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

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.

Oct

7

We get calls almost daily regarding questions on the worth of a piece of used equipment someone is considering buying.  Putting a value on a piece of used equipment is a tough task because there are many things to consider.  I always suggest that you mentally add the cost of service to the price of anything you are buying.

Even if the owner says it was recently serviced, I recommend a complete overhaul.  This insures that you KNOW it was serviced.  Being totally confident of the service will give you an idea of how it has been maintained which can tell you a lot about it’s remaining life.  Servicing can expose any deteriorating diaphragms and hoses and gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling that your new piece of equipment will perform properly.

I suggest that divers only buy used equipment post-servicing.  The regulator that you got for a good deal may not be, after inspection.  If inspection reveals that you need service AND all new hoses AND inhalation diaphragms AND mouthpieces, you can easily be over $250 just to make it safe to dive.  Now your $200 “deal” has become a $450 regulator!

It is also important to know “What” you are buying.  The question is usually posed to me like this, “My buddies neighbor has a dive regulator he wants to sell for $200.  I know regulators can be expensive, is that a good deal?”  My response is “That’s like asking if $1000 is a good deal on a used car?”  If it’s a Yugo, then no.  If it’s a Porsche 911 Turbo, then probably.

I don’t intend to turn anyone off of the idea of buying used gear.  It is a good way to get a scuba system to fit a smaller budget.  That way someone who can’t just drop a cool $2500 on the credit card, can still get what they need to get out and get wet.  But you need to know what you are getting.  Your best option is to buy from a dive shop that sells used equipment.  That way you get someone and somewhere to go if you have any issues with the equipment.

Gulf Coast Divers has a large selection of used gear spanning many makes and models and can help with the decision making process.  Everything we sell is serviced prior to putting it out.  We put it in the best shape it can be in and it comes with a 1 year service contract.  That means that we stand behind it for a year.  So you get the gear and our service departments guarantee.  This takes the worry out of used gear.  The used inventory changes daily as new gear comes in and others are sold.  It runs the spectrum from the top of the line to the Yugo.  But we guarantee it will be the safest, best performing Yugo, you can find!

To get away from the Yugo comparison, we don’t buy or sell junk.  We turn away more equipment than we actually buy because it isn’t serviceble or someone wants too much for it.  We only sell good quality and we want it to be a good value for the next owner.  It is because of all these reasons that our “pre-loved” gear sells quick.  The next owner knows they have nothing to worry about with our used equipment.

On more than one occasion we have had someone bring in a Craig’s list purchased regulator to find out that it is unserviceable.  This can be because the manufacturer is out of business, the model isn’t supported anymore, or that the cost of repair way exceeds the value of the regulator.  I deliver the bad news and tell them that is the second time we have delivered the news re: this same regulator!  Yep, the last guy that bought it got the bad news, and listed it again. I’m sure the first guy learned his lesson,  but still wanted to try and recoup some of his bad investment.  I can’t remember seeing the same regulator three times, but I’m sure it is coming.

Be careful,  invest wisely and try before you buy.  Ultimately, your best DEAL on used equipment is going to be from a dive shop with an in-house service department and a pool to try BEFORE you buy.  For answers and advise on purchasing used equipment call Lawren @ Gulf Coast Divers (251) 342-2970.

Sep

21

It is not an exaggeration to say that scuba lessons were the best gift I ever received.  My parents gave me scuba lessons for Christmas when I was fifteen years old.  I was that kid that never missed a Jacques Cousteau t.v. special and watched ‘”Flipper” after school and dreamed of being able to live a life on boats and underwater.

Before I even finished my lessons I was working at the shop after school.  Sweeping floors, hanging up dripping wetsuits and filling tanks doesn’t sound like fun to most, but I was having a blast,  just being around diving.  Fast forward 27 years and I am still working in a dive shop, enjoying my dream job.

