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Ashraf Hassanin – Red Sea Dive Guide

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I have just spent a week running a wreck video course on the liveaboard Blue Planet organised by OonasDivers. We were following the Northern Red Sea Wrecks route and combining filming scrap metal on the sea bed with good wildlife.  I’m not an over keen wrecks diver just for the sake of the wreck itself; the main interest for me is the habitat they provide for a huge variety of marine life, and as luck would have it our Egyptian dive guide Ashraf Hassanin felt the same way. Ashraf turned out to be not only enthusiastic, but also very knowledgeable. During our 5 diving days we explored large wrecks such as the Thistlegorm to the smaller and less distinguished.

Being a Dive Guide is hard work. First out of bed in the mornings and last to bed at night, always being cheery and helpful. Ashraf’s enthusiasm for the diving and wildlife was inspirational, as was his desire to make sure we all fully enjoyed each new location. During one of his rare quiet moments I asked him about his job.

Jeff.  How did you start diving?

Ashraf.  I started diving long ago, I have always loved the sea. As a kid I started ducking and skin dipping, helping tie the mooring ropes and the lines for boats. I loved swimming and snorkelling, doing short dives. Eventually I was a crew member on liveaboards, driving the zodiacs, assisting the Captain. I got to know the dive sites and how the currents worked. It all helped me to know later how to dive the dive sites and how to manage the liveaboard trips, the itineraries, what is the best you can see, when to go, what is the best way to approach without disturbing the wildlife. It’s all very interesting and very important.

Jeff.  What made you choose diving rather than crew or skipper on the boat?

Ashraf.  Mainly I love the sea. I love marine life. It has a big fascination for me, life under the water, absolutely lovely. It’s a lot different underwater, it’s more interesting than above. The skipper is in the wheel house all the time. I worked hard and finally became a dive instructor then dive master. I am now a guide as well as being a technical diver.

Jeff.   So what is it about being underwater that is so good?

Ashraf.  When you see a shark or a pod of Dolphins and even the lovely nudibranchs, it really makes you very happy. Especially 2 weeks ago we had beautiful schools of hammerheads. We enjoyed it very much, our clients enjoyed it as well.

Jeff.   What is your favourite spot?

Ashraf.  Every itinerary has different meaning, has different lovely dives. It is impossible to say this is the best spot here or there, every site has different meaning, different life. I saw a whale shark and a tiger shark at the Elphinstone recently. While right here there are dolphins.

Jeff.   You are very enthusiastic when you are talking to the people who come on the tours. Do they always like diving because of the wild life? What is the reason that most people dive do you think?

Ashraf.  Most people like diving because of the feeling underwater, you feel yourself.  Some are extremely interested in marine life, some are diving because their boyfriend or girlfriend are diving.

Jeff.   Just joining in!

Ashraf.  Yes. It’s really nice to see the variety of people who are interested.

Jeff.  Do you ever have problems with your guests?

Ashraf.  Not really. Guests might not be happy if they are sick.  A few weeks ago guests arrived but no luggage, none of their own gear and clothes. I tried to make them happy by showing them the sharks and all this lovely stuff.  We loaned them equipment and 3 days later their bags came.

Jeff.   How long have you been diving?

Ashraf.  About 10 years.

Jeff.  Do you notice anything different in the state of the sea in that time?

Ashraf.  Definitely, definitely. I am not happy with many things. We need mooring lines in the Red Sea. There are not many fixed. None of the guides are happy with this. For example, we need lots of mooring lines to protect Devils Island and Brothers Island, we need to protect all these areas.  It’s not only the surface reefs.  We need to take care of the deeper areas as well, 40 – 100mts down, the sharks are down deep, this is their home, their habitat, every time an anchor is thrown in it is not good.

Jeff.    Is it only mooring lines that are the problem?

Ashraf.  Not entirely. There are heavily dived sites and some of the divers are not the best. A lot of coral has been damaged by thoughtless diving.

Jeff.   What is the main problem? Is it their fins or do they stand on it?

Ashraf.  Standing on the reef is strictly not allowed but it does happen. But also they are finning across it and not really taking care.  Also touching the coral is a problem.

Jeff.   In your briefings do you talk about taking care of the coral?

