Monday, September 26, 2005

The Banks

For the past two days we have been diving on a pair of offshore banks about 150 miles west of Saipan. These underwater mountains rise from the depths to within 50 feet of the surface. Bathed in crystal clear water, the banks are home to a variety of fishes and other marine life. In terms of large fishes, this was one of the first times I had to write fast.

On our first dive of the day, Jake and I geared up and prepared the dive. Even though we knew it was only 50 feet, it was more than a little odd getting ready to hop in the water in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. Rolling over the side, we looked down and saw the reef stretching out below us. Swirling around us was a school of foot long rainbow runners and a few small gray reef sharks. As we started to descend I noticed a 6-7 foot silvertip shark cruising along the reef below us. Being one of the sharks we are somewhat wary of, we paused to see what it would do. He seemed interested in our presence, but quickly bored and headed off to deeper water. After making sure he was not planning to return anytime soon, we started the cameras and began our survey.

The bank is a flat, grooved mountaintop with low lying corals, soft corals and other invertebrates. I have a feeling this area gets pretty wavy in the winter which would account for the lack of large coral colonies. The fish were impressive, however, with large three spot snappers, rainbow runners, jacks, sharks, and groupers. I saw more giant clams on this dive than on any previous. Mostly about a foot across they are of the deepest blues, greens, and purple with iridescent blue, green, and purple spots.

Being small, we only did three tows before we had completely covered the bank. With a long transit to our next site, we packing it in early and started our transit.