If you have ever seen any promotional brochures about Thailand, you will have probably seen pictures of picturesque palm fringed beaches, glistening golden statues of Buddha, and smiling women selling wooden trinkets on a floating market. After all, Thailand is ‘The Land of Smiles’. Although the term ‘the land of smiles’ was originally a marketing ploy used by the Thai tourism board to attract more visitors, the name has now stuck and the country attracts millions of visitors each year to experience the kindness of the locals and the wealth of experiences Thailand has to offer.
Read our latest articles about scuba diving, travel, ocean conservation, marine life and anything else related to our blue planet!
COVID-19 and Scuba Diving
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the world to a virtual standstill and affected industries across the board. Its impact, in the long run, remains to be seen but we hope and pray that humankind can fight this outbreak together, with strength and solidarity. This is the time to come together, support each other and support this beautiful community of ocean lovers. For the past few decades, however, industrial growth and unchecked human activities have brought our oceans to the brink of irreparable damage. Oceans have been polluted mercilessly, illegal fishing practices have destroyed fragile ecosystems driving many marine species near extinction and climate change has wiped out more than 50% of the coral reefs, reducing the once-thriving coral reefs to bleached rubble and sand. Since the various lockdowns due to Covid-19 across the globe, we have witnessed a distinct difference in our marine environment in this short period of time. Let’s take a look at some of these effects. How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected marine life? Marine life has benefited from the pandemic in the following four ways: 1. Low demand for seafood & Less fishing – Due to the lockdowns and social distancing measures placed in countries around the world and closure of restaurants and hotels (the main buyers of seafood), there has been a drastic decline in demand for seafood. Several hundred fishing vessels are not operating, which has given marine life a chance to recover from the onslaught of ongoing commercial overfishing. 2. Lower pollution – The noise, activity and pollution in the ocean have reduced significantly post the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, many marine mammals and species such as killer whales, dolphins and turtles have now been spotted in areas where there was no sign of them for decades. While fish and coral species can take decades to recover completely, as it is a slow process, the pandemic has definitely given the environment a much-needed breather from excessive human activity. 3. Increase in illegal fishing activities – While many fishing vessels remain at the port, there has been an increase in illegal poaching since there is less policing of the oceans during this time. Outbreaks onboard large fishing vessels poses a huge threat. 4. Beach closures – Baby leatherback sea turtles have been doing better than they have in years owing to the beach closures by authorities. Leatherbacks have been spotted at several beaches in Florida and Thailand due to low human population. Covid-19 and the Scuba Diving industry Dive shops around the world are experiencing an unprecedented threat to business, not unlike other industries. Since the diving industry is closely related to the travel and tourism industry, it is safe to assume that it would take a little time before it heals and recovers. The following are some of the problems and potential threats the industry faces: 1. High overhead costs – Dive shops have quite a high maintenance cost. With highly trained and professional divemasters, instructors, boat crew, captain and dive shop managers, the costs can add up quickly. Additional costs include licenses, boat maintenance costs, fuel, etc. With low or no business, these costs can pose a threat to several new dive shops. 2. Low tourism – With the pandemic in full swing, tourism has come to a standstill. Since the scuba diving industry relies heavily on tourism, it poses a threat in the coming months, which are crucial. When the pandemic subsides, it can be assumed that potential tourists would require some time to build the confidence to travel to their preferred diving destination. 3. High unemployment rates – In the recent past, there has been a surge in the available number of certified dive masters and instructors. They have employment opportunities in liveaboards, dive resorts, dive shops and hotels. However, the decline in demand for tourism may lead to lower employment rates of dive professionals in order for the dive shops to cut costs in the lean period. 4. Disinfecting dive gear – Some dive shops have reported that divers who do not own their dive equipment but have access to diving in the area have avoiding diving during the pandemic due to concern about infected dive gear. Operating dive shops are taking the necessary precautions and disinfecting dive gear regularly. The Ocean and Us The health of the ocean is intimately related to our health. It might come as a surprise but bacteria found in the depths of the oceans are used to help conduct Covid-19 tests. This proves that the ocean is our ally in the fight against this pandemic. In this time, we must reflect on the adverse impact we have had on the oceans and its inhabitants and pledge how in the future, we will change to make our habits and lifestyle choices more sustainable. We owe it to ourselves, the oceans and the planet. The truth is that human health is closely connected to ocean health. Solutions to problems that threaten us to come from the environment. We, therefore, must strive, now more than ever, to protect the oceans, instead of suffocating it with waste and plastic. It might take some time, but by being strong in mind, body and spirit, we will fight this pandemic together. It is the time to support one and other and come together as one. To ride this wave of uncertainty, until it subsides into the lagoon of safety, security, good health and abundance once again.Continue reading
