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Interview: Esther Jacobs talks to Dr Ryan Kempster, Founder of Support Our Sharks

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Sharks

Dr Ryan Kempster is a shark biologist and founder of the non-profit organisation Support Our Sharks (SOS). He obtained his B.Sc. (2005) and M.Sc. (2007) in marine biology in the UK, and went on to complete a Ph.D. at the University of Western Australia (UWA) in the sensory biology of sharks. Dr Kempster recently spent a month with Oceans Research working on his shark deterrent project.

EJ: How did you end up in science and research?

RK: I’ve always had an interest in animals and science, although my path has changed quite a lot, which was dictated by how well I was doing in certain subjects. When I was younger, I wanted to be a vet, but didn’t quite get the grades needed. My college supervisor had a nephew studying marine biology so he threw it out to me as an idea. I ended up doing a similar internship to Oceans Research in Thailand and I gained experience over there where I fell in love with the ocean. That encouraged me to go into marine biology. It seemed like the perfect route for me, and my career evolved from there.

EJ: The ocean hooks you…

RK: It definitely does. It was quite random as I grew up in Manchester in the north of England and never really had any experience with the ocean before that. We went to the beach every so often, but it was often miserable, rainy and not that tropical kind of beach experience.

EJ: Do you consider yourself more of a biologist or a conservationist?

RK: This again has evolved. Initially I was a conservationist… that’s where I came from as I was always about saving and protecting animals. Science was a way to facilitate that. Over the years I’ve understood that science is a way to instruct conservation efforts. Giving people the information they need to bring about conservation through change is much more beneficial than just being a voice that constantly states the same thing people have already heard. That’s why I’ve put a lot more focus into my research to give people answers. I think taking all that into account, I much prefer to place myself as a scientist now more than a conservationists, though the two are intimately related.

EJ: So you’re a biologist, but conservation is a big factor?

RK: I like to think that everything I do as a scientist has a conservation purpose. Sometimes it’s quite a long route to where the conservation benefits come in, but they’re there. The work we do is neuroscience focused, such as the shark’s sensory system, so at the moment we are working on shark deterrents. Shark deterrents have big benefits for conservation, as opposed to something like shark culling.  It’s hard for people to appreciate how understanding the biology of these animals relates to conservation, but there’s a path there that leads to conservation and we need to have that basic understanding to get there.

EJ: What is the main goal of your non-profit, Support Our Sharks?

RK: Support Our Sharks is a combination of sharing my research, educating people, and with that, bringing about conservation and change. So, really, it’s about bringing together an elective of people who have the power to make those changes. This has been great in Western Australia with all the shark related issues we’ve seen. Having the backing of so many people in the group really helps us to push the petitions and bring about changes in legislations. Really, we’re trying to reach as large an audience as possible with genuinely good information that has a basis in research and science, rather than the typical media hype about killer sharks. It facilitates more research and gives people the opportunity to support that research.

EJ: So the information you give to people is as factual as possible?

RK: Yes. A lot of the information comes from my own personal experience through the research I’m doing. Or through my own reading and learning and I share what I think is relevant. It’s a way of facilitating all of the knowledge I’ve learned about sharks over the years and sharing it with others.

EJ: I see you’ve created videos that cater for kids. Are they your main target audience?

RK: My audience is more general. If you look at the statistics on who accesses the social media pages, there’s a very broad range of people. Certainly, in Perth, we do a lot of school visits, so that brought about creating these videos. When I first started the talks, I had no content to show them. It became apparent that I needed visuals… something for the kids to engage with. I’ve always had an interest in animation so that’s why I chose to make the videos.

EJ: I love the Why Shark’s Matter video, as does my 3 year old. I use it at my own school talks and the audience love it.

RK: I’ve noticed that although it seems targeted at kids, it works really well for adults too. I have that same philosophy when I present at a scientific conference. You talk to these old dog scientists who tell you to get all the data and stats in your presentation, but you realise that all people want is a really simple approach to how you’ve done things. They want to sit back. They don’t want to have to think too hard and almost want to be spoon fed the information. I find that with the animations, the adults also love that stuff.

