Sharks: a bucket list sighting for almost any diver, striking fascination and sometimes a small dose of fear in the hearts of us all. We’ve spotted three scalloped hammerheads on dives in just two months, making us more than a bit obsessed here at Sun Divers. And we’re not the only ones.
A new passion project in Roatan supported by the Roatan Marine Park and headed by Simon Gulak, shark biologist and founder of Sea Leucas, aims to shed some light on the little known life of sharks here in Roatan and the greater Bay Islands.
Share your shark sighting
The moment is magical. You hear the tank bang and direct your gaze to the blue. At first it’s a shadow and then there’s that undeniable dorsal fin. If you’re an underwater photographer you’re scrambling to not be all thumbs. If you’re not, you’re likely fixated. Witnessing firsthand the power and finesse of the ocean’s apex predator in the wild is something you never forget.
It’s an experience you want to share with everyone. You’ll no doubt talk about it. Post about it. Hopefully add it to our “Best Sightings of the Month” board. And now you can also share your sighting to help build the first shark count database in the Bay Islands.
Sightings help science
Honduras designated all 240,000 square kilometers of its waters as the first shark sanctuary in the Americas in 2011. Yet, we know very little about shark life, behavior and abundance (or lack thereof) in Roatan and the Bay Islands.
Limited data means limited ability to protect these beautiful creatures who are not only crucial to the health of marine ecosystems, but have been proven to be of more value to our economies when they’re alive and thriving than served on a menu.
One of the most important data points that can help protect sharks is simply establishing a baseline of their abundance. This baseline is something that does not exist in Roatan and the Bay Islands….yet. RMP and Sea Leucas have established the first ever database for shark sightings with the hopes that the entire community will contribute.
Adding your sighting is simple. Just visit the RMP Shark Sightings page to submit information about your sighting including when, where and what species was seen.
Sightings to date have included scalloped and great hammerheads, oceanic white tips and silky sharks.
What will we spot next?
The best way to find out is to dive in!
That is the question that a lot of people have when first considering achieving a PADI certification. But, like most things in life, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to SCUBA diving certifications. And that’s actually a good thing, because it allows you to personalize your diving education journey.
So how do you know if E-Learning is right for you?
Consider three things when deciding if you should opt for the PADI E-Learning vs. a full course at your dive center of choice. 1) your personal learning style, 2) your vacation length and 3) your budget.
But, before we dig into whether E-Learning is right for you, it’s probably best that you understand exactly what your options are! We’ll use the PADI Open Water course to highlight the differences.
The PADI Open Water Diver course includes three parts:
Knowledge Development, Confined Water Dives, and Open Water Dives. Knowledge Development covers the principles, concepts and terms you need to know for dive safety and enjoyment. During the Confined Water Dives, you learn and practice scuba skills in the shallow waters of our bay (other dive centers might use a pool). Then, to complete training, you will apply and demonstrate what you’ve learned through four Open Water Dives upon the beautiful Roatan reef.
Confined water skills might not be required for the certification program such as Advanced Open Water or Specialty Certifications.
There are two ways to approach the Knowledge Development portion of all PADI certification programs:
One is through PADI E-Learning which is an online training platform that includes a mix of written education and videos. The knowledge reviews, quizzes and final exam that you’d normally take on site at the dive center are administered for your completion online prior to show up to the dive center for your course. When you start the in-person part of the course with your dive center, they will administer a set of questions for you to answer known as a “Quick Review.” This allows the instructor to see where there might be knowledge gaps that they will then help fill through discussion with you.
The second option is to take the “Full Course” at your dive center. With this option, you read a hard copy manual and answer the knowledge reviews in advance, and also must watch a series of videos. You then review the content of each of the five knowledge development sections with your instructor. With this option you’ll be able to ask more questions and hear anecdotes from your instructors experience that provide additional context to the theory. Quizzes are taken on site and reviewed with your instructor, as is the final exam.
With both options, you still must complete the confined and open water skills in person – there are just some things that can’t be done in a virtual world (yet!).
Is E-Learning right for your learning style?
Spoiler alert: Learning “styles” are a myth! Many of us have probably been told that we are either predominantly a visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners. And that when trying to process and learn new information, it should be taught to us in the style that’s our dominant learning style.
Cognitive research today has thoroughly debunked this myth. Plus, the PADI e-learning platform is an engaging mix of reading, informational images / graphics and videos hitting on both visual and auditory learning. Combine that with the kinesthetic confined and open water skills and you’ve used all senses to learn.
So if you think e-learning is not for you, you might just think again. Unless you just really prefer the experience of a “real” book vs. more screen time.
Will E-Learning give you more time to enjoy your vacation?
