Friday, January 27, 2012

Shark Diving Tips

Shark!Image by guitarfish via Flickr

How to Scuba Dive with Sharks

Chances are that you've been scuba diving with sharks all along. The truth is you’ll be lucky if you get to see a shark underwater. They are a rare privilege to observe. In fact, did you know that you’re statistically more likely to be struck by lightning than bit by a shark?

If it turns out you’re lucky enough to have a close encounter of the sharky kind, here are a few tips to make the experience more pleasurable for both you and the shark:

Go with experts.
Dive operators in many areas offer organized shark dives and, while a guided experience can’t guarantee absolute safety, much shark behavior is predictable if you know what to look for. Go with those who know the locals if you want an introduction.

Be prepared. Whether on a guided shark dive or just looking for a chance encounter, you should learn what type of sharks might be in the area and find out how they’re likely to behave.

Dive with a group in the daytime.
Scuba divers on their own and in low visibility are more at risk in waters where sharks are likely to be.

Enter the water quietly and descend quickly.
Sharks' favorite foods tend to congregate on the surface and in midwater – think seals, sea lions and dead or injured fish. Don’t dilly-dally once you’re in the water and head to the bottom with minimal movement.

It may go without saying, but you don't want to spearfish in the company of sharks. If a shark approaches you when you’re carrying your catch, let it go and stay very still until you can swim slowly away.

Notice the behavior of your underwater neighbors. Fish often swim erratically when sharks are near.

Sharks often swim just beyond steep inclines, so look out into big water as you descend to catch a glimpse. Often the first divers into the water are the only ones who get to see a shark as it swims away from the unwelcome intrusion of a dive boat and the scuba divers it unloads.

Many shark species are timid. If you’re trying to get a glimpse, keep your hands still and by your side at all times.

Don’t look like a fishing lure. Avoid wearing shiny sparkly jewelry underwater because this can catch the attention of a variety of curious fish, sharks included.
While rubber-clad scuba divers with bubbles coming out of their heads are not the shark’s usual choice of cuisine, even accidental contact with one can cause injury. Should you sustain any sort of underwater injury, immediately end your scuba dive, exit the water as quickly as possible and seek medical attention, no matter how seemingly small the injury may be.
Stay alert and limit multitasking so you can focus entirely on your surroundings.

Plan your dive and dive your plan - paying attention to currents, depth and air consumption. Don’t dive too deep or come up too fast – in other words, use safe diving practices at all times. Then, if you’re lucky enough to see a shark, you can enjoy the moment free from worry.

Thanks to Padi

Kathy Dowsett
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Patriotic People Recycle!

International Recycling Symbol 32px|alt=W3C|li...Image via Wikipedia

Patriotic People Recycle!

There's no doubt about it: if you're a patriot, you should feel great about recycling.

Think about it. Recycling saves trillions of kilowatts of energy every year. It conserves our natural resources. It makes our country's air, water and soil cleaner by limiting pollution, and it stimulates our economy by creating new jobs.

Politicians and pundits from both the Left and the Right strongly agree that we should decrease our dependence on foreign oil. So recycling makes you a true patriot who's doing something to make the people and economy of our great nation cleaner, healthier, richer and stronger!

I can see some folks in my mind's eye (not you, of course!) with a slight sneer of disbelief on their faces. So allow me to share some basic statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency and other reputable sources that back up my argument.

Be a Patriot: Save Energy!

In 2003, the energy savings from recycling 54 billion aluminum cans exceeded the energy equivalent of 15 million barrels of crude oil, or the amount of gas the U.S. uses in one day.

Another way to look at it: recycling 1 can = 3 hours of TV, so in 2003 the U.S. saved enough energy by recycling cans to run 162 billion hours of TV, or about 25 hours of TV for every man, woman and child on Earth.

The Center for Ecological Technology found that the glass industry uses 50% less energy to create glass from recycled glass than from raw materials.

Americans recycled about 40 million tons of paper products in 2003, creating an energy savings of 163 trillion (yes, with a "T"!) kilowatt hours of electricity.

Recycling one pound of plastic soda bottles - or PET plastic - saves 1200 BTUs of energy (1 BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise a gallon of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit).

2005 saw the U.S. recycle 5 billion pounds of PET plastic, which equals a savings of 60 trillion BTUs of energy.

