1st stage - mares epic adj 82x regulator

Mares Epic ADJ 82X Regulator Review

By Articles, Gear, Reviews
Testers:  Devatva Raj, Arijit Dasgupta
Article Text:  Vinnie
mares epic adj 82x regulator review
mares-diving-regulator-82x2
The Mares Epic ADJ 82X is the new heavyweight (in more ways than one) from Mares – their top of the line regulator.   As per Mares, it is certified for performance at 200m and proven to work at 400m and so of course, in true Mares fashion, they advertise it on their website as going “perfectly with the SSI Advanced Adventurer” course.   Cos, you know, nothing pairs as well with learning to dive to 30m as a top-end regulator designed to perform at the depths of the human ability.   I am sure the fact that Mares now owns SSI has nothing to do with this forced bit of cross-promotion.
Anyway, back to the regulator.   We tested the regulator at depth, and also compared it to our 2 benchmarks, the Aqualung Mikron (which is currently the easiest-breathing regulator we have ever tried) and the Apeks ATX (which, despite being a supposedly “entry-level” regulator, is my personal favorite as the best-value regulator in the market, period).  We also added the Mares Abyss (their former top-of-the-range model, used for a world-record-beating deep down to past 1000 feet) to see if the new boss was the same as, or better than, the old boss.      So read on.
Disclaimer:  this regulator was provided to us for testing, with the understanding that it would be sent back afterwards.    Whether we buy or test, our reviews are as honest as we can make them.   Unlike magazines who get their money from manufacturers and other advertisers, and so have an incentive to say positive things about everything, we do not get any financial benefits from anyone for our reviews.    Our organizational philosophy is to bend over backwards to make sure that we offer you the best advice (and service) that we can – after all, it is your choosing to dive/get gear from us that keeps us afloat as a business.
FEATURES 
The Mares website touts a lot of features, and is packed with TLAs (Three Lettered Acronyms) which make things sound very profound.   You can GRT (Go Read That) if you want to KST (Kill Some Time), but we’ll SIU (Sum It Up) for you.
The first stage is very sharp-looking balanced diaphragm design (pretty much the de facto standard for most high-end regulators), with a black coating on both the first and second stages.    This coating is done via PVD (Physical Vapor Deposition – a legit TLA, in case you were wondering), and not regular electroplating.   Why does that matter?  Because PVD coatings are typically a lot more resistant to scratches than simple electroplating, and is a better option for a piece of gear that is going to get banged around, jostled, rub against other metal, etc.:  it reduces the chances of unseemly scratches exposing the shiny metal below.      Further, the first stage isnt a simple cylindrical tube like most first stages, but has some decorative contours and curves on it, and in terms of looks, this is one the nicest-looking regulator that we have seen.      It is definitely going to turn heads on a dive boat – I wanted to buy it purely based on how nice it looked!
Moving in to more practical features – the first stage comes with 5 3/8” LP ports (4 on the sides, 1 vertical – possibly for that weird TIE Fighter style Mares Loop second stage, where the second stage hose comes from directly under the second stage and not the sides like normal: a design that carries on the proud tradition of the Mares Hub).   The 4 radial ports are on a swivel turret – a fancy way of saying it moves around – which reduces strain on the hoses and allows for more flexible routing.   The two 7/16” HP ports are also tilted – one downwards, for attaching a traditional SPG and one upwards, presumably to fit a remote air transmitter for your computer of choice.   The ports are also at a sensible enough distance that they are all usable (which is not true of atleast 2 other regulator models I can name).    Nicely done, Mares – perhaps you guys are ready to offer a scuba training course on product design now (SSI course, of course!).
1st stage - mares epic adj 82x regulator

First Stage – you can see the 2 differently-angled HP ports

angled port

You down with OPD?  Yeah, you know me.   Oh, and swivel turrets are good

Like the first stage, the second stage is also made of nickel and chrome plated brass, which is then also given the same PVD treatment.   It contains two adjustment mechanisms:
– A flow control knob at the junction between the first stage and the second stage (aka, VAD):   one position delivers maximum air flow, the other reduces the air flow to provide more of an on-demand breathing experience
– The left side of the second stage also has a more traditional breathing resistance control knob, which affects the amount of breathing resistance before the regulator supplies air.
Why would you ever want this to be anything less than maximum?    For one, regulators with very low breathing resistance/very high flow rate can often free-flow when held upside down.   Second, if you are a slow, deep breather (as you should be!), you dont want the regulator to pump out a lot of air – you want the air coming through the hose to match your inhalation duration and lung capacity.   More is better than less, but “just right” is even better.   Ask Goldilocks!     I generally tune my own regulator to have slightly lower flow rate and also a higher cracking pressure, as i want my inhale to be a measured process.    However, it is always nice to know that a lot more air awaits, merely a couple of knob turns away.
Like the sealed first stage, the second stage is also rated for cold water diving, and as is increasingly becoming the norm for top-of-the-line regulators, Mares provides a superflex (weave) hose as standard with the regulator.      So all in all, you have a very well-specced, well-designed and smart-looking regulator, as one would expect from a top-of-the-line model.
You can see the flow rate controller (VAD) and breathing resistance control knob above

About the only downside is the weight.    Mares states the weight of the first stage with a INT/Yoke vale as 964gm, and the second stage as 329gm, with a total weight, including the supplied regulator hose, of 1429gm.   This does not include the octopus or SPG.   If you get a DIN valve, the system weight reduces to 1255gm.    This is heavier than the XTX200 (1272gm for the INT/yoke), ATX (1130gm for the INT/yoke) and of course, the Aqualung Mikron spanks them all with its waif-like 893gm in the same INT/yoke configuration.    However, leaving aside the travel-oriented Mikron, the weight difference compared to other top of the line regulators isn’t that significant, and shouldn’t be an issue from a travel or packing point of view (and in the grand scheme of things, paying for an extra kg of excess baggage is not even a rounding error, compared to the overall cost of a typical dive holiday).

USE EXPERIENCE/ USER EXPERIENCE
Our intrepid testers, Dev and Arijit, bravely took this regulator, along with the ATX, the Abyss and the Mikron all the way to the depths of the ocean – or atleast, part of the way down the Wall and swapped multiple regulators back and forth at depths which we shall not reveal, while possibly being narced (the things we do in order to play with shiny gear – please don’t try this at home.   Dev and Arijit are professionals).   A fun time was had by all, and there may have been underwater giggling, but since we don’t have any videographic evidence, we wont pursue that line of discussion further.
The breathing from the Epic was as natural as it could get – regardless of depth.   There was no sense of strain at any time, and the regulator was comfortable to breathe at all head angles and body orientations.   Absolutely no complaints.     When turning both the flow control knob and the resistance control knob to their “max flow” positions, a slight tilt of the regulator did make it free flow – but this was with the regulator out of the mouth, and there is absolutely no reason for anyone to keep these 2 knobs set to max when the reg isnt being used.   So in practice, a non-issue.

The entire first stage, including the yoke clamp, is beautifully finished

The only issue was the weight of the second stage, which made a little awkward to hold in the mouth.   The VAD system didn’t help with the weight or the balance of the regulator in the mouth.      However, to put it in perspective, this wasnt extremely awkward or uncomfortable – merely noticeable.     It is something that you definitely notice if you were, oh, i don’t know, swapping back and forth between regulators at depth – but if you were always diving with the same regulator, I think you could probably get used to it as well.
In terms of comparisons:   the easiest regulator to breathe was, surprisingly, the Aqualung Mikron.     This small, plastic, lightweight wonder provided air like an excited Labrador provides drool – in vast, vast quantities and at the slightest provocation.    It has provided more than pretty much every other regulator we have tried – from the entry-level Aqualung Calypsos to the mighty Apex XTX200.    But it is also a little more prone to flee flowing, so there is a trade-off there (do note – it can be tuned to be a little less enthusiastic – a service we provide at no charge if you buy it from us).      The Epic 82X was the next best, with a near-perfect balance between breathing resistance and risk of free flow.    The ATX, the cheapest regulator on test by far, was, by comparison, slightly harder to breathe (but comfortable nonetheless) and did not free flow at all.   The Abyss was the hardest breathing of all 4 and by a significant margin.
So what does this mean?    Should you run and buy the model with the lowest breathing resistance and maximum flow?     In principle, yes, you want the regulator with the lowest breathing resistance and maximum flow.   If you are swimming in a current or working a bit harder, this gives you the comfort of knowing that you are not going to “overbreathe” your regulator.     However, there is a cost associated with this – tendency to free flow.     Keep in mind that the differences above end up being more noticeable when you do a direct comparison:   in normal use, you may not notice.     The Abyss in the test above is one of my two personal regulators, and I have never noticed or felt that it was hard to breathe.  Only when I did an A/B comparison with my XTX200 did I notice the difference.      And I actually prefer a very slight amount of breathing resistance over a fire-hose.   So personal preferences and breathing patterns, as discussed earlier, also play a role.
Of course, Mares being Mares, they are simply unable to release a product without adding atleast one completely unnecessary and useless quirk – but atleast they have gotten to the point where these quirks usually no longer affect the  functionality of the product, but just make you scratch your head and go “err.. what?”.   I call it the “Nipples on a Bull” feature.    For example, on the otherwise fantastic Mares SLS Pure, a BCD that I reviewed in some detail and loved enough to purchase, they added a ridiculously over-engineered locking mechanism for the weights that serves no practical purpose other than to be different and just adds one extra and un-needed step to locking in the weight pocket.   On the Epic 82X, this Nipple-on-a-Bull feature manifests itself in the purge valve.  Now, on most regulators, the external purge is something that you can press anywhere on the surface and it depresses straight in.   On the 82X, the purge valve doesn’t go straight in but pivots.     Mares is very proud of it, too – this is boldly listed as one of the features of the regulator, along with PVD, VAD, PAD, GFY and the rest of the alphabet soup.     Luckily, as i said above, this quirk doesn’t actually affect the functionality and by now, is becoming a somewhat endearing trait of the brand that I look forward to on my reviews.

