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The Bay Islands, Roatan, Utila, Guanaja, and more.

The Bay Islands

Roatán, Útila, Guanaja, and more.

 

 

 

 

 

When you think about the second largest Barrier Reef in the world, your first thought should be, “Why aren’t my bags already packed?”  We know divers and snorkelers that have been traveling down to the Bay Islands year after year and never seem to get tired of the endless dive sites, reefs, local wrecks, tropical beaches and island lifestyle. Perhaps one of the hardest decisions to make is which island to visit first. The Bay Islands consist of eight main Islands and 53 cays which are off the coast of Honduras. The largest Island is Roatán and boasts to have 176 dive sites. Guanaja claims some 50 dive sites, and Útila, the smallest of the big three, report to have 90 dive sites. On average, if you dove 4-5 dive sites a day, you could view most of the dive sites in as little as five months, but keep in mind, this estimate doesn’t include the other five islands and quite a few of the other cays. For example, many dive boat operators offer day tours over to Cayos Cochinos where 16 other buoyed dive sites are located. Underwater pinnacles and seamounts are also some favorite dive sites to visit. Also, some hotels, resorts, and dive operators boast that they have access to secret dive sites only revealed to their customers, clients, and distantly related soon to be best friends.

 

 

 

 

So what can you expect to see in the Bay Islands? Quite a lot actually, marine parks and designated reserves have helped the local coral reefs stay healthy, vibrant, and home to large schools of fish, lobsters, and crabs. Groupers, dolphins, rays, and sharks are the apex predators of the reefs, turtles frequently come in to the underwater camera or video frame, and migrating whale sharks especially around the island of Útila steal the show from February to June.

Some of the most famous dive sites around Roatán include: Dolphin Den where a maze of tunnels, and caverns, and is where a collection of dolphin remains were discovered; this site leads out through the reef and into the open water. Shark Dive is a sit in the sand encounter while experienced shark divers feed passing sharks. Hole in the wall is a must visit if you like sand chutes and tunnels. Also ask the locals which dive site is best to see, seahorses, encounter hammerheads, nurse sharks, big eye jacks, or specific corals. Wreck dives include: The 100m (300ft) long Odyssey wreck and the 70m (210ft) long El Aguila wreck is currently resting in three main sections.

 

 

 

 

Dive sites around Útila include:  Black Hills is a seamount dive exploding with fish and dense corals. Black Coral Wall is a wall dive like much of the local dives here, but with the extra added attraction of black coral found as shallow as 8m (24ft) . The Canyons dive site is filled with corals and small resident fish. The largest wreck dive here is the 30m (90ft) long Halliburton.

Dive sites around Guanaja include: Black Rock Canyons where volcanic flows formed cracks, caves, and tunnels and now teeming with life, and the Vertigo wall dive with mesmerizing drop- offs. The Pinnacle is known for its tendrils of black coral and seahorses. Wreck dives include: the 80m (240ft) long Jado Trader and the shrimp boat Don Enrique.

 

 

 

 

Now although the Bay Islands are part of Honduras, the Bay Islands are unique in several ways.  It all dates back to Christopher Columbus back in 1502 on his fourth and final “discover the new world” tour.  Because the local Paya islanders were unfamiliar with Christianity, they were by default deemed hostile, which was close enough to get one labeled as cannibals, which most definitely meant one was eligible for a sea voyage and sold to a plantation or mine where work would definitely not set one free. We can’t blame Columbus for all the islander’s deaths though, as European diseases brought by his men and others killed untold numbers of local indigents.  The point is, that the island population was decimated or soon became nonexistent on some islands, and made it a great place for migrations of English settlers, pirates such as Captain Morgan, black Caribs, and lastly, Cayman islanders to call home. It is because of all this that the primary language of the Bay Islands is a blend of English and the second most spoken language used is Spanish, while on the Honduras mainland Spanish is the primary language. The local cultures and customs are also unique to certain regions in the Bay Islands, which is also kind of interesting, and lends itself to different types and amount of spices used in preparing local food dishes and cuisine.  One thing to remember though, coconut and seafood dishes are king on the islands, especially conch ceviche, conch curry, conch soup Garifuna, cooked crab, and grilled lobster.

 

 

 

 

As far as accommodations go, Roatán offers the most choices and if you want your money’s worth, perhaps one of the  all inclusive or all meals resorts on Roatán is the way to go. On Útila and Guanaja there are similar but less resorts although one can also stay in a bungalow on a cay or a villa on a rock in these Bay Islands destinations. The limits are only as endless your budget, time you have available, and how close you want to be to the water’s edge.

The largest number of dive shops are on Roatán, and there are two professional dive schools here that may teach year round.  Students have been known to double up and take a dive-master course during the day and Spanish lessons in the evening. Other visitors come for the hiking, horseback riding or a side trip to the mainland to visit Copán and see the mysterious Mayan ruins.

 

 

 

 

Ask any whale shark and they will tell you that February through May there is less rain, hurricanes, and a plethora of plankton, but for the rest of us, the water is inviting year round.  We hope by now that you have been inspired enough to check out the Bay Islands. Be careful though, or you too may become a non-stop frequent flyer to the Bay Islands and find yourself with an airline bag half packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

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The Cuttlefish; The Undisputed Master of Camouflage.

The Cuttlefish

The Undisputed Master of Camouflage.

  

Off the shores of every ocean except around the Americas hovers one of most ingenious creatures in the world. The Cuttlefish can blend in with almost any natural substrate and most divers will swim unknowingly right by them as they appear to look like a clump of seaweed, a rock, or a patch of gravel. To begin with, they are not a fish, but a member of the phylum Mollusca along with snails and bivalve clams. The word “cuttle” may have come from the Old Norse word for “soft”. They are in the same class Cephalopoda as octopus, squids, and the nautilus. They have eight arms and two elongated tentacles similar to squid and in the middle of that ring of arms is a parrot like beak. They also have a unique internal porous plate called the cuttlebone. The purpose of this porous aragonite plate is similar to a scuba divers “BC”, buoyancy compensator, and the cuttlefish can change its buoyancy with just a little addition or subtraction of gas or fluid within the cuttlebone. You may have seen cuttlebones at a nearby pet store where they are sold as calcium enriched nibble treats for birds such as parakeets. So, while the squid flies just under the surface, and the octopus hugs the bottom or hides in dens, the cuttlefish is hovering over the substrate like a mysteriously color changing oblong shaped flying saucer in search of its next close encounter with shrimp, fish, or crab. They may be near shore in Australia or Indonesia, or found down to depths of 600m (2000ft) elsewhere. Apparently, below this depth their gas filled cuttlebone may implode, so great depth and cold waters may be the biggest reasons why they haven’t already invaded the Americas.

A couple of other things we should quickly mention is that they have three hearts. They use two of the hearts just to pump blood to their gills as they use hemocyanin, a bluish green copper protein, to carry oxygen around and this is less efficient than the rich red colored iron based hemoglobin that we use. The third heart pumps blood to the other parts of their body. Like the squid and octopus, they can squirt out a dark or brown ink that gives them a cloud to hide behind and may as well momentarily affect some predator’s sense of smell.

