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coral reef Archives | DIVEIndia | Scuba Diving In Havelock Island, Andamans, India| PADI, SSI Dive Centre

Our 10th anniversary season begins!

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Posted by VanditKalia |

Woof – I cannot believe it: we are going to complete 10 years, as of this December.
I’ve mentioned this story before – our first year,we had 2-3 consecutive days of 10-11 divers and I was panicking – I stayed late in the office, obsessively double- and triple-checking everything to make sure that all was in order and there’d be no screw-ups.
And now, as we start our 10th season, the baby DIVEIndia store in Neil is about to go through the same metamorphosis – after a year or so of running under the radar, we are finally opening the Neil dive center “officially”. Finally!
One thing we’ve refused to do is go down the full corporate way, and bring in investors, etc. That would help us grow faster, for sure, but then we would become Just Another Commercial Dive Center, and god knows, the world (or heck, even the Andamans) doesnt need that. So the Neil dive center is going to follow the footsteps of our Havelock dive center, albeit with the benefit of 10 years of experience added to what was, back then, just a general/vague idea on how things *should* be run. Given how well things have gone in Havelock, I reckon those arent bad footsteps after all.
But there are still a few things I reckon we could do better. As we’ve grown rapidly in the last few years, we face some internal change ourselves. Our fully-flexible operational approach of the past is going to require a little re-working and we will have to put in some policies and guidelines, so as to keep things ticking along smoothly. The trick, of course, remains in finding the right balance of flexibility (so if a diver walks in and says, “hey, I loved today’s dive – I want to go back there tomorrow”, we can accommodate him) vs structure (shoot me if we become another bureaucratic dive center where “this is the plan for the next week, you will follow it and you will like it”).
A few changes we have planned:
1/ Improving our briefings. Our Burmese dive guides are fantastic spotters and have really good awareness of everything going on around them, but due to language and socio-cultural differences, their briefings can be a little spotty. Now, the fact remains that a group with 2 buddy teams probably doesn’t require the same level of detailed/rigorous briefings as a group with 10-12 dives, but still, it is always a good idea for divers to have as much information as possible. It would be too easy to just hire expat DMs, but I think responsible business practices mean giving back to the local community by providing them an upward path in the industry; not only that, the local dive guides are simply really, really good. I’ve been diving for 22 years now, am an Instructor Trainer/Course Director and most of our Burmese dive pros are better dive guides than me (and those who aren’t, will probably be in a year or two). So instead of taking the easy way, we are going to be continuously working with the dive guides on improving their communication skills, and providing them with the tools to make their lives easier – the most important one being maps of the dive sites.
2/ Adjust processes: The biggest challenge for us has always been the planning vs flexibility trade-off. I know dive centers that plan the whole week in advance. Classroom times for courses are strictly defined, course planning is done well in advance, etc, etc. This makes life easier in terms of operations, things run smoothly and everything seems professional. I have never really bought into this – I think our goal, as a dive center, is not to make life easier for ourselves, but to make life as convenient a possible for our customers. So if you want to come and watch the Open Water video at a different time, then, within reason, we want to accommodate that. If you dive for a bit and then want to visit a different dive site from what is planned… hey, you’re paying us, you get to decide where you want to go.
The obvious downside of this, of course, is that sometimes things do get turned around a bit too much. Some people interpret flexibility and lack of rigid structure as being unprofessional. And fair enough – sometimes, divers dont really have a strong preference on what they want to do, but are happy to follow along the plan, whatever it is.
So one of the things we are working on right now is how to find that right balance.
3/ Feedback forms: So far, we’ve been running on gut feel on what we are doing correctly and what we aren’t. Because a lot of our divers come hang out in the cafe later, we get feedback directly from them. But as we expand, we want to make sure we are capturing information in a systematic manner.
4/ Dive center re-design: Vikas and Melissa have been scheming like Pinky and the Brain on this, and we are all waiting to see what comes out of this. Those ugly floor tiles are most likely going to stay for another year, though, unfortunately.
5/ Neil to open on moderate scale: we are going to launch the Neil dive center with 6 rooms and enough diving gear to support projected business. And once everything is up and running, we’ll start actively marketing Neil packages as stand-alone dive+stay options, not merely as an add-on to Havelock (although that option will always remain).
6/ Expand the instructor training side of Diveindia – we are India’s first Instructor Training facility, offering on-site instructor training courses since 2009. And now we are India’s only multi-agency Instructor Training facility, offering both NAUI and SSI Instructor Training courses, with 2 full-time instructor trainers/course directors on staff. One thing we want to do is make the Andamans a regional hub for instructor training, but with a different – and as far as we can tell, completely unique – approach to how instructor courses are taught. More info on this to come at the appropriate time.
And then there are our usual off-season initiatives:
– Pooling the best practices from the various instructors, so that each instructor is able to improve his/her training.
– Staff training – certifying our boat staff as divers, emergency responders and also rescue divers.
– Annual gear maintenance – I dont know what it is, but our depth gauges always take a beating and have a life expectancy of about 20% of normal. Last year, we also received a bunch of non-standard O-rings that, while functional, weren’t optimal. We replaced them ad-hoc through the season but are doing a more systematic change now
– New gear for Neil and Havelock. The best part of the season – unpacking all those boxes and boxes of goodies. Christmas in the Andamans does come in August
One thing that is still on the cards but has been pushed back to next year is retail. I am not particularly keen on selling scuba equipment in the Andamans simply because the cost factor makes it economically unviable. It would be far cheaper for people to just import the gear themselves from the US or UK. And if we dont believe in the product that we are selling, what’s the point? But there are some bits of gear that we can sell which offer good value for our customers and provide us with enough return to make it worth our time/trouble: masks, straps, wetsuits, drybags. We do plan to start selling them, but it is on hold for one more year, till we are able to find a reliable import agent in Kolkata or Chennai who can handle this for us.
Our goal is quite simple – to be a better, safer dive center each year. If there is anything you’d like to see us add – please let us know via email.
PS: A couple of people have asked me if we plan to have dogs in Neil. It is quite ironic, given the celebrity status Frodo and Sam have acquired on the Interwebz, that I had initially hesitated to get them because I wasn’t sure whether keeping dogs in a resort was a good idea or not. While the Beasts have turned out to be quite a draw, we have no plans of ever keeping dogs merely for marketing. So no, no dogs in Neil, unfortunately, unless I move there – in which case, there will be 3 dogs in Neil (and none in Havelock).