EJ: Have you used the same animations at the conferences?

RK: Not those ones specifically, but other versions of them. In fact when we came to Mossel Bay a couple of years ago, we first went to Durban for the Sharks International Conference. My entire presentation was made as an animation. I got some great feedback. Some of the older scientists mentioned they didn’t think it was the way we should do things, but I think people appreciate something that’s engaging.

EJ: What’s your favourite species of shark?

RK: This has changed a couple of times over the years. The first shark I ever saw while diving was a leopard shark, or zebra shark depending on where you are in the world. I was just fascinated. The shark just sat on the bottom, not moving, and was so chilled out. I managed to get right up to it and it wasn’t bothered. That got me really interested in learning more about sharks. When I started my Ph.D. in Australia, I worked with Port Jackson sharks. They’re adorable and quite different from other species with they’re boxy heads and spines. We had a facility where we were working with baby Port Jackson sharks and that’s when I feel I love with them.

EJ: What do you think of the epaulette? They look so interesting.

RK: We’ve actually done some work with epaulette sharks and they’re amazing, but a bit tricky to handle. They have long, slender bodies, but are incredibly strong. When you need to handle them, they’ll completely coil up so it makes behavioural work a bit difficult. They’re great sharks though, really beautiful and I love how they can walk on the ocean bed and come out of the water.

EJ: Have you worked with the benthic sharks we have in Mossel Bay?

RK: No I haven’t, but I do love your pyjama sharks.

EJ: When we work with the benthics like the leopard catsharks and sometimes the pyjamas, they often coil up like the epaulette, making it difficult to measure them.

RK: I’d love to do some work with them. Hopefully there’s potential to come out here with some students in the future to study them.

EJ: There doesn’t seem to be a lot known about the benthics from a conservation standpoint.

RK: They don’t get the attention of the big, charismatic sharks like the white sharks.

EJ: What can you tell us about your past and / or current research?

RK: All of my research on sharks has been focused on the sensory biology. I started looking at the electro-sensory system. At the very beginning it was from a morphological point of view… gross anatomy like the pores for ampullae of lorenzini and how that differentiates between species. I did a large study in the beginning with over a hundred different species of sharks and rays where we compared the arrangement of the pores. We tried to understand what that meant for feeding behaviour. We came to some conclusions, but now we’ve started to dive a bit deeper to discover how the species differ in terms of the connection to the brain. This has naturally evolved into the shark deterrent work we are currently doing. A lot of the deterrents work on the electro sensory system, like Shark Shield and Surf Safe. However no one’s actually looked at how the sensory system works. We know it helps them with feeding and that they can detect electrical fields, so there are papers on that. But there’s a middle ground to say that we have this technology that seems to deter them, but how does it actually work? That’s now where our research is going, to better understand the technology currently available and to see how it works. Also, to develop some novel technology, so new devices that would not only work on the electro-sensory system, but other senses as well. Most of the research we’ve done in Mossel Bay is with deterrents and we’ve looked at a range of electro-sensory deterrents, plus visual deterrents using lights and strobe lights, and even sounds and smells. We’ve focused on white sharks as this is the top species involved in fatal attacks. If we can find a suitable deterrent for a white shark you’re pretty much covered. Most attacks by other species are not fatal.

EJ: Do you find that when testing deterrents on e.g. a white shark here and a tiger shark in Australia, that the response is the same?

RK: No, there’s definitely differences between the species. In the case of electro-sensory deterrents anyway. When you look at the number of electro-sensory pores on a white shark, it’s around 700. A tiger shark has around 1,000 and a hammerhead has around 3,000. You can imagine that such huge differences in the number of pores in the system means that surely they must use the system differently. There’s a whole range of other differences that separate the species. On the limited research we’ve done on a number of different species, hammerheads, tigers, white sharks and a bunch of reef species, they certainly respond in different ways. One deterrent we’ve had particular success with is the shark shield. We’ve just published research that will come out soon and that’s shown great success with the white sharks and also great potential with the other species. We have observed notable differences in the way the different sharks approach Shark Shield, how long they stay around etc. It will be good to finalise the data on the other species to see these differences in a research paper.

