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.
6 Reasons Why Scuba Diving Is Good For Your Health
By Ocean Enterprises
1. Physical Fitness
There are many reasons why Scuba Diving increases our overall Physical Fitness. Scuba diving on a regular basis steadily improves and maintains your general fitness and stamina levels. Exercising in water is very effective due to the natural resistance water has against our bodies especially when we kick our legs to fin and propel ourselves in the water. It has been shown that scuba diving for an hour can burn as many as 500 calories, making it just as beneficial in terms of calorie burn as working out for an hour on a cardiovascular machine in the gym.
Because divers have to be able to support the weight of their scuba gear when moving on land, they are constantly building muscle tone in their legs and back. Increased muscle tone helps in relieving tension and improves ailments such as backache because, by strengthening the back muscles, pressure is reduced in the spine.
2. Meditative Breathing
Slow, deep breathing is important in scuba diving to optimize air consumption and bottom time. An added bonus is that deep, steady breathing promotes a calm attitude and reduces the risk of a lung-expansion injury.
Similar to breathing during meditation, breathing slowly and deeply while diving induces a calm, relaxed state while the diver focuses on the underwater environment rather than thinking about problems they may be experiencing in daily life. This helps to reduce stress and balance the nervous system. A relaxed, calm state of mind has been proven to promote a positive attitude and prevent depression.
Deep breathing also means increased oxygen intake and this has numerous benefits too. Increased oxygen levels in the body raises energy levels, stimulates circulation, benefits heart and lung function and improves mental capacities. When there is sufficient oxygen in the body the need for intoxicants and stimulants diminishes.
3. Warm Water Adventures
Taking a vacation and getting away from daily stresses will improve one’s mental health. In addition, the majority of divers when planning a diving vacation choose warm, tropical climates where they are exposed to more sunlight than usual. One of the most important benefits of sunlight is that it supplies the body with Vitamin D which has many health benefits including increased absorption of calcium which strengthens bones. It also increases endorphin production in the brain which makes us “feel good.”
Diving in another country brings other benefits too. They say that travel is the best form of education and most people relish in the experience of visiting new places, experiencing a different culture, and all the new sights and smells and tastes that go with it. Dive travel abroad also means you are likely to meet fun people from all over the world with whom you have a common interest. Have you ever noticed how people tend to be happier and friendlier in a warm climate?
4. Healing Effects of Water
Often times people are submersed in water to calm down or to be healed. Water has a way of making us feel healed and restored. For example, watching fish in an aquarium has a relaxing affect on the mind. Compare that to actually being in that underwater environment and those calming effects are intensified. This is one of the reasons divers keep going back for more. They find it a great way to unwind, relax and forget about all the stresses of daily modern life.
When divers are underwater, they are at the mercy of the ocean currents and surges. The very act of surrendering to this force instantly calms the body and allows it to flow just as the marine life does so naturally. Rather than fighting against the natural flow, this act of surrender induces a calmness and feeling of being at home in the underwater environment.
5. Marine Life Encounters
Connecting with marine life takes the health benefits of diving to a whole new level. Just as pet owners feel good when they interact with their household pets, interacting with marine life creates a connection that most divers will never forget. The pure pleasure, wonder and awe of interacting with and being up close to amazing marine creatures produces a feeling of increased well-being. This feeling is heightened when we have an encounter with a species we feel a certain attraction to, or particular respect for, such as sharks or sea turtles.
Marine life encounters increase one’s awareness of the environment and how critical the health of the ocean is. Millions of life forms depend on clean, healthy oceans, and marine life interaction deepens the conviction for divers to make a difference in their daily lives to benefit the oceans.
6. Social Health Benefits – The Buddy System
Scuba diving means you need to learn to be responsible for both yourself and your buddy and to look after your own safety. You will learn to stay calm at all times and that can help you during stressful situations in your every day life.
When you dive, you meet other like-minded people who often become good friends as you all share that common interest. It’s easy to make friends among divers as you will find a sense of community among them. It’s an exhilarating feeling to surface from a dive full of wonderful memories of your experience and then to be able to talk about and share them with good companions who are just as excited as you are!
