How To Make A Successful Shore Entry
By Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson
Depending on where you live, or where you travel, you may find that the simplest way to dive is from the shore. There are excellent shore diving sites all over the world, and as well as saving you the cost and travel time of boat diving, shore diving offers the freedom to choose where and when you want to dive, how often and for how long.
The “plan your dive, dive your plan” mantra is one emphasized over and over again to all divers during entry-level training, and it’s particularly applicable to shore diving. Attempting a shore entry in a place that you’ve already dived a hundred times is one thing, but when visiting a site for the first time it’s imperative that you know what to expect. Researching a shore diving site means finding answers to a long list of questions, from dive conditions to the rules surrounding scuba diving in a particular area. You will need to know what to expect underfoot, as there is often very little visibility in the surf zone and your head will be above water for much of your entry. A beach may look sandy from the shore, but concealed hazards could include sharp coral, rocks and rubbish, unexpected gullies and potholes and sea urchin beds. You need to find out how quickly a dive site drops off into deeper water, whether you should expect current once you reach back line, and the optimum time to dive in terms of weather conditions and tide. The best way to find the answers to these questions is to seek the advice of local dive centers or fellow divers who have experienced the site before. Failing that, tide charts, weather forecast stations, maps and guidebooks are all useful sources of information. How you choose to research your dive site is up to you — what’s important is that you do so.
When planning for a shore entry, you need to make sure that you have all the equipment necessary to protect yourself, especially in those areas with more challenging conditions or terrain. If you are making a shore entry from a beach with uneven or sharp ground (for example, loose rocks or exposed reef), you may want to ditch your closed-heel fins in favor of open-heel fins with thick-soled booties that will protect your feet. Similarly, while a shorty wetsuit may provide adequate protection when diving from calm beaches in the tropics, you may want to cover up with a full suit and even gloves when facing rougher conditions. In the event that you do get knocked over by a wave when entering the water, you will be glad of the added layer of neoprene protection. You also need to consider what additional equipment you take with you — is a dynamic surf zone really the best place for expensive camera housings and torches? When shore diving, it is important to remain relatively unburdened, with your hands free during entry. Anything you do take needs to be securely attached, or confined to a BCD pocket.
Preparing for entry
No matter how thoroughly you have researched a dive site, it is important to take a moment to assess conditions on the dive day. You may have been told to expect moderate surf, but if you arrive after a big wind, that same surf will pose a much greater hazard. Observe the waves, and decide whether they are manageable or not. If you decide that they are, watch the sets until a pattern emerges and then time your entry to coincide with the smaller waves. Watch for rip currents or concealed rocks, the former of which is often denoted by a line of sea foam traveling towards the horizon, the latter of which will cause the incoming waves to break irregularly as they pass over the rocks. Armed with this information, you can decide your best entry point; once decided, try to find a static reference point on the shore that corresponds with your place of entry so that you can use it to exit as well. When you are ready, it’s time to don your gear, making certain that all trailing equipment (including your gauges, alternate air source and pressure inflator) is securely fastened or tucked away. When preparing to make your entry, you should have all equipment in place, with the possible exception of your fins.
Taking the plunge
After all your preparation, it’s finally time to get into the water. You should have your mask on, and your regulator in place, in case you find yourself submerged earlier than expected. If there is no surf or it’s relatively calm, you can enter the water with your fins under your arm. Wade in until the water reaches chest level, then put your fins on and swim backwards with your BCD inflated until the water is deep enough to make your descent. You can also enter the water with your fins already in place, making sure to walk backwards to maintain your balance — it’s up to you. In extreme surf, you will need to execute your shore entry slightly differently. It’s a good idea to enter the water with your fins already in place to reduce the risk of losing them should you become overpowered by the waves. Walk into the water sideways in order to minimize the impact of oncoming waves on your body. As soon as you’re deep enough, let all air out of your BCD and descend to the bottom; there, you can use your hands to pull yourself to deeper water in coordination with the pull and lull of the waves crashing above you. When making a simple shore entry, it’s usually possible to maintain contact with your buddy, but in rougher conditions, it’s easy to become separated in the surf zone. For this reason, you may want to agree to surface upon reaching calmer water so that you can reconnect and orient yourself with the shore.
