Tag Archives: Diving

Amazing discovery of a hidden underwater 52 000 years old forest!!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 12th July 2013

Amazing discovery of a hidden underwater 52 000 years old forest

A 52 000 years old underwater Bald Cypress forest[1] which was buried under ocean sediments was recently discovered by scuba divers in Alabama! The amazing thing is that the forest has been protected in an oxygen free environment for over 50 000 years and is now home to a flourishing reef rich in fish, crustaceans, sea anemones and other underwater organisms.

It is thought that hurricane Katrina contributed to uncover the hidden forest in 2005. After that date, a local dive shop owner realized that something exceptional was happening in the area after a local fisherman revealed that the area was extremely prolific in fish.

The following year, a friend of the dive shop owner went down to see what was happening underwater and marveled at the finding of the underwater forest. Diving the forest was described as “fairy like”. The spot was kept secret for several years mainly to avoid pillage and to protect it however in 2012 the dive shop owner finally disclosed the existence of the forest to scientists who are now researching the area. The forest which lays at 18m/60ft depth covers an area of about 0.8 sq kms/0.5 sq miles and is located a few miles away from the coast of Mobile, Alabama and could well reveal new information on the climate of the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago. This could reveal valuable information on the period also known as the “Wisconsin Glaciation” when sea levels were much lower than they currently are.

Because Bald Cypress trees can live thousands of years, the underwater trees could potentially reveal thousands of years of climate information on the area which for scientists is a very exciting perspective that could bring new explanations on nowadays phenomenon. Whatever the outcome of researches will be, I must say that as a diver, I would love to dive this awe inspiring underwater forest!!

How to become a Scuba Dive Instructor?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 26th February 2013

How to become a dive instructor

 

Many of my friends have asked me how to become a scuba dive Instructor and although I am by no means the ultimate specialist I can share some tips on how to become a scuba dive Instructor, keeping in mind that things can change very quickly in the diving industry.

First of all I would say that there are several schools, companies or organizations to go with for those interested in becoming dive instructors. The two main organizations are PADI[1] or Professional Association of Dive Instructors[2] founded in the late 1960’s and SSI[3] or Scuba School International[4] founded in 1970. Both are international companies and are therefore found and recognized worldwide.

To reach instructor level you have to do a certain amount of certifications. With PADI this is more or less the fastest path to become an instructor:

  1. Open Water Diver Certification: 4 logged dives
  2. Advanced Open Water (AOW) Certification. Before doing the AOW you  normally have to have 20 logged dives recorded in your log book
  3. Rescue Diver Certification
  4. EFR Certification
  5. Dive Master (DM) Certification (1st PADI Professional certification). Before doing the DM you normally have to have 40 logged dives recorded in your log book and at the end 60
  6. IDC (Instructor Development) Course. Before enrolling onto the IE (Instructor Examination) you normally have to have a minimum of 100 logged dives.

With SSI this is more or less the fastest way to become an instructor:

  1. Open Water Diver, Level 1: 5 logged dives
  2. Level 2: 12 logged dives
  3. Level 3: 24 logged dives
  4. Level 4: 50 logged dives
  5. Level 5: Dive Guide Certification (1st SSI Professional certification): 50 logged dives
  6. Level 6: Dive Master: 50 logged dives
  7. Dive Control Specialist
  8. Open Water Instructor. You need a minimum of 75 logged dives before and 100 logged dives at the end of the course.

If you are starting from scratch you can in theory become an Instructor in more or less 6/7 months, at least with PADI. I personally recommend gaining some experience as a Dive Guide or Dive Master before enrolling into the Instructor course for 2 main reasons. First to get some experience and knowledge of the dive industry and its people, in particular with the people managing or owning dive shops or dive centers. The second big reason is money. Get some experience first to see if you really want to invest another 2500/3000$ average in course cost and fees. If money is not an issue then go for it!

Many IDC centers offer package prices that cater for all the different entry levels from non-divers to all the certified levels. You can check them online by looking for “IDC centers”. I would say that if you start from scratch it will cost you roughly 5000 to 6000$ in courses and fees. Then you have to take into account the fact that during the few months that you are doing the courses and dives you have to feed and lodge yourself very often at your own cost. So be generous when you prepare your budget! You can actually choose the countries where you decide to do your course accordingly to the languages and/or resources you have to invest. The 2 cheapest countries in the world for courses costs are Honduras (Utila) and Thailand.