This is like using a fork and knife to eat a pizza at Pizzeria da Michele – it doesn’t affect the taste of the pizza, thankfully

SUMMARY
Let me cut to the chase there:   this is a fantastic regulator.    Great looks, superb functionality, a lot of adjustability to meet individual breathing preferences and great ergonomics (and that too, from Mares – I guess the lessons from the Hub finally have been absorbed!).    To me, there is no question that it deserves its place in the pantheon of the top regulators in the market, such as the XTX200.
However, with a MRP of Rs 51,750 and even factoring in our special pricing on this (hint hint), this regulator faces the same challenge that other top-end regulators do:   is it worth paying the premium over something like the ATX, which is less than half the price?   This is a tough call.     The logical part of me says – the ATX is functional, it does everything you need it to do.      And you can make the same argument about entry-level computers like the Mares Smart and the Aqualung i200.   So why, then, do I dive with an XTX200 and an Abyss, and have a Shearwater Perdix (for which I paid full retail, btw)?     Hell, why do we drive anything more than an entry-level compact in cities, or pay a premium for anything?
It really is very simple:  the additional features, while not strictly essential, are definitely nice to have and make things a lot more enjoyable on a daily basis: the ability to adjust hose routing on the XTX200, the ability to fine-tune the air supply on the Epic 82X, the amazing display and features of the Perdix – these are things that you only appreciate when you have them.   And once you get used to it, you don’t really want to go back to a more utilitarian model.     So yes, while there are plenty of very reliable regulators at a lot lower price, the additional features, superior ergonomics and yes, the drop-dead good looks of the Mares Epic 82X certainly make it a regulator worth considering if you want something higher-end.
Especially at the great prices that we have for this model.   Contact us if you want to purchase this unit.

Life in the under-anemone: Because looking isn’t actually seeing

By PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase, Underwater Naturaliast Course, Underwater Photography

It was sometime around the second week of March when something special had taken place, a big change, in the lives of a pair of false clownfish.

Living at about five meters deep over at Nemo’s reef, with beige-coloured tentacles and a pinkish-purple base, sat a magnificent sea anemone. Everything in the anemone appeared to be much the same, the fish couple who lived with it were busy cleaning out the anemone, lapping up its dying tentacles and parasites, while the anemone stood firmly guarding the couple from harm. The anemonefish were constantly swimming through the anemone’s tentacles, as was usual, to help it breathe. The anemone took what the anemonefish pooped and the fish ate what the anemone pooped. Business as usual! And yet something was markedly different in this anemone home.

There was something going on in one corner of the anemone that kept taking the fish pair back there. Was somebody hurt? Were they hiding a stash of food?

No… it was babies!

Attached to a cleared patch of rock under the tentacles of the anemone were hundreds of pairs of eyes on the tops of alien-like bodies, swaying gently in the current. In addition to protecting the anemone and themselves, the anemonefish must now protect their offspring.

They looked to be quite old already, which could only mean that they had been laid about a week before. It would be just a few more days before full moon would approach and larval fish would emerge. This meant focussed and dedicated work for the devoted father who was responsible for their care. While the female continued to take care of the anemone and daily duties, he concentrated on the babies, vigorously fanning the water with his fins, oxygenating, cleaning and doing everything required to make sure they survive. Both parents were invested.

A clownfish once hatched will have to live out its plankton phase until it is ready to find and settle into an anemone of its own and take on the forces of the underwater universe.

As dive professionals we sometimes think twice before talking about certain animals in our pre-dive briefings because we feel divers might find them too common or ordinary to be specifically mentioned. As we grow in dive experience, there is a natural tendency to create a hierarchy of coolness that we set for the marine life that is out there and the animals that we wish to see. Novelty, rarity and massiveness are definitely key factors in how high up in the list animals are positioned, and those that are seen often enough are further down, closer to the more ‘beginner diver stuff’.

There is definitely an appeal is seeing manta rays, sharks and turtles. They are enigmatic, extraordinary and closer to extinction than a damselfish. This extraordinary nature of the marine world, however, does not end here. There are so many phenomenal animals, interactions and communities that occur so commonly, we often fail to really see them entirely. And the loss is ours.

No two reefs or animals or behaviours are exactly the same when seen twice, even the most ordinary of things. That is just how dynamic the ocean truly is. Now you might ask- if there is so much beauty and wonder in the ordinary, why is it that we don’t see it? Perhaps we aren’t looking carefully enough. Perhaps we do not know what to look for. There is no special skill or talent required to do so. The secret is curiosity and patience. Wait, observe and soon, the animals will let you into their extraordinary world.

Text: Chetana Babburjung Purushotham |  Video: Umeed Mistry

A peek into the sex lives of the stonefish.

By PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase

Do You Love Me? A peek into the sex lives of the stonefish.

Stonefishes may be the most venomous group of fishes in the world, they may have some of the most potent ‘verrucotoxin’ venom ever studied and a full blown sting from a stonefish might kill you in under an hour, but should one powerful defence mechanism define their entire existence?

Stonefishes are primarily solitary animals that use extensive camouflage and stealth to catch their prey, typically fish. Seeing a stonefish fully out in the open is not particularly common, let alone finding one that is actively moving around. Unless it is mating season!

From what has been observed in the wild, stonefish males can go to elaborate lengths to court a female. Once she lays her egg mass on the seabed, the male swims over her eggs to deposit his sperms. Sometimes courtships can turn into an elaborate congregation where multiple males try to win over a female.

The stings produced by the dorsal spines of stonefish can induce intense pain, respiratory weakness, damage to the cardiovascular system, convulsions and paralysis, at times death. But hey, even the most brilliantly venomous animals can have a – I’m just a boy, standing in front of girl, asking her to love him’-moment, as we see in this beautiful video of male stonefish chasing after a female, captured by our stellar divemaster Saw Montu in Nemo’s Reef! Footage has been edited and tuned by Umeed Mistry J

Aren’t you rooting for the hobbling young male in this pair of lovers?!

Credits:
Image clicked by @Sahil Lokhandwala
Video by @Saw Montu(Instagram handle coming soon) & @Umeed Mistry

Mares Quattros

Buyer’s Guide to Scuba Fins

By Articles, Gear, Opinions, Training

BUYER’s GUIDE TO SCUBA FINS – WHY FINS MATTER AND HOW TO PICK THE RIGHT PAIR

(aka, an old dog learns something new)
By:  Vandit Kalia (Vinnie)

How to Buy Scuba Fins

Go to any scuba forum and ask what the most important bit of diving kit people should own, and the answer is going to be “mask”,  “dive computer” or “regulator”.       Makes sense.   Masks are probably the most likely point of discomfort on dives due to improper fit.   A dive computer is the single most important bit of kit that a diver should have, in order to take ownership of their safety (as anyone who has taken a course with me will have heard me reiterate over and over again).    And regulators – well, that is obvious as well.
Now, a little side trip.   I am a gadget freak, but I am also a creature of habit.   Once I find something that works with me, I stick with it.    I have been using Apeks regulators since the late 90s:  they’ve gone ice diving with me, they’ve been inside the Andrea Dorea with me, they’ve endured far more abuse than they should have and they have kept ticking.    Similarly, for fins, I have been using Cressi Masterfrogs since 2000 or 2001.   They are large, they are stiff, they don’t have any fancy technology, but they provide thrust and precision control like no other fins I have used (and have much better buoyancy characteristics in warm water than the only other fin that comes close, the Scubapro Jetfins).     So that’s what I dive with.   But Cressi, in their wisdom, discontinued the Masterfrogs and replaced them with a lineup of fairly mediocre, “me-too” fins which do not stand out in any way.
So that got me looking for a replacement when my current pair, which is 10 years old, finally wears out and I have been trying out various fins from Mares, Scubapro, Apeks and Technisub to find “The Next One” (@TM Vikas Nairi).
Vinnie’s Mythical Cressi Master Frogs

Vinnie’s Mythical Cressi Master Frogs

 And in my quest, I have realized something:  fins are probably THE most significantly under-rated piece of dive kit.   In theory, we all know the characteristics of fins:   they come in varying level of stiffness, buoyancy and thrust.   Some require faster kicks (equivalent to high turnover/cadence in running or cycling), some require slower, more powerful strokes (my Masterfrogs).    Some are easier to kick but top out at moderate thrust – others provide greater thrust but require more power.   Some are softer and easier on the legs.   Yet others use fancy technology (split fins, gears, channels, springs, etc).    And yet others are designed for flutter kick while some are better for frog kick.
But if think about it – if you rent gear, when was the last time you ever paid attention to which fins you were provided?    I mean, it certainly isn’t something I have prioritized as a “must own” item to other divers looking to buy their gear, focusing instead of mask/computer/regulator as well.    But recently, I have had a change in my thinking.
This realization was kindled over the course of two separate Diveindia Outbound trips – one to Malapascua and one to Maldives.   In both cases, I was using new fins.   In Malapascua, I was simply unable to get into horizontal trim, despite the rest of my kit being my usual gear.     My legs would keep sinking and since i was diving without any weights, I had no real option to adjust my trim.       That made photography a singularly uncomfortable experience, my air consumption was about 20-25% higher than normal and throughout the dive, I felt as though I was a newly-minted Open Water diver again.   In Maldives, the trim was better but in a current, I outkicked my fins, and possibly for the first time in 2 decades, I was struggling to move in a current (the Cressis havent seen a current they cannot wallop – if a diver has the leg strength to swim against the current, the Cressis will make it happen):  I was working far harder and moving far too slowly than I could/should have.
Mares Quattros

Mares Quattros

 I’ve dived in BCDs that are too large or too small for me (including an XS – and those of you who have me know that at 6′ and 82kg, I am definitely NOT an XS).   I’ve worn masks that pinch my nose, used regs with super-high breathing resistance and dived while overweighted by 3-4 kg (although not all at the same time).   Did I enjoy any of these experiences?  Not particularly, but it wasn’t a particularly big deal.    So while I do prefer the comfort of my own gear, I can make do with pretty much anything that is reasonably close.     Except with these fins – with these fins, it wasnt just a mental thing.   I was physically affected during my diving.
So that got me thinking – if my choice of fins messed up my diving zen so badly, what are the implications for all the people who have recently learned to dive, who are going on diving trips and are wearing fins that may not be optimal for them?       To what degree is a diver’s trim (and therefore buoyancy), breathing rate and general comfort level in the water, especially in currents, affected by poorly-matching fins?
So we modified our buoyancy specialty in certain cases to make sure we spent time experimenting with various types of fins – and we tried this with divers of varying levels (beginner to over a hundred dives).    And it has proven to be a game-changer for a significant majority of the divers – in most cases, there was ONE Goldilocks fins which just made the entire system (BCD, weight distribution, kicking, buoyancy) work together in a significantly better way.
And really, it makes sense.      Fins may not be very heavy, but they are the furthest item from your center of buoyancy/gravity and so exert the greatest moment on your trim.    A small change in the buoyancy characteristic of your fin can have a greater impact than a kilo extra on your belt.     Then add to that your kicking style – do you prefer slower, more powerful strokes or shorter, faster kicks, and which affects your breathing pattern more?      The right fins address all these issues.
Scubapro Seawing Novas

Scubapro Seawing Novas

 So what is the takeaway for you as a diver?   If you have ever had buoyancy and trim issues, or struggled in a current, look into not just weighting and distribution, but also fins as a source of fixing these problems.     Even if you have not had any issues with currents, it may still be worth trying to find the Right Fin – it may not be as critical but going from an Ok Pair to The Right Pair is very similar from going from being almost properly weighted to properly weighted – it feels significantly better.
To help you with the process of evaluating fins, I have created a framework of 5 attributes for evaluating fins.

