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Sea Turtles; The Godfathers of Scuba Dive Magazines?


Sea Turtle’s; The Godfathers of All Dive Magazines?

Ever see a dive magazine without a single image of a sea turtle lurking somewhere between the pages? Not going to happen. They are there; just check again. At least one of the current 7 species of sea turtles will show up more often than any of the 400 plus species of sharks. They will show up three times more often than a seahorse, and at least 10 times more often than a model posing next to a brightly colored sponge; we do hope they increase the number of poses with models as we do love images of tube sponges.

So what makes these reptilian fin flippers so popular with humans?

First of all they are undeniably cute, especially the babies who pop up out of the sand and instinctively head for lighted areas that mimic bioluminescent plankton and/or the color of foam covered waves reflecting moonlight. We feel tugged at a primeval level for their success to make it to the waters edge before being picked off by crabs, birds, poachers, or stuck in tire tread tracks left by unknowing beach goers. This has led to turtle eco groups and enthusiasts posting aware signs around turtle nests, keeping vehicles off the beaches, and using red or amber LED lighting that is invisible to turtles used on nearby houses or when watching the new born hatchlings emerge from the sand.

Secondly, it’s about admiration and respect. The oldest ancestor of sea turtles found to date is the Eunotosaurus from the Permian age 260-255 million years his stretched sorta flat elongated ribs creature was little more than a 1ft long lizard. Sea turtles radiated out from other turtles about 110 million years ago. Currently, when most people think of the first true sea turtles they think of the 10ft long 2 ton shelled Protostega that swam near the shorelines in the seas of North America 70-65 million years ago. There are now six species left of the Family Cheloniidae: which include: the green sea turtle, hawksbill, flatback, loggerhead, kemp’s ridley, olive ridley. Some scientists believe that the pacific black sea turtle is the 8th species: notes its small head compared to the Atlantic green sea turtle and its weird behavior of hanging out on Hawaiian beaches to catch some rays and driving eco tourists wild with viewing delight year round.

Even bigger was the Archelon, a 12’ long leather shelled sea turtle that lived 75-65 million years ago in a vast ocean that would later dry and cartilaginous shell outlines and hexagonal imbedded bones would be found in the remnant substrates that we now call South Dakota and Wyoming. The leatherback turtle is the only remaining member of the Dermachelyidae family branch. For us, the surviving 8ft long leatherback sounds huge, and the fact that their cousins came ashore, laid eggs, and went back to sea while dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus Rex kicked sand on the beach is absolutely mind blowing. Giant leatherbacks with 7 prominent keels on their back are in a class of their own for also deep diving to 4,265ft, and their immunity to the venom of the “fatal to humans” box jellyfish. Leatherbacks and their past relatives have kept jellyfish populations under control for millions and millions of years.


Our recent awareness of how plastic objects and plastic grocery bags in particular can lodge in sea turtle stomach and intestines and essentially create starvation issues has led to bans on plastic bags in some locations. It was brought to light that thousands of turtles each year were accidentally caught and killed as “bycatch” by shrimp trawls and long-line fishing practices. The U.S. law and some other countries now require the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDS) on nets and the use of turtle friendly “C” hooks instead of the traditional deadly “J” hooks on fishing lines. As more countries sign on to these practices, thousands of more turtles will survive this “bycatch” issue.

Our fondness for viewing sea turtles has led to conservation efforts such as turtle park sanctuaries and marine preserves around the world. The fact that humans want to help sea turtles injured by boat propellers, tangled in nets, save hypothermic turtles washed on shore, or help disoriented and dehydrated juveniles has led to impromptu clinics springing up around the world. Individuals such as Orton King of Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines has set up The Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary where they protect Hawksbill turtle nesting mothers and eggs from poachers and then release the hatched juveniles once they reach 3 years in age. Hawksbills eat mostly sponges, but their shells are made into ‘BEKKO” jewelry such as earrings, bracelets, combs, small boxes, and tabletops. St. Lucia has nesting tours, hatchling tours, and swim with Sea turtles experiences. Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica and Xcaret Eco-Park on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, and Mazatlan’s olive ridley site called The Estrella Del Mar Turtle Sanctuary are three major sites to see local nesting turtles and take part in eco tourism.

