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The allure of Alor

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Diving in Alor and the surrounding islands brings rich variety to any dive trip, not only from the different types of dive sites there are to choose from but also the wealth of marine life to be found. As the nutrient-saturated currents flow through the Pantar Strait they bring with them fuel for corals and fish; enough to support an abundance of creatures and subsequently the numerous villages dotted about the islands.

Life buzzes all around, schools of fish sway in the tides and tiny odd-shaped creatures find a place to camouflage from predators. As fishermen go about their day, young children laugh and splash in the shallow water from their tiny dug-out boats and the ladies supplement the family income through ikat weaving sales. It is impossible to put a finger upon one thing that makes diving in Alor so attractive, it is the whole that comes together to bring a wondrous experience.

Critter Diving

Beangabanga small inlet bay in the south west of the Pantar Strait, offers dives along a dark sand slope dotted with soft corals, anemones and algae where all manner or odd creatures have made their homes. As we back-rolled in an instant hit of cold water raced down my 5mm wetsuit. Brrr its only 23C but in a moment this is forgotten as the critter hunt begins. Day dives brought forth frogfish in a range of colours and sizes, Ambon scorpionfish, too many snake eels to keep count, flabellina, armina, and thecacera nudibranchs, a whole host of decorator crabs, numerous crinoid shrimps and squat lobsters, Tozuma shrimp, seahorses, sea moths and harlequin crabs. During our night dive I lost count of the vast numbers of octopus we spotted scurrying about and a couple of bobbit worms poked menacingly out of the sand … if you have seen the recent Blue Planet 2 episodes you’ll understand we were a little afraid!

Pak Jan’s Villageon the north of Pura Island, is probably one of the most iconic sites within the strait itself. This is famed as a critter hotspot and it was here we eagerly anticipated seeing the delightful Rhinopias. We spotted both Weedy and Paddleflap varieties during our dives dive, along with ornate ghost pipefish, ribbon eels, crinoid cuttlefish, day octopus and squid. In the shallow, and slightly warmer water, groups of anemones were attended by clownfish, many of which had tongue parasites. Not so nice for the fish but macro photographer Annie was utterly thrilled for the opportunity to photograph this behaviour.

Mucky Mosquejust beyond the entrance to Kalabahi Bay is a classic “muck dive”. Ropes, clothing and other man-made debris can be found along the sloping reef, caught up around sponges and algae to provide homes for all manner of odd-shaped creatures. Thorny seahorses, colourful ceratasoma nudibranchs, zebra crabs, colemani shrimp, crinoid cuttlefish, squid and day octopus were among the favourite sightings. Whilst a night dive turned up a starry night octopus, frogfish and schools of razor fish. My favourite though, and a first time sighting for me, was the harlequin ghost pipefish.

Walls, Slopes & Seamounts

The coral laden walls of Pantar, Alor, Pura and Reta islands simply stun divers. Schools if triggerfish, surgeonfish and wrasse are the most common sightings but you can have the odd surprise of a manta ray or for us lucky few – a mola mola. At certain times of year schools of hammerheads can be seen cruising along the outer reefs too.

Valley of the Clowns was a definite favourite with our groups for its carpets of multi-hued anemones and resident anemone fish, porcelain crabs and commensal shrimps. Wobbegong sharks can also be found here and watching the sea apples feed is always fascinating.

Babylon Wall was quite probably my favourite of the wall dives as we found  provided an extra-special surprise when Indra found a microscopic example of the rare Rumigans Thread Pipehorse, otherwise known as the Lembeh sea-dragon, along with tiny “ladybugs” typically seen when diving southern Komodo. With a light current the many leopard anemones dotted along the walls open up to provide stunning scenery cryptic shrimps can be found amongst them but I’m still hunting for my first one of these critters.

Kal’s Dream, named after anthropologist Kal Mueller, is on the western side of Alor Kecil and is a stunning submerged seamount covered in soft corals, resembling cauliflower bulbs, as well as orange tube corals and a variety of hard coral species. The first thing to hit me was the noise. With thousands of fish all clicking away I was reminded of the sound whizzbangs make as they fizz on your tongue. Orange and purple anthias, neon-lined fusiliers and red-toothed triggerfish gathered in swarms over the reef slope, obscuring the almost crystal visibility. Become surrounded by schools of barracuda, batfish and powder blue surgeonfish as you swim down the ridges and look out for dogtooth tuna too.

