Using Virtual Reality in your dive store

Virtual Reality in your dive store

The modern day shopping experience is constantly evolving. Customer’s need their senses tingled before committing to a purchase, and virtual reality will do just that. Swapping quaint imagery of Red Sea fish life for the PADI® VR Scuba Planner app will give your customers the immersive experience of Egypt right from your store.

For dive businesses that plan dive trips to Egypt, the PADI® VR Scuba Planner is a great tool to back up a sales promotion. Instead of relying on your word to explain how great Red Sea diving is, simply let your customers see for themselves. Through VR glasses, divers and non-divers alike can experience 360-degree videos on a mobile device. Giving your customers virtual bottom time on some of the Red Sea’s most memorable dives will certainly tempt them to book their place on a trip.

In addition to the modern day sales pitch, the app also has the very real benefit of being able to plan dives. Available on Apple and Android, divers can plan 67 immersions in the Red Sea with tips and advice from PADI Pros in the area. The geo-positioning and mapping feature allows for accurately planned dives accompanied by maps, photos, key information and illustrations to further assist with pre-dive planning.

Use this post from the PADI Blog, The Virtual Red Sea, across your social media channels to encourage your customers to come and check out the PADI VR Scuba Planner!

The PADI VR Scuba Planner is available in eight languages and can be found here:

For Apple devices

For Android devices

PADI Approved Youth Training Centre

Last year, PADI brought out the PADI Approved Youth Training Centre recognition for PADI Dive Centres in the UK. Whilst all PADI Professionals will have received training on how to teach children and young adults during their Instructor Development course, reaching out to engage with this market in the UK may require you to incorporate various measures to help safeguard the welfare of children in your care.

There is huge potential for your diving business when you reach out and engage with schools and youth groups. If you are able to establish an ongoing relationship with a school, you can gain a potential guaranteed annual income by repeating training for the next year group. There are opportunities for running an ongoing dive club just in their school pool, or for running UK and overseas dive trips where the children may complete core training as well as specialities.

Benefits of working with school groups:

• New students intake every year
• Opportunity for improved course margins with some schools having their own swimming pools
• Opportunities to branch out and offer courses for family members
• Opportunities for school staff professional development
• Opportunities to offer EFR courses for the school
• Potential opportunities for overseas scuba trips
• Benefit to the school by enhancing students education and cross-curricular links

The PADI Approved Youth Training Centre scheme is one which is designed to provide you with the knowledge surrounding safeguarding measures which may be requested by various schools and youth groups which you are planning on working with. Gaining this recognition from PADI gives you access to additional resources which you can use to help promote and build your school and youth group diving business.

The PADI Approved Youth Training Centre recognition is a free application for all PADI Dive Centres which are 100% PADI, who can confirm that they have the relevant policies and checks in place to safeguard children according to Child Protection rules in the UK.

PADI Approved Youth Training Centre information pack version 2.2 contains all the key information relevant for training children in the UK. For more information on this contact your PADI Regional Training Consultant – Emily Petley-Jones (emily.petley-jones@padi.com) or PADI Regional Manager – Matt Clements (Matt.Clements@padi.com) or  Emma Hewitt (emma.hewitt@padi.com)

 

Summer is Here!

After a harsh end to Winter we have had a lovely sunny start to the season and divers are probably pouring through your door BUT, many dive centres still have time for more customers, especially midweek.

So how do you keep your staff busy Monday to Friday over the summer season?

Bubblemaker, Seal Team, Junior/Family Scuba Diver and Open Water Diver courses often appeal to families during the school holidays,  so why not schedule some midweek courses specifically aimed at this market?

Make sure you are clear about what makes the courses special, some options may be:

  • Parents do not need to attend – this does mean you become “childcare” for the day so you need to have the staff and set up to accommodate this (see our article on Approved Youth Training Centres)
  • Parents DO need to attend – you are aiming at a family vibe and parents are there to look after their kids when you’re not in water.
  • Only family groups accepted – this is reassuring to parents and maintains a consistent group philosophy.
  • Kids only events, such as birthday parties etc with parents welcome to watch, photo opportunities etc.

