TRUK LAGOON

Truk Lagoon

Why Dive A Wreck When You Can Dive An Entire Fleet?

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Truk Lagoon, also called Chuuk Lagoon, is not your average dive site. It was known as the “Gilbralter of the Pacific” and by the end of February 18th, 1944 became the biggest graveyard of ships in the world. Jacques Cousteau explored Truk in 1969 and in 1971 aired his documentary “The Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon”. Over the years many of these vessels have become coral reefs on their exposed surfaces, but in their holds where little natural light penetrates, the products and spare parts used in warfare may be found stacked the sameway they were the day the ships went down. On some ships that have been explored, items have been moved by divers such as a gas mask placed on the barrel of a coral encrusted gun or a group of plates and bowls set out as if ready to be used for a picnic. Depth charges have been removed for obvious reasons. Other items to view include a porcelain baby bath, trucks, anti-aircraft guns on decks, tanks on decks, tanks resting on tanks, sake bottles, medicine bottles, torpedoes, mines, bullets, bombs, Betty bomber parts, zero fighter parts and engines, and the skeletal remains of those that made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

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Since the only way to truely get in touch with what transpired in this now tranquil lagoon with water visibility over 50ft /17m year round is to go back in time and embrace a little history of the islands.

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Truk Lagoon is an atol in the South Pacific about 1,000 miles NE of New Guinea and 3,300 miles SW of Hawaii. The tallest of the main seven islands is 1,500ft above sea level. Some hundred smaller islands are also found around inside and outside the atol of 140 semi-rectangular miles round. The atoll has a deep water lagoon of 800 square miles, so it is not small by any means and this attracted sailors, traders, and whalers from around the world.  Alvaro de Saavedra was the first European to land here in 1528 and like any European did at the time, he ignored the natives living in Truk for some 2,000 years and claimed Truk and the surrounding Caroline Islands for Spain. That being said, nothing much happened for 300 years until Spain lost the Spanish-American War in 1898 and the U.S. gained the rights of many tropical resort like islands. Any monopoly player would have said this is a bad idea, but the U.S. sold the islands (except for Guam) to the German Empire in 1899 for 4.2 million dollars.

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In 1914 Japan in a secret pact with Britain seized control of all Micronesia and in 1919 Imperial Japan’s control was formerly recognized by the League of Nation’s mandate. By 1920 there was an exclusion of foreign ships into Truk Lagoon and Imperial Japan somehow accidentally over looked the restrictions which prohibited fortification and colonization in Micronesia. By the 1930’s there were more Japanese colonists than natives in Truk. In 1939 the Japanese passed the Military Manpower Mobilization Law to concript labor for the empire and soon Koreans, local islanders, and 2,000 convicts from Yokohama Central Prison were conscripted to perform manual air field construction. In all, the Imperial Japanese Civil Engineering Department and Naval Construction Department had built roads, trenches bunkers, caves, five air strips, a sea plane station, torpedo boat station, a radar station, a communication center, submarine repair shops, and coastal defense gun implacements. Some eighty times bigger than Pearl Harbor, Truck Lagoon was home to battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, tankers, tugboats, gun boats, cargo ships, minsweepers, submarines, and landing craft. Some 250 aircraft were also based there. By 1941 there were an estimated 100, 000 Japanese in the islands as compared to a mere 50,000 Micronesians. By August 1942 Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto located his headquarters on board the battleship Yamato in Truk and in 1943 transferred his headquarters to the sister ship Susashi. On a side note, well before the raid on Truk, Admiral Yamamoto was killed on April 18, 1943 while flying in a G4M “Betty” Bomber over the Solomon Islands. A similar “Betty” bomber is one of the wrecks resting in Truk Lagoon.

After the fall of Kwajelien Atol, Japanese intelligence determined that U.S. forces now had air superiority and so Imperial Japan withdrew the larger ships to Palau a week before the U.S. was slated to attack Truk.

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Operation Hailstone commenced on February 17th, 1944 in the early morning hours with the first wave of 72 Gruman F6F Hellcats targeting any flying Japanese planes and then those still on the ground. They were followed by TBF Avengers Torpedo Bombers and 3BD Dauntless Dive Bombers all coming from five fleet carriers, and four light carriers, and reinforced with 7 battleships, destroyers, cruisers submarines, and supply ships for a total of 60 ships and 500 planes.

By the first day 124 Japanese planes were shot down in flight and another 150 destroyed on the ground before they could even join the fight. That night radar equiped avengers pounded the islands and U.S. warships and submarines surrounded the atoll. The Japanese cruiser Agano tried to escape and was torpedoed just outside the lagoon by the submarine U.S.S Skate. The crew of the Agano, was picked up by the Destroyer Oite, and when she came back inside the lagoon to assist with anti-aircraft fire power, she was hit and sunk, and only 20 crew members from the Oite survived the attack. The former home of the Imperial Japanese combined fleet headquarters became a sunken ship graveyard in less than two days. The U.S. lost 25 planes and 40 men, 11 of which were killed on the Intrepid when it was damaged by an attack from a solo Japanese torpedo bomber thought to be enroute from Saipan or Rabaul. By the next day, February 18, twenty years of military buildup was destroyed and Truk could not assist with any reinforcement or support when the U.S. invaded Eniwetok. For the United States of America, pay back for Pearl Harbor had just been delivered.

By late April, Imperial Japan had moved almost 100 planes from Rabaul to Truk and on April 29th a second attack on Truk left 59 planes shot out of the sky and 34 destroyed on the ground. This day and a half assault also destroyed gas and oil tank farms. From this point forward 90% of the Imperial Japanese military supplies did not make it to the islands. The U.S. also began using Truk for bomber practice for Japan. The cut off Japanese soldiers on Truk were left isolated and starving until they surrendered on September 2nd, 1945.

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The Imperial Japanese navy ships sunk on February 17th and 18, 1944 include:

Three Japanese light cruisers: Agano, Katori, & Naka.

Four Destroyers: Oite, Fumizuki, Maikaze, & Tachikaze.

Auxiliary cruisers: Akagi Maru, Aitoku Maru, Kiyosumi Maru.

Two submarine tenders: Heian Maru, Rio de Janiero Maru.

Smaller warships and sub chasers: CH-24, Shonan Maru 15.

Aircraft transport Fujikawa Maru.

32 merchant ships were also sunk in the attack. The submarine I-169 which actually sunk by accident, but played a role in the attack on Pearl Harbor was destroyed by the Imperial Japanese navy fearing the U.S. would get inside her and capture vital military information. There are still 14 unidentified wrecks and eight sunken aircraft around Truk Lagoon. The largest wreck is the Heian Maru, the San Francisco Maru is popular for its tanks on deck, the Fujikawa is known for its engine room and machine shop, and the Hanakawa has spectacular coral growth.

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Prior to 1944 several other ships sank in and around truk lagoon, most notable, the Sapporo Maru auxillary storeship, the freighter Katsuragisan, the tugboat Ojima, and the transport ship Kikukawa Maru. We think reading Dive Truk Lagoon by Rod MacDonald is a good way to wreck your day.

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So as you can see, there are many ships to view, but many wrecks are too deep to visit unless you are tech diver certified. The liveaboard vessel SS Thorfin caters to divers using rebreathers or technical dive equipment as well as recreational divers. Meanwhile at least nine large wrecks are located at depths of 60-120ft (20-40m). The liveaboard Odyssey Adventures goes to some 15 of the large and small wrecks dotted around Truk’s waters. Many artifacts can be seen slightly above or just below the surface. The deeper you go, the more items you will see in their original, non-coral colonized, post-war preserved state. It takes several trips to tour Truk Lagoon and see the entire underwater historical museum, this one of a kind uniquely structured coral garden, and the world’s largest fleet graveyard.

