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.
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Top 15 Places to Scuba Dive Over the Holiday Season
It’s the holiday season and many people are looking for an exotic place to escape to on vacation. Whether you live in a place that gets quite chilly over the holidays or you are just looking for a great place to relax with some extra time off, visiting a scuba diving destination can be a great option. Here is a list of our Top 15 Places to scuba dive during the holiday season: 1) Indonesia Indonesia is part of the coral triangle which is the most biodiverse habitat in the world’s oceans. One of the best places to scuba dive over the holiday season in Indonesia is Raja Ampat. Raja Ampat is an archipelago of 1500 islands and is considered to have the highest marine biodiversity on Earth! Here you can spot wobbegong sharks, epaulette sharks, manta rays, bobtail squid, pygmy seahorses, and whale sharks. Of the world’s coral species, 80% can be found in Raja Ampat. At the nearby Island of Alor, hammerhead sharks can be spotted in schools. 2) Philippines Photo Credit Hanna Norlin Also part of the coral triangle, the Philippines has a great diversity of marine life. Malapascua is a tiny island off Cebu. Here, you are very likely to encounter thresher sharks as well as many species of coral, manta rays, and hammerhead sharks. Moreover, schools of thousands of barracuda and jackfish are often spotted. The infamous dugong is also native to the area. In addition to the abundant sea life, there are wrecks that offer spectacular views full of life. Year-round diving here is usually done in a 3mm shorty suit. Boracay is the most popular diving location in the Philippines. With beautiful natural reef systems, eels, and many fish including the cute little clownfish, the diving here is a dream! The pristine, white sandy beaches also make your surface intervals very, very, very…relaxing. 3) Thailand Thailand offers some of the most affordable places to learn how to scuba dive. With a variety of dive sites suitable for divers of all levels, Thailand is truly a top place to scuba dive over the holiday season. The Similan Islands are only open November to April and accessible by boat. You will be greeted with calm water and clear weather. The plankton blooms and cleaner wrasse are abundant which attract manta rays, whale sharks and black and white-tipped reef sharks at Koh Bon and Richelieu Rock. Of the many places to learn how to scuba dive in Thailand, Koh Tao and Koh Lipe are both beautiful and very cheap. 4) Palau Photo credit pxfuel With the best diving in Palau occurring from December to March, it makes the list of top places to scuba dive over the holiday. There can be very strong currents here so they say its best if you have some diving experience before venturing to here. However, these strong currents offer some amazing drift dives and bring out pelagics such as manta rays, reef sharks, and sea turtles. There are also wrecks and reefs to explore and shark dives to take part in. The Blue Hole offers an undersea cavern with transparent waters. 5) Federated States of Micronesia Photo: LuxTonnerre December falls within the peak diving months for exploring Micronesia in dry weather and warm water. In Chuuk Lagoon, arguably the best wreck diving location in the world, you will find more than 200 aircraft and 60 ships that were sunk during World War II. Much of the area is now a Japanese memorial, but many sites still allow scuba divers. 6) Galapagos Islands, Ecuador Photo credit: Piqsels As you may know, the Galapagos Islands are protected, which leads to an abundance of marine life. Besides being made famous by Charles Darwin, scuba diving in the Galapagos Islands offers some big and rare marine life. There are over 30 species of sharks here as well as whale sharks (June-November), penguins, sea lions, marine iguanas, schooling hammerhead sharks, and mola mola. Scuba diving in December offers warmer waters making it great for a top place to scuba dive over the holiday. 7) Mexico Photo credit: Flickr In Riviera Maya, considered Mexico’s top holiday resort destination, scuba divers will find many cenotes (deep sinkholes), underwater cave systems, and caverns for non-technical divers. Bull sharks and sailfish are often spotted here as well. 8) Maldives Photo credit: needpix From December to March, you will find dry weather and calm seas. The Maldives offers pinnacles and channels which make for some good drift diving. Whale sharks and manta rays are among the top marine life expected to be seen. 9) Belize Photo: Wiki media The Blue Hole was once explored by Jacques Cousteau and is considered to be one of the best diving sites in the world. With crystal clear waters offered year-round, Belize is a top place to scuba dive over the holidays. Reef sharks, bull sharks, and hammerhead sharks are all a possibility to be seen here. 10) Malaysia In Malaysia, Sipadan is a very popular diving location with over 300 species of fish and hundreds of species of coral. Turtles can be found everywhere on the island. The rangers even helps protect turtle eggs from predators until they can hatch. Sharks, dolphins, and stunning coral make Sipadan an amazing place to explore the underwater world over the holidays. 