Top 8 Coolest Creatures To See Diving From Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta, on the west coast of Thailand, has perhaps the best land-based diving in all of Thailand. It boasts easy access to some great dive sites, including Hin Daeng, Hin Muang, Koh Ha, and the dive sites of Koh Phi Phi are also only a short trip away. During your dives on these great dive sites, you are sure to bump into some amazing creatures along the reef. Starting with the smallest, here are my favourite eight reef denizens to spot on your dives…

  1. Harlequin Shrimp

Koh Lanta, Thailand, Harlequin Shrimp, IDC, Divemaster

The colourful harlequin shrimp is perhaps the funkiest and coolest of all shrimp. They are commonly encountered hiding in the reefs around Koh Lanta, often munching on a sea star. Harlequin shrimp don’t stray too far once they have found a nice spot with plentiful supply of food, and when your dive guide knows where they are hiding out, they can be found quite easily…

2. Ornate Ghost Pipefish

Koh Lanta, Thailand, Ornate Ghost Pipefish, Divemaster, IDC

The ornate ghost pipefish is another cool visitor to the reefs surrounding Koh Lanta. They come in a variety of colours, and can be seen in pairs or as solitary individuals. Ornate ghost pipefish can change their colour to suit their chosen home among the branches of gorgonians, in floating weeds, or feather stars. They can be tricky to spot, but again, once found, they often stay in one location for a while…

3. Seahorse

Seahorse, Koh Lanta, Thailand, Divemaster, PADI IDC

Seahorses are another common spot amongst the reefs of Lanta. They can even be spotted very close to shore on Lanta’s beaches, but are also common on dive sites such as Koh Ha. the tiger tail seahorse is the most commonly encountered seahorse on Koh Lanta’s dive sites, and are spotted year round…

4. Frogfish

Frogfish, Koh Lanta, Thailand, Divemaster, PADI IDC

Perhaps a less frequently spotted critter in the area is the frogfish. These cryptic creatures are a master of disguise and can be difficult to spot. The are still seen quite often on the dive sites around Koh Ha and Hin Daeng, as well as on the wrecks around Koh Phi Phi…

5. Turtle

Turtle, Koh Lanta, Thailand, Divemaster, PADI IDC

Hawksbill turtles are a regular sight on all the dive sites around Koh Lanta. They are often encountered munching on bubble coral, or just cruising by in the blue close to the reefs. Green turtles are also occasionally spotted in the area…

6. Leopard Shark

Leopard Shark, Zebra Shark, Koh Lanta, Thailand, Divemaster, PADI IDC

The leopard shark, also known as the zebra shark, is a commonly encountered shark in the waters around Koh Lanta. They like to rest on the sand, and are often seen at dive sites like Hin Bida, Bida Nok, and Bida Nai. When they are resting on the bottom, you can get close enough for a good photograph if you approach them very slowly. They are also a great photo subject when they are swimming, with their distinctive long tails scything through the water…

7. Manta Ray

Manta Ray, Koh Lanta, Thailand, Divemaster, PADI IDC

If you want to dive with the majestic manta ray, then you need to book yourself on a trip to Hin Daeng & Hin Muang – two sea mounts in the open ocean. These two stunning dive sites are home to many cleaner fish, and the mantas come to get preened. You just hang back and watch the spectacular show as the mantas circle the cleaning stations. Mantas are my favourite animal to just hover and watch…

8. Whale Shark

Whale Shark, Koh Lanta, Thailand, Divemaster, PADI IDC

And last, but definitely not least, we have the giant whale shark – the biggest fish in the ocean. Whale sharks are very common, but you still need a little luck to be in the right place at the right time. They are commonly encountered at Hin Daeng, Hin Muang, and at Koh Ha. They are also sometimes seen at Bida Nok, close to Koh Phi Phi. Diving along and then seeing the unmistakable shape of a whale shark emerging from the blue is a truly unforgettable experience…

If you haven’t dived from Koh Lanta yet, maybe it’s time to add it to your bucket-list and come see the amazing creatures of the Andaman Sea. Lanta boasts a nice mixture of dive sites for both beginners and experienced divers alike. It is also a beautiful island to spend your non-diving days relaxing on the beach enjoying delicious Thai food or even a sunset cocktail…

If you would like to dive Koh Lanta, email Lanta Diver – a five-star PADI IDC centre offering day trips to all the sites mentioned above. Lanta Diver also run all recreational courses, as well as professional-level courses such as Divemaster & IDC programmes. And if you are looking for a great hotel on the island, look no further than Mook Lanta Eco Resort. What are you waiting for ?

