Episode 8: Looking Forward

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Chris and Noelle tried to console each other from a distance over the loss of their sweet little kitten. It didn’t work very well. Noelle made a promise to appreciate life’s small joys in honor of her sun-basking, tree-scratching, bird-watching friend. 

Only 9 days until Chris is here!

We’ve got a few things planned, but bringing him to southern Utah is probably the one I’m most excited about. I’ve made a list of all my favorite places to take him, and while most of them I’m keeping a secret (mostly to annoy him), I cannot hide the fact that I am so ready to share Delicate Arch with him. I spent so much of my childhood playing around this epic masterpiece. When I’m having a bad day, I often imagine myself there – basking in the sun, the red sandstone warming my back, lizards darting in and out of rocks nearby. I could really do with some of its restorative magic right about now. I can’t wait to get there. And I can’t wait for Chris to see it in person.

He is pretty ready for a break from his developing-nation life, too. This week’s Third World problem? He went to the store to buy some electricity (yeah, you read that right) and they told him, “No have electricity. Electricity finished. Tomorrow maybe electricity.” The power wasn’t out, mind you, they just did not have any electricity to sell. They also “no had” eggs, despite the fact that there are chickens literally all around you all the time. Oh Asia.

Good news though: this weekend, he’s moving out of the ghetto (with it’s yapping dogs, crowing roosters, screaming kids and booming music) and over to the other side of town, near the beach. It sounds like a great setup. He’s already got friends who live in the same complex, which is fabulous, and it’s a less hectic part of town. It’ll be a little more effort to get to the pubs and dive shops when he wants to, but it’ll be worth the tradeoff to have a place that feels a little more like a home.

Also he’ll be closer to this beach, which he’s been telling me about for years.

Speaking of moving…drum roll please…it looks likely I’ll be moving to the Possibly Perfect Place in January!! That’s right, folks. The next phase of Operation: Let’s Get This Party Started is just around the corner.

I’ve thought about joining him sooner (the more snow we get here, the more jealous I get of him being on a gorgeous, tropical island without me), but I’m really looking forward to spending the summer with my friends and family here. There’s nothing quite like BBQ season in America. Plus I’ve got art festivals and first birthdays and weekend visits out-of-state I’m very excited about. Once I’ve had my summer fun and the leaves and snow have started to fall, I’ll pack up my bags and head out for the next adventure. As per usual, however, with our silly way of doing things, I’ll have to make a few quick stops in Mexico, London, and Bali (and maybe New Zealand and Fiji, of course) along the way.

Why all the hopping around? Well, I’d really like to have the scuba diving Instructor course finished before I settle into the new place. I was originally thinking of doing it here in Utah, but it’s really expensive (nearly $4000!). We have friends at two shops in Bali where we know the instruction will be top-notch and they both have courses starting in mid-November for about a thousand dollars less. It’s the perfect time for me to get the course done before Chris’ winter break starts but before I potentially start working and have to worry about getting a month off to study (side note: we’ve been looking a lot at jobs for me there – too early, but still fun to do – and it looks like there’s some great potential! More on that as we get closer.)

As for his winter holidays, he has about a month off, so we’re thinking of hopping over to New Zealand to see Hobbiton, visit a friend, do some hiking and maybe meet my parents for Christmas as they’d already been planning to visit about that time. And, you know, with Fiji being so close by…well we’re definitely tempted, to say the least.

A glimpse at Fijian waters

Before I leave the Americas, though, I’d really love to dive the cenotes in Mexico. It seems a shame to be so close and not get to them before I go. A few friends and I are trying to get a little trip together in October, which I’m really excited about. I’m looking forward to the Angelita cenote, in particular. It’s a strange place with fresh water on top, salt water below and a cloud of white sulphur between. Because of the color difference and the small island that peeks up just above the sulphur, it looks like an underwater lake.

It’s felt good to see our plans for the rest of the year slowly take shape. We’re excited about the fact that we might both be able to work, which would make starting our own place a lot less stressful financially. We’re excited about the new place Chris is moving to, which is likely to be our next home together. We’re excited about the store having more electricity to sell now, which means we can carry on Skyping. But mostly we’re excited for nine days from now when we’ll both be on the same continent!

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Fish ID :: Batfish

Batfish Anatomy

If you’re American, you might know these guys as spadefish. Outside the US, they’re more commonly called batfish. Both names come from their shape – one based on the adults and one on the juveniles (more on that in a moment).