Cleaning the Ocean One Dive at A Time
By Torben Lonne
Over the past 20 years, scuba diving has evolved into a vibrant worldwide community. Scuba diving, and a shared love for the ocean, brings people together despite geographical distance and language barriers. One unfortunate aspect of scuba diving that rings an emotional bell for most divers is garbage, specifically, the scourge of marine debris that we see first hand on many, if not all, of our dives. The oceans are, and always have been, a dumping ground for humankind’s unwanted materials.
Our planet’s waterways, from oceans to ponds, are being polluted like never before in human history. Garbage has found its way into every conceivable waterway system there is, which has motivated many concerned people to ask where all this garbage is coming from.
The many sources of ocean garbage
Uncomfortably for many westerners, most of the unwanted garbage floating in the ocean, or on the sea floor, comes from industrial countries. Many industrialized countries tow large barges, filled to capacity with garbage, approximately 6 to 10 miles off shore and then dump their cargo. Some countries, such as the United States, have set further limits, requiring municipalities to dump their garbage over 100 miles out to sea. This may help prevent much of the garbage from washing up on shore, but it hasn’t solved the problem of using our oceans as a human waste dump.
Garbage washes up on shore every day, of every year, in every coastal country. Land lovers complain when they see garbage on the beaches they visit because it mars nature’s beauty. Scuba divers the world over share in this pain every time they come across a candy wrapper, plastic bag, tire, cigarette butt, tin can or any other man-made piece of trash lying on the ocean floor or on top of a beautiful reef. Those unfamiliar with scuba diving and boating don’t realize that even personal garbage that people discard outside of a trashcan also finds its way into the oceans. One of the worst types of garbage to end up in the oceans, lakes and rivers of the world is not plastic bags, tires, paper, aluminum or steel cans — it’s batteries, which are toxic, and poison marine wildlife as they deteriorate.
Is there anything to be done about this seemingly intractable problem? The answer is complicated. No individual can fix the world’s dumping dilemma alone, but collectively people can come together and bring worldwide awareness to the problem. Demand that international organizations such as the United Nations nudge industrial countries to lower, limit, and hopefully cease dumping their garbage into the ocean. Divers working together on a regular basis around the world can also help by picking up garbage off the ocean floor when they dive. This may seem a small contribution, but it won’t be seen that way by the turtle that doesn’t choke on the six-pack ring you picked up.
Scuba divers: Cleaning the ocean one dive at a time
Scuba divers working together around the world could theoretically make much more than a dent in the global garbage problem. According to PADI, there are more than 22 million certified divers in the world, in over 120 countries. Add in the world’s NAUI- certified divers and that’s a lot of potential unsung heroes. Conservative estimates predict that each diver will average two dives per year; suddenly you’ve got a number that can make a difference.
If divers started collecting garbage on a regular basis, even one or two pieces per dive, at popular dive sites around the world, it would bring a huge amount of public awareness to the issue.
Organized garbage cleanups already exist via organizations, but all scuba instructors, divemasters and recreational divers can add to the database by logging the amount and types of garbage they collect on their dives. Logging such information can be a great way to engage other divers in conversation about keeping the oceans clean.
Collecting garbage is, of course, a good thing to do, but recording what you find, along with its approximate weight, may be more important. Why is that? This information, when collected from divers around the world, can be a powerful tool to encourage world governments to focus on the serious consequences of dumping garbage into the world’s waterways. As garbage is collected and recorded, a picture will begin to form about the areas of the world that are most affected.
Garbage isn’t going away anytime soon, but if each of your dives is a cleanup dive, your efforts will at the very least positively impact that dive site. The best way to get this movement going is to spread the word. Get your dive buddies to clean up when you’re on a fun dive. You won’t miss any of your diving by picking up a few pieces of plastic and other trash, and you may just be some turtle’s hero.
Free Things To Change Your Diving
By James Sanderson
1) Lace up your running shoes
When I’m asked what’s the best piece of dive equipment I’ve ever bought, my answer is always the same — a good pair of good running shoes. No one needs to be a superstar athlete to have more fun diving, but time to exercise regularly can only be a good thing. Good cardiovascular health will promote good circulation and improve gas transport from the tissues to the lungs during ascent. This means that you are more efficiently off-gassing the excess nitrogen from your body tissues during ascent, as well as the waste carbon dioxide. This last function is particularly important, as it’s increased levels of carbon dioxide dissolved in the blood that triggers the breathing reflex. So if your CO2 levels rise, so too will your rate of respiration, and you’ll find yourself burning through your gas a little (or sometimes a lot) faster than you would like. In my opinion, excess CO2 (or hypercapnia) is overlooked by recreational scuba divers and is responsible for a whole host of common troubles, from high gas consumption to post-dive headaches, nausea, dive stress and narcosis (CO2 is several times more narcotic than nitrogen.)
