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

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

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.

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.

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

23

Maybe you are on your way to your first open water dives, or your first dives in awhile and you become aware of butterflies in your stomach. Perhaps you recognize it the night before the big day, and the apprehension keeps you from getting a good nights sleep. These are symptoms of the “pre-dive jitters”.  At one time or another every diver will experience this nervous feeling.

It is normal to be a little nervous about a new dive experience, but it’s important to recognize that butterflies are an indication that more practice and experience are needed to become a totally confident diver. The way to get this practice is by diving and continuing education.

Before your first dive, assemble your gear at home and adjust all straps, check assembly procedure and function of every item.  Having to adjust unfamiliar gear aboard a boat prior to diving can force you to rush. Rushing leads to anxiety which contributes to pre-dive nerves.

Owning your own personal gear reduces anxiety because you are familiar with it, know how it’s been maintained and have a proper fit. Proper fitting, well maintained equipment reduces stress, increases mental and physical comfort, and maximizes enjoyment.

Pay close attention to pre-dive plans and divemaster briefings and never hesitate to ask questions if you don’t hear clearly or don’t understand what was said.  If you have apprehensions, anxieties, questions or problems, please ASK FOR HELP from the group leader or divemaster. The key to overcoming pre-dive jitters is not to keep them a secret. Remember the divemasters job is to help with these issues. When informed, they will help you go at your own pace and develop your skills and confidence.

Our unique “Real-World Diving” class is a great way to learn what to expect on your dive excursions.  You’ve learned what to do underwater…this class teaches you how to do it.  Some of the topics discussed: charter boat diving, shore diving, private boat diving, how to rig your boat for diving, oil rig diving, buoy diving and international travel. New and experienced divers will learn something new in this class.

Enrolling in a continuing education course provides a great opportunity to build confidence through knowledge as well as a chance to work with an instructor to fine-tune your diving skills.  The more you dive, the more comfortable you become.  The more comfortable you become, the more fun you will have.  For information on becoming a more confident diver call (251) 342-2970.

Feb

14

When was the last time you practiced sharing air with your buddy?  Even for avid divers, the answer to this question is usually, “when I learned to dive”.  The next Gulf Coast Diving Society event is scheduled for sat., March 17th at Gulf Coast Divers.  We are donating the facility, pool, and divemasters to this annual event.  It is an opportunity to come jump in the pool, wash the dust off your gear, and practice all your skills.  Our divemasters and instructors are volunteering their time to insure your safety and rescue skills are top notch.  We are waiving the pool fee for all certified divers, so take advantage of this FREE event.

The Gulf Coast Diving Society is a group of divers dedicated to promoting local diving and providing a great way to meet other divers.  The GCDS will be grilling hot dogs on the deck and are excited about meeting new divers.  The event will be from 10am-4pm, with some folks hanging out all day and others coming and going.  Please rsvp to (251) 342-2970 or lewis@gulf-coast-divers.com.  The Gulf Coast Dive Society is free to all and is always looking for divers and snorkelers to help coordinate events and have fun.

Feb

10

April is traditionally the month that cobia start migrating thru the gulf coast on their westward journey.  The time of year and the speed of the migration has everything to do with water temperature.  The magic temperature seems to be 68 degrees.  The first cobia to show will arrive almost simultaneously with the gulf temperature warming to 68 degrees.

Early season cobia hunters usually sight-fish for the distinctive brown shapes, while cruising within 1/2 mile of the beach.  Once spotted the boats move ahead of the pod and try to intercept the fish and cast lures, silver eels, and jigs.  The key to sighting the fish is to get as high above the water as possible to increase the downward line of sight.

A new trend the last few years is for spearfisherman to follow this same sight-hunting tactic, but with a twist.  We troll the beach looking for the pods, then when sighted, we run the boat ahead of the fish and put a couple free-divers in the water.  Armed with mask, snorkel, fins and speargun, we rely on the natural curiosity of ling to swim close enough to check us out.  It usually takes many drops before we luck into a curious fish.

Any spearo that has had the luck of spearing a cobia knows that they can be a handful.  Cobia are very strong fish that will sometimes lie motionless after being shot, fooling the diver into thinking they stoned it with a great shot.  But boy can they come back to life.  Any angler that has gaffed a “green” cobia can attest to their surprising strength.  I’ve heard stories of sprained arms and shoulders, broken gaffs and many, many lost fish.

Known locally as “ling” or “lemonfish”, cobia are the main focus of anglers and spearfisherman looking for an adventure in late March and April.  For information on spearfishing call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970.

Feb

3

Give the gift of adventure with a Gulf Coast Divers Cash Card!

Load it with any amount and give it as a Gift Card or use it yourself as your scuba shopping card.  Our Adventure Gift cards were a popular stocking stuffer at Christmas, but y’all came up with another use that we didn’t anticipate.  Divers are buying Adventure Cards and reloading them each payday as a way to save towards a new piece of equipment.  “If I keep the cash, I’ll spend it and regret it.  If I put my extra dollars on my gift card, then it is like I am saving towards my scuba system,”  explained Mike.  Great idea, dude.

