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 two Murex Dive Resorts, and Lembeh Resort & Critters@Lembeh. 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.

  

Murex Resort Manado, thirty minutes south of Manado, is actually one of two sister resorts. They opened the pioneer resort for divers in 1987. The former private estate in Kalasey has koi ponds and lush tropical gardens and three rivers run through the property. The house pool is 12ft (4m) deep for dive training. The sister resort, Murex Resort Bangka, is situated on the white sand island of Bangka Island. Murex Bangka has a more secluded Robinson Crusoe atmosphere with air conditioning from 5pm to 7am.

   

Besides the dives at Bunaken Park, the Manado Murex Resort house reef has newly marked dive trails and at night is a great place to watch Spanish dancer nudibranchs swim in the water. They also do boat dives at 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.

  

 The Murex Bangka house reef can be a shore dive if the guides say the current is not too swift or it can be a boat dive. 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.

  

The Passport to Paradise 12 night program lets you stay at 4 nights at Murex Manado, then a boat transfer with one or two dives on your way to 3 nights at Murex Bangka, and after your stay there, another boat transfer with one or two dives on your way to Lembeh Resort where you will stay 5 nights with additional nights available. When you depart it is a 10 minute boat ride and a 90 minute van ride back to Sam Ratulangi International Airport in Manado.

  

Lembeh Resort on Lembeh Island is the perfect spot for diving Lembeh Strait. The resort is home to Critters@Lembeh dive center, and Cameras@Lembeh Resort; this is definitely a professional diver’s as well as a non-professional diver’s resort, but they also have a spa and pool for non-diving intervals. There are over 60 dive sites in the 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.

  

For the best place to find mandarin fish, you have to look no further than the Lembeh Resort house reef. 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 horse back riding, 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     

                         

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 Lembeh Resort and Critters@Lembeh with 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 Murex Resort Manado. From the resort you can look straight out at the Bunaken National Park 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.

  

Situated a short boat ride east of the Bunaken National Park on the island of Bangka is the Murex Resort Bangka with a white sand beachfront and coral reefs. From the Resort, you can dive a dozen sites around the island, dive the nearby walls, or explore the nearby pinnacles.

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.

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

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.

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?

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

We Dove or Did We Dive That Dive Site?

We dove or did we dive that dive site?

  

Recently, at a well known dive destination, we overheard two scuba divers talking about a dive site where one of the divers dove the other day. The other diver happened to be an English major and insisted that dove was not the past tense of dive. The first diver disagreed saying that dive and dove were like drive and drove and divers have routinely used the word dove for more than the last 50 years. The English major countered that dove refers to a type of bird use in a Prince song as well as a chocolate covered ice cream bar and a brand of soap.

  

You could not say we dove the Titanic, but that we were diving or went diving on the Titanic. In an old fashioned way, the English major had a point, but English is a dynamic ever changing language that continuously allows us to form new nouns, verbs, and change words as we deem them needed. Eventually, certain words are used in certain ways so frequently that they become officially accepted by leading contemporary English Dictionaries. Television shows, Movies, Internet, and Pod casts seem to only increase the accumulated speed of new words, verbiage, and jargon.

  

Take a TV show like “Finding Bigfoot,” although the one thing you will never see on this show is an actual bigfoot, you will pick up a whole array of words never before known to those outside the bigfoot community. The cast of the show routinely makes comments that have reference to Sasquatch; the Northwest First Nations word for Bigfoot. In the show, they hunt for squatch or go squatchin in the squatchiest places they can find and the squatchiestness of a site determines how close to finding a bigfoot they ultimately almost get.

  

In the popular show “Call of the Wildman,” Instead of saying rat raisins, porcupine scat, raccoon excrement, or animal feces, Turtleman calls everything “Pootie poot or poodie poo.” You might even hear someone on the set yelling, “something was pootie pooing in here”, and by now there is no one in Kentucky or anyone who watches the Animal Channel on a regular basis who doesn’t know the meaning of Pootie poot. By the way, for as far as we know, this word has no affiliation with the “Pootie-poot” nickname former President George W. Bush gave Mr. Vladamir Putin of Russia.

  

Now some words have fought hard not to become generic words that we take for granted. Take the word “xerox” for example.  In the seventies everyone was making, taking, viewing a xerox of some other piece of paper. Xerox was a noun, a verb, and a corporation, but now that anyone can make a copy by using almost any copier/printer, we have a whole generation of kids that may not even know what a Xerox copy machine looked like or how enormous it even was.

