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Diving your way through the Lesser Antilles

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A warm welcome to Scubaverse’s latest blogger: Bobbie Renfro AKA The Bikini Biologist!

Sailing Yacht Ocean Star, an 89 foot schooner stacked with six sails above her black hull and enough varnished wood above and below deck to harken an era of truly classic ship-building, has been my home for the past two months. After completing my PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer certification in Honduras, I landed a job as marine scientist and diving instructor for Sea|mester, an experiential learning program for university and gap year students.

Our first voyage was twenty days taking twenty-four students aboard two vessels from the British Virgin Islands to Antigua and back. Most of our students entered the program with no dive training, so the first week was concentrated on getting them certified in time for the once-in-a-lifetime dives we had planned in renowned stops like Saba’s pinnacles and the Pillars of Hercules in Antigua.

Starting off in BVI with our Open Water training dives, Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda was a perfect spot for the confined water dives. The shallow bay has a sandy beach with typically high visibility and pool-like conditions just a short wade out into the water. We anchored in the sandy area off shore and used a couple of Sea|mester’s dinghies to scoot over to the beach. After completing our confined water dives we hopped over to Mountain Point, Virgin Gorda where our Open Water students could see a little bit of reef for the first time while completing their training. Added bonus of this locale: a brand new shipwreck, the Kodiak Queen was recently sunk at Mountain Point.

The wreck is enveloped in the arms of a larger than life Kraken sculpture, which will eventually become an artificial reef as organisms colonize the structure. The artistic new wreck wasn’t suitable for Open Water training dives, but was a treat for the already certified divers aboard. I personally didn’t get the chance to hop in with the Kraken, but I appreciate the melding of art, science, and diving!

From BVI we moved on to Nevis and then to Antigua where we dove near the Pillars of Hercules both in day and night. The Pillar’s themselves are a geological formation on shore and a worthwhile hike. The diving at this site was fairly average by day, but breath taking at night! As I slipped through the dark sea with a group of Advanced Open Water students, the water rolling off our fins ignited in lime green sparkles, kindled by bioluminescence brighter than any I’ve seen throughout the Caribbean. I’m not sure if this was a lucky night or if Antigua frequently has such brilliant bioluminescence on night dives, but I am going back shortly so I’ll be sure to update!

After Antigua we continued on to Saba, an island that has been high on my diving wish list as I am sure it is on yours. Diving around the pinnacles was like flying around giant upside down ice cream cones. The visibility at the moment is unfortunately a hair poor, but local dive operator Sea Saba explained that it’s typically much better and accounts from my dive buddies that have visited previously support that statement. Even with low vis, the dive was still a unique experience in my dive log for sure.

If you do hit up Saba to dive be sure to explore on land as well. Saba’s Mount Scenery is the tallest point in the Netherlands and while visibility on this hike was equally low due to cloud cover, it was one of the best tropical hikes I’ve done. The vegetation beckons your mind into a Jurassic Park like state the entire way up and standing in the clouds on the tiny round top of the summit felt like standing on top of the world. After hiking Mount Scenery, head to the town of Windward where you can visit local glass artist JoBean and have the chance to make your own glass bead. Mine is teal glass with lime green and coral spun through out like a tiny earth; its my favorite souvenir thus far.

Rounding out the trip back in the British Virgin Islands, we dove on the wreck of the RMS Rhone. This eerie dive site is the result of an actual storm induced sinking of the once proud vessel. While the wreck as been moved and adjusted to make it a safer recreational dive site, the heavy feeling of her lost passengers looms as you slink into the dimly lit swim-through of her bow section. On top of the swim-through and the unique history of the wreck, we encountered several large puffer fish and a small reef shark cruising amongst the wreckage.

The Rhone wrapped up our diving, but we squeezed in some snorkeling and rock jumping at The Baths, an outcropping of large granitic bead rock revealed from years of erosion of the overlying volcanic material. You can climb and swim in and out of a labyrinth of massive boulders at this crowded, but worthwhile BVI tourist stop. This twenty-day voyage blew by fast and now we are starting up a forty-day voyage to explore further along the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles. I’ll have more Caribbean dive site information and descriptions of dive training sites to come.


Bobbie Renfro, M.Sc. Biology — Marine Ecology
PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer

Website: http://www.bikinibiologistbobbie.com

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/thebikinibiologist/

Instagram: @thebikinibiologist

Twitter: @bikinibiologist

Bobbie Renfro is the Bikini Biologist - a marine biologist and diving instructor. Through SCUBA and marine science teaching, she seeks to inspire students to explore and protect our underwater world. She is interested in the ecology of aquatic ecosystems and the behavior of their inhabitants, particularly on tropical coral reefs. Her research has an over arching goal of guiding sustainable ecotourism management. She completed her Master of Science degree from Auburn University and her PADI Master SCUBA Diver Trainer certification from Subway Watersports in Roatán, Honduras. Find out more about Bobbie and her work at www.bikinibiologistbobbie.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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