Biscuit skate on a night dive

We came across this small biscuit skate (Raja straeleni) while doing a night dive at the jetty in Simon’s Town, on the occasion of Diversnight 2017. They are found in the eastern Atlantic ocean all the way down to 700 metres depth, grow really slowly, and are frequent bycatch from hake trawling operations off the South African coastline. SASSI says don’t buy it. The species is data deficient on the IUCN Red List.

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CG2aXF-TaZg&w=540″]

These skates have thorn-like stings along part of their tails, and this one seems to have a whole lot else going on in the tail region which looks as though it would help him camouflage among seaweed. (None of the biscuit skates pictured in our fish identification books have quite such fancy tail-gear.) Also watch how he flicks sand over himself for additional disguise when he stops moving.

Also, they can jump – perhaps a little known talent… Once, while Clare was on duty at the aquarium, a small one leaped right out of the shallow ray pool that used to be next to the touch pool, and landed on the floor. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. A quick manhandle and he was replaced in his pool (and that exhibit was moved soon after)!

Bookshelf: Scuba Professional

Scuba Professional: Insights into Sport Diver Training and Operations – Simon Pridmore

Have you ever wanted to run away and become a scuba instructor? Have you been intoxicated by promises of a lifestyle of tousled, barefoot, beach-based freedom from the rat race? Have you passed your instructor training course and are trying to decide what to do next? Or are you already a dive professional, perhaps looking to solidify your dive business, diversify your income streams, or branch out in the dive industry?

Scuba Professional
Scuba Professional

This is the final, and possibly most important, book in Simon Pridmore’s scuba trilogy (the other two are Scuba Fundamental and Scuba Confidential). Like the other two, it has much to offer – this time, to dive professionals and wannabe dive professionals.

Some of the topics Pridmore discusses are hard truths, such as the fact that becoming a scuba instructor is less about diving than about teaching. A person who doesn’t feel a vocation to teach should probably look for employment elsewhere in the dive industry rather than trying to attain instructor status. He devotes a whole section to teaching issues, many of which will be extremely useful to new instructors looking to move quickly up the learning curve.

An often overlooked feature of the dive industry is that there are many people who make a living from diving, but not by teaching students. Pridmore includes an incredibly helpful chapter in which he interviews several such dive professionals about their jobs, including a gear distributor, a photojournalist, a liveaboard cruise director, and a dive travel specialist. All of these professions include many of the positive aspects of the dive industry, and should provide inspiration for anyone who is keen on the underwater world but doesn’t necessarily feel the urge to teach.

For owners of dive businesses such as dive shops, charters or small training operations, Pridmore has much advice gleaned from running his own dive centre on the island of Guam. Many of his recommendations seem like common sense to anyone who has paid attention to the cycle of boom and bust that seems to characterise the dive industry in some locations, but they are hard-won insights that likely are only obvious after the fact. Unsurprisingly (perhaps?) several relate to safety considerations and gear maintenance. Many of the recommendations Pridmore provides are illustrates with anecdotes describing how he arrived at his viewpoint.

A whole section is devoted to developing a culture of safety in diving, something that featured in Scuba Confidential as well. It can be difficult to discuss dive safety and it seems to me that the industry doesn’t even try. None of the professional member forums I’ve attended, presented by training agency employees with access to incident reports, statistics and trends, has ever addressed dive safety directly. It would be tremendously helpful for instructors and divemasters to know that, for example (I’m making what follows up to make a point) most potential dive accidents happen on dive two of the Open Water course, during mask remove and replace, or during regulator recovery. Because instructors are obliged to report such incidents, training agencies know all about them.

Finally, the future of the dive industry comes under the spotlight, with a discussion of rebreathers (are they the future?) and the likely origin of the next wave of scuba diving students and tourists (Pridmore reckons, China). I was surprisingly moved (for a book about being a dive professional) by the chapter about dive tourism businesses, which concludes with the insistence that the only way a dive business in a remote, exotic location will flourish, is by involving the local community, training them to work in all levels of the business, and spreading a message of conservation that includes the people who live in the paradise in question. This kind of cultural sensitivity has not been the norm in many places, but where it is, the results are special.