  

On the other hand some words seem to have lost the battle no matter how hard they tried to keep pure a trademark brand. The Kleenex Corporation put tons of money into the words “Facial tissue”, but despite their best efforts, people still find it more convenient to say, “Hey, pass me a Kleenex,” and blow their nose without any regard as to what specific brand of facial tissue that they have truly just desecrated.

  

Now we could continue on with other innovative and new words, or you could Google a few more of your own: Oh, we mean search for words online using a well-known yet definitive free web browser service. We googled “dove” and found plenty of references towards scuba diving, but I guess the people employed at certain definitive dictionary companies are not into scuba diving, sasquatch, or pootie poot, as much as other niche groups of people are, so it could take another 50 years for the word “dove” to become officially sanctioned as a proper word.

  

Then again, some words will never be officially acceptable such as the word “ain’t”. This word is used by hundred of millions of people yearly, found in countless books, and occasionally slips from the lips of past presidents, senators, and congressmen alike, but it is loathed more than the nine words that you can’t say on public, non paid, free access TV or radio. Ain’t is just one of a few select words that could potentially break the backbone of the English language and ruin the livelihood of countless English teachers: just the mention of this word can cause acid reflex in some social groups. We hope that the duel or triple meaning word “dove” is not as loathsome to those in power as the word “ain’t”, but ultimately that’s not our call. 

      

Even here, our work is not done, as scuba instructors routinely tell students, “Inflate your BC!” and seldom do you hear anyone say,” Inflate your buoyancy compensator!”, or shout out even the more less used and outdated phrase, “Inflate your buoyancy compensating device.” By the time you spit out all these old antiquated words, everyone has surfaced and they are heading for shore or they have already stepped aboard the boat.

So tell us where you last dove, and do you plan to dive there again?

 

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Nuclear Missile Silo Diving

Nuclear Missile Silo Diving

  

 Are you looking for a dive that’s almost one of a kind, a dive site that relatively few divers have ever had the opportunity to explore and/or a dive site with such historical significance that it almost changed the fate of the world? Well, we have not one, but two dive sites just for you. It turns out that during the 1960’s the United States government was busy digging holes in the ground, lining them with cement, steel rebar, and epoxy resin and covering them with heavy steal blast doors at $15 million a shot. Inside each silo stood a vertical missile. In case of emergency, the previously RP-1 (Kerosene) fueled missile was last minute fueled with highly corrosive cryogenically stored liquid oxygen, then elevated to the surface where it would blast off and head towards The Soviet Union. In the meantime the Soviets would be hypothetically sending their missiles towards us.

Mutually assured destruction (M.A.D.) seemed to work well in the 1960’s and it was all the rage in the early nuclear age. To make sure we had the best ICBM system for wiping out the other half of the planet we invented the Atlas F series missile system complex and as a back up measure we introduced the Titan I missile complex system just incase the first system was too complex and didn’t work as devastatingly as expected. Fortunately, to get our money’s worth, we were able to use these two types of nuclear warhead missiles for a whole two years before they became obsolete. Working with liquid oxygen was dangerous and there was more than one fatal mishap, but what really made the silo programs obsolete was that it could take 10 minutes or more to get the rockets fueled, elevated to the surface, and launched. The new minuteman missiles just like minute rice could be ready and launched in just about one minute, and they were mobile too. Add Polaris missiles to submarines, and you now had a system that could blow up the Soviet Union at anytime from anywhere land or sea in less time than it takes to boil a cup of radioactive free water in Denver.

The underground complexes were salvaged for almost all the like new parts and metal materials and then the surrounding land and hardened concrete silos were sold off in some cases for what appears to be pure copper pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, in a couple of cases when they turned off the electricity and started the salvage process, the pumps were also turned off and water started to seep inside the silos.

  

            This is where Mark and Linda Hannifin of Family Scuba Center in Midland Texas come into the picture. They bought 11 acres of land twenty miles southwest of Abilene, Texas that contained an Atlas F missile silo that was formerly part of the 578th Strategic Missile Squadron at Dyess AFB.  The man made ballistic pool is an easy 60ft diameter cylinder and 130ft deep, but that’s where the word easy leaves the scene.

To dive here at “Dive Valhalla”, you have to take your gear and go down several flights of stairs, turn right, turn left, make another right and walk down a corridor to the former control center and living area, which is now the gearing up room. Once geared up, it’s time to head down a corridor and step down 33ft on a stairway that leads to a floating platform complete with a T-38 “pool” ladder. Instructors here teach deep diving, altitude diving (2,420ft above sea level). Night diving, rescue diver skills, and technical diving skills. The water is 60° F warm and clear and there is a small inertial guidance shack at around 60ft of depth, plus some debris at the bottom of the silo. Reservations for dive clubs and dive shop groups with instructors to train and dive here are required; visit www.familyscuba.com for information.