Consider the logistical differences to your normal courses, some examples might be:

  • Can you transport kids from your dive centre or do you need parents to drop them off and pick them up on site?
  • Ratios are smaller when younger children are involved, so plan ahead for your staffing needs.
  • Don’t forget the fun – I know time is money, especially in the pool, but families don’t want to feel rushed so may prefer to take their time and do less e.g. schedule a Scuba Diver course over the same time you usually do an Open Water Diver course when young children are involved.

Make sure your staff don’t accidentally devalue courses that are not full certification courses by implying they are “less”. Anyone who dives is a diver and if you teach someone Scuba Diver this year, next year you can offer them the top up course to become Open Water Divers.

As well as scuba training, why not offer Discover Snorkelling and Skin Diver. Skin Diver and Turtle Not only can you take students younger than the minimum age for scuba, but there is also a big market of middle-aged and older holidaymakers who want to go snorkelling, but don’t have the confidence to do it without a bit of training or guidance. And they have plenty of disposable income! You may even attract the ultimate family groups; kids, parents and grandparents!

Here in the UK Skin Diver is usually a pool course and can be run in a short time with minimal kit. You may want to invest in a few snorkel vests, rather than use BCDs, but these are inexpensive by comparison. This is also a great opportunity to get your Divemasters teaching. Make sure you spend time with them beforehand to help them prepare and run the course with confidence.

If you have access to suitable shallow areas around the coast why not organise Discover Snorkelling events in the sea? Equipment and staff requirements are simpler than for scuba diving courses and gaining a little confidence under professional guidance while getting to see what’s under the waves is just as much fun for many people as scuba diving.

Top Tip – the standards for Discover Snorkelling are in the Key Standards table in the Instructor Guide and there is a more info in The Guide To Teaching but this is a very flexible program and relies on your creativity and enthusiasm.

 

New Marketing Materials for 2018

YOU CAN. Grow your dive business!

New for 2018, take advantage of the revamped marketing toolbox to support your business efforts across your acquisition, continuing education and pro acquisition markets.

The latest digital marketing materials have been designed to inspire and attract new divers, keep certified divers diving, and convert recreational divers into professionals.

HOW?

Access the 2018 Marketing Toolkit, download the assets you require based upon campaign level, the type of regional imagery and the language variation you want to use.

WHERE?

Implement the assets across all of your marketing channels for a fully synchronised multi-platform campaign. Potential customers and returning customers alike should see a consistent message when they receive emails from you, when they visit your social media pages, read your blog or visit your store. A consistent message equals a consistent income.

Example: Acquisition of new divers in Northern Europe

  • Open the 2018 RRA Marketing Toolbox
  • Open the Campaigns folder
  • Open the Entry Level folder
  • In this case, we want to promote PAD Open Water Diver, so open this folder
  • Choose Northern Europe
  • Decide which marketing channels work best for your business. For consistency, use assets from all digital and print folders.
  • Implement these assets in line with your marketing plan

 

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Dive site topography in Lhaviyani Atoll – Part 1

The underwater topography of the Maldives is dramatic, varied and perfect for exploring. Scuba divers visiting the Lhaviyani Atoll in particular have a huge variety of reef formations awaiting them on the dive sites – the first glimpses of which can even be spotted from the seaplane window. In this, the first of a three part series, the underwater islands of giris and thilas are explored.

What is a giri?

Giris are shallow underwater islands with a top reefs lying at around 5 meters and appearing as blueish-green spots when viewed from the seaplane window. Typically found inside the atoll, they are perfect for beginner divers and macro lovers.

