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Best Places to Dive: USAT Liberty – Tulamben, Bali, Indonesia

Greater Cleveland Aquarium's Dive Safety Coordinator, Halle Minshall.Just eight degrees south of the equator and nearly 10,000 miles from Cleveland, the island of Bali is a province of Indonesia and lies within the Coral Triangle, an area of immense biodiversity between the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

While most travelers are drawn to South Bali shopping and beaches, Greater Cleveland Aquarium Dive Safety Coordinator Halle Minshall says that the small town of Tulamben on the northeast side of the island by the Lombok Straight has one of her favorite dives – the wreck of the USAT Liberty.

“The wreck is accessed as a beach dive and the beach has black sand as it is a volcanic beach,” says Halle. Tulamben sits on the side of a volcano, Mount Agung.

The USAT Liberty bridged two World Wars as a US Army cargo ship. Notable as the first ship constructed at Federal Shipbuilding in Kearny, New Jersey in 1918, she arrived with her first cargo of horses in France three days before the end of World War I. Recommissioned in World War II, she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and limped to the coast of Bali where her captain beached her so that her cargo could be salvaged. In 1963, an eruption on Mount Agung on Bali finished what the war could not when tremors sent the wreck sliding beneath the waves. Now lying just offshore of Tulamben, the Liberty hosts a wide variety of microfauna, including pigmy seahorses.

“The wreck is well encrusted in marine life and infamous for pigmy seahorses, although I didn’t see any. I did see an enormous number of nudibranch on this dive site and found the diversity fascinating,” Halle recalls. “The beds of garden eels were something I have never experienced anywhere else. The contrast of the black sand and the vivid colors of the corals and fish make this location very memorable and with its unique story, something I’ll never forget.”

Halle has been diving since 2001 and lived and worked for a time as a scuba instructor in Phuket, Thailand. She has served as the Aquarium’s Dive Safety Coordinator since its opening in 2012.

The wreck of the Liberty rests just 100 feet from shore and at its highest point reaches to about 15 feet under the waves. Its deepest point lies 100 feet deep, making it accessible to beginning divers. In a part of the world with such immense dive opportunity, this site is notable that it stood out for one of the Aquarium’s most experienced divers.


USAT Liberty is the fourth in our weekly series of the Aquarium dive team’s favorite dive locations. Stay tuned for the rest of our list or suggest somewhere new we might want to explore.


  • Ray D.

Small Animal Feedings

During Spring Discovery Days, Greater Cleveland Aquarium focuses on the little things. That’s why created a series of short “mealtime” videos featuring some of smaller residents.

In this one, Aquarist Bethany gives the Surinam toads one of their favorite treats . . . earthworms. 

Here’s cellphone footage of Aquarist Seneca feeding an animal you might spot in Northeast Ohio parks . . . the yellow spotted salamander.

Sea stars eat in a way you might find odd. They extend their stomachs out of their mouths and envelop their food. Aquarist Katie fed a Bahama sea star and we sped up the video so you could watch this process. The food is partially digested externally, and eventually the sea star will pull its stomach back in through the mouth.

And here’s cellphone footage of Lando feeding frontosa, black piebald and daffodil cichlids.

Hungering for more? You never know what you’ll see when you visit the Aquarium.


Are They Bad Guys or Just Misunderstood?

Sometimes reputation is not reality. Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Education team takes a quick looks at snakes, piranhas and sharks to see if they’re really “bad guys” or just misunderstood.


Snakes have been portrayed as bad guys across the globe for centuries. Ancient Greeks share the myth of Medusa with her head of snakes turning humans to stone.  Christianity writes about snakes representing evil and temptation in the garden of Eden. Ancient Egyptians tell of a two-headed serpent guarding the underworld.
Paired with the fact that some snakes deliver a venomous bite, it is not surprising that many people dislike or even fear snakes. However, with more than 3,000 different species of snakes on the planet, there is much to celebrate as well. Less than 7% of snake species are able to significantly harm a human. Snakes play an important role in keeping rodent pest populations under control. Many snakes are both predator and prey in an ecosystem food web, so losing them would have a negative affect on many other species.