  

            Up in the Pacific Northwest in Royal City, Washington exists a Titan I missile silo that also flooded once the shiny missile was removed and the power went off. The site is currently leased by UnderSea Adventures in Kennewick, WA. Way more fixtures are still visible at this dive site including multiple High Voltage boxes and signs, lighting systems and a complete eye rinsing and shower station. The dives at this site are for Advanced divers and beyond.

Access to this site is down an emergency hatch into a staging room. You can climb down with gear on or use a bucket and rope to lower your gear down. Once underground you can set up your gear on benches in “the ready room” and when ready head down a corridor that is waist deep full of water that is 38º F, but that’s what one might expect from Cold War spring fed water seepage. Wearing a drysuit is the only way to go down here. The metal plates from the flooring have been removed/salvaged in the corrugated tunnels, so you have to walk precariously on pipes to make your way towards the launch silos. There is a spot with flooring where you can put on your fins and other last minute gear before you enter into Silo #3 which is 44ft diameter, 160 ft tall; 110ft of which is filled with water. The water is clear, but you’ll need lights to see every sign, pipe, bolt, brace, beam, and at least one salamander that is reported to haunt these waters. On one dive it is possible to see Silo #3, an equipment room, and Silo #2. For technical divers, there are completely submerged passages leading to rooms filled with electrical equipment and more interesting artifacts. For advanced and technical divers, to obtain information on this Titan I nuclear missile complex visit www.underseaadventures.net

  

            The USA built some 72 Atlas silos and 54 Titan I missile silos. After they were made obsolete as ICBM’s, Atlas rockets were used to launch satellites and Titan rockets were used to launch Gemini projects and other heavier payloads for quite some time. Diving into some of the most expensive holes ever built may not be for every Adanced diver, and for those that would like to stay dry and see an intact, but inert Titan missile in a silo, we recommend visiting Sahuarita, Arizona. This Titan II museum has blast deflection channels built right inside the silo, so when it was operational, it didn’t need to rise to the surface before lift off.

  

As you can clearly see, deep down that is, diving a former nuclear missile silo may not be for everyone, but with the right training, and a little historical background, you might just find that diving where nuclear missiles were stored, but never fired in the past, is now a down right blast.

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Abaco, The Treasure Of The Bahamas Out Islands

Abaco, The Treasure Of The Bahamas Out Islands

If you are into numbers, there are 16 main islands in the Bahamas and another 684 cays (pronounced keys) that push out above the ocean some 50- 400 miles off the Florida coastline and appear as a dotted string just above Cuba. Thousands of boats and sailing vessels traverse these islands yearly and it’s easy to loose your bearings: An Italian guide brought a Spanish tour group here in 1492 and proclaimed that these islands were the East Indies. Perhaps geography and navigation weren’t Christopher Columbus’s strongest assets, but as an explorer you have to admit that no matter how misguided, he was determined. This tenacious sea going attitude might explain why some 500 Spanish galleons sank after hitting reefs off the Bahamas Islands. Hundreds of more modern wrecks also litter the reefs. One traditional way to seek shelter from rough seas has been to anchor in the Sea of Abaco, which is separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a series of cays and fringing reefs and is part of the third largest reef in the world. The Abacos or Out Islands consist of some 13 islands and cays and the entire island chain contains untold generations of vast coral growth.

When the ice age seas were 400ft lower than today, rain entered the porous coral outcroppings, eroded away the limestone, and left articulate patterns and astounding designs and shapes of stalactites and stalagmites in hollowed out chambers. When the seas rose to their present height, some of the cave roofs collapsed and created blue holes. The 120-mile long chain of islands has more blue holes than anywhere else in the world. Some of them are inland, also called island bush diving, and have fresh water and/ or shrimp and blind cave fish, and other blue holes near shore or just offshore are filled with saltwater invertebrates and/or large schools of fish. Tech divers visit the Abacos Islands to dive The Abaco Blue Hole, Dan’s Cave, Ralph’s Cave, Reel Breaker, Big Blue, Starfish Blue Hole, and the Guardian Blue Hole to name a few. Ocean going recreational divers are blessed with swim troughs, enchanted and strangely illuminated caverns, and shallow holes just about everywhere you dive. Some of these hot spots include: Coral Caverns, The Catacombs, The Craters, and The Towers.