Piers

Our liveaboard cruise took us from Maumere to Kupang so along the way we stopped for dives in Waiwawong. The pier here is totally laden with corals and a haven for schooling batfish and jacks, whilst the sandy slope is a great place to find short-tailed pipefish, frogfish, flying gurnards and octopus. For us nudi-spotters we spent most of the dive hunting over the fallen supports to find numerous red-lined flabellina, ceratosoma and eurobranchus species.

Beangabang also has a fabulous pier and in the year of diving the area we saw that the corals had grown and become very rich indeed, providing an ideal spot for some wide angle photography and another chance for the nudi hunters to rack up the trip tally.

Something Unique

The children in Alor, particularly those at Pak Jan’s Village, love divers – or perhaps the treats that the dive boats bring? Armed with just their homemade goggles and their wits they bravely skin dive down to where the divers, with cameras at the ready, rest on the sandy bottom. Their laughter on the surface is intoxicating and gives visitors a truly unique experience.

Getting there and Diving Options

Alor can be reached by short flight from Bali via Maumere or Kupang. There are a couple of resorts to choose from, each with highly experienced teams, particularly when it comes to hitting the right time for hammerheads. Alor can also be reached by liveaboard. Our groups dived with Damai 1 liveaboard from Maumere to Kupang, however there are a number of top quality liveaboards offering a variety of itineraries which include Alor.

When choosing sites it is very important to review tide charts and make another current check before getting in the water. You may experience upwellings or swift changes so bring a reef hook or be prepared to go with the flow.


Find out more at: www.dive-damai.com.

Susie has been enjoying the life of a dive instructor, travelling the world diving and teaching. Susie is somewhat of a liveaboard junkie after working as a cruise director in the Red Sea, the Philippines and Indonesia. She has also led trips to Fiji, Palau, Similans, Myanmar, East Timor, the Maldives and the Galapagos, yet she still finds time to do some shore based diving at her favourite sites in the Philippines too. Find Susie at www.heritagediving.com

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 4

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 4 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

We are all back to the house reef today; the weather is lovely, the sea calm, the tide will soon be slack, so a great day’s diving in store.

A few yards away from the beach dive centre, on the Roots’ beach is their day time restaurant. It is where we take lunch when diving, and there is a continual supply of tea, coffee and soft drinks, and some marvellous lunches.  There are also male and female toilets and a fully accessible toilet for those using wheelchairs.

A few thoughts around working with amputees and those who have paraplegia. Firstly amputees – the part of the limb remaining is known as the ‘stump’, and we have worked with a substantial number of bilateral leg amputees (both legs), single leg amputees and single arm amputees.  The level of amputation can be above or below the knee or elbow, or through the knee. In one case the amputation was transpelvic and in another through the shoulder.  Some like Chris Middleton have one leg amputated above the knee and one below the knee.  This is rare, but each type of amputation offers a different challenge.

Many people think the amputation is clean and the skin neatly tidied up after surgery. Although that occurs in a few cases, in most the stump is rather rugged.  Elasticity of the skin around the stump is often exceptionally poor and can easily be damaged.  Some of our beneficiaries, as they were injured as young men, suffered from heterotopic ossification – this is where the bone tries to grow after amputation and often penetrates the skin, resulting in further surgery being required to cut back the bone and of course the stump needs to be restitched.  Very often stumps are sealed with skin from elsewhere on the body.

Swars kitting up

Few divers have never experienced a graze or cut underwater but such an experience for those with amputations can have serious consequences.  Stumps are more likely to get cut or grazed as the skin is so tight. We all know that there are lots of infections in seawater and if infected the cut or graze can cause very serious problems for the amputee.  Tailored wetsuits are one preventative measure, as are daily stump checks, making sure there is no damage and if there is, applying medication and or protecting the stump.

Those with paraplegia provide an additional challenge, not being able to feel their lower limbs they can easily damage them, so cuts, abrasions, and even sunburn can go unnoticed.  Donning a full-length wetsuit can be a challenge as toes can easily be broken and hairs pulled out of legs.  On the Deptherapy Education Professionals’ Course we show how to fit a wetsuit properly.

