Night Life Beneath the Pacific

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.

– Dave Barry

At 2 a.m. Thursday evening, Manny and I went snorkeling. I’d never been in the ocean at night–not really, not beyond sticking my toes in the water and watching the moonbeams reflected in the silver-grey waters. The hubster promised that it’s another world at night, when different creatures venture from their coral reef homes and bioluminescents glow below the surface of the water.

Armed with powerful underwater flashlights, we ventured into the waters of Apra Harbor, Guam. I struggled with basic tasks that made me feel more uncoordinated than normal; even stepping into the shallows made me feel like I was going to wipe out spectacularly.

When I finally secured my gear and stuck my head underwater, I realized how close I’d come to sitting on a big, iridescent, spiky sea urchin.

When we finally got out into deeper water, I got my bearings and shone my flashlight around to see what there was to see. The ocean truly is a different world after the sun sets. Fish that seem grey or brown during the daytime glow silver and gold at night. Shrimp hug the edges of coral, eyes shining eerily in the reflection of your flashlight.

Unfortunately, the experience was one of the more uncomfortable snorkeling sessions ever. My fins were fighting me, my mask kept filling with water, and in the shallows, where it was easiest to actually see the marine life around us illuminated by our flashlights, the water surged and pushed us around, dangerously close to the sharp coral and into each other.

More than once, Manny kicked me in the face or shoulder with a fin while trying to get his bearings, and I’m sure I returned the favor more than once. I think actually diving at night would be preferable to paddling around at the surface.

But the best part of the evening was the moment Manny whipped around and enthusiastically flailed his flashlight toward an elegant, color-changing, squirming creature just a couple of feet ahead of me.  Already a little annoyed at my malfunctioning gear and not yet used to the cool nighttime water, I focused on the beam of light his flashlight was illuminating, and there it was–a foot-long octopus, glowing and changing colors as it retreated from us to its hiding place in the nearest clump of coral.

At that moment, my mask filled with water (again), a small wave pushed me off course, and Manny’s words of advice came to mind: “Just don’t think about all the reef sharks you can’t see behind you.”



    1. It’s actually not mine–it’s one I found online that’s labeled for reuse. I’m not that talented a photographer. ;) But the sea urchin pictured is almost exactly like one I saw the other night.

  1. What an experience! I’ve never heard of night snorkeling, but it makes perfect sense if you want to see the bioluminescence or nocturnal predators like octopi (so cool that you guys spotted one!). If, *IF* I can get over the idea of sharks sizing me up from the shadowy depths, I’d love to give this a try next time I’m somewhere with cool marine life.

    1. It’s surprisingly easy to put thoughts of shadowy, unseen predators out of mind when you’re busy exploring the marine life that you *can* see. Definitely go for it next time you have an opportunity! :)

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