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Resistance Is Futile: Taba’s ‘Alien’ Invasion

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TabaStu 6While Taba’s unsuspecting tourists sizzle away in the sunshine, an insatiable predator prepares to strike. This undersea creature lies perfectly camouflaged, armed and extremely deadly. Fish lured into the ambush zone have no escape. Flexible jaws devour in a single, swift gulp. But this strange looking ‘alien’ poses no threat to divers. In fact, there’s no denying it, divers love Frogfish (Antennariidae), and Taba, in northern Egypt, is fast becoming the Red Sea’s top spot for encounters.

But what has initiated this increase in ‘alien’ activity, or is it all just a hoax? This definitely had the makings of an X-files mystery? The truth was out there somewhere, so I packed my bags bound for Taba Heights in Egypt. Dan, from Dive Holiday Designers, briefed me en- route: flight ETA – 4 hours; hotel transfer – 45 minutes; accommodation – Intercontinental Hotel;special equipment – Nikon DSLR.

Conditions at Taba are perfect for Froggie spotting. Underwater visibility averages 20 metres throughout the year, currents are virtually non-existent and the majority of dive sites are between 5 – 20 metres. Taba Heights also operates a one boat per site policy so divers aren’t crowding en mass, making the whole experience far more relaxed and enjoyable. A high standard of accommodation and a professionally run dive centre rounded off the facilities perfectly.

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There are even some nice shore diving sites where Froggie sightings are virtually guaranteed. At ‘Canyons’ I found 5 different Froggies on a single dive. Huw, the diving manager at Aqua Sport, even told stories of a monster green Froggie that planted itself on his chest during a PADI Advanced Course. This overly friendly Froggie had even been known to sit on a divers head. Huw said ‘It just seems to like divers’.

Stu 10TabaFroggies are extremely ugly looking fish but I’m sure this is all part of their game plan. The masters of stealth can mimic their surroundings by changing colour and texture in a matter of minutes growing lumps and bumps similar to the surface of corals or sponges. Passing fish often don’t see the danger until it’s too late. Divers also have a tough time spotting them, but then, that’s all part of the fun. Red Sea Waterworld’s General Manager had even reported sightings on their house reef. A dark brown Froggie had made its home on an upturned parasol that blew into the sea. My findings were becoming more bizarre each day!

Taba’s coastal waters are home to a number of different species of Froggies. But it’s difficult to tell them apart as there are so many variations in colours, shapes and sizes, even in the same family genus. Worldwide, there are around 46 different species. Sizes vary from a few centimetres up to a giant 40 centimetres. At the Radisson Reef (Shaab Gamila) I found a black 25cm Froggie sitting under a table coral and Katie, my dive buddy, spotted another small dark green 5cm Froggie just a few metres away. Andrew said there were two more Froggies sitting on an old fish trap in the sea grass at 10 metres. We had failed to spot them during our afternoon sortie. Male Froggies tend to be smaller than females and there is no differentiation in colours or patterns.

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Glassfish Shoals and pinnacles swathed in Anthias (the little orange fish – pseudanthias squamipinnis) are prime Froggie food. But the voracious feeder isn’t fussy; it will even eat its own kind! Froggies don’t have any teeth. Their prey is sucked in and swallowed whole.

Stu 9The Glassfish pinnacle at Farun Island is always full of sizeable Froggies. I found three big 20-30cm Froggies camouflaged amongst the coral heads. They are perfect subjects for photographers although it’s not always easy to get a ‘good’ picture. Nine times out of ten they are in a head down position facing towards the reef making it awkward for divers to get a good shot without breaking the fragile corals. Because they are so well camouflaged it’s also difficult to get a picture that looks anything but a lump of coral. The patterned Froggies are the worst. Even with the eye perfectly in focus it is difficult to tell that it’s a fish. I personally think mouth-open shots are the best. As an added bonus Tamer guided us back to the shallows and spotted a bright red 10cm Froggie in just 5 metres. My Froggie count was now nearing double figures in just 4 dives!

Froggies have a modified dorsal spine called a lure to attract prey. They use the lure or illiceum just like a fishing rod dangling bait on the end of a line. The shape of the esca or bait can resemble a worm, fish or crab; it will mimic whatever their prey normally eats. Taba’s Froggies all seem to have lures shaped like small fish. They jiggle it about enticing the little Glassfish or Anthias to come closer. This is why Frogfish are also known as Anglerfish.

Froggies aren’t exactly lively creatures. They don’t seem to move very far at all, normally staying in the same place or within a few metres for months on end. This makes the Dive Guides’ jobs nice and easy. They can impress punters with their fish-finding prowess by leading them straight to the Froggie time and time again. At ‘Maxwell’s’ there’s a 20cm purple Froggie that hasn’t moved for more than 2 months. It seems more than happy swaying about on a tube sponge picking off the odd passing fish.

Stu 11It’s very rare to see Froggies on the move unless they get agitated by divers or over-zealous photographers poking cameras and flashguns too close. They don’t have swim bladders so can’t swim like conventional fish. It’s more like a ‘walk’ using their modified pectoral fins as legs. For more rapid movement they use a form of jet propulsion, gulping in water and forcing it out from a small opening behind the gills. This produces forward thrust along the seabed.