The Adventure cards can be used to purchase new gear, training, a dive trip, anything…it is like cash. We know how hard it is to buy for a diver, why not make it easy and let them choose what they want? Or encourage friends and family to come and contribute to your Adventure Card rather than buy you a pair of socks that you are going to return to Target anyway.

Christmas, birthdays, anniversary, Valentine’s Day, President’s Day, Arbor Day, Just Because Day…any event is a good time to ask for dive gear.

Jan

25

New divers are surprised to learn that diving along the gulf coast takes place year round, not just during the heat of the summer. Believe it or not, the beaches don’t close in the winter, the Gulf of Mexico still has water in it when all the leaves have fallen from the trees and there are a lot of dedicated divers getting wet all winter.

If you want to keep diving in the winter months, but are not one of the fortunate few who can slip off to some warm and exotic location while the rest of us sit around watching our breath freeze in the air, read on and learn the basics of winter diving on the gulf coast.

So just what are the alternatives for winter diving and what can you expect for conditions? Obviously colder temperatures, both in the water and out, but not so cold that you can’t go diving. That doesn’t mean you have to gear up for an arctic expedition. Back in December we published a blog article about the importance of staying warm which provided many suggestions for dealing with winter temperatures.

Water temperatures in the gulf are a little cooler than what you are used to in the summer months. You can expect water in the low-mid 60’s at times.  Also, most of the high tides during winter months, fall at night. This is great news for the spearos that target flounder.

These tidal differences are not as much  a consideration offshore but they will affect beach dives like Perdido Pass, Fort Pickens, Destin Jetties and St. Andrews Park.  We have some of the lowest tides of the year during winter months and the strong north winds can make for especially low tides.

The local springs are virtually unaffected by winter temperatures. In other words springs water temperatures stay the same year round. The same 68 degrees that seemed cold and maybe a little forbidding in the summer is now warm and toasty.

One big consideration, just as important as staying warm during the dive, is keeping warm before the dive and getting warm between dives.  Bundle up and stay warm before you get in the water and certainly bundle up between dives. Bring a thermos of hot tea or coffee to warm you from the inside and stay out of the wind.  A misconception with inexperienced winter divers, is they will stay warm if they keep their wetsuit on between dives.  You will only make this mistake once!  The water evaporating off the suit is taking heat with it, chilling you very fast.  You will stay much warmer by getting out of your suit and dressing in warm clothes.  The more common method is to peel your wetsuit top off, dry off, and put on a jacket. Many divers exit the water, quickly peel their wetsuit off and climb back in their vehicle for a toasty, warm surface interval.

Recently my phoned chimed, announcing a text message from a dive buddy headed to the Pass for a night dive. Sorry I couldn’t make it Joe, too many work and family commitments, but it reminded me, many people are getting wet this winter and you should too.  Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 to learn more about winter diving.

Jan

10

How Anti-fogs work

Mask fogging results from warm humid air inside the mask meeting a lens surface cooled by water. Warmer air is capable of holding more water vapor (water in gas form) than cooler air. Therefore, when air is cooled, a portion of its water vapor condenses into tiny liquid droplets, or “fog”.  Anti-Fogs prevent fogging by creating a thin, invisible film on the lens which creates a “sheeting effect” – eliminating the formation of condensation droplets.

Divers that say, “Defog doesn’t work for me” are usually not applying it properly or are washing it out.  The procedure that I have always had the best luck with is to apply an oily-style defog (orange-top Sea Drops are my favorite) to a dry lens, rub around the inside of the lenses to fully coat, then scoop some water in the mask and swish.  I dump the suds out and scoop and swish one more time, then empty the mask put it on my face and don’t take it off until I’m done diving.  Many divers prefer the 500 PSI brand defog because it lasts longer.  It is much thicker so you have to rub a lot to coat and clean.  It is a slightly longer process to treat the lens, but the reward is 2-3 fog-free dives.

Remember for any defog to work the lens needs to be clean and ALL new mask must be scrubbed prior to using.

Dec

20

True to Atomic’s name, this mask is super-engineered and was all the talk at this year’s dive-industry trade show.

Atomic Aquatics is calling this mask the Venom, and it’s a blending of their SubFrame and Frameless masks. It has a reinforcing internal frame that’s molded directly beneath the surface of the silicone rubber skirt, like the Subframe, yet it offers the relatively low profile of the Frameless. Also, its faceplate is single window like the Frameless, but it has a high bridge and tear-drop shape similar to the SubFrame’s dual-window design.

The Venom comes across as a high-concept, stylish-looking piece of gear when it’s being held in your hand, and it’s really comfortable when mounted on your face. Its easy-to-use squeeze-to-adjust buckles are soft-mounted to the mask skirt, which allows a little bit of flexibility in strap positioning, plus they can be folded flat for packing.

Where the Venom differs from its SubFrame and Frameless cousins is in its faceplate construction. While the SubFrame and Frameless lenses use Ultraclear glass, which has quite a rep for optical quality in its own right,  the Venom mask uses an even higher-quality glass imported from Germany. Called Schott Superwite glass, it allows more light to penetrate than even Ultraclear glass.

