The Cuttlefish; The Undisputed Master of Camouflage.

The Cuttlefish

The Undisputed Master of Camouflage.

  

Off the shores of every ocean except around the Americas hovers one of most ingenious creatures in the world. The Cuttlefish can blend in with almost any natural substrate and most divers will swim unknowingly right by them as they appear to look like a clump of seaweed, a rock, or a patch of gravel. To begin with, they are not a fish, but a member of the phylum Mollusca along with snails and bivalve clams. The word “cuttle” may have come from the Old Norse word for “soft”. They are in the same class Cephalopoda as octopus, squids, and the nautilus. They have eight arms and two elongated tentacles similar to squid and in the middle of that ring of arms is a parrot like beak. They also have a unique internal porous plate called the cuttlebone. The purpose of this porous aragonite plate is similar to a scuba divers “BC”, buoyancy compensator, and the cuttlefish can change its buoyancy with just a little addition or subtraction of gas or fluid within the cuttlebone. You may have seen cuttlebones at a nearby pet store where they are sold as calcium enriched nibble treats for birds such as parakeets. So, while the squid flies just under the surface, and the octopus hugs the bottom or hides in dens, the cuttlefish is hovering over the substrate like a mysteriously color changing oblong shaped flying saucer in search of its next close encounter with shrimp, fish, or crab. They may be near shore in Australia or Indonesia, or found down to depths of 600m (2000ft) elsewhere. Apparently, below this depth their gas filled cuttlebone may implode, so great depth and cold waters may be the biggest reasons why they haven’t already invaded the Americas.

A couple of other things we should quickly mention is that they have three hearts. They use two of the hearts just to pump blood to their gills as they use hemocyanin, a bluish green copper protein, to carry oxygen around and this is less efficient than the rich red colored iron based hemoglobin that we use. The third heart pumps blood to the other parts of their body. Like the squid and octopus, they can squirt out a dark or brown ink that gives them a cloud to hide behind and may as well momentarily affect some predator’s sense of smell.

  

Lastly, we have to mention the eyes and brain. The eyes are shaped like squiggled W’s and have two concentrated sensor spots called foveae on each eye; one of the spots concentrated on light forward of the body, and the other sensor spot on light emitted behind the body. The eyes have no blind spot such as those found in human eyes, and they can even perceive polarized light as well as low levels of light, and without their eyes they can use their lateral lines to hunt in complete darkness. Their eyes may be considered quite advanced in so many aspects, but for the record, the cuttlefish is colorblind. They are constantly looking for visible cues such as light intensity, contrast, polarization, background patterns, and substrate textures. They have one of the largest brain to body mass ratio sizes in the invertebrate kingdom and some scientists believe cuttlefish are similar in intelligence to vertebrates such as pigeons and mice. In laboratories they can run simple maze tests and can be conditioned to learning at least two conditional rules to be used at the same time; such as looking for secondary signs in order to determine the best routes to escape through pipes, or be taught to tap on objects to receive food rewards.

  

On the basic level, their brain takes in the surrounding visual cues and as quick as lightning sends signals out to their seemingly electric skin to change color, patterns, and/or skin texture. Cuttlefish need use only one of three distinguishing methods to make themselves appear invisible. With small backgrounds such as sand, they use a uniform pattern and they blend in by appearing as a collection of sand particles.  For certain sized gravel rocks, they use a mottle pattern and they appear with larger colored areas that replicate as a group of rocks. The third method called disruptive, is used not to blend in with the background, but to disrupt or break apart their own body outline so that potential predators don’t recognize their natural body outline against underwater backgrounds, boulders, or large checkerboard backgrounds such as tested in marine labs. Add to this pattern coloration or different light intensities from forming different colors across their skin and you have a very stealthy and deceptive predator/prey species. Now add their ability to use muscular rings to pump up and transform regional skin tissues into bumps, blades, spikes, and leaflets, and you have what could be easily mistaken as an alien species.

To take a closer look at how they make their bodies change colors we only have to go skin deep. Just beneath the skin are layers of elastic sack cells containing different pigment colors, and commonly referred to as chromatophores. First we find yellow, then red, then deeper down brown pigmented chromatophores. Each chromatophore can reduce in size or increase in surface size by 500% merely by pulling on or relaxing their surrounding muscle cords. Below these chromatophores reside a layer of iridescent emitting and reflecting cells of the colors blue, green, red, and pink.  Below this layer are leucophores, cells that reflect all colors of light at once, or what we commonly refer to as white light. It appears to be a highly complicated eye to brain to skin activity, but cuttlefish can change color in some twenty million pigment cells in mere split seconds and still have extra brain power left to use for other evolving applications.

  

Besides camouflage, cuttlefish use their skin to communicate with each other including using locomotion indicators such as hovering, sitting, jetting, and postures such as arm position and, placement as well as fin shape, and head tilting. In Broadclub cuttlefish, smart smaller males have learned to appear as non-sexually receptive females to move without impunity around larger males guarding potential female mates. They can do this with such skill that the side of their body facing larger potential male rivals appears female in appearance while the side facing potential females partners they flaunt their male side and hence display to the female how clever they really are. While large males are allowed to mate with females some 30% of the time, the clever cross dressing smaller males are allowed to mate some 60% of the time and thus their learned ability to go covert or in duel disguise is successfully rewarded by receptive females over time and their abilities are more successfully propagated through each generation.

  

Another adaptive use of Broadclub cuttlefish is their ability to have waves of light appear to ripple across their head and arms which seems to hypnotize crabs while the cuttlefish prepares to strike from the best strategic angle, so as not to get pinched from the crab’s claws while bringing the crab into contact with their beak.

  

One species can use their colors to worn off predators or go one step farther as to highlight a yellow fringed warning color that they are poisonous such as the little Flamboyant cuttlefish who prefers to walk across the bottom of muck and rarely swims. They are the only cuttlefish known to be poisonous, and the poison is in their muscles, and perhaps as potent as the poison of the blue ring octopus. The fact that they walk similar to a lobe fin fish and have a reduced size cuttlebone could lead to a new evolutionary direction for this species. The fact that cuttlefish only live two years at most, have such a large amount of brain power, and have persisted in the fossil record since the Cretaceous times, shows that these rather unusual soft bodied aliens have the right stuff to keep on evolving and becoming even smarter and more diverse over time: that is, if sharks, fish, dolphins, seals, and humans don’t eat them all first.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Australia, Cuttlefish, Dive Destinations, Dive Travel, Indonesia, Marine Life, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Maldives: A Garland of Islands in the Indian Ocean

The Maldives: A Garland of Islands

In The Indian Ocean.

  

Nowhere else in the world can you find such a spectacular creation of coral and white sandy beaches rising just above the current sea level. Twenty six atolls and just fewer than 1200 islands form a chain from just below the equator to 804 km (500 miles) north. The average height of the land is 1.5m (4”11”) above sea level and the highest point is 2.4m (7’10”). It all started some 65 million years ago when a volcanic mountain range sprouted up above the surface in almost a straight row then gradually began to subside. Corals had time to grow micro layer by micro layer and form great communities around the volcanoes before earlier generations were forced downwards during bouts of subduction to depths as deep as 2100m (6400ft).

  

As for history, Sanskrit writings mention these islands as early as 500BC when sailors from India and the island of Java crossed through the Maldives on their way to trade with Madagascar and the eastern shores of Africa. The local Maldivian Buddhists converted to Muslim in the 12th century and the Maldives were given independence from England in 1965. In 1972 tourism began with two resorts, and now there are over 92 resorts spread out over 65 islands. While there are a few land based dive resorts, there are over 30 dive liveaboard operations. Tourism has become a major component of their economy and it’s safe to say that more than twice the number local Maldivians visit the islands each year.