I would of course recommend consulting a health and fitness professional before starting any exercise regime but you can start small right away. Set some small goals and rewards; for example, aim for a really good time on the swim tests that are part of most scuba diving courses. Use it as an incentive to start gentle training. Although not a solution by itself, better physical health will make diving a whole lot easier. Just remember that something as simple as a good walk will cost you nothing, and you can get started as soon as you’re done reading.
2) Sort out your dangles
Here in the U.K. we describe divers with all sorts of gear hanging off of them Christmas trees. As divers, we are mindful of impacting delicate coral and damaging the environment, but are often unaware of our own loose equipment causing a little train of havoc. A loose SPG can badly impact sensitive environments but a loose octopus is the worst culprit because apart from possible environmental damage, it may be gently bubbling, wasting precious gas and limiting your dive time. Worse still it may not be in a convenient location if needed. Finally, it may have collected debris that an out-of-air diver will inhale on his first breath from it. Not a nice prospect. A simple silicon snorkel keeper looped back on itself through a shoulder d-ring is the best and cheapest option I have ever seen for securing an octopus. With no kit dangles, not only will you find that you can get closer to critters without surprising or stunning them with your SPG, but you will also use less air, as your drag through the water will diminish. And you’ll probably be able to respond to a buddy better as well.
It will cost you nothing to take some time to properly secure your gauges and hoses and to look at all the potentially loose elements on your dive rig. So right after reading this, go get your gear from the garage and tidy it all up. After you go for a walk.
3) Lose some weight (lead, that is).
The simple truth is that you probably dive over-weighted; most divers I have trained wear too much lead (at the start of a course anyway). Diving heavy is a bad habit that you’re taught during your first scuba classes, and it’s a very one difficult to break. Keep in mind that every pound of extra weight you have means more mass you’ve got to carry, as well as a bigger volume of gas to manage in your BCD or suit.
But what is properly weighted? You’re aiming for neutral buoyancy, with almost no air in your BCD, with your exposure suit compressed a little and with nearly empty tanks, simulating the end of a dive at a safety stop having shared air. Before your next course do a proper weight check at the end of your diving day. If you can still easily descend with only a little air in your tanks then don’t be afraid to start removing weight in small increments over your upcoming dives until you are neutral with your minimum amount of tank pressure. Don’t forget to adjust your weight as you move from saltwater to freshwater, or move to a larger or higher-pressure tank. Every lump of lead you can remove is less weight you’ve got to move around on a dive, Remove the weight and you’ll use less air, thus increasing your bottom time.
The Philippines – a photographer’s dream
Posted by Andrew Jenkins
The Philippines is a photographer’s dream. The astounding landscape both topside and underwater glistens with colour and is calling out to be explored.
Start your adventure by passing through Manila, Philippines manic capital, perhaps stopping to take a ride on a rainbow coloured Jeepney – a kitsch vehicle that is one of the most popular forms of transport in this busy city. Once out of the city hub the variety that exudes within this tropical archipelago is hard to look past.
A perfect destination for scuba divers of all experience levels, the Philippines is in the heart of the coral triangle and is world renowned for nutrient rich currents and consequently some of the world’s most fascinating marine life.
Below are some fantastic diving locations to visit when traveling the Philippines:
- Cebu: placed neatly in the centre of the Visayan Archipelago, Cebu is a great place to learn to dive. With the second largest airport in the Philippines, it is easy to access and has a great range of dive sites. It is not uncommon to spot green turtles, giant frogfish and banded sea krait.
- Bohol: growing increasingly popular with backpackers visiting Panglao Island, Bohol is about an hour plane ride from Manila and usually offers a divers the opportunity of spotting huge schools of jacks. Colourful coral of hard and soft varieties make diving off Bohol a rainbow adventure you’re sure to love. The topside is also well known for the Chocolate Hills and the tiny Tarsier monkeys.
