Night Diving: The 10 Best Dive Sites in the World

25th August 2016   |   Sandro Lonardi

This article is part of our "top 10" series. Click here to see the best dive sites in the world and explore the other articles in the collection.

It might sound creepy, but diving at night is a distinct and memorable experience. Many of the creatures you search for in vain during the day are active at night, floating by when you least expect them. There are reef sharks hunting prey, rays gliding along the ocean floor and corals turning every color of the rainbow. Around the globe, dive sites become a wonderland of activity once the sun disappears. As a scuba diver, you miss out on half of the ocean’s life if you only dive during the day. Discover what goes bump in the night at these 10 epic dive sites after dark.

1. Manta Night Dive - Kona, Hawaii

Come and observe the nightly performance of the manta ballet just of the Kona coast in a specially illuminated observation area. Each night, dive operators shine massive spotlights into the water. This attracts light-seeking plankton. The mantas, in turn, come to feed on the plankton and you have front row seats on the sandy bottom below as the graceful manta rays turn, somersault and glide above your head.

  • Dive Type: Pelagic Observation
  • Featured Creature: Manta Rays
  • When to Go: April to October

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Close up of a whitetip reef shark at Maaya Thila

2. Maaya Thila - Ari Atoll, Maldives

The Maldives, a gorgeous nation of sparkling islands spread out in the Indian Ocean, is the perfect destination for a luxury liveaboard experience. With hundreds of dive sites, creating a liveaboard itinerary can be a daunting task, but experts agree that Maaya Thila ranks among the best dive sites in the world. For that reason, you’ll find it on almost every Ari Atoll liveaboard itinerary. The pinnacle, which starts at 20 feet (6 meters), plays host to a variety of stingrays, whitetip reef sharks, giant trevally, nurse sharks and barracuda. While Maaya Thila is one of the best liveaboard dive sites in the world, it also ranks among the best night dives. After sundown, a feeding frenzy creates unforgettable action at this dive site in the Maldives.

  • Dive Type: Pinnacle
  • Featured Creature: Whitetip Reef Sharks
  • When to Go: December to May

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A leopard shark at night at Tobia Arba

3. Tobia Arba - Safaga, Egypt

A collection of 7 pinnacles that nearly break the surface, this dive is often referred to as the “seven pillars.” These pinnacles offer a superb chance to discover the underwater world at night. The four major pillars rise nearly 50 feet and are home to a good mix of soft and hard corals. During the day, this site is a macro heaven. As you travel by torchlight at night, these macro creatures come to life. Exploring the caverns and overhangs, you may come across nocturnal dwellers as octopus, lionfish and Napoleon wrasse. You might also see the elusive leopard shark hunting its prey in the dark of night.

  • Dive Type: Pinnacles
  • Featured Creatures: Leopard Shark, Octopus, Napoleon Wrasse and Lionfish
  • When to Go: March to May; September to November

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A fluorescent nudibranch

4. Fluorescent Night Dive - Bonaire Marine Park, Bonaire

Fluorescent diving is a new concept in the world of scuba. Using UV lights and mask filters, scuba divers light up coral reefs under the dark of night. The result is an underwater party. Shrimps, eels and all manner of marine life reflect the UV rays in brilliant pinks, purples and greens. Bonaire is on the cutting edge of this technology and one of the pioneering locations for its use. If you don’t happen to be in the Caribbean, you can also try this type of diving in Indonesia, Thailand and the Maldives.

  • Dive Type: Reef
  • Featured Creatures: Shrimps, Eels, Nudibranchs and Star Corals
  • When to Go: All Year Round

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A blue ringed octopus at night

5. Nudi Falls - Lembeh Strait, Indonesia

Known as the muck diving capital of the world, the Lembeh Strait is home to all types of weird and wonderful critters. From millions of nudibranchs to bobtail squid, the diversity of small marine life is astounding. As most of these creatures are incredibly active during the night, it only follows that night diving in the Lembeh Strait is even better than diving during the day. This is true at one site in particular, namely Nudi Falls. Here you’ll follow a wall on the mainland side of the Strait down to rocky corals and finally along the sandy bottom to a soft coral field. In the process, you might find active cuttlefish, squid, rare yet colorful nudibranchs, soft coral cowries and so much more.

  • Dive Type: Wall/Rocky Coral
  • Featured Creatures: Blue-ringed Octopus, Wonderpus, Cuttlefish, Pygmy Seahorse, Nudibranchs, etc.
  • When to Go: March to October

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A moray hunting at night

6. SS Coolidge - Santo, Vanuatu

A truly memorable dive, the SS Coolidge in Vanuatu ranks among the best wrecks, day or night. The Lady, as the ship is sometimes called after the ornament found in the ballroom, was a former luxury liner turned World War II troop ship. It was sunk by an American mine just offshore in Santo waters. Before the ship went down, the captain ordered his troops to evacuate but to leave all their belongings. Because of its position close to the break wall and in only 66 - 231 feet (20 - 70 meters) of clear water, the large SS Coolidge is ripe for exploration at night. As the beams of flashlights bounce off the cargo holds, lobby and bow, divers explore the artificial reef that has now formed on the ship. If you’re lucky, you might spot the bioluminescent flashlight fish which reside around the ocean liner. The creepy factor of a sunken ship along with the nocturnal marine life makes night diving at the SS Coolidge an unforgettable experience.

