerves are high and I’m having trouble judging distance underneath, as the water is cloudy, but I know it’s around 40-50m deep. I have a 80m swim until I’m where want to be.

Without a hood covering my ears I can hear clearly in the water. The sounds of dolphins calling fills my ears and as my eyes adjust to the light I can see shapes underneath me, something flashing with colour. I take a breath and dive. Long tubular jellyfish start to appear, surging with colour and light, electricity zipping around the edges. As I resurface I am more aware of the abundance of movement underneath. I start to see glitter in the water. At first I think it’s bubbles from the dolphins below but then realise the water is flooded with fish scales reflecting the sunlight from the feeding frenzy happening below me.

Fish, dolphins, birds, jellyfish all swimming in a sea of glitter. It’s impossible to completely capture this on camera and I feel a disconnect with reality and lost in the moment. Breathing and clicking, breathing and clicking not looking through my view finder. No idea if I’m capturing shots, just hoping.

Once the adrenaline slows I start to adjust my camera settings. The water is dark and so I up my iso but this cloudiness allows the sunlight to cast rays through the surface. Bands of light extend into the darkness below, giving perspective to the frame.

Within minutes the water becomes still. I’m left floating like a cork on the top of a sea of glitter. It’s over... or so I thought.

As I’m looking back for the boat I hear a rush of air and water. I freeze as my brain tries to process what it could be. As I look underneath, out of the darkness comes a figure only meters from the surface. I pull my fins up as it rolls onto its side and passes only meters below me. I can see directly into its eye. It knows I’m there and it gives me enough space to slip past. Never in my life have I felt so small and vulnerable in the ocean. From sitting above a sea of glitter to feeling like a speck of glitter myself, as a creature who has been in these waters for millions of years and is much greater than me allows me to gently pass by.

This is a moment that I will treasure forever. A connection with nature that I have been lucky enough to capture.

I want you to truly understand this experience. It’s not just about documenting a moment, it’s about chance encounters and truly appreciating who and what we have.

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"Mostly 4:00 AM thoughts & possibilities that bubble to the surface"

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