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Posted in Dive Liveaboards, Dive Travel, Micronesia, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, The Bucket List, Truk Lagoon (Chuuk), Wreck Diving, Wrecks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Giant Sharks Through Time

Giant Sharks Through Time

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Great Whites are currently the largest predator shark on this water planet, but it hasn’t always been this way. The first large predator shark dates back to 100 million years ago back to the Cretaceous period of time. The shark I am referring to is Cretoxyrhina manteli, which is commonly known as the Ginsu shark because of its sharp ginsu knife slice and dice teeth. The teeth were large, sharp, and had smooth edges similar to the modern short fin mako shark. This large lamniform shark grew 20-24ft long and preyed on fish such as the 20ft long fanged tooth Xiphactinus, Plesiosaurs such as elasmosaurus, mosasaurs, and archelon turtles. Remains of sea going reptiles such as Mosasaurs have been found inside the stomachs of fossilized Ginsu sharks, Ginsu teeth marks have been found on fossils of Mosasaurs, and half digested fossilized remains of smaller Mosasaurs bones have been found near Ginsu shark deposits. Ginsu sharks died out some 82 million years ago and this could be partly due to the fact that certain species of mosasaurs grew close to 50ft long and in turn became the top predator of the time. Whether Mosasaurs ate all the Ginsu sharks, dominated the former Ginsu shark food supply, food sources like Xiphactinus fish diminished, or the rising number of other predators proved overwhelming, Ginzu sharks managed to survive for 18million years and just like the warm waters of the Thethys Ocean, Ginsu Sharks ultimately became extinct.

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For the next 54 million years a few early species of mako sharks radiated in to sharks 20 to 30ft long sharks such as Paratodus benedeni, Isurus hastalis, and Isurus estheri, but 28 million years ago during the Oligocene a new large species of shark came to light and pushed these mako sharks out of sight and out of mind. It was a time when whales dominated the seas and radiated into many species. The new shark Carcharocles megalodon or simply Megalodon, which grew to some 43 to 52 plus feet in length, roamed the warm waters in search of big fish and whale buffets. Remnant fossilized teeth over seven inches long are still found on the muddy bottoms of rivers in South Carolina and Florida as well as off shore along the south eastern states.

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An intermediary 16ft long form of broad tooth mako shark with coarse serrations on its teeth and similar to great white teeth was found in 6.5 million year old fossil deposits of Peru. Scientist are now confident that the great white took it’s current form from ancestors of serrated tooth mako during the early Pliocene 4-4.5 million years ago along the Pacific Coast where whales and seals are still quite prevalent. In the late Pliocene around 2-2.5 million years ago great whites radiated out to other parts of the world. Megalodon sharks finally died out 1.8million years ago, giving them a total life long run of almost 26 million years on this water planet. It’s not known if great whites lead to the extinction of Megalodon sharks, but juvenile megalodons with butter knife smooth teeth would have had to compete directly against easy chomping great whites with steak knife teeth. The sharp teeth would come in handy against seals, and may have given great whites an edge on hunting young whales too. It’s also known that species of giant mako sharks became extinct as great whites filled the niches of the precursor instead of the mako .

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Some fifteen million years ago the cold Antarctic circumpolar current came into existence and by 10 million years ago several species of sharks began to grow in size. By the end of the Pliocene, somewhere around 3 million years ago, the waters became cooler as the Greenland ice cap accumulated. Megalodon fossils are usually associated in areas that were once warmer or tropical. Perhaps the great white by just being able to hunt in colder waters than megalodons and ability to expand out around the world could have eventually reduced the megalodon’s immediate, as well as their migrating food supply, and led to the megalodon’s final extinction.

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Millions of sharks are killed yearly and efforts to curtail or eliminate this routine practice must be enhanced. Knowing the evolution of giant sharks, now more than ever, it is important to safe guard the existence of great whites. Because if they went instinct even accidentally, it could take another 25 million years before the world could see such a large top predator, and that is only if the food supply was abundant, over fishing was no longer a threat, and the climate or water temperature was agreeable to a currently unknown future radiated shark species.

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Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Travel, Learning to Dive, Marine Life, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Sea Legends, Sharks | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Anxiously Awaiting Your Next Dive?

Anxiously Awaiting Your Next Dive?

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If you dive less than 7 to 14 times a year you might want to take a refresher course before you go on your next big vacation or scuba dive adventure. You have either read something like this in your introductory scuba course, a dive magazine, or heard it down at a local dive shop. The reason is simple, if you practice diving on a regular basis, you become more familiar with more facets of your dive gear and scuba diving conditions in general. Being comfortable with your dive gear and the local dive conditions is the goal of every diver as it reduces anxiety and enhances your over all dive experience, but besides the basics, what else can you do to ensure the a perfect dive the next time out? Perhaps we should talk about dive gear first.

Even if you are diving warm waters, we recommend wearing a full rash guard or preferably a 3ml wetsuit that covers your torso, arms, and legs. Sure on the first dive you are warm in just a swimsuit, but after several dives and several days, you may start to feel cold before the end of the dive, and the urge to find a bathroom will eventually override your desire to maximize your bottom time. Acting on this urge before surfacing only exacerbates the situation by briefly heating your outer extremities then cooling them down while your blood vessels have become dilated by the sudden warmth which makes your heat loss increase exponentially. A wetsuit or rash guard is also a good way to protect your body from fire corals, jelly fish, and even prevents you from getting sunburned shoulders and legs when you are diving less than 20ft below the surface or doing decompression stops. A hood, bandana, cap or scap also works as the ultimate sun blocker for your head, especially if your hair is short or you’re like some of us and folically challenged.

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Having your own gear with you on a trip always reduces anxiety because your familiar with how it operates and comfortable with how it fits , but sometimes renting gear is the best option, especially when it comes to the airlines baggage policies and added cost. We always recommend taking your own mask, booties, dive computer as there is nothing worse than a leaky mask and a limited or unfamiliar computer. Fins could be added to the essentials list if based on previous rentals that with every kick it reminded you of the movie Foot Loose. As for the rest of your rental gear, be sure and do an easy shallow shore dive to make sure you are absolutely comfortable with how the unfamiliar gear operates, sits, and fits. Now if you dive with steel tanks and you find yourself using rental aluminum tanks while on vacation, you’ll need to add some additional weight too. You’ll notice the difference aluminum tanks make at the end of the dive when aluminum tanks down around 500psi try to make you float to the surface if you didn’t plan a head and weight yourself properly for this contingency.

Everyone talks about how important buoyancy is and we recommend on working on perfect buoyancy so you can glide down underwater and surface later on as soft and slow as a snowflake or leaf swept along in a gentle breeze, but what if your next dive adventure calls for diving down quickly to get below the swift currents near the surface? You might need a little more weight, and little more practice to control a little quicker descent. Also, the added weight will affect how much air and at what rate you need to expel air from your BC on your ascent back to the surface too. Practicing with a few extra pounds of weight will lessen your overall anxiety when it comes to diving in areas where currents are typically stronger.

Scuba-Diving scuba-diving-certification scuba-diving-with-your-instructor1Task overloading is a common phenomena that can lead to symptoms of high anxiety. If you have been out of the water for awhile, chances are diving a deep night drift wreck dive from a boat while navigating using dive lights and taking video/pictures while lobster hunting is going to feel like a multitasking nightmare. Perhaps a better option is to strap a Gopro or Intova video camera in place so you are hands free, and for all the types of diving you plan on doing, perhaps training in each of these fields separately and in advance would not only prepare you for your next dives, but would also put you in the water more frequently. Skills in boat diving, deep diving, drift diving, night diving, and navigation to name a few, could be used at almost any resort or dive site worldwide. When your trained properly, it is easier to anticipate your needs, plan your dive, and actually dive your plan from Belize, Cozumel, Bonaire, Palau, Truk, or Papua New Guinea. Also, good dive operators are there to help you. Don’t hesitate to communicate any concerns you may have. Even the most experienced divers have encountered feelings of unease and apprehension. Voicing any worries along with all of this training with your gear and dive conditions increases your safety, knowledge, and your confidence and ability to make the best decisions when it counts most, and thus makes every dive more pleasurable and relatively anxiety free.

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Dominica The Nature Island

Dominica the Nature Isle

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If you immediately think this island is adjacent to Haiti and next to Puerto Rico, this is not the island you’re looking for. Dominica “the Nature Island” can only be found by traveling over to the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean Sea and there between Guadelupe and Martinique close to half a dozen volcanoes rose up from the deep sea floor and separated the Caribbean from the Atlantic ocean by forming one of the youngest islands in the Lesser Antilles: approximately 290 sqmi (750 km squared). Three of these volcano peaks rose above 4,000ft (1220m) in height. Morne Diablotin (Diablotin Mountain), the highest, stands at over 4,692ft (1430m) tall and has been inactive since the Holocene epoch or last 10,000 years. Morne Trois Pitons erupted a mere 920 years ago. These tall mountains collect moisture from passing clouds and disperse this mist over the island in the form of rain, streams, and rivers, making Dominica one of the most prolific and relatively untouched rainforests in the Caribbean. There are many rare plants and birds on the island. In fact, the Sisserou Parrot (Imperial Amazon) is only found on this island and on Dominica’s flag as well.

