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How Scuba Diving Helps You Live Longer

The Health Benefits of Frequent Diving

Most non-divers may think that scuba is a relaxing, leisurely hobby. However, as divers, we understand that scuba diving is an adrenaline-boosting sport that requires experience and savvy. The general public may also be surprised to learn the different health benefits scuba divers gain from many hours under the waves.

Whether you have just started your certification process, or if you’re an experienced deep-sea explorer, diving provides numerous health advantages to divers of all skill levels:

Strength & Flexibility

As you swim through the water on your dive, your muscles work harder to propel your body through the water and currents. The resistance from the water and currents strengthen and lengthen your muscles to develop endurance and flexibility. Scuba also strengthens your core to provide better balance and posture, both underwater and on land.

Optimized Breathing

While underwater, it is imperative your breathing is slow, deep, and steady. This is essential when conserving and optimizing your air consumption. This deep breathing technique is excellent for lowering your heart rate, calming your mind, and staying focused. Additionally, optimized breathing reduces the risk of lung injury and mucus build-up, and it’s been known to help with existing conditions such as asthma.

Sunlight Exposure

It is crucial for the human body to be exposed to sunlight in order to create Vitamin D. Vitamin D helps the rate of absorption of calcium, and helps the cells pass calcium to each other, resulting in strong and healthy bones. Being outside in the sun on the boat and under the water gives your body plenty of time to soak in that precious Vitamin D.

Stress Relief

Ask any diver and they’ll tell you how calming it feels to be under the water. This is due to an instinctual feeling of being back in your mother’s womb. This feeling of security, calmness, and well-being is extremely beneficial for your mental and physical health. When under the water, you’re able to see life from a whole new perspective and your everyday issues are left at the surface. Giving yourself this time to reflect and reset is one of the best health benefits diving provides.

Explore Under the Water with Ultimate Dive Travel

Reserve Your Scuba Diving Trip Today!

Now that you’ve seen some of the benefits of scuba diving, it’s time you booked your next adventure! Check out all of our diving destinations to find your next dive site before finding all of the latest dive specials for resorts and liveaboards all over the world.

To reserve your next trip, contact our diving travel experts today!

Six Essential Tips For International Travel Safety

Six Essential Tips For International Travel Safety

International travel can be fun and enlightening. Spending time immersed in other cultures and customs is an excellent way to get to know the world outside your comfort zone. Yet, with all the fun and adventure, traveling abroad can come with risks.

Ultimate Dive Travel works to mitigate these risks by not only helping you be proactive about your own safety but ensuring every resort we work with is secure and comfortable. We do not offer deals from every place on the globe for this reason. If we don’t feel comfortable, we know our clients will not either. A recent incident in Papua New Guinea, at a resort that UDT owner Ken Scarborough stayed at nearly five years ago while he flew all over the country, is a prime example of why Ultimate Dive Travel is cautious and how our clients benefit from our preliminary on-site inspections.

While we get to work recommending safe, enjoyable places for you to enjoy, keep a few key safety tips in mind to ensure you have a pleasant, uninterrupted vacation.

Make Copies of Important Documents

Prior to leaving, make a few copies of important documents, such as your passport and visa, and store them in each of your pieces of luggage. This way, if anything gets lost, you’ll still have copies of what you need. Also, email copies of everything to yourself so they are easily accessible from your smartphone if you get in a pinch.

Another thing to note: the US allows passports to be used up until their expiration date, but many countries do not follow this rule. Some countries will consider a passport invalid if they are within a six-month window of expiration. Prior to leaving, check to see when your passport will expire, and if the country you will be visiting will accept it.

Tell Family and Friends Your Plans

Ensure a family member or friend is aware of your travel plans by providing them with an itinerary. If possible, keep them informed of updates throughout the trip. Making someone aware of your intentions on an international journey will make locating you easier if anything should go wrong.

Know Your Hotel

When traveling, get to know those at the hotel. Talk to the staff or concierge to learn about areas to avoid when venturing out. Before you leave, grab a hotel business card to be sure you have the hotel’s phone number and address if needed. If there’s a significant language barrier or you have reason to believe there will be one, first ask if there will be an English-speaking person there to help you communicate. However, to respect the other culture, be sure to look up some basic courtesy and operational phrases that will get you where you need to go.

Leave Jewelry and Other Expensive Items at Home

A pretty universally known rule, but still a good reminder: leave valuable items such as expensive jewelry or electronics at home when traveling in unknown countries. Try your best to not draw attention to yourself. Flaunting money or expensive items can make you an easy target for thieves. When you leave your room, either bring critical items, like important travel documents, with you or put them in a safe and secure spot. It’s better to be overly cautious than stuck in a foreign country and having to jump through bureaucratic, costly hoops to get home safely.

Properly Vaccinate

Many countries require certain vaccinations prior to entering. Learn which vaccinations are needed, along with any other health concerns that may be an issue at your destination. Visit your local physician or health department to get vaccinated and have a proper physical prior to travel.

Separate Your Money and Credit Cards

Don’t keep all your money or credit cards in one place. Separate your funds in different bags and pockets to avoid losing all you have if something is taken. Utilizing a hotel safe is a great way to keep your money and personal belongings secure while you are out and about. While you are out, use a backpack or – hold onto your horses – a fanny pack to keep your money close.

Ultimate Dive Travel takes its customers’ safety very seriously. If a resort or liveaboard that we work with has encountered too many safety issues, we stop working with that resort or company to keep our guests out of harm’s way. We strive to make your experience the best possible. If you have specific questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact us.

4 Key Aspects of Resort and Liveaboard Inspections

4 Key Aspects of Resort and Liveaboard Inspections

Far too often, travel agents and agencies don’t do their homework. Failure to physically inspect and evaluate the quality of resorts is a crucial mistake that could cost companies customers. Travelers are not naive; there’s more information out there today than there ever was, thanks to the all-powerful internet review. Customers are just one click away from seemingly everything they need to know about the state of the resort, the kind of people who work there, and if it indeed lives up to expectations.