Whichever name you choose to call them, they are some of the most easily identifiable and well-loved fish on the reef. They’re very friendly, curious creatures and have been known to play in divers’ bubbles, nibble their hair and follow them for long stretches (particularly if they’re wearing yellow fins).

batfish with measures

Batfish undergo quite a dramatic transformation from their juvenile to adult forms.  Initially, they resemble the silhouette of a bat, with only the faintest orange or red outline to prevent them from blending into the shadows entirely. This dramatic shape occurs because of the way they mature. Their fins grow first, nearly reaching their adult size before their body grows to match. Throughout this process, their colours also lighten and the lighter grey stripes emerge. The Batavia (or zebra) batfish below, with its bold stripes and delicate fins, provides a stunning exception to the juvenile batfish silhouette.

batavia batfish 2

One species of batfish may become a global hero in the years to come. When reefs are overfished, the natural maintenance provided by algae-eaters (like parrotfish and surgeonfish) declines or disappears entirely. A reef that is choked with algae cannot live long as the coral quickly suffocates. Coral provides the foundation of the ecosystem, so without it, the reef is doomed. This is currently happening in large patches of the Great Barrier Reef. Researchers have found, however, that batfish can consume incredible quantities of algae, cleaning the reef and giving the coral (and therefore the entire ecosystem) a much-need chance to recover.

Quiz Time!

And now it’s time for your first quiz! You’ve officially met three new fish: angelfish, butterflyfish and batfish. Let’s see if you can identify them. Answers in brackets under the surgeonfish caption below {highlight to reveal}.

fish quiz
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surgeonfish hello
{1: angelfish, 2: butterflyfish, 3: batfish, 4: batfish, 5: butterflyfish, 6: angelfish, 7: angelfish, 8: batfish, 9: angelfish}

Episode 6: The Real World

Last time on Mobilis Divers: On one hemisphere, Chris was looking forward to Bintangs on the beaches of Bali before flying to his brand new abode. On the other, Noelle was getting ready for the first day of her new job. Both were dreaming of fish.

dreaming of fish
Original art by Cyril Rolando

Now that I’ve finally got my head around what it means to have a full-time job again, and Chris and I have figured out the time zone calculations enough to be able to talk somewhat regularly, it’s time to share some updates!

As you’ve likely gathered, step one of our plan for world domination has officially taken place: Chris is now living in the Possibly Perfect Place (PPP). That’s right, things are starting to get real, my friends. We’ve learned quite a lot about life on the ground there already – the good, the bad and the origin story. It’s definitely an interesting place!

But first, the Utah news.

I officially worked a 5-day, 40-hour week for the first time in years (you can send your gold stars via post or sms). I’ve started settling into the routine of having a job again and, surprise, surprise, it takes up a lot of the free time I used to have in abundance. On the other hand, I am getting paid to sit at home and write this because it is already a bank holiday! Swings and roundabouts, I suppose.

I also had the opportunity to pop into the dive center where I did my little trial run last month and make some more definitive plans about what I want to do there. As it stands now, it looks like we’re aiming to get me on an instructor course near the end of the summer. Woot! I’m hoping to run as many DSD courses as possible before then (people trying diving for the very first time). It should teach me some good tricks of the trade before I work my way up to the next level (side note: If you happen to be in Utah and want to try it out, let me know! It’s always more fun for you and less intimidating for me to work with friends while I hone my skills).

Hint: If this photo looks perfectly fine to you, a DSD course might be enlightening.

On the other side of the world, Chris has also been settling into a new job while simultaneously experiencing the ups and downs of moving to a new country. After a less-relaxing-than-anticipated two days in Bali, he was relieved to finally land in the PPP. We happen to have a friend living there, so on his very first night he was already having drinks with a bunch of divers at the dive centre that also happened to be his hotel. What better entrance could you ask for?

For the first couple of days, he basked in the lush tropical greenery, the bright flowers in bloom, the pedestrian-friendly streets and the variety of dining options (there’s even Mexican!). He got excited about the eating, exploring, hiking and, of course, diving we would do there. That initial tourist perspective was pretty thrilling. I was ready to jump on a plane to go wander around with him. Then he tried to live there.

cart
Art by Urban Sketchers Singapore

As it turns out, the Possibly Perfect Place is not just an idyllic wonderland we constructed in our minds, but an earthy, complex, full-bodied city. In other words: it’s a real place. We knew this, of course, but now that he’s on the ground we can no longer remain in our one-dimensional fantasy land. Like I said, things are starting to get real.

