Hello from Bali! I’ll be here for 40 days, and 30 of those days are going to be spent becoming a divemaster, and diving as much as I possibly can! Hopefully I’ll be able to go back to cold water diving after this…I suspect it’ll take a bit of prodding from my dive buddies from back home!
I’ve finally realized a dream that I’ve been nursing since I started diving…I took the plunge into tropical waters! Burdened with a mere 3mm wetsuit (and even then I felt pretty toasty) and a tiny fraction of the weight I would have needed if I were diving in my drysuit I went for two fun dives in Sanur with Bali Scuba. This was my first time diving in the tropics, and only my third time ever diving in a wetsuit (to give some perspective…I’ve got 111 lifetime dives after the two I did today).
Yesterday saw me taking the plunge at the dive site called Tulamben. It’s a two hour drive from where I’m staying in Sanur (for some quick perspective on distances, it’s on the opposite end of the island from where I’m staying; the island is quite small for a location with such amazing stuff!), and even the drive was amazing! We drove through a mountainous area with incredibly picturesque rice paddies, and we were lucky enough to spot a troupe of monkeys on the way back!
Obviously though, the real gem was the diving. Tulamben has three main sites. The first is a large shipwreck; the USS Liberty, which saw action in the first and second world wars. Now the ship is home to an absolute plethora of marine life! The highlight of that dive for me was the pygmy sea horse, which was artfully spotted by the instructor and dive master candidate supervising the open water students that I tagged along with.
The second site is called the coral garden, and it contains…you guessed it…coral. It also has the always-charismatic clownfish (the starring character from the Disney movie Finding Nemo).
As for the third site, it’s a wall that drops straight down from a point about 200 m from where the Liberty is. That site will have to wait for another day though, as we only had time for two dives.
One thing that has really impressed me in the short time that I’ve been here is the diversity of fish species. There are so many different fish! This is pretty new for me…there are incredible fish in the Pacific Northwest, and we have very impressive diversity in our invertebrate species, but we can’t hold a candle to the fish diversity I’ve seen in the last two days! At the risk of sounding like a huge geek, I can’t wait to start identifying all the new species I’m seeing! Luckily, I’ve got a lot of local knowledge to draw on at Bali Scuba.
Species identification (fish and invertebrate ID) is a tricky skill, but that warm glow of satisfaction after picking out a particularly tricky fish is always a pretty nice reward! If you’re looking to get into species ID, I have a few suggestions for you. This list is not at all exhaustive, and you may find that there are other techniques that will help you ID some of the critters you see underwater, but these are the techniques that work for me. If you have any other suggestions I’d love to hear them!
1) Invest in some ID books: this may seem like a total no-brainer…but notice I say ‘buy the book’ instead of ‘google it’. The reason for this is one that I’m sure we’re all familiar with…the internet is a powerful tool but anyone can put information out there without getting it properly fact-checked first. I’ve encountered many incorrectly labelled photos of underwater critters during my own internet searches, but formal ID books are typically fact-checked for accuracy. That’s not to say there won’t be an occasional error…but you’re more likely to get an accurate ID from a book than the internet, in my opinion. I suggest shelling out a few extra dollars and getting one with pretty colour pictures that are supplemented by an artist’s rendering of what the ‘ideal’ member of the species should look like. Though underwater photographers are super talented it’s rare they can capture a picture of a moving beastie that clearly demonstrates all of its identifying features.
2) If possible, try and get a picture. This obviously means either investing in your own camera gear (Ikelite is one of several companies that supply underwater housings for a variety of camera models), or enticing an underwater photographer to come diving with you. Some species have very minor differences between them (i.e. 3 stripes vs. 4 stripes, a band across the eye vs. a ring, vertical vs. horizontal stripes). Even if you get a good long look at a species at depth, when you’re looking through your ID books on the surface it could be hard to figure out exactly which beastie you were looking at unless you have a photograph to refer back to.
3) Talk to someone who knows the area. The most common way to do that is to get a dive master from a local shop to take you on a ‘Discover Local SCUBA’ tour. Even though the dive master you get might not be an expert, he or she likely knows the names of the popular beasties in the area, and even if he/she can’t tell you the exact name of a certain fish, they’ll likely know someone nearby who can.
4) Take a REEF (or other) identification course. These courses are specialized for certain areas, and once you finish the course you’ll not only have better ID skills, but you’ll also be able to contribute to local scientific databases, which will help inform marine biologists about the population trends in a given area…I can’t stress enough how valuable that sort of data is!
5) My final suggestion has evolved from advice from my birding friends…look for the GISS: General Impression Size and Shape. Is the beastie in a group or on its own? Does it have prominent fins? Spines? A big mouth? Is it the size of your hand, your forearm, or your body? Is it round? Or fusiform (like a tuna)?
Well that’s all from me for this week…This weekend I’m going to get started on some of the ‘formal’ learning required for my DM course, but it’s already looking good for me to be able to get back into the water early next week!