My First Black Water Dive - Aquatic Life Divers
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My First Black Water Dive

Published January 21, 2020

Written By
Neil Forsberg

I recently participated in my first black water dive with Aquatic Life Divers in Kona, Hawaii. I’d heard of the Black Water experience for years and had always wanted to try one but, for one reason or another, I was never able to join. I have decided to share my details of my encounter for those of you that may be curious about what it entails.

What is the Black Water Dive? 

The Black Water Dive is a night dive conducted approximately 3 miles off-shore where divers are suspended by 50-foot lines from the sides of the catamaran  anchored with 5-pound dive weights. Divers are then attached to the anchored lines via a carabiner on their dive gear. The line that attached to you are approximately six feet in length and thereby allow you to float suspended in a column of water 12-15 feet across and up to 50 feet in depth. You then hang out with your flashlight as you explore the water column filled with translucent creatures of the night. 

Why is this dive so magnificent?

The Island of Hawaii is essentially  a volcanic mass in the center of the Pacific Ocean. It rises as a conical structure containing five volcanoes, of which one remains active (Kilauea). Because of this unique geologic aspect, the depth of the ocean runs into 1000’s of feet with a mile or two off the coast! At night, upwelling currents assist all sorts of unusual sea creatures to rise up toward the surface to feed. The Black Water Dive allows the intrepid diver to witness these other-worldly creatures first hand. These are creatures one never sees on a day dive or even on a night reef dive. creature on the blackwater dive

Highlights of my adventure:

  • Magical display of Seven Manta Rays circling in and around us
  • Encountering various translucent and iridescent creatures
  • The appearance of dozens of Spinner Dolphins hunting in the night

Manta Ray Dive

The first aspect of the dive was the “Manta Dive” where we were blessed by the appearance of seven manta rays (Manta birostris); a magical display of their circling in and around all of the flashlights that were placed on the sandy bottom of Garden Eel Cove. As they swam near me, I was ever so slightly rocked from side to side by the Manta-generated currents. We were even lucky enough to see one large Stripebelly Puffer (Arothon hispidus) meander through the center of the action and, not to be outdone, Frank, Garden Eel Cove’s ubiquitous Moray eel (Gymnothorax) made his petulant appearance late in the show. 

Manta Ray Feeding

As we were one of the last to arrive at the “Campfire”, our group remained well past the departure of most other dive groups. Arriving late turned-out to be a blessing because mantas had also arrived late. By the time several 8-12 foot rays were amongst us, most other dive groups had departed. Thank you Evans for that (unplanned?) stroke of luck.

 

Black Water Dive

We then departed for the Black Water aspect of the night’s adventure. With Captain Zain at the helm, we motored perhaps 3 miles off-shore from Honokohau Harbor and Evans, our capable Divemaster, explained the set-up. He and Zain had suspended 50-foot lines from the sides of our custom-made Armstrong catamaran that were anchored with 5-pound dive weights. We were then to be affixed to these lines via a carabiner attached to our dive gear. The line that attached us to the anchor line was approximately six feet in length and this thereby allowed us to float suspended in a column of water 12-15 feet across and up to 50 feet in depth. The idea that we were essentially being used as “bait” came to mind. But, I quickly dismissed that concern as unwarranted. I had learned from many experiences in Kona with various species of sharks (Oceanic White Tip, Tiger, Black tip Reef and Sand) that my long-held concerns about sharks were largely baseless.

Zane and Evans put out a “sea parachute” that functioned in capturing the current and dragging us slowly in one direction. This aided in minimizing the likelihood that anchor lines would become entangled during the dive.

The dive briefing was fascinating. Evans has a BS degree in Marine Biology from the University of South Carolina and, hence, was able to deliver a well-grounded science-based preview of what we might encounter. We were warned about box jellyfish (Chironix fleckeri) with their box-like medusa; that these could sting and we needed to avoid them. Further, we were encouraged to not interfere with any of the ornate and unexpected marine life that we would encounter. We were to even move our anchor and tether lines such that they did not tear any of them as we drifted. 

One by one, guests were attached their tethers and then made their plunges into the inky blackness of 10,000 feet of water. As this was my first black water dive, it took me about 10 minutes to orient myself properly. Adjusting one’s buoyancy with no external reference proved tricky. Further, rather than facing into the current, I found myself, for the first ten minutes, facing backwards. However, by 15 minutes into the dive I realized that the anchor lines and flashlights of the other divers provided me with the orientation I needed for adjustment of both buoyancy and orientation. This then allowed me to simply experience the wonders of the ocean in the black of night.

Some pre-dive reading had acquainted me with some of the species of organisms that floated by me; translucent golf ball-sized cubes and and hexagonal boxes (Ctenophores) drifted by me which, upon examination with my flashlight, glowed and vibrated iridescently. Tiny flagellar movements were easily discernible within them. Another cloud-like structure was plentiful: about 4 inches in diameter but, as I approached I discovered that the “cloud” was in fact, thousands of micro-filaments that this organism presumably extended to collect food! When I got too close to these, the filaments were rapidly withdrawn into a central stick-like structure 1.5 inches in length and the organism sped away! Then there were the siphonphores; long tube-like structures that are, in fact, related to jelly fish and corals (Cnidarians). These long worm-like structures, up to 2 feet in length, appeared to be made up of smaller organisms that had linked-up to form long, luminous structures. With them, I needed to be careful to move my anchor line and tether from side to side to avoid damaging their delicate features. These too emitted iridescent colors; possibly a form of bioluminescence. Another common creature I encountered was a long worm-like organism…possibly 1.5 feet in length. But, unlike the Cnidarians, this appeared as a single animal/structure. It was translucent, flat and, at its center, it possessed a glowing silver “eye” of sorts. A review of Kona black water divers indicates there are many other species that will compel me to return. These include larval flounders, Chaetognaths, flying fish, heteropods, juvenile Mahi Mahi and lobsters, polychaetes, pyrosomes, pelagic seahorses and others.

A Nice Surprise 

And finally, our dive was celebrated with the appearance of a dozen or so feeding Spinner Dolphins (Stenella longirostris), an apparent rare treat. This species sleeps near shore in the day but feeds at night. The pod was with us for virtually the entire dive and their speed was breath-taking. One mother with her baby raced frequently by in excess of 20 mph! The odd thing was that their eyes glowed red in our flashlights, just as our flashes on our cameras cause “red eye” in our land-based human cousins!

Overall, an amazing night. Thank you for reading!

Neil

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