Dive into ink-black waters and immerse yourself into an other-worldly experience as thousands of colourful pelagic and planktonic creatures float around you on a magical blackwater dive.
Imagine scuba diving enveloped in darkness with just a small beam of light shining down to the invisible ocean floor and thousands of small bright marine creatures bobbing up towards you. This is blackwater diving and it’s like “floating in outer space watching alien species swirl around” you, as Emma Rigolo, the Blackwater Drift Diver Specialty Instructor at Pura Vida Divers in Florida, describes.
Regular scuba diving transports you to a peaceful, suspended underwater world. But diving at night, hovering over thousands of metres of pitch-black water surrounded by thousands of brilliant, tiny larval organisms is an entirely surreal experience. For Melissa Johnson, the Marketing Director at Pura Vida Divers, “It appears as though you have descended into a snow globe.”
Blackwater diving is a unique night dive usually in deep open ocean, where experienced scuba divers with at least 50 logged dives under their belt hover tethered to their boat line to watch pelagic animals float by. Divers see anything ranging from perfectly clear and bioluminescent larval fish to deep-sea anglerfish, and from tiny salps to jellyfish.
“This [diurnal vertical migration] happens each night and is the largest migration on Earth in terms of biomass,” says Rigolo.
Even though the dives usually happen over 1,220 metres of water above the water column, divers don’t usually go much further down than 12 metres underwater. These dives offer a discovery of the rarely seen world of planktonic creatures that float to the surface every night to feed and breed.
Blackwater divers and photographers are drawn back to blackwater diving time and time again, as there is a vast array of magical marine life to see on every dive. For seasoned diver and Chairman of the Board of CORAL, Kirby Ryan III, who went blackwater diving in Kona, Hawai’i, “the coolest and most unique thing” about blackwater diving is that “all the bizarre jellies, chains of jellies, and all these creatures [he’d] never even seen in pictures in a book were coming up around [him].”
“You’re there hanging off a line in the dark and you’re just watching this whole other world you usually never even think about existing come by. It’s a nice reminder that the oceans really are one of the last major Earth frontiers [where] we don’t know that much about what’s beyond the surface,” Ryan III explained.
BLACKWATER DIVE TYPES
Several types of blackwater diving exist depending on locations, including open ocean, drift, near reef, and bonfire.
Locations like West Palm Beach in Florida are ideal for blackwater drift diving due to their strong ocean current. “Instead of being tethered to the boat or diving in a stagnant location, [you] drift north along the coast as [you] observe the amazing diurnal vertical migration,” explains Rigolo.
In Kona, where blackwater diving was first pioneered, the night dives happen in the open ocean. Also called offshore blackwater diving, the dives take place far offshore over abyssal depths. Divers carry their own torches and stay tethered separately to the boat line throughout their dive.
Near reefs, blackwater diving usually takes place on a deep wall adjacent to the open ocean. Divers go down in pairs, untethered, and must make sure not to flow too far off in the current or hit the reef.
Anilao in the Philippines offers bonfire dives, which are the perfect option for first timers. Carried out in shallower water depths between 9 to 18 metres, these dives take place where there is little to no current and over reefs or sand patches. Regardless of which blackwater diving type you pick, it’s bound to captivate your senses.
As many divers can attest to, scuba diving transports you to a serene, thrilling, and mesmerising place that requires you to stay alert and in control—even more so when it happens in total darkness, surrounded by floating and glowing sea life. For Rigolo, blackwater diving offers “a freedom and a unique set of skills and knowledge” that you wouldn’t otherwise find in regular diving.
As for Ryan III, his first blackwater dive was “a little nerve racking initially as creatures dart in and out of the light close to you. It’s not called an abyss dive for nothing. But then a sense of peace and curiosity takes over.”
The curiosity for and discovery of the unknown, an escape from the world that we know, and self-empowerment are just a few reasons why divers like Rigolo, Johnson, and Ryan III are continuously drawn back to blackwater diving.