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By the way, Dominica is pronounced with the stress on the second “i” as in DOM-i-NEE-ka. We think that the stress on the island name Domin”í”ca will perhaps be the only stressful event you encounter when visiting the island.

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One last note on the natural pristine beauty of this island is the fact that both Pirates of the Caribbean movies two and three were filmed here because, even Hollywood can’t make a background as cool as the naturally occurring settings on the beaches and along the Indian River.

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As far as the historical background goes, Columbus discovered the island on Sunday November 3rd, 1493 during his second voyage and therefore named it Dominica which in Latin (dies dominica) apparently means “Professional Sport’s Day” (our Latin may be a little rusty). Fortunately he didn’t discover more islands on Sundays or there would be more confusion on which island was which, than there already is. The Spanish never did much with the island and that upmost remarkably includes not slaughtering or dislocating every member of the local population of Island Caribs or Kalinago, as happened on most other Caribbean Islands. Even to this day on the northern end of the island there is a reservation similar to U.S. and Canada for indigenous islanders. Next came the French who in 1727 harvested timber and set up coffee plantations with the help of enslaved West Africans. The West Africans quickly made up the majority of the Island’s population and a dialect of French Antillean Creole became the dominant language. In 1761 the English invaded and ever since then, English has been the official language. There were more fights and squabbles between the French and English, but this is the quick cliff note version for scuba divers who prefer their history not too dry.

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As for divers, the young volcanic nature of the island lends to black sand beaches, swim throughs, crevices, tunnels, corals growing on granites, deep walls, canyons, finger like ridges, and unique warms spots where volcanically heated water is swept up between fissures and cracks and in one location is known for the sulfur tinted bubbles that rise towards the surface in what appears to be an endless procession.

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As for the fish and invertebrates, this secluded island boasts vast schools of jacks, grunts, big eyes, flying gurnards, squirrelfish, frogfish, angle fish, blue chromis, seahorses, eagle rays, spotted rays, southern sting rays, turtles, tube sponges, a wide variety of soft and hard corals, octopus, lobster, crabs, and flamingo tongue shells to name a few.

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As for the dive sites, the unique volcanic past has created some one of a kind dive spots at the south end of the island. The Scottshead Soufriere Marine Reserve encompasses three miles of coastline and a large submerged crater. One of the most famous dive and snorkel destinations is in the most northern area of the marine reserve and is called Champagne Reef. The entrance is from shore via a long wooded walkway to help avoid the long rock strewn beach. Divers typically do a leisurely swim around the fish and corals and perhaps take in a view of a prevalent school of reef squid. Then at around 15ft (5m) while relaxing at a deco stop you can view what appears to be champagne bubbles seeping out from the sand and up between the rocks. This hot water and bubbles can burn your hand if you place it too close to the sub-aquatic hot springs, but the scene is a mesmerizing sight to witness. The repeatedly requested dive site Swiss Cheese with three swim throughs and two large granite rocks that form an arch way that leads to a coral area and across to a famous spot called  Scottshead Pinnacle with a swim through at 35ft (11m) that exits to a wall that drops down to 120ft (37m) should not be missed. Another popular spot is Dangleben’s Pinnacle which is a series of five swim throughs that you can circumnavigate down at 80ft (25m) and the area is filled with colorful vertebrates and invertebrates alike. Also well known here is L’Abym with a wall that descends straight down to 1500ft (457m).

In the middle of the island on the west side we have well known dive sites such as sloping Nose Reef, and Rina’s Hole with a swim through, black coral, azure vase sponges, golden crinoids, and if you see a thing in the reef with bright shinny teeth, that’s a moray. Actually, here there are several moray eels. Rodney’s Rock is considered one of the best critter dives around and a good spot to find assorted crabs and spiny as well as slipper lobsters.

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Up by Portsmouth, Cabrits Dive Site is a great drift dive over barrel sponges and schools of creole accented fish. Douglas Point is known for its abundance of flamingo tongue shells, Pointe Ronde and the Craters has hot bubbles percolating out of the sand at 120ft (37m), Toucari Bay has coral covered rocks at 40ft (12m), two tunnels plus multiple caves, and Five Finger Rock in the Cabrit Marine Park appears mostly submerged in the shape of its name sake with lots of critter life as well.

For wreck divers, there is the 55ft long (17m) Canefield Tug Wreck sitting almost perfectly upright at 90ft (27.5m) and the links of chain from the 18th century Cottage Point Wreck in less than 30ft (9m) has some interesting pinnacles close by..

As for night dives, there is Newtown Dropoff, Sea World Pinnacle, Fort Young Flats, or a second round at Rodney’s Rock.

There are over thirty official dive sites around the island, as well as “secret spots” which can be experienced when weather and currents permit exploring.

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For a non-diving day, you still will want to remain on the water as whales are prevalent throughout the year. Whale watching tours go out to see, hear, and record the sounds of sperm whales; the largest toothed whales in the world who can be seen from October to March. The nomadic males get up to 60ft long (18m) and don’t socialize until they are 30 years old. Females form natal family units that encompass several generations and may consist of 70 year old grandmothers, mothers, and male and female calves that enjoy the gentle deep waters off the west coast of Dominica. The waters offshore dip down to over 3,280ft (1,000m) and this is where sperm whales are presumed to hunt for giant squid using their spermaceti organ in their oversized nose region as a sonar system in the deep dark waters to locate their prey. They also make social noises “codas” with different clicks, sounds, and dialects around the world. Using a boat’s hydrophone you can hear these sounds miles or kilometers away. For an extra treat, Humpback whales can be heard in January and February. We like to think of these boat trips as the beginning of Eco “Echolocation” Tourism. There are some twenty other mammal species that frequent the islands including: spotted and spinner dolphins that roam in mixed pods of over 500 members strong, pilot whales in pods of 50 members, and bottle nose, risso’s, and other dolphins in smaller groups.

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Now if you would like some time off from getting wet, then we recommend hiking some 300 miles (500km) around the island and visiting Trafalgar Falls, Victoria Falls, and Emerald Pool. We recommend taking a poncho and sweater with you as it can get cold, and the rain falls over five times as much up in the mountains as it does near the beaches. Hiking in the Morne Trois Pitons National Park rainforest is a must to see Boiling Lake; the second largest boiling lake in the world. On the way up to this site, tourists often stop in the Valley of Desolation to boil an egg in the sulfur laden springs or creek. Personally, we prefer eggs at a table setting with a pinch of salt, sometime before the eight mile (130km) return hike begins. You also have the chance to rest in relaxing hot springs along many trails, so in Dominica you never really have to miss being out of water any day during your entire stay; it’s your choice.

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There is much here for all to discover as Dominica is a remote volcanically formed island lush with tropical rainforests, rivers, waterfalls, friendly people and abundant sea life. You have to change planes from one of the nearby Caribbean islands to reach one of the two local Dominica regional airports, and you also have to stress the way you say the island name, but coming here is definitely worth the effort to have a chance to explore what is rightly called the nature island, and dive literally some of the hottest dive sites on this planet.

For additional information on Dominica and various special dive and vacation packages, Click here.

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Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Travel, Dive Travel Deals, Dolphins, Dominica, Family Travel, Marine Life, Pinnacles, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video, Walls, Whales | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Turks and Caicos

Turks and Caicos
White Sand and Wicked Wall Dives.

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There’s a group of islands just over an hour’s flight from Miami and they are so much more than their ancient Lucayan name for red blossomed topped Turk cactus and string of islands (caya hico) implies. The low lying limestone islands here are bordered by white sand beaches and while at least one of them you can walk across to at low tide, a few are separated by the 7,200 plus feet deep Turks Island passage. Huge pelagics such as North Atlantic humpback whales pass between the islands during their annual migration from January to March. The passage also divides the main eight islands with West Caicos, Providenciales (Provo), North Caicos, Middle Caicos, East Caicos, and South Caicos on the west side, and Grand Turk and Salt Cay on the east side of the passage. Some 299 uninhabited islands help round out the rest of the island chain.