Giving someone an “experience” for a wedding, birthday, anniversary or Christmas gift insures that your present won’t be tossed in a storage shed and forgotten.  It is a great way to nudge a friend into trying scuba to introduce them to a world that you have already discovered. The best way to get more opportunities to dive is to have lots of dive buddies.

The most common complaint we hear from divers is, “It is hard to find someone to go diving with”. The best way to meet other divers is to DIVE and hang out where divers go. We are always introducing people in the shop and the Gulf Coast Diving Society is a local dive club that meets regularly for just this purpose. The easiest way to have a dive buddy you know and trust, is to have a buddy you know and trust, learn to dive. The more divers you know, the more Friday afternoon invitations you get to go diving this weekend.

Talk about a memorable first-date. We have had many couples come to our $24 scuba experience session for a unique date. It is more exiting and memorable than the boring, “dinner and a movie”. All you need is bathing suit, towel and a sense of adventure, we handle the rest and since our 15′ deep in-store pool is heated, we dive comfortably year ’round.

Scuba diving is a great way to introduce your family to the wonders of the underwater world and from exploring your local dive sites grows an interest in international travel. For many, diving becomes a lifetime recreation where you can pursue interests in travel, photography, spearfishing, thrilling adventures, relaxation of floating…weightless or wherever your personal interests lead you. Water is a great equalizer and you can have many different sizes and strengths in family members and still be on equal “ground” underwater.

Whether it is a thrilling adventure or peaceful, relaxing escape, diving has something for everyone. Don’t keep saying, “One day” forever…make this the year that you decide to start living life and experience new things.

Call Gulf Coast Divers at (251) 342-2970 and get a gift certificate for a $24 Experience Scuba session and give it to the person in your life, who needs an escape.

Aug

20

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.

New underwater hunters look at this fish as a goal to work towards with good reason.  Most spearfisherman that have an “uh oh” story, usually has a big amberjack as the main character.  It usually involves a bad shot or bad decision by the hunter, but no matter the reason, the situation still has the spearo attached to hard fighting fish.

Fisherman can relate stories of sore backs and rods pinned to the gunwales by big amberjack.  These are the same “donkeys” that we target, but unlike anglers that have the stability of a boat deck to fight from, we don’t have a foundation to fight from.  A poorly shot “AJ” will easily drag a diver around.

It doesn’t take a large AJ to put up a healthy fight, though.  My largest fish taken by speargun was in the 90lb. range, but the fish that beat me up the most was a 30lb. adolescent fish.  I took a long, poor shot in the fishes tail and the fight was on.  He came back around and head butted me in the chest, took my breath away, knocked my regulator out and flooded my mask.  After putting all my gear back in place and subduing the fish.  I laughed at what a hand-full this little guy was, all because I didn’t get a good shot and just attached myself to him.  I usually experience much less fight with bigger fish because with a bigger, stronger fish I take more time, resulting in a better shot.  I always breath a sigh of relief when I “stone” a big ‘un.

Amberjack are so named because of the distinctive amber color and bar that runs through their eye.  The spanish name Pez Fuerte, is a much better description meaning “strong fish”.  They are very common in our area of the gulf and considered the ultimate target in spearfishing.  Even though red snapper is the “star of the show”, it takes little skill to shoot a snapper point blank.  Amberjack, locally called AJ’s or Donkeys, require true shooting skill and very good diving skills.  Most new underwater hunters develop their hunting skill on smaller species like scamp, snapper, gag, flounder and sheephead.  Once you have learned your gear and found your aim, you can start on smallish amberjack and slowly increase your target size.

Most stories involving lost and broken spearguns involve a large amberjack and a novice spearfisherman.  Safety is the key with any adventurous sport and even more so when you are underwater!  It is much better to let that big fish keep swimming, than to come by the dive shop, singing the blues about a broken gun or having a fish get you in a close-call situation.

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 sooner than you think.

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.

Jun

13

MYTH: The ocean is full of dangerous animals like sharks and barracudas.