If you are into nature dives, the Abacos Islands has six national parks. Diving with the abundant sea life at the Fowl Cay Government Preserve 30-98ft deep and north of Man-O-War Cay is a must. Also do the Tarpon Dive, Coral Condos, Valley of the Sponges, Grouper Alley, Sea Gypsy Reef, and Coral Gardens. Abaco is also known for its turtle population and at the northern most island Walker’s Cay you may see up to 150 sharks on a dive and at Sandy Cay, one of four islands in the Pelican Cay National Land and Sea Park where you can expect to find the largest stand of Elkhorn coral in the world. This Sandy Cay is not to be confused with Sandy Cay south of Bimini, Sandy Cay east of Long Island, or the Sandy Cay northeast of Nassau which was the island pictured in season one of the TV show Gilligan’s Island. Yeah, Christopher Columbus wasn’t the only one who had a tough time naming the islands in the Bahamas.

Most of the wooden wrecks from decades ago have long since been eaten away or pummeled by waves and surf, but the metal parts such as iron canons, and pieces of silver and gold are still occasionally found in the sand. The 207ft long U.S.S. Adirondack, a Union wooden screw sloop struck a reef here in 1862 a mere six months after she was launched and now two 12ft long cannons and 12 smaller canons can be seen in 10 to 30ft of water. The 234ft long S.S. San Jacinto built in 1847 was a one of the earliest American steam vessels and on blockade duty for the U.S. Navy when she ran a ground in 1865. Her remnants can be found in 40ft of water. The Train Wreck is another popular dive site where pieces of two Confederate captured and sold Union trains were being shipped to Cuba, but now they rest as scattered pieces in 10-20ft of depth.

For more information on these mentioned dives as well as the H.M.S. Mermaid, and the Violet Mitchel freighter, we recommend stopping by Brendal’s Dive Center located adjacent to the Green Turtle Club . Brendal has close to 30 years of local diving and teaching experience, having certified or taught specialty courses to over 5000 students. So even if you brought your own boat, tanks, and weights, we still say, diving with Brendal is the easiest way and most rewarding way to see the local dive sites and cays.

The Green Turtle Club Resort & Marina which was established in 1964 has been a haven for boaters, vacationers and scuba divers ever since. The marina was recently dredge even deeper and currently contains 40 slips. The resort has several types of accommodations from deluxe rooms to 3 bedroom cottages that are completely up to date, offer many amenities, ocean-views and are minutes from several spectacular white sand beaches. For dinner you may have a tough time deciding on which delicious main course item to choose. We like the seafood choices or the fresh catch of the day. Many boaters like to stay here as part of their Bahamian sea going journey. Many tourists come here for weddings,

honeymoons, and family reunions in addition to those who wish to vacation actively or passively . Did we mention that the resort is also popular with former Presidents, music & movie stars, and more importantly, scuba divers?

Green Turtle Cay, the Abacos Islands, and especially the town of New Plymouth first became popular when old English Loyalists had the revolutionary inspiration to flee New York in the late 1770’s. Today you can still see their architectural designs everywhere on the islands.

Green Turtle Cay is only 3 miles long, and nearby beaches include: White Sound Beach, Ocean Beach, Coco Bay Beach, Bita Bay Beach, and Gillam Bay Beach. To see them all and to take along lunch and snorkeling gear you really need to rent a golf cart. Yeah, that’s about as fast and furious as it gets on this island in the daytime, at night the island pace slows down even more. Green Turtle Cay is a great place to relax, lay on a white sand beach, scuba dive, rent a boat, play some golf, view Abaco Parrots, try local foods, savor Tipsy Turtle rum drinks, watch sunsets, and get ready to do any or all of it again the next day.

So why haven’t you ever heard of Abaco Island, or the Out Islands before? Perhaps it’s because it takes an incredulous long 55 minute long flight from Florida, an unbelievable 5 minute taxi ride to a ferry, and an epic 15 minute ride on a ferry filled just to get here. Who’s going to believe that a place with such world-class tech and recreational diving is such a short hop away from the USA?

They may have run the pirates out of the Bahamas in 1718, but because of the local accommodations, beaches, blue holes, wrecks, and spectacular dive sites, scuba divers are here to stay. No doubt, word of mouth be a powerful reminder of what you can expect to discover for yourself when you visit Abaco in the Out Islands.