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Whales aren’t the only thing that has passed by these islands. Christopher Columbus passed by here in 1492 on his first voyage to discovering a western route to Asia. He may have been off on his calculations by a continent and an ocean or two, but had he known how far the circumference of the Earth really was, or that the Vikings had made settlements in the New World already for some 500 years, Columbus might not have been able to talk anyone into joining him for the first of four total expeditionary cruises. Another explorer passing by Turks and Caicos, astronaut John Glen, orbited Earth three times in 1962 before making a splash near the islands and coming ashore for some rest and relaxation at Grand Turk.

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Now it’s easy to reach the shores of Turks and Caicos by scheduled airlines to the international airport with ongoing inter island flights or cruise ships.  The Grand Turk Cruise Center is home to a 3,000 foot pier and the recreational and shopping center is home to the largest “Jimmy Buffet” Margaritaville in the world. If you want to visit somewhere less crowded, take a short trip over to Salt Cay and do some whale watching from the ruins at Taylor’s Hill or take a short excursion over to Gibb’s Cay to see the stingrays swim right up next to the beach. Don’t forget to visit the Columbus National Marine Park complete with 25 dive site moorings to visit with corals, garden eels, turtles, nurse sharks Nassau groupers and a host of smaller fish species.

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Some 13 miles south of Salt Cay exists an ocean pinnacle and at 40ft of depth (12.5m), is the wreck of the HMS Endymion, a British fifth rate 49 gun warship that sunk in 1790. Ironically an early diesel five-masted schooner General Pershing wrecked here at Endymion Rock as well in 1921, and now you can see the chains running over from General Pershing’s anchor towards the Endymion’s anchor. As far as ship wrecks go, Turks and Caicos has the oldest wreck on this side of the pond. The Molasses Reef Wreck dates back to 1505. Many wrecks came to rest on Molasses Reef, but this Spanish ship was thought to be Columbus’s famed Niňa and so some divers in the 1970’s blew this historical artifact up in search of treasure. They didn’t find what they were looking for, but cannons, crossbows, and crew personal effects are now on exhibit at the Turks and Caicos National Museum built before 1885 and located near the seat of the government since 1766; Cockburn Town on Grand Turk. There is also a lighthouse built in 1852 with cast iron tower worth a sightseeing visit while on Grand Turk.

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The ages may seem old, but when you consider that the Arawaken speaking Tainos lived here from 500 AD to 800 AD, and the classical Tainos moved here in the 1200’s, then anything after 1500 AD doesn’t seem so long ago. In fact, the classical Tainos had a good thing going for close to 300 years until Juan Ponce de Leon recorded the islands in 1512 and introduced the locals to a work abroad program that he just wouldn’t let them refuse. By 1513, His work and no-release program left the islands once again uninhabited until the salt collectors appeared in 1645. Pirates used the islands for awhile; the most notable being Anne Bonny around Parrot Cay in the 1720’s. Loyalists from America fled to the islands from 1775-1783. Also since Britain abolished slavery in 1833, many slaves that were shipwrecked or intercepted in transit in near waters were freed, and the population of the islands modestly grew once again. So now knowing the brief history of the islands, you are now able to appreciate the local architecture, the local island culture, cuisine, and part of the geography.

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Across the Turks Island Passage you’ll find the Providenciales International Airport on Provo (Providenciales Island). Provo is the home of several major all inclusive and independent resorts. Some of these resorts cater to families, others to adults only, and all with miles of spectacular white sand beaches, beautiful pool settings, pool bars, and many with their own or otherwise serviced by dive operators with boats to take you to some of the hottest dive sites around the Caicos side of the islands.

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Now, although thousands of boats have sunk around the islands, the main attractions are the reef and wall dives. That is except for the Mad Max style Thunderdome that was used for the pilot of a French game show. The thunder dome collapsed during hurricane Francis in 2004. But at 20ft from the surface and 35ft at depth, it makes a great swim through to view shrimp, scallops, clams, barracuda, queen angelfish, gray angelfish, lobster, and schools of snapper, goatfish, and others will surround you on this one of a kind dive.
Many of the dive sites here are named after what you expect to see at the site: Hole in the Wall starts at the top of the reef at 55ft and a tube goes down to and you exit out onto the reef at 90ft. The Crack cuts down the reef at 55ft down to 100ft, Eel Garden…take a guess at what is found here besides peacock flounder, and nurse sharks. The Amphitheater is a wall dive with an under hang that goes back about 15ft at the base at 85ft of depth. Perhaps Becky’s Beautiful Bottom doesn’t quite describe the huge coral heads off West Caicos, Brandywine doesn’t quite showcase the sand chutes at this site. G Spot doesn’t at first invoke images of Gorgonian soft corals. Double D off French Cay might not readily conjure up images of two pinnacles, but other dive sites such as Shark Hotel, Elephant Ear Canyon, Aquarium, Football Field, Graceland, Grouper Hole, and Highway to Heaven may appear less scandalous when mentioned in your log book and social media posts. Oh, and expect to see big eye jacks, grouper, rays and schools of smaller fish just about everywhere you go. Some sites such as the Molasses Reef, a wall dive, is south of Provo by French Cay and takes awhile to get there, so it’s usually part of a two or three dive excursion that may leave in the morning and not get back until 5pm. The two and three dive boat trips are the best way to see the sights at the farthest ends of the islands. For extended liveaboard trips around the islands may we recommend the Turks and Caicos Aggressor II or the Turks and Caicos Explorer. Remember that the winter months are peak tourist season, and dive  boats may fill up fast. It doesn’t help when these islands are getting so much good press as being one of the top dive destinations but the reefs are available every month.

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Turks and Caicos has several marine and shore preserves and national parks to see on your non-diving days and besides viewing birds such as frigates and flamingos at the parks, there is a Rock Iguana preserve on Long Cay. You can get around the islands by car, scooter, TCI Ferry system, and other boats.

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The Caicos Conch Farm on Provo is the only place in the world where they raise queen conch for local consumption as well as export. This ten acre oceanfront aqua culture farm has 65 acres of adjacent circular pens where queen conchs graze and grow. People will think you’re a marine biologist after a short tour at this site.

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And speaking of conch, no trip to Provo would be complete if you didn’t stop for conch served at Bugaloos Conch Crawl or da Conch Shack and Rum Bar. Fried or marinated, you “conch” go wrong man, with this delectable and renewable island resource.

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So there you go, islands filled with tourist attractions, cruise ships, shopping and dining, islands uninhabited, islands with long white sand beaches to relax on, or get up, dive and explore almost endless miles of reefs, walls, wrecks, with extensive marine life such as turtles and corals. So no matter how or what century you get here, Turks and Caicos has something for everyone.

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Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Resorts / Properties, Dive Travel, Dive Travel Deals, Family Travel, Marine Life, Pinnacles, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Sharks, Turks and Caicos Islands, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video, Walls, Whale Sharks, Wrecks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

110,000 Reasons to Go Liveaboard

110,000 Reasons To Go Liveaboard

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There are more than 110,000 islands in the world and many pinnacles that rest just below the surface and each and every one of them may be filled with multitudes of critters and creatures that seldom come in contact with humans. Sure, some of these islands may be inhabited, but most require transportation via some sort of marine vessel to get there and it may take a day or two to reach some of these remote destinations. Even destinations that are not remote, but are near other dive sites, may require a liveaboard to maximize your dives as you simultaneously minimize your back and forth to port travel time. Weather, animal migration patterns, multi-nation destinations, and toys/technical gear supplied, are other considerations for choosing liveaboards.

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While many of these liveaboards offer first class dinning experiences with remarkable onboard chefs and while many of these vessels are built using iron wood hulls and beautifully hand crafted teak interiors or modern steel designs with the latest in furnishings and electronics, we will restrict this article to dive destinations, as well as mention some of the experiences you may encounter while being a guest on one or many of these luxury liveaboards vessels.

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Starting off down under, Mike Ball offers great expeditions to the Great Barrier Reef of Australia for three nights/12 dives, or to the Coral Sea for 4 nights/14dives, or a combination of 7 nights and see both incredible dive destinations on one spectacular trip aboard the specifically designed twin hull Spoilsport. It’s just impossible to do so many dives at so many remote Great Barrier Reef dive sites from a shore-based resort or per day dive charter.

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How about diving one nation, but with thousands of islands? The MV Pindito , Msy Seahorse, Komodo Dancer, Raja Ampat Aggressor and the Pelagian are just some of the vessels that cruise though the 15,00 plus island of Indonesia. Indonesia is the epicenter of marine biodiversity. These vessels have different itineraries depending on the time of year to maximize your visit and to view an unforgettable as well as incredible amount of sea life.