TRUTH: Most divers actually consider a shark sighting to be a special and memorable occasion, since it is rare to see them. While such critters as sharks and barracudas should be respected and treated as wild animals, the vast majority subsist on a diet of things considerably smaller than a scuba diver. In fact, most sharks and barracuda are somewhat intimidated by divers; with our long fins and other equipment, we appear big to them … something they don’t want to mess with! Besides, it’s a myth that sharks are perpetually hungry or are always on the attack. It’s not uncommon at all for a shark to go two weeks without hunting, and in one documented case, a healthy shark did not eat for better than a year.

MYTH: It’s very cold underwater.

TRUTH: Many divers choose only to dive in warm water in Florida, the Caribbean, Hawaii or in the South Pacific, where water temperatures may soar to more than 80 degrees F (27 degrees C). But with the proper thermal protection a diver can do plenty of diving in the cooler months. I am a real “wimp” when it comes to cold water and I dive year ’round.  You just dress for the temp.

MYTH: You cannot see anything underwater if you normally wear contact lenses or corrective eye glasses.

TRUTH: Many divers use gas-permeable contact lenses when they dive allowing them to see quite normally. To prevent the accidental loss of contacts, (or for those who don’t normally use contact lenses) many divers use a mask with prescription lenses built right in. There are even high quality dive masks available with corrective “readers” built in for close-up viewing of tiny critters (or the settings on your digital underwater camera)!

MYTH: It’s expensive.

TRUTH: When you put it up against other leisure activities, such as owning a quality mountain bike, golfing, boating, or skiing, diving compares very favorably. And the more you dive, the more true that becomes. Dive gear, for instance, is very durable and can last for years and years; after a short while, the cost of your gear can work out to just a few pennies per dive.  I know many divers that dive regularly and safely with 15 year old equipment.  The key is servicing and maintaining your equipment.

MYTH: Diving is a very dangerous activity.

TRUTH: When done within the guidelines you’ll learn about in your open water certification course, diving has an extraordinary safety record. Diving is an exciting activity that combines all the thrills of exploration and adventure, with a safety record that compares favorably to sports such as bowling.

MYTH: I live too far inland, there’s no place to dive around here.

TRUTH: There are dive sites in every state in the United States – even the ones in the heart of the country. Not all diving is done in the ocean. Lakes, rivers, quarries and freshwater springs are all regularly used by divers as places where they can enjoy their sport and keep their skills up. We can help you find great locations to dive locally, and you could find yourself diving every weekend, or even during an extended lunch time!

MYTH: All that equipment is going to weigh me down and I won’t be able to get back to the surface.

TRUTH: Actually, scuba divers are usually dealing with the opposite issue – how to make the gear heavy enough to go comfortably underwater. Most divers need ballast, in the form of lead weights, in order to comfortably submerge and stay submerged.  And if floatation is ever necessary, this weight is designed to be instantly droppable at the pull of a buckle or a release.

MYTH: I tried going underwater and I can’t, it hurts my ears.

TRUTH: Most likely you were experiencing discomfort because you hadn’t been taught how to equalize the pressure in your inner ear with that of the surrounding water (a procedure similar to making your ears “pop” on an airliner). This is a very easy-to-learn technique that will be taught early on in your open-water scuba course.

MYTH: I’m physically challenged, so diving is something I will never be able to do.

TRUTH: Many dive instructors are very proficient at teaching people with physical restrictions. It’s no longer unusual to see a person in a wheelchair boarding a dive boat. In fact, diving is so accessible a sport that it is sometimes used as a therapeutic activity for people who’ve lost limbs during their active duty in military service.

For those with physical challenges, any individual who can meet the performance requirements for the course can qualify for certification as a scuba diver. Check with your professional instructor or retail dive center for additional information if needed.

MYTH: I’m very petite, the dive gear will never fit me.