EJ: Seems like the research is a long process…

RK: Yes, so much to look at and so much data to process. But we’re getting there.

EJ: Is there a reason you pick Mossel Bay for some of the aspects of your research as opposed to other known white shark areas of the world?

RK: Australia is known to have white sharks, especially South Australia. There seems to be a disconnect between how many sharks there are and how many that people think there are. In Australia, they are spread far apart. You may get them all along the Southern coast, but not in a concentrated area. We initially tried to do our research in Australia, and with the tiger sharks and reef sharks it was great, we found those no problem… well it took us a long time to find them, but we got the numbers we needed. Then, we went down to South-West Western Australia and in four days, we only got one white shark who just passed by briefly. We had known Enrico [Enrico Gennari, Director of Research for Oceans Research] for a while and he was a bit shocked when we explained our lack of white shark encounters, telling us how he was sometimes seeing 10 to 20 a day within 10 minutes of anchoring the boat. So, we came here two years ago and couldn’t believe the activity. For our data purposes, we got what we needed in just a couple of weeks.

EJ: What’s unique about here is that a lot of the time, you only have to travel 10 minutes from the harbour to find the white sharks.

RK: The access is brilliant and the conditions are also amazing with the calm seas. We were used to the huge swells and harsh winds when being at sea in Western Australia on a tiny boat and deploying our equipment out there can be really trying. When we came here it was a luxury to have this calm bay, with a short boat ride then being surrounded by white sharks almost instantly.

EJ: What has been your most important scientific finding?

RK: My personal favourite and most interesting discovery was when we were working with baby bamboo sharks. Again, we were focused on the electro-sensory system. We were looking at the point during their development that they could detect electrical signals. Bamboo sharks are born in an egg case and for a period of time, they’re fully gown but bound to the egg case. So, we monitored these baby sharks while they were developing in the egg, and periodically over that time, we would stimulate them with an electrical signal to imitate a large shark. Up until a point in their development there was no reaction at all as they wouldn’t have developed the neural connections to activate the sensory system yet. Then, there was a key point when they would start to react and we were able to corroborate that through other research to show it was the point at which the neurons would connect to the sensory system. So, the behavioural side and anatomical side completely aligned. The great thing was this innate behaviour. When they sensed what they thought was a large predator, they would completely freeze and they would stop breathing.

EJ: Play dead?

RK: Well, normally a reaction to a predator would be fight or flight, but since the sharks are in a little egg case, they’re best chance is to stay really still so that they won’t be noticed. There was a limit to how long they could stop breathing though. We observed the breathing patterns through their gill movements. After a minute or so of not breathing they must resume breathing, and it was interesting to observe that first breath as it was almost like a big inhalation and the gills would open really wide.

EJ: How were you able to observe this behaviour?

RK: We had the eggs hanging in a tank and lights behind them, which would shine into the egg to show the inside, plus cameras set up to record them. The eggs were all at different stages of development.

EJ: What has been your biggest challenge?

RK: Mainly accessing the animals. When we started we were mostly lab based and all our work would be carried out in the lab or aquarium. Then, we progressed to field work using remote cameras and different equipment, but taking what we had been doing in the aquarium and trying to do it in the field. When we first tried to do this, it took a while to get the sharks to interact with our equipment. We ended up with hours of footage of blue water and couldn’t understand why the sharks wouldn’t interact with the cameras. The sharks were very camera shy and didn’t seem to like our big equipment clanking around. So, we ended up adapting our equipment. We used to have the cameras hanging in the water with horizontal cameras, so we changed it to vertical cameras and could then have the bait held further away as the bait being too close to the cameras is what seemed to put them off. Over the years, we have developed the equipment even further and have even tried to make it quieter. We keep everything tightly bolted so nothing is clanking around. It was a learning curve, but now the equipment works really well.

EJ: How do Oceans Research fit in with your research?