The keys to a successful shore entry are planning and preparation. Before attempting an entry of this kind, make sure that you have all the information you need to remain safe. Never hesitate to cancel a dive if you feel insufficiently prepared or if the conditions seem too challenging on a given day — as with all kinds of diving, there’s always tomorrow. If the conditions are right, however, tailor the tips in this article to the specifics of your chosen site, and prepare to discover for yourself the unique freedom of diving from the shore.
10 Tips To Make Ear Clearing Easier
As we descend on a dive, pressure from outside water exceeds the pressure in our middle ear. If left unattended, this pressure can cause not only pain but also damage to some of the small, delicate parts of the ear. The solution is to make sure we’re properly equalizing the pressure as we descend. This skill comes easier for some divers than for others, though, and if you sometimes struggle with equalization, try one or more of the following tips to make ear clearing easier. Start before you hit the water Before you even get wet, pre-pressurize your Eustachian tubes (the small tubes that run from your throat to your inner ear) by closing your mouth, pinching your nose, and attempting to blow out softly through your nose. This will slightly increase the pressure in your Eustachian tubes, making it easier to equalize as you descend. As with any equalization technique, go easy and don’t overdo it, as this may cause discomfort or damage. Equalize early and oftenThe most common cause of problems during descent is that divers often wait too long before they start clearing their ears. If the pressure difference between the inside of the ear and the ambient pressure becomes too great, clearing becomes almost impossible. Don’t wait for the first signs of discomfort — start as soon as you begin your descent. And equalize often. Some people will need to clear their ears every few feet, while others can get away with doing it much less frequently. You need to find your own frequency, but there’s no harm in equalizing more frequently than you need to. Feet firstIf you have problems clearing your ears, maintain the upright position longer. By staying vertical, rather than leveling off into a horizontal position, the slight pressure difference between the air in your lungs and the air in your ears will help you equalize. In fact, studies have shown that some clearing techniques require 50 percent more force in a head-down position rather than in a head-up position. Go slowThe faster you descend, the harder it will be to equalize. If you’re dropping like a rock, you’re probably over-weighted, but if you must inflate your BC slightly as you descend, do so to slow your rate. If you struggle with equalizing, slow your descent rate until you reach a point where you can adjust to the pressure a little at a time. Look upLooking up can help with clearing your ears, as doing so opens up the Eustachian tubes. SwallowSome people find that swallowing, maybe forcefully, can help clear their ears, sometimes on its own, other times in combination with other techniques. Try a different techniqueThere are more ways to clear your ears than the traditional nose-pinch version, which is formally known as the Valsalva maneuver. Swallowing, as mentioned above, and also known as the Toynbee maneuver, is one alternative. The Edmond technique can be particularly helpful to those who have trouble equalizing, but it requires a bit of practice: tense up your soft palate (the rear part of the roof of your mouth) as well as your throat muscles, and push your jaw down and forward, then do a Valsalva. And my personal favorite is the Voluntary Tubular opening: tense up your soft palate and throat; then extend your jaw as if trying to stifle a yawn. This will push your Eustachian tubes open, allowing pressurized air to flow to them, equalizing the pressure. StopTry making little stops along the way down. Sometimes, it can be quite a task load to manage your descent, keep an eye on your buddy and equalize. So make little stops by doing a few kicks with your fins (if you’re in the upright position, this will halt your descent) and do your equalization before continuing your descent. Consider food allergiesCertain foods, such as nuts and dairy, can irritate the mucus membrane, causing it to generate more mucus, which can block the nasal passages. This can make equalization hard, or even impossible. If you suspect you may have food sensitivity, try to avoid the item for a few days before a dive and see if your equalization improves. Allergy tests will also help with a diagnosis. Drink waterDehydration can cause the mucus in our nasal passages to become thicker, making it more likely to block the passages, and with them, equalization. So make sure you’re well hydrated before a dive (for a number of reasons, but now you have one more). Article By Thomas Gronfeldt
Valve on, Valve off
By Thomas Gronfeldt
