Cairns & Great Barrier Reef

Posted by Rick Hartley 6 years ago

I went on a 4 day / 3 night liveaboard with ProDive in Cairns, Australia aboard the Scubapro II. As was the theme with the rest of my diving on the east cost in March, the weather was less than perfect. The 3 hour trip out to the reef was a little bumpy and I think about half of the passengers were on the wrong side of queasy as a result.

Once we arrived at the reef we began our slate of 11 dives. The sites for the first day were Milln Reef, Petaj, and The Whale. Highlights of the first day were turtles, whitetip reef sharks, razorfish (they swim with their heads down – sorry for not getting a photo), and some nice nudibranchs. The ultimate highlight had to be on the nightdive at The Whale however. We found turtles that had their normal sleeping places there that were absolutely massive. These were easily the largest turtles that I have ever seen and were a real treat.

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The diving the next day was more of the same at two sites on Flynn called Tennis Court and Gordons. Once again, the nightdive was the highlight. We saw several turtles again and some Grey Reef Sharks.

The highlight was at the end of the dive when we were doing our safety stop just on the edge of the lights from the boat and 3-4 Grey Reef Sharks were circling in and out of the shadows creating fantastic silhouettes. (And, “circling” in the non-aggressive sense. Trust me, we felt far from threatened and were wishing they would come closer.) We were enjoying watching them so much that we extended our 3 minute safety stop to about 15 resulting in a friendly warning from the dive supervisor about being late back to the boat.

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The main highlight from the next day was this Potato Cod that this photo just does not do justice. This fish had to be 200kg (400lbs) or more. It was fantastic.

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This swimthrough with some gorgeous Fan Corals was also a highlight of the last day but the viz just was not good enough to get a good photo.

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The trip was very enjoyable and the crew on the boat were great. Unfortunately, on the way back to Cairns I found out that there was a cyclone that was getting too close to the coast and my diving for the rest of the week was cancelled.

I did make the best of it and went to the Northern Territory to do a real outback trip to see Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in the center of Australia.

Editior’s Note: I’m almost caught up to where I am now (Perhentians in Malaysia). The photos are getting better and hopefully I’ll manage to post closer to the actual dive dates now.

Blue Pearl Bay on the Ragamuffin - Whitsunday Islands

Posted by Rick Hartley 6 years ago

When I got close to the Whitsunday Islands I stopped at a visitor center and told them I would be there for about one day and asked what I should do. The answer came back quickly and was “Ragamuffin”.

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The actual name of the boat is Maxi Ragamuffin and it is a gorgeous 24M sailboat with an impressive racing history. One of the trips they do is a day sailing trip to Blue Pearl Bay. I got on the boat with the intention of just seeing some of the Whitsundays which I had repeatedly heard good things about and enjoy a day of sailing and a little snorkeling.

When I got on the boat however, I found out that they do dive on the trip and despite my experience the previous day at Lady Musgrave Island they were able to convince me to do a dive pretty easily.

I’ll now consider my lesson learned. On the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef on the snorkel / sail / whatever trips – do yourself a favor and stick to the snorkeling (if you are an experienced diver). The “good stuff” that you are going to see such as the very nice coral, nudibranchs, etc. can mostly ALL be seen in the snorkeling areas. The dives seem to be much better suited to “Discover Scuba Diving” types of excursions.

Even though the dive was just average I cannot recommend a day on the Ragamuffin more. The crew was amazing, the boat was beautiful, and it was a fantastic day. It was so good that I think there are definitely going to be some sailing lessons in my immediate future.

Lady Musgrave Island

Posted by Rick Hartley 6 years ago

On my trip up the east coast of Australia I stopped in the Town of 1770 and went to Lady Musgrave Island on a boat called the Spirit of 1770. The boat is one of those very nice turbo diesel cats designed to get large amounts of snorkelers out to the reef. My main motivation for going was to see what the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef looked like.

Once we got close to the island there were turtles, manta rays, and sharks in the water. I got very hopeful about the prospects for the dive.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. What I saw was a lot of dead coral and not very much life. We did see one lion fish but all in all it was pretty disappointing. The visibility was amazing at 15-20M but just not very much to see. The amount of life we saw on the way in suggests that I was just very unlucky on this particular day. It happens.

On the second dive, which was in the shallow area very close to the snorkeling area there were some nice coral heads and a very nice larger wobbegong shark.

Definitely a dive where “I’m really glad I saw it but I will not go through the effort and expense to do it again”.

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Diving Byron Bay

Posted by Rick Hartley 6 years ago

After several days of having trips canceled because of the weather, I finally managed to get underwater in Byron Bay at a site called Julian Rocks. I went out with dive shop called Sundive in Byron. When I arrived the afternoon prior I asked how many trips were planned the next day and when they told me it was 3, I said, “sign me up”. The very nice guy behind the counter suggested I just sign up for 2 and “see how it goes”. This turned out to be very good advice.

