It was just before dark as we geared up for a night dive. Bari Reef in Bonaire is known for over 300 species of fish and marine life, and we always love diving here, day or night.

All gear is functioning and secured. Check.
Dive lights are powered up. Check.
Air is on. Check.

My husband, Ken, grabbed his underwater camera in its housing and we both took our fins with us as we climbed down the small ladder from shore into the water. With fins snug, dive lights on, and the last buddy check, we submerged on this quiet evening. The water was as still as glass and visibility below was about 60 to 75 feet. These were perfect conditions for a night dive.

The change from dusk to dark is still my favorite time to dive: critters that are typically tucked away during the day begin to stir and come out of hiding in search of food. Tube-Dwelling anemones sprout up from the sea floor, and Feather Duster worms spring forth from their coral houses. Octopuses, lobsters and moray eels begin to traverse the reef, while smaller grunts, wrasse, blenny, and damselfish take refuge in their coral dens and other crevices tucked away from hungry predators.

At about 45 feet, tiny ribbon worms and baby shrimps began to swarm around the huge radius of light emitted from my underwater canister light, and in turn, a few smaller jacks and damselfishes became interested in the effortless buffet. Before long, a big barracuda darted into the fray, followed by a couple of tarpon about 2 to 3 feet long; they sure didn’t want to miss the action.

GiantTarponScales.jpg

Then I saw it: a flash of large silver scales just out of reach of my light. I mean LARGE scales, each bigger than a small drink coaster. We heard that a huge tarpon liked to feed here at night, so that’s probably all it was. I’ve been in the water with big tarpon before. No worries.

I was enjoying this dive immensely, and Ken was snapping photos like crazy, with his flash beams also attracting more and more tiny fish in the process. I turned my canister light off to catch a glimpse of the full moon light as it filters from the surface into the darkness. It’s truly beautiful, peaceful, and quite romantic to dive at night. I looked ahead of me to find my beloved. Ken’s dive light flashed a few seconds ago as he was photographing an octopus, but I didn’t see his light now.

I turned my dive light back on. Here came the teeny shrimps and worms. I could feel them brush against my hands as I started to swim forward, holding my light in front of me. I felt a presence beside me, to my immediate left, just next to my head. Thinking it’s Ken, I turned my face to see him, but instead, I met the stare of an eyeball as large as a round salad plate, blacker than black, glaring right at me! I let out a scream!

I shined my light on the enormous creature to my left after I composed myself. This brute was not a sea monster, just a giant tarpon! He was easily 8 or 9 feet in length. He was HUGE! He was incredible! He swam off after he allowed me to catch a glimpse of his size and girth. Sure enough, he was here to dine! But not on me.

Ken turned his light back on and tilted his camera towards the big guy, swimming fast to try to get the shot. He was only able to capture a couple of photos as the tarpon swam past us again another couple of times. Tiny cleaner fish clung onto the side of this majestic giant, and our dive lights reflected off of his shiny scales when he made a few more passes our way.

Giant tarpon.jpg

My dive light started to dim, letting me know that the battery was about drained for this dive, so it was time to complete our dive and ascend. No tarpon was in sight. We completed our safety stop and exited easily.

No matter how many dives we make, I always learn something new, see something different. On this dive, I learned that it is absolutely possible to scream in your regulator!