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Alan

SEA URCHINS – dive buddies or little urchins?

I have always loved seeing these lovely animals at many of the regular dive sites in Cyprus. They particularly congregate in clumps around the Zenobia shipwreck, breaking up the intermittent barren patches of rocks near the MUSAN Underwater Museum as well as the tunnels and caves dive site near Cape Greco. Interestingly, you will see them in the small ecosystems on wave breakers, man-made reefs and rock pools with the small fish, crabs and anemone around the Larnaca coastline.

When I was new to diving, I was mesmerised by its beautiful purple eye in the centre of its hemispherical body but then someone told me it was actually its bottom! It’s still beautiful but doesn’t quite have the same impact.  

The Sea Urchin in question is actually another invasive species to Cyprus called “diadema setosum”. This species had researchers worried that it would badly effect the bio diversity of the coastal waters of Cyprus but no significant results have been established as yet to my knowledge. Diadema is a medium-sized sea urchin, characterized by its deep black colour and its hemispherical shape. All of its spines are roughly the same size (no “secondary spines”) and worn erected (never disheveled when in the water). The anus on the top is surrounded by four plates forming an anal valve. The oval face is nearly naked, the mouth being surrounded by soft, dark-greenish skin.

In Cyprus, it is found typically at shallow waters, at depths from 0 to 30 m, in rocky shores. It has a good resistance to being swept away by tides and currents from where it attaches itself to rocks. In several areas of the world, removal of sea urchins has been found to have a positive effect on the recovery of overexploited subtidal rocky habitats. One particular study assessed, for the first time in the Mediterranean Sea, the effects of extensive sea urchin culling on the recovery of subtidal reefs from its barren state.


Anecdotally, it may be a question of the chicken and the egg. With or without the sea urchin, there will still be barren parts to the coast of Cyprus especially when you consider the natural lack of algae (please see DIVERS FIRST’s BLOG article “Why are Cyprus waters so clear?”). For 4-5 years, I have seen congregations of sea urchins amongst thriving ecosystems of weeds, anemone, species of algae, crabs, etc on wave breakers with no signs of reduced life. So, personally, I don’t feel there is any significant relationship between sea urchins and barren states of Cyprus coastline. But then again, I am no marine biologist but they are definitely not as prolific as our friend the lion fish where there is direct evidence on the impact of Cyprus coastal ecosystems. Unlike the lion fish, this particular species of sea urchin is not edible but there are other species in the Mediterranean that are.

 

What you should do if you get punctured by a sea urchin

Here is what you should know if you accidentally get punctured by this pretty animal. Stings may vary in severity according to the species as there are approximately 950 species of sea urchins.

 

A puncture injury from a sea urchin can cause:

·         Swelling

·         Redness around the area of the sting.

·         It leads to severe pain and infection.

 

Multiple deep puncture wounds may cause:

·         Fatigue

·         Weakness

·         Muscle Aches

·         Shock

·         Paralysis

·         Respiratory Failure

·         Death 

 

 First Aid:

·      Immerse the affected area for 30-90 minutes in water as hot as the injured person can tolerate (110-130 degrees Fahrenheit / 43 – 54 degrees Celsius). Repeat as necessary to control pain.

·         Use tweezers to remove any large spines in the wound.

·         Remove the pedicellaria by applying shaving cream to the affected area and gently scrape with a razor.

·         Then scrub the wound with soap and water followed by extensive flushing with fresh water.

·         Do not close the wound with tape or glue skin.

·         If signs of infection, such as pus, redness, or heat occur, apply topical antibiotic ointment and call your doctor, who may prescribe antibiotics. If the patient is started on antibiotics, continue to take them until the patient has used the entire course of the medication. Talk to the doctor about antibiotics and sun sensitivity.

·         Relieve pain with the recommended doses of acetaminophen (Tylenol) pain relievers every 4 hours and/or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) every 6-8 hours.

 

 

There are new studies that bring new data to consider so as to predict potential future scenarios of how the common sea urchin populations will respond to antagonist pressures of predator removal and fishing, and what significant effects they have on the environment so they might be worth a read. In the meantime, they are beautiful to photograph and have a very pretty “eye” in the middle of their hemispherical bodies!  

 

 Join DIVERS FIRST to understand and admire these magnificent creatures in their natural environment. We look forward to diving with you.

