The Jacques Cousteau Influence

I am old enough to remember diving pioneers like Jacques Cousteau and have been lucky enough to dive in some amazing places during my diving career, from quarries in England, Stunning reefs in Egypt, with Whale Sharks and Manta Rays in Thailand. Mating Leopard Sharks in Malaysia and just about everything you can imagine in the clear tropical waters of the Philippines.
There are many reasons people come to diving, some learn to dive young and others like myself learn at an older age. When I was young I loved to watch the amazing undersea adventures of Jacques Cousteau. I would even play scuba diving in the bath, complete with mask snorkel and fins. What a sight that must have been !

j cousteau
I was always around water, from six years old I lived most weekends on a boat together with a couple of annual boating vacations. I enjoyed swimming, snorkelling and the sea but never got around to trying out diving even though it had held that fascination for many years. I would go on vacations and often a local dive school would offer try out scuba in the hotel pool, but for some reason I would always make an excuse not to try it, I had heard about equalising and think maybe I have a cold, I felt my ear on the flight there, or would plan to do something else instead. I’m not really sure why, I’m very competitive by nature and maybe subconsciously I feared not being able to breath underwater in front of others.
On vacation in Egypt I was taking a snorkel boat trip, something I had done many times before in what I now know are some of the worlds best diving locations. I’m in the water and I see divers below looking at something. It frustrated the hell out of me that I couldn’t see what they were looking at. On the way back to my hotel I was telling my partner and she suggested I should book a dive at the hotel, yes maybe I replied and that was that.
Back in the hotel we had to visit the reception for something unrelated and I hear my partner asking about booking diving for the next day. Intermediately I went on the defensive I need to back out mode, Err I don’t know err its maybe expensive err what if we want to do something else – too late it was booked and I had finally run out of excuses.
So the next day I’m in the middle of the ocean on a boat wearing all this heavy equipment and lead weights on a belt and they tell me to jump in to the water, ididn’t feel much like Jacques Cousteau at this point “Cr**p I’m going to sink”, saying to myself as they pushed me to the edge. I had zero practice and virtually no instruction,with the exception of being shown two signals,’OK’ and the ‘Problem’ which was explained as this signal means calm down. So with a little nudge I was in the water, but I didn’t sink as I’d expected. instead the Instructor let the air out of my BCD and we started to descend slowly down the line. I remember to this day, it wasn’t the corals or the wonderful fish that fascinated me, or the clear water, it was how I was hearing myself breath and thinking how you stop breathing to swallow,everything was so intensely apparent, I would never normally think about how I breath as a land dwelling animal,
So moving on, I liked the experience so much it triggered a change in my life of avalanche proportions, this first dive was followed by three more Discover Scuba Dives over the next 24 hours, Wednesday and Thursday On the Friday evening I flew home to the UK, Saturday morning I signed up to an open water course and within a year I was a PADI instructor in Thailand.
Its not always been the easiest way to make a living, in some places I earned reasonably well, in others just enough to survive, I’ve had a few experiences that were not my favourite times in life, but I also had some wonderful times met many wonderful people and made some great friends. I now own my own dive school, and I still like to go fun diving for myself from time to time.
After more than 3000 dives I’m still in awe of what lies beneath the surface and how marine life comes in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and colors, and lives in all kinds of different environments, adapting to them perfectly. You can dive a site hundreds of times and still see something new and, sometimes, unexpected, I often wander back to those times watching Jacques Cousteau, who would have though back then I would become a professional diver and have the privilege to get paid for what I love to do.
My friends and acquaintances sometimes say I’m lucky to live on a beautiful tropical island doing what I do,and I guess I was lucky to realise this is what I wanted to do, but actually anyone can do it, you just have to make the choice, sign up to a course and make it happen.

What is Coral

So you’ve done your first dive and have viewed first-hand the beauty of the underwater world. You’ve been exposed to beautiful coral reefs and some colourful, tropical fish.

One of the most common questions I get asked is, what is coral? New divers are often confused. Are corals plants, animals or some beautiful type of rock.

coral-triangle
Soft Corals

So what is coral?

Coral are actually animals. They are from the family Cnidaria, which is the same family as jellyfish and anemones. Corals get their colour from a type of plankton called zooxanthellae. These zooxanthellae live in symbiosis with corals. The zooxanthellae use photosynthesis to convert coral waste products into proteins and sugars.

This provides coral with energy, allowing them to grow and reproduce. Coral typically grows in shallow, nutrient poor waters so they depend on the zooxanthellae for almost 90% of their nutrients.

