Dive #34 and #35, diving off Mount Lavinia with Colombo Divers, Boatman Ravinda, Divemaster Jehan, Dive guide Nishan and buddies Daniel and Buddhi.
Cargo Wreck: Bottom time – 34 minutes; Depth – 30.6 meters
Spear-fishermen are a constant bane for divers, primarily those who think that it is sporting to strap tanks onto themselves and spear large, charismatic fish like Groupers and Rays. Most of the big fish are now nowhere to be seen because of the indiscriminate fishing done by such gentlemen who have wiped out such slow reproducing fish. The Cargo Wreck had a claim to fame that it was the home of two spectacularly giant Rays, known rather brilliantly as Elvis and Priscilla. I hadn’t seen them on the wreck yet and in fact no one had seen them that season and it was feared that they had ended up, via a spear-fisherman, at a fish market and on someone’s plate.
We started the dive at the bow of the ship and slowly moved to the stern, covering the 200m length while being constantly visually assaulted by the non-stop fish life on the wreck. Amongst the mysterious dark nooks and crannies of the wreck life exploded. I noticed a Cleaner Wrasse that looked like it was suffering from a bout of anorexia and was quite delighted to discover it was instead a Blue-Striped Fangblenny, iridescent blue and midnight black. Incidently this similarity is not a coincidence and the Fangblenny is actually a mimic for the Cleaner Wrasse to get close to fish to bite pieces of skin and scales with its fangs (no really….fangs).
I drifted towards an especially interesting section of the wreck which appeared to be where some sort of gear mechanism had been placed. Amongst the ghostly green gears, now rusted into immobility, was a whole ecosystem of shrimps. Yellow and green striped shrimps scurried amongst the darkness while another type of shrimp which was tiny and entirely translucent drifted through them, seemingly unconcerned about their apparent fragility.
Getting to the stern of the wreck I continued to investigate the surface of the ship, hoping to find more macro life, when, out of the corner of my eye I noticed an anomaly in the sand away from the ship. Glancing over I looked intently at the shape, which in the shimmery water suddenly resolved into two gigantic rays resting in the sand, Elvis and Priscilla! Even from a distance they were immense, though one was clearly about a third larger than the other but the bigger of the two looked about a meter or more in width. I turned to alert my dive buddies but they were already staring in awe at the two leviathans, resplendent in their majesty. I was beside myself in joy, the rays escaped the predations of the human hunters, and we had finally seen the King and Queen of the Cargo Wreck.
Barracuda Reef: Bottom time – 46 minutes; Depth – 23.5 meters
The one-two of the Cargo Wreck and Barracuda wreck never disappoints. The Barracuda were seemingly absent today but as we pottered along the reef we spooked a large Flower Grouper. You could almost see its eyes pop out as it suddenly saw us at close quarters and in a flurry of fins made a mad dive for a crevice in the reef. As to how a fish that was about half a meter fit into that gap I know not, but in a blink it was gone and we could not find it in the shadows no matter how hard we looked. In reality this disappearing act is probably the prime reason as to why it is still alive and not on someone’s dinner plate so I wished it well in its future escape endeavors and moved on.
The rest of the dive was a mix of big and small. I managed to find what would turn out to be the resident Barracuda Reef Pipefish, its 5cm body cleverly camouflaged against the rocky jumble of the reef. Next was a Giant Moray gaping blindly out of another gap in the reef. Though formidable looking if not downright scary, these fish can be approached quite closely. Just don’t go sticking a hand into their hole or trying anything silly with them or you will end losing a body part. Daniel was on fire with the macro scouting pointing out a number of greeny-brown spotted side-gilled slugs moving along the bottom, most probably Berthella martensi. The nudibranches were in evidence with the usual Phyllidia ocellata and Chromodoris geminus crawling around.
The grand finale however came along as our non-decompression time counted down and we started our slow ascent out of our underwater heaven. In the distance a shape loomed and came closer. A huge (and I mean huge, it looked as big as me) Humphead Wrasse moved in the distance before being obscured as we moved further up our dive profile. A giant of the deeps, elusive and rarely seen, to wrap up our dive.