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UNDER THE ARCHES IN CYPRUS

One of the many things I love about diving is underwater natural arches. They are great to swim through, fantastic to take pictures of and always make me think “how did it get there?”. It’s the same with tunnels, caves, or stacks but as far as underwater rock formations go, an arch seems fragile and beautiful and you are not quite sure if it will be there the next time you return after a particularly bad storm

Arches form at headlands, where rocky coastlines jut out into the sea. Powerful waves pound into rock from both sides of the headland. The waves erode (wear away) the rock at sea level to form sea caves on either side. The waves eventually break right through the headland, creating an arch. This is above the water line. A sea arch is a natural arch or bridge made of stone that has been created when water wears away the underside of a rock, leaving just the top behind.

Natural arches are created through the process of land, wind, or water erosion, or some combination of these methods. They are often made by the meeting of two types of rock, with the harder substance on the top of the arch, which forms the bridge. When the bottom rock is a softer type of stone, it will erode away more quickly, leaving behind an arch.

A sea arch is created when the natural erosive forces of water break through a slice of rock and leave behind an arch. Water, after all, is pretty powerful stuff and has no problem in eating away a bit of stone even limestone. Most natural arches are formed from narrow fins and sea stacks composed of sandstone or limestone with steep, often vertical, cliff faces.

You can find this underwater arch South of the village of Xylofagu which is situated between Larnaca and Ayia Napa. It lies in shallow water under small but steep cliffs and is easily accessible from the well known dive site nicknamed “Sheep Dip”.

Although the sea arch lies in shallow water, it is such a fantastic dive where there are plenty of Fish species to spot and lots of rock formations including alleyways and deep gulleys to swim down. It is like a maze! What is truly amazing about this arch is its beauty from all angles, which gives plenty of photo opportunities (take a look at the pics). Contact DIVERS FIRST and include this dive in your DIVERS FIRST Dive Tour. DIVERS FIRST will take you there.

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Diving and Jellyfish in Cyprus

Jellyfish are not normally considered a hazard in Cyprus waters but getting stung by one is something you want to avoid during your dive.

The Department of Fisheries and Marine Research recorded the existence of the jellyfish species Cassiopea, Carybdea, Chrysaora, Rhopilema, Pelagia Noctiluca and Aurelia Aurita in Cyprus waters during the last decade. Some of these jellyfish may sting but none of them will cause serious bodily harm according to evidence.

In June 2019 and May 2020, there was a prolific occurrence of Pelagia Noctiluca (also known as the Mauve Stinger) on the Northwestern coast of Cyprus, which is a transient phenomenon. The Mauve Stinger can be present from a few hours to a few days.






The Department called the public to be careful and avoid swimming in those areas. Pelagia Noctiluca is covered in stinging cells, both at its tentacles and at the bell which is unusual for a jellyfish. Its sting causes pain that typically lasts one to two weeks.  Symptoms vary and include local redness, swelling and a rash. However, it is generally not dangerous and there are no known fatalities.

On one of my dive trips to Konos Point (Cyclops Cave) Cyprus, at the time of the reported swarm, I knew there were some jellyfish around at the entry point. I thought these could easily be avoided once in the water and could just crack on with the dive. It was particularly hot that day so I was wearing a shorty exposure suit. Once in the water, I quickly realized that it was a jellyfish soup of Mauve Stingers and about 2 to every cubic foot of water. We quickly descended to get into open water where there would be fewer of them but I got stung 3 times on the legs as I progressed to deeper water.

It was a steady burning sensation which got worse as the dive progressed with a visible swelling and reddening of the skin. On exiting, the area of skin continued to show these signs for about 2 weeks as well as pain for the next couple of days and left a permanent scar (see picture) although I am tempted to tell other divers it was from a bull shark injury! The best preventative action I could have taken that day was a full exposure suit and protective sunscreen that prevent stings on the face and hands.

In case of a sting, the Department of Fisheries and Marine Research advises the following:

  1. Rinse thoroughly with sea water, but do not rub the affected area. DO NOT use fresh water.
  2. Remove any tentacle residue using a plastic card, a piece of wood or a pair of tweezers. NEVER with bare hands, as this will lead to the tentacles sticking to the hands.
  3. Apply some cortisone cream to the sting area.
  4. Inform the lifeguards, if any, in the area to take the necessary action.
  5. Acute pain usually lasts 15-20 minutes. However, if the pain persists, consult a doctor.
  6. In case of an allergic person, this person should contact or go to a doctor or hospital immediately.

