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Red: The Color of the Night
The first time I was scheduled to dive the area known as “Tunnels” on Kauai, there was an extremely low tide producing strong currents as the incoming water rushed back out to sea through a narrow channel. On another night, there was Hurricane Daniel, which was eventually downgraded to a Tropical Depression when it bypassed the island to the south. Next, there were heavy rains that reduced visibility to 10 feet. Finally, there was the full moon wrecking havoc with the tides and again drumming up wicked currents and again—for the fourth time—canceling my night dive at Makua Beach on Kauai’s north shore. The area is also known as “Tunnels” for its underwater caverns, caves and crevices.
After the fourth cancellation, I realized Mother Nature was trying to tell me something: Stay out of the water. At least for now. And so I finally surrendered. I gave up trying to explore one of Kauai’s best shore dive sites at night, a time when 70% of life in the ocean is active. Many indigenous cultures look to nature for signs, and in following that way of thinking, I had just learned a lesson. Here’s what I divine it to be: There’s a time and place for everything. Now was not the time for me to dive and Tunnels was not the place. And so goes the world of SCUBA diving.
In many Hawaiian legends and lore, there are stories about “shapeshifters.” Shapeshifting, or shapechanging, is a characteristic of many indigenous cultures and it can be defined as the ability to take on the characteristics of the plant and animal world. At this point—after the tides, the rain, the surf, the currents—I figure the only way I’ll get to dive Tunnels is by shapeshifting. So I envision myself as the Hawaiian Bigeye, also known as the aweoweo, an endemic fish common to Tunnels and quite active night. With the help of dive instructor Julie Kelly, Sacred Seas Scuba, she takes me, now going incognito as the Hawaiian Bigeye, on a tour of the inside reef at Tunnels.
It’s not a deep dive, maybe 50-some feet. There are plenty of invertebrates out—those I normally see wedged into cracks and crannies during the day—like the Slipper lobster which looks like a Volkswagen Beetle. There’s shrimp poking their heads out everywhere. The beady red eyes of the lobsters and shrimps stare out of the blackness into the beam of my flashlight.
Red. It’s the color of the night, says Julie. Take me, a.k.a. the Hawaiian Bigeye, my color varies from silvery to red, often with a series of dark spots along my lateral. (The other distinguishing characteristics, of course, are my big eyes, my very big eyes.) Julie says red is the first color to get lost in the water column during the day, because it is the shortest wave of light. However, at night, without the sun’s rays penetrating the waters, we see the true colors of marine life.
There’s the red Spanish Dancer nudebranch—the largest nudebranch in the world and quite rare elsewhere in the world. But here, at Tunnels at night, almost guaranteed. She (I’m anthropomorphizing here) looks like a flamenco dancer with her two-foot mantle undulating through the water.
And that six-foot ribbon flowing between my legs—seriously, that’s happened to me before—why, that’s nothing but a Conger eel. During the day, it curls itself into a crook of rock, its mouth yawning nonstop. At night, its pectoral fins that look more like Dumbo’s ears propel it through the water in search of food—fish.
In an open sandy area, the night octopus is looking for mollusks. It uses its beak to peck a hole in the shell of the mollusk, so it can suck the snail right out.
There’s the Anemone crab, a sneaky, little critter that leaves its shell to court an anemone which it then attaches to its shell for camouflaging.
And when we turn out our lights—the Hawaiian Bigeye doesn’t need them, but I do—we can see bioluminescence, a type of plankton that floats in the water and emanates light. It looks like the sky over Hawaii on a particularly clear night.
And so I go on visioning what would have been—and what one day will be—my night dive at Tunnels, because I know there will come a time and a day when the stars and the moon align, and I will dive Tunnels at night.