Every year, divers enter the water with their tank valves off, resulting in interrupted dives — and worse. Speak to dive guides and instructors the world over, and you’ll realize it’s a more common scenario than you’d expect: a diver descends to begin a dive, only to suddenly realize he’s got no air. Those who remember their training dump their weights and head for the surface, performing a controlled emergency ascent. Some, tragically, panic and rush to the surface, risking decompression illness, or drown. Out-of-air (or more correctly, out-of-gas) situations are among the most common causes of dive fatalities, and a surprising number of these occurs right at the beginning of a dive, such as in the example above. The problem isn’t usually the fault of the diver having depleted the tank in the first few minutes of the dive, but that the tank valve was never opened to begin with, or was only partially opened. A good equipment assembly and check process should of course include both turning on the tank valve and checking that it is indeed opened, often by breathing in one of the regulators. This is then double-checked by looking at the manometer to confirm that the operating pressure of the tank is sufficient for the dive. This is then reconfirmed during the buddy check. Ideally, these multiple checks will catch any situation where a diver hasn’t turned on his tank valve, but the world is far from ideal.The Divers Alert Network (DAN) has consulted two experts, Peter Buzzacott and Gareth Lock, on the issue in their recent edition of Alert Diver, the leading DAN publication. The ReasonsThe out-of-air situation often occurs due to one of the following reasons: 1. Divers have failed to open their tank valves all the way. This can happen either due to an interruption when the diver was assembling his gear or through a simple error. The tank valve may be open far enough that it allows sufficient air to pass through to supply the diver with air at the surface, but as the diver descends, they’ll consume increasing amounts of air, maxing out the capacity of the valve in its partially open state. 2. Divers accidentally partially close their valve after opening. This is usually due to the practice of opening the valve all the way and then turning it back a quarter or half turn. If a diver exaggerates this final part, they may find themselves closing a valve partially, which means it won’t be able to supply enough air at depth. 3. Divers turn their tank valves off, but don’t reopen them. If some time passes between assembling the scuba unit and the dive, many divers will turn off their valves and then forget to reopen them before the dive. The remaining gas in the system will give them a reading on the manometer, and even a few breaths from the regulator before the air is gone, making it harder to spot the error. 4. Another diver accidentally turned the valve off. Sometimes other divers, in an attempt to be helpful, may turn the valve of a seemingly unattended scuba unit off, or may accidentally turn the valve off thinking they are in fact turning it on. As with the example above, the remaining pressure in the system may make this hard to catch. Avoid The Valve-Off ScenarioDAN recommends the following to avoid out-of-gas situations early in the dive: 1. Always do a complete gear assembly and check, possibly aided by a checklist to ensure all steps are covered. 2. If a gear assembly and check is interrupted, go through all the steps again to avoid accidentally skipping one. 3. Open valves all the way, avoiding the classical practice of opening them and turning them back a quarter or half turn. This practice stems from when valves were made of brass, and very susceptible to getting stuck if the brass cooled, but modern valves aren’t. And a partially opened valve can lead to confusion over whether the valve is indeed opened or not. For this very reason, many technical diving organizations teach their students to always open valves all the way. 4. Do a buddy check before entering the water, and monitor your manometer as you take a few breaths from your regulator. If the needle drops with every breath, your valve is most likely closed, either fully or partially.Should such a situation ever befall you, it’s important to keep calm, signal your buddy that you’re out of air and switch to your buddy’s octopus. Your buddy can then check your regulator and valve to see if the problem can be fixed or if you must abort the dive.
GoPro Underwater Photography Guide
Article by Thomas Gronfeldt
Housing, Filters and Hardware
The wildly popular GoPro camera seems ubiquitous these days, having made its way into most active sports from surfing to mountain biking to rock climbing, and, of course, to scuba diving. And for good reason: the small cameras deliver high quality, full-HD footage in a travel-friendly, fairly inexpensive package.
However, as most people who’ve bought one have discovered, buying the camera is only half the battle. Learning to use it, along with purchasing a range of extra accessories, will help you get the best footage possible during your sport of choice. In this article series, we’ll cover all you need to know to make your GoPro into a lean, mean, dive footage-creating machine.
