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Expert review backs Marine Conservation Society call for gold-standard protection of UK seas

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Marine charity welcomes the Benyon Review and calls for a suite of Highly Protected Marine Areas to be designated in English seas within a year, after decades of Government stalling.

The Marine Conservation Society has welcomed the publication of the Benyon Review into Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs), but warns that another Government report is not enough, and that positive action to recover our seas is urgently needed within 12 months. The review received more than 5,000 responses from the charity’s supporters, who have been calling for the establishment of HPMAs for decades.

HPMAs are ’gold standard’ zones which should offer the best protection for our ocean, banning damaging activities that have decimated wildlife and habitats. They are considered by marine biologists around the world as the most effective mechanism to restore degraded marine ecosystems and recover marine wildlife populations.

The Review, conducted over the past year by a panel of experts, involved consultation with the Marine Conservation Society, other non-government organisations and maritime interests, alongside a public consultation. The Review report calls for the designation of HPMAs in English seas to protect marine biodiversity and important ‘blue carbon’ habitats.

Just like nature reserves and national parks on land, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are set up to look after particular seascapes, habitats and species. Of the 355 MPAs in UK seas, only four are fully protected from all extractive activities, covering less than 20km2. All other UK MPAs allow some extractive or damaging activities (e.g. fishing, aggregate extraction, angling etc.) within their boundaries.

The Review recommends that some existing MPAs should be considered for upgrading to HPMA status. This means protection will go a step further for these MPAs by taking a ‘whole-site approach’ to protection, excluding all damaging activities across the site. The Review also recommends that ‘blue carbon’ habitats are identified for HPMA designation, recognising the incredible power of the UK’s marine and coastal habitats such as seabed, seagrass, and saltmarsh to lock down atmospheric CO2 and help combat climate change.

The Marine Conservation Society urges the Government to act swiftly on the review and properly invest in the work to get designations in place by World Oceans Day 2021, at the latest.

Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Principal Specialist Marine Protected Areas recalled: “The UK government had an important opportunity to designate 65 HPMA sites in English waters back in 2013, but failed to do so, citing a ‘lack of evidence’ and bowing to pressure from industry and fishing lobbyists. As a result, key seabed habitats continue to be damaged and the health of our seas declines. This Review is promising, but means nothing if Government – after decades of delay – doesn’t at last grasp the nettle and get these essential management measures in place with urgency

Dr Peter Richardson, Head of Ocean Recovery said: “We welcome the conclusions of the Review, which support our long-held view that HPMAs should be introduced in UK waters, and the wishes of thousands of our supporters who also want to see real protection for our marine wildlife and habitats now. The Government has a historic opportunity to make much-needed changes to the way we protect our seas and just needs to get on with it! We have less than 10 years to take action to reduce the worst effects of climate change. Work now to establish a blue-belt of climate-smart HPMAs in our seas will lock down ‘blue carbon’ and help meet our net zero-carbon targets. MCS will use the findings of this Review to push Government to designate HPMAs in English waters within a year.”

Creating HPMAs in the UK’s waters will help return parts of our ocean to the most natural state possible. The Westminster Government has rightly supported extensive HPMA designations in our UK Overseas Territories, but not in the UK’s heavily-used domestic waters. By delivering the recommendations of this Review, the UK can start addressing the apparent imbalance of this approach and make a real difference to the future of our ocean.

For more information on Marine Protected Areas, HPMAs and the Marine Conservation Society’s work to assure healthy seas for the future, please visit www.mcsuk.org.

To read the full Benyon Review on HPMAs, visit here.

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 Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.com

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PADI Teams Up with Wellness Brand Neuro to Drive Ocean Change and Create a Blue State of Mind

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Neuro

Together launching a whale-inspired limited-edition tin to fund ocean conservation

Ocean lovers and wellness enthusiasts can join PADI® (Professional Association of Diving Instructors®)  and Neuro® functional gum and mints in creating positive ocean change.

The two leading lifestyle and purpose-driven brands have united in a shared mission that is born out of the transformational powers of the water and are offering a streamlined way to enhance your wellbeing and that of the ocean. Throughout the year, they will be releasing a collection of two limited edition re-usable Neuro x PADI tins designed to be used with all the bulk Neuro bag products, with 20% of profits donated to PADI AWARE FoundationTMand $100K USD committed to the world’s largest purpose-driven diving organisation’s non-profit charity by the end of 2024.

The first of the co-branded tins that are now available for purchase showcases artwork created by Neuro co-founder Kent Yoshimura, who is also a renowned mural artist and depicts a whale breaching in the ocean.

