My Week: Weather and Nudibranchs

Laura Harron, our Guest Blogger based in New Zealand, gives us the next update on her week working as  dive guide:

Monday

Today I am crewing on the boat as a dive guide. The weather has finally settled and we are treated to flat seas and sunshine for the next few days. I normally try my best to avoid talking about the weather like a granny, however when your work is entirely affected by the weather it tends to work its way into most conversations. Trying to convince people to move and get into dive equipment when they feel sea sick and want to die is a mission. Today the sea is so flat I want to kiss it after the wind we have had early in the season. Diving is so easy in these conditions.

After the morning intro and boat briefing we have a good chat with everyone on the way out about their previous diving and what they would like out of the day. We are only 10 minutes out of the harbor before someone squeals ‘Dolphins!’ Everything comes to halt and we open the hatch to allow our divers to rush out to the bow and make noises at the bottlenose dolphins surfing the wake of the boat. Instantly we have a boat full of happy customers, the rest of the day is going to be easy.

Tuesday

Day off. I see from Dive! Tutukaka’s facebook page that one of the instructors on our boats saw a manta ray at the islands, what a treat! I’m stuck doing paperwork instead of seeing a manta. Ugh.

Wednesday

Weather is still magic, and I have another day crewing on the boat. The temperature of the water is now a balmy 21 degrees, so I have finally had to give in to the abuse of my fellow instructors about being soft and having to get out of my drysuit.

We are diving at a site called ‘Trevor’s Rocks’, a house favourite due to its array of depth, and three pinnacles with resident morays and large scorpion fish. Diving here is normally sheltered and relaxed as there is very rarely current, and the sheer volume of marine life distracts any novice nerves. As we are cruising around one of the pinnacles I spot an unusual colour. On further inspection I see it is a nudibranch that I have never seen before, I call over one of the other crew members to point out my new find. I hear his ‘oohhhs’ through his reg and I know he hasn’t seen it before either. When I surface with my divers I grab a boat camera and return to take a picture. After a facebook post and several enquiries back at the dive shop we find out it is a cadlinella ornatissima last seen at the islands in 2001. It originated from Southeastern Australia so it’s pretty cool to see it here.

Thursday

I start an eLearning Open Water Diver course. After our quick review we head into town to knock out our confined session in the pool. Both girls are very comfortable in the water so we have a fluid session and complete our skills in time to have a few underwater rolly polly competitions before we leave.

Friday

Beautiful morning, clear skies. We get our equipment together and head onto the boat. I brief the girls on what the day will involve and answer any questions the have about the dives ahead. A few miles out of the harbor, trouble strikes. One of my students pales and ask for a sick bag, thankfully we have mountains of bags for these occasions. At the islands I begin my ‘If you get in the water you will feel better approach’ and reluctantly Alex moves to the back of the boat. After a 5 minute swim the colour returns to her face and we can proceed with the training.

It’s a difficult day for Alex, we get through what we need to do with several anti-nausea swim breaks in between. On our way home we spot a large pod of common dolphins, this is enough to curb anyone’s nausea. They display several leaps close to the boat for photo opportunities, and I laugh at how effective cetacean encounters can be for sea sickness.

I buy Alex a bacon sandwich when we get back to shore for a de-brief.

Saturday

Photo by Laurent Benard

Today Alex has some diver friendly sea sickness medication that the doctor has prescribed for her so we should get through the day and training with ease.We do two beautiful dives, and have encounters with free swimming morays and enormous snapper. With the bloom of krill the snapper are congregating in the masses, it really is such a treat to see these large predators in such big numbers. One of the reasons why the encrusting life is so magnificent at the islands is because the snapper keep the urchin populations under control. On the mainland, the urchin populations explode and strip a lot of the reef of its encrusting life. It’s a good example of how important marine reserves are in keeping the balance of all marine life.

Sunday

Day off.  Sun’s out. There I go talking about the weather again.


Laura Harron, 29, originally hails from Ireland and has previously worked in Malta and Tonga before moving to New Zealand. She is now based Poor Knight Islands with Dive! Tutukaka. 

Pro Diaries: Diving in the Antarctic – A view from the Ice

We took the opportunity to ask our guest blogger Kelvin Murray about his experiences leading and training divers in the Antarctic:

How would you describe your role in the British Antarctic Survey [BAS]?