What could you tell them that they couldn’t already know? The only way to give travelers the valuable information they need to decide on a trip is your clear, personal testimony and recommendation.

Ultimate Dive Travel walks – or instead, journeys – a mile in your shoes. We visit and dive these locations ourselves to know the exact level of service and authenticity our customers will experience. We only partner with resorts that meet or exceed a specific set of criteria based on our years of working with customers and learning what is most important to them. What is non-negotiable for our travelers is non-negotiable for us. Frankly, that’s the way it should be.

Here are some aspects Ultimate Dive Travel makes a point to investigate before signing on with a resort or liveaboard provider.

Book your trip now!

1. Safety

The principal feature we grade resorts and liveaboards on is safety. Safety and security are imperative; guests should feel their surroundings, staff, and equipment protect them from potential harm and enhance their experience. You cannot ensure that a diving operation is meeting necessary safety standards without first visiting the location and giving it a test run. Ultimate Dive Travel assures every resort and liveaboard operates according to international standards and our own safety qualifiers as a travel company. Resorts and travel coordinators are required to notify guests of possible risks associated with their trip. Once guests agree and sign off, both parties have a duty to honor safety procedures.

2. Functionality

The diving boats must pass specific quality guidelines for running a smooth and efficient diving operation. The boat has to be in good condition (quantified by current/past damage, repairs, engine function/warranty, etc.) with ample space for divers, their gear, and their camera equipment, including rinse tanks for underwater cameras. However, a larger vessel is not automatically more suitable for divers. There are smaller boats that optimize the space they have more practically than larger boats, while the reverse is also true. It depends on which boat’s square footage is more fitting to the type of excursions it hosts.

3. Dive Master Etiquette & Knowledge

When you’re venturing to foreign countries, things could get lost in translation if you’re not careful. We make sure the Dive Master speaks English well so divers can understand pre-dive briefings. Also, is he/she equipped with necessary medical knowledge in case of crises? Is there oxygen on board for emergencies? Does the crew know how to administer oxygen? We thankfully don’t encounter this feeling often, but if we felt the staff wasn’t prepared to take care of guests, we would not recommend that particular resort.

4. Amenities

Comfort is key. Comfort level is something that is noticeable the second a guest steps on board. The rooms at resorts or cabins on liveaboards must be clean: bedrooms, bathrooms, and any shared spaces. Moreover, the A/C and plumbing should be working correctly and hot water should be readily accessible for washing. These are essential needs that any individual would expect, but part of our job is to confirm their presence so you don’t find out the hard way later on.

What about other online travel companies?

As great as the internet is for companies to promote and conduct business, it provides a cop-out for companies to appear credible but hide under the guise of fancy websites or the sheer amount of options available. Having options is a luxury, but only when they’re good options. Most times, this massive database of resorts and fair prices is hiding something key: verified experience. How could a company sell something and preach its wonderfulness when none of its staff has been to the resort or on the liveaboard ever? It would actually be pretty amazing if some of these online companies traveled to even 5-10% of the hundreds of liveaboards or resorts on their websites.

BUT, HOW CAN YOU KNOW IF THEY’RE LEGIT AT FIRST GLANCE?

It’s a gamble unless you’re well-versed in some of these tactics. Luckily, we can set the record straight.

If you’re searching travel companies and find one that lists tons of places in every country, this should be a red flag that they have not visited the vast majority of these places. Do they prompt you to send your money overseas? You should not have to send your hard-earned money overseas to book a trip! Once your money leaves the country, you are now at the mercy of whoever is receiving it. In most cases, you’ll be paying up to 100 times the cost of your trip to fight or sue a company for its dishonesty!

It comes down to honesty and integrity. You want to work with a company that remains transparent and upholds quality at every touchpoint, no matter if you’re dealing with them in person, over the phone, or over email.

Ready to cut through the noise and work with an honest, experienced company that knows what you’re looking for?

Reserve your diving adventure with Ultimate Dive Travel today!

New Regulations on Smart Travel Bags Pose New Challenges

New Regulations on Smart Travel Bags Pose New Challenges

Smart devices are the way of today’s world. Now a part of daily existence, smart technology is embedded into nearly everything we use to make life easier. This includes travel luggage.

The latest craze in travel merchandise is smart carry-on luggage. The bags generally have USB ports to recharge phones and other smart devices. Some are also equipped with a weight scale to prevent overpacking, electronic locks, and GPS capabilities to track the bag’s location if it gets lost. Other smart bags are even motorized to be used as a scooter or to rove alongside their owners all the way to the gate. In addition to their mobility, these bags measure up to an ideal overhead bin size of 22 x 14 x 9 inches.

These are anticipated to be one of this holiday season’s most popular gifts. The luggage has obvious value for those who travel regularly for work or play, as no one likes those rushed runs swerving through crowds and dodging children on leashes (a topic for another day).

(source: Engadget)

However, the bags won’t do travelers much good if they can’t make it past airport security. Starting January 15, passengers checking these smart bags will have to remove their lithium-ion batteries (or power them down if traveling in the cabin). American, Delta, and Alaska Airlines are implementing this policy, with United Continental and Southwest soon to follow suit. CNN reports that these carriers comprise 80 percent of U.S. air traffic.

This regulation came about because of safety concerns. Airlines are worried about the potential fires the lithium batteries could start in flight that would go undetected. However, many of these bags’ batteries cannot be physically removed. Bluesmart, a smart bag manufacturer, says it’s compliant with present regulations and is still facing this new restriction. How do you remove an unremovable battery? The company said in a recent interview that it was “saddened” by the recent regulation changes and feel it’s a setback for technology that presents new hurdles to overcome in simplifying the way we travel.

These smart bags are not alone in facing regulations. The FAA proposed similar bans on laptops in checked baggage due to similar safety issues revolving around lithium batteries. Research to find a safer alternative continues, but nothing is available on the market yet.

