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Big Blue savings… book up now for 2022/23 Red Sea liveaboard adventures

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The Scuba Place, the UK’s exclusive Travel Agent for MV Big Blue, are delighted to announce its post-Covid relaunch with huge savings for 2022 and 2023.

Having been completed in early 2020, immediately before the global lockdown, the British owned and operated Big Blue was launched in Egypt’s Red Sea as Covid decimated the dive travel industry. With Egypt now firmly placed on the ‘Rest of The World’ list, and with the all clear given from the FCDO, travel is now GO GO GO!

Big Blue – she is BIG! At 42m length, she is one of the largest vessels offering Red Sea safaris there is, but space doesn’t mean hundreds of divers! Built by divers for divers, she sleeps a maximum of 24 people in 12 large, air-conditioned cabins. No more squeezing past your room buddy or banging knees as you squeeze into the bathroom sideways!

There are also accessible cabins on the main deck, with doors in and out that are wide enough (and level enough) for wheelchair access.

Then there are the deck areas – the dive deck itself being deliberately over-size, a huge kitting up area that can accommodate twin-set and rebreather divers, camera tables, rinse tanks – all designed for maximum space. For the sun-lovers and for between dives, the other decks are super-spacious too – no jacuzzi taking up unnecessary space, but comfortable loungers, bean bags and cushioned seating, both under cover and in the sun.

The boat is important to all liveaboard divers – there is nothing worse than being crammed into dated, damp and tiny cabins with dodgy blankets and leaking air-conditioning units. Big Blue fixes these issues, but there is then the question of food. As Big Blue is British built and owned, expect quality food, ample quantity, and lots of snacks available between dives too. All soft drinks are provided, including on-demand tea, coffee, juices and sodas. The bar? An important part of any trip, it offers a selection of local and well-known beers and wines at very sensible prices – if you want the hard stuff, bring your own from Duty Free and let us know in advance what mixers you want – they will be provided!

The most important part of a liveaboard trip is of course the diving. Operated by Pharaoh Dive Clubs, owned by the 30+ year experienced Steve and Clare Rattle, you need to expect the totally open and flexible approach to diving. No rigid itineraries, no dictated dive times, no forced guiding – wherever possible, Big Blue operates a ‘Pool is open’ approach – grab your buddy, tell the deck manager, and dive!

The itineraries offered are special too – there is always a plan but the plan is flexible, based not only on the Captain’s decisions and the weather as per normal, but based on you, the diver! Staying on the Thistlegorm for an extra day, following dolphins, sharks or whalesharks in the South for example – everything, within reason and consensus of course, is an option. And there is normally something different offered to other vessels too on each trip – add in Ras Mohammed and Tiran on a Northern safari, dive the Thor Guardian Support vessel at Tiran, or add in a visit to the Salem Express if you are on one of the Southern itineraries – or, specify your own custom-itinerary, and we will build it!

Nitrox is of course included and 15l, extra tanks for sidemount, twinset and even support for rebreather and tech divers can be provided.

Available for part and full charters, and with some sailings for individuals, Big Blue will set the standards for liveaboard diving in the Red Sea. To celebrate the ‘post Covid relaunch’, the team are keeping full charter prices at 2020 levels all the way through to 2023, subject to bookings being made by the 1st December 2021. A sensible deposit secures your charter, so grab your Club or build your own gang of buddies, or even join on of The Scuba Places’ hosted trips – but do it soon!

As a guide, prices start from Just £695 (plus flights) per person in Low Season, including Port Fees, Marine Park Fees, Government Reef Protection fees and Nitrox, based on a full charter for Northern Wrecks itinerary, rising to £925 for a Deep South itinerary, again including all fees and in High Season. Book after the 1st December, and prices will have increased by at least 10%.

See The Scuba Place website for itineraries, or their e-brochure – or even better, just get in touch with the team at The Scuba Place (0203 515 9955 or john@thescubaplace.co.uk) and get planning your trip! They will build your trip to include flights if required, and offer full ATOL Protection.

Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK land the prize catch at the Fishing News Awards

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The charity Ghost Fishing UK was stunned to win the Sustainability Award.

The winners were selected by a panel of industry judges and the award recognises innovation and achievement in improving sustainability and environmental responsibility within the UK or Irish fishing industries in 2021.

Nominees must have demonstrated a unique and innovative response to an environmental sustainability issue within the UK or Irish industry, demonstrating that the project has gone above and beyond standard practice, and provided evidence of its impact. The judges look particularly for projects that have influenced a significant change in behaviour and/or that have inspired broader awareness and/or engagement.

Ghost Fishing UK originated in 2015, training voluntary scuba divers to survey and recover lost fishing gear, with the aim to either return it to the fishing industry or recycle it. The charity is run entirely by volunteers and has gone from strength to strength, only last year winning the Best Plastic Campaign at the Plastic Free Awards.

Now, the charity has also been recognised at seemingly the opposite end of the spectrum. This is a unique achievement as trustee Christine Grosart explains;

We have always held the belief that working with the fishing industry is far more productive than being against it, in terms of achieving our goals to reduce and remove lost fishing gear.

The positive response to our fisheries reporting system that we received from both the fishing industry and the marine environment sector, was evidence that working together delivers results.

The feedback we got from the awards evening and the two-day Scottish Skipper Expo where we had an exhibit the following day, was that the fishing industry despises lost fishing gear as much as we do and the fishers here are very rarely at fault. It is costly to them to lose gear and they will make every effort to get it back, but sometimes they can’t. That is where we come in, to try to help. Everyone wins, most of all the environment. You can’t ask for much more.”

Following the awards, Ghost Fishing UK held an exhibit at the Scottish Skipper expo at the new P&J Live exhibition centre in Aberdeen.

This gave us a fantastic opportunity to meet so many people in the fishing industry, all of whom were highly supportive of our work and wanted to help us in any way they could. This has opened so many opportunities for the charity and our wish list which has been on the slow burner for the last 7 years, was exceeded in just 3 days. We came away from the events exhausted, elated, humbled, grateful and most of all, excited.”

Trustee and Operations Officer, Fred Nunn, is in charge of the diving logistics such as arranging boats and organising the divers, who the charity trains in house, to give up their free time to volunteer.

He drove from Cornwall to attend the awards and the exhibition: “What a crazy and amazing few days up in Scotland! It was awesome to meet such a variety of different people throughout the industry, who are all looking at different ways of improving the sustainability and reduction of the environmental impact of the fishing industry.

It was exciting to have so many people from the fishing industry approaching us to find out more about what we do, but also what they could offer. Fishermen came to us with reports and offers of help, using their vessels and other exhibitors tried to find ways that their product or service could assist in our mission.”

  • Ghost Fishing UK uses hard boat charters from Cornwall to Scotland for the diving projects, paying it forward to the diving community.
  • The charity relies on reports of lost fishing gear from the diving and fishing community and to date has received well over 200 reports, culminating on over 150 survey and ghost gear recovery dives, amounting to over 1000 individual dives and diver hours by the volunteer team members.
  • You can find more information at ghostfishing.co.uk
  • If you are a fisher who knows of any lost fishing gear, you can report it to the charity here: ghostfishing.co.uk/fishermans-reporting
  • The charity is heading to Shetland for a week-long project in the summer of 2023. If you would like to support this project, please contact them at: info@ghostfishing.co.uk

Chair of Ghost Fishing UK and professional technical diving instructor Dr Richard Walker was immensely proud of the team’s achievements;

I’ve been a scuba diver since 1991 and have met thousands of divers in that time. I’d be hard pushed to think of one of them that wasn’t concerned about conservation of our marine environment. To be recognised by the fishing industry for our efforts in sustainability is a huge honour for us, and has encouraged our team to work even harder to find, survey and remove lost fishing gear from the seas. The fact that the fishing industry recognises our efforts, and appreciates our stance as a group that wants to work alongside them is one of the highlights of our charity’s history, and we look forward to building the relationship further.