RK: At the moment they’re integral. Not just with providing access to the white sharks, but also with all the help we get from the interns. We used to have a much larger team and the last time we were here we were testing seven different types of deterrent. We were swapping the researchers around each day to give everyone a chance in the field. After that we realized we don’t need to take the entire lab with us on a research trip. So, this time, we’re here with just three of us. Through Oceans Research we have access to many interns who are keen to be involved in interesting field studies. The interns have been great and kept us on our toes with some thought-provoking questions.

EJ: Do you hope your research will aide in shark conservation?

RK: Yes, absolutely. Particularly, just now with the shark deterrent work. The paper we have written that will be coming out in a couple of days will certainly feed into conservation. Finally there is a deterrent on the market that has been well tested and researched, and actually works. We know that culling doesn’t work. We know that it’s not effective. We had three years of culling in Western Australia and now they’ve finally accepted that it’s an ineffective method. Now, the best thing we have is a Shark Shield. If you want to be in the water and you’re worried about sharks, take a Shark Shield. At least now people have a solution. Just saying ‘don’t go in the water’ isn’t really fair. Now we can say ‘you can go in the water, just take a Shark Shield’. I hope this deterrent will have a big impact and tone down the calls for culling sharks. Beyond that, we’re expanding into other types of deterrents. Particularly from an area-based point of view, such as trying to keep sharks away from areas like beaches.

EJ: It seems unfair that sharks always get the bad name when an incident occurs, even when the person involved in the incident was warned that sharks have been spotted in the water.

RK: Absolutely. Some of the other research we’re looking at, that we should hopefully be able to publish later this year, is what initiates a shark attack… what makes sharks bite. One of the things we’re looking at is how do we compare to seals, as it’s often said we look like a seal in the water. Our research group developed an ‘artificial shark’s eye view’ of the world that takes in to account the resolution and acuity of a range of sharks. So, how they would view e.g. a swimmer, seal or surfer. You look at us and think how could we look like a seal? But, when we look at it from a shark’s perspective in 10 or 15 feet of water, do they start to look alike? We have students back in Perth analyzing data and they will be able to say for sure once the research is complete. If, indeed, it comes out that they do look alike, then we can take this further to improve deterrents such as using lights or maybe some kind of pattern on surfboards or wetsuits.

EJ: Say I never travel by car or plane, I’m never in a position to be around dangerous land animals, coconut trees, lightening spots or any other fatal objects compared to shark incident numbers, how dangerous are sharks?

RK: My personal point of view isn’t that sharks aren’t dangerous. Some sharks are in fact dangerous. I would never recommend that anyone swim with a white shark or a tiger or bull shark as they are the three most dangerous. The reality is that we are not on the menu. We are the complete opposite of what a shark’s typical food source is. So, it’s likely that bites stem from a case of mistaken identity. So, in that sense, it’s probably a good idea to take precautions where possible such as proven deterrents like Shark Shield.

EJ: Why should they be protected?

RK: Sharks have a really important role in ecosystems. They are also very diverse, which is something that’s often forgotten about. There is a whole range of sharks. People think ‘why should I protect sharks if they eat people’. There are over 500 different species of sharks that all have an integral role in different environments. In almost every marine environment you can think of, there will be at least one species of shark that plays a role in maintaining that ecosystem. So, it’s really important that we’re taking this into account when we look at marine protected areas etc. We need to understand their role in that environment, which is the same for any fish really. We need to look at what would happen if that fish or shark, and that role is removed. White sharks get a lot of the attention as they’re so charismatic. They’re usually the main shark shown on Shark Week. So everyone thinks we need to protect them, which we certainly do in many places in the world, but there are also places where they’re doing absolutely fine and need no protection at all. We just found out that the California population of white sharks are doing great so really they don’t need the money that goes towards their protection. That money can be better spent on sharks that really do need protecting. The general public can use the IUCN list to get an idea of where to help as it’s a great source for identifying species that need protecting.

For information on Oceans Research and their internship opportunities visit www.oceans-research.com.