The snake at the Aquarium is a green tree python. She spends a significant amount of time curled up on her branch, basking in the humid, tropical temperatures. She starts her life as a different color entirely and becomes a brilliant green color as an adult.

If you encounter a snake, you should give them space, but there is no reason to harm it.


The piranha’s negative reputation can be traced back to Theodore Roosevelt. He witnessed a staged feeding frenzy of starved piranhas on a trip to South America and wrote about the experience. More than 120 years later, these fish are still working against that tale. The 1978 movie Piranha showcasing a piranha hunting humans refueled the hype, as it showcased piranha hunting humans.

In reality, humans are not part of a piranha’s food chain. Many piranha feed on smaller fish species, and some are omnivores, eating both meat and plant material. In the scientific community, they are described as timid scavengers. Piranha group together for safety to protect themselves from their own predators, like large birds.

The piranha at the Aquarium are red-bellied piranha. They can be admired for their shiny scales. They are an important part of their ecosystems in freshwater rivers of South America. Piranha should be more appreciated than feared.


Sharks are often portrayed as villains in movies. Jaws, Sharknado, The Shallows, The Meg and even The Little Mermaid portray sharks in a negative light. While some sharks are large, and some do have sharp teeth, there is way more to appreciate about sharks than to fear.

Sharks are apex predators. At the top of the food chain, they play a crucial role in keeping the ocean ecosystems in balance, but humans are not part of the menu. There are more than 400 species of sharks and they eat a variety of different types of foods, with the largest whale sharks eating krill, and the smallest dwarf lantern catching tiny prey with an alluring bioluminescent light.

The sharks at the Aquarium are sandtiger, sandbar and nurse sharks. A fan favorite of Aquarium guests, it can be quite calming to watch them swim slowly through the water.

You are more likely to be struck by lightning, fall off a cliff taking a selfie, or be killed by a lawnmower, than be attacked by a shark. Sharks should be revered rather than feared.


Spanning History: Main Avenue Bridge Recognized

On Wednesday, October 6, 2021, 82 years from the day when it was opened, the Main Avenue Bridge, also called the Main Avenue Viaduct, will receive a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark Designation from the Cleveland Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers. According to WEWS TV-5, fewer than 230 projects in the United States have received this distinction.

Built in 1939 with funds allocated from the Public Works Administration, the Main Avenue Bridge was one of many bridges and structures built in Cleveland during the Great Depression as a way to spur economic growth. The span over the Cuyahoga River in the Flats originally featured a float bridge, but was replaced with a 200-foot hand-operated swing bridge in 1869. In 1938, plans to build a new bridge to alleviate the increased traffic driving into the city was introduced by joining the east portion of the Cleveland Memorial Shoreway (named for the local veterans of World War II) to the west side span that extended to Edgewater Park. The eastern portion was originally built in 1936 to access the Great Lakes Exposition, which extended from E. 9th Street to E. 55th. It was the largest project of the Works Project Administration in the country.

When the bridge was completed, it held the record for the longest elevated structure in Ohio (with a length of 8000 feet) until 2007. The initial construction of the bridge, from 1938 to 1939, had workers use over 24,000 tons of steel and 55,000 cubic yards of concrete to build the cantilever truss crossing.

The structure is being given historic landmark status due to its use of continuous, haunched structural forms which offered greater structural efficiency and improved the aesthetics (the haunches are the vertical support structures under the roadway). It is also a significant example of a deck cantilever structure, which means that a structural member is positioned below the joists to support the weight of the frame. The lakefront ramp includes a plate girder span that holds the record at 271 feet and the overpasses at West 28th Street contain some of the first welded rigid frames. The construction represented a significant engineering achievement of the time.

In 1986, the bridge was renamed the Harold H. Burton Memorial Bridge in honor of the man who served as mayor during its construction and in 2007, the signature blue paint was added to keep the steel portions from deteriorating.

See an album of historic Cleveland bridges here. More details on the dedication ceremony can be found here.

– Neda S.

5 Things I Learned about Vietnamese Mossy Frogs

Native to North Vietnam, these mossy frogs live in flooded caves and in the banks of rocky mountain streams. A semi-aquatic species, they spend a significant amount of time submerged with only their eyes poking out over the surface of the water.