One of Hurawalhi’s favourite giris is Maa Giri. It means Flower Island and it is usually described as ‘fish soup’. On the front of the giri are thousands of lunar fusiliers catching food in the gentle currents that flow around the dive site. Once the divers descend a little deeper they can explore small overhangs and crevices where nurse sharks are sleeping or moray eels are getting cleaned. All around the giri are schools of yellow snappers, humpback snappers, and sweetlips. Occasionally, at the right time of the year, there is a glittering swarm of glass fish that divers can swim into the middle of – this is an enchanting experience that will be remembered for a very long time. Along the walls there are macro creatures like the mantis shrimp, whip coral shrimp and nudibranchs.

Picture by Ray van Eeden

On Tinga Giri, close to Hurawalhi, there is currently a large red frogfish that can often be seen fishing with the lure, which comes out from the top of its head.

What is a thila?

A thila is a deeper underwater island usually starting around 12-14 meters. Two of the Hurawalhi team’s favourite and most fascinating thilas are Anemone Thila and Fushivaru Thila.

Picture by Ray van Eeden

Anemone Thila gets its name from the incredible amount of anemones that have made themselves at home there. It is a very small thila and can be dived all they way round its circumference 2-3 times in one dive. This site is great for underwater photography and experimenting with macro photography. The most spectacular part of the dive is towards the end when divers arrive at the shallowest part of the thila and see the clownfish swimming above all the anemones along with bright blue and pink damselfish. For a good part of the year this site is also completely covered in ‘baitfish’ – so many that visibility can be reduced to 1-2 m with the fish parting to make way for the passing divers.

Picture by Ray van Eeden

Fushivaru Thila is a manta cleaning station and from November to January divers can witness the spectacular sight of the majestic mantas as they cruise in and hover over the station as small cleaner wrasse come and cleanse them of parasites. When the mantas are elsewhere, Fushivaru Thila is just as beautiful with huge schools of snappers and hunting grey reef sharks, nurse sharks sleeping under coral blocks, and large stingrays on the sand.

Picture by Ray van Eeden

There are many underwater island dive sites in Lhaviyani Atoll waiting to be explored. In Part 2 of the Dive Site Topography series all will be revealed about the differences between East and West sides of the Atoll.

 

PADI’s guest blogger Paige Bennett introduces herself:

I am an American Scuba diving instructor who has been living in the Maldives for the past 2 ½ years. I have been travelling and working for the past 6 years and have been to Koh Tao Thailand, Playa del Carmen Mexico, Marsa Alam Egypt and have now settled in the Lhaviyani Atoll working with Prodivers Diving center. I love the abundance of textures and patterns in the ocean and am very interested in underwater macro photography. I also have been involved with several conservation/restoration projects such as ReefCI in Belize, Eco Koh Tao in Thailand, and the coral transplantation project for the 5.8 undersea Restaurant on Hurawalhi Island Resort.

 

Paddle against Plastic

On Global Recycling Day, Sunday 18th March 2018, a team of our best watermen and women from Gili Lankanfushi completed a 14km Stand Up Paddle to raise awareness about the overuse of single-use plastic. During the endurance event, the team collected all floating litter they encountered along the three-hour paddle. The majority of the haul was plastic, so our message is clear: If we can SUP 14km around our island; you can give up using single-use plastic in 2018.

At Gili Lankanfushi, we encounter a large amount of ocean plastic arriving with the tide every day. Some arrives with the current from distant countries, but a lot appears from neighboring islands and the capital Male. Despite Gili’s No Plastic Policy and the plastic recycling program we have in place with Parley, we still face a tidal wave of plastic over the year. Our team wanted to tackle this problem head on.

The event began at day break as we hit the water at 7:15am stocked up with high energy food, water and cameras. The conditions were extremely favourable with low wind, little swell and high cloud cover. The first quarter of our paddle took us against the current, so it was slow going but this allowed us to collect as much floating plastic as possible. We found the majority of marine litter in the corners of Himmafushi Harbour so we set about collecting as much as we could carry. Those working at the harbor watched us approach and a few men jumped into action and helped us collect plastic from the water. They gave us a few extra bags when we ran low. These positive reactions made our hard work feel extremely valuable.