My primary role was to manage all diving operations in support the British Antarctic Survey’s marine science programme.  This involved planning, leading and supervising dives, training the dive team and base personnel, procuring and maintaining equipment including the on-site recompression chamber, updating and developing manuals and operating procedures, plus mopping the floor!  My other role was to support base operations and the work of other staff – it was all very much a team effort.

What are the diving conditions really like in the Antarctic?

We are very used to seeing footage of divers under Antarctic ice with stunning visibility in crystal-clear water – and this can be the case, especially during the winter months when planktonic life has died off and there is very little organic material in the water column.  However, the opposite can be said during the summer months of massive productivity in the marine ecosystem when visibility can be a few feet!  We had very little current to contend with and certainly avoided windy conditions, especially when there was ice around.  The water temperature ranges between about 2oC/35oF to minus 2oC/28oF, however despite being only a few degrees difference you can really feel the change between plus zero and sub-zero.  In saying that, when the air temperature is -25oC jumping into sub-zero seawater is like getting into a warm bath – for a while anyway!  When we climbed back out onto the ice after such a dive our drysuits would freeze solid…

How would you organise and lead a dive under these conditions, and what sort of things to you have to take into consideration?

Despite operating 8,000 miles from the UK, we carried out our diving operations under British Diving at Work Regulations, which gave us an acceptable standard to adhere to.  This meant we had a process of risk management, standard operating procedures and equipment requirements that all helped to actually make things easier when planning dives.  BAS has its own systems and procedures based on decades of diving experience ‘down south’ however each Diving Officer will bring their own experience to the role.  As a PADI Instructor I am very familiar with having well-established standards and procedures to follow when leading divers, and I brought this to the dive locker.  We had divers of all level of qualification and experience working at the base throughout the seasons, and assessment, encouragement and management of the team was a daily routine. more

Pro Diaries: My Week – the Dive Guide’s Diary

Laura Harron, PADI Instructor and dive guide (photo by Erik Larsson)

Laura Harron, our Guest Blogger based in New Zealand, gives us an account of her week working as  dive guide:

Monday

A PADI Open Water Diver course begins! I meet my three students in the morning and we begin to explore what we all want out of the week. The three of them want to go diving and see some incredible marine life, I want to take them diving and hopefully produce some new avid, safe divers who will pass on their experiences and convert to the tribe of marine conservationists.

Tuesday

We meet at the shop in the morning and the guys try on final bits of gear we will need for the pool. We then hop in our dive shuttle and drive to Whangarei, our nearest town with a training pool.

Wednesday

Time to go out to The Knights! My ’nearly’ PADI Open Water Divers bounce into the dive shop ready for some open ocean diving. I brief them on their skills, and what the day will involve before we step onto our dive boat for morning introductions to the rest of the crew, and our boat safety briefing. On the way out our eyes are peeled for whales and dolphins, we often see both on the 12 NM journey to and from the reserve.  At the islands my students perform all the requirements for open water dives one and two, in the process we are graced with the presence of enormous stingrays, large schooling snapper and trevally gorging on krill, and scorpion fish as large as dogs. Back in Tutukaka I show them how to wash their gear, then we log our dives and discuss what we saw. They are hooked already.

Thursday

Last day of the course, I tell the guys I want to see superior skills and good buddy etiquette.  It’s also their second day on the dive boats so I inform them of their duty to laugh at the skipper’s jokes, even if they sound familiar.  Out at the islands they are superb.  After their dive we congratulate them and take some photos of that new diving glint in their eyes.  The weather is stunning, so we go for a tour of the arches and visit Riko Riko Cave, the world’s largest sea cave by volume. It has awesome acoustics so we encourage our divers to sing, yoddle or shout out. The echo lasts for over ten seconds. On the way home we are lucky enough to spot a school of false killer whales. They spy hop next to the boat enjoying the oohs and ahhs of all the passengers. One begins to tail slap which is often a sign of territorial behavior, and soon after a pod of perhaps 30 – 40 bottle nose dolphins engulf the boat and begin to surf on the wake of our bow. We are one of the few operations that have a permit to swim with dolphins, however we are not allowed to swim with whales, so alas we watch from the boat! Good day at the office.

Blue Mao Mao (Photo by Laurent Benard)

Friday

Day off. The morning is dedicated to mundane chores and the afternoon is dedicated to a 4 hour coastal walk with stunning views and isolated bays. We have a picnic on the empty beaches and I take photos of my friend doing handstands in the sand.