How about diving three different nation destinations on one liveaboard trip? The M/V Caribbean Explorer II travels 8 days/ 7 nights to SABA, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten. Perhaps you would prefer one island chain like Turks and Caicos, where the Turks and Caicos Aggressor II and the Turks and Caicos Explorer peruse some 70 miles of reefs, walls, multiple cays and islands, as well as visit when possible the 22 mile long Columbus passage that is 7,000ft deep and right on the migration route for Atlantic humpback whales from January to March and large pelagics the rest of the year.

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Speaking of seasons, the Rocio Del Mar is either in the Sea of Cortez around the Midriff Islands or near Revillagigedo-Socorro islands from November to May. The Sea of Cortez also called the Gulf of California; Jacques Cousteau called this area the Galapagos of North America.

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The Nautilus Explorer also leads expeditions to Socorro Island as well as Guadalupe Island, San Bernitos Island, and even all the way over to a seldom visited exotic destination of Clipperton Atol. Guadalupe Island gets the most notoriety as these crystal clear waters make it easy to view some 108 different great white sharks each year. Nautilus Explorer uses double decker descending cages to make your experience with these apex predators unobtrusive, and arguably second to none.

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The Solmar V is also at Socorro Island from November to May and at Guadalupe Island during great white shark season. They are also part of the Dive Encounters Alliance. All vessels are independently owned and they have eight liveaboard destinations including Galapagos, Cocos Island, Maldives, Indonesia, Palau, and Honduras Bay Islands as well as Guadalupe /Socorro Islands.

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For some, the ultimate dive sites are in the Galapagos Islands for this is where Charles Darwin first observed how cormorants had evolved into flightless birds, and Iguanas had evolved into ocean going reptiles. Galapagos penguins and tons of fish, silky and Galapagos sharks round out the rest of the underwater one of a kind marine environment and make this dive adventure so inspiring; the Galapagos Aggressor III and the Humboldt Explorer journey to these enchanted waters.

Now, as they “sea” it, sharks don’t care if it rains, but the time of year you plan your liveaboard trip can greatly effect what you see on your dives. We could be more precise, but generally fish and whale sharks alike rely on the phase of the moon, water temperature, hormonal changes, and Neptune’s will. Then again, you could book the same trip three separate times of the year and end up with three unique diving experiences.

For wreck divers we recommend diving the 50 mile wide Truk Lagoon where you can dive some 60 ships from WW II. This former southern fleet headquarters of the Imperial Japanese fleet is a historical graveyard and with a ghost fleet of submarines, destroyers, cargo ships, Betty bombers and more sunk during two raids in 1944. The Truk Odyssey ventures here. For those that are into tech diving and rebreather diving you might like to journey on the SS Thorfinn.

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Palau also has sunken WWII wrecks as well as a freshwater jellyfish lake. The reef and manta cleaning stations are a big hit with divers, and night dive spawning trips are coordinated with local marine biologists and tour guides from Palau.

The Aggressor and Dancer Fleet Boasts 22 itineraries from East Flores, Belize, Maldives, Myanmar, and to the Red Sea. Their Kona trip will let you dive sites too remote for most one day charter trips and their Cayman Aggressor IV will allow you to dive, weather permitting, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman all in one trip; Saturday to Saturday.

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For something completely different might we suggest one of the 7 trips available by Oceanwide Expeditions to dive the Arctic waters of Spitsbergen using zodiacs to take you close to spider crabs, soft corals, peacock worms, dogfish, and walrus from a safe distance during the warmer summer days when the sun shines 24/7. They also dive in the Antarctic where you’ll see penguins, leopard seals, krill, and fur seals. These dives are for more experienced drysuit trained divers.

We ran out of space before mentioning the Okeanos Aggressor and the hammerheads of Cocos Island off Costa Rica. The M/Y Sun Dancer II is a great way to experience the diving off Belize such as Turneffe Reef and the world famous Blue Hole. The Caribbean Pearl II explores the Honduras Bay Islands. Both the Nai’a liveaboard and the Island Dancer II cruise through Fiji. The M/V Atlantis Azores allows you to dive with ease off Tubbataha Reef and the colorful corals off Anilao in the Philippines. The M/Y Spirit of Niugini lets you tour the muck diving sites of Papua New Guinea. The MV Bilikiki and the MV Spirit of the Solomon Islands let you dive 1500 miles west of Fiji and 1,200 miles northeast of Australia, and just like Fiji, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea, you are still diving within the Coral Triangle. In the Maldives you may like to try an adventure aboard the Carpe Vita Explorer, the Maldives Aggressor, or the MV Emperor Voyager. We just might have to write a book to let you know everything about these spectacular world class dive destinations.

Having mentioned all these destinations and luxury liveaboards, we have to admit, that, one of the best reasons to go on one or all of these diving excursions is a chance to meet and dive with other divers that share your level of enthusiasm and passion for the sport; some of these people may become life long friends. Some of these individuals may be professional underwater videographers, photographers, or marine biologists, while others may be relatively new to the sport, and just fun to be around, talk about diving, share past dive adventures, share good food, and most importantly share incredible experiences on a planet mostly covered by water, yet still called Earth.

To access additional information on these and other dive liveaboards as well as their destinations click here or to view possible exclusive deals click here.

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Posted in Australia, Bahamas, Bay Islands, Belize, Cayman Islands, Dive Destinations, Dive Liveaboards, Dive Travel, Dive Travel Deals, Fiji, Galapagos Islands, Honduras, Indonesia, Manta Rays, Marine Life, Micronesia, Muck Diving, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Pinnacles, Reefs, Saba, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Sea of Cortez, Sharks, Socorro Islands, Specialties, ST. Kitts, Thailand, Truk Lagoon (Chuuk), Turks and Caicos Islands, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video, Walls, Whale Sharks, Wrecks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

North Sulawesi, Indonesia Part Two

North Sulawesi, Indonesia

The Center of Life’s Diversity

Part Two

  

As you last recall, we tried to include all 50,000 miles (70,000km) of shoreline of Indonesia in one article, then we briefly mentioned three dive resorts on the northern edge of Sulawesi Island where some 390 species of coral, 90 resident species of fish, and where some 1,650 species of fish commute to work daily to and from the Bunaken National Park which is considered Grand Central in the incredibly bio-diverse Coral Triangle which stretches from the Philippines down over to Malaysia and across to the Solomon Islands.

   

 One of the most famous dives here at Bunaken Park is Lekuan 1, which is a 120ft (40m) wall dive where away from the wall you might see pelagics as big as whale sharks.On the wall you might find pink pygmy seahorses, and small orange colored orangutan crabs, colored corals, sponges, and perhaps a turtle resting on a ledge. Sachiko’s is another wall dive where you might encounter black tip sharks, schools of bumphead parrotfish, or napoleon wrasse. Ron’s Point is a site for advanced divers where two currents entwine and tunas, black tip sharks, leaf scorpions, and pontohi seahorses are spotted. In addition, at any of these sites, you may see emperor anglefish, bluestripe snapper, pinkish basslet, two-lined monocle bream, frogfish, and a plethora of small shrimps, crabs, and other invertebrates.

  

The resorts we mentioned were the Eco Divers Lembeh and Minahasa Lagoon Resort and Eco Divers Manado.  From Singapore, Bali, and Jakarta, as well as several other airports you can fly right in to Manado, the capital city of northern Sulawesi. It’s a big bustling modern city with KFC and McDonalds, innumerable blue taxi buses filling the streets, yet there are also regions where you can taste cooked to order local foods from outdoor vendors, visit street markets, and enjoy a ride on an ornate decorated horse drawn carriage.

  

We think that there is something for everyone in Manado, but if you came here to completely relax at a secluded dive resort or do some serious muck diving, its time to leave the big city.

  

Minahasa Lagoon Resort and Eco Divers Manado, is within 90 minutes of Manado. This oceanfront property with several types of accommodations and expansive beach is surrounded by a tropical rain forest. It is highly rated on TripAdvisor with modern amenities, spa services, local and international cuisine.

