One of our Christmas traditions is to sit down together and watch an Aardman Animations film. Shaun the Sheep has become an instant hit with all of us, and even more so, when images of his namesake nudibranch started to appear online. However, for some years now, we have looked, but never found these tiny, elusive nudis. Until now…
On a recent trip diving in the Philippines with Magic Oceans Dive Resort, our guide seemed perplexed that we had not seen one before. He promised to find us one on the very next dive and, perfectly on-cue, we were both excited to see him signalling to us within minutes of getting in the water. We approached carefully, as we were in a sea-grass area with a sandy bottom, and peered at the portion of greenery that he was aiming his pointer at. Neither of us could see a thing and signalled that we were perplexed. He pointed more carefully at a tiny speck of what looked like fluff, and gave the two-fingered signal for nudibranch. We looked more closely and more carefully – could this be the Shaun the Sheep, that elusive nudibranch? Yes! But, it was tiny and we had no idea that they were that minuscule!
Our guide left us to work out how to go about photographing our new subject, while he looked for more. Soon he was back to say he had found two more. How he found any of them is a complete mystery to us. We also now have even greater respect for anyone who has ever taken a shot of this subject! We are not getting any younger, and the Shaun the Sheep nudibranch is made for young, sharp eyes. We were delighted to get a couple of decent photos from the dive.
There is something amazing about finding a species you have always wanted to see. Especially one that looks so much like an animated character you know and love. So, we were delighted to add this to our amazing list of dives on this trip. These tiny nudibranchs are only around 2mm in size, but along with their cute looks, are also quite amazing in another way: they can photosynthesize! The algae they feed on contains chloroplasts and these are assimilated into their own cells in a process called kleptoplasty. These are truly “solar-powered” nudibranches!
We would like to thank Aardman Animations for allowing us to use one of their images of Shaun the Sheep to show you why the nudibranch has been given this name. The resemblance is uncanny!
Nikon D800; Nauticam housing; INON Z-240 strobes
Olympus OMD EM-1 mkII: Nauticam housing; INON Z-240 strobes; Nauticam CMC 2 macro lens
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Scuba Diving in India: 5 Best Places to Visit Now
India doesn’t get the attention it deserves for its scuba diving. With its white-sand beaches and tropical islands, this stunning country is on a par with some of the world’s best-loved diving hotspots. There are isolated coral reefs, shipwrecks, pinnacles, remote atolls, and walls that host an eye-popping array of Indian Ocean marine life. With India recently opening its borders to fully vaccinated travelers, now is the time to explore this incredible destination before the rest of the world finds out.
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The Andaman Islands sit off the coast of India in the Bay of Bengal, surrounded by bright blue waters and fringed with isolated coral reefs. It is a tropical paradise destination with thriving mangroves that support diverse marine life and extraordinary birdlife.
Many of these beautiful islands are inhabited by the Andamanese, an indigenous group of people whose privacy is paramount, meaning you cannot visit all of the islands. Some of the Andamanese tribes, such as the Sentinelese, have had little to no contact with the outside world for many years.
Havelock Island and Neil Island are two of the most exceptional diving spots in the Andaman Islands and are regularly rated as two of the best places for scuba diving in India.
Havelock has excellent macro diving, whilst Neil Island offers pristine coral reefs and fewer divers. Together they host some of the best marine life that the northern Indian Ocean has to offer.
When to go: November to April.
Sitting on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea, Goa is known for its long stretches of golden sands and lively nightlife. But if you step back from the bustling bars, you will find picturesque dive sites and a destination rich in culture and history.
Grande Island is a hotspot for water sports and is one of Goa’s best dive locations. There are dive sites for every level of diver at this must-visit island, plus some of Goa’s famous shipwrecks.
As an important trading port for centuries, Goa has around 100 shipwrecks off its shores, which have become thriving artificial reefs. As well as wrecks galore, Goa also has shallow coral gardens and striking pinnacles that attract tourists to Goa scuba diving every year.
When to go: October to May.
Puducherry’s crystal-clear waters are enough to attract any keen diver to explore this well-known French colonial settlement and the surrounding area.
Above water, Puducherry is a quaint destination with a French Quarter of bougainvillea-lined streets, colorful colonial villas, and sophisticated boutiques.
Below water is equally as eye-catching, with a huge range of diving opportunities along Puducherry’s vast coastline. There are unexplored coral reefs and shipwrecks, plus famous dive sites such as Coral Sharks Reef – a great novice dive site with plenty of reef sharks.
Go in search of sea snakes at Aravind Wall, one of the most famous dive sites in India, explore popular Four Corners, or head into the deep, dark depths at The Hole.
When to go: February to April, September to November.
- Netrani Island, Karnataka.
Netrani Island (Pigeon Island) is one of India’s best-known dive spots and sits off the famous temple town of Murdeshwar. Shaped like a heart, it is also known as ‘the heart of India’s diving’ and offers world-class diving with excellent conditions.
There are rarely any currents at Netrani’s dive sites, making it an ideal destination for Open Water Divers and novices who want to learn to dive.