Esther Jacobs is a shark conservationist, originally from Scotland, now living in South Africa working with sharks and other marine life. Esther works with Oceans Research, a marine research facility in Mossel Bay, South Africa. She also runs a shark conservation campaign called Keep Fin Alive, which features a handpuppet shark called Fin, who is on a mission to be photographed with as many people as possible holding a sign that says “I hugged a shark and I liked it… Keep Fin Alive”. He’s already been photographed with lots of celebrities and scientists. The ultimate goal of the campaign is to take a light-hearted approach to help change the common misconception of sharks and drive more attention to the problems of shark overfishing, finning, shark fishing tournaments, bycatch and longlining.

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Western Ecology Tour Expedition Report – Pembrokeshire

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Whilst the team were in Pembrokeshire, we were supporting Neptune’s Army of Rubbish Cleaners, a charity run by divers who are passionate on keeping their local dive sites clean. They have been running clean ups since 2005 and were the first underwater clean up group. The team and I were guided by Lloyd Jones and David Kennard, who have been running the operation for several years now. NARC work alongside the local community as they help locate pollution and rubbish that needs to be cleared, a lot of these reports come from local fisherman who lose their gear and take a note of the location to tell the team later. NARC use equipment to aid their team and to maximise their efficiency, from cutting equipment, lift bags, and boat crews to help them in removing as much rubbish as possible. NARC also take a great stance on education and take the time to not only carry out these clean ups but to also educate the local community and public on the importance of clearing debris off our beaches and to pick up any trash you may see whilst diving.

The first day was spent working with NARC and diving a local dive site in the evening. The first dive was at Hobbs Point, and we were given a full briefing about what to expect on the dive and the kinds of rubbish that needed to be lifted from the site. The team were told that there were 12 Oil Drums, Nets, fishing line and a whole assortment of other rubbish, on this dive we were all equipped with net bags for smaller chunks, as well as Lift Bags for lifting the bigger pieces. There were several RIBs on standby to pick up what came up on the Bags and who also waited for our team to surface and bring us back to the dock. We were only working mere feet from the dock, but this was an active shipping lane with a Ferry actually just in from Ireland, unloading no more than 300 metres down.

Dave gave the go ahead to descend and the visibility was no more than 0.5 metres with some of us struggling to see our own hands in front of our faces, let alone seeing our feet or even our buddies. Therefor the work was done through a combination of touch communication, very close signalling and using torches to keep people together. Andy descended and dropped straight into a shopping trolley which he sent up along with nets, other members such as Lloyd, descended onto the Oil Drums with four of the twelve being lifted. There was a lot of rubbish present at this site unfortunately, with it being as easy to find as simply putting your fingertips into the mud and pulling up handfuls of discarded fishing line and lead weights. In total we managed to lift Four Oil Drums, one Scooter, one Shopping Trolley, and four Nets with one of them containing three fish which were saved and released. We also managed to retrieve bags and handfuls of fishing line and lead weights. At this point the team at NARC were due back at this site five weeks later with their goal to retrieve the rest of the oil drums and other large pieces of debris.

The second dive of day one was at Martins Haven, a dive site situated inside the Skomer Island Marine Reserve, during the briefing we were told about what to expect at the dive site and were also told that if we were to remove any Lobsters and Scallops at the site, it would incur huge fines along with the confiscation of our dive gear. The site was truly breathtaking, with large kelp beds that flattened out on to Sand flats that were covered in huge Scallops, some reaching 6 inches in width! There were large Spider Crabs who littered the bottom searching for food and a mate. The turning point of the dive was when the team came across a Pink Sea Fan, something that looked as if it belonged on one of the worlds tropical reefs rather than in the UK’s frigid waters. On the way back in we came across beautiful walls lined with kelp, anemones and barnacles, with copious amounts of Moon and Purple Jellyfish sitting in the surface water.