The biggest obstacle we can see for our business plans there is the cost. Although it’s a typical Asian country, the prices are very much not. A day of diving is more than double the rate of the surrounding areas, and we’re not entirely sure why. It’s the biggest mystery for us right now. For example, he can get a bottle of wine from Portugal (over 14,000 miles away) for about $8, but he can’t seem to find a saucepan (from probably less than 500 miles away) for less than $25. It’s bizarre.

His house hunt was also a little dispiriting. He thought he had a sweet little place lined up right by the beach with all the amenities you could hope for, but when he saw it in person the beach was not one you’d want to stroll down in the evenings after dinner. Sadly it was covered in plastic rubbish – like many beaches these days. Sigh. Unable to bear that, he ended up paying what feels like unnecessarily high rent to basically live in the ghetto.

Despite the bad stuff, though, there has definitely been some good. His ghetto is full of really friendly families who have warmly welcomed him into their neighbourhood. He’s already made friends with his co-workers and is going to BBQs and pub nights with them. He’s going for his first dive this weekend at one of the most highly acclaimed muck diving sites. And he’s met some people who are running their own businesses there – even one focused on sustainable tourism, which is truly exciting for us.

Through all the dirty beaches, burning plastic and corrugated tin huts, we are still intrigued by the potential of the PPP. When I was in Muscat, I met a few people who had been there a long time and were deeply in love with the city in a way that took me a long time to understand. Eventually, I figured it out though: they were there from the beginning.

They saw the country go from this…

Qurum, Muscat 1969

…to this…

Qurum, Muscat 2017

….in the time they lived there. They were a part of that. They taught in the schools, giving the new generation opportunities their grandparents never dreamed of. They built the roads and ports, giving more people access to better careers. And they started their own businesses, creating jobs for locals and contributing to the growth of a fledgeling nation.

The way we see it right now is this: we would feel immensely lucky to make a living doing what we love, but there’s a bigger picture for us too. While living in a brand new country may not always be ideal, or romantic, or easy, we’re fascinated by the thought of being there at the beginning, watching the country develop over the years and being part of that in whatever small way we can. It is a truly exhilarating thought for both of us, and the PPP might be our chance to do that. Only time will tell! Whale shark

Fish ID :: Butterflyfish

These small, quick fish – once thought to be small versions of angelfish – flit and zip around the reef flashing their brilliant colours. While they do look quite similar to our angelfish friends, they differ in a few key ways, most of which relate to their namesake, the butterfly. 

While butterflies hardly look like fish, butterflyfish do have some interesting similarities to these delicate insects – such as their constant movement, bright colours and long, pointy noses. Both of them also use their markings to confuse predators. The false eyespot seen on butterfly wings can also be found on the back of the butterflyfish. The fish also tend to have dark stripes over their real eyes so their direction of travel is even harder for a hunter to predict.

angelfish with id marks

The exaggerated snout/proboscis is probably best illustrated by the long-nosed butterflyfish seen below. In the photo, you can also see just how thin these fish are. When you look at them face on, they nearly disappear into the background.

Butterflyfish do have a pretty cool superpower as well. Their bright colours make them easy to spot on the reef, a benefit during the day when they are defending their homes or looking for mates, but a detriment at night when they’re sleeping and vulnerable to attack. To make themselves less conspicuous, they are able to dim down their colors, better matching the greys and browns of the reef.

Bannerfish

The bannerfish is a distinctive type of butterflyfish. You can recognise it by the fluttering banner trailing on top (hence the name). It has the same long snout and thin body as all butterflies but is lacking the symmetry they typically have in their back fins. Note that its pectoral, dorsal and tail fins are all yellow.

NB: You’ll meet another fish that looks a lot like this one soon. Knowing how to tell these two apart is the sign of a blossoming fish expert!

Dive Time

Now that you’ve studied a few examples, kick back and watch some butterfly and bannerfish in action. You might also recognise a few angelfish from last time!

Juvenile zebra batfish

Episode 5: Best Fishes for the New Year!

Last time on Mobilis DiversNoelle learned that Utah is – quite unexpectedly – a sort of interesting place to dive, so she jumped in the water immediately. 