As we turned the corner behind Himmafushi Island, we had the wind and current with us, so we completed almost six kilometres in just over an hour. Being out on the open ocean and looking down to see the fish and coral beneath our feet was a real highlight. The final paddle back to Gili was the hardest, but we were met with the smiling faces of the rest of our team.


The entire experience was a great example of perseverance and team work. It was a great success and we were able to recycle a lot of litter, yet the overwhelming feeling was that we need to do even more next time. In just three hours we collected 200 items which included 90 plastic bottles, 20 bottle tops and 5 plastic bags and this was just the plastic we happened to paddle close to; a lot has been waterlogged or broken down and is found just below the surface or on the ocean floor.
The seven-man paddling crew was made up of Beau, Tropicsurf Manager and SUP surf champion; Naseef, Ocean Paradise Dive Instructor and marine mammal magnet; Emma, Assistant Marine Biologist and official team photographer; Tula, Head of Security and pretty much the toughest guy I know; Ibrahim, Ocean Paradise Boat Captain and life saver; Clare, Marine Biologist and event organiser and Jinah, Hotelier journalist and newly inspired sustainability supporter.

Despite the obvious challenges of reducing ocean plastic, we have seen such positive reactions to our war on plastic at Gili Lankanfushi. After visiting in November 2017, the inspirational Merle Campbell kindly shared:

“For many years now, I have daily walked the beach and never picked up any litter. Since visiting Gili Lankanfushi Maldives and listening about the importance of keeping plastics out of the waterways, I now walk the beach solely for the purpose of collecting rubbish to contribute to saving our sea life.”
We hope our Paddle against Plastic will inspire others to reduce their plastic dependence by taking small steps to reduce plastic use at home or at work. If we all participate, there will be a huge reduction in the amount of plastic that enters our oceans. Well done to Gili’s Paddle Against Plastic Team and Happy Global Recycling Day to Everyone.


A special thank you to everyone who assisted us in the Paddle Against Plastic! Thanks to Ocean Paradise for the boat, equipment and crew, the culinary department for the amazing food, the Sales and Marketing department for sharing our work and getting up early to see us off, the gardening team for recycling our plastic, Shifzan for the awesome photos, and the Gili Lankanfushi Management team for their amazing support!

 

PADI’s guest blogger Clare Baranowski introduces herself:

I am a marine zoologist from the UK who has worked throughout the tropics researching mega fauna and reef ecosystems in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean. I have experience monitoring and restoring coral and surveying manta, turtle and dolphin populations. I began my career as a science communicator before moving into research and management roles, this is why I incorporate outreach and education into every project I work on and I hope to continue this at Gili Lankanfushi

Earth Hour

Earth Hour is an annual worldwide movement to encourage individuals, communities, and businesses to conserve our resources. Celebrating it is a symbol of our commitment to our planet.

At Gili we celebrated Earth Hour on March 24th with the rest of the world, we hosted a Coral Conservation themed day with multiple events leading into each other. For each event, all guests and hosts were invited to attend and take part.

Our first event was a coral workshop hosted for Marine Biologists and enthusiasts. In attendance were three participants from our local island Himmafushi who have a keen interest in protecting their reef and inspiring locals. Additionally, Marine Biologists from Four Seasons Resort, Bandos Resort, Atoll Marine Centre and Hurawalhi Resort attended. Jinah, a journalist from Hotelier Maldives covered our event celebrations.

Our coral lines project launched in 2014 and currently has 190+ lines, each containing around 50 coral fragments. The aim of the project is to rehabilitate our degraded house reef through direct transplantation of mature corals and through indirect coral spawning from the nursery. The project was the first low-tech and high efficiency coral recovery project that involves rope in the Maldives.
Due to the optimal location and care that goes into the project we had 68% survival after the El Nino event and the crown of thorn starfish outbreak. Due to the success of our project, many Marine Biologists are interested in learning more as they want to launch their own projects or further their current projects in other locations. This is why we invited them to join us in celebration of Earth Hour.

