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Spring Break in Lanzarote

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We were a less than a metre away from one of the largest groupers I’d seen in a long time. She hovered motionless under a deep overhang, her beautifully silky smooth skin glistening in our torch lights. Unlike many of the groupers we’d already seen she was remarkably at ease despite our close contact. This was her spot, large and confident and used to divers, she wasn’t moving!  It was a great moment – just one of many we were having on this dive trip.

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We were still just in the month of March; the Easter holidays had just started and Spring was imminent. My stepson and I had come to an old favourite short haul holiday destination of mine, Lanzarote. He was doing his advanced open water course, and I was enjoying some real easy diving, not too far from home, where hopefully we’d have some great weather and good value for money diving. I’d spent my honeymoon here, visited my first volcano, explored amazing bleak scenery and seen my first Angel shark. I was hoping Arthur would share similar experiences too and even perhaps see his first Angel shark.

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seahorseDSC_0019Lanzarote is one of seven volcanic islands that make up the Canaries. Located in the Atlantic Ocean around one hundred miles of the coast of Morocco they cover an area of some 550 kilometres. Part of Spain, Tenerife, Lanzarote, Grand Canaria, Fuerteventura and La Palma are the biggest and easiest to get to, with the least developed, smallest and most unspoilt islands El Hiero and La Gomera. Due a ‘hot spot’ in the Earth’s crust the islands have been volcanically active for thousands of years. Most of the islands mass is below sea level meaning only the very tips of the volcanoes emerge above the water. The last eruption was in 1971 at Teneguia on La Palma.

Pink Anemonelanzerote017Each island has something to offer. Tenerife has Mount Teide, the third highest volcanic structure and most voluminous in the world. Lanzarote has the Timanfaya volcano and a national park. Here, just 10 metres below the surface, temperatures approaching 600 degrees are still recorded! This is despite the last volcano erupting here over 250 years ago.

Lanzarote is the lazy diver’s dream. Right off the shore in the busy tourist resort of Puerto del Carmen there are a whole host of fantastic dive sites. They are found off the beach between Playa Chica and the old harbour. There is even a dive centre located right on the beach. Safari Diving is ironically named as it suggests going on some Red Sea adventure using tents; to the contrary, it’s in a dream location opposite a shallow sheltered bay. With new equipment (all the top brands) for rent at reasonable rates, a range of excellent dive masters and English owners Wendy and husband Steve, it’s the perfect place for either beginners learning for the first time or experienced divers like myself looking for a hassle free service.

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The sea is literally a few steps from the dive centre, and once you’ve swum a little distance out and descended on to a sandy bottom, you find yourself swimming past small wrasse and damsel fish, parrot fish, and schools of bream patrolling up and down the bay’s protected mini cliffs.

We were diving one of Playa Chica’s most famous sites, the Cathedral. We’d swum straight out from the dive centre and slowly descended past 20 metres over the sand, past a colony of garden eels, the odd flounder and weever fish, some frisky cuttlefish, and arrived at the main drop off. Here the bottom had fallen away quite sharply well past 40 metres. To our right we’d briefly explored the top of the wreck of a small boat, before crossing back to our left to a small outcrop to look at the large old blind moray who has lived here for at least the last 8 years (although perhaps not always blind!). We then ducked under the overhang and found our giant lady grouper. I had wondered how many divers she had watched pass this spot in just one day! Since the troubles in Egypt, Turkey and the migrant situation on other islands such as Greece, many more divers were heading to the Canaries, with diver numbers up well in excess of 30 percent!

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We had spent the week on guided dives, but now that Arthur had qualified we’d rented tanks and got in the water ahead of the crowds. It was sadly overcast and the visibility was only around 10 metres, not its more normal 20 to 30, but still better than the east coast back in the UK! The water was just about warm enough – we were in 7mm wetsuits (although I had seen the odd instructor still in a drysuit!). Leaving the Grouper behind we headed further to our left and into the darkness. We were entering the Cathedral, a vast cave which many divers could fit in to – which was just as well, as by the time we reached the back a group was entering, their lights a faint glow at first as they headed towards us. As they got closer I could see their leader was wearing a drysuit and tick gloves and in a technical diver’s crossed-arms pose! He made me feel colder than I actually was, seeing him kitted up more typically for a dive in UK waters!