  

So what’s the big attraction here? Turns out that the big attractions are whale sharks and mantas. With the small attractions including frogfish and seahorses. The islands are home to 1100 species of fish, 5 species of turtles, 187 species of coral, 145 species of crab, 48 species of shrimp, 21 species of whales and dolphins…you get the idea. Add 483 species of mollusks and echinoderms, and you have a recipe for filling hard drives, flash drives, and camera memory cards. But to be honest, we’re not really sure how many images of a seahorse, clown triggerfish, or manta at a cleaning station one can take before ever being really satisfied?

  

And speaking of endless lists, how about the local accommodations? You can stay in  accommodation on land, huts over the open ocean, rooms with infinity pools or you can adventure out and see more variety on a dive liveaboard. For lunch, you can dine in your cabana, at the main lodge, feast at a tented table at the end of a jetty, boat out to a secluded beach, or fine dine in an underwater restaurant which can be a one of a kind experience or an awkward experience if you ordered the catch of the day and you notice a school of fish looking at you in distain. And when it comes to water sports, Maldivians have a list of everything ready to try out from kayaking, jet skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, to submarines, and whale watching.

  

So when is the best time to dive here? Well to start off, the Maldives have two seasons. The Southwest season is wet with monsoon rains and this season goes from April or May until November with June to August having the most rain. During this time, There can be large plankton blooms that bring in large pelagics and visibility can range from 20-40 meters (65- 130plus) feet. The eastern side of the Maldives is where the Mantas and whale sharks will be most likely viewed during this season. The Northeast season on the other hand from December thru April/May, is dry and brings slightly warmer and calmer waters to the islands. The eastern side will have sharks and pelagics, but the mantas and whale sharks will be hanging out on the western side of the Maldives during this season. The northeast season is also when the liveaboard vessels head down south towards the equator, or you can board more northern exploring liveaboards at this time. The stronger currents that flowed in January will calm down and give rise to slack currents during March and April. But with this being said, our own experiences coupled with multiple feedback reports verify that the best time to visit the Maldives is year round and repeatedly.

  

So what about the dive sites? Unlike some vague dive site names such as found in mostly English speaking countries in the world, the Maldivians (even though many speak English) have perfected the names of dive sites and it’s almost amazing what you can discern with only knowing four words in their home language of Dhivehi.  So for all future reference, Kandu means channel, a Faru is a reef rising up in a channel, a Thila is a reef or pinnacle reef rising up inside an atoll, and a Giri is like a thila, but much smaller. When you have a thousand islands, this system makes every dive site easier to remember. Take the popular dive sites such as Fotteyo Kandu, Hembadhu Kandu, and Ziyaara Kandu. Just by the name you already know they are channel dives and most likely have caves, overhangs, swim throughs, small arches, or they lead to small reefs and have sharks, turtles, moray eels, schools of fish, and eagle rays swimming by on their way to work or Mantas stopping by the local cleaning stations. Kuda Faru, and Eri Faru are reefs in the channels where one would expect to find gray sharks, white tips, silver tips, Napoleon wrasse, coral, and invertebrates. Okobe Thila, Kudarah Thila, Mas Thila, all tell you that you will see tons of corals and schools of red teethed triggerfish, snappers, fusiliers, sweet lips, and more. Of course there are some dive site names in English that are rather precise and some popular ones include: Manta Point, Hammerhead Point, and Turtle Beach. Other popular sites with no clue in the name include: Three Palms for looking at nudibranchs, and Vacation Home Center for a variety of everything living in shallow to deep waters.

  

Of course there are over 2000 years worth of wrecks scattered around the channels, atolls, and deep reefs, but a few of the popular wrecks include the 35,000 ton Victory freighter, The Fesdu fishing trawler, the Halaveli cargo wreck and the Shipyard where two vessels rest near each other with Skipjack 1 resting at a vertical angle against the reef and the Skipjack 2 resting horizontal in the sand on its portside and both can be visited on one dive if currents permit.

  

So as you can imagine, it’s hard to visit all the possible dive sites in one single trip, no matter which season you choose, but it’s even more difficult to imagine that all the Maldives could become uninhabited within the next 80 years, as glaciers melt and the sea levels continue to rise and are predicted to increase by some 2m (6ft) in height by 2099 in a best case scenario as predicted by the majority of world leading scientists; although this well defined theory is not deemed accurate according to a the scientifically challenged. Either way, this unique Garland of islands comprised of 26 atolls needs to be preserved, protected, and profusely perused by you.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Liveaboards, Dive Travel, Maldives, Manta Rays, Marine Life, Pelagics, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Sharks, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video, Whale Sharks, Wreck Diving, Wrecks | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frogfish, The Overlooked Camouflage Artist

The Frog Fish

Nature’s Most Overlooked Camouflage Artist

  

There are over 48 species of frogfish, but few divers ever see them. In fact, most divers can’t see these cryptic colored critters until they are pointed out by a local scuba divemaster or guide. Frogfish are currently found in tropical and sub-tropical waters worldwide except for a few places such as the Mediterranean Sea. The Sargassumfish is a species of frogfish that lives near the surface in a raft of seaweed and has occasionally drifted as far north as Norway. Meanwhile, another species prefers brackish water close to shore. Some species prefer deep water and live as adults down to 4000m.

In Australia they are known as anglerfish, which may be more appropriate as the majority of these fish don’t really look like a frog and most of them have a first dorsal spine that looks like a rod (illicium) and at the end there is a lure (esca). The esca is shaped like the food source that their prey most often is attracted to, so some species have an esca that looks like a worm, while other species may have an esca that resembles a small shrimp or fish. The esca can regenerate if needed, so they never run out of imitating bait.

  

This ability for a fish to fish via rod and lure at first glance seems impressive, but for frogfish this alluring stroke of evolutionary creativity is just the beginning. They can attract fish larger than themselves and they can swallow such unlucky fish in one sudden gulp and this quick gulp process can take as little as six milliseconds to complete. Their prey has no time to react to this speed and that includes other anglerfish that get too close as well. They achieve this overwhelming suction ambush hunting technique by widening their mouth 12 times the natural opening size, doubling their stomach twice their own size, and by pumping extreme ramjet blasted amounts of water out through their gills.

Now, all the things mentioned so far would be spectacular achievements for a typical fish, but this hunting strategy is only feasible because of the aggressive mimicry behavior of frogfish. Frogfish don’t have scales and instead they rely on bare skin to keep them safe from predators. They put themselves right out in the open and in harm’s way, but first they camouflage themselves so brilliantly that most potential predators and photographers alike, swim right over or by them. In order to maintain this “you can’t eat what you can’t see” philosophical way of life, most frogfish can change colors to match their background. This process can take seconds, days, or months. Frogfish not only paint themselves with solid colors, but they can add intimate circles with spectacular detail that allows them to look just like sponges with porous openings. They can add lines to look like seaweeds or add smaller painted pores to look like corals. Their skin can also form into remarkable warts or bumps. Some species even developed what appear to be hairs, tassels, or leave like appendages derived from skin cells. They also allow clumps of algae and hydrozoa to grow or cultivate on their skin to help make them blend in with the surrounding rocks and substrate. They are such masters of camouflage, that one of the best ways to spot them quickly, becomes looking for a clump of algae, coral, or a sponge that to your surprise, has a fish, shrimp, or crab hanging out of its mouth.

  

It’s not just the adults that are good at camouflage, but the juveniles do it too. Larval forms floating in the plankton may have little tassels that help make them look like little tentacled jelly fish, and when they get big enough to sink to the ocean’s substrate, the young will change colors so they resemble toxic or foul-tasting sea slugs and flatworms.

Yes, they are cannibals, so no fish no matter what species that is less than twice the size of the frogfish is safe around them. Males may be one tenth the size of females, so after a moonlit night courtship which involves swimming upwards and releasing sperm and eggs, the male may end up as a lite snack if he gets too close to the larger female; it’s just what they do, nothing sexist or personal, fish gotta eat.