Get a copy here (South Africa), here or here.

Bookshelf: Scuba Confidential

Scuba Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver – Simon Pridmore

The natural sequel to Scuba Fundamental (though it was written later), this book is aimed at qualified divers who may have reached a plateau with the sport, and want to improve their skills and explore more of what diving has to offer. Author Simon Pridmore does not shy away from subjects such as solo diving, deep diving and technical diving, and offers valuable perspectives from a lifetime in the dive industry.

Scuba Confidential
Scuba Confidential

Pridmore begins with a subject that isn’t discussed enough (because it would supposedly scare away potential new divers): safety. He talks about why divers die, survival strategies, and the essential mental preparation that should come before diving.

Many divers who have passed the first, awkward stage of their careers on scuba seek to improve their skills. Pridmore discusses buoyancy, navigation, and the touchy subject of deco. The following section addresses some of the specialty options available to divers who wish to extend their qualifications: night diving, wreck diving, drift diving, cave diving, ice diving, and technical diving. While you may decide that some of these types of diving are definitely not for you, there is still much to learn from the techniques and thought processes required to do these types of dives safely.

Pridmore also deals extensively with equipment issues, returning to the subject of deploying an SMB, care and use of dive cylinders, mastering your BCD, and dive computers. In many instances, these items of gear are a matter of life and death, and well worth talking about. Narcosis, nitrox, rebreathers and other gas-related subjects round up the sections of the book that pertain to dive safety.

The final chapters deal with dive travel, with a section on liveaboards and a recap of some etiquette, which becomes increasingly important when one is diving with people one doesn’t know.

This book will satisfy a growing diver’s thirst for knowledge, draw attention to areas that need improvement or reflection, and prompt further exploration of dive-related subjects. It’s an excellent gift for the curious diver in your life.

Get a copy of the book here (SA), here (US) or here (UK).

Bookshelf: Scuba Fundamental

Scuba Fundamental: Start Diving the Right Way – Simon Pridmore

When I first learned how to dive, all I wanted was to find books about scuba diving that were relevant to my stage of knowledge and skill, so that I could learn more (my learning style is by reading). Unfortunately at that time the only books about scuba diving in South Africa that I could find were absolute rubbish (fortunately the situation has improved immeasurably – here’s a quality example). I wish I’d had this book to hand, but it was only published last year, so sorry for me.

Scuba Fundamental
Scuba Fundamental

I read it anyway, with my jaded old eyes. It isn’t specific to South Africa, but it’s written for people who are contemplating learning to dive, who are busy learning, or who are still early in their diving careers. Many of the topics that Simon Pridmore covers are ones that Tony and I tried to deal with in the early days of this blog. He is eminently sensible, and writes from a position of deep, international experience in the dive industry.

How does one choose a dive course? How does one choose a diving instructorWhen shouldn’t one dive? Which certification agency is best? Should a new diver buy their own equipment, and where does one even begin with that? Once qualified, what next? What about diving in cold water and cold weather? How can divers keep safe on the surface? Pridmore also discusses some important elements of dive etiquette such as peeing in your wetsuit, entry techniques (giant strides, backward rolls, and so on), seasickness, dive boat etiquette, behaviour around marine animals, and what to do if your dive buddy surfaces with a giant booger.

If you’re thinking of learning to dive, are busy with your course, have done fewer than 30 dives, or are just seeking some direction in the early stages of your love affair with scuba diving, consider this guide. If you have a friend or family member you’d like to start a conversation with about diving, or would like to buy a dive course for but can’t afford it, this book is an excellent starting point. I found myself agreeing out loud with the author’s observations more times than I can count.

Get it here (South Africa), here (US) or here (UK).

Article: Exploring False Bay’s kelp forests

Kelp forest in Sandy Cove
Kelp forest in Sandy Cove

Environmental journalist Pippa Ehrlich writes beautifully for Safarious of diving in the kelp forests of False Bay with Sea-Change founder Craig Foster. You might be familiar with Sea-Change from an exhibition at the Sea Point promenade a couple of years ago.