Ashraf.  At the first briefing, I talk about weights and buoyancy control, so that you are not touching any corals.  I talk about how to use a stone area to push yourself away from the corals if you have to.  But just use one finger to push yourself away.  I am giving divers a chance if they are filming, and trying to take macro, but always great care must be taken, especially with their fins. We only take photos and we only leave bubbles. It’s a good saying, protecting the marine life is very important to us.

Jeff.    Other than the coral, what about quantities of marine life, fish shoals?

Ashraf.  Actually at Ras Mohamed this week it was really interesting to see big schools of snappers, really fantastic. We had lovely dives, out in the blue with not too much current. Also lots of Gorgonian and nice soft corals. Ras Mohamed is one of the most protected marine park areas by the authorities, no fishing there and no mooring at all.

Jeff.    How is that enforced?

Ashraf.  All the boats, the guides, the captains, they all know the area is protected. No one can get permissions to fish there.

Jeff.   So if you see a boat fishing there or doing something wrong, do you stop them?

Ashraf.  Definitely, we stop them as well as take pictures and report them.

Jeff.   Who would you report them to?

Ashraf.  We would take a picture and report them to HEPCA (Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association) and CDWS (Chamber of Dive and Water Sports) and they have a quick reaction.  It’s happened before, they react very quickly and this is important.

Jeff.   Is there ever control of the amount of divers on any of the dive sites?

Ashraf.  This is very difficult. What we can try to do is fix the mooring lines to stop boats dropping anchors….we can teach and advise the divers to be careful of all the corals.  The Red Sea is one of the best dive sites in the world, the variety of wildlife, warm water, good visibility, more than 200 species of marine life, corals, wrecks. We have everything. Even down at 100 metres there is good visibility for the tech divers.

Jeff.     Do you work all year or do you manage to have time off?

Ashraf.  The end of January to the beginning of March is the low season and during that period I get some time off when I can stay home.

Jeff.    Do you dive when you are not working?

Ashraf.  mmmmm –  I would say yes, I don’t mind to dive but not in the Red Sea. I dive so many times in the Red Sea all the rest of the year so I like to dive somewhere else.

Jeff.    What do you see the future being for diving and marine life in the Red Sea?

Ashraf.   That’s important.  I would say it is time now to protect wrecks and marine life. I was not happy at all to see lost mooring lines on some of our wrecks. The last wreck we were on I saw a mooring rope through a bolt hole in the bow section which is now nearly broken, smashed. I saw one of the boats tying their line on this and it was being slowly torn from the wreck. Sooner or later it will come off. I know before that this part of the ship was very strong. It is so bad for these wrecks; the dive boats are getting bigger and bigger every year.

We will kill everything, that’s not nice. We need the authorities to act now.  We need good solid mooring lines to prevent all this.

Jeff.   Would it be HEPCA responsible for this?

Ashraf.  HEPCA, yes. We will report this to HEPCA, we will write them a letter and ask them to react quickly against this situation and to heavily fine each boat making temporary lines onto the wrecks. For example, the Thistlegorm is one of the best 10 wrecks in the world, a highlight of the Red Sea. One of the best that divers come to visit. We saw eight boats today, there can be fifteen or more. It’s too dangerous, lines fixed everywhere. I think HEPCA will react quickly and they will lay new lines. They did fix secure mooring lines last year but now we have the bigger and bigger boats and the lines are snapped off and broken. But I am optimistic that HEPCA will deal with this.

Jeff.   Will this restrict the number of boats and divers?

Ashraf.  No, the number of divers and boats is not a problem, it is the damage to the wreck. We need solid moorings away from the wreck and then perhaps just thin guide lines from the mooring to the actual wreck for the less experienced divers. This then is good for the safety margins, if there is a strong current. I cannot say to my clients you cannot dive today, there is a strong current, I want all my guests to be happy, so a very thin mooring line to connect the main mooring lines to the wrecks would be good. These can be placed by each guide for his group. This would work.

It is the big heavy boats that are the problem, holding onto the body of the wrecks. The big waves and stormy conditions in this area are pulling the boats against their mooring ropes. It is crazy to put these ropes on the wrecks. I have seen them on the bridge roofs or winches. I even saw one tied to the large deck gun of the Thistlegorm. Why? Why? That is a museum, an underwater museum.

Jeff.  The fishing question. There are less and less fish in the sea every year. Do you see that here?

