Why Touching Is Never Okay
By Jessica Vyvyan-Robinson
Respecting the ocean is a huge part of being a responsible diver, as is the understanding that we are privileged visitors to the underwater world and should conduct ourselves accordingly.
Any good Divemaster’s briefing always includes a reminder not to touch, tease or take anything from the marine environment, and the mantra “take nothing but photos, leave nothing but bubbles” is one that every diver will have heard at some point. Respecting the ocean is a huge part of being a responsible diver, as is the understanding that we are privileged visitors to the underwater world and should conduct ourselves accordingly.
Touching underwater creatures and corals can not only harm them; doing so can harm us too. There are many animals in the ocean that can cause injury if alarmed, disturbed or aggravated, some of which we know about, and many more that we do not. From innocuous looking stinging hydroids to the beautiful but venomous lionfish, from shells equipped with deadly poison to all manner of stonefish, scorpionfish, sea snakes, urchins and jellyfish, marine inhabitants are better admired from a distance suitable for your health as well as theirs. Contact with the reef itself can cause nasty wounds; many of us know from firsthand experience how long coral cuts take to heal, and how disproportionately painful even the slightest graze can be. The majority of shark bites among divers occur as a result of inappropriate behavior or reckless contact on the part of the diver. As divers, we are ambassadors for the ocean and all the creatures that live there. Particularly where threatened species like sharks are concerned, our ability to interact with them without incident is key in changing public perception of them and consequently promoting their conservation. If we follow the no-touching, -teasing or -taking rule, we can easily avoid most injuries caused by marine life. As divers, we have the potential to do great good in the underwater world. Through our explorations, we raise awareness about the marine environment and the necessity to conserve it for future generations. Divers tend to be among the most committed and conscientious promoters for ocean preservation — it’s our dive sites that we’re fighting to protect. By refraining from touching the creatures and plants that make up that world, we ensure that our impact continues to be a positive one.
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.
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.