In the water, we find a testament to a good mask is that you don’t notice it on your face. The Venom does a good job of getting there. Like its cousins, it offers a superior field of view, and the soft skirt and watertight seal combined to make the Venom feel like a part of our face. Looking at the sights through this bright distortion-free Superwite glass is like looking through no glass at all.

It’s called the Venom and the only antidote is salt water, and lots of it!  Come by Gulf Coast Divers and check it this awesome new mask, just in time for your Christmas stocking!

Oct

26

What is a Local Explorer?  Well, we are the lucky ones who don’t need to wait for our next vacation to blow bubbles. We don’t worry about packing our gear into the smallest bag possible.  And even then, checking and organizing to stay under the constantly changing and progressively more restrictive baggage weight limits. The bed of our truck has become our gear bag.

Those divers who are lucky enough to have boats (or diving friends with boats) have an advantage to be able to access hundreds of neat, interesting sites to explore.  There are dozens of dive charter boats on the gulf coast and many shore access sites.  The shore sites are the most economical dive sites to explore.  Some have small park entrance fees but most in our area are FREE.

Conditions vary with weather and tides so local knowledge and an orientation are advised.  The Gulf Coast Diving Society is a great source for this knowledge and a fun way to meet new dive buddies that are familiar with close, accessible sites.  The fresh water springs are a great destination for almost any day.  Because you don’t have to dive during a short tidal window, springs are popular places to meet for all day events.

So what if you’ve walked in off the same beach three weekends in a row; You are still diving and there are thousands of divers that would change places in a second.  Last month I meet a couple in the shop from Indiana that were in town to hop on the cruise ship bound for Cozumel. The ship would be in port only long enough for them to do 2 dives.  They were thrilled, because at home they drove 6 hours every other weekend to dive in a 25′ deep, mud bottom lake where visibility averaged 2 feet.  They mostly looked at rocks, and a fish sighting was an event to talk about.  Oh yea, they also regularly stayed overnight in a motel to do it again the next day!

So appreciate having such close proximity and easy access to a variety of local dive sites. We are in it for the adventure and we know something great is just around the corner.  See y’all next weekend. For information on local sites and condition reports call Gulf Coast Divers (251) 342-2970.

Jun

24

Most diving on the gulf coast is done from day boats that leave and return on the same day.  These dive charter boats can carry as few as 6 divers, called a “Six Pack” or as many as dozens of divers.  When diving on a dive boat, you must follow a few rules of etiquette:  Show up to the boat with your gear in an appropriate gear bag.  Not a huge travel gear bag or plastic Rubbermaid box.  These equipment carriers take up a large amount of room on the boat and will insure dirty looks from the other divers who have to trip over your box all day.  Mesh bags can be folded up and hidden out of the way to keep the deck clear for entry and exit.

Show up for the trip :30 min. before departure.  Most posted trip times are departure times.  Make sure you understand the “show time” and “go time”.  There may be check in procedures and forms to sign, plus gear loading.  So it is important to be on time.  Many dive boats run multiple trips in a day so they have a tight schedule to keep at the dock.  Don’t be surprised to find an empty boat slip if you show up late for the trip, and “No” there usually isn’t a refund because you missed the boat.  Remember they could have put another diver in that spot you missed, so it costs the boat money to reserve your empty spot.

Listen to the boat briefing.  The dive master does this every day so listen to what they have to say.  They want you to have the best experience as possible so listen to their suggestions.  Rarely do they need any comments or summary from you, so keep your ears open.  Even if you dove this boat and site yesterday, there are others on board who are hearing it for the first time. So be respectful of others and helpful to the less experienced divers, but wait till the dive master has done his job first.

Respect the Camera Bucket.  This is a fresh water bin reserved for camera gear ONLY.  It provides a jossle-free ride for expensive camera gear to the site and a fresh water rinse after diving.  It is not for washing regulators or dipping masks.  I guarantee you’ll get many hateful glances if you rinse defog in the camera bucket that can easily have $10,000 worth of camera gear soaking.

Please tip the crew.  Always tip something, in cash.  $5-$10 per diver/day should be considered the minimum.  Tips should be more if someone set your system up, changed your tanks, retrieved your lost gear or saved your life.  Some boats have a tip jar.  If there is a tip jar, put the entire tip in it.  Also, tip every every day since the crew and dive masters may change daily.

Keep your gear picked up off the deck and in the proper place.  Decks get small and gear gets broken when you leave mask, fins and weights sliding around on deck.  It is hard enough to keep your footing when shuffling on a pitching deck while wearing dive gear.  You don’t want to contribute to the danger with slip, trip and fall hazards.

Nobody wants to be “that diver” on the boat.  If you listen to instructions, use common sense and dive often, you will get the boat etiquette and routine down and be the diver the dive master’s love to see return for another fun day on the water.  For information on boat diving on the gulf coast call Gulf Coast Divers @ (251) 342-2970.