Corals are colonies of small animals embedded in calcium carbonate shells. Coral reefs are made up of a selection of different coral colonies. You may have noticed some coral colonies that look like boulders, table tops or even antlers. Those are all different colonies of coral growing side by side to make up a coral reef.

The Rainforests of the ocean

Coral reefs are known as the rainforests of the ocean and shallow coral reefs form some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Coral reefs only make up about 0.1% of the world’s oceans, yet they provide homes for at least 25% of all marine species. Almost ¾ of the world’s reefs are found in the Indo-Pacific region. Coral reefs are the oldest, most productive and diverse ecosystems in the oceans.

Endangered

More than 25% of coral reefs have been classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Almost all coral reefs worldwide are now threatened in some way. Coral reefs protect shorelines from storm damage, provide homes for countless marine species provide most of the worlds oxygen and drive tourism.

 

Coral restoration
Coral Restoration

Invaluable benefits to mankind

Some corals are being studied to treat diseases. Coral reefs are being studied by pharmacologists studying anti-cancer and anti-HIV agents, as well as new antibiotic research. Coral attracts tourists, which generates incomes for a wide variety of businesses and boosts local economies. Tourism is the world’s largest industry and sustains 10% of all jobs. Healthy reefs provide food, shelter, income and social stability for hundreds of millions of people.

Snorkelers and divers are natural ambassadors for the protection of coral reefs. We are in the water frequently and notice short and long term changes in the aquatic world.

The main threats to coral reefs

Coral reefs have date back thousands of years and have survived many natural changes, but unfortunately many of them are now struggling to survive due to the impact humankind is wreaking on them.

Around one quarter of coral reefs around the world are already damaged beyond repair and another two thirds under serious threat of major damage mainly due to us humans.

Major threats to coral reefs and their habitats include:

Climate Change – Corals cannot survive if the water temperature of the sea rises too high, this leads to them bleaching and dying. At around 29.6 degrees celcius the Algae will seperate from the of the coral polip never to return leaving only a leeched looking calcium structure Global warming has led to increased levels of coral bleaching around the globe and this is predicted to increase in frequency and severity in the coming years.

Destructive Fishing  – These methods that harm the reefs include cyanide fishing, dynamite fishing and pulling a net across the reefs which is known as bottom trawling.

Overfishing – When a species is overfished it affects the balance of the local ecosystem and warps the food chain and causing effects far beyond the directly overfished population.

Careless Tourism – Careless boating, diving, snorkeling, and fishing happens around the world, with people touching reefs, stirring up sediment, collecting coral, and dropping anchors on reefs. Some tourist resorts and infrastructure have been built directly on top of reefs, and some resorts empty their sewage or other wastes directly into water surrounding coral reefs.

Pollution – Industrial and urban waste, sewage and chemicals draining are poisoning reefs. These toxins are dumped directly into the ocean or carried by river systems from sources upstream. Reefs are also at risk of nutrient pollution, this is where the ocean becomes rich in nutrients as a result of fertilizer release. This causes excess algae release which chokes the corals of their energy source.

Sedimentation – Mining, logging, farming and construction is leading to increased erosion and run off entering the rivers and streams. This ends up in the ocean, where it smothers corals by depriving them of the light needed to survive. Destruction of mangrove forests close to the shores is exacerbating the problem as they act as a natural ‘blocker’ for sediment.

Coral Mining – In some areas coral is removed from reefs for use in construction as bricks and cement for new buildings. Corals are also sold as souvenirs to tourists being made into necklaces and over jewelry items by exporters who don’t care about the damage done to reefs.

soft-coral
Soft Corals

So how can you help protect coral reefs when you are visiting Boracay?

You can participate in beach clean ups and dive site clean ups. Use our recycling bins. Boracay has around 1.7 million tourists a year that produce about 20 tons of rubbish a day.

White Beach Divers follows green fins enviromental guidelines and seperates all its trash so as much can be recycled as possible and disposed of in the most enviromently way. It helps emensly if you say no to one use plastc such as straws, plastic bags and plastic drinks bottles. use our water refilling station in the front of the dive shop.

BBASS (Boracay Business Association of Scuba Schools) and White Beach Divers and frequently host clean ups to keep plastic bags, and other debris from smothering coral reefs. Check our facebook page for any clean up events and inside the dive center for more information.