  

Lastly, we have to mention the eyes and brain. The eyes are shaped like squiggled W’s and have two concentrated sensor spots called foveae on each eye; one of the spots concentrated on light forward of the body, and the other sensor spot on light emitted behind the body. The eyes have no blind spot such as those found in human eyes, and they can even perceive polarized light as well as low levels of light, and without their eyes they can use their lateral lines to hunt in complete darkness. Their eyes may be considered quite advanced in so many aspects, but for the record, the cuttlefish is colorblind. They are constantly looking for visible cues such as light intensity, contrast, polarization, background patterns, and substrate textures. They have one of the largest brain to body mass ratio sizes in the invertebrate kingdom and some scientists believe cuttlefish are similar in intelligence to vertebrates such as pigeons and mice. In laboratories they can run simple maze tests and can be conditioned to learning at least two conditional rules to be used at the same time; such as looking for secondary signs in order to determine the best routes to escape through pipes, or be taught to tap on objects to receive food rewards.

  

On the basic level, their brain takes in the surrounding visual cues and as quick as lightning sends signals out to their seemingly electric skin to change color, patterns, and/or skin texture. Cuttlefish need use only one of three distinguishing methods to make themselves appear invisible. With small backgrounds such as sand, they use a uniform pattern and they blend in by appearing as a collection of sand particles.  For certain sized gravel rocks, they use a mottle pattern and they appear with larger colored areas that replicate as a group of rocks. The third method called disruptive, is used not to blend in with the background, but to disrupt or break apart their own body outline so that potential predators don’t recognize their natural body outline against underwater backgrounds, boulders, or large checkerboard backgrounds such as tested in marine labs. Add to this pattern coloration or different light intensities from forming different colors across their skin and you have a very stealthy and deceptive predator/prey species. Now add their ability to use muscular rings to pump up and transform regional skin tissues into bumps, blades, spikes, and leaflets, and you have what could be easily mistaken as an alien species.

To take a closer look at how they make their bodies change colors we only have to go skin deep. Just beneath the skin are layers of elastic sack cells containing different pigment colors, and commonly referred to as chromatophores. First we find yellow, then red, then deeper down brown pigmented chromatophores. Each chromatophore can reduce in size or increase in surface size by 500% merely by pulling on or relaxing their surrounding muscle cords. Below these chromatophores reside a layer of iridescent emitting and reflecting cells of the colors blue, green, red, and pink.  Below this layer are leucophores, cells that reflect all colors of light at once, or what we commonly refer to as white light. It appears to be a highly complicated eye to brain to skin activity, but cuttlefish can change color in some twenty million pigment cells in mere split seconds and still have extra brain power left to use for other evolving applications.

  

Besides camouflage, cuttlefish use their skin to communicate with each other including using locomotion indicators such as hovering, sitting, jetting, and postures such as arm position and, placement as well as fin shape, and head tilting. In Broadclub cuttlefish, smart smaller males have learned to appear as non-sexually receptive females to move without impunity around larger males guarding potential female mates. They can do this with such skill that the side of their body facing larger potential male rivals appears female in appearance while the side facing potential females partners they flaunt their male side and hence display to the female how clever they really are. While large males are allowed to mate with females some 30% of the time, the clever cross dressing smaller males are allowed to mate some 60% of the time and thus their learned ability to go covert or in duel disguise is successfully rewarded by receptive females over time and their abilities are more successfully propagated through each generation.

  

Another adaptive use of Broadclub cuttlefish is their ability to have waves of light appear to ripple across their head and arms which seems to hypnotize crabs while the cuttlefish prepares to strike from the best strategic angle, so as not to get pinched from the crab’s claws while bringing the crab into contact with their beak.

  

One species can use their colors to worn off predators or go one step farther as to highlight a yellow fringed warning color that they are poisonous such as the little Flamboyant cuttlefish who prefers to walk across the bottom of muck and rarely swims. They are the only cuttlefish known to be poisonous, and the poison is in their muscles, and perhaps as potent as the poison of the blue ring octopus. The fact that they walk similar to a lobe fin fish and have a reduced size cuttlebone could lead to a new evolutionary direction for this species. The fact that cuttlefish only live two years at most, have such a large amount of brain power, and have persisted in the fossil record since the Cretaceous times, shows that these rather unusual soft bodied aliens have the right stuff to keep on evolving and becoming even smarter and more diverse over time: that is, if sharks, fish, dolphins, seals, and humans don’t eat them all first.

 

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The Maldives: A Garland of Islands in the Indian Ocean

The Maldives: A Garland of Islands

In The Indian Ocean.

  

Nowhere else in the world can you find such a spectacular creation of coral and white sandy beaches rising just above the current sea level. Twenty six atolls and just fewer than 1200 islands form a chain from just below the equator to 804 km (500 miles) north. The average height of the land is 1.5m (4”11”) above sea level and the highest point is 2.4m (7’10”). It all started some 65 million years ago when a volcanic mountain range sprouted up above the surface in almost a straight row then gradually began to subside. Corals had time to grow micro layer by micro layer and form great communities around the volcanoes before earlier generations were forced downwards during bouts of subduction to depths as deep as 2100m (6400ft).

  

As for history, Sanskrit writings mention these islands as early as 500BC when sailors from India and the island of Java crossed through the Maldives on their way to trade with Madagascar and the eastern shores of Africa. The local Maldivian Buddhists converted to Muslim in the 12th century and the Maldives were given independence from England in 1965. In 1972 tourism began with two resorts, and now there are over 92 resorts spread out over 65 islands. While there are a few land based dive resorts, there are over 30 dive liveaboard operations. Tourism has become a major component of their economy and it’s safe to say that more than twice the number local Maldivians visit the islands each year.

  

So what’s the big attraction here? Turns out that the big attractions are whale sharks and mantas. With the small attractions including frogfish and seahorses. The islands are home to 1100 species of fish, 5 species of turtles, 187 species of coral, 145 species of crab, 48 species of shrimp, 21 species of whales and dolphins…you get the idea. Add 483 species of mollusks and echinoderms, and you have a recipe for filling hard drives, flash drives, and camera memory cards. But to be honest, we’re not really sure how many images of a seahorse, clown triggerfish, or manta at a cleaning station one can take before ever being really satisfied?

  

And speaking of endless lists, how about the local accommodations? You can stay in  accommodation on land, huts over the open ocean, rooms with infinity pools or you can adventure out and see more variety on a dive liveaboard. For lunch, you can dine in your cabana, at the main lodge, feast at a tented table at the end of a jetty, boat out to a secluded beach, or fine dine in an underwater restaurant which can be a one of a kind experience or an awkward experience if you ordered the catch of the day and you notice a school of fish looking at you in distain. And when it comes to water sports, Maldivians have a list of everything ready to try out from kayaking, jet skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, to submarines, and whale watching.

  

So when is the best time to dive here? Well to start off, the Maldives have two seasons. The Southwest season is wet with monsoon rains and this season goes from April or May until November with June to August having the most rain. During this time, There can be large plankton blooms that bring in large pelagics and visibility can range from 20-40 meters (65- 130plus) feet. The eastern side of the Maldives is where the Mantas and whale sharks will be most likely viewed during this season. The Northeast season on the other hand from December thru April/May, is dry and brings slightly warmer and calmer waters to the islands. The eastern side will have sharks and pelagics, but the mantas and whale sharks will be hanging out on the western side of the Maldives during this season. The northeast season is also when the liveaboard vessels head down south towards the equator, or you can board more northern exploring liveaboards at this time. The stronger currents that flowed in January will calm down and give rise to slack currents during March and April. But with this being said, our own experiences coupled with multiple feedback reports verify that the best time to visit the Maldives is year round and repeatedly.

