Author Archive

The Best Diving in the Islands of Tahiti

Thursday, March 17th, 2016
diver encountering sharks underwater photo Tahiti

Tahiti — romantic, beautiful and a diver’s paradise — is one of the best places in the world to dive, and is filled with sharks, dolphins, coral reefs and more.

100 Deadly Skills: How To Survive Any Dangerous Situation

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016
Insert from the illustrated manual 100 Deadly Skills

Jon Whittle

Skill 84
Learning to discreetly clear your scuba mask (without leaving a bubble trail) is just one of the 100 deadly skills.

Clint Emerson Author of 100 Deadly Skills

Courtesy of Clint Emerson

Clint Emerson
After spending 20 years navigating deadly situations with the National Security Agency and SEAL Team Six, Clint has just released an illustrated guide to to surviving any dangerous situation.

Clint Emerson spent 20 years navigating deadly situations with the National Security Agency and the elite SEAL Team Six. Now retired, he’s just released the illustrated 100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation, which includes scuba-friendly skills such as clearing a flooded mask without a bubble trail (No. 84), crossing enemy borders by sea (No. 11) and surviving a drowning while restrained (No. 88). We spoke with him about the secrets of his life and work (and he never even offered to kill us afterward).

Q: Were you a diver before your SEAL service?

A: Growing up in Saudi Arabia, boredom was abundant, so diving and Boy Scouts became my pastimes. I got certified as soon as I turned 12 and have never stopped diving. Learning to dive in the Persian Gulf was actually childhood “training,” prepping for an unknown future.

Q: What’s the most valuable thing about 100 Deadly Skills?

A: It’s not about becoming more deadly — it’s about becoming more safe and secure by leveraging the 100 skills. Divers travel the globe; these skills are useful for anyone traveling abroad or domestically. And people who enjoy new adventures and taking calculated risks will certainly enjoy the book.

Book cover for 100 Deadly Skills

Jon Whittle

100 Deadly Skills
The SEAL Operative’s Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangerous Situation

Q: Have you ever had to rely on your scuba skills in a life-or-death situation?

A: Fortunately, I have never had to jump from an enemy ship to my dive rig staged 20 feet below the pier — or maybe I did, hmm, I can’t remember. [Laughs.] As a kid, an adult dive partner left me behind at a tire reef in the Persian Gulf — a not-so-good dive partner, to say the least. In times of crisis, remaining calm, cool and collected becomes the most valuable tool, not having the latest, greatest gear on your back. Most of the time, the difference between life and death is how you react.

Q: What are the crucial “deadly skills” for divers?

A: As a SEAL we have several diving mantras: Never dive alone. Plan your dive, dive your plan . Don’t be scared of the dark. And dive with a full bladder, because urine is warm.

Space Invaders

Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
siphonophores night diving

Kevin Raskoff

Nanomia bijuga belongs to a group of colonial animals called physonect siphonophores that are related to jellyfish, anemones and corals.

If you’ve dived the open ocean off Hawaii or Tahiti at night, you’ve probably seen it: a glowing, segmented line that appears to be a single animal but really is many animals working together, collectively known as siphonophores. Now scientists are going beyond the startling beauty of these “multi-engine organizations” and investigating whether their unique method of propulsion could change how we design undersea craft for future generations.

“We can perhaps peer into our own future in the sea,” says marine biologist Jack Costello of Providence College, one of the researchers, “by studying how this seemingly simple animal jets from one part of the ocean to another, relying on its youngest crew members.” (Star Trek fans, score one for Mr. Chekov.)

Lots of marine animals move by jet propulsion — squid and jellyfish spring to mind— but siphonophores are uncommon in that they represent an entire colony that is coordinating individual jets to move the collective as a whole, something like the way each crew member aboard the Starship Enterprise has a specific role in guiding the ship.

siphonophore night divng

Kevin Raskoff

A nectophore budding zone is where a siphonophore’s swimming areas are made.

In a study published in the journal Nature Communications, Costello and colleagues from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, the University of South Florida, Stanford University and the University of Oregon examined a siphonophore known as Nanomia bijuga. The group of researchers found that younger and older colony members fulfill distinctly different functions.

Costello explains that younger, weaker members, located at the front of the organism, are responsible for turning and steering. Older — and larger — members at the rear provide more thrust. “It’s a sophisticated design in what would initially seem like a simple organism,” Costello says.

