Mar

16

Introducing the Atomic BC1

SCUBA boards online have been buzzing with rumors and chatter about Atomic Aquatics’ first BC for more than ten years now. That’s how long it has taken the luxury brand to perfect the first BC worthy of the Atomic name.

Atomic Aquatics doesn’t rush anything. They prefer to take their time and carefully craft the toughest and most user-friendly dive gear on Earth.

Just as they redefined regulators, masks, and fins with careful attention to design details, Atomic re-examined every BC feature to create the most durable, long lasting, and high performance model the market has ever seen.

We are excited to say that the long wait is finally over; the new world-class Atomic BC1 BCDs are here.

The Atomic BC1: the BCD worthy of the Atomic name is finally here

What makes Atomic Aquatics BC1 so special?

Revolutionary tank cam and pad

The ratcheting tank band design sets a new standard for easy and always secure BC mounting.

Atomic engineered this completely different mounting hardware using principles from ski boots and snowboarding to create an easy to use system featuring a tightly locking, over-center buckle band.

This is simply the best and most user-friendly tank cam system ever.

In addition to the ratcheting buckle band, there is also a tank positioning strap and a non-slip, molded tank pad built in to the back of the BC, complete with CNC-Machined Stainless Steel hardware. This system eliminates the pesky rubber non-slip strip found on other tank bands.

These features combine to make mounting easier than ever before while also ensuring the end of slipping tanks, repeated adjustments, threading buckles, and the usual trouble of changing cylinder sizes. No existing tank cam band has even come close to the ease of operation of the BC1.

We think this game-changing feature alone makes this the BCD of choice, but that’s not all. The high-performance BC1 introduces several other new features that set it apart:

Water resistance

The state-of-the-art matte fabric is laminate coated on both interior and exterior and as water resistant as a raincoat. Yet it is remarkably soft to the touch. It’s something you’ll have to feel for yourself.

Other BCs promised to be quick drying; the Atomic BC1 never seems to get wet at all.

The laminate layer is thicker on the outsides to increase durability by protecting against rips, tears, and leaks.  It’s so tough that it will accommodate nearly double the pressure of other BCs.

Sand and corrosion resistance, too

The large accessory pockets feature zippers that are self sealing to prevent sand from filling pockets or gunking up zipper teeth.  Mesh pocket interiors drain easily.

D-rings are conveniently placed inside these oversized pockets to secure things. Keep your stuff securely attached while using it, without having to undo and reattach.

All D-rings are 316 Stainless Steel and coated with PVD Titanium to resist salt water corrosion. Atomic generously  and strategically placed these for convenient attachments. For example, The D rings along the bottom edge are tucked neatly behind the pockets, rather than dangling from your BC.

EZ-LOK weight release system

The EZ-LOK weight system is another feature that you need to see and experience for yourself to fully appreciate how much Atomic has improved what a BCD can be.

Atomic fins are favorites because everyone loves their EZ-LOK fin straps. The BC1 uses this exclusive patented system to eliminate any struggle with integrated weights.  They are secure, easy to release, and loading the weight pockets into the BC is a snap.

Weight pouches glide in smoothly, snap to lock in place, and easily release with a tug on the handle. They are so easy that you can operate them using just one finger, but they snap securely into place, so you’ll have no worries about accidental release.

The weight system on this BC is versatile and super easy to use: each pouch holds up to ten pounds of hard or soft weight. The pouches that come with the XL will hold up to 14 pounds.

There is also a pair of additional, non-releasable, integrated weight pockets in the rear. These hold between six and ten pounds each, depending on jacket size. The placement of these trim pockets significantly improves diver profile underwater.

Maximum comfort and adjustability

The BC1 features a large area of elegant diamond-quilted back padding and an adjustable lumbar pad, making this the most comfortable BC available.

There is also a convenient carry handle.

It offers three planes of adjustability for a custom fit.  The BC1 includes torso, sternum, and waist straps with impact resistant easy side release buckles.

It also has an adjustable cummerbund for added comfort, security, and fit.

Patent-pending exhaust pull dump technology

The two Stainless Steel Dry Glide pull dumps have extra long cords and patent-pending Anti-Float Pull Knobs for easy reach.

Inflator options

The Atomic inflators are sold separately. This gives you a choice of high performance options.

Your choices:

You could choose Atomic’s innovative corrosion resistant Ai power inflator, which comes in both Stainless Steel and premium Titanium options. These are the best and most diver-friendly power friendly inflators in the world.

Or you could ditch your octopus and opt for the Atomic SS1 in Stainless Steel or Titanium. This revolutionary device couples a power inflator with a secondary regulator that breathes like a primary. It features ergonomic controls, a low-profile design, and incorporates Atomic’s patented seat-saving orifice that prevents problems and leaks, as well as doubling the service cycle from annual to two years. It also has an integrated purge cover, a lifetime warranty, and more.

While some may balk at the Atomic price, the BC1’s rugged durability, elegant design, and user-friendly features offer tremendous value that will outlast and outperform any other BC on the market.

We invite you to come by the shop to check out this beauty for yourself. We’re here 9am-6pm Mon-Sat.  Bring your swimsuit and take it for a test dive in our pool.

Jan

25

 

*

What are 6351 cylinders?

Aluminum 6351-T6 is an alloy that was previously used for SCUBA and SCBA cylinders. There is a problem specific to that alloy that makes them potentially very dangerous,so most fill station operators will not fill them. This is an old problem, but there are some of these cylinders still around and many divers are unaware of the dangers.

Several companies produced and distributed these, including Walter Kidde, Luxfer, and Cliff Impact.  Many millions of these high-pressure cylinders were produced from this alloy. It was discontinued for these by 1990, due to a metallurgical anomaly which can cause sustained load cracking (SLC) along the neck and shoulder areas.

SLC: an explosive problem

SLC cracks tend to develop slowly over several years, most frequently in tanks that have been stored full of air. SLC has caused the explosive rupture of many of these cylinders and multiple losses of life and limb.

Before the technology to electronically detect this problem was invented, we had one of these cylinders explode in our store during a fill. The force of the explosion tore a hole through the roof and knocked a chunk from the concrete slab floor. Damage to the steel frame of the basketball hoop hanging over our pool is still visible today. It was caused by just a small piece of the cylinder hitting the heavy gauge steel and shredding it apart. Luckily, no one was hurt.

This happened with many of these tanks, both in the US and abroad. In some cases, such as the incident in our store, the explosions caused damage but did not result in injury. In other cases, they caused serious injuries and even death.

The explosive problem occurred often enough to warrant a DOT investigation, which resulted in advisories and warnings but no recall. However, we know the problem has been understated. For example, the explosion at GCD has not been included in the known SLC explosion data reported by Luxfer, though we reported it when it occurred and then again later brought it to their attention that it was not included.

Luxfer, who produced most of these cylinders, switched to a proprietary 6061 alloy and phased out the use of 6351 completely in June 1988. They issued several bulletins regarding the SLC problems and offered replacement incentives for many years in an effort to get these older cylinders out of use.

Eddy Current Testing

Because of this significant issue, a new method of tank inspection, eddy current testing, was developed. You may have heard this referred to as VIP Plus, which is a specific brand name. The visual only method previously employed for tank inspection is no longer sufficient for testing, thanks to the metallurgical anomaly associated with the 6351 alloy. Eddy current machines use electronic waves and can detect cracks that are invisible to the eye.  DOT rules now require electronic eddy testing at the same time as hydrostatic requalification, but manufacturers recommend eddy current more often.

Dive Stores and fill stations are well aware of all this and have been for many years. Both the US DOT and NIOSH released multiple detailed safety advisories. Luxfer addressed the topic in several ways, including a seminar at DEMA, the largest annual diving industry trade show, and this may have been the most attended meeting in DEMA history. The room was packed full to standing-room only, and attendees overflowed into the hallway as well.

Do you have 6351 cylinders? Here’s what to do

Many individual divers, however, were not, and some still are not, aware of this significant problem. If you have aluminum SCUBA cylinders manufactured by Luxfer prior to July 1988, or any Walter Kidde tanks, they are likely 6351 cylinders. There are almost no fill stations who will agree to refill these now. While GCD does not have a store policy against this, we will not force our employees to do so. Due to their advanced age and the well known issue of SLC, we prefer not to fill them. As stated above, we have already had one of these tanks rupture and explode in our store.

In an effort to get these bottles out of use, we will issue a $40 credit toward the purchase of a new tank for each 6351 cylinder trade out.

*Image courtesy Extreme Watersports

Apr

29

By Capt. Lawren McCaghren

The diver down flag indicates there are scuba divers and/ or snorkelers in the water. Boaters and PWC’s should remain 200 ft. away from the flag. If you need to approach within 100 feet, use extreme caution, go slow and look for bubbles. The divers and snorkelers also have a responsibility to remain within 50’ of their flag. The intention of the flag isn’t a restriction, but to keep everyone safe, so boaters and divers can all enjoy the water together.