TRUTH: Dive gear is available now to fit individuals as small as pre-adolescent children. The piece of gear that smaller people view as a potential obstacle is the tank, but since people of smaller stature generally don’t consume as much air, they can comfortably dive with the smaller tanks that many dive centers have on hand.

MYTH: I have a medical condition that precludes diving.

TRUTH: While it’s true that there are some medical issues that are incompatible with scuba diving, the list is shorter that you might think. Ask your local dive center for a set of guidelines that you can take to your family doctor so he or she can evaluate your fitness for diving. You might find out that what you’ve believed all along isn’t actually the case.

Mar

22

Cozumel, Calica, Progresso are mystical sounding Mayan sites and Mexican destinations with beautiful reefs.  Imagine being at work on wednesday and dreaming of diving Mexican reefs on friday.  Too good to be true, no way.  This is exactly what dozens of divers do every week.  The cruise ship Carnival Elation departs weekly from downtown Mobile to the Mayan Riviera and several great diving destinations.

Cozumel is a well-known diving destination and home to the world famous Palancar Reef, which gives divers and snorkelers the opportunity to view thousands of brilliantly colored fish. Non-divers can kick back on a sun-drenched beach, kayak, swim, shop in colorful marketplaces, dine in an open-air café, or hiking mayan ruins.  All this starting around $300.  A 4 day western caribbean cruise including a full day of diving is cheaper than a long weekend in Destin!

Carnival Cruise Lines should continue the weekly cruises from Mobile until october this year, so book you trip soon to save the drive to New Orleans.    The 3-4 day cruises have become very popular with busy famalies.  It is easier to fit a couple of 3 day cruises into the kids soccer schedule, than to block off an entire week for summer vacation.  Call us at (251) 342-2970 for advice on what to see and do on the Mayan Riviera this spring.

Mar

5

Regulators waiting on service

Since the sun has peeked-out and warmed us, we have been getting a flood of pre-season service work and calls for excursions.  Don’t get left on the beach because your gear isn’t ready to jump in.  Every dive manufacturer recommends regular service intervals regardless of use.  Just because you didn’t use your gear much last summer does not mean you can skip servicing. Most manufacturers require annual service or 100 dives, which ever comes first.  O-rings go flat, parts corrode,  and rubber dries and cracks, especially if the gear was not stored with care.  All regulators have dynamic parts that require lubrication to work properly.  As regulators sit in storage, these silicone lubricants dry-out, causing o-rings to roll and tear instead of glide…the result…leaks and free flows.   

NOW  is the time to get your regulator in line for it’s tune up. Our “To Be Done” service wall in the repair room is already overflowing with the regulators and BC’s of the divers that are going to make sure the 2011 diving season does not pass them by. Incoming service orders are increasing daily and will only increase as summer approaches. 

You can start by pulling out all of your gear and giving it a comprehensive check. Look for cracking straps and other deteriorating parts. Clean with warm water to dissolve hidden salt crystals and only use cleaning solutions designed for scuba gear.   I recommend “Sink The Stink” or “MiraZyme” for wetsuits, boots and gloves.  Diver’s Choice B/C Cleaner will freshen, clean and condition the inside of your vest.  Also, replace  batteries in computers, lights and camera gear.  Pull all of your tanks out of the garage and check certification dates and inspect valve outlet for debris (ie. dirt dauber nests).  Most divers will drain stale air and refill with fresh air, even if all inspections are current.  Your scuba system is your life support when underwater, so don’t skimp on your safety.

If you have any questions regarding service call 251-342-2970 and ask for service department, you can speak to one of our full-time service technicians, or bring your gear by the store for an estimate.  When you return to pick up your gear bring your swimsuit and towel and dive in our 15′ deep in-store, heated pool for a skills review.  You don’t want to be “that diver” on the boat who sets his system up backwards, up-side down and twisted.