  

Now you would have to scuba dive around the globe to see most of them as one specie is found only in Hawaii. For the specie found in the Sargasso seaweed it might be easier to visit the display at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City than paddle out hundreds of miles in the North Atlantic looking for the sargassum. Still another new species of frogfish was found recently in the Lembeh Strait off Sulawesi island, Indonesia. Coincidentally, Lembeh Strait has the highest concentration of different species of frogfish in the world. Local divers and resort operators track the movements and whereabouts of different frog fish throughout the year, as some species of frogfish remain in one place year-round if the hunting is good, while others either move around depending on what they currently feel like eating or to avoid predators such as sharks that use electro and chemical sensors to locate food. So, their camouflage may not always work with all predators at all times, but the fossil records show that it has worked pretty well for the last 23 million years and ironically, their evolutionary adaptations and longevity really make frogfish as a species stand out.

  

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Indonesia, Marine Life, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Underwater Photography | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cebu and the Visayas Islands

Cebu and the Visayas Islands

The Heartland of The Philippines.

   

Magellan had no idea how good the scuba diving in this part of the world was, but in 1521 when Spain was big time in to colonizing the world, you couldn’t find a decent set of fins or a mask and snorkel to save one’s own life, so instead Magellan attacked the locals of Mactan Island and you probably guessed by now that his opportunistic overtures didn’t end well. After several other attempts, the Spanish finally colonized Cebu Island in 1565 and they had no clue that the surrounding waters were filled with large whale sharks, thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks, and pristine coral reefs. They also had no way of knowing that one day, Cebu’s white sand beaches and tropical sunsets would be more precious than all the gold in…well…Spain.

  

Cebu is the ninth largest out of some 7,100 islands that make up the Philippines and Cebu is one of the 167 islands that make up the central region of the Philippines. Because of the Spanish conquest, Cebu city is the oldest, as well as the first Christian city in the Philippines. Right next to the three million inhabitants of Cebu is Mactan Island; home to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. It takes an hour flight from Manila or a 24-hour ferry ride to reach Cebu City and Mactan Island. The reason we mention all this is because adjacent to Mactan Island are more than a dozen well known dive sites. You can start right off shore at Kontiki Reef, or dive off one of the nearby islands such as Nalusuan Island Marine Sanctuary, Cabilao Island, Olango Island Marine Sanctuary, Shangri-La Marine Sanctuary, out at Hilutungan Island Marine Sanctuary. As you can see, there are lots of marine sanctuaries around Cebu and the neighboring islands. Photographers might enjoy Tambuli Reef and airplane wreck, or a nice macro dive at Agus Bay with soft corals, sponges and colorful fish. For advanced divers, Mactan Island is home to The Marigondon Cave where the ceiling starts at 30m (90ft) and the floor base is 43m (130ft) and goes back 40m (120ft). If you like diving with Nitrox (enriched air), large invertebrates, and pulsing flashlight fish, then this is the dive for you. If you are into wreck dives, then the 63m (190ft) long San Juan Ferry is the largest nearby wreck, but this 400 passenger vessel rests at 50m (150ft) of depth with the top at 35m (105ft). It’s been collecting coral and fish since an explosion took out the engine room in 2000. For another deep dive, there’s Tingo Point off of Olango Island. Here at 40m (120ft) is a ledge that drops off into a deep wall dive, but right off the wall and into the blue you have a chance to see thresher sharks on the lookout for schools of fish. The Monad Shoal at Malapascua is another site known for seeing thresher sharks at shallower depths rather than there usual deep water habitat.

  

Down on the southwestern end of Cebu Island is the town of Moalboal where there must be more than two dozen dive sites. Pescador Island has the most requested dive sites such as Cathedral Cave with a awe inspiring view of the surface and a great place for night dives too. This area is also a marine sanctuary with plentiful fish, turtles, and coral. As for other dive sites, Tongo also has an impressive reef, caves, and drop off walls. Dolphin House has coral, caves, and pygmy seahorses. Panagsama Beach is the place to view the sardine run and Talisy Reef is a turtle sanctuary area. There are also lots of resorts, restaurants, and white sand beaches to check out here in your free time.

There are also charter operations that cruise around the Visayan Archipelago. You can dive Pescador Island, Balicasag Island off of Bohol Island and Sumilon Island. The marine sanctuary near the southern town of Oslob is where licensed operators can provide  snorkeling and diving with whale sharks. Near Siquijor you can dive Sunken Island which is known for its schools of Napoleon wrasse, humphead parrot fish, and frog fish. As you can see, the diving sites seem to be endless and since Pilipino time is uncannily in sync with Margaritaville time, you can see how it could take many a fresh seafood dinner and incredible physical effort to leave the relaxing white sand beaches to visit all the local dive locations on a single visit.

  

Things to know before you go: current is 220 volts, so bring a converter or two. The water temp varies between 23-30˚C (73-86˚F). You will see potentially poisonous sea snakes, but they are mildly mannered and generally won’t bite your tail if you don’t pull on theirs. Giving them a meter (3ft) of space is also a nice gesture or common curtesy. Some 26 million people speak the Philippine National language of Pilipino which is a central Manila dialect of Tagalog, but in Cebu and the surrounding islands, some 20 million people speak Cebuano, which is the second most spoken language out of the 180 some languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines. Fortunately for many of us, the most spoken foreign language in the Philippines is American English.

Most diving is done from traditional Philippine wooden hull vessels with outriggers called Bankas; pronounced (Ba ankas) they range from several to 13m (10-40ft) long. They are very sturdy and dependable in open waters and you will quickly become an expert at diving off and boarding back on again. Other local types of transportations to try are the Jeepneys which were originally transformed WWII willys jeeps with elongated seating compartments on the back end and metal horse statues welded to the hood on the front end. Now, some are prefabricated or made using Japanese trucks, and include very elaborate paint jobs and more fog lights than Baja 500 dune buggies. The motorized tricycles are a hoot to try too. The limited number of occupants and restricted weight or size of luggage seems to be anyone’s guess.

  

Now on your non-diving day we recommend a day trip to nearby Bohol Island to view the Chocolate Hills, the Matutinao Nature Park, Philippine tarsiers, and a boat ride on the Loboc river. You can also do an eight hour trip up to the Chambuhat Oyster Farm for a delicious seafood lunch. Back on Cebu Island you should make a point of going  to Oslob and possibly to Sumilon Island for some time in the sun, water, and beach.

Near Oslob you can go to the village of Tan-awan where they feed the whale sharks krill. Tourists on Cebu will fill a highly organized parade of boats. Tourists can paddle out to the whale sharks where they have an opportunity to get in the water and snorkel with a group of whale sharks. This is a controversial tourist attraction as the normal migration of whale sharks in this area is 60 days and one whale shark named Mr. Bean lingered in this area 362 days just for the free food. Secondly, the krill they feed the whale sharks is just a small portion off all the types of krill whale sharks normally dine on along their normal migratory path. The jury is still out on if this is like eating a diet of hotdogs every night, but you get the idea. Lastly, the local whale sharks have become unafraid of boats, yet they have not had enough evolutionary time to learn to be wary of boats with propeller blades, which has had some negative consequences.

  

There are also a number of water falls to explore and day trips that include picnics and private beach excursions. Cebu has a number of modern shopping malls to explore for those that need more surface time. There are also several historical museums, historical sites such as Fort San Pedro built (started) in 1565, a must see Taoist temple, Christian and other religious as well as cultural landmarks, including the encased cross that Magellan brought to the islands on his ill-fated voyage. It’s ironical, but had Magellan come to Cebu as a tourist instead of a would-be conqueror, he would have had a great visit and great memories, instead of just the time of his life.

  

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Resorts / Properties, Dive Travel, Marine Life, Muck Diving, Pelagics, Philippines, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Sharks, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video, Whale Sharks, Wreck Diving, Wrecks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

130 Years Closer to a Cover Shot

130 Years and Closer to a Cover Shot.

A History of Underwater Photography

Since 1893, when Louis Boutan first used a surface supplied hardhat to take photos underwater, divers have circled the globe to get an ever-elusive cover shot. The only problem was that aluminum housing with a good camera was too expensive for most except professionals. Of course, when it comes to underwater photography, the real mass shootings didn’t occur until Jean de Wouters designed the Calypso camera in 1957 and had it promoted by Jacque Yves Cousteau. In 1963 Nikon bought the right to produce the Calypso and it became the Nikonos I. You probably don’t want to hear about every make and model of every brand of underwater camera system, but it’s safe to say that there were plenty of reasons to wait more than half a century for the next generation models to come along.

