Thursday, May 19, 2011

Night diving: Scuba exploration in a whole new light

By Don Gardner
The ocean is much like New York City.
It never sleeps.
Sure, the sun may go down, the water’s surface may become dead calm, but that doesn’t mean everyone has packed it in for the night.
On the contrary. In fact, dusk literally brings on the second shift – ocean animals that are rarely, if ever, are seen during the day, go to work at night. That is the No. 1 reason to consider a night dive.
For five straight years, I’ve taken diving trips to the island of Cozumel, a diving mecca off the coast of Cancun on Mexico’s eastern boarder. For the first three years, I was intrigued by the prospect of night diving, but as a solo diver, I was a little nervous. Diving in pitch-black water, with a “buddy” I just met on the dive boat 10 minutes before? I wasn’t comfortable with that. Finally, two years ago, I took the plunge (pun intended). Now I wonder what took me so long.
Don’t get me wrong, night diving is a little spooky. And in a deep water column, it is possible to get a disoriented. But you can hit a dive site in the morning and do it again at night and see a COMPLETELY different set of animals. For me, the highlight of my three night dives has been seeing about a dozen octopi. Prior to night diving, I had never seen one in the wild. They are amazing to watch, as they move like a glass of water spilled over the craggy reefhead in search of a meal. Such mesmerizing elegance. I’ve also seen small schools of squid, watched a puffer fish blow up into a ball when startled by a diver’s light. I’ve seen fish sleeping so soundly that they don’t move even with a light shined in their face and a diver nearly making mouth-to-mask contact.
A Splendid Toadfish, shot by a friend during a night dive on Paradise Reef in Cozumel.
And a special treat in Cozumel is listening to the Splendid Toadfish, a beautifully ugly fish indigenious only to the island, croak to each other like bullfrogs, communicating in the darkness.
Night diving is a special treat not to be missed. Dave Leander, a dive instructor for Great Lakes Dive Center, 47450 Van Dyke in Shelby Township (586) 254-7670,, provides some great, helpful tips to become a confident night diver.
By Dave Leander
Do you remember when you were a kid, going out at night and playing flashlight tag? 
Scuba diving at night is a lot like that. Suddenly the dive site you thought you knew becomes a lot different when you can see a whole new cast of creatures revealed by your dive light.
While it may seem a little scary at first in spite of the familiar surroundings, night diving is also awesome and a great way to see the underwater world in a whole new light (no pun on words!).  These are a few tips about night diving you may choose while you get those first few night dives in your log book and see if your favorite times underwater don’t turn out to be the dives after dark.
  • Practice in a swimming pool. It's not as silly as it might sound, but if you have access to an indoor pool where you can turn off the lights, or an outdoor pool after dark, exploring it with your dive light will help prepare you for an open water night dive. Actually, you'll find it fun, even after you have a lot of experience with open water night dives.
  • Choose a dive site you’ve seen before in full light. When you know what it looked like in the daytime, you know what to expect after dark. Plus you'll appreciate how diving at night reveals a whole new world on even a familiar dive site.
  • Start at twilight. It's easier to get your scuba equipment on, plan your dive with your dive buddy and make your entry while you still have some daylight to work with. As night falls while you’re underwater, your sight gradually becomes acclimated to the darkness throughout the dive instead of plunging into the darkness from the start. You’ll notice many of your underwater friends exhibit unique behaviors at twilight, bedding down for the night or positioning themselves for successful nighttime feeding.
  • Plan a shorter, shallower scuba dive. Typically scuba divers experiencing night dives for the first few dives use more air, so a scuba tank will not last as long as it usually does. To enjoy your night dives, don't stray too far from the entry point or dive boat during the dive, go slow and cover a smaller area while investigating each new spot your dive light reveals. Take the time to look in every nook and cranny.
  • Don't forget to navigate. It should be easy when you don’t go too far, but many of the landmarks you’re used to seeing in full light, will be missing in the dark. Use lights on the shore, mark the boat’s anchor line and find or create other aids to keep your bearings.
  • Take the time to notice the little things, and watch for the big ones. Many tiny creatures you swim right over during the day stand out in the beam of your dive light.  Some underwater critters hide during the day and can only be seen at night so bring you camera and strobe to get those rare pictures.  Don’t just keep you light beam on the reef, be sure to shine your light out into the bigger water around you occasionally to catch a passing stingray, a curious grouper or even some reef squid that will follow you along on your dive just outside the beam.
  • Delve into your imagination and cover your dive light to find out how dark it really is underwater. Or more importantly, how dark it really isn’t. Most likely you’ll find you can still see plenty. If you’re diving with a group, the flicker from other scuba divers’ lights  and marker lights will indirectly light up the dive site. In some areas, phosphorescent plankton is common – just wave your arm through the water and you’ll see a trail of stars twinkling around you. In clear water the moon can be visible from underwater, so take a look upward and check it out. In clear water with a full moon, you could make most of the dive with your lights off, but you will always want to have a dive light and marker light on every night dive.
  • Carry two dive lights, a primary and a smaller backup. One of the sacred rules you’ll learn in the Night Diver specialty course is that every diver needs their own dive light. So if your only dive light goes out you can use your backup and save the dive. We also like to use a tank light that marks the diver while on the night dive.
  • For a really unique experience, consider a night dive just before dawn and watch the underwater world wake up. Early morning, your dive site can be just as fascinating as twilight and when you make your ascent while the sun is making one of its own, there’s just no better way to start the day!  We will be looking for you on our next night dive…….tag you’re it!

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