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  • Writer's pictureKim Hanlon

Things That Go Bump In The Night

Divetech's owner, Joanna Mikutowicz, exploring the mini wall on a night dive.
Divetech's owner, Joanna Mikutowicz, exploring the mini wall on a night dive.

Night Diving - it’s like regular diving, but a bit darker. Well, there might be a bit more to it, I suppose.

Talk to any group of divers, and you will more than likely get a varied response. Some people love it, some people hate it, and then there are the rare few who could take it or leave it. Although I would imagine that after this lockdown, given the option, those in the latter category would jump at the chance.

Alien invasion? Nope, just a group of night divers looking at the coral trees off Divetech's house reef.
Alien invasion? Nope, just a group of night divers looking at the coral trees off Divetech's house reef.

I’ll be the first to admit that it took me quite a while to “get” night diving. Hardly surprising, as I was still sleeping with the door cracked and the light on in the hall in my 20’s. Truth be told, I’m still not adverse to the idea.

My very first dive after my open water certification was a night dive in Thailand. Granted, that was not the greatest idea ever pitched, but I was on a mission to do and see everything that was possible underwater with my newly opened, seasalt tinted eyeballs. It was a nightmare. Not surprising really, as I would imagine many of the divers in the group were probably just as experienced as I, and the “guide” probably not much more so. There were several groups milling around in the same general area, and I can recall there being a lot of confusion, my light not working, not really having a clue what was going on, blindly following a dim candlelight in front of me, and suddenly being grabbed at and everyone brought to the surface as one of the people in my group had followed another group. Our dive was cancelled after about 14 and a half minutes and we all had to drudge our way back to shore.

Coral spawning night dive.
Divetech's Joanna Mikutowicz watches the annual coral spawning - an amazing event that occurs once per year at night.

I didn’t brave my second attempt until about 3 years later, and that was an even more traumatic event. Again, I was brought out with several inexperienced guides in chaotic groups darting in and out through each other, my shoddy rental light died about 5 minutes in, my anxiety level shot through the roof and I somehow convinced myself for a second that the faintly lit up bubbles in the distance were peoples tanks on fire. Underwater.

juvenile trunkfish
This little guy is the size of a pea. He's a juvenile trunkfish - one of the many critters you'll find at nighttime on the Divetech house reef.

And here I am almost 15 years after my first incident, sitting on a tropical island in front of a computer screen with thousands more dives under my belt, with the audacity to tell you about all the wonders of night diving.

Night diving is definitely a topic that sparks curiosity in the inquisitive minds of people on both sides of the camp. Be it the gung ho thrill seekers, eager to know what magic lies below; or the buddy that’s scared of the boogeymen under their bed, curious about how horrific the whole experience must be.

Strange as it sounds, you can actually see a lot more at night in the dark, than during the day in the light. During the day there’s so much going on all around your peripheral vision, it can be distracting and even over stimulating. At night you're entirely focused on where your light is pointing and what it’s illuminating. It can make you appreciate all the little things a lot more. I often find that divers can recall what they’ve seen on a night dive in a lot more detail than during the day.

Lettuce leaf slug (Elysia crispata)
Lettuce leaf slug (Elysia crispata,) crawling over the coral on a night dive on Divetech's house reef.

So, first thing’s first. I think the moral of my initial stories is to ensure that you are mentally and physically prepared for the delve into the watery, dark, albeit shallow depths. Make sure you are comfortable with your dive guide or buddy, that you ( or at least they ) are familiar with the area, that your equipment is in good working order, your battery is fully charged and you have a spare light or camera strobe. It will make your journey to night diving utopia a hell of a lot easier, trust me. Make sure you get any questions you have answered before jumping in. If you’re worried about signaling in the dark, some simple signs are moving the light up and down to attract your buddy's attention, wave it side to side to indicate somethings wrong, and waving it in a circle signals that everything is ok. Failing to remember any of those, you can just use the same signals as during the day, just shine the light on your hand so your buddy can actually see what you’re doing. Ingenious, I know.