  

We’re not saying that early underwater photography was as difficult as walking uphill to school and back up even higher to get home, but there were a few inconveniences you had to tolerate or adjust for to get a few decent shots. First of all it was easy to forget to load film in the camera. You could spend a day with a great white whale, but if you forgot to load the film, the camera could still snap away with nothing to show for it. Setting the film in the sprocket teeth so the film would be pulled across the plate was sometimes a touchy issue too, and for those of you that never had a camera housing flood on you, you were one of the lucky ones. We should mention strobe lights here too, as they made a popping noise like a faraway depth charge when the batteries and capacitors touched salt water.

So the film was set in good and you were ready to click away; you only had 24-36 frames to fill in those days. If you took three images of each subject (fish or shrimp), this only gave you 12 different subjects to choose from, and this didn’t even hold back at least one frame for the end of the dive in case you had a once in a life time meet and greet with a large pelagic such as a manta or gray whale right before boarding back on a boat. Even if you managed to get 30 some images, you now had to wait a week or two to get them developed at Costco; yes, some of us lived in Kirkland Washington in the 1980’s before they went nationwide. Oh and when the film was ready to be picked up, that’s when you realized that only half of the subject (fish) was in the original frame. As a beginner, you could get the top (dorsal) or the belly side (ventral), but the total fish’s body just didn’t want to be set in print until you underwent a period of sometimes frustrating apprenticeship. You could also get your filmed processed at a local film kiosk, but they didn’t always develop the film fully, and when film went into the bin of history, all the kiosks apparently became coffee stands. With the passing of film you also didn’t need to pack everything (all your film) in lead bags to keep it all from becoming exposed in the old school x-ray security machines before you got to your departure gate to start your dive destination.

  

Of course, there were other opportunities for learning curves. To get macro shots with the Nikonos IV-A macro lens was needed and a black coated metal rectangular frame was attached to the camera; this was considered progress, but only if you could get the subject (a fish) within the frame, and to do that, the fish couldn’t be skittish and you had to watch that you didn’t crash the frame into the coral background during the process.

  

So when you were getting good at framing your subject, getting the right aperture setting, right film speed, and the lighting just right, along comes digital cameras and with using SD cards instead of film, you could take hundreds of images on a single dive depending on the settings you chose for image size and how fine you wanted the image detail. Not only did the number of potential images to be taken soar, but you could see each and every one of the images there on the dive. Oh, and these new digital cameras with their houses were small, inexpensive, and portable too. It was awesome, you could frame potential images through the lens and most of them looked good. Maybe not cover image good at first, but at least page three good, or web front page good. A good example would be from Las Vegas when a world record was set at the former Riviera Hotel for the most media attendees at an underwater conference using OTS full face masks and underwater electronics that transmitted the conference to speakers above the water too. Although the group contained many professional photographers, the underwater images of the event in the pool were taken by a small portable digital 1.3mp Sealife 100 camera. As the golden rule states, if you are the only person that took images, then your images are the best taken at the event, and these images captured went viral around the world. Suddenly any one going out for a dive could afford an underwater camera and capture never before seen images. The only problem? The new digital cameras were so slow that you had to hold them still while waiting for the shutter system to finally click into gear. We found this to be really tricky when taking pictures of fast moving objects such as spiny dogfish sharks. Imagine that you’re trying to take a picture of a shark coming at you and ten feet out you snap the shutter, three feet out the shutter moves and the flash goes off, then you feel the nose of the shark bump into your shoulder as you try and see if you got the shark framed in the image viewfinder. You had to guesstimate the speed and where the subject would be by the time it was close enough to take the shot and hope for the best when it came to lighting, back-scatter or anything else.

  

Within a few years, what we called a lag time was eliminated or barely noticeable but video emerged and then GoPro came out with their water proof housed video camera. They were so small that you could hook them on almost anywhere and you were ready to film for the next James Bond movie festival. Divers embraced video and while still images for dive websites and magazines had moved online and smaller photos were in, links to videos were super in. GoPro has just put out the Hero Five and Sealife just produced the DC2000, a duel layer 20MP image sensor camera that is enclosed in a external housing good to some 500ft, and has secondary housing/body on the video camera good to 60ft of depth. These new systems are rugged and can go just about anywhere you ever dreamed of above and below water. A novice can produce professional quality images and video with just a slight training curve compared to years earlier. Android and Iphones now have cases or housings which are great for personal image albums. We guess that within several years the next step in camera/video evolution will allow you to take videos and photo images simultaneously and they will automatically down load via satellite before you’ve reached the end of your three-minute safety stop. When you arrive home from your next vacation, the videos and images will already be queued on your smart TV, edited by AI (artificial intelligence) programs automatically posted on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram and leave you time to address comments on your personal video and image cover shots.

  

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Dive Equipment, Dive Travel, Marine Life, Scuba Diving, Scuba Gear Reviews, Scuba Training & Education, Sharks, Specialties, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Galapagos Islands: A Natural Selection for Divers

The Galapagos Islands
A Natural Selection for Divers

  

There are thousands of islands around the world where fish are plentiful, birds fill the trees, and volcanoes are still active, but there is only one group of islands that has changed so profoundly the way we think about evolution of animal species; including how we even now view ourselves. In 1835, while on a five-year voyage, a young geologist/naturalist by the name of Charles Darwin visited the Galapagos Islands and collected various endemic plants, animals, and geological rock samples. Because the endemic giant tortoises looked like saddles, the Spanish named the islands in 1570 after the tortoises: “Insulae de los Galopegos”. The local acting governor, Nicholas Lawson, told Darwin how tortoise populations looked different on each island, but it wasn’t until the home voyage that Darwin pieced together that some of the collected species of birds were actually just different species of finches that had radiated out with specialized beak shapes, sizes, and lengths to fill separate niches on distinct islands in the Galapagos archipelago. Unfortunately, the exact island where each finch was caught was not recorded at the time of capture, but it’s been all sorted out since then.

  

There are 18 main islands and some 100 plus rocks, islets, and minor islands that make up the Galapagos Islands. Volcanoes sprout above the surface on the west end of the Nazca Plate and form islands, and like a conveyor belt they are moved eastward with time until they slowly sink beneath the waves in a never-ending process of final seduction; for at least the last 90 million years. So, you have young tall volcanoes/ islands on the west side, and older eroded volcanoes/islands on the east side. Since the Galapagos Island are part of Ecuador, we will rely on their Spanish names for the most part, but some English names remain from the inked on English made maps before Darwin’s voyage.

  

Six volcanoes make up one of the newest and largest islands being formed called Isabela; it is 1,707m (5,600ft) tall at the top of Wolf Volcano. Española on the east-side is over 3.5 million years old. The age, height, and placement of the islands effects the type of animals, and birds willing to make each particular island their home, and also effects the local sea life as well. You can see these variations and preferred habitats played out over and over again as you discover for yourself. So just like Darwin you have a chance to see the waved albatross colony on Punta Espinosa, the pink flamingos on Floreana or in Flamingo Lagoon on Santa Cruz, the nocturnal species of swallow-tailed gulls on Genovesa, the vampire finch of Wolf Island (drinks blood from other birds), or one of the many colonies of the flightless cormorants or the Galapagos penguin; the only penguin found north of the equator. Oh, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the red-footed, blue-footed, and two-footed Nazca Boobies.