Become an Environmentally Aware Diver this Earth Day
On 22nd April 1970, millions of people rallied together to try to do something about environmental destruction. That was the very first Earth Day, and now every April 22nd, more than 190 countries around the world celebrate the day by focussing on tackling important environmental issues. Although Earth Day is only one day per year, we should really be focusing on these issues all year round. As divers and snorkelers, we are the ones who witness first-hand the devastating effects of coral bleaching, destructive fishing practises, plastic pollution and irresponsible divers. Most divers and snorkelers tend to already be quite environmentally conscious, however, there are always more ways that we can improve our impact on the oceans. Here is a list of simple things you can do to help preserve the marine environment for future generations. Choose Environmentally Friendly Dive Operations Dive shops have the power to make real changes to the way people behave around fragile coral reef ecosystems; from correctly training new divers to ensuring that their guests act in a responsible and eco-friendly manner whilst underwater, and some will even go as far as organising regular underwater cleanups and coral restoration projects. These are the companies you should be diving with. Unfortunately, there are a number of dive schools out there whose only priority is to make money. Luckily for us, it is quite easy to spot these companies from afar. Those dive shops that are offering the absolute cheapest prices to attract customers tend to be the ones who give back the least to the aquatic world that they rely on. They have a very small budget to put any money into environmental projects, and normally these are the companies who will ignore major environmental problems such as old boat engines that leave a rainbow trail of an oil slick in their wake and are billowing acrid black smoke. If you are at a dive location already, it is easy to find environmentally friendly dive companies by simply going in and asking them what environmental projects they take part in, and how frequently they participate. If you are sat at home and surfing the web for your next dive holiday, it is also quite easy to find the most eco-friendly dive companies. Any companies that participate in such environmental efforts are usually very happy to advertise it over social media or blog posts, and they are often members or supporters of environmental organisations such as Trash Hero or Green Fins. Join Environmental Initiatives Once you have selected your eco-friendly dive school, why not see if they have any projects underway that you can join in. Remember, a dive school might only have a few staff members, so they rely heavily on volunteers to increase their effectiveness. One of the most common projects is beach cleanups. Many companies run at least once a week, and they often reward participants with a free barbeque and a cold beer at the end of the day. Another common one is an underwater clean up, where dive shops have at least one trip a week that is focussed on underwater cleanups. They often run these as a two dive trip, where one is the clean-up dive –which is usually free, and the second is a fun dive that is offered at lower rates or even for free. You don’t even have to join in these cleanups to help out. If you see a piece of litter on the beach (or anywhere else) or underwater, pick it up and dispose of it properly. If everybody who used the beaches picked up just one piece of litter, plastic pollution would not be as big of a problem as it is today. If you would like to plan the dive adventure of a lifetime, give something back to the ocean, and boost your CV, why not participate in a marine conservation NGO. These non-profit organisations can be found throughout much of the world, and focus on a number of important subjects such as coral reef restoration, mangrove restoration, and obtaining important data on fish stocks. They are often based in developing countries and focus on real long term solutions such as alternative livelihoods and education. Take Nothing but Pictures, Leave Nothing but Bubbles Obviously we all know that while we are diving, we should never touch or harass any marine organism, but many environmentally conscious divers forget these rules once the dive is over. I have been on multiple dive boats where divers have found an amusing way to spend their surface intervals – by throwing cookies and fruit into the water to attract fish. Neither of these common dive boat commodities is part of any fish’s diet, and could potentially harm them. Another reason why you should never do this is that it changes the behaviour of the fish. You may have heard of dive sites where napoleon wrasse welcomes dive boats and follow divers throughout most of the dive. This behaviour is not natural, and there is nothing stopping a fishing boat pulling up to the dive site later that day and pulling the hungry and overly friendly wrasse out the water. Many dive locations – especially in the developing world – have a number of souvenir vendors that sell ocean-related memorabilia such as t-shirts, sarongs, and jewellery made with shells. While it might seem harmless to buy a shell or pick one up from the beach, you are actually removing an important part of the reef. These shells will naturally be recycled; either by a hermit crab looking for a new home, or they will break down and replenish sand. Once removed, it can do neither of these things. Even worse is when you find larger shells for sale. These intact and impressive shells almost never wash up on the beach, they are normally taken from the reef, and its original owner is forcibly removed and probably