First and foremost we must look at the housing. The original GoPros came with a durable housing, rated to 60 meters (197 feet). It was somewhat large and cumbersome, though, and had a few diving-related problems, such as a moderate wide-angle effect intended for land-based shooting. GoPro subsequently redesigned their housing and camera to be smaller, lighter and more suited to diving. The current version, the GoPro Hero3+, features a much slimmer housing, but it’s only rated for 40 meters (131 feet). GoPro has also produced a separate, dive-specific housing, rated to 60 meters. Although recreational dive limits top out at 40 meters, because of the difference in dynamic and static pressure, it’s recommended that if you routinely dive to 60 feet or deeper (18 meters+), you get the dive-specific housing to reduce the risk of flooding. The good news about the new version is that the wide-angle capabilities are much better than on previous versions, allowing divers to move very close to the motif of the photo, while still capturing all of, say, a reef shark. We’ll get into shooting practices in a later article.
Light starts to fade away as we descend, but we don’t lose light equally across the spectrum. Normal light contains all the primary colors, which fade away one by one as we get deeper. The first to go is red; the last is blue. Because of this, underwater photography and film footage often seems blue, a tendency that increases the deeper we go. To remedy this effect, a red filter is a highly useful for underwater photography. There are filters for all types of cameras, including the GoPro. Some filters simply click on over the lens; other, multiple filters allow divers to switch between them on a multilevel dive. The latter configuration makes it possible to account for the lighting conditions at any given depth, but these filters are typically more expensive and bulkier, and determining which filter goes with which depth takes some training. Other filters are made for specific lighting conditions, such as the greenish hue of freshwater, or for night diving. In any case, a red filter will greatly enhance your photos, and along with a photo light, make the colors and details pop, ending the age of blue or green dive photos.
Photo and video lights
Which brings us to lights. Again, light disappears as we descend, and while compensating for this with a filter is important, so too can be compensating for the general loss of light. Powerful photo and/or video lights can help. Think of photo lights as underwater flashes that shoot off a burst of light as you take a picture, helping to illuminate the scene. Video lights are more like flashlights or dive torches that shine continuously, illuminating the scene as you film. When using either, instead of being directly beneath or directly above the lens — as in a traditional camera flash — it helps to put the light at an angle to help reduce backscatter. Our next article will cover more on light placement and mounting options.
In its most basic configuration, the GoPro works pretty well as an underwater camera, in particular for snorkeling and shallow dives. But to take it up a notch, requires a little more of an investment, including lights, filters, and possibly a dedicated dive housing. With these, you’re ready to take your underwater photo and video to the next level.
8 Tips To Help You With Your Open Water Course
Article from Scuba Diver Life
1. Listen to and watch your instructor. When he or she is demonstrating a skill, pay attention. They’re doing so for your benefit, and hopefully they have already mastered the skills themselves. 2. Everything in your course has a purpose (even that damn snorkel), even if to begin with you don’t understand what the reason is. Your instructor should explain why you are required to do A, B and C. They are not asking you to do something for no reason. 3. Relax — easy to say, not always easy to do. Nearly everyone has problems (sometimes major, sometimes minor) when they start off; it is almost expected. 4. Don’t beat yourself over the head about something you’re not getting; your instructor will work with you until the perceived problem is no longer. 5. Don’t worry if the student next to you seems to grasp the theory or water skills quicker than you do. It’s not a competition; people learn at different speeds. It doesn’t matter how quickly you complete a skill or piece of theory, all that matters is that you competently complete the course. 6. Never be afraid to ask questions. People often don’t ask questions or for another demonstration as they’re afraid of appearing stupid or slow-witted. 7. Don’t confuse the Open Water course with diving. Some people get halfway through the course and decide diving’s not for them. For most people, a dive equals a jump in the water, a look at the fish or wrecks, and getting out of the water. On most general dives we don’t remove our masks underwater, perform fin pivots, remove our regulators, and so on. The course is a means to an end, not the end itself, and will make you a more confident diver when the time comes to just jump in. 8. One last thing – enjoy it. Diving is essentially about fun; that’s why we call it recreational diving.
