My Favorite Dives Around Hilo
Winter break is over and I am back in school. The beauty here is so amazing. I have been living here for almost two years now and have barely scratched the surface. It may be Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean I am taking things easy! I’m taking a communications class and four marine science courses: marine ecology and evolution, statistics in marine science, global change, and teaching marine science. Outside of my main classes I have also added the science diver course in hopes of gaining AAUS diver status.
I also work for the university as an Outdoor Ed-Venture leader and a SCUBA dive master. The Outdoor Ed-Venture program takes students hiking, biking, kayaking, sailing, paddle boarding, beach exploring, you name it. If it is outdoors, odds are we do it, and I guide it.
Now that I have a car this semester I can drive to new places and go diving without relying on someone else. I have a few dive spots I love and frequent. One of my favorite dives on the east side of the island is at Puhi Bay here in Hilo, where a diver is almost guaranteed to see turtles of all sizes. Puhi Bay is the first spot a person can jump in the water outside the breakwater in Hilo. It is normally calm since it just tucked in by the breakwater and a small point to the south. The entrance to the water is easy for diving, but it is cold. Not just a chilly cold. The water is a bone chilling, spine numbing cold. I live in Hawaii, how can the water be that cold? The east side of the Big Island is notorious for its ice ponds and freshwater springs. Puhi Bay is a perfect example of an estuarine environment. The freshwater mixes with the salt water to create a brackish mix of freshwater and seawater about midway out into the bay. Once you dive down about 15ft though the water warms up and is completely marine again. The sea turtles seem to love it here. Heading south along the wall towards a small submerged arch one can almost always see turtles perched in small crevices and ledges. The smallest one I have seen had a shell about 2 ft while the largest was the size of a dining table, well minus 33% due to the whole water magnification deal. During whale season I have found Puhi to be a great spot to listen to the humpbacks sing. Every now and again they like to play just outside the breakwater. Some people do not like diving in Hilo, but I like it. Makes a great break in between classes!
I have a few favorite spots on the west side of the island too. Puako is actually several different dive spots that go along a residential community. Puako resembles a flat, tropical version of Laguna Beach - small beach homes that are located next to prime dive locations. Small white tip sharks normally frequent the area and turtles can be found in most of the miniature caverns sleeping. I have seen only a handful of white tip sharks. Mostly they just sit there in the caverns, and I’m sure they’re thinking, “Geez another diver?”
Or if they are swimming about, they tend to be swimming away from us. Divers are noisy bubble makers – not a turtle’s favorite thing to be around. I have not seen a tiger shark although I really want to! Even in my short time here I have noticed an influx of divers to the different spots around Puako. I hope the divers will be aware of the impact they can have on the environment and leave nothing but bubbles.
Two Step, as divers know it for its two step entrance, is a gorgeous shallow dive. It is also known as Place of Refuge and Honaunau to others. Being in shallow water gives the corals ample sunlight to grow and because of the shallow depth - you can really see all the colors, as opposed to deeper sites where everything becomes more blue. A vast majority of the dive takes place less than 30ft deep, and consists of a mix of sand patches and lobed coral heads that billow and flow over each other, creating overhangs or pockets for creatures to hide. The edge of the reef though is a steep cliff that drops to about 110ft down to a gentle sandy slope that continues into the deep. Most of the interesting critters stay at about 25ft but if you come early enough in the morning, dolphins can sometimes be found playing off the reef’s edge. One day my roommate Hannah and I dove out from the drop off of the reef staying at about 25ft until all we could see was blue all around us. Just when we were about to give up, we saw them- a pod of spinner dolphins glided about 30ft in front of us! There must have been about 40 of them, with a few babies mixed in the pod. They looked like tiny footballs compared to the adults! Hannah and I were so excited. We did a little victory dance underwater, flooding our masks with the giant smiles on our faces. I wish I had a better camera, but I did get them swimming by on my GoPro.
Another favorite spot is the site of the manta dive: Garden Eel Cove. It has a myriad of fish, eels and on my last trip- little oval squid during the sunset dive. The Outdoor Edventure program works deals with Jack’s Diving Locker to get the students fantastic discounted rates one their manta dives. The trip includes two dives (one evening and one night) with sandwich/snacks in between. It is one of my favorite trips, especially when getting paid! The first manta trip I did we had about 26 or so mantas gliding and spiraling over us. This last one had fewer mantas but was a whole different experience. We were the last ones in for the night dive. Typically the dive shops let you sit for about 30min in 30ft around these “campfires” made of lights that attract plankton and thus the mantas. Being the last ones in we thought we were late for the show. Turns out that there was a method to this madness. Being the last group in, means we are the last out. So when every other group and their lights were off and gone, we were left with the mantas and our dive lights. It was the equivalent to going backstage at a rock concert. There is nothing like an animal with a wing span twice your size, gliding over your head. I hope to do more manta dives in the future, and I hope the mantas will still be around to dive with!
As I go about doing all this diving and exploring (and studying) in my transoceanic home of Hawaii, I often wonder how it will conclude. And I have been asked many times where I see myself after school. As I near the halfway mark, I am even less sure. I do not wish to limit myself by focusing on just one thing. I want to do it all right now: explore, dive, film, photograph, outreach, travel. If it has to do with the ocean I want to be a part of it. I would love to get the chance to dive in a sub to the ocean floor and see hydrothermal vents for myself, or work with sharks: great whites, whale sharks, tigers, hammerheads, and others. I would love to try my hand (or fins) at underwater archaeology- seeing something that has been hidden from the eyes of the world for years. I want to be behind the camera and capture the wonders of nature and have that shared with people and hopefully along the way inspire others to help protect our wonderful home by protecting the oceans that are so crucial to sustaining life.
As my semester unfolds it sure looks to be an exciting one!
Photos by Rebecca Ziegler.