  

For divers, this is a bucket list destination but the wonder of these islands runs naturally much deeper. With 28 species of sharks and over 400 species of fish and with 17% of them found no where else in the world such as the red-lipped bat fish, Galapagos clingfish, Galapagos grunt, and Galapagos garden eel. This makes these islands a must dive literal hot spot; over 62 dive sites to be exact. New divers or divers seeking less strenuous diving activities can enjoy the inner circle islands where you will see Galapagos seals, and marine iguanas, and most other species of birds and fish, but advanced divers who don’t mind strong currents, downdrafts, and general drift diving, the outer islands are the place to view whale sharks and larger schools of passing hammerhead sharks.

  

For those that remain land based, which gives you more time to do land excursions as well as scuba dive the inner circle of islands, Cabo Douglas off Fernandina Island is a good spot to see flightless cormorants, sea lions, and penguins zip by in the water next to you while marine iguanas eat algae. Bartholomew Point off Bartholomew Island is another good spot to view swimming penguins and sea lions. Cousins Rock off Santiago Island is a great place to do wall dives and view sea lions, Pitt Point off San Cristobal Island is good place to see schools of fish, grunts, and diving boobies; San Cristobal is also the home of the new dive called the Cave which is home to lobsters, a turtle or two, and passing tunas and rays. Gordon Rocks, also called the “Washing Machine”, an advanced dive, is known for a wide array of sharks and rays. Seymour Channel is known for its turtles, cleaning stations, and garden eels. Daphne Major has walls, caves, and WWII bombing practice artifacts. Camano Islet off Santa Cruz Island is known for grouper, batfish, and seahorses. An absolute must see is the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz for more understanding of his discoveries, native flora and fauna, land iguanas and meet the long living giant tortoises.

  

For those that want to dive the majority of the previously mentioned dive sites, plus desire a chance to see large pelagics you’ll need a liveaboard vessel to take you out to these most distance destinations, which incidentally traveling this way puts Darwin’s voyage of the Beagle to shame, and you usually wake up at these sites after an all-night voyage. Some of the best dive sites out here include: at Darwin Island, the arch, the sands, and at Wolf Island you will see large pelagics in addition to local fish at the landslide, roca elefante, and shark bay. June through November is the best time to see the whale sharks out here. The rest of the year expect to see mantas, rays, sea lions,scalloped hammerheads, silky, and Galapagos sharks. Diving to these remote locations aboard liveaboards means no shore time but you will get multiple  and unforgettable dives.

  

As for when to visit these islands? The warm or hot and rainy season is December to May-June and this is when the seas are calmer and you can wear a 5ml wetsuit. At this time of year, you might even see a few snorkelers around the inner circle of island shoreline wearing 3ml shorties. Hammerhead sharks are in great abundance during this time period. From June to November the water is colder as it pushes up from the coast of south America and requires a 7ml suit and hood or dry suit. The plankton blooms can lower the visibility in the water varying from 15-30 meters (45-90 ft), but the plankton also brings in the whale sharks and other numerous species . These two seasons may vary due to the El Niño effect. June, July, and August are the busiest season. Many who want the full Galapagos Island experience will spend time both land based on the islands as well take a liveaboard trip. Expect the local species to not be afraid of humans allowing you to get close to certain species than ever thought possible. Expect to also spend a night or two in Quito or Guayaquil on the Ecuador mainland when traveling to the Galapagos Islands. Also, expect to be very impressed by the Galapagos Islands but you will not have to endure the controversy or suggestions of heresy that surrounded Darwin’s life after the voyage.

  

It’s been almost 150 years ago since Darwin published the theory that all species evolve by the basic process of natural selection. No matter what your personal beliefs are, we believe that as humans, we have little choice but to evolve in our awareness of the world’s species so that we can protect them and share them with our own future generations; and traveling around the planet to encounter, face to face, unique, rare, and/or exotic sea creatures is one of many aspects that defines us as true divers and/also world explorers.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Dive Liveaboards, Dive Travel, Dolphins, eagle rays, Galapagos Islands, Marine Life, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, sea lions, Sharks, The Bucket List, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video, Whale Sharks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scuba Diving Is Transformational

Scuba Diving Is Transformational!

Has scuba diving changed your life?

A recently released 2016 research study conducted by researchers at East Carolina University working with Outside Magazine showed the motivation for adventure travelers has changed from a former study completed in 2005. The new study revealed that adventure travelers crave transformative experiences, but not as a byproduct of the pursuit of adventure activities. Instead, adventure travelers are actively motivated by a desire for personal growth and change.
Interestingly, of the 10 recreational activities identified as transformational by all those who participated in the research study, scuba diving was listed as number 8 and the overwhelming majority of participants were not scuba divers.

Earlier this year, we asked our e-news and social media followers to tell us how scuba diving was transformational for them. Our divers disclosed that scuba diving not only transformed them as individuals, but also influenced a loved one or their entire family, helped them overcome a fear, embrace a healthier lifestyle, and reminded us that you are never too old to get certified.

Louise and Dennis Marquering were both teaching biology and oceanography over forty years ago when they got married. They went snorkeling on their honeymoon and two years later became certified divers, which helped enhance their teaching experience. They have been each other’s dive buddies from the start and have traveled together to places they would never have explored otherwise. But, it doesn’t end there. In her own words, Louise writes, “Mothers have tears when their daughters get married. I teared up when our daughter completed her check out dive as a young teenager.” Well, their daughter has since grown up and is married to a diver. Now, the entire family goes on dive vacations together.

Scuba diving can help children’s self-confidence and create strong, family bonds. Valerie Rule defines this passionately when sharing her story. She tells us that they got their children in the water as early as age two, placing them on their laps, putting a mask on them and allowing them to breathe from their octopus regulator underwater. They enrolled their children in a scuba rangers program and, as soon as they were old enough, took them on their first dive vacation to Belize. Now in their twenties, their children are still their dive buddies and the four of them are still traveling together. Scuba diving has been, she says, “transformational in these and so many countless ways, and it has been an indispensable tool in binding the four of us together.”

Ed Rau discovered scuba diving as a young single man. He got married and his wife also became a certified diver. The couple had three children and they all became certified divers. He now has a 13-year-old granddaughter who is now a certified diver. Ed writes, “I always found a way to sacrifice whatever I had to in order to be able to go on a dive trip.” He shares that he started taking 8 mm snapshots that played movies on those old film projectors, which eventually progressed to underwater video. The whole family goes on dive travel vacations together and they always have “3 generation pictures” taken of them underwater! Certainly, the images and video relive their memories but also serve as a legacy for future family generations.

Sometimes scuba divers need to fend off certain anxieties, but what if the anxiety one is dealing with is unrelated to going underwater or the diving experience? We have all heard stories of individuals who had to escape a demon or two in order to accomplish a life goal.

Dr. Bill Bushing has been an educator and avid scuba diver his entire adult life, teaching marine biology at the high school and college levels. But, Dr. Bill (as he is known) had to overcome his fear of flying commercial aircraft in order to travel to those select destinations that he so desperately wanted to dive. He got over his fear of flying and has traveled all over the world, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific and Australia, including the islands of the Bahamas, the Philippines, Palau, Egypt, Fiji, Tahiti, Thailand, and other dive destinations. He also goes on trips to conduct studies and produce films. He has a newspaper column and TV Show, “Dive Dry with Dr. Bill,” and is a recipient of the 2011 California Scuba Service Award. He is a good example of someone you might consider never had a fear to overcome, but his story reminds us that our love and passion for scuba diving, and our desire to explore the oceans worldwide, is enough to dare us to overcome any fear – even when that fear is flying.

Suuz Martines, works in the dive industry, and has developed her professional persona, CoCo Cheznaynay® Secret Agent of Truth & Style, who teaches courage, truth, and advocates facing your fear. But as Suuz stated, “when I began scuba lessons, a strange performance anxiety surfaced; not about water, claustrophobia, fish, nor the equipment, but the act of being lined up to perform the certification skills. This was the beginning realization of the bullying I buried from my childhood. I knew I had to overcome this fear and get my certification or abandon CoCo. How could I teach through a character when I could not do as she says?” If not for scuba diving, she would have never embarked on solo dive travel trips beginning in 2000 and met strangers who became friends.