Julian Rocks is a site that is easily visible from the beach at Byron Bay. The way that Sundive gets there though is just little bit ‘logistically challenging’. For each dive, they pick up divers at the shop, load them into a truck, and take them and a RIB to the beach and launch from the shore and motor out to the site. After the dive, you come back to the beach and watch the (very skilled) captain navigate the breaking waves and dozens of surfers to get the boat back onto the beach and trailer it. They do this for -each- dive. So, the guy was right. Two dives was enough for me.

However, the site was definitely worth the effort. The rock formation is interesting in itself and the life there is really spectacular. Just a few seconds after descending, we saw our first Leopard Shark. Visibility was around 10M and you could tell that the locals were used to better conditions than what I got to see.

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The second dive was even better and we saw a Wobbegong, more Leopard Sharks, a Blind Shark (thanks to my buddy’s very nice Halcyon Torch), Bull Ray, Eagle Ray, and a Loggerhead Turtle. The DM told me that Grey Nurse Sharks and even a Port Jackson once that had clearly lost its way can be seen there (in the right time of year).

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So, even though the boat logistics are not perfect, Byron Bay and Julian Rocks definitely belong on anyone’s todo list for the east coast of Australia.

March Comes in Like a Lion

Posted by Rick Hartley 6 years ago

Wet Season
If you are planning a dive trip somewhere and you see the words “wet season” anywhere, you’re gonna want to go ahead and find out what that might -really- mean for your diving. My plan was to drive from Sydney to Cairns and dive along the way. I knew it was the “wet season” but I thought to myself, “This is Australia, how wet could it be?”.

Well, the answer turned out to be pretty wet. After one particularly harrowing evening driving my bright green Jucy van through torrential rain and flooded roads I asked a guy if this was normal and when Australia had seen rain like this. He told me that for western Queensland at least, they had not had rain like that, “since white men have been here”. So, I spent a lot of the trip dealing with closed roads and rain muttering quotes from Point Break about the 50 Year Storm to myself.

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DAN - Identifying Problems - Scuba Diving Accidents

Posted by Rick Hartley 6 years ago

In the September – December 2009 issue of Asia-Pacific Alert Diver there is an excellent article titled Identifying Problems – Common Causes of Open-Circuit Diving Fatalities by Richard Vann, Ph.D. and Petar Denoble, M.D., D.Sc.

The article summarizes research into 947 diving related fatalities in the US and Canada from 1992-2003. It is organized by:

  • Trigger – Earliest identifiable event at the beginning of the sequence.
  • Disabling Agent – Hazardous behavior or circumstance and the likely cause of the disabling injury.
  • Disabling Injury – The injury directly responsible for death.

The most common triggers were Insufficient Gas (41%), Entrapment (20%), Equipment Problems (15%), and Rough Water (10%).

Following these trigger incidents the most common disabling agents were: Emergency Ascent (55%), Insufficient Gas (27%), Buoyancy Trouble (13%). These disabling agents caused the most common fatal injuries of Asphyxia (33%), Arterial Gas Embolism (29%), Cardiac Incidents (26%).

More than half of the divers that died (57%) began the dive with an assigned buddy but were separated prior to death.

Manage your gas and dive with a reliable buddy. It seems that single sentence reduces your risk of a serious accident while diving by more than half (in an already safe sport – unconfirmed stat of 1 death per 200,000 dives).

A scenario derived from the research might go something like this: You are diving, possibly with the added stress of current or other difficult conditions, you lose focus and do not monitor your gas consumption and find yourself in an out of air situation. You are separated from your buddy and are therefore left without an alternate source for air. You panic and make an emergency ascent to the surface. At this point you are stricken with the symptoms of an AGE.

Divers should be taught that contrary to the thoughts in their heads of a Hooper-esque face to face meeting with a Great White, in the very unlikely event that something serious happens underwater, the most commonly seen causes of their demise are things that can be prevented.

Stuff That Can Kill You (Probably Not a Shark)

Posted by Rick Hartley 7 years ago

I was doing some research for another email today and found some interesting facts along the lines of the “here’s a few of things that are a lot more dangerous to you than sharks – but that you probably don’t worry about nearly as much”.

First, according to a very good National Geographic article: “Each year there are about 50 to 70 confirmed shark attacks and 5 to 15 shark-attack fatalities around the world. The numbers have risen over the past several decades but not because sharks are more aggressive: Humans have simply taken to coastal waters in increasing numbers.”

