Outside our everyday world, there is another, hidden under the oceans that cover 71% of our blue planet.
The well-being of these two 'worlds' is intertwined. In other words, healthy oceans determine the suitability of the environment necessary for the survival of humans.
Yet, the land-based animal, humans, can barely see any part of the vast water world.
Of course, through the use of technology, and having the right kind of skill set and passion, there are the lucky ones who get a glimpse of what is so intriguing, so precious.
Karin Sinniger is one of them. An extremely fortunate one in fact, with a world record for scuba diving in most countries. In 2013, the World Record Academy recognised Karin Sinniger's achievement after she scuba dived in the Andaman Islands, India, the 115th country for Karin to dive in.
To date, she has dived in 180 countries, Bangladesh included.
In 2014, Karin visited Bangladesh and dived around the coral world of St Martin's Island. On the occasion of World Oceans Day, we asked her, over a Zoom interview, what brought her to Bangladesh.
"I'm always interested in discovering new countries and new and unique places to dive in. I visited Bangladesh in 1987 when I was very young, and I went down to Cox's Bazar. I always had it at the back of my mind that I was going to come back and dive around there," Karin told The Business Standard.
"Initially, there was nobody who was scuba diving there, but then I found that there was actually a possibility to do it. It took two to three years to plan diving in Bangladesh. I was happy to finally be able to dive, and the welcome I received there was absolutely unbelievable, so I always have fond memories of Bangladesh," added Karin.
Karin believes everyone who enjoys outdoor activities is a conservationist at heart. Although she is not a marine biologist, she has been involved for a number of years with an award-winning UK based coral reef conservation organisation.
Karin met the local marine conservation community in St Martin's Island and was impressed by how passionate they were about conserving the coral reef, but not so much with the state of the coral reef there.
"Unfortunately, in Saint Martin's Island, there's a lot of coral reef devastation and it's not really being taken care of and managed," said the diver.
Sadly, Karin clarifies, that the situation is not exclusive to Bangladesh.
"Everywhere, even in dive spots like Indonesia or the Solomon Islands, it's not like what it used to be. You've got global warming, you have the increased acidification of the oceans, you have the introduction of alien marine species in different habitats that devastate the local habitats, and you have overfishing. And it's very, very, very noticeable," said Karin, who is a lawyer by training, but developed interests in marine archaeology and underwater habitats.
"So I feel very sad. My youngest nephew is like 13 and this summer I'm signing him up for a scuba diving class so that he can be certified. And it's just very sad for him that he will not be seeing what I saw when I was a child, just snorkelling. I grew up in Asia, snorkelling and scuba diving in the Philippines. Now it's hard to see what a snorkeler was seeing back then. This is all around the world. Now I'm based in Europe and the Mediterranean is completely fished out," continued Karin.
However, it's not all doom and gloom, Karin confirms. There are well preserved coral reefs out there, and conservation efforts in other places are showing hope.
"If you're asking me what are the nicest diving destinations that I've enjoyed, then I would say the Solomon Islands. I like it so much because not only are there the big fish like the pelagics, schools of jacks, barracuda, and sharks, but there are also areas where there are smaller fish. And there's also shipwrecks, and there are crocodiles," said Karin.
"Indonesia has some fantastic diving for watching pelagics, and also there is so-called muck diving, which is diving in mud and seeing tiny creatures.
There are other places where you can see whale sharks and mantas. I saw two whale sharks with 50 mantas pirouetting around them. That was in the Maldives.
I just came back two days ago from an expedition to the very remote Aldabra Islands in Seychelles, and I haven't seen such healthy coral reefs for a long time. And it's completely protected.
Chagos Island had very, very good spots for diving as well because nobody is allowed there. And Mexico has fantastic opportunities for cave and cavern diving. Switzerland has some nice altitude diving opportunities. Probably the most unusual is Bolivia.
Bolivia is a landlocked country, but they do have a Navy on the highest lake in the World, Lake Titicaca. So you're diving at nearly 3,000 metres high with the Bolivian Navy. Why do they have a Navy? Their Navy trains on that lake because one day they want to get their coast back from Chile. So yeah, there's very interesting and good diving all around the world. No country has a monopoly on it," observed the veteran scuba diver.
Regarding conservation successes, Karin shared a story of a fishing community in Madagascar which had completely fished out 20 years back.
The community lives by octopus, and that is their source of protein. When the tide is low, the women go out and fish these octopuses from the low reefs. As they were catching all these octopuses, at some point, there was no more left.
A coral reef charity called Blue Ventures, an organisation she was involved in, advised the community to stop fishing for octopus for three months or to go to another reef. The measure was self-policed by the villagers and anybody who tried to go in and catch some octopus during that three month period was severely disciplined by the village elders, and they would become pariahs within the village.
After three months, the octopus came back, and it was so successful that other fishing communities started asking them for advice.
Conservation is a very tricky job, Karin said.
"If you go to people and start preaching to them, don't take the coral, don't do this, don't do that, that's not going to work very well. After all, the fishermen have been living there for hundreds of years, and they have to make a living.
But when you're in a situation where the community is completely vulnerable and has no choice but to take certain measures, if you give the local fishermen some basic conservation tools, it's in their interest to manage the ecosystem and the environment," Karin said.
However, when there's a big economic interest involved, like shark fishing, for example, then it is more complicated. How will the fishers get money to put food on the table while preserving them for five years or 10 years time?
"So it's very difficult, but it's not without hope. There is hope for humanity. There is hope to reverse this," said the diver.
They say, people only care about what they see. Asked if scuba diving can be a vehicle to motivate people in marine conservation, the world-record-holding scuba diver replied that she did not think scuba diving would ever be a mainstream sport because of a host of factors, but admitted that whoever becomes a serious scuba diver is usually motivated to preserve the environment in which they're diving. She also thinks divers can help conserve by taking photos and videos to show people the underwater world.
Asked what kind of impact all these remarkable experiences and all the time under the oceans have brought to her, Karin said she couldn't imagine her life without diving.
"My life would be poorer without diving. It's like meditation. It's one of the few things that I've found that I can do that switches off what is called the monkey brain - always thinking - I have to do this, and I have to do that, and tomorrow I should do that or this could happen in the future! When I dive, it just switches off.
And it's just silence and I'm just concentrating on my breathing. And looking at the world below, the wonders below. So it's like meditation and it's just such a beautiful feeling," said Karin, behind whom sat a statue of Buddha.