Photos by Narcosis Nick and Richard Reardon

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PADI IDC Thailand, Digital Underwater Photography, DUP, Specialty Instructor Training Course

Teaching Tips: PADI DUP Specialty…

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One of my favourite PADI Specialties to teach is the Digital Underwater Photography Specialty.  It can be great fun, but also usually you get to see a big improvement in your students’ photography skills.

The course requires two open water dives, the first of which can be conducted in confined water.  Completing this first dive, and the first knowledge review, would also allow you to certify your students to DUP Level 1.  I prefer to teach the full Specialty – two knowledge reviews and two open water dives – and certify my students as DUP Level 2 Divers. I also conduct a confined water dive. I aim to schedule this course over two full days:

Day 1: Classroom session in the morning and confined water session in the afternoon

Day 2: Two open water dives

PADI DUP, Underwater Photography Specialty, IDC, Dive Instructor Course

On the first day, I spend the morning in the classroom.  We review the students’ knowledge reviews, and get to know the camera they will be using on land first – both in and out of the housing.  During the knowledge development session I make sure my students understand all the main concepts – shutter speed, aperture, white balance, depth of field, ISO, scene modes – and make sure they know how to make these adjustments on their camera both in and out of the housing.

PADI DUP, IDC, Underwater Photography, Specialty Instructor

In the afternoon of the first day we hit the pool and put everything we learned in the classroom into practise in this relaxed setting, where we can take our time and practise changing our camera settings, and getting good shots.  I take a few objects into the pool so the students can practise focus, white balance, and depth of field.  I try to find some everyday objects with a few different colours – including red – too to help practise adjusting white balance, and to see how the different scene modes show the different colours.  Whilst in the pool, I also emphasise, and practise, taking photos with good buoyancy control, and without touching the bottom.

PADI Specialty Instructor Course, Underwater Photography, Thailand

On the second day of the course, we head to open water to put everything in to practise with some cool marine life too.  I also take the coloured objects to the ocean to practise white balance adjustments at different depths  during the first dive too.

PADI IDC, DUP Specialty Instructor, Photography

We also spend time finding some cool creatures that are conducive to practising photography.  I focus on creatures that don’t move very far, or very quickly, like nudibranchs, morays, lionfish, clownfish etc., so the students can practise the PADI S.E.A. method…

PADI Instructor Course, Specialty, Photography, Nudibranch

After two days, my students have normally improved a great deal in their photography abilities, and are happy with the pace and content of the course.  If you would like to know more about becoming a PADI Digital Underwater Photography Specialty Instructor, please send me and email and ask…

 

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PADI IDC Study Tips: The RDP

Remember the RDP ?  You know, that blue and white thing you last used during your Open Water course ?  How about the eRDPml ? Well you should be up-to-speed with both of these and comfortable with all aspects of their use before arriving at your PADI IDC

PADI IDC Prep, RDP eRDPml, Dive Theory Exams, IE

The PADI Divemaster course should have left you comfortable with both the RDP and the eRDPml, but all too often I see IDC candidates spending their evenings trying to remember how to work out minimum surface intervals when they should be learning new information and preparing their teaching presentations for the next day.  If you are a little rusty with the use of either version of the RDP, then here’s some tips to help you arrive at your IDC confident with both versions of the PADI RDP:

1. Read through the ‘Instructions For Use’ booklets for both versions

The instruction booklets that come with both the RDP and the eRDPml are very good at explaining the two products.  The booklets walk you through how to use the products from the beginning with example questions to work through as you go.  They are an excellent way to refresh your memory, especially for minimum surface intervals…

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2. Go through the PADI Open Water Diver Course Quizzes and Exams

Inside this booklet you will find the ‘RDP Table and eRDPml Quiz’, the ‘RDP Table and eRDPml Final Exam’, and the ‘eRDPml Multilevel Quiz’.  All three of these have two versions – A & B.  You should try all of these questions, and be comfortable finding the correct answers without any issues. Every PADI dive centre and instructor should have a copy of this exam booklet for you to look over.  There is a copy included in the IDC Crew Pak too.

