Scuba Diving Photos
Diving the Bermuda Deep
A thin guideline strung from the anchor is the only contact with the surface.
We reach the timeworn peak of the formidable Challenger Bank in less than three minutes.
A lonely lionfish hunkers in the clumping masses of coral where our hook jerks and bounces, dangling slightly, taut at its maximum reach. The orange surface marker is long out of sight, bobbing overhead on the waves marking our position. Moments like this make me acutely aware of my humanity, swimming awestruck in a place that has been out of reach until now.
Iliffe swiftly ties on his cave-diving reel and flies out over the precipitous drop. It seems like an eternity before he lands on a tiny crag at 460 feet, with the endless wall sloping infinitely downward and out of sight.
He locks off the dive reel, positions his mesh bags and tools and then intently goes to work. I train the camera on my usually reserved friend, preparing to document careful sampling. But Iliffe is like a Walmart shopper crashing through the door on Black Friday. We have only minutes at this depth, and he’s making the most of every breath. Hammer swinging and arms flailing, he grabs rock samples and delicate coral twigs. As though he were loading Noah’s Ark, he bags sets of animals, ensuring he has at least two of everything new or interesting.
I alternate between photographing his feats and the delicate wall, covered with fragile purple hard corals and crusting fiery sponges, flaming in bursts of color. Schools of curious jacks zip around us, while huge crab-eating permit reflect the sultry light back toward us. In this previously unexplored twilight zone, there is no shortage of extraordinary life.
Iliffe collected more than 50 species of plants and animals on those dives that today are yielding new discoveries for Bermuda, some previously unknown to biologists.
Geologists are studying our photographs and rock samples, trying to piece together the changes in sea level over time. Examining deep cave structures and wave-cut notches, they can now determine when sea level was at its lowest point.
The first glimpse into Bermuda’s netherworld suggests that exploration and discovery are still in the very early stages. Future work will focus on determining how the unique life in Bermuda first populated remote island caves.
Did cave-adapted animals migrate upward from deep ocean vents? Did they swim through tiny spaces within the matrix of rock? Or did they arrive in some other way?
We know more about outer space than we know about the pristine Bermuda, Argus and Challenger banks. Yet for those of us lucky enough to be working there, Bermuda Deep offers the chance to join the ranks of aquanauts on the edge of underwater discovery.
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