Experience a New World

by Natalie Novak
So, it took me a while, but I finally watched Avatar. (It was hard to find the film both in 3D and in English locally.) The alien world that was created in that movie seemed a little familiar to me.

There is an animal called a Christmas tree worm, which is a type of tube worm that lives on coral heads. They feed by sifting through the water with two elaborate filters, which look like Christmas trees. The rest of their bodies are hidden safely inside the hard coral. If these animals feel movement in the water, they quickly withdraw their Christmas trees ... remind you of anything you have seen in the cinema? The main difference between these and their theatrical cousins, Helicoradians, is that Christmas tree worms are only an inch or two inches in height.

There is also phosphorescence in the ocean. I see it on night dives and, just like in the movie, it is activated by movement. Tiny animals glow when they feel movement, and this creates the effect of sparkles around the swimmer. I see these best when we sit on the sand about 40 feet underwater on a dark night, turn off our lights, and then wave our hands. Some nights I can see them swirling away from the fins of my divers as we swim. Wikipedia says that James Cameron based the Tree of Souls and the bioluminescence on what he experienced while night diving.

Lastly, there are six-inch jellyfish that do not seem to sting that I often find in about 15 feet of water. These are clear, with small lines of almost rainbow-like radiance inside them. These ethereal animals move just like the Atokirinas, or seeds, from the great tree in Avatar.

If you want to experience a new world for real, then come with us.

Dive tip: If you want to see a Christmas tree worm withdraw, you can do so without causing any damage to the animal or the coral. Gently fan water towards the little Christmas trees without touching them or the coral, and they will pop out of sight. If you wait a while and stay still, they will slowly reappear.