Volume XI, Issue 42 ~ October 16-22, 2003

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Bay Reflections

Diving The Chesapeake
If I could, I surely would
by Dick Wilson

My hobby and passion is SCUBA diving. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve made more than 1,000 dives into tropical waters ranging from Indonesia in the western Pacific to the Galapagos Islands off South America to the Caribbean — plus many spots in between. I’ve seen most of the sights that recreational divers are looking for: whales, porpoises, many sharks, large and small fish of more species than I am able to count, shellfish, mollusks, invertebrates and coral. I love all of it. I don’t regret any of the small fortune I’ve spent on diving, and I am always looking forward to the next trip.

I wish my next dive adventure were here at home, in Chesapeake Bay.

Most of the expense in diving is travel cost. A round-trip ticket to Bali, Indonesia, for example, may cost $1,400 — and that’s economy class. A first-class ticket to Australia can cost as much as $21,000 (or so I’m told). I will never have a travel experience that costs 21,000 bucks, but I will shell out hard-earned money in smaller amounts for an economy-class ticket because I am addicted to diving. Even so, I have standards that a dive destination has to meet.

When I’m thinking about where my next dive trip might be, the first thing I consider is the underwater visibility at the destination. If I can’t expect to see at least 10 feet, there isn’t much point. Without visibility, the place probably doesn’t have facilities for divers, anyway.

Without visibility the underwater world is downright spooky, but not pleasingly so. Without reference to something — a reef or the sea bottom — you can’t tell if you’re moving or stationary. More importantly, you can’t see any of the life around you, and that’s the reason you’re diving.

But even when you have good visibility, there may not be much to see. In relative terms, warm tropical water, with its 100-foot visibility and brightly colored fish, is a desert as far as abundance of life is concerned. In the tropics, we commonly see many individual fish, and sometimes huge schools, but what we don’t see all at once are the many, many different kinds of fish such as exist in cooler waters. Every area has its various species, and in the tropics we see a lot of the same species. Of course, certain types of fish are more prevalent in one location than another, and that’s why we go to different places.

Cooler temperate waters, as in Chesapeake Bay, host many more different species in a smaller area. While we are sure to see some life every time we dive in the tropics, we would rarely see anything in the profusion that the Bay offers. But we can’t have both visibility and profusion. The Bay is teeming with the plankton and other small creatures that are the beginning of the food chain. That, and the pollution, result in water that’s murky at best. Chesapeake visibility is probably less than three feet.

I could save a lot of money and satisfy my diving addiction at the same time if I could dive in our glorious Chesapeake Bay. Here’s a partial, very incomplete list of what I would see if the Bay gave me, say, 50 feet of visibility: crabs, rockfish, bluefish, sea trout, drum, menhaden, shad, perch, sea robins, sturgeon, eels and many others of the myriad species that inhabit the Bay. I would see them cruising, the big devouring the less big, a maelstrom of activity as they attack and try to evade one another. I would see them in abundance, and it would be overwhelming.

Maybe I’m better off that I can’t see it; it might be too much to handle. But I wish I could, just once.


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Last updated October 16, 2003 @ 12:38am