Reasons To Take A Refresher
By: C. David Conner
While scuba diving is no doubt all about adventure, it’s also all about staying safe. As with many potentially risky hobbies, if you haven’t been diving in a year or more it may be time for a refresher course before taking that next trip. There are several reasons to keep current on your skills, and one of the most important has nothing to do with your competency when practicing them and everything to do with your state of mind: people tend to get nervous when placed in uncomfortable situations. And while nerves may not be a big deal if, say, you’re out of practice with your bowling game, a severe case of the nerves can lead to any number of dangerous situations when you’re diving. Underwater panic can turn a diving inconvenience, like a flooding mask, into an emergency in seconds. Avoiding panic, no matter how serious the situation, is absolutely vital and could save your life should you ever face a real underwater emergency. A refresher course will do as much to ease your mind as it will to exercise your skills when getting back in the water. Nerves can also affect air consumption and equalization. The body responds to tense situations with faster breathing in preparation of the “flight or fight” response, which affects scuba divers in two ways. The most obvious effect of heavier breathing is faster air consumption and thus not as much bottom time. A lesser, but also inconvenient, effect is increased buoyancy. Refresher dives are also a great opportunity to check your equipment. You don’t want to go on the trip of a lifetime only to watch as your housing floods and that fancy underwater camera is ruined because of a bad O-ring — and yes, I’m speaking from experience. Regulators have O-rings; hoses can rot; BCD bladders can wear out. Scuba gear is designed to be durable, but equipment will wear out, especially if not used in a while. If you’ve got any doubt, take your gear to a qualified professional for service before diving as well. It can be difficult to pick up right where you left off with scuba diving, so keeping those skills current is essential to make for more enjoyable and safe diving.
How To Be The Best Buddy
By Nadia Aly
The buddy system used in scuba diving is key in ensuring the mutual safety and enjoyment of both yourself as well as your diving partner, with the following being some exemplary buddy behaviours. Form a Plan and Stick to ItPre-dive, formulate a plan with your buddy that both of you will stick to, with regards to the duration of the dive, the sites to visit, as well as any other major discussion points. Assist Your Buddy With Their EquipmentSome scuba gear may be difficult to get in and out of alone, and if heavy equipment is to be brought along during the dive, the load should always be divided between both parties. Form a Plan and Stick to ItPre-dive, formulate a plan with your buddy that both of you will stick to, with regards to the duration of the dive, the sites to visit, as well as any other major discussion points. Assist Your Buddy With Their EquipmentSome scuba gear may be difficult to get in and out of alone, and if heavy equipment is to be brought along during the dive, the load should always be divided between both parties. Double Check Your Buddy's Equipment Pre-DiveIt never hurts to have another set of eyes to look over the set-up of your equipment, and to make sure that everything is working properly. Make sure to do this for your buddy pre-dive! Maintain Active Communication During the DiveAlways keep a clear line of communication with your buddy throughout the dive using hand signals. Do so actively so that both parties are aware of the other's status at all times. Stay Close to Your Buddy Throughout the DiveWhile it may be tempting to wander off on your own to explore the dive site, resist the urge. Always stay close to your buddy as you would be surprised a how easy it is to loose sight of one another.
Perfect Buoyancy On Every Dive
Want to reduce your air consumption? Be able to fin faster and farther with less effort? Look relaxed and in perfect control? Finish the dive with less fatigue? Receive approving smiles from divemasters?
The secret is pinpoint buoyancy control, and it all begins with fine-tuning your weighting—that's how much lead you thread on your belt or put into your pouches. If you are carrying just the right amount of weight, you will have the smallest amount of BC inflation. That means less drag and more efficient finning. Less BC inflation also means less buoyancy shift with depth, so you'll make fewer adjustments.
How Much Weight Do I Need?
Correct weighting depends on your personal buoyancy needs and is influenced by a number of factors—from the composition of your body to the thickness of your wetsuit. You can get a rough estimate of how much weight you'll need by using our exclusive buoyancy calculator. You should be able to estimate the proper weight within 4 to 5 pounds. Now, go diving and:
Make One Final Check
Got your weighting exactly right on the first day of your vacation? Great. Now check it again a few days later. Chances are you can drop a couple more pounds. Why? You're more relaxed now, so you're breathing with less air in your lungs.
Is "Perfect" Weighting Always Perfect?
Because excellent buoyancy control and minimum weighting are the hallmarks of an expert diver, many of us feel pressure to eliminate every pound of lead we can. But sometimes that's a bad idea.