- Malapascua: this is an island that cannot be missed. Malapascua is one of the only places in the world where you’re almost guaranteed daily sightings of the rare and fascinating Thresher shark.
- Boracay: it is here that you’re likely to see grey reef sharks, manta rays and a plethora of tropical fish that inhabit the large assortment of corals. This is the most popular holiday destination.
- Subic Bay: this world renowned wreck diving destination is home to a plethora of historical stories that even the most advanced divers are sure to be impressed by.
- Tubbataha Reef: Although this reef is only accessible for three months of the year (March- June), this World Heritage Marine Park is well worth the visit. Accessing this area by liveaboard is the only option but the pristine corals which are populated with intriguing macro life, turtles and a wealth of tropical fish make this location a real gem.
- Puerto Galera: Ideal for those interested in drift diving, these current rich waters are imbued with snapper, barracudas and smaller tropical fish. There is the opportunity to do a night dive and potentially see the gorgeous Mandarin fish. Puerto Galera is based at the Verde Strait, which has the some of the world’s greatest biodiversity.
- Dumaguete: here you can experience the magnificent beach dives that macro enthusiasts are sure to love. In the deeper waters, the strong current often brings large schools of big-eye trevally and Spanish mackerel.
- El Nido and Coron in Palawan: There is no denying that Palawan is a picturesque tropical paradise. The topside is decorated with the most magnificent lime stone cliffs, and below the crystal clear horizon is the awe-inspiring wrecks in Coron and a range of tropic fish off El Nido.
What You Need to Know About Currents
The thrill of flying over a reef, pushed onward by a strong current, can be one of the most exhilarating experiences in diving. But diving in currents can lead to problem situations if you’re not vigilant.
A number of factors cause currents, including the tides, wind, and thermally unstable water columns. Usually currents run horizontally, parallel to the earth’s surface — these are perfect for drift dives. Certain situations, however, cause currents to run vertically up (up currents) or down (down currents), while other currents can create a horizontal vortex. If a diver gets caught in one of these currents it can quickly lead to a dangerous situation. Down Currents
A down current occurs when a current hits the face of a wall or when it runs at a right angle to a drop off. Down currents are also possible when two currents moving in opposite directions meet or move over each other. These types of currents have a nasty reputation among divers, and for good reason: they can quickly drag you far deeper than your planned depth. Sometimes this occurs gradually, and you won’t realize it until you feel the need to equalize, or until you look at your depth gauge or dive computer. But in some situations, a down current can pull you from 15 feet to 65 in a few seconds.
Most down currents lose strength the deeper they go, but don’t just wait for the ride to end, though, as there’s no telling how deep the current will take you. If you get caught in a down current, try to remain calm. Stop. Think. And then act. Maintain natural breathing to conserve air, and swim out into the blue. Although you may be in a scary situation, remember that down currents generally become weaker further away from the wall or drop off. While you’re swimming out, you also want to swim up — aim to swim a 45-degree angle.
If the current is especially strong you may want to inflate your BCD, but remember, an inflated BCD creates a larger surface area for the current to push against, so it might not help as much as you think. If you do inflate your BCD, prepare to deflate it rapidly once you’re out of the current to avoid a run-away ascent. Avoid dropping your weights unless you absolutely must.
Another option is to get as close to the wall as you can and climb up. The current is likely to be strongest here, and you might need to hold on to the coral to pull yourself up. If you must use this option, do so with caution and try to keep yourself and the coral as safe as possible. Try to hold on to dead coral and avoid stinging hydroids. Up Current
As with down currents, up currents can occur when a current hits the face of a wall. These are dangerous because they can pull you up to the surface very quickly, which can lead to a host of problems, including decompression sickness, a lung over-expansion injury or arterial gas embolism. Try to maintain the same calm as with a down current, and react similarly by swimming away from the wall or drop off into the blue. Deflate your BCD and swim down. Washing Machine
A washing-machine current occurs when the bottom typography bounces currents around. These types of currents can push you in all directions, creating a feeling of extreme disorientation, which can be amplified when your bubbles get swirled around, making it very difficult to tell which way is up. As with up and down currents, try to swim out of the current horizontally while swimming slightly against the push of the water to avoid drastic changes in your depth. Vortex
Very little information is available about vortex currents as they only occur at a few dive sites around the world. The best way to deal with this kind of current is to avoid getting caught in it all together. If you do get caught in one, try to conserve as much energy as you can, wait until you feel it weakening slightly and swim perpendicularly out of it. This video
of Socorro shows how easily a diver can get caught in a vortex. Note the horizontal snake of bubbles that acts as an early warning that this kind of current is present. How Do You Recognize Types of Currents?
