Saturday, April 21, 2012

Manta Rays, Manta Rays and…Manta Rays

At the very end of our Similan liveaboard we had two absolutely wicked dives at Koh Bon, we saw one Manta Ray on the first dive there and three on the second dive. The one that was there most of the time unfortunately had a rope caught up on its cephalic fin and it seemed very timid at first. 

We were quite lucky on the first dive, there was just our dive group close to the Koh Bon west ridge when the Manta Ray showed up, as said it was quite timid and would not come too close to us so no good photos on this go and it took off as soon as more people showed up. 

But on the second go we decided to stay at the west ridge for the whole dive because the good current was a promising event! And it was worth it!!! 

The Manta Ray from the first dive came back and allowed us to get close enough to get some good pictures for the Manta Matcher ( ). Manta Matcher runs research on mantas population, habits and migratory routes, so any ID picture of the belly is worth to send them to help the research. Mantas have unique spot marks on the belly so an individual can be identified. 

We were the only group again on that side of the ridge as it was not the easiest spot to hang around and at the end it paid off: three Manta Rays showed up together just as we were about to head off for our safety stop. Such a pity none of us could get a picture of them together but we were just starting to ascent from our safe spot next to the ridge and the current really started to swirl around at that point, so we bid farewell to this beautiful creatures and safely head to the surface.

That was a Wicked trip!!!!!

Laura Kanerva (Divemaster!) 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ocean safe Sunscreen

Wicked Diving operates in places with a great deal of sunshine. That’s partly why so many people join us again and again. Our Similan Dive Center is located just 10 degrees north of the Equator in Thailand and out Komodo Dive Center is located 8 degrees South of the equator. A major concern for all our guests and staff should be sun-exposure.
Why is it important to use sunscreen?
Skin damage from sunlight builds up with continued exposure, whether sunburn occurs or not. In addition to skin cancer and sunburn, other effects can include wrinkling, premature aging, and in time, an almost leathery appearance of the skin. Research also suggests that excessive exposure to UV radiation may interfere with the body’s immune system.
Sunburn is associated with the shorter ultraviolet wavelengths, known as ultraviolet B (UVB). The longer wavelengths, known as ultraviolet A (UVA), however, can penetrate the skin and damage connective tissue at deeper levels, even if the skin’s surface feels cool. It is important to limit exposure to both UVA and UVB.
Sunscreens play an important role in a total program to reduce the harmful effects of the sun, along with limiting sun exposure and wearing protective clothing.
To help consumers select products that best suit their needs, sunscreens are labeled with SPF numbers. SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor.” The higher the SPF number, the more sunburn protection the product provides. Remember, sunscreen use alone will not prevent all of the possible harmful effects of the sun.

Is My Sunscreen Harming Corals?
Coral is a living organism that needs algae for food. Research now shows that certain ingredients in regular suntan lotions activate viruses inside algae. When these viruses replicate, they kill off the algae. Without the algae, the coral dies.
Four main ingredients that harm coral cited in a recent study are: paraben, cinnamate, benzophenone, and camphor. Avoid these ingredients. Some experts also recommend avoiding suntan lotion with anything beginning with “oxy” or “hexa.” Another problem with some sunscreens is that the oil in them can float in the water, blocking sunlight. So try to avoid sunscreen that seems to come off too easily and leave oily residue.
Look for ingredients that say biodegradable, organic or natural or that assert that they are coral safe, reef safe, eco safe or environmentally friendly. Remember, these terms do not guarantee that the product is ocean-safe. You still need to check the actual ingredient list. Look for active ingredients that are thought to be safer, such as zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and avobenzone. The good news is that these ingredients are probably not only safer for the environment, but also safer for you.
Increasingly department stores and Pharmacies are offering environmentally safe sunscreen.  You can also look in health food stores. For the best selection, look online, the internet has lots of choices and you can read customer reviews before buying.
Ocean-safe sunscreen or sunblock is effective. If it says it offers SPF 30, for example, it will protect you as well as a regular SPF 30.
It is worth noting that biodegradable sunscreen may blend in differently upon application. Some brands work better when rubbed in more slowly as they may congeal when applied too quickly. You may need to experiment to find the best ocean-safe sunscreen for you. Reading reviews on the internet may help you choose.
Apply ocean-friendly sunscreen or sunblock early. If you apply 10 to 20 minutes before you enter the water, the lotion has a chance to absorb into the skin, and less of it will wash off. Rub in slowly but as much as you can. Sunscreen will rub in better than sunblock, which is more opaque. Even environmentally friendly products can contain ingredients that float in the water, blocking sunlight. Coral need sunlight to thrive. So apply early, apply sparingly, and rub in thoroughly.
Wear a rash vest to protect your upper body and shoulders. Only apply ocean-safe sunscreen to areas that will be in the sun whilst snorkeling or swimming, such as your face and back of the legs.
Other personal products, such as antiperspirant, perfume, and body lotion, may also harm the delicate reef eco-system, so do not wear these when swimming in the ocean, especially when near coral.
Even the oil and bacteria in your skin can harm coral, so do your best to never touch coral. Keep fins away as well. If you can’t maintain positive buoyancy without touching the coral, then move away to another area or wear a life vest if you are snorkelling.