 

We felt that hosting a coral conservation themed day would create a platform for a discussion on possible project improvements and new project ideas. Overtime the coral line nursery will contain heat tolerant coral species, fragmenting these species and planting lines could lead to natural spawning of more heat tolerant species which will increase survival rate in future warming events. This will lead to the creation of more healthy reefs decreasing the pressure of predation, providing a healthier habitat, refuge and nurseries for marine organisms like turtles, juvenile fish and other fish species as well as conserving a key ecological ecosystem.
On the day the visiting Marine Biologists arrived at 14:00pm and a land based presentation was carried out, topics included an in depth overview of the project, project creation, management, challenges and future plans. This was followed by a practical demonstration of making a coral line, monitoring the lines and general maintenance including cleaning and removal of invasive species. To view the coral line made by the Marine Biologists click here. To conclude there was a group discussion on possible project improvements and a question and answer session.

 

Following the success of the coral workshop together with guests, Marine Biologists and hosts we designed and created a coral shape in the sand on Library Beach. In celebration of the official Earth Hour which is between 20:30 – 21:30 we turned off none essential lights and filled the coral shape with sustainably sourced candles – coconuts and used cooking oil. During the official event our coral shape was beautifully illuminated by flickering candle lights and guests, Marine Biologists and hosts were able to enjoy this display whilst attending our Earth Hour cocktail evening.

 

To conclude our Earth Hour celebrations we hosted the documentary Chasing Coral in our Jungle cinema and Host Village. Chasing coral is a fantastic documentary about a group of divers, photographers and scientists who set out on an ocean adventure to discover why the reefs are disappearing and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world. They found that coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate and documented their discoveries and explained them in a way that is accessible to everyone.
Overall the event was a huge success with all participants learning something new and being inspired to help conserve our resources. We hope that you will join us in celebrating Earth Hour next year!

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

Common crabs encountered in the Maldives: Part 2

Crabs are an underappreciated species. Whilst living in a harsh and arid environment they dedicate their lives to keeping the beach pristine.

Swift-Footed rock crab Laura Pola

Swift-Footed Rock Crab

The swift-footed rock crab can easily go unnoticed due to its elusive behaviour. It inhabits rocky shores at mid to high tide level and so can be found around beach rocks, boat ramps, rock walls and jetties. These crabs are fast moving and are generally only seen at night, unless disturbed. Then you may observe them jumping from rock to rock trying to find a new refuge.

Their colouration can be mesmerising with a multitude of blue, green, purple, orange, white and black. The crabs encountered on Gili are more blue, green and purple with white stripes. The shell (carapace) can be up to eight centimeters wide and is flattened, compared to other crabs which have shells that are more rounded.

Swift-Footed Rock Crab. Picture by Laura Pola

The crab feeds on algae, detritus, small vertebrates, barnacles, limpets and snails. They use their claws to break into the shells of other animals and to tear off pieces of their prey to be transferred into their mouth. This species is predated upon by a variety of animals including birds, octopus and fish, so it isn’t safe for them in the ocean or out of it!

Fiddler Crab. Picture by Carly Brooke

Fiddler crabs

Fiddler crabs are a small and short lived species of crab (up to two years) and are closely related to ghost crabs. They are found in mangroves, brackish water, mud flats, lagoons and swamps. The colouration of the crabs change in correlation with circadian rhythm – during the day they are dark and at night they are light.

Fiddler crabs are well known for their sexual dimorphism – the male’s major claw is much larger than the females. If the large claw has been lost the male will develop a new large claw on the opposite side, which will appear after molting. The female’s claws are the same size. The crabs use their claws in communication, courtship and combat. The male claw is used in waving displays which signals to the female that they are ready to mate. A more vigorous waving display indicates a healthier male and a larger claw indicates a wider burrow which will provide better temperatures for egg incubation. Females chose their partners based on claw size and the quality of waving. Once a female has been attracted she will reside in the male’s burrow whilst the eggs are being laid. The female will carry her eggs on the underside of her body for a two week gestation period. After this period the female will venture out of the burrow and release the larvae into a receding tide.

