Read our latest articles about scuba diving, travel, ocean conservation, marine life and anything else related to our blue planet!
Diving After COVID-19. Where Can You Travel After Lockdown Ends?
The last few months have been frustrating for divers, forced to stay on dry land and ignore the calling of the sea. Is this what a fish out of water feels? You are probably wondering if you’ll ever be able to go diving after COVID-19. We’ve seen divers resort to all sorts of coping strategies, from donning their dive gear and binge-watch documentaries to reading diving blogs. And for those keen to take a stroll down memory lane, watching old photos and videos seems numb their pain, taking them back to a time when social distancing was unheard of and the ocean was their playground. Do you still remember what it feels like to breathe underwater? That first intake of breath as you open your eyes to the magical underwater world? It’s hard to forget that feeling we ALL know too well. But if lockdown has taught us anything, it’s this: whether you’re a newbie or a pro, we’re all in the same boat, in need for some guidance and help to travel post-COVID-19 and get our fins back in the water. PLUS, the lockdown has given nature the chance to recover and prosper in all its wild beauty. So if there is a time to get back into the water, it’s now! Dive Compare has carefully selected a few countries around the world where you can travel post-COVID-19. Depending on where you live, however, these may not be possible options for you. As for any holiday abroad, follow your government’s travel advice and check the airline routes. Here it goes, diving after COVID-19 – the places you can scuba dive after lockdown ends… Europe At the moment, there are quarantine-free countries where you can travel post-COVID-19, and yes, also scuba dive. 1) Italy There are very few countries that capture the traveller’s imagination like Italy does. Italy’s reputation for “la dolce vita” (the sweet life) can be found both on land, between works of art and culinary delights, and underwater, with its clear waters and diverse dive sites. Regarded as one of the best diving destinations in the Mediterranean, Sardinia is not to be missed. Divers won’t be disappointed by the historical wrecks, caves and the beautiful marine life. 2) Portugal You can make your holiday to Portugal what you want it to be, a beach gateway, a cultural and history tour, or a happy mix of the two. There’s plenty to satisfy everybody. The same goes for diving after COVID-19. Facing the Atlantic Ocean, you can expect some amazing diving possibilities (and chilly waters), but scuba diving in Portugal is both rewarding and exciting. Portugal has its fair share of shipwrecks and submarines that are unmatched anywhere else in the world. For pelagic lovers, head to the Azores, where you’re bound to have some unexpected encounters with the likes of blue sharks and mobula rays. Caribbean Regarded as a prime diving destination, the Caribbean is ideal for all levels of experience. 1) Dominican Republic The Dominican Republic is more than beautiful stretches of sand. Here, you’ll also find rainforests and a rich cultural heritage worthy of any nature lover and history buff. And when it comes to scuba diving in the Dominican Republic, the country has it all: healthy reefs, shipwrecks, and humpback whales. Depending on your certification level and comfort, you can explore different dive sites situated on different coasts. 2) Jamaica If you want to wind down and get the feel-good vibe typical of the Caribbean, you can’t beat Jamaica, where the beaches are white, and the music is good. Likewise, the diving scene in Jamaica is incredible, taking scuba diving after COVID-19 to the height of excellence. There’s something for everybody, both in terms of marine life (from critters to sharks), and dive sites (from deep to wreck diving). Middle East The Middle East is a world-class diving destination, with the Red Sea taking centre stage. Scuba diving after lockdown in the Red Sea is sure to excite divers from all backgrounds. Jordan Packed with world-heritage sites, Jordan has always had a magnetic pull on visitors, who come from all over the world to experience Jordan’s unique culture and hospitality. Although with only a narrow opening on the Red Sea, Jordan is blessed with clear and coral-rich waters. Scuba diving in Jordan is known for its number of wrecks easily accessible from the shore. Aqaba’s underwater military museum is a unique feature that cannot be found elsewhere. Don’t miss it! Asia With the outbreak of the coronavirus in Asia, many countries have closed their borders to international travel and, consequently, diving after COVID-19 is not yet possible. But there are a handful of countries that you can travel to post-COVID-19, turning your wildest scuba diving dreams into reality. Maldives Secretly, we all dream of staying overnight in a shopping centre to experience a (forbidden) sense of freedom. This is what it feels like to scuba dive in the Maldives after the lockdown ends. The once crowded dive sites are now free, letting you bask in exclusive dive sites teeming with marine life of all shapes and sizes. A photographer’s dream, scuba diving in the Maldives involves pristine reefs and many shark species. It’s also one of the few places in the world where you can spot manta rays! Regardless of where you decide to scuba dive after the lockdown ends, be prepared for diving-related COVID-19 safety protocols. If you don’t already have your dive gear, we highly recommend you invest in your own set. Buying your dive gear has never been more worth it. Read our blog for advice in choosing your dive equipment, from mask to fins. Being extra cautious should not put you off diving. With some careful planning, you can make the most of the situation and go diving after COVID-19 to explore never-before-seen sights of some of the world’s best dive sites. Where will your first dive be after the lockdown ends? Let us know what’s on your scuba diving radar! As always, safe diving. Photo credit(s): Jernej Furman, richie rocket, GPA Photo Archive, Regina Hart, Enrico Strocchi, Tchami, Antonio Busiello, Gerard SouryContinue reading