11) Australia The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s longest reef. The reef is deteriorating over time due to climate change and other human impacts so make sure to get there soon! Away from tourists, head to Ribbon Reefs and you will really see what Australia has to offer. Here you will spot humpback whales, huge and small schooling fish, and humongous potato groupers that might give you a scare but they are very friendly. 12) The Red Sea All of the Red Sea is diveable. You can find dive sites in Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and Sudan. Underwater you can expect to see nudibranchs, long-nosed hawkfish, oceanic whitetips, hammerheads, and whale sharks along with very vibrant, colourful coral. Dive sites to visit include Ras Mohamed and Tiran, St Johns, Daedelus, Elphinstone and the Brothers, Blue Hole in Dahab, Cedar Pride wreck in Aqaba, and SS Thistegorm. A brand new plane wreck includes the purposely sunken C130 Hercules which can be found in Aqaba. 13) Hawaii In Hawaii, there is great diving all over the islands. You will see so many turtles, seals, and manta rays. Visiting December to May, there is also the possibility to see humpback whales and whale sharks. 14) Curacao, Bonaire, Saba Once part of the Netherlands Antilles, these islands in the Caribbean are less expensive and less touristy than some of the other popular Caribbean islands. Here you will find mostly rich coral with walls and drifts and year-round great visibility. 15) Maltese Islands In Malta, diving can be a little colder in the winter months with an average water temperature of 18°C in December, but the crowds are significantly decreased. The Blue Hole is the most popular dive site off Gozo. Off the coast of Comino, you will find wrecks to explore. The underwater arches and caves along with great visibility make diving in Malta an excellent top scuba diving destination over the holiday season. So, there we have it our top 15 diving destinations for the holiday season. If you have any experiences diving elsewhere in the world during the holiday season, please let us know in the comments section below. Happy diving and happy New year! Continue reading
Ahmed Gabr. A World Record Breaking Diver!
So, how do you become the Guinness World Record holder for deepest scuba dive? In Ahmed Gabr’s words: “I wanted to satisfy my curiosity of how deep the human body can go, I was researching in books and on the internet but still never had the absolute answer so I figured out the best way to find the answer is to try it myself.” As a truly inspirational and motivational person, let’s take a closer look at Ahmed Gabr, and how his training and values made him one of the greatest scuba divers of our time. Who Is Ahmed Gabr? Ahmed Gabr is an Egyptian recreational and technical diver and three times Guinness World Record breaker! But how did he get here? Ahmed Gabr started developing his scuba diving prowess at the age of 18. Like most of us, he first started diving for pleasure before deciding to make a career out of it and becoming a scuba diving instructor. Parallel to honing his diving knowledge and skills, he served in the Egyptian military as an Army Officer, and he was later accepted in the US Army Combat Diver Course – he is the only US Combat Diver in the Middle East (!). Today, Gabr is retired from the military force but continues to teach recreational and technical diving courses in Dahab, Egypt. He is also a guest speaker and event ambassador at many international diving conferences and meetings around the world. Where Is Ahmed Gabr from? Ahmed Gabr is from Egypt. Known for its majestic history and iconic landscape, Egypt is a renowned scuba diving destination. The high concentration of marine life, wrecks and incredible coral reefs make Egypt one of the best diving spots in the world for beginners and seasoned divers. No wonder Ahmed Gabr chose the stunning waters of the Red Sea to set his record! Ahmed Gabr World Record Dive Although scuba diving is not a competitive sport, some intrepid divers have set some extreme world record dives, and Ahmed Gabr is one of them. In 2014 he won the Guinness World Record for the Deepest Scuba Dive (Male) and Deepest Sea Dive at 332.35 metres (1,090 feet). The previous record for the world’s deepest dive was held by Nuno Gomes from 2005 to 2014. Gomes reached the depth of 318 metres (1,044 ft) with a dive also off the coast of Dahab. To add to Gabr’s impressive record, in 2015 he was also the Guinness World Record holder for the largest underwater clean-up, with a team of 614 divers working together in care for the environment. This record was later beaten in 2019, in Florida, with 633 divers. Ahmed Gabr’s Dive Plan Ahmed Gabr’s victorious achievement for the world’s deepest dive was four years in the making. His training started in 2010 but was put on hold because of the