Ashraf.  Getting less and less but here in the Red Sea we have fishes coming up from the Indian Ocean, from the deep South going all the way up to the Ras Mohamed area.  It is highly seasonal and we have all these fish coming and all the sharks follow the fish. We have to study this, it’s important to study the itinerary and the map of these fish, where they go, where they come from, where they’re breeding, that’s important.  Also sharks, where they come from, where they are heading for.

Jeff.   As a guide, as you are seeing it all. Do you take notes, log things and send  information to HEPCA?

Ashraf.   Honestly, at the moment I don’t. I will start to do that, I would like to do that.

Jeff.    Do you have the time?

Ashraf.   It is very tight, but you have to do it. I have called HEPCA several times to report matters, to tell them this and that. I have to send a report, I have to ask what’s going on, what’s the future, what are you doing, how can we help you?

We have to be able to give the people information. Not to throw cigarettes in the water.  Plastic is very bad. We have to teach people, give them sessions. The crew must also understand and avoid throwing things in the water. Recycling is crucial.

But actually now it is much better than it was long ago.

Jeff.   Thank you Ashraf, it’s been good to hear your thoughts and thank you for a great weeks diving.

Jeff is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

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Wakatobi Offers World-Class Diving and Snorkelling

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wakatobi

Wakatobi Resort is known as one of the world’s premier diving and snorkelling destinations. Set on a small island in Indonesia’s Banda Sea, some 1000 km east of Bali, this landmark destination is surrounded by a private marine preserve that protects some of the world’s most pristine and bio-diverse coral reefs. Five-star guest reviews often mention the pristine condition of Wakatobi’s reefs, as well as the idyllic small-island setting, attentive service, ease of travel and gourmet dining experiences.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

Though remote, Wakatobi is easily reached by way of direct guest flights from Bali to the resort’s private airfield. Wakatobi’s concierge team assist with the details of international arrival, transfers and layovers. On arrival at the resort the staff takes care of everything, leaving guests free to relax and prepare for an afternoon dive or snorkel excursion.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

The Wakatobi preserve takes in more than 40 dive and snorkelling sites. The centerpiece of this protected area is the House Reef, which lies just offshore of the resort’s beach and stretches for more than a mile to either side of the resort. This expansive site includes seagrass meadows and patch reefs that are home to thousands of species of marine life, including unique finds such as pygmy seahorses and ghost pipefish. Some 73 meters from shore, the reef transitions from depths of 1 to 3 meters to deeper water in a series of precipitous slopes and walls.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

A fleet of 21-meter custom-built dive boats provide daily access to dive sites within the preserve. All boats feature  shaded seating, large deck-level bathrooms with freshwater showers and convenient mid-boat water entries. Many sites begin at depths of less than 3 meters and drop into deep water in a series of slopes and walls. This creates ideal conditions for long multi-level dive profiles, while also allowing snorkellers to enjoy the same sites as divers.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

Ashore, guests enjoy bespoke personal service and fine dining. Wakatobi is known for five-star guest experiences, with five staff members for each guest to ensure the highest level of individual attention. Bespoke indulgences include private beach dinners, dedicated personal guide services, spa services and private boat excursions.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

Many guests have described the dining experience at Wakatobi as a highlight of their vacation. Each day the resort chefs prepare a diverse range of culinary offerings that includes international and Indonesian favorites. The kitchen can also accommodate bespoke entrees and fulfill special dietary requirements or wishes.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

Resort accommodations include Bungalows set in a palm grove facing a white-sand beach and oceanfront Villas with sunset views of the reef. Buildings are hand-crafted in regional Indonesian style from sustainable local materials, and carefully sited to ensure both privacy and views. Though traditional in appearance, these spacious accommodations offer a full range of modern comforts, including air conditioning, private verandahs and details such as Asian-style outdoor showers.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

The resort’s latest property enhancement is the completion of the Turtle Beach Bungalows. Set amidst palms with ocean views across their namesake beach, these new accommodations are an enlarged version of the resort’s popular Ocean Bungalows. Turtle Beach is a quiet, scenic stretch of sand located at the southern end of the property, just a short stroll to the Longhouse, dive center, restaurant and dive boats.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

Wakatobi is a recognized as a global leader in private-funded conservation efforts. The resort supports one of the world’s largest privately funded marine preserves and is committed to programs that provide proactive environmental protection and social benefits to the local community.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

Vacationers who have the flexibility to visit Wakatobi in the months following the Christmas and New Year’s holiday find there are some added benefits to booking during this time. These months are known for comfortable mid-range water temperatures and good water clarity. During the first quarter of the year there is a greater chance of securing reservations for a desired week without necessarily having to book a year or more in advance. In addition, peak-season airfares of the holiday season often drop during the first months of the year.

wakatobi

Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

We encourage you to get in touch with a guest experience consultant and discover the opportunities to enjoy Wakatobi at any time of the year.