When you're wearing little or no neoprene, there's little or no buoyancy change with depth. You can therefore minimize your weighting without risking too much positive buoyancy when you ascend.
But wearing more neoprene means more changes in buoyancy as it compresses. At depth, you'll probably have to inflate your BC to compensate for it so you lose a good deal of the streamlining benefit. As you ascend, you'll have to vent that air accurately to avoid positive buoyancy. Here, a couple of extra pounds of lead will give you a margin for error.
Think of minimum weighting as you would the edge of a cliff. You don't want to fall over into positive buoyancy and an uncontrollable ascent. When in doubt, it's safer to stay a few steps—or pounds—back from the edge.
Fine Tune Your Trim
Finding perfect buoyancy isn't just about finding the right amount of weight, it's also about the distribution of that weight. Proper trim—the distribution of your weight front-to-back, side-to-side and head-to-toe—helps you keep your fins off the reef and maintain an efficient horizontal swimming position. You should be able to hover in a horizontal position (or, ideally, in any position) without your feet sinking or rising, without rolling to one side or the other.
If your weighting is spot-on so that you're neutral during your 15-foot safety stop, try these exercises to see if you're properly trimmed. If not, you can shift some weight to compensate. Don't expect perfection, but you can get close. (You've got at least three minutes to kill anyway.) The trick is to be as relaxed as possible. Don't fidget.
|Buddha Hover Illustration by Mike Gushock
The Buddha Hover—Assume the modified lotus position (feet under your thighs) and grab your fin tips. This is a good position from which to fine-tune your buoyancy because your hands keep your fins from wiggling. It also detects trim problems: Do you fall over to one side or the other?
|Prone Hover Illustration by Mike Gushock
Prone Hover—Stretch out face-down and concentrate on relaxing and not moving your hands and feet. Do you roll to one side or the other? Do your fins rise or sink?
|Side Hover Illustration by Mike Gushock
Side Hover—This is a better way to detect front-to-back imbalance. Stretch out on your side and, again, concentrate on not moving your hands and feet. Do you roll?
The Fish That Goes Fishing
Courtesy of Wakatobi Dive Resort
When you think of a predator, what attributes come to mind? Streamlined speed, explosive agility, aggressive strength… and then there’s the frogfish. Slow, reclusive and lacking in both offensive and defensive weaponry—not to mention being far from streamlined—the frogfish wouldn’t seem to have the tools needed to become a lethal predator. Yet despite some seeming shortcomings in the attack department, these enigmatic little creatures have developed a unique strategy to capture prey: they hide in plain sight and go fishing. Truly, frogfish are one of nature’s most unusual creatures. The frogfish’s fishing rod is actually a modified dorsal fin with a fleshy appendage at its end, which serves as bait. To attract a meal, it flicks the bait up and down, just like a fisherman working a lure. If a potential target did manage to dart in and steal the bait, the frogfish is able to grow a new appendage to replace what was bitten off. To bring its prey closer, the frogfish uses camouflage and blends into its surroundings. That’s why you’ll have to look very closely among the sponges and corals on the reef to find a frogfish; they often look more like a sponge or a chunk of rock than a fish. Their coloration varies from species to species, and within the same species, while an individual frogfish is able to change its skin color and pattern to better match its surroundings. Skin textures can range from velvety-smooth to algae-covered warts, and even spots that match those of their habitat.