 

Saturday

A normal day crewing on the dive boats. We meet and greet our customers in the morning and kit them up with everything they need. On the way out we have a chat with everyone on board, and divide them into groups based on experience. We recap the concept of buoyancy control in 2 piece 7mm suits, signal use and discuss how we will dive together. I have a few nudibranch fans in the group. Easy! The nudis are everywhere at the moment. During the surface interval we make hot drinks for our divers, go through ID books and send them upstairs for the skippers animated stories of the history of the islands. In the afternoon we guide our second dive and them it’s time to head home. We stop to watch a sunfish cruise past the boat, a pretty rare sight so it’s a treat for all of us.

Sunday

Day off. Into town in the morning for the weekly supply of groceries, and then off to a BBQ on the beach in the evening where we enjoy a few steak and rums under the stars.  There are only three bars and restaurants in Tutukaka, but it’s not a problem for most of us instructors.  Life on the coast is more about outdoor eating on the beach or on the deck. We camp, trek, surf (if you can) and fun dive on our days off. Coastal life is pretty sweet.


Laura Harron, 29, originally hails from Ireland and has previously worked in Malta and Tonga before moving to New Zealand. She is now based Poor Knight Islands with Dive! Tutukaka. 

Pro Diaries: The Most Southerly Dive Guide in the World…?

Introducing the next of our Pro Diaries Guest Bloggers, we have Kelvin Murray,  a professional diver, explorer, naturalist and expedition leader.Kelvin Murray

Kelvin is currently en route to the Antarctic, where he will be managing all diving operations in support the British Antarctic Survey’s marine science programme. Kelvin will be providing regular updates regarding his experiences in this unique environment.

As the founder and owner of Silvertip Expedition and Diving Management, Kelvin provides specialist services and consultancy to the expedition, tourism and media industries.

A PADI IDC Staff Instructor with 20 Specialty Instructor ratings plus commercial and technical diving qualifications, he also has extensive first aid, medic and hyperbaric chamber qualifications at responder and instructor level.  Kelvin over-wintered in Antarctica as Field Diving Officer for the British Antarctic Survey in 2007.  Managing the only scientific diving programme that consistently dives throughout the Antarctic winter allowed Kelvin to participate in several hundred dives in this challenging environment.

Expedition diving enables Kelvin to dive and guide all over the world, on every continent and in every ocean.  His clients include European and American expedition companies as well as National Geographic photographers, the BBC Natural History Unit and French television companies.

Working in collaboration with Dr. Sylvia Earle’s SEAlliance Foundation, he contributes video footage and stills images to the Ocean layer of Google Earth.  Prior to working for BAS, Kelvin was involved in marine wildlife conservation.  He is an ardent advocate for sharks and has dived with several species of these much-misunderstood animals.

Pro Diaries: Dive Guiding For Tec Divers

By Vikki Batten

Whether you are a tec diver or not you will almost certainly have tec divers booking onto your dives at some point.  So what can you do to make the most of the techie market? Or maybe you just need to know how to deal with a very occasional tec diver? Here are some ideas of what tec divers want and need from a recreational diving operation and dive guide.

The first rule is also the most important – if you don’t know anything about it, don’t pretend you do and don’t touch the kit unless you are invited to do so. There is nothing worse than someone fiddling with the wrong bit of your very expensive tec  kit or CCR! If you’re not an expert, ask the divers what they want from you. If they are tec divers on a recreational dive boat they may just want to be left to get on with their dive. Ask what their experience is, both recreational and technical but especially with the particular equipment they are using. After all, they may be just starting down a new avenue of diving and appreciate a guided dive to that they can concentrate on getting experience on new equipment. Tec Diving in Malta What might tec divers want? Pre-dive – Tec divers will want information on the dive site(s) so that they can plan their dive. They will probably need Eanx or Trimix gas fills – ask them what they need the day before to give yourselves plenty of time; if you plan to support rebreathers you will need to stock consumables such as scrubber absorbent. Tec divers often need extra time and a clean place to assemble and check their equipment plus additional space for to store and set up their equipment. On the journey – Tec divers often want an “alarm call” before you reach the site so that they can start kitting up and doing their pre-dive checks. This may mean the safety and dive briefing is better done early in the journey or even before – you won’t be very popular if you give a detailed briefing while they are sitting in kit getting hotter and hotter…. During the dive – As I mentioned earlier, techies may not want anything from you during the dive or they may enjoy some guiding (if the dive is within your experience and certification). They may also ask you to be a support diver – this would normally mean that they do the dive and you assist during the decompression phase of the dive. There are lots of different roles for a support diver so this should be well planned in advance but the main rule is that a support diver can’t do his job if he has an accident so dive conservatively and well within your limits.