For now, it looks like the sky does have limits for travelers. We understand the frustration. Buying a bag that makes air travel more of a hassle, when it’s supposed to do the opposite, is painfully ironic. But, to make the most of the situation, it may be best to hold off on use or purchase of these bags in favor of ole reliable luggage until a resolution is reached – one that will hopefully have fewer hiccups!

Contact Ultimate Dive for more knowledgeable travel advice and news!

Trip Insurance: Everything You Need To Know

Trip Insurance: Everything You Need To Know

You’ve booked your vacation, and the excitement is mounting. Your bags are nearly packed. The date is fast approaching. There’s just one thing left on your list: trip insurance. Trip insurance is one of those things you may not have considered or simply overlooked.

Trip insurance provides coverage for specific events that could happen prior to and during your trip within predetermined limits. Trip insurance – also referred to as ‘travel insurance’ – cannot prevent incidents, but it does address the financial impact of common issues. Policies can be purchased to cover your entire trip from the time you leave home until the time you return. Trip insurance is available for popular vacation and scuba diving destinations such as Cayman Brac, Little Cayman, Cozumel, Palau, and Belize.

Questions? Contact a Specialist

Travel insurance is frequently recommended due to potential health, safety, and financial risks whilst traveling. Nine times out of ten, you probably won’t have to use it. Nevertheless, it’s great peace of mind to have in your back pocket for when, despite your precautions, things go awry.

Although trip insurance is meant to protect you, there can be implications for those who do not take time to either thoroughly read through their policy or make sure they’re asking the right questions. We’re hoping to alleviate confusion or misunderstanding when deciding to purchase a policy by providing answers to some of the questions you should ask yourself before buying insurance for your trip.

Do you need it?

Travel insurance is always something you should consider, especially when traveling outside the country, as most other insurance will not cover you properly when you leave the United States. Ask yourself: can I afford to lose the financial investment I have made for this trip or to pay for potential losses out of pocket should something happen while on the trip?

Traveling to the Caribbean during hurricane season presents specific risks that can cause you to cancel your trip and significant damage to your destination, which is completely out of your control.

What’s in the fine print?

We’ve seen it time and time again: travelers are held liable for charges they weren’t expecting because they neglected to read and understand the fine print of their policy.

We understand the problems this can cause from having dealt with a variety of scenarios, such as the misfortune of a sinking boat, for example. In sorting out trip cancellation reimbursements in this case, the customers discovered certain restrictions and exclusions to what is covered and what is not in the fine print of their policy. Our team helped resolve the situation and spare everyone the headache of potential legal action for recourse. Needless to say, it’s an example of how proactive you should be to make sure you fully understand all the terms of your trip insurance policy.

Are you covered already?

One of the most important questions you should ask yourself is: do I already have coverage through my credit card or medical insurance plan? Some credit cards offer travel assistance and certain travel insurance benefits, but you’ll want to double check with your credit card company to be sure you understand exactly what’s included for coverage and how it pertains to your specific trip. Most health insurance plans do not provide coverage when you travel outside the country and may not be adequate for travel, so again you’ll want to check with your medical insurance provider to be sure.

Trip insurance generally provides a broad range of coverages for things that are not typically covered by other insurance when you travel outside the country. Do you have a pre-existing medical condition? BHTP will waive the pre-existing medical condition exclusion if the plan is purchased within 15 days of making the initial trip payment or deposit, and if the amount of coverage purchased equals the value of all prepaid non-refundable payments or deposits. Please see Description of Coverage for details. All insureds must be medically able to travel when insurance is purchased.

Are you confusing ‘insurance’ with a ‘waiver?’

There’s a difference. Insurance is something that provides protection against a possible eventuality. A waiver, on the other hand, is a document evidencing a person’s intentional relinquishing or abandoning of a known right, claim, or privilege.

You’ve probably heard of cancellation waivers. Cancellation waivers allow travelers “protection” because the resort agrees to waive its usual cancellation penalties if you must cancel for a “covered” reason. You may also have signed a waiver before a cruise or high-risk activity, like skydiving, in which you cannot hold the vendor liable for certain instances based on your own decision to partake.

Cancellation waivers are less expensive, but it’s overall less secure than purchasing trip insurance (depending on what is actually covered). General trip insurance covers all bases, so there shouldn’t be any doubt of what is covered and what is not.

Did you get it in writing?

Remember: nothing matters unless it’s in writing. Trip insurance is a contract, with both parties having to uphold certain obligations. Make sure you have a copy of your signed policy so you can make clear references for any claims and show your credibility.

Gangga Island Resort: The Premier Diving Spot

Gangga Island Resort: The Premier Diving Spot

Nestled in the heart of Indonesia is a resort that boasts some of the most spectacular beaches, specialized features, and unparalleled diving sites in the world – but odds are, you probably have no idea what it is.

The Gangga Island Resort & Spa in Indonesia is a hidden gem. The resort lies in the North Sulawesi province of Indonesia, south of the Philippines and southeast of Malaysia. It is a 20-minute boat ride from the province’s capital and largest city of Manado. The province is renowned for its volcanoes, nature sites, and diving parks, carefully protecting the rights of its diverse, nutrient-rich ecology. The “Gangga Island experience” exemplifies the excellence you’ll find in this unique community.

About The Gangga Island Resort

Although seasoned scuba divers benefit from its features, the Gangga Island Resort is not exclusively for experienced scuba divers. It doesn’t take an artist to appreciate a painting, and it certainly will not take a marine biologist to recognize the natural beauty and wonderment of the resort. One glance at the picturesque views of Gangga’s pure white sand beach and crystal clear waters will turn anyone on to island life.

Overlooking these scenes from elegantly furnished and air-conditioned wooden bungalows only adds to its appeal. The Gangga Island Resort’s accommodations were built under the cooling shade of palm trees and surrounded by tropical gardens that lead onto the beach.

Peaceful and relaxing quarters are only the beginning for Gangga holidaymakers, honeymooners, and diving enthusiasts. A saltwater swimming pool, Tuturuga Restaurant (featuring local cuisine), coconut bar, Pasung Spa, and a boutique are on-site for convenient luxury. The all-inclusive resort is made for tranquility. You never have to go far to be immersed in nature and indulge in something extraordinary. The Gangga Resort has the highest international standards of service and comfort, with a warm staff that is eager to meet your needs and show you the pride of the island.

