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.
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.
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.
Question: What time of year can I dive the Philippines?
Answer: In terms of water temperature and visibility, any time of year is just great - the water temperature is around 28C. What you do need to be aware of is typhoon season which typically extends from August to December. The typhoon belt starts at 10 degree latitude which is more or less north of Cebu City. Thus choosing dive sites below Cebu City especially from August to December, you should be reasonably sure of avoiding lost diving time through typhoons.
Question: What type of wetsuit is appropriate.
Answer: A 3mm wetsuit should keep you warm enough. Some "thick skinned" divers are even comfortable with a 1mm skin. Shorties are fine but long westuits can be useful when there are jelly fish around. We often come across really small jellyfish which are hard to spot but still give a sting.
Question: What can I expect to see?
Answer: In general at good dive sites, you can expect to see a diveristy of hard and soft coral, a lot of macro critters, and a good mix of reef fish. Genrally fish polpulations and fish sizes are on the low size due to over fishing. Check out the dive books and dive forums to find out the special attarctions at each site. For example the major special attraction at Moalboal, Cebu are the "clouds" of sardines to be found at Pescador Island. These shoals of fish attract many predators such as jacks, barracuda, tuna and thresher sharks. This really is a site not to be missed.