To find out more about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website here.


All images: Ghost Fishing UK

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Marine Life & Conservation

Komodo National Park found to be Manta Hotspot

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Through a collaborative effort between citizen divers, scientists from the Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF), and Murdoch University, a new study reports a large number of manta rays in the waters of Komodo National Park, Indonesian, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, suggesting the area may hold the key to regional recovery of the threatened species.

Reef mantas (Mobula alfredi), which grow up to 5m, tend to reside and feed in shallow, coastal habitats. They also visit ‘cleaning stations’ on coral reefs to have parasites, or dead skin picked off by small fish. Courtship ‘trains’ are also observed adjacent to cleaning stations. In Komodo National Park, manta rays are present year-round, challenging the famous Komodo dragon as the most sought-after megafauna for visitors.

Scientists teamed up with the dive operator community to source identification photographs of manta rays visiting the parks’ waters and submit them to MantaMatcher.org – a crowdsourced online database for mantas and other rays. Most of the photographs came from just four locations from over 20 commonly visited by tourism boats.

I was amazed by how receptive the local dive community was in helping collect much-needed data on these threatened animals,” said lead author Dr. Elitza Germanov. “With their support, we were able to identify over 1,000 individual manta rays from over 4,000 photographs.

People love manta rays—they are one of the most iconic animals in our oceans. The rise of the number of people engaging in SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and the advent of affordable underwater cameras meant that photos and videos taken by the public during their holidays could be used to quickly and affordably scale data collection,” said MMF co-founder and study co-author Dr. Andrea Marshall.

The photographs’ accompanying time and location data is used to construct sighting histories of individual manta rays, which can then be analyzed with statistical movement models. These models predict the likelihood that manta rays are inhabiting or traveling in between specific sites. The study’s results showed that some manta rays moved around the park and others as far as the Nusa Penida MPA (>450 km to the west), but overall, manta rays showed individual preferences for specific sites within the Park.

I found it very interesting how some manta rays appear to prefer spending their time in some sites more than others, even when sites are 5 km apart, which are short distances for manta rays,” said Dr. Elitza Germanov. “This means that manta rays which prefer sites where fishing activities continue to occur or that are more popular with tourism will endure greater impacts.”

Fishing activities have been prohibited in many coastal areas within Komodo NP since 1984, offering some protection to manta rays prior to the 2014 nationwide protection. However, due to illegal fishing activity and manta ray movements into heavily fished waters, manta rays continue to face a number of threats from fisheries. About 5% of Komodo’s manta rays have permanent injuries that are likely the result of encounters with fishing gear.

The popularity of tourism to these sites grew by 34% during the course of the study. An increase in human activity can negatively impact manta rays and their habitats. In 2019, the Komodo National Park Authority introduced limits on the number of boats and people that visit one of the most famous manta sites.

This study shows that the places where tourists commonly observe manta rays are important for the animals to feed, clean, and mate. This means that the Komodo National Park should create measures to limit the disturbance at these sites,” said Mr. Ande Kefi, an employee of the Komodo National Park involved with this study. “I hope that this study will encourage tourism operators to understand the need for the regulations already imposed and increase compliance.”

Despite Indonesia’s history with intensive manta ray fisheries, Komodo National Park still retains large manta ray aggregations that with careful ongoing management and threat reduction will benefit regional manta ray populations. The study highlights that marine protected areas that are large enough to host important manta ray habitats are a beneficial tool for manta ray conservation.

For more information about MMF visit their website here.

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A luxurious dive resort in the heart of Lembeh Strait. Enjoy refined services while exploring the rich waters of Indonesia.

The resort is nestled around an ocean front deck and swimming-pool (with pool-bar) which is the perfect place to enjoy a sundowner cocktail at the end of a busy day of critter-diving.

All accommodation is full board and includes three sumptuous meals a day. Breakfast and lunch are buffet meals and in the evening dining is a la carte.

Book and stay before the end of June and benefit from no single supplements in all room types!

Booking deadline: Subject to availability – book and stay before end of June 2022

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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