For more information on exclusive dive travel offers, competitive airfare, and how you can visit Brendal’s Dive Center and Green Turtle Club Resort and Marina, Click Here

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Divers Involvement And Bonaire’s Coral Restoration Foundation

Divers Involvement, & Bonaire’s Coral Restoration Foundation

You probably have heard or read where certain coral cover around the world has declined by some 85%. There are several factors that have led to many corals becoming endangered species around the world and some of the reasons include: global warming, ocean acidification, agriculture runoff, hurricane damage, disease, human activity, coral bleaching, and macro algae competition. The long-spine Sea Urchin (Diadema antillarum) naturally grazes on the algae and reduces the amount of algae trying to cover and smother the coral, but with sea urchin populations growing low, algae is currently winning control over substrate space. Hurricanes on the other hand, can devastate an entire coral reef section within a few hours, just like fire can ravage a forest. Reforestation by planting small trees in burned out areas is a long standing tradition in the Northwest of America and reforestation techniques with corals that were tried and proven in Southeast Florida are now literally branching out with great success in Bonaire.

Keep in mind, that Bonaire has always had one of the healthiest coral reef systems in the world, especially with the deeper coral populations, but the people of Bonaire have been leaders in sustainable tourism and eco-tourism for quite some time as they have demonstrated by forming the first marine preserve areas in the Caribbean beginning with turtle protection in 1961, prohibition of spear fishing in 1971, protection of coral, dead or alive, in 1975, and with the help of Captain Don Stewart, Carel Steensma, and the Netherlands Antilles National Parks Foundation formed the Bonaire Marine park in 1979. It’s no wonder that when you ask a diver who has been to Bonaire, they can’t help but talk about the overall size of each fish and the vast numbers of turtles, fish, invertebrates and coral formations that they encountered on their trip or on a single dive. Watch their eyes light up with excitement as they relive their Bonaire diving experience.

Now divers are doing more than just protecting the coral. Like the reforestation of trees, they are planting and restoring small growths of coral at selected sites. Within two years, these new coral growths are spawning and adding new life and overall growth to the island’s reefs. It all started in 2009 when Augusto Montbrun contacted Ken Nydimyer of The Coral Restoration Foundation, (CRF) in Florida. For over 10 years CRF has been restoring reefs in Florida. They take 5cm/ 2inch starter samples from different genetic strains of staghorn (Acropora cervicornis) and elkhorn (Acropora palmate) and grow them in a coral nursery area suspended by a string on a Line Nursery or Coral Tree Nursery until

they reach 20cm/8inches, which can take nine months in Florida, or less time in areas such as in the pristine waters off Bonaire. CRF staff and designated divers then snip/prune off two thirds of the growing branch and then transplant this new growth piece of coral to its new marine substrate, home for life site, by way of underwater adhesive. Meanwhile the starter piece continues to grow more segments on the initial starter branch. The sites are monitored for growth and maintenance for at least two years. This way CRF members know which genotypes work best for which areas, check for disease, predation, and re-adhere broken branch pieces with underwater adhesive so that even broken off small pieces have a chance to re-attach and survive. These new growth corals have almost 100% chance of survival with the help and care of CRF.

Do you feel like you would like to be a part of this coral reforestation project too? Many divers are taking part in a volunteer tourism program that is also part of a distinctive specialty course offered through dive instructors and selected resorts. Through specialty courses like the PADI Coral Restoration Diver Distinctive Specialty, offered over 1.5-2 days, and with three dives total, divers will learn on dive number one how to do maintenance at nursery/restoration sites, conduct surveys, clean coral, and remove algae and coral predators. On dive two you learn how to prune/cut, tie and tag coral growth on nursery trees. On dive three you can learn how to transplant mature corals on to the reef. Some even offer a Coral Restoration Day dive where you will assist CRF guides at nurseries and restoration sites doing the particular tasks that need to be done that specific day, but typically you will use those skills that you learned through the previous three specialty course dives. The only problem we can see with this CRF program is the uncontrollable urge to literally watch your efforts grow into a full reef over time and years. This could become just another great reason to visit and dive Bonaire’s nursery reefs time and time again.

By 2013 over 1200 coral had been produced in Bonaire. Collectively, including Florida, CRF planted 5,000 staghorn and 4,100 elkhorn 2nd generation corals in 2013. They are also working with other governments such as with the Rosary Islands or the Parque Natural Corales del Rosario and San Vernardo in Venezuela where Acroporid corals are critically endangered. CRF received a NOAA grant in 2013 worth $700,000 over a three-year period. They also raised $120,000 at last years Coral Restoration Foundation Second Annual Gala in Key Largo. You can even help without getting wet by adopting a coral for $50, Plant a coral for $100, Adopt a Coral Tree Nursery for $500, or Plant a Coral Thicket for $1000. A single coral costs about $100 to maintain throughout the entire restoration process, and with 40,000 pieces growing in nurseries, you can imagine how your donation, as well as those of others, can impact reefs around the world. With strong reefs, we not only provide beauty to a barren substrate, but a habitat for small fish, a visiting site and a food source for larger ocean going fish passing by, and a destination full of diverse coral life for future snorkelers and scuba divers to view alike. For more information visit: www.coralrestoration.org. On Facebook visit: Coral Restoration Foundation or Coral Restoration Foundation Bonaire.

