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Deptherapy’s Red Sea Wrecks – Part 4

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Part four of Gary Green’s account of the Deptherapy Red Sea Military and Forgotten Wrecks liveaboard expedition.

Day Five: SS Dunraven

First up was another RIB dive, onto the S.S Dunraven this time. RIB dives are mega, I love the feeling as you plunge into the water backwards flipping over as your head bobs back out of the water. As we went under the water, the view of the wreck was right beneath us. The Dunraven sat alongside a beautiful reef, so not only did we have history to experience, we also had a beautiful back setting that was alive with marine life. Anyone who has dived in the Red Sea can vouch for the vibrant colours and the generous amount of them; just as soon as you look out of your mask a door to another dimension is opened. The only problem is that you don’t know where to look, there is just so much. I was like a child in a sweet store: soft corals, anemones, moray eels, blue spotted rays, sea urchins, hard corals, turtles, barracuda, tuna, clown fish, angel fish, the list goes on and on and that’s no exaggeration.

The wreck itself was pretty amazing. At about 20 meters was an opening, almost at the seabed of the wreck. We were able to pass through with our torches illuminating the water damaged surfaces that were once in pristine condition. Over time the steel side of the vessel has rusted away, covered in marine life whose minerals over the years had taken hold of every inch, so not one part of the ship was recognisable by anything other that shape. As we passed through the damaged bottom of the wreck, there was no natural light and all I could see was whatever my torch beam could reach. At moments, breaks in the metal gave way to the light that shone through the water, piercing the super structure. As we swam the rusty obstacle course we came across hidden marine life, damaged pieces of the structure and small holes that we were able to penetrate allowing us to manoeuvre through the ship. At the other end, we reached an opening that led onto the open sea, the big blue, a seeming infinite stretch of different shades of water, full of endless possibilities and wonder.

Day Five: Straits of Tiran – Jackson Reef

“There are hammerheads at the northern edge of the reef at forty meters,” said Steve Rattle, pointing the location out to us on a map during the dive plan. Once those words were said I was fixated and it was the only information I could take in. However the conditions were such that we were unable to get to the north side of the reef. It was like being shot through the heart, a bit of an exaggeration actually, but I was gutted.

Instead I was in for a treat. I was to be assisting as a Dive Master in one of the other programme members’ deep courses – Chris Ganley, a single arm amputee who like myself had served in the Rifles. It was my first time going to forty meters since my own deep course; I’ve got close to it before but I was still excited. There may be less to see at forty meters then let’s say the pretty coloured corals between 5 and 15 but there is something that draws me to the deep, a quiet magic, still and complex. I was to demonstrate the effects of the pressure with an empty bottle in the pocket of my BCD and also the effect on colour on the PADI slates. Spoiler alert – the colour red is pretty much non-existent at forty meters. We made a swift exit from the boat and descended into the blue as we headed for the reef. The course was complete and due to the current we were unable to swim back to the boat. We deployed the SMB and were picked up by the zodiacs, a pleasant sight when you’re getting smashed about by the swirl of the surface current!

Day Five: Straits of Tiran – Woodhouse Reef (Drift Dive)

The third and final dive of the day was special for me – you’ll find out why in a few moments. We were on Woodhouse Reef, still in the Straits of Tiran. We all jumped in the water, this time as a group rather than individual teams, boom, boom, boom as we all crashed in together. There was a moderate current that took us all the way across the face of the reef, in fact for most of the dive there was no need to even kick your fins.

I was buddied up with Ben, a double above-knee amputee. He was fine in the water but I was to ‘look after’ him as part of my Dive Master training. Throughout the dive I kept a close check on his air supply as he uses slightly more as he has to work harder than the rest of us. If it had been Chris I could speculate that it was because he failed to stop talking, even underwater!

We were told to look into the blue as we drifted along as there was the possibly of bigger fish out in the deeper blue. I did this between my buddy checks, the minutes ticked by and there was nothing but dark blue and large fish. Then a few more minutes passed and the heavens opened, Poseidon himself blessed me… I SAW A SHARK. Since I was old enough to walk I had been obsessed with sharks. I had pop up books, every toy from the Sea Life centre and even a pair of great white shark shorts that I wore to bed. The Egyptian dive guide, who was the only other person to see the White Tip Reef Shark, confirmed my sighting. It was only a slight side profile that lasted a second but when it was confirmed I was so happy.