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3. Visit the Study Tools page of our website

The Go Pro In Paradise website has a ‘PADI IDC Study Tools‘ page designed to help people prepare for their PADI IDC.  There are study notes for each of the five topics of the dive theory exams – Physics, Physiology, Equipment, Dive Skills & The Environment, and Decompression Theory – plus some extra downloadable questions to help you practise with both the RDP and eRDPml.  There are also links to videos to help you remember your knots…

4. Check out our YouTube channel

The Go Pro In Paradise YouTube channel has videos covering different aspects of dive theory – including physics, physiology, and dive planning.  The dive planning videos are designed to help you work through some of the different types of questions that can be asked on the PADI IDC and IE dive theory exams with both the RDP and the eRDPml.

PADI IDC Prep, Dive Theory Exams, RDP eRDPml

Following these four steps before your IDC will help you arrive much more relaxed.  You will also have much more time during the IDC to focus on the new information being presented rather than studying what you should already know…

If you would like any further information about the PADI IDC process, or how to prepare for it, please feel free to send me an email and ask – rich@go-pro-in-paradise.com

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The PADI Delayed SMB Specialty

Using a delayed SMB is a skill many dive professionals take for granted – as they have used them so often.  Many forget that first attempt at using one, which often doesn’t go as planned. Ask an instructor who teaches the Divemaster course regularly – they often see the struggles of that first try.  There are also many options for using one.  The chances are that if you ask ten dive professionals about their preferences for using/stowing a delayed SMB, you will get ten differing answers…

PADI IDC, Delayed SMB Specialty Instructor, Platinum Course Director, Divemaster, IDC

Firstly, let’s clear up the difference between an ‘SMB’ and a ‘dSMB’.  ‘SMB’ stands for surface marker buoy, also commonly known as ‘the safety sausage’.  The difference between the two is, basically, where they are inflated – an ‘SMB’ is inflated at the surface, or permanently inflated, whereas a ‘dSMB’ (delayed surface marker buoy) is inflated underwater towards the end of a dive.  An SMB can either be towed for the whole dive, or just used at the surface to signalling the boat if you are a little further away than you thought.

Personally, I much prefer to use a dSMB at the end of every dive.  I like to have a marker on the surface to keep boat traffic away as I ascend with my students, and am not fond of towing an SMB for the whole dive (I don’t dive in areas where this is required by law).

The PADI Delayed SMB Diver Distinctive Specialty is designed for instructors to teach their students how to safely master this skill.  The aim is for us to talk through the different options and try a few different techniques, and the student can decide which they prefer.  We can show them the different methods of inflation – alternate air source, oral, exhaled bubbles, LPI – and also the difference between a reel and a spool (and the different designs of both). We can also discuss and show the option for deploying a dSMB without a reel or line too, and the advantages of an orange line over a white one. I like to mark distances on my lines too so students can see their depth when reeling in and show them how that works. This is also useful in when teaching wreck or navigation dives/Specialties.

PADI IDC, Navigation Dive, Reel Spool, dSMB, Specialty Instructor

The students then get to practise this skill under controlled conditions with instructor supervision.  We talk them through the different options during the knowledge development first, and could even do a confined water dive to practise first too.  During the open water dives the students get to first try the skill in a stationary position, and then from mid-water on dive two.  The more different options they can try, the better.  Once deployed, the students then have to swim with the dSMB and make a controlled ascent, reeling the line in. After a safety stop, a final ascent to the surface is made, and the dSMB is stowed for the next dive once back on the boat.

PADI IDC, Delayed SMB, Specialty Instructor, Platinum Course Director Richard Reardon

The correct and safe use of a dSMB is an extremely valuable skill for every diver.  It’s a great course to teach, and students get great satisfaction when they master the skill. As a dSMB Specialty Instructor you can also offer dive one of the Specialty as an Adventure Dive during your Advanced Open Water Courses – another reason for obtaining this Specialty Instructor rating. I would recommend adding it on to your PADI IDC course, or including it in your MSDT Prep programme…

If you’d like more information about this, or any other, PADI Specialty, feel free to send me an email and ask for further details…

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Neutrally Buoyant PADI IDC

At Go Pro In Paradise we are trying to push more and more towards neutrally buoyant skills during our PADI IDC programmes.  We are trying to stay off the knees, and teaching more on fin-tips or in mid-water. The dive environment is becoming ever more fragile, and we need to train the future generation of divers to be even more environmentally aware, and with even better buoyancy skills than in the past.  There is no need to spend any time on the knees during diver training – we should promote proper weighting and positioning in the water right from the first moment new divers get their heads under the water.