HOW TO EVALUATE FINS

The following 5 attributes of a fin provide insights into its performance and should help you narrow down on fins that work best for you:

1) Thrust:   This is a measure of how much propulsion a fin provides with a single kick, and depends on the length of the fin, its stiffness as well as the overall design.

2)  Beat Rate:   This is a measure of how frequently you have to kick in order to get the optimal propulsion.     A direct analogy would be running, where your speed depends on your stride length and turnover or how many steps per minute you take.   Beat rate is the equivalent of steps per minute here, with thrust being the equivalent of stride length.
3)  Stiffness:    This is a measure of how much force you have to (or can) exert per kick for optimal propulsion.   In general, greater stiffness typically results in greater thrust, but manufacturers are always trying to find clever designs to improve the thrust:stiffness ratio.
4)   Buoyancy:   This tells you whether the fin floats or sinks in the water – which can affect your trim.   These days, most fins tend to be more or less neutrally buoyant, although a few notable exceptions do exist.
5)   Bite:   This is a term i have coined to describe how well you “feel” the water when you kick – your proprioception, in other words.     To use an analogy – when you do the front crawl, you learn to develop a feel for “holding the water” in your hand when doing the pull part of the stroke.    Similarly, you have a better feel of the water with some fins than with others.   That is bite.    Why does this matter?   This is essential when you are trying to make small precise movements in limited space – eg, inside a shipwreck or while engaging in underwater photography.
So what does all this mean?
Thrust and beat rate together give you a measure of the propulsion provided by a pair of fins.      You can get the same propulsion by using a high-thrust fins kicked at a low rate (the equivalent of mashing a big gear on a bicycle) or by using low-thrust fins kicked at a high rate (high cadence spinning).      The former is easier on your lungs but harder on your legs – the latter will increase your HR to some degree, but is easier on your legs.
Stiffness tells you how much effort is required to get that propulsion.    Actually, to some degree, stiffness and beat rate are linked – stiff fins tend to lend themselves to lower beat rates, whereas softer fins tend to lend themselves to higher beat rates.   But I feel it is worthwhile enough to keep stiffness as a separate category because it doesn’t just affect propulsion but also leg comfort.   Also, it is possible to “outkick” your fin if you exert a larger effort than the fin’s stiffness allows it to handle – in such cases, it is better to increase the beat rate rather than effort per kick.
The last 2 characteristics aren’t about propulsion but about control and balance in the water.   Buoyancy of fins tells you how it will impact your trim in the water, as explained earlier in this article.      There is no right or wrong attribute here – a lot depends on your trim characteristics (defined by your body and your gear).
And lastly, bite gives you an indication of how much precise control you have in the water with the fins.     I created this term while trying to understand why I liked some fins more than others even though both of them were equally effective in the water.    The words that came into my mind were “mushy” vs “precise” – and it is a significant factor in determining how good a pair of fins feels while diving.

OTHER FEATURES OF FINS

 In addition to the attributes mentioned, there are other aspects of fins that also go into a purchase decision.
The first of these is whether you want a Full Foot fin or an Open Heel fin – the former are meant to be worn on bare feet, whereas the latter require the diver to wear booties (or at the very least, neoprene socks).      The benefit of full foot fins is that they can be very comfortable and feel very secure – and also require one less piece of equipment.    On the flip side, fit is very important – if the foot pocket doesn’t match your foot shape and is too loose or tight, it can hurt or result in blisters.     Open heel fins are more flexible in terms of fit, and also allow you the ability to wear the fins over a broader range of water temperatures.   Plus, if you are doing shore dives, dive booties are very nice to have – especially on rocky water entries.
Another point to consider is fin size and weight – in this day and age of ever-miserly baggage allowances, large fins can be harder to travel with.     I am always on the quest for smaller and more compact fins – but so far, I have yet to find one where the smaller size comes with no compromises (there are a couple of fins where the compromise can be acceptable in some conditions – but not universally so).      And given the cost of a diving trip, the slight increase in inconvenience of taking the Right Fins is significantly outweighed by increased comfort when diving.   Your mileage may vary, of course.
The last item is what I call “high tech features”:  fancy designs meant to shift the thrust-to-effort ratio.  These include gears to adjust stiffness, split fins, funky designs, etc.    I have tried a bunch of them, and honestly, been underwhelmed – however, I also admit that while I like playing with new tech, it also takes convincing to get me to give up what has worked well in favor of the latest-and-greatest:  especially when this latest-and-greatest often comes at a much higher cost.   As with most things, personal preferences come into play.    Personally, instead of just looking at the technology, I would evaluate fins like this using the 5 attributes I had mentioned earlier – ultimately, that is what matters, and not how “funky” the fins are.   Obviously, if all else is equal, you can always choose to get the fins that are more high-tech:  nothing wrong with wanting cool tech.

 

SELECTING THE RIGHT SET OF FINS FOR YOU

 So now that you have read all of this, how do you actually select the correct fins for you?
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer to this.   Because we all vary in our dive skills, personal fitness, swimming skills, buoyancy characteristics and kicking style, what works for me will not necessarily work for you – and by the same token. a set of fins that I discount may very well be the best fins ever for you.
The only way to find the right set of fins is to try out as many pairs as possible.   The next time you go diving, try out a few different fins, if you can.   Note the model and try to evaluate how they feel in terms of thrust, beat rate, stiffness, buoyancy and bite.     Make a note of what you like about it and what you don’t (sometimes, you may have to try more than one set of fins before you start noticing these differences).      You will note that some fins feel a lot better and improve your comfort in the water drastically – if possible, try to identify what particular aspect of those fins is contributing to this.
To help people with this process, we have also put together a basket of Recommended Fins – these are available to try out in our dive centers in the Andamans, as well as at our @Home dive centers in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai.      We have selected fins that, from experience, have worked well for most divers – each of these fins are slightly different from the other in terms of attributes, and we feel confident that most divers will be able to find something that works for them from this set.
Contact us to set up an appointment to try this out!

Author:   Vandit Kalia (Vinnie)

Vinnie is the founder of DIVEIndia Scuba & Resorts, and has been diving since 1991 and teaching since 2oo1.   A NAUI Course Director, SSI Instructor Trainer and TDI trimix diver, he is also a keen gadget head and always interested in digging deeper into the nuances of dive equipment and trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t and more importantly, why.

Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef

By Articles, Blogs, Dive Sites, PADI underwater naturalist

DIVE Site: Nemo’s Reef

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 15-20 meters
AVERAGE DEPTH: 5-8 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef

Nemo’s reef. Where do we begin to describe this extremely familiar yet totally mysterious place! A shore entry site, it opens into a swimming pool-like setting with shallow water, white sand and a baby reef (1-3 meters). It then splits into two long fringing reefs on either side of the shallow sandy pool. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands harbours over 2000 sq.km of coral reefs and a majority of this area fringes along islands. Thick forests, mangroves and rocky shores make access difficult in most places and this is where Nemo’s reef is popular. Easy entry and exits, not requiring long surface swims. It is also fairly sheltered from winds through most of the year.

On an average day at Nemo’s, we typically get to see mixed schools of reef fish, everything from surgeonfish, rabbitfish, parrotfish, butterflyfish, bannerfish and snappers, sweetlips queenfish and chubs, to hunting trevallies, needlefish and barracudas. Five species of anemonefish can be seen here, easily, giving this reef its name. Cephalopods like the octopus, squid and cuttlefish are residents at nemo’s with regularly used dens and rubble patches. The banded sea kraits and the more estuarine file snake come through regularly, along with the beautiful Kuhl’s sting ray. Molluscs, crinoids, crustaceans, sponges polychaetes and several other invertebrate groups thrive here as well.

High tide is a great time to dive because the water is usually clear and we get to see the sloping topography of the reef, however, the marine life tends to concentrate into dramatic densities when the tide recedes, the water level comes down and visibility drops.

The topography of the dive site makes it ideal for us to begin dive courses and take people on their first ever SCUBA diving experience, but by no means is Nemo’s reef just a training space. The shallow profile of this reef allows us to stay until we hit the reserve on our tanks without having to worry about no-decompression limits. So this gives us on average an estimated 60-80 minute underwater for fun divers who are keen on exploring the rocks and sands for crazy macro life- day and night!

While we love all of our dive sites dearly, it is here that most of us come back nodding in awe-inspired disbelief, thinking “did we really just see that animal in the Andamans? And in Nemo’s reef?” Starting with flying gurnads, ornate ghost pipefish, robust ghost pipefish, devil scorpionfish, angler flounders, honeycomb moray eels, seahorses, bizarre nudibranchs, sea moths, skeleton shrimps and as of a week ago- painted frogfish! While a bunch of these are potentially only briefly passing through, we are certain that most are resident and have missed our eye from having not looked carefully enough or for long enough! Shore dives at Nemo’s reef are very easy to organise and we are never limited by space. So if you are keen on shore diving, our divemasters would be thrilled to take you. It gives us a chance to continue exploring this crazy reef!