Divers/ Boaters in Alabama (Alabama Code Section 33-5-22)
1. A diver’s flag must be displayed on the surface of any water where skin divers are operating as may be stipulated by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
2. The diver’s flag will be at least 300 mm (12 inches) square, colored red with a white 500 mm (2 inch) stripe running diagonally from the top staff corner to the bottom fly corner.
3. Legal Requirements of Boating Other Equipment & Regulations gets specific about how far you can be from your dive flag: 50 feet.

4. For Boaters in Alabama, vessels shall keep at least 100 feet clearance of displayed diver’s flag.
Divers/ Boaters in Florida (Chapter 27, Florida Statutes 327.331)
1. “Diver” means any person who is wholly or partially submerged in the waters of the state and is equipped with a face mask and snorkel or underwater breathing apparatus.
2. Divers-down flag specifications:

1. The flag must be square or rectangular and have a wire or stiffener to hold it fully unfurled and extended in the absence of wind.
2. The flag must be red with a white diagonal stripe that begins at the top staff-side of the flag and extends diagonally to the lower opposite corner.
3. The minimum size for any divers-down flag displayed on a float towed by the diver is 12” X 12”. The minimum size for any divers-down flag displayed from a vessel or structure is 20” X 24”.
4. Any divers-down flag displayed from a vessel must be displayed from the highest point which provides that the visibility of the divers-down flag is not obstructed in any direction.
5. Divers shall make reasonable efforts to stay within 100 feet of the divers-down flag on rivers, inlets, and navigation channels. Any person

Mar

4

The water is warming and the wind is calming, so more anglers and spearfisherman are starting to venture into the gulf.

Getting the boat out and scrubbing the winter coat of mildew is made easier by the anticipation of the coming season. The talk of another short snapper season and stricter limits on other species doesn’t dampen the excitement of the first trip. Some of us have been diving and spearing fish all winter, when the seas would let us escape the dock, but for many, their first trip is this month. Besides staring at a wall of red snapper and remaining alert for early cobia, we pass the time underwater stacking up sheephead.

This is a great fish to target this time of year because their numbers are plentiful. They aren’t a spooky fish that will disappear sheepheadafter shooting 1 or 2 and usually allow for a close shot. They are usually plentiful during their late winter spawn which usually lasts thru April. I’m not sure if it is because they disburse after mating or, the wave of spring break charter fishing trips wipe the inshore sites clean. Whatever the case, we see them all year but not in large numbers, on single sites like we do now. Because of their rib cage, some fisherman believe they are too hard to clean. But your friend that is always volunteering to take all the sheephead you bring in, knows the mild flavor and white, flaky meat and is hoping you don’t discover it.

Their smaller size and liberal creel limits make them a great fish for new spearos to develop their hunting skills. Once a diver has honed his diving skills, many look to add a camera or speargun to their dive plan. Since spearing fish can be challenging and even dangerous in extreme cases, we incourage new hunters to begin with small species and work their way up to the big boys like amberjack and cobia. The challenge of wrestling the larger species isn’t an issue with the smaller fish, like sheephead and mangrove snapper. I have never heard of a diver being towed around by a 6lb. sheephead!

Koah2Many underwater hunters think of March and April as their tune-up season. Venturing to the inshore rigs and brushing up on their diving skills and getting their aim back. Just as bow hunters start practicing with backyard targets months before bow season…spearfisherman will brush up on rigging, loading and shooting their spearguns. The difference is spearguns cannot be shot out of the water at land targets. Thus, the big attraction of sheephead in March.  Many local divers have upgraded thereKoah1 older spearguns, and are now shooting one of the excellent guns from Koah’s lineup.  The Koah Fatback series is the hardest shooting, quietest and most accurate production gun I have ever dove with.  John Ippolito of Koah Spearguns, is producing custom quality guns, but with a production gun price tag.  Whether you are upgrading, or this is your first speargun, you will admire the craftsmanship that goes into these guns.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing. Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this season. A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or tennis lessons. But if you are like me, then you understand the real fun happens in salt water! So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.” Make that “One day” happen this year.

Feb

5

Neoprene is a man made rubber compound that when combined with correct fabric laminates provides an excellent material for wetsuits with stretch and durability.

Standard closed-cell neoprene incorporates millions of very small gas filled cells or “bubbles” that add inherent buoyancy and thermal insulation into the product. According to Boyle’s Law- one of the fundamental physical principles that must be understood by all divers- “The volume of gas is inversely proportional to the surrounding pressure”.

The effects of Boyle’s Law on the gas in the closed cells in the neoprene is that when ambient pressure increases on descent, the bubbles in the neoprene shrink due to compression and lose a percentage of the buoyancy and thermal insulation they provided at the surface. images

This isn’t an issue with wetsuits that are designed for surface water sports (skiing and surfing) because the suit isn’t subjected to any compression. For divers this means our suit that was sufficient on the surface where the suit is at it’s full thickness, doesn’t provide enough insulation to stay warm at depth.

To insure a comfortable dive, performance material base layers are utilized. These base layers provide additional thermal protection, but aren’t compressible so remain neutrally buoyant and don’t lose any thermal capabilities at depth. These base layers are flexible, light weight and can be worn in layers. Base layer materials such as LavaCore’s Polytherm can be worn as stand alone pieces, layered together or worn under a traditional neoprene wetsuit.

lavacoreBecause our gulf coast water temperature varies 25F throughout the year, you need to have a thermal system that allows you to vary what you wear depending on season, depth and area. Even when the surface is 85F in August, it can be 75F at depth and the freshwater springs stay 68F-72F all year.

For more information on designing a custom thermal system for your diving style, come by and talk to a system adviser at Gulf Coast Divers (251) 342-2970.

Jan

8

WHY SHOULD I DIVE WITH A DIVE COMPUTER?

You just finished your Scuba Diver Course and your head is spinning with all the knowledge and skills you have learned. At the top of your list is purchasing what your instructor may have said was the most important piece of dive gear you could own – a dive computer. Your question is, “Why? What is so important about a personal dive computer (PDC) that I should have my own?”

Diverse on the Oriskany

Divers on the Oriskany

So, getting down to the basics means that there are three things you absolutely need to know during your dive: Where are you now? How long have you been there? How much longer can you stay? This translates into depth, elapsed dive time (EDT), and no decompression limit (NDL). All dive computers answer these questions, but ease of use, readability and additional dive information vary greatly between models.

Depth is one of the first things we set a limit on. Diving within the agreed upon depth limit, whether it be with the Divemaster, your dive buddy, or a solo dive, is the first decision a diver makes prior to the dive. Not sticking to your planned depth can be dangerous. The easiest way to monitor your depth is with the constant depth display on your PDC. An audible alarm is an important feature to alert you to any unplanned depth changes during the dive, including ascents. Your PDC will have an ascent rate indicator that allows you to insure you are ascending no faster than 30′ per minute. You won’t just descend to the bottom and swim around just off the sand. Many wrecks, reefs and rigs stick up off the bottom allowing you to do a 60′ dive on a rig in 200′ of water. But there aren’t any stop signs, so contantly being aware of your depth is important.

BUD
No decompression limit is one of 2 primary limitations when planning and conducting a dive profile. Some computers have audible alarms for this feature as well. Not following a good dive plan with regard to our profile (depth and time) could result in decompression illness. Going too deep, coming up too fast, and staying too long, greatly increases your risk for DCS. NDL takes your depths and times during each dive or repetitive dives and calculates how much longer you can safely stay at your current depth based on everything you’ve done up to this point. Breaking these rules could cause the loading of too much nitrogen resulting in a mandatory decompression stop. As a new diver, you want to avoid a deco stop at all costs. Your PDC can tell you when to move to a shallower depth, will continuously recalculate your NDL for the new depth. Not only does this keep you safely within your nitrogen limit, but it will significantly extend your dive times over the square profile associated with dive tables because it credits you back for times spent at shallower depths. Every single dive you do is a mutli-level dive.

The 2nd primary limitation is air consumption. You must continually monitor NDL and air consumption during the dive to be back on the surface with a safety reserve of air (usually 500 psi) and within the NDL. Your pressure gauge will give you your current tank pressure, but doesn’t give you any air time or consumption information. An air-integrated PDC gives you a digital display of tank pressure and because it has this extra piece of important information, can calculate the current depth and the rate you have been consuming air. So, simply it will tell you how much longer your air will last. The PDC then compares your remaining NDL and remaining air and tells you how much longer you can stay based on which is the limiting factor.

The easiest and safest computers are air-integrated with user settable audible alarms. This style lets you set alarms for minimum tank pressure, maximum depth, minimum NDL, ascent rate and many other parameters. Then if you approach or exceed any of these it will start beeping to get your attention and tell you what you need to do.