Sometimes it can be a challenge to spot the Vietnamese mossy frogs in Greater Cleveland Aquarium’s Asia & Indonesia Gallery. They only grow to be 2.5 to 3.5 inches and they’re flat and wide when resting. Wart-like bumps and green-and-ruddy brown skin give them a moss-like appearance and let them blend with their habitat.

Not only are they masters of camouflage, but they’re also masters of misdirection. Vietnamese mossy frogs can make their voices seem like they are coming for 10 to 13 feet away so predators cannot pinpoint their locations.

Vietnamese mossy frogs have sticky toe discs that help them climb trees and cling to rocky surfaces.

Even with excellent camouflage, climbing abilities and ventriloquist-level vocal skills, predators sometimes track down mossy frogs. When threatened by tree-dwelling mammals or snakes, Vietnamese mossy frogs will curl into a ball.

Next time you visit, see if you can spot the mossy frogs blending in with their surroundings. Nature. It’s curious thing.

  • Samantha F.

We’ve Been Nominated!

If you haven’t heard yet, the Aquarium is nominated for the 3rd annual Parent Choice Awards! We were nominated for Best Rainy Day Out by the readers of Northeast Ohio Parent last month and for that we say thank you!

It’s very exciting to be nominated for this specific category because we consider ourselves to be 73o and sunny every day. The Aquarium is the perfect mini-tropical escape for the family when the weather outside is grey and rainy. After a dreary, drizzly drive you can enter each of our captivating galleries of colorful lands around the world. We have more than 50 exhibits with animals that can be found in areas like our native Ohio Lakes and Rivers all the way to Asia and Indonesia.

A guest favorite, our Coastal Boardwalk gallery features an 11,000-gallon stingray touch pool and an invertebrate touch pool that includes bumpy, chocolate chip sea stars and hard-working, cleaner shrimp. In this gallery, you’ll learn the official “two-finger touch” technique so you can feel the smooth backs of our “smiley” stingrays.

Get ready to explore underwater as you reach the end of your walk-through, because our 230,000-gallon shark exhibit includes a 175-foot SeaTube that you can walk under and watch sandtiger sharks, moray eels and stingrays swim above you!

You will stay warm and dry even on a rainy day of venturing undersea…although dad might get a shower when he goes to pull the car around.


We appreciate all the readers of Northeast Ohio Parent for nominating us last month. If you would like to vote for us here’s the link to the ballot:

Voting runs through May 31st and the results will appear in the July issue of Northeast Ohio Parent.

(P.S. Don’t forget to vote for some of our nominated friends like the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Great Lakes Science Center, Cleveland Metroparks and Playhouse Square.)

5 Ways to Commemorate International Talk Like a Pirate Day

International Talk Like a Pirate Day isn’t just for Jack Sparrow, there aarrrrrrre plenty of ways to celebrate on September 19.
What is International Talk Like a Pirate Day? How did it begin? Surprisingly enough, by two guys playing racquetball. The entire story can be found on the ITLAPD website.

So how can you celebrate?

  1. Make up your Pirate Name
    There are dozens of sites with name generators and quizzes. We found a few for you to make it easier and get the (cannon)ball rolling. My favorite for my name, Morgan Wright? I can’t decide between Martha “Both Barrels” Jones or Dirty Morgan Flint.
    Pirate Name Generator Basic
    Pirate Name Generator Advance
  2. Test out your Pirate Lingo

    Dress up . . . or dress up your pet
    So you don’t have a parrot? Not everyone can be Edwin Encarnacion after a homerun. Find a bandana and eye patch and include Fido in your celebrations!

  3. Go full-on pirate on Facebook.
    Did you know you can switch your Facebook language to “pirate?” Want to see what it would read as when your Aunt Sue updates her status about your cousin’s first week of third grade? Change the language to pirate!
    – Step 1: Click the ENGLISH Hyperlink at the Bottom of Your Page
    – Step 2: Select English (pirate)
  4. Visit us!
    We’ll be celebrating all day TODAY, September 19 during general admission hours. Save your doubloons by celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day (ITLAPD). On Tuesday, September 19, read a randomly selected phrase while doing your best pirate impression and receive $5 off of your admission that day. The first 200 brave buccaneers receive an eyepatch.


