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Lionfish in Current
Every diver has had experience dealing with currents - in some way they affect every single dive we make. Sometimes they are in our favour, providing a delightful drift dive.

Other times, they turn against us, making a dive difficult & strenuous. They have a big impact on marine life too, bringing nutrients that feed entire communities, from the corals themselves up to mighty Whalesharks.

But what is a current, where do they come from, where are they going and why?
Anemone in Current Barracuda in Current Eagle Ray in Current Damselfish in Current Every diver has had experience dealing with currents - in some way they affect every single dive we make.But what is a current, where do they come from and where are they going?
 
Push & Pull
Anemone Worm swaying in Current Scientists normally divide currents into 3 broad groups: Tidal Currents, Wind-driven Currents & Deep currents.

Tidal currents are linked to the pull of the sun & the moon. Everyone is familiar with the idea of tides and tidal currents follow a similar pattern. When the tide is rising, they flow in one direction. When the tide is falling, they flow in the opposite direction. If you have ever been on a dive and, part way through, the current sudden feels like it changed direction and got a whole lot stronger, this is more than likely a change in the tidal current, from a rising tide to a falling tide, or vice versa.

The moon has the greatest impact on tidal currents. While it is much smaller than the sun, it is also much closer to the earth. As a result, it has around twice the pull on our oceans as the sun. When the moon is new or full, tides are high and tidal currents are strong - known as spring and neap tides. When the moon is in its first and third quarters, the pull is weakest and tidal currents are therefore weakest, meaning the most ideal diving conditions.

The strength of a tidal currents is also affected by the geography of the land, creating a stronger current where the water is channeled. As South-East Asia has many thousands of islands, it also has many narrow channels that funnel and speed up tidal currents. in some areas, tidal currents can be so strong that certain sites can only be dived on particular tides. The strong currents created also carry a healthy flow of nutrients, which is one of the reasons this area has such a healthy marine community and such fantastic diving.

Wind-driven currents affect the seas and oceans on a global and local scale. On a global scale, the seas follow the Trade winds in huge cycle round the oceans, known as Gyres. These wind-driven currents, or Gyres, exist in both the northern and southern Atlantic, the northern & southern Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Surprisingly, the wind at the surface can cause currents at depths of up to 400m, as each layer of the ocean 'drags' the layer below.

On a local scale, winds create waves which break when they meet shallow coastlines, creating currents such as longshore drift - a current that runs parallel to the shore, and rip currents, - short but powerful currents that run away from the shore.

Winds are also responsible for up-wellings and down-wellings. Up-wellings are especially important for marine life & therefore diving. They occur when the wind pushes water away from a part of the sea. The sea responds by pushing water up from the depths to replace the water blown away by the wind. As a general rule, cold waters from the bottom of the sea carry much more nutrients than warm surface waters. This means that when there is an up-welling, it brings lots of food and nutrients and attracts lots of marine life, meaning very good diving. This is why dive sites near deep water, such as oceanic atolls & islands are so rich in life.

Down-wellings are the exact opposite of up-wellings, where winds force water to build up in an area and force the water down. They can sometimes create dangerous down-currents, shich divers should be very wary of.

Currents in South-east Asia

 
The Global Conveyor Belt
Strong currents bring nutrients, attracting big marine life.
The last type of currents are Deep currents. These currents are not driven by winds or by tides, but by the temperature & salinity (salt content) of the water, which affect its density.

Cold, salty water is dense and sinks, to be replaced by warmer water, starting a cycle of currents known as the Global Conveyor Belt - a huge circulation of water stretching right round the globe -starting near the Arctic in the Atlantic Ocean and flowing south to the Antarctic, then north to both the Indian & Pacific Oceans, before returning to the Atlantic. It can take a parcel of water an amazing 10,000 years to complete this entire cycle.
It is the final return leg of the journey that has a profound affect on diving in Asia. Surprisingly, the sea levels around the world are not uniform. The Pacific Ocean has the highest sea level, followed by the Indian Ocean, then the Atlantic. As the water level tries to level out across the oceans, water flows from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, then back to the Atlantic. To get from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, nutrient rich waters have to flow through the Philippines and Indonesia, a process known as the Indonesian Throughflow.

This phenomenon feeds & attracts huge amounts of marine life, which in turn attracts lots of divers. The through-flow skirts the south of the Philippines, before heading south through the Makassar Strait between Borneo & Sulawesi, then through the deep, narrow Lombok Strait between Bali & Lombok, before finding its way to the Indian Ocean - creating fantastic diving, and often strong currents, along the way.

This fascinating, multi-layered system of currents moves water around the seas and oceans every hour of every day, ensuring the oceans are in constant motion. They also bring the food and nutrients that support so much incredible marine life, from the tiny to the huge. So next time you are diving and you experience some current, have a think about where it has probably come from & why.... and maybe say a little thank you as it passes - without all that current, our underwater world would not be nearly as healthy & abundant.

  Anthias in Current Shark Batfish in Current Gogonian Seafan
 
The Seas of Asia         
Discovery
Asia is caught between two huge oceans, the Indian Ocean to the west and the Pacific to the east. In between is a complex geography of land & water that has given rise to some of the most fascinating & species rich seas on our planet...

Read more...
 
The Rise of an Atoll
Discovery

Of the many intricate and incredible forms that coral reefs take, atolls are possibly the most majestic. But how did these oases in the middle of the ocean appear? What forces created them and why do they attract so much life?...

Read more...
 


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