Here are some other ways to die:

  • The United States averages just 16 shark attacks each year and slightly less than one shark-attack fatality every two years. Meanwhile, in the coastal U.S. states alone, lightning strikes and kills more than 41 people each year. (from the NG article)
  • In 2009, this Wikipedia entry states that 33 people in the United States were killed by dogs. 13 of them were allegedly pit bulls (!).
  • Elevators and Escalators kill about 30 people every year in the US and injure over 17,000. (About half of the deaths are attributed to working on or installing the equipment).
  • Choking killed 160 children in the year 2000 in the US according to stats referenced by this Yahoo Answers entry. After food, candy, especially hard candy, is what you have to be really careful with.
  • Toasters have been used with success in a few recent shark ads. It seems to be with good reason. The Consumer Product Safety Commission in the US refers to over 300 electrocutions per year.

What about 150 people killed each year by coconuts you say? Well, the internet says it is true and the internet says it is false (or at least a very crude estimate). You’ll have to decide for yourself. Vending Machines falling on top of you? Yep, that one seems to be true but for people tipping vending machines over for a free soda, I put that in the Darwinian category.

The overall message is to keep in mind the reason behind stats like these. They are popular because writers are trying to come up with information that is even 1/10th as ‘sticky’ as Capt. Quint’s quotes.

Sharks: Perception vs. Reality

Posted by Rick Hartley 7 years ago

I received this email from my friend Sarah: ”I saw this article on CNN just now–very timely after watching ‘Sharkwater‘. It says the most shark attacks happen in the US and most are in Florida. Do you know why? Also says that divers experience fewer attacks than surfers and swimmers/waders. Again, why?”

I did my best to answer her questions and thought it might be good to recap my response here.

Swimming & Wading and “Surface” Attacks

I’ll start with the swimmers/waders versus scuba diver stats first. The reason that more attacks happen on the surface is simply that sharks do not want to eat humans. We are not on their menu. They want to eat seals, turtles, birds, other fish, etc. When a surfer or swimmer is splashing on the surface, they can look very much like one of those things. The other reason that has been proposed for sharks attacking is out of fear or provocation. The articles suggest that the surfer had two major bite wounds. He was very unlucky as there were multiple sharks in the area and after the first bite the second wound might have come from another shark out of confusion.

A very important thing to learn from is that he was not “eaten”. There seem to have been more than enough sharks there to have overwhelmed him right? Well, the reason is that after they bit, the realized it was not what they wanted and they retreated. This logical inconsistency in the story in something that almost nobody ever thinks about. Also, one article I read seemed to say that “experts” were calling this a predation attack. In other words, the sharks wanted to eat him. I wholeheartedly disagree.

Bull Sharks

This is one reason why the Bull Shark gets such a bad reputation. The Bull Shark is one of a very few species of sharks that has the ability to switch from saltwater to freshwater and can be found in murky water. Many people wading in murky water are “attacked” by the vicious “man-eating” Bull Shark. That simply is not true. Bull Sharks technique for identifying food is to bite it first (they don’t have hands to help with identification). This is why you hear of an “attack” by a Bull Shark that consists of a single bite. They bite, realize they do not want to eat it, and leave. Trust me, if a 250 pound Bull Shark wanted to eat you, it would.

Why So Few Attacks on Scuba Divers?

This is why I think there are so few attacks on scuba divers. A gangly uncoordinated mess of rubber and bubbles simply is not what the shark wants to eat. Also, if you go with the ‘provocation and defense’ theory, a slow bumbling scuba diver probably does not appear to be too dangerous underwater. My guess is that most, if not all, shark attacks on scuba divers have some other ‘contributing factor’. By this I mean things like the diver was spearfishing and carrying dead and wounded fish or was accidentally put in a situation where the shark was threatened.

So, contrary to other animals (tigers for example), sharks are not man-eaters. In fact, in the majority of cases (I’m sure there are a few examples of people being “eaten”), it is a case of mistaken identity with a “test bite” followed by a retreat.

Statistics

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is interesting but what they hide is crucial.

As for the Florida statistics, first of all, the statistics that they quote are from the International Shark Attack File which is part of the Florida Museum of Natural History. Even though I’m sure they make every attempt to really make their data “international” it is very likely to have a Florida and US bias. So, that’s one thing to take into consideration when using this data.

Next, Florida is simply mathematically a place where lots of people and lots of sharks are in the water together. The “bite first” issue that I explained above has more opportunities to occur in Florida waters.

I hope these attempts at answers help. These questions have definitely raised even more questions in my mind that I would like to research further.

Some other posts about Sharks that you might like:
Stuff That Can Kill You (Probably Not a Shark)
Reality TV, Sharks & Toasters
Rethinking the Shark