 

 

 

Posted in Bonaire Diving, Dive Travel, Marine Life, Scuba Diving, Scuba News/Events, Scuba Training & Education, Specialties, Turtles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Diving With Whale Sharks

Diving With Whale Sharks

Whale Sharks, Rhyncodon typus, are the largest cartilaginous fish in the world today. The largest ever recorded was just over 41ft long, but rumors by fishermen say that they may grow over 46ft in length which makes whale sharks the

second largest cartilaginous fish ever to exist and places them only second in length next to the Megalodon shark that existed some 20 million years ago and as recently as 1.6 million years ago. Only true mammalian whales are greater in length than whale sharks, with the blue whale being the largest creature by mass to ever exist on this planet. Like some species of whales, the whale shark has been able to achieve it’s great size by eating the smallest food source; plankton. They also eat krill, small fish, jellyfish, and squid. Whale sharks are one of only three types of sharks that through convergent evolution some 60 to 30 years ago became plankton feeders. The other two plankton feeders are both lamnoid sharks and include the megamouth shark and the basking shark. These two sharks have more in common with great whites than they do with whale sharks.

Whale sharks belong to the order Orectolobiformes and are related closer to carpet sharks such as wobbegongs and nurse sharks. Whale sharks have a distinct checkerboard pattern of lines and dots on their top/dorsal side that would be useful for a shark that tended to lay hidden in plain sight on the substrate, but whale sharks are constant movers, so why exactly they retain their bottom dweller camouflage pattern after millions of years is not quite clear. Perhaps the pattern helps diffuse radiation on their skin as they glide so close to the surface. Perhaps it helps distinguish others of their kind from predator sharks such as the now extinct Megalodon sharks and current Great White sharks.

Besides their length and disruptive color patterns, there are several other features that make whale sharks unique. To start with, they swim by not only moving their tail from side to side, but by moving two thirds of their body length from side to side. Only the head region remains relatively stationary as they thrust forward in the water forcing huge volumes of water to flow into their forward facing over one meter (3.3 feet) wide mouth. The seawater is expelled out though their five pairs of gills similar to how giant mantas feed, but on a scale as great as 6,000 liters of water per hour. Any plankton in the water over 1millimeter in size becomes trapped by thousands of 10cm long bristles that make up the gill-rakers and is eventually swallowed and passed down a relatively small digestive tract.

Only modern hammerheads sharks move their entire bodies from side to side as they hunt using the electrical receptors in their head to locate buried fish in the sand like a metal detector passing back and forth for greater coverage. Unlike other plankton feeders, whale sharks can also thrust their jaw forward and suck up plankton or small fish. Inside their mouth are some 300 rows containing over 3000 small slightly hooked Velcro like teeth. These small teeth may be used as a rough raspy surface to make it more difficult for small slippery jellyfish and slick squids to escape their ultimate fate, but little other purpose for these tiny teeth has yet to be documented. We do know that Mother Nature does not like to waste energy, and therefore a species will lose what it doesn’t use. For instance, after a brief 10,000 years living in perpetually dark caves, fish will lose their eyesight and become blind. Over millions of years ancestors of whales that returned to the sea, lost their back legs in addition to other bodily changes. Zygorhiza, a primitive 6m/24ft whale had hand sized back legs, while modern whales show no outward sign of ever having back legs except for possible small internal vestigial remnants of back leg bones.

As for their life span, we believe that they may mature after 30 years and live for over 100 years. One female can carry some 300 encased embryos. Offspring are born live: ovoviviparous. The smallest whale shark ever found was less than .5m/15inches in length. Juveniles have been found in the stomachs of blue sharks and blue marlin to name a few. In Taiwan they are called the tofu shark because of their taste and texture. They are currently determined to be vulnerable as a species, but as more divers and snorklers alike get the opportunity to swim with these gentle giants more may be done to assure their ultimate survival.

