Author Archive

For the Love of Cephalopods at Atlantis Dive Resorts

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Perhaps because of their sci-fi appearance, cephalopods tend to intrigue many divers. They’re highly intelligent, able to problem-solve, and have innate camouflage abilities that can be hypnotic, not to mention that they can be highly charismatic video or photo subjects. That is if they’re not being altogether elusive.

Sightings are rare at most dive locations, and often limited to very specific spots or night dives. We can hunt for an entire dive, turning over rocks and pulling out shells in search of a tentacle, only to be disappointed time and again.

One place this won’t happen is the Philippines, especially in the Dumaguete and Puerto Galera areas. While staying at the Atlantis Dive Resort near Dumaguete, we were treated to not only sightings but also to extended interactions with several cephalopod species, including a couple we had never seen before, two of which are deadly. It would have seemed that with each dive and subsequent octopus, squid, or cuttlefish interaction that our excitement would wane, but that never happened. Even the Atlantis dive guides, who get to see these critters nearly every single day, still seemed excited to find them. The untrained eye can struggle to spot these masters of disguise, but since the Atlantis guides do see them so often, they’re pros at picking them out quickly from their blended backgrounds.

We saw wunderpus, coconut octopus, blue-ringed octopus, ocellated (mototi) octopus, flamboyant cuttlefish, crinoid cuttlefish and pharaoh cuttlefish most often during the day dives. At night, the bobtail squid would show their cute little faces while algae and coconut octopuses continued to steal the show. Though we didn’t see any while we were there, mimic octopuses are known to hang out in the area, along with hairy octopus, starry night octopus, two-toned pygmy squid, and bigfin reef squid. Although we would have loved to see a nautilus, we didn’t have any luck. However, sightings have been reported near the Atlantis resorts.

While there’s lots of unique marine life to be found in the Dumaguete area, if you’re looking for some cephalopod interactions for photo, video, or just for personal interest, we highly recommend heading to the Philippines. Bring some patience and good buoyancy control, and have a big “thank you” ready for the Atlantis Dive Resorts dive guides.

By Kenzo Kiren

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Marine Species: The Blue-Ringed Octopus

Friday, April 29th, 2016

Macro life often takes a backseat to the larger, more charismatic creatures, such as whales, sharks and turtles. But these tiny animals are equal to, if not more impressive, beautiful and unique than the larger, more easily identified creatures. The blue-ringed octopus is a standout species among them.

What is it?

The blue-ringed octopus is a small mollusk that could fit into the palm of your hand. It is named and categorized by the number of rings it possesses; for example, the lesser blue-ringed octopus and the greater blue-tinged octopus are the most common types. Even with their arms extended, they can be as small as two inches. This is the only octopus to contain the toxin tetrodotoxin, which is also found in pufferfish and cone snails, and they use it for self-defense. However, it has been said that as little as 1 milligram of toxin can kill a human, and there is no known antidote. Blue-ringed octopus feed mainly on small crustaceans like shrimp, crabs and small fish. They have an average lifespan of around two years, with both male and female dying during the reproductive process. The male dies immediately after the mating process, while the female dies of exhaustion after protecting her eggs for up to two months.

Where is it?

The blue-ringed octopus can be found in Australia, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Japan and New Guinea. Their habitat consists of rubble and reef, in cracks and on sandy bottoms. Some famous dive areas that frequently feature blue-ringed octopus include Lembeh Strait, Indonesia; Anilao, Philippines; and Mabul, Malaysia.

Greater Blue-ringed octopus

 

Why are they so hard to spot?

Blue-ringed octopus are hard to spot not only because of their obvious tiny size, but also because of their coloring. They can range in color from dark brown to a dark gold, giving them perfect camouflage for their habitat. They only flash their recognizable blue rings in defense, when feeling threatened. They are also difficult to spot on a dive, as they prefer to stay in more shallow water where most divers tend not to go. They can be difficult to photograph as they are easily spooked, meaning that they will flee quickly using their hydro jet, or lie flat on the sand and creep away.

How can you increase your chances of spotting one?

The best way to increase your chances to see one of these critters is by understanding its behaviors and habitats, as well as knowing where to dive and what habitat to search. To increase your chances of capturing one on camera, relax and don’t rush it, and set your camera settings and strobes before approaching the animal. If you can, try to use something in your shot as a contrast, either as a background or even another subject in the shot for scale. If the octopus does begin to flash in color or ink, then act responsibly and respectively towards it and keep your distance.

