Author Archive

Freedivers Record Sperm Whales with 4D Underwater Camera

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Why are freedivers swimming alongside sperm whales and recording their deafening sounds? Find out what researchers are learning about the underwater language.

Dominica Delights — Diving in the Eastern Caribbean

Monday, October 26th, 2015

What makes Dominica special? Start with its stunning, lush and protected natural park system; hundreds of streams and countless waterfalls; and thriving coral reefs. Dominica has strived mightily to protect its resources, and as our photo gallery shows, the island’s protected treasures will ignite all your senses, from the tallest mountain peak to the deepest underwater drop-off.

The island has dive sites off its entire Caribbean coast (Toucari Caves at the north end and Nose Reef off the central coast are two of the standout dives in those regions), but it’s the southwest coast’s sites — like Scotts Head Drop-off and Danglebens Pinnacles — clustered in and around Soufriere Scotts Head Marine Reserve that captured our hearts. Spectacular is a word that’s overused but it applies here. The ancient volcanic action that gave birth to this beautiful island also created its reefs. Pretty coral gardens lead to exciting walls and pinnacles are the visible spiky tops of an ancient volcano. Black corals, huge barrel sponges and schools of fish greet you on nearly every dive.

All we can say is that the trip is well worth it.

Where to Stay and Dive
Buddy Dive on Dominica is the ideal base from which to discover all that Dominica has to offer. At Fort Young Hotel, enjoy luxury amenities like Zemi spa, a pool with spectacular views of the Caribbean, the Jacuzzi deck, spacious rooms, exceptional service and superb dining.

Top 100: Diving in Bonaire

Sunday, October 25th, 2015

From the pioneering work of the flamboyant and determined Capt. Don Stewart to its oft-copied marine-park model, Bonaire has been a leader in establishing ocean-conservation standards in the Caribbean. After arriving in 1962, Capt. Don, who died last year, recognized Bonaire’s underwater treasures, and he helped persuade locals and the government of the Netherlands to establish meaningful protections. The result is an island beloved by divers— and by our readers. Bonaire earned four No. 1 awards in the Caribbean and Atlantic region in our 2015 Top 100 Readers Choice survey, for macro, advanced, beginner and — for the 22nd consecutive year — shore diving. It also notched three top-five finishes, for underwater photography, overall diving and overall best destination.

PARK IT

Even divers who have been here so many times they’ve lost count are required to attend an orientation class and make a checkout dive. Then they’re required to purchase a $25 annual tag or $10 day pass. If that seems like a hassle, consider how easy it is to dive here. All you have to do is rent a truck — often included with resort packages — load it with tanks (usually available 24/7) and choose between dozens of sites, most of them along the island’s leeward west coast. You’re the boat captain and divemaster! No schedules to adhere to, and no enforced bottom times. Although there are dive resorts and operators that offer this dream setup, there is not another place in the Caribbean that caters to divers this way islandwide.

DIVERS PARADISE

The signs are everywhere to remind visitors that this island is tailor-made for divers — red-and-white fags fluttering over dive shops; yellow stones along the roadside, pointing to dive sites; license plates inscribed with “Divers Paradise;” 24/7 tank-refill stations. Counting the dive sites that ring Klein Bonaire, there is a total of 86 places where divers can blow bubbles — many of them accessible from shore and open to divers any time of the day or night. The road to building this underwater utopia hasn’t been without bumps, but islanders were quick to realize the value of their marine resources. As Capt. Don noted in his ship’s log when he first sailed into Kralendijk’s harbor, “Bay like glass, a spectrum of shimmering blues, extraordinarily clear. To the north, a craggy silhouette of small mountains sloping southward to a fat spit of coral- rimmed beach. Brilliant tropical fish of all varieties. Looks to be a fantastic underwater island.” Indeed it is, and readers named it the No. 1 spot for shore diving and No. 2 for best overall diving.

Just a sampling of dive sites gives you an idea of how sweet it is to dive the waters here. It’s a short swim out to the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, a 236-foot cargo vessel with a shady past (25,000 pounds of marijuana was found in a false bulkhead after the ship had engine problems and was towed to Kralendijk). It’s a popular site — get an early start so the only crowds you’ll bump into are the mobs of fish here. Bonaire isn’t known for wall diving, but it is possible to get vertical at north-western sites like Rappel, famous for its healthy stands of swaying sea fans, and Wayaka, in Washington Slagbaai National Park. These drop-offs aside, Bonaire’s fringing reef is mostly a terraced affair, sloping down gently from about 30 feet to 130 feet. It’s a reason why the island earned a No. 1 award for beginner diving.

ADVANCE NOTICE

Bonaire’s advanced-diving opportunities — another No. 1 award — are truly challenging. Northwest sites like Playa Funchi, Playa Bengi and Bise Morto, in Washington Slagbaai, are slammed by heavy current. But if you’ve got the stamina, you’ll be wowed by the most pristine corals found not only in Bonaire but in the Caribbean. As you drop down, look for schools of horse-eye jack.

IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS

Bonaire’s waters teem with nearly 400 fish species, according to the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, and underwater photographers (the island got a No. 2 nod from readers in this category) will appreciate setting up for reef scenics that pulse with marine life. If you’re a fan of tiny critters (No. 1 for macro), the island is silly with flamingo tongues, seahorses, and hermit and coral crabs. Is behavior more your thing? Look for jawfish aerating their eggs, sergeant majors protecting their nests, and juvenile spotted drum flying their dorsal fins like pennants in the wind.