killed. The world’s largest marine snail, the ‘Triton Snail’, has a shall that can grow to over 50cm, and it can be worth a lot of money. The natural owners of these impressive shells are very important to the health of the reef as they are one of the only natural predators of the coral-eating crown of thorn starfish. Removing any such shell from the reef can be extremely environmentally damaging. It is actually illegal throughout most of the world to travel with seashells, and there are multiple stories of people turning up to the airport with their new souvenirs and leaving with a large fine. Choose Environmentally Friendly Sunscreen Skin protection is extremely important, especially when you are in tropical climates and spending a long time in the sun and on the water’s surface as snorkelers do. The downside of sunscreen is that it can actually be very harmful to the coral reef. The common sun-blocking ingredient is called ‘oxybenzone’ and it is proven that it can kill coral and accelerate the effects of coral bleaching. Luckily for us sun-loving divers and snorkelers, their many companies that make more environmentally friendly sunscreens that are just as effective. Reduce your Waste Single-use plastics are one of the biggest threats facing our planet in modern times, with around 12 million metric tonnes of plastic entering the ocean every year. Reducing our plastic usage is something we can all get better at, and it is something that many governments around the world are making a top priority. It is common over Europe to have to pay for single-use shopping bags at supermarkets, and the UK currently discussing banning outright all plastic straws, cotton buds and drink stirrers. One of the best things you can do for the environment is to try to reduce the amount of single-use plastic that you use. It is surprisingly easy to do once you establish a few good habits. Make sure you always take a bag around with you so if you need to get any shopping done, you won’t need one from the shop. Most bars will unnecessarily hand out plastic straws with almost any drink, so be sure to refuse one, and buy a good quality water bottle that you can refill rather than buying endless amounts of bottled water. Unfortunately, plastic is almost unavoidable, however, most of it is easy to recycle, and recycling facilities are improving throughout much of the world. If you do need to use single-use plastic for whatever reason, try to make sure it ends up in a recycling bin rather than landfill. Have Good Dive Practises Dive tourism can have an enormous impact on coral reefs, both positive and negative. On one hand, an increase in dive tourism leads to job creation, and those working in the diving industry will do as much as they can to protect the reefs that they depend on. This is especially true in places like Indonesia, where many people who once relied on fishing now work in the diving hospitality industry, putting less pressure on the reefs, and in many areas, fishing has become prohibited or restricted in popular dive areas for safety reasons. On the other hand, countless divers descending on the reef can result in broken reefs and stirred up silt which can suffocate the corals. One of the best things that you can do as a diver is to simply dive in an environmentally friendly way. That means not touching anything, and mastering your buoyancy control to avoid accidents – and you should not even consider taking a camera diving until you have complete control over your body in the water. Many dive companies have a policy that will exclude any divers who are acting irresponsibly, however, dive guides often don’t say anything for fear of complaints or losing their guests. If you see any diver acting in an irresponsible manner, you should either confront them about it or report it to the dive centre manager so they can deal with the issue. Eat Sustainably There is nothing quite like having a dinner of fresh fish grilled over a BBQ while you are relaxing on a beach. While many divers choose to entirely omit seafood from their diet, there are others who love seafood and don’t want to give it up. Overfishing is one of the biggest threats to reefs worldwide and an enormous strain is being put on once healthy fish stocks to supply our never-ending demand. If giving up seafood is something you could never imagine doing, at least avoid eating reef fish and try to stick only to the sustainable options. If you are a seafood lover and happen to be in the Caribbean, a good dinner option is a lionfish. Although these beautiful fish are from the reef, they are not native to the Caribbean and are destroying much of the local wildlife. Most Caribbean dive operations will actively hunt them, and many restaurants will offer them on their menus. Don’t worry about the venom, the spines will all be removed, and once the meat is cooked it is a flaky white fish that resembles snapper. It might seem like taking these steps to help protect our oceans might seem pointless as you are only one person, but as a collective, we can make a real difference. Remember that the ocean is not our plaything for us to use as we please, it is an essential part of the planet, and millions of people around the world rely on it for their survival. Do you have any tips on being more environmentally friendly? If so, stick them in the comments section below and we will make sure to share them! ‘Become an Environmentally Aware Diver this Earth Day’ was written by MikeContinue reading
Discover Freshwater Diving
