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Diving a working oil rig in Southern California (Watch Video)



Ever since Alex Mustard was a finalist in the Bird category of Wildlife Photographer of the year with a shot of a cormorant diving under an oil rig we have wanted to follow in his fin-steps and take a look at this unusual dive ourselves. So, when we decided to stay on in Southern California after our trip to photograph Great White Sharks off Guadalupe Island with Nautilus Liveaboards, this dive was at the very top of our list to organise.

We got in touch with Captain Kyaa from Sundiver International based in Long Beach to see if there might be an opportunity to dive one of the oil rigs and also the more famous dive destination of Catalina Island. Soon we had an exciting diving itinerary set up. We departed La Jolla and made the short drive north to Long Beach and checked into Hotel Maya, where we had a room with an outstanding view of the harbour and the Queen Mary.

Sundiver International have three boats and for our trip to dive the oil rig we were on the smallest of these with a small group of just six divers. There are three oil rigs that are close to shore and readily diveable in the right conditions. Permission must be sought in advance and the sea needs to be calm for boats to be able to approach the oil rig structure. We were going to dive the oil rig called Ellen and we had the perfect conditions to dive it!

As we did the short swim to the structure we could hear the noises of the workmen and machinery above us. It is an unusual dive to be allowed to dive a working oil rig and these structures do not exactly spring to mind when you try to think of places that would be home to an abundance of marine life, but as we dipped our heads under the surface we were amazed. Each leg of the structure was covered in life. Anemones and brittle stars covered the metal frame. Mussels formed huge clumps near the surface. Then something else caught out eyes…

A young Californian Sea Lion had decided to come and check us out. It darted past at incredible speed, not getting too close at first. Then as it grew braver, it twisted and turned in front of us, using the oil rig as its playground and showing off its amazing swimming skills. We were enchanted and spent the rest of the dive in the shallows trying to get a shot and some video footage of this special moment.

All too soon it was time to head off, but at least we had Catalina Island to look forward to!

  • For more information about Sundiver International visit their website by clicking here.
  • For more information about Long Beach visit the Official travel website by clicking here.
  • To visit the Hotel Maya website click here.

All images and text by Frogfish Photography

Equipment used:

  • Olympus OMD EM-1 MKII; Nauticam housing; INON Z240 strobes
  • Paralenz Dive Camera

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit

Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 6



Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for part 6 of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Thursday has dawned and it is down to the House Reef with an outgoing tide that is approaching slack so we can get in the water straight away.   Lots of chat about last night’s RAID O2 Provider session with Moudi.  Oatsie is talking about sidemounts and marine biology, Swars is looking forward to his first sidemount session this afternoon.

Moudi is supported by Oatsie this morning and doing some more skill work with Keiron.

Moudi running the guys through the RAID O2 Administrator Course

Corey was asking last night about what it is like at 30 metres, so I have decided that with Michael and Swars we will take him to 30 metres.  We are going to run a narcosis exercise so out comes the slate with the numbers 1 – 25 randomly placed in squares.  Corey’s task, in the dive centre, is as quickly as possible to touch each number in sequence.  He does it pretty quickly and Michael briefs him that he will need to do the same exercise at 30 metres.

Michael briefs the dive and we set off down the beach.  Corey has improved beyond measure and he is becoming a pleasure to dive with.  So we are off to follow the South reef to 30 metres where we will complete the second part of the exercise.

At 30 metres Michael hands Corey the slate; there is a considerable difference in the time to complete the exercise at the surface and at 30 metres.  There are lots of mitigating factors in how quickly you can identify the numbers and explaining a slower time at 30 metres than at the surface does not mean an individual is suffering from narcosis.  Identifying random numbers, if you run the exercise at the surface, several times with an individual over a number of hours can result in wide variations in the time taken to complete the exercise.

We finish the dive with Corey smiling from ear to ear and we have a discussion about depth and air consumption.  The second dive of the morning is a fun dive, then it is lunch in the beach restaurant.  After the burgers I am sure we will need to look at our weighting before the afternoon’s dive.

We will need to look at weighting after this lunch!

Corey and Keiron have got into the habit of recording their dives online using the RAID online log book which is a tremendous facility and as the instructor I can access that data.

Moudi and Keiron are going for a fun dive as are Corey, Oatsie, Michael and myself. Swars is getting kitted up for the first experience of sidemount with Guy Henderson.

Swars getting to grips with his sidemount cylinders

People often look at the relationships that exist between the dive team and our beneficiaries and try to extrapolate a similar relationship to disabled students they might have.  Our relationships are built up over a period of time, in some cases over many years.  We also provide 24/7 support and have chat groups etc on social media; we also meet up socially when we can.  It is somewhat different than a individual coming in to a dive centre and saying ‘I want to dive’. Your relationship is likely to be the same as any other student, you will teach them, they might stay with the dive centre or like many that will go on holiday to do some diving, you might never see them again.

Our main aim is to create a family atmosphere for our programme members, one where they feel secure and they are able to discuss freely with the team and fellow beneficiaries their feelings and needs.

Few dive centres are charities, and owners might want to consider costs of running a course for someone with a disability that might take more than the standard four pool sessions etc.  You may find the number of sessions and the staffing levels have to increase.  Many dive centres, because of their size and turnover are exempt from providing accessibility.  How will this affect someone who is a wheelchair user?  Can they gain access to the dive centre, the classroom, the toilet?  What are the changing facilities, can they get wheelchair access to the pool?

Lots of things to think about.

Roots’ beautiful reef

The reef is beautiful, so much aquatic life and the corals look splendid, especially the pinnacles.

A good day’s diving, Swars has really enjoyed his sidemount.

Lovely way to relax in the evening with the Roots BBQ, a fitting end to a great day.

Last day tomorrow and our final blog!

Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at

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And the winners of our Two Sets of OceanPositive Hydroskin Rashguards from fourth element competition are…



We’d like to say a big thank you to all of you who entered our competition to win Two Sets of OceanPositive Hydroskin Rashguards from our good friends at fourth element!

As usual, lots of you entered… but on this occasion there can only be two winners!

And those winners are…

  • Dean Cocks from the UK.
  • Harry Milkman from the USA.

Congratulations Dean and Harry – your prizes will be on their way to you soon!

Not a winner this time? Don’t worry – there are plenty of other competitions running on right now. To see what other awesome prizes you could be in with a chance of winning, click here!

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