Lights Out

Tuesday, April 29th marked our first dive in 7 months! Karl’s busy season and my travels had kept us out of the water, but now that Roatán is into shoulder season, we can begin to think seriously about exploring new areas. Currently, Karl only uses a compass and a mental map that’s been constructed over the past fifteen years of diving in the area. When I ask him our approximate location during dives, he usually responds with the name of a local bar or dive shop. Now that we have a fairly high-resolution map of the sea-floor bottom, we now have a more concrete sense of where we’re going, where we’ve been, and where we want to go. Our dive objective on Tuesday was to explore the numerous large boulders in the Lophelia Reef area, particularly the one singled out below on the map.

Our dive plan. HMB (Half Moon Bay). 3-D map image generated by Matt Rittinghouse.

Our dive plan. HMB (Half Moon Bay). 3-D map image generated by Matt Rittinghouse.

As I mentioned in the blog post from last week, this dive was an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the awesomeness of the zoom lens. Our expectations were confirmed. In the first hour of our dive, we motored up to Karl’s key landmark for the Lophelia area: a huge boulder – one of the little dots in the map above. A pastel jumble of crabs, clams, corals, and other boulder-dwelling denizens filled my passenger viewport. Within a few minutes, it was clear that our new lens was going to be a pivotal piece of our filmmaking hardware.

A close-up of a squat lobster on Lophelia coral that we never would have been able to capture with our prime lens.

A relatively close-up shot of a squat lobster on Lophelia coral. This is a shot that our prime lens could never have captured!

As we drifted past the boulder, our eyes were peeled for the silhouettes of sand-tiger sharks. This boulder, apparently, was their favorite hide-out, and Karl had seen two individuals on several of his dives in the past month. Alas, no toothy beasts emerged from the shadows.

Sand tiger shark that Karl encountered several years ago.

Our next stop was the area I’ve dubbed Lophelia Garden – a beautiful arrangement of corals, anemones, sea snakes, sponges, crinoids and other inverts. Here, we tested the capabilities of our wide shot (24 mm) and weren’t disappointed!

The Lophelia Garden

The Lophelia Garden

Not too long after this shot, the lights useful for far-sight navigation failed. An inverter issue. Neither Karl nor I felt comfortable continuing the dive without these lights, so we headed back, using several other pairs of lights to navigate our way home. At 1000 feet, Karl turned off all the exterior lighting. Incredibly, there’s just enough sunlight penetrating at this depth to clearly see silhouettes of large objects and traverse safely through fields of boulders. For the next hour, I craned my neck forward, smushing my forehead up against the passenger sphere, looking at these massive rocks towering overhead (I entertained, for far too long, the apocalyptic situation that would arise if a mega earthquake were to hit right at that moment). I wish I could have captured the enormity of the scene before us, but even the 5DM3’s low-light capabilities couldn’t begin to pick up on the minimal light available. My description will fail to convey the tableau that stretched before us, but just imagine the deepest blue offset only by the jet black boulders and the steep reef wall on your right. No glow, no glimmer, but once close enough, sufficient light to make out the texture of boulders and relief of the terrain. A sublime and otherwordly experience.

While we were disappointed that we didn’t reach the goliath boulder on the map, it was an excellent troubleshooting dive for Karl’s busy upcoming week with visiting scientists (more on that later).

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~ by twonakedapes on May 3, 2014.

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