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Dive Notes from a Small Island: Part 1 – The South West

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“Can you hand me that Phillips head screwdriver?”  Six days. Six days to convert our newly purchased van into a dive camper and begin our summer adventure. We have quite the schedule planned and currently time is tight, as we attempt to complete our biggest DIY project in time to head off to our first port of call, Cornwall, in one week.

Mike and I are diving instructors, recently returned to the UK after working abroad. My partner Mike is from the States and being a keen cold water diver, he is excited to see what UK diving is like. As a lover of my native diving, I decided to plan a two month dive adventure for us over the summer, to show off the best that UK diving has to offer. Now all we have to do is pack and go exploring!

Our itinerary looks like this:

  • July: The South West
  • Early August: Ireland and Northern Ireland
  • Late August: The North East
  • Late August into September: Scotland

The South West – Cornwall

Having completed our dive camper in our allotted time frame without too many hit thumbs and painted elbows, we packed up and headed to the South West. Cornwall was my home for four years during my time at university and first year in the working world; it is where I completed my DM course and so holds a very special place in my heart. I love the diving here and consider it some of the best in the UK. For this reason I have chosen to take Mike here first; that, and the fact it is known territory to begin our trip.

We have four days of diving here, both shore and boat dives. Let’s see what Mike makes of it!

Dive 1: Pendennis (sometimes known as Silver Steps)

Site description:
Pendennis headland separates Falmouth harbour from the bay and has a popular and easy dive site. Characterised by a sprawling reef with gullys to explore, interspersed with sand patches, the maximum depth at high tide is about 10m. The site is popular for training and has a good amount of life and some remains of the German WWII U-Boats, the UB86 and UB112 to the left (eastwards) of the entry point.

The Dive:
We chose this as our first dive to ease into UK diving and revisit one of my old DM training sites, thankfully I could still navigate the site and we enjoyed beautiful sunny, calm conditions, with 6-8m visibility.

Mike’s thoughts:
With an easy shore entry, this dive site seemed to offer a lot in a relatively compact area. It was quite hypnotic to float back and forth in the slight surge among strands of kelp. I especially enjoyed sighting a tompot blenny … one of the fish on my list of must-sees for here in the UK. We even had surprisingly good visibility (up to 8m!); no doubt helped by the sunny summer day.

 

Dive 2: Kennack Sands

Site description:
Kennack Sands is a surf beach on the Lizard peninsula and while not suitable for diving when the waves are stacking up, it has a great macro site right of the beach when the sea is calm. It is best dived at mid tide so that you can see the rocks you are aiming for and have an easier entry and exit. The rocks are out a little ways so the dive starts with either a surface swim or a sandy bottom (worth exploring for the occasional ray or flounder). The rocks are in about 8m at mid tide and covered in kelp. The best stuff is under the kelp in the gullies between rocks, stick your head under the kelp and search for nudibranchs, anemones, cup corals and crustaceans. Scan the surrounding sand for cuttlefish, which are in abundance.

The Dive:
This was another old favourite for me, as I love nudibranch hunting. Since we were fortunate to have calm conditions off the Lizard, we headed for the surf beach with my friend and local marine life expert, Trudy. Reasonable vis for this time of year made finding the rocks easy, but a slight swell and suspended sand in the water made for challenging photography conditions. However we did see loads of macro life!

Mike’s thoughts:
Another smashing shore dive! With better than average visibility I was blown away by the amount of life in the coastal areas here. As in many temperate regions it’s not always so colorful, so as my creature-spotting eye was still not attuned to the area I was thankful for my dive buddies who were able to show me more local residents such as Polycera nudibranchs, stalk jellyfish, cuttlefish, and a massive population of sea hares in the shallows on the way back to shore.

 

Dive 3: Vase Rock (Boat dive from Porthkerris)

Site description:
Vase rock is one of the pinnacles of the Manacles, the offshore submerged rocks off the Lizard peninsula. The Manacles have notorious strong currents swirling around them, which has resulted in many wrecks and excellent marine life. It is just a short boat ride from Porthkerris. Vase rock starts at around 6m and steps down to 35m+ and is covered in invertebrate life, such as jewel anemones and pink sea fans. The best life starts below 15m, where the kelp stops and walls are covered in anemones. Porthkerris has a dive center with good facilities: 2 boats, air filling station, campsite, parking, kit washing, an excellent shore dive and friendly staff.

