Ever see a photo of a turtle that’s so impossibly close-up that you’re sure the turtle’s head must have been touching the camera dome when it was taken, and wonder how the photographer got so close to a wild animal?
It’s not only because sea turtles are often adorably friendly (the ones that reside in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia are some of the friendliest). Professional underwater photographers and experienced divers have some of the most up close encounters with wildlife, and there’s a reason why.
There are a few tricks that will help you get that little bit closer to marine life, resulting in even more magical and heart-pumping dives that really allow you to get back in touch (almost literally) with nature.
Don’t chase the wildlife!
If a strange-looking animal came charging at me whilst furiously blowing bubbles and kicking up and down as fast as they could, I’d turn the other way and swim too.
How many of us have spotted a manta ray and sped up to get that little bit closer? When the feeling of adrenalin and excitement takes over, it can be hard to ignore it and stay cool, calm and collected.
Fight the urge to chase after the shark/ray/turtle. If it’s swimming quickly already, trust me, you’ll never catch it. If it isn’t, remaining slow and kicking in a controlled and calm manner will allow you to sidle up right beside it.
Get your buoyancy just right.
When I learned to dive, my instructor made me perform every single skill in my Open Water Course neutrally buoyant. At the time, it made me throw my gear at him in frustration. Now, I can’t thank him enough.
Being able to control your buoyancy and trim is one of the most important skills to master when it comes to scuba diving. When you have your buoyancy down pat and are streamlined in the water, you are more relaxed and in control which allows you to focus on other things, like searching for marine life or practicing underwater photography.
Good neutral buoyancy results in not only more enjoyable diving where you feel relaxed and in control, but safer diving. Not only this, but a curious marine creature is more likely to come and say hello to a diver who maintains neutral buoyancy throughout a dive, than someone who is going up, down and everywhere.
Don’t block the path of an animal
Making an animal feel threatened is a sure fire way to annoy it, and even get yourself injured.
Always remain next to a marine creature, rather that above or in front of it. And it goes without saying not to block its exit path.
Keep your hands off!
This is important. Not just for getting that little bit closer to an animal, but for your own safety and for theirs.
It’s tempting when you’re mere inches from an animal to reach out and give it a pat, but 99% of the time this will cause the creature to swim off or turn around and give you a bite. We can harm fragile species of coral simply by touching them, as many coat themselves with protective secretions.
Many marine species of coral and fish are poisonous, and there is no quicker way to ruin a liveaboard dive trip than to touch something that will send you to hospital!
You should feel humbled that a marine animal allows you to get in to such close proximity with it. It’s a rare and special feeling. Enjoy it, and keep your hands to yourself.
Know your gear
This rule is a blanket one for any dive.
Knowing your gear will mean you’re not fumbling around underwater. You’re in control. Control equals a calmer diver, which in return equals closer encounters with marine life.
If all else fails, stop!
You’re on a liveaboard trip in the Maldives, and you’ve spotted a dark shadowy shape coming towards you out in the never-ending expanse of blue. It’s a manta ray!
Rather than swimming towards it, stop. Again, this is where neutral buoyancy will help you out. You can hang motionless in the water, not floating up, not sinking down, as the enormous ray comes towards you and glides over your head.
Look for the little things in life
Close encounters with marine mammals, reptiles and pelagic is always mind-blowing, but there are countless other tiny species out there that are just as incredible.
Pygmy seahorses, nudibranchs and the seriously underrated mantis shrimp are some of the smaller species that are just as beautiful as the bigger life.
Give these tips a whirl next time you go for a splash. You’ll be well prepared for getting up even closer with marine life on your next liveaboard dive trip.