Scuba diving encourages some people to live healthier lives and embrace the sport ever so lovingly. Sherry Mitchell depicts herself as “a lover of life and scuba diving.” She and her husband gave up smoking, started exercising and eating better after becoming certified divers. As part of their dive classes, they were learning how to stay healthy so they could dive safer. They also became closer in their relationship and joy in life that they did not experience before scuba diving. Sherry also writes that they have been to some wonderful places and poetically illustrates the diving experience when describing her encounter with wild dolphins, giant manta rays, sharks, jellyfish and other marine life. She finishes off by telling us that they want to continue their plans of living healthy so that they can continue traveling and diving long into their senior years.

Many scuba divers will still be enjoying diving and traveling into their senior years, but Karen Jernigan is proof that you are never too old to fall in love or get certified. She was in her 50’s when she met her husband, who was a diver. A year later, she became certified. Since then, they have been traveling all over the world to scuba dive. She says she cannot imagine a vacation without the opportunity to dive. Karen says that they have also met many wonderful divers and they do seek warm water diving. The couple is now in their 70’s but looking forward to more years of traveling and diving.

Another group of divers who have benefited from scuba diving are war veterans and those with physical or emotional challenges. When they enter the water, experience underwater life and realize they are weightless and free, it becomes therapeutic. Specialized instructors, family, friends and fellow divers will willingly assist while more destinations and resorts are welcoming their visits. Many have learned to manage almost all on their own quite well. Others may require additional assistance, but all exhibit a new level of confidence and are so upbeat and resolute that nothing can stop them from diving.

Many encounters in life influence and change us in various ways. We all seek to focus on good things that bring about positive changes that make us happy when engaging in any sport, hobby or interest of any kind. As witnessed by the revelations of our readers, diving not only motivated them but became a shared fulfilling lifelong journey pursued with intense passion. In reading their truthful inspiring experiences, we realized two things. Human emotion creates moisture around the eyes and for everyone who becomes a certified diver; puts on special gear, loads a tank on their back, inserts their regulator and plunges into the water; there is one unanimous conclusion…
Scuba Diving is Transformational!

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Travel, Diver Wellness, Family Travel, Learning to Dive, Marine Life, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Specialties, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tobago. The Less Known Dive Vacation Island

Tobago

Drifting Along with Macros and Pelagics

map1 tobago_scuba-diving-sites tobago-cays

From the smallest seahorse to an abundance of majestic sized mantas to gigantic groupers to perhaps the world’s largest brain coral, Tobago has something to offer just about every diver. It’s not always this black and white when you are talking about a dive destination. That is unless you are talking about Tobago’s black sand beaches being on the Atlantic side of the island and the white sand beaches on the Caribbean side, but Tobago has lots of macro sea life to view as well as an unusual abundance of pelagic life. The reason for the great quantities of reef and pelagic life is because of the out flow of nutrients from the nearby Orinoco River in Venezuela, South America which feeds the plankton who in turn feed the small fish and this process works its way up the food chain at an amazing exponential rate. This doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to see a whale shark or school of 30 scalloped hammerhead sharks on your visit, but it does increase your chances of filling up your camera and video cards with lots of awesome images and memories.

3_tobago_dive_centre-extra-divers-hammerhead_800x600 4_tobago_dive_centre-extra-divers-speyside_reef_diver_800x600 12underseatobago_dolphin_640

Before you get ready to jump off the dive boat, we should probably give you some background information about Tobago and mention what you might want to see and where you might like to dive first. Tobago is the small sister island in The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It is approximately 40km (25 miles) long and 10km (6.2 miles) wide. It’s where many from Trinidad come to take a leisure vacation as it is only 35km (22 miles) away; a twenty minute flight. We should mention that Tobago is only 80km (50 miles) from South America. In fact, most of the flora and fauna is identical to what you would expect to find in South America as a land bridge connected this region during the end of the last ice age.

14ac218d25efc3f7fd2cdd7fbfc18889 1280px-castara_village_beach1 phaethon_aethereus_little_tobago

The Arawak were the first to inhabit the island and they were later replaced by the Caribs. Columbus discovered Tobago on his third voyage and soon afterwards, in what seemed at the time like an endless rotating order, the Caribs were replaced by the French, English, Dutch, Spanish, and finally by Africans and East Indian descendants. You might say Tobago has changed hands more than any other island in the Caribbean, and yet somehow, it remarkably retained one of the oldest forest reserves in the western hemisphere starting in 1776. The Main Ridge Reserve is 550m (1804 ft) high at Pigeon Point Peak near the village of Speyside. If you want to visit this protected forest and view the beautiful water falls you’ll have to hire an official Tobagonian guide. Tobago also has some small islands off its coast that have become bird havens or sanctuaries. The south end of Tobago is low lying and is home to the Robinson International Airport (TAB). You can fly nonstop into Tobago, or go “directly” through Trinidad, or you can even take the ferry service which runs from Port of Spain, Trinidad and takes 2.5 hours to reach Crown Point, Tobago.

1280px-boccoo2-2005 9030583_orig 7432426_orig

Back to diving that will excite beginners to the most experienced, 4km (2.5 miles) south of the airport are the sites of some of the most well-known drift dives near the island, and when it comes to drift dives, the name Flying Reef pretty much says it all. Here you can drift by at 0-2 knots down to 17m (58ft) of depth over the coral and past a ship’s anchor as you keep a look out for stingrays, turtles, schools of fish, nurse sharks, and passing pelagics. This dive site goes right into Sting Ray Alley where guitarfish, electric rays and more nurse sharks are usually spotted.  Nearby Divers Dream is the site with overhangs for nurse sharks to the left, and a rock garden full of fish for those that dive to the right. Nearby Divers Thirst is where black tips, bull sharks and tiger sharks are spotted.

Mt Irvine Wall with is another dive destination where one dive site leads to another or is nearby.  The Wall is where you may find lobsters, crab, shrimps, and sea horses, but over at the Mt Irvine Extension is where the grouper, eagle rays tarpon, cobia, and hawksbill turtles like to hang out. Rainbow Reef in the middle of the bay goes down to 21m (70ft) and is named for the rainbow runners that like to hang out around a 17th century fishing anchor.

10176242_1473311772929684_46793865953007664_nd 6041729_orig scuba-diving-in-tobago

For specific fish destinations we recommend Arnos Vale, max 14m 45ft depth, which is a rock crevice nursery for all kinds of fish and is a great place for beginner divers as well as for night dives. Kelliston Drain near Goat Island and not far from Speyside, is home of the world’s largest brain coral at over 3m (10ft) high and 5.3m (16ft) wide; while not every diver is amazed by these measurements, at least the large number mantas who pass by here are impressed. The nearby Sisters are a group of five pinnacles that rise up from the deep and this is where you have a great chance to see scalloped hammer heads, especially during October to May, and whale sharks whenever they feel like it. Also close by is Japanese Gardens near Goat Island and it gets its name from all the soft corals, sea whips, and barrel sponges. This dive site flows right into the rock corridor named Kamikaze Cut. London Bridge is another popular spot when currents permit, and where water pushes you between two hard rock surfaces and empties you out into a 15m (45ft) deep area of sand. You’ll see where it got its name from before you even get close to the exposed topside rock formation. It’s a great spot to view black surgeonfish, trumpet fish, and trunk fish. Some of the more unique fish you may find around the island include: cherub angelfish, flame angelfish, angle sharks like the sand devil, and giraffe garden eels. As for wreck dives, the M.V. Maverick, 107m (350ft) long passenger and car ferry that was cleaned and opened up and made safety ready for divers before being sunk on purpose in 1997, has plenty of coral and animal life including: crabs, clams, schools of bonito and bait fish, turtles, and eagle rays.

nurseshark grunts-on-divers-dream2 caribbean_island

Now for adventurous divers and weather permitting, there is practically untouched diving 32-64km (20-40 miles) away at the off shore reefs. Plus, there is the wreck of the S.S. Kioto, which was sunk Sept 15, 1942 by U-boat 514. After three torpedoes, it finally sunk in 12m (40ft) of water and the scattered debris are still visible.

