Underwater Naturalist Specialty Course

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Have you had a desire to learn more about marine life than just names and signs of the top 10 most popular fish? While there are training programs out there, these tend to be fairly general and not in-depth enough.
We’re super happy and excited to announce that we’ve developed our own naturalist program, designed and refined over the course of 8 months by our in-house marine biologist, Chetana Purushotham.

The objective of the program is to teach you more about the underwater world – how it works, what the various inter-dependencies are, how to identify various fish families and how to critically evaluate a reef ecosystem.  In short – to take you from being a passive spectator to a trained observer, and you can apply this anywhere in the world you go diving.

More details here. DIVEIndia Underwater Naturalist Program

6 Adventure Sports you cant miss in the Andamans

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6 Adventure sports you can’t miss in the Andmans
I may be biased, but in my opinion, the 2 best things to do in the Andamans are dive and then relax on the beach with a nice book.   That sums up the island experience that makes these islands so magical – the easy-paced lifestyle, the greenery and the lack of nightclubs, bars and other bastions of “modern civilization”.
That said, we are willing to accept the possibility that some people – strange as it may seem – will not be satisfied by this, and are actually looking for things to do which keep them busy and also let them explore the islands in more detail.  Fair point – i am congenitally incapable of sitting still when i am on holiday, and the idea of spending my entire vacation loafing by the beach or poolside doesnt work for me either.    So here are some suggestions on a few things for the intrepid island explorer to do in the Andamans.
1.   Scuba diving: 
Ok, we are kinda belaboring the obvious here, but for good reason.    There are very few places in the world which have a similar amount of bio-mass on the reefs, thanks to the fact that there isnt a lot of large-scale trawling here.   Enjoy it while it lasts, because there aren’t many places in the world which offer this.   And diving is an activity which has many levels – ranging from easy guided intro dives for beginners, to more immersive programs for people more interested in the underwater world (and willing to commit the time to the sport).    So really, if you are coming all this way, do take advantage of this and dive.     Do keep in mind that diving is not a commodity activity – just as 2 colleges arent the same and the quality of professors has a great effect on a student’s experience there, not all dive centers are created equally.   Do your research (and this is true not just for the Andamans but everywhere in the world).       Diving can be done in Havelock (the best established dive destination in the region), Neil or Port Blair.
2.  Snorkel:
Snorkeling is often considered the “lesser” cousin of diving, mainly because it isnt as immersive – you are on the surface, looking down at fish, where on scuba, you are down there surrounded by the fish.  That’s a fair point.  On the other hand, diving is equipment intensive and somewhat limiting in terms of schedule, whereas snorkeling is something you can do almost anywhere there is a beach and at any time that is convenient.   You don’t need a lot of gear either – just mask, snorkel and fins (these can be had for very cheap, but we recommend getting slightly nicer gear from established manufacturers like Aqualung and Mares – they will last longer and be of better quality).     Snorkeling can be done in Havelock, Neil or Port Blair.
3.  Kayaking:
This activity is still in its infancy, but Tanaz Noble, of Andaman Kayak Tours, runs very high quality kayaking trips in Havelock.  A national-level kayaker, who has done 100km solo kayaking trips, this is a labor of love for her, much as diving is for us, and it shows!    Kayaking provides a very peaceful way to explore the coast of Havelock, without the noise of a boat engine marring the experience.  And obviously, it is good exercise as well (although you do not need to be super-fit to do this – reasonable fitness is more than sufficient).     The kayaking trips combine the kayaking activity with either snorkelling or exploring the mangroves:  the latter is a great way to see some of bird and reptile species of the islands.
4.  Skindiving:

This is the hottest new underwater sport in the world and lets you explore the underwater realm without any specialized equipment.   As the name implies, it is breath-hold diving:  going down and exploring the underwater world in one breathe, surfacing, recovering and repeating.    Participants of the sport call it the most zen-like experience they have had, truly close to flying and with the added bonus of utter silence, without any intrusive bubbles.   It does require a little more fitness, swimming skills and commitment than scuba – but then, nothing good is ever really easy, right?     Diveindia offers skin diving classes in season in Havelock, the first center in India to do so.