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef, Andamans
by Dev 

Dining etiquette for an Octopus | The Incredibles Showcase

By Blogs, PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase, Underwater Naturaliast Course, Underwater Photography

How do octopus eat their prey

How do octopus eat their prey

Dining etiquette for an octopus: Dig in with all hands!

Nemo’s reef is a fantastic place to spend hours watching these animals just,be. We follow them quietly, as they go about doing their daily things around the shallows of Nemo’s. That alone is one lifetime of diving right there! People often make the mistake of getting way too close to an octopus. Sure, it is sitting there in its crevice, changing colour in response to divers and that is rather cool! But what would be even cooler and perhaps much less disruptive for the octopus, is if we were to curb the excitement and give the animal enough space to get back to its life. This can in fact be plenty times more extraordinary a sight to behold than a tense octopus hiding in a hole! Here we see a young octopus that frequents the ‘first barrel sponge rocks’ area at Nemo’s reef. All of us have met this octopus over the past few weeks and she/he is now very comfortable around divers. When we first saw it, a diver was ten inches away from it with a camera, as it hid inside a crevice, perhaps thinking to itself – Hurry up mister, I’m starving and you’re in my way. As soon as said mister left the scene, the octopus was on the move! We suppose one can identity an octopus with a ravenous appetite by how thoroughly it inspects each rock, tickling every crevice simultaneously with every arm. Note how it expands each arm, turning its entire body in to a large web-like umbrella to trap any molluscs, crustaceans or tiny fish that get flushed out during its invasion.Once prey is in hand, an octopus might crush it, pry it open, or drill a hole in it, drain in some toxins or simply slurp it up, depending on the nature of its catch. Owing to its highly efficient, powerful and thorough hunting technique, an octopus on the hunt is almost always surrounded by a mob of other fish-a mix of allies and competitors possibly. Here we see a few juvenile groupers, wrasses, goatfishes and a tiny cloud of exasperated damsels. Isn’t this simply fascinating?

Video credit: Chetana Purushotham

The Angler Flounder (Asterorombus Intermedius)

By Blogs, PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase, Underwater Naturaliast Course

The Art & Science Of Floundering About

 

We all know what a flounder is, and we’ve surely heard of anglerfish, but what in the world is an angler flounder? As though the flounder and angler were each not sci-fi enough, evolution has fashioned this beautiful animal, a.k.a Asterorombus intermedius!

With intricate and elaborate head-to-toe camouflage and a stiff lure protruding from the tip of its mouth, the angler flounder takes the most effective adaptations of two very good predators and blends into something like a super-predator of the sandy bottom. But, why go through all that effort? Is procuring a meal really that difficult in the wild?

For many of us humans these days, finding food would probably mean, cooking a meal after heading over to the market, going to a restaurant, opening the fridge for a quick bite, making a phone call and ordering in (in increasing order of tech sophistication but in decreasing order of per capita effort?). You and I don’t really have to forage, chase or hunt for our food, sustenance and survival. But animals in the wild do, every single time, requiring sophistication and effort! As prey get smarter and harder to catch, predators have no choice but to evolve better strategies to make sure they have that meal on their plate. It is never an overkill.

The angler flounder on the hunt has heightened senses- it swivels each eye, keeping a look out for potential prey- a watchman goby or partner shrimp maybe? Hidden from view by its granular pattern and colour, carefully it crawls over the sandy bottom with webbed fins, waving its bait, casually but concertedly-come fishy-fishy-fishy…

Camouflage for a flounder is extremely effective but also a lot of work. There is the technical aspect of the chromatophores and pigments that need to be constantly redistributed amongst the flounder’s tissues, just the right amount and at just the right time, to give it the right colour, texture and hue. This requires the thinking aspect, where should I position myself? What should I blend in as? Am I on rock or sand or both? Of course, this is where the cleverness aspect comes in- there comes the goby, it is going to turn in my direction in…3…2…1… BAMMM! Meal.

While we might appreciate the beauty of these animals and their wild schemes, it helps to also appreciate all that goes in the making. Take something like camouflage, for instance. The next time you are trying to get too close to a flounder or scorpionfish or any camouflaged animal for that matter, for the thrill of a better view, a photograph or to instigate movement, remember that disturbing it will not only blow its cover, but also cost it a day’s meal!

Video Credit: Umeed Mistry
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Dive Site: Pilot Reef

By Articles, Blogs, Dive Sites

DIVE Site: Pilot Reef

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 12 -18 – 25 meters depending on diver verification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 9-14 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Pilot Reef

North Pilot is a fairly big dive site falling within an even larger patch reef known in old topographical maps as Pilot Reef. While our boats are moored to the dive site, we often times choose to drift and explore the dive site and have the boat pick us up. This reef is rocky and stands tall from the sand bed like a fortress. The part of north pilot we dive at has beautiful encrusting and digitate coral starting at about 8 meters, down to 15 meters.

The best part about this dive is looking in all the crevices and tiny caves for hidden
surprises- lobsters, giant and white-eyed moray eels, sweepers, soldierfish and the
infrequent resting shark. The orange-spine unicornfish, longnose butterflyfish and
trumpetfish are pilot reef residents and are almost never seen in our other dive sites.

North pilot also has great macro life, especially crustaceans and molluscs. Scorpionfish, flatheads and stonefish are very common here but a challenge to spot amidst the complex topography but, well, therein lies the fun. ?

For folks who tend to lose their way in this reef, always keep a look out for the wall of phantom bannerfish that hover over the reef at about 8 meters and just two kick cycles from the mooring line. We are not very sure how to explain this schooling phenomenon by the phantom banners, which do nothing of this sort in any of other sites. At north pilot, they are a monument!

North pilot is often not accessible when strong winds are hitting Havelock from the east. However, we presume that the regular exposure to the winds and swells give this site the regular toss and tumble it needs to stay healthy!

Picture clicked at Dive Site: Pilot Reef, Andamans

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Dive Site: Tribe Gate

By Articles, Blogs, Dive Sites

DIVE Site: Tribe Gate

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 12 -15 meters depending on diver certification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 5-8 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Tribe Gate

Tribe Gate is a small submerged hill surrounded by a bed of sand on all sides. We begin our dive from its foothills, making our way to the top in concentric, shallowing circles.

The reef at Tribe Gate has evidently been built by Porites coral boulders, over hundreds of thousands of years. These brown coral boulders are stacked in shelves, one below the other, through most of the dive site. Well, except in the ruins of the ancient city of Pavona.

This part of the dive site is characterised by a vast field of miniature pillars built during the reign of the erstwhile coral empire Pavona, before their demise during the coral bleaching episode that hit the Indo-Pacific Ocean in 2010, leaving behind an eerily beautiful geological piece of art.

The ancient city is home to moray eels, stonefish, groupers, cardinal fish, flatheads, urchins, nudibranchs, shrimps, among many others. It is also perennially overcast with a cloud of two-spot snappers. You could do your entire dive at tribe gate in this city. ?

Some special residents that we are always on a look out for include the scribbled filefish, yellowtail barracuda, striped surgeonfish, Beaufort’s crocodile flathead, unicornfish, banded sea kraits, Phyllidia and Halgerda slugs and other cool critters.
Tribe Gate is also where we see the most number of Tridacna clams- the largest living clams in the world- and also all five species of anemonefish we see commonly in the Andamans.

We conclude our dive with an extended safety stop, enjoying as the sergeant major damsels and fusiliers school around us, until we surface to a spectacular view of Havelock Island.

Tribe Gate is a great place to fun dive, learn to dive or even do your first ever dive!

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: Tribe Gate, Andamans

Video credit Umeed Mistry

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Dive Site: The Slope

By Articles, Blogs, Dive Sites, Scuba Diving Andamans

DIVE Site: The Slope

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 18 meters | 12 meters, depending on diver certification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 7-10 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: The Slope

The Slope is one of our favourite shallow dive sites because we’ve known and befriended its residents for many years now. In terms of proximity, Slope is the Wall’s closest neighbour but despite the nearness, the topography could not be more different. Imagine the Slope to look like an amphitheatre with parallel ridges placed like cascading rows of seats gently sloping downwards. The ridges are mostly sandy but interspersed every now and then with large boulders of corals. This is a fairly large dive site and needs to be dived more than once to see all of it. On the flipside, there is a lot that you can see here, even without covering the whole extent of it.

The sandy patches are great places to look for echinoderms (sea stars, cushion stars, brittle stars, sea cucumbers), molluscs and crustaceans. The boulders are where you see clouds of damselfish, fusiliers and cardinalfish. Reef fish are in good diversity and abundance here. Groupers keep territories around here and you can observe this behaviour unfold as you swim over the rocks.
We consider the Slope to be shrimp central. Look here for banded boxer shrimps, Durban dancing shrimps, ambon shrimps, marbled shrimps, glass shrimps, cleaner shrimps and several more. Forgot to mention how this site is also a great place to look for pipefish, scorpionfish, anemonefish, boxfish, giant clams, wrasses, barrel sponges, gorgonians and sea whips. There is the occasional sea turtle, Kuhl’s sting ray, Buford’s crocodile flathead and banded sea krait spotted here as well. To paint the water blue and silver, there are red-toothed triggers and mackerel always passing by.

As we shallow up towards the end of the dive, we pay a quick visit to the submerged pillars of a floating white lighthouse which is home to oysters, peacock mantis shrimps, schooling batfish and different species of lionfish. We like to end our dive at the shallowest ridge which lies at approximately 5 meters deep, best enjoyed during your safety stop!

If you are coming to us to fun dive, do your open water, advanced, underwater naturalist or deep specialities…we can take you to the wall 🙂

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: The Slope, Andamans

Dive Site: The Wall

By Blogs, Dive Sites, Scuba Diving Andamans

Dive Site: The Wall

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 30 meters | 18 meters | 12 meters, depending on diver certification level
AVERAGE DEPTH: 12-15 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: The Wall

This is a dive site for all seasons, all conditions and all diver levels.