PADI IDC Thailand, Neutrally Buoyant, Platinum Course Director

It starts with Confined Water Dive #1 of the Open Water Course.  During our IDCs the cfirst time we take our IDC Candidates in the pool, we conduct a CW Dive #1 workshop, and teach our candidates the importance of not over-weighting their future students, and how to get them neutrally buoyant before proceeding with the rest of the skills in CW Dive #1.  We achieve this by teaching the ‘Breathing Underwater’ skill as an introduction to the fin pivot (as described in a previous post).  All other skills in confined water can then be performed on fin-tips.

PADI IDC Thailand, Neutrally Buoyant, Platinum Course Director

We also then conduct a neutrally buoyant skill circuit, with all skills demonstrated on fin-tips – staying off the knees.

PADI IDC Thailand, Neutrally Buoyant, Platinum Course Director

PADI IDC Thailand, Neutrally Buoyant, Platinum Course Director

After this skill circuit, we then conduct a Confined Water Dive #5 workshop, where we teach our IDC candidates how to help their Open Water students to make the transition from performing skills on their fin-tips to now performing them mid-water whilst swimming around the pool neutrally buoyant.  We also highlight the importance of correct weighting and the value of practising swimming in shallow water without touching the bottom or breaking the surface – demonstrating good trim and horizontal body position.

PADI IDC Thailand, Neutrally Buoyant, Platinum Course Director

PADI IDC Thailand, Neutrally Buoyant, Platinum Course Director

PADI IDC Thailand, Neutrally Buoyant, Platinum Course Director

For the rest of the IDC, we then expect our candidates to perform all their teaching presentations in this manner.  Hopefully we can do our bit to inspire the next generation of PADI dive instructors to teach better buoyancy, trim, and environmental awareness in their future Open Water Courses…

PADI IDC Thailand, Neutrally Buoyant, Platinum Course Director

If you would like to know more about our PADI IDC programmes, please feel free to visit our website, or to send us an email

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The Navigation Adventure Dive

As a new instructor, the Navigation Adventure Dive can seem a little daunting – there’s lots to do, but we also want to save some time to swim around and explore the dive site too.  It’s a dive we conduct often – it is a compulsory core dive on the Advanced Open Water Course. We obviously need to make sure all our students meet performance requirements, but we also want to work efficiently to allow that time for exploring the dive site and practising actual diving !

The first thing to consider when planning a Navigation Adventure Dive is when and where you will conduct this dive.  I would never plan to conduct this dive as the first dive of an Advanced Open Water Course, I would prefer to see my divers in the water first.  Ideally, I like to conduct Peak Performance Buoyancy as the first dive of an AOWC, and certainly before the Navigation Dive.  Another thing to bear in mind is depth and site selection.  It’s preferable to conduct the Navigation Dive on a shallow site, with relatively open sandy areas.  Also, a site with little or no current is ideal.  Aiming for a shallower site is another reason not to plan this as the first dive of the course.  I prefer to plan my Navigation Dives as either second or third dives of the course – it’s also not a nice dive to finish the course with for the students.

Now let’s have a look at the performance requirements – what the students must achieve…

Navigation Dive, Advanced Open Water Course, Teaching Tips, PADI IDC

Okay, so we need to get ourselves organised before we tackle those performance requirements.  We need to get our instructional equipment together first.  Our students should each have a compass, as per PADI standards, for every Adventure Dive.  But for me, we also need a reel/spool – that’s how I measure the 30 metres for skill #2, and I also then use it as a baseline, and a way of measuring performance requirements, for the other skills.  I have a reel and a spool, and I have marked them both off for distances every five metres.  I also made sure when I bought my reel and my spool that I selected ones with orange lines, rather than the more common white. The orange line is much easier to see (when using a dSMB, or conducting wreck penetration, as well as when laying it on the floor for Navigation skills). I then marked my lines every five metres as below:

Navigation Dive, Advanced Open Water Course, Teaching Tips, PADI IDC

I have always used a Dive Rite Safety Reel, and have also, more recently, added the new Apeks Lifeline Spool to my kit bag, as pictured below:

PADI IDC, Navigation Dive, Reel Spool

Once I have laid this line out, carefully avoiding damaging any aquatic life, I am ready to start the skills with my students.  If there is a slight current, I will try to set the line perpendicular to it. Skill #1 will be combined with all the other skills and monitored throughout the dive.  Skill #2 is pretty straight forward, but the trick is to avoid this turning into a race along the line.  I am very careful how I brief this skill – I brief that the 30m swim should be at a normal dive pace, and that I will set the speed by swimming in front of the students, emphasising that they should not overtake me.  I instruct the students to count their own kick cycles, and I time the swim.  The number of kicks and time can then be noted on the Adventure Dive Data Carrier slates.  I perform this skill twice – once in each direction to ascertain an average.  This is especially important if there is a slight current.

The next skill is the natural navigation swim, returning within 15m from the start point.  This is a skill that needs to be briefed well too.  We need to emphasise what features to look for in the reef formations/topography, and also to point out that often things will look different when returning in the opposite direction.  I brief my students to look back at a reference point as they pass it to get an idea of how it will look on the return leg.  I also brief the importance of slow relaxed swimming – the normal dive pace – and tell them how many kick cycles I would like them to complete before turning around.  I start this skill from the centre point of my 30m baseline – the 15 metre mark.  I now have 15 metres of line either side of the start, so I can very easily see if the students have met the performance requirement, which is to return within 15 metres of their start point.

Skill #4 is then combined with skill #5. Correct positioning/handling of a compass to swim a reciprocal heading.  I also remind the students they can also incorporate some natural navigation techniques as used in the previous skill into this exercise – especially if there is a little current.  For the skill #4 element of this reciprocal heading swim, I do emphasise that the compass must be level, and that the lubber line must be pointing in the desired direction of travel, but I do not insist they hold the compass in the manner pictured below during the entire exercise – because nobody dives like this, ever – it just needs to be held correctly when checking the heading/direction !

Navigation Dive, Advanced Open Water Course, Teaching Tips, PADI IDC

Rather than insist on the above position, I brief students to use natural navigation in conjunction with the compass – keeping the compass level, point it ahead, and pick out a natural feature in line with the lubber line, then when they reach that feature, they can again hold the compass level with the lubber line in the correct direction and pick another natural feature – this is a more natural, ‘realistic’ way to navigate with a compass. This is also a much better technique if there is any current – if people just stare at the compass in a current they may not notice they are being pushed off course. Also bear in mind that nowadays people may be using a digital compass on their dive computer, so you might need to cover how to calibrate and use that version of a compass.  Again, we need to cover how many kick cycles before turning in the briefing.  I also start this skill from the same 15 metre mark on my baseline, so I can check that they meet the performance requirement of returning to within six metres of the starting point – I have a mark on my baseline five metres either side of the starting point…

With both skill #3 and skill #4, if conditions are good enough, and my divers are also competent enough, I can send two buddy teams off simultaneously if I have four students. I assign one member of each buddy team the task of navigating with the compass (setting the heading by pointing the lubber line in the correct direction and rotating the bezel so the north arrow is between the two index markers), whilst the other will be counting their own kick cycles and tapping the shoulder of the buddy to signal time to turn around. To turn around, the buddy member with the compass just needs to turn their body until the south arrow is in between the two index markers.

Before I allow a buddy team to begin the swim, I position myself directly in front of them, blocking their path, until I am happy they have set the compass correctly, then I move to the side and let them begin.  Once buddy team #1 has started, I position myself directly in front of the second buddy team until I am happy their compass is also set correctly before I allow then to swim. Once the second buddy team have started, quite often the first buddy team is arriving back, and I can have them swap roles and repeat the skill. This helps me work more efficiently and have time to explore the dive site once all skills are completed:

Navigation Dive, Advanced Open Water Course, Teaching Tips, PADI IDC

Once everybody has performed each role for the reciprocal heading compass swim, the final skill is the square pattern.  For this, I also get the two buddy teams swimming in different directions at the same time (conditions and competency allowing) to work efficiently:

Navigation Dive, Advanced Open Water Course, Teaching Tips, PADI IDC

Again, I start from the 15 metre mark of my line and use the marks on my line to gauge whether they have met the performance requirements of returning to within eight metres of the starting point.  I prefer to use the Suunto SK8 compasses for this dive too, as they have all four cardinal points on the face, and not just a north arrow.  This makes this square pattern, and the search patterns in the Rescue Diver and Search & Recovery Specialty, much easier too.  Again, for the first heading, the students need to point the lubber line in the right direction and turn the bezel until the two index markers are over the north arrow.  Now, when they come to make the first 90 degree turn, for a turn to the right, they do not need to touch the bezel, they just need to turn the body until the east arrow is between the two index markers, and on the next turn, the south arrow between the two markers.  For a left turn, they would turn the body until the west arrow is between the index markers.

I ask the students to set the first side of the square to follow the direction of my baseline (as in the picture above).  This means their final leg of the square will be back towards the line, so again I can see how close to the start point they finish.  And once more, when the buddy teams return, I get them to swap roles and repeat the skill.

Another key to making this dive run smoothly and efficiently underwater is to practise these skills on land before the dive.  I like to do this with a towel over the students’ heads, so all they can see is the compass, and to learn to trust it (and me!).

And that is basically how I try to run the Navigation Adventure Dive.  As I mentioned above, sometimes conditions or student skill level means I need to adapt my approach a little.  But this is the Advanced Course, and the students, as certified divers, should be good enough to swim a short distance away from the instructor, and allowing them that little extra freedom will also help them become more confident divers…

If you have any questions about how I run my Navigation Adventure Dives, or would like to take an Underwater Navigator Specialty Instructor Training Course to see it first hand, please feel free to email and ask for more information…

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The PADI Fish ID Specialty

The PADI Fish ID Specialty is for me one of the most misunderstood of all PADI Specialties.  Often (wrongly) sneered at by Instructors, and much maligned by dive professionals. The point to remember is that this Specialty is not for dive professionals, but for new or novice divers.  And when taught properly, this target audience will gain much from taking this course.

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Every Divemaster and Instructor should be able to identify the majority of the common fish/marine life in their local area.  But remember the point is for them to pass that information on to new divers.

It’s also not just a case of taking a fish slate underwater and pointing to a fish then showing the new diver a picture of it on the slate with the name.  The idea is that we teach the new diver how they can learn to identify fish for themselves.  Perhaps they will be diving in the future without a dive professional.

When I teach this Specialty, I teach people to focus on family groups first, and then, when back on the boat, to get the books out and find the exact species.  With this approach, divers don’t need to start at page one, and flick through every page of the book until they find the picture they are looking at.  Rather, they know straight away to start with the angelfish section, for example, then can look for the nuances in colouration to find the exact species, perhaps with the aid of the picture/notes they made on their slate during the dive.  This is how the Specialty should be taught.  And a new diver will enjoy this and gain a lot of knowledge and enjoyment from this, and more importantly, will want to keep diving to discover new species and creatures.

The Specialty has no manual from PADI, so I like to use the excellent ‘Reef Fish Identification: Tropical Pacific’ by Gerald Allen, Roger Steene, Paul Humann, and Ned Deloach.

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The contents page of this book includes outlines of the shapes of major fish families and is perfect to use during your dive briefings.  Then after the dive, your students can look here first, and then know which section of the book to head to next to try to identify the species they saw and drew during the dive.

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During the dives, I like to focus on the common reef fish in my area.  I am not looking to identify the ornate ghost pipefish, or the frogfish, but am paying more attention to different types of butterflyfish, angelfish, and anemonefish.  I let, and encourage, my students to draw whichever fish they like, but I will also point out a few that I want them to pay close attention to – some that are difficult to identify for a beginner.  I usually get them to draw longfin bannerfish and moorish idols, and a couple of different types of anemonefish, to see if they can spot the slight differences.

PADI Fish ID Specialty Instructor training, PADI IDC, Platinum Course Director

I think this is a great Specialty for Instructors to be able to teach and offer their students, especially after the Open Water Course.  If you would like to know more about teaching this Specialty, feel free to send me an email, and see when I am next running a Specialty Instructor Training Course.  Or if you are a PADI Divemaster, join us for an IDC and add this rating on at the end of the programme.

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