The findings suggest it might be possible to design an undersea vehicle that, like N. bijuga, twirls as it moves, propelled by front-to-back thrusters, “a natural solution to multi-engine organization that might contribute to the expanding field of underwater-distributed propulsion-vehicle design,” the study concludes.

Kurt Lieber Named Sea Hero Of The Year 2015

Monday, November 23rd, 2015

Kurt Lieber, Scuba Diving‘s 2015 Sea Hero of the Year.

Ocean Defenders Alliance

When Kurt Lieber started California’s Ocean Defenders Alliance in 2000, he could barely find anyone who knew about “ghost gear” — equipment lost or abandoned by commercial fishermen — and its hazardous effects on marine life and divers.

“The Internet still wasn’t a tool widely used to gather or share information,” says Lieber, recipient of Scuba Diving’s November/December Sea Hero award, sponsored by Oris Watches USA. “Marine debris is a dismaying example of the old saying, ‘Out of sight, out of mind,’ as far as public
consciousness goes.”

“Fast forward 15 years, and the tide is changing,” Lieber says. “There is now a great deal of scientific information available. The problem is that every year the commercial fishing industry loses a staggering amount of gearlines, nets and traps. Consequently, our work is never done.”

Sea Hero of the Year Kurt Lieber pulls abandoned lobster traps from waters off Palos Verdes, California. Ocean Defenders Alliance divers and deckhands celebrate after removing 2,200 pounds of debris from Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, California.

Ocean Defenders Alliance

Never done, perhaps, but now maybe just a little bit easier. As Sea Hero of the Year, Lieber will receive a $5,000 cash award on behalf of ODA from Oris, which also awards each of Scuba Diving’s Sea Heroes an Aquis Date watch.

“This is very exciting for me because I’ve grown up reading Scuba Diving,” Lieber says. “It has always inspired me not only to get into diving but also turn that energy into a positive force for change. I’m in awe of each of this year’s Sea Heroes — it humbles me to think that I was selected out of such a dedicated group of individuals.”

ODA combines the efforts of hundreds of dedicated volunteers — more than 200 divers working underwater along with hundreds of topside deckhands — to pull 21,000 pounds of nets from the seas around California to date, along with 290 traps, 28,000 feet of trap lines, and 10,000 pounds of debris. “Computers, batteries, boat masts, rudders, space heaters, metal stairs, refrigerators, the list goes on and on,” Lieber says.

Last year, ODA purchased a used boat and has been working on upgrades and repairs to that vessel, berthed in San Pedro. “As anyone who has ever owned or been around a boat knows: Things are always needing maintenance, repair or replacement,” says Lieber. “We have the manpower and know-how, but we are constantly working to keep our boats running well and fueled up.”

Lieber intends to put the Oris cash award directly into the recently acquired boat in order to launch additional debris-removal expeditions. “This award allows us to travel farther from our home port and get to sites we haven’t been able to reach because of the high costs of fuel, oil and boat maintenance,” he says.

Why does the work of ODA matter so much? “Scientists have estimated that nylon nets can last 650 years in the ocean,” Lieber explains. “A net that is in the water for that long does no one any good. Animals are dying continuously — needlessly — and divers are losing what we all want to see: live fish! The fishing community loses as well because of decreased populations. I’ve been diving since the mid-’70s, and have seen a drastic decline in biodiversity, water quality and wildlife sightings and interactions. Having witnessed this loss firsthand is what drives me to do what I can, in my lifetime, to defend ocean life
and habitats.”

Celebrating and encouraging engaged, committed communities like Ocean Defenders Alliance is at the heart of the Sea Hero awards.

“We are excited to present this award to Ocean Defenders Alliance and its founder, Kurt Lieber,” says V.J. Geronimo, CEO, North America, at Oris Watches USA. “Each year, it’s difficult to single out just one Sea Hero of the Year, when all are doing such important work, from educators who have led the way for decades in assessing worldwide fish populations to videographers shining a spotlight on the work of scientists and volunteers alike to rangers defending the integrity of marine-protected areas and shark habitats. These heroes are real people who inspire everyday divers to get involved in protecting the marine environment, and for that we salute them all.”