Now once you know how whale sharks live and what they feed on it is easier to find them in the wild. They live in tropical and warm-temperate waters around the world including the Gulf of Mexico, the Yucatan, Belize, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Israel, Jordan, Africa, Yap, and anywhere else near the equator or where the water temp is between 70-86 degrees Fahrenheit (21-30ºC). They will also migrate in many other destinations at certain times of the year such as the Galapagos Islands, Andaman Sea, Honduras, Myanmar, Thailand, Sumatra and Indian Ocean. Much of their habitat overlays the habitat of mantas and other plankton feeders. However, whale sharks are not only found on the surface near bays, reefs, or inside lagoons, but they are known to dive down to 1,286m/4,219ft.

Guides off Isla Mujeres, Mexico to Ningaloo Reef, Australia look for signs of sea birds flocking over the water or tuna jumping in the water. Chances are, the birds and tuna are there to get the fish that have been attracted to the high concentrations of plankton. It won’t take long for one or more whale sharks to join in on the planktonic festivities. Some whale sharks such as a few off of Yap Island, Utila Honduras, and Indonesia like to reside there year round, while others migrate great distances to their preferred feeding destinations. Three days before or after a full moon when corals and reef fish spawn, whale sharks will congregate near these designated areas. In 2011 some 400 whale sharks congregated off the Yucatan coast of Mexico to feast on the aggregate release of cubera, mutton, and dog snapper larvae.

Now you might encounter a whale shark while diving off of Tampa, Florida, an oil rig in the gulf, or off of Costa Rica, but the most popular sites don’t even let you scuba dive with these fish. At certain locations masks and snorkels are permitted only, no flash photography, and keep a distance of 3.3m/10ft away from the fish. Belize is one of the few exceptions, as you may have to scuba dive down to 33m/100ft to view the whale sharks here. The point is that they want the tourists to enjoy the viewing without scaring or harassing the fish. Even a hand on a fin will remove a thin layer of gel that keeps bacteria away from the whale shark’s body, and locals will do anything to protect the tourist equivalent of an aquatic cash cow; if you will.

So when is the best time to see these massive creatures? The locations and time periods vary but here are a few. In Mozambique the best time is November to February, in the Yucatan mid-July to August, at Ningaloo Reef mid March to mid-August, for Belize April to May, Galapagos Islands June to November and in the Philippines December to May with the most whale sharks congregating February to April, but the waters are the calmest April to November. Yeah, sounds a little complicated, and in addition to all this, as famous formidable fish, whale sharks ultimately migrate when they wish.

Posted in Australia, Belize, Cozumel, Galapagos Islands, Honduras, Indonesia, Isla Mujeres, Marine Life, Philippines, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Sharks, Thailand, Underwater Photography, Whale Sharks, Yap | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mantas of Yap

The Mantas of Yap

If you are lucky, you may have seen a manta or two while diving, but in the waters off the island of Yap, it’s not uncommon to see a dozen or so 12-18ft wide mantas slowly going past you or hovering just above the nearby coral as wrasse and other small fish dart back and forth while cleaning parasites off the mantas. There are over 100 resident mantas in the waters of Yap, and nightly they go out into the deep waters to feed on plankton, and each morning they return to designated coral cleaning stations to remove microscopic parasitic hitch hikers. From December to April the mantas display courtship rituals, breach out of the water, somersault and form underwater multiple member conga lines. The word “manta” derives from the Spanish word for blanket, and when a manta gently moves though the waters a few feet above you, the cover is large, wide, and alive. This is just one of the scenarios that plays out daily when you dive Mi’l Channel (Manta Ray Bay or Manta Ridge) or at Goofnuw Channel (Valley of the Rays).

Now, to find Yap on a map, place the tip of your index finger on Hawaii, next place the tip of your middle finger on Guam. Now lift your index finger off Hawaii and rotate it southeast of Guam by about 500 miles and you just found Yap. In reality it is just “plane” easier to take United Airlines on this island hopping adventure.

Although the Indonesians on Yap proper and the Polynesians on the outer islands have been living on Yap for some 3,000 years, it took a European explorer from Portugal in 1525 to discover the Islands. The local Islanders called themselves Wa’ab and with great cultural sensitivity possessed only by Europeans in those days the Islands were promptly called Yap and the people Yapese. Yap by the way means, “canoe paddle” in Wa’ab.

To make history short, in 1886 Pope Leo XII gave Yap to Spain and three years later Spain sold Yap to Germany who had to give guardianship to the Japanese in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The Japanese built a lighthouse and later used Yap as a stationary aircraft carrier until the Americans in WWII bombed them heavily. Wrecks of Japanese Zero Fighters, Suisei dive-bombers, Gekko night fighters, Ginga bombers, L2D2 transport planes, American B-24’s, Hellcats, Helldivers, Corsairs, and Avengers can still be seen on shore as well as underwater.

