by Barbara Eller
What a beautiful morning. The sunrise was filled with strips of pink and blue, with not a cloud in sight. The water is calm and clear, so flat you think it is glass and can walk on it—a wonderful way to start the day.
But I want to tell you about the dive I did the night before. For those of you who have never heard of night dives, let me give you a little background. In the future you will read of my snorkel trips out to the reef and will see pictures of what I see when I go diving, and all of it is beautiful and totally amazing. Well, at night things come out that you don't see during the day and things you see during the day look different at night. I haven't been on a lot of night dives but usually I see something that is amazing. Most of the time I am a little apprehensive before the dive and question if I should go or cancel; I always go.
We get our gear together and load the boat so we are ready to head out just after dusk. Be sure to pack two lights with fresh batteries; if you are taking a camera, be sure the settings are set and flashes are ready, and have a fresh battery. We head out to the dive site shortly after the sun sets; the dive site is usually 50/60 feet or shallower. The dive master goes over the signals we use with lights (the only way we will be able to see each other because it is pitch black down there). We slip our gear on, sit on the edge of the boat and roll back into the water. Everyone gives the "OK" signal and we begin our descent.
The first thing you notice is how the colors pop out at you. After you drop down about 10 feet, you lose the color red, then as you descend farther the other colors begin to fade (orange, yellow, green, etc.), but if you shine your light on the coral, sponges and fish, the colors return. We begin to drop down the wall a short distance (most of the time I am between 50–55 feet). I did a dive at this same site around 3 p.m. that day, so part of the wall looks familiar, but as I begin really looking at it, it looks so different.
Inside some of the cracks of the coral, I can see bright red "lights" the size of pinheads—small shrimp are staring back at me. As I look closer I can see them swimming around. Looking in large blue and lavender basket sponges, I find smaller fish resting for the night. Down inside an opening in a yellow and green coral, I find a parrotfish sound asleep; my light doesn't even wake him. I swim over a brain coral, a large green round mound with ridges that looks like a brain. Remember these are living things, just in a different form, so if you look closely you can see "fingers" being extended up to gather food. We keep winding up and down the canyons, finding shrimp, flamingo tongues (about 1-inch, oval, cream-colored with orangish spots) on many of the sea fans, very small squirrel fish (red-orange with large eyes), and many fish resting in the openings of the coral. Then my light catches the last half of a spotted eel swimming into his home. As my light skims over a break in the coral, I see a large crab. He has to be almost nine inches across his body, with very large claws. I keep trying to signal the other two divers and they keep flashing their lights at me. Finally I give up and swim over to them, and they are looking at a second large crab as it tries to climb up some coral.
I go back to trying to identify some of the tiny little things I have found, like a very small (1/2-inch) orange cone-shaped shell with hair-like tentacles swaying around. As my light gets closer, it begins to pull them inside the shell. Next I find a second little creature I haven't been able to identify: about 2 inches in diameter, it looks like the skeleton of a sea urchin, with long fine "hairs" surrounding it. As I get closer it appears to be reaching towards me. So many things appear strange to us and so few people really have had the chance to see them. Just before our dive ends, we see another large crab, larger than the others, with claws as large as my hand.
We have been down 40 minutes so it's time to begin our ascent to 20 feet and to do our 3-minute safety stop. While we stop there, the dive master tells us to turn our lights off. With lights off and our hands moving rapidly through the water, we see fluorescence. (Often on a very dark night, you can see it on the waves as they break over the reef.) Time is up, so we head to the surface, shine our lights on top of our heads, and give an "OK" sign, so the boat captain can see us and pick us up. We take our gear off and hand it up to the captain before climbing up the ladder. Everyone is on board and we head back to shore.
Once again I am happy that I didn’t cancel my night dive. This was one of my better dives; I like it best when there is a small number of divers. When there is a large group (10–12), everyone moves too fast and you miss the small things that are the most amazing.
Hope you enjoyed my night dive as much as I did. Until later ...