Even if you are primarily a traveling diver and rent equipment, most divers prefer to have their own computer. This way you are familiar with it’s use and display and don’t have to spend your bottom time studying the display to decipher it. Most important to American divers is that your personal computer gives you information in imperial form. Most of the world is metric and I can promise many frustrating minutes underwater mentally converting meters to feet and bar to psi!

Every dive is full of distraction from the moment our head goes underwater. Most of these distractions are the reason we are there: colorful fish and corals, dolphins, turtles, underwater cameras, spearguns, weightlessness, seashells, shipwrecks, pirate treasure & mermaids. But these fun distractions are constantly drawing your attention away from the tasks of monitoring your air return point, air ascent point, depth, duration and direction. A dive computer is the most important tool to assist in conducting a safe, relaxed and enjoyable dive.Digital Camera

For more answers on selecting your personal dive computer please consult a Gulf Coast Divers team member and schedule a FREE pool demo. dive with any computer.

===============================================================

FREE Pool Dive Coupon

Try any dive computer in our 15′ in-door, heated pool

($20 value)

Gulf Coast Divers, 1284 Hutson Drive, Mobile, AL
(251) 342-2970

pool hours Mon.-Sat. 9:00am- 6:00pm

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Sep

7

There is nothing more frustrating than struggling to enjoy yourself with a fogged mask underwater.  Most mask fogging is caused by warm humid air inside the mask meeting a lens surface cooled by water.  Warmer air is capable of holding more water vapor than cooler air.  Therefore, when air is cooled, a portion of its water vapor condenses into tiny liquid droplets, or “fog”.  Defog solutions prevent fogging by creating a thin, invisible film on the lens which creates a “sheeting effect” eliminating the formation of condensation droplets.

However, most defogs don’t work effectively on a new mask because of silicone leeched from the mask skirt and other factory residues left on the lens during the manufacturing process.  The lens on most new masks needs to be pre-cleaned with a mild abrasive to allow the defog to effectively change the surface tension of the tempered glass lens.  pr4

Sea Buff is the most effective pre-cleaner that I have come across.  Soft Scrub works pretty good, but has bleach in it, so your mask has a strong smell that is hard to get out.  More abrasive cleaners are likely to scratch the lens and less abrasive just don’t get the coating off.  I have seen people use a lighter to burn the coating off, but this is dangerous and a great way to ruin  a $100 mask before you even get it wet.  A bottle of Sea Buff  is $5.00 and will clean several masks.  Bonus use for the remainder of the bottle…it is a great slate cleaner, too!

Tips to diving fog free: Pre-clean new masks, follow the directions on your defog, store your mask in a hard case to protect it from dirt, salt and contaminants, put it away dry to prevent mold and algae build-up, avoid leaving your mask in the sun or on your head prior to a dive-the heat will cause a spike in the mask’s temperature which contributes to fogging, don’t exhale thru your nose-which increases the temperature on the inside of the mask.

Invest a few minutes to take care of your mask and it will reward you with clear dives.

Mar

9

My type of “spring cleaning” is a mess of sheephead on the fish-cleaning table.  The water is warming quickly and the wind is calming, so more anglers and spearfisherman are starting to venture into the gulf.

Getting the boat out and scrubbing the winter coat of mildew is made easier by the anticipation of the coming season.  The talk of the shortest snapper season and stricter limits on other species doesn’t dampen the excitement of the first trip.  Some of us have been spearing fish all winter, when the seas would let us escape the dock.  For many, their first excursion in 2013 is this month.  Besides staring at a wall of red snapper and remaining alert for early cobia, we pass the time underwater stacking up sheephead.

 sheephead

This is a great fish to target this time of year because their numbers are plentiful.  They aren’t a spooky fish that will disappear after shooting 1 or 2, and usually allow for a close shot.  They are plentiful for only a few more weeks.  I’m not sure if it is because they disburse after mating, or the spring break charter trips wipe the inshore sites clean. Whatever the case, we see them all year but not in large numbers like we do now.  Many fishermen believe they are too hard to clean because of their large rib cage. But your friend that is always volunteering to take all your sheephead, is very familiar with the mild flavor and white, flaky meat.

Many underwater hunters think of early spring as the tune-up season.  Venturing to the inshore rigs and brushing up on their diving skills and getting their aim back.  Just as bow hunters start practicing with backyard targets months before bow season, spearfisherman need to inspect their rigging and practice loading and shooting their spearguns.  The difference is, spearguns cannot be shot out of the water at land targets.  The only way to practice is to get out and dive…thus the big attraction of sheephead in March.  April usually hosts the first wave of migrating cobia.  As soon as the gulf waters reach the magic 68F, we start seeing cobia on the inshore sites.  Early spring divers are always scanning into the distance, hoping to see a curious cobia head your way.

 Cobia

The smaller size and liberal creel limits on sheephead make them a great fish for new spearos to develop their hunting skills.  Once a diver has honed his diving skills, many look to add a camera or speargun to their dive plan.  Since spearing fish can be challenging and even dangerous in extreme cases, we incourage new hunters to begin with small species and work their way up to the big boys like amberjack and cobia.  The challenge of wrestling the large fish isn’t an issue with the smaller fish.  I have never heard of a diver being towed around by a 6lb. sheephead!

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or tennis lessons. But if you are like me, then you understand the real fun happens in salt water!   So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.”  Make that “One day” happen this year.

Feb

15

The fish, a spectacularly colored grouper, paused and opened its mouth. Finning only slightly to maintain its position just a foot (30 cm) or so above the reef, this brightly colored red and blue-spotted grouper waited patiently for another fish, a cleaner wrasse, to provide its services. Within only a few seconds the cleaner approached and went to work, moving from the tail toward the head along the grouper’s body. The cleaner paused every few seconds to pick at the skin of the grouper.

Like other cleaner species, cleaner wrasses help rid groupers and other host animals of irritating ectoparasites that can be found on the skin of the hosts. In doing so the cleaners gain a meal while the host benefits by getting cleaned.
My dive buddy and I followed the grouper as it slowly moved down the reef. We watched as another fish, the same general size and shape as the cleaner wrasse, appeared. Looking quite confident that additional cleaning services were about to be rendered, the grouper paused and opened its mouth. In the blink of an eye, the fish I thought was a second cleaner wrasse swam up and bit a chunk of skin out of the side of the obviously startled grouper.
Clearly, the attacker was a mimic, a species that does a good enough job of imitating a cleaner species to fool groupers and other fishes into thinking the mimic is the real deal. It’s a risky business to try to fool well-equipped predators, but if well-done, the act of deceit can provide a mimic with a meal. If done badly, no more meals will be necessary. This mimic was a tiger blenny, a fact that, like the grouper, I realized only after the daring blenny had enjoyed its success.
After the dive I excitedly asked my diving buddy what she thought of the scene we had just witnessed, and much to my surprise, her only comment was, “that big fish sure is pretty.” At first I thought she was putting me on, but I soon realized that she had missed both the cleaning and the attack. She had noticed that the grouper had its mouth open rather wide, but she wasn’t sure why. She thought the fish might have been injured.
Observing marine life is like putting puzzle pieces together. When you look at one fish, you see only one piece of the puzzle. Yet when you connect the pieces — say a fish to its habitat and to other creatures within that habitat — you begin to see the inner workings of a marine ecosystem.
But how does one go from fish watcher to underwater naturalist? First, the more you dive, the more you will begin to see various subtleties, and the better observer you will become. You’ll find that your awareness of the underwater world increases with time, the number of dives and the variety of habitats you get to explore and enjoy. Second, it helps to learn about what’s going on under the waves so you are more likely to recognize the happenings that you encounter during your dives.

