2000-10 Mexican Massacre

By Jeffrey Galler

Recently, on a vacation to Acapulco, Mexico, I ventured out to find the nearest dive shop. To say that this particular dive shop didn’t live up to its PADI rating would be an understatement. The place was in shambles, the gear was old and tattered, and the boat had engine trouble.

To top it all off, the sites were uninteresting, the ocean floor was covered with sea urchins, and the divemaster refused to dive because the water was too cold.

The divemaster (and I use this term loosely) appointed me as the leader of the group. My four dive buddies were U.S. Navy sailors on leave and newly certified divers. I noticed that one of them had a dive knife sheathed on his leg. After outlining a dive plan and reviewing hand signals, I pointed to his knife and told him if the dive turned out to be as disappointing as promised, I would signal for him to hand me his knife and show him something interesting. He readily agreed.

As predicted, the dive was extremely disappointing. But, as promised, sea urchins littered the ground. Between every rock, boulder, nook and cranny lurked an evil urchin.

Midway through the dive, I pointed to the sailor’s knife, and true to his word, he handed it to me. I demonstrated an old trick that I had learned years ago. Making sure that the knife’s blade was longer than the urchin’s spines, I stabbed at one, placed it on a flat rock and quartered the hapless urchin’s body. Within minutes, a vast variety of colorful, hungry reef fish appeared out of nowhere to partake in the unexpected meal.

We returned to the boat to change tanks for our second dive. One sailor marched up to me, looked me in the eye and said, “Sir, I really enjoyed watching you cut up that sucker.”

Before I had a chance to reply, a second sailor came over and asked, “Sir, do you think it would be okay if I cut open one of those urchins on our second dive?”

I shrugged and answered, “It’s a free ocean. You can do anything you like.”

With that, they dived into their gear bags, pulled out a varied assortment of knives and began strapping them to their ankles, thighs and belts.

Watching in awe as they suited up for “war,” I tried to inform them, “Uh, fellows, you know, urchins actually serve a very useful function in the ecology of the sea.”

But I was completely ignored. The sailors formed a tight circle and began slapping each other on the shoulder, “Gonna get me some urchins,” they said. “Nay-vee, Nay-vee, Nay-vee!” they jeered.

My new friends marched to the back of the boat and stepped off the dive platform in precise formation.

I soon joined up with the sailors in the water just in time to witness the horrific massacre. Within a few moments, they had turned over every rock and boulder and exposed their prey. Overcome by the blood lust of their mission, they slaughtered every sea urchin in the area. Hovering nearby and powerless to stop them, I watched in horror at the incredible carnage unfolding before me. The water was thick with urchin body parts. Other fish quickly ate their fill and swam off with bulging stomachs.

It will probably take generations for the ecology of that Acapulco cove to recover from the destructive force that I unwittingly unleashed. I learned that older and more experienced divers should pass on their knowledge to newer divers. However, we must be sure that we successfully impart the importance of conservation and protection of the reef. We must be careful to not only preserve our beautiful underwater environment, but to encourage others to do so as well.