Wall diving presents an enjoyable alternative for the diving enthusiast. Marine life abounds in reef walls presenting an impressive underwater spectacle. Divers should exercise caution not to cause damage to living organisms in these reef walls.
Diving in clear, warm water along a vertical wall encrusted with marine life always makes me feel like the hand of God placed me in front of a panorama and I can’t find the words to describe the sensation. I feel like a speck on the vast marines cape. The rich variety and larger than normal corals and fans are breathtaking. The darkening abyss tugs on my urge to explore and the fading light reminds me of mortal limitations. Wall diving holds a particular fascination for most divers. Nearly every diver talks about “feelings” after a wall dive, compared to discussions of marine life or physical topography after a regular reef dive.
Many of the world’s islands have an outer reef wall for more advanced divers. These trips tend to involve longer boat rides and deeper dives, typically done in currents. Because they are weather affected, wall dives should be attempted early in a trip. If the weather does not cooperate, you’ll have time later in the week to try again.
Recent we have discussed current diving and drift diving. These procedures all apply to wall diving. The difference is the vertical dimension. When some people start out on a reef and swim over the edge, they get a sensation of falling. Constantly monitoring your depth gauge or computer is one way to intellectually reassure yourself that your eyes are playing tricks.
It is absolutely critical on a wall dive to have proper instruments to know your depth and bottom line. Whether using a watch and depth gauge or a computer, planning a safe dive profile and sticking to that plan are your highest priorities. When swimming over the lip of a wall your frame of reference tends to shift to “depth from the lip” instead of “depth from the surface.” Monitoring a gauge will bring the focus back to the actual depth.
If you are truly dropping in the water, check your buoyancy. As you go deeper, neoprene wetsuit material is compressed and loses buoyancy. It feels as if you get heavier the deeper you go, owing to this loss of buoyancy. Put a little air in your BC to achieve neutral buoyancy.
There are two schools of thought for regulating buoyancy on wall dives, especially on deeper dives. One school suggests you take a little lead off before the dive. You will need to kick harder to get down the initial 20 feet but, once at 60 feet or more, you will be close to neutral without adding any air to your BC. With little air in the BC you have better control while “moving water” diving. However, on the way up you will be positively buoyant and should plan to use the ascent line for the last 20 feet to control your ascent speed and assure proper safety stops.
The other school of thought is to keep your weightbelt the same for a deeper wall dive. It will be easier to get down and once you start to feel heavy, simply add air to your BC to achieve neutral buoyancy. The drawback is that as you add air to a BC it is bulkier and causes more drag. You may also feel “rolly polly” with an inflated BC in moving water. Begin your ascent with the BC deflation hose in hand, as you will need to dump air when it expands during ascent.
Wall diving has two frames of reference – the big panorama and up close views of the wall. It is easy to become so absorbed by one perspective that you miss the other. In clear water it is fun to turn around or back away from the wall and see for hundreds of feet. Look for the big pelagics appearing out of the haze and swimming through your area. Watch other divers’ bubbles expanding as they climb toward the surface. Observe other buddy pairs floating along. You’ll feel a bit like a voyeur peeping into someone else’s space.
Or, you can take a macro view of the wall. It isn’t really flat. Walls are usually full of nooks and crannies, insets and ledges, holes and crevices. Each bit of protected real estate is a condo for some critter. Filter feeders flourish along walls that are swept by food-rich currents.
Deeper walls are generally protected from the effects of surface waves. Without these destructive natural forces and with less human contact, fans and sponges often thrive and grow to much larger than normal sizes. Hard corals disappear as the light penetration fades but soft corals and other colonial animals do well in the darker but low silt environment.
Grabbing hold of protruding marine life is a real temptation when floating along a wall and wanting to stop. Grabbing at fans will probably break them loose. Living organisms injured by divers holding onto them may take years to recover. When small children are taken into stores where they are not supposed to touch things, we have them put their hands in their pockets. An Rx for the reef’s health is to have divers keep their hands “in their pockets.” Some resorts request divers not wear gloves to remind them not to touch.
Because you don’t want to ricochet from fan to fan, plan your wall diving activities carefully. Sometimes photography is too tough in a current. Leave the camera on the dock and take a light instead. It is great fun to add color as you view the passing scenery.
Remember to have an adjustable lanyard on anything you carry – there’s no way to pick up a dropped item on a wall dive. Before you jump in the water, be sure your BC and wetsuit pockets are sealed shut with a twist lock or touch fastener ties. Otherwise a head-first descent will irretrievably dump the contents.
Wall diving is spectacular fun. The vertical dimension allows you to easily see the reef from a side view – which is far better critter watching than looking from the top down. It is a head trip to feel like the last person on the edge of inhabited space. The marine life is often plentiful, perfectly formed and larger than normal. Practice your moving water diving skills, perfect your buoyancy control and then get ready for safe, enjoyable wall diving.