By Beth Alexander

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Snorkeling Made Simple with the ARIA Full-Face Mask

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

If you were to research trends in scuba and water-based activities, you’d learn pretty quickly that people have been searching for the terms “full-face,” and “snorkeling” together quite a bit recently. Full-face snorkel masks have only been around for a few years but they grab more attention and accolades by the day. What makes them so special?

Why use a full-face snorkel mask?

Those who design dive masks and snorkeling gear usually have years of in-water experience, and thusly their products are designed for people who are already comfortable in the water.

As divers, we forget what it’s like for a huge chunk of the population — potential ocean lovers and fellow future divers, free divers and explorers — who have never been able to overcome the uncomfortable moments when they first tried putting their face in the water with a traditional dive mask.

Water leaking and having to clear the mask without any experience, for many, feels like a daunting task. On top of that, you must consider possible fogging, the claustrophobic sensation generated by a small field of vision, and not being able to breath through your nose. Let’s not forget the most difficult task for newbies — clearing water from a snorkel while keeping the mouthpiece in place. With the full-face snorkel mask, we’ve tried to eliminate some of these barriers for newcomers, introducing our blue planet to them in a way that’s easy to master.

How does it work?

The ARIA makes if far easier to start discovering the underwater world. Users can breathe naturally through their nose, and needn’t bite on anything to keep the unit in their mouth. The mask doesn’t fog; there’s no water in the snorkel; and the field of vision is cinematic. Simply put, the ARIA increases the chance that new snorkelers will remain snorkelers, and may move on to diving if they’re comfortable enough in the water. And if you’re already an experienced snorkeler? Well, it’s just plain fun for self-professed water people. And if you’re viewing animals at the surface, it may considerably increase your snorkeling time out of sheer comfort and ease of use.

What’s the story behind ARIA?

ARIA is the evolution of the original Easybreath snorkeling mask, with a higher aim in terms of style, breathing effort and accessories. As with many second-generation products, it borrows all the best features from the first generation and moves them a step forward. ARIA is also available in the U.S. (unlike the Easybreath mask), sold also as the Sea-Vu Dry. The hoped-for result of introducing and promoting full-face snorkeling is to introduce more people to the ocean, creating more snorkelers, divers, conservationists and defenders of the marine environment.

Tough-skinned, salt-water-in-their-veins divers and ocean enthusiasts may initially object that some boundaries and obstacles must be surmounted and conquered to really enjoy and respect the ocean, and while this may be true, why put so much of the planet out of reach of so many? Let’s include the newbies in our tribe — who knows, they may be the dive leaders of tomorrow, all thanks to the full-face snorkel mask.

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Save Our Reefs with the Green Fins Toolbox

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

By Samantha Craven and Chloë Harvey, The Reef-World Foundation

 

Tourism is one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, with well over a billion people traveling the globe recreationally each year, and the Asia-Pacific region has the fastest growing tourism sector of them all. With warm temperatures, interesting cultures and outstanding biodiversity, it’s no surprise. Tourism has brought numerous benefits to the region’s natural environment, as the industry provides alternative employment in areas that traditionally have relied on the exploitation of natural resources. Former fishermen are now dive guides and boat crew, and members of the community are employed in the related tourism services of hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

However, with the influx of new business comes great responsibility, both on the side of the operator and the diver. While diving obviously isn’t on par with large-scale threats like climate change, intensive diving tourism can drastically reduce a coral reef’s resilience in the face of growing environmental threats, such as climate change. Those of us who have seen big groups of divers or amateur photographers ploughing through the reef have felt the anguish of witnessing completely preventable destruction. Now multiply that by several dive groups on a dive site, several times a day, 365 days a year, and it all adds up.

For some of us, it’s a no brainer — you’re a visitor on the reef and you remember your manners. For others, especially some who were trained in temperate waters, it’s a case of not being aware. No one explained that coral is a fragile animal; no one explained that one touch can remove protective coatings and leave whole colonies susceptible to disease; no one explained the rules of the reef.

For dive operators, every day is a balance between customer service and safety and environmental protection. There aren’t many of us that like to be lectured while on vacation, and the power of the tourist dollar means that dive guides who see the damage to their business asset — the reef — often are left feeling hopeless and unable to correct a customer in fear of losing out on a much-needed tip or getting reprimanded by management.