Happy New Year to you, your family, friends and fish!

Our 2018 is already starting out with some pretty big news. In just a couple of days, Chris heads to Bali, where, for the better part of two days, he’ll sit by the pool reading books while he drinks Bintangs and eats nasi goreng until he bursts. He’s looking forward to it immensely. Then on January 8th (less than a week from today!), once he’s sufficiently relaxed and in full tropical island mode, he’ll fly to his (and maybe our!) new home: The Possibly Perfect Place!!

That’s right, folks! This is actually happening!!

For the first week, he’ll be staying basically right on the beach where there are a bunch of restaurants and bars that look out over the ocean – an ocean full of whales, dolphins and all sorts of hidden small stuff. I am SO jealous he’ll be diving there soon. I can’t wait to hear all about it! I’m also silly excited for the lively, social, full-of-music-and-art beach scene there. It’s a very welcome change from the quiet, reserved, monochromatic seaside life of Muscat, and one we’re eager to embrace with open arms.

While it won’t all be fun and games – he does start a new job on January 15th and he’ll have to find a place to live pretty quickly after he arrives – he’s incredibly excited to launch the next phase our plans. He’s been doing all sorts of research into cool places to explore (I’m particularly excited about the mountain hiking) and tasty places to eat (there’s pho!! – we lived for three years without it in Muscat). He’s even gone so far as to see what we might need to do to open a business there. We might be slightly ahead of ourselves, but we’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn that they are putting real effort into making it easier for businesses to start up and stay running. This plan might be able to take flight sooner than we thought!

Also on January 8th, but on the other side of the world (almost exactly), I’ll be starting a new job! I got a gig at a nearby university and will be helping students with financial aid stuff. I’m pretty excited to have a job again (it’s been just shy of six years) both for the paycheck and for the structure it brings to the day. It’s also nice to get back in the business world and remember what it takes to keep a place running since we might have our own to manage pretty soon.

As I mentioned last time, in December I started doing some diving in Utah! Most of it has been in the pool helping with courses, which has been pretty fun. I particularly liked the DSD students – those trying diving for the first time ever. Once they get past the initial weirdness of breathing underwater (and it is weird!!) you get to see them experience a totally alien sensation for the first time, and everyone loves it. As both a means of distraction and a way to give them practice, we set up hula hoops for them to swim through, a machine that makes bubble rings and little torpedos they can throw at each other. I had a particularly fun night when we had about 13 teenage boys in the pool together. They had a grand old time and I really enjoyed goofing around with them.

I did also get the chance to check out the crater hot spring (sneak peek above), which was definitely a unique experience. The only way I can really think to describe the atmosphere there is eerie. Light doesn’t make it very far into the murky water, so it gets dark quickly once you drop below the surface. Because it is mainly used as a training site – where students need to practice their skills underwater – they have floated several layers of PVC pipe structures that you can hold onto while you wait for everyone to get through their tasks. Because there is no fish or plant life to entertain you while you wait, they have added some…let’s go with creepy…additions to the structures. Scattered down the ropes of the frames and on bits of old wood attached to the sides, they’ve added all sorts of strange props: dinosaur skeleton models, plastic marine animals and – most creepy for me – baby dolls.

Not actually from the crater, but an equally unsettling representation.

According to the video below, there’s also a (plastic) human skeleton at the bottom along with some other palaeontology style artefacts. I definitely enjoyed the weirdness of the place and now that I’ve seen this video I want to go all the way to the bottom next time and see the hot water actually bubbling up from the mud (see the 2:00 mark).

What else is happening in 2018? I’m glad you asked! As if moving across the world, getting new jobs and trying to start our own business while we’re on opposite sides of the globe isn’t enough for one year, I’m also planning to get more diving in here (still waiting to see those sharks!), complete my instructor course and hopefully make a trip to Mexico to explore their famous cenotes (more bizarre versions of the Homestead Crater).

There’s a lot to do, but I’m excited for all we’ve got going on and to share it with you along the way. I hope your 2018 is full of adventure and excitement too!

 

More about molas here!

 

Fish ID :: Angelfish

Angelfish are one of the most common fish on the reef, and they come in an incredible variety of colors and patterns. Because the live in shallow water – typically under 20m/65ft – they’re easily accessible to both snorkellers and divers of every level.