Dive with Olympus: A beginning shooter tries the TG-4 and the E-M5 Mark II

Friday, September 11th, 2015

Ever since I started carrying a video camera on every dive a few years back, I wondered: If this thing starts to flood, will I know? What if it’s flooding right now and I just can’t tell?

Turns out, oh yeah, you’ll know. But if the camera you’re using is the Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4, it really doesn’t matter.

Recently six underwater shooters at skill levels from rank beginner — me — to the CEO of Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo came to Islamorada’s storied Cheeca Lodge to meet with a team from Olympus Cameras, to get hands-on underwater experience with the new OM-D E-M5 Mark II, the Stylus Tough TG-4, and the OM-D E-M1 FW 3.1. One of the first things that caught my attention was when Olympus technical specialist Eric Gensel told us the TG-4 is waterproof on its own to 50 feet, or 150 feet in the PT-056 housing.

That proved handy when, on the last day of our experiential, we descended at Key Largo’s Winch Hole and I suddenly realized I had joined a very special club. One look at the camera made very clear that the housing was filling up fast. (User error: I had allowed a corner of a desiccant tab to breach the seal.) Sheepish, I popped back to the surface, waving the TG-4 at Gensel, who simply handed me another camera and grabbed a freshwater hose, to give the salt-soaked housing a good rinse. Otherwise, no harm done.

That’s pretty typical of our experience with the TG-4: It’s built tough, as we proved again when ours were beat to heck on a wild and crazy jet ski tour of the bays and cuts around Islamorada. Like those Timex watches of old, the TG-4s took a licking and kept on ticking.

Earlier in the week, we had gotten about 10 minutes instruction each on the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, with PT-EP13 housing and UFL-3 strobe; the TG-4 in PT-056 housing with the same light; and Olympus’s OI-Share app, which among other things controls the cameras via built-in wi-fi. That was all that was necessary to get us ready to take the cameras underwater, even for a newbie like me. (Full disclosure: This was only the second time I had handled a DSLR, or a still camera of any kind, underwater.)

Coolest factoids from our briefing: The TG-4’s built-in GPS, which is designed to save your dive route to within 25-foot accuracy; and its “microscope mode,” for extreme close-ups. Shoots RAW, too.

Olympus underwater rep Bob Hahn chose dive sites perfect for our purpose. Within a half-hour to 45-minute boat ride from Key Largo are many shallow, sunny, fishy reefs popular with snorkelers and divers alike. Easy in, easy out, and lots to see without hardly moving the boat.

We started at the beloved statue of Christ of the Deep, which stands in about 25 feet of water at a site called Dry Rocks. From the Spurs — a fishy series of cigar-shaped small bommies inhabited by turtles — and action-packed Triple A reef, where every few feet seemed to offer a different macro circus, it was on to the spooky-cool wreck of the Hannah M. Bell, where a big bottlenose dolphin suddenly bombed past our two groups of divers arrayed around the expansive 19th-century remains. We finished up at Winch Hole and Hole in the Wall, and relished our last hour in the garden of sea fans at the Wellwood Restoration Site, where coral cultivation by Scuba Diving’s 2014 Sea Hero of the Year Ken Nedimyer is taking shape at the site of the 1984 wreck of the freighter Wellwood.

(Tip for anybody looking for a spot to try out a new system: the Upper Keys shallow, fishy reefs provided an easy testing ground, with wrecks, historic artifacts and swim-thrus, and a steady stream of big animals like sharks, turtles, rays and snorkelers.)

What were my takeaways? I didn’t try the OM-D E-M1 FW 3.1, Olympus’s professional rig, for which I’m clearly not ready. And I’m not qualified to review the other cameras per se, either, but several participants are. You can read Backscatter Underwater Video & Photo’s take here (TG-4) or here (E-M5 Mark II). Or Brent Durand of Underwater Photography Guide here (TG-4). And Dave Pardue from Imaging Resource on the Olympus housings we used here.

What sticks with me was the amazing video captured by the E-M5 Mark II — motion-picture quality; see for yourself at some of the links above — and how easy the TG-4 was to use, switching from video to stills, and the clarity of the screen displays, plus its live composite function, where you can watch a long exposure at night take shape before your eyes, in real time. Both systems were slightly negatively buoyant and easy to handle. Here’s hoping I get to handle one again, and soon.