The Green Fins Toolbox

Luckily, a bunch of divers and marine conservationists have been working for over 10 years, with dive centers in some of the world’s busiest tourist destinations, to collect the most useful and practical solutions to these common challenges. We’ve packaged them up into the Green Fins Toolbox, which was created to help dive shops enact the Green Fins standards, the world’s only internationally recognized environmental standards for the diving and snorkeling industry.

The Toolbox contains a host of educational posters for you to freely share and display, simple guides on best practices and environmental activities, and a series of operational handbooks offering step-by-step guidance on environmental standards for business managers, resource managers and decision makers.

divegear_RWF

As divers, what can you do?

  • Be ocean literate. Once you start learning about the reef, it becomes even more alive and worthy of a little extra protection. Corals aren’t rocks; they are living, breathing condominiums for thousands of individuals. They are the barracks shared by reef species on day and night shifts. They are the salons for cleaner wrasse and the algal farmlands for damselfish. The barrel sponge is one animal; the sea whips are colonies of soft coral. The mantis shrimp can see colors we can’t even imagine and some nudibranchs take the stinging cells of their prey, and install them in their gills for defense. An index finger balancing on a boulder coral might be crushing ten coral animals, a fin kick breaking off a tiny piece of staghorn coral might be destroying years of growth. Once we understand the intricacies and complexities of a reef, we better understand how errant actions can cause damage.
  • Learn your underwater manners. Become familiar with the do’s and don’ts of environmentally responsible diving. Green Fins offers materials free for download, including diving and snorkeling best practices. Take buoyancy courses and ask your guide to give you feedback on your form, or to hold you steady while you take a photo instead of leaning on the reef.
  • Choose responsible operators. Choose dive shops that champion environmental protection and teach you about the reef. Find out if guides include environmental briefings, asking you not to touch or harass marine life. Make sure the operator offers suitable garbage cans and ashtrays that don’t add to the marine-debris problem. Green Fins-certified active members have had training, evaluation and consultation to improve their environmental practices. You can find the Top 10 Green Fins environmental dive centers in the world on the website as well.

diveindustry_RWF

As dive shops, what can you do?

  • Be teachers of the sea. You can set the tone with your customers before they even book with you. Highlight your environmental rules on your website; add them to your liability form; and ensure that your guides repeat them during the briefings. Your staff members are role models for the guests. What they do and allow, the customers will copy. Any habits, good or bad, demonstrated by your staff may be mimicked for years to come by your customers on reefs around the world.
  • Use the right tools. The newly released Green Fins Toolbox is a collection of materials created using over 10 years’ experience, working with over 400 dive centers. The toolbox allows dive shops to apply environmental standards without compromising their customer’s experience. From recipes for environmental cleaning products to posters meant to educate and engage your guests, to helping you protect the reefs, the Green Fins Toolbox houses a suite of free materials ready to download now.
  • Become a Green Fins member. Green Fins members are dive and snorkel operators who have agreed to abide by the 15-point code of conduct and reduce their environmental impacts. They are supported annually by qualified Green Fins representatives, who assess compliance above and below the water, and provide training and recommendations to improve compliance to the code. Members are promoted online and throughout conservation and tourism networks. Membership is free and there are active assessor teams in the Philippines, the Maldives, Malaysia and Vietnam.If you aren’t based near an assessor team, you needn’t miss out – the Green Fins Dive Center Handbook is your guide to implementing best practices, created with the input of the dive industry, for the dive industry. A small fee of US $28/GBP£20 is required as a donation to the technical team at Reef-World, which is behind the Green Fins success.

Saving our reefs isn’t out of reach, despite the constant stream of bad news surrounding climate change and overfishing. Now is not the time to give up — now is the time to double-down on recovery, and the Green Fins toolbox can help. The latest science is demonstrating that coral reefs are incredibly resilient if they are given the chance to exist with fewer local direct impacts. That means every individual diver, snorkeler, dive or snorkel operator can make a real difference, especially with the actions we have daily control over. Take the time to get to know the toolbox, and begin bringing reefs back from the brink today.

 

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Exploring Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

By guest writers Allison Randolph and Elizabeth Weinberg, NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. 

For more than 40 years, national marine sanctuaries have worked to protect special places in America’s oceans and Great Lakes waters, from the Hawaiian Islands to the Florida Keys, from Lake Huron to American Samoa. Backed by one of the nation’s strongest pieces of ocean-conservation legislation, the National Marine Sanctuaries Act, the sanctuaries seek to preserve the extraordinary beauty, biodiversity, historical connections and economic productivity of our most precious underwater treasures. And — lucky for you — most of these places are accessible to recreational divers. Sanctuary waters are filled with unique ecosystems, harboring a spectacular array of plants, animals and historical artifacts, all waiting to be explored. National marine sanctuaries belong to everyone, so dive in.