Absolutely. A typical full course will take 3 – 3.5 days to complete based upon your own rate of progress. E-Learning typically takes 2.5 – 3 days. That means more time for you to maximize your vacation – either moving on to fun diving after certification or freeing you up to incorporate other activities into your vacation.
Does E-Learning Cost More?
In short, yes. But as the saying goes, “time is money” and it’s just a matter of how much your time – especially your vacation time – is worth to you. Compare E-Learning prices here to decide whether it’s worth it to you.
Now that you know some of the differences between E-Learning and PADI’s traditional methods of instruction, it’s time to decide which is right for you. Still have questions? Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask!
As you make your way for your safety stop at Seaquest, all of a sudden it comes into focus: An underwater forest of manmade tree-like contraptions. Little bits of coral dangle from these metal ‘trees’ like Christmas ornaments. What you’ve happened upon is the Roatan Marine Park’s Coral Restoration Nursery. The nursery is a super cool location to spot slender file fish, squid squads and even turtles and eagle rays – but it’s purpose is even cooler than that. The nursery is designed to ‘grow’ coral fragments that can then be outplanted onto the reef in order to increase coral coverage with more resilient coral species.
Wait – how do you grow coral?!
First it starts with the coral fragments. Broken bits of Elkhorn, Staghorn and Prolifera coral (which is a hybrid of the two) are recovered from the reef and then hung from the trees. Here they can avoid predators such as fireworms and snails while benefiting from increased sunlight and well-circulated water free flowing amongst the trees.
Much like a plant nursery, these smaller fragments are essentially nursed back to health (pun intended!), so that they can grow into larger, stronger fragments that will survive being outplanted back onto the reef. The more mature corals are then taken to the Roatan dive site Chiefs Quarters where they are “planted” using two-part epoxy. Many times they are positioned near existing coral colonies of the same species which indicate that the location is an area where the coral transplants will thrive.
Why do corals matter anyway?
Reefs cover only .2% of the ocean floor yet sustain 25% of marine life. They also contribute greatly to our lives providing recreation, billions of jobs and coastline protection. Not to mention, the joy, peace and exhilaration we experience when we get to connect underwater to the beauty of the reefs.
That’s a pretty big job for such a small population of coral. Yet, this all-too-important and already limited ecosystem is under attack from warming sea temps, diseases such as Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease damage from ships of all kinds, and destruction from construction such as port dredging.
As coral coverage diminishes, so will the home to thousands of species of fish, invertebrates, marine mammals and more. So will our ability to spark joy from exploring the reef while scuba diving. And so will the protection from storms and erosion, as well as the foundation for billions of jobs worldwide.
In short, a world without corals is not one we’re excited about living in or raising our children to have to struggle with.
What’s the coral situation in Roatan?
The MesoAmerican Barrier Reef in Roatan is under the same catastrophic stressors as reefs around the world. To help offset the loss of coral colonies seen here on the island, The Roatan Marine Park has developed a nursery with 20 trees. Since the nursery’s installation in 2019, over 300 coral fragments have been outplanted. The next steps: continuing to expand the program, while also monitoring the outplanted coral for future growth and spawning (to ensure corals are self-propagating).
So now you’re saying ‘Cool, I want to help plant coral!’
You’re in luck. Divers have an opportunity to become volunteers through the Coral Restoration Ambassador program. As a Coral Restoration Program Certified Dive Center, we can certify you so that you
can perform basic tree maintenance, help repair trees that have been damaged from storms and surge, and even assist with outplanting and data monitoring. There are two certification levels and the course can be completed in just a couple days. Learn more about how to become a certified RMP Coral Ambassador.
If you’re not on the island and won’t be anytime soon: what are you waiting for? Book your ticket!! But you can also support form afar by donating to RMP’s program. Donations help fund nursery operations, permits to keep the program running, and ongoing analysis to improve future program decision.
So you just finished your first Roatan night dive and experienced the globally rare “string of pearls” phenomena. The only thoughts that go through your mind are “have I entered the Matrix?” or “Who spiked my water?”.
What you have seen can only be described as mind-altering and, possibly, life changing.
Imagine yourself in complete darkness. Each flurry of movement sends “sparks” through the water. The light gives you the sense of racing through the universe surrounded by a galaxy of stars. You are already amazed at the experience – THEN the magic happens – your eyes begin to focus on the strings of sparkling lines of brilliant green lights that flash in concert throughout the water.
So what is it that you’re exactly seeing?
The legend of the “String of Pearls” has a many homegrown explanations. The most common is simply that no one really knows what they are. While that isn’t completely true, sometimes the marvel of the experience is simply more romantic without knowing the details.
The truth of the matter is that there is real romance involved.
The real story behind the “String of Pearls” starts with a microscopic crustaceans
called Ostracods. These tiny creatures emerge from the depth about an hour after sunset to begin their bioluminescent courting ritual which consists of males excreting strings of “vomit” blobs of bioluminescent mucus – all in the name of love… And the Ostracod chicks dig it!