The rest of the dive went pretty smoothly. I was checking on Ben’s air and when he reached ninety bar I decided we would go for our safety stop and get picked up by the Zodiac, at least that was my plan. I sent up the SMB, which, as it got a meter away from me, snagged around my reel. I shot from nineteen meters to four meters in the space of a few seconds. My vision was clouded by bubbles but as soon as I realised what had happened I let go, narrowly avoiding breaking the surface and putting myself in real danger. It was a very narrow escape. I lowered myself back down, regrouped and performed my safety stop, my heart absolutely pounding. By the time we then breached the surface and I had collected my reel and SMB, the zodiac was there to pick us up and take us to the safety of the Princess Diana.

Day Six: Gordon Reef (2 Dives)

I started Day Six as dive leader and the dive plan was to swim directly to the reef, swim up the reef, then head out to the blue where there was a drop-off where we hoped to see larger sea life. I headed out with the team behind me, however the current was taking us, so as well as heading to the reef, we were drifting. By the time I hit the reef we were completely off course, so I took the team along the reef then begin to head out to the blue. The instructor then informed me (by means of a sand drawing) that I was only just opposite the boat, which was supposed to be our starting point. After a sheepish look, I led the team further up the reef where fortunately we encountered lots of sea life, including a meter long napoleon wrasse. It was all part of the learning curve. I had some friendly feedback from the pro team about how I can use features to navigate under water and also find reference points that could help me memorise the route on the way back. Some how I had overshot the dive back and missed the boat.

The second dive on the reef was a lot more smooth. We completed the dive plan so a significant progress at the very least! We were however slightly disappointed when we reached the drop off point as we didn’t see any sharks. The white team (Team Achievement) did see a white tip reef shark that was quite interactive. They also managed to capture it on the GoPro and the footage was pretty impressive. To say I was green with envy would be an understatement.

Day Six: Shark Observatory (missed Shark Reef and MV Yolanda)

We were planning to dive Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef, two tall pinnacles that have a drift into the middle. There was a sharp drop to the entrance and the current creates a downward force that could potentially drag you to the 700m deep blue. Also on the Yolanda reef are the leftovers of the wreck of the Yolanda. The dive guide popped into sea to test how strong the current was… bearing in mind that the majority of divers were disabled, the verdict was that the current was too strong and that diving in the conditions would be dangerous.

With this advice, the captain took the boat on a short journey, ten minutes maximum, to a lagoon known as Shark Observatory (my kind of title). As we jumped off the dive deck, as a full team again, we were in the deep blue and as we began to lower beneath the water, the chaotic surface noise disappeared and transformed to a quiet stillness. It’s one of the majestic properties of fish in my eyes, that they make no noise as they swim, their tails and fins moving silently in a science that fascinates me. As we breathe out of our regulators, kick our fins and sometimes skull our hands we make an ugly noise, an unimpressive movement. Fish on the other hand seem to glide through the water, perfectly designed, engineered above and beyond imagination. I have been lucky enough to dive with a pod of dolphins, watching them in the water was unbelievable, so quiet in movement, so fast in travel, beautiful, God-like creatures.

We dropped to twenty meters, the full group heading towards the reef wall, to which we would swim parallel. Beneath us there was nothing but shades of blue that became darker until the point that you could see nothing else. There was a different form of life here, larger schools of big fish swam beneath us, all in their positions like a marching group of soldiers moving quickly with precision. I heard someone tapping their tank and the metal clash spread amongst the team. I looked to see who was drawing attention and it was Dickie crossing his hands over, giving the ‘turtle’ sign, then pointing to the blue. At first I couldn’t see what he was on about, then I saw it, a large sea turtle swimming alongside us, moving past the whole team. As the turtle reached the front it curiously moved in for a closer look, then as quick as it came, it turned around and swam off into the blue until it faded away becoming part of the all-encompassing sea. We saw no sharks but the dive itself was a new experience. It was this dive that convinced me to book on Divecrew’s ‘Get Hammered’ Liveaboard in the Southern Red Sea next year.