If a frogfish were to change its hiding spot, it could alter its coloration to hatch the new surroundings. But this doesn’t happen often, as these lurkers don’t move around much. Instead, they like to park themselves in concealment and wait for a meal to come their way. When they do move, they are as likely to walk as to swim. Frogfish often use their pectoral and pelvic fins to push themselves along the sea bottom. Of course, they can swim reasonably well when the need arises, and can also pump water out their gill openings to create a sort of jet propulsion effect. The frogfish diet includes crustaceans, fish, and even other frogfish on occasion. When a potential meal gets within six to seven body lengths, the frogfish begins its fishing routine, moving its lure to mimic a swimming or drifting morsel. If the potential prey becomes interested, the frogfish may make a slow, stealthy advance, or it may just lie in wait while working the lure. Once the victim is lured within striking range, the frogfish attacks. But this is no lighting-fast pounce—though it does take places in less than 100th of a second. Rather than move in on the prey, the frogfish literally sucks dinner into its mouth by opening its jaw with near instantaneous speed. This rapid expansion enlarges the mouth to more than ten times its resting size, creating a powerful suction that pulls the meal in. Super-sizing the bite also allows the frogfish to gobble up catches nearly as large as themselves, and its stomach can also expand to accommodate big meals. Their bizarre appearances, unique colorations and unusual hunting tactics make frogfish prized by photographers and fish watchers alike. It takes a sharp eye to spot one amid the colors and patterns of the reef, but because they tend to stay in one place, it’s often possible to return to the same spot and find the same frogfish working the same favorite fishing hole. Truly, frogfish are one of nature’s most unusual creatures.
Artificial Reefs: Solution or Problem
By Beth Alexander
They’ve been in use for thousands of years, with cultures as diverse as the ancient Persians, the Romans and the 17th-century Japanese creating artificial reefs. The earliest written record is from South Carolina in the 1830s, where logs were used to create an artificial reef for improved fishing. These antique ideas and creations have changed little over the years, with many of the primary principals remaining in use.
An artificial reef can be defined as a manmade structure that’s been built to promote marine life in areas with generally featureless bottoms, to control erosion, to block ship passages, or even to improve surfing conditions. Not all artificial reefs are purpose-built; some are created when a ship sinks accidentally. Whether they have been purposely or accidentally constructed, artificial reefs all provide hard surfaces where algae and invertebrates, such as barnacles and corals, can attach and form intricate structures, as well as provide plentiful food for fish.
Variables such as depth, water temperature, current, and the seabed composition determine whether an artificial reef will be successful or not, but generally they all follow a predicable growth formation: Ocean currents encounter vertical structures, which creates plankton-rich upwellings, which in turn provide reliable feeding spots for small fish like sardines and minnows. These draw in pelagic predators, such as tuna and sharks; next come creatures seeking protection, such as groupers and eels, then the opportunistic predators such as barracuda, and finally, over months and years, the reef develops more encrusting algae, sponges, hard and soft corals.
Proponents tout the many benefits of artificial reefs; they enhance resources in coastal waters, create biological reserves, attract tourism, allow the study of a reef’s development and productivity and can help nature to restore itself if the natural reef has been overfished or damaged by pollution or anchoring. One of these success stories is the deliberate sinking of the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany in Pensacola, Florida. It’s the largest purpose-sunk artificial reef in the world, and has been successful due to good management and planning. This wreck and others like it, which have been intentionally sunk, have proven to be great additions to the marine environment, encouraging coral growth and increased fish populations, as well as enabling divers to explore new and interesting environments apart from the natural reef.
But conservation solutions must be executed properly in order to be effective; good ideas are not enough if they’re plagued by human error. Introducing a manmade structure into a sensitively balanced marine ecosystem must be done with the utmost care. Pollution and toxic materials, such as asbestos from wrecks or oil from abandoned rigs, can seep from the structures into the marine habitat. An artificial reef can also lead to a high concentration of fish in one small area, creating heightened competition between species, and also, ironically, worsening overfishing in one specific area.
The prime example of a conservationist-minded idea going horribly awry is Osborne Reef off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the 1970s, an ambitious reef-expansion project was put into place, with the idea being that old tires would spread across a 36-acre site to form an artificial reef. Between 1 and 2 million old tires were deposited in the water, but many of them were never properly secured. Many broke free and subsequently drifted into and damaged the natural reef, only 69 feet away; storms have taken some tires as far away as North Carolina. In addition to destroying much of the natural reef, their mobility has prevented new organisms from taking hold on the tires. The Osborne Artificial Reef project has since been recognized as a great environmental disaster in Florida, and although limited clean up efforts have been undertaken, most of the tires remain in the water.
The introduction of foreign objects can cause a disruption to the natural ecological balance, but if it is done with environmental care and thoughtful planning, a successful artificial reef can provide habitat and recreation for years to come. When installed correctly, the benefits far outweigh the concerns, and it can only lead to better and more conservation when divers can see a new reef first hand.