In recent discussions between our dive medicine advisor Mark Downs and our VP Richard Castle, who is a consultant psychologist, we have been looking at areas for further medical research in terms of diving for those with disabilities.  One area of suggested study is thermoregulation. The theory is that those with amputations and those with paraplegia suffer more with the cold as their body is unable to regulate heat. Certainly, in Corey’s case, he feels the cold more quickly than those diving with him. Chris Middleton can feel the cold more quickly than others with amputations but that may well be that Chris is muscle and bone where, to put it nicely, others have a more substantial covering.

Some AMEDs and Dive Referees will not sign off amputees as being fit to dive. That is their professional opinion and although we can show that even triple amputees are more than capable divers, capable of progressing to Rescue Diver standard even, they still refuse to sign them off. Last year Oli and Mark invited us to speak at the UK Annual Hyperbaric Medicine Conference in London where Josh Boggi, the world’s first triple amputee Rescue Diver and a Deptherapy beneficiary spoke about how amputees can become safe and successful divers.

Corey, Swars and Michael

For Corey, he wears full leg coverings and diving boots in the water; as he cannot use his legs there is no purpose in wearing fins.

Another point around amputations is that most of the general population make an assumption that a leg amputation is the result of a traumatic incident.  That is incorrect; by far the majority of leg amputations in the UK are the result of diabetes. Those whose legs are amputated as a result as diabetes are more likely to have poor healing of the stumps.  This also presents an issue of comorbidity that may well result in an AMED or Dive Referee declining to sign them off as ‘fit to dive’.  If signed off you would need to be very aware of the health of a stump; I certainly would not take someone with an open wound diving and the fact that they will be on medication for the diabetes.  You also have to be aware that they may well be on other medication to manage pain etc.

You need to be very clear with those who have paraplegia and other conditions that they must let you know if they start to feel cold.

Managing air – diving just using your arms for propulsion can, for many, be very tiring and a considerable amount of effort is required.  This, plus other factors, may result in enhanced air consumption by the diver.  This may increase if a current is encountered, even one which most divers who have use of their legs and dive with fins would not cause the least concern.

Within Deptherapy we very much work on the ‘rule of thirds’ – a third of your air to get you down and to see what you want to see, a third to get you back to the surface and a third in reserve.  This in most circumstances will ensure no ‘low on air’ or ‘out of air’ situations.

Say if we have 210 bar in a cylinder that means 70 bar out, so turn on 140 bar, 70 bar to return and to the surface so we should have 70 bar reserve at the surface.

We also work our students through SAC rates and looking at the air consumption of others in their team.

Checking the team’s air frequently during a dive is stressed to all our Pro team.

Keiron became very engaged with this concept as the result of the online RAID study for his Master Rescue Diver.

On expeditions we normally dive in small teams, a DM/TDM with three programme members.  They work as a team and understand each other’s air consumption. Of course, they also dive as buddy pairs.

Today offered perfect conditions for diving, and Keiron, Moudi, and this time TDM Oatsie were kitted up and in the water within minutes.

Pause for thought… those with paraplegia will have different toileting arrangements to those who do not have the condition. This also applies to some who have suffered traumatic limb loss.  They may use catheters for urination, some may have Stoma bags etc.  This all has to be planned into your dive schedule to ensure the safety and comfort of your student.  For young people talking about these very personal arrangements may be very difficult.  Those with Stoma bags may be embarrassed by people seeing them.  This is another part of seeing beyond the injury or condition – it is the person inside that you are dealing with.

Corey on the Roots House Reef

So, Corey, Michael and myself were joined by Swars.  Swars, although he joined the DM programme at the same time as the other guys, because of work commitments was unable to join us in September 2019 at Roots where we ran a DM introductory programme alongside the crossover of our Pro Team to RAID.  Swars has become a really good mate; he is a great diver, with an engaging personality.

Michael and Oatsie were a known quantity to me as they had been on the September 2019 programme and both have travelled to my home dive centre Divecrew in Crowthorne, Berkshire, to work on courses, pre-COVID.  During COVID Michael and I, plus a few of the guys from Divecrew, have dived at Wraysbury together.

Just as Roots is our base in Egypt, Divecrew is our base in the UK, and through this relationship, Martin (who owns Divecrew with his wife Sue) is one of our trustees. Together they have established a centre where pretty much 100% of the Pros are Deptherapy Education trained.

