Summon Your Inner Naturalist

Ocean First   Jul 05, 2022

We have all been there. You are out on a hike and a beautiful orange and black bird flies by, perches on a nearby tree branch and you wish you knew what kind of bird it was. If you had only known that it was a Bullock’s Oriole you would have stayed longer to watch it weave an intricate, hanging nest and then belt out a melodious song!

This exact scenario happens all of the time on a scuba dive. You see a gorgeous little fish with electric blue and white swirls flitting about in a recess within the reef. Within a span of a 45 minute dive you could have similar experiences about 50 times, coming out of the water with incredible images to research in the fish ID books back at the dive shop. Imagine how your dive would change if you knew that pretty, blue swirly fish was a juvenile emperor angelfish and would grow up to look completely different? Nature is an amazing force! Once you know who your neighbors are, what their habitat preference is, and how they behave the whole world of diving takes on new meaning. The underwater world becomes less of a mystery and more like a second home.

All avid divers, especially photographers and videographers, should enroll in the SSI family of marine ecology courses. These courses were written by marine scientists who are passionate about the ocean environment and are active members of the Ocean First family. Shark Ecology teaches you about shark behavior, biology, morphology and demystifies the numerous misconceptions that these gorgeous creatures have been saddled with for eons. Once you understand the truth about sharks you will enter the water hoping that your dive is blessed with a visit from any species of shark. They are sleek, fast, and quite smart! The energy of a dive certainly shifts when a shark enters the equation; for the better! You will quickly fall in love with sharks and will start to seek out destinations that are known for shark sightings, like Cocos Island in Costa Rica.

The Fish ID course breaks down the different families of fish that you will typically see on a dive, whether in the Caribbean, South Pacific, Red Sea, or Indian Ocean. Once you see the similarities within a family it all starts to make sense. Blennies are long and slender while butterflyfish are disk-shaped. Blennies stay in contact with the reef, flitting about from one perch to another unless they are in their home. Butterflyfish are often seen in pairs and swim from coral to coral, nipping at the coral polyps for a meal. Behavior is a huge part of fish identification as well. This is especially handy for photographers and videographers who can easily become frustrated when a fish swims away right as the camera gets into focus. If it is a hawkfish you are trying to get a picture of, just hang tight. It will come back as hawkfish use the same perches within their turf. Once you get the hang of it you will be itching for a trip to Raja Ampat, Indonesia to test your identification skills!

What about learning about all of the different species of coral? There are so many it can be intimidating. As with the Fish ID course, once you start breaking it down it all starts to come together. Did you know that those “bushes” that sway back and forth in the current are actually gorgonian corals and not plants? In fact, most of what you see on the reef are animals and not plants. This surprises most people and is all the more reason to sign up for the Coral Reef Ecology course. You will learn how resilient and amazing corals are and how important they are to the overall health of the reef. We have all heard and read about coral bleaching. Perhaps you need to learn what that is and why it is such a threat to the overall reef ecosystem. Once you know more you can start giving back by participating in a coral restoration program like the one Ocean First is offering in Roatan, Honduras. A little effort goes a long way!

There are many more courses offered, including Manta & Ray Ecology and Sea Turtle Ecology. Educated divers are smart, compassionate divers. The more you know the better diver you become, and the creatures of the ocean can tell if you care. These majestic creatures need our help and we can only help if we understand. Start your journey to become an underwater naturalist; the world opens up, and Ocean First will be ready for you when you are.

Until the next adventure,