  

So what about the dive sites? Unlike some vague dive site names such as found in mostly English speaking countries in the world, the Maldivians (even though many speak English) have perfected the names of dive sites and it’s almost amazing what you can discern with only knowing four words in their home language of Dhivehi.  So for all future reference, Kandu means channel, a Faru is a reef rising up in a channel, a Thila is a reef or pinnacle reef rising up inside an atoll, and a Giri is like a thila, but much smaller. When you have a thousand islands, this system makes every dive site easier to remember. Take the popular dive sites such as Fotteyo Kandu, Hembadhu Kandu, and Ziyaara Kandu. Just by the name you already know they are channel dives and most likely have caves, overhangs, swim throughs, small arches, or they lead to small reefs and have sharks, turtles, moray eels, schools of fish, and eagle rays swimming by on their way to work or Mantas stopping by the local cleaning stations. Kuda Faru, and Eri Faru are reefs in the channels where one would expect to find gray sharks, white tips, silver tips, Napoleon wrasse, coral, and invertebrates. Okobe Thila, Kudarah Thila, Mas Thila, all tell you that you will see tons of corals and schools of red teethed triggerfish, snappers, fusiliers, sweet lips, and more. Of course there are some dive site names in English that are rather precise and some popular ones include: Manta Point, Hammerhead Point, and Turtle Beach. Other popular sites with no clue in the name include: Three Palms for looking at nudibranchs, and Vacation Home Center for a variety of everything living in shallow to deep waters.

  

Of course there are over 2000 years worth of wrecks scattered around the channels, atolls, and deep reefs, but a few of the popular wrecks include the 35,000 ton Victory freighter, The Fesdu fishing trawler, the Halaveli cargo wreck and the Shipyard where two vessels rest near each other with Skipjack 1 resting at a vertical angle against the reef and the Skipjack 2 resting horizontal in the sand on its portside and both can be visited on one dive if currents permit.

  

So as you can imagine, it’s hard to visit all the possible dive sites in one single trip, no matter which season you choose, but it’s even more difficult to imagine that all the Maldives could become uninhabited within the next 80 years, as glaciers melt and the sea levels continue to rise and are predicted to increase by some 2m (6ft) in height by 2099 in a best case scenario as predicted by the majority of world leading scientists; although this well defined theory is not deemed accurate according to a the scientifically challenged. Either way, this unique Garland of islands comprised of 26 atolls needs to be preserved, protected, and profusely perused by you.

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Cebu and the Visayas Islands

Cebu and the Visayas Islands

The Heartland of The Philippines.

   

Magellan had no idea how good the scuba diving in this part of the world was, but in 1521 when Spain was big time in to colonizing the world, you couldn’t find a decent set of fins or a mask and snorkel to save one’s own life, so instead Magellan attacked the locals of Mactan Island and you probably guessed by now that his opportunistic overtures didn’t end well. After several other attempts, the Spanish finally colonized Cebu Island in 1565 and they had no clue that the surrounding waters were filled with large whale sharks, thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks, and pristine coral reefs. They also had no way of knowing that one day, Cebu’s white sand beaches and tropical sunsets would be more precious than all the gold in…well…Spain.

  

Cebu is the ninth largest out of some 7,100 islands that make up the Philippines and Cebu is one of the 167 islands that make up the central region of the Philippines. Because of the Spanish conquest, Cebu city is the oldest, as well as the first Christian city in the Philippines. Right next to the three million inhabitants of Cebu is Mactan Island; home to the Mactan-Cebu International Airport. It takes an hour flight from Manila or a 24-hour ferry ride to reach Cebu City and Mactan Island. The reason we mention all this is because adjacent to Mactan Island are more than a dozen well known dive sites. You can start right off shore at Kontiki Reef, or dive off one of the nearby islands such as Nalusuan Island Marine Sanctuary, Cabilao Island, Olango Island Marine Sanctuary, Shangri-La Marine Sanctuary, out at Hilutungan Island Marine Sanctuary. As you can see, there are lots of marine sanctuaries around Cebu and the neighboring islands. Photographers might enjoy Tambuli Reef and airplane wreck, or a nice macro dive at Agus Bay with soft corals, sponges and colorful fish. For advanced divers, Mactan Island is home to The Marigondon Cave where the ceiling starts at 30m (90ft) and the floor base is 43m (130ft) and goes back 40m (120ft). If you like diving with Nitrox (enriched air), large invertebrates, and pulsing flashlight fish, then this is the dive for you. If you are into wreck dives, then the 63m (190ft) long San Juan Ferry is the largest nearby wreck, but this 400 passenger vessel rests at 50m (150ft) of depth with the top at 35m (105ft). It’s been collecting coral and fish since an explosion took out the engine room in 2000. For another deep dive, there’s Tingo Point off of Olango Island. Here at 40m (120ft) is a ledge that drops off into a deep wall dive, but right off the wall and into the blue you have a chance to see thresher sharks on the lookout for schools of fish. The Monad Shoal at Malapascua is another site known for seeing thresher sharks at shallower depths rather than there usual deep water habitat.

  

Down on the southwestern end of Cebu Island is the town of Moalboal where there must be more than two dozen dive sites. Pescador Island has the most requested dive sites such as Cathedral Cave with a awe inspiring view of the surface and a great place for night dives too. This area is also a marine sanctuary with plentiful fish, turtles, and coral. As for other dive sites, Tongo also has an impressive reef, caves, and drop off walls. Dolphin House has coral, caves, and pygmy seahorses. Panagsama Beach is the place to view the sardine run and Talisy Reef is a turtle sanctuary area. There are also lots of resorts, restaurants, and white sand beaches to check out here in your free time.

There are also charter operations that cruise around the Visayan Archipelago. You can dive Pescador Island, Balicasag Island off of Bohol Island and Sumilon Island. The marine sanctuary near the southern town of Oslob is where licensed operators can provide  snorkeling and diving with whale sharks. Near Siquijor you can dive Sunken Island which is known for its schools of Napoleon wrasse, humphead parrot fish, and frog fish. As you can see, the diving sites seem to be endless and since Pilipino time is uncannily in sync with Margaritaville time, you can see how it could take many a fresh seafood dinner and incredible physical effort to leave the relaxing white sand beaches to visit all the local dive locations on a single visit.

 

Things to know before you go: current is 220 volts, so bring a converter or two. The water temp varies between 23-30˚C (73-86˚F). You will see potentially poisonous sea snakes, but they are mildly mannered and generally won’t bite your tail if you don’t pull on theirs. Giving them a meter (3ft) of space is also a nice gesture or common curtesy. Some 26 million people speak the Philippine National language of Pilipino which is a central Manila dialect of Tagalog, but in Cebu and the surrounding islands, some 20 million people speak Cebuano, which is the second most spoken language out of the 180 some languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines. Fortunately for many of us, the most spoken foreign language in the Philippines is American English.

Most diving is done from traditional Philippine wooden hull vessels with outriggers called Bankas; pronounced (Ba ankas) they range from several to 13m (10-40ft) long. They are very sturdy and dependable in open waters and you will quickly become an expert at diving off and boarding back on again. Other local types of transportations to try are the Jeepneys which were originally transformed WWII willys jeeps with elongated seating compartments on the back end and metal horse statues welded to the hood on the front end. Now, some are prefabricated or made using Japanese trucks, and include very elaborate paint jobs and more fog lights than Baja 500 dune buggies. The motorized tricycles are a hoot to try too. The limited number of occupants and restricted weight or size of luggage seems to be anyone’s guess.