Stay safe – take care of your skin. Think locally and take care  of the reefs we visit in Thailand and Komodo

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

How to deal with Seasickness or avoid it!

We recently put up a page all about seasickenss. It is much easier to avoid and to deal with than many people expect. It can be a major factor in choosing a dive trip and is something we are often asked about. We thought we’d give a bit more information!

How to Deal With (Avoid) Seasickness

Nothing can spoil a day of diving like a case of motion sickness. When it happens at sea, we refer to it as mal de mer or sea sickness. Whatever you call it, it makes you feel awful and miserable. This article will explain what it it, the symptoms and how to deal with it and how to prevent it altogether, so that you can concentrate on enjoying your diving adventures!

avoiding or coping with seasickness

What is Seasickness?
In simple terms, seasickness occurs when the body, the inner ear and the eyes all send different signals to the brain. The constantly changing movement stimulates receptors in the brain, leading to confusion, queasiness, headaches, dizziness, nausea, dry-heaving and vomiting. The brain begins to malfunction as the normal, land-based environment it is accustomed to suddenly begins to act differently. Your visual system recognizes things like furniture and cabin walls as stable, while your inner ear is sending strong messages to the brain that they are not.
Our body metabolisms are nearly as unique as our personalities. Some preventatives will work for some people and not others. Others will work, though with varying degrees of effectiveness. You may have to do some trials and experimenting to find what works best for you. Not everything works the same for everybody.

Medications and Natural Preventatives
Ginger is a natural preventative. It soothes a queasy stomach and has no side effects. You can get it in pill form, tablets or powder, or as ginger root in many supermarkets or grocery stores.
Some doctors recommend that you can take it 12-24 hours before, as preventing sea sickness is easier than curing it. Somewhere from 1 gram up to 4 grams per day of powdered ginger is recommended. Some studies seem to indicate that ginger is more effective in the reduction of vomiting and sweating than nausea and vertigo, although they reduce those symptoms as well. You can try ginger biscuits and ginger ale, although their lower ginger content may not be as effective. They do work for some people though.

-Similan Diving

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The non-tsunami of 2012

As many of you know, there was a large earthquake and subsequent tsunami warning for the Indian Ocean yesterday. The earthquake occurred in an area very similar to the one that triggered the December 26th, 2004 tsunami that caused major destruction to the region – especially here in Khao Lak. We had a very busy day and it stirred emotions – but in the end it was simply a warning and nothing happened.

With all the founders of Wicked Diving and a few of our staff having been through the 2004 tsunami – we were able to base many of of actions and reactions upon experience rather than hype. We anted to relay some of what occurred here yesterday.

First off was preparation and planning. After having some false alarms in recent years and non-functional warning buoys placed by regional governments – we have sought resources for correct information. Several of us use a great early warning system to keep notified of potential problems – bee they earthquakes, tsunamis or even volcanoes. Free, efficient and based on factual evidence is GDACS which has been set up by the EU as a free service to people around the world. You can register to received emails and/or SMS’s here: Upon getting informed of the tsunami through system this we quickly put in motion several actions.