“The whale is symbolic of how everything is interconnected and small changes can have a huge impact upon our ocean – and all life that calls it home,” explains Yoshimura. “By refilling and using this tin, you’ll cut down on your packaging waste, fuel yourself with clean ingredients to live your best life and do more for all vulnerable marine species.”

At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in our oceans every year and more than 250 million tons of plastic are estimated to pollute our waters by 2025,” says Julie Andersen, PADI’s Senior Director of Brand. “Much of that debris is ingested by all of the ocean’s creatures – including the symbolic megafauna like whales. By creating this campaign, PADI and Neuro have come together to drive change and heal ourselves, our communities, and the ocean – our largest and most important ecosystem on this blue planet, and the very thing responsible for life on earth.”

Uniting Two Purpose-Driven Brands

Founded in 2015 by Yoshimura and his co-founder Ryan Chen on their first dive trip in Catalina, the two college friends and PADI Scuba Divers were looking for a more sustainable way to optimise one’s health and energy – and soon after established Neuro®, a collection of functional gum and mints crafted with a patented formula and clean ingredients to help you do more.

What started as a small start-up conceived on a dive boat, led them to garner international recognition for their appearance on Shark Tank in 2020 – and they have now sold over 90 million pieces of Neuro products.

“Core to our purpose-driven ethos, we want to encourage the world to not only improve their own lives, but the lives of others,” explains Chen. “We understand that being a truly sustainable company is more than just protecting the environment. That is why we prioritise environmental, social, and economic sustainability to ensure Neuro operates in a way that benefits everyone – including the smallest of plankton to the largest of whales that live beneath the surface.”

“Just like Neuro, PADI empowers people to become the best version of themselves when they are in a state of ‘blue mind’, where you become deeply aware of your own personal health’s connection to that of our blue planet’s – realising that your own wellbeing gives you superpowers to make a real difference,” says Andersen. “We are obsessed with creating positive ocean change and transforming lives by making the wonder of the underwater world accessible to all and ensuring that communities and ecosystems live in harmony that mutually support one another. Together, we are magnifying our powers to do more by raising awareness to the issues facing our ocean, while at the same time, providing meaningful ways to take action.”

How the Ocean Healed Neuro Co-Founders

Scuba diving isn’t just a passionate hobby for Neuro co-founders Yoshimura and Chen. It is from this that they experienced the entrepreneurial side-effects of scuba diving, in which the dive trip was a core driver to their business success and personal wellbeing – giving them both their “million-dollar idea” and a renewed sense of purpose and belief that anything is possible.

“It was during this dive trip that we realised the need to have a practical, sustainable, and approachable system that can be shared with fellow divers that provide clean energy during surface intervals,” Yoshimura explains. “When you fall in love with the ocean, you want to spend as much time as possible exploring and protecting it. So, we wanted to create a product that supported this passion and gives you a prolonged state of ‘blue mind’.”

For Chen, earning his PADI Open Water Diver certification also provided him with a pivotal moment in his own healing journey after he had suffered a tragic snowboarding accident that left him partially paralysed. He became certified through the PADI Adaptive Techniques Diving Course and benefited greatly from the physical and mental therapy the sport of scuba diving provides. Soon after, his renewed sense of purpose led him to be named to Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2019.

“There’s no cooler feeling than taking that first breath underwater,” Chen recalls. “All of a sudden you have this superpower, to breathe underwater and explore. Learning to dive re-ignited my passion for life but also my belief that I too could make a difference in protecting and saving the ocean.”

“Learning to scuba dive unlocks hidden superpowers that are not only empowering – but essential to keep our shared blue planet healthy,” Andersen explains. “As a PADI Scuba Diver, you not only develop a new passion, but you also earn the unique ability to protect what you love, engaging in impactful citizen science with your own two hands.  Through a shared mission of instilling hope, connecting with other species, and fueling hands-on conservation, we hope that we can make a better world for all of us.”

“That is why we rebuilt our company mission at PADI to reach every 1 in 10 people on our shared blue planet and inspire them to join us as Ocean Torchbearers to create positive ocean change,” says Andersen. “Our work with Neuro helps us inspire more people to experience, fall in love with, and protect the ocean and all life that calls it home. Together, Neuro and PADI are supporting more people in achieving a state of “blue mind”, in which they realise they too are superheroes that can accelerate and optimise healing: our own, our communities, and our planets.”

Win a Healing Trip of a Lifetime and Become PADI Whale Defenders in Mexico

Note: This competition is only open to residents of the USA

As part of their limited edition re-usable tin launch, PADI and Neuro are offering one lucky winner the ultimate healing trip of a lifetime:  the chance to become a PADI Whale Defender in Baja California, Mexico. The prize includes flights, accommodation, the PADI Whale Defender Course, and a whale-watching tour with Dive Ninja Expeditions for two, as well as a collection of Neuro mint and gum products that includes Energy + Focus, Calm + Clarity and Sleep + Recharge.