Come back tomorrow to read Part Five as the Deptherapy team dive the Thistlegorm…

Donate to Deptherapy or find out more about their work at www.deptherapy.co.uk

Thanks to Dmitry Knyazev for the incredible photographs.

Gary Green is an author, team leader and PADI AmbassaDIVER. After being medically discharged from the British Army following an IED attack which left him blind in one eye and with PTSD, Gary was introduced to scuba diving through the rehabilitation charity Deptherapy. Gary is living proof of the healing power of scuba.

Marine Life & Conservation

Exhibition: Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research

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From now until 30 October, the photo exhibition “Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research” features 21 photographs at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, as well as a digital edition.

Exceptional photographs highlight how innovative marine experts and scientists take the pulse of the ocean by exploring ecosystems, studying the movement of species, or revealing the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs. Scientific discoveries are more important than ever for the protection and sustainable conservation of our Marine World Heritage. This memorable exhibition comes ahead of the launch, in 2021, of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (“Ocean Decade”). The exhibition was jointly developed by UNESCO and the Principality of Monaco.

The 50 marine sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, distributed across 37 countries, include a wide variety of habitats as well as rare marine life still largely unknown. Renowned for their unmatched beauty and emblematic biodiversity, these exceptional ecosystems play a leading role in the field of marine conservation. Through scientific field research and innovation, concrete actions to foster global preservation of the ocean are being implemented locally in these unique natural sites all over the world. They are true symbols of hope in a changing ocean.

Since 2017, the Principality of Monaco supports UNESCO to strengthen conservation and scientific understanding of the marine sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. This strategic partnership allows local management teams to benefit from the results obtained during the scientific missions of Monaco Explorations. The partnership also draws international attention to the conservation challenges facing the world’s most iconic ocean sites.

The exhibition invites viewers to take a passionate dive into the heart of the scientific missions led by Monaco Explorations in four marine World Heritage sites: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines), Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Colombia), Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), and the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France). It is also an opportunity to discover the work of a megafauna census; the study of the resilience of coral reefs and their adaptation in a changing climate; the exploration of the deep sea; and the monitoring of large marine predators through satellite data.

To visit the Digital Exhibition click here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 7

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

Deptherapy expeditions do not just magically happen, they need planning and they need funding.  This expedition was funded by our long-term partners the Veterans’ Foundation.  The funding is part of a grant they awarded us for programmes this year, which were then put on hold because of COVID.

All charities in the Armed Forces’ Sector are struggling for funds. Deptherapy desperately needs support going forward and every penny counts.

We know what we do works and at the end of this blog you will find details of the research studies into Deptherapy’s programmes and how they impact on the lives of our beneficiaries.  This includes details that are hot off the press about the latest study that reports that what we offer through scuba diving and 24/7 support has benefits beyond those found in other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

Well tomorrow we fly home, late in the evening with the journey home for some of the guys who live up North taking around 15 hours after leaving Roots.

We want to make the most of today but with the tide running we are not going to be able to dive until later this morning which means only two dives today.

Oatsie and Swars about to start their sidemount dives

Things, however are really busy over at the dive centre with Swars and Oatsie putting their sidemount kit together for their training dives with Steve Rattle leading to their RAID sidemount qualification.  It has been nice to be able to offer the guys this extra training, given the amount of work they have put in this week.  They have needed to get through their theory quickly but given the RADI online learning system this has not been too arduous.

Steve came diving with us yesterday to get some more photos and was really amazed at the progress that Corey had made. He was quite open in his praise, as in his view Corey has gone from a non-diver to being a very competent OW diver capable of diving, unsupervised, with a buddy.  Praise indeed.

Other than the sidemount course we are diving as a group today: Corey, Keiron, Michael, Moudi and me. Corey has been given some tasks – SMB deployment on both dives and the afternoon dive will be a ‘naturalist dive’.  Guy Henderson has set Corey a task: ‘to identify three species of fish and record the time into the dive and the depth at which each one was spotted’.  Guy runs Marine Biology courses on the reef and knows where the fish are to be found, how long into the dive, and at what time.