The idea of getting into this freezing world every day without a wetsuit was daunting. We did some stretching and breathing to warm up. The sky was grey and my feet had gone numb in the shallow water we’d had to walk through. I was not looking forward to being fully submersed in it.

Ehrlich and Foster (and others from the Sea-Change team) dive daily in False Bay, sans wetsuits. It is their mental (spiritual?) approach to the marine environment, however, that sets the project apart. It’s a mindset that may be unfamiliar to many divers, especially those of us who favour scuba, but it is worthy of serious consideration. The article reads like a story of love and healing.

The accompanying photos are beautiful, too. Read it.

BirdLife South Africa Flock at Sea AGAIN! 2017 – part ii (the birds)

We were surprised by the intensity of the birding that took place on Flock At Sea AGAIN! 2017. In retrospect we shouldn’t have been, but being around 2,000 serious twitchers was, at turns, overwhelming and hilarious. Tony and I spent quite a lot of time on deck 4 of MSC Sinfonia, bothering our friend Ian. An enduring memory of this time was turning around from the rail to see a wall of K-Way clad birders charging towards us like buffalo, heading for the stern of the ship, where something special had just been spotted.

Annoying Ian
Annoying Ian

There was serious camera hardware on board. Tony’s modest 200-500mm Sigma lens sometimes gets admiring glances from the uninitiated, but on this cruise it left something to be desired (as you can see in comparison to Ian’s rig in the photo above).

The gun show
The gun show

It is known by anyone who’s been on a boat that taking photos on the ocean is difficult, especially of a fast moving, distant subject such as a bird. Tony had a go at some bird photos, with reasonable success. Trying to identify what we’d seen afterwards was fun. We were definitely not the people who were calling the name of the bird before photographing it! Once we came across a large aggregation of birds feeding on something on the surface, and once some dolphins, but there were fewer marine mammal sightings than we’d hoped.

An older wandering albatross
An older wandering albatross

I loved seeing the albatross, and because of their great size and confidence in approaching the ship, I found them easiest to identify. Both Peter Harrison’s talk  and Carl Safina’s brilliant Eye of the Albatross emphasised the extraordinary longevity and fidelity of these birds, and the loneliness of their lives in between visits to the breeding islands. In addition to the ones pictured above, we also saw Indian yellow-nosed albatross, which I’d previously seen sitting on the surface of the ocean above the wreck of the Fontao in Durban, waiting for snacks from the fishermen there.

There were plenty of places to watch the sea all around the ship. Deck four ran along both sides of the vessel close to the ocean, and the triangular viewing platforms that protrude at the stern were a popular sunset location. Around the central area on the top deck that contains the swimming areas, a raised wrap-around deck also provided good viewing opportunities, but it was too high up for proper bird watching.

The light varied a lot depending on the time of day (duh!) and the degree of cloud cover. It was windy almost all the time. I was surprised by the speed of the ship; when we were moving between birding locations we cruised at up to 25 knots. Only on one of the days was the sea rough enough to splash onto the lower decks.

Wind protection
Wind protection

We saw some things we’d never seen before, like an extravagant double rainbow just before sunset. It was wonderful to be completely surrounded by ocean, and to watch how the colour of the sea changed through the day. We were travelling over deep water, and the profound blue of the ocean when the bottom is hundreds of metres below is something special. Look at the wake in the rainbow picture for an example.

Double rainbow
Double rainbow

We saw a few other ships, but not as many as I’d expected. There was some tooth-gnashing among the twitchers when, on the last full day of the cruise as we headed back towards Cape Town, some fishing trawlers were seen in the distance. It was fascinating to watch the trawlers turn on a dime and mow back and forth, but the clouds of seabirds behind the ship remained just out of proper sight.

Fishing trawler at work
Fishing trawler at work

There’s an album of photos (including some of the ones I’ve included here) on facebook, if you’re interested! And if you’re interested in seabirds, I can’t think of a better place to start than Carl Safina’s Eye of the Albatross.