Juvenile squid
Juvenile squid are often found dashing about on the reef. This one in particular is only 2" long.

I personally like to jump in at twilight before it is pitch black, while there is still a little post sunset light in the sky. This ensures you’re not plunged straight into the abyss, it gives you a little time to get your bearings and you can make sure your group is comfortable before setting off on your mission. ( it also means you’ll get to eat your dinner and grab a beer sooner ;) )

And then the adventure truly commences.

Just like on land, under the sea all sorts of weirdos crawl out from the rocks they’ve been hiding under all day when the light is dimmed.

You have the slipper lobster that looks like a large, strange, alien cockroach, sent to invade your cupboards from another planet, but got a bit lost. Instead they have to make do with nibbling on mollusks and worms in the sand. Mmm. To be fair, they’ve been around for about 120 million years, so the GPS might have been a bit off back then.

Floro night dives! At night, using a UV light and special filter, the bioluminescence in the coral glows spectacularly. It's an amazing sight.

Then you have the humble parrotfish, a delight to see in the daylight, but gets a little kooky at night. Humans have come up with some ingenious bedding alternatives over the years to make themselves comfortable, but for our parrotfish friends, mucus sleeping bags appear to be the way to go. Many species of parrotfish and wrasse belch out their own goopy cocoons every night, covering themselves in under an hour and protecting themselves from predators. What better way to ensure a good night’s sleep than by snuggling into a cocoon of your own snot? I personally prefer to ramp up the air-con, have a couple of single malts and fall asleep to the dulcet tones of a David Attenborough documentary in the background, but each to their own.

Euapta lappa, also known as the beaded sea cucumber
Euapta lappa, also known as the beaded sea cucumber is a weird looking creature that only comes out at night.

Those innocent looking snappers you see playfully chasing each other around the reef during the day? Witness them turning into deranged killers once the sun goes down. If you’ve ever wanted to explore your God complex, shine your light beam on some poor, unsuspecting, angelic little butterflyfish and witness why snappers get their name.

On that note, please do be careful where you shine your light, and make sure not to aim it directly in the eyes of the animals. Think about the way your alarm makes you feel first thing on the Monday morning after the clocks go forward, then imagine your phone coming to life, climbing onto your bed, prying your eyelids open and shining it’s torch directly into your eyes. I imagine that’s how they would feel about you.

A small spotted moray eel.

I recently witnessed a spotted moray acting weird, I wasn’t sure if he was trying to find a hidey hole to avoid the light or looking for dinner. If it were the former, it became the latter, because he darted into a hole and came out with an octopus in his mouth. The octopus then somehow managed a spectacular maneuver and was now stuck to the eels face trying to eat him. He managed to get away, and the octopus returned to his house and carried on with his evening. I’m not quite sure what they had for dinner, but they worked up a good appetite, and they say hunger is a great sauce, so I’m sure they were satiated somehow.

One thing I always make certain to mention in my night dive briefings are bloodworms. Just in case you weren’t scared enough before, I just thought I’d drop that in there. Don’t worry though, they are not as scary as the name suggests. The first time I encountered these wiggly little buggers was in Belize. I had no idea what they were, and my reaction was very similar to the time a guest told me there was a cockroach crawling on my BCD just before I was about to descend. One particular night it was like something out of a horror movie, I recall finding them inside my ear and mask after the dive. I quickly learned though that if you turn off your light they’ll go away and annoy someone else. What’s also pretty cool, and less mean to your dive buddies, is if you shine your beam on some brain coral, the polyps will devour the bloodworms. Try it!

If the bloodworms haven’t scared you off, there’s still plenty of other things hiding out there to keep you on your fin tips. Look out for that tarpon behind you. Oh no, it’s in front of you. I think it’s sniffing your dive boots. Or , wait, did you just…..


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