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May 14 2013

Night Snorkeling

Wednesday was a very slow day. All of us – me, the Hubby, Noelle and Dave – were feeling a bit ill from Tuesday night’s dinner. We think it was the slow-cooked black beans – they were undercooked and I found a couple of websites warning about the toxin phytohaemagglutinin that is found in some beans. Whatever it was, there was trouble in paradise, and we spent much of the day lounging about the house and teasing Noelle about poisoning us.

By late afternoon we were all feeling better and so we ventured out to The Split for some food and swimming. The Split is the north point of Caye Caulker, and the party destination for tourists and islanders alike. We grabbed some food and drinks from the Lazy Lizard Bar. I had the house special, a Lizard Juice. Don’t ask me what was in it – it was frozen and alcoholic and it turned my tongue bright green, so I hear.

The snorkeling at the Split was kind of magnificent. There is a bunch of concrete and wood in the water that the fish have turned into nursing grounds. There were the ever-present grunts, but also parrotfish, tang, wrasse and a myriad of other brightly-hued fish.

Never one to sit still for long, on the way back from The Split I signed up for a night snorkeling trip and Dave decided to join me. The sun sets early in Caye Caulker, at least relative to Minneapolis. The sun was hitting the horizon at about 6pm and it was dark by 7pm. We boarded the French Angel snorkel boat with our captain and guide, Ash, at about 6:15pm and took a five minute ride out to the barrier reef. We were snorkeling at Coral Gardens, which is part of the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, and one of the sites that I had snorkeled last Saturday.

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A snorkeler prepares to enter the water against a partially cloudy dusk sky.

I was a wee bit irrationally scared about snorkeling at night. The ocean is so big and it holds so many creatures that can move very quickly, and many of them have bigger and sharper teeth than I do. The idea of being underwater and unable to see outside a narrow beam of light was nervewracking. I was fairly certain we were going to wake the Kraken, but Dave assured me that the Kraken was on the other side of the reef “in the blue”. So no Kraken at least. Probably.

Ash gave each us extremely bright, waterproof flashlights and we entered the water. Due to the low lighting and the choppy surface (i.e., inability to hold the camera still), it was extremely hard to get in-focus photographs. And the videos are just meh. I do have a pretty good 20 seconds of a huge lobster scuttling across the sandy bottom between reefs, but I failed to turn the recorder off when I thought I did, so right now I’m stuck with 20 seconds of lobster and about 23 minutes and 40 seconds of a wild shakey cam of blackness punctuated by the occasional flash of light. So…that one will be waiting until I get it home and edited. But here are a couple of cool, vaguely spooky photos:

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Our ghostly guide leads us forward across the sandy ocean floor toward the reef. You can see our flashlight beams at the bottom of the photo, and the underside of the ocean surface can be seen at the top because Ash is gesturing us forward with his flashlight above the water.P1000402

Three of our headlights focus on a small grouping of coral. We’re on the lookout for shrimp, lobsters, active spiny urchins, slumbering parrotfish, and the big prize: Octopus! 

It was freaky jumping into the water, especially since I had seen the giant (baby) tarpon that like to swim around under Dave and Noelle’s dock light at night. I had an aversion to turning on my flashlight for fear of attracting fish to us. And then I remembered that that’s kind of what we wanted. And we did! We had literally hundreds of tiny blue iridescent minnows (sardines?) circling around us. They were so thick it was hard to see through them at times!

We didn’t see any octopus that night, but we did see all of those other fish and crustaceans that we were looking for. It was amazing to watch the plant-like spiny urchin inch across the corals, and the beady eyes of lobsters glowed out at us from crevices in the coral. At one point we all turned out our flashlights and watched the reef explode in fireworks of bioluminescence. It wasn’t as bright as the photos I find online of “underwater bioluminescence” or “ocean bioluminescence” – as our eyes adjusted we began to see thousands of small flashes of light come into existence and quickly disperse in a never-ending riot. Near the coral heads, what looked like glowing strings of dim lights stretched from the coral to the surface of the water. It was awesome and disturbing to have that previously invisible world take shape all around us and then disappear again when we turned on our lights.

And then I noticed that I was freezing. I wasn’t skin cold, I was penetrated with coldness. But it was a good time to notice because the snorkel was over and it was time to head back. But getting out the water into the chilly wind was worse by multitudes.

It was an unforgettable experience, and now I think I’m ready to tackel the night scuba dive!

4 comments

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  1. 1
    JohnnieCanuck

    You bring my night time swimming experience to mind. The dock in Venezuela where our tanker tied up was in a quiet bay and had lots of marine life on its pilings. After dark I took an explosion-proof flashlight and went to see what was there. Everything was very colourful, especially the little octopus in its shades of neon green and pink. It kept moving around the piling to keep away from me. That was when I noticed the flashlight was filling with sea water; waterproof not being included in its list of features. When I turned it off, I could see the plankton glowing behind the glass. Oops.

    After a while, the night watchman came over and called out “pescados peligrosos” over and over to me. I had no idea what he was saying so after a time, I climbed out and went back aboard the ship. That’s when I found out that he had been saying “dangerous fish” all the while. Probably not actually true. Probably.

  2. 2
    peicurmudgeon

    I went on a night dive in the Dominican Republic one. It was the most memorable dive of my life. One of the coolest things was a sleeping file fish. The dive master picked it up and passed it to each of us, then carefully set it down and it never moved.

    I have also often snorkelled at night here off PEI, and thoroughly enjoy it. I don’t even try pictures though.

  3. 3
    procrastinator will get an avatar real soon now

    I take a light weight windbreaker with a hood that rolls into the collar with me on dive trips. It is the bees knees for keeping you warm after a dive or snorkel.

  4. 4
    Lundy Casaway

    An interesting article. Snorkelling even in the uk is becoming more and more popular. We run a boat to Lundy Island off the N Dvon Coast in the uk. We are seeing a great increase in the number of snorellers who simply love to get in the water with the seals. Often the snorkellers get a better experience and interaction with the wild seals than divers who have to carry weighty kit. Seal snorlelling has got to be one of the best experiences if you want to get close to our wonderfull wildlife here in the uk. Lundy Island certainly offers this.

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