The final day of the expedition was a single dive at Stackpole Quay, a shallow site with easy access to the water. The crew parked at a National Trust Car Park and kitted up before walking 100m to the shore, some members of the team, including myself, were yet to see a single Catshark during the expedition and we were hoping to see some before the trip came to an end. This dive definitely didn’t disappoint, with many Small-spotted Catshark’s resting amongst the gulley’s and Kelp, some of us counted upwards of 15 Sharks on this single dive. Other sights on this dive were large shoals of Sand Eel and Sprat, young pollock and huge male Spider Crabs which had managed to gather up a number of females and whom fiercely protected them from those who came in to close to take photos. The visibility on this dive was around 3 metres so caution was took to keep close to one another and to ensure that none of us became separated.

After the dive was done, we returned to the campsite for a debrief, not only the final day, but also from the trip, along with a final meal at a local pub.

Surprisingly for some of us, the trip was not quite over as when we arrived in Pembrokeshire, we heard about spaces being available on one of Celtic Deep’s trips, namely their snorkeling trips, on this trip you get taken out to snorkel with Puffins, Razorbills and potentially Seals. There were 2 spaces available on the Saturday and Sunday with 4 of us taking up the opportunity to go out and experience another unseen story and finish the expedition with a bang.

The boat left shore at 9am but everyone had to arrive at 8:30am for briefing before disembarking, the briefing was led by Richard and Nicki of Celtic Deep. Everyone was told about how the trip is to be structured and how to effectively swim with the Puffins and how to get in close to take photos, after the briefing it was a 40-minute steam out to Skomer Island, once moored up we all jumped in off the back the boat and began to slowly approach large amounts of Puffins, Guillemot’s and Razorbills. The birds were a little shy and aired on the side of caution even if they are naturally curious, thankfully one person in each buddy group had a puffin decoy on a string, painted and donated to Celtic Deep by David Millard. These decoys were larger than an actual Puffin, so this of course peeked the Puffins interest, however as the birds approached and a camera appeared from under the water this of course scared the birds away. Nicki and Richard mentioned that the birds were unfortunately a little more skittish than usual and judging by some of their images it shows that the birds do indeed come much closer.

After spending 2.5 hours in the water with the birds it was time for us wll to get out and warm up for an hour before heading to the next site at Skokholm Island, here everyone was told that there was a chance to swim with Grey Seals or as the Skipper Fen calls them, “Maggots”, due to how they move when out of the water and how they look from a distance. Everyone jumped in and the rule of thumb to stick by was to allow the animals to get confident with us all being there and then allow them to come you, after around 2 hours in the water and the animals popping up to have a look at us all at distance it was time to head back to the boat to head back to port. As everyone was exiting a young seal came and approached the group and even grabbed onto cameras with her paws resulting in some truly close shots.

In total the trip with Celtic Deep was truly amazing with some breath-taking encounters and the opportunity to experience something truly wild, the team were professional and incredibly knowledgeable allowing us to truly enjoy a British wildlife encounter unlike anything else.

Expedition WET Summary

In conclusion the UK is almost a hidden gem of diving, many people would argue that going abroad is better. But as our team experienced during the trip, there is some truly breath-taking diving and wildlife encounters to be had, the UK has Sharks, Seals and Nudibranchs that rival that of those overseas. With a wealth of Charities carrying out hard work, experts who lead them, and life that is truly special, it’s difficult to say what the UK doesn’t have to offer for keen Divers and Photographers alike even if you must look that little bit harder to find it.

Not only is diving just as good as places abroad but it’s also easy to access with all the sites described in this report being accessed by simply walking off the beach and taking the plunge. Not only is it easy to access but it’s also better for the environment and our planet by diving local sites rather than only diving abroad. The team may have done a lot of driving during the expedition but in terms of our carbon footprint, it is a mere drop in the Ocean in comparison to getting a flight.

Keep an eye out soon for Expedition WET’s Film, which is currently in production with Ollie Putnam & Andy Clark. It will show more about the projects that were supported, the team, and life that was found during the expedition.

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The Scuba Genies head to Bonaire! Part 2 of 2

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In the second of this two-part blog, The Scuba Genies share their trip report from the Come Dive with Us hosted trip to Bonaire in September 2021. Missed Part One? Read it here!