The wall is located very close to Havelock Island and takes 10 to 15 minutes to get to by boat from DIVEIndia. It is one of the first dive sites to be discovered around Havelock back in 2004. We love the Wall because of its crazy topography, very unlike any of our other dive sites in the same vicinity.

We descend down to a ridge that lies between 10-12 meters below the surface. The ridge is a mix of coral rocks and sandy beds. Here we look for schooling, territorial or camouflaging reef fish, octopus, cuttlefish and squids, a host of macroinvertebrates, while also hoping to bump into the harem of Napolean wrasses resident at the wall.

The magical drop-off begins almost immediately, the moment you swim east of the ridge. The wall runs parallel to the ridge for about 80 meters and culminates at a cliff-like edge. We swim along the wall, admiring the scene like an art gallery with a variety of coral, hydroid trees, oysters, feather stars and small caves on display. Depending on the direction of the current and how strong it is, we either make our way back along the wall to where we started or we continue to the other shallower side of the ridge while we look for big groupers, snappers, sweetlips, parrotfish, butterflyfish, angelfish, moray eels, lionfish and enormous scorpionfish. But first, we spend a few moments at the cliff because that’s where the big-eye trevallies, giant trevallies and barracudas come in to hunt the schooling fusiliers, scads and mackerel, especially when the visibility is low. A sight to behold!

The wall is great if you are into big, schooling fish but also for those with an eye for macro life, be it molluscs like nudibranchs and snails, crustaceans such as commensal shrimps and crabs, crinoids or polychaete worms. If we are lucky, we might find an ornate ghost pipefish lurking behind one the feather stars along the wall!

December to March marks the octopus mating season here in Havelock, increasing the probability of finding octopuses in action-hunting, courting or mating. We like to give these guys some space so we can see their natural behaviours unfold.

If you are coming to us to fun dive, do your open water, advanced, underwater naturalist or deep specialities…we can take you to the wall 🙂

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: The Wall, Andamans

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Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse

By Blogs, Dive Sites, Scuba Diving Andamans

DIVE Site: Peel, Lighthouse

DIVE PROFILE

MAX DEPTH: 12 meters
AVERAGE DEPTH: 8-10 meters
BOTTOM TIME: 45 – 60 minutes

About the Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse

We discovered this dive site not too long ago, when stormy weather prevented us from venturing out to our sites further out. Our dive team’s fearless leader at the time, Vikas Nairi, decided to explore the seas for reefs that are closer and storm protected. That is how this beautiful patch of reef was found, sitting quietly around a floating red lighthouse ten minutes outside of DIVEIndia.

This reef is circular, surrounded by sand on all sides. It experiences some of the strongest currents we’ve felt, during tide changes around new and full moons. Some of the biggest barrel sponges, fan coral, soft coral and hydroid trees we’ve seen close to Havelock have also been here, thanks to these infrequent strong currents.

Just like with our dive site the Slope, we swim through the pillars of the floating lighthouse to look for beautiful feather duster worms, cowries, slugs, moray eels, lionfish, puffers, crustaceans and schooling fish in the blue.

This dive site is great for long shallow dives as well as drift dives depending on the current affairs.

The sand patch around the reef is a common resting site for Kuhl’s sting rays. In search of sting rays we often come across nudibranchs, flounders and a good diversity of beautiful goby-shrimp partnerships.

The owners of the Full Moon Café contributed their age-old cycle and scooter to this dive site some years ago, as artificial structures to support more reef life. We’ll take you there 🙂

Irrespective of the dive conditions, currents and visibility-wise, there is always a lot to see and experience, for certified divers of all levels as well as folks still learning to dive.

Pictures clicked at Dive Site: Peel Lighthouse, Andamans

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PADI Dive Master Courses in India – All You Need to Know

By Articles

PADI Dive master courses in India – Cost, Career opportunities in Scuba Diving

Divemaster is the first professional certification level.   In many ways, it is arguably ethe most important step you will take as well – it is at this stage that you learn professional-level diving theory and techniques, as well as start to develop the various personal attributes that go with being a dive pro:  judgement, ethics, decision-making and more.  In short, this is where you develop the foundations of becoming a good dive pro.     In higher courses, you learn more about teaching, risk management and other aspects – but as with anything else, unless your foundations are strong, you are going to be limited.  The deeper the roots, the higher the reach, as a friend of mine likes to say.    For example, our PADI Divemaster programs are focused on creating qualified dive professionals who are ready to hit the ground running – they are a great match for people looking to become a part of the industry and not necessarily a great fit for people who are looking for a cheap way to do a bunch of dives, hang out on the beach and chill out (although there is a big part of that in a dive professional’s lifestyle anyway 🙂
And of course, if you are going to go pro, we strongly feel that it makes sense to do so with PADI, the world’s largest diver training agency, which has nearly an 80% market share in diver training.   After all, that’s where most of the job opportunities lie!      Even when we were a dual-agency dive center, we still did more PADI Divemaster courses for this very reason.
The first question that people ask is prIce.   That is not the correct question to ask.  In order to do a good divemaster course, you need to find a dive center whose training approach and philosophy matches your own learning style and expectations.     It isnt a question of good or bad – it is a question of fit.   And that is the question which should drive your decision, instead of cost.    Saving a little money and getting a course that doesn’t fit your expectations/preferences is not good value – quite the opposite!
Still, cost is an issue – if for no other reason than for financial planning.    And that depends on the type of program that you do:  there are 2 ways to do your PADI Divemaster program.
– The first is just a bare-bones Divemaster course:  come in, meet the requirements, get done.   This can be done in as little as 7-10 days, if you actually put your mind to it.   And the cost for this varies from around Rs 25,000-35,000 plus tax.     Is this a good option?     I only recommend this for candidates who have several hundred dives, and some experience teaching another sport – and even then, i would still recommend that they go for a longer, internship-based option.      After all, is a week enough to learn sound dive judgement or decision-making?
– The Divemaster internship:  this is an extended program where you work as an intern at the dive center, and gain valuable experience as a dive professional, going well beyond the minimum requirements.    There are various models for this, ranging from shorter internships where you have to pay for the training (Rs 65,000-75,000, plus tax) to longer internships where some of the training fees are refunded if you are a positive contributor to the dive center (resulting in a program that is often nearly free).
In addition, there is also the cost of mandatory agency materials, which are approx Rs 22,000 or so for a PADI Divemaster program.
So is this worth it?   Along with the price, the other question we get asked often is “what is the scope for working as a PADI Divemaster”?   Well, it depends.    If you are looking for a break from the regular corporate world, working as a PADI Divemaster is a great way to earn a fairly respectable salary and also enjoy a great lifestyle, with the prospects of moving up the professional ladder down the road to Instructor, Dive Center Manager, Equipment Retailer and more.       The base salaries for Divemaster range from Rs 15,000-20,000 and with bonuses and experience, can go to well about Rs 35,000-40,000 in some cases.     Oh, and did i mention that you get to live by the sea and dive daily, as opposed to being stuck in an office?
And these salaries are not just for a handful of lucky people – the dive industry in India is poised on the verge of a massive boom, and dive centers everywhere are looking for qualified, motivated professionals.     So if this is something that interests you, it is definitely a career worth considering!

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Has Boat Diving Resumed in the Andamans?

By Andaman scuba diving course, Blogs, Scuba Diving Andamans

Is Boat Diving back in the Andamans (Havelock and Neil) Islands?

(Is Boat Diving back in the Andamans? The question everyone has been asking us)

Short version:  Yes, boat diving is on – and has been since early August!

Long version:  All boats have been required to be re-classified.   One of our boats has been done and has been operating since early August.   The others are in queue, and should get done soon.    So yes, we are back to boat diving, albeit with lower capacity than earlier for now.    With the support of the Andamans administration, this process is going to be streamlined even further and we expect to be back to normal operations for good within a few weeks.
Here’s a link to our scuba diving packages!!! 🙂
Boat diving in the andamans
Boat diving resumed in the andaman islands - havelock and neil
Boat diving in the andaman islands - diveindia
Is Boat Diving back in the Andamans

Sharkskin Thermal Protection Chillproof – Review

By Gear, Reviews

Disclosure:   The Chillproof Jacket and the green Rapid Dry top were requested by us so that we could do a review, and will be returned.    All the other items referred to in the review are/were the personal property of Vinnie, which he purchased at full retail from shops in Thailand and Malaysia.    As always, our gear reviews are opinionated and represent what we truly feel about the product – we aren’t trying to sell page views or advertising:  we like playing around with gear and we want our fellow divers to get the best possible value for their money.  

One benefit of working at a dive center is that I get to play with a lot of dive gear – both stuff that we try out to use at the dive center and stuff that we try out for sale.    As a result, I have developed a deep-rooted religious aversion to paying retail for anything – after all, why should I, when I have access to the entire catalog of Mares, Aqualung and Scubapro to try out?   Between them, pretty much all my diving needs are covered several times over. There are, however, a few products which I like so much that I am willing to make an exception.   One of them are NOS Cressi Master Frog fins (seriously – if you know any for sale, please let me know. I have had breakups that were less painful than learning that Cressi discontinued these fins). Another is Sharkskin’s range of thermal protection gear.

Up-front alert:  I am a fanboy.   I’ve been using Sharkskin products for 7-8 years now and when I wore through my last one, I walked into a dive shop in Kuala Lumpur, slapped down my credit card and paid full retail for a new one.   As such, I was super-excited to learn that Sharkskin is now available in India, which has prompted this article.

Sharkskin Thermal Protection – Review

Anushka, one of our DMTs, happy and warm in her Sharkskin

WHAT IS SHARKSKIN?

Let’s get one thing out of the way – these are not really made of sharkskin (I know someone who got hate mail about this).    So what are they?   They are amazing, dear reader, that’s what they are.  Amazing.

Sharkskin’s major selling point is what they call their “Chillproof” fabric.   This is an innovative, technical piece of apparel which consists of 3 layers:

  • An inner fleece layer that sits against your skin and wicks away moisture
  • A middle windproof layer which prevents windchill (and if you have ever come up from a dive and shivered like crazy, you know how much windchill can affect your thermal peace of mind!)
  • An outer, stretchable nylon/lycra blend which provides abrasion resistance and UV resistance, and is also water repellant, to shed splashes.