Dress-up chest and paper plate pirate craft (11am – 3pm)
A swashbuckling story for the wee ones told by our own Lake Erie Monster-seeking Captain NEO (11am)
An appearance by land shark mascot Finn (2pm)
A target shark feed (3:30pm) and
A chance to search for treasure (10am – 5pm) in the exhibits.

My First Time Diving

I never would have expected that the first time I donned my gear and stepped into the water that my life would be forever altered.

As a zoology major I took a special interest in Marine Science. While looking at potential jobs, I realized that getting my scuba diving certification would be a necessity. So, after classroom and pool instruction, one early May Saturday morning I woke up before the crack of dawn and made my way to Gilboa Quarry.

Being my first dive and not knowing what to expect had me both excited and nervous. The water was a brisk 45 degrees so I was instructed to wear gloves and a hood, which I had never practiced before. The feeling was restrictive which only made my nerves worse. Although I was scared, I was exhilarated knowing I was finally going to dive, so I took a deep breath and jumped in.

Being in the water was amazing. I felt like I was entering an entirely different world. Visibility of at least 40 feet made my experience with seeing the rainbow trout, perch, catfish and paddlefish more than I expected.

When I reached the underwater platform, we began to practice the skills we learned in class. When I was instructed to take off my mask and put it back on, I started to freak out. I had a million thoughts running through my head. Will this be different from what I practiced with a hood on? Will I be able to breathe? Will I be stuck with a water-filled mask? Luckily we were not far from the surface so I went up and calmed myself down.

Once I collected myself, the instructor walked me through everything and I realized that I would be completely fine. After practicing a few more skills in the water, we followed my instructor for a “fun dive”. This consisted of stare downs with perch, swimming through tire obstacles, feeding zebra mussels to blue gills, pretending to jump on a trampoline, playing rock paper scissors, and lots and lots of smiling. Actually, I kept flooding my mask with water because every time I smiled, water cracked through the bottom of my mask! However, I didn’t care; I cleared it as practiced and focused on the underwater world in front of me. It felt like the quarry went on forever, finding new treasures and organisms every inch we went. We explored the inside of sunken airplanes, cars, boats, helicopters and buses. Some of these are things I’ve never even experienced on land!

The most memorable part of this dive was when our instructor took us over the big sunken school bus. He stopped us before we swam and gave us some weird hand signals that we thought meant, “follow me”. We were wrong… we followed him over and rested at the top. In an instant, we are surrounded by at least 100 fish; big, small, brown, yellow, hungry, starving. Us students were laughing into our regulators; flailing our arms in a tornado of fish until eventually we swam away panting. After we got out of the water, turns out those hand signals meant, “swim on the side of the bus, and don’t go over it.” Apparently that bus is a place instructors go with food to feed the fish, so they always swarm there (thanks for the warning instructor am I right?) After what felt like an exhilarating few hours, we surfaced only to find twenty-three minutes had passed. Time slows when you’re underwater, and thankfully so.

I had the time of my life. My eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing, my brain couldn’t believe I was breathing and my heart couldn’t believe I’ve missed this feeling for twenty two years of my life. Though its embarrassing to say, I climbed out of the water only to run to my mom and tell her, “I can’t wait to get back in!!!” with a gigantic smile on my face.

That first dive, six months ago, has lead me to my current position as an Exhibit Diver here at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium and I happily wake up at 6am everyday anxious to get in the water.

To see what I explored on my first dive, click here!

Diving Physics

Becoming a SCUBA diver is more than learning how to breathe under water; you also have to understand the physics that explain why certain things occur while you are diving.

Starting with the basics:

Density: water is 1000 times denser than air, and while air’s density can vary- the density of water cannot.

Heat: Water has a high heat capacity ~4 times more than air. Water also has high thermal conductivity. Heat is conducted 22-24 times faster in water. This means, divers get colder quicker when in water. Wet and dry suits are different types of clothing worn by divers that can keep them warmer for longer.

