Fascination Night Dive

 In Marine Life @Tayrona National Park, Fish & Corals in the Caribbean Sea, PADI courses

I remember my first night dive.  The sun had set and darkness was falling.  Butterflies in my stomach reminded me that this was not a normal dive.  What would I see?  I had my gear strapped on, and the unfamiliar flashlight around my wrist.  Trepidation hit as we walked into the darkness of the water.  The moon was a mere sliver and the stars were starting to appear in the sky.

It’s disorienting initially – walking into dark water. Those things which are normal during the day, start feeling ominous.  It’s harder to recognize simple objects.  Coral looks vastly different under a flashlight than it does under sunlight.  The colors are more vibrant and shapes look more imposing.  But, the ocean is alive!  

The first thing I noticed walking in was all of the miniscule life alive in each wave of water.  I was unsure of whether it was plankton, or tiny fish, or some sort of aquatic bugs – but, as we started swimming deeper, I became aware of the thousands of critters surrounding me, which I was blithely unaware of during the day.  Were these animals always here?  Just in darkness do they make themselves known?  

As we made our way down to about 6 meters (18 feet), my instructor stopped.  He shone his light ahead of him, where this sinister creature was pulsing, and swimming back and forth.  “What is that?” I thought as I hesitantly swam closer.  Some type of serpent.  To my surprise, I suddenly realized it was a green moray eel.  I had seen them during the day, but somehow this creature looked bigger and more dangerous than during the day.  My instructor then motioned for me to look into the cavern from which the eel had swam.  I poked my head down to look in, surprised to see a nest of spiders!  After my initial shock and horror subsided, I realized they weren’t spiders at all, but arrow crabs.  I gave the “all good” sign to my instructor and onward we swam.  

A few feet forward and he stopped me again, and motioned for me to turn off my light.  “Is he crazy?”  I thought, as I reluctantly did so.  I was still feeling fairly unsure of myself in this darkness.  Unable to see those massive creatures which were obviously trying to eat me.  My instructor turned off his light too, but waved his hands in front of him.  And, then I realized what he was showing me, as his hands sparkled with light.  Bioluminescent plankton.  I had heard about this, but didn’t realize that I’d be able to see it on a normal night dive.  I froze fascinated as I watched the lights dance around his hands.  How captivating.

After a few minutes, he turned his lights back on and I followed.  A few minutes later as we slowly made our way forward, I noticed movement at the bottom – it seemed like the rocks were moving.  I pulled on my instructor’s fin, and he turned around.  I showed him the moving rocks and he looked where I was pointing.  He clapped his hands together and we watched for another minute, until that “rock” darted out of sight.  It wasn’t until after the dive that I asked him what that was.  A toadfish!  I had never seen one before.  

As my fear slowly subsided and I relaxed into the night dive, I was fascinated by all the life present and awake.  During that dive, we saw all sorts of fish and other animals.  Some of these are present during the day, but they take on a different dimension at night.  Creatures such as eels, lobsters, and squid.  They look different at night than they do during the day – often bolder and more assertive than during the day.  Squirrelfish also are much more present and weird at night.  Watching them, with their big eyes as they dart about hunting.  There are also creatures which are difficult to see during the day, are much more present at night.  For instance, the first time I ever saw an octopus was at night.  And, boy!  Did that octopus put on a show: changing colors and appearing to have its own lightshow.    

Interestingly, when my instructor was briefing me on the dive, he warned me that tarpon would often use divers’ lights to hunt.  But, we didn’t see a single tarpon on that dive.  However, subsequently I did a night dive where a 4-foot (1.2 meters) snapper used my light to hunt.  It was disconcerting, as ever time I turned around, the snapper darted behind me, seemingly stalking me.  Now – I’m a fairly short person, just above 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall myself.  My friend often (jokingly) warns me that I shouldn’t be the smallest person on any dive.  As that snapper zoomed around me, I heard those words in my head.  Oh no!  I was the smallest on the dive!  Thankfully, the snapper didn’t really care at all about me, but appreciated my light as he sucked down several small fish that happened to be caught unaware.

Now, if I’m honest – I far prefer diving during the day.  I like to be able to see beyond the rays of my flashlight.  But, even I can see the fascination of night dives.  The water comes alive in ways that is not possible in the sunlight.  It’s possible to see life in every inch of the water.  It’s also fun to see some fish sleeping, while others awaken and explore at night.  It is definitely a different world at night than it is in the day.  Also – if you’re aching to see octopus or eels, you’re far more likely to see them living their best lives at night.  Also, since Halloween is right around the corner – doing a little night dive is right on time.  Embrace the creepiness and explore the deep!  You won’t be sorry.  Everyone should experience the darkness at least once.  Just make sure you’re with people you trust (and people you can outswim!  Kidding, kidding).  Happy diving!  

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