Category Archives: Scuba Diving

Colorado to Florida

Which state has the highest mean elevation?

And which is the flattest?

I visited both of these states back-to-back this holiday season from snowboarding in Colorado to scuba diving in Florida. When I descended into the tiny airport of Durango, Colorado, the view of snow-covered mountains provided enough exhilaration to keep me warm despite the cold. This trip involved 6 straight days of snowboarding at Purgatory and Telluride Mountain Resorts.

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Purgatory

Purgatory wins points for its affordability and proximity to Durango with enough runs to amaze an east coast native like myself. Telluride was a much bigger game with its high speed gondolas and incredible views.

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On the lift with my brother at Telluride
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Don’t worry its warm! This hot spring kept us warm with a water temperature of 100 F

Departing Durango was a reminder of its small town nature, these TSA representatives were happy to chat with all on coming passengers, but do not expect to move through quickly. Efficiency never seemed high on the priority list. Florida seems to be the most popular destination for Durango airport passengers.

One day later I was driving into Williston, Florida, a small town outside of Gainesville and gearing up to dive Blue Grotto.

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This underwater bell has air pumped in from above water so diver’s can take out their regulator and talk to each other while swimming at 30ft depth.
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Blue Grotto is also home to a very friendly soft-shell turtle.

Next we took a short drive to across the road to Devil’s Den. An opening from above allows light to stream into this huge cavern, which features multiple swim-thrus.

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Devil’s Den

Our final stop on this Florida Springs scuba trip was Ginnie Springs which had multiple dive sites with caves, crevasses, and river eddies to explore.

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Ginnie Springs

Although Colorado’s below freezing weather was a major change from the 80 degree days we scored in Florida, carving down the mountain on a snowboard was enough work to keep me warm. Scuba diving in 72 F water may sound warm, but water can remove body heat 20xs faster than air and I was happy to have my 5mil wetsuit and 7mil hood for insulation.

Crystal clear spring water, light streaming into a dark cavern, carving a fresh powder line down a mountain slope or going swimming with snow-covered mountains at your back…its hard to pick my favorite part of these trips. Filipinos were always surprised to hear I have never visited New York City, but with so many incredible places in the USA some adventures are just higher on my list.

Life is Epic!

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Who has more spindle neurons: the dolphin or the human??

Cetaceans have a 3xs greater concentration of these brain cells than humans! Any guesses on the purpose of these valuable brain cells???

Spindle neurons are our social cells. They are the emotion processors of the brain and allow us to both feel love and know suffering. Dolphin songs and shrieks or the contagious nature of a human smile 🙂 Thanks to spindle neurons my blog can serve a purpose. And you can understand the story.

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Here’s a video link to my Epic in the Philippines thus far. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGnYTM3tkX0

Life is epic! But it is also simple and whether you are American, Filipino, orca or humpback we share this planet so put those spindle neurons to use and find a cause you are passionate about. Did you know we receive greater happiness from giving than receiving?!

Me and my supervisor Nanay Rita at the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Conference in 2014
Me and my supervisor Nanay Rita at the Philippine Marine Mammal Stranding Conference in 2014

Love the Ocean Creed

I believe that the ocean harbors life – life that I must protect.
I believe that the ocean is mankind’s greatest common heritage.
I believe that the diversity of the ocean is important to sustaining human life.
I believe that I am part of but one ocean, and that everything I do affects the delicate balance of life on Earth.
I believe that it is my duty to protect the ocean.
I believe that by protecting the ocean I help to protect the future.
Therefore, I pledge to always live in harmony with the ocean.

Scuba diving with sea turtles off Apo Island protected area established 1982
Scuba diving with sea turtles off Apo Island protected area established 1982

Notice the amazing coral coverage on this pristine reef! Can you find the turtle?
Notice the amazing coral coverage on this pristine reef! Can you find the turtle?

"I'm ready for my photo shoot!" This turtle loved the spotlight and permitted us to swim close for a multi-angle shot.
“I’m ready for my photo shoot!” This turtle loved the spotlight and permitted us to swim close for a multi-angle shot.

Reef Fish & Photography

Check out some photos from my recent diving adventures along reefs outside of Dumaguete City and off of Malapascua Island in Cebu.

Longfin Spadefish (Platax teira)
Longfin Spadefish (Platax teira)

The above photo was taken using a red filter on my gopro camera. When shooting underwater a red filter is useful because water absorbs and scatters light as it passes through. The long wavelengths of light (especially red, orange and yellow) are absorbed first. As you travel deeper in the ocean, there are no red wavelengths of light to reflect off various fish or corals. All of the marine life looks blue or green, because these colors are shorter in wavelength and able to penetrate to greater depths. Therefore when I looked at the algae-covered mooring line that the Longfin Spadefish above are swimming by it appeared blue, because that was the color reflected back to my eye. However, when my red gopro filter added back in the red wavelengths you can see the beautiful colors of the marine life growing on this rope.