Find Out Who Lives Where, and Why

When looking for a particular marine animal, it helps to know where to find it. Marine life identification books and regional dive guides are excellent resources for learning what types of animals you’d expect to see in a given area. Water temperature and geographical distribution are key factors in determining which species live where. For example, you aren’t likely to see a blue shark on a tropical reef. Blue sharks tend to inhabit the cooler waters of the open ocean in temperate, not tropical, seas. Conversely, you aren’t likely to see an angelfish in a California kelp forest. Angelfishes require warmer water.
Those examples might sound obvious, but being aware that within the same geographical area there are a variety of habitats, and that different groups of animals typically occur in different marine ecosystems isn’t as readily apparent to beginning divers. Keeping these facts in the forefront of your diving mind can be very helpful when it comes to becoming a better observer of marine life.
After all, it makes sense that fishes and other animals that inhabit the sand possess a different set of adaptations than do animals that inhabit reefs or live in mid-water. But because most of us haven’t had a ton of ocean experience when we first take up diving, it can be helpful to have this type of information pointed out to us.
For example, many sand dwellers have extremely low profiles. With few structures that offer hiding places in the sand biome, it should not be surprising to learn that most animals that live in the sand are excellent burrowers, able to rebury themselves rapidly if they get exposed, able to stabilize the substrate around them so they can remain in one place, or they are masters of camouflage. The behavior of creatures such as sea pens, tube anemones, clams, sea stars, sand dollars, stingrays, angel sharks, razorfishes and flatfishes illustrate these points.
In contrast, most reef inhabitants are better equipped to maneuver in the tight confines of a reef, grip the substrate, or blend into backgrounds of varied patterns and hues. Thin-bodied butterflyfishes, angelfishes, sea fans, crinoids, sculpin and other multicolored striped, spotted and mottled fishes provide classic examples that illustrate these adaptations.
Animals ranging from jellyfishes to sharks, whales, dolphins, manta rays, billfishes and tunas are better equipped to inhabit the open sea. Most fishes that live in the open ocean are designed to be superb cruisers but they lack the maneuverability of many reef fishes, and creatures such as jellyfishes would certainly be injured if they were constantly bumping into hard reefs.
On a tropical reef, the creatures encountered on the reef flat, top of a wall, shallow wall and deep wall are often different. This fact might not be so obvious the first few times you explore tropical reefs. If you are like most divers, it takes a while to get your bearings and know where you are in a reef ecosystem, much less to begin to positively identify and distinguish various species and to recognize behaviors.
In fact, I think it’s fair to say that to new divers, many marine creatures look alike. And just as a lot of marine creatures seem to look alike when you first begin to dive, it is not always immediately that different niches exist. In other words, the various niches in a coral reef kingdom or kelp forest can look the same to divers when we lay eyes on coral reefs and kelp beds for the first time. The good news is that it doesn’t take long to begin to get oriented and to recognize that different species occupy different niches within a larger ecosystem.
If you pay attention, as you gain experience you will quickly realize that the animals that occupy one niche are often different from those that occupy another niche only a few yards away.
For example, in many tropical reef systems you are likely to see schools of tangs and surgeonfishes along the tops of reefs, but you aren’t likely to find them in deeper areas. At the same time you are likely to find creatures such as lobsters, crabs, shrimps and octopods close to areas that are filled with cracks, crevices, ledges and other hiding places.
While there are way too many species to mention, you want to realize that the ocean, and even a single reef area, is not just one generic place. There are many different habitats, and different species tend to occupy the various habitats.
Of course, as soon as I make that point, I must point out that there are plenty of exceptions to that general rule. For example, you might see a school of feeding jacks, eagle rays or a reef shark cruising various niches in a reef system.
Divers that explore temperate seas will find that a variety of habitats exist in kelp forests as well as in the rocky reefs. Close to 800 species inhabit Southern California kelp forests, but different creatures live in the floating canopy near the surface, on the fronds, on and around the holdfasts, in and on the surrounding reef, in mid-water and on the nearby sand flats.
While you might encounter creatures that range in size from inch-long, rainbow-colored nudibranchs to lobsters to giant seabass on a single dive in a California kelp forest, the odds are high that you will find various species in different parts of the forest and surrounding habitats.

Consider Form and Function

The body shape of marine creatures plays a very important role in how and where various species live.
As examples, most torpedo-shaped, or fusiform, animals such as dolphins, barracudas, tunas and open-ocean sharks are built for speed. These creatures live in the water column, not on the sea floor or in the tight quarters of reef communities. Laterally compressed fishes such as triggerfishes, angelfishes and butterflyfishes are built to efficiently slip into and out of the latticework of reef formations, but on the whole they are less capable of generating the speeds attained by more torpedo-shaped animals.
Animals such as rays and angel sharks are flattened from top to bottom. These creatures are well-equipped to maintain low profiles and are typically found along the sea floor in areas where they can go generally unnoticed. These animals often bury themselves in the sand, a great way to go unnoticed by potential predators and prey alike. Armed with this knowledge, you can often discover rays and other sand-dwelling animals by noting the outline of their buried bodies.
Sea snakes and eels have a long, more attenuated shape that is ideal for slinking around in the crevices of reef communities, and that is where you are likely to find them.
By noting and considering the shapes of animals you find in very specific areas, you can begin to acquire valuable insight that will help you put together the marine puzzle. And once you begin to put part of the puzzle together, so many other pieces begin to fall into place, and that is the real payoff in being a good observer. By knowing about behaviors, lifestyle and shape, you begin to anticipate where to find various species. At that point you can pat yourself on the back a time or two, because you will be on your way to becoming a good observer.

Become Aware of Adaptations

To survive, marine animals must adapt — both to their environment and to overcome their limitations. After all, not every species can be the biggest, fiercest, fastest, most superbly camouflaged and most clever. One of the most fascinating aspects of nature and the underwater world is that there seems to be such an endless variety of adaptations that are accomplished in countless ways. Shape, as just discussed, is one of those adaptations. I’d like to point out a few more just for the sake of providing examples, but keep in mind that every animal, or closely related group of animals, possesses some adaptation, or adaptations, that make them unique. Being aware of those adaptations can be the key to enabling you to become a good observer of marine creatures.
Here are some examples. Many brightly colored animals are venomous or repulsive in some way. It’s true of lionfishes, stonefishes and sculpin. These fishes are not among the fastest swimmers. They don’t have to be. Nor are they quick to give ground when approached, because nature has equipped them with other means of defense analogous to the way that snakes and porcupines are created. When on the hunt these animals must be able to strike quickly and overpower their prey. This is equally true for other relatively slow swimmers such as frogfishes and toadfishes.
Using bright color as a warning is not unique to fishes. Many nudibranchs, shell-less mollusks that are closely related to garden slugs, have soft bodies and they are rather slow crawlers. And many species stand out prominently because of their bright colors. These nudibranchs steal the protective stinging cells of corals. Then they place them in the tissue of their own back where those cells serve to repel animals that do not pay heed to the warnings of their bright colors. In this case the colors are intended to say “leave me alone.”
In the case of other invertebrates, you will want to consider the very basic question of whether an invertebrate is permanently attached to the substrate or whether it is mobile.
If an invertebrate is mobile, can it swim like squid and octopods, does it crawl or does it simply go where wind and current take it as is the general case with jellyfishes? Because jellyfishes are at the mercy of the prevailing conditions, their stings can be quite potent. The same is true of anemones and corals. If an animal cannot pursue its prey, it better get it while the getting is possible.
Consider whether an invertebrate has a shell or hard skin. If it has a shell, what does it do when it needs to grow? Does it swap shells, as is the case with hermit crabs, or molt, as is the case with lobsters, crabs and shrimps? Some shelled animals such as snails keep their shells for life, so they need to maintain it. That is the job of their colorful organs known as mantles. Shell-swapping crabs often attach other organisms to their shells so that a host animal is less obvious.
By considering these adaptations and the challenges that each animal faces, you will gain much better insight into how different species live, who eats whom and when, where and how to find various creatures.

Hone Your Fish-watching Skills

Next time you dive, instead of simply looking at a fish, challenge yourself a little by trying to put the fish in context with its surroundings. Consider its shape and other adaptations it possesses as well as what you know about its lifestyle. See if you can determine whether the animal appears to inhabit a relatively small territory or whether it is in transit. If the fish tends to stay close to one area or repeatedly swims over the same patch of reef, look for a nest site or mate. You won’t always find them because they are not always present, but in many instances by applying a little common sense you will discover a nest, mate or perhaps a food source.
As examples, with the damselfish known as the sergeant majors that occur in tropical seas and California’s state marine fish, the garibaldi, you will often discover a male that is manicuring or protecting a nest, or trying to woo a female. It’s great fun to watch a protective damselfish attempt to ward off other egg-stealing fishes and invertebrates such as sea stars, snails and sea urchins.
If a fish is a member of a school, try to determine if the fish in the school are feeding. If they are, ask yourself if they are feeding in mid-water or along the sea floor. If they are feeding on the sea floor, as is often the case with tangs and surgeonfishes, look to see if any smaller fishes such as territorial damselfishes are trying to push them out of their territory. On the whole, damselfishes are relatively small, but they seem to have no idea that this is true. They will defend their realm against almost all intruders.
Schooling is a good way for fishes to gain access to a mate, and often in schools of hundreds, or even thousands, of jacks you will see male and female pairs, or you will see spawning activity. Next time you see a school of fish, look to see if perhaps they are feeding or if you can locate a male/female pair.
One of my favorite ways of getting oriented in any tropical reef I have not dived is to look for cleaning stations. Cleaning of some kind can be found on the majority of reef dives, and the cleaning stations are often a great place to find interesting activity that centers on fishes and some other animals. Cleaning stations are often found around prominent outcroppings such as a big coral head or sponge that is on a point. If you find cleaning activity in a given place on one dive, you will often see cleaning there again on subsequent dives.
Of course, you can conduct a similar exercise with any group of animals, but fishes are present almost every time you make a dive, and if you are a good observer, watching them closely will help you learn a great deal about the animal you are watching and about life in the sea.
Learning to be a good observer of marine life is more of an art form than an exact science. Everyone brings a different background to their diving experiences and as a group, we learn to dive in a lot of different places. After learning we travel to different places and experience different phenomena.
When you are new to diving and when diving in an area that is new to you, my suggestion is to first learn about the bigger ecosystem. Getting a grip on the big picture provides you with a frame of reference so you “have a place to put” the smaller pieces of the puzzle. By understanding the big picture you can begin to understand where, when and why you are likely to find the creatures that live in a particular ecosystem. And once you start to understand that information, it will be far easier to understand and anticipate their behaviors.