   

Besides the dives at Bunaken Park, the Minahasa Lagoon Resort and Eco Divers Manado  has a house reef that is ideal for divers and snorkelers. Some of the other boat dives in the area include City Extra, which is a muck dive with seahorses, ghost pipefish, and down the slope you might find frogfish, mimic octopus, and black and blue eels. At Tanjung Bulo there are some 15 different species of nudibranchs, cuttlefish, harlequin shrimp, and sea snakes. Molas Wreck is a Dutch cargo ship that 70 years later has lots of coral growth and sponges. After diving the wreck divers typically go check out a nearby reef.

  

 Here you will see tons of coral that make up the fringing reef and tons of sea life as well. Batu Goso is a boat site with several steep pinnacles (5- 35m). It’s a drift dive where you can see white tips, black tips, turtles, grouper and multi-colored corals. Across the waterway on the Sulawesi coastline is Paradise Pier. This is a muck dive site at the old paradise hotel pier. Hot springs are located at the bottom of the steps. Frogfish, seahorses, octopus, squid, and batfish apparently don’t mind the warmer water. Sabora has nudibranchs, pygmy seahorses and a great place for night dives. Sahuang has jacks, dogtooth tuna, barracuda, red-toothed triggers and colorful corals.

  

Their is also a combination two resort package that lets you stay 7 nights at Minahasa Lagoon Resort and Eco Divers Manado, then a land transfer of 2.5 hours to Eco Divers Lembeh for another 7 night stay. This gives you the opportunity to experience the best diving that Manado and Lembeh can offer. For every divers piece of mind there is a hyperbaric chamber within 90 minutes of both resorts. When you depart it is a about a one hour van ride back to Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado.


 

  

Eco Divers Lembeh uniquely offers the comfort of a land based resort and all its amenities and services with the convenience of a stationery day dive liveaboard.  A maximum of 16 divers can relax, eat and depart in smaller dive boats to over 60 dive sites in Lembeh Strait. But just to inform you, don’t expect 100 plus feet of visibility here. What you will see is a black sand and silt substrate with patches of reefs, discarded man made objects, lone anemones, a few wrecks, and even small rocks with absolutely breathtaking rare creatures of every size, color, and texture. This is Mecca for underwater photographers.  An anemone with clown fish, an old bottle with a blue ring octopus inside, or a rock with a frogfish leaning against it fill your camera frames and image cards on almost every dive. And when we say frogfish, we are talking hairy frogfish, clown frogfish, painted frogfish, or the newly discovered Lembeh frogfish to name of few. Fish moving across the sand or mimic octopus or mantis shrimp burring themselves in the sand are common sites too. Keep in mind that there are also multiple species of shrimp, octopus, pipefish, and nudibranchs often seen on the same dive. Some oddity fish you will find include: stargazers, crocodile fish, Pegasus sea moths, bobtail squids, devilfish, rhinopias, and candy crabs, but it’s not just about these fish, as the strait is also home to juvenile pelagic fish that are drawn here for safety and plentiful amounts of zooplankton.

  

Some of the other favorite dive sites include Nudi Falls (nudibranchs), Jahir (night dives), Tk 1 (everything in this village bay), Hairball (frogfish), and of course the Mawali, a Japanese cargo wreck, which sunk in 1943 and now resembles a coral reef with occasional straight edges.

  

As you can see, we’ve run out of space again, and we haven’t even mentioned land activities such as jungle tours, guided treks into rainforests, volcano trekking, white water rafting, or birding to see the endemic species of birds found no where else in the world. Also, the 6 national parks, 19 nature preserves, and 3 marine preserves of Sulawesi along with the freshwater fish, freshwater shrimp, and the highly cave adapted freshwater crabs will have to wait for another time. Sulawesi has so much to see and explore, but none of these spectacular marine creatures can truly shine unless immersed by the light from your own camera or dive light.

   

For more information on exclusive dive travel offers, competitive airfare, and how you can visit North Sulawesi, Indonesia, please contact us or CLICK HERE     

 

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Posted in Dive Travel, Dive Travel Deals, Indonesia, Marine Life, Muck Diving, Pinnacles, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Sharks, Single Travel, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Walls | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

North Sulawesi, Indonesia, Part One

North Sulawesi, Indonesia

The Center of Life’s Diversity

Part One

   

You’ve probably heard of the Coral Triangle where the waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea collide and infuse each other with nutrients and where different species of fish and invertebrates intermingle with scuba divers from every culture around the world? You haven’t? Well, before we go in depth on this incredible zone of creatures, critters, and coral cornucopias, we should mention the country that hosts this unique spot in the world.

  

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, and it is also an archipelago made up of some 17,508 islands of which 6,000 are inhabited, but who’s counting? Now if you weren’t there or don’t recall, after the super continent of Gondwana began to split apart some 140 million years ago, the Pacific, Eurasian, and Australian tectonic plates with much volcanic fanfare met right where Indonesia now resides. Indonesia has 130 active volcanoes and most of the eruptions currently take place in the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra just above the Eurasian plate subduction zone and when we say current, we’re talking geological time; Krakatoa last erupted in 1883, a much bigger eruption happened 70,000 years ago at Lake Tobo, Sumatra, but small earthquakes are more common in this region.

  

When seas were lower than they are today, animal life came down through Eurasia until deep waters stopped their advance. Animal life from Australia came up and over until deep waters stopped them too. The point or line made by these deep waters is called the Wallace Line and where these transitional animals mixed is called Wallacea. So now you know why Orangutans, Tigers, and Sumatran rhinoceros are found in western Indonesia, and two species of Anoa (miniature water buffalo), Babirusa (a curling tusked pig), and many other smaller placental and marsupial animals are found in Sulawesi and eastward Indonesia.

  

Now when you include birds, amphibians, reptiles, fish, and invertebrates, Indonesia is only second to Brazil in biodiversity with a greater percentage of endemic species than any other country except Australia. In fact it’s hard to view many of these creatures found nowhere else in the world without the voice of BBC’s David Attenborough narrating in your head. We think a local monitor lizard that hasn’t change much in 3.8 million years, and whose ancestors go back at least 100 million years ago, called the Komodo Dragon is the perfect poster child for the rare creatures found only on a few of the thousands of Indonesian islands.

  

The first tourists attracted to all this diverse wildlife was Homo erectus “Java Man” (1.8 million years ago to 35,000 years ago), but apparently Java man followed the Boy Scout slogan of “Leave no trace behind”, so little is known of them. The second wave of tourists were modern Homo sapiens and on their way to Australia they left trails thousands of miles wide with items like the 40,000 year old hand stencils in Pettekere Cave in Maros, Sulawesi. It is the oldest art work known to date in the entire world. Someone later drew a pig on the wall 5,000 years later near the hand. Speaking of art, we should mention that the entire island of Sulawesi (formerly called Celebes) looks like a stencil of an elephant standing on two legs with its mouth wide open. Not to be out done by others, one group of artists left some 400 stone carved megaliths between 3,000 BC and 1,300 AD on Sulawesi Island. In general, each group that found its way to Indonesia brought its unique language and culture so that by today there are 300 ethnic groups with 742 languages and dialects spoken in Indonesia with the official language being Bahasa Indonesia.

  

Most of the islands were Islamic by the time the Dutch became nuts about nutmeg, cloves, and cubeb pepper and therefore claimed this area their own as The Netherlands East Indies and later The Dutch East Indies. Imperial Japan took control from 1942-1945 and divided Indonesia into three regions. During the three years of Imperial Japanese occupation some estimated four million or more Indonesians died of forced labor, forced prostitution, or famine. Sultans, intellectuals, as well as 30,000 Europeans were either murdered or sentenced to death and anything of value was shipped back to Japan or to other locations in the ever-expanding Japanese Empire. After the war ended, Indonesia gained independence, but there was later a protracted battle with the Communist Party (PKI) during which time 500,000 people were killed during the anti-communist purge. A political settlement was reached in 2005 and things have been comparatively peaceful in recent times for this diverse yet united tropical island nation. It’s interesting to note, that now the top five visitors of Indonesia are from Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, China, and Japan.

  

So now you might be thinking, sure Indonesia’s enchanted and a one of a kind paradise with a very interesting history, but what about the 500 plus dive sites that we’ve heard about? And for this reason we are going to focus on the northern tip of the island of Sulawesi. Here on the Eastside we have Eco Divers Lembeh with access to over 50 dive sites in the Lembeh Straight, which separates Lembeh Island from the Sulawesi mainland. This area is considered the “muck diving” capital of the world.  Here with a backdrop of black lava, a macro world of pygmy seahorses, pipefish, frogfish, and several unique and bizarre species of octopus, and other invertebrates steal the show on every dive.