Supposedly, it provides the thermal properties of 2.5-3mm of neoprene – while also being neutrally buoyant (so it wont mess up your weighting), anti-microbial and also odor- and itch-resistant.    No, it is definitely not your run-of-the-mill garment.

IS IT WORTH THE HYPE?

In case I was too subtle in my introduction, short answer:  yes!

Anyone who has dived with me knows that I am a complete and utter wimp, and get cold very quickly (the days of cold water diving in a dry suit/dry hood/dry gloves seem to be very far away).   If I am in the water for a couple of hours, I almost always wear a full length wetsuit, to avoid getting cold.   And even on dives where I am ok in the water, coming out of the water is pretty much a guarantee of the shivers till I can take off the wetsuit, find a towel and put on a dry T-shirt.  As a result, I end up wearing a wetsuit even in warm water – and wetsuits simply are Not Fun:  they are a pain to put on, you need more weight to dive with a wetsuit and there are the post-micturation odor issues that would make even the Big Lebowski shake his head.

Review: Sharkskin Chillproof Thermal Protection

Vinnie posing with his Chillproof Climate Control LS

However, with Sharkskin jackets, I find that not only do I stay warmer in the water, I also stay warmer when I get out of the water.   In practice, I have  found that my threshold temperature for needing a wetsuit has down by 2 degrees compared to other neoprene jackets and vests that I have tried.    In other words, where I would wear a wetsuit in water that is 28-29C, I now can manage with just a Sharkskin top and board shorts in waters down to 26-27C.
Doesnt sound like much, you say?   Well, it means that instead of wearing a wetsuit all year long, now I only need to wear it 2-3 months a year.    9 months less of needing to wrestle in and out of a tight wetsuit every dive.  9 fewer months of being encumbered on each dive.  9 months of less weights, less air adjustments in my BCD and generally a lot more comfortable.
And in cooler (not as warm, let’s say) water, I can wear a Sharkskin under my wetsuit and extend the temperature range of my wetsuit by a few more degrees.    So I am less likely to need a 5mm suit – in fact, ever since I got my first Sharkskin, I stopped using my 5mm suit.
What if you are not a wimp like me?  Well, perhaps you dive in shorts and rash guard and only put on a full length wetsuit at the lower range of tropical temperatures – in this case, you may be able to replace your wetsuit entirely with a Sharkskin!
About the only somewhat negative thing I can say about them – I am not too wild about their hoods.   I like my head to be warm and am used to diving with a 3mm hood all the time.   The Sharkskin hood is a fair bit thinner and doesn’t keep me as warm as a regular hood.   However, the flip side is that the Sharkskin hood is also a lot more comfortable – and for someone who has never tried a hood before, it’s a great way to gain additional warmth without the cloying sensation of a neoprene hood.

THE SHARKSKIN RANGE

 

If there is one thing Sharkskin doesn’t do too well, it is come up with sensible names for their products.    It’s a fairly confusing mess which had me confused for the longest time (and still does), so let me try to demystify it for you.

The core range is the Sharkskin ChillProof Long Sleeve, with a higher end ChillProof Climate Control variant (this has a silver outer layer, which prevents over-heating in the sun as you are kitting up to dive, for example).

 

I used to own the ChillProof long sleeve earlier and replaced with the Climate Control variant recently, and while I haven’t done any controlled testing, I do think I don’t get hot as much with this version when I am traveling to/from the dive site, for example.  So the Climate Control part does seem to work, in my opinion.

Shark Skin chillproof long sleeve

The ChillProof LongSleeves also comes in a hooded variant – one of our current DMTs at the time of writing this article (who may be the only person who gets even colder than me) bought this and it has helped her tremendously with staying warm in the water.   There is no Climate Control variant of the hooded jacket, however.

There is also a full-zip version, called the Chillproof Longsleeve Full Zip.    As the name implies, this zips up and down entirely, giving you more options to regulate your body temperature.   In water, you dive with the jacket fully or partially zipped up and on the boat, you unzip it to stay cool.   In my opinion, the full zipper is an unnecessary complication for divers – at most, the quarter-zip on the Chillproof Climate Control is more than sufficient to make the unit easy to don/doff.

Shark Skin chillproof Hooded Jacket

There is also a Chillproof Hooded Jacket- this jacket meant to be worn on the boat, before/after dives (or also when doing other activities that involve water exposure where warmth is a requirement).

It is a fairly common sight to see dive professionals packing fleece jackets on the boat to stay warm and avoid windchill between dives – but unlike regular fleece jackets, this puppy is designed to be exposed to water, courtesy of those three layers I mentioned earlier.

Shark Skin chillproof vest

Next up is Sharkskin’s short sleeve/sleeveless range, which can be worn as stand-alone units or as base layers under a wetsuit (or a full sleeved Sharkskin jacket).     There are three items here.

First is the Chillproof Short Sleeve, which is available without a hood only.    If you need something a little lighter than a Fullsleeve ChillProof, this is the one for you.   It can be worn stand-alone or as a layer under a wetsuit.

The next two items are primarily designed to be base layers – ChillProof Sleeveless Vests, without and with a hood.   While you can wear them as a stand-alone unit, I would not recommend that if that is your primary usage:   I used to own a  ChillProof Sleeveless Vest With Hood, and found the lack of sleeves let a little more water into my torso than I would have preferred.   For occasional use with shorts, it was fine – but if your goal is to buy something you can wear with shorts to replace a wetsuit, get a version with sleeves, in my opinion.

As base layers under a wetsuit, however, the Sleeveless Vests are fantastic.    They are a lot more comfortable than neoprene or rubber-lined vests, and also feel a lot warmer against your skin.   My old one is torn after years of use, and I will be getting another one to replace it.

Shark Skin Rapid Dry Short and Long Sleeve

Lastly, we have Sharkskin’s answer to the lycra rash guard.     It’s a loose-fitting top with thickness comparable to Lycra, but in a weave-style fabric which feels a lot more comfortable against the skin.    I find most Lycra rashguards feel a little strange (almost sticky) against the skin, and also are prone to bunching and pulling at the joints if the sleeves are a little twisted.   The Rapid Drys are significantly more comfortable and sit against your skin with the comfort that approaches that of cotton

This is one item in their range with which I have not used in the water (the above comments were based on wearing one around on land).   But based on my positive experiences with other Sharkskin models,  I have just ordered one for myself (my third Sharkskin item and 7th overall, if you are keeping track).  I will update the review once I have tried it on. Incidentally, there also appears to be a lime green model in the Rapid Dry, which is not show in the photo above – see below:

Review: Sharkskin Chillproof Thermal Protection

 

There are also other items (such as shorts), which I have omitted from the review, as they are designed primarily for kayaking and other surface activities.

THE ALTERNATIVES

There really are very few products that are directly comparable to Sharkskin.   The typical lycra and neoprene rashguards dont have offer anywhere close to the same degree of comfort, warmth and favorable buoyancy characteristics.

Mares has recently released a range of products called the Fireskin, which utilizes similar principles in construction as the Sharkskin – as you would guess from the name, they are directly taking on Sharkskin with this range of products and the pricing is very competitive (actually, significantly cheaper than Sharkskin).

I have yet to try out a Fireskin unit in the water, but will do so soon and post a review of that.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Thermal protection is important for every diver:  even in warm water and even for divers who don’t get cold often.  There is a big difference between “not getting cold” and “being comfortably warm”, for one – and one that has a tremendous impact on how much you enjoy your dives.      And here, Sharkskin is a product that you should know about.

For those who don’t get cold easily, it can actually replace the 3mm wetsuit as the default thermal protection unit of choice.     I would recommend a ChillProof Long Sleeve as a good option to try out – it is easily warmer than a 3mm neoprene shorty, in my opinion.

For those who do get cold easily, a Sharkskin Sleeveless vest under a wetsuit significantly increases the usable range in which you can wear your wetsuit.   A ChillProof Sleeveless Vest (with or without a hood) is a great way to add extra warmth to your wetsuit without increasing buoyancy.

And if you are the type who gets cold between dives, the ChillProof Hooded Jacket can replace a regular fleece jacket

Darth Vinnie looking for his missing red lightsaber

No, Sharkskin products are not cheap.    You can actually buy a 3mm wetsuit for slightly less than the cost of a Sharkskin ChillProof Long Sleeve top (and the cost of that Sharkskin Hooded Jacket above makes me want to cry).     But they are fantastic and do a great job, which makes them worth the money to me (enough for me to buy several units at full retail).

As those of you who follow my recommendations know, I rarely recommend top-of-the-line stuff unless there is a significant reason to do so.   In general, I feel that functional value in most goods typically resides in the middle of the range:  at the entry level, one gives up too many features to get the lowest price.  At the top of the range, one gets a lot of neat features which are nice to have, but not essential:  and whether or not those features are worth the premium is a personal decision.   Sharkskin is one of the few premium products that I recommend whole-heartedly for everyone – you get a Better Product for your money, and in the long run, that’s a more economical purchase.

And it is not just me –  when I got my first Sharkskin, a fellow instructor liked it so much that he pretty much made me pass it on to him.     I was also relieved of my other Sharkskin, a ChillProof Sleeveless, by another instructor on similar grounds.      So now I keep my current Sharkskins in my room and not in the dive shop – now that it is sold in the country, no one is taking mine from me: they can jolly well order their own damn piece.

And speaking of ordering their own damn pieces:  in the week between my writing this review and it getting posted online, 3 of our dive staff and 3 of our DMTs/Instructor candidates have all ordered Sharkskin products.    And I have also gotten myself a Rapid Dry long sleeve top.

Diveindia sells a full range of Sharkskin jackets – our top recommendations are the ChillProof Long Sleeves (both regular and Climate Control version) for people looking for a better alternative to neoprene rash guards or shorty wetsuits, and the ChillProof Sleeveless Vest (with or without the hood) as something to layer under your existing wetsuit.