You’re Watching Them, They’re Watching You

In almost every encounter with fishes, turtles and other big creatures, it has served me well to do whatever I can to make myself appear nonthreatening and unobtrusive. For example, when I first encounter a turtle, instead of trying to get as close as I can as fast as I can, I often avoid eye contact and try to appear interested in something else. In this way I think I appear to be nonthreatening and my behavior often seems to encourage the turtle to acclimate to my presence instead of speeding off into the distance.
When observing marine life, move slowly and be patient.  Avoid chasing subjects and barging into territories like the proverbial bull in a china cabinet.  As a rule, animals will flee or hide, and even if you get close to the animal, you often fail to get the most out of the opportunity, because you have disrupted the animal’s natural behaviors.

from Dive Training Magazine

Jan

29

What is mask squeeze?

Like the air spaces in your sinuses and ears, you must also equalize the air space in your mask as you descend. When you descend, failure to equalize, or add air to the air space in the mask, by exhaling through your nose can create unequal pressure between the mask air space and the vascular pressure within the blood vessels of the face. This can result in various degrees of facial barotrauma, or injury to the soft tissues of your face contained within the mask. Imagine your face in a suction cup. The soft tissues beneath the mask and especially around the eye swell (periorbital edema) and discolor, such as redness or bruising (ecchymosis).

What treatment do I need?

Unless you are experiencing eye pain or visual problems, there is no treatment for facial barotrauma except time. Because it is a bruise, your body will eventually reabsorb the effect of your mask squeeze. Your physician or an eye specialist should address eye pain or visual disturbances such as blurred vision or loss of part of the visual field immediately. These symptoms would be extremely rare in mask squeeze, however. The signs and symptoms of mask squeeze can take up to two weeks or more to resolve. Unfortunately, it is one of those conditions where you will probably look worse than you’d like before it gets better. Not only will blood and edema need to be reabsorbed, but it tends to be gravity-dependent – which means it will spread downward on your face. Before you heal, you may look like a red-eyed black-and-blue marked creature in a B-grade horror flick or a boxer that took at least two too many punches.

Who gets mask squeeze?

Mostly new divers get squeezed – they tend to be overwhelmed by all the skills they need to remember, such as buoyancy control and equalizing their ears and sinuses, all while being mesmerized by the mysteries of the sea. More experienced divers, however, are not immune to mask squeeze. They tend to have mask squeeze when they are concentrating on some new activity or focused in on a task which diverts their attention from clearing their mask. Changing to a new mask or to a low-volume mask may also lead to mask squeeze, because the diver may not be accustomed to when to add air. Finally, poor-fitting masks or other issues such as facial hair may lead to problems with equalizing.

How do you prevent mask squeeze from happening again?

The solution to preventing mask squeeze is to remember to keep your nasal passageways open during descent. By exhaling through your nose and using a properly fitted mask, you will minimize the risk of facial barotrauma. A mask should fit comfortably against your face and you should be able to achieve an appropriate seal by gently placing the mask on your face and inhaling through your nose. The mask should seal to your face and not fall off even without the mask strap in place. It is not unusual for a small amount of leakage to occur while diving, especially if you have facial hair. Exhaling through your nose and tilting your face towards the surface while cracking the lower seal of the mask will generally remove any unwanted water from your mask.

reprinted from www.diversalertnetwork.org

Jan

12

You know, when I was asked to write a short bit about divers staying hydrated, I said, sure I’d be glad to. Should be pretty straightforward, given that we, from the time we first took a dive course, are reminded to stay hydrated as a preventive measure, not the least of which is to not contribute to DCS. Then I dug out a few textbooks from my days as a firefighter/EMT. My next immediate thought was “how do I keep this under a page or two?”

Let’s set aside for the moment the fact that we are divers, and being hydrated is important. First, let’s look at some very basic facts that will help to understand the how and why we need to stay hydrated and what comprises Dehydration. Simply put, dehydration is a condition in which we lose body fluid, mostly water, and that loss exceeds the amount of water we take in.

How do we lose water? Merely by living, we lose water through exhalation, urinating and sweating. Then add to this exercise or activity (diving), and we lose even more. Should we be ill with fever or diarrhea (as in “don’t drink the water”), the deficit grows substantially. How can we recognize dehydration? Some of the signs and symptoms of mild dehydration include, obviously, being thirsty (more on this in a bit), perhaps feeling tired and darker yellow tinted urine would be an indicator as well. It’s estimated that these signs and symptoms occur with only around a 1-1 ½ % loss. That isn’t much. While it really is outside the scope of our discussion here, losses that approach 4-5% become very serious and require immediate attention.

One of the negative aspects of being dehydrated, especially as divers, is that it can be a contributing factor to decompression sickness. When we consider that traveling divers spend time on airplanes, which is an extremely dry environment and the possibility of increased alcohol intake, which leads to dehydration, it doesn’t take too much thought to realize that one must increase the fluid intake to compensate for fluid loss. Keep in mind that improper fluids, such as alcoholic beverages, do not hydrate the body very well. It has been often said in the past that coffee and tea….or caffeinated beverages were considered diuretics and contributed to fluid loss. The debate is still ongoing in regards to this.

Signs and symptoms of mild dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sleepy or tired during daytime
  • Decreased urination

And of course, being thirsty. If you find yourself at this point, being extremely thirsty, you’ve waited too long for that drink of water.

How do we become dehydrated? In addition to not drinking enough water, other contributing factors include increased activity, climate change, such as traveling to warm water diving locations, increased alcohol intake and illness such as vomiting or diarrhea, perhaps from food or water while traveling.

So, how do we hydrate? Well, yeah… drink some water. How much? As mentioned previously, if you’re extremely thirsty, you’ve waited too long to rehydrate. The best water intake is gradual over time, sustaining a nice balance with an increase of water intake with increased activity (diving). We’ve often heard of the “8 by 8” rule which suggests the average adult drink 8 eight ounce glasses of water per day, for a total of 64 ounces of water intake. Recently however, the Mayo Clinic is advocating an intake of 3 liters/101 ounces for men and 2.2 liters/74 ounces for women. Environment, as well as activity, will also impact how much water you should be drinking.

Another source of fluids can be so-called sports drinks, keeping in mind that we should take notice of the nutritional information label to avoid excessive sugar and sodium. In addition to liquids, we also derive hydration from the foods we eat. Fruits and vegetables can contribute up to 35% of daily fluid intake.

Staying hydrated as we enjoy diving is easy, makes sense and will contribute to having a great experience. In fact, why not throw your drinking bottle in your gear bag and make it part of your equipment check list as you prepare for the next dive or dive trip?

reprinted from  www.tdisdi.com from January 7th, 2013

Jan

11

The days of group trips; meeting new divers, that shared excitement, adventure, fulfillment; are giving way to rock bottom pricing.  In the days of ‘Expedia’ and ‘Priceline’ consumers are going it alone.  Some are getting great deals, others just think they are.  Many have never experienced the fun and social aspects of group travel.

Think back to an activity you enjoyed with a group, such as going to a concert.  I don’t mean the Philharmonic, I’m talking about the last big country, rock or R&B show you attended.  Yes, it’s great to have that one on one time with your special someone, but tailgating before the show, everyone singing FreeeeeeBiiiiiiird for 12 minutes, and carrying the excitement out into the parking lot together afterward!  The enthusiasm and excitement is contagious.  This group dynamic is the main appeal to traveling with like-minded friends.

Sure there are those bad experiences, bad weather, delayed flights, that one group member who just seems to get on everyone’s nerves, but those things also happen when you go it alone and a good trip leader knows how to ease tensions and always has plans B, C, & D up his sleeve.  You might be surprised how competitively priced these trips can be and you get the added benefit of an experienced trip director who is usually familiar with the destination.

We had a blast in Turks & Caicos last month and are looking forward to great diving in Roatan, Honduras in March.  We have a few spots left, so make your spring break vacation plans now.

March 9 – 16, 2013         Roatan, Honduras      $1425     unlimited diving, all-inclusive resort

For additional information on these featured trips and others call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

Dec

7

Outside interests that are shared amongst family members usually tie that family together as they grow.  We have countless stories of families getting certified to dive for a single vacation and discovering a new weekend recreation.  When they return from an exotic locale they come by the dive shop and share their excitement, pictures and memories.  The next words out of their mouths are, “tell us about local diving”.