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We left them swiftly and headed out the cave and back to the sloping sand, back past more frisky cuttlefish, flounders, lizard fish and garden eels. Arthur delighted in swimming through the bubbles we’d left in the cave, which were now percolating through small holes in the roof. They were being added to all the time by more divers beneath us. Moving up the sand before heading back into the bay and exiting at the beach we explored the rocky wall to our right, where groups of parrot fish cruised in and out of little gullies and a group of mullet worked the sand around the walls base, closely followed by some goatfish and bream. At 6 metres this was a perfect place to spend a 5 minute safety stop at the end of our dive.

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There are more than a half dozen great dives off the beach at Playa Chica. The Cathedral is the most accessible and scenic but the Blue Hole is also high on people’s list. Earlier in the week I joined one of Safari Diving’s group dives while Arthur did his course. Also in the group was someone I hadn’t seen for over 20 years, another keen photographer called John Collins from Ireland. It was great to catch up with John and swap stories on Photo and diving gear etc. To reach the Blue Hole we had jumped off the harbour steps a short walk along the front from the dive centre. Swimming out to the Hole took longer than the swim to the Cathedral, but it was nice scenic dive, starting with a deepish swim through starting in around 18 metres and exiting at about 26 metres. Once through the swim through we explored a small cave full of encrusting life and a few small shrimps. Below us we watched 2 nice sized Groupers slowly swim away. I also joined John on Safari Diving’s harbour wreck boat dive. It left as planned at 2.30pm, again from the harbour steps.

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Arthur was also on our dive doing one of the specialties for his course. The dive is one of the best in Lanzarote and most people’s favourite. Some 35 years ago, between 6 and 7 wrecks were purposely sunk by the first dive centre on Lanzarote. Mostly old fishing vessels, some literally on top of others, can be explored at depths from just 14 metres down to about 40 metres. Well protected from the worst weather, the wrecks have remained in relatively good condition. The first wreck you come to literally hangs off the side of the harbour wall, resting on the reef, its stern now full of rocks which were put there during the recent harbour wall rebuild.

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As we cruised round and down beneath its bow, a lovely shoal of bream cruised by above us. We soon dropped down to 30 metres right on top of the next 2 wrecks, which seemed to be sitting on top of each other. There was a bow section,  some winches, and various other parts of wreckage, some of which was covered in fishing nets. Much of the wreck’s original wooden decking was still in place. Swimming on a bit further more wrecks appeared; it was all a bit of a huddle though – it was hard to make out where one started and the other ended! A real mashup of hulls, decking, machinery and fishing equipment, it was all a bit hard to take in at 30 metres with one eye on my computer and the other on Arthur doing his first real deep dive!

On another day I’d like to go deeper and explore the wreck which was just out of our time and depth. It’s found between 35m and 40m and  known as the “Propeller” wreck, because it still has its iron propeller and rudder.

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Arthur really enjoyed his first combined wreck and boat dive, and when I asked him at the end of the week which his favourite dive was, it was a three way tie. I was definitely in agreement; as well as the wreck and boat dive, the other two were his first night dive and our dive at the Atlantic Museum down at Playa Blanca. It was dark by 8.30pm and we entered the water at about 9pm right off the beach from the dive centre. Arthur was amazed at how far we could see underwater and by the amazing bioluminescence which we could see when we switched our torches off and swiped our hands through the water. Our guide Debs was brilliant, coping well in showing five of us various night time creatures – some sleeping, some active, such as octopus and squid, spider crabs and sea hairs. I think the most memorable find was an angel shark so well camouflaged, at first all we could see was its green eye poking out through the sand! With a few of us feeling the cold the dive was over after just 45 minutes, and I reluctantly exited with everyone else. After nearly 30 years diving I still absolutely love night dives, the time just shoots by and I always feel I could stay a lot longer!