Coral bleaching

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Posted by Rahul Demello |

Coral reefs are the richest ecosystems on the planet. Giant formations built by some of the world’s tiniest creatures, these hidden worlds form tropical marvels that one has to see to believe. The biodiversity supported by coral reefs is greater than anywhere on earth, including the tropical rainforests. They form the largest structures built by any living thing, including man and no other realm can boast of as many species found in such concentrations.

Corals, the animals that build these reefs, typically live in colonies with many individual “polyps” that secrete exoskeletons made of calcium carbonate, the foremost building material for coral reefs. Being exclusively tropical, corals naturally thrive in conditions of warm water and strong sunlight. Recently, however, the limits of their endurance are being pushed further and further. As a result, coral bleaching is occurring on local, regional and global scales with alarmingly increased frequency and severity on reefs across the globe.

Bleaching of a coral is actually the reaction of coral to unfavorable conditions. The coral begins to expel the symbiotic algae (living within the coral’s tissue) which are responsible for producing up to 90 percent of its food. These algae are also what give the corals their amazing varieties of colour. By their elimination, the corals are effectively going on hunger strike.

While coral bleaching can be caused by high levels of UV radiation, changes in salinity as well as bacterial and viral infection, the most universal cause of coral bleaching is increased Sea Surface Temperature (SST). Thermal stress is considered to be responsible for most large scale bleaching events around the world. Coral has a very narrow range of temperature in which it can survive, and changes of just a few degrees can cause bleaching.

Several large-scale bleaching events have been documented at reefs around the world over the last two decades. This is important because significant declines in coral populations will ultimately lead to reef decay. This affects not only the corals themselves, but all associated flora and fauna which depend on the reef for food and shelter.

Ritchie’s Archipelago in the Andaman Sea (a part of what we know of as the Andaman Islands) experienced a period of extreme thermal stress in 1998, 2004 and again in early 2010 with Sea Surface Temperatures exceeding 32oC, which is a coral’s upper temperature threshold. As a result, mass bleaching followed and vast areas of the reefs turned white, died and were subsequently overgrown by algae. Storms later destroyed dead reefs that were once resilient to the action of the waves – South Button was one of the most badly-affected reefs.

Response to bleaching varies, but considering that corals grow only an inch or two a year, complete recovery will take decades. Despite extensive research into coral bleaching, there are very few usable data with which to predict the capacity of reefs to respond to changing environmental conditions.

This is why a Reef Monitoring Program on the reefs in the Andamans is essential to the future of the region. Concern needs to be shown about the future of our coral reefs, in the face of predicted global warming and climate change. Current predictions suggest that bleaching events will become more frequent and severe with phenomena like El Nino exacerbating the effects of global climate change. Preservation of the remaining coral is critical to maintaining the species richness and diversity in the waters of the Andaman Sea, one of the few places in this country where we can experience firsthand what most people only see on television.

The ultimate fate of corals in the region will depend on the capacity of corals to acclimatise or adapt to elevated temperatures. Recovery has proved to have been successful in North-West Australia and the southern United States and Caribbean. There are some documented species of coral in the Western US that can live in waters that are as warm as 38oC.

No one has more exposure to tiny changes than people who dive the reefs every day. Divers see the change that most people don’t and for us, it’s especially personal, as these are reefs that we’ve discovered and which we consider “ours”.

We have initiated a pilot project on a few reefs around Havelock Island to gauge the current state, recovery potential and speed of regeneration of the reefs in the area. Our work is designed to detect change in species richness and condition of the coral reef system. Of particular interest are changes in percent cover of live coral on the reef and at what rate recovery is progressing. With the data we gather, it will be a step toward determining the fate of our reefs more accurately. This allows us to learn from and influence the course of events rather than just being a spectator to the decline. We hope that we can collect some interesting scientific information which will improve our understanding of the dynamics of the coral reef and give us cause to be optimistic.

Note:  Due to spam, we’ve disabled comments to the blog. However, you can post comments on our Facebook Group.

Teaching kinesthetic awareness to students

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Posted by Dive India |

I know, it has been ages since we had a blog up here. I know some of you will snicker disbelievingly when I say I have every intention of being more regular.
But until then, here is a change of pace. This article was inspired by a couple of recent Instructor Training Courses I have done, and some of the struggles faced by the new instructors in terms of adapting their teaching when faced with situations that the regular instructor training curriculum doesn’t cover.
This article is geared mainly towards instructors and focused on how to teach water awareness, or kinesthetic awareness in the water, to students:
http://www.diveindia.com/articles/k-factor.html
Hopefully, the structured approach to solving student difficulties and the tips contained therein, will be useful.
Due to spam, I have disabled comments to blogs, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Diveindia Facebook group.