While the Department of Fisheries are investigating the causes of these swarms, they focus on various possibilities. Increasing sea water temperature, eutrophication (pollution caused by excessive nutrient elements such as phosphorus and nitrogen) are among these possibilities. Increases in the sea water temperature and nutrient elements such as phosphorus and nitrogen also increases the number of plankton in sea water. Plankton is also the food of jellyfish and thus their number increases. As you might remember from BLOG number 5, the Mediterranean is low on phosphorus, nitrogen and hence plankton so it is confusing about the size of the swarms in Cyprus.

The good news is sea turtles relish the taste of Jellyfish especially the Mauve Stinger and the Upside Down jellyfish (Cassiopea) so where there is jellyfish in Cyprus you have a good chance of seeing our friend the sea turtle. So slap on the protective sun screen, squeeze into your full exposure suit and get amongst the jellyfish swarms for great photo opportunities. Feel free to give DIVERS FIRST a call for further information. Enjoy your diving!

Underwater camera with straps and clips

Not losing your snap and shoot

If you’re anything like me, I am paranoid about losing any of the expensive accessories we carry around with us on a dive especially as I have fingers like sausages, which makes it difficult to manipulate small, fiddly items.

With this in mind, I am especially careful with cameras as I may take 2 or 3 with me on a dive so I have to make sure they are really well secured, as well as not interfere with my streamlining/trim and, most important of all, I can easily get to the camera and make full use of the photo opportunity before it disappears.

During dives, I have witnessed several losses of cameras: one was a diver in Weymouth (UK) who had it secured around his wrist while conducting a backward entry into the water and poof it was gone! The diver asked the captain if we could look for it … oh how we laughed! Another was a diver who had a bolt snap secured to the camera but got distracted by his buddy and there it was, gone! A lot of us can tell some story of losing accessories and it happens but unless we are loaded and drink pints of MOET after a dive, we need to get a personal system for all our accessories especially our cameras which we have a lot of fun with and get to bore our friends.

As mentioned, our personal system needs to be secure, accessible and non-interfering with our trim/streamlining.

Personally, I really like the tech shorts that you can put over your wetsuit or dry suit if there are no pockets on it. These Tech shorts have great big pockets with plastic or metal D rings where you can put your DSMB, spare mask, and a small snap and shoot on a retractable line which is attached to the D ring as in the picture below:

The line as well as the line housing can take about 20 ounces (approximately half a kilo) so will not have a great breaking strain if you tug on it like Geoff Capes but it is sturdy enough if you handle it slowly and smoothly. You can quickly grab the HERO camera, raise it to eye level and take that lovely pic. If you get distracted, you can simply release it and will at least get to the top of your short pocket and won’t be hanging in the sea like an ornament.

For something like the Nikon camera, as pictured below, it might be a little large to keep on a D ring in the Tech shorts so I tend to attach this on the D rings of my BCD and is held tight to the chest by the large clip and coiled plastic chord:

It’s a little bit tight when you lift to eye level but you can still easily get your picture especially when using the focus on the Nikon. Again, you can let go of the camera once taken the picture or get distracted and the camera will be safe and sound against your chest. The downside is if you need to get out of the harness in the water, then it will take a few seconds to release one side of the chord attached to the camera.

Fingers crossed, you have not lost a camera yet but you should always look to see what other divers use for their accessories especially home made gear so please BLOG or post any great ideas you have. Better still, bring them along when you come diving with DIVERS FIRST.

Air guages and air guage tester

Reducing air consumption, extending the fun

If you are interested in starting diving, new to diving or someone who gets through their air during a dive like a pig gets through a bucket of custard, then read on.

When I started diving 13 years ago, I noticed I got through a 12-litre tank of air pretty smartish. I initially put it down to being quite a big chap who liked the occasional drink and cigarette so I thought there was little I could do about it. As I became more comfortable in the water, my air lasted longer during a dive but the habits remained for a few more years. In my case, the main factor for the reduction of air usage during a dive was being relaxed in the water rather than a variation in normal fitness levels.