Video Credit: Andrey Sokolov

5.  Jungle Hikes:
At this point, we start to point you to the fact that there is a LOT more to the Andamans than Havelock and Neil.    The entire North Andamans awaits – Rangat, Mayabunder, Diglipur.   The last is home to Saddle Peak, the tallest peak in the Andamans and an excellent hiking destination (and very good birding as well).   And as an added bonus – you won’t see a single package tourist being driven around from beach to beach in a car, either.     There are shorter jungle walks available in Havelock and Port Blair (Mount Harriet and Chidiya Tapu) as well.   One thing all these walks have in common:   the amazing, prime-growth rainforest that you will be walking in, with birds and reptiles to be spotted.
6.  Cycling:
If you are in Havelock, consider doing your daily traveling on the island by bicycle.   From Village #3, the roads go 9km towards Radhanagar Beach, 9km towards Kalapathar and 3km towards the jetty.   So all easy cycling distances, and all of them are flat, except for the last 5km stretch towards Radhanagar, which has a few short climbs (you can always push your bike up the steep sections – they arent that long).   Get some exercise, soak in the fresh air, and explore the island in a more leisurely manner, rather than whizzing by on car:   where’s the downside, again?   Bicycles are easily available for rent in Havelock.
A Buyer’s Guide

BCD Buyers Guide: How to buy the right BCD

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Buying or selecting dive gear can be difficult, with an overwhelming choice of brands and models out there.  And the industry is also not averse to using the safety aspect to try to create a false sense of urgency sometimes. We are starting a series of articles that aims to cut through the noise, buzzwords and marketing-speak, and provide divers with a way to evaluate gear themselves, based on their own preferences.
There is obviously an element of subjectivity in all these things, and we encourage you to ask more questions and do more research.  Ultimately, as certified divers, your goal should be to gain enough information that you are able to make a decision yourself, as opposed to relying on pre-packaged answers.
Anyway, here is post 1 of the series – Selecting a BCD:  A Buyer’s Guide.
Back to School dive package

Back To School Dive Package: Underwater Naturalist

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Introducing the Back to School dive package!

If the ocean were your classroom, would you like to go back to school?

If you have been looking to know more about the marine environment and how life works underwater or if you would like to learn how to identify fish and other reef organisms, this two day package is for you! Learn more about some of the conservation challenges our oceans are facing and help us come up with solutions to protect these magical places.

We also offer this package as an Underwater Naturalist specialty through PADI and SSI open to any diver with at least an Open Water certification.

This program runs over two days and includes short theory classes and discussions along with four open water dives. You can also choose to do a night dive as one of the four dives.

During this course we introduce you to some of the numerous ocean ecosystems (yes, there is more than one!). We take you through how environmental factors shape these coral reefs as well as our experiences when we dive these sites. Reefs are extremely diverse spaces, where survival is based on cut-throat competition but also to an equal measure on cooperation and forging partnerships. Learn about some of these interactions as they unfold like a show around you on every dive! You also get to try your hand at identifying fish and other reef organisms and be a part of REEF LOG, the first diver-led reef monitoring program here in the Andamans!

Image courtesy: Gunnhild

Marilia and Jugal were the first two students on this course package.  Here is what Marilia had to say, Diving became much more interesting after a short Underwater Naturalist course, that basically introduced micro life, which I couldn’t identify before, and explained the relationships between the animals down there.” Jugal feels that understanding more about the underwater environment is rewarding on various levels. Knowledge of fish identification, understanding of interactions between organisms, relation between organisms and their environment are few aspects this course develops, which make every dive more interesting, fun and fulfilling. It also makes you aware of the importance of conservation through individual and collective efforts. Learning through discussions and reading along with practical demonstration (during dives) of everything in live action makes for a beautiful experience while developing a special tool to take away and make use of in all future dives!”

Diving with a naturalist’s perspective can also be fun.

To get more information on the same, please email us.

OCEAN GRAVITY - Guillaume Ne?ry:: Julie Gautier - Dive india

Ocean Gravity by Guillaume Néry

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Snippets of the ocean gravity video are resurfacing on the internet and we wanted to let you know that there is more to that video. The video is an edit of a short film made by Guillaume Néry.

Here’s the description from his Youtube channel.
Ocean Gravity is a short film that rewrites the rules of the underwater world and takes us this time into the world of the weightlessness.

Just like in the space, there isn’t anymore a top or a bottom. There isn’t anymore upside down and wrong side out. The ocean becomes cosmos, the man a satellite, and the bottom of the sea an unknown planet. Welcome in the fascinating universe of Ocean Gravity.

Guillaume: «since ever, my diving propels my imagination in the fantasy of the conquest of space. To touch the sea floor or to set foot on an unexplored planet, here are 2 fascinating adventures which feed my thirst of unknown. The discovery of this quite unique place (Tiputa – Rangiroa – French Polynesia), allowed us to put in image the visual closeness of 2 universes water and air, ocean and space.»

 

Here’s the entire freediving short film.
By a strange coincidence, DIVEIndia now offers Freediving certification.  Hint hint!

