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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 

Dining etiquette for an Octopus | The Incredibles Showcase

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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

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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#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.

#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 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.