“Together, we all must heal ourselves before we can heal the planet,” says Andersen. “Neuro and PADI are united in purpose, focused on our holistic wellbeing by healing from within, connecting with like-minded, purpose-driven communities, and joining a movement bigger than yourself to create positive ocean change. Seeing is believing, and an unforgettable, life-altering encounter with a whale will change your life forever, filling you with a drive to protect their – and our – blue world.”

For more information, to purchase the limited edition re-usable tins and to enter this competition, visit padi.neurogum.com/sweepstakes.

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Diver Discovering Whale Skeletons Beneath Ice Judged World’s Best Underwater Photograph

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UPY

An emotive photograph showing a freediver examining the aftermath of whaling sees
Alex Dawson from Sweden named Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024. Dawson’s
photograph ‘Whale Bones’ triumphed over 6500 underwater pictures entered by underwater
photographers from around the world.

“Whale Bones was photographed in the toughest conditions,” explains chair of judging
panel Alex Mustard, “as a breath-hold diver descends below the Greenland ice sheet to bear
witness to the carcasses. The composition invites us to consider our impact on the great
creatures of this planet. Since the rise of humans, wild animals have declined by 85%. Today,
just 4% of mammals are wildlife, the remaining 96% are humans and our livestock. Our way
needs to change to find a balance with nature.”

UPY

Photo: Rafael
Fernandez Caballero

Whales dominated the winning pictures this year with Spanish photographer Rafael
Fernandez Caballero winning two categories with his revealing photos of these ocean giants:
a close up of a grey whale’s eye and an action shot of a Bryde’s whale engulfing an entire bait
ball, both taken in Magdalena Bay, Baja California, Mexico. Fernandez Caballero took ‘Grey
Whale Connection’ while drifting in a small boat, holding his camera over the side in the water
to photograph the curious whale. ‘The End Of A Baitball’ required Fernandez Caballero to dive
down and be in exactly the right place at the moment the whale lunged. “The photo shows
the high speed attack,” he said, “with the whale engulfing hundreds of kilograms of sardines
in one bite — simply unforgettable to see predation on such a scale.”

UPY

Photo: Rafael
Fernandez Caballero

Lisa Stengel from the United States was named Up & Coming Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image of a mahi-mahi catching a sardine, in Mexico. Stengel used both a very fast shutter speed and her hearing to catch the moment. “If you listen there’s an enormous amount of sound in the ocean,” she explained. “The action was too fast to see, so I honed in on the sound of the attacks with my camera to capture this special moment.”

“It is such an exciting time in underwater photography because photographers are capturing such amazing new images, by visiting new locations and using the latest cameras,”
commented judge Alex Mustard. “Until this year I’d hardly ever see a photo of a mahi mahi,
now Lisa has photographed one hunting, action that plays out in the blink of an eye.”
The Underwater Photographer of the Year contest is based in the UK, and Jenny Stock,
was named as British Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 for her image “Star
Attraction”, which finds beauty in species of British wildlife that are often overlooked.
Exploring the west coast of Scotland, Stock explained “in the dark green depths my torch
picked out the vivid colours of a living carpet of thousands of brittle stars, each with a
different pattern. I was happily snapping away, when I spotted this purple sea urchin and I
got really excited.”

Photo: Jenny Stock

In the same contest, Portuguese photographer, Nuno Sá, was named ‘Save Our Seas
Foundation’ Marine Conservation Photographer of the Year 2024, with his photo ‘Saving
Goliath’, taken in Portugal. Sá’s photo shows beachgoers trying to save a stranded sperm
whale. The picture gives us hope that people do care and want to help the oceans, but also
warns us that bigger changes are needed. “The whale had been struck by a ship and its fate
was sealed,” explains Sá. “An estimated 20,000 whales are killed every year, and many more
injured, after being struck by ships-and few people even realise that it happens.”

UPY

Photo: Nuno Sá

More winning images can be found at www.underwaterphotographeroftheyear.com.

About Underwater Photographer of the Year

Underwater Photographer of the Year is an annual competition, based in the UK, that celebrates photography beneath the surface of the ocean, lakes, rivers and even swimming pools, and attracts entries from all around the world. The contest has 13 categories, testing photographers with themes such as Macro, Wide Angle, Behaviour and Wreck photography, as well as four categories for photos taken specifically in British waters. The winners were announced in an award ceremony in Mayfair, London, hosted by The Crown Estate. This year’s UPY judges were experienced underwater photographers Peter Rowlands, Tobias Friedrich and Dr Alexander Mustard MBE.

Header image: Underwater Photographer of the Year 2024 winner Alex Dawson

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