THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT

Asian Diver (English) - - Contents -

By Scott “Gutsy” Tua­son

Drift­ing in the dark abyss of the open ocean at night is not for the faint of heart, but it will get you a sneak peek into the lives of the crea­tures (mostly un­known to sci­ence!) that drift into shal­lower waters when the sun goes down…

In our oceans, ev­ery night, strange and won­der­ful crea­tures travel up from depths far be­yond the reach of con­ven­tional scuba

The drama of a hap­less fish en­snared in the sting­ing ten­ta­cles of a jelly is re­flected in the dark wa­ter's sur­face

ONE OF THE LARGEST mi­gra­tions in the world hap­pens on a daily ba­sis: Each night zoo­plank­ton, lar­val fish, jel­lies, you name it, mi­grate up into shal­lower wa­ter. But you will rarely see th­ese kinds of an­i­mals on a reg­u­lar night dive and while many of them are new to sci­ence, most of the be­hav­iour has also never been doc­u­mented be­fore. All you need is deep wa­ter, calm seas and a sim­ple set of lights and this can be done prac­ti­cally any­where, which is ex­actly what I have been do­ing for the last four-plus years. And it has been an amaz­ing ride of ad­ven­ture and dis­cov­ery.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHY’S FI­NAL FRON­TIER?

I feel like we are liv­ing in the golden age of dig­i­tal un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­phy. Im­ages that you could have only dreamed about 20 years ago are now pos­si­ble with the ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy. Cam­eras can shoot in low light while your ISO is cranked up to 2000, 3000 even 4000 with­out all the grain, and un­der­wa­ter flash units can fire at a rate of an AK-47 ri­fle. I re­mem­ber my Nikonos SB103 hav­ing a blaz­ingly fast re­cy­cle time of six sec­onds!

We are also liv­ing in an age where im­age mak­ing is at its finest. Just when you think you have taken an award­win­ning shot, you open up one of the many Face­book un­der­wa­ter groups only to find an im­age that trumps yours. This is why it is even harder to stand out from the crowd. That was un­til I dis­cov­ered the pelagic magic of the black­wa­ter dive in Hawaii in 2012. I had ac­tu­ally signed up for the manta night dive and this so called “black­wa­ter” dive was of­fered as well at the shop. I did it, and, as the cliché goes, the rest is his­tory. I was hooked on it like a 14-year-old on Snapchat.

THE WEIRD WORLD OF BLACK­WA­TER

If there is one word that de­scribes the an­i­mals you find on a black­wa­ter dive it would have to be “weird”! Even their names are weird: Pteropods, salps, blas­ta­zoids, and phromina are just some of them. And speak­ing of weird, this type of div­ing is prob­a­bly the most un­con­ven­tional you will ever do.

The fes­tiv­i­ties start af­ter din­ner and by the time we get the lights and lines sorted, mo­tor out to deep open wa­ter and set up, it’s around 9:30 in the evening. We let out the 20-me­tre line with weights at­tached to the end, with stages of lights set all along it, one at

Speak­ing of weird, this type of div­ing is prob­a­bly the most un­con­ven­tional you will ever do

five me­tres, another at 10, then 15 and the last one at 20.

Now comes the part which I call “let­ting the stew brew” – we wait 20 to 30 min­utes be­fore jump­ing in. This al­lows the aliens to get at­tracted to the light. While you or­bit the line like plan­ets around the sun, strange and down­right bizarre crea­tures start ap­pear­ing out of nowhere.

There just isn’t any other feel­ing like this in div­ing. Dives can be as short as 45 min­utes (be­cause you will run out of air due to ex­cite­ment) or as long as 90 min­utes. I usu­ally bring another tank with me, be­cause when it’s go­ing off, you just want to strap another tank on and jump right back in.

NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART

Black­wa­ter isn’t for ev­ery­one; it takes a cer­tain amount of div­ing skill, good buoy­ancy con­trol and a keen set of eyes. Not to men­tion the pho­to­graphic chal­lenges it brings to the ta­ble. As Joshua Lam­bus de­scribes it, “It’s like shoot­ing a piece of tin foil in a room with no lights.” Some an­i­mals can ac­tu­ally only be ap­pre­ci­ated when viewed on the com­puter, blown up to see all of their bizarre in­tri­ca­cies.

For non-pho­tog­ra­phers, the feel­ing of div­ing black­wa­ter is like no other. It is prob­a­bly akin to the feel­ing of float­ing in space, and the me­mories you make will stay for with you for a long time.

For me, it’s like go­ing back in time, to a pe­riod when noth­ing roamed the Earth, when the only life forms where sim­ple, sin­gle-celled marine an­i­mals, wait­ing for evo­lu­tion to trans­form them into what we are to­day.

Open wa­ter div­ing at night is a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence, and one that will def­i­nitely add some strange­ness to your life in Asia…

Text & Im­ages by Scott “Gutsy” Tua­son

BELOW Lit­tle-known be­hav­iours and re­la­tion­ships are ob­served in black­wa­ter dives, such as this seem­ingly symbiotic in­ter­ac­tion RIGHT PAGE Count­less un­de­scribed species drift in the dark, amongst them crea­tures in lar­val phases that have also never be­fore been recorded

Scott "Gutsy" Tua­son is an em­i­nent un­der­wa­ter pho­tog­ra­pher, known for his dar­ing dives. He has won nu­mer­ous pres­ti­gious in­ter­na­tional awards for his work and has just re­leased a sem­i­nal book, Black­wa­ter and Open Blue, avail­able now in the Un­der­wa­ter360 shop at www.uw360.asia.

LEFT Black­wa­ter div­ing is one of div­ing's last fron­tiers, pro­vid­ing ac­cess to a strange world that still has much to re­veal

ABOVE Phron­ima guards her brood and the salp they live in

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