  

On the west side of North Sulawesi is the capital city of Manado and nearby  the oceanfront Minahasa Lagoon Resort and Eco Divers Manado. From the resort you are close to Bunaken National Park which is comprised of five islands: Bunaken, Manado Tua, Nain, Mantehage, and Siladen. Were not sure if this marine preserve is more famous for its wall dives where you can see giant clams, black tip sharks, white tip sharks, sea turtles, and eagle rays, or its famous because of the local species of brown coelacanth fish they found living just beyond the reef walls in deeper water.

  

Lobed fin coelacanths have been around here for over 485 million years and they were thought extinct for 65 million years until they were seen as the catch of the day in a local market in Manado Tua in 1997, and just like the Indonesian dugong, and 200 million year old chambered nautilus, coelacanths have become ambassadors of Indonesia’s marine life.

  

We will mention more about these resorts and some of the top dive sites in “Part Two” of our North Sulawesi expedition. Suffice it to say, it won’t be easy, as a country with black sand beaches, white sand beaches, sand dunes, mangroves, estuaries, coral reefs, sea grass beds, coastal mudflats, algae beds, thousands of small islands, and a few large islands where even elephants run freely is hard to cover with just one pair of fins and booties.

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Posted in Dive Travel, Dive Travel Deals, Indonesia, Marine Life, Muck Diving, Pinnacles, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Sharks, Single Travel, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Walls | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

North American Aquarium Diving

North American Aquarium Diving

There may be times when you find yourself in a another city either due to work, visiting relatives, or just because you wanted to get away, explore, and play. If this happens to you, and you can’t bring all your dive gear, and yet you are looking for something a little more exciting than viewing goldfish in hotel lobby aquariums then we thought you might like the following list of relatively convenient yet definitely unusual dive sites.

Sure, this list is all about aquariums, but ones so big, diver friendly, and filled with sharks and other exotic creatures that you may have to rethink how you classify the seven seas. So, starting off our list of potential dive sites in a semi-random pattern from east to west this is what we have discovered so far.

Long Island Aquarium. This must be one of the easiest dives in the world. They provide everything for you including a mask with underwater communication abilities and you don’t even have to be a certified diver. A trained shark dive instructor goes with you inside a shark cage, which is lowered, into the 120,000 gallon Lost City of Atlantis shark exhibit. Besides a 12ft long trident, pillars, and remnants of the lost city, you just might see sand tiger sharks, nurse sharks, moray eels, grouper and a 300lb turtle named “Jaws”. This adventure also includes a souvenir beach towel and an emailed photograph of you diving. www.longislandaquarium.com

Baltimore’s National Aquarium. Be a guest diver in the 335,000-gallon Atlantic Coral Reef Tank. This is an authentic fabricated oval reef with some 500 plus fish, rays, and sharks. The 13ft deep dive is operated by Atlantic Edge scuba school and dive shop in Gathersburg. You must be certified and bring you own wetsuit, mask, snorkel, and fins. After the dive don’t miss the new 225,000-gallon Blacktip Reef exhibit with 793 different fish and sharks.www.aqua.org

North Carolina Aquarium at Roanoke Island. The “Dive with the Sharks” program allows you to dive with sand tigers, sandbar, nurse sharks, and a replica of the USS Monitor ship in a 285,000-gallon “Graveyard of the Atlantic” exhibit. You can have photos and a video made of you experience. They have two dive sessions each weekday and one session on Saturday and Sunday. All gear is supplied and you must be a certified diver.www.ncaquariums.com/roanoke-island

The Georgia Aquarium. Here you can dive with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world, in the largest indoor habitat that we know of. The Ocean Voyager exhibit built by Home Depot is 284ft x 126ft and 20-30ft deep and holds about 6.3 million gallons of seawater. It’s a chance to dive with up to 4 whale sharks, rays almost 9 feet wide, and 1,000 other fish. They supply all the gear, but you can bring your own mask if you want and you have to show your dive certification card. www.georgiaaquarium.org

The Epcot Dive Quest at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The Caribbean Coral Reef is 5.7 millions gallons of saltwater fun and includes over 6,000 sea creatures, which is more sea life than you might see on a natural reef. For swimming with sharks and rays you need to have a C-card, but not the for the Dolphins in Depth program. Diving here is one of those “book early, book everything, and book often, adventure sites”, but would you expect anything less from a Mickey Mouse operation? https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/events-tours/epcot/epcot-divequest/

The Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Florida. The Dive with the Sharks program operates in a 93,000-gallon tank called “Sharks Bay”. The dives are 3 times daily and you can basically kneel in the sand and watch the teeth glide by you. Were talking teeth attached to sand tigers, zebra sharks, nurse sharks, and black tip sharks. A paired Florida Aquarium divemaster makes sure you have a fun and safe dive. Bring a mask, towel, swimsuit, and C-card. www.flaquarium.org

SEA Life Minnesota Aquarium at Mall of America. SEA Life has two really cool exhibit dives. Atlantis is their Saltwater dive and you will swim in a tank of sand tigers, nurse sharks, huge bowmouth guitarfish, large sawfish, wobbegongs, white tips, zebra sharks, and more. You glide right over the tunnel of people peering inside the exhibit and it’s fun to pick shark teeth up right out of the sandy substrate and show the families walking through the tunnel what you found. The second dive in Sturgeon Lake is an unexpectedly fun dive, especially if they are feeding the turtle and fish. You’ll never experience outdoor lake diving with this degree of clarity nor this docile concentration of alligator gar, walleye, sturgeon, and bass. Bring all your dive gear including C-card, gloves, and a hood. SEA Life supplies tanks and weights. After the dives you get a souvenir T-shirt and you can keep all the shark teeth you find.

www.visitsealife.com/minnesota/experiences/

Great Lakes Aquarium, Duluth, Minnesota. The “Dive-N-Feed Experience”, may not be found on the website, but it’s still occasionally offered on special request with plenty of advance notice. Here is a chance to feed freshwater fish and dive in a two story, three chambered, Isle Royale exhibit with Steelhead, kamloops, brown, coaster brook, and lake trout. Also, Siscowet lake trout, burbot, Atlantic salmon, coho salmon, sturgeon, walleye, longnose suckers, and American eels. They have over 100 Great Lake species in all. Bring your C-card and dive gear to keep you warm in the 52ºF 45,000-gallon main tank. Caution, diving here may lead to you becoming an active volunteer diver too. http://glaquarium.org/

Downtown Aquarium, Denver, Colorado. There are several ways to dive this aquarium, but all are done in conjunction with A-1 Scuba and Travel. For certified divers you can dive with the fish in the “Under the Sea” exhibit, and Dive with the Sharks in the “Depths of the Pacific” exhibit. If your not scuba certified, dive students training with A-1 Scuba and Travel may complete open water dives 1 & 2 at the aquarium, so call A-1 for more information on any of their aquarium dive programs. www.divedowntown.com

Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nevada. Their “Dive with the Sharks” program is available for guests staying at Mandalay Bay. Now just about any marine biologist or batfish going blind from nematode infection will tell you that Shark Reef has had several unfortunate die offs in the last unlucky seven years from eels, sea turtles, schooling fish, and sharks. Fortunately, after the main circular lobby tank sprang leaks, the fish and sharks from this exhibit were transferred to the tank where the cow rays recently died off, so it all looks good to passing tourists, but concern about alleged reports about a shark left on the loading dock over a weekend and becoming injured, to not being able to dive 48 hours in the salt water after being chemically treated for parasites, and sharks with visible signs of parasitic infection, or showing signs of abnormal behavior still seem to plague Shark Reef, but hopefully a team of marine biologists can turn all this around soon, as Mandalay Bay Resort is one of the best beach resorts in Las Vegas. www.mandalaybay.com

Aquarium of the Pacific, Long Beach, California. Daily dives into the 350,000-gallon Tropical Reef Habitat ;swim with over 1000 fish, use an underwater camera, and get a souvenir towel and memory card all combine to make this a fun dive. All equipment is provided, but you can bring your own mask and booties. Must be certified and see age restrictions. www.aquariumofpacific.org

Oregon Coast Aquarium, Newport, Oregon. People come here annually to this 23-acre Pacific marine wildlife attraction. Passages of the Deep is considered the best shore dive on the Oregon coast. This was the former home of Keiko the Orca whale and the site was transformed into three ecosystems so you can dive 26ft deep at Halibut flats with skates, sturgeon, and rockfish, or sit on a 13ft ledge or dive with the big sharks like the 10ft long Broadnose Sevengill shark at the Open Sea Exhibit. Eugene Skin Divers Supply operates the underwater dives. Must be open water certified. http://aquarium.org/