During feeding the crabs move their smaller claw from the ground to their mouth. This movement looks like the crab is playing the smaller claw like a fiddle – hence the name, fiddler crab. The smaller claw is used to pick up the sediment which is then sifted through in the crab’s mouth. Algae, microbes and fungus are the preferred diet of the crab. After the nutrients are extracted the sediment is placed back onto the ground in a ball. The feeding habits may play a vital role in preserving the ecosystem as they aerate the soil. The fiddler crab can be seen when visiting local islands, especially in the mangrove area at low tide

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

Common crabs encountered in the Maldives: Part 1

Crabs are an underappreciated species. Whilst living in a harsh and arid environment they dedicate their lives to keeping the beach pristine.

The Maldives is rich in life and biodiversity, but the majority of this diversity is marine based. Due to the great distance of the Maldives from large land masses there are relatively few land based species. Crabs, are one of the most common. These shy little critters are abundant, entertaining to observe and vital to the island’s survival.

Hermit Crab. Picture by Laura Pola
Hermit Crab. Picture by Laura Pola

Land Hermit Crabs

Land hermit crabs are completely adapted to life on land, living under leaf litter or in other sheltered areas. A common error made by people is completely submerging these crabs in water, mistaking them for marine animals. Unfortunately hermit crabs can only survive for a few minutes when completely submerged. They are not true crabs because they do not have their own shell. Instead they use shells from dead gastropods in order to protect their soft abdomens. They are a long lived species – sometimes reaching the age of 40 years and older – so they go through a lot of shells!

Hermit crabs start their lives moving through a variety of larval stages whilst floating in the ocean. The larvae spend the first 40 – 60 days of their life alongside plankton until they change into a hermit crab/lobster shape. In this final larval stage they find a small shell and over the period of a month will spend more time on land until they finally molt and leave the ocean for good. By feeding on vegetation, insects, detritus, other smaller hermit crabs and microbes in the sand the crab grows in size. To accommodate this growth their hard exoskeleton must be shed periodically during the year and this process will carry on through-out the hermit crab’s life. As they grow in size the hermit crab molts less frequently and the molt process takes longer, during which time the crab will stay completely submerged in the sand.

When sexually mature the male will knock on the female’s shell to signal mating. Both genders will then extend out of their shells and the male will fertilise the female. After fertilisation the female will carry her eggs around on her abdomen where they are protected from predation. The bigger the female the larger the quantity of eggs. After one month the eggs are fully developed and the colour of the egg will have changed from brick red to grey. To hatch the eggs the female will enter the water at low tide. Upon contact with water the eggs burst open and the larvae are released.

Ghost Crab. Picture by Hans Hillewaert
Ghost Crab. Picture by Hans Hillewaert

Ghost Crab

Another common crab species is the ghost crab which is aptly named due to its nocturnal activity and sandy colouration, making the crab perfectly camouflaged into the beach backdrop. These crabs are found on sandy beaches and live in burrows. The narrower and shorter the burrow the smaller the crab. Their burrows serve a number of purposes: protection from predation, storage of their food, protection from drying out and other extreme weather conditions as well as a place to mate (although not all ghost crabs mate in burrows).

Young crabs and female crabs create burrows with sand scattered everywhere, with young crabs preferring to create burrows nearer to the water, whilst male crabs have burrows with a neat mound of sand outside – the larger the crab the larger the mound. Males produce mating sounds, squeaking noises, in a variety of ways; by rubbing their right claw on their leg, by rubbing their legs together, or by using their gill chambers, which they keep moist with saltwater.