With a big focus on the marine environment within scuba diving, freshwater diving often gets overlooked, despite being more accessible to most people living inland and in colder climates. Freshwater can bring a new experience, with contrasting fish species, topography and in many cases, super clear visibility. Often exclusively shore dives, the static nature of most freshwater sites means that they develop without saltwater ocean currents and migrating aquatic life. These sites provide snapshots of what equates to years and years of evolution; eroded rocks and caverns, mangrove forests and crystal formations make up these fascinating underwater grottos. Image Credit: Marc Henauer Freshwater Diving Tips and Tricks Buoyancy Freshwater is less dense than saltwater (as it contains no salt!) and therefore weighs less. This means that an object placed in freshwater will experience less upward force and be more buoyant than in saltwater, so you will need less weight than you do when diving in the ocean. You can approximate this by adding 6-8 % of your body weight to your weight belt or pockets for freshwater, as opposed to the 8 – 10% you would usually add in saltwater. A weight check can be performed in the same manner in both bodies of water, you are correctly weighted if you float at eye level when you’ve fully deflated your BCD and are holding a breath of air at the surface. Visibility Although freshwater sites often boast crystal clear visibility, the sedentary nature of most lakes means that there is little to no water movement. On hot days, warm water will sit on the top of the lake and the cold water will remain at the bottom where the majority of material and sediment also lies. This is easy to disturb when diving and can cause murky visibility. Equipment Alongside standard diving equipment, it’s a good idea to take a dive knife for fishing line and plant life which can cause entanglement. Even if you are diving in daylight, take a torch as visibility can be murky, particularly when lake diving. Altitude Many freshwater lakes and other freshwater dive sites are found up in the mountains at altitude, above 300 metres sea level. Bear this in mind and always check the altitude of the site you are diving as when at altitude, atmospheric pressure is lower than at sea level and this affects the decompression limits of your dive. Change your dive computer settings accordingly and don’t dive outside of your certification level. Image Credit: Lake Eacham, Blue Dive Freshwater Dive Sites around the World Lake Malawi Located between Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania this huge expanse of freshwater is known as the aquatic highway of Malawi. It is a meromictic lake, as it’s distinct layers of water don’t mix. Also known as Lake Niassa, or the ‘Lake of Stars,’ this picturesque spot makes for an ideal tourist destination with its awesome diving, snorkelling and immersive African culture. Its maximum depth is 706 metres which makes it the 6th deepest lake in the world, it boasts pristine gin-clear waters and 100s of species of colourful fish, many of which are endemic to Lake Malawi. Image Credit: Timbuktu Travel Casa Cenote, Yucatan, Mexico Located close to Tulum, this cenote is just across the road from the beach, combining some saltwater creatures with your typical freshwater fish. You may cross paths with the odd loggerhead turtle, or even a freshwater alligator. Cenotes are on most divers bucket list and this one should make an appearance, stretching out into the jungle it’s clear waters and underground tree roots and mangroves make it a beautiful spot to explore. Kayaks and life jackets are available to rent here. Image Credit: Deep Dive Mexico Piccaninnie Pools, South Australia 20 miles South-East of Mount Gambier in Southern Australia, this collection of ponds could be easily overlooked from the surface. However, the eastern side is home to a huge underwater trench nicknamed the ‘Chasm.’ which scales down to 35 metres deep. To the west of this is a majestic underwater cavern with luminous white limestone walls referred to as the ‘Cathedral.’ which makes for a stunning dive. Native freshwater fish reside in the bull reeds, and the remoteness of this beautiful location offers awesome walks along the coastal wetlands with freshwater springs and beaches on land. Image Credit: Grumpy Grey Nomads Freshwater Fish & Wildlife Freshwater fish differ from saltwater fish as they lose salt from their bodies whilst swimming because of the lack of salt content in the water. Fish are constantly taking on water via their gills and membrane, this process is called osmosis. It’s a delicate balance for saltwater fish to not become dehydrated by the salt content of the surrounding water, whilst freshwater fish have to ensure they don’t take on too much water and dilute their mineral and salt intake, as this can cause their cells to burst. Alongside some pretty awesome species of fish, there are 100’s of species of freshwater turtles. Out of the 365 species of turtles currently identified worldwide only 7 of these are saltwater! This makes for some pretty cool underwater sightings in lakes, rivers and freshwater ponds. Image Credit: Macarthur Advertiser Are Saltwater Fish more Colorful than Freshwater Fish? Fish are generally coloured for camouflage, to defend themselves from their predators and to attract potential mates. Reef fish that can camouflage themselves against brightly coloured coral and anemones are therefore likely to be more vibrant and colourful due to the background they are imitating. There are, however, many brightly coloured freshwater fish; their colouration may be more strategic to counter being discovered by birds and other predators whilst still attracting a mate. Many cichlids and other species of freshwater fish have bright underbellies to combat being seen from the surface. The great thing about Freshwater diving is that it can be more accessible than saltwater, there may be a lake, river or quarry that is within driving distance. Why not do some research on potential freshwater dives near to you and you may find an opportunity to get in the water more often! Be sure to only dive within your certification limitations and contact your local dive centre for advice on conditions and support before diving any new location. Happy Freshwater diving! Featured Image Credit: AnhedeContinue reading
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