Hawaii’s Kona Coast attracts divers in droves, which is no surprise considering the area’s iconic crystalline waters and the incredible bounty of local marine species. It’s perhaps most famous for its manta and dolphin encounters, but there’s another reason to make the journey to Hawaii’s Big Island: Kona’s black-water night dives. Just a short distance from shore, the seafloor drops away so dramatically that a ½-mile in depth is gained for every mile traveled offshore. Such vertiginous depths so close to land make for a unique diving opportunity, whereby those brave enough can witness the weird and wonderful creatures of the abyss.
Kona’s Black-Water Night Dives
During the day, these creatures inhabit the perpetual darkness found at extreme depths, but at night, they migrate by the millions towards the sea’s surface to feed. This vertical migration is the largest on Earth, involving more than a 100 million tons of animal life, and yet, very few people know of its existence. The species that make this nocturnal odyssey are some of the most extraordinary on the planet, and most of them are no bigger than a quarter, including siphonophores, which are tiny colonial jellyfish that aggregate to create strings of gelatinous material that can reach hundreds of feet in length; larval crabs, lobsters and fish, some of which are tiny replicas of their adult counterparts, others of which are barely recognizable; sea squirts and jellyfish, whose transparent forms light up intermittently with pulse with of iridescent color; and some creatures that still cannot be identified at all. The vast majority of these nighttime visitors are not yet classified, and most of those that have been are so rarely observed outside the realm of science that they have no common name.
In what is perhaps one of the most unique dive experiences out there, these extraordinary creatures can be seen firsthand during the dedicated black-water night-diving excursions offered by several of Kona’s dive operators. Leaving land after sunset, the drop-off point for these dives is approximately three miles offshore, in up to 8,000 feet (2,438 m) of water. For safety, divers are attached via a tether to the boat, which not only helps with orientation while drifting at around 50 feet in the inky ocean, but also with buoyancy control. Equipped with a dive light, divers are then free to immerse themselves in the fantasy world of the nighttime abyss and to marvel at the alien life forms undulating through the torch beams. Each new arrival seems stranger than the last, some ghostlike and pale, others like random vibrations of color in the blackness. There’s no telling what divers may see on one of these dives, and although the tiny visitors from the deep are the intended spectacle, larger pelagic species sometimes appear as well. Particularly, this dive is a macro photographer’s fantasy, offering the chance to capture images of rarely photographed species. It is for the adventurer-seekers, and for all those in search of a dive experience that brings new meaning to the term extraordinary.
This dive can be nerve-wracking; after all, there are few things more unnatural than entering the ocean at night with the sure knowledge that there are thousands of feet of water between you and solid ground. For this reason, this dive is not for the new or nervous diver, but those who are willing to try may find that Kona’s black-water diving experience is perhaps its most rewarding.
For more information: bigislanddivers.com; jacksdivinglocker.com