  • Dive Type: Wreck
  • Featured Creatures: Reef Sharks, Eels, Sea Turtles, Barracuda and Flashlight Fish
  • When to Go: April to October

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A shrimp in Thaiti

7. Black-Water Diving - Tahiti and Moorea Islands, French Polynesia

Probably the most nerve wracking dive on this list, black-water diving involves tying scuba divers to the bottom of a boat and suspending them in pitch black water. This type of diving usually occurs in the deep channel between Tahiti and the Moorea Islands where depths can reach thousands of feet. In the dark of night, strange bioluminescent creatures such as Siphonophores and Comb jellies rise to the surface to feed. While doing so, they create their own light and a fantastic show for divers brave enough to descend into the darkness.

  • Dive Type: Open Ocean Drift
  • Featured Creatures: Bioluminescent Organisms
  • When to Go: March to November

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A whitetip reef shark at Manuelita Shallows

8. Manuelita Shallows - Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Located 340 miles (550 kilometres) off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Cocos Island is a magnet for pelagic species thanks to a convergence of currents. Manuelita Shallows, sometimes simply called Manuelita, is positioned in a sheltered area, providing cover for large whitetip reef sharks. During the day, the sharks are relatively inactive. However, dive in at night, and you’ll see hundreds of these predators patrolling the reef in packs in search of dinner. This rare and thrilling dive is included in most liveaboard itineraries to this distant location.

  • Dive Type: Hard Coral Reef
  • Featured Creatures: Whitetip Reef Shark
  • When to Go: June to November for the best marine life. December to May for the best water conditions.

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Elkhorn coral spawning

Photo credit: FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

9. Mushroom Forest - Santu Pretu, Curacao

Each year from late August to October, Curacao’s coral reefs come to life in a phenomenon known as coral spawning. This happens around the island, but one particularly poignant place to witness the spectacle is at the dive site known as Mushroom Forest. A few days after the full moon, the several species of coral in the area release their gonadal secretions at the same time. They seemingly time the release to a certain position of the moon. These secretions hopefully go on to become new coral colonies, which is particularly important for the endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals. For scuba divers, several operators in the area run special trips to witness this amazing occurrence.

  • Dive Type: Reef
  • Featured Creatures: Staghorn and Elkhorn Corals
  • When to Go: August to October

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An eagle ray at Navy Pier

10. Navy Pier - Exmouth, Western Australia

Navy Pier, a 100-foot (300-meter) structure extending out from shore, is home to some of the biggest marine life in the Pacific. Huge rays, moray eels, lobsters and potato cod are common to this relatively compact site. Diving here during the day is fantastic, but the area really comes to life at night. Flatworms, nudibranchs, eels, wobbegong sharks, whitetip reef sharks, octopuses and scorpion fish are all among the active, nocturnal hunters found at Navy Pier. If you’re ready for some night action in Australia, head to this amazing dive site in Ningaloo Reef.

  • Dive Type: Structure
  • Featured Creatures: Wobbegong Sharks, Eagle Rays and Huge Potato Cod
  • When to Go: March to November

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Now that you’re ready to dive into some of the best night dives in the world, let’s go over some logistics.

Start your night dive with the right gear

What Equipment Do I Need For Night Diving?

First and foremost, you are going to need a primary dive light. How big and how bright this light is depends on you. Your choice may vary according to your destination, the anticipated clarity of the water and the depth of the night dive. Make sure to try out several different lights before deciding on one to purchase. The handle and grip on a particular light may feel better in your hand. Also, ensure that your light includes a lanyard or wrist strap. You don’t want to lose your primary source of light to the depths below.

Secondly, you’ll want to pack a secondary, backup light. This light should be small enough to stow easily. It should also be bright enough to help you find your route to the surface should your primary light fail.

Other safety equipment that you might consider using, depending on the dive type and environment, includes an illuminated shotline buoy and a surface marker buoy with an attached strobe light or cyalume stick.

Get a night diver certification

Earning a Night Diver Certification

Most scuba diving certification agencies provide training specific to night diving. Although most initial certifications include some night diving strategies, night diving certification courses delve further into the requirements and demands of this specialty.

For example, your night diving instructor will teach you to control your buoyancy by feel rather than sight, how to use and control your dive light, how to communicate with night diving signals, how to navigate in the dark, and how to identify how marine life changes its behaviour at night.

The Night Diver Specialty course usually takes 2 nights to complete. Do note that having a night diver certification is not a requirement for participating in a night dive.

Night Glow: the Marine Bioluminescence Phenomenon

Marine bioluminescence is one way that Mother Nature shows us her magic. If you’ve ever seen a firefly, then you can imagine how animals can emit their own light. Much like the firefly, some marine organisms create a glow in order to attract their food source or ward off predators. The most visible of these organisms are the bioluminescent plankton that make water look like its sparkling when disturbed, but scientists estimate that up to 90% of sea creatures have some form of bioluminescence.

There are several ways to experience bioluminescence while diving. If you happen to run into a patch of bioluminescent plankton or algae, you’ll notice that the water around your body is illuminated by thousands of tiny creatures. Turn off your light and spin in the water to enjoy the sensation. You might also choose to dive in an area known for flashlight fish like the SS Coolidge or comb jellyfish like French Polynesia. These species emit bioluminesce, creating a magical scene.

Are you an avid night diver? Have we missed your favorite dive site to explore after dark? If so, let us know in the comments below!


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