political turmoil in Egypt. A few years later, when the political situation was more stable, he resumed his training. Because of the risks involved with deep diving, not only did he get into physical shape, but he also did yoga exercises to improve his air consumption and mental focus. Finally, on 18 September 2014, he was ready to take the plunge and smash the record for the deepest scuba dive, marking a new chapter in scuba diving history. Amazingly, it only took him 12 minutes to reach the depth of 332.35 metres. Although he was aiming for 350 metres, he soon started to experience tremors and dizziness that could have had fatal consequences, and having already broken the world record, he did what every responsible diver would do and turned back. The remaining 14 hours were dedicated to making a controlled slow safety ascent to avoid any risks associated with deep diving. Needless to say, that Gabr’s dive plan was carefully executed and organised to the finest detail. To support him, he had a team of divers, doctors and organizers before, during and after the dive. Out of the 14 hours, Gabr was alone for only 40 minutes. On his ascent, there were safety stops and support divers to help him with his empty tanks and provide him with new gas mixes to breathe. Throughout the dive, he used more than 70 tanks with different diving gas mixes. Yikes! Ahmed Gabr The Famous Documentary Ahmed Gabr’s record-breaking deepest scuba dive was the subject of a famous documentary, The Deepest Ever by Didier Noirot, the leading underwater cinematographer who has worked with no other than Jacques Cousteau. His latest work includes the award-winning BBC documentary The Blue Planet with Sir David Attenborough. Ahmed Gabr on Instagram To unveil the latest news of his daily diving activities, Ahmed Gabr uses different social media platforms. Visit his Instagram page to stay tuned about his work and to see hardly-even seen photos of the ocean depths. And who knows, you might even get rid of one or two technical diving misconceptions. Ahmed Gabr on YouTube Check out Ahmed Gabr’s YouTube videos for some truly epic tech diving videos! His technical expertise and comfort in the water make for a fun and enjoyable viewing that will impress divers and non-divers worldwide. If we set our minds on the goal, and believe in ourselves, we can truly achieve great things. Gabr’s impressive feat has proved that with mental and physical preparation, mankind can accomplish the unthinkable. With his hard work and dedication, Gabr has pushed the human body to new limits, setting the boundaries of what we can accomplish to new heights – or depths. How do you feel about deep dives? Are you a technical diver? Or are you thinking of becoming one? Let us know in the comments below! Sources: ahmedgabr.com, @AhmedGabrDiver, tecrec.padi.Continue reading
White Shark Cage Diving in South Africa
Many of us have been conditioned to fear the Great White Shark (Carcharadon Carcharias), by a repetition of two musical notes and a series of bad movies. As more research shows, and Peter Benchley’s apologetic book “Shark Trouble”, attempts to rectify, the reputation as a maneater is misplaced and more people want to get as close as possible to experience these magnificent animals in person. It is easy to see why it has been portrayed as a villain in so many movies. The toothy, torpedo-shaped animal can grow up to 6 metres long and weigh up to 2,000 kilograms. It’s very design makes it an incredible hunter, from it’s under/ over camouflage, muscular body to its massive jaws, lined with sharply pointed, coarsely serrated teeth. In short, it is big and scary looking. Because it is big and scary looking, research into the lives and behaviours of these animals has been slow. I would imagine it was a brave person who first stuck their toes into the water to take a better look in the wake of the Jaws movies. Nowadays, researchers can study a great many facets of the lives of these animals, but there are still many secrets. Where to go Cage Diving? The fishing town of Gansbaai in the Western Cape of South Africa is one of the hubs of white shark research, because of its proximity to Dyer island, a sanctuary and formerly the largest Colony of African Penguins (thanks humans), Geyser island, a Cape Fur Seal breeding ground, and the channel between them, known as Shark Alley. During winter, May to August, the area is a hive of activity as the pups enter the water, and the sharks move in to feed, using the kelp beds below as cover. Tourists flock to this area because, just like on land, the chance of seeing the “Big 5 of the oceans ” is very high in the waters around Dyer Island. The Big 5 being, sharks, seals, dolphins, penguins and whales. The biggest drawcard, though is the white shark. Everyone wants to see the unique breaching action as the shark chases its prey from below. Air Jaws has made sure of that. There are a significant number of companies that offer shark cage diving in the area, and the suburb of Kleinbaai provides a vibrant variety of accommodation options. We picked an Airbnb that