Experience one of nature’s most incredible light shows when just beneath the kelp-forest canopy. With the help of gas-filled floats, giant kelp reaches towards the sunlight at the water’s surface. Under optimum temperature, sunlight, and nutrient conditions, giant kelp can grow as much as two feet in one day and can reach maximum heights of 200 feet. (Photo: Pete Naylor/REEF)
Find beautiful anemones among the rocky reef and kelp forest. Huge swells during the winter can dislodge kelp holdfasts and cover anemones with sand, but between winter storms, when the water is glassy and calm, is actually one of the best times to see the kelp forest at its most impressive. (Photo: Chad King/NOAA)
An incredibly diverse array of brightly colored nudibranchs call Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary home. Don’t let the small size of these sea slugs fool you: many of them, including this aeolid nudibranch, are fierce predators, often eating other nudibranchs of the same species whole. (Photo: Douglas Mason)
On average, the marine sanctuary reaches 30 miles offshore, encompassing vast expanses of open ocean. Divers frequent these pelagic areas via boats to encounter a large variety of organisms, big and small, including ones like this egg-yolk jellyfish. (Photo: Josh Pederson/NOAA)
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary stretches along 276 miles of central California coastline and includes iconic areas like Big Sur. In this region, enjoy dive sites like Soberanes Point, Jade Cove and Partington Cove. (Photo: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA)

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Slip beneath the ocean’s surface along California’s central coast and you’ll be amazed by a diversity of habitats and the abundance of marine life. Explore a giant kelp forest; investigate the crevices of a rocky reef; and discover all that lives in the open ocean.

Stretching down 276 miles of the California coast, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary encompasses more than 6,000 square miles of ocean. Its diverse marine ecosystems support more than 525 species of fish, 180 species of seabirds, 34 species of marine mammals, four species of turtle, and an incredible abundance of invertebrates and algae. The sanctuary also contains one of the largest and closest-to-shore deep, underwater canyons in North America. Offshore canyons bring cold, nutrient-rich water in close to shore, supporting a wealth of ecosystems — and occasionally affording glimpses of strange deep-sea creatures that venture towards the surface.

At first glance, the sand and mud flats of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary can seem barren…but take a closer look, being careful not to stir up the sand, and you will start to see incredible marine life like turbot, stingrays and guitarfish perfectly hidden in their environment. (Photo: Steve Lonhart/NOAA)
Hover above sub-tidal eelgrass beds with friendly kelp bass when you dive in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Eelgrass beds provide refuge for fish and invertebrates that retreat from intertidal areas during low tide, and also serve as vital nursery grounds for numerous marine species. (Photo: NOAA)
Sea otters are a pivotal marine mammal species native to this region: as predators of kelp-eating invertebrates like sea urchins, they help keep the kelp-forest ecosystem in balance. Observe them — making sure to give them plenty of space — as they dive to the seafloor in search of prey like sea urchins, mussels and crabs. (Photo: Steve Lonhart/NOAA)
Get your fill of brightly colored corals without going to the tropics. California hydrocorals thrive in the swift offshore currents at Outer Pinnacles, one of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s most popular dive sites. (Photo: Chad King/NOAA)
Find brightly colored sea stars and other invertebrates among the rocky-reef habitats common throughout sanctuary waters. Remember — it’s always best to enjoy the intricate beauty of a sea star without touching or picking it up. (Photo: Steve Lonhart/NOAA)

Home to some of central California’s most popular dive sites, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary includes 13 different zone types, each with associated regulations restricting or promoting specific activities. So whether you’re planning to dive the breakwater in Monterey, Lovers Point in Pacific Grove, or the Pinnacles at Carmel Bay, it’s important to check the regulations at each specific site.

While diving, you can help protect this marine sanctuary by practicing good ocean etiquette. First and foremost, don’t remove anything from the underwater environment since all things — living and nonliving — play an important role in the health of the ecosystem. Additionally, make sure to keep a safe distance from animals you encounter as well as the surrounding habitat; streamlining your dive equipment can improve your ability to do so. With so many people coming to enjoy the sanctuary’s underwater beauty each year, every careful diver can make a big impact.

Experience the wonders of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and other national marine sanctuaries via more photos here.

Cover image credit: Pete Naylor/REEF

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