Feb

5

How’s that title for an attention grabber?  All are invited to join Gulf Coast Diving Society for All-You-Can-Eat Mullet @ Ed’s Seafood Shack on the Causeway monday, March 7th @ 6:30pm.  These events are great way to meet new dive buddies or catch up with old ones.  Get the latest news on local trips, international excursions, new equipment or just hang out and eat, drink and be merry. Share your latest pics and videos.  It’s FREE to show up and hangout and most folks will probably be ordering dinner.  Bring the whole family or your diving Valentine for date night. Please RSVP to Gulf Coast Divers @ (251) 342-2970.  We need to have an idea of how many to expect to let Ed’s know how much room we need.

Jan

26

Divers on the gulf coast seem to be conditioned for summer time diving. Warm salt water, it seems, is the only way to go. Cooler temperatures and the prevailing winter weather patterns that make the Gulf of Mexico a less than friendly place for diving means dive gear get pushed to the back of the closet in favor of other diversions like football, hunting, and the holiday season. The problem with that is sometimes the dive gear never makes it back out of the closet at the return of warm weather and, if it does, it takes awhile to brush the dust of the diving skills you honed the season before.

Just because the gulf is unavailable doesn’t mean you have to forget about diving and, in this part of the country, it doesn’t mean your only diving alternatives are expensive international trips or swimming pools. There are quite a few dive destinations on the gulf coast that are open year round and not subject to weather that makes the gulf a no go.

Vortex Springs in Ponce De Leon, Florida is the perfect winter dive destination and is one of my favorites.

Vortex Springs between dives

Vortex Springs

Vortex Springs is open for diving 364 days a year and is only about 2 hours and 15 minutes from the front door of Gulf Coast Divers shop. You can make a day trip, stay in a local motel or stay right at Vortex Springs. Vortex offers several large lodges, cabins, cottages and a campground if you want to stay on site.

The entry fee is $19.00 for each diver and $10.00 for non divers. You can also rent canoes or kayaks and there is even a motocross and ATV track, $20.00 per day, when you are ready for a break from diving.

Crystal clear waters of the springs provide excellent diving.  If you have the appropriate certifications you can gain access to the cave system at Vortex Springs. Without the proper cave diving certification you are limited to the artificial caves and other things in the spring as well as Blue Creek which leads out of the spring. The spring is also full of a variety of fresh water marine life. Carp, crappie, bass, eels, turtles and crawfish call the spring home and are quite used to divers. Bring a little offering for the fish and you can have a great time and get some great photos.

Keep in mind the springs are no secret. It seems divers from all over the country find their way there. Things can get a little crowded on some days. It pays to get there early or you can stay late to get the best visibility. Bad buoyancy control can cloud the water quickly but, since there is a constant outflow of clear fresh water from the spring, the visibility improves quickly when divers exercise good buoyancy control. Weekday dives provide the greatest possibility of encountering crystal clear water and unlimited visibility for all of your dives.

Make sure you dress appropriately for your dives. The water at Vortex Springs is a constant 68 degrees. In the summer it can feel a little cool. In the winter it can feel downright warm. You will see some guys in dry suits but for most, a good fitting full wetsuit (3 or 5 mil as you desire) and hood is enough. I’ve even seen divers making repeated dives in nothing more than a bathing suit. To each his own I guess.

If you get the chance visit Vortex Springs for an excellent day of diving.

Contact Info:

Vortex Springs
1517 Vortex Spring Ln.
Ponce De Leon,
Florida 32455

Phone: (800) 342 – 0640
Phone: (850) 836 – 4979

Gulf Coast Divers: (251) 342-2970

Jan

25

You early risers have been asking for a tank drop for awhile, so we listened.  We have constructed a secure after-hours tank drop.  You can stop by the store outside of business hours (9am-6pm) to leave tanks for service.  Call the store and leave a message with service requested.  When we open at 9 a.m.  We will unlock the locker and fill your tanks for later pick-up.  You must pre-register for this FREE service.  Your tanks should be ready for pick-up by lunctime for most services.  Call (251) 342-2970 or visit the store for more information.