You can often predict strong currents, horizontal or vertical, by looking at the surface of the water. Areas where the surface is choppy without a moderate to strong wind, mixed with areas of very smooth water, could indicate a strong current. If the boat that you’re diving from is tied to a mooring buoy, look at the direction in which the boat is turned. If the boat is tied off at the bow, the boat will be facing into the current; if the mooring line is tight, the current is likely moderate to strong.
Underwater you can tell which way the current is running by observing the sea life around you. Soft coral sways in the direction the current is traveling, and fish face into the current, so if you see a school of fish pointing in one direction, that’s where the current is coming from. If a school of smaller fish is swimming around freely in different directions, there’s probably only a slight current, if any at all.
Bubbles can also tell you a lot about the current. Strong down currents can sweep your bubbles into the depths, as can horizontal currents. One of the only ways to identify a vortex is by its distinctive, serpent-like horizontal river of swirling bubbles.
Current diving can be exhilarating and safe if you stay vigilant and practice good judgment. Learn to recognize different types of currents, and be prepared. If you’re diving in an area known to have currents, always carry a DSMB, or safety sausage, in case you get separated from your group and must surface alone. As with any dive, if you feel uncomfortable or find the currents too challenging, better to abort your dive and move to a site with more favorable conditions.
OSLOB WHALE SHARKS
By Atilla Kaszo
Whale sharks originated about 60 million years ago, and today, they are listed internationally as a vulnerable species, but still commercially targeted in some Asian countries. Fortunately, not all Asian countries hold the same harvesting view, and many fishing communities have turned to tourism as the main source of income.
Donsol and Oslob in the Philippines are such examples. Whale sharks had been visiting these regions for decades and during those decades were hunted. In 1998 at Donsol, they were apparently “discovered” and after international support hunting turned into whale shark watching which turned into eco tourism. Oslob went much the same way but later in 2006.There appears to be some controversy and confusion regarding the Oslob site, in that feeding the whale sharks by the locals has somehow upset the ecosystem and accordingly drawn criticism from some quarters.
Clearly, feeding any wild animal is not something that should be encouraged, but given the relatively small amounts of fish “burley” that is put into the water and the area in which these sharks are being fed poses little impact on the regions biodiversity. More important to the animal’s welfare is the extent of physical human contact with these giants. As human nature has it, people get a bit excited when a 14-meter fish swims past, so the impulse to touch it and grab that Kodak moment seems to prevail over common sense. There is certainly a case in keeping people at a “safe” distance, and I would completely support such action.
On the flip side however, whale sharks like most wild creatures have the ability to leave the area or move away from a hazard almost instantly. So if the shark wants to it does just that, as do whales I have worked with and so on. In fact some of my best work has been outside the “viewing areas” where the sharks had left the feeding zones and were swimming about 200 meters away and in a blink almost on top of me having a close up and personal and then gently swimming away.
Before I went to Oslob, I read a number of petitions against visiting the area, mainly for the reasons I have outlined, and that some reports indicated that the sharks had severe rub marks on their necks, apparently from trying to get into the boats carrying food, and other reports suggesting that the sharks had deep cuts and abrasions over their bodies from boats crashing into them. I saw none of this at all. The only cut I saw on a shark was on it’s back and it could well have been an outboard propeller, I don’t know. All the sharks I saw, about thirteen, looked very healthy and active, and had no problem swimming away from people in the water.
My research also indicated that the sharks at Oslob were transient and that different individuals moved through the region during the year. Unfortunately there is still relatively little known about these sharks, which makes management of them difficult. Nonetheless, erring on the side of caution may be the prudent way to go, along with considering the needs of the locals who depend on some form of income for their survival. From my perspective, it’s a better option to accept how the village manages its resources now than to entertain the harvesting practices of the past.