Contact Robert Parrington, Guest Experience Representative:
Email: robert.parrington@wakatobi.com / Call: +44 20 8393 8511

www.wakatobi.com

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Diving With… Nico, Ocean Earth Travels, Indonesia

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diving in Indonesia

In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…

diving in IndonesiaWhat is your name?

Nicolas Roos

What is the name of your business?

Ocean Earth Travels

What is your role within the business?

Founder and CEO, but also trip leader and photographer / videographer for some of our expeditions.

diving in Indonesia

How long has the business operated for?

We opened the company in 2018 and started operating in 2019.

How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?

First try dives when I was 12… then started diving seriously in my early 30s, first with CMAS, then decided to move the the recreational world and became PADI and SSI instructor in 2016.

What is your favourite type of diving?

It really depends on my mood and the location I am at. I love wreck diving and am more attracted towards big stuff. But I also enjoy  macro and muck diving, especially when in the right place and with the right local guides.

diving in Indonesia

If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?

We run trips all around Indonesia. The country has more than 17,000 islands and there is still a lot to explore. So any diver can find what they are looking for. We create unique trips for our guests, depending on their wishes, their level of diving and also their personality. Aside from diving, we also invite our guests to discover the wonders that Indonesia has to offer on land and its very rich culture.

What is your favourite dive in your location and why?

Amed, in Bali, has a special place in my heart. It is a fishermen village with chill vibes. The area offers amazing diving all year long and most dive sites are accessible from the shore. So if I feel like it, I can just call a buddy, grab a tank and my equipment and go diving there whenever I want and go explore a wreck, a deep wall, or spend hours looking for critters . For me, the Amed and Tulamben area is the best value for money you can get in the world.

Another special location is the Banda Sea. Banda Sea crossing trips happen twice a yeasr (around April and October) and are always amazing, with sightings hammerhead sharks and many more amazing encounters.

diving in Indonesia

What types of diving are available in your location?

We are in the heart of the coral triangle and the biodiversity here is truly amazing. From Komodo’s ripping currents to muck diving, Indonesia has it all.

We organize dive safaris between different locations and we also work with many liveaboards, which are the best to explore an area.

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

I love sharing my passion for the ocean and for the Indonesian culture. The most rewarding thing is the smile on our guests’ faces and when they tell us that they will come back to visit us on another trip.

Just last month, a 71 years old diver from France told me that she most probably did her last dives with us… We just spent an amazing day in Nusa Penida island and saw manta rays and mola molas, so I was wondering why. She told me that coming here and doing these amazing dives with her 2 sons was an achievement for her, and she felt that her job was done… A truly heart-warming exchange.

What is your favorite underwater creature?

If I have to name one, I would say the octopus. Truly amazing creatures, and they come in many shapes and sizes!

diving in Indonesia

As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?

We are based in Indonesia… we are literally sitting between 2 major tectonic plates and surrounded by volcanos… so we have to be aware of the risks of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions which could put a halt in our operations.

Is your center involved in any environmental work?

We are working with NGOs and dive centers doing conservation work. We encourage our guests to learn more about coral reef restoration, and to take part in some actions when possible (coral farming, beach cleanups, survey dives).

Our focus is on education and on supporting operators and NGOs having a positive impact on the environment.

Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?

Always! After this high season, we will be exploring some lesser known islands around the country and working with our partners to explore new dive sites in order to take our guests there.

diving in Indonesia

Finally, what would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?

We design trips for groups and individuals of all levels. Get in touch with us, let’s have a chat and we will create together a diving adventure that suits you and your budget. We will also advise you and organise visits on land to discover Indonesia’s breath-taking nature, wildlife and meet its amazing people.

Where can our visitors find out more about your business? 

Visit our website www.oceanearthtravels.com, follow us on Instagram @oceanearth.travels and get in touch with us.

My personal Instagram can be found here.

We will be happy to advise you on the best destinations and time to visit depending on your wishes. Talk to you soon!

WhatsApp: +62 819 136 11 770

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