Below is a photo taken without a red filter, demonstrating the blue underwater world seen by a SCUBA diver. For any aspiring underwater photographers, I would recommend buying the red filter! (Note: all other photos in this post used the red filter)

Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata) resting on a blue seastar
Latticed Sandperch (Parapercis clathrata) resting on a blue seastar
Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)
Spotfin Lionfish (Pterois antennata)

The lionfish above falls in the family Scorpaenidae or Scorpionfish. These fish are so named for their venomous fin spines, particularly the dorsal spine along their backs. Toxins are produced by glands on either side of the spines and embedded into long grooves along the spines. Fortunately, scorpionfish do not actively try to spear divers with their venomous fins. In fact, most fish (sharks are fish too!) tend to swim away from you.

Scorpionfish, unidentified (please comment if you know the species)
Scorpionfish, unidentified (please comment if you know the species)

Some scorpionfish, like the one shown above, are master’s of camouflage. I recommend not touching anything while underwater because it is deceivingly easy to place your hand on the rocky ground only to realize you discovered a scorpionfish’s hiding spot. The pain from a scorpionfish sting may very from uncomfortable to intense. Immersion in hot water may offer some relief. Best practice while snorkeling or diving: “Take only pictures and leave only bubbles.”

Painted Frogfish (Antennarius pictus)
Painted Frogfish (Antennarius pictus)

The fish shown above can change to almost any color including black, red, pink, orange, yellow and brown. Frogfish have extremely large mouths which can open to the width of their bodies to engulf prey. Also known as Anglerfish, frogfish possess a stalk-like first dorsal spine, equipped with a lure (esca) which they wiggle like a casting rod to attract prey. The esca may be shaped like a small fish, shrimp or just a nondescript tuft depending on the species.

Flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi)
Flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi)

The cuttlefish is a mollusk, classified by its soft body and closely related to the squid and the octopus. It has specialized cells called chromatophores, which allow it to change color almost in a continuous radiating pattern. Want to eat flamboyant cuttlefish for supper?? No! The muscle-tissue of the flamboyant cuttlefish is highly toxic. Fun Fact: This cuttlefish is considered poisonous because it must be eaten to cause damage, while scorpionfish are venomous because their toxin is injected through spines. Want more examples: Frogs, mushrooms and plants are poisonous, while snakes and spiders are venomous.

Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)
Robust Ghost Pipefish (Solenostomus cyanopterus)

This male/female pair of pipefish is considered an indicator species, because they are fragile creatures easily threatened by small changes in the ecosystem. Therefore finding this pair is a good indication that the marine ecosystem at this dive site is still healthy.

Photographing the ghost pipefish pair.
Photographing the ghost pipefish pair.

Source: Allen, G., Steene, R., Humann, P. & DeLoach, N. (2012) Reef Fish Identification Tropical Pacific. New World Publications, Inc. Jacksonville, Florida, USA.

iSeahorse: Saving Mr. Mom

Which of the following is a fish?

  1. Jellyfish
  2. Starfish
  3. Seahorse
  4. All / None / Some combination?

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Surprisingly, jellyfish and starfish would be more appropriately named jellies and seastars, because both are invertebrates and therefore not fish. However, the seahorse, which evolved from a pipefish, possesses a backbone, uses a swim bladder to control its buoyancy, breathes through gills, and utilizes fins to move through the water. Therefore, unlike jellies and seastars, a seahorse is a fish! Although seahorses are clearly not your standard fish, they do not have scales and instead have an exoskeleton of hard fused plates. Their jaws are also fused making a long snout, which they use to suck up tiny fish and plankton. Seahorses possess a prehensile tail that wraps around algae or coral to anchor it to the sea floor. And finally, their eyes move independently of one another.

This past week I attended a workshop entitled, “Saving Mr. Mom: The Power of Citizen Science in Seahorse Conservation,” in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, Visayas, Philippines, led by iSeahorse of Project Seahorse. iSeahorse is an iPhone app that allows snorkelers, SCUBA divers, and fishermen to record seahorse sightings so that scientists can gain a better idea of seahorse population sizes and locations. On Day 1 of the conference, we learned how to identify seahorse species native to southeast Asia, which include 10 different species total and 3 species of pygmy seahorses, smaller than a fingernail in size.

The Spiny Seahorse: Hippocampus histrix, identified by its spiny body, nose and cheek spines, and long snout.
The Spiny Seahorse: Hippocampus histrix, identified by its spiny body, nose and cheek spines, and long snout.
The Common Seahorse: Hippocampus kuda, identified by its smooth body, low coronet, and wide abomen region.
The Common Seahorse: Hippocampus kuda, identified by its smooth body, low coronet, and wide abdomen region.

Day 2 of the workshop, was a practical application of seahorse identification skills: SCUBA diving to conduct seahorse surveys.

