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"She has gills; sometimes she stays down so long (underwater) I am worried."

the octopus loved to hold the hand of diver Dee Scarr. Spooky, a moray eel, hugged her. And Scarr has had her fair share of spooky manicures by ghost shrimp.

With more than 7,000 hours submerged in seawater, this Conifer resident knows a thing or two about marine animals.

Scarr, a professional recreational diver who spends the summer in the mountains and works winters on Bonaire, an island in the Netherlands Antilles, is on a mission to change the way we view sea creatureseven coral.

Yes, coral is an animal, she will tell you. They are polyp animalstube-like organismsthat resemble upside-down jellyfish and grow in interdependent colonies.

Large coral heads take centuries to grow and play a key role in the health of the ocean, providing a refuge where many living things take shelter. But the polyps can be destroyed easily when bumped by unaware people or objects that shove the organism's outer skin into its razor-like skeleton.

"Coral reefs are in trouble from a lot bigger things than diversglobal warming, dynamite fishing, pollutionbut the more divers understand, the better advocates they would be for the ocean," Scarr said from her Conifer home last week. "We divers have a unique position to know what's going on."

Scarr, an environmentalist and naturalist, has spent more than 25 years examining what's going on in the sea.

She has written three books about those experiences, including a children's book. She has won numerous awards for her achievements and contributions and is an inaugural member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame and the Platinum Pro 5000 Diversthe world's most elite water explorers.

Scarr's books, with names such as "Touch the Sea," have helped alter false impressions that the underwater world is filled with creatures interested in "biting, stinging and otherwise injuring humans." She teaches people that these fascinating "friends in low places" are merely "minding their own business: foraging for food, seeking out mates and avoiding predation."

"It's a mission that has changed over the years (since I wrote the first book in 1984)," Scarr said. "Diving with people, I was watching them be very cavalier about crawling along the bottom or very standoffish in terms of the animals."

Animals that make their home in sea space are different than those that live in mountains, Scarr said. For example, the recent black fox she and her husband, David Batalsky, spotted crossing their property was one of very few black fox sightings they have had in their 10 years here.

Sea creatures, however, are not as hidden from humansthey often let people get close to them.

"In the water, there are so many nature shows. You can spend hours and hours to get to know one behavior," she said.

And Scarr has spent hours and hours observing the behavior of a Christmas tree worm or lettuce sea slug; a shovel-nosed lobster on the prowl; or a peacock flounder swimming on its side, its left fin serving as a sail.

As a child, Scarr spent hours on the canals of Miami, watching little snappers and grunts nibble pieces of hot dog off the tiniest hooks she could find. She frequented Marineland, read about National Geographic explorations, watched Jacques Cousteau documentaries and "Flipper."

As her interest grew, she hoped to become a marine biologist. But in the late 1960s there was scarce funding in that field, and she received little encouragement to pursue it.

Instead, she earned a master's degree in English literature and became a high school English teacher with a focus on speaking and debate.

That career lasted five years before the "structure" and time constraints of academia proved less appealing than her fascination with the sea.

Two years in the Bahamas as a dive master led to greater opportunities on Bonaire, where she began her own diving operation and began sharing her discoveries in slide shows and printed materials in a variety of public venues.

Scarr married Batalsky, a retired, eastern-based Showtime executive, 22 years ago.

Batalsky met Scarr when he traveled to Bonaire on a diving excursion and attended one of her presentations. They have since carved out a comfortable long-distance relationship.

"I think the best relationships happen when you are not looking for one," Scarr said, adding: "He didn't have to borrow my life, and I didn't have to borrow his."

The pair travel back and forth between two worldsone of which includes a mountain ranch in Conifer where Batalsky keeps his beloved horse, John J. (Scarr's bichon frise, Sweetie Pie, travels to Bonaire with her.)

Batalsky is proud of his gifted partner.

"She has gills; sometimes she stays down so long (underwater) I am worried," he said. "She has slow, even breathing; she is in harmony with the sea, and the animals know it."

Both wear matching necklaces bearing a tiny mermaid cast in gold, and they have matching wedding bands designed to look like an ocean wave.

Scarr returns this week to her 24-mile-long islandconsidered one of the finest snorkeling and scuba diving destinations in the Caribbean, with year-round daytime highs of 82; where airborne pink flamingos glide across white salt flats; and where this mountain resident, in her neoprene dive skin, slips into the vast aqua sea for an hour or two every day.

"It's a tough life, but somebody has to do it," Scarr said.

For more information about Dee Scarr's work, visit






























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