Sound: Sound travels differently through water than air. When something makes a sound above the water you generally can tell what direction it is coming from, whereas in water you cannot pinpoint a direction. This is due to the fact that sound travels four times faster in water than in air.

Compressibility: Air can be compressed. When divers fill their dive tanks, they will use air compressors to fill the tank to 3000 psi. Water, however, cannot be compressed. You cannot take two liters of water and fit it into any container smaller than a two-liter bottle.

Light: Ever stick a straw in a cup of water and look at it from the side? The straw appears to be bent. This is due to the refraction of light when it passes through water.

Objects also appear larger and closer when under water. It isn’t uncommon for new divers to reach for something in front of them (a rope for example) and completely miss grabbing it. This is because the rope appeared to be closer than it really was.

Light absorption in water is high compared to in air. The first color to disappear as you go deeper into the water is red; the following colors of the rainbow too would disappear when you go deep enough. This is why underwater cameras, for example, GoPro, often have a red filter so that the photographer can capture all of the colors of beautiful reefs and fishes while at depth.

There are also some important principles to take into account when scuba diving. The first, Archimedes Principle, states that a body immersed in liquid is buoyed up by force equal to the weight of displaced water. As a diver you have to be able to accomplish neutral buoyancy when diving. Neutral buoyancy means that you are neither sinking nor rising within the water column.

Divers first need to use some weight when diving, especially when wearing a highly buoyant wet suit. The excess weight helps displace the water that surrounds the diver. The next important piece of equipment is called the Buoyancy Compensating Device (BCD). This is the vest that divers wear; it contains an air bladder that can be filled with the air from the divers scuba tank. The BCD helps the diver become neutrally buoyant by adding the correct amount of air to almost counter the weight worn by the diver-it should look like the diver is hovering within the water.

Another important principle is Boyles Law-volume varies inversely with pressure, with the greatest relative change in volume occurring near the surface.

Simply put-as a diver goes deeper into the water, the pressure on everything becomes greater. The volume of air in the dive tanks is getting smaller while the pressure rises. Remember from the basics that you can compress air. This also means that the air in the divers lungs also becomes compressed when at depth. When the diver surfaces- one of the most important rules is to be continuously breathing. Never hold your breath when ascending. This is due to the air in the lungs will start to expand because there is less pressure of the water exerted on the body. Holding your breath can cause catastrophic injury to divers lungs.

Charles Law, which states; at constant volume, pressure varies directly with temperature. When divers need to fill their air tanks, they must do so slowly. This is because as the tank fills, all of the air molecules are being jam packed into a rigid area.

Those molecules will start bumping into one another as the pressure builds- creating heat. A newly filled tank will feel warm and if filled too quickly will show a higher pressure than what is actually in the tank. Given time to cool, the tank will read at a lower psi.

Dalton’s law of partial pressures is our next physics lesson-especially for divers who are diving on NITROX. NITROX is a mixture of gases that allows divers to stay at depth longer due to its enrichment of oxygen. The law states that the total pressure exerted by a mixture of gases is equal to the sum of the pressures that would be exerted by each gas if it alone were present and occupied the total volume.

Ptotal = P1 +P2 +P3….

Even though a gas mixture is made up of several different constituents, each gas will demonstrate its own behavior. This is important for divers to understand because they must be aware of oxygen toxicity (yes, you can have too much oxygen if you go too deep on enriched air) and Nitrogen Narcosis which occurs at depths around 100 feet and deeper and makes the diver sluggish and even drowsy and can have an effect on good decision making.

The final law divers should be aware of is Henry’s Law. The solubility of gases: the amount of gas that will dissolve into a liquid is a function of the partial pressure of the gas over the liquid. With great depth comes greater partial pressure. More gas dissolves in cold water. This law is important to divers because as they go deeper in the water their body will absorb nitrogen gas into their tissues. When the divers want to return to the surface they must do so at a controlled slow rate so that the nitrogen they absorbed at depth is effectively off-gased. Divers should be aware that at greater depth they would have high absorption rates of gases.

Although these laws may be a lot to take in, they are all very important to all SCUBA divers. The laws help divers remain safe when adventuring in the world underwater.