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There is one dive site you don’t want to miss on Lanzarote. Located on the  south west side of the island at Playa Blanca,  The Atlantic Museum consists of many incredible sculptures which have being installed on the seafloor in Colaradas Bay in Playa Blanca at a depth of 15 metres. The museum, the first in Europe of its kind, has been designed by British artist Jason deCaires Taylor, who has created  similar creations in Cancun, Mexico and Grenada in the West Indies. The creation is sure to be a mega attraction for divers.

Keep an eye out for my report on the Atlantic Museum on Scubaverse soon!

Summary

Volcanic scenery and volcanoes still smoking, secret lagoons, fantastic beaches, water parks, guaranteed sunshine and turquoise waters all just 4 hours from the UK. What are you waiting for? Book some winter sun and spring diving now!

Oh, just one tip – take a thick wetsuit (unless your going in summer or autumn!).

Gavin dived with Steve and Wendy Hicks at Safari Diving Lanzarote. For more information, visit www.safaridiving.com.

LANZAROTE FACT FILE

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Water temperature:

17°C (63°F) in February to 24°C (75°F) in August

A drysuit may be preferable in winter months, although a 7mm semidry should also be sufficient. 5mm wet suit should be fine in summer.

Visibility:

20 – 30 metres (65 – 100 feet)

Type of diving:

Caves, tunnels, sheer walls, wrecks

Marine life:

Angel sharks, rays, moray eels, garden eels, cuttlefish, octopus, lobsters, jacks, barracuda, grouper, trumpetfish, scorpionfish, parrotfish, wrasse

When to go:

All year, although June to October may be preferable if you prefer warmer water. Winter is the best season for the Angel sharks.

How to get there:

From the UK – numerous flights direct from all major airports. Flight time is about 4 hours.

Accommodation: 

All inclusive 3 star with flights you can get for £499 with Jet 2 holidays

Gavin Anderson has been an award winning underwater photographer for the last 25 years, in which time he has written for many of the UK's leading scuba diving magazines. He won BSoUP's newcomer trophy in 1993 and is the co-author of the lonely planet dive and snorkelling guide to the Red Sea. He has made over 5000 dives all over the world from his native Scotland to the South Pacific Islands of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu; Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Malaysia; the Caribbean and the USA; the Canary Islands, Corsica, Ibiza, and many other destinations. To supplement his diving career Gavin also runs a wedding and portrait studio based in central scotland.

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 5

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 5 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

After an evening of chilling out by the pool and in the bar, we are back to the Roots House Reef this morning, with Keiron continuing his RAID Master Rescue Diver Course and enjoying Moudi’s vast experience as he learns more about advanced buoyancy skills.

Not sure where the week has gone; it’s Wednesday already.  A few different things happening today… Oatsie who has just started at Hull University on a Marine Biology Degree Course wants to complete his sidemount course and this afternoon he is out with Guy Henderson to start his learning.  Swars also wants to do the course, as he wants to get into cavern and cave diving.  Swars will start his course tomorrow afternoon and both will spend a day being taught be Steve Rattle on Friday. Hopefully they will both be certified as RAID Sidmount Divers at the end of their training.

Tom putting his sidemount rig together under Guy’s watchful eye

The morning sees Swars and I working with Corey again and taking him through the remainder of skills and OW dives.  He is improving massively but we still have to work on trim and propulsion.

Keiron, unfortunately for him, has Oatsie and Michael for his diver recovery exercises; I am told there may well be an entanglement to deal with!

Conditions are perfect again as we all look forward to three great dives during the day.

90% of those we work with have mental health issues, mainly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of serving in various theatres of war.  If you read some adaptive teaching manuals, they have a task to ‘teach a student with PTSD a skill.’ Hmmmmm how is Oatsie, Swars, Michael or Keiron any different than a student who is free from any mental illness?  The answer is they are not, they are exactly the same. Do you talk to them differently, do you demonstrate skills differently?  The answer is no.

