Diving for Gold!

Mark Fraser is the host and executive producer of "Nature Walks with Mark Fraser"

On a recent trip to begin production of a future film “Exploring the Depths of Lake Champlain” I decided to break up the dives based on several trips. These would be consistent with the different segments of the film including wildlife, native and non native “invasive” species, watershed habitats feeding the Lake, fossils, Shipwrecks and Geology.  For some of the geological dives I began to research, looking for anything that seemed to be interesting to capture on film. Calling a local dive shop I was in luck. I was told that there was something magical about 70ft deep beneath the glimmer at the water’s surface.

It was Pyrite also sometimes called “fools gold”. I was absolutely thrilled!  I never expected to find such an amazingly interesting geologic feature in the depths of the lake. The Dive team assembled and we chartered a boat in Willsboro Bay area of Lake Champlain.  We set up anchor against huge rock palisade that looked to be about 600ft high rising above the water. After our safety briefing with the boat’s captain and assembling our camera gear, it was time to make a splash. The water was amazingly shallow. I mean we could literally, stand up!  We were informed to swim north towards a small peninsula of rock sticking out into the water and from that point on the water was very deep just past that (about 150ft).  

So after a brief swim the team began the descent into the murky depths. Right away I notice that the water is amazingly “green” in fact this looked allot like diving off the coast of Gloucester Massachusetts something I have done countless times.  The green hue was due to a blue-green alga bloom brought on by the recent heat wave in the area.  I could see fresh water clam species and within a few ft began to notice tens of thousands of invasive Zebra mussels that cover every inch of the waters rocky edge. Traveling down deeper, noticing occasional crags within the rock wall where some smaller species of fish quickly hid before I could identify them. Drifting further, lights a blaze on this under water cliff that I was slowly sinking beside was a strange feeling. Like falling but in slow motion. In time, at about 65ft the green algae suddenly and abruptly stopped giving way to a blackness that covered everything so completely only the light from my dive light and the more powerful lights of the camera team allowed for any visibility.

Another 10 ft down, we began to search in earnest. It took a long time to find what we were looking for, and our air was running seriously low, when suddenly the black rock of the underwater cliffs edge gave way to this massive chevron shaped white quartz! It was breathtaking. The quartz wall appeared to be About 10 ft high and about 15 ft wide and looked completely out of place against the otherwise dull colors of the rest of the cliff. I get close realizing that I must hurry with low air but I need a closer look as I notice a small shiny beam of light. I swim to it, and am amazed to find- its gold – gold Pyrite! There are tiny flakes mixed into the white quarts wall creating beautiful sparkles of light.  As I wave my dive lights, the light sparkles like the floor of a dance hall. For a moment I pause frozen at the beautiful world that I am now visiting but I must hurry. At this depth staying to long could be more then dangerous, it could be fatal.

Though I am amazed by the beauty before my eyes, I know must go, as I am only a visitor to this magical underwater world. As I begin to climb to the surface staring back to the depths, and the light slowly returns I can’t help but think that one day I will again return to my dance hall under the depths of Lake Champlain.

Mark Fraser


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