Most of the diving is done from boats, taking you to explore diverse coral landscapes bursting with colorful marine life. Keep an eye on the blue when you dive there, as whales sometimes visit this special island.
When to go: October to May.
Lakshadweep, an archipelago off Kerala, has 36 atolls and coral reefs, with lagoons full of life and pristine reefs. Whilst you cannot visit all of the islands, those that you can visit make it a fantastic place to dive. And when you’ve had your fill of diving, you can explore Kerala’s famous tea plantations.
Whichever islands you choose, the clear blue waters of Lakshadweep have a seemingly endless list of marine life highlights, including sharks and sea turtles.
Bangaram Atoll is entirely surrounded by coral reefs and the continuous nature of the reef makes it one of the most interesting places to dive at Lakshadweep. As well as gorgeous corals, Bangaram hosts Princess Royal, a famous 200-year-old shipwreck.
Kadmat Island, or Cardamom Island, is all about turquoise waters, white sand beaches and encounters with numerous sea turtles. With healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs to dive, it is a mecca for marine life. Make sure you leave time to visit this impossibly idyllic island.
When to go: October to May.
Who is diving in India suitable for?
With over 8000 kilometers of coastline, India has a broad range of dive destinations to suit every dive experience level. There are plenty of easy-going dive sites for novices, plus adventurous dives for experienced divers.
What marine life will you see when diving in India?
Sitting in the Indian Ocean, India’s dive sites host a huge variety of life, including abundant tropical reef fish, lion fish, moray eels and prized critters. Sea turtles are regularly spotted cruising the reefs and nest at many of India’s islands. Manta rays, whales and dolphins are also seen in India’s waters.
Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.
Critter Diving in Dumaguete
Words and Images by Marty Snyderman
While the term “muck diving” is one that would probably not pass a smell test with the marketing gurus on Madison Avenue, experienced muck divers know exploring the muck to be a featured attraction of diving in the water surrounding our resorts at both Atlantis Puerto Galera and Atlantis Dumaguete.
If you are new to diving or simply have not yet enjoyed the opportunity to muck dive, you might not be familiar with the term muck diving. Don’t let your lack of familiarity or the name turn you away. The term muck diving was first used to describe exploring areas where the bottom consists of black sand, mud and silt in sites that are often influenced by some current flow and a source of freshwater. Over the years the definition has expanded, and today the term muck diving is often used to describe dives over almost any area that has a soft bottom as well as dives around structures such as a pier or dock where the pilings along with discarded tires, bottles and other man-made objects combine to provide habitat and hiding places for all kinds of creatures.
But it is not just the nature of the sea floor or number of species that one might see that has made muck diving so popular. It is the fact that many of the encountered creatures are so bizarre, amazing, different, and well adapted for their life style and their chosen habitat that they routinely leave divers in awe of what Mother Nature has to share. Creatures such as ornate, robust, and halimeda ghostpipefishes, shrimpgobies and their partner shrimps, strange-looking scorpionfishes, sea moths, skeleton shrimp, decorator crabs, stargazers, gurnards, frogfishes, cuttlefishes, seahorses, octopuses, and snake eels are daily fare in muck sites.
In many muck diving areas, the bottom is not completely barren. Small patch reefs and anemones in the sand provide refuge for additional species of fishes, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, and squids etc. In short, muck diving can be crazy good!
The Muck Diving Experience
For many divers the first time they look around after entering the water at some highly acclaimed muck diving site, their heart sinks as the surroundings do not bring the term beauty to mind. Drab is usually more like it, and upon first consideration most muck diving sites look boring. But you’ll be selling muck diving short if you judge this book by its cover. Just trust those that brought you to the site and go see what there is to see. Odds are you’ll be absolutely amazed.
Muck Diving Technique
In many muck sites it is extremely easy to stir up the bottom and reduce the visibility with a single kick of a fin or the loss of buoyancy that causes a diver to crash into the sea floor. It is best to keep kicking and all other movements to an absolute minimum, and to achieve and maintain neutral buoyancy.
After that, it is “get low, go slow, be curious, and look closely” as you scour the bottom and any structure whether a soft coral, sponge, or debris such as a dead leaf or piece of driftwood on the sea floor. Take two looks at the slightest aberration. See something that looks just slightly different than its surroundings, and the odds are that you will be looking at some mind-blowing animal.
Be patient with yourself as you learn “how to look”. Divers that are new to muck diving almost always swim past subject after subject without spotting them during their first several muck dives. And they are almost universally amazed by the animals their dive guides spot. It is like the guides and new divers are diving in different oceans.
The key to the guides’ success is that they know where, how to look, and who they are looking for. Of course, gaining that expertise takes time. No doubt, their experience is a huge help. When you ask them how they do what they do, they are usually quick to tell you they “get low, go slow, remain curious, and look closely”. And I’ll throw in a “have fun and allow yourself to be amazed by Mother Nature”.
Visit www.atlantishotel.com to find out more!