Before enrolling onto an IDC course, not only you will need a certain amount of dives but also your complete set of diving equipment and this amounts to an average of about 2000$ depending on the brands and conditions of the gear you go for.

As far as salary is concerned once you are a DM or an OSWI, it depends hugely on the country in which you work and even the dive center you work for. There are no strict regulations worldwide as to how much a dive pro should earn so it is down to each individual to negotiate their contract and salary when they can. What I can say is that you don’t become a dive instructor to make big money!

Now there are ways to cut down the costs of the courses. There are many dive shops who will train you as a DM for free in counterpart of you working for them for a pre-arranged period of time. If you think of this option beware as some employer will try to squeeze you like a lemon and treat you like a “glorified slave”. Once again there are no regulations there so it’s up to each individual to negotiate terms. One thing that I have noticed is that it can be a bit more challenging to find jobs as a DM in some tropical countries as generally they tend to employ locals as DM.

To summarize I would say that there are as many positive sides as there are negatives to become a dive instructor. It’s a great job but it can be quite a precarious one, very often you don’t get a written contract of employment; you get paid in US dollars, when you are sick or when the port is closed due to bad weather for instance, you don’t get paid either. This being said you can get written contracts and a base salary but this is mainly in more structured or bigger dive shop chains.

I hope this answers a few questions and helps some of you to make the right decisions for yourselves. If you have other questions, please feel free to post them!

Angelina Cecchetto

Ocean conservation: still a lot to do but some great news!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 21st February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

As far as Nature and Ocean conservation are concerned we all know that there is a lot do to do prevent many species from extinction.

There are however many courageous people, source of true inspiration, who fight for the defense of Life and Justice against very often more powerful greedy bullies. What gives a glimpse of hope in such a gloomy global context is that many initiatives to protect environment have seen the light, together with associations, projects, foundations and active defense groups and their actions do have positive results! Thanks to all these different actions, we can see some progress forward. In the last few months a few positive steps have been made in the right direction.

On the 22nd of November 2012, the EU Parliament voted a stronger shark finning ban preventing the fins to be landed without the shark body attached. The EU actually banned shark finning in 2003 but there was a major loophole to that ban as the fins could be landed separately from the shark body. The EU Parliament put an end to that loophole with the newly enforced ban.

On the 6th of February 2013 the EU Parliament voted to restore Europeans fish stocks by 2020. A historic vote by an overwhelming majority of 502 vs. 137 members of the European Parliament who called for the restoration of fish stocks by 2020. This casts a strong line and a clear message upon the upcoming negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy reform between the EU fisheries ministers and Parliament.

Last week, the local government in Raja Ampat announced the creation of a Shark and Manta Ray Sanctuary in the Coral Triangle (aka “The Amazon of the ocean”) to protect many species and particularly sharks and rays. The Coral Triangle is a rich marine ecosystem located in the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

Considering Indonesia ranks as the world’s largest exporter of sharks and rays, the Shark and Ray Sanctuary seems like a step in the right direction. Hopefully the Indonesian authorities would have realized that the international interest from divers brings more long term benefits than the short term benefits from fishing and that there is therefore more value to live sharks and rays than dead ones.

Yesterday some great news came out of Captain Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd fleet extremely brave actions against hostile Japanese attacks in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary[1]. Amongst Icebergs, the Sea Shepherd fleet bravely opposed an 8,000 ton Japanese ship (the Nisshin Maru) which was trying to illegally get a transfer of Heavy Fuel Oil from another Japanese ship (the Sun Laurel) in the protected area of the Antarctic Treaty Zone where it is illegal to even bring Heavy Fuel Oil.

The three Sea Shepherd ships knowing of the plan of the illegal refueling, took strategic position around the Sun Laurel to prevent the refueling. In the end four Japanese ships reacted with much violence towards the Sea Shepherd fleet going up to blatantly attacking them with high power water cannons and throwing concussion grenades at the Sea Shepherd ships. One of the Japanese tanker even heeled over one the of the Sea Shepherd fleet who bravely stood its ground despite the extremely intimidating and dangerous Japanese actions. Thanks to the heroic actions of the Sea Shepherd team the illegal refueling didn’t happen but even more importantly all  the harpoon vessels have gone away and the whale fleet seems to be giving up for now. As Captain Paul Watsons relates in his article: “The best news of all came with the announcement that the Institute for Cetacean Research has called a temporary halt to all whaling operations.”