Yap is nine degrees north of the equator and part of the Federated States of Micronesia, which also includes Truk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. Yap is comprised of four volcanic islands, Yap Proper, Maap, Tomil-Gagil, and Rumung, which volcanically lifted up

from the Philippine Sea Plate. Yap also consists of some 130 other atolls and islets that extend some 600 miles. The State of Yap covers 118.9 sq miles total, with a landmass of 38.7 sq miles. One of the volcanic atolls Ulithi, for seven months during WWII was secretly home to the world’s fourth largest Naval base. The 553ft long USS Mississinewa was sunk here at a depth of 120ft by a Japanese Kaiten, manned suicide, torpedo. Ulithi is also the home of a hawksbill turtle sanctuary.

Yapese are proud of their old cultural ways which include using several sizes of stone money. Some of the stone circular coins are 12ft in diameter and take some 20 men to lift. When they set these stones in groups it is called a bank. They may trade the stones during ceremonies, or during transfer of land, but although the ownership of the stones may change, the location of these giant monetary units tends to be set in stone. Yapese typically went to Pulau’s Rock Island where they quarried and shaped the large stones, then they brought them 280 miles back to Yap using nothing more than canoes made out of mahogany or breadfruit trees and with sails made out of plaited leaves. For navigation they used their masterful knowledge of a group of 32 stars passed down from generation to generation.

Yapese still have a caste system and each village has a tribal hut just for men where skills such as fishing and sailing techniques are learned from elders. On the outer islands men wear loin clothes called “thus” and topless women wear skirts called “lavalavas”. During Yap day, March 1st and 2nd, even local women on Yap Proper, must go topless. On the other hand, showing legs and thighs of women is considered indecent. Yap Day is also a time to see story dances, try local foods, see races up betel nut trees, hear local music, show off coconut husking skills and arts, and to view exquisite craft skills. On non-diving days cultural trips are a great way to meet the locals and see some of these activities.

Back to scuba diving, Bill Acker first came to Yap in 1976 as a Peace Corps volunteer and within a few years began Yap Divers. He and his family now own and operate Manta Ray Bay Resort. Each of the rooms comes complete with modern conveniences and beautifully decorated marine themes from nudibranchs, sharks, fish, squids, or stingrays. Rooms with Ocean views, private plunge pools, stone showers, or a private rooftop jacuzzi are very popular. Guests can swim in the main pool with mantas painted on the bottom. You can eat, dine, drink, or even watch open-air movies on a permanently moored 110-year-old 170ft long Phinisi schooner from Indonesia called the MV Mnuw. At the Nautical Weaver Bar on the bridge deck or at the Crow’s Nest Bar you can delight in the fresh taste of Hammerhead Amber or Manta Gold microbrews made right at the resort under the name: Stone Money Brewing Company. On the main deck is the Manta Ray Bistro known as the island’s finest restaurant. Manta Ray Bay Resort is also home of YAP divers and the Taro Leaf Spa.

Yap Divers has eight boats of various sizes to take you to Rainbow Reef where 30-40 mandarin fish perform romance rituals daily. At Vertigo, steep ledges and free handouts ensure sharks of all types such black tips, silky, gray reef, white tip, black tips, will show up. Scalloped hammerheads, nurse, leopard, zebra, and whale sharks are often spotted around some 50 other known dive sites. Yap Caverns is a must do for any diver that loves caves and swim throughs.

From Hunter’s Bank Seamount, a sunken island, 17 miles North of Yap to 15 miles east at Yap Trench that descends down 28,000ft you have a chance to see coral cabbage patches, torpedoes, machineguns, and other military artifacts, schools of large humphead wrasse, bluefin trevelly, giant trevelly, yellowfin, skipjack, wahoo, mahi-mahi, barracuda, red snapper, and grouper. Dolphins, pilot whales, and even Orcas whales pass by Yap.

So if you would like to dive a 8,243sq mile manta ray preserve, view some 200 soft and hard coral species, see some military war relics, observe or take images of numerous small to pelagic fish, snorkel with small jellyfish and nudibranchs, do some game fishing, kayak around mangrove lined canals, paddle to secluded beaches, or just do some incredible scuba diving with over 100ft of visibility, then you may wish to spend some time on an island called Yap.

For more information on exclusive dive travel offers, competitive airfare, and how you can visit Yap Divers and Manta Ray Bay Resort, Click Here

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