As you can see, Tobago is a small island, but there are more than 40 dive sites to choose from. There is also bicycling, birding, exploring the old sugar mills and plantations, visiting the 1770 Fort George, or checking out the beaches in April-July to view the leatherback turtles nesting. We didn’t even have time to point out all the beaches, but Tobago is where Disney filmed Swiss Family Robinson in 1958, so you already know that the beaches are Disney approved; even the Pirate’s Beach. There is a lot to experience, so you might not be able to fit everything in on one vacation trip, but the steel drum music bands are always playing something good, the crab and dumplings “Creole style” are simmering in the pot, and to make Tobago’s sunsets complete, the island just needs you.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Travel, Dolphins, Family Travel, Manta Rays, Marine Life, Pelagics, Pinnacles, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Sharks, Tobago, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video, Whale Sharks, Wreck Diving, Wrecks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Belize and Un-Belizable Diving and Adventure!

Belize and Un-Belizable Diving and Adventure!

 BLZ_440 belize-jaguar Where is Belize

Who would have thought that you have to go to Central America to a small English speaking country to truly encounter the second largest Great Barrier Reef in the world? There are three atolls off shore to dive and explore, Turneffe Atoll, Lighthouse Reef, and Glover’s Reef, and the sea life ranges from Manatees up north from Dangriga to Ambergris Caye to whale sharks down south near Placencia. Belize is also the least densely populated country in Central America. The local population consists of Mennonites, Mestizos, Mayans, English, Spanish, Caribbean, African, and many others of multiethnic descent. It’s a beautiful blended cuisine and culture country with Mexico right above it, Guatemala to the west and south, and wondrous diverse waters with some 200 plus territorial islands and cayes to the east.

B3PRGT-1680x1050 5004588c05876d18233b070363bbdd14 1024px-San_Pedro_Beach

Starting at the most northeastern end of the country we find ourselves captivated with Ambergris Caye. By boat from the mainland it is a short ride the main Ambergris Caye town of San Pedro. The majority of resort hotels in Belize surround San Pedro so if you are in to nightlife, this is the hot spot of the country. From San Pedro it is a short five mile boat ride to Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark-Sting Ray Alley. The aquatic creatures are abundant here and you don’t have to dive deep to discover reefs lush with life and protected by rangers for a small $10 park fee. There are many other dive sites along Ambergris Caye’s coastline and you could spend a week here, but there are some other must see dive sites to visit before you leave the country and at least one is world famous.

belize-scuba-diving Archaeology_Maya_Temple_02-big belize-zoo-and-xunantunich-day-trip-by-air-from-ambergris-caye-in-san-pedro-122143

South east from Ambergris or right across from Belize City on the edge of the Caribbean Sea is Turneffe Atoll the largest atoll off of Belize and here you can stay and play and dive around shallow reefs, caves, walls, and view large pelagics at The Elbow and Pelican Wall or visit a pod of dolphins in the middle of South Lagoon. You can go kayaking around mangrove swamps, or comb Lindsey’s Back Porch or The Terrace for a glimpse of the rare white spotted toadfish. You could easily spend a week here, but for now, we have to move on.

Once a week, weather depending, day trips from several dive shops or dive resorts will take you to Lighthouse Reef. You can dive Half Moon Caye Wall and The Aquarium, with lunch on shore next to a red-footed boobie sanctuary, or you could come out here for a full day trip to The Great Blue Hole. Blue Hole was made world famous when Cousteau came here in the 1970’s and dynamited a path through the reef so he could get his ship the Calypso inside to measure accurately the 407ft (124m) of depth near the center of the hole. While this was not a particularly friendly to any environmentalist, he did map the 984ft (300m) wide blue hole, the 20ft (6.1m) long stalactites and stalagmites down at 130ft (40m), and the caves at the western end down at 230ft (70.1m).

Glover’s Reef is the smallest atoll and can easily be reached from Dangriga, Hopkins or Placencia.  Both Dangriga and Hopkins are Garifuna settlements, so expect the food, the culture, the locals, and especially the music to be a unique African/Caribbean treat in these more southerly visited regions. For more boutique style, yet equally impressive diving you can take either half day of whole day dive trips out to Glover’s Reef. Some of the dive sites out here include: Long Caye Wall (corals and mantas seen here), The Aquarium (yes another one, but with dolphins and turtles), Manta Wall (known for swim throughs), Pinnacles (corals, sponges, and pelagics) and Off the Wall (dive at 25ft (7.6m) to 6,000ft (1.8km). You could easily spend a week diving out here, but wait, there is more!

Off of Placencia from March through June whale sharks come in to feed off the spawn of pelagic species and Gladdin Spit is the destination for many a boat/charter operator. From June to August you can view female turtles coming to shore to lay their eggs. As for the rest of the year local dive sites and cayes include: night dives at Laughing Bird Caye, Silk or Queen Cayes, North Wall, White Hole, Turtle Canyons, Pompion Caye, Long Reef, The Wreck, and Shark Hole to name a few.  We had to shorten the list and stop here because we haven’t even mentioned any of the land attractions that have made Belize so famous.

Sure, they have a spectacular national zoo with all the local suspects, but even more than this, they have the only national jaguar preserve in the world: Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary & Jaguar Preserve. They also have Pumas, Ocelots, Jaguarundi, and Margay; plus some 300 other species of wildlife. The preserve is between Hopkins and Placencia and day hikes or overnight limited stays in cabins are available. There are also nearby river rafting tours available. For something a little more out of mainstream, you can enter Actun Tunichil Muknal cave. The ATM cave has deposits of human remains such as the “Crystal Maiden” and sacrificial artifacts left by Mayans from AD 300-900.

Speaking of Mayans, they absolutely ruined Belize by placing temples and other structures all around the country. Xunantunich is a classic period ceremonial center, Altun Ha has the large jade head and lots of wildlife, Caraco is the largest known Maya center, Cahal Pech has 34 structures and two ball courts (you don’t want to know what happened if you were on the losing team), Santa Rita in northern Belize dates back 2000 years, Lamanai has over 719 mapped structures, Cerro Maya was a coastal trading center, the Barton Creek Cave has many Mayan artifacts and was used for Mayan rituals, Nim Li Punit is small, but has the largest Mayan carvings, and Lubaantun is constructed southern Mayan style without mortar.

ruins01_lg snorkel6 Archaeology_Maya_Temple_03-big

So there you go more biodiversity, outdoor activities, architectural wonders, and more diving than you could see or do in several trips and all this is rolled inside the borders of one of the smallest countries in Central America. Here you get the great Blue Hole, the second largest reef in the world, three atolls, hundreds of cayes and islands, local cultures, historical remains of an advanced ancient civilization, jungles, multiple wildlife species, extensive flora and cuisines that are blended from around the world or go back thousands of years. Come visit soon and find out all of this for yourself, as some things are just too naturally incredible, absolutely amazing,  and just too historically magnificent to ever make up; Belize it or not!

 

 

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Belize, Blue Hole, Dive Travel, Dolphins, Manta Rays, Marine Life, Pelagics, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Sharks, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Walls, Whale Sharks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thailand’s Amazing Andaman Sea

Thailand’s Amazing Andaman Sea

  

You probably already have a good idea what Thailand is like. You may not know it, but over eighty films have been shot in Thailand, so if you’ve seen The Man with the Golden Gun, a James Bond film, you’ve seen parts of Bangkok. In The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio you see Maya Beach and parts of Phuket. In Star Wars: Episode III, the Krabi Province turns into the Wookiee home world. The scenic background list goes on for Blackbeard, Cutthroat Island, Heaven and Earth, The King and I, and The Bridge over the River Kwai, to name a few. To add to what you’ve already discovered visually about Thailand, we would also like to mention a few local reference points of interest of our own before we mention where and what to see while diving the waters of this ancient and exotic country.