Be a Patriot: Conserve Natural Resources

Americans disposed of 83 million tons of paper products in 2003. According to the EPA, by recycling nearly half of that, we saved 705 million trees and 290 billion gallons of fresh water.

4% of U.S. annual oil consumption, or roughly 219 million barrels of oil, goes into the manufacture of plastic. Thus increasing the amount of plastic we recycle can make a significant impact on oil use.

In 1997, the U.S. recycled 13 million cars, which conserved 32.5 billion pounds of iron ore, 18.2 billion pounds of coal and 1.5 billion pounds of limestone.

Aluminum can be recycled forever. Over 2/3 of all aluminum ever created is still in use. Most of the 1/3 not still in use is aluminum cans in landfills.

Be a Patriot: Limit Pollution

Recycling just half of your annual recyclable household waste saves 2400 pounds of CO2 being released into the atmosphere. Many scientists contend that human-released CO2 is a leading cause of global warming.

Recycling household and car batteries keeps heavy metals such as mercury, lithium and cadmium from being released into our air and water. Heavy metals, when consumed by people and other animals, cause numerous health problems and diseases.

The EPA estimates that 200 million gallons of used motor oil are improperly disposed of each year. Recycling used motor oil keeps it from polluting your ground and fresh water.

Americans dispose of 270 million waste tires each year. Illegally-dumped and stock-piled tires are fertile breeding grounds for rodents and mosquitoes, and illegally-burned tires release oil and soot into the air and ground water.

Be a Patriot: Stimulate the Economy

Recycling creates a net gain in jobs - 5 to 1 over landfill management. Jobs created by recycling cover a wide variety of skill sets, including basic labor, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, advanced science and engineering.

Recycling creates new "green" technologies designed to take advantage of the reclaimed resources.

The National Recycling Coalition reports that recycling has created 1.1 million jobs, $236 billion in gross annual sales, and $37 billion in annual payroll.

So there you have it. Patriotic people recycle! I challenge you to come up with another activity that every family in the country can so easily do to make such a huge difference in so many critical areas of the health of our great nation.

Is your Cloth Bag REALLY Eco-friendly?

Be careful that your cloth bags actually are eco-friendly!

Cotton bags (unless they are organic) can have a larger carbon footprint than "disposable" plastic because of the manufacturing & agriculture they require. Even hemp bags, because they are made from cultivated hemp & usually in factories, have significant carbon footprints. The Nature Bag Khmu/Lao Poverty Reduction Project, sharing Earth's Greenest Bag globally, is truly eco-friendly because of its hand-harvested naturally-growing fiber, in-home crafting, long life cycle & minimal weight allowing delivery anywhere with almost no consumption of fossil-sourced energy. It's socially sustainable, too, being a tool for thousands of years for the ancient culture that makes it today to provide income without wasteful commuting & allowing traditional child nurturing.

Thanks to Vivian Ramirez

Kathy Dowsett
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Monday, January 16, 2012

Better Underwater Photos From Your Compact Digital Camera

English: Table coral of genus Acropora (Acropo...Image via Wikipedia

Digital cameras are everywhere these days, especially those compact varieties that fit in your pocket or purse. You can take it everywhere - and with an underwater housing, now you can take it underwater too! However, you may have come home from a recent dive trip disappointed in the overwhelming blue hue saturating your photos. The goal here is to provide a few tips and techniques - in plain English - to help you get some satisfying shots.

1. You've got to use the right tool for the job. That compact digital might take awesome high-resolution photos on land, but the underwater environment throws in a few additional challenges that we need to deal with in order to get a good shot. Compact cameras are usually more suited to macro shots and fish close-ups. To capture that wide-angle reef scene in any color other than blue, you need a wide angle lens and probably an external strobe. Going after shots suited to the equipment you are using will yield more successful results making you a happier diver.

2. Slow down. It is extremely difficult to find a subject, avoid scaring it away, compose your shot, and take the picture when you are swimming a million miles an hour around the reef. Especially when shooting macro, focus on one or two coral heads and find those cleaner shrimp, arrow crabs, and nudibranchs. Close-ups of fish eyes or faces make for interesting abstract shots too. Take several pictures of the same subject and pay attention to composition.