  

Now on your non-diving day we recommend a day trip to nearby Bohol Island to view the Chocolate Hills, the Matutinao Nature Park, Philippine tarsiers, and a boat ride on the Loboc river. You can also do an eight hour trip up to the Chambuhat Oyster Farm for a delicious seafood lunch. Back on Cebu Island you should make a point of going  to Oslob and possibly to Sumilon Island for some time in the sun, water, and beach.

Near Oslob you can go to the village of Tan-awan where they feed the whale sharks krill. Tourists on Cebu will fill a highly organized parade of boats. Tourists can paddle out to the whale sharks where they have an opportunity to get in the water and snorkel with a group of whale sharks. This is a controversial tourist attraction as the normal migration of whale sharks in this area is 60 days and one whale shark named Mr. Bean lingered in this area 362 days just for the free food. Secondly, the krill they feed the whale sharks is just a small portion off all the types of krill whale sharks normally dine on along their normal migratory path. The jury is still out on if this is like eating a diet of hotdogs every night, but you get the idea. Lastly, the local whale sharks have become unafraid of boats, yet they have not had enough evolutionary time to learn to be wary of boats with propeller blades, which has had some negative consequences.

  

There are also a number of water falls to explore and day trips that include picnics and private beach excursions. Cebu has a number of modern shopping malls to explore for those that need more surface time. There are also several historical museums, historical sites such as Fort San Pedro built (started) in 1565, a must see Taoist temple, Christian and other religious as well as cultural landmarks, including the encased cross that Magellan brought to the islands on his ill-fated voyage. It’s ironical, but had Magellan come to Cebu as a tourist instead of a would-be conqueror, he would have had a great visit and great memories, instead of just the time of his life.

  

 

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Scuba Diving Is Transformational

Scuba Diving Is Transformational!

Has scuba diving changed your life?

A recently released 2016 research study conducted by researchers at East Carolina University working with Outside Magazine showed the motivation for adventure travelers has changed from a former study completed in 2005. The new study revealed that adventure travelers crave transformative experiences, but not as a byproduct of the pursuit of adventure activities. Instead, adventure travelers are actively motivated by a desire for personal growth and change.
Interestingly, of the 10 recreational activities identified as transformational by all those who participated in the research study, scuba diving was listed as number 8 and the overwhelming majority of participants were not scuba divers.

Earlier this year, we asked our e-news and social media followers to tell us how scuba diving was transformational for them. Our divers disclosed that scuba diving not only transformed them as individuals, but also influenced a loved one or their entire family, helped them overcome a fear, embrace a healthier lifestyle, and reminded us that you are never too old to get certified.

Louise and Dennis Marquering were both teaching biology and oceanography over forty years ago when they got married. They went snorkeling on their honeymoon and two years later became certified divers, which helped enhance their teaching experience. They have been each other’s dive buddies from the start and have traveled together to places they would never have explored otherwise. But, it doesn’t end there. In her own words, Louise writes, “Mothers have tears when their daughters get married. I teared up when our daughter completed her check out dive as a young teenager.” Well, their daughter has since grown up and is married to a diver. Now, the entire family goes on dive vacations together.

Scuba diving can help children’s self-confidence and create strong, family bonds. Valerie Rule defines this passionately when sharing her story. She tells us that they got their children in the water as early as age two, placing them on their laps, putting a mask on them and allowing them to breathe from their octopus regulator underwater. They enrolled their children in a scuba rangers program and, as soon as they were old enough, took them on their first dive vacation to Belize. Now in their twenties, their children are still their dive buddies and the four of them are still traveling together. Scuba diving has been, she says, “transformational in these and so many countless ways, and it has been an indispensable tool in binding the four of us together.”

Ed Rau discovered scuba diving as a young single man. He got married and his wife also became a certified diver. The couple had three children and they all became certified divers. He now has a 13-year-old granddaughter who is now a certified diver. Ed writes, “I always found a way to sacrifice whatever I had to in order to be able to go on a dive trip.” He shares that he started taking 8 mm snapshots that played movies on those old film projectors, which eventually progressed to underwater video. The whole family goes on dive travel vacations together and they always have “3 generation pictures” taken of them underwater! Certainly, the images and video relive their memories but also serve as a legacy for future family generations.

Sometimes scuba divers need to fend off certain anxieties, but what if the anxiety one is dealing with is unrelated to going underwater or the diving experience? We have all heard stories of individuals who had to escape a demon or two in order to accomplish a life goal.

Dr. Bill Bushing has been an educator and avid scuba diver his entire adult life, teaching marine biology at the high school and college levels. But, Dr. Bill (as he is known) had to overcome his fear of flying commercial aircraft in order to travel to those select destinations that he so desperately wanted to dive. He got over his fear of flying and has traveled all over the world, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific and Australia, including the islands of the Bahamas, the Philippines, Palau, Egypt, Fiji, Tahiti, Thailand, and other dive destinations. He also goes on trips to conduct studies and produce films. He has a newspaper column and TV Show, “Dive Dry with Dr. Bill,” and is a recipient of the 2011 California Scuba Service Award. He is a good example of someone you might consider never had a fear to overcome, but his story reminds us that our love and passion for scuba diving, and our desire to explore the oceans worldwide, is enough to dare us to overcome any fear – even when that fear is flying.

Suuz Martines, works in the dive industry, and has developed her professional persona, CoCo Cheznaynay® Secret Agent of Truth & Style, who teaches courage, truth, and advocates facing your fear. But as Suuz stated, “when I began scuba lessons, a strange performance anxiety surfaced; not about water, claustrophobia, fish, nor the equipment, but the act of being lined up to perform the certification skills. This was the beginning realization of the bullying I buried from my childhood. I knew I had to overcome this fear and get my certification or abandon CoCo. How could I teach through a character when I could not do as she says?” If not for scuba diving, she would have never embarked on solo dive travel trips beginning in 2000 and met strangers who became friends.

Scuba diving encourages some people to live healthier lives and embrace the sport ever so lovingly. Sherry Mitchell depicts herself as “a lover of life and scuba diving.” She and her husband gave up smoking, started exercising and eating better after becoming certified divers. As part of their dive classes, they were learning how to stay healthy so they could dive safer. They also became closer in their relationship and joy in life that they did not experience before scuba diving. Sherry also writes that they have been to some wonderful places and poetically illustrates the diving experience when describing her encounter with wild dolphins, giant manta rays, sharks, jellyfish and other marine life. She finishes off by telling us that they want to continue their plans of living healthy so that they can continue traveling and diving long into their senior years.

Many scuba divers will still be enjoying diving and traveling into their senior years, but Karen Jernigan is proof that you are never too old to fall in love or get certified. She was in her 50’s when she met her husband, who was a diver. A year later, she became certified. Since then, they have been traveling all over the world to scuba dive. She says she cannot imagine a vacation without the opportunity to dive. Karen says that they have also met many wonderful divers and they do seek warm water diving. The couple is now in their 70’s but looking forward to more years of traveling and diving.

Another group of divers who have benefited from scuba diving are war veterans and those with physical or emotional challenges. When they enter the water, experience underwater life and realize they are weightless and free, it becomes therapeutic. Specialized instructors, family, friends and fellow divers will willingly assist while more destinations and resorts are welcoming their visits. Many have learned to manage almost all on their own quite well. Others may require additional assistance, but all exhibit a new level of confidence and are so upbeat and resolute that nothing can stop them from diving.

Many encounters in life influence and change us in various ways. We all seek to focus on good things that bring about positive changes that make us happy when engaging in any sport, hobby or interest of any kind. As witnessed by the revelations of our readers, diving not only motivated them but became a shared fulfilling lifelong journey pursued with intense passion. In reading their truthful inspiring experiences, we realized two things. Human emotion creates moisture around the eyes and for everyone who becomes a certified diver; puts on special gear, loads a tank on their back, inserts their regulator and plunges into the water; there is one unanimous conclusion…
Scuba Diving is Transformational!

 

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Tobago. The Less Known Dive Vacation Island

Tobago

Drifting Along with Macros and Pelagics

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From the smallest seahorse to an abundance of majestic sized mantas to gigantic groupers to perhaps the world’s largest brain coral, Tobago has something to offer just about every diver. It’s not always this black and white when you are talking about a dive destination. That is unless you are talking about Tobago’s black sand beaches being on the Atlantic side of the island and the white sand beaches on the Caribbean side, but Tobago has lots of macro sea life to view as well as an unusual abundance of pelagic life. The reason for the great quantities of reef and pelagic life is because of the out flow of nutrients from the nearby Orinoco River in Venezuela, South America which feeds the plankton who in turn feed the small fish and this process works its way up the food chain at an amazing exponential rate. This doesn’t mean that you’re guaranteed to see a whale shark or school of 30 scalloped hammerhead sharks on your visit, but it does increase your chances of filling up your camera and video cards with lots of awesome images and memories.

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Before you get ready to jump off the dive boat, we should probably give you some background information about Tobago and mention what you might want to see and where you might like to dive first. Tobago is the small sister island in The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. It is approximately 40km (25 miles) long and 10km (6.2 miles) wide. It’s where many from Trinidad come to take a leisure vacation as it is only 35km (22 miles) away; a twenty minute flight. We should mention that Tobago is only 80km (50 miles) from South America. In fact, most of the flora and fauna is identical to what you would expect to find in South America as a land bridge connected this region during the end of the last ice age.

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The Arawak were the first to inhabit the island and they were later replaced by the Caribs. Columbus discovered Tobago on his third voyage and soon afterwards, in what seemed at the time like an endless rotating order, the Caribs were replaced by the French, English, Dutch, Spanish, and finally by Africans and East Indian descendants. You might say Tobago has changed hands more than any other island in the Caribbean, and yet somehow, it remarkably retained one of the oldest forest reserves in the western hemisphere starting in 1776. The Main Ridge Reserve is 550m (1804 ft) high at Pigeon Point Peak near the village of Speyside. If you want to visit this protected forest and view the beautiful water falls you’ll have to hire an official Tobagonian guide. Tobago also has some small islands off its coast that have become bird havens or sanctuaries. The south end of Tobago is low lying and is home to the Robinson International Airport (TAB). You can fly nonstop into Tobago, or go “directly” through Trinidad, or you can even take the ferry service which runs from Port of Spain, Trinidad and takes 2.5 hours to reach Crown Point, Tobago.

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Back to diving that will excite beginners to the most experienced, 4km (2.5 miles) south of the airport are the sites of some of the most well-known drift dives near the island, and when it comes to drift dives, the name Flying Reef pretty much says it all. Here you can drift by at 0-2 knots down to 17m (58ft) of depth over the coral and past a ship’s anchor as you keep a look out for stingrays, turtles, schools of fish, nurse sharks, and passing pelagics. This dive site goes right into Sting Ray Alley where guitarfish, electric rays and more nurse sharks are usually spotted.  Nearby Divers Dream is the site with overhangs for nurse sharks to the left, and a rock garden full of fish for those that dive to the right. Nearby Divers Thirst is where black tips, bull sharks and tiger sharks are spotted.

Mt Irvine Wall with is another dive destination where one dive site leads to another or is nearby.  The Wall is where you may find lobsters, crab, shrimps, and sea horses, but over at the Mt Irvine Extension is where the grouper, eagle rays tarpon, cobia, and hawksbill turtles like to hang out. Rainbow Reef in the middle of the bay goes down to 21m (70ft) and is named for the rainbow runners that like to hang out around a 17th century fishing anchor.

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For specific fish destinations we recommend Arnos Vale, max 14m 45ft depth, which is a rock crevice nursery for all kinds of fish and is a great place for beginner divers as well as for night dives. Kelliston Drain near Goat Island and not far from Speyside, is home of the world’s largest brain coral at over 3m (10ft) high and 5.3m (16ft) wide; while not every diver is amazed by these measurements, at least the large number mantas who pass by here are impressed. The nearby Sisters are a group of five pinnacles that rise up from the deep and this is where you have a great chance to see scalloped hammer heads, especially during October to May, and whale sharks whenever they feel like it. Also close by is Japanese Gardens near Goat Island and it gets its name from all the soft corals, sea whips, and barrel sponges. This dive site flows right into the rock corridor named Kamikaze Cut. London Bridge is another popular spot when currents permit, and where water pushes you between two hard rock surfaces and empties you out into a 15m (45ft) deep area of sand. You’ll see where it got its name from before you even get close to the exposed topside rock formation. It’s a great spot to view black surgeonfish, trumpet fish, and trunk fish. Some of the more unique fish you may find around the island include: cherub angelfish, flame angelfish, angle sharks like the sand devil, and giraffe garden eels. As for wreck dives, the M.V. Maverick, 107m (350ft) long passenger and car ferry that was cleaned and opened up and made safety ready for divers before being sunk on purpose in 1997, has plenty of coral and animal life including: crabs, clams, schools of bonito and bait fish, turtles, and eagle rays.

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Now for adventurous divers and weather permitting, there is practically untouched diving 32-64km (20-40 miles) away at the off shore reefs. Plus, there is the wreck of the S.S. Kioto, which was sunk Sept 15, 1942 by U-boat 514. After three torpedoes, it finally sunk in 12m (40ft) of water and the scattered debris are still visible.

As you can see, Tobago is a small island, but there are more than 40 dive sites to choose from. There is also bicycling, birding, exploring the old sugar mills and plantations, visiting the 1770 Fort George, or checking out the beaches in April-July to view the leatherback turtles nesting. We didn’t even have time to point out all the beaches, but Tobago is where Disney filmed Swiss Family Robinson in 1958, so you already know that the beaches are Disney approved; even the Pirate’s Beach. There is a lot to experience, so you might not be able to fit everything in on one vacation trip, but the steel drum music bands are always playing something good, the crab and dumplings “Creole style” are simmering in the pot, and to make Tobago’s sunsets complete, the island just needs you.

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Thailand’s Amazing Andaman Sea

Thailand’s Amazing Andaman Sea

  

You probably already have a good idea what Thailand is like. You may not know it, but over eighty films have been shot in Thailand, so if you’ve seen The Man with the Golden Gun, a James Bond film, you’ve seen parts of Bangkok. In The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio you see Maya Beach and parts of Phuket. In Star Wars: Episode III, the Krabi Province turns into the Wookiee home world. The scenic background list goes on for Blackbeard, Cutthroat Island, Heaven and Earth, The King and I, and The Bridge over the River Kwai, to name a few. To add to what you’ve already discovered visually about Thailand, we would also like to mention a few local reference points of interest of our own before we mention where and what to see while diving the waters of this ancient and exotic country.

  

Thailand is a land of natural beauty mixed with captivating ancient ruins and artfully decorated temples. It’s a land of some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet. People have inhabited this area of the world for over forty thousand years with a considerable amount of early on influence from India. The Kingdom was named Siam until it was changed in 1939 to Thailand. The main language is Thai which is closely related to Lao, and the government also recognizes 62 other regional languages. They use an official Buddhist Era calendar that is ahead of the western Gregorian calendar by 543 years, so the year 2017 AD is 2560 BE. Thailand is also the land of five thousand types of rice and almost just as many types of sauces that seem to accompany each unique entrées or particular set of appetizers. There are also many mesmerizing sights to see in the city of Bangkok that you may be forced by curiosity to spend a few days in the city before taking another flight, bus, or train, out to one of the coastal towns where your real dive adventure awaits, but because there are so many islands, and so many dive sites to choose from, we thought that we would break it all down from north to south in order to help you figure out where you might want to go diving first.

We’ll start off with the Similan Islands which are about 65km (40 miles) off shore of Khao Lak and 100km (62 miles) north of Phuket, so they are easily assessable from both directions. These nine granite islands have over 25 dive sites and the west side has easy diving for new divers, plus you’ll find swim throughs, tunnels, boulders, and arches. You’ll encounter leopard sharks, turtles, and a plethora of fish. Donald Duck Bay is a great spot for macro diving and night dives. East of Eden has peacock groupers, Elephant Head Rock is where olive Ridley’s and Hawksbill turtles and the rare McCosker’s dwarf wrasse hang out. Green turtles are at North Point, and keep your eyes open for Orangespine unicorn fish at Hideaway. Stonehenge is great for soft corals and clownfish. White tip sharks, Napoleon wrasse, ribbon eels, and occasionally mantas, can be spotted at Christmas Point. Don’t let all these exotic Thai sounding dive site names distract you, if there is a certain fish or site you want to see, just ask your local dive master for more information.

  

Moving up North you will need a more than a four-day charter operator to visit many of the more northern dive destinations, especially if you are starting out of Phuket. Shorter trips can be arranged out of Khao Lak. Koh Bon is another hour north of the Similan Islands and is known for wall, pinnacle, and night diving. Octopus and small invertebrates like the small cove, meanwhile mantas like to hang out for the plankton and underwater cameras. Nearby Koh Tachai has strong currents, swim throughs through the boulders, and is known as one of the sites to see whale sharks, nurse sharks, and leopard sharks. 68km (42 miles) north of the Similan islands we come to the remote and less visited Surin Islands.  This area has the greatest hard coral diversity in Thailand. There are lots of schooling bumphead wrasse and Spanish mackerel passing by in this national marine park. Gray sharks, eagle rays, and shovel nose rays are also spotted here as well as ribbon eels, pipefish, Andaman sweetlips, rabbitfish, and cowrie shells. The forest of Surin Island is home to crab eating macaques, flying foxes, flying lemurs, deer, hornbills, seahawks, and kingfishers; so, the view can be both spectacular simultaneously above and below water. We should mention that 15km (9 miles) east of here is where Jacque Cousteau filmed the mantas and whale sharks that made Richelieu Rock world famous. Lastly, some operators go all the way up to Burma Banks and the Mergui Archipelago. Technically, up here, you are diving off of Myanmar’s reefs, which are seldom if ever visited by throngs of other divers. The Burma Banks rise 15m (49ft) near the surface then dip down some 300 meters. You can drift dive with mantas, white tips, silver tips, and whale sharks, or hang out with nurse sharks, frogfish, crab, shrimp, and lobsters.  Before we leave the north end, we should mention that if you like wrecks, the tin processor Bunsoong and the teak Sea Chart 1 wreck are near Khao Lak, and the Premchai tin dredger wreck is just a short distance south.

For central dive sites that are in easy reach of Phuket, Krabi, Khao Lok, or Ao Nang Beach, one of the most popular diving areas is the Phi Phi Islands, which are part of the Mu koh Phi Phi National Marine Park. There are over 15 dive sites around the two islands. Loh Samah Bay on the southern island of Phi Phi Lay is a popular spot to train new divers and do a night dive.   Wall Maya is right outside of the famous Maya Bay where snorkeling and hanging out on the beach are a must do activity. The 47m (154ft) long HTMS Kledkeao Thai Navy transport ship was sunk between Phi Phi Lay Bay and Viking Bay in 2014. Hin Dot “Chimney Rock” is on the south side of Phi Phi Don. There are lots of caves and caverns to explore on both islands as well. An all-day excursion that typically includes three dives in one day is a trip over to the 85m (279ft) long King Cruiser; a Japanese car ferry, followed by a dive over at nearby Shark Point (Guess what you might see here) and then on to Anenome Reef, where Nemo and at least four other species of Clown fish like to hang out. Racha Yai and Racha Noi are just south of Phuket. After the tsunami in 2004 they placed two elephant statues, a clam, and an arch underwater in Siam Bay off Racha Yai island. The south side of Racha Noi is known for large pelagics, mantas, and occasional whale sharks. South of the Phi Phi islands are the two split rocks of Koh Bida Noi and Koh Bida Nok with boulders, swim throughs, caverns and overhangs. Garang Heng is a submerged reef east of Phi Phi Lay and bursting with soft corals, fish, and leopard sharks. Over by Ao Nang Beach are seven other islands frequented by divers, the most popular being Koh Yawabon for its’ long swim through, and G.K. Island for its’ sea horses. There are other submerged reefs and pinnacles to visit over here. There are also untold beaches, shore, and pier dives to do in the central area of the Andaman Sea.

  

Moving on to the southern Andaman Sea you can choose dive operations from Phuket, Krabi, Koh Lanta, and Satun to name a few places. Koh Ha is an island group of five rocks that barely break the surface, but below are home to swim throughs, caverns, drop offs, chimneys, pinnacles, and caves off of Koh Ha Yai where you can come up inside an air pocket to gaze at stalactites. Koh Rok is comprised of two islands with white sand beaches, steep cliffs, and soft corals galore. Moving on to the Mu Koh Lanta National Marine Park we find two islands. Hin Mueng is called the “Purple Rock” because of the predominant color of soft corals and is home to the areas 60m (196ft) long vertical wall dive. Hin Daeng “red rock” is known as one of the top three spots for sighting whale sharks. South of here we come to the Tarutao Marine Park with more than 30 islands to choose from. Koh Lipe has some local dive sites, as well as being one of the starting points for excursions out to 8 Mile Rock to see pelagics, diving sites such as Stone Henge, 6 Mile Rock, and 7 Rocks, or perhaps local dive spots of the big islands of Koh Adang and Koh Rawi ; these dive sites are actually in the Adang Archipelago and the Satun Sea. There are a few more southern islands to dive, but you would be diving in Malaysia if you went any further south, as well as on your way through the Malacca Strait separating Malaysia from Indonesia.

   

As you can see, diving all the sites in Thailand’s Andaman Sea in one trip would be like visiting all 50 United States in one week long trip. Dive liveaboards are the best way to experience the best dive sites that Thailand has to offer. You can separate the excursions out by starting your dives from a northern point and then planning to visit the southern sites from a southern starting point. You can do a couple of longer multiple day charters from Phuket with at least one charter going north and a separate charter going south to give you some of the highlights of the most popular dive sites. But you will still have to return again and again, especially once you have met the Thai people and become enchanted by their culture, lifestyle, and friendliness; plus witnessed firsthand the exquisite and unique natural bounty of local ocean life, and have become captivated by the spectacular natural beauty of the temples, islands, rocks, pinnacles, reefs, and isolated beaches.

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Cage Diving with Great White Sharks

Cage Diving with Great White Sharks

Africa and Australia

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Being in a cage in saltwater next to free swimming great white sharks is probably the best way to get an adrenaline rush on this planet. It is also one of the safest ways to see these magnificent creatures close up and personal in the wild. Cage diving was first invented by Rodney Fox of Australia after he survived being mistaken for a possible meal. It could be equally argued that keeping certain tourists behind metal bars is a potentially good measure for keeping great white sharks safe too. Currently there are three locations around the world where local governments permit cage diving: Australia, South Africa, and Guadalupe Island off of Baja California, Mexico. In this article we will concentrate on single day trips out of South Africa and Australia, as Guadalupe Island because of its distance to the mainland entails exclusive liveaboard diving.

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Starting in Cape Town South Africa, you have to drive 2.5 to 3 hours to the seaside village of Gansbaai and a short distance to Kleinbaai Harbour where up to 8 different government authorized charter boats go out to visit great white sharks. Some of the tours will pick you up in Cape Town early in the morning around 4:30 am to make the trip to Gansbaai, while others ask you to come or bring you to Gansbaai the night before the trip to stay in a guest house or lodge; so you don’t have to get up quite so early the day of your great white shark encounter. The reason these trips leave dockside so early is because great whites prefer to hunt at first light and this is the time when you are most likely to see them breach; jump out of the water . Some great whites may breach year round so you always want to have a camera ready around False Bay and Mossel Bay.

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From April to September charter operators may witness over 600 breaches where a great white, whose attack pattern is from depth below to the surface, may shoot out of the water at speeds of up to 25mph (40km/hr.) and soar some 10 feet (3m) up into the air before arching back down towards the water. If the Great white was lucky, and fifty percent of the time they are not, they will have managed to stun or bite a seal just as they cleared the surface. During this first bite, the great white will determine many factors such as how wounded or stunned was the prey, it’s fat content, taste, smell, and if it is worth pursuing further by immediately biting again, or cautiously following at a safe distance while gathering more sensory data before committing to further feeding or determining the bite test is over and any further pursuit is a waste of energy. This fundamental mental process is what has saved many of the humans that have survived the actual overall and surprisingly low number of recorded great white shark bite test encounters as human fat content is disappointedly poor compared to fat enriched cape fur seals; provided one can survive the initial bite and potential great loss of blood. Besides seals, great whites also prefer Jackass Penguins, Dolphins, and seabirds. The millions of humans swimming in the ocean each year are really not on their calorie count list, but the outlines of humans on surfboards, which resemble from below shadows of seals, can from time to time be too tempting to resist an inquisitive bite test.

So going back to first light, you may have a light breakfast and briefing before they take you out on a fifteen minute ride to Shark Alley which is a channel that separates Dyer Island from Geyser Rock. Geyser Rock is the main breeding ground for 40-60,000 cape fur seals. For those times of the year when breaches are few and far between, boat operators go right into chumming the water to attract great whites. This is soon followed by divers rotating in and out of cages to view from below the water line or divers seeking higher ground to film the inquisitive great white sharks from up above. Some of the boat operators require you to have a basic diver certification while others do not. Some cages are bigger than others, but most cages are attached to the boat and are made to float; not sink. They may chum the water and set bait out for great whites to follow, but they try not to directly feed the sharks as they don’t want to alter the shark’s natural behavior any more than necessary. They are greatly aware how important these apex predators are to the ecosystem and some trips have onboard dedicated marine biologists to help answer any questions that you may have. Financially, a set of jaws may fetch $20,000, but one week of great white tourist trips can bring in up to $30,000 in revenue, and that amount is possible every week the boats go out. Now on the emotional side, some locals have watched a great white named “Slashfin” grow from just over 3 feet (1m) shark with a severely cut up fin to a 15 foot (4.5m) long shark with a healed fin with a mere two scares in just under 6 years. It’s amazing how you can get so attached to some of these majestic creatures in the space of a few hours. We should mention that from July to November you might also see Southern Right Whales while out on the water.

Things you need to bring include: swimsuit, a water resistant out of water cover, dry change of clothes, camera, sunscreen, sunglasses, chap stick, seasick medication (if needed), and a hat. Perhaps even a towel if not rented or supplied. The best operations supply you with cold water gear including thicker wetsuit, booties, hood, and perhaps even a weight belt and mask. They may also provide you with snacks, soup, and beverages, or will ask you to bring extra cash for particular snacks, refreshments and for a DVD copy of your “Day with Great Whites”. You might also desire to combine diving in other areas or include safari reserve trips or wine tasting trips as part of your South African holiday adventure.

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In Australia cage diving with great whites is only allowed around the Neptune Islands and to get here, you have to fly two hours from Sydney to Adelaide, then fly 45 minutes over to Port Lincoln and the Eyre Peninsula. The waters are teaming with life here and the tuna in the pens near Port Lincoln are harvested and shipped to the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. On a two to three hour cruise out you may see whales, dolphins, bronze whaler sharks, mako sharks, and there is a New Zealand fur seal colony that produces up to 4,000 new pups born November to December each year. There is even a small colony of Australian sea lions out here too.

May thru October are the best viewing times of the year as seal pups first venture off shore from where they born. Large female great whites are seen May, June and July, with the greatest number of great whites recorded in July and August. It’s recommended that you come to Port Lincoln the night before you dive, and spend the night after you dive as most boats are back by 6 pm, but every once in awhile weather or shark activity can push the return to port past 9 pm and that would mean missing your flight out that night. Some outfits are bait and berely (chum) free so you have the opportunity to see the great whites in their most natural state of seal predation. Most outfits have metal cages of various sizes attached to boat, but there is one new cage here called the “aqua sub” which is really a metal framed box with viewing windows in which you and others can enter or leave at any time while staying completely dry. You may also watch live television feeds from under the boat while sitting in the Galley. For those that really like to get wet, some trips come with optional excursions on boat tenders to go swim with the sea lions. Besides an average 12 hour long tour out to the islands and back, there are also other trips out here that may include up to 21 days on a liveaboard. Anchorage sites around the four islands that make up the Neptune Islands are selected depending on the time of year, the existing weather conditions, and local currents. Supplies to bring are similar to those needed during the aforementioned South Africa trips and supplies provided are similar to those supplied by South African great white charters.

If you really want to determine whether you like cage diving with great whites in South Africa better than cage diving in Southern Australia, or the other way around, then you will just have to dive both continents, and when it comes to seeing, filming, and viewing great whites face to face, getting to compare two absolutely astounding destinations like these could be a once in a life time adrenaline filled opportunity and an unforgettable experience with one of nature’s most feared, respected, and jaw drop impressive apex predators.

 

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Little Cayman’s Big Time Diving

Little Cayman’s Big Time Diving

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If you are looking for a dive destination that even Phillipe Cousteau considered one of the top three dive destinations in the world, yet it is still not inundated with tourist galore, then you can’t find a bigger island with more magnificent and mesmerizing dive sites than the island simply known as Little Cayman.

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The island population has exploded since the early nineteen eighties and now there are close to 170 some people living on the island, and although you might think this number is a lot, it is nothing compared to the two thousand rock iguanas living on the island which have the right of way around the island. Now take the total number of locals and all the tourists and this total will still be so small that the vast majority of red footed boobies are unaware that humans are even on Little Cayman. We’re not exactly sure how an ornithologist arrived at 5,000 pairs of red footed boobies.  This round number makes us wonder, did they just stop counting when they reached this number and then head for the reef where the hawksbill turtles like to hang out? We may never know the answer, but if you are like most “Birders” we had you at “red footed” and most photographers will agree that there is nothing more picturesque than a pair of boobies posing for a camera. Of course, we almost sincerely apologize for this blatant misuse of fowl humor.

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On the more serious side, the Cayman Islands are actually a collection of three separate instances where the peaks of the Cayman ridge broke through the Caribbean Sea’s surface. Little Cayman tops the surface by a mere 40ft (12m). On the north side of this ridge lays the Yucatan Basin and on the south side is the Cayman Trench. Little Cayman is approximately 80 miles (129km) east of Grand Cayman and 5 miles (8km) from Cayman Brac. Little Cayman is directly south of Miami with a little plane hop over or around Cuba, but typically, flights to Little Cayman arrive several times a day direct or non-stop via Grand Cayman.

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Southeast of Little Cayman is Jamaica which tends to shield the Caymans from most hurricanes. Around these three exposed island peaks are fringing reefs, coral heads, sand plains that over time deposit vast amounts of sand down chutes that form between finger shaped coral canyons and ridges. Around, between, and hidden by the coral outcroppings you may encounter pinnacles, arches, tunnels, chimneys, mini-walls, caves, and eventually walls that descend downward into the deep blue.

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Back to the area which makes Little Cayman such a famous place to dive we have to go to Bloody Bay on the slightly northwest side of the island. The wall starts at a mere 18ft (6m) of depth, but it is such a long shallow swim from shore before you reach the edge of the wall that may descend eventually down to 3,000ft+ (1,000m) and this is why some 99% of all local diving is facilitated by boat. To visit some 76 different local dive sites is quite an undertaking and since most visits are from Saturday to Saturday on Little Cayman you might as well plan a second trip or extend your first excursion.

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There are some 24 dive sites on Bloody Bay and the adjacent Jackson Bay, but the favorite dive site of all for divers, underwater photographers, videographers  and instructors alike has to be Mixing Bowl; aka (Three Fathoms). If you are facing Three Fathom Wall on the left side of the wall is a sand chute that descends down to 110ft (34m). A short distance more is a coral arch and to the left of a flat coral head is a cave that leads to a second canyon. To the right of Three fathom wall  is Marylyn’s Cut which is where a large mushroom topped pinnacle is cut from the surrounding wall and goes down to 80ft (24m). Just to the right of the pinnacle is a cave where light filters in the open roof area and air bubbles filter out. Randy’s Gazebo is similar to Mixing Bowl with structural features on both sides of the wall, but on a smaller scale so you can explore this site on a single dive.

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Besides the rock formations, there are myriads of yellow and red tube sponges, elephant ears, gorgonians, invertebrates of all sizes and types, schools of reef fish such as grunts and snappers, barracuda, sharks, rays and Nassau groupers. Grouper are found off Little Cayman in great abundance because of the long standing designated grouper spawning areas off both the west and east end of the island. Although, how they get the grouper to adhere to these specific courtship coordinates is beyond the scope of this article.

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Now if you are into wreck dives several dive charters cross the short distance over to Cayman Brac, weather permitting, to spend a few dives visiting the 300ft + (91m) long former Russian Destroyer Keith Tibbetts. This dive descends down to 97ft (30m) and recently the Tibbetts broke into two pieces making it easy to investigate the engine and control rooms.

In addition to scuba diving, you can jog, bicycle around the island, go birding, or go kayaking, but the biggest non-diving sport on the island has to be blue water fishing. Little Cayman is well known for its mahi mahi, tuna, marlin, wahoo, and sailfish, and has been a sportsman’s dream out here since the 1980’s.

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So now you know that Little Cayman is a secluded uncrowded island with world class diving, lots of iguanas, and tons of birds including thousands of pairs of red footed boobies. The island may be only 10 miles (16km) long, a little over a mile (2km) wide, and just above sea level, but if you think you can see it all in one week, then think again . . . or better yet, plan on staying longer or coming back again, but whatever you decide, we know you are going to enjoy your small island dive adventure experience in a very big and memorable way.

 

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Giant Sharks Through Time

Giant Sharks Through Time

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Great Whites are currently the largest predator shark on this water planet, but it hasn’t always been this way. The first large predator shark dates back to 100 million years ago back to the Cretaceous period of time. The shark I am referring to is Cretoxyrhina manteli, which is commonly known as the Ginsu shark because of its sharp ginsu knife slice and dice teeth. The teeth were large, sharp, and had smooth edges similar to the modern short fin mako shark. This large lamniform shark grew 20-24ft long and preyed on fish such as the 20ft long fanged tooth Xiphactinus, Plesiosaurs such as elasmosaurus, mosasaurs, and archelon turtles. Remains of sea going reptiles such as Mosasaurs have been found inside the stomachs of fossilized Ginsu sharks, Ginsu teeth marks have been found on fossils of Mosasaurs, and half digested fossilized remains of smaller Mosasaurs bones have been found near Ginsu shark deposits. Ginsu sharks died out some 82 million years ago and this could be partly due to the fact that certain species of mosasaurs grew close to 50ft long and in turn became the top predator of the time. Whether Mosasaurs ate all the Ginsu sharks, dominated the former Ginsu shark food supply, food sources like Xiphactinus fish diminished, or the rising number of other predators proved overwhelming, Ginzu sharks managed to survive for 18million years and just like the warm waters of the Thethys Ocean, Ginsu Sharks ultimately became extinct.

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For the next 54 million years a few early species of mako sharks radiated in to sharks 20 to 30ft long sharks such as Paratodus benedeni, Isurus hastalis, and Isurus estheri, but 28 million years ago during the Oligocene a new large species of shark came to light and pushed these mako sharks out of sight and out of mind. It was a time when whales dominated the seas and radiated into many species. The new shark Carcharocles megalodon or simply Megalodon, which grew to some 43 to 52 plus feet in length, roamed the warm waters in search of big fish and whale buffets. Remnant fossilized teeth over seven inches long are still found on the muddy bottoms of rivers in South Carolina and Florida as well as off shore along the south eastern states.

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An intermediary 16ft long form of broad tooth mako shark with coarse serrations on its teeth and similar to great white teeth was found in 6.5 million year old fossil deposits of Peru. Scientist are now confident that the great white took it’s current form from ancestors of serrated tooth mako during the early Pliocene 4-4.5 million years ago along the Pacific Coast where whales and seals are still quite prevalent. In the late Pliocene around 2-2.5 million years ago great whites radiated out to other parts of the world. Megalodon sharks finally died out 1.8million years ago, giving them a total life long run of almost 26 million years on this water planet. It’s not known if great whites lead to the extinction of Megalodon sharks, but juvenile megalodons with butter knife smooth teeth would have had to compete directly against easy chomping great whites with steak knife teeth. The sharp teeth would come in handy against seals, and may have given great whites an edge on hunting young whales too. It’s also known that species of giant mako sharks became extinct as great whites filled the niches of the precursor instead of the mako .

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Some fifteen million years ago the cold Antarctic circumpolar current came into existence and by 10 million years ago several species of sharks began to grow in size. By the end of the Pliocene, somewhere around 3 million years ago, the waters became cooler as the Greenland ice cap accumulated. Megalodon fossils are usually associated in areas that were once warmer or tropical. Perhaps the great white by just being able to hunt in colder waters than megalodons and ability to expand out around the world could have eventually reduced the megalodon’s immediate, as well as their migrating food supply, and led to the megalodon’s final extinction.

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Millions of sharks are killed yearly and efforts to curtail or eliminate this routine practice must be enhanced. Knowing the evolution of giant sharks, now more than ever, it is important to safe guard the existence of great whites. Because if they went instinct even accidentally, it could take another 25 million years before the world could see such a large top predator, and that is only if the food supply was abundant, over fishing was no longer a threat, and the climate or water temperature was agreeable to a currently unknown future radiated shark species.

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