Ocean Love: Book of the month

By Articles

If you are the kind who loves the ocean deeply, you surely know the pain of not being in or near the water for more than a certain period of time, after which you start to experience serious withdrawal. Long-distance relationships with the seas can be rather difficult. And looking at photographs and videos can do a great deal in lifting spirits and rekindling hope that the next reunion is not too far away. However, few things can come as close to giving us that same sense of joy and peace, as do good books about the ocean. Be it on a quiet evening at home with a hot chocolate or on the bus to work.

How many things can open up our imagination; awaken all our senses and transport us to places far away the way books can? The written word helps us paint the most vivid images in our minds while making us laugh, cry, contemplate or reminisce. In this series, we are sharing some of our favourite books (fiction and non-fiction) that teach us more about the wonders of the ocean but also beautifully put to words, all that we wish to, but usually struggle to.

Try our picks of the month and let us know your thoughts! We welcome suggestions!

How to Become a Better Scuba Diver

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How to Become a Better Scuba Diver A common misconception among divers is that learning to dive is where you acquire all the skills that you need to dive.  …

#Ocean Love: Book of the Month – What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe

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What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins Jonathan Balcombe, 2017 To me, diving at the same dive site over and over is never boring. It feels…

#OceanLove: The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch

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#OceanLove: Book Of The Month The Highest Tide, A novel by Jim Lynch “If there is poetry in my book about the sea it is not because I deliberately put it…

The author, Chetana is a PADI divemaster and resident biologist at DIVEIndia in the Andaman Islands. She is an alumnus of the Masters program at the Wildlife Conservation Society -India program and National Center of Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. She has been diving and exploring the Andaman Islands since 2013. She is also deeply excited about forests, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

#Ocean Love: Book of the Month – What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe

By #OceanLove, Articles, Blogs, Opinions, Underwater Naturaliast Course

What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins

Jonathan Balcombe, 2017

To me, diving at the same dive site over and over is never boring. It feels like going to hang out at a friend’s house. There is pleasure in seeing them again and there is comfort in knowing all your favourite things about their place are still there.

I have a close friend at Dixon’s Pinnacle, here in Havelock; a cute and curious circular batfish (Platax orbicularis).  When I dive Dixon’s, typically the first thing I see is a 10 meter tall wall of batfish gingerly fighting the current. And nearly every time, there will be that one batfish that peals away from the school and swims over to where I am. Swimming barely a meter away, this batfish accompanies us to the second pinnacle, and waits patiently while we look at the big-eyes hovering behind the third pinnacle. She (or he) even ascends with us to the top of the first pinnacle towards the end of the dive while we look for juvenile emperor angelfish.

The probability of this happening is so high that I can confidently brief my divers about the batfish and sure enough, there my buddy will be!  I have grown attached to this batfish and find it especially comforting when she (or he) accompanies me until the mooring line at the end of the dive, even though it is a good 30 meter swim into the blue that my batfish buddy must swim back to the pinnacles, alone.

Book Review: What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe

My buddy and I say our goodbyes at the end of a dive at Dixon’s Pinnacle.Picture credit: Mayank Singh

I have not been diving for very long, but it did not take me much time to realise that while it is very difficult to tell individual fishes of a species apart , there is no doubt that every individual is different. Fishes, much like us, have different personalities and temperaments, which may be a sum of their life’s experiences. Although there is a lot that we now know about the lives of fish, there is so much more we are yet to understand about them.

The batfish at Dixon’s and several other underwater friends (and enemies) I have made around Havelock have got my mind constantly churning up questions about what they are doing, what they perceive, feel and think! And as though the forces knew exactly what was going on in my mind, the universe dropped a fabulous book into my lap (alright, read: kindle).

‘What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins’ is an eye-opening and mind-boggling account of fish lives that ethologist Jonathan Balcombe uses to make a strong case for fishes as being sentient beings and not merely animals to be caught or consumed. Balcombe bases his argument on decades of science and numerous anecdotal stories, told in a way that really draws you in. While you may or may not agree with some of his interpretations, the facts and observations he states are real.

Fish swimming in schools are not an arbitrary group of fish moving in arbitrary directions. They have leaders, informants, and navigation-communication systems. They have culture.

Photo credit: Vandit Kalia @vanditkalia

This book comes at a time when fish populations are steadily crashing across the globe. It is taking destructive and wasteful fishing practices to meet the ever increasing demand from the seafood market, the live pet trade, traditional medicine, aphrodisiacs, you name it! There is a need, now more than ever, to talk about fish, as individuals whose lives have intrinsic value and not just commodities that measure in kilograms, pounds or tonnes.

To begin with, we hear very often that we ‘evolved from fish’.  There is significant scientific evidence to show that we are descendants of fish and fossils of the first fishes dates back to 530 million years ago. Today they make up 60% of all vertebrate animals on earth. They have had plenty of time to adapt, evolve and diversify extraordinarily; just, not within our view.

We may never truly know what it is that fish perceive, but we are able to figure out the mind blowing extent to which their sensory abilities have evolved – vision, speech, hearing, taste and touch. Balcombe spends time on each of these and several ‘sixth senses’ including navigation using lateral lines, ultraviolet code language and hunting with electroreception!

Fish can think, calculate and memorise. The ‘three second goldfish memory’ is now a thing of the past. Wouldn’t you agree that a three second memory would be frighteningly painful for a manta ray that plans to travel between specific seamounts in search of plankton blooms and then go back each year for a routine clean at the exact same cleaning station, on exactly the same corner, of the exact same coral reef?

What a Fish Knows, Jonathan Balcombe - Review

Fishes such as this Dascyllus uses its lateral line system (seen as the thin line arching across its body) to detect movements and navigate its surroundings

Picture Credit: Gunnhild Sørås  @gunnigullet 

The most interesting part of this book (and you can tell while reading it), is also probably what Balcombe holds closest to his heart. Going beyond the senses, beyond just cognition, he asks- do fish have feelings? Do they have beliefs?

Through studies and stories that are amusing, sad, and hilarious and awe inspiring all at once, we see how fish can have feelings that range from stress to joy. They can appreciate the warmth of the sun in the same way we do after a cold rainy day. A visit to a cleaning station relieves their stress the same way a good massage does ours. They can be inquisitive, deceptive, empathic and playful. Fish have culture, traits that are not innate and need to be learned through the course of their lives.

It makes you wonder why it has taken us so long to acknowledge that fish are not just instinctive but are also intelligent too. Is it because we just have not spent enough time with them? Is it because their faces are not as expressive as other animals that we relate to, like primates? Speaking of primates and how intelligence is contextual, a quote by Albert Einstein comes to mind. “Everybody is a Genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

“You don’t need to have fur and feather to have a personality. Scales and fins will suffice.” – Jonathan Balcombe

Picture credit: Vikas Nairi  @vikasnairi

In conclusion, this is a really fun book but also pertinent given the current state of affairs where fishes in our oceans and rivers are concerned. We have learned fish behaviour enough to know how and when to detect and catch them using sophisticated technology and yet we fail to use this same knowledge to stop decimating their populations and ecosystems.

Try spending about five minutes on your next dive observing a cleaning station. The interaction between cleaners and clients on a reef alone tells so much about their social systems and will show you that “fish aren’t just alive, they have lives”!

In the meantime, after having read this book, I look forward to heading back to Dixon’s to meet my buddy the batfish again. Do you think that they know that we know what they know?

What a Fish Knows is easily available online, in paperback and kindle versions!

Read other posts in the #OceanLove Book of the Month series here

The author, Chetana is a PADI divemaster and resident biologist at DIVEIndia in the Andaman Islands. She is an alumnus of the Masters program at the Wildlife Conservation Society -India program and National Center of Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. She has been diving and exploring the Andaman Islands since 2013. She is also deeply excited about forests, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

Who Are You Calling an Invertebrate?

By Articles, The Incredible Showcase, Underwater Naturaliast Course

Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) juggled many professional hats during his life – he was a professor, biologist, philosopher, physician, and in the middle all that, he found the time to be a phenomenal artist as well. He is known for his enormous contribution to science, through the several new species he discovered, scientific concepts he theorized and biological terms he coined. He is also admired across various disciplines for his exquisite and influential collection of illustrations known as the ‘Kunstformen der Natur’ or ‘Artforms in Nature’ (sketched and painted between 1899 -1904).

If you are looking at any of these plates and admiring them for their abstract beauty or commending Ernst Haeckel for his marvellous attempt at science-fiction, take a look again. These are all real marine animals. They actually exist in these very shapes, patterns and forms. Ernst Haeckel observed and appreciated that in these underwater beauties; several decades before the advent of recreational SCUBA diving.

What do all these animals have in common? On careful observation you will notice that, yes they are all stunningly beautiful, there is inherent symmetry, but also, they are all types of ‘invertebrates’. They are all animals that lack a vertebral column or a backbone/spine inside their bodies.

Speaking of invertebrates, I never did understand the figurative use of this term in our society. To call someone a ‘spineless’, ‘invertebrate’ is to describe them as weak, cowardly, inadequate or ineffective. How did this association come to be?

Over 97% of animals on this planet are spineless, especially in the ocean. Some of the most venomous (box jellyfish), strongest (mantis shrimp), smartest (octopus), fastest reflexes (mantis shrimp again!), largest (giant squid), cutest (alright, this one is heavily subjectiveJ) are some form of marine invertebrate or the other.

A barrel sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria) can dwarf you despite your tank and fins
Vandit Kalia @vanditkalia

When reading about evolution and biology today we learn that, more and more, science doesn’t consider evolution to be progressive. Meaning to say that through the course of geological time, being older or having appeared first is no longer considered ‘primitive’ and being more newly evolved doesn’t make you necessarily ‘advanced’. Scientists now prefer to use terms such as ‘ancestral’ and ‘recent’ instead, with much less value judgement. Take sponges for example. Sponges consist of hollow cavities held together by protein fibres and they have numerous different types of cells, to filter food from water that is brought in and sent out. Sponges constitute some of the oldest animals to have ever lived (fossils as old as 640 million years old), and they still exist, all of 9,000 species of them.

A wise old coral colony
Gunnhild Sørås  
@gunnigullet    Vikas Nairi  @vikasnairi

Backbone-free animals are everywhere, and some of them literally shape our world. During the journey of a single dive in a shallow reef, we are immersing ourselves into a world whose multi-dimensional foundation, was built over millions of years, by the remarkably and astonishingly, spineless coral. Stony coral get a majority of their energy from their in-house photosynthetic symbionts and use it to put down calcium carbonate skeletons, layer by layer, that are strong enough to last years, centuries, and millennia. Corals live and lay the foundation of coral reefs, and then everyone else, from feather-duster worms to fish, start to step in to look for ways to build their own lives. An ecosystem is formed.

A closing sea anemone
Chetana Babburjung
 @chutney_babburjung

Through the course of your dive, you will surely find yourself smiling at clownfish in their anemones. Unlike a majority of their coral cousins which live as colonies of polyps, sea anemones are typically singular polyps lined by a whorl of stinging tentacles. Hidden in the centre of the anemone, if clownfish will allow you to see it, is an opening that is its singular window to the outside world- mouth and anus. It happens rarely and very difficult to catch with the naked eye, but sea anemones can move.

A peacock tail anemone shrimp busy on its host anemone
Gunnhild Sørås 
@gunnigullet

Anemones are cheerful hosts that collaborate not just with clownfish, but a variety of crustaceans, especially anemone shrimps and crabs that promise to help the anemone stay clean in return for a home.

Nudibranchs, a cryptic treasure.
Gunnhild Sørås 
@gunnigullet

Some of the more cryptic treasures to look out for on a reef are sea slugs, who are now coming out of the shadow of their celebrity cousins-the octopus. Among the mind-blowing diversity of sea slugs, nudibranchs are unique in that they breathe through gills placed outside their body (hence the name). While they have a versatile diet, some of them love eating fern-like hydroids. Hydroids just like their relatives -coral, anemones and jellies- are laced with stingers. No matter, Aeolid nudibranchs eat them anyway, carefully pocketing the stingers for later use as self-defence. Similarly sap-sucking slugs feed on algae but extract the algal pigments and keep them alive in their bodies for their own personal photosynthetic use. Is that ingenious, or is that ingenious?

Ernst Haeckel was particularly taken by the symmetry he saw in nature. A classic example for us would be- Echinoderms. A group found exclusively in the ocean, echinoderms are the sea stars, feather stars, brittle stars, urchins, cucumbers and several other unbelievable but underappreciated marine invertebrates (and therefore warrant a separate feature altogether).

A mollusc larva dancing in the blue
Vikas Nairi 
@vikasnairi

A typical shallow dive might last forty-five minutes to an hour and we may still not be ready to ascend to the surface, even though the gases in our tanks and bodies might dictate otherwise. But wait, the dive isn’t over yet.  Safety stops are the best time to connect with bizarre but brilliant drifting creatures, as we hover in an endless soup of plankton.

At the end of the day, if Boris Johnson were to ever call me a “supine invertebrate jelly”, I think I might just say, thank you.

Watch this space for our next  showcase on the underwater lives of the Incredibles.

The author, Chetana is a PADI divemaster and resident biologist at DIVEIndia in the Andaman Islands. She is an alumnus of the Masters program at the Wildlife Conservation Society -India program and National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. She has been diving and exploring the Andaman Islands since 2013. She is also deeply excited about forests, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

#OceanLove: The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch

By #OceanLove, Articles, Opinions, PADI underwater naturalist

#OceanLove: Book Of The Month

The Highest Tide, A novel by Jim Lynch

“If there is poetry in my book about the sea it is not because I deliberately put it there but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry” –Rachel Carson, in her acceptance speech of the National Book Award for non-fiction (1952) for ‘The Sea Around Us’.

Miles O’ Maley is a thirteen-year-old boy who admires Rachel Carson to the extent that he can quote lines from her books and speeches off the top of his head any time of day or night. Growing up around a beautiful bay in Puget Sound, Miles spends most of his time in the tidal mudflats looking for interesting marine life at low tide. He has an extraordinary passion and love for the water with an unparalleled understanding of the ocean and all of its inhabitants. Miles still is your average teenager; struggling with the perils of puberty, love and parents who he thinks do not understand him. He finds growing up more mysterious than the tides.

Sunset The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

Rock pools at low tide. Picture credit: Ajay Kumar @ajay.1994

He doesn’t consider himself special in any way; he only speaks of the world around him. In fact, people around him consider his fascination rather odd, until the day when everything suddenly changes. Miles becomes the centre of media attention for finding a gigantic deep sea creature beached in his bay. The story then becomes about how this one event changes his life, the people around him and the bay that he has grown up in and deeply loves.

While the story is one of fiction, none of the marine life that Miles describes is.  You will find yourself taking to the internet quite frequently to be sure that the bizarre animals and plants actually exist in this world. In this one read, just by following Miles through the ups and downs of his sensationalised summer, you learn about the beauty of tides and how they shape our coastlines. He describes in his totally casual tone, how the marine life seen when the water recedes, is not randomly thrown around but are living creatures that are tracking the tides as well, and actually thriving in this dynamic environment.

His adventures will also leave you wondering, more often than not, why you didn’t spend more time exploring the intertidal rock pools and mud flats during your last beachside holiday.

This is a story of one boy and the places his love for the ocean takes him. It is one that will resonate with you if you have ever been in the ocean, and if you haven’t, the tale is likely to make you excited enough to see everything for yourself! Miles puts it all in perspective for us when he says that “Most people realise the sea covers two-thirds of the planet, but few take the time to understand even a gallon of it”

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch

The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch is easily available online, in paperback and kindle versions!

Click here to read about our Intertidal walks at DIVEIndia

The author, Chetana is a PADI divemaster and resident biologist at DIVEIndia in the Andaman Islands. She is an alumnus of the Masters program at the Wildlife Conservation Society -India program and National Center of Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. She has been diving and exploring the Andaman Islands since 2013. She is also deeply excited about forests, birds, reptiles and amphibians.

The Incredible Wrasse

By Articles, Blogs, PADI underwater naturalist, The Incredible Showcase

Our first showcase in this series is dedicated to a particularly fascinating and versatile group of fish.*Drum roll* – THE WRASSES!

With nearly 500 known species, wrasses form the second largest marine fish family (Labridae) in the world. Wrasses are generally elongated fish that taper at both ends, you could call that being “cigar-shaped”. Found in tropical and temperature waters, wrasses can be as tiny as the thumb-sized minute wrasse (Minilabrus striatus), but also grow to be as big as the 2 meter long Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus).

Portrait of a Napoleon wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus)

picture credit: Gunnhild Sørås

Most people know and love to see the Napoleon wrasse on a dive. A large and majestic fish that appears to carefully inspect divers with its googly eyes as it slowly cruises by. Napoleon wrasses have a single fin that runs continuously along its back (like a Mohawk); a characteristic feature of wrasses. Look carefully next time at a bird wrasse (Gomphosus varius) – you will see that same dorsal fin as the Napoleon, albeit on a smaller scale.

Bird wrasse (Gomphosus varius)

Brian Gratwicke (Wikimedia Commons)

Similar to the Napoleons, many wrasses appear as though their heads have been tattooed with Maori art. Intricate patterns radiate from their eyes in stunning colour schemes and patterns. Admire this artwork the next time you swim close to a red-breasted wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus) or a moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare).

Face painting on a Red-breasted wrasse (Cheilinus fasciatus) and a moon wrasse (Thalassoma lunare)

Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons

Wrasses are a family found in great abundance across reefs. Perhaps a key to their diversity lies in their versatile diet. Wrasses leave no part of the reef unexplored. There are wrasses that eat fish, some that graze algae, some that crack open crustaceans and molluscs, and others that suck out worms and coral. A few chase after plankton in the blue.

There are also those that follow other fish, almost like a shadow, watching closely to see what hidden treasures are revealed when these hunters are at work. Look out for the small checkerboard wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus) hungrily tailing either a triggerfish upturning rocks or goatfish that is stirring up the sand in hope of nabbing a quick crab or clam. What would you call this- Clever? Lazy? Freeloading?

A checkerboard wrasse (Halichoeres hortulanus) waiting to see what goodies the yellow-margin triggerfish (Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus) stirs up!

Photo credit: Bernard Dupont (Wikimedia Commons)

By virtue of their choice of cuisine, some wrasses play critical roles in the functioning of coral reefs as an ecosystem. I am talking about the unassuming but industrious blue-streaked cleaner wrasses (Labroides dimidiatus). Cleaner wrasses feed specifically on parasites, dead tissues and mucous, found on bodies of fish that do not want to keep any of it. In the process, cleaner wrasses have set up some of the most phenomenal symbiotic relationships that can be observed while diving. These wrasses work in pairs or in small groups and work extremely hard to look for fish that are looking to be cleaned. A single cleaner wrasse on duty, working 4 continuous hours, cleans up to 2000 ‘client’ fish. Starting up and running a cleaning station successfully is no joke for these finger-sized fish and there is a lot that we can learn from observing them. (Watch out for our upcoming post- Business lessons from a cleaner wrasse partnership.)

A blue-streaked cleaner wrasse (Labroides dimidiatus) working on a Napoleon wrasse with a keen eye.

Picture credit

Of all the wrasses that we might come across commonly, we are likely to underestimate the anchor tuskfish (Choerodon anchorago) the most. The anchor tuskfish is named so, for its tusk-like canines. These sharp teeth when unleashed, transform the otherwise delightful-looking wrasse into a predator that every hard-shelled animal should be afraid of! Tuskfish can spend hours trying to dig out clams, carry them over to specific spots on the reef where they whack them repeatedly against specific rocks until the shells crack open and are ready for the devouring. Tuskfish are the first wild fish to be documented using tools.

I would like to end this showcase with one of my favourite wrasses of them all. It is one that some of us have probably witnessed, doing something so bizarre, in a span of one second, that no one but you and the wrasse will believe that it happened. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Epibulus insidiator or the slingjaw wrasse!

Watch this space for our next  showcase on the underwater lives of the Incredibles.

The author, Chetana is a PADI divemaster and resident biologist at DIVEIndia in the Andaman Islands. She is an alumnus of the Masters program at the Wildlife Conservation Society -India program and National Center of Biological Sciences in Bengaluru. She has been diving and exploring the Andaman Islands since 2013. She is also deeply excited about forests, birds, reptiles and amphibians.