3. Built-in flashes are evil. Do you have a bunch of backscatter in your shots ruining that otherwise perfect picture? The culprit is that built-in flash. On compact digital cameras the flash is located so close to the lens that it illuminates any particles that are in the water, and then your camera records all that backscatter at 10+ megapixels! How do you avoid this? There are a couple of options. You can either stay shallow and shoot with ambient light (no flash) and a color correcting filter, or you can get an external strobe and angle it at about 45 degrees above and to the side of your subject so those particles in the water are illuminated from the side, not the front. You may need to do a little creative engineering to sync your strobe to your camera. You will also need to cover or deflect the built-in flash so it does not affect your shot. If your housing does not come with an attachment to cover or deflect the built-in flash, duct tape also works great for this purpose.

4. Get close. You think you're close to your subject? You probably need to be closer. Three feet or less is ideal. Why? You need to be close because water absorbs light. You already know this from your regular diving - as you descend through the water column, the water absorbs the reds and oranges from the ambient light, and you are left with cooler colors, such as blue. Well, the same principle applies horizontally through the water. The light from your strobe has to travel to the subject, illuminate it, and then travel back to your camera lens. If you are more than a few feet away from your subject, the light is simply absorbed, and that strobe is just as good as dragging dead weight around. Also keep in mind the effect of refraction. Water makes an object appear 33% larger and 25% closer (4:3 ratio), so what appears to be three feet away is actually four feet away. Unfortunately strobes don't care about refraction, so you have to get a little closer than you think in order to properly illuminate your subject.

5. Think about composition. Fish tails do not make for interesting photos, even if it is the tail of the rarest fish on Earth. Shoot at upward angles, rather than looking down on your subject...and stop chasing those fish! Follow the Rule of Thirds for visually pleasing photographs.

6. Stay off the bottom! Buoyancy is key in diving, especially when taking underwater photos. By maintaining neutral buoyancy, you will avoid stirring up sand or silt in the water column, thereby keeping the water as clear as possible and helping to minimize backscatter issues. You also won't be labeled as "one of those" photographers who plants themselves on the reef, damaging coral and disturbing reef creatures, while trying to get the perfect shot. No photograph is worth damaging our beautiful and fragile reefs and wrecks.

I hope these tips help. These are just some of the practices I have followed over ten years of underwater photography. I've used both compact digital cameras and digital SLRs, and have gotten very nice results with both. Remember, the only way to get good at underwater photography is to take underwater photographs. And take lots of them! Practice taking photos on land. Get to know the features, functions, (and limitations) of your camera, and you will find that underwater photography can be extremely rewarding!

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Kathy Dowsett

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Scuba divers invited to explore historic artificial reef in Florida Keys

Advanced scuba divers are invited to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Florida Keys Over-Sea Railroad’s completion this month. An artificial reef created from part of the original railroad bridge sunk off Marathon is accessible to divers experienced in deep dives.

Henry Flagler’s Over-Sea Railroad, recognized as the most unique railway in the world, connected the Florida Keys with mainland Florida and each other for the first time in 1912. Portions of its structure, which subsequently served as a foundation for a portion of the original Florida Keys Overseas Highway, lie submerged in 115 feet of water approximately 3.7 miles off Sombrero Lighthouse.

A favorite among experienced divers as one of Marathon’s challenging drift dives, the Marathon Reef site was created in July 1982, shortly after a then-new Seven Mile Bridge opened to carry traffic. At that time, 4,500 tons of concrete and steel debris taken from the center swing span of the Old Seven Mile Bridge, also called the Moser Channel Bridge, were sunk.

The center swing span pivoted and swung away so tall vessels could transit between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. The original Seven Mile Bridge, like the new bridge, linked Marathon with the Lower Florida Keys.

Today the massive remnants provide refuge to abundant populations of large pelagic and reef fish, eye-popping corals, colorful gorgonians, plant and invertebrate marine life among the superstructure’s lateral bracing, fenders, gears, and circular bearings that supported the bridge operator’s shed.

Divers can explore the concrete and steel rubble spread over a 1.6-acre area, rising off a flat sandy bottom as much as 30 feet in some areas.

The Marathon Reef site is one of 13 artificial reef sites between Key Largo and Key West overseen by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management.

Thanks to the examiner

Kathy Dowsett

Thanks to Keith Mille/Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission for the photo