Rebreather Diving in Malta
Rebreather Diving in Malta

Post-Dive – Fresh water is the first thing I need, both for me (to drink) and to rinse my equipment. If there will be a repetitive dive tec divers may need some of the things that recreational divers do (gas fills etc) but often their specialized equipment means they can do another dive without needing anything else. With all these extra considerations you may be wondering why you would want to work with tec divers but, although the logistics may be a little more demanding, they usually need less assistance in other areas. If you enjoy working with tec divers you may want to pursue tec diving qualifications to increase your experience and allow you to take a larger part in tec diver guiding and specialist trips. Check out the PADI TecRec blog for all the latest on PADI TecRec courses and contact details for your regional technical diving consultants.


Vikki Batten works for PADI as Director of Rebreather Technologies and, as part of the Technical Diving Division, is involved in developing and supporting PADI TecRec courses. Vikki has been teaching technical diving for 15 years and is a passionate cave diver.

Pro Diaries: Bait Balls and Hermaphrodites

By Laura Harron

When you wake up to birdsong rather than howling 40 knot winds, you know it’s going to be a good day on the water. Everyone is charged with the promise of our late summer as we greet our sleepy, but largely enthusiastic divers at the door.

It’s 8.00am and we are gearing up our customers with the equipment they need for the diving day. Amongst the introductions I hear things like “What’s your name mate?”, “You work for the Italian special forces?!”, “Ah, you are a primary school teacher? Well done!” Diving always attracts an eclectic bunch of people, it’s one of the things I love about working in the industry.  People from all sorts of corners of the world, and all sorts of industries have come together, and all got out of their beds before 7.00am (some earlier) for the prospect of seeing something extraordinary.

I instruct and guide at the Poor Knights Islands in New Zealand.  On this particular morning I meet my two divers and I can tell they are buzzing off the idea of encountering lots of different marine life. Lloyd is a doctor researching the origins of ancient bacteria in the oceans, and Maya is a vet. These guys love wildlife and I can’t wait to get them beneath the surface to share with them some of the best sub-tropical diving in the world.Nudibranch

The Poor Knights offers an incredible amount of biodiversity for two main reasons.  Firstly the islands are a naturally temperate environment with kelp beds and large encrusting sponges, however over the years the East Auckland Current (also known as the East Australian current, but the Kiwi’s don’t want the Aussie’s taking credit for this one) has brought down warm tropical currents that carry larvae of tropical fish species. Some of these species are able to remain at the islands, surviving the winter temperatures (tough little dudes), and become resident on the temperate reefs.  As a result of this, the islands offer an incredible array of marine life, everything from seals in the winter to the occasional manta ray in the summer.  Secondly, The Poor Knights have also been a fully protected marine reserve since 1998, this protection has allowed this sub-tropical mini eco-system to flourish into the world class diving destination that it is today.

We hop onto the boat for the morning introductions to the crew and the safety briefing, we like to reassure people that we have a full range of safety gear on board that range from EPIRBS to plunger coffee.  Most people at this time of morning would rather grab a coffee when abandoning ship rather than a lifejacket, so it’s important they know where these things are. As we approach the islands we are surrounded with large schools of feeding trevally. Hundreds of these fish can be seen feasting on juvenile shrimp on the surface. These schools then attract the sea birds, and we watch as the gannets and shags dive head first into the ocean hoping to spear a fish.  Maya and Llyod look excited; I found out this morning they are hoping to see pelagics and nudibranchs. I’m pretty confident we are going to see both.

As soon as we have dropped anchor we gear up, do our buddy checks and giant stride our excited selves into the clear blue water.