The two Toms are getting put through their paces. They have walked their cylinders down to the entry point, but Steve sends them back to the dive centre to collect other kit they should have brought with them.

Our general dive goes well and the sidemount guys appear from their sidemount dive some 90 minutes after dipping their heads under the water.

Corey enjoying being a RAID OW20 Diver

Lots of bubbly chat at lunchtime, a group of really happy divers. Corey really has benefited from the week and over lunch thanked the team for making him a diver. He has very quickly become part of the family and after returning home he published an amazing post on Facebook about his experience.  Corey really gets Deptherapy and had soon realised that we see past mental and physical injuries and see the person inside and work with that person.  He also realised that we want beneficiaries to see their fellow beneficiaries in the same light.  He knows he now has another ‘family’ – a family of brothers in arms who have two things in common, they served their country and they have suffered life changing injuries or illnesses.

Back into the water for the afternoon dive and Corey identifies the fish and records the details on a slate.  The two Tom’s complete their second dive and qualify as RAID Sidemount Divers. Great!

Kit packed away and it is time to return to the camp for a few well-earned last night drinks.

I am often asked why we use Roots as our exclusive base for diving. I have mentioned before that it offers us an ideal retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We are secluded and there are no distractions such as late-night bars etc.

Roots Accessible Room

The second reason is the amazing welcome we receive from Steve, Clare, Moudi and the team.  We have been going to Roots since 2014 and many of the staff have become good friends, they understand our needs and are the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet.

The third reason is the huge investment Steve and Clare have made in making the resort and dive centre accessible for those with physical injuries including those who need to use wheelchairs.  All our beneficiaries can enjoy Roots and, in fact, love it here.  The reef is perfect for us and in non-COVID times we can travel to the Salem Express and other dive sites to enjoy more of the Red Sea experience.

Accessible toilet on the Roots beach

After discussions with the team I was very proud to be able to tell Corey that his progress had been such that we were inviting him on the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust sponsored two-week Marine Biology Course at Roots in June 2021. There is lots of homework to undertake under the guidance of Dr Debbie McNeill of Open Oceans and Corey will be sent the Red Sea Guide which is the basis for study.

While on that programme, Corey with fellow beneficiary Dale Mallin, will complete his RAID Advanced 35 course.  This all builds to a 10-day Red Sea liveaboard in 2022, onboard Roots’ new boat Big Blue where 18 beneficiaries will compare the coral and aquatic life on the wrecks of the SS Thistlegorm and the less known SS Turkia that is to be found in the Gulf of Suez and is rarely dived.

Paul Rose, our Vice President, is supporting the programme and is seeking the support of the UN and the Royal Geographical Society. A comprehensive report will be submitted to our partners in the project and to the Egyptian Authorities.

Last night and chill

What we do works:

In recent years there have been three academic studies into our work:

2018 – A study by a team from the University of Sheffield Medical School.

2019 – A study by The Centre of Trauma at Nottingham University.

Both these studies reported very positively on Deptherapy’s work both underwater but also in terms of the provision of 24/7 support.

The following is from our press release which was issued on 26th October:

‘A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.

This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise. IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.

Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore. The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).’

This is amazing news and sets us apart from other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

We are currently working with our VP Richard Castle who is a Consultant Psychologist and our Dive Medicine Advisor Mark Downs to identify further areas of psychological and physical dive related research.

We end the week on a happy note.  A young man who has learned to dive properly with a RAID OW 20 certification, a new RAID Master Rescue Diver, two new RAID Sidemount Divers, 5 new RAID O2 Providers, many assessments for our DMs but most of all a week of learning, of making new friendships, renewing old friendships, and building on our family ethos.

Until we meet again…

For us, Deptherapy is a journey, a journey that continues to push boundaries in the use of scuba diving in the rehabilitation of those suffering life changing mental and/or physical challenges.  On our journey we want to change the way the scuba diving industry views diving for those with disabilities.

In the new year, we will be launching, with our diver training agency partners RAID, a new and exciting adaptive teaching programme that will offer diving to the disabled community. We can’t wait to share it with you!


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

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