By day, the remains of the Hesperus are unremarkable. More scrap heap than wreck, this 60-foot freighter rests in 18 feet of water east of the island of Bimini. Swamped by a long-forgotten storm, the Hesperus has become an iron oasis in an otherwise monotonous expanse of sand and turtle grass. Within its larger hull segments, schools of grunts and small snappers seek shelter from the great barracuda and African pompano that patrol the wreck's perimeter. As day fades to night, armored giants arrive - giant loggerhead turtles that move in from the flats to lay claim to choice sleeping nooks and crevices. On any given night, a dozen or more of these slumbering giants can be found crammed under the wreck's protective overhangs like cars in a parking garage. Conditions were perfect for a night dive. A dead calm lay across the Bahama Banks, and from the swim platform of the live-aboard dive boat Nekton Pilot, we could see the first evening stars reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water. We slipped into the enveloping liquid darkness, dive lights extinguished to allow our eyes to adjust. Each hand movement and fin kick created a flashing swirl of bioluminescence as tiny dinoflagellates winked like fireflies then vanished. Adding to the spell was the low, droning cadence of the boat's generators, which reverberated through her twin hulls and was as much felt as heard. Ahead, under the pale illumination of a partial moon, the wreck's jagged outline appeared as a black pattern against a dark gray background. Under the illumination of our dive lights, we found the wreck's tenants tucked into various crevices and alcoves. Occasionally, a sweeping light would reveal one of the wreck's large, nocturnal channel crabs. With legs and claws outstretched, one Mithrax spinosissimus could easily drape over a dinner plate. Passing over the stern section, the edge of my buddy's light caught the outline of a sleeping turtle, 15 feet from the wreck on the sand bottom. Using my arms to gauge size, I determined that our first find of the evening was a female of 5 feet in length with a troop of 2- to 3-foot remoras clinging to her broad, armor-like shell. Against the stark white contrast of the sand bottom, the turtle's hulking, dark brown and tan form looked enormous. Under the repeated glare of my camera strobes, her catatonic sleep left her as unmovable as stone, whereas the remoras took great exception, writhing like snakes after each burst of flash. To call a sea turtle a champion breath-hold diver would be a serious understatement. During a normal sleep cycle, if left undisturbed, an animal of this size will stay down for an hour or more before returning to surface to re-oxygenate. Sea turtles are called ancient mariners for good reason. Finishing the first series of shots, we both noticed the glint of something small and metallic attached to the base of the turtle's right fore-flipper. Carefully lifting the loose fold of skin to read the tag without waking sleeping beauty revealed an alphanumeric code, XXM192. Obviously, she had been captured as part of a study, and likely measured and weighed before getting her new piece of jewelry. The question was where and how long ago? A turtle this size would have to be of considerable age. I paused and tried to imagine what strange, wondrous things she had seen in her journeys. Meanwhile, the Hesperus was looking more like a busy airport than a wreck. During the minutes spent on our first turtle encounter, four more glided in from open water. The turtles seemed unfazed by our intrusion and our powerful dive lights. They reminded me of dopey St. Bernards attempting to navigate a crowded living room for a suitable place to nap. A mature loggerhead can be rather intimidating, especially when it glides out of the darkness unexpectedly. It was quite a sight watching divers backpedal to avoid incoming turtles making unerring beelines for favorite sleeping spots. Where does a 500-pound turtle sleep? Anywhere it wants. Life On the Bahia Mar The Bahamas slogan, Discover our Diversity, is in fact an accurate representation of the underwater opportunities that await visitors to this island nation. The 750-mile long archipelago that is the Bahamas includes some 100,000 square miles of water and more than 700 small islands and cays. The region offers a spectacular variety of undersea ecosystems ranging from colorful shallow reefs and sand flats to stunning walls and mysterious blue holes. Most islands sit atop a pair of magnificent sub-sea plateaus - Great Bahama Bank and Little Bahama Bank - that also encompass huge expanses of shallow water. Early Spanish explorers named these shallows Bahia Mar, which means broad shallows. Over time, English colonists would shorten the phrase until Bahia Mar simply became Bahama. To 15th-century mariners, the reef-studded shallows of the Bahama banks were a navigational nightmare. To a diver, the banks are an underwater playground. During a return visit to Grand Bahama, I was once again reminded of the special quality of diving made possible by the Bahamas' unique geography. From the settlement at the island's west end, it is a short boat ride to the edge of Little Bahama Bank, where sand flats tumble abruptly into the depths of the Florida Straits. We dived at a site known as Mount Olympus, which contrary to its name is not an undersea mountain, but rather a series of huge coral mounds running in linear formation along the edge of the drop-off. Nourished by the Gulf Stream's northward flow, the undulating terrain resembles the humps of a giant sea serpent adorned with a healthy dose of sponges and large, luxuriant deepwater sea fans. Flanked by the Bahia Mar and the deep ocean, Mount Olympus is a submerged crossroad where pelagic and reef species mingle. On any given day, divers may catch a fleeting glimpse of oceanic predators such as tuna, sailfish and wahoo, or cross paths with gray reef, hammerhead or blacktip sharks. Whale sharks and manta occasionally pass over the reefs, dolphins cruise in from deep water, en route to their shallow-water playgrounds, and the sea turtles are an almost constant presence. Working with the ubiquitous Gulf Stream current, we were able to tour the three-quarter-mile length of this site on a single drift dive. Dropping to a depth of 60 feet, we were joined by a large school of horse-eye jacks. Traveling counter to the current, a group of eagle rays made a close inspection while a large black grouper, surprised by our sudden appearance, thumped his gill covers angrily before disappearing into a cave. A shape materialized out of the deep blue water. At first, its streamlined shape had me thinking mako shark; then I realized it was a wahoo more than 6 feet in length - easily the largest I have ever seen in all my years of fishing and diving.
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