Several Kingfish (large, stealthy bullet shaped predators) start to dart around the reef. We remain in one place for the first ten minutes, no need to move the kingfish come to us. We watch in sheer amazement as a wall of koheru (little bait fish) begin to bait ball to deter the kingfish. As the kingfish proceed to shoot in amongst the school, the bait ball splits in two and begins to spin in different directions.  We are nearly vibrating with excitement, they can tell from my reaction that this is a real treat.  Ok, what else did they want to see? Nudibranchs! Luckily for Maya and Llyod The Poor Knights Islands offers some of the largest nudibranchs I have ever seen in my life. I’m sometimes convinced people inject steroids into the reef to produce these bruisers. Not only are they enormous here but it is one of the few places in the world where I have seen nudibranchs mate – frequently. Being hermaphrodites, the nudibranchs here can be seen often exchanging DNA with their sex organs with any other nudi of the same species. After this exchange they lay extraordinary lines of eggs known as rosettes. They cover the reef and are beautiful to photograph, this sort of action makes a macro photographer dribble.  Sure enough, within minutes I am giving them the ‘mating’ sign, and they are devouring the scene before them.  What flamboyant little/big creatures.

Eagle RayThe rest of the dive is a series of giant scorpion fish sightings, moray eels, visions of stingrays gliding past us and again, more kingfish. Unfortunately like all dives it has to come to an end. We reluctantly prepare for our safety stop . On the boat we are buzzing, and enthusiastically discuss what we saw as the skipper who is remaining dry for the day makes no attempt to hide his envy. Next time mate!

We drop down into the water once again to immerse ourselves in beauty. One this particular dive I have asked them not only to locate and identify different species of invertebrates and vertebrates, but also observe the behavior of the animals. I have never encountered such a diverse range of encrusting life, it blows me away even after hundreds of dives here. I have briefed them on the territorial behavior of the demoiselles and black angel fish, both these species are nesting eggs on the reef at the moment and display an endearing amount of paternal protectiveness when they attempt to chase our bodies (which are a good 78 times larger then them) away from their nest.  Within 20 minutes their slates are full, so we swim around until we reach our air reserves and again prepare for an ascent. Time for lunch.

During lunch the skipper takes us for a tour and embarks on tales of history and adventure on the Poor Knights Islands. They have a violent history (it involves bacon) and as they have been protected top side too for years, they are just as fascinating above as well as beneath the surface.

We are diving this afternoon at Blue Mao Mao Arch, a site once declared by Jacques Cousteau to be in his top ten dive sites in the world. Pretty special place.  The site is an arch which runs from once plateau to another, inside the arch large walls of schooling blue mao mao and demoiselles can take your breath away. The silhouettes  at either exit are stunning and as with most arches at these islands the encrusting life covers absolutely everything.  Good buoyancy control is essential.  As always they are superb and we emerge from our third dive with smiling faces.

On the way home the crew relax and discuss the things we saw on our dives, everyone agrees today has been a winner. Not all days are easy, we sometimes are faced with having to organize dives in difficult conditions, last month we were faced with weeks of 2 – 3 m swells and 30 knots winds. Guaranteed though, even on the hardest of days, we will be sitting around discussing something amazing that we saw on the way back to the Tutukaka marina. This is why diving is so powerful, people who have dived for years in one particular place will still often surface with wonder one their faces ready to gloat at what they saw. Something new, something rare, something extraordinary.


Laura Harron, 29, originally hails from Ireland and has previously worked in Malta and Tonga before moving to New Zealand. She is now based Poor Knight Islands with Dive! Tutukaka. 

Pro Diaries: Dive the Dream!

Chris and Gorgonian

You have the best job in the world!”

Every dive guide has, at some point, heard this statement from an envious diver who is faced with an impending return to the drudgery of day-to-day life.  As PADI Professionals we know that these guys don’t see everything – all the early starts, the endless cylinder filling, the challenging moments that arise on dives – but deep down, we also know they are right.

We get to scuba dive as part of our work and that is pretty amazing.

There are dive guides across the world: we work on liveaboard boats in tropical locations, we dive wrecks in deep water, we look after nervous divers in icy quarries. There are PADI Divemasters in every continent in the world who are diving in conditions of every kind and working with people from across the planet. We are all linked by one common bond however; our love of scuba diving and the lifestyle it has given us.

The PADI Pro Diaries are for you, aiming to bring together the stories and knowledge of this enormously diverse group of professionals. You will find practical information and advice from other dive guides, descriptions of day to day life from peers around the world and stories of our collective experience.

Anyone can submit their stories for the Pro Diaries as one of our Guest Bloggers, and you can talk about anything that relates to life as a dive guide. Simply send your articles to marketing.emea@padi.com – we will always be pleased to hear from you!

So whether you are a seasoned Divemaster, a new member, or aspiring to take the next step in your PADI Professional journey – enjoy!