Angelfish collage

Their common name is said to come from their shape. Apparently if you turn them nose down (which, although I discourage, I am interested in watching you attempt), their silhouette is supposed to look like an angel. Let’s try.

Angelfish name silhouette
I guess I kind of see it?

More helpful for identifying them is their scientific name: pomacanthus. Broken down to its Greek roots it means “cover” + “thorn”, referring to the sharp thorn on their gill covers. Pretty straightforward. This thorn is a dead giveaway you’re looking at an angelfish.

Queen angelfish - thorns on gill cover
This queen angelfish has a lot of thorns on her (or possibly his) gill cover. On most species there is only one.

A few other features of the angelfish make it easy to identify. 
Angelfish ID

Juvenile angelfish can be even more striking than their adult counterparts. As they mature, their pattern and color change dramatically. In their teenage phase, they look almost like a double exposure of these two extremes.

Adult and juvenile emperor angelfish

male female symbolAnother dramatic transition also takes place for some angelfish. While they are all born female, they live in harems led by one dominant male. When he is removed, the next biggest in the harem will change sex to become male. Fish are weird.

Before you see some angelfish in action, a quick lesson in Bubblespeak. Talking to your dive buddy about angelfish underwater is pretty simple. You just draw a halo around your head like this.

Angelfish Hand Signal
Click the image to see the underwater hand signal for angelfish

Ok! Now that you know their darkest secrets, distinguishing characteristics and hand signs, it’s time to go for a dive with some real life angelfish!

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butterflyfish hello

Fish ID :: The Basics

Welcome to our Fish ID Course!

I’ve decided to refer to this as a course because that’s what it feels like it is to me. Not because it’s boring or tedious or you’ll have lots of homework, but because you’ll learn lots of stuff, and that will make you a more confident, capable, interesting person/diver (which is what I think learning is all about, really).

Throughout these pages, you’ll meet a bunch of the ocean’s most common fish and learn how to identify them. I’ll show you some basics, let you play around with the material yourself, then give you some quizzes so you can see how you’re doing. While the heart of the course is about fish ID, you can also learn a lot more if you choose. You’ll have opportunities to study beautiful images, watch videos of fish in their natural environment, learn underwater sign language and discover interesting (and sometimes unsettling) facts about each fish as you go along. 

This course is designed for anyone interested in learning more about the underwater world (divers and non-divers alike). I’ve attempted to create a virtual learning environment where even the most landlocked fish lover can feel like they are seeing these creatures in their natural environment. If you are at all curious about what lives in our incredible oceans, you’re sure to find something here to tickle your fancy.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning

I suppose the first thing I should clarify is that I’m going to start out with fish –as opposed to sea creatures. Fish generally look like this.

Sweetlips
Sweetlips

Things that don’t generally look the photo above are likely sea creatures.  They can look like this:

Nudibranch
Nudibranch

 or this

Mantis shrimp
Mantis shrimp

or this

Red-lipped batfish
Red-lipped batfish

Gotcha! That last one is actually a fish! See what I mean by generally?

Secondly, as this is a beginner level course, we’re not going to learn every fish there is in every ocean. We’ll focus mainly on tropical fish, i.e. those that live in the region shown on the map below. There are many fish who live outside of this area, obviously, but 1) the tropics are incredibly biodiverse so they give us a lot to work with and 2) quite a few species outside this area are simply colder-water versions of their tropical cousins – which means this course can still help you identify them.Map of the tropicsLastly, rather than getting caught up on individual species like the queen angelfish, emperor angelfish, blue face angelfish or peppermint angelfish, we’ll focus first on the families. So – for right now at least – these are all simply angelfish. As we add higher level courses, we’ll look at these differences more (and for you star students out there I will write the full species name on photos to help you get a head start).

Ok, back to Red Lips up there. If a freaky, Rocky Horror Picture Show creature like that is considered a fish, then what exactly is a fish? Let’s look at the essential elements that define our fishy friends.

Introducing :: The Fish

Quick vocabulary list of fish anatomical elements (barbel, dorsal, pectoral, ventral, anal and caudal fins)

Fish come in every shape and size you can image. However, they all share some basic features – the most telltale being fins and gills. If you see something that doesn’t have fins and gills, it is not a fish. Gills can be tricky to see as they are usually covered by a protective plate, but fins are pretty easy to spot. Our batfish friend above doesn’t seem to have anything resembling fins in the photo, but if you watch it swim around it starts to look a lot more like a fish.

