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Dive Notes from a Small Island: Part 6 – Scottish Lochs and Final Thoughts…

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After our brilliant week in the Orkneys, it was time to make our way back to the North West as our trip was coming to an end. Since we were driving past Oban and several Scottish lochs, it seemed rude not to hop in for one or two last shore dives on the way. Having heard good things about Oban we headed down the west coast and found Puffin Dive Center, just out of the town along Gallanach Rd. PDC offers boat dives, has a very nice set up and friendly staff; as we were on a bit of a tight schedule we just had time for a quick shore dive from their dock to the house reef. From Oban we drove south via Loch Long, where I had previously done a dawn dive as part of the ‘Three Deeps Challenge’, a charity fundraiser a few years ago. I remembered Loch Long having easy entry, good visibility and lots of life, so was keen to show Mike this dive as well, before packing away our dive kit for a while.

Dive 22: Puffin House Reef, Oban

Site description: 

This reef has a max depth of 18m, though most of the dive is shallower 8-12m. With a silt bottom and kelp in the shallows, the visibility is about 5m on average. The reef is easy to navigate by swimming west out from the PDC dock to around 8m and then turning south until you hit the reef. Explore the reef then return east to get back to shore. The reef is 1km long and so there is plenty to explore and common sightings include octopus, crabs, nudibranchs and lobster. It can be dived at any state of tide.

The Dive: 

The silty bottom is home to lots crabs, shrimp and scallops. We had an explore down to about 12m and found some nudibranchs on some seaweed. On the reef we spotted a couple of octopus hiding in their holes and eyeing us suspiciously. The visibility was about 5m and the temperature a nice warm 13°C allowing us an easy 62min dive.

Mike’s Thoughts:

This was more like a muck dive than previous sites we’d visited in the UK, with a large expanse of silty ground to explore before we made our way to the sloping rocks of the ‘reef’ in the middle of the Kerrera sound. The silty bottom was crawling with life, including whelks, squat lobsters and dragonets and gobies. What I thought was a piece of seaweed tumbling along the bottom turned out to be a very interesting long-legged spider crab bedecked in red algae. The site was easy to navigate and was another great place for a quick shore dive.

Dive 23: The A Frames (Finnart oil terminal), Loch Long

Site description: 

The site is easily accessible from the car park next to the Finnart oil terminal on the A814 and is the site of an old pier that was dynamited. A mix of rocky reef with pier wreckage, it is suitable for all divers and accessible at all states of tide, though strong currents can be present below 20m. Lots of life can be seen here, and it is best with few divers as silt can be stirred up and reduce visibility. Take a heading to the white lighthouse on the far shore of Loch Long for navigation and beware boat traffic coming to the oil terminal.

The Dive:

We arrived early as we had heard the site could get very busy and were not surprised when lots of other cars turned up. It turned out there was a PADI instructor exam taking place, so we decided to get in quickly, so we might be out of the way by the time the instructor candidates had completed their briefings. The top 5m of water was a brown tannin layer, with less than half a meter visibility. We descended through this having done a short surface swim and at 6m, went through a thermocline and into very clear water. With the heavy cloud cover and tannin layer above we had very little light and proceeded in night dive conditions. Despite the good visibility deeper down there was not a lot of life on this dive, in stark contrast to the last time I dived here. We did see sea urchins, crabs and above us the silhouette of a huge lion’s mane jellyfish. As there was not a great amount to see and quite dark we kept the dive short, just 25mins as we also wanted to let the examination group get on with their dives. Speaking to some locals as we de-kitted, I found out that the site is often hit and miss, some days being packed with life and other days not, sometimes without any tannin layer at all and this reassured me that I had not misremembered my original dive.

Mike’s Thoughts:

I had an interesting time in my first Scottish loch. After seeing the atrocious visibility on top upon initial descent, I thought we might have a very short dive indeed. Fortunately things improved a bit deeper and the experience of dropping through the dark tannic water into the crystal clear below was quite cool. Despite the daylight hour it really became a night dive for us, although the sea life didn’t live up to expectations. Aside from a few widely-spaced dragonets, urchins, and the usual crabs there wasn’t much to see as we swam around. We may not have ventured far enough from shore, or we just didn’t have much luck that day. At least the surrounding area above water was beautiful!

CJ’s trip summary:

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to take the time to show Mike round my native waters and get some fantastic diving done; it’s not always the case that you can take a couple of months break from work and just go and have fun, especially with a great and like-minded dive buddy.

I’ve always been passionate about UK diving and believed that we had some world class dive sites to enjoy, if you are willing to take the plunge into temperate waters. During this trip I was really hoping that Mike would get to experience this for himself and wouldlove the diving here as much as I do. Sometimes the visibility isn’t good, or the weather blows out the dive, but this is part and parcel of UK diving. However in the last few weeks I have also had the opportunity to see lots of new places and been able to dive sites I have been wanting to visit and it has been utterly brilliant!

For anyone wanting to visit any of the places we have been, we have included some recommendations of dive centers and skippers that were great and made our trip. Finally, if you want to go and dive somewhere, our recommendation would be to absolutely make time to do it. Sometimes the conditions may not be perfect, but as long as its safe, it’s always great being underwater!

Mike’s Trip Thoughts:

Looking back on two months of travel and diving around the UK and Ireland, a few thoughts come to mind. First of all, the dive conditions were fairly challenging more often than not. When planning an ocean dive here, one has to expect colder water, generally low visibility, and factor in tide and current. This meant being a more attentive and prepared diver; losing sight of your buddy or dive group is always a possibility and you must be aware of your surroundings. It also made capturing quality underwater photos quite a challenge for me at times. The good thing is that with the proper equipment (a drysuit, good lighting, and DSMB and reel) and the right mindset there is a lot to love. I enjoyed many firsts on our trip and got to observe and photograph many new species. Even common species here like sea mats, long-clawed squat lobsters, tompot blennies and dogfish were a delight to see, and riding the diver lifts on the boats was novel at first! Diving in the UK really has a lot to offer … unique marine flora and fauna, interesting underwater formations, miles of stunning coastline, and hundreds of diveable shipwrecks. Having a post-dive pint at the pub was the icing on the cake. I can heartily recommend the UK as a diving destination; it’s well worth a visit!

Our recommendations:

Cornwall:

  • Seaways Diving, Penryn. (Great advice, cheap air fills, shop, boat trips)
    Porthkerris Divers, Porthkerris. (Campsite, boat trips to Manacles, Drawna rocks shore dive, shop & courses).
  • Roskilly’s Ice Cream. (Food, amazing ice cream).

Dorset:

  • Divers Down, Swanage. (Pier dive info, shop, air fills, boat trips & courses).

Ireland:

  • Scubadive West, Co. Galway. (Shore dive, boat dives at weekends, shop, air fills & courses).

Northern Ireland:

  • Aquaholics, Portstewart. (Boat dives, local advice, shop, air fills & courses).

Farne Islands:

  • Sovereign Diving, Seahouses. (Boat dives).
  • Olde Ship Inn, Seahouses. (Great beer selection, food & accommodation).

Scotland:

  • Marine Quest, Eyemouth. (Boat dives, accommodation, air fills).
  • Scapa Flow Charters, Stromness. (Boat dives, liveaboards & air/nitrox fills).
  • Scapa Scuba, Stromness. (Drysuit repair, air fills, shop, guided dives & courses).
  • Puffin Dive Center, Oban. (Boat dives, shore dive, air fills, shop & courses).

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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