MI DUSHI

Along with the fishy reefs, you’ll fall in love with the warm and friendly locals — learn a few words, like mi dushi (“my sweetheart” in Papiamento, the Creole language spoken here) — the charming Dutch-inspired architecture of the capital Kralendijk, and the crazy-quilt landscape that looks a little like the American Southwest plopped down into the Caribbean. The island’s salt ponds are a natural habitat for brine shrimp, a favorite meal for hundreds of pink flamingos and other migratory birds that flock to the island. By the time you pack for home, you’ll be saying, “Mi stima Boneiru” (“I love Bonaire”). Our readers certainly do, giving the island a coveted top-five listing for best overall destination.

Drink

The dive resorts all have beach bars, including Plaza Resort’s Coconut Crash (plazaresortbonaire.eu), or venture of premises to Kralendijk’s harborfront and drop in at Karel’s Beach Bar for a lively happy hour (karelsbeachbar.com).

Eat

Choose between two restaurants at Divi Flamingo: Chibi Chibi or Pureocean (diviresorts.com). Either way, you’ll have calming views of the Caribbean. In Kralendijk, you’ll find eateries with inventive menus, such as At Sea — the terrace is lovely.

Sleep

With two swimming pools, its Ingridients restaurant, drive-thru air-fill station and house reef, Buddy Dive Resort (buddydive .com) is perfect for the do-it-yourself diver. Want to do your own cooking? Apartments have fully equipped kitchens.

NEED TO KNOW

When To Go It’s dry and sunny year-round. Bonaire enjoys a lucky geographic location — it lies outside the Caribbean tropical storm belt and averages only 22 inches of rainfall annually.

Travel Tip Consider getting a room or suite with a fridge — the markets in Bonaire are well-stocked, and you can get fresh fruits and vegetables at the harborfront in Kralendijk.

Dive Conditions Water temps average in the low 80s. On most sites, viz is a dependable 100 feet.

The Dacor Scuba Reg Behind Darth Vader’s Breathing

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015
Darth Vader

Stefano Buttafoco / Shutterstock.com

A Dacor scuba reg was used to create Darth Vader’s heavy breathing.

Even Star Wars nonfans (really????) know the sound. It is the heavy breathing that sets apart the iconic villain Darth Vader (well, that and his theme music and evil-looking mask).

Ben Burtt, Jr., the American sound designer, film editor, director, screenwriter and voice actor, created many of the sound effects heard in the Star Wars film franchise, including R2-D2’s “voice,” the lightsaber hum, the sound of the blaster guns, and Darth Vader’s sinister-sounding heavy breathing. Burtt used an old Dacor scuba regulator to create the heavy breathing of Darth Vader.

Dacor was one of the five original United States diving gear makers: U.S. Divers, Healthways, Voit, Dacor and Swimaster. Dacor is now merged with Mares.

WATCH THE FOR THE NEW STAR WARS FILM, THE FORCE AWAKENS!

Seahorse Tail is Inspiration for Robotic Arm

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

What does a seahorse tail have to do with the original “flying machine,” Velcro and surfboards that are more maneuverable? The inventors of all three — Orville and Wilbur Wright, George de Mestral and Frank Fish, respectively — were inspired by nature (see Bioinspiration at the bottom).They were practicing biomimicry,a field of science that looks for innovative solutions to human problems by emulating nature.

In 2013, researchers at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego were looking for something in nature that was flexible and resilient, in the hope that it could lead to better-designed robotic arms. The challenge for engineers: how to make a robot safe when working around “soft” humans, such as when a bot assists a physician during surgery or hands off a tool to a factory worker.

The researchers zeroed in on seahorses and their square, segmented tails.

“The tail is the seahorse’s lifeline” because it allows the animal to anchor itself to corals or seaweed and hide from predators, said Michael Porter, at the time a Ph.D. student at UC San Diego and now an assistant professor at Clemson University. “But no one has looked at the seahorse’s tail as a source of armor.”

The seahorse’s tail protects it from its main predators — wading birds, crabs and turtles, which all are capable of delivering crushing bites — by enabling the seahorse to lock onto plants such as seaweed. Porter knew its square plates make the seahorse’s tail stiffer, stronger and more resistant to strain — all at the same time. Usually, says Porter, strengthening any one of these characteristics will weaken at least one of the others.

After moving to Clemson, Porter assembled a team to take the question a step further. Researchers used a 3-D printer to build models of the seahorse’s tail and a set of rounded plates to see which worked better. Then they tried to destroy them. They bent, twisted, compressed and crushed the 3-D versions (see the illustrations above).

“New technologies like 3-D printing allow us to mimic biological designs but also build hypothetical models of designs not found in nature,” says Porter. “We can then test them against each other to find inspiration for new applications.”

Porter says engineers could design a similar structure to make flexible robotic arms, which could be used in medical devices, underwater exploration, and unmanned bomb detection and detonation.

Detailed findings were published in the journal Science in July.

BIOINSPIRATION: SCIENCE IMITATING NATURE

Brandi Mueller

Bioinspiration, the practice of science imitating nature, is leading us into the future — one tail at a time.

Studying pigeons in flight wobbling from side to side helped the Wright Brothers solve the “flying problem” — how to control an aircraft and enable sustained flight.

If your BC employs a Velcro cummerbund, you have George de Mestral to thank. After a hunting trip in 1941, the Swiss engineer’s dog and clothing were covered in burs. Using a microscope, Mestral saw multiple hooks on the burs that attached to fur and socks. After experimenting, Mestral invented the hook-and-loop Velcro fastener.

And the better-performing surfboard? Frank Fish, a biology professor in Pennsylvania, wondered about the warty ridges called tubercles on humpback whale fins. Fish found that the bumps have a purpose: They reduce drag and noise, increase speed and boost power; today, they’re found on Fluid Earth surfboards.

Click here for more fun facts about seahorses, and keep up with the latest underwater news at scubadiving.com/news