Taking the plunge in the dark

Aziz Idris

Blackwater diving is reaching a fever pitch, attracting underwater photographers worldwide who dare to take the plunge into the open ocean at night, in a bid to hunt for alien-like planktonic critters.

This is the case for renowned underwater photographer and dive instructor, Ram Yoro, who ventured into the Abana Deep Water Trench, a 35 minute boat-ride of Serasa, to conduct the first blackwater photography in Brunei waters.

He also dived at some of Brunei’s world class wrecks such as Petani Mistral, a vessel that sank in 1995, which sits upright in 47 metres.

He plans to compile a book promoting diving in Brunei, especially on underwater wrecks entitled Legends Beneath the Waves Volume III: Brunei.

The book is set to be released on October 2020.

A diver at the Petani Mistral wreck. PHOTOS: RAM YORO & PONI DIVERS
A diver at the Bolkiah wreck
Ram Yoro with local photographers preparing for the night dive

Yoro said, “Blackwater diving here is very promising, you have good tidal movement, plus lots of run-off which draws in coastal plankton. I saw some rare Blackwater creatures here a few times which is a good sign.”

He has garnered several underwater photo awards over the years and contributed articles to various online and print publications.

He will also be the guest speaker at the Diving Resort Travel Expo in Manila from September 6 to 8, where he will talk about Brunei’s amazing and untold wrecks to avid divers and wreck enthusiasts from around the world.

Blackwater photography essentially involves hanging very powerful light baits 20 metres down from a buoy and letting it drift in very deep waters over 100 metres deep and waiting for the light to attract small marine creatures up from the depths and taking photos of these planktonic critters.

“It was a successful first ever event of its type in Brunei with 12 divers comprising local emerging Brunei underwater photographers to experience a Blackwater dive,” said Poni Divers’ Business Development Manager Anna Aziz, who was involved during the dive.

She added that these plankton and deep critters predictably migrate to the shallows every evening in a nightly phenomenon referred to as Vertical Migration. Having Yoro, an experienced photographer in bonfire and blackwater photography, sharing his expertise during on the diving sessions was critical to its success.

Brunei has a deep-water trench within 35 minutes boat drive from Poni Divers Serasa called the Abana Deep Water Trench where the sonar read 135 metres deep.

During this Blackwater dive, many flying fish were encountered on the water surface. Divers came across many types of jellyfish, jellyfish eating larval fish, and various types of mollusc (holoplankton) lke the sea butterfly.

One of the divers, Sharina Mina Torres, said, “It was quite exciting and also a bit scary as you don’t know what lies below you down to 100m depth but once you’re in the water, the tiny sea creatures are amazing and you forget that you’re floating in the dark in over 100m of water.”

Yoro is currently based in Manila and Anilao where he teaches scuba diving and underwater photography.

He is also an advocate of reef conservation and conducts coral propagation workshops.