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Beauty in Blackwater: Photographer Depicts a Whole New Underwater World at Night

Source: Hakai Magazine/Michael Patrick O’Neill - November 10, 2017 in Adventure

Beauty in Blackwater: Photographer Depicts a Whole New Underwater World at Night
Photo by Michael Patrick O’Neill

Eight kilometers off the coast of Palm Beach, Florida, with the city lights a constellation on the distant horizon, I roll backward off the side of a boat and am immediately enveloped in darkness. Only my flashlight slices a path through the inky water, and I feel like an untethered astronaut on a spacewalk. It can be spooky to be suspended in liquid night with restricted vision, especially when the water is murky after a storm. But over the last few years, I’ve overcome my apprehension, and night diving in the raging Gulf Stream current over abyssal depths is now something I enthusiastically do with a small group of talented divers every week, weather permitting.

We embark on these nighttime excursions, known as blackwater dives, to photograph small, free-floating marine organisms that migrate up to the ocean’s surface after dark, along with their predators. This type of extreme wildlife photography—at night and in deep water—originated in Hawai‘i and is now popular worldwide including off the southeast coast of Florida, where the narrow continental shelf, deep water, and powerful Gulf Stream current provide the right ingredients for an abundance of marine animals.

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