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Canadian search team consider ‘winter dive’ to explore Erebus wreck




Could the wreck of the HMS Erebus reveal the fate of Franklin himself?

A Canadian search team who found one of the lost vessels of the ill-fated Franklin expedition are so eager to get back to their discovery they are considering a dive through the Arctic ice in the spring to get a closer look at the well-preserved wreck of HMS Erebus.

“We’re exploring that possibility as we’re very anxious to get back,” said Ryan Harris, a senior underwater archeologist for Parks Canada.

Searchers discovered British explorer Sir John Franklin’s reinforced 19th-century wooden warship in the Queen Maud Gulf back in September.


HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, shown in the Illustrated London News published on May 24, 1845, left England that year under the command of Sir John Franklin and in the search of the Northwest Passage.

But winter was rapidly closing in across Nunavut, and after just 12 hours taking photos and video of the sunken British vessel, underwater archeologists had to pack up and sail out of the Arctic before freeze-up.

The search team has every intention of going back to the site next summer — along with continuing the quest to find the other lost Franklin expedition ship, the HMS Terror.

But if there’s a way to get back to Erebus sooner — and Harris certainly hopes there is — divers could be going through the ice next April in an attempt to unravel more of the mystery of what exactly happened to Franklin and his crew of 128 men as they tried to find the long-sought Northwest Passage.

“It’s not something we routinely do,” Harris says of what would be considered winter diving.

“It’s not particularly complex, but it would mean that we’d be diving with surface-supplied diving equipment, not scuba, for safety.”

They would also have to set up an ice camp and rely more on air support — whether it’s helicopters or Twin Otters. And the Parks Canada team would likely be working more closely with divers from the Royal Canadian Navy.

Lots of expertise

While winter diving to explore a shipwreck is rare, it’s not unprecedented.

Last spring, Jonathan Moore, one of the members of the Franklin search team, worked with the Navy at the Nunavut wreck site of the HMS Breadalbane.


Canadian Armed Forces divers working on the sea ice near Gascoyne Inlet, Nunavut, spent six days in April 2014 using remotely operated underwater vehicles to capture footage from the merchant ship Breadalbane, which sank in the High Arctic in 1853.

HMS Breadalbane sank near Beechey Island in 1853 while trying to get supplies to others looking for Franklin’s lost expedition.

“The ice camp was set up by the navy, and their fleet diving unit deployed a remotely operated vehicle to get images and data on the Breadalbane at a depth of 90 metres, quite a challenging wreck site to work on, so yes, there’s definitely precedent,” Harris said.

“There’s certainly a lot going on in the Canadian Arctic, and we have a lot of expertise that we can tap into.”

One of the questions now is whether that technical expertise can tap into the kind of private-public sector partnership that helped find the Franklin ships.

“I’ll be in a listening mode and a position to offer help, but I think this is exciting for Parks Canada because they are really going to be able to build off navy capacity in this case,” says Jim Balsillie, the co-founder and former chairman of BlackBerry-maker Research in Motion who was heavily involved in the Franklin search.

Balsillie helped start the Arctic Research Foundation, which refitted a fishing boat now known as the Martin Bergmann research vessel, which assisted in the search.

Whether or how the foundation might support a winter dive hasn’t been determined, but Balsillie says he is ready for suggestions.

“We will respond to Parks’ lead and the navy’s request in any way, shape or form we can be of help,” says Balsillie, who considers the foundation’s involvement in the Franklin search a “multi-year, probably multi-decade” project.

Done responsibly

Harris also sees the exploration of the Erebus wreck as a multi-year project, and one that must be done responsibly and systematically.

“There’s still quite a bit of work to do there,” he says.

“What makes it kind of difficult is the wreck is covered with a blanket of kelp.

“You have to be there firsthand to be able to poke in under the kelp fronds that cover the upper deck to be able to identify some features.”

Still, what Harris has been able to see so far has left him spellbound by the potential to unravel some of the many questions that have hung over the ill-fated Franklin expedition since the mid-1800s.

“Every dive we made was just a discovery from beginning to end, and you could scarcely take it all in. Everywhere you looked there was something new and really quite remarkable.”

Now, underwater archeologists are reviewing the hundreds of photographs and a couple hours of video they were able to take in September.

They are carefully plotting and planning their next moves in investigating what Harris describes as a “rather complex structure” that is overall “quite remarkably well-preserved.”

One of the challenges is to determine how divers can get inside the wreck.


John Geiger, president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, holds an iron fitting called a davit from a Royal Navy ship, the key piece of evidence that led to the discovery of HMS Erebus in Queen Maud Gulf.

“A couple of us had the opportunity to drop down between the exposed deck beams and have a look around, but we weren’t penetrating below the decks at all.

“We were just kind of having a look and that tells us there’s a lot of room inside the forward half of the ship,” says Harris.

“You could look forward and see the ship’s galley stove. You could see the forward hatchway going down into the hold.”

Among the questions, could Erebus reveal anything further about the fate of Franklin himself?

“You don’t know at this point. The potential is almost limitless,” says Harris, noting that preservation conditions on an Arctic shipwreck can be “astoundingly favourable to the survival of organic materials, even including paper.”

Maybe there will be journals from crewmen, with handwritten accounts sealed up tight in a satchel.

Will there be human remains? (None have been spotted so far.)

Will there be anything that helps settle the questions around whether lead poisoning or botulism played a significant role in the sad demise of Franklin’s men?


Searchers wonder what clues HMS Erebus might offer around the fate of Sir John Franklin, who was at the helm of HMS Erebus when it left England in 1845 with HMS Terror amid great optimism that they could find the Northwest Passage and sail to China.

Will there be clues that reveal whether Erebus drifted on its own to where it was found, or whether it had been re-manned, after the ships that had been beset by ice for two years and abandoned in 1848 off King William Island?

Maybe there will be evidence that reveals what the men were trying to do if they did indeed re-man the ship and navigate it into the Queen Maud Gulf.

“Were they just trying to get closer to the mainland so they could proceed on foot? Did they still hold out a forlorn hope of one day navigating to the Beaufort Sea?” Harris wonders.

“Hopefully time will tell.”



Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 5



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

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Marine Life & Conservation

Reef-World announces 2020 Green Fins Award Winners



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 and

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