The fourth great news is the discovery (or re-discovery) of a new whale species found under a California highway![2] During major construction projects of a California highway, it seems that several species of early toothed baleen whales were discovered in the Laguna Canyon outcrop. Scientists believed that this type of whales were extinct over 5 million years ago before these were found! The actual discovery was made between 2000 and 2005 and the researchers studying the findings for years just announced their views this week. The new toothed whale specie which is said by the researchers to be much larger than the other species and prey on sharks was nicknamed “Willy”.

Angelina Cecchetto


[1] http://www.facebook.com/captpaulwatson “Japanese Road Rage in Hostile Waters Leads to Shutting Down Whaling Operations”, by Captain Paul Watson

To dive or not to dive? Is diving more detrimental than beneficial?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 12th February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

When you work as a dive instructor or a dive video photographer you witness a lot of the underwater world as the ocean becomes your office. A friend of mine who has been a great dive instructor for years and lately also became video photographer decided to stop being a dive instructor and an underwater video photographer all together. When I asked him why, he told me that he could not handle seeing the damage that the dive industry caused upon the reefs and especially the shallow coral reefs where novice divers are brought to on their very first dives. I must say that I have myself witnessed a few beginners’ divers walking or clumsily finning on coral reefs and I also wondered if the dive industry was not generating more damage than protection.

After reflections and discussions, I came to the conclusion that diving was more beneficial for the ocean than it was destructive. I even now go as far as believing that divers and diving professionals could constitute a strong “manpower” towards ocean conservation along with the marine biologists.

First I would say that when people start diving they discover a whole new world that was totally unknown to them. Then as they dive more and become more confident, they really relax and start appreciating the underwater world, its diversity and magic beauty. As they dive more and more in various dive spots around the world they become aware of the ocean pollution across the world, of the traces of human consumption such as plastic bags floating around, plastic or glass bottles, metal cans laying around the reefs. This is where divers influence can positively make a difference in the right direction. I estimate there are several millions of divers in the world and a few thousand professional divers. If all the divers who come across garbage picked it up, this would definitely start making a noticeable difference.

More and more dive centers also start organizing regular “clean-up” dives on their house reefs or local reefs, this is a great action that should become common in most dive centers in a near future.

I also know of a few non-professional divers who have been organizing individual actions within their county or province to raise awareness to non-divers about the state of the reefs but also the lakes in which they dive near their homes.

Beyond dive centers and individuals initiatives there is another important positive impact related to diving. In many of the tropical countries where I have been working and diving, I have witnessed that the local people can only live off 3 main activities, fishing, tourism (diving) and drugs dealing. Before tourism developed, their main activity was fishing. As we all know overfishing is a major threat to many species and the main cause of some species depletion. The fact that the dive industry is developing and offering the locals more and more job opportunities help them shift their main activities from fishing to diving or tourism. Not only more and more locals start working in the diving or tourism industry but they become aware that they can generate a good income doing so and as a result some started protecting the ocean wealth. The Maldives, that are now very famous for manta presence, have fully understood the great value of manta diving. Millions of divers go to the Maldives on expensive holidays to see the mantas and whale sharks and this contribute heavily in the wellbeing of the Maldivian tourism industry.

Now whilst some countries have understood the value of the underwater biodiversity and the importance in protecting this natural heritage, some others have not yet realized this.

I must be honest and say that before becoming a diver years ago, I was not aware of all these issues and therefore I was not doing anything about them. Now I am aware of these issues, like many divers I know, I do my best to act and try to have a positive impact about it. When I used to lead dives I would show the example by picking up debris whenever I saw some. I am now trying to work on an awareness project against shark finning which would ideally be diffused in China if possible. I truly believe that if the millions of divers across the world did a small gesture towards ocean conservation, it could have a definite positive impact on the situation. I know that many divers and dive centers are involved in conservation projects and this is the way forward.

Many would argue that the tourism industry is one of the sources of sea pollution and I would agree however I know for a fact that there is a higher probability that a “diver” gets involved in an ocean preservation project rather than a “non-diver”. If two individuals pollute equally but one of them cleans up some of its pollution then he is the example to follow.

I truly believe that divers can protect the ocean more than they damage it, so to the question “To dive or not to dive?” I would reply “Dive it is!”

Angelina Cecchetto