Here’s a breakdown of the different fins and their names. Take some time to get familiar with the vocabulary as I’ll use these terms to describe fish throughout the course.

Basic elements of fish ID (fins, gills and snout)

Once you’re familiar with these basic elements, you’ll will become more aware of variations in their shape. For example, some fish have big, round snouts and some have thin, pointy ones. Some, like sharks, have distinct dorsal fins. Others’ fins are nearly invisible. By knowing the basic shapes for each feature of a fish, you can start to deconstruct them, which makes identification much easier.

The surgeonfish below, for example, is the only one with a continuous dorsal fin, crescent tail fin, oval body shape, downward pointed mouth, and special feature near its tail (more about that later!). Taking note of the variations in the boxes below will help you break down individual features, making it easier to identify your mystery fish. 

Surgeonfish broken down into ID elements

In addition to the shape of its features, the markings on a fish can help you identify them. Common places for markings are around the eye, along the body or on the tail fin – basically anywhere on the fish, I suppose. The location of the marks and the orientation (vertical, horizontal or diagonal) can sometimes help you narrow down the family or even the specific species. They can also tell you about where the fish is at in its developmental process, as some change their markings drastically from babies to adults.

Examples of markings on Fish
Top: bluestripe surgeonfish, left: juvenile harlequin sweetlips, right: blackback butterflyfish

Now that you know the basics about what makes a fish a fish and how their features can vary, it’s time to dive in and meet some in person. We’ll start with a few you’re likely to see on nearly every dive.

button_first-up-angelfish

Regal angelfish

Fish ID :: Where to Start

When I first started diving, I was blown away by the number of different creatures in the ocean. It was exhilarating seeing so many new animals, but also overwhelming because I had no idea how to talk about them – either underwater (a finger pointed at “that one”) or above the water (“the fish under the rock that was kind of blue but with the stripe about halfway down and the grumpy face”).

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name - ConfuciusChris had been diving for a while already and I felt very behind in my ability to talk coherently about what I had seen on our dives, not to mention totally dependent on him to fill out my logbook with any type of accuracy.

I started trying to teach myself (lowering my aims pretty quickly from Every Fish in Every Ocean to The Fish I Am Most Likely to See), but even at a beginner level, I struggled to find good resources that would help a newbie diver (or scubi newbi, as I will henceforth call them) gain this knowledge on her own. I relied almost exclusively on experienced divers to either tell me the name of a fish or point me in the general direction where I could start my hours-long web search. This is how everyone seems to learn this stuff; go on a dive, find something weird and ask the guide about it.

While it’s great to learn from experts (and obviously really helpful), there are two things I don’t like about them being my only source of information: 1) Guides can be wrong – sometimes just a little wrong but others incredibly wrong (at least for someone like me who is a fiend for accuracy). 2) Having someone tell you the name isn’t as helpful (or, for me, as memorable) as having to figure it out based on your own logic, reason or study.

Ever the dedicated, over-achieving student, I wanted to learn how they knew it was the fish they told me it was. Surely if I learned their logic I could start to figure these things out for myself and not need them to tell me, right? Right.

A while back, I decided to make a little outline, initially just for myself, that would help me learn how to identify the fish I was seeing on our dives. That grew into an idea for a fully-fledged course that could help other scubi newbies (it’ll catch on, I just know it) feel more knowledgeable about the creatures they start to discover. It’s the resource I really wished existed when I started diving myself.

So without further ado, may I present our Fish ID Course!

The handy ocean-blue button below will take you to the Basics page, where we look at the two key elements that make a fish a fish. From there, you’ll move on to individual snapshots of the most common reef fish and how you can easily identify them while you’re diving, snorkelling, watching a nature documentary or visiting an aquarium (though their little signs are usually pretty helpful). Casual visitors can dip in and out for whatever morsels they find useful, while more dedicated academics can challenge themselves with quizzes and puzzles.

I sincerely believe there’s something here for everyone, diver and non-diver alike.

Enjoy!

 

Original art by Sketched Out
School of Fish – Original art by Sketched Out a brilliant illustrator with a passion for puns. 

Episode 4: Desert Diving

Last time on Mobilis Divers: Noelle and Chris realised they had to go to opposite sides of the world for an unknown amount of time. It made them sad. Now they’re working on pushing their dream forward together while they’re apart. 

