A Somerville Author’s “Year Underwater”

jerry shineOh, that? That's a nudibranch, a sort of squishy sea slug. Photos by Jerry Shine.

Jerry Shine was just five years old when he bought his first diving mask for 50 cents, and it changed his life.

Decades later, Shine is often found diving from the shoreline—both around here, as a Somerville resident for more than 25 years—and beyond. He regularly interacts with people who pass him on the beach, and he says that over the years he’s been asked countless times what he sees underwater.

The problem?

“That’s not a 30-second answer,” he says. “I’ve probably been asked the questions a thousand times and have never been able to answer it.”

That is, until now. Shine just last month published A Year Underwaterin which he recounts the dives he took between New Year’s Day and New Year’s Eve 2015 as he traveled up and down the East Coast, from the Saint Lawrence River north of Quebec down to the Florida coast. (He laughs that he did opposite of what other divers would likely have done, heading south during warm months and north during the cold ones.)

Shine knew he’d have no difficulty finding material, and out of 120 dives he took that year says he probably only wrote about 30 or so. In the first draft of his book, that number was closer to 80.

jerry shine

A flying gurnard

“The variety of life and the things that you see—it just never failed to astonish me, how much there was, how colorful it was, how it changed from place to place and through the seasons,” says Shine, whose wildlife writing and photography have appeared in publications including Audubon, Wired and National Geographic Adventure.

A favorite dive of his was in the Saguenay River, a fjord a few hours north of Quebec City. At one juncture, the freshwater river feeds into the saltwater of the Saint Lawrence River. Above, there’s 30 feet or so of murky freshwater, but as dive deeper to the salty water below—it’s “sort of like swimming through salad dressing”—the cloudy, tannic river above gives way to pitch black but the crystal clear water below. Shine says his diving companion was 40 feet ahead, but he could see his lights and body perfectly. He estimates that the visibility was close to 100 feet.

Locally, off the coast of Nahant, he took one of his coolest and coldest dips—and we mean cold cold; Shine checked the temperature post-dive and learned it was 29 degrees. Shine says he came across rock spires jutting up from the ocean floor with openings you could swim into, and while they dark inside: “I just had a sense that there was something in there with me, but I wasn’t sure what it was.” He aimed his light into the cavern, and realized it was filled with a school of cunner—close to 50 of them—who were inside hibernating.

jerry shine

A boulder in the Saint Lawrence River

The beauty of it, Shine explains, is that for many of these dives, you don’t even need fancy, expensive scuba gear—there’s tons of great marine life waiting for you right off the shore.

“If you watch the Discovery Channel or National Geographic or something, people are always way out in the middle of the ocean, miles offshore,” he says. “That’s fantastic, but it’s not that accessible to most of us. Just walking in off the beach—even without scuba gear, just with a mask and a snorkel—there’s so much life that you can get close to. There’s nowhere on earth that you can get closer to wildlife than you can underwater.”

Wondering where you can check that out around here? Well, Shine has some recommendations, including Gunrock Beach in Hull and “almost anywhere” in Gloucester or Rockport.

And in fact, if your curiosity is piqued, he wrote a book about that, too: A Shore Diving Guide to New Englandwhich was published in 2005.