As most people who have passed their open water course know, air usage during a dive is measured by SAC rates (Surface Air Consumption). Your surface air consumption rate is a measurement of the amount of air you consume while breathing for one minute on the surface. You need to know your SAC rate so you can safely plan your dive or to notice any gear malfunctions in good time under the water. If not already done so, you will learn this on your dive courses and more in depth on any technical courses you sign up for.

Dive students, or divers who just want a tour, sometimes have large breaks between dive trips or courses and find their SAC rate has dramatically increased. At DIVERS FIRST, we often quickly go over simple techniques that quickly improve the SAC rate for the next dive.

The first one is preparing for the dive slowly. Getting into a tight wetsuit or dry suit when the sun is shining can often leave you short of breath. This, in combination with getting into your BCD and lifting heavy equipment, already ensures your SAC rate will be elevated. So take it slowly.

Always remember to breathe normally avoiding increased breathing rates before the dive and if you can do some deep breathing exercises even better. Diaphragmatic breathing is a good technique on the morning of the dive. Diaphragmatic breathing involves fully engaging the stomach, abdominal muscles and diaphragm when breathing. This means actively pulling the diaphragm down with each inward breath. In this way, diaphragmatic breathing helps the lungs fill more efficiently.

Additionally, you can try and concentrate on breathing out longer than you breath in when you are underwater through the regulator. At first, try to aim for a couple of seconds longer with the outward breath than the inward breath, then take it from there. Be cautious at first as overdoing it can lead to overexertion. 

As always, try to get a good night’s sleep, avoid alcohol the day before and always consult your doctor before using diaphragmatic breathing on a consistent basis.

Implementing simple techniques as mentioned can extend your dive time, reduce the need for additional air and heavier tanks and the feeling of freedom that you are in complete control of your air usage on your dive. Additionally, you won’t need to spend 12 months in the gym to get that perfect SAC rate. Looking forward to seeing you at DIVERS FIRST Cyprus.

Divers First Crane

Why has Cyprus got some of the most beautiful clear waters?

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter you will always have a degree of fantastic visibility compared to other places in the world here in Cyprus. Ranging from about 10 meters (usually after rain storms, or a dark winter’s day) to around 50 meters or more (summer, autumn) but you can still sometimes get crystal clear water in the depths of winter. Not only is this fantastic for keeping an eye on your buddy, having confidence in diving and viewing wildlife from a distance, but it also gives you guaranteed fantastic photo opportunities, which is not always the case in other regions of the world.

I am no Geologist, but why has Cyprus got such clear water for us to dive in? For those who have already completed their open water bear with me. The term that relates to water clarity is called Turbidity, which is a visual determination of water clarity. Turbid water will appear cloudy and murky. Suspended solids and dissolved colored material reduce water clarity by creating a cloudy muddy appearance. Turbidity measurements are sometimes used as an indicator of water quality based on clarity and estimated total suspended in the water column (this would not be the case in an estuary, delta or a water column near a large rainwater drainage system that may be deposited from farm land, for instance).

The Mediterranean has very little tidal flow from external bodies of water except for the straits of Gibraltar, the Red Sea and the Black Sea but is relatively very little so sea flow exchange is very small. This water exchange is important for nutrient supply such as phytoplankton and Algae but because the exchange is so small, it makes the Mediterranean very clear, especially the waters of Cyprus in the middle of the eastern Mediterranean. These microscopic flora and fauna have a direct impact on the turbidity, and therefore their lack of, leads to clear seas around Cyprus. Additionally, in the Mediterranean we have plenty of light and CO2 for phytoplankton to thrive but there is a lack of phosphorus, which minimizes phytoplankton production.

Of course, there are many other contributors to the turbidity of the water, but none have such an impact as the microscopic particles in a large body of water.  

In general, the lack of algae and phytoplankton is stated to have an effect on the size of fish in the Med but try telling that to the barracuda shoals, lovely rays, groupers, cornet fish and the endless species that inhabit the coastal waters of Cyprus. So, carry on with the beach clean ups and picking up the bits of trash as you glide through the water, if any is found, to enhance our lovely clear seas. Don’t forget your camera but if you do, we can take the pictures for you here at DIVERS FIRST Cyprus.