Credit: Guillaume Néry

False killer whale jumps over diver

False Killer Whales jumps over Snorkeler

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We know this is an old post, but its definitely worth viewing.

False killer whale sightings are rare, but when photographer and naturalist Scott Portellini was snorkelling in Tonga, he experienced something divers dream about.

The video footage showing the leap – and the snorkeler’s astonishment.
The video was posted on Facebook by guide and photographer Scott Portelli, after a Swimming With Gentle Giants humpback whale excursion.

Portelli’s description reads: “Today out on the water we had an unexpected encounter with a large pod of false killer whales. This one interactive one came back and literally jumped over one of my guests. Never know what you are going to see in Tonga.”

False killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens), which can grow to about 17 feet, are uniformly black or dark gray, and do not resemble killer whales. They were named because, like killer whales, they sometimes attack small whales and dolphins.

Inter-tidal walks

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Left by the tide, right by your feet

Sunny days by the beach are best spent taking a cooling dip in the sea. Wait for the tide to rise and once there is enough water to swim in, make a dash for it. Even better if you have a mask and snorkel to take with you. Now that is what most would say.  But, have you ever waited for the tide to recede before getting into the sea?

What could there possibly be to do or see when there is practically no water, you ask? The short answer to that would be –prepare to be amazed. 

The ‘inter-tidal zone’ is that stretch of the ocean that can go from being fully submerged during a high tide, to holding as less as one foot of water at low tides. The receding water gradually begins to expose the hidden ‘rocky shore’ ecosystem- a magical world waiting to be explored.

Left by the tide, right by your feet

Credit: Gunnhild

It was a sunny and clear day here at DIVEIndia. Sharmila and I had just rounded up an army of nine kids who had been eagerly waiting to head out for a low tide walk. We had promised them that we would spend all afternoon looking for crazy critters of the sea.

The moment we set foot on the beach, the first questions began coming in. Touching the wet sand, one of the kids asked “Wasn’t the water up till here in the morning?”

Another wondered “Where did all those rocks come from?”, followed by “What made all the water disappear?

We talked about the moon and tides and what makes the pretty patterns in the sand. We spoke about how the intertidal zone is a place of extreme environments. How animals and plants found in this stretch of the sea have adapted to extreme fluctuations in water levels, water temperature, oxygen and salt.

We hopped across the rocks and waded through the shallow pools that formed in between, looking for any sign of movement- something crawling here, something darting there and sometimes, something slithering under our feet. Each time one of us spotted something, there would be an excited “Oh my, what is that?!” and within no time there would be circle of curious kids squatting around the critter that was just spotted.

Blog DIVEIndia Sharmila Mondal

Credit: Sharmila Monda

A common sentiment shared by all who have come on these walks with us, kids and adults alike, has been absolute surprise and amazement at how full of life this intertidal space actually is. All we have to do is squat, wait and something beautifully bizarre will emerge right before our eyes. From crabs, wormsand snails to many species of coral, sponges, juvenile fish and marine plants. We’re also keeping an eye out for the occasional mantis shrimp, octopus and sea snake too!

Natasha Jeyasingh

Spider Conch. Credit: Natasha Jeyasingh

Intertidal walks have also been a great space for conversations about conservation. Looking at the stunning architecture of the rocky sandy shore, yet finding vast tracts of dead coral. Seeing hundreds of hermit crabs scuttling about carrying their homes made of shells lying on the beach, while walking past a wide variety of plastic trash.

Hermit crab blending in with washed up coral. Image courtesy -Natasha Jeyasingh

Hermit crab blending in with washed up coral. Credit: Natasha Jeyasingh

Everyone leaves with a renewed sense of awe, while  also realising how degradation is slowly setting in and wondering what can be done to understand and conserve these beautiful places.

For starters,  as visitors to these beautiful seashore ecosystems, it’s time we start gathering more knowledge than we do shells. 🙂

We now offer a variety of marine ecology programs, both diving (covering reefs, surveys, fish identification and more) and non-diving (covering not just the reefs but also mangroves and coastal eco-systems).    These can be taken as stand-alone options or combined with diving packages.    Please contact us for more information on these programs.

Review: Aqualung Pro HD and Apeks ATX40 Regulator

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Earlier, I had talked about the benefits of owning your own scuba gear, Here, i would like to start by discussing a BCD and a regulator that I have a lot of personal experience with, and which I think are fantastic value for money: the Aqualung Pro HD and the Apeks ATX40 regulator.

