Floating in the darkness watching weird and wonderful creatures twirl around in front of you might sound like a scene from a sci-fi film, but it’s possible here on earth too! Blackwater diving offers scuba divers a truly extraordinary experience without any need for space travel.
You’ll see a huge range of marine creatures you’d never see by the light of day. Some may never have even been seen before. You may see some larger pelagics too… all while hanging out in the serenity of near-total darkness.
Of course, blackwater diving isn’t for everyone, and there are some safety considerations to bear in mind too. But, for those who are brave enough to take the plunge, blackwater diving offers some truly unique encounters.
Here, we’ll delve a little deeper into the world of blackwater diving, exploring blackwater marine life and safety. This guide will help you decide whether you’re ready to dive into the darkness. We’ve also included the best blackwater dive sites and locations so you can plan your next trip!
What is blackwater diving?
As the name suggests, blackwater dives are carried out at night. They are typically conducted over extremely deep water. Before the dive, powerful lights are hung beneath the boat, simulating moonlight and attracting creatures from far and wide.
Each diver is individually tethered to the boat via a rope that’s clipped to their BCD. Divers descend along their line (usually no deeper than 20m/66ft) then simply hang out and watch the show. Not all operators will tether divers to the line – some will have a set distance from the light that divers must stay within. This will depend on local conditions such as currents.
This type of blackwater diving is the most common, and it’s sometimes referred to as open ocean blackwater diving or pelagic diving.
Sometimes blackwater dives are carried out near the reef (typically by a deep drop-off) or in shallower water. Divers are then placed on the sand with a light suspended above them. This is referred to as bonfire diving.
What marine life can I see on a blackwater dive?
One of the most fascinating things you’ll see on a blackwater dive is an abundance of plankton – tiny creatures that are swept along by currents and tides. Plankton are either plant-like (phytoplankton) or animal-like (zooplankton) in nature.
Phytoplankton get their energy from the sun, just like plants on land. This means you’ll typically find them at shallower depths where the sunlight can still penetrate the water column. Zooplankton prey on phytoplankton but hide at deeper depths during the day, when sunlight may expose them to visual predators.
During the night, endless phytoplankton ascend from the depths in a phenomenon known as the diel vertical migration. And it’s not just phytoplankton that move – larger creatures such as squid and krill often make the trip too. In fact, so many creatures migrate to the shallows at night that it’s possible to witness this spectacle from space via satellite imagery.
Common sightings include fish larvae, juvenile fish, squid, salps, jellyfish and octopus. Watching these alien-like creatures go about their business of hunting and being hunted is the main reason why people love blackwater dives so much. But it doesn’t stop there. Occasionally you’ll get larger pelagic species, like dolphins or even sharks, passing by to see what all the fuss is about.
What training do I need to go blackwater diving?
Although there are no formal blackwater requirements, we highly recommend that you’ve mastered the basics of open water scuba diving. When diving over deep water, the lack of visual aids (like a reef underneath you) can make it easy to become disorientated.
It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with night dives first. After all, they aren’t for everyone. Once you’re comfortable diving in open water and at night, blackwater diving shouldn’t be a problem. You can always ease your way in by starting with a bonfire blackwater dive.
Some dive operators may have a minimum certification requirement. This could be Advanced Open Water, or they may ask for proof of a certain number of logged dives. Alternatively, they might take you on another non-blackwater night dive first to gauge your comfort level.
Is blackwater diving dangerous?
Although it may seem a little daunting at first, blackwater diving is perfectly safe when carried out wisely. As well as making sure you’re comfortable in the water, you need to ensure you’re diving in the right conditions with the right gear.
What gear do I need to go blackwater diving?
Your dive operator should provide you with torches. They will supply the powerful light used to simulate moonlight.
On top of that, it’s a good idea to find yourself a full-length wetsuit as plankton often have small stinging cells. If you want to capture any of your exciting sightings with your underwater camera, you’ll have to take some strobe lights with you.
Where can I go blackwater diving?
If you’re keen to try out blackwater diving, you’ll be pleased to know that there are places around the world where you can try it out. Below, you’ll find some details on the world’s most renowned blackwater diving sites.
Hawaii has long been considered the birthplace of blackwater diving, and for good reason. There are plenty of deep-water sites ideal for blackwater diving. The volcanic topography means that this depth is found not far from the shore, and the seas tend to be clear and calm from around April to June.
Hawaii is also known for sightings of larger creatures, including dolphins and manta rays, so make sure you cast your eyes into the distance every now and then. Our top recommendation for blackwater diving is Kona, located on the west cost of Big Island (Hawaii Island). You can check out our previous post to learn more about blackwater diving and the magical manta night dives in Kona!
Blackwater Diving Florida, USA
You don’t have to travel all the way to America’s west coast for your night diving fix. Blackwater diving has taken off in the east too. Florida has become a hotspot for scuba divers keen to explore the realms of the unknown.
The Gulf Stream runs parallel with the shores of Florida, so expect some current whilst you’re on the line. This current brings with it an immense variety of marine life and makes for a truly exhilarating experience, although it’s probably best reserved for experienced scuba divers.
Blackwater Diving Anilao, Philippines
Heading further afield, Anilao is a beloved diving site by blackwater diving fans, and it’s located just a 3 hour drive away from Manila (where the main international airport is located). Unlike some of the more testing dive destinations, Anilao is famed for its beginner-friendly conditions. This makes it an ideal location for blackwater diving.
What’s more, there are plenty of operators in the area who will organise bonfire dives, as well as traditional blackwater dives. These can be a great starting place for those who aren’t sure if open ocean blackwater dives are for them.
Blackwater Diving Cozumel, Mexico
Although blackwater diving in Cozumel, Mexico, isn’t quite as well-established as in other locations, these dives are on the rise. They will most likely become increasingly common in the future. Plus, although blackwater dives here are more expensive than regular dives, they can be up to 50% cheaper than blackwater dives in the US.
Blackwater Diving, Palau
A bucket-list dive destination for many scuba divers, Palau is also home to some of the world’s best blackwater dive opportunities. The Rock Islands, made up of hundreds of minute islands in the south of Palau, are fascinating to explore by day above land. They’re even more fascinating at night and underwater!
Have you ever been blackwater diving? Join our Girls that Scuba Facebook Group to share your experience with our thriving community!
About the Author
Rose has spent the last few years living in Europe, the Seychelles and Kenya, working as a dive instructor, writer and conservationist. She’s back in the UK at the moment and is slowly acclimatising to cooler waters!