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Photographer dives deep for treasure

By Staff | Jul 18, 2017

Thursday night, people packed the Community Room at the Estherville Public Library to see the treasures Lloyd Cunningham has photographed at the bottom of Okoboji’s blue lakes.

Cunningham uses a film camera specially made for underwater photography. “It doesn’t take acceptable photos on land,” Cunningham said.

This is because the Nikonos V is built to shoot through “layers” of water to create the clearest possible images underwater. It uses a 14mm fisheye lens to document Cunningham’s hundreds of dives into the Lakes.

Cunningham was inspired by the 1958 television show Dea Hunter with Lloyd Bridges to become a scuba diver.

“The first time I drew breath through a tank was at the University of Iowa pool.” Cunningham took advanced swim classes at university, and loved the water.

Cunningham became a certified scuba diver in 1992 at West Lake Okoboji. “Before that, [while raising a family with wife, Linda] it seemed like someone always needed a pair of shoes or a dental bill paid or something much more important than my scuba equipment and certification,” Cunningham said.

The Okoboji lakes were formed by the Wisconsin glacier thousands of years ago.

“It’s a unique body of water because it’s clear at the top, and for the first 25 or so feet,” Cunningham said.

Among the treasures Cunningham found were sailboats, fishing tackle, and antique bottles, several of which he put on display during his presentation.

Cunningham told the story of the 1935 Ford ice truck that sits at the bottom of Smith’s Bay. Okoboji lake ice was once delivered by truck as far away as Chicago. The truck slipped into the water and sank in 1948, and was not found until 2000.

Cunningham said each dive begins with a dive plan, especially in an area not searched before. Cunningham said in deep diving in a lake like Okoboji, which goes to over 100 feet, a diver must be outfitted for the thermocline, a layer that separates colder water from the warmer water above.

The water below the thermocline at Okoboji is about 54 degrees year round. Sunlight does not penetrate below 66 feet.

When Cunningham finds a large item underwater, he ties a line, releases a float, and records three compass reads toward shore.

Audience members were able to see and ask questions about Cunningham’s scuba gear, floats, and several items he had brought back from the depths of West Lake Okoboji.