Each of the strings produce an intricate series of vertically progressing flashes to attract non-luminescent females of the same species. The displays typically consist of nine to 13 pulses, three bright, longer pulses followed by six to ten dimmer, quick pulses. The length of each train of displays is typically 50 to 70 centimeters with each pulse lasting a second or less and ranging from millimeters to centimeters apart.
Divers who experience this amazing sight often struggle to describe what they just experienced but are aware that what they witnessed was uniquely Roatan.
Check out this cool TED Talk by bioluminescence specialist and Ocean Research and Conservation Association founder Edith Widder
Now you’re asking yourself… how can I see the “String of Pearls”?
Every night dive will be a thrilling adventure but take a glance at the moon stages. If you happen to be on the island when there is a new moon (ie. No moon), your chances just increased dramatically. Check out more on our night diving at Sun Divers Roatan here.
We’re not the only ones on Earth trying to combat devastating diseases these days. The MesoAmerican Reef in the Caribbean has been facing its own pandemic caused by new disease called Stony Coral Tissue Loss disease.
Divers will ask us from time to time about the difference they are seeing in the coral. Many are sad to hear about the havoc this disease is wreaking on the reef system of their beloved Roatan and want to do something to help. Luckily, there is hope and divers can be a part of the solution.
So what exactly is Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease?
The truth is that the scientific community is still working to understand exactly what SCTLD is. But, there is strong reason to believe that the disease is bacterial, based upon the efficacy of antibiotic treatments (more on these in a minute!).
It effects over 24 types of stony corals. Iconic pillar corals, big and beautiful boulder brain corals and star and starlet corals being the most susceptible. The disease is characterized by freshly exposed white skeleton that usually forms in circular lesions, first appearing along the borders of coral colonies.
Do we know where it came from?
The disease first came on the radar in 2014 in Florida. That year there was a trifecta of incidences that wreaked havoc on the reef system there:
- 2014 was (and still is) the hottest year on record
- Coral colonies were getting hit hard with bleaching and
- the dredging of the Miami Port was badly damaging the reef. This trifecta made coral colonies weaker, less able to fight against diseases like SCTLD.
From Florida, the disease quickly spread across the Caribbean, ultimately making its way to Roatan in September of 2020.
Is there a cure?
There is still not a surefire way to stop SCTLD. However, antibiotics, specifically amoxycillin, have been proven to stop the progression of the disease. The amoxycillin in powder form is mixed with a special marine epoxy and then administered to coral colonies through syringes. Depending upon the coral species, the efficacy rate can range between 60-80%.
How do I help?
This all sounds catastrophic, but there is hope. And you’re part of it. Here’s how you can help:
- Decontaminate your gear. Pathogens can survive in scuba diving and snorkel gear. This can cause the disease to spread internationally. Help avoid this by soaking your gear in a solution of water with 1% bleach. Avoid further environmental contamination by allowing this solution to sit in the sun and breakdown for one day. Then dispose of it.
- Remember the 3 Ts: Don’t Touch, Take or Tease. Touching diseased coral and then healthy coral can cause transmission of the disease. But this isn’t the only reason you shouldn’t touch the coral. Coral are actually fragile animals. If you touch them, kick sand in them or hit them with your instruments, fins or body, you can seriously harm them. Learn more about Coral Etiquette from the NOAA.
- Volunteer for a Treatment Dive: At Sun Divers, one of our core values is to Always be Eco-Active. We believe that we’re not here just to enjoy the splendors of the ocean, but to protect them. One way we are acting as good stewards of the reefs, is conducting bi-weekly SCTLD treatment dives. Volunteer divers and local conservation agency staff from the Roatan Marine Park and Bay Islands Conservation agency, dive together to treat, tag, monitor and collect data on SCTLD. We have adopted two dive sites to focus and measure our efforts on: the beloved Blue Channel and Shallow Aquario. Learn more about how you canparticipate in these volunteer dives.
- Snap a photo! You’re scouting the reef for you next perfect underwater photography shot and then you see it: a bright yellow tag with numbers on it. That is an identification tag for coral colonies treated for SCTLD. While not your intended subject, snapping a photo of the tagged coral colony and sending it to the Roatan Marine Park is a vital way that you can provide visual data for the monitoring of SCTLD.
- Support local conservation groups: In Roatan, SCTLD treatment efforts are being led by two non-profit organizations: The Roatan Marine Park and BICA. These organizations are authorized to purchase the marine epoxy used to administer the amoxycillin to corals and they do so through grant and private funding. Producing and shipping marine epoxy from Florida to Roatan can be quite expensive, so any amount of financial support helps. Learn more about how you can monetarily support SCTLD treatment through the RMP and BICA.