Getting the Most Out of Each Dive
What on Earth was that?
We’re all keen to spot and identify things we haven’t seen before on our next dive. We put our faces in the water, start breathing, descend, check our buoyancy, keep our eyes on the others in the group and float past something interesting. But what was it? Sometimes trying to identify what you’ve just seen is pretty difficult, there’s a lot going on and our tiny human brains can only take so much in. If we’re not careful we can come away from an hour or so in the water scratching our heads, asking if anyone else saw the creature we saw.
Don’t expect to be David Attenborough
We don’t know how many different species there are in the oceans. There are currently thought to be about 230,000 species recorded. The figure is much more likely to be in the millions. More and more research and technology are allowing greater depths to be surveyed. With that in mind, and the fact that about 80% of life is found in the top 10m of the ocean, you can’t be expected to remember everything. However, it is very satisfying when you properly identify something and learn a bit about it, to gain a better appreciation of its behaviour and interaction with its surroundings.
Do Some Marine Life Courses
Having a basic knowledge of what you can expect to see will mean you have a better understanding of why they are there in the first place. What is it about that particular anemone which makes it attractive to a banded anemone fish? What makes the surface of the coral you are photographing so colourful?
There is an infinite resource online now with the internet but occasionally I come across some fantastic short courses. The guys at Coral Divers in South Africa (email@example.com) released one at the start of lockdown and Green Fins (https://greenfins.net) also do a very good interactive course. If you want some information, please get in touch.
Learn to Be a Macro Diver
We all like to see the big stuff and big stuff can be spectacular. But if you look closely, you’ll see a whole fascinating ecosystem around it. Imagine going to a game park, while you’re leaning out of the safari truck checking out the elephants, you miss a dung beetle pushing his ball along, doing what he does. It’s those little moments which can be incredibly special.
Whale sharks, mantas, dolphins and turtles are the usual suspects on most people’s hit list. I have done plenty of dives with lots of different people where the big things were all they talked about, and I get that, but they missed out on the blind Aplheid shrimp and pink spotted shrimp Goby sitting just under the turtle.
If you set off with a determination to see the small things, you’ll never fail to be surprised at the incredible little things you discover.
Take a Slate (or Camera)
Taking a slate or camera with you is a great way of recording the little differences of the things you are seeing, thus enabling you to actually ID the creature. Not only will you get the family name -butterflyfish but may be able to narrow it down to a particular species variation. I have Helmut Debelius’ book on just nudibranchs and sea slugs. Everyone I show it to is stunned at just how many variations there are and seeing just how many Chromodoris varieties there are will blow your mind.
There seems to be a mindset of the amateur underwater photographer that they are the most important and it’s imperative that they get their shot with total disregard to others. So, much so that I have purposely not pointed out things I’ve seen to avoid the mayhem which can then ensue with fins being kicked everywhere, visability disappears and the odd diver has been known to have a mask kicked off!
Be patient and wait your turn – the more experienced photographers will not actually dive in groups. That gives them the freedom to spend lots of time getting that perfect shot and not upsetting the others. Spending time with a professional underwater photographer will absolutely help you get more of those ‘wow’ photos. Our friend Paul Duxfied runs courses in the Red Sea and is highly recommended. https://www.takeiteasyduxy.co.uk
Become a Buoyancy Master
Hopefully I am seeing a revolution in diver training. Asking a student diver to hover motionless for 30 seconds in open water should be a thing of the past. In a pool yes, to get students understanding what breath control and proper neutral buoyancy and trim is. However, by the time they reach the open water, they should naturally be neutral – the whole dive…Yes, even whilst doing skills! Because if the worst should happen and they have a real time problem, they need to be trained to respond appropriately without shooting up to the surface or plummeting into the depths (or down on top of that coral which is having a hard enough time at the moment!!).
Spending time with people who can help you improve your buoyancy and trim is an absolute must and very often overlooked. You should be able to descend in control with no reference. You should be able to ascend with no reference. You should be able to deploy a DSMB whilst in trim with no reference.
These are all things which can be worked on and mean when you pay those thousands of pounds for an exotic dive holiday, you can effortlessly hover over some reef, meaning you have more chance of seeing the weird and wonderful things down there. Not to mention your comfort levels will increase, air consumption drops, and you’ll get far more out of your diving. So, get out and practice.
If you follow a few of these hints and tips, you’ll go a long way in really being able to immerse yourself in the stunning underwater world you are in.