One person went online to confirm the information and look up warnings and possible risks. The source for tsunami warning that is most effective and data driven is the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, which is set up and run by the US government. They have a section on Indian Ocean  at this link: This site issued a “Watch” and not an actual “Warning” as the data seemed to show that the earthquake was not a tsunami producing vertical earthquake, rather it was a horizontal. This gave us some relief. However, several other government bodies had issued tsunami warnings – so we heeded the collective advisories and acted accordingly. In addition, the Thailand Tsunami Warning system worked very efficiently and klaxons and a warnings were issued though out the region throughout the tsunami warning system.( for more information on why some earthquakes produce tsunamis and some don’t:

Another of our staff contacted  all our staff. We had staff and guests located in several places – Liveaboard at the Similan Islands, Liveaboard at the Surin Islands, Staff on the Surin Islands, conducting training sessions at the swimming pool and diving in Khao Sok Park. We contacted all staff to let them know of the warnings issued and the appropriate reactions.

A major issue that worried us was communication. The phones – both mobile and landlines – were jammed from overuse.  Only 1 in 20 attempts at calls got through. However, Wicked Diving also uses Satellite phones and we were able to get through quickly and efficiently. the radios were still functional but overwhelmed with rumors and false data…essentially they become white noise generators rather than useful tools.

For our liveaboards, which were both at sea, we cancelled any dives planned and moved them away from landmass. When tsunamis are still int he open oceans, they are simply a rise and drop in the water levels – there is no actual curling wave. It is only near a landmass that the rise in water levels creates waves. Thus –  the safest place was away. Once positioned there, the liveaboards and all guests and staff were safe.

Our instructor doing pool work was informed and took her guest to higher ground. Again, direct calls were problematic, but messenger and email functioned just fine.

Our main concern was for the staff and guests on the Surin Islands. As we had quite a bit of trouble with direct calls and the staff there only had “dumb” phones – so they are restricted to purely calls and SMS. Eventually we were able to break through and contact. By this time the rangers on the Surin Islands had already done a brilliant job of alerting and moving all guests to higher ground. They had a very detailed plan in case of tsunamis and had immediately began preparing food and water in case people had to stay on higher ground for more than a few hours. Our staff and guests were all impressed with the planning and calm attitude!

Of all our staff and guests – we were least worried about those in Khao Sok. There was no chance a tsunami could hit an inland lake. However – in all of Thailand – it appears they had the most damage! The earthquake was felt by our divers while diving in a cavern. While the earthquake was not strong it was enough to cause some small waves. These overturned several long tails while on the lake! Who knew?!

Once we had communications with all staff and guests and had their safety assured – we then sat down and monitored all the news feeds and updated those outside through our Facebook page and emails. For such a major event, there was surprisingly little up to the minute information. After we heard that Sumatra, the closest point of land to the earthquake, suffered only the slighter rise in water levels (a few centimeters) we started to relax. When the expected landfall time of a possible wave passed without any damage – we all started to feel much better. When the “warnings” were lifted, we let all staff, guests and boats know that the threat was over and to return to normal routine.

Having been through a tsunami before, and a couple of false reports of them – we know the biggest worry was not locally, but for those at home. The is often a great deal of misinformation in the western media and news stories favor dramatic footage versus those showing nothing happening. We took it upon ourselves to use the “emergency contacts” supplied by all our guests and contacted them to let them know that everyone was safe and in good spirits. This was deeply appreciated by all.

Finally, after all this was done – we sat down and had a cold beer.

Tsunamis and earthquakes are acts of Mother Earth over which we have no control. However we can prepare, we can plan for the various outcomes and we have the correct supplies in case of emergency. In addition having open and functional channels of communications to both our guests and to those on the outside are essential. We are deeply relieved that there was no tsunami.

-Wicked Diving, Thailand

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why Is A Dive Buddy So Important?

A dive buddy shares the experience

Buddy diving is a reliable method used by divers to avoid or survive accidents in or under water. Why is a dive buddy so important?  It is important because it is impossible to say that you will never have a problem underwater and if you dive with a buddy, there is somebody there to help or rescue you in the event of an emergency Here are some examples of emergency situations where a buddy’s help can save your life:

    •.    Out-of-air emergency
    •.    Buddy can be entangled in net or ropes
    •.    Buddy can be carried away by the current
    •.    Equipment failure
    •.    Illness or medical emergencies

Wicked Diving is focused on creating a good diving pair that is of great benefit to you on your diving adventures. Therefore you should consider what attributes you will look for in a good dive buddy. The diving buddy pair generally consists of two divers with the same level of expertise, knowledge and the same stamina and fitness level so that they can complement each other. However if you are a less than experienced diver it is advised that you dive with a buddy who has logged more dives and is more experienced than you are. This provides a mental support, that if something goes wrong, you will not be on your own. Then you will be able to dive relaxed and confident that someone is there to back you up if you should encounter a problem.