The Teeny-Tiny Beginnings of The Baby Ocean Sunfish
The Ocean Sunfish, also known as the Mola Mola fish among divers; is one of the most mysterious and bizarre looking fish in our oceans. It may not be one the most popular sea creatures, but ask any seasoned diver, and they’re bound to have it on their marine life bucket list. Now more than ever with the discovery of the baby ocean sunfish. The Ocean sunfish is the heaviest of all bony fish. And Seeing it in its natural habitat won’t fail to amaze even the most adventurous divers. Mola mola has no real tail to talk of, and the rest of their body seems like a turtle turned on its side – after a road accident. With its big round eyes and puffed up “cheeks” like it just got its tooth pulled out at the dentist’s, this beaky-looking fish is strange indeed. Feeding primarily on jellyfish, Mola mola poses virtually no threat to humans, and divers are left spellbound as it gently moves through the water. So getting the chance to dive with them is an unbelievable experience, a rare treat for any passionate diver. And whoever sets eyes on them will ask questions that sound like this: “How did they grow so big”? I get it. Its massive size and unique body shape will have anybody question the Mola mola’s beginnings as a baby ocean sunfish. But shockingly, very little is known about the sunfish’s lifecycle, especially about the early stages of its life. Until recently. Scientists discover baby ocean sunfish After years of mystery, scientists in Australia, led by Dr Marianne Nyegaard, were finally able to match the DNA of a baby ocean sunfish with the giant bump-head sunfish (Mola alexandrini). One of the three species of Mola. The difference in size between the giant sunfish and their teeny-tiny babies could not be more dramatic. Measuring around 2mm, the giant sunfish larva grows into a 3-metre long giant (11 ft) weighing more than 2’000 kg (315 stones). Who would have guessed that such a little thing could grow into something so big! Scuba divers and ocean lovers are simply blown away by this discovery, and by how cute the giant sunfish larva is! They really look like something out of a cartoon. What took so long to identify the giant sunfish larva? While it is not the first time researchers have found sunfish larvae, they’ve never been able to match them to an adult ocean sunfish. Why? Primarily for two reasons: Baby Ocean Sunfish look nothing like their adult form Ocean sunfish larvae look nothing like their adult form. Their baby features disappear in time, leaving no recognizable traits that would point to an obvious match. So there really is no way of telling whether a baby sunfish is a bump-head sunfish or another species of Mola. Baby Mola mola are rare Baby ocean sunfish are hard to find, and the few that have been found are kept in museum collections. To preserve this handful of specimens, no genetic analysis was ever possible. It was only in 2017, after the discovery of a few larvae that Dr Nyegaard set out on a mission to identify them. Still, to minimise any damage, Dr Nyegaard took a DNA sample from the eyeball of the 2mm-long larval specimen. Imagine that! Still so many unanswered questions! The matching of the giant sunfish larva to its adult version is a ground-breaking discovery as to its mysterious beginnings. But like most things in life, one discovery leads to many more questions. Scientists still need to identify the larvae of the other two species of ocean sunfish (Mola mola and Mola tecta). Plus, it is still unknown where ocean sunfish spawn, how many eggs they hatch, where they live, and why can’t we find more larvae in the ocean. For the time being, let’s appreciate scientists’ hard work. Without their dedication, we wouldn’t know many natural wonders that surround us. But in the meantime, do you want to know more cool facts about ocean sunfish and where you can dive with them? Read our intro guide to Mola mola. On a scale from cute to adorable, how would you rate the baby Mola mola? Have you ever seen one of these extraordinary creatures? Let us know in the comments! Photo credit(s): Erik van der Goot, pympym, Kerryn Parkinson/Australian Museum, Amy Coghlan, Daniel Botelho.Continue reading
Goodbye Smooth Handfish
How destructive fishing practices and loss of habitat led to the demise of the smooth handfish, the first marine fish do disappear from our planet in modern times. If there is one thing that we divers know, is the privilege of seeing first-hand the beauty of our oceans. But all too often, we see the consequences of poor fishing practices and pollution through tell-tell signs like plastic debris and coral bleaching. The COVID-19 pandemic is a silver lining. In just a few weeks, we saw how nature is thriving, and animals are prospering. The lull in human activities seems to bring some environmental hope, making us revalue our relationship with Mother Nature. But sadly, the lockdown on human movements came too late for some animals. The smooth handfish, the first marine fish of modern times, has officially been declared extinct on the IUCN RedList. The diving community and ocean lovers join together to pay tribute to this distinctive-looking sea animal and to learn what little information there is about it, and to prevent other species of handfish to follow suit. What Is the Smooth Handfish? Found in Australian waters, the smooth handfish (Sympterichthys unipennis) was one of 14 species of handfish. These creatures, each with their unique shape, colour and size, don’t have a swim bladder that helps