Choosing A Dive Site - Part 2
The edges of reef formations or steep offshore cliffs, where the bottom descends into hundreds — or thousands — of feet of water, are referred to as walls. Divers can see a lot on walls, which house loads of flora and fauna on one awe-inspiring plane. However, since they do plunge into very deep water, keep a wary eye on your depth gauge and watch for currents. Other formations you might see in dive-site descriptions include pinnacles, seamounts, swim-throughs, caverns, and overhangs.
Lush dive spots often grow that way because of currents that deliver a rich diet of nutrients to the local reefs. In a current-swept area, you get propelled through some tremendous marine-scapes without having to kick. Instead, the challenge is to stay with your group, get a close view of the animals on the reef, and not drift off to parts unknown. Beginners should start with shallow drift dives in spots where the current is predictable and not too fast. Choose a dive operator with a good safety record, and let the divemaster know your experience level; make sure he or she is prepared to keep an eye on you.
At sunset, a reef's inhabitants change. After dark, divers encounter a completely different set of marine life feeding, mating, and prowling, all witnessed with the help of dive lights. Generally, night dives are conducted in shallower areas, so you can focus on the animals and not worry about your dive buddy every few seconds. Find out from the experts at your destination what kind of night dives are offered; a good array often points to particularly good diving.
The human contribution to reef life, wrecks come in the form of sunken freighters, luxury liners, airplanes, buses, and more. Some have been sunk deliberately with the explicit plan of creating a reef where none existed, but the majority of wrecks found their resting places after a tragic prelude. Unless you have plenty of scuba experience and specialized wreck certification, stay on the outside of all wrecks.
Probably the chief reason many divers choose a specific destination is to meet some of nature's VIPs. Whether you head for Cocos Island off Costa Rica for the schooling hammerheads or Fiji for the famous soft coral, it's the marine life that sets the agenda. This is particularly true when tracking a migratory species such as western Australia's whale sharks, or something that is immensely rare. Make sure you find out how common sightings are and what time of year is best before you commit your dollars. And be flexible: Nature seldom wears a digital timepiece.
Once you've set your budget and know the kinds of underwater highlights available within it, you're ready to pinpoint the best time of year for your trip. Diving in many locations is seasonal. There are months when the water is warmest, the seas calmest, the visibility clearest. Novice divers should seek out locations with the best of all three. There's nothing like honing your buoyancy and navigational skills in an oceanic bathtub. However, warm, clear water may not attract certain species; for example, giant mantas and whale sharks feed on plankton, which reduces visibility. Just like the rest of life, it's all about timing and choices.
Continued In: Choosing A Dive Site - Part 3
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