Blog about Underwater Life and Scuba Diving

Diamond in the Rough?

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Guest article by Michael Harlow

Why did you get into scuba diving?  The reasons could be endless, but to name a few; exercise, excitement, or discovery.

I grew up in the generation of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, and sat in awe during every show, watching the crew of the Calypso discover new and strange things each week.  The show focused on marine biodiversity and exploration and being only a child at the time, my wonder grew and I wanted to discover this amazing underwater world.

I sat out at ten years old, snorkeling everywhere I could in Southern California. At age 19, I joined the U.S. Coast Guard and became certified as an open water diver.  In the next few years, I became educated through the PADI system and moved up the ranks to become a PADI Divemaster.

I took my passion and scuba dived all around the world.  Starting in the Hawaiian Islands, then the Florida Keys, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Truk Lagoon, Palau, Micronesia, the Caribbean and many other beautiful places.

I’ve had some adventure above and below the ocean’s surface to say the least, however, while scuba diving in an undisclosed location, I found, within an underwater wreck, a huge air pocket that is covered in giant multi-colored crystals.  I feel to this day, that it is a discovery of a lifetime.

While on a deep wreck dive, my curiosity got the better of me.  As my dive buddy and the Divemaster exited the wreck to go to the next level, I saw a small dark area that looked interesting.  I figured it would only take a few seconds to check it out.  As I ascended into the dark hole, my dive light went out and looked down to see what was going on.  I then realized that I was in complete blackness, when only a moment ago, I was in tranquil blue water. I was confused but I still had my wits about me.  I kept one hand above my head to ensure I didn’t hit it on anything and the other was bringing the light up to my face to see why my light kept going out.  I then had the strangest feeling, my left arm that was above my head got heavy.

Heavy?  Why?  It was because I ended up in an air pocket and the water no longer kept my arm buoyant.  My light flickered on and I looked down at it thankfully.  It seemed to be covered in a bunch of goo.  When I lowered the dive light, it seemed to go out.  As I raised it to my face again, it suddenly went back on, but still covered in the oozy goo.  The pieces slowly started to come together.  I apparently penetrated a slick of oil about a foot thick and ended up in an air chamber.  I knew instinctively to keep my regulator in my mouth, since I’m sure one breath would have killed me instantly.  I slowly started to analyze the situation in detail.  To get a better grasp of the predicament I was in, I slowly shined my dive light around in the chamber.  I was shocked at what I saw.

Everywhere I looked, there were crystals.  Deep dark purple colored crystals covered every inch, from the oil slick up through the chamber and every surface.  As I moved my dive light around inside, the colors changed with the direction of the light.  Just like when you look at an oil slick, the color bounced, morphed and changed although the crystals appeared to be dry.

The crystals varied in length from a few inches to a foot or more.  I was mesmerized.  The air chamber I was in was about four feet high and about ten feet long and I was committing it all to memory.  I turned around to see what was behind me and I had to concentrate on what I saw.

The small chamber opened up through a little three by three foot passageway and through the opening was an enormous hold.  Every square inch of the hold was covered in these beautiful crystals.  The air pocket in the hold is so immense that it covers several large rooms of the ships interior.  The beam of my dive light wouldn’t even reach the other side of the hold.  I would estimate over 125,000 cubic feet of trapped air within this chamber alone.  There may be other rooms within the air pocket of this wreck; however, I didn’t have a chance to explore it.

My bottom time was diminishing by the second and my dive buddy would be looking for me soon.  I grabbed a hold of one of the larger crystals and pulled with all of my might, to snap it and bring it with me.  It wouldn’t budge.  I tried for a smaller one and it didn’t budge either.  I wanted a sample so bad, but I didn’t have anything to use as leverage and I didn’t want to strike anything with my dive light, in the off chance my light would shatter and the oil/gas mixture would ignite into something horrific.

I regretfully had to leave empty-handed.  I submerged through the blackness and instantly aquamarine blue filled my vision.  I found my dive buddy right outside the wreck and she couldn’t understand what all the goo was all over me.  I motioned for her to take a couple of pictures.  She snapped off a few and we started our ascent.

I waited to tell her my story when we got back on land, because I wanted to keep it a secret from the Divemaster.  Needless to say, I smelled of foul oil for days but I didn’t care one bit, because I witnessed something no one else on earth has seen.

This dive was about 10 years ago and I believe that I am the only person to have witnessed this chamber and know of its location, since I have not seen anything else in the news. Since these crystals have not been identified and/or classed, it is unknown how if they hold any significance to the scientific community.  I’ve done exhaustive research and since they are only found in this location, I’m sure they will be classed as extremely rare.

It’s a shame because the wreck is in a remote area and not easily accessible.  I didn’t attempt to go back on my trip because I felt it was a little too dangerous and I don’t have the skill set to attempt alone.  It would require a team of professional divers with the right equipment to properly explore it’s depths.

I have contacted numerous individuals from NOAA, National Geographic, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, wreck and corrosion dynamics experts and the famed James Delgado among others.  None of them have heard of this phenomenon and they are all very eager to see a sample of these crystals.

I guess it will have to live on in one’s memory.

Media Contact:

Michael Harlow

(760) 613-4370

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