My week long investigation was reaching an end. Most of Taba’s 17 dive sites had at least one or two resident Froggies. Although when I returned to Taba 2 months later I found that the big Farun Island Froggies had disappeared. All I could find was 2 bright green medium sized Froggies. I had no idea where they had gone or why they had moved. There was some talk that they had ended up in an Aquarium, but this was just a rumour. Maybe they had disappeared into the deep blue to reproduce? Not much is known about their mating habits other than it normally occurs at night. Unfortunately night diving is not permitted at Taba so no one can check out this theory.

This X-files mystery had revealed some startling facts. Taba’s Froggie army is definitely growing fast. I clocked up more than a dozen sightings in just 5 days, some with the most bizarre colours and patterns. There seems to be no set season and they can be spotted throughout the year. Divers should arm themselves with an underwater camera as soon as possible. The ‘alien’ invasion has begun – resistance is futile!

Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

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Get moving with the new RAID DPV training programs

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The thrill of speeding through the water behind a diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) is an experience that really gets the blood racing. Using a DPV provides divers both immense fun and the means to achieve goals that would be impossible without their use.

RAID is proud to announce the new two-tier DPV training program with certifications for DPV and Advanced DPV.

Why DPV and why now?
Recreational and technical divers are using DPVs to access sites that would be difficult to reach and explore using traditional propulsion methods; to help propel large amounts of heavy equipment; to increase the safety of dives in areas of strong current; or just for the pure exhilaration of shooting through the water at speed and performing underwater acrobatics.

By extending your capabilities and extending your range, using a DPV opens new vistas for exploration and fun.

DPV
This certification option is aimed at the recreational diver who wishes to learn how to use a DPV to enhance their diving by using mainly natural navigation.

Advanced DPV
This certification option is available to anyone who is familiar with longhose configuration, has logged a minimum of 20 dives and is certified as Navigation specialty divers.

This certification option is aimed at the slightly more experienced diver with preexisting navigational training and diving on a single, twin or sidemount setup with a longhose. Although this level is slightly more challenging, the more advanced navigation exercises provide an important base for more complex types of DPV diving within a team.

PREREQUISITES
You must:

  • Be a minimum of 12 years old.
  • Be certified as RAID Open Water 20, Junior Open Water or equivalent.

Just visit www.diveRAID.com to put some extra dash into your dives.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Beers raise cash for ocean clean-up

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The Driftwood Spars Brewery, a pioneering microbrewery based on the North Cornwall coast, is donating a percentage of all profits from its Cove range of beers to Fathoms Free, a certified charity which actively cleans the ocean around the Cornish peninsula.

Each purchase of the small-batch, craft beers – there are four different canned beers in the Cove range – will help generate funds to purchase a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and fund retrieval dives; every brew will raise the equivalent cost of a fully-funded dive. 

Fathoms Free is a Cornwall-based charity whose day-to-day mission involves dives from their fast-response specialist vessel to recover ghost fishing gear; abandoned nets, pots, angling equipment and other plastic causes severe damage to the marine environment and the death of countless seabirds, seals, dolphins and other sea life.

The campaign to raise funds for an ROV is a new initiative which will take the clean-up work to a new level; the highly manoeuvrable underwater vehicle will be used to scour the seabed, harbours and remote parts of the coastline for abandoned fishing gear and other marine litter.

Project Manager Natallia Paliakova from Fathoms Free said: “Apart from helping us locate ghost gear underwater, the ROV will also be capable of recording underwater video which is always great for raising awareness about marine pollution issues.”

She added: “We are really excited to be partnering with The Driftwood Spars Brewery and appreciate the proactive support of Mike and his team in bringing the purchase of an ROV a step closer to reality.”

Head Brewer Mike Mason personally approached the charity after their work was featured on the BBC 2 documentary, ‘Cornwall with Simon Reeve’.    

He said: “As a keen surfer I am only too aware of the problem of marine litter and had heard about Fathoms Free, but seeing them in action prompted me to find a way of contributing. The scale of the challenge is scary, but the determination of organisations like Fathoms Free is inspiring.”

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

Photo by Beagle Media Ltd

The Driftwood Spars Brewery was founded in 2000 in Trevaunance Cove, St Agnes; the microbrewery is just a few steps away from it’s co-joined brewpub, The Driftwood Spars; both pub and brewery are well-regarded far beyond the Cornish cove they call home. 

You can hear the waves and taste the salt on the air from the door of both brewery and pub, and the rough seas along the rugged North coast often throw up discarded nets and other detritus; Louise Treseder, Landlady of The Driftwood Spars and a keen sea swimmer, often collects washed up ghost gear on her daily beach excursions.     

Louise commented: “This is a great partnership to support a cause close to our hearts – I know the money we raise will have a positive and lasting impact. The Cove range was inspired by our unique surroundings and the artwork – by local artist Jago Silver – reflects that. Now donations from each purchase will contribute towards the vital ocean clean-up taking place right on our doorstep.”

The Cove range can currently be purchased online here, and is available in good independent bottle shops in Cornwall.

To find out more about Fathoms Free visit their website here.

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