Scuba Diving At Gangga

Let’s get down to brass tacks: the Gangga Island Resort has premier scuba diving faculties for the most ambitious divers. The resort has access to over 30 world-class diving locations with rare species and immaculate reefs. It is known as an ideal starting point for diving the Bangka Archipelago, Bunaken National Marine Park, and Lembeh Strait.

Customized Scuba Features

The Gangga Island Resort does the most it can to optimize the time you spend diving and the time you spend not diving. It has a classroom and a meeting/reading room to prep for your dive or debrief post-dive. For marine photographers or aspiring gurus, there’s a library full of marine books and a photo room with working tables to continue honing your artistic abilities. With the amount of unusual yet cosmic-looking microorganisms in the area, this room is a marine photographer’s dream for editing and organizing your day or night dive shots. Lockers with charging outlets from 220-110 Volts are available for your professional cameras.

Visitors can rent new or well-maintained equipment by Aqualung, along with access to Nitrox 32% free of charge and three well-aerated Coltri Compressors for safe air. The resort also makes sure to keep 12 & 15 Liter Aluminum tanks, plus valves and adaptors INT and DIN on hand. All the necessities to complete a dive to your standards are immediately within reach.

When Are The Best Times to Dive?

The particularly great thing about the location of the Gangga resort is its climate. North Sulawesi straddles the equator, and thus has a tropical, equatorial climate. This climate is divided into wet and dry seasons: the dry season is from July to October, and the wet season is from November to June. As expected, torrential rains are characteristic to the wet season. However, it’s not uncommon for wet season in the Gangga Island Resort to consist of brief downpours followed by extended periods of sunshine. This is unlike other parts of Asia that experience persistent rain the entire season. If you’re willing to risk minor rain spells in exchange for a tropical holiday this winter, the Gangga Resort is a great option.

Water temperature is also an important aspect of a good dive. The seas are also rougher because of the rain. Visibility is higher (up to 35 meters) when the water is cooler, typically from October to December.

Marine Life

Of course, the “pièce de résistance” of the Gangga Island Resort is the diversity of its marine life.

Bangka Archipelago

The Bangka Archipelago, as we previously mentioned, is famous for its incredible muck diving. If you dive this site at night, the volcanic reefs are covered with soft corals, table corals, and sponges. Also habitual to this area are shrimps and lobsters, cuttlefish, octopus, and several species of scorpionfish, pipefish, and frogfish that are extremely fun to capture on film.

Bunaken National Marine Park

One of the most notable diving locations in the area accessible via Gangga Island Resort is Bunaken National Marine Park. Established in 1991, this is one of Indonesia’s first marine parks that has actively preserved the bountiful amount of wildlife that covers 20 diving locations.

The park’s 20 diving locations range from shallow coral gardens to walls that at times drop to over 1000 meters. The area’s nutrient-rich waters and consistent currents are perfect for the over 300 species of coral and 1500 species of fish. Visibility is also high at 35-40 meters, supplying ample opportunity to catch critters up close. You can expect to see everything from large sea turtles, reef sharks, huge dogtooth tuna, pygmy seahorses, and every kind of macro life you can think of. You might even see a kind of “Rhinopias,” a fish in the scorpionfish family that uses its camouflage to disguise itself among the coral as protection from predators. Because they’re so difficult to spot, they’re considered the “Holy Grail” for photographers.

Indonesia’s ‘Magic Mountain’ Majesty

Indonesia’s ‘Magic Mountain’ Majesty

It’s no secret that Indonesia beholds some of a diver’s most coveted spectacles. Raja Ampat, or the Four Kings, is no exception. Raja Ampat is an archipelago of four major islands – Salawati, Batanta, Waigeo, and Misool – off the northwest corner of the Bird’s Head Peninsula in West Papua, Indonesia. The Raja Ampat islands are part of what is referred to as the “Coral Triangle,” which boasts arguably the richest marine biodiversity on the planet.

Those looking for professional diving facilities, a secluded environment, and to enhance their knowledge of sea life will find pure bliss on the Misool Eco Resort. Misool is known for being a marine life preserve and haven for some of the sea’s more endangered species. Diving at Misool ensures you are diving in a site that is as nature intended it to be.

The “Magic Mountain”

Raja Ampat Misool is most renowned for what is called the “Magic Mountain.” The real “magic” to be found is a submerged meridian and well-known cleaning station for Manta Rays. The pinnacle itself is about 7 meters and just 20 minutes away from the resort. In an extremely rare occurrence, smaller reef ‘Manta alfredi’ and giant oceanic ‘Manta birostris’ manta rays report to the same spot for fish to remove parasites from their skin.

Both oceanic and reef Manta Rays are a “vulnerable” species (just one step below endangered), according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Manta rays are hunted around the world for their gill plates, which are cartilage filaments that help the manta feed by filtering plankton out of water. The remainder of the animal is discarded as it is mostly inedible. Magic Mountain is a Manta Ray temple that remains untouched by human hands in order to stimulate and encourage activity. The site is completely exposed to oceanic currents, which push plankton and other proteins rays (and other fish) feed on towards the summit. The more zooplankton, the more Mantas. Misool Eco Resort’s awareness and care for the species has easily made it one of the best – if not the best – place in the world to view Manta Rays.

Manta Rays are often compared to their distant cousin the Stingray due to the wide wingspan, lower body gills, and famous “smiley” mouth on its bottom. Manta Rays do possess these qualities, with a couple exceptions and additions. Manta Rays do not have a stinger, but do have an unusually shaped head with curved fins at the snout that act as steering mechanisms. Inside this head, Mantas have the largest brain of all fish. Giant and reef mantas are anatomically similar, however the “giant” Manta has its name for a reason. Oceanic Manta Rays are two times the size of reef mantas, their central disk alone reaching colossal lengths of up to 9 meters. You can’t miss them!

Other than behemoth size, Manta Rays large and small(er) are known for their docile nature. They present no threat to humans and actually avoid contact. This enables many to get up close and truly capture their graceful movements. Mantas are the “lone wolves” of the sea, only crossing paths when mating, feeding, or migrating. Solitary behaviors coupled with increasingly declining numbers make mantas an invaluable diving sight.

Other Species

Manta Rays are not the only species that benefit from the area’s conservation efforts and complete exposure to currents. Large schools of pelagics come ‘round the mountain to feed on the abundant amounts of plankton that populate the area from currents. Between the countless fish and coral, the area is an organic menagerie of colors you simply will not get at an aquarium.

Magic Mountain is also a nursery for White Tip Reef Sharks and a love nest for Napoleon Wrasse. Napoleon Wrasse is an enormous, blue coral reef fish that grows over six feet long and has a prominent bump on its forehead. You can find them on the reef scouring for hard-shelled prey like mollusks, starfish, or crustaceans, which is unusual for a fish. Napoleon Wrasse also happens to be one of the most expensive reef fish in the world, and thus are illegally hunted frequently throughout the Coral Triangle at destructive lengths. Live reef fish trade in Southeast Asia continues to be a huge problem that many local governments are addressing with new regulations against poaching.

The White Tip Reef Shark is one of the most populous sharks in the Indo-Pacific. It is extremely slender, growing up to eight feet long and only 44 pounds. The shark is known for its characteristically irregular swimming patterns, piercing eyes, and trademark white-tipped dorsal fin. The White Tip Reef Shark, like endless others, are threatened by shark finning. Shark finning is hunting sharks solely for their fins. Poachers cut the shark’s fins off and discard the carcass back into the ocean, all while the shark is still alive. Not being able to swim, the shark sinks to the ocean floor where it is fed on by other fish. This happens to hundreds of thousands of sharks regularly.

Presrvation Efforts

The damages caused by illegal fish pilfering and shark finning are lasting. Not only does it make it potentially dangerous for divers, but it disrupts the “circle of life.” Sharks are often viewed and portrayed as bullies because they are top-level predators with considerable size and strength over the majority of fish. In reality, they help maintain balance.

Reef sharks are the “caretakers” of the reefs: they eat leftover and decaying fish, which keeps the coral reefs and seagrass beds lean. As primary predators, they impact where their prey tend to settle. This affects the feeding strategies of other species in the mix as some populations of fish increase, while others decrease. In the sharks’ absence, larger predatory fish take control and feed on herbivores. Having less herbivores leads to more microalgae that expands over coral and shifts the ecosystem to algae-dominant instead of coral-dominant. The reef system’s survival is then put into question.

What is Misool doing?

Raja Ampat Misool is one of the first areas to implement no finning, catch-and-release zones. Local authorities have been taking direct action against pirate ships, on which upwards of 200,000 shark fins have been found. Ultimate Dive’s own Ken Scarbrough has seen absolute improvement thanks to no finning laws. He himself hadn’t seen sharks in the amounts one should for up to 15 years; now, there is a definite difference. The reefs are experiencing a resurgence and revitalization that is healthy for the islands.

Misool also has its own foundation called the Misool Manta Project. The association’s focus is manta population and behavioral data collection in order to make better decisions regarding the protection, education, and study of Manta Rays. Satellite technology is even used to examine migration patterns. In addition to vital research, the Misool Manta Project teaches Misool visitors and engages local community members on ways to preserve the manta species and its habitat.

On top of this, the resort has been developed to foster an understanding of the many species that call the area home. There are nearly 60 sites within a 1-hour radius of the resort that have all been inspected and explored by Misool’s staff. The House Reef, on the other hand, is mere steps from the resort’s water cottages so the brilliance of the ocean is never far away. All cottages have their own spacious diving kit storage area in the communal Dive Center. In the 48 square meter dry area are computer stations, lounge chairs, and a monitor to view to the day’s images. Finally, there’s a sunny veranda for drying out between dives and enjoying picturesque, topside views.

Interested in this exclusive diving experience? Ask Ken about how the Misool resort is making each diving experience as “magical” as it can be.

Beware of the “Overbooking Bait and Switch”

Overbooking Bait and Switch

Booking a trip has become a mindless action due to the power of the internet. No matter where you want to go, you’re one click away from your dream vacation. But what happens when the booking site cancels your plans without so much as an excuse of “overbooking?”

Most of us would be left infuriated, scratching our heads with confusion because, well, isn’t this why we booked online in the first place: to AVOID overbooking and cement our place as quickly as possible?

Many online booking customers have become victims of a classic ‘bait and switch,’ wherein their trip is booked, bags are packed, and with almost no notice, they’re informed that their reservation has been canceled because the hotel is overbooked. Moreover, no reimbursement is received, and if so it’s a downright insult compared to the initial investment. There is also no effort made to find paid customers new accommodations. What’s left? Customers are stranded while the booking site risks your future business and overall good rapport to make a quick buck.

We have all experienced a similar situation at some point. While technology has provided us with quicker, more efficient results, it’s also made companies far too comfortable being impersonal. Customers putting their trust (and hard earned money) in a service should warrant unparalleled assistance in return.

With over 23 years in the travel industry, I understand the level of trust you’re looking for in booking not just a trip, but an experience. Booking with Ultimate Dive will give you one-on-one, personal service with a real person that has your best interests at heart. This is how I’ve been able to put accountability as a priority for running Ultimate Dive and deliver successful, meaningful experiences for friends and family.

Booking trips outside the country can give you little recourse and can make things harder to control when something goes wrong. International lawyers start around $800 per hour and the sky’s the limit from there. Always be safe and book your trips in the United States where you have control over your bookings

As a business owner, customer service expert, and person, I caution you to think twice before booking with an online source. If you’re looking for personal attention, speak with someone that cares. Contact us with any questions you may have or if you think Ultimate Dive could help you plan your next vacation.

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Liveaboard in Luxury in Indonesia on the Gaia Love Boat

Liveaboard in Luxury in Indonesia on the Gaia Love Boat

Liveaboard excursions are some of the most authentic experiences available to trained scuba divers. As the name implies, it’s a boat on which you can live for days or weeks at a time. Liveaboard diving trips encapsulate the ultimate escape. You’ll venture far offshore towards the horizon with just invited guests and crew as company. The extended stay gives us what we’re all in search of: time well spent. You’ll get a chance to truly immerse yourself in the culture and aquatic life.

WHY A LIVEABOARD?

Sights rarely seen by the public eye are at your fingertips, on your time. Liveaboards take you to remote diving sites for ultimate privacy and focus on the incredible wildlife. With all the necessary equipment and crew right in front of you, you’re able to take advantage of multiple dives per day at different times. Variances in sunlight and temperature will expose different kinds of species and their unique behaviors. You are but a bystander as they live freely before your eyes. It is one of the greatest expressions of untouched nature you’ll find.

When you return from your dives, you can enjoy meals featuring local specialties and relaxing amenities like hot tubs. We guarantee there’s not a sunrise or sunset like the ones you will wake up and fall asleep to while on board. You’ll see unobstructed views of skies bursting with colors as vibrant as the creatures below. There’s definitely nothing boring about living a boarding life.

WHERE CAN I GO ON A LIVEABOARD?

Ultimate Dive Travel has an exciting, new opportunity in store for divers aboard the Gaia Love Boat in Indonesia. The Gaia, meaning “Mother Earth,” represents a new breed of Indonesian liveaboards that are designed specifically for sailing and exploring the wonders of Earth. Ultimate Dive was the first American wholesaler to check out the liner in person. We were immediately impressed by the amount of detail that has gone into customizing the boat according to divers’ needs.

The 40-meter vessel breaks convention from the traditional wooden “pirate” sailing boats that every other liveaboard company in Indonesia uses. The Gaia is made of sturdy steel, which increases stability and creates smoother sailing. Its modern and contemporary design accommodates 20 guests in 11 ensuite rooms throughout the upper and lower deck. All six upper deck rooms also have an additional private balcony to soak in the sun and picturesque views.

When it comes time to diving, the Gaia is equipped with first-class amenities. There is a dedicated camera room for the preparation and maintenance of underwater camera equipment, plus a lounge with a premier entertainment center for relaxing in between dives. The dive deck off the rear of the boat can hold 20+ divers and houses 11 rinse tanks. Two 5.5 meter diving skiffs are always ready for divers to board easily and safely.

EXPLORING THE AQUATIC LIFE

As if this wasn’t enough to convince you, the amount of marine life you can see is astounding. Here are some of the species you could possibly run into:

Manta rays

Manta rays are some of the most anticipated species to see in the wild — and with good reason!

This massive form of ray is a far cry from the stingray, outside of their appearance. Manta rays can grow as large as 12 feet across and a wingspan of nearly 23 feet long. Mantas are quite literally the “social butterflies” of the ocean, living a pelagic life (in large groups) and traveling in cloud-like formations. If you end up seeing a long line of manta rays, you might be catching males in the act of trying to win a female’s heart. Mantas mate in a prolonged courting process, led by the female. Males are put to the test by essentially chasing the female in a “mating line.” The one that wins the race, wins her. Sometimes, animals are not so different from humans after all.

Nudibranchs

Nudibranchs are sea slugs known for their technicolor skin. They’re bottom-dwellers, so the only way to see them up close is to dive right down and meet them at their level. It’s odd to think that some of the most beautiful colors and patterns would appear on a lowly sea slug, but that is the beauty of nature in and of itself! Their distinct colors are actually indicative of their food — they literally are what they eat, which helps them camouflage against predators. They even keep some of the foul odors and poisons of their prey and secrete them as a defense against their predators.

Pygmy seahorses

Pygmy seahorses are the most recently identified type of seahorse; they weren’t even known until someone placed one in captivity and finally got a second glance. Like a pygmy horse on land, these are simply mini versions of the (already petite) normal-sized seahorse that grow just up to ¾ of an INCH. You can find these critters hanging onto reefs to steady themselves. Their size already makes it hard for them to travel far without getting swept up, so they attach to hosts like coral for survival. Spotting a group of these tiny animals makes for a great photo op.

Ghost pipefish

Ghost pipefish are the ocean’s masters of disguise. Known for their distinct, elongated snout, they are another kind of small fish with paper-thin fins that create optimal camouflage. There are multiple variations of pipefish in the seas, including solid colored and patterned. As infants, some are nearly translucent, which makes it even more thrilling of a sight.

Mandarin fish

This fish’s name comes from their strange coloration, which are akin to the robes of an Imperial Chinese Officer. They also echo the Chinese heritage with their body shape; their more prominent head and jutting fins resemble a Chinese dragon. Hues of blue, yellow, orange, purple, and green with swirly orange lines cover the fish. Their flamboyant outward appearance is a direct contradiction to their reclusive nature. They are occasionally squirming from reef to reef, so be sure to have your cameras ready!

In addition, the Gaia Love Liveaboard cruises all of the top areas of Indonesia’s incredible coral triangle.  You will never get bored on these trips!

Five Unusual Sea Creatures You Will Find in Indonesia

Five Unusual Sea Creatures You Will Find in Indonesia

Avid travelers know there’s more to Indonesia than Bali. Indonesia is a set of islands that makes up just one nook of Asia-Pacific’s Coral Triangle: the waters that surround Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and The Solomon Islands. Millions are retreating to Indonesia, however, to experience a culture that has perfected relaxation and personalized treatment unlike any other.

This area is not just resting on its corals. At the very heart of the ocean, the islands have world-renowned nurseries, muck diving, and rice paddies that evoke the true majesty of the seas. However, the real attraction is what lies underneath. Indonesia is generally accepted as the world’s marine life “Garden of Eden,” offering some of the rarest, most flamboyant fish oddities and premier resorts. This pairing has made Indonesia a luxurious hotspot for serious scuba divers looking to cross the world’s most unique experiences off their bucket list.

New species are also constantly being discovered, with nearly 1,200 reef fish and 600 coral species to date. Depending on where in Indonesia you decide to dive, you may come across some of these scarcely studied yet highly sought-after species.

Frogfish

Frogfish are some of the most coveted diving finds in Indonesia. As their name suggests, they do share some of the same qualities as their amphibious namesake, but are completely different all at once. Frogfish are common off the coasts of Bali and Lembeh (an island off the northeastern shores of Sulawesi), where Indonesian scuba travel is at its peak. They come in all varieties: hairy, warty, giant, painted, freckled, and more.

Frogfish spend most of their days immobile on the ocean floor, disguising themselves among colorful coral and stalking prey. When a desirable catch approaches, a frogfish lures fish in with antennae on its head with bait on the end, similar to an anglerfish. They spring into action just like their amphibious counterparts and use their elbow-like pectoral fins and back pelvic fins to lunge forward and “hop” across the ocean floor.

Psychedelic Frogfish

Psychedelic frogfish are a newer species that have only been discovered in the last seven years. These frogfish are distinctly colored in a tan and peach zebra pattern, with flat faces, forward-aligned eyes, and gaping mouth. They also have slightly different behavioral patterns than “regular” frogfish. Each time this fish pushes off a surface, it expels water from tiny gills to maneuver forward. You can see this spectacular fish on the coast of Ambon Island, where Ultimate Dive Travel can connect you with the Maluku Divers resort. This is the only resort on the island built specifically for divers and home to not only this kind frogfish, but the largest and most diverse collection of frogfish in Indonesia.

Yellow Boxfish

Yellow boxfish literally look like yellow boxes. They grow between 15-18” and have a three-dimensional shape that makes them one of the most uniquely structured fish in the sea. If you see a bright yellow boxfish with blue spots, it’s likely in its adolescence; their neon color and spots fade over time. They are very docile in nature, but when under stress or threatened, they release a deadly toxin so powerful that the yellow boxfish itself has been known to succumb to its own poison. Fish merely swimming by hardly stand a chance.  

Blue-Ringed Octopus

The Blue-Ringed Octopus is one of the most photogenic creatures of the deep. Photographers from all over the world flock to Indonesia to get even a glimpse at its beige skin illuminated by vivid blue spots. They are hard to spot, known to be shifty in shape and color. If you do see one, it’s likely that it’s one that has not mated yet. Both male and female Blue-Ringed Octopi die after reproduction: the male immediately after fertilization, and the female following a hunger strike to protect her eggs during maturation.

This is one of the most exciting finds in Indonesia, but it’s important to be wary. An expert diver is needed on this mission because although they are beautiful to look at, their bite is definitely worse than their bark. The Blue-Ringed Octopus is the only venomous species of octopus, and its venom is known to cause temporary (with treatment) asphyxiation, numbness, and paralysis in humans. Seeing one in its natural habitat is marvelous, but as with all sea animals, it’s important to remember that while diving, the sea is their domain; we are guests. Respecting their home is key to a full experience and staying safe.

Bali Sunfish (Mola Mola)

A sunfish doesn’t sound all that unusual, but this one is unusual in size. The Bali Sunfish (known also by its scientific name Mola Mola) is a behemoth version of the common saltwater fish found in the waters surrounding Bali. It grows to a whopping 14 feet vertically, 10 feet horizontally, and nearly 5,000 pounds, making it the world’s largest bony fish. Their massive size is in part enabled by the fact their back fins never fully grow. The fin folds into itself, allowing a gigantic creature to mature. Mola Mola’s colossus weight is balanced by two dorsal fins on its top and bottom directing its movement.

These fish are probably some of the most fun to see in the wild because of their temperament. Similar to manatees, the Bali Sunfish has a “dopey” nature and is friendly around humans, often just staring with its large eyes and, at the most, bopping them with its huge beak to say hello.

Harlequin Shrimp

The Harlequin Shrimp is as colorful as can be, but its appetite is no joke. These white-and-bright-blue-spotted shrimp are usually found in coral reefs, where their prey, starfish, usually linger. The crustacean’s diet solely depends on starfish legs. It expertly uses its claws to flip the starfish over so it cannot move, then eats the tubed feet and tissues until it reaches the center. Sometimes the starfish grows back another appendage, but only to have the Harlequin Shrimp resume its feast. Observing this exchange while diving is truly “wild,” and exhibits natural instinct in its purest form.

Fast Food Fishes

Fast Food Fishes

© Text and photography by Marty Snyderman

Fishes use a wide variety of strategies to acquire their food.  Most of us are familiar with the strike hard and overwhelm your prey strategy that is often employed by carnivorous apex predators such as great white sharks and marauding schools of tunas, jacks and billfishes. Other fishes rely more on their ability to blend in with their surroundings and ambush unsuspecting prey before their prey knows what hit them. Many species are planktivores, animals that pluck planktonic species out of the water column. Grazing on a variety of algae, other fishes are herbivores, while still others are omnivores, species that readily feed on both plants and animals. Still others rely on deceit to trick their prey.

Examining some of the adaptations that enable various fishes to capture their food reveals a fascinating look into Mother Nature’s seemingly endless bag of tricks. In this piece we will reveal the feeding strategies of the slingjaw wrasse, lizardfishes and stargazers to illustrate some adaptations that make the world of fishes so fascinating.

Slingjaw Wrasse

The slingjaw wrasse, Epibulus insidiator, occurs in the Pacific Ocean from southern Japan to New Caledonia, in Hawaii, the Tuamotos, and the Indian Ocean from the Red Sea to South Africa. The species prefers well-developed coral reef communities and lagoons where corals are thriving. Slingjaw wrasse can be seen from just below the surface to a depth of 130 feet.

Attaining a maximum length of approximately 14 inches (35 cm), the slingjaw wrasse occurs in several color phases. The bodies of juveniles are brown with narrow white bars. As the fish age, their color varies from brownish hues to neon yellow. Terminal phase males display a dark body, orange to yellowback, and a white head with a black line through the eye.

If you spot a Slingjaw wrasse it is often worthwhile to follow and watch the fish for a few minutes. If it is feeding as they often are during the day, you just might see the fish “unfold” and extend its mouth forward as far as almost half of the fish’s body length in an act that often makes first timers question their “lying eyes”. The jaw functions like a straw as it creates suction. Sometimes the jaw is slowly extended almost as if the fish is taking aim, but more often the action takes place in the blink of an eye. The main prey of slingjaws consists of a variety of crustaceans and small bony fishes.

Lizardfishes

The approximately 70 species of long, slender-bodied, cigar-shaped fishes commonly known as lizardfishes are rather distinctive looking creatures. The common name lizardfish certainly seems apropos as these fishes bear the strong resemblance to the land-dwelling reptiles we know as lizards especially when these fishes are resting on the sea floor while propping themselves up on their pelvic and pectoral fins.

With diets comprised mostly of a variety of small fishes, lizardfishes are voracious carnivores. They also readily prey upon squids, shrimps, and other small invertebrates. When hunting, lizardfishes often bury themselves in the sand or mud with only their eyes exposed. This position enables them to be mostly hidden while waiting to ambush prey. When a prey item passes by, a lizardfish will “launch itself” out of the sand using its tail to rapidly propel its body toward the intended prey. Their razor sharp teeth and armed tongue assist them in grabbing and holding their victim. The entire ambush and capture take place in a fraction of a second, but it often takes a lizardfish quite a while to swallow its prey once it has been subdued.

Sometimes lizardfishes hunt with their body exposed simply by perching themselves upon their fins on a prominent rock outcropping or coral head while they remain still as can be. When an unsuspecting victim comes within striking distance the attacker launches its lightening-fast attack.

Stargazers

Worldwide there are approximately 50 species of fishes described in the family Uranoscopidae. Collectively speaking, the common name for these fishes is stargazers. Stargazers have an upward facing mouth and often bury themselves “up to their eyeballs” in the sand so that all you see is their eyes, the top of their head and the outline of their mouth.

This positioning and the fact that their eyes are located high atop their heads makes stargazers appear as if they are staring toward the heavens, hence their common name.

When feeding stargazers “leap up” or “explode” from their buried position to ambush their unsuspecting prey which consists of a mixture of fishes and invertebrates that pass overhead, but close enough to become a meal. In addition, some species of stargazers are equipped with a lure that grows from the bottom of their mouth. The lure is used to attract prey.

I Swim With Sharks

I Swim With Sharks

©Text and photography by Marty Snydeman

Upon first consideration, it seems like swimming or otherwise living in close association with toothy sharks would be the last place you would ever find smaller fishes. But Mother Nature has other ideas as several species of bony fishes including remoras, the rainbow runner, pilotfish, golden trevally and bluefin jack live in close association to some large fish-eating sharks.

Remoras

The common names remora, diskfish, sharksucker, suckerfish, and hitchhiker fish are all used to label the eight fish species described in the family Echeneidae. It is quite common for all of these fishes to attach themselves to or otherwise accompany a variety of sharks and other larger host animals.

The relationship between remoras and the host animals they accompany is not completely understood. But it is likely that the relationship benefits both the remoras and hosts. The remoras gain protection by associating with large hosts as potential predators are likely deterred from pursuing a fish that is attached to the body of or swimming with a large shark.

Remoras also benefit by being supplied with food as they are known to feed on a variety of parasites that are found on the skin of their hosts, on scraps of food that they are quick to grab when their hosts capture their prey, and on some organisms that parasitize their hosts. In addition, at least two species of remoras acquire nutrition by eating the feces of their hosts, a feeding strategy known as coprophagy.

But there is a price to be paid by the remoras as their remains are routinely found in the stomach contents of sharks.

Rainbow Runners

The rainbow runner (Elagatis bipinnulata) inhabits wide segments of offshore and coastal waters in tropical and subtropical seas. Rainbow runners have routinely seen “dive bombing” a number of species of sharks including silkies, gray reef, whitetip reef and blacktip reef sharks as these jacks aggressively rub themselves against the sharks’ rough skin. It is believed that the rainbow runners do so in an effort to dislodge parasites from their skin.

Fast swimmers, rainbow runners appear to easily keep pace with the sharks. The sharks, on the other hand, often appear to be irritated by the rainbow runners’ efforts to rub against them.

Pilotfish

Another jack that routinely swims in close proximity to a variety of open water sharks is the pilot fish, Naucrates doctor. An oceanic species found in tropical and subtropical waters worldwide, pilotfish often tuck themselves in very close to a shark’s body or fins, and it is not uncommon to see them swimming within one foot or so of a shark’s snout.

Early day mariners believed pilotfish led sharks to food, hence their common name “pilot”. However, modern science suggests that pilot fish take up their position as a means of saving energy by swimming in the pressure wave created by a swimming shark. In addition, pilotfish receive the benefit of being protected against an attack from other predators simply because they are swimming so close to a potentially menacing shark. And pilotfish sometimes pick up scraps when their host shark makes a kill.

It is likely that the sharks do not benefit from the presence of the pilotfish.

Golden Trevally And Bluefin Jack

Juvenile golden trevally, Gnathanodon speciosus, are often seen as they swim only a few inches in front of the heads of fish-eating sharks. It is generally accepted that these youngsters gain protection from the mere fact that very few other creatures are likely to try to capture a golden trevally that has a toothy shark as a bodyguard.

The interaction between the bluefin trevally, Caranx melampygus, and whitetip reef shark, Triaenodon obesus, illustrates yet another relationship shared by jacks and sharks. During daylight hours, bluefin trevally commonly feeds on the mid-water plankton feeders known as Pacific creolefish. When the marauding jacks rush the creolefish, the creoles often seek cover in the latticework of the reef below. The frenetic swimming activity often excites the sharks, and they react by trying to pick off confused creolefish. In turn, the jacks benefit from the sharks’ pursuit of the creolefish as the further panicked creolefish become easier targets for the jacks.