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My group found 7 different seahorses during two dives, along with a cuttlefish and a pair of ghost pipefish. Each seahorse was measured to record torso length. Depth, habitat details, sex and pregnancy were also important observations. Most seahorses are monogamous and mate for life. Therefore, when we found a female, her male counterpart was usually not far away. Seahorse males possess a brood pouch to hold developing baby seahorses, meaning this is a case of Mr. Mom. Because the male holds growing eggs and gives birth, a female is free to collect food and devote energy to producing more eggs. However, she does visit her counterpart each day to ensure that he is properly carrying the young and to offload the next batch of eggs after he gives birth.

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Day 3, was a discussion of policy regarding seahorse trade and conservation. In the province of Romblon, we hope to use sightings of rare pygmy seahorses, H. bargibanti, H. denise and H. pontohi, to expand protected ocean waters and draw tourists to the province.

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Check out http://www.iSeahorse.org for more info!!

What do you need to start a garden?

Most common answers include dirt, seeds, water and sunlight, maybe a shovel. This is correct if you are trying to grow plants in your backyard, however the garden I want to start is for animals…

From March 14-16, I attended a training workshop on coral gardening, and now I hope to grow coral, a sessile marine animal, within the province of Romblon. Necessary inputs for gardening coral include 4in steel nails, mallet, zipties, pliers, saltwater, rocky substrate, and sunlight.* Branching corals are ideal for gardening because they are fast growing and can reproduce asexually from a fragment broken off a larger colony.

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Important note: No live corals were broken for the purpose of garden building! Instead we dove around a reef in search of already broken, but still living branching coral fragments, which we aptly called, “Corals of Opportunity” or CFOs. The CFOs may have been fragmented by boat anchors or local swimmers and will die unless they find a new anchor along the ocean floor.

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Before receiving my certification as an expert coral gardener, I participated in a land-based practicum.

Land-based training to secure corals before doing so underwater
Land-based training to secure corals before doing so underwater
The coral nursery unit. The corals shown are dead samples for our land training. For the real nursery live corals were used and the unit was prepared underwater.
The coral nursery unit. The corals shown are dead samples for our land training. For the real nursery live corals were used and the unit was prepared underwater.

While underwater, the nails are hammered into rock until secure. Then, a coral fragment is tightly fastened to the nail with a ziptie. Don’t forget to cut off any additional plastic from the ziptie, otherwise algae may begin to grow and invade your coral.

For smaller coral fragments, a Coral Nursery Unit may be built in shallower waters. The nursery is useful to give the fragments a head start in growing before transfer to the reef. It is also useful to ensure you have a consistent supply of coral fragments for long-term gardening.

Preparing the nursery unit in the shallows before we carried it deeper.
Preparing the nursery unit in the shallows before we carried it deeper.

As gorgeous and as tempting as it was to explore the depths of the gorgeous coral wall close to our site, instead the tasks of searching, hammering, fastening and cutting to create a new coral garden in the reef shallows was a much better use of the 3000psi of air in each of my 4 SCUBA tanks. By the conclusion of our 3-day workshop, 25 Peace Corps volunteers and 25 Filipino counterparts built 3 coral nursery units and attached over 100 coral fragments to a shallow, rocky reef in front of JPark Hotel on Mactan Island in Cebu. Go CRM!!!**

*Alternative methods include securing a large rope net to the ocean bottom and tying coral fragments so the entire net will grow into a continuous reef at the conclusion of the project.

**CRM or Coastal Resource Management is the title of the Peace Corps sector that I am a part of. Other possible sectors include Education or Children, Youth & Family (CYF).

Provincial Dive Team Training

One of my biggest projects at site is developing the Provincial Reef Assessment Team, a group of divers to conduct regular assessments of Romblon’s marine resources to ensure proper management. We hope to also identify areas for protection in the future. Here are some photos from our recent dive training session.

The Dive Team
The Dive Team

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We lay a 50m transect line and then record the substrate under the line to determine % coral coverage on a given reef.
We lay a 50m transect line and then record the substrate under the line to determine % coral coverage on a given reef.
We also conduct fish surveys of species diversity and abundance.
We also conduct fish surveys of species diversity and abundance.
And in typical Filipino style, our entire team can fit in one vehicle!
And in typical Filipino style, our entire team can fit in one vehicle!

Coron and Cuttlefish

Coron, Palawan
Coron, Palawan

Palawan, Philippines is known worldwide as an amazing dive location. While visiting Coron I dove 4 different WWII wrecks and also saw an abundance of marine life including my first cuttlefish!

Cuttlefish
Cuttlefish

The Cuttlefish is a mollusk, meaning it has a soft, squishy body, and more specifically a cephalopod related to squid and octopus. This cuttlefish was rapidly changing color almost like waves rippling over its body, due to specialized cells called chromatophores, which allow it to change color. Cuttlefish and other cephalopods also have highly developed eyes and relatively large brains.

Wreck diving

Sea cucumber
Sea cucumber

I found this sea cucumber while diving at my site. It is an echinoderm, due to its spiny skin and tube feet, related to seastars and sea urchins. April and May are the summer months here in the Philippines, which also means that the ocean water is calm and perfect for SCUBA diving. Next month and during the summer I will be working with my office to survey the reefs in Romblon…more diving!