If they have a flashback or a panic attack, then you need to step back and provide whatever assistance is necessary but only if there is a risk of them hurting themselves.  All our team have to undertake and pass the two-day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) course so we can intervene appropriately where the circumstances require it.

Do you know what a panic attack looks like?  Do you know how to respond to a panic attack?

Flashbacks most frequently occur at night time but some do experience day time flashbacks.  Flashbacks can lead to the individual feeling physically and mentally drained and can be triggered by anything that reminds them of the traumatic incident(s) they experienced.  Sometimes there might be a need for one of our medical team to be involved. Often a period of quietness, rest and possibly sleep is required.

Keiron and Corey on the House Reef

We have seen lots of our beneficiaries learn to manage their PTSD. As Chris Middleton said on a BBC programme:

“You can’t beat PTSD but you can learn to manage it.”

In addition to the scuba diving, Deptherapy also provides 24/7 support for our beneficiaries.  Beneficiaries are encouraged to attend the MHFA course with their partner, parent, relative or friend.

Many will have read comments from our beneficiaries, that once they put their heads under the water their demons disappear.  There are several factors to this: the peace, the quiet and the tranquillity that occurs underwater, the beauty of the corals and the amazing aquatic life.

Roots is very much like a retreat for us, we are miles away from any towns, there are no distractions, the nearest town is El Quseir, which is orthodox Muslim so there is no alcohol on sale.  The recent bypass of the main Safaga to El Quesir/Marsa Alam road means that at night time there is no noise, just a brilliant star lit sky.

Roots at night from the beach

Beneficiaries are encouraged to talk openly with the team and their fellow beneficiaries about their injuries/illnesses and provide overwhelming support for each other as Corey found on this trip.

Our aim is to create a family atmosphere and Roots very much contributes to the sense of family and wellbeing.

Sadly, we live in a world where those with mental illnesses are largely discriminated against.  Because few understand mental health, they are fearful of it and try to ignore it.  Please look at the Mind website or even better sign up to a Mental Health First Aid Course.  If you run a business then run the course for your staff, the benefits will be massive.

Back to the diving, Michael and Tom under Moudi’s close supervision gave Keiron some very challenging diver recovery exercises.  Poor Keiron, but he responded tremendously.

Swars, is working well with Corey, ensuring horizontal trim and making sure he uses effective arm strokes for his swimming. We are organising an SMB session, so he can work with different types of SMBs.

Although we haven’t told him, he has finished all his skills but we still have work to do on his trim and propulsion.  We want him to go beyond standards, we want him to be a very competent diver, who despite his devastating injuries, can self-rescue and support a buddy if in need.

The afternoon dive sees Michael joining myself and Swars with Corey.  This dive is about buoyancy, trim and propulsion.  Keiron is doing some more advanced buoyancy work with Moudi.

All roads lead to Roots, is this the future of Google maps?

Oatsie had a great dive with Guy using sidemounts and is looking forward to completing the sidemount course with Swars and Steve Rattle on Friday.

In the evening, and before dinner, Moudi runs the RAID O2 Administrator Course for all five beneficiaries. It is a qualifying part of Keiron’s RAID Master Rescue Diver course but we decided it would benefit all of the guys.

Tomorrow we have decided to take Corey to 30 metres and for him to complete a narcosis test. Join us back here tomorrow to find out how we get on…


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World announces 2020 Green Fins Award Winners

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The Green Fins Award recognises the world’s most environmentally friendly dive centres

The Reef-World Foundation – the international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is delighted to announce the winners of the coveted 2020 Green Fins Award are:

  • Bubbles Dive Centre, Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
  • Flora Bay Divers, Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia
  • And Tioman Dive Centre, Pulau Tioman, Malaysia

The prestigious annual award recognises the Green Fins member with the lowest environmental impact. This year, competition was so tight there was not one, but three winners all tied in first place. What’s more, all three of the winners and seven of the global top 10 centres are based in Malaysia!

Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre

The winning dive operators were chosen from the 600-strong network of Green Fins members by a rigorous assessment of business practices. To be eligible for the award, the operator must have had its latest assessment conducted within the last 18 months. In 2019, the proud winner was Tioman Dive Centre: a PADI dive centre which has been a Green Fins member since 2009 and had managed to hold onto the title again in 2020.

As 2020’s Green Fins Award winners, Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre are recognised as the world’s most sustainable dive or snorkel operator, as verified by the globally-recognised Green Fins environmental assessment. Their steps to improve sustainability practices, which have resulted in this recognition as the most environmentally friendly Green Fins dive centres in the world, have included:

  • Switching to eco-friendly products and improving waste management practices: Kelvin Lim, Flora Bay Divers, said: “We switched from normal detergents to eco-friendly detergents, we are encouraging divers to bring their own water bottles to reduce plastic and came up with a general waste bin and a bin for plastic bottles in front of our dive centre. This helps tourists and locals to place thrash that’s been found on the beach easily and conveniently since there are no proper bins along the beach.”
  • Training staff in why environmental practices are important: Peisee Hwang, Bubbles Dive Centre, said: “Green Fins has helped my crew understand more about the importance of looking after the environment. Less educated members of staff would throw cigarette butts in the sea without thinking but they are now keeping their trash to dispose in the bin when they are back.”
  • Upgrading boat engines: Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre, said: “At the beginning of 2020, we upgraded our last remaining boat engine and now we run 100% with 4-stroke models. The benefits are not only to the environment but also a huge reduction in petrol usage. It’s a Win Win situation!”

Alvin Chelliah, Green Fins Assessor Trainer from Reef Check Malaysia, said: ”Most dive centre managers and owners that I have come across in Malaysia care and want to do what they can to help protect coral reefs. I think Green Fins has been the right tool to guide them towards practical actions they can take. Over the years, we have seen these dive centres put in a lot of effort and work hard at following the guidelines and they have improved steadily as a result. We hope others will follow their example.”

Peisee Hwang, Bubbles Dive Centre, said: “We are thrilled to know that we have won and we are glad that our effort is being recognised. We hope that more operators aspire to join us in pledging for the environment.”

Kelvin Lim, Flora Bay Divers, said: “We are proud to be acknowledged for our efforts to inspire sustainable diving. Our focus remains on cultivating informed and conscious divers with good diving skills and habits..”

Rosie Cotton, Tioman Dive Centre, said: “Receiving the news that we have made the top spot of Green Fins members is a fantastic feeling. Thank you so much to the Green Fins team for your ongoing support! This year has obviously been slightly different to previous years. I hope that something we can all take away from this year is that changes in our daily habits can create shockwaves of positive change around the world in a relatively short period of time. From TDC, we hope you are all safe and well at this time and are able to find some positives despite these difficult circumstances.”

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re thrilled to recognise Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre as joint winners of the 2020 Green Fins Award. Competition between the Top 10 is always tight but the fact that there are three winners this year, when usually one centre takes the title, shows how much sustainability is being put at the forefront of the agenda across the dive industry. So, we’d like to say a big well done to Bubbles Dive Centre, Flora Bay Divers and Tioman Dive Centre. This win is testament to their hard work and ongoing sustainability efforts and they should be very proud. It’s an incredibly tight race to be named the best of the best!”

The Green Fins Top 10 list is comprised of the world’s most sustainable dive operators, as determined by the Green Fins assessment process. In 2020 they are:

  • Tioman Dive Centre, Flora Bay
  • Divers and Bubbles Dive Centre (all in Malaysia)
  • Ceningan Divers (Indonesia)
  • Scuba Junkie Mabul (Malaysia)
  • Sea Voice Divers (Malaysia)
  • Evolution (Philippines)
  • Orca Nation Rawa (Malaysia)
  • Equation (Philippines)
  • The Barat Perhentian Beach Resort (Malaysia)

In Malaysia, Green Fins is run by Reef Check Malaysia in partnership with the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (DMPM) on the Peninsula and Sabah Parks in Sabah. Membership is not yet available in Sarawak.

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org and www.greenfins.net.

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