Newsletter: Transformation

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat dives at 9.00 and 11.30 from Simons Town jetty (maximum depth 18 metres)

This week we launched on Monday, Tuesday and again today. Monday and Tuesday were pleasant as there was no swell or wind to worry about, however the visibility was pretty lousy. Mostly pea soup around Roman Rock and a little further south and 4-5 metres in Smitswinkel Bay.

One day of westerly wind, not even that strong, and False Bay transformed. On the wreck of the Princess Elizabeth this morning the visibility was 20 metres plus. It is quite astonishing how quickly things change.

I think the viz will remain for the weekend and Saturday is probably going to be the best day. There’s less wind on Sunday but a lot more swell and therefore surge to deal with. I have students to qualify so both dives will be to a maximum depth of 18 metres. Most likely to Alpha Reef and the northern part of Roman Rock.

Gathering around the shot line in Smitswinkel Bay
Gathering around the shot line in Smitswinkel Bay

Shark Spotters fundraiser

Get the details of the next Shark Spotters fundraiser, happening on Wednesday 31 May, here. Book directly with the Two Oceans Aquarium. Greg Bertish, author of The Little Optimist, will talk about his adventures, and about the early days of the Shark Spotters program. We have donated an auction item/lucky draw prize!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

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Newsletter: Purple crayons

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Possible dives out of Hout Bay if the wind and swell give us a break!

It seems the forecaster at WindGURU found the box of purple crayons and has been liberal with them. Other than a slight lull in the wind forecast for Sunday, it’s purple all of next week too. I very much doubt we will get out on Sunday as there is currently a 4 metre swell flexing its muscles. The Atlantic water colour and temperature show signs of great visibility so if the wind is acceptable on Sunday we will launch from Hout Bay. Text, mail or Whatsapp if you want to be on the list.

Diversnight 2016 at the Simon's Town jetty
Diversnight 2016 at the Simon’s Town jetty

Diversnight 2016 took place last weekend. We dived off the Simon’s Town jetty in a chilly wind. Luckily the visibility was excellent and the fishermen only arrived towards the end of our dive. There are a few photos on facebook.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Diversnight coming up

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat or shore dives in the morning (early); night dive at Simon’s Town jetty at 7.00 pm

Its been a while since I have seen Muizenberg this clean, not that I go there all that often, but I do think we are going to have really good visibility in False Bay by Saturday and plan to start really early. At this point I have yet to decide on whether to shore dive or boat dive but will make that decision early tomorrow, so please text me your preference.

Muizenberg this evening
Muizenberg this evening

Diversnight!

Diversnight takes place on Saturday evening. We will be diving off the jetty in Simon’s Town (note change of location), meeting at 7.00 pm. We need to be in the water at the hour of 8.16 pm (2016!) for our efforts to count towards the official Diversnight aims of, uh, night diving around the world at the same time. There’s a facebook event here, and the official event page here.

Please let me know by 5 pm tomorrow if you’re coming so that I can give the jettymaster the approximate number of divers to expect. If you need any gear, you need to tell me by tomorrow as well please.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Newsletter: Warmer and warmer

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Friday: Shore diving at Long Beach at 10.00 am

Saturday: Launching from False Bay Yacht Club at 7.00 am for a double tank dive

The days are getting longer and the daytime temperatures are slowly creeping upwards… Well, on some days. Saturday looks like a better bet for False Bay with Hout Bay being an option on Sunday. The water colour off Dungeons has improved slightly today.

Tomorrow I am shore diving students at Long Beach at 10.00 am. On Saturday we will do an early False Bay double tank dive at 7.00 am. Let me know if you’d like to get wet.

 

DAFF octopus fishing gear
DAFF octopus fishing gear

Here’s a little bit of reading on the octopus fishery in False Bay (courtesy of Yvette!). This NSRI blog post, and the comments, are also required reading.

Coming up

As part of First Thursdays, you can attend the opening of the Birdlife Oceans of Life photographic exhibition at the South African Museum on the evening of Thursday 6 October. There’s information here (facebook) – this year’s exhibition includes a retrospective of the last few years’ best images.

Diversnight is on Saturday 7 November, so start charging your torches!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!