Salt Lake City, Utah

Despite coming to a landlocked, desert state (in the winter), I always planned to carry on diving while I’m here (ideally for free). My ultimate goal is to finish the Instructor course before we try to start our own place. It’s the next step on the professional ladder and it would be helpful for both of us to be at that level when our shop is up and running (Chris already has his certification). There are two catches though a) it’s very expensive and b) it’s something I feel under-qualified for, since I’ve mainly been guiding – not teaching – in the water.

Don’t worry though. I have a plan! I want to start assisting with classes so I can get more practice with that while I save up enough to take the course. Ideally, I would even get paid while I am helping out (I’m over this whole working for free malarky).

Good news is, it looks like that all might be happening – soon! Until this summer I had no idea there were thriving scuba centers here. I knew people did some diving in the mountain lakes or down in the desert, but that’s about it. Turns out there are four dive shops in town (who take people not only all over the state for fun dives but all over the world on diving trips). One of these plainly stood out as the best, so when I got back to Utah in November the first thing I did was pop in there and tell them I wanted to be friends.

The conversation that ensued totally blew my mind for two reasons:

1) Did you know the only warm water diving destination in the continental US (according to their site) is in Heber, Utah? The Homestead Ranch has a hot spring that is a constant 96°F/35°C. People literally ski all morning just around the corner then come here to warm up again. In January, when the temperatures can reach -18°F/-28°C outside, I could come here and dive in a t-shirt and shorts. How nuts is that!

Homestead-crater-natural-wonder
The Homestead Ranch hot spring

2) More bizarrely, did you know there is a mini ocean in Grantsville, Utah? Really! No, seriously! With sharks and angelfish and all that jazz. I know! I had no idea either. I’ve called this state home my whole life and I knew nothing about this, but it’s real. At Sea Base, there’s another hot spring (not quite so hot as the first) that joins up with part of the Great Salt Lake. The resulting salinity is roughly that of the sea. So someone dug out four big pools and filled them with this oceany water and a bunch of rescued aquarium fish (along with both nurse and bamboo sharks!). Really!

When I planned to do some diving in Utah, I figured I would be spending my time in a tepid swimming pool or a freezing lake with crap visibility. I had no idea there was the possibility of t-shirt diving and bamboo sharks! I seriously can’t get over it.

Ok, they aren’t all tiny babies, but I would die of happiness to see this.

Needless to say, at the end of this chat I immediately asked where I could sign up. And I’m happy to announce I will be diving with them starting tomorrow! This first few times will be an “I’ll check you out while you check me out” kind of situation with them, but I’m pretty confident it will be the start of a fun time exploring what there is to see around here – while also getting myself ready for this next big step. I’m pretty excited!

There is one part, however, I am not excited for: the Americanisms. Out of the 265 dives I’ve done, 263 of them have been outside of America. That means as a diver I was raised in the metric system – and let me just say, as a user of both, metric is SO much better! It really is. Not because of any scientific relevance or improved accuracy, but because it is designed for lazy people. Europeans couldn’t be asked to spend their time working out 12ths and 7ths and crap like that! They had beaches to sit on, wine to drink and women to seduce. So they invented a system that made math a small and simple part of their life. America should consider doing the same.

Alas, as we are not there yet I will have to learn the conversions from metres to feet, bar to psi, Celsius to Fahrenheit, and litres to cubic feet (as well as metres to meters, and litres to liters). Sigh. I’ll also have to shift my perspective from sea level to altitude. Lots to learn! Luckily, I like any excuse to play in Excel, so I whipped up a few cheat sheets yesterday so it’s easier for me to remember. (Side note: Because I couldn’t find anything as clear and simple as what I made, I uploaded them to a new Resources page here in case they’re useful for anyone else!)

not a nurse shark
Taken at Sea Base. Not a nurse shark, as the site claims, but one of my dear leopard shark friends!

I’m really looking forward to getting my feet wet again this week. I’ve been out of the water more than a month – something I don’t think I’ve done since I started diving. I’ve really been missing my fishy friends from Muscat lately. But, if the internet can be believed, I might be able to visit one of their cousins right here in Utah!

Leafy-Sea-Dragon---Rapid-Bay-Smaller_WEB 2

 

 

 

Episode 3: Strange Dreams

Last time on Mobilis Divers: The Possibly Perfect Place started to look like it could be a real thing, but with some challenges. Noelle got anxious about the challenges. We modified the plans. The universe ignored us completely. 

