AS THE PRE-ARRANGED night-dive kit-fiddling time came around, what seemed like a thousand divers gathered outside the centre for the briefing.
Words such as “carnage” and “torchfest” sprang to my mind as Bernd, a German all-round dive pro and coral boffin, filled us in on what to do and what not to do during the dive.
“The corals won’t spawn if you hold your torch beam on them for too long – they’re sensitive to light,” he explained. With more than a thousand divers in the water (OK, perhaps 40), I wondered what the chances were of the spawn happening.
Channel-clinging crab: ‘If this thing swung at you, you’d lose your mask at least’.
Our group of five divers would head into the water first (good) and at intervals of 10 or so minutes the other groups would follow. We would be led by Beto, a fabulous Brazilian guide who seemed sure we’d get to see the show (better still).
We were visiting a marine park and it’s forbidden to dive without a guide in these parts, by day or night – this goes some way to maintain a healthy reef, I guess, which can only be a good thing.
The first thing to greet us as we found the torch-lit seabed at 9.30pm was the most poisonous-looking snake I’ve ever seen. This was later identified as a gold-spotted eel and quite harmless (I think) – a good start nevertheless.
A face full of fin-kicked sand later and we all left the seabed in search of deeper water, which we found at around 18m. This is where the group spread out, and Ana and I found ourselves with loads of room to enjoy the dive.
MY “CARNAGE” AND “torchfest” thoughts of earlier were unfounded and I took them back. Ana found a monster of a king crab, or “channel-clinging crab”, as they’re known, perched on the reef. If this thing swung at you, you’d lose your mask at least.
Next up during the show (and it was beginning to feel like a show, with these back-to-back appearances) was a pair of spotted spiny lobster attempting to hide (badly) from our torch-beams.
Reef-fish lay in odd positions on the reef, trying to grab 40 winks, while others were staying up late – perhaps they knew that the coral-spawning was imminent, and were waiting for a free meal?
Marine worms appear to like living in the Caribbean, too, and we identified a couple on this dive. One stands out as being a great find and goes simply by the name “The Thing”.
I thought this was a joke until I looked it up in the dive-centre’s reef guidebook. Alongside lots of other worms with quite normal or Latin names, there it is – The Thing.
It grows several metres in length, has hundreds of legs and looks like something from the 90s film Tremors. The Thing is a skittish creature, however, and doesn’t seem to want to hang around once a bunch of torch-wielding divers approach.
Moving ever shallower, to just 8m deep, Beto furiously flashed his torch for our attention. This was it – spawning time.
We found a comfortable kneeling position in the sand and, joined by Bernd, watched in awe as the coral polyps began to release their little fatty bundles. The process happened reasonably quickly at first, and after the odd pause would spring back into life again moments later, releasing spawn, or gametes, in flurries.
The surrounding water-column quickly became filled with this snowstorm-like activity, and thankfully the coral colony didn’t seem too put off by our torchlight.
We have all seen lots of this type of coral on day- and night-dives over the years, I’m sure, but to see so much of it actively doing something other than just “being coral” – exposed as living, reproducing beings – is spectacular.