These operations have not only saved turtles, but they have shown locals how much more money can be made by tourists visiting these sites than by poaching and by selling turtle based products. Finding poacher used vans filled with 10,000 turtle eggs are not as frequent as years ago, but poaching still exists around the world as evidenced by occasional humans discovered with severe illness or death by chelanotoxin: a toxin absorbed in humans after eating turtle flesh or eggs.

States such as Hawaii, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, and gulf communities have started helping turtles as part of aquarium and university programs. South Padre Island at Sea Turtle Inc. has a visitor center and Sea Turtle hospital that may house all 7 or 8 species of sea turtles including, kemp’s ridley: the smallest species, loggerhead, atlantic green and pacific black sea turtles all at the same time. They actively patrol some 70 miles of beaches to rescue turtles in need of help.

As for flatback sea turtles, who like to eat sea cucumbers and crustaceans, nest only on the beaches of northern Australia. The major obstacle for them besides poaching is predation by other animals. Foxes, herons, pelicans, sand monitor lizards, and salt water crocodiles will take their toll, but a feral pig can dig up and eat every egg laid on a small isolated stretch of beach. In these hard to reach outback territories, the Australian’s probably have the most difficult task of any rescue or protection group so far.

Past human actions whether on purpose or by accident have been detrimental to sea turtle populations, but thanks to the hard work of many by design and through the indirect help of others through tourism and knowledge based positive actions, we can now view these photogenic aquatic creatures in their natural settings, swim with them, dive with them, and take photographic images for friends and dive magazines like never before. Perhaps someday all species of sea turtles will no longer be in danger of becoming extinct and then, it will be simply nothing but cover shots for these truly remarkable ancient prehistoric survivors.

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How Do You Top The World’s Greatest Blue Hole Dive?

How Do You Top The World’s Greatest Blue Hole Dive?

It’s difficult, but you can do it when you are fin kicks away from the second largest barrier reef in the world. It’s hard, but it can be done when 160 miles of walls, sloping reefs, and lagoons surround you. It’s tough, but the task is made easier when 500 species of fish, invertebrates, turtles, dolphins, manatees, and 60 species of birds surround you.

So where is this site that is next to what Jacques Cousteau called one of the top dive destinations in the world?

The simple answer is Turneffe Flats on Turneffe Atoll some 30 miles or 90 minutes from Belize City, Belize on the Caribbean side of Central America, but before we go there, lets just mention a little about diving the Great Blue Hole. It seems like everyone before Cousteau in the 1970’s came here to view the blue hole. Al Giddings the great cinematographer came here in the early 1960’s. Blackbeard the pirate came here a few years before Al, and the Mayans came here some 2000 plus years earlier than Blackbeard.

The Great Blue Hole is a former Karst-eroded sinkhole. Jurassic reefs originally created the limestone formation 195-190 million years ago. Water seeped through the limestone and formed a large chambered cave where stalactites and stalagmites formed many times over thousands of years before the roof fell in and eventually created a 984ft wide hole 407ft deep. The hole flooded as sea levels rose, which put a halt to all further stalactite and stalagmite formation. Some stalactites are over 20ft long and they are not exactly as straight as stalactites grown where past earthquake movements and substrate shifts have not so obviously occurred periodically. It can take a stalactite 100 years just to grow an inch, but it takes a diver just a brief second to be impressed by these slightly skewed cone shaped geological structures.

During the last 18,000 years when the area surrounding Chicago was 2 miles under glacial ice, the sea level of Belize was down some 394ft. There were at least four distinct times when seas rose and left ledges where waves slapped against walls and shorelines, before reaching the current sea level. Some 10,000 years ago the ocean was still 148ft lower than it is today, but as the ocean water and fresh water both rose close to their current levels, many Mayan temple sites seemed to be ruined.