  

Thailand is a land of natural beauty mixed with captivating ancient ruins and artfully decorated temples. It’s a land of some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet. People have inhabited this area of the world for over forty thousand years with a considerable amount of early on influence from India. The Kingdom was named Siam until it was changed in 1939 to Thailand. The main language is Thai which is closely related to Lao, and the government also recognizes 62 other regional languages. They use an official Buddhist Era calendar that is ahead of the western Gregorian calendar by 543 years, so the year 2017 AD is 2560 BE. Thailand is also the land of five thousand types of rice and almost just as many types of sauces that seem to accompany each unique entrées or particular set of appetizers. There are also many mesmerizing sights to see in the city of Bangkok that you may be forced by curiosity to spend a few days in the city before taking another flight, bus, or train, out to one of the coastal towns where your real dive adventure awaits, but because there are so many islands, and so many dive sites to choose from, we thought that we would break it all down from north to south in order to help you figure out where you might want to go diving first.

We’ll start off with the Similan Islands which are about 65km (40 miles) off shore of Khao Lak and 100km (62 miles) north of Phuket, so they are easily assessable from both directions. These nine granite islands have over 25 dive sites and the west side has easy diving for new divers, plus you’ll find swim throughs, tunnels, boulders, and arches. You’ll encounter leopard sharks, turtles, and a plethora of fish. Donald Duck Bay is a great spot for macro diving and night dives. East of Eden has peacock groupers, Elephant Head Rock is where olive Ridley’s and Hawksbill turtles and the rare McCosker’s dwarf wrasse hang out. Green turtles are at North Point, and keep your eyes open for Orangespine unicorn fish at Hideaway. Stonehenge is great for soft corals and clownfish. White tip sharks, Napoleon wrasse, ribbon eels, and occasionally mantas, can be spotted at Christmas Point. Don’t let all these exotic Thai sounding dive site names distract you, if there is a certain fish or site you want to see, just ask your local dive master for more information.

  

Moving up North you will need a more than a four-day charter operator to visit many of the more northern dive destinations, especially if you are starting out of Phuket. Shorter trips can be arranged out of Khao Lak. Koh Bon is another hour north of the Similan Islands and is known for wall, pinnacle, and night diving. Octopus and small invertebrates like the small cove, meanwhile mantas like to hang out for the plankton and underwater cameras. Nearby Koh Tachai has strong currents, swim throughs through the boulders, and is known as one of the sites to see whale sharks, nurse sharks, and leopard sharks. 68km (42 miles) north of the Similan islands we come to the remote and less visited Surin Islands.  This area has the greatest hard coral diversity in Thailand. There are lots of schooling bumphead wrasse and Spanish mackerel passing by in this national marine park. Gray sharks, eagle rays, and shovel nose rays are also spotted here as well as ribbon eels, pipefish, Andaman sweetlips, rabbitfish, and cowrie shells. The forest of Surin Island is home to crab eating macaques, flying foxes, flying lemurs, deer, hornbills, seahawks, and kingfishers; so, the view can be both spectacular simultaneously above and below water. We should mention that 15km (9 miles) east of here is where Jacque Cousteau filmed the mantas and whale sharks that made Richelieu Rock world famous. Lastly, some operators go all the way up to Burma Banks and the Mergui Archipelago. Technically, up here, you are diving off of Myanmar’s reefs, which are seldom if ever visited by throngs of other divers. The Burma Banks rise 15m (49ft) near the surface then dip down some 300 meters. You can drift dive with mantas, white tips, silver tips, and whale sharks, or hang out with nurse sharks, frogfish, crab, shrimp, and lobsters.  Before we leave the north end, we should mention that if you like wrecks, the tin processor Bunsoong and the teak Sea Chart 1 wreck are near Khao Lak, and the Premchai tin dredger wreck is just a short distance south.

For central dive sites that are in easy reach of Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lok, or Ao Nang Beach, one of the most popular diving areas is the Phi Phi Islands, which are part of the Mu koh Phi Phi National Marine Park. There are over 15 dive sites around the two islands. Loh Samah Bay on the southern island of Phi Phi Lay is a popular spot to train new divers and do a night dive.   Wall Maya is right outside of the famous Maya Bay where snorkeling and hanging out on the beach are a must do activity. The 47m (154ft) long HTMS Kledkeao Thai Navy transport ship was sunk between Phi Phi Lay Bay and Viking Bay in 2014. Hin Dot “Chimney Rock” is on the south side of Phi Phi Don. There are lots of caves and caverns to explore on both islands as well. An all-day excursion that typically includes three dives in one day is a trip over to the 85m (279ft) long King Cruiser; a Japanese car ferry, followed by a dive over at nearby Shark Point (Guess what you might see here) and then on to Anenome Reef, where Nemo and at least four other species of Clown fish like to hang out. Racha Yai and Racha Noi are just south of Phuket. After the tsunami in 2004 they placed two elephant statues, a clam, and an arch underwater in Siam Bay off Racha Yai island. The south side of Racha Noi is known for large pelagics, mantas, and occasional whale sharks. South of the Phi Phi islands are the two split rocks of Koh Bida Noi and Koh Bida Nok with boulders, swim throughs, caverns and overhangs. Garang Heng is a submerged reef east of Phi Phi Lay and bursting with soft corals, fish, and leopard sharks. Over by Ao Nang Beach are seven other islands frequented by divers, the most popular being Koh Yawabon for its’ long swim through, and G.K. Island for its’ sea horses. There are other submerged reefs and pinnacles to visit over here. There are also untold beaches, shore, and pier dives to do in the central area of the Andaman Sea.

  

Moving on to the southern Andaman Sea you can choose dive operations from Phuket, Krabi, Koh Lanta, and Satun to name a few places. Koh Ha is an island group of five rocks that barely break the surface, but below are home to swim throughs, caverns, drop offs, chimneys, pinnacles, and caves off of Koh Ha Yai where you can come up inside an air pocket to gaze at stalactites. Koh Rok is comprised of two islands with white sand beaches, steep cliffs, and soft corals galore. Moving on to the Mu Koh Lanta National Marine Park we find two islands. Hin Mueng is called the “Purple Rock” because of the predominant color of soft corals and is home to the areas 60m (196ft) long vertical wall dive. Hin Daeng “red rock” is known as one of the top three spots for sighting whale sharks. South of here we come to the Tarutao Marine Park with more than 30 islands to choose from. Koh Lipe has some local dive sites, as well as being one of the starting points for excursions out to 8 Mile Rock to see pelagics, diving sites such as Stone Henge, 6 Mile Rock, and 7 Rocks, or perhaps local dive spots of the big islands of Koh Adang and Koh Rawi ; these dive sites are actually in the Adang Archipelago and the Satun Sea. There are a few more southern islands to dive, but you would be diving in Malaysia if you went any further south, as well as on your way through the Malacca Strait separating Malaysia from Indonesia.

    

As you can see, diving all the sites in Thailand’s Andaman Sea in one trip would be like visiting all 50 United States in one week long trip. Dive liveaboards are the best way to experience the best dive sites that Thailand has to offer. You can separate the excursions out by starting your dives from a northern point and then planning to visit the southern sites from a southern starting point. You can do a couple of longer multiple day charters from Phuket with at least one charter going north and a separate charter going south to give you some of the highlights of the most popular dive sites. But you will still have to return again and again, especially once you have met the Thai people and become enchanted by their culture, lifestyle, and friendliness; plus witnessed firsthand the exquisite and unique natural bounty of local ocean life, and have become captivated by the spectacular natural beauty of the temples, islands, rocks, pinnacles, reefs, and isolated beaches.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestmail
Posted in Dive Destinations, Dive Liveaboards, Dive Travel, Manta Rays, Marine Life, Myamar, Pelagics, Pinnacles, Reefs, Scuba Diving, Scuba Training & Education, Sharks, Thailand, Turtles, Underwater Photography, Underwater Video, Walls, Whale Sharks, Wreck Diving, Wrecks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment