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The Importance of Scuba fins

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THE IMPORTANCE OF FINS

(aka, an old dog learns something new)
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 on the afore-mentioned 3 items 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 outkicking the fins, and 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).   I’ve dived with masks that pinch my nose, regs with super-high breathing resistance and while overweighted by 3-4 kg.   Did I enjoy the experience?  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 that 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 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 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 fix 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.
So next time you are renting gear, try out a few different fins and see if one feels better than the other.   If you are diving with us, we have put together a set of recommended fins, which we feel cover the needs of most divers/kicking style/trims.
The ironic thing in all of this is that I still have to find my own Goldilocks replacement fin.   Cressi, if you are reading this, please bring back the Master Frog!     I am getting too old to re-train my kicking style or adjust to new fins now.

Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef

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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 

Dive Site: Pilot Reef

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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

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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

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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

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

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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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Ocean Love: Book of the month

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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!

Dive Site: Nemo’s Reef

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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...

Dining etiquette for an Octopus | The Incredibles Showcase

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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...

Dive Site: Pilot Reef

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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...

Dive Site: Tribe Gate

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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:...

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

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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 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?

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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

Posted by | #OceanLove, Articles, Opinions, PADI underwater naturalist | No Comments

#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.