Florida Keys Business
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Night diving seen in a whole new light

KEY LARGO -- Key Largo touts itself as the scuba diving capital of the world, luring tourists from far and wide to visit the coral reefs off the island chain.

As the more adventurous night diving gains popularity, some dive shops are exploring an unconventional way to showcase sealife.

"The corals, brain corals, polyps and lobsters all give off a glow," said Michelle Montgomery, an instructor at Keys Diver Snorkel Scuba.

Using blue light technology, divers witness the coral reef in unexpected, intense and vivid fluorescent colors, she explains.

When Montgomery took her first fluorescent dive last month, she was hooked.

"You can see things you couldn't [normally] see," she said.

Earlier this year, Rob Mitchell was diving off the Caribbean island Bonaire and experimenting with fluorescent diving. He decided it would become popular at his dive shop. Other shops are considering offering fluorescent night dives.

"It's a whole new way to dive," Mitchell told the Free Press.

Diving with fluorescents is darker and more subtle than using a white light.

"It's amazing," says Nikki Gersbeck, an Upper Keys dive instructor.

Keys Diver plans on becoming a commercial distributor of the fluorescent diving gear, which includes yellow-lensed masks and blue lights.

Dive boat instructors take more precautions with people on fluorescent dives than those on regular night dives. Divers usually start with white lights and switch over once they get to their dive site. In the water, divers stay closer together, Montgomery said.

"A giant grouper could be swimming right up next to you and you not know it," she said.

The light brings out the natural bioluminescence of the corals and other creatures but fails to illuminate many of the fish.

Other dive shops have experimented with blue-light diving with varying success.

"We tried it when it came out about two years ago, but we didn't really use it," said Dan Dawson, owner of Horizon Divers.

Dawson said the diving technique can be challenging, but he said he hasn't seen the latest technology that Keys Diver is using.

"It's a little disorienting," Dawson said. "It's not something we ever promoted."

But some divers who Dawson has chartered have brought their own blue lights.

At Atlantis Diving Center, owner Spencer Slate says he hasn't ever used any lighting other than the standard white light.

"I didn't know a blue light would make that much of a difference," Slate said, from his dive boat on Elbow Reef.

On dark nights, divers can often see the coral glowing without using lights, he said. But Slate added that he likes the idea of using light that will only focus coral or other creatures with natural bioluminescence.

"I like that it doesn't disturb other fish," he said.

Fluorescent diving is a bit more expensive than regular night diving, running about $110, including rental. To participate, a diver needs to have open water certification and a log book demonstrating night diving experience. The Key Divers group usually visits Molasses Reef and the Benwood wreck for its fluorescent dives.

For more information, visit www.fluorescentsdiving.com.

jgore@keysnews.com

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