Before your dive, it is important that you and your dive buddy are briefed, to make you fully aware of the conditions in the water, the planned depth and direction of your dive, the air pressure at which the dive will be terminated and ascent started, who will lead and who will follow, the objective of the dive and of procedures and hand signals to follow and use during your dive.

Prior to entering the water, you and your buddy should undertake a buddy check which follows the following steps:

    •.    BUOYANCY COMPENSATOR – Operate inflator and deflator to ensure that the BC can inflate and deflate, check that the low pressure hose is attached properly to the BC and that you can orally inflate the BC. Also test the dump valves to check that air can be released quickly from the BC.
    •.    WEIGHT BELT – Check that your buddy is wearing their belt, that they have fastened it with a right hand release and that no excess lengths of the belt are hanging down. If your buddy is wearing an integrated weight system housed within their BC, ensure that you are familiar with the release mechanisms of their weights. The aim is to ensure that you are familiar with the weight system of the diver being checked, and would be able to operate them in an emergency
    •.    Releases – Locate and check that all of your buddy’s releases are properly secured and you know how to undo them in an emergency. This includes their Velcro waist band and at least two shoulder clips. Many BCs also have a chest and stomach clip. It’s a good idea to touch each clip as you check it and even count each one out loud as you do so. Remember to check the tank strap and clip. You can do this by placing one hand on the bottom of the tank and the other on the first stage regulator and trying to move the tank up and down to see if the strap moves.
    •.    AIR – check that your buddy’s air supply is turned on at the valve. Smell and taste the air coming out of your buddy’s second stage. The air should be fresh and pure, if there is an unpleasant oily, taste or smell, replace the tank. Ask your buddy to inhale and exhale deeply as you watch their pressure gauge to ensure that the needle doesn’t wobble as they are breathing (an indication of gauge malfunction) also check that they can breathe comfortably through their second stage and “octopus” and that they don’t ‘free-flow’ when purged. Make sure that the ‘octopus’ is attached in the triangle formation between the chin and the base of the ribs, and can be released easily: this ensures easy access for you in the event of an emergency.
    •.    FINAL – Complete a final check of the diver. Ensure that no hoses are hanging loose, that they are attached to the BC correctly. Check that your buddy has their fins and mask, and any other items (cameras, reels, knife, compass, torch etc.) needed for the dive. Make sure that these are secured to your buddy, or else placed in a spot where they can be handed down once your buddy is in the water. Correct anything else that needs doing and talk to your buddy, ensure that they feel comfortable, confident and happy for the dive to proceed.

Diving is enjoyed in the beautiful yet silent underwater world, therefore dive buddies must communicate by efficient and clear non-audible signals. You should pay attention during your dive briefing to ensure that you understand all of the hand signals you may be presented with during your dive. If you choose to you may also use submersible writing slates to communicate with your buddy underwater.

Another important point is that you and your dive buddy should regularly check each other’s gauges and always keep an eye on one another. This will keep your safety level high when diving. If one feels unwell, the other should take some steps to make them feel better or help their buddy out of the water in a safe and calm manner. Also stay close to your buddy for the duration of the dive, maintaining a distance that can be covered within seconds should an emergency arise. You may also be required to help your buddy out of dangerous situations, if they become entangled or run out of air.

If you should become separated from your buddy you should be able to follow the usual procedures to  re-establish contact by staying in the same place for one minute, then if that fails safely returning to the surface to re-establish contact at the surface. These procedures should be discussed between you and your buddy during your pre-dive briefing.

The buddy system is the situation which occurs when two divers of similar interest and equal experience and ability share a dive, continuously monitoring each other throughout the entry, the dive and the exit, and remaining within such distance that they could render immediate assistance to each other if required.
Bob Halstead, Line dancing and the buddy system

To reiterate Why is a dive buddy so important? – Although the principal reason for using the buddy system is the minimisation of the possible risks in diving, the sharing of diving experiences and the enjoyment of being together with a friend, family member, or even a passionate fellow diver whilst diving is one of the main reasons why so many people love the sport of scuba diving!

-Similan Diving