Water is a great “equalizer” among groups.  A family can have many different strength and ability levels and still enjoy being underwater together.  One thing I have noticed about snow skiing families is that they have discussions over breakfast about where everyone is headed and what time to meet back up for lunch.  The good skiers are bored hanging out with less experienced skiers on the bunny slope and the new skiers are scared on the more challenging runs. The result,  for everyone to have fun, is they go in different directions.  This isn’t the case with diving.  All family members can be diving together on the same reef and all get something different out of the experience.

All interests can be filled on a single dive.  The excitement and adrenaline of spearfishing for teenagers, the challenges of capturing good underwater images for dad, and the quite and tranquility for mom.

A recreation that can be shared by all and enjoyed for a lifetime.  We have many stories of 3 generations of family members diving together and developing memories that will truly last a lifetime.

For more information on family oriented dive training call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

 

Nov

12

If you don’t dive yet, some of what you “know” about diving might actually be wrong. A lot of these “myths’ are perpetuated in the media and movies, and you might be surprised at what is right and what myths are “busted!” Which one of these myths have you been believing all along?

MYTH: You have to be in top physical condition to dive.

TRUTH: Like any active sport, diving is more enjoyable if you’re physically fit. And you do need some basic swimming skills in order to learn. But it’s nothing extreme; if you’re comfortable in the deep end of a pool, can swim, and you can walk for several minutes without getting winded, you can learn to dive.

MYTH: Becoming a certified diver takes too long.

TRUTH: You can become a certified diver in a very short period of time, or you can take your time and learn at your own pace. Gulf Coast Diver’s VIP-PACE training program can accomodate anyone’s schedule, or you can sign up for private sessions. Our Variable Investment Program-Paced According to Capability and Enjoyment says it all.  You’ll be diving in less time than you think!

MYTH: Diving is complicated and difficult to learn.

TRUTH:  Learning to dive is easy. Our professional diving instructors use all the learning materials and proven strategies to make it simple and fun to learn. Before you know it you’ll be breathing underwater and using all the cool “toys” that make diving easier than ever.

MYTH: I’m too old to learn.

TRUTH:  We regularly hear about people diving, and learning to dive, well into their eighties. In fact one of the most active “groups” of divers is in the age range from 38 to 53. On the whole, this group dives more regularly, travels more to dive, and even takes more classes than most other “groups.”  Our own repair technician, Capt. Bill, is 77 years old and usually logs around 40 dives a year!

MYTH: I have no one to dive with.

TRUTH:  Diving is an exciting and unique experience that many people take up while on vacation or as a life-long activity. Finding buddies with which to dive is as easy as participating in one of our group dives and showing up for the regular Gulf Coast Diving Society social events. You’ll probably have ready-to-dive buddies that you’ll meet during your scuba certification course. Chances are you’ll find that you have lots in common with these other divers, usually more than the diving experience itself!  Plus, you probably have friends now that are certified divers, you just didn’t know they dove. Join Gulf Coast Dive Society on facebook and you will have dozens of dive and snorkel buddies.

MYTH: When you dive you breathe differently than you do on land.

TRUTH: Breathing naturally while underwater is one of the most terrific sensations you’ll ever experience, and one of the first things you’ll learn in your certification course. You will find that about the only difference between breathing air on land and underwater is that you must breathe through the regulator in your mouth – and since today’s regulators are so well made that breathing is made very simple and natural, even this part is easy.  You will be breathing underwater in your very first session, for only $24.

MYTH: It’s dark and murky underwater and difficult to see.

TRUTH: Most dives do not require a light since sunlight penetrates far deeper than the depth to which most divers go. Even when diving in very deep water, beyond 100 feet, divers can see quite well without any artificial light. Interestingly, colors are absorbed by the water, so while it may be very easy to see, most of the color begins to be absorbed beyond 30 to 50 feet of depth, rendering most everything blue.

Most divers do not dive in water with limited visibility unless they are looking for something special, like a lost wedding ring or an outboard motor from a neighbor’s boat. Some of these locations can give the diver the opportunity to see wrecks or find treasures, and with the proper training, limited visibility is not a significant diving obstacle. When diving from the beach the visibility will vary with the tides, but just a few miles from Mobile Bay, the clearer gulf waters will surprise you.  Or maybe, you are only interested in travel diving on vacation, each can provide their own brand of fun!

Whatever your reasons for not learning to dive, rethink them and consider giving it a try.  You can experience the thrill of being underwater for only $24, then decide whether you really want to miss out on the wonders of our oceans.

 

Oct

8

The sport of spearfishing is governed by federal and state regulations, and we have the same size and creel limits as anglers.  Spearfishing has been found to be the most environmentally friendly form of fishing due to being highly selective, having no by-catch, causing no habitat damage, nor creating stress or harm to protected endangered species.

 These facts prove a spearfisherman can harvest their catch without doing any harm to the reef, but can he actually help the health of the reef? Absolutely!

 The newest target species for us gulf coast hunters is the invasive lionfish.  The last two years has seen an explosion in the local population of these beautiful, but extremely harmful fish.  A single female can produce 1 million eggs a year and a very high percentage of those will survive.  They have no local natural predator and eat the young of all our prized species.

 For these reasons a campaign has started with divers to put our spears to work to kill any lionfish we see.  Currently, it is the only way to attempt to check this growing problem.  They can’t be targeted with hook and line, nor can they be trawled because they only live in close proximity to wrecks and reefs.  No effective idea for developing a commercial fishery has been discovered.  So far, spearfishing is the only proven way to try and keep them in check.

 We are currently conducting additional dive training for biologist with Alabama Department of Conservation & Natural Resources so they can observe the lionfish on the reefs and develop effective eradication techniques.  All in an attempt to eradicate them and protect the strong fishery we enjoy on the gulf coast.

Most anglers don’t understand the severity of the problem because they don’t see how the pyramids, tanks and natural bottom are choked with them.  Even though a mature lionfish won’t eat a large snapper, it will consume every juvenile, so very few young snapper will survive to adulthood.

 The Alabama Spearfishing Association is currently hosting the First Annual Flora-Bama Lion Fish Roundup.  This six-week tournament allows participants to win prizes by harvesting as many Lionfish as they can.  The hope is that we can harvest species and raise awareness by hosting this tournament.  Spearfishing is the only effective way to fight this battle.  All the lionfish harvested are donated to researchers that are desperate to find other means of halting the invasion.

 Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about how you can participate in the fight to eradicate lionfish from our reefs.

Sep

26

Most of October we will see high tides during dark hours.  The best conditions for shore diving in our area are found at high tide.  Low to no current in the passes and the clearer gulf waters are pushed in close, improving visibility.  Add to this formula, a nighttime high tide and you have the perfect conditions for spearing flounder at night.

 Swimming in the gulf at night brings visions of monsters and sea serpents to the minds of the uninitiated. It reminds me of walking out of the woods after an afternoon hunt as a kid.  Every little twig snap had me gasping my last breath before a mountain lion ravaged me. After a few stressful hikes, common sense prevailed over imagination and I realized how loud a squirrel could be in the woods.   A new night diver wrestles with the same imaginings until they can relax, let there common sense kick in and start hunting for the faint outline of the fall flounder.

 Flounder are beginning their fall migration to deeper water this time of year.  It isn’t uncommon to hit the water at our preferred night dive sites and see flounder carpeting the bottom.  We have to move slowly and deliberately when they are this plentiful because every time you spear one, you will spook three.  If you see a flounder 6 feet way and swim quickly to him, it is likely that you’ve looked over the bigger one lying in wait directly under you.

Instead of wading in knee-deep water and squinting for the outline of these ambush predators, we drift along the bottom with powerful dive lights.  The southern flounder is a master of camouflage, but our bright LED dive lights will make their outline standout against the bottom.  We use a pole spear instead of a speargun.  It is similar to a gig pole, but relies on a rubber band for power instead of arm strength.

Many flounder hunters use only mask, snorkel, fins, light and pole spear to stack ‘em up.  Slipping along the beach in the surf zone, they can efficiently cover a lot a ground from the shallows down to about 5-6’ deep. This depth is out of the range of the waders.  Still others don full scuba gear and scour the deeper depths for these nocturnal predators.

During daylight hours, a flounder stays mostly buried in the sand.  But at night, they sit on top of the sand waiting for a shrimp or bull minnow to swim along, then attacking from underneath. Flounder hunting isn’t just limited to night, as the flounder move offshore to the deeper sites we scan the sand around the site for our limit of “flat boys”.

 With a minimal investment in a set of snorkeling gear, good underwater light and pole spear, you can be arriving late for work in the morning, telling stories of staying out until midnight chasing flounder in the surf zone, at night. Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.

Sep

18

Now that our short red snapper season has come and gone it is time to shift back into amberjack mode.  These are the hardest fighting fish species that we target as spearfisherman.  It is because of their strength they are called “Pez Fuerte” south of the border.  In English it means “strong fish”!