them control their buoyancy. So they live on the seabed and use their highly modified pectoral and pelvic fins to “walk” on the ocean floor. It’s no surprise that they’re also often referred to as the Australian walking fish. Why Did the Smooth Handfish Go Extinct? At one time, the smooth handfish thrived in South-Eastern Australia. But shockingly, there is only one documented case. This dates back to the 1800s, when, during a scientific expedition that French naturalist, François Péron, collected a smooth handfish in the shallow waters of Tasmania. Today, this specimen can be found in the Australian National Fish Collection, CSIRO. Having there been no sightings since, in 2020, the IUCN officially declared it extinct. Making the smooth handfish the first marine species of our times to go extinct. But why did the smooth handfish disappear? There are a few factors that contributed to the smooth handfish’ extinction: Reproduction Unlike many other sea animals that give birth to larvae and dispel them into the water, so they can spread across great distances, smooth handfish gave birth to fully developed baby smooth handfish directly onto the seabed. You can then imagine that these delicate creatures live only in specific areas, which can easily be destroyed by overfishing, invasive species, or other external factors. If on top of this, our humans’ destructive fishing practices, then we have a recipe for disaster. Harmful fishing practices One of the main factors that contributed to the smooth handfish’ extinction is the damaging overfishing practices of the 60s. During this time, the region of Tasmania had a harmful scallop fishing industry. The smooth handfish was nothing more than a victim of circumstances, where the destructive fishing practices 1. destroyed its habitat and 2. caught it as bycatch. Even if the smooth handfish wasn’t targeted specifically, it still got collected along with scallops. What About Other Species of Handfish? The future doesn’t look too good for the remaining 13 species of handfish either. So much so, that they’re almost all threatened with extinction. Four handfish species are considered endangered, including the cockatoo handfish (Pezichthys amplispinus), narrowbody handfish (Pezichthys compressus), pink handfish (Brachiopsilus dianthus), and the Moulton’s handfish (Sympterichthys moultoni). Other three are critically endangered. These are the spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus), red handfish (Thymichthys politus), and the Ziebell’s handfish (Brachiopsilus ziebelli). Unfortunately, there is insufficient data on the other five species of handfish to accurately assess their conservation status. The sad part is, only four of the abovementioned species have been spotted in the past 20 years! Could it be that some have already gone extinct? The only species of handfish that is in the least concern category, is the Australian Handfish (Brachionichthys australis). What the Future Holds for the Australian Walking Fish? Scientists did not get the chance time to study this creature or to find out more what their role was in the ecosystem and its importance in its evolutionary history. Therefore, we will never know the intrinsic value of the smooth handfish in the grand scheme of marine biodiversity, but we should be concerned about its extinction. While conservation organization are tirelessly working together to protect all species of handfish, we have to see the depressing news of the smooth handfish extinction as a wake-up call to realize that we need to change our actions. What Can We Do About the Smooth Handfish Extinction? For a start, we need to implement strict fishing guidelines to protect the seabed from dredging activities. By scientifically monitoring, regionally managing, and legally enforcing sustainable fishing and seafood production, we can still have plenty of fish in the sea without harming marine biodiversity. This would include: Preventing overfishing. Minimizing bycatch and interactions with protected species. Identifying and conserving delicate fish habitats The fact that the preventive measure to ensure sustainable seafood production came too late for the smooth handfish, should give us all the more reason to implement them. Read more about how to choose sustainable seafood. Also, we must continue to enforce eco-friendly habits, like reducing the use of plastics, disposables and single-use plastic. There are plenty of other things we can do to, like taking part in beach and underwater clean-ups, volunteer at a marine conservation project and buy eco-friendly gifts. The point is, it doesn’t matter to what extent you decide to protect our oceans. Even small day-to-day actions are sure to go a long way. Not only are you limiting your own impact on the environment, but you’re also setting an example for those around you. Way to go buddy! One more thing. Although it might be stating the obvious, don’t touch any marine life! Be a responsible diver and admire all the sea creatures responsibly. Conclusion: It All Leads Back to The Ocean Each marine species it unique and contributes, in one way or another to maintain healthy marine biodiversity. Protecting the environment is essential not only for aesthetic reasons but for the survival of a healthy and diverse ecosystem. Time and time again, research has shown that the ocean is our support system, regulating our climate, providing us with oxygen, giving us a source of food, and creating job opportunities. The ocean is part of who we are, it supports and inspires us – let’s protect it. When we do, it’s sure to be both a rewarding and humbling experience. Have you ever seen a handfish? What do you do to protect marine life? Share your tips in the comments below! Photo credit (s): mongabay.com, Rick Stuart-Smith, Antonia Cooper.Continue reading
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