The Dive:
We booked on a 2 dive boat trip to go and see the Manacles, and went out on their smaller boat, the Celtic Kitten, to Vase rock. We had calm surface conditions and slack water, but sadly not the best visibility, but who doesn’t love a bit of British murk? It was enough to navigate, see both your buddies and more importantly, enjoy the life on the rocks!

Mike’s thoughts:
Vase Rock was a fun dive site with a lot of life clinging to the kelp-covered rock pinnacles, and lots of nooks and crannies to explore. A mostly sunny morning helped make the visibility acceptable for the time of year, although a return during the clearer waters in the wintertime is a must. Anemones were abundant, and I especially enjoyed seeing nudibranchs on the pink sea fans. Although common, the cuckoo wrasse were very curious and provided some comic relief.

 

Dive 4: Pancra (Boat dive from Porthkerris)

Site description:
Pancra Head is a reef between Porthkerris and Porthoustock accessible by boat, usually dived in slack water, it can also be done as a drift for experienced divers. It starts from a shallow plateau at 10m, through gullies and kelp forest down sloping walls to gravel at 30m. It is a site full of life, lobsters, numerous fish, anemones, dead-mans fingers and sea fans.

The Dive:
This was our second boat dive of the day and the tide had started running so we were advised by our boat captain that this site would make a gentle drift dive with great marine life, suitable for everyone on the boat. Having not been to this site, I was excited to go somewhere new and found it was even better that the first dive. The gullies were full of invertebrate life and I saw over 20 pink sea fan nudibranchs; sometimes there were five nudibranchs on one sea fan!

Mike’s thoughts:
The topography of this dive site was quite interesting once again (an underwater pinnacle with lots of gullies). My favorite part of the dive was actually something quite simple to spot: jewel anemones. Their sheer abundance on many of the rock walls as we drifted by the spectacular array of different colors produced an almost kaleidoscopic effect that was absolutely stunning on our sunny day. Dozens of spiny lobsters also provided some interesting subjects to watch. Overall a great dive site; one that definitely upholds the reputation of the Manacles as some of the best diving in the country.

Dive 5: Drawna Rocks (Porthkerris house reef)

Site description:
Drawna rocks is considered one of the best shore dives in Cornwall and for good reason. From the beach you can see the rocks approximately 100m offshore, beyond these a submerged reef continues out for another 200m, from 6m to a depth of 20m. With lots of route options and gullies to explore it is suitable for divers of all levels and is generally sheltered from all but Easterly winds. Below the kelp line you will find the usual (invertebrate) suspects, jewel anemones, tunicates and sponges.

The Dive:
The sea was flat calm and the sun out, promising easy dive conditions: as usual with Cornish summer time the vis wasn’t great due to the plankton, but we could see each other and the shapes of the rocks for navigation. After a short swim out to the deeper areas, we started seeing pink sea fans and soon came to the walls of anemones, cup corals and the nooks and crannies where we were in search of the black-headed blenny. We spent an enjoyable hour with little current, exploring the rocks, before heading into shore and for ice cream at the local Roskilly farm.

Mike’s thoughts:

This was another nice shore dive. With parking just meters from the beach, entry into and exit from the shallow sandy bay was easy. The visibility for us was not great but it was clear that the rocks had lots of nooks and crannies with surprises in store if you could see through the swaying kelp. I enjoyed spotting a black-headed blenny (another first on my UK creature list). I would definitely return … Drawna seemed like the kind of site that rewards repeated visits as the seasons and conditions change.

See you next time!

CJ and Mike are dive instructors who have travelled all over the world pursuing their passion for the underwater world. CJ is a PADI MI and DSAT Trimix instructor with a degree in Conservation biology and ecology, who has been diving for 15 years. She loves looking for critters and pointing them out for Mike to photograph. Mike is a PADI MSDT who got back into diving in 2010. He enjoys practicing underwater photography and exploring new and exciting dive locales, occasionally with more than one tank. Follow more of their diving adventures at www.bimbleintheblue.com.

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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