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR

AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD – SHORT REVIEW

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD is a personal favorite of mine.  I owned the previous version of this (Seaquest Pro HD, before they were re-branded) for several years and found it an extremely comfortable jacket-style BCD.     The air pockets have some structure to them, so the air bubbles doesnt move all over the place (as in some other BCDs) and robust tank support and structure in the back means that the tank stays firmly put, without rolling from side to side.

 

This BCD has integrated weights and one feature i consider near-essental – trim pockets.   These are weight pockets located around your shoulders:  by storing 1-2 kg there, you can move the center of your buoyancy higher up, which allows you to get a better, neutral trim (in other words, you can hold any body position you want – horizontal or inclined – without any issues).    This system of distributed weights (2 integrated weight pockets and 2 trim pockets) gives you more ditch options:   if you are diving in cold water where you need to plan for the contingency of dropping weights, this gives you more options as compared to a weight belt (which is all or nothing).

 

The Aqualung Pro HD BCD uses a high-denier fabric, which is more robust, more abrasion-proof and less likely to fade or look raggedy over time.    Lastly, the BCD comes with more than enough lift to handle cold water diving as well (13kg of lift for a size M).     And it has more than enough D-rings and attachment points to hold all your accessories.
As I mentioned earlier, I used to own this many, many years ago and sold it because i was diving with a tech harness only.     In terms of price/performance, this is probably one of the best BCDs in the market today, period.
AQUALUNG PRO HD BCD

APEKS ATX40 REGULATOR – SHORT REVIEW

I am a creature of habit when it comes to scuba.   I don’t chase the latest technology or the fanciest bit of kit (which usually is finicky and more expensive to maintain).    I have been diving with the same Cressi Master Frogs for nearly 2 decades.   And I have been using Apeks regulators for almost 25 years.    Apeks makes very high-end regulators as well, if you want the latest in breathing rates, materials, light weight, etc. etc.     And they make bomb-proof, ultra-reliable workhorse mid-end regulators that simply work, work, work without any fuss.      I’ve always owned their mid-end line, as that’s where I feel the best value lists – my TX50 has gone down to 94m, has been to the Dorea, has done nearly a 1000 dives in cold water (<10C) and has gone embarrassingly long durations between servicing, and yet has performed reliably.   4000-something dives without any issues.
The Apeks ATX40 is the modern day equivalent of my venerable regulator.    It doesnt have the highest-end features and technology (honestly, I dont even know what they are – we are talking regulators, which are basically pressure-assisted springs whose designs haven’t changed for decades).     However, what it does have is the following:
– A very robust design
– Very easy to breathe at all depths you are likely to go to as a recreational diver (and then some)
– Cold water suitable
– Adjustable flow rate controls for surface/underwater (to prevent free flows)
– Comfortable mouthpiece
Again, if you want higher-end regulators, we have them for sale.   But really, other than trying to save a couple of hundred grams in weight, there is very little in the way of actual, tangible performance benefits that you will notice in real-world diving.
Another price/performance leader, and another one that I have a LOT of experience with, and recommend highly.

We have this combo available at a very good price, with your choice of instrumentation – SPG only, SPG+depth gauge or air-integrated computer. And as always, we have further discounts for our diving alumni. Please contact us for more information and pricing.

The Benefits of Owning Your Own Scuba Gear

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Some 90s rock band had a song which went “Dont know what you’ve got, till its gone”.  Scuba gear works the other way – you often don’t realize what you are missing when you rent gear, until you actually buy your own BCD and regulator.

 

Let’s start with weighting and trim:  Different BCDs have different flotation characteristics. So every time you rent a different brand of BCD, your weighting will need adjustment, as will your trim (where you place those weights). Having your own rig (and matching wetsuit) means that once you dial in your weight amount and positioning to get the ideal trim, you are good to go for all future dives.   Benefit:  More comfort, more streamlining, better air consumption and a more enjoyable experience.

 

Now let’s talk about familiarity and how useful it can be during an emergency. For whatever reason, you have lost your buoyancy and are floating up, legs up. Quick – do you know where the emergency pull dump on your rental BCD is located? Is it on the left or the right hip? Front or back? Or will you have to waste a few seconds in flipping yourself into a vertical orientation and then raising your inflator hose before you are able to purge your gear? What about an air emergency? Where is your octopus stowed? Front pocket? Upper right shoulder? In an octo holder across your chest? All of this affects how quickly you can deploy it in an out-of-air situation and in a real live situation, those extra couple of seconds of fumbling can make the difference between a safe resolution or a panic incident.