was hosted by, by far the sweetest gentleman and his wife. As three ladies travelling alone, we felt as though we had an honorary dad for the three nights we stayed. He brought us blankies and wine and even checked our tyre pressure when we left — a true reflection of old fashioned Afrikaans hospitality. Be Prepared! Like all trips on the ocean, you are at the mercy of the weather. If you are going, especially in winter, you are going to need to be prepared. We arrived as a storm was passing and it started to look as though we may not go at all, and when you go down to the beach and see the size of the breaking waves, you don’t argue. If this is something that you decide to do, here are some things to remember: It is going to be cold. Bitterly cold. If you are from Iceland, it may not bother you, but if not be prepared. You will get a 5mm wetsuit, and booties if you want them, but you have to have a weatherproof jacket for the boat, and I suggest some serious winter woollies for after the dive. It may be choppy. If you don’t have the stomach for being on a boat that rocks and rolls, either make sure that you have some seasickness meds in good time for the trip or rethink it. The crew will give you a lollipop to suck on if you need it, but otherwise, there is no respite. Listen to the safety briefing, and follow the instructions. You don’t get a dry run with the cage, so if you don’t listen, you could miss the action while you are trying to find footholds. After the land briefing, you are taken down to the boat launch ramp, and you board the boat before it launches. The boats are big and comfortable, but there are house rules, especially about tracking water around and creating slip hazards, so pay attention. The best view is from the top deck so grab a seat up there if you can. You will be encouraged to stow any belongings in the bunk that you sit on. This is an excellent idea if the weather is a bit choppy. The boat trip out is not too long, and the crew make it fun by encouraging the seagulls to fly in close and grab treats from their hands. It is a new unique experience having these big birds flying right next to you, almost stationary because their speed matches the boat. One of the things discussed in the briefing is the fact that the number of white shark sightings has diminished in the last couple of years. I guess it is like any wildlife tour; there are no guarantees. The tour company we used attributed it to recent orca activity, but there are some suggestions that it may be due to changing prey distribution. The company will work hard to get the animals to come and say hi, but we have to be realistic. When I say they work hard, I mean that they will take you to known shark sighting areas, chum effectively, communicate with other companies to share sightings. When a shark is sighted, the cage is lowered, and you get kitted up and slip into the cage in small groups. The lid is closed, you grip the bar in front of you and wait for the command to duck down and look at the animal in front of you. To draw the animal in, a foam seal is tossed into the water and drawn towards the cage, and you really do come face to face with these fantastic creatures. You are acutely aware of how little and weak you are as a human being. The sharks on our tour were not the biggest but would compare to an Ikea couch. They were fantastic to watch both in the water and from above. The foam seal took some punishment but judging by the number of bite marks in it; it wasn’t the first time. All in all, the trip is eye opening. We didn’t get any breaches, but there was a lot of fantastic passes with lots of drama. After we got back, we were treated to a delicious meal, and a viewing of the video taken of our trip. The footage we purchased was supplied on a shark-shaped USB stick. Is Cage Diving Ethical? We had a fabulous trip, but we are always asked, is cage diving ethical? There are several arguments against sticking tourists in a cage and drawing sharks for them to see. The first is that the chumming changes the shark’s behaviour and brings them inshore to where humans are seeking this source of food. Many cage diving operators work closely with marine biologists and disagree. They argue that the animals have to be in the area to be drawn to the chum. If there are no sharks in the water, then chum won’t bring them in. As mentioned, most operators have marine biologists on board, and the sightings all provide information that is fed back and used in broader research. The tourists provide the funds for the trips. Most operators are committed to keeping group sizes small and limiting the number of trips to minimise the impact. Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, there so much fear surrounding this animal, that it is hunted and killed unecessarily. Bringing people closer to it and educating them on the ecology of them, serves to substitute the fear for wonder, and hopefully inspires continued conservation efforts. Photo Credit(s): Wildthentic.com Marcell ClaassenContinue reading
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