 Their size and strength contribute to the excitement as the ultimate target species in underwater hunting.  Amberjack are targeted only by experienced spearos that have developed their aim well enough to “stone ‘em”.  But it only takes missing the kill spot by 2 inches to be dealt an exciting fight.  Underwater video of good and bad shots is a great tool to use in training new hunters.

 A huge trend among spearfisherman this season has been shooting video.  Most of the hunters I dive with have added camera mounts to their guns to video the excitement of the stalk, hunt and fight.

 It is easy to get a good quality, high definition video camera and underwater housing in a very small package and for a reasonable price.  The logical next step was to mount it to your mask or your gun and capture the action. Non-diving friends and family are amazed at the action and scenes that we enjoy every time we venture under the gulf. A fisherman sitting in the boat 70 feet above the action, has no idea what goes on below. The freedom of being able to select your own fish and just seeing all the species that inhabit the sites that they fish.  Instead of guessing what the colored pixels on your bottom machine represent, why don’t you jump in and have a look?

 The Sealife and GoPro-style cameras can be mounted out of the way leaving the hunter free to press “record” then forget about the camera and get on with the hunt.

The added bonus is seeing all the fish species on the reef, not just the ones biting.  The video evidence from divers has been instrumental in educating the “powers that be” on the proliferation of the red snapper population in the northern Gulf of Mexico, in hopes of getting the season and creel limits relaxed.

Divers have provided the video evidence of the Lionfish invasion to our coastal reefs.  Because Lionfish don’t bite a hook, most fisherman only read articles about the invasion.  We’ve seen the Lionfish go from a rare sighting 2 years ago, to a common species.

 Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training, spearfishing and underwater videography.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready sooner than you think. Then you can grab your Sealife camera and be uploading You Tube videos after your first trip.

Jul

12

This may seem like something out of a science fiction movie: researchers have designed microparticles that can be injected directly into the bloodstream to quickly oxygenate your body, even if you can’t breathe anymore. It’s one of the best medical breakthroughs in recent years, and one that could save millions of lives every year.

The invention, developed by a team at Boston Children’s Hospital, will allow medical teams to keep patients alive and well for 15 to 30 minutes despite major respiratory failure. This is enough time for doctors and emergency personnel to act without risking a heart attack or permanent brain injuries in the patient.

The solution has already been successfully tested on animals under critical lung failure. When the doctors injected this liquid into the patient’s veins, it restored oxygen in their blood to near-normal levels, granting them those precious additional minutes of life.

Particles of fat and oxygen

The particles are composed of oxygen gas pocketed in a layer of lipids, a natural molecule that usually stores energy or serves as a component to cell membranes. Lipids can be waxes, some vitamins, monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, or—as in this case—fats.

These fatty oxygen particles are about two to four micrometers in size. They are suspended in a liquid solution that can be easily carried and used by paramedics, emergency crews and intensive care personnel. This seemingly magic elixir carries “three to four times the oxygen content of our own red blood cells.”

Similar solutions have failed in the past because they caused gas embolism, rather than oxygenating the cells. According to John Kheir, MD at the Department of Cardiology at Boston Children’s Hospital, they solved the problem by using deformable particles, rather than bubbles:

We have engineered around this problem by packaging the gas into small, deformable particles. They dramatically increase the surface area for gas exchange and are able to squeeze through capillaries where free gas would get stuck.

Kheir had the idea of an injected oxygen solution started after he had to treat a little girl in 2006. Because of a lung hemorrhage caused by pneumonia, the girl sustained severe brain injuries which, ultimately, lead to her death before the medical team could place her in a heart-lung machine.

Soon after, Kheir assembled a team of chemical engineers, particle scientists, and medical doctors to work on this idea, which had promising results from the very beginning:

Some of the most convincing experiments were the early ones. We drew each other’s blood, mixed it in a test tube with the microparticles, and watched blue blood turn immediately red, right before our eyes.

It sounds like magic, but it was just the start of what, after years of investigation, became this real life-giving liquid in a bottle.

This is what the future is about. And it’s a beautiful one indeed, one that is arriving earlier than we ever could have expected. I wonder if this would find its way to other uses. I can see it as an emergency injection in a spaceship, for example. But what about getting a shot for diving?

Jun

13

Your kids get excited about Christmas morning or the last day of school, but my dive buddies and I start loosing sleep in anticipation of June 1st.  With this season promising higher fuel prices, stricter creel limits and an abundance of nice red snapper on every site, most won’t have to travel far from the dock to fill your two fish quota.  If you are like many gulf coast fisherman, who target the red delicacy, the sport of fishing isn’t really much sport anymore.  The only way to stretch your fishing day to lunchtime is to cull fish all morning.  These comments may surprise fisherman from other areas of the country that have heard we have a shortage of Red Snapper.  Well ask any Alabama fisherman and you will hear stories of limiting out in just two drops to the bottom.

Because of the restricted limits and high fuel prices, many anglers have turned to spearfishing to fill their fish boxes.  It is the ultimate in selective fishing, because you are eye to eye with the fish.  It is easier to target a particular fish and you don’t spend all day culling rat snapper.  Many fisherman complain of not getting their bait through the small snapper to reach the bottom for that big sow snapper, scamp or triggerfish.

Fuel prices are always a summer concern and with marine fuel at a premium price, running all over the gulf can be a costly technique.

I’ve been spearing on the Alabama gulf coast for over 20 years, and sat and watched many bottom rigs bounce just off the bottom with a hundred 5lb. snapper staring at it while the big un’s hang outside the commotion, exhibiting the wariness and caution that allowed them to get to 30 lbs.!

Spearfishing is also a much more comfortable way to spend the hottest months of the year on the coast.  I feel sorry for the guys I see tied to a rig, catching nothing, with sweat droplets dripping off their nose, as we hand nice fish over the gunwales to our dive buddies.

As spearfisherman, we almost always come back to the dock with full creel limits on all the usual suspects, and an average aggregate weight higher than on the fishing boats.  Our two red snapper are the first targets, and then we shift our attention to the plentiful triggerfish.  A good spearfisherman will always be glancing in the distance for a nice amberjack or curious cobia to swim along.  While cruising along the reef, wreck or rig, I am always scanning the sand for the faint outline of a flounder.  Most sites will only have 1 or 2 nice grouper eyeing the action, but mostly not participating.  The aggressive red snapper bully them away from the angler’s bait, but avoiding our spear tips isn’t as easy.

In order for anglers to target the variety of species that we fill our coolers with every weekend, they would have to take every piece of tackle in their garage.  With just one speargun I am ready to harvest whatever species is home when I visit the site.  Lockjaw because the tide isn’t right is never a problem, they may not be biting…but they are still home.

Call Gulf Coast Divers and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this Red Snapper season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or that custom rod with a new gold reel you’ve been thinking about.  So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna try diving.”  Make that “One day” this year.

May

3

We have seen a huge increase in interest in spearfishing on the gulf coast this spring.  The warm winter and especially clear gulf waters are just the invitation many spearos need to get wet.  The main target species, red snapper are plentiful and the fish are getting bigger.  The other side of that coin is that the recreational quotas will fill faster with more large fish expected to be caught.

NOAA Fisheries Service is currently investigating a proposal that, if implemented, would increase the 2012 and 2013 quotas for commercial and recreational red snapper harvest. The quotas are expected to increase, because recent population assessments show that over-fishing has ended. The red snapper allowable catch would be increased from 7.185 million pounds whole weight in 2011 to 8.080 million pounds in 2012.  The recreational allocation will be 49% or 3.959 million pounds.

That sounds like a lot of fish, but with more anglers and spearos seeking to put filets on the grill, this quota will get filled quickly. The increased quota is a step in the right direction, but the reality…it is equal to the amount of snapper caught last year, since we exceeded the allowable limit by 730,000 pounds!  Sorry NOAA Fisheries.

In addition, if implemented, the rule would eliminate the fixed recreational red snapper closed season of October 1 – December 31. By eliminating the October 1 fishing season closure date, NOAA Fisheries Service would be able to re-open the recreational harvest for red snapper if any remaining quota is available.

 

The gulf will be a busy place on the traditional opening of red snapper season, June 1st.. The season will close 40 days later on July 10th.   And for those divers that have a competitive edge and enjoy the excitement of tournament fishing, June 1st will find them sighting down their spearguns at the wall of red snapper we have been drooling over all spring.

The Red Neck Riviera Spearfishing Tournament, held from May 18th – June 9th 2012, gives hunters 3 weeks to get underwater.  1st place Amberjack is the most sought after trophy with winning fish rarely under 80lbs. If you are primarily an “AJ” hunter, the Red Neck Riviera Tournament is your only shot at a trophy this year, since amberjack season will be closed during the Alabama Spearfishing Rodeo later this season.  The Red Snapper sizes are always impressive and promise to be even larger this year with such an abundance of fish.  A 30lb. Red Snapper may not even land a 3rd place prize in this competitive rodeo.  This is a fun tournament for all divers regardless of experience level.  Fish can be weighed 9am-6pm, mon.-sat. at Gulf Coast Divers in Mobile.