After mating the females store thousands of eggs inside an abdominal flap. She will then venture into the sea when the eggs are ready to hatch. Since ghost crabs cannot swim the female will float upside down in the water allowing the eggs in her abdomen to breathe. Upon contact with saltwater the larvae are released and after two months return to land.

Swift-Footed Rock Crab. Picture by Laura Pola

The exoskeleton of a ghost crab is water tight, which prevents the crab from drying out in the arid and salty conditions on the beach. All ghost crabs have eye stalks with the males additionally having horns. These eyestalks enable the crab to see in any direction and can be stored in groves on their shells. The ghost crab’s eye sight is so good that they are able to catch insects’ mid-flight. They also have a well-developed sense of smell. They are very agile, capable of moving at 10mph, which makes them the fastest of all crustaceans.

Due to the erratic nature of their food supply ghost crabs are very protective of their food and will use their claws in combat displays. Male ghost crabs have one claw that is slightly larger than the other and combat is normally non-contact and ritualistic. Ghost crabs spend the majority of their day looking for food and particularly like to eat fish, seaweed, microbes in the sand, jellyfish, other crabs, snails, turtle hatchings and really anything they can get their claws on.

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.

Whale sharks of the Maldives

‘What is it? A shark? A whale? Whatever it is it’s massive!’

The whale shark is the biggest fish in the ocean, and therefore is also the biggest shark. It is one of three species of filter feeding shark; also including the basking shark and the mega mouth shark. On the 7th January we were lucky enough to spot Pedro who is a juvenile male at six metres. It was a truly breath taking moment! The best time to look for a whale shark is three to five hours before high tide and a few days before the full moon. However, finding a whale shark cannot be a guaranteed experience.

For many, seeing a whale shark is a once in a lifetime experience, with a place at the top of numerous bucket lists. These enigmatic and gentle creatures can be seen year round in South Ari Atoll, only a short seaplane ride from Gili Lankanfushi. The whale sharks are attracted to South Ari Atoll due to the vicinity of the Chagos-Laccadive Plateau, which provides very deep and highly nutrient rich water. Whale sharks are a pelagic species, able to travel around 100 miles per day and dive to at least 1600m – probably deeper, but this cannot be officially recorded due to tracking tags breaking under the phenomenal pressure at great depth.

Whale sharks are fascinating animals that predate the dinosaurs by 220 million years. All sharks, including the whale shark are cartilaginous fish, which means that their skeletons are made from cartilage, not bone. As with all sharks the whale shark’s skin is covered by dermal denticles, a substance more like teeth than fish scales. The dermal denticles are a couple of millimetres thick and protect the shark’s skin from damage and parasites. They also provide better hydrodynamics. Under this layer of protective armour is a fatty layer, around 10 to 15 cm thick that is most likely used as an energy store and protection from injuries, together with insulation during deeper dives. Whale sharks have over 300 rows of tiny replaceable teeth which are made from a stronger version of dermal denticles. Scientists are still debating the use of these teeth as whale sharks are filter feeders so their teeth are not required for feeding. Another anatomical feature which perplexes scientists is that the whale shark has spiracles. These are a breathing aid for stationary sharks, but the whale shark is classified as a highly mobile shark so what is the use? It could be that the whale shark is very closely related to bottom dwelling sharks, and it is a feature that will eventually disappear through evolution, or it could be used on the rare occasions that the shark is stationary and not feeding.

Whale sharks are known to make seasonal feeding aggregations in 20 countries, including Australia, Gulf of Mexico, Belize, Gulf of California, Seychelles and Maldives. Whale sharks feed on microscopic plankton and small fish that they suck into their one and half metre wide mouths. Their throats are much smaller in comparison; around the size of a drain pipe. They have two known methods for feeding, ram filtration and suction feeding. Suction feeding allows whale sharks to feed on more mobile prey such as small fishes, which they actively suck into their mouths, together with volumes of water that are then expelled through their gills. By comparison ram feeding is passive; the shark swims through the water with their mouth open and plankton filters in. It has been suggested that whale sharks are more suited to suction filter feeding because the gaps between their five to seven gills are small. This small gap is more effective at filtering out plankton when the shark is suction feeding. Whale sharks have very weak eyesight, they can probably only see three meters away, and so rely on their nostrils to find prey. Their nostrils are very sensitive due to their well-developed olfactory capsules; they can detect chemicals in the water produced by their planktonic prey.

