Monday, January 11, 2010

Night Diving

Depending on where I’m living, I’ve been known to flirt with the associated “extreme” sports. This is somewhat odd, considering that I don’t really think of myself as a particularly athletic or sporty person. Nevertheless, there was that semester in college when I took up whitewater kayaking and mountain biking in Maine. Then I moved to Switzerland where I spent many years trying to learn how to ski. Now I’m in Indonesia and not only have I taken up diving, but I also find that I particularly like diving at night.

I just finished my PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course in Bunaken and elected to do a night dive as one of my five “adventure dives”, as they call them. I was more apprehensive about this one than I was before the other four dives – peak performance buoyancy, navigation, deep water, and underwater photography. Night diving would be challenging because I didn’t know how I’d feel underwater at night. Would I feel claustrophobic? Disoriented? Scared? What if I lost sight of the others in the group? How much does one really see underwater in the dark anyway? These fears disappeared as I held on to the reference line and descended about 12 meters along a coral wall.

My eyes quickly adjusted to the light of my flashlight and what I saw amazed and delighted me. During the day, the reef looks very blue and all the colors sort of get washed out the deeper you go. At night though, with a flashlight, the colors suddenly come alive and are made even more vibrant against the blackness of the water. And the creatures are different too. Most of the colorful little reef fish go to sleep in the crevices of the wall while other more mysterious creatures come out to play. The ones that fascinated me the most were the painted spiny lobsters. Large, colorful, and somewhat resembling space aliens, they were mesmerizing. At one point I saw some long white feelers poking up out of a crevice. I ascended a meter or so to get a better look and as I rose up, the rest of the enormous lobster came into view and my flashlight revealed two big glowing eyes staring right at me. I felt like I was in a science fiction movie.

I loved shining my flashlight into all the nooks and crannies to see what creatures might be lurking about. There were lots of big crabs, coral banded cleaner shrimp, beautiful lionfish and even a scorpionfish. A highlight included seeing a sleeping green turtle. Our lights must have woken him up because after a couple of moments, he swam away. I felt slightly bad about disturbing his slumber but it was also an incredible sight to see him so close up and then to see him swim off into black oblivion, gently flapping his flippers.

One of the most magical parts about night diving is seeing the phosphorescent plankton. If you turn your flashlight towards your body to mask the light and then wave your other hand back and forth in front of you, you will see a sparkling shower of small glowing balls that seemingly fly out from your finger tips. It is probably the closest I will ever come to feeling like a sorceress casting a magic spell.


  1. This puzzled me. "When is she going to talk about driving at night?" I kept asking myself. Then I re-read the title. Oops.

    This sounds exciting. One book I love that talks about night diving is Ian Fleming's "Thunder Ball". I don't like James Bond movies but have found that, as people often say, the books are far better. And the chapter with the underwater diving in "Thunder Ball" is just plain beautiful. I read a big chunk of Fleming while in India, and you might like them in Indonesia. Have you read any of them?

  2. It's funny that you mention James Bond because a couple of us at the resort were talking about scenes from Bond movies. I haven't seen them (or read any of Ian Fleming's books), but apparently there's a scene where 007 is underwater breathing air from a car tire and another one where he emerges from a drysuit in a tuxedo! I'll have to look for "Thunder Ball".