 

Familiarity isn’t just for emergencies either – when you dive with the same BCD all the time, you get familiar with how much air the inflators and deflators add/remove. So no more of the “add some air, realize it was too much and then let some out” dance that everyone does. How about donning the BCD in the water or removing the clips – your hand automatically goes where the strap is or the clips are, and you can focus on where the boat is, what your buddy is doing, etc. The less mental attention you devote to your gear, the more mental bandwidth you have to be aware of your situation, your buddy and also to look out for that manta or whaleshark. Never underestimate the importance of muscle memory.

 

Lastly, let’s talk costs. No, this stuff isn’t cheap and we wont pretend it is.   However, when you go on a dive holiday, gear rental can often run a couple of hundred dollars a week. Many places have shore dives and if you have your own gear, you can rent a tank for $10 and go diving with your buddy. Rent gear and that could be $50 more. In other words, do 3-4 trips and your gear has paid for itself – and you get all the benefits above.   With proper care, your gear should last you a very long time. Amortized over the lifespan of the gear, a BCD/reg set can cost you less than Rs 200 per dive. That’s pretty good economics!
Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

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BEST TIME FOR SCUBA DIVING IN THE ANDAMANS

Best time for scuba diving in the Andamans

Let’s start by clarifying something – rain doesnt matter so much for diving. Yes, it can affect visibility at shallow depths, but this only happens when there is extended rainfall here (which doesnt happen often, even in the monsoons – we usually get short showers). Furthermore, most of our dive sites are off shore and once you descend to the dive depths, conditions arent affected so much. Tides play a much bigger role in affecting underwater visibility and that changes from week to week – so the range of visibility remains more or less the same all year long, whether it is raining or sunny.
What matters more is wind. When it is too windy, the seas are rough and we cannot go out to the open sea (or sometimes, we can go out but decide not to, in order to be safe:  our standard isnt “can we dive in this”, but “if something were to go wrong, can we manage the situation safely for everyone in this”). However, even when it does get rough, we have a bunch of sites that are accessible all year long as they are sheltered from prevailing winds – what we cannot do is visit our remote, highlight sites like Johnny’s Gorge, Dixon’s Pinnacle and Jackson’s Bar. This doesnt affect beginners so much, but does affect certified divers.
Traditionally, this is what the weather holds over the course of the year:

 

January-May period is when the seas are the calmest (especially March-May, when the sea is sometimes to calm that it resembles a mirror) and surface conditions are best for diving.

 

June – August is the rainy season. This is different from the mainland monsoons, and consists of wet periods (when it is cloudy all day and there are frequent, brief showers) and dry periods (when it is sunny and calm for several days or even weeks). During some of this time, we are able to visit all our highlight sites and at other times, we are restricted to the nearby, sheltered sites.   While the diving is usually fantastic due to fish spawning in the warmer water, odds are higher that we will be limited to our nearer sites. However, the weather is usually very pleasant at this time, the package tourists are away and the island reverts back to a sleepy, idyllic paradise.

 

September-November is what we call the “new season” – during this time, the south-westerly winds are starting to die down, but there are still regular showers and occasionally, the winds do pick up. At this time, the diving is absolutely fantastic (a lot of fish spawn in the rainy season, so there is a lot of bio-mass on the reefs) and the sites are at their absolute best. The flip side, of course, is the slightly higher risk that winds may play spoilsport and limit us to nearer sites.  Also, currents can be stronger at this time.

 

December is a bit of a transition time – the terrestrial weather is lovely, sometimes there are showers and the winds can be moderately strong.
Of course, with weather patterns changing over the past 5-6 years, things are a little more blurry now. Over the past 3-4 years, we’ve had very calm conditions in June, with low wind and limited rain. We’ve also had rough conditions in Jan/Feb. At this point,

 

What does this mean?

 

FOR BEGINNERS: It doesnt matter when you come. We have sites that are accessible all year long, even in a storm, and the conditions of these sites usually do not vary that much whether it is on or off-season. In season, things are sunny and the islands are busier – in the off-season, it is quieter, things are more relaxed and the weather is actually very pleasant. And because the rain takes the form of brief showers, you can actually explore the islands without any issues).

 

FOR EXPERIENCED DIVERS: Based on the recent weather trends over the past 5-6 years, we’ll say that March/April/May offer the best chances of calm conditions,  followed by January/February, followed by September-December.     Conditions in June, July and August can vary – if you are lucky, you’ll get superb diving with just 2-3 people on the boat, and if you are unlucky, you’ll be limited to our nearer sites (which are very nice, but probably a step or so behind our highlight, open-sea sites).
Of course, the weather being what it is, there are no guarantees but hopefully, this will help provide some information in helping you plan your trip to the Andamans.