I asked Swars straight away to brief a dive for Corey. I gave him the briefing slate, a few tips and then ten minutes later he came back with a perfect briefing… and I mean perfect.  So, a great briefing under his belt; now to watch him work with Corey in open water. He looked the Pro, he knew what he should be doing, he understood his role. We assigned Michael as Corey’s buddy and said he would lead the dive. I was there to assess the TDMs and supervise very closely Corey’s skill demonstrations.

Again, it comes as no surprise that many beneficiaries in Deptherapy can move straight into dive management, as several were NCOs, as was Swars, and they are used to briefing individuals and teams.

We had decided that we would mix up the dives required to complete Corey’s OW 20 RAID dives with some general diving as trim and swimming arm action are all important. We also needed to concentrate on spatial awareness.

We agreed a signal for horizontal trim and Swars reinforced the swim stroke that Corey needed to do to get propulsion.  Every time Corey moved out of horizontal trim Swars was there reminding him about trim and reminding him of his swim stroke.

The Roots’ House Reef is amazing – at a metre you encounter a shoal of black Damselfish, at 3 metres a shoal of Unicornfish, there are Butterflyfish and all manner of other fishes in great profusion.  The coral is in great condition. It really is a place of beauty and tranquillity.

Oatsie and Swars relaxing by the Roots pool after a long day

Although we had problems getting Corey underwater again, once we got him in skill demonstration mode his anxieties disappeared.  We then took him diving. Steve Rattle, the owner of Roots joined us and was taking photos that provide a great record of the week’s diving.  Steve commented on the quality of Swars and Michael’s supervision and control underwater of Corey and gave them feedback on how impressed he was.

Meanwhile on the RAID Master Rescue Course, Oatsie who was in the same Regiment, same Platoon and Section as Keiron in Afghanistan was more than willing to be a very uncooperative victim for his brother-in-arms.  I think Keiron gave Oatsie some feedback about this!

For me this was a hard week, combining running the RAID OW 20 for Corey but also the assessment of our three TDMs.  A week underwater but no opportunity to dive for myself.  People often think Deptherapy Expeditions are holidays for the Dive Team; they are not, it is hard work and I mean hard work.

Tomorrow is Day 4 in the water Day 5 of our trip. We are on the House Reef again, and things are starting to come together. Join us back here on Monday 26th October…

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Competitions

WIN an XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask!!!

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Yes, XDEEP have now officially called their excellent frameless mask the ‘Radical’, and in this week’s competition, we’ve got another one to give away!

The XDEEP Radical Frameless Mask is a large single lens dive mask with a soft silicone skirt and traditional strap. The frameless design brings the lens closer to your face so you get a wider FOV and less internal volume that you have to equalise and clear. The larger nose pocket makes the mask more comfortable and easier to equalise, even with thick gloves.

To be in with a chance of winning this awesome prize, all you have to do is answer the following question:

In a recent post on Scubaverse.com (which you can find here), we reported that you can join Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world. But when can you join Reef-Word’s Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020?

Is it:

  • A) 3pm BST on Friday 23rd October 2020
  • B) 3pm BST on Saturday 24th October 2020
  • C) 3pm BST on Sunday 25th October 2020

Answer, A, B or C to the question above:

Nautilus Diving XDEEP Frameless Mask October 2020

Competition
  • Enter the country you live in
  • Terms and Conditions: This competition is open to all visitors to www.scubaverse.com except for members of the Scubaverse team and their families, employees of Nautilus Diving and their families, or XDEEP and their families. A valid answer to the competition’s question must be entered. If no valid answer to the competition’s question is entered, your entry will be invalid. Only one competition entry per entrant permitted (multiple entries will lead to disqualification). Only one prize per winner. All prizes are non-transferable, and no cash alternative will be offered. In the event that the prize cannot be supplied, no liability will be attached to www.scubaverse.com. When prizes are supplied by third parties, www.scubaverse.com is acting as their agents and as such we exclude all liability for loss or damage you may suffer as a result of this competition. This competition closes on 02/11/20. The winner will be notified by email. The Editor-in-Chief’s decision is final.

  • The following fields are optional, however if you fill them in it will help us to determine what prizes to source in the future.

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