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The joys of “muck diving”…

For a change of pace I am going to blog about one of my favorite diving subjects, MUCK DIVING! Muck diving is defined differently by different folks. A term initially used to describe diving in mud, silt, sand, or other substrates consisting of dead sea life or man-made garbage, has expanded to include shallow structure diving. I can’t resist a good muck dive, and I think of a hardcore diver as someone who can’t resist the opportunity to don gear just to play in the sediment on the bottom of the ocean. One of my first experiences as a new diver was slowly poking around the bottom of the shallows (20-25 fsw) in Hood Canal up near Seattle, Washington.

Finding a moment to hover quietly over the bottom, as a new diver trying to learn trim and composed neutral buoyancy, I noticed a small little Goby. He was perched motionless on some very small gravel, still as could be, no doubt feeling safe in his camouflage. I stopped to hang motionless and get a good look at Mr. Goby, and I noticed all sorts of small sea life down there with him. I saw mud dwellers, juvenile life, small crabs, and other organisms packed into the 3-4 square feet around me. Hanging motionless for a few minutes, something very interesting happened. Where there seemed very little life upon my arrival, I was surprised to find a plethora of creatures were as interested in me as I was in them. It didn’t take very long for critters to appear, seemingly from nowhere, and scout me out as a possible new residence. The whole experience was fascinating, and I was hooked on muck diving. Muck diving proved a gateway for underwater photography, which I now enjoy at every opportunity.

My research indicates there is stellar muck diving in many international diving destinations in the Coral Triangle, but I suspect you could find something interesting on most shallow dive sites. The Coral Triangle is located in the Indo-Pacific areas around Malaysia, and the Philippines, including the famed Solomon Islands. Although I have not made it to these sites yet, they are certainly on my bucket-list, and should be on yours too. My understanding is that these areas have some of the richest biodiversity in the world’s oceans. What a wonderful and Zen way to spend a dive, slowly meandering along the bottom of the sea in Indonesia photographing all manner of bizarre and unique critters.

There are some basic rules of course, and the first became apparent very quickly during my initial experience. Because you are diving primarily on a soft unstable silt surface even the smallest unplanned fin kick or hand placement will ruin your visibility. Much care needs to be taken with finning. Maintaining neutral buoyancy is a must. Every movement should be slow and calculated. And, remember not to get so engrossed in the “muck” that you neglect to monitor your direction and PSI. You don’t want to find yourself out of air or lost.

A wonderful additional benefit of muck photography is the surprise photo-bombers you find when you get up to the surface and get a really good look at your photographs. I have found all kinds of interesting creatures in the photograph not obvious while I was trying to focus on my subject. My muck diving depth preference is less than 30 fsw, up where the sunlight is still plentiful. And, it is nice to have the longer bottom time provided by the shallow depth. There are less muck divers than reef, cave, wreck, or depth divers. Less company means all the pleasures of diving off-the-beaten-path.

If you haven’t taken the time to slow down and check out the sea life residing in the shallow bottoms, give it a try the next time you shore dive. You will see some interesting and incredible stuff you miss when whizzing by at depth during a drift dive. And, you might enjoy the added benefit of the truly Zen experience of becoming a temporary reef!

Authored by Lisa J Henry

“Be the sea”