“Some people get a strange dream, then that dream opens a new future or new life or new connections with other people” – Dalai Lama

So there we were, making plans to take a little breather in Utah before jumping head first into this strange dream of ours. I was busy selling things off, packing what was left and getting the cat ready to go. My friends and family at home were busy finding spare rooms for us to live in, looking for job opportunities, and planning holiday parties.

Then Chris got an email.

You see, the first day after we returned from our Summer of Three Places, we started talking to people about our interest in the Possibly Perfect Place. We wanted to get a feel for it from those who have actually spent time on the ground, so we reached out to people who live there and people who have travelled and dived there. In the process, one of Chris’s co-workers casually said, “You’ll never find a job there!”

The idea of either of us getting a job hadn’t really crossed our minds. We were always focused on the idea of starting our own business, not working for someone else. But the suggestion of it made Chris curious. It could help us out a lot with some of the challenges we felt like we were facing. For example, getting a job would mean earning money instead of spending it while we check the place out. It would also give us more time to explore it in depth: looking into the logistics of setting up the business, finding potential sites, making contacts and getting a really good lay of the land before we jump into anything.

Chris hopped online to see if his colleague was right about jobs being so rare, and what would you know but a position had been posted that day in exactly his area of expertise? We certainly didn’t expect that! In a mad dash, he updated his resume and sent off his application. Then we heard nothing. For weeks.

I can’t say I was totally heartbroken that they hadn’t replied. The opportunity sounded great and all (you can’t deny the freakishly good timing), but I was really looking forward to us having some time together for a few low-stress months, something I don’t know if we’ve ever really had before. I knew he was probably the most qualified person applying for the job, but as the weeks rolled by without a peep, I relaxed more and more into the reality of our Utah plans.

When he got the email requesting an interview. I was not wholly enthusiastic. To put it truthfully, I dissolved into a snotty, teary heap. It felt like once again the plans we made were being ripped up in front of our eyes. I knew I could not go with him, I just didn’t have it in me. I still needed rest and that still needed to be in Utah because it’s simply the easiest place for me to go. A small, annoyingly excited voice inside of me did keep twittering that, despite my anger and frustration over the timing, this job presented a really great opportunity for us and our future. I wanted to punch that voice, but I was forced to give it the stink eye it instead.

freaks-geeks-stink-eye

When he got the email offering him the job, I would like to say I was prepared and excited and ready to accept this crazy twist of fate. But no, I dissolved into a snotty, teary heap. Now that it was a real possibility, I started thinking about how our day-to-day lives would look, and I didn’t love it. The Possibly Perfect Place is far from Utah, so far it is actually nearly an antipode. With the time difference (if we’re both working typical hours) one will be working while the other is sleeping, which means we’ll probably only be able to talk to each other on the weekends. And knowing the American system, I was keenly aware that once I got a job I would not be able to go visit him because I simply would not have the time to. His job offer felt like the last nail in the coffin of our relaxing, refreshing time together. Because it was. And it totally sucked.

On the other hand, when the emotions subsided and I let that small, annoyingly excited voice actually say its piece, I couldn’t deny the coincidence. What are the chances that we would say “Let’s go check out this place in January” and a job in that exact place (a pretty remote and unknown one) at that exact time would magically appear? Although it will be really hard for us to be 8,000+ miles apart (for we don’t know how long), in terms of our big-picture hopes it certainly makes more sense for Chris to be there, checking out the possibilities, than in Utah spending his days doing crossword puzzles while I’m at work. Plus, every relationship needs a time where you have to communicate through long-form letters in lieu of face-to-face time, right?

Once we accepted the new state of affairs, things continued to slot into place without us doing much. We managed to sell off nearly all of the things in our house and one of our cars without actually trying. And Chris got a surprise week off, which he was able to use to go back to the UK to visit his family (he had planned to in January but wouldn’t be able to with the new job starting then). All too easy… It feels like, after so many years of trying to land somewhere and make things work, this opportunity is simply – and tenaciously – presenting itself to us on a silver platter.

very-good-sir

 

I suppose the Dalai Lama is the renowned and respected man he is because he happens to understand how the world works. He simply accepts that strange dreams can lead to new futures, new lives and new people. We, on the other hand, didn’t have His Holiness’ wisdom to recognise that once we voiced our dream it might take on a life of its own and we’d just be along for the ride.