Plankton tend to shelter at depths between 100 – 200m. This is the oxygen minimum zone and is not a suitable habitat for many organisms which would prey on them. Whale sharks however are able to feed at these depths and will spend the majority of their time between 50 – 250m. They do venture to deeper depths where the temperature drops to 3 degrees Celsius but scientists believe that due to the infrequency of these dives this is related to parasite removal, not feeding. Whale sharks cannot internally control their body temperature and so return to the surface to warm up and reload oxygen. This is why they can be found in the shallow waters around South Ari Atoll. During this warming and reloading period the sharks can be impaired cognitively and physically which explains their sluggish and relaxed behaviour.

Due to the sluggish behaviour of whale sharks and the shallow depths they travel in they are under threats from boats. It is estimated that 67% of whale sharks have injuries ranging from scratches to amputations. The effects of pollution, poor waste management and increased sedimentation on the whale shark population have not yet been suitably evaluated. Another issue is disturbances to their habitat resulting from tourism – if the guidelines for whale shark encounters are not followed the sharks can negatively be affected. For example, if a large group of tourists are crowding a shark it can cause the shark to dive before it has properly warmed up and reloaded oxygen. Adult whale sharks can also be targeted by great white sharks and orcas, whilst babies have been found in the stomachs of blue sharks and swordfish. In some parts of the world whale sharks are hunted for their meat and fins. In 2010 the Maldives implemented a ban on all forms of shark fishing. However, due to the longevity of whale sharks it will take many years for the population to return to optimal levels.

It is estimated that whale sharks can live between 70 – 100 years, reaching sexual maturity after 25 years at a size of eight to nine metres. Although some people report sightings of whale sharks up to 18 metres in length the largest confirmed has been 12.65m. It is easy to identify a male whale shark because when it has reached sexual maturity their sexual organs have a ragged appearance called claspers which extend past their pelvic fin. The whale shark is classified as ovoviviparous which means that they produce eggs which hatch inside the body. A female whale shark can store sperm for many months and can have babies at different stages of development. For example a female was found with 300 embryos at numerous stages of development. Due to whale sharks storing sperm and having babies at different stages of development the gestation period is unknown. Upon birth the pups are around half a metre in size and weight one kilo.

Whilst whale sharks are regularly sighted, 98% of these sightings are juvenile males with a length of six metres. At any one point it is estimated that there are 200 whale sharks in the waters of the Maldives. The most common behaviour observed of these sharks is cruising, only 12% of encounters are feeding.

We can’t wait to show you these gentle giants next time you are at Gili Lankanfushi. Please ask your Mr/Ms Friday and we can book a trip for you.  When you see one be sure to snap a photo of the checkerboard pattern on their side by their pectoral fins. This can help us with identification and research.

For more information and to upload your whale shark encounters please visit: https://maldiveswhalesharkresearch.org/

PADI’s guest blogger Emma Bell introduces herself:

I am a marine biologist and scuba diver from England. I have had the privilege of working in Greece, Seychelles and Maldives. I have worked in an aquaculture research centre where I focused on hormonal manipulation of a pelagic fish species. In addition, I have experience with coral restoration projects including frames and ropes; habitat restoration – crown of thorns, drupella and invasive plant species removal; educational activities and social media updates including blogs. I have also monitored population dynamics of bird, turtle, shark and cetacean species to aid in their conservation. I started my career working in the Maldives and I have done a round trip via Greece, England and Seychelles, I hope to increase my skills set and knowledge further whilst I am at Gili Lankanfushi, Maldives.