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, Tacoma, Washington. Their “Eye to Eye with Sharks” program just started last year, but it’s a big hit with those that have experienced it. They actually have two dives in this 240,000-gallon tank, one is a cage dive for non-certified divers, and a scuba dive for those that are certified divers. The sandbar tiger sharks, nurse sharks, and even the wobbegongs here are some of the biggest you may ever see close up and personal. Dives are available Fridays through Mondays up to four times daily. All gear is supplied for these dives, and you will wear drysuits, so you can wear street clothes on underneath and keep them dry without need of a towel except for hair, but they’ve got that covered with a souvenir towel! No personal cameras are allowed. www.pdza.org/dive

Maui Ocean Center, The Hawaiian Aquarium. The Open Ocean exhibit has 750,000-gallons of salt water, 20 sharks, stingrays, and thousands of fish. Open to divers three days a week except holidays. They supply weight belts and tanks; you bring everything else. Why dive an aquarium in paradise? Guaranteed sightings of sharks! A constant rotation of sea creatures with those in the nearby natural native waters makes every visit here unique. Reservations required and you get to keep the shark teeth that you find in the sandy substrate. www.mauioceancenter.com

Now it’s quite possible that this list is ever changing and hopefully forever expanding. Keep in mind that available days of diving and the frequency of dives may change for any location. Most locations give you a tour of their backstage areas and a glimpse of other animals not normally seen by the general public. This includes breeding pools of fish, and species specifically raised to trade with other zoos and aquariums. A briefing on the dives and in depth information on fish, sharks, and local ecosystems may also be provided. The total tour time could take 3 to 4 hours. Sharing these dives with family members will create life long memories whether they go on the dives with you or look in from the other side of the clear acrylic wall. We hope you get a chance to take part in some or all of these unique diving opportunities.

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Posted in Dive Travel, Family Travel, Learning to Dive, Marine Life, Scuba Diving, Scuba News/Events, Scuba Training & Education, Sharks, Single Travel, Specialties, Turtles, Uncategorized, Whale Sharks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Palau, Historical World Class Diving

Palau

Historical World Class Diving

We are always on the lookout for a dive destination a little out of the ordinary, a location with incredible beauty both above and below water, and if at all possible, an area steeped in some sort of historical significance, and this all leads us to the island Nation of Palau; also pronounced “Belau”.

Palau, Micronesia is a chain of some 200 islands 535 miles east of the Philippines and forms the western edge of Micronesia. The islands are made of uplifted volcanoes and ancient limestone reefs. When the seas were lower during ice ages, the limestone rocks were drilled by fresh water and then the final sculpturing was done by salt water. This activity has left Palau with island structures and formations like no other place on Earth. Palau is awash in mushroom shaped rock islands, caves with stalactites and stalagmites, caverns, tunnels, blue holes, and wall dives. Some 1400 different species of fish have been spotted around the islands and Palau is home to 700 species of coral including 400 different hard corals.

Palau also has 80 saltwater lakes and is the home of the world famous Jellyfish lake, where sting less yellowish colored jellyfish follow millions of years of tradition and rise from the depths and swim across the lake twice each day in order for the algae that they feed on and that at the same time also live within their bodies can absorb the sun’s rays and grow.

An interesting creature that ascends nightly around Palau and descends back down to a maximum depth of 2600ft without imploding before dawn is the shelled cephalopod Nautilus that has changed relatively little in the past 500 million years.

Palau is also home to the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009 to help support the 130 known species of sharks around the islands. A rare species of dugongs make their home in Palau as well as saltwater crocodiles in the marsh regions. Many dive sites have specific fish seen at these locations, and many more fish, dolphins, porpoises, and whales cruise by these sites on their way towards their migratory destinations between the Philippine Sea and Pacific Ocean, but before we get into the specific dive sites, there is one more factor that has made Palau one of the top places in the world to dive.

It’s hard to believe that a group of islands with a current population less than Ashland, Oregon and a GDP less than the amount in revenue that the City of Boston loses during a snow day, would be the location of not one, but two major Pacific military operations during World War II. During Operation Desecrate One, March 30-31st, 1944, US warplanes from a fleet of eleven aircraft carriers destroyed or damaged 36 Empire of Japan ships. The 502ft long oil tanker Amatsu Maru is the largest wreck in Micronesia. Some of the ships sunk have not been identified, and so Palau has dive sites called Buoy 6, which is the resting site of a 100ft long submarine chaser. Helmet Wreck is the site of a 189ft long cargo steamer where you will see Japanese war helmets, gas masks, ceramic sake bottles, carbine riffles, machine guns, and stacks of ammunition. Local guides will warn you, “Do Not Pick Up Any Ammunition”. If you have read any article on Palau in the last 20 Years or more, you have probably already seen pictures of the ever-popular 272ft long army cargo ship the Chuyo Maru. Also wrecks of note are Jake’s Sea Plane: an Aichi E13A1-1 Navy Float plane at 45ft deep, and the almost intact Zeke Fighter zero at just a few feet of depth and great for snorklers at high tide. There are at least another 13 unlucky Japanese shipwrecks to peruse from this operation.

The second operation started September 15, 1944, was the Battle of Peleliu and this barely reported battle was bloodiest battle in the Pacific and was poorly named Operation Stalemate II. The Japanese had an airfield here that could accommodate up 300 planes and General MacArthur wanted to take the island to cover his right flank before he retook the Philippines. General Rupertus said that taking Peleliu would take three days, but the Japanese had changed their tactics and instead of fighting on the beach and forming banzai charge attacks, Colonel Kunio Nakagawa was to fortify the hills and dig an extensive tunnel system and lead the Americans into a war of attrition. This would be the first of many battles using flamethrower tanks in conjunction with napalm bombs. By the third day of fighting, the airfields were captured with heavy casualties on both sides, but by October 20th when MacAuther entered Leyte, Phillipines, the Peleliu battle had lost it’s strategic significance yet even with casualties running over 60%, the battle of attrition continued until November 27th, 1944. The 79-day battle left 2,000 men killed and 6,000 wounded on the U.S. side and 10,900 men killed and 200 captured or wounded on the Japanese side. This battle, like the next two battles at Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, raised great concern for the probable high degree of attrition casualties on both sides during the eventual battles to come on the Japanese mainland and was one of the deciding factors in using atomic bombs on Japan. On Aug 6th and Aug 9th, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan and six days later Emperor Hirohito declared unconditional surrender.

Today, on Peleliu you can take a full day history tour of the Japanese headquarters, the thousand man cave, and view World War II artifacts from both sides, or you can do two dives and a half day tour of the historical sites. The 314ft long destroyer U.S.S. Perry was sunk by a mine off Anguar and was found on May 1st, 2000 at 238-257ft deep; the wreck has only been seen by a few and is one of many technical dives around the islands and caves.

In addition to all this, Palau is known for its nighttime pelagic offshore blackwater dives where you may see unique creatures glowing in the dark. Inshore night dives are done at full moon and new moon each month to witness the spawning of various fish and corals. In fact, you can plan the season you come to dive according to what you would like to see, so for watching mantas breeding, come from December to March, Coral reefs spawn four times a year. Turtles mate and lay eggs from April to July, groupers and snappers spawn in June and July, and giant cuttlefish lag eggs from May to August, just to name a few. There are many nurseries around the islands for fish and sharks including grey reef sharks. One popular style of diving in Palau is Reef Hook diving. With a hook attached to a rock you can hold onto a line and remain in one spot above the corals in upstream currents to watch a never-ending procession of fish, sharks, and mantas that may pass by you.

Palau has several resorts, hotels, and liveaboard vessels to choose from. You may even join the Royal Belau Yacht Club and sail around yourself. Getting here is easy via Guam and United Airlines or on foreign airlines from Japan or the Philippines. The main question to ask yourself about diving a one of a kind bucket list dive destinations like Palau is: why haven’t you already dropped your dive gear in the rinse bucket and booked your trip?

 

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Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Travel, Manta Rays, Marine Life, Micronesia, Palau, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Sharks, Specialties, The Bucket List, Underwater Photography, Whale Sharks, Whales, Wrecks | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment