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Behind the lens – SeaHale Photography

Meet Caitlin, the woman behind the Dive Friends Bonaire Photography center.

Caitlin has been working hard with several organizations and photography specialists to set up a photography department within Dive Friends! Not the kind where we rent out a camera and tell you which button to press but customized photography courses! Curious how Caitlin started diving and when she fell in love with photography? Please read it here and get inspiration from her story.

What was the reason for you to start diving?

Honestly? My University boyfriend! He was out in Thailand for summer holidays, so I went out for his last two weeks and for my 21st birthday. I left as an Advanced Open Water and Nitrox certified diver with two dive site cleanups under my belt. The week we got back, we planned our next dive vacation to Egypt for that Christmas! Saying that, I grew up as a competitive swimmer and lover of the ocean. The first job I said I wanted to do was Marine Biologist so that made me predisposed to liking it.

How did you get into photography?

I will be eternally grateful to my dad for this, he supported my interest and helped it grow into what it is today. Through him I realized you could take multiple things you are passionate about and create an even larger passion! He got me my first camera, then my first underwater camera and housing, and introduced me to ADOBE Lightroom. On a basic level, I like to capture moments and memories in photos better than journaling! It started at an early age in the woods and countryside of England. Lights/shadows, colours, and structures of nature inspired me. I wanted to share how I saw the world through my lens. When I became a diver, I was picturing the reef in the same way. I have a family full of non-divers who massively support me, I wanted to share my experiences with them! He also gets the credit for the creation of SeaHale. So, what I’d like to say is… Thank You Dad!

What is your top 1 tip for beginner photographers?

Make sure your buoyancy is good and then just shoot, Shoot, Shoot (practice, practice, practice)! Try it from different angles, landscape or portrait, and get creative. Have a quick look and review the photos, is it working? Practicing this will help you develop your skills, eye, and statistically greater chance of obtaining ‘the shot’.  It’s the beauty of digital because you can delete, delete, delete.

What is the secret behind a good photo?

Underwater? I’d say lights ?. Patience is key to obtaining good photos underwater (which means having a patient dive buddy)! Sometimes it’s best to slow right down and wait for the image opportunity to present itself, let the creatures become accustomed to your presence, and I’ll repeat shoot, shoot, shoot- that takes patience too! Start learning the behaviours of the reef: how they move, at what time, what is ‘normal/abnormal’, and that will help set you up for better shots too!

What makes Bonaire so special for photographers?

Essentially, it’s a classroom and playground. For the same reason as it is for scuba divers/snorkelers and water enthusiasts in general. You can pick up your gear and go whenever you like, you have the freedom to head out and dive/shoot your heart out. In general the conditions are most ideal! You’ve got wonderful subject selection, the Caribbean nursery Bonaire for macro marvels or pull out your wide-angle on Salt Pier or Northern Sites or even head to Klein Bonaire on the boat! It’s perfect to start or level up your photography and diving skills- you can truly learn how to dive with a camera, having that extra time to learn how the camera works and pair it with fine tuning your buoyancy (that will change completely every time you pick up a new piece of gear.)

How happy are the turtles on Bonaire?

Every tourist, diver, and snorkeler alike visits Bonaire for the abundance of turtles! Many green sea (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) can be found all around the island, and even the loggerheads (Caretta caretta) and leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea) are occasionally sighted.

Sea Grass

The most abundant species, the green turtle, visits Bonaire for its favorite snack: the seagrass fields in Lac Bay. Their breakfast, lunch, and dinner is, “surprise surprise” called Turtle Grass (Thalassia testudinum) – a lush green grass that can grow up to 30 cm. The fields are perfectly mowed by our visitors. Green turtles are serious gardeners and keep their lawns fresh and perky.

Two years ago, joined a study of these awesome turtles’ grazing habits in Lac Bay. A new seagrass had arrived at Bonaire around 2010. Quite like the arrival of invasive Lionfish to Bonaire, this Halophila stipulacea came by shipping vessels ballast water. It thrived on Bonaire and rapidly spread throughout the bay. Research has been ongoing since 2010 to see if this new seagrass would change marine behavior in Lac.

Grazing behavior

My friend Irene and I researched grazing behavior over a 4-month period, looking at how abundance of marine life differed between patches of H.stipulacea and Turtle Grass. Every day, we took out kayaks loaded with dive gear, and spent 2-3 hours observing random spots in Lac Bay.

Smooth trunkfish

What an adventure! Apart from our research, we had Lionfish in our research cage and saw one of the biggest grey stingrays I have seen on Bonaire! Our research area indicators, wooden sticks with pink duct tape, were stolen by smooth trunkfish that kept following us across the bay. At one moment five trunkfish were following me in a perfect line.

Nursery

From our research, we concluded that Lac Bay remains an extremely diverse marine habitat. Millions of juveniles safely mature there before finding their way to the reef. However, the new H.stipulacea provides less protection and nutrition for juveniles compared to Turtle Grass, which our turtles still prefer. Unfortunately, the mowed lawns of Turtle Grass are more easily invaded than thick bushes – thus turtle grazing will likely help the invasion of H.stipulacea. The question remains if the Turtle Grass can survive this invasion (click here for the scientific paper).

Visit the turtles

Lac Bay is different from everything on Bonaire. The serenity and food availability keep not only green sea turtles happy but give all turtles a restful place to visit. Luckily for the turtles, diving in Lac Bay is forbidden. However, if you would like to get involved, you can dive Turtle City with East Coast Diving, enjoy snorkeling in the mangroves, sign up for the Turtle Awareness Specialty with Dive Friends, or join monthly lectures and volunteering opportunities with Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire.


By Roos Swart, Dive Master @ Dive Friends Bonaire

Coral Reef Research by Floris and Laura

Diving is fun! We could be cruising along the reef watching the wondrous marine life all day every day. Two divers who are often seen grabbing tanks at Dive Friends Bonaire are Laura and Floris, two biology students from Amsterdam. They dive with a slightly different purpose: research! Get to know them and their story in this blog. Thank you, Floris and Laura, for writing this!

“We are diving with Dive Friends while doing research for Wageningen Marine Research in cooperation with STINAPA. We’ve met a lot of divers, snorkelers and other kind people that were very interested in our project. It’s always nice to see that other people are interested in what you’re passionate about. So we were happy when we were asked to write something about our research.

As most divers probably noticed, coral reefs communities have changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Especially divers that have been diving for a long time might have seen a shift from coral-dominated reefs to algae-dominated reefs. Research suggest this is mostly because of different human activities including pollution, global warming and overfishing.

While most research only considered the shift from coral to algae, now there seems to be a “new” group that is quickly increasing in abundance and might be a problem: benthic cyanobacterial mats. I say “new” since they are not actually new on the reef. Cyanobacteria are, just like coral, fish and algae, an essential part of a healthy coral reef.

However, these same cyanobacteria can also form thick slimy mats and rapidly increase in abundance. In some places the cyanobacterial mats increased from less than 1% of the reef cover to over 20%. Cyanobacterial mats can suffocate coral or other organisms, inhibit coral settlement and they are known to act as coral pathogens. Pollution, increasing nutrient concentrations and the increase in water temperature are thought to be among the main drivers of the increase of these cyanobacterial mats. However, their dynamics as not entirely understood.

That’s why we started different experiments around the island to try to better understand what drives the observed increase in cyanobacteria and how their abundance changes throughout the season. We also try to understand where and how fast they grow. Gaining a better understanding of why and where cyanobacterial mats grow might help in managing these mats in the future and help to protect the reef.

If you see us working on one of the Dive Friends locations or on any of the other dive sites, feel free to ask any questions. We will be happy to tell you everything about our research in more detail!”

 

Teach. Live the Dream. Change Lives.

Upcoming Instructor Development Course: August 14th – 28th

Dive Friends offers great opportunities for those who would love to be diving all day, every day. Our eight-week divemaster internship allows you to make diving your profession and lets you experience what it’s like to work in the friendliest dive center in the Caribbean. And if you really, truly want to live the dream, your ultimate goal might well be to take the Instructor Development Course and become a dive instructor yourself.

In this blog, some of our dive instructors share their most memorable moments as a dive instructor.

From fearful to fearless. New divers, taking a breath underwater for the very first time, can be stressed. Some think they will never be able to complete a dive and are struggling to overcome anxiety. According to Nienke, the most valuable aspect of teaching people scuba diving is to watch these new divers overcome their fear, exchanging it for a calmness and wonder as they take in all there is to see on the reefs. Knowing that you have helped them turn their fear into a newfound hobby is priceless.

Future ocean ambassadors. As a dive instructor, you get to teach young children. Whenever Caitlin takes out an eight-year-old on a Bubblemaker course; or a ten-year-old on the first open water dive, the feeling of introducing them to a whole new world is amazing. Some kids return from a dive completely fascinated by the animals they’ve seen and with a new goal: “Save the planet”. As the dive instructor who introduces them to the ocean and all it has to offer, you are an important factor in creating a new generation of ocean ambassadors.

Share your passion. Diving is incredible and as a dive instructor you get to tell people this every day. One of Iris’ most memorable moments was when she took her own father on a Discover Scuba Dive.  Her dad discovered that he loved diving just as much as his daughter. For Iris, seeing his smile after his first dive was a very special moment. Being a dive instructor allows you to directly share your greatest passion with those closest to you.

Challenge yourself. Apart from diving every day, dive instructors have many opportunities to challenge themselves and expand their dive horizons. Ever since working as an instructor, Daniel has challenged himself more than he could ever have dreamt beforehand. Being in an environment with professional divers all around helped him a lot. It is very easy to get introduced to new ways of diving, such as sidemount diving and tech diving. As a dive instructor, you will always find new ways to explore the ocean and all its beauty.

The ocean as your home. Finally, divemaster Vincent has just completed his divemaster training with us. He will be one of the students doing the Instructor Development Course this summer. Why did he decide he wants to move forward and become a dive instructor? The answer is very simple. Teaching is rewarding, and you get to teach in the most beautiful place on earth: the ocean. Whether it’s the Caribbean Sea, the Indian Ocean, or the Pacific Ocean, you get to go to amazing locations that not many people get to go to.

Need more? We don’t think so. Start living the dream now!

Sunscreen Awareness on Bonaire

Bonaire is world-famous for its diving along pristine reefs. The best thing? You can enjoy this year-round – there is no such thing as bad weather around here! Protecting yourself against the sun is vital to avoid serious health risks. At the same time, we want to protect the reef against harmful chemicals contained in sunscreens. Many sunscreens contain a particular chemical called oxybenzone. In this blog, we explain you why it’s time to stop using these sunscreens NOW!

Recently, scientists have been curious to find out the effects of oxybenzone on Bonaire’s precious coral reefs… and the conclusions are not very pretty. Sunscreens containing oxybenzone increase coral bleaching which, ultimately, can lead to coral death. Additionally, the risk of coral disease increases when oxybenzone is present in the water, and reproduction of the corals is reduced.

WWF, Boneiru Duradero and Wageningen Marine Research now bring sunscreen awareness to Bonaire! In four easy steps, you can minimise your “sunscreen impact” on the reef.

Choose wisely – Cut the oxybenzone*! Instead, choose a sunscreen that’s based on either zinc or titanium minerals. Take a minute to briefly check the etiquette of sunscreen products in the store to make sure that you’ll bring a great choice to our precious island.

Wear protective clothing – Divers are already pretty good at this one! Wearing a wetsuit or a rashguard allows you to reduce your use of sunscreen without increasing health risks. Another huge perk: it you won’t get cold while you are on one of our unlimited shore diving packages this summer!

Apply early – When you know you’ll be diving or snorkelling, think ahead and apply your sunscreen at least thirty minutes before entering the water. This will greatly reduce the amount of sunscreen that washes off into the ocean.

Spread the word – We are not called Dive Friends for nothing. If you dive with us on Bonaire, you’ll soon know that you are truly a part of the Dive Friends Family! We all share our fantastic dive experiences. Why not also spread the sunscreen awareness along with this unconditional love for our healthy coral reefs?

Click here for more information on this highly relevant topic. And while you guys are busy reading etiquettes in your local store, we’ll make sure we’re ready to go diving with you this summer. See you soon on Bonaire, with ongoing love for the reef!

*: Oxybenzone can also be mentioned as BP-3 or benzophenone-3

Freediving – Five reasons to start today!

 

Dive Friends Bonaire is now partnering with Deepsea Freediving and offering PADI Freediving classes as a PADI Freedive Center. Freediving is becoming more and more popular around the globe. Bonaire is an excellent place for freediving; the reef drop-off starts shallow and there is a huge diversity of marine life to observe along the entire reef, easily accessible for freedivers.

In this blog, PADI & AIDA Freediver Instructor Trainer and 12x World Record Freediver Carlos Coste gives you his top five reasons why you should learn to freedive… today!

  1. Freedom

Freediving is like flying into liquid space – weightless and free! With the help of simple and light gear, freedivers are able to enjoy the underwater world with three-dimensional movement possibilities. You will also enjoy the freedom to perform dozens of dives during a session, where the number of dives will increase once you are more advanced and fit!

  1. Development of relaxation & breathing control

Relaxation and breathing control are the fundamental skills to develop in freedive courses. So, if you are stressed, experiencing out of breath situations, or if you want to improve your meditation and visualization skills, a professional freedive course can help a lot! It’s a body and mind connection that will also provide you with a comfortable feeling during your scuba dives, as well as provide you with breathing and stress control.

  1. Rediscover the joy to dive

Look at freediving as a new approach to the underwater world: more sportive, meditative and rewarding. It is a constant inner exploration and self-improvement discipline. Freediving will help you to become more aware of your body, which can improve your lifestyle and your health.

  1. Become a part of the marine life

Freedivers are quiet, and therefore fit more naturally in the underwater world. There are no bubbles and heavy equipment to scare off the marine life. So, if you are looking for some quality marine time with whales, dolphins, groupers, or manta’s, then let’s freedive!

  1. Longer and more relaxed scuba dives

Yes, freediving also improves your scuba dives! Learning breathing and relaxation techniques will allow you to boost your scuba dive performances, and result in a longer tank life. Additionally, the equalization techniques used in freediving can be beneficial and useful for scuba diving.

We at Dive Friends Bonaire are absolutely convinced that freediving is a valuable addition to everyone’s dive experience! Interested in the courses we offer? Have a look at our freedive course page and don’t hesitate to contact us!

New Year Blog – Bring On 2018

Come dive with Dive Friends in 2018!

There is always a slightly sad feeling when the end of the year festivities are behind you. We at Dive Friends Bonaire are excited to start a new year full of diving. But to make 2018 an unforgettable year full of amazing underwater experiences, we need you! So, stop feeling gloomy and start planning your next dive trip! We have made you a nice “calendar” to help you decide when to book your tickets to come visit us. Can’t choose what you like best? Don’t worry – we make diving a great experience year-round.

January, February and March

January is the month for clean slates and following up on your New Year’s resolutions. During your visit to Bonaire, you can also do something for the reefs as part of your Spring Clean! Why not learn how to hunt the invasive lionfish, gather scientific data during the Fish ID or REEF Survey Diver Specialty, or join us on our quarterly Clean-up Dive? In February, love is all around. Let us take you on a guided Ostracod Night Dive for a most romantic experience amongst a sea of blue stars. Also, cruise seasons draws to an end in March. You can profit from the increased availability of our instructors by taking as many Specialty courses as you want. Expand your horizon with us!

Photo by Rudy van Geldere

Photo by Davy Lepsi

 

April, May and June

Time to spot some turtles! April marks the beginning of the sea turtle nesting season. If you’re lucky you might spot a female Loggerhead turtle visiting our island to lay her eggs. In June, green turtles and Hawksbill turtles also start making their way to Bonaire. Take our Sea Turtle Awareness Distinctive Specialty if you want to learn more about these amazing animals! In May and June, the ocean is also teeming with other new life! The reefs are a nursery for many juvenile fishes at this time of the year. Be prepared for some cute encounters with baby Trunkfish and blue tangs. Also, the fourth Bonaire Dive Week will take place from May 26th to June 2nd. Let us be your host while you enjoy all the fun activities that Bonaire Dive Week has to offer! Our team is ready to provide you with all the tanks, equipment and knowledge of Bonaire’s reefs to make for an unforgettable experience.

July, August and September

Are you the type of person that just can’t get enough of diving? July and August are your months! The days are long and water temperatures reach their peak. Enjoy multiple shore dives until the sun sets without getting cold! In September, the days are shortening slightly. However, water temperatures are still peaking and the winds are reduced in strength. Thus, diving conditions are perfect! Take your chance to spot the well-camouflaged creatures such as frogfish and seahorses without battling currents. This is also the perfect time to go East Coast Diving… let us book it for you!

Photo by Caitlin Hale

October, November and December

October brings to Bonaire one of the most famous and surreal underwater events: coral spawning! Let us take you on a night dive and watch how those corals start to ‘smoke’ and send their offspring into the ocean. Other marine life is also influenced by the coral spawning event; be prepared for some crazy mating behavior from the fish around you! November and December bring even more reasons to go crazy. Where better way to spend the most festive months of the year than in Diver’s Paradise? It’s always a celebration to go out on a dive on our coral reefs. After a fresh shower and a mind full with new life-lasting memories, you can enjoy your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner at one of Bonaire’s award winning fine dining restaurants. On top of that, you will find Bonaire covered in pretty lights and our staff greeting you with a loud chorus of various Christmas songs!

Photo by Davy Lepsi

 

Dive Friends @ Delfins: hot and happening!

We are excited to announce the opening of our seventh Dive Friends Bonaire location, Dive Friends @ Delfins Beach! Not only is this exciting news for those staying at Delfins Beach Resort, but also for all of those who dive with us elsewhere on Bonaire. If you love diving down south among Bonaire’s famous soft corals, life just got much more convenient. Why not stop by at our brand-new location in Belnem, swap out some tanks in the beautiful shaded drive-through and grab a refreshing drink at one of the beach bars?

 

Here’s what Dive Friends @ Delfins Beach has to offer: The dual lane nitrox/air drive through is manned by our friendly crew members from 8 am until 5 pm. It provides you with all the tanks you need for those remote southern dive sites. Here, we can also provide you with some ScubaPro rental gear. Having problems with a piece of your own gear? Why not drop in and let our service team look at it? When you’re done diving for the day, you can wash your gear at Delfins before heading home, using our rinse tanks. Want to buy some new gear or just drop in for a coffee while booking your next boat dive? Come to our fully air-conditioned dive retail shop next to the pool bar and speak to one of our friendly crew members.

Finally, there is some exciting news on boat trips. From early 2018, Delfins Beach Resort will have its own dive dock providing daily boat trips to Klein Bonaire or other sites that co.

As you know, Dive Friends @ Delfins Beach is now open! To get you as excited as we are, we want to share our progress over the past few months:

Our new manager for this location, Luke, working hard to get his location ready for you…

…which resulted in a fabulous retail shop worth visiting!

 

The drive through took a lot of sweating and hard work as well…

 

… but it is now ready for you to drop off empty and pick up full tanks! We look forward to welcoming you here and hope to see you soon!

 

 

Coral Reef Research on the West Coast of Bonaire

The past few months, a research team from Wageningen Marine Research (previously known as ‘IMARES’) from The Netherlands has been working together with STINAPA to survey the coral reefs along Bonaire’s leeward side. The team included Sarah, Yun, Roger and Sil.

At 115 dive sites, the team investigated the corals, fish, sea urchins and excavating sponges along transects at five and ten metres depth. If you are familiar with the present-day reefs of Bonaire, these two depths might seem a tad shallow: most fun dives are now often done at around twenty metres depth. However, in the past, Bonaire’s corals used to flourish at five metres, where light and other environmental conditions are optimal for maximum coral reef growth. Various hypotheses exist as to why the shallow reef areas have seen such a decline, but a combination of multiple factors is most likely the reason.

With the data that the team gathered on this trip, they will measure the reef health with multiple methods, such as the ReefBudget Method and the Reef Health Index. They will also create an overview of the coral and fish communities along the island, and look at the variation of these between different areas. With this information, they hope to determine the current state of Bonaire’s reefs and help prevent any further decline.

With weights, tanks and other support of Dive Friends Bonaire, we had a great time and successful survey!

 

Take the leap to using a full-face mask!

Now is the chance to try the Ocean Reef Integrated Dive Mask (Full-Face Mask)! We are offering a 15% discount on the Full-Face Mask Diver Specialty during our Fall Specials until November 30th!

After hearing many enthusiastic stories about diving with a Full-Face Mask from colleagues and friends, our instructors Nienke and Martijn got really curious and decided to try it for themselves. They joined a course given by our Dive Inn Location Manager and Ocean Reef Specialist Jeffrey in September.

A Full-Face Mask is exactly that: a mask that covers your entire face! They were previously only used by military and professional divers, but a recreational version is now available for all divers to enjoy the fun and advantages of having your whole face inside one mask (along with the integrated regulator). Say good-bye to fogged-up and leaking masks! Even the mouthpiece is gone, no more jaw fatigue! You can breathe naturally through your nose and experience a wider field of vision compared to regular masks. More than enough reasons to give it a try!

The course began with a morning coffee and some background information on the Ocean Reef Integrated Dive Mask. The first time you put on the mask, it feels a bit strange to start but once you adjust the straps and other features, it becomes very comfortable. You also want to ensure that you adjust the nose plugs correctly as you will use them to help you equalize (you can’t pinch your nose in the Full-Face Mask!).

Before the open water dive, they learned to perform some regular scuba skills with the Full-Face Mask. First, they practiced putting the mask on and taking it off a couple of times on the surface to get comfortable with it. After that, they practiced several skills underwater such as disconnecting/re-connecting the low-pressure hose that supplies air to the integrated regulator, clearing a flooded mask and finally taking the whole mask off underwater and putting it back on. Taking off a Full-Face Mask underwater is a bit more work than with a regular mask as without your mask on, you can’t breathe since the regulator is integrated into the mask. You have to make sure you switch to an alternate air source (either your own or you buddy’s) and put on a spare mask. Then you can actually see what you are doing again. However, with a bit of practice, it is easy to do!

After learning these new skills, the group headed out to test the mask in the open water. Diving with a Full-Face Mask is a lot of fun! You actually do see a lot more because of the wider field of vision compared to a regular mask. You can even see your buddy out of the corner of your eye when they are slightly behind you!

As an experienced diver, Nienke started out breathing through her mouth only (old habits…), until she realized it was also possible to breathe through her nose for the first time underwater! After the dive, Nienke said “I don’t know if it’s just me, but it took me a while to adjust to breathing out of my nose. However, it is quite comfortable to breathe through your nose and I can definitely see that it will be beneficial for some people who have trouble with breathing through a normal regulator.”

Surprisingly, the group was also able to communicate very well underwater. Although, they didn’t try out the add-on communication set yet, which can be fitted onto the side of the Full-Face Mask, they

were able to speak into the masks and hear each other when they were close by under water. Together they sang ‘we are the champions’ underwater to celebrate competing the course.

They really enjoyed diving with the Full-Face Mask and will definitely do it again. Take the leap and dare to try if for yourself; you might just love it and never go back to your regular dive mask! We offer Full-Face Masks for rental and sale at our Dive Inn location. Stop by anytime to find out more!