You can also buy a reusable water bottle and get free refills at the dive center and other water stations around the island. Choose cans or glass bottles which are easier to recycle.

If you smoke, put your cigarettes into garbage bins, not on the beach.

When diving respect the marine species that live there by not touching anything underwater and not supporting dive centres that do. Coral is invisible to the naked eye for its first 6 months of life. The oil on our fingers can kill coral even if it looks like it’s just a rock.

Perfect your diving skills

Watch where you put your fins and use good buoyancy skills. When we kick or stand on coral we break off pieces that have taken years to grow. Some coral species take 18 months to grow an inch! Secure all your gauges and equipment to avoid accidental contact with coral reefs.

If you haven’t dived for a while consider completing a scuba review before diving in!

If you are unsure about your buoyancy skills in general consider completing a Peak Performance Buoyancy course with a PADI Instructor. Scheduled over 1 day and including 2 dives this course won’t just improve your buoyancy, but your air consumption too, as well as your overall confidence as a diver!

Don’t use Suncream

Wearing a rash vest is the preferred way of avoiding getting sunburnt but you can apply sunscreen an hour before entering the water so it is well absorbed into your skin. Sunscreen washes off and prevents the corals from being able to photosynthesize, essentially starving the plankton from converting wastes to nutrients that the coral needs to survive.

When it comes to buying sunscreen look for one that uses natural products (organic or biodegradeable for example) as this is better for the environment. Look for a brand that uses physical sunblocks such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide instead of chemical ones.

Think before you buy

Don’t buy jewelry with corals and shells; by purchasing them it creates an increased demand for them, exploiting the population. When left in the ocean the coral and shells break down and are used by the coral to build their skeletons.

Eat sustainable seafood. Overfishing disrupts the ecological balance by eliminating top predators and algae eating fish that are vital to keep algae growth in balance. Unchecked algae growth is coral’s biggest competitor on the Reef. Changes in fishing techniques have led to increased pressure on fish stocks and overexploitation of coral reefs. Unsustainable fishing practices affects 55% of the world’s reefs.

When snorkelling or diving, chose operators that don’t feed reef fish. Human food is not good for fish, it changes their feeding patterns, makes them more susceptible to predators and food waste promotes algae growth which can smother coral reefs. The normal algae eating fish are all full so are no longer eating the algae, Fish will leave their young babies to feed which leaves them unprotected and exposed to preditors. Enjoy fish watching without interfering.

Educate yourself

Come visit us at White Beach Divers, Boracay and learn more about coral reefs and how to protect them. You can take Project Aware’s Coral Reef Conservation Specialty Course, which will teach you all about the plight of the world’s coral reefs. The course describes how coral reefs function and why they are so important.

Table_coral

 

Coron one of the worlds top dive destinations

 

Perfect Destination

The perfect destination to learn to dive, its not just the perfect clear and calm waters, hard and soft coral reefs and abundant marine life and the 24 world famous wrecks that make Coron one of the top locations to take your PADI Scuba Diver or Open Water Course, its that Coron not only matches and surpasses most other Dive destinations for its perfectly suited learn to dive sites, but the it offers a total experience that is unrivaled.

Their is so much choice, Coron offers something for everyone, even the most demanding will find what they want. Accommodation ranges from backpacker budget to total luxury, Restaurants and cafes offer simple street food to gourmet fine dining, most parts of this beautiful tropical paradise are still quiet and naturally unspoilt, while other parts have developed to provide shopping, food, bars and night life.

Beyond diving there are many other activities to entertain you , there are so many activities to keep you busy on none diving days. That is of course if you are not wanting to relax on one of the magnificent boat tours.

Ideal learn to dive environment

Its the Ocean that attracts the most visitors to Coron, its temperature ranging from a a low of 26 degrees in March to a high of 30 degrees in July, its perfect to learn diving. Pirates Divers is Coron’s number 1 learn to dive center, with a reputation for quality, safety, service and happy guests that is envied and respected by the rest of the Philippines diving community.

learn to dive options

On offer are three options; if you have never dived before but want to know what its like to Scuba Dive without committing to a course.  You can take the Discover Scuba Diver half day diving experience. With an experienced instructor you will undertake a thorough briefing, learn and practice some diving skills in shallow water off one of Coron’s  white sand beaches, before heading out by boat to dive on one of Asia’s best coral reefs.

If you have two full days The PADI Scuba Diver Course certifies you to dive to 12m with a professional guide and if you have three to four days the PADI Open Water Course qualifies you to dive independently any where in the world.