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Bleaching and teaching – saving corals and marine life in the face of El Niño

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Biosphere Expeditions

Biosphere ExpeditionsMarine Conservation SocietyIn the Maldives, repressive politics, coral bleaching and the whale shark tourism industry are out of control. Two NGOs – Biosphere Expeditions and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) – battle on regardless. Their silver lining is civil society groups.

The two NGOs have worked in the Maldives since 1990, eventually joining forces in 2011. Today they run an annual research expedition to the Maldives, assessing coral reef fitness alongside marine health indicators such as whale sharks. “We are also very concerned by the increasingly repressive political developments,” says Dr. Matthias Hammer of Biosphere Expeditions.

El Niño devastating reefs

The recent El Niño event has severely stressed corals in the Maldives too. So much so that according to MCS’s Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt the July research trip will be “one of sadness – to see the impact of climate change. A massive bleaching event has hit the Maldives in May as a result of a strong and long El Niño. It has clearly killed many shallow water Maldives reefs. Our task is to see the extent of the damage caused and to work out which reefs are more resilient.”

Dr. Hammer adds that “Maldivian local communities are only slowly becoming more aware of human impacts on reefs and therefore the source of their livelihoods and homes. Given the very real threats to coral reefs and the rapid pace of change, communities, politicians and government must be more proactive in managing the coral reefs of the Maldives properly and sustainably.”

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Photos (left to right): Surveying the reef (c) S Hashim; Whale shark (c) Biosphere Expeditions; Colours of the reef (c) S Hashim.

Unsustainable, out of control whale shark exploitation and harassment

The two NGOs also do not mince their words in their assessment of the whale shark tourism industry in South Ari Marine Protected Area. “Although the area is a Marine Protected Area (MPA), as of yet it is merely a paper park. Despite suggestions for regulations being put forward, there is neither a proper management plan that all the stakeholders agree on, nor a governing body actively involved in enforcing these regulations. As a result, boat collisions that result in major injuries to the sharks and harassment by boats and divers / snorkellers engaged in irresponsible tourism activities are the rule, rather than the exception. Whale shark tourism is therefore far from sustainable and the MPA has a long way to go until it is no longer just a paper park.”

The silver lining: Where the officialdom fails, communities step in

But it is not all doom and gloom. Where officialdom is failing, civil society and committed Maldivians are stepping in. Ever since Biosphere Expeditions started running its annual research trip to the Maldives in 2011, it has educated and trained Maldivians in reef survey techniques as part of the Biosphere Expeditions’ placement programme. This culminated in the first-ever all-Maldivian reef survey in November 2014 and other community-based conservation initiatives since then, the latest in March 2016. Shaha Hasihim of local NGO Gemana, for example, has taken part in several expeditions and is now training her compatriots in reef survey techniques and setting up community-based conservation programmes, because, in her words, “monitoring the reef on a regular basis helps local communities identify issues that may affect the health of the reefs and take preventive measures to restore the balance and ensure reef survival.”

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Photos (left to right): A healthy reef with live coral and a thriving fish population (c) S Hashim; A local volunteer collects the all-important data along the Reef Check transect line (c) S Hashim; Coral bleaching has also devastated Maldives reefs  (c) XL Catlin Seaview Survey.

Biosphere Expeditions is also raising funds for more placements across other parts of the planet, as part of its campaign to train 15 young conservationists in 10 countries across the globe. The funding target is $7500. Donations are most welcome.

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown are a husband and wife team of underwater photographers. Both have degrees in environmental biology from Manchester University, with Caroline also having a masters in animal behaviour. Nick is a fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in underwater wildlife photography and he also has a masters in teaching. They are passionate about marine conservation and hope that their images can inspire people to look after the world's seas and oceans. Their Manchester-based company, Frogfish Photography, offers a wide range of services and advice. They offer tuition with their own tailor made course - the Complete Underwater Photography Award. The modules of the course have been written to complement the corresponding chapters in Nick's own book: Underwater Photography Art and Techniques. They also offer equipment sales and underwater photography trips in the UK and abroad. For more information visit www.frogfishphotography.com.

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Mares & SSI launch new promotion

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SSI expands financial support to SSI Members worldwide. 

2020 has been an unusual and challenging year for the entire world, especially the diving and travel industry!  To weather the crisis, SSI immediately jumped into action to help Training Centers and Professionals around the world.  

In response to COVID-19, SSI launched the No Water, No Problem Campaign, put Final Exams online, and held hundreds of Webinars to train Professionals on how to use distance learning to teach the dry Specialties online. The FREE SCIENCE OF DIVING promotion resulted in SSI Training Centers worldwide register over 50,000 FREE DIGITAL KITS, funding more than $3.5 MILLION IN RETAIL VALUE. Additionally, SSI introduced an aggressive DOUBLE PRO REWARDS incentive to help SSI Professionals compensate 2020 Renewal Fees and reduce those for 2021. Currently, the WE WANT YOU Crossover promotion aims to fill the industry need for instructors and strengthen the entire SSI Professional community.

Now, in conjunction with Mares, SSI is launching the GO DIVING – PROTECT YOURSELF. OWN EQUIPMENT Promotion, which includes a FREE SSI EQUIPMENT TECHNIQUES DIGITAL KIT. This new campaign strives to motivate divers worldwide to go diving and buy equipment. Look for more information on this next retail support campaign within the next few days.

“These are just a few examples of how we have supported and are continuing to support our Training Centers, Professionals, and divers worldwide. To provide even more economic security and help in business recovery, WE WILL NOT INCREASE PRICES FOR 2021. While travel was restricted and some key resort areas completely locked down, SSI mainly focused on supporting domestic markets with retail-driven incentives. Now, in this next re-opening phase, we need to shift gear and assist resort markets that have no local diving community and are 100% dependent on the traveling diver. Therefore, SSI will grant certain special conditions and delayed payment options to specific resort markets which have been locked down for longer than six months or suffered from closed borders,” stated Guido Waetzig, SSI CEO.

Guido Waetzig, SSI CEO, explains further, “To financially support these needed investments which directly benefit SSI Members and to protect the health of our valuable members and staff, we will forego all 2021 Trade Shows over the next 12 months. Despite international uncertainty, every time we experience one of these events, the entire SSI Network emerges stronger and more resilient. Be assured, SSI is your trustful partner within the Diving Industry!”

For more information about SSI visit their website by clicking here.

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Photo Gallery: Shark Diving in The Bahamas

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In our Gallery feature, we let the photos tell the story… Each Gallery showcases a selection of outstanding images on a chosen theme, taken by our Underwater Photography Editor Nick and Deputy Editor Caroline of Frogfish Photography. This time they look at Shark Diving in The Bahamas.


The Bahamas offers some of the very finest shark diving experiences in the world. The islands have protected sharks in their waters creating one of the first Shark Sanctuaries in the world. Several species of shark can be seen and photographed, with each island offering a different type of shark diving, making this destination the perfect place for a multi-island, multi-shark trip of a lifetime.

Great Hammerhead Shark diving in Bimini

Bull Sharks in Bimini

Tiger Shark off Grand Bahama

Oceanic Whitetip Shark off Cat Island

Nurse Shark off Abaco

Caribbean Reef Sharks off New Providence

Lemon Sharks off Grand Bahama

For more images from The Bahamas and around the world, visit the Frogfish Photography website by clicking here.

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