What was a misfortune of Mayan civilization structures is nirvana for divers. Now that the rim of the exposed cave is within snorkel depth, both divers and snorkelers flock to this location to view passing fish, and the permanent resident sponges and corals. For scuba divers on the south end of the Great Blue Hole at 130ft feet you can see the stalactites and stalagmites in a cave that goes back some 20ft. For technical divers, at 230ft deep on the western side is a cave that leads through a narrow tunnel and enters a second cave that ascends 100ft. On the silt filled floor of this adjacent cave rest the skeletal remains of turtles that wandered inside this dark recess without cave diver training or experience. The Great Blue Hole is in the middle of Lighthouse Reef, which is 25 miles long and 10-12 miles wide. Divers from Turneffe Flats Resort typically dive here once a week, depending on weather. This is a whole day trip with dives planned at Half Moon Caye Wall, which has a swim through at 35ft, and The Aquarium, named after all the small fish, at Long Caye. Lunch is served at Half Moon Caye. How often do you get a chance to see both gobies and boobies on the same trip? Red-footed boobies are the smallest of all booby birds and there is a sanctuary for boobies of all sizes and foot color on Lighthouse Reef. So now that you know what draws so many divers here, let’s talk about what really puts this dive trip over the top.

Turneffe Atoll in the largest of 3 atolls sitting off the coast of Belize. The island is 30 miles long and 10 miles wide and is made up from 200 cayes/mangrove islands. It has lagoons, streams, creeks, and reefs, and is one of the most biological diverse marine environments in the world. It is home to an endemic species of snail named Leptophis mexicana hoeversi, a gecko species named Phyllodactylus insularis and best of all, the rare Whites Spotted Toadfish that you can hear croak on any given dive. On the down side there are biting flies and mosquitoes for those that don’t use repellent on calm days, and you will see an occasional crocodile in certain locations, but they are pretty much left alone except to look at or snap a photo.

You might think that because of all this marine life, Turneffe Flats would be filled with divers year round, but there are times when only a few divers actually stay here, and that is because Turneffe Atoll is one of the greatest saltwater fly fishing spots in the world, and the resort can be booked early and annually with mostly fly fishermen. They wade in the waters for 5lb Bonefish, 20-30lb Permit, and 150-200lb Tarpon. If they catch all three species in any single day, they call this a “Flats Grand Slam”. It’s “catch and release” with all the thrill and endorphin rush you could ever get naturally. Fishermen come from all over the reel world to test their skill, rods, and flies.

What this means is that you as a diver might be going out on the Pro48ft custom dive boat Ms. Ellie, for dive groups of up to 12 divers, or out on the 29ft Ms. K with 5 or fewer divers. At some of the dive sites you will see large pelagics such as grouper, goliath groupers, tuna, mackerel, and spotted eagle rays, such as at The Elbow. A pod of sometimes interactive dolphins live in the South Lagoon. White-spotted toadfish are found at Lindsey’s Back Porch and The Terrace. Black grouper, hammerheads, and great barracuda can be seen at Pelican Wall. Corals such as staghorn, elkhorn, and brain corals are found at Cabbage Patch. Nurse sharks and groupers are found in caverns down at 70ft at Gailes Point. This is also the site for Nassau, black, tiger, and marble grouper mating in December so plan your calendars appropriately. Wall dives include Jill’s Thrill and West Point Wall, and wreck sites include The Sayonara sunk at 50ft in 1985 and the 56ft long HMS Advice, by Pirates creek that sank June 1st, 1793; just to name a few.

Speaking of exploration, Turneffe Flats Resort guests can visit multiple Mayan ruins on the Belize mainland as well as go on locally guided tours and activities such as Manatee & Dolphin tours, sea kayaking, snorkeling tours, seashell & starfish tours, crocodile tours, birding tours, cooking classes and learn about the Maya and Turneffe, to name a few options.

Flat out, when it comes to staying at Turneffe Flats, seeing the Great Blue Hole, and diving Turneffe Atoll, there’s nothing else quite like it in the world at all.

Ask for more information and how you can visit Belize and Turneffe Flats Resort

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Problem With A Leaky Mask?


Problem With A Leaky Mask?

We have all had it happen at one time or another. A dive mask that leaks.

It could be one that was burrowed, rented or recently purchased but that constant distraction of continually having to clear your mask makes your dive uncomfortable. Water inside your mask also creates a distortion in viewing objects underwater which makes taking pictures a future exercise in editing or deleting. Salt water in your eyes stings and water in your nose can lead to coughing which is not fun at 60 feet.

So here are a few suggestions on how you can avoid this problem.


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