As spearfisherman, we usually come back to the dock with full creel limits on all the usual suspects, and an average aggregate weight higher than on the fishing boats.  Even if you don’t shoot a trophy fish, it still goes on the grill at home or donated for the awards ceremony fish fry.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about advanced training and spearfishing.  You can be geared up and ready for this tournament season.  We can have you ready for the novice category in just a few training sessions.  So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna try spearfishing” Make that “One day” this year.

Apr

18

The water is warming quickly and the wind is calming, so more anglers and spearfisherman are starting to venture into the gulf.

Getting the boat out and scrubbing the winter coat of mildew is made easier by the anticipation of the coming season.  The talk of the shortest snapper season and stricter limits on other species doesn’t dampen the excitement of the first trip.  Some of us have been diving and spearing fish all winter, when the seas would let us escape the dock, but for many, their first trip is this month.  Besides staring at a wall of red snapper and remaining alert for early cobia, we pass the time underwater stacking up sheephead.

This is a great fish to target this time of year because their numbers are plentiful.  They aren’t a spooky fish that will disappear after shooting 1 or 2 and usually allow for a close shot.  They are plentiful for only a few more weeks.  I’m not sure if it is because they disburse after mating or, the wave of spring break charter fishing trips wipe the inshore sites clean. Whatever the case, we see them all year but not in large numbers, on single sites like we do now.  Because of their rib cage, some fisherman believe they are too hard to clean. But your friend that is always volunteering to take all the sheephead you bring in, knows the mild flavor and white, flaky meat and is hoping you don’t discover it.

Many underwater hunters think of February and March as their tune-up season.  Venturing to the inshore rigs and brushing up on their diving skills and getting their aim back.  Just as bow hunters start practicing with backyard targets months before bow season…spearfisherman will brush up on rigging, loading and shooting their spearguns.  The difference is spearguns cannot be shot out of the water at land targets.  Thus, the big attraction of sheephead in March.

Their smaller size and liberal creel limits make them a great fish for new spearos to develop their hunting skills.  Once a diver has honed his diving skills, many look to add a camera or speargun to their dive plan.  Since spearing fish can be challenging and even dangerous in extreme cases, we incourage new hunters to begin with small species and work their way up to the big boys like amberjack and cobia.  The challenge of wrestling the larger species isn’t an issue with the smaller fish, like sheephead and mangrove snapper.  I have never heard of a diver being towed around by a 6lb. sheephead!

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and ask about dive training and spearfishing.  Training can be completed in a couple weeks and you can be geared up and ready for this season.  A good scuba system costs about the same as a set of golf clubs or tennis lessons. But if you are like me, then you understand the real fun happens in salt water!   So don’t keep saying, “One day I’m gonna’ see what’s down there.”  Make that “One day” happen this year.

Mar

31

Come celebrate Earth Day a week early. Mark your calendars for Saturday April 14th, 2012 from noon- 6pm. This event is hosted by some good friends of ours in Panama City, FL.  Everyone is invited so bring the entire family.  The plan is to focus on the “Kiddie Pool” first.  Beachcombers, waders, snorkelers and divers can all contribute to this phase of the cleanup.  When the tide is right, the divers will slip thru the “Keyhole” in the jetties and spend some time cleaning trash and monofilament from the rocks.

High tide is at 4:32 pm. Because the jetties are a popular recreation area the trash can really build up. Those who do not scuba dive are welcome to come and clean up the beach above the waterline.   This is a great opportunity to give a little back to the resource that we enjoy all year.  The event will be at St. Andrews State Park in Panama City.

4607 State Park Lane, Panama City, FL

View Map · Get Directions

for information or to find out what you can do to help:

  • e-mail: bsinc71@yahoo.com
  • http://www.facebook.com/BluePlanetScubaDiving

Mar

14

As divers we have a unique opportunity to monitor the health of our reefs and ecosystems by observing the reefs, in action.  Anglers have to make guesses on the life of a reef based on only species they catch.  The huge influx of Lionfish into the gulf of mexico has brought the threat of invasive species into everyday conversation.

RED LIONFISH Pterois volitans

Lionfish are native to the Indo-Pacific and were most likely introduced into U.S. waters during Hurricane Andrew when
an aquarium containing lionfish was destroyed. With no real predators these fish are highly destructive to the native reef
fish populations and have the potential to harm red snapper and grouper populations. Lionfish will rarely bite a baited
hook and are normally only landed through spearfishing. However, if you catch one be cautious because their spines can inject
venom. If you are injected with lionfish venom seek medical attention as soon as possible. Lionfish rodeos are growing in popularity to try to stop the invasion.

GIANT TIGER PRAWN Penaeus monodon
The giant tiger prawn is native to the Western Pacific and are easily distinguished from native Alabama shrimp. Tiger prawns can grow to extremely large sizes, have black and white banding down the body, and were first reported in Alabama waters in 1996. The introduction of this invasive species is believed to have occured first in the Bahamas when a hurricane damaged an aquaculture facility. Reports of tiger
prawns have come in from North Carolin, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

The annual Redneck Riviera Spearfishing Tournament will have a lionfish category this year.  With a prize going to the hunter that kills the most lionfish during the month long rodeo.

Call the Alabama Marine Resources Division to report invasive species:
Dauphin Island (251) 861-2882 Gulf Shores (251) 968-7576

Mar

5

Dive Problem Anticipation, Avoidance and Management training is one of the most important continuing education classes for developing self-reliance and good diving skills.  All divers can benefit from the skills learned in this class, especially divers diving from their own boat.  If you are diving without professional diver supervision (ie. from your own boat) then you are responsible for making all the decisions and need to recognize an accident or stress scenario before it happens and intervene with positive results.  Early recognition is what our divemasters and instructors are trained for and you should be too.

Some of the topics we cover in this essential class are:

  1. self-reliance and self rescue
  2. environmental awareness
  3. physical, mental and equipment preparation
  4. Pre-dive planning and complete buddy check
  5. dealing with pre-dive anxiety
  6. recognizing stress in yourself and others
  7. assisting a stressed or panicky diver
  8. accident prevention
  9. rescue scenarios and dive emergency
  10. oxygen administration
  11. dive physiology and recompression therapy
  12. “What to do if…” scenarios

As the name of the course states, problem anticipation, avoidance and management are vital skills to insure a safe, fun, stress free day on the water.  Many instructors teach a “Rescue” course, but nobody else teaches D.P.A.A. M.  This program covers rescue scenarios, but the most observant divers will address an issue before it ever escalates to a rescue situation.

For information on the next D.P.A.A.M. course call (251) 342-2970.

Feb

28

Important News for Atomic Aquatics Cobalt Users
New Firmware Release to Fix 2012 Leap Year Issue. Please check in every so often to the Atomic Aquatics website to get the latest information and firmware updates.  We have an issue that we want to let our customers know about.  There is an error in updating the Cobalt’s internal calendar from 2011 to 2012 and advancing to March 1 because of Leap Year.  The Cobalt knows there is a February 29th in 2012, however an error in the internal date checking will prevent February 29th from displaying. The result will be that February 28th repeats unless one of two things happens:
1) You manually set the date to March 1 or later in the Set Time/ Date screen
2) You update the Cobalt’s firmware to version 1.17, which is now available on the Atomic Website

In addition to fixing the error in leap year display, this new version contains minor bug fixes and several enhancements.  Changes to versions prior to 1.13 are shown on the Atomic website.  In 1.17:

  • Per user requests, the time of day will display in the Dive Screen, alternating with temperature
  • The Dive Log Profile display is modified to expand and improve scaling of the profiles
  • Continuous scrolling is implemented in the Dive Log. Holding the UP to DOWN button will advance the cursor rapidly through the dive profile

As always, we encourage Cobalt users to maintain the latest firmware version.

A Note to Mac Users About Updating Your Cobalt’s Firmware
The latest version of the Mac OS, 10.7 (Lion) has caused problems for a few users in updating Cobalt firmware.  We have temporarily pulled the Lion updater from the website, and are now testing a new version.  The Mac version for Leopard (10.5) and Snow Leopard (10.6) are at this point preferred and are highly reliable.
New Dive Log Software to Support Cobalt

In addition to the basic functionality of the Atomic Dive Log program, Cobalt users should be aware that Atomic has supported third party developers who wanted to provide Cobalt download capability for enhanced dive log packages.  These packages let you store photos, maps, buddy lists, gear records, and other information, in addition to basic dive data.
The newest of these Cobalt compatible programs (to be released shortly) is Dive Log Manager 2.0 for the Mac, from More Mobile Software.  Of course MacDive 2 has supported Cobalt Downloading from introduction, and for Windows, Dive Log 5.0 has long provided a full featured log program with Cobalt download.
You can upload the latest firmware from Atomic’s website or bring it by Gulf Coast Divers and we will do the update for you. It only takes about 15 minutes.  For information call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.