There is another dive we just must share with you and one that we can confidently call a ‘Dive of a Lifetime’. There were 12 of us in our group, and collectively we have logged in excess of 8000 dives in some very special places around the world. And every one of us was totally blown away by this dive! A fellow diver, by way of the Girls that Scuba FB group mentioned that if the timing was right, an ostracod dive was one not to miss. A link to an online article noted that 2 to 5 days after a full moon and 45 minutes after sunset, was the best time to observe the mating ritual of these tiny creatures. And only if they have not been exposed to light of any kind. That meant no streetlights and no torches. NO TORCHES!

We lucked out and were in Bonaire during a full moon and planned our Ostracod dive carefully. One the fifth night after the full moon we headed south to Red Beryl, a site we had previously been to and knew the terrain. We were in awe of the soft coral forest at the site, and this was the perfect environment for the ostracods. As the ‘show’ only lasts about 20 minutes, we entered the water while it was still light and left a beacon on the shore to help guide us after the dive. We gently finned out over the sand and hovered above the soft coral at around 8 metres as the dark crept in. Little sparks of light started to appear in ones and twos, and then just as we had hoped, chains of these tiny creature were all around us, in hundreds and then thousands! Everywhere you looked, the ostracods were rising to the surface, like underwater fireflies linked together flashing their bioluminescence one after the other, giving us nature’s most amazing firework show! The only way I can explain it is seeing thousands of Tinkerbells all at once! 20 minutes later, it was all over so we turned on our torches and headed slowly back to the shallows, happy to find a sleeping turtle, scorpion fish, more octopus and lots of little creatures.

As our holiday inevitably came to an end, we chose a site within minutes of Buddy’s called The Invisibles. A highly recommended dive site, we parked up alongside the beach, kitted up and walked down the rock beach and into the water. 95 minutes later, we walked back up the beach with memories of green turtles feeding, free-swimming moray, immense sponges and a plethora of anemones with their tenant critters – shrimp, crabs, and all things fascinating. And back in the sandy shallows we didn’t know where to look! A golden spotted snake eel, juvenile angel fish and a box crab that scuttled across the seabed before vanishing into the sand in a finger-click.

In summary, the diving here was very special – it truly lives up to its reputation of being one of the best destinations to visit, and in fact, over-delivered when it came to our expectations from the Caribbean. To mix it up, in addition to shore diving we also scheduled 4 days of boat diving right from the dock at Buddy’s. We were able to explore all around Klein Bonaire and reach some of the more difficult shore-entry sites including Karpata and 1,000 Steps. We would recommend this highly if only to get away from a daily dose of sand in your boots!

Buddy’s is a full-service dive operation, offering quality accommodation, good food, and the dive centre is as slick an operation as we have ever seen or experienced. The drive-thru tank station is genius for shore diving, the house reef is easily accessed, and the boat diving from the dock on one of their 5 purpose-built dive boats is organised perfectly. Catering for newbies all the way through to technical and rebreather divers, Buddy’s delivers it all, and very well. The staff are fun, highly professional, and the whole set-up is geared to making a dive trip work without any fuss. Even the shop is very well stocked with kit, spares, forgotten stuff and replacements for broken things!

Importantly, Buddy’s is also a supporter and enforcer of the Marine Park protection rules – the whole of the island is surrounded by a protected marine reserve, so no touching, no gloves, no pointy-sticks. Turtle nesting and coral regeneration programmes are evident, and given the fantastic health of the reefs, the protection initiatives and regulations work.

Would we go back? Without any hesitation, and repeatedly!

Bonaire delivered the goods. Great diving, great accommodation and freedom to dive wherever and whenever you want – especially with the tanks on the house reef available 24/7. A perfect destination for dive clubs and groups as the 3–bedroom apartments really work.

Bonaire is exceptional value for money. There are very few places on this planet where you can dive so much for so little in a great marine environment.

Key Facts:

  • Getting there: Flights with KLM to Bonaire depart from any major UK airport via Amsterdam. From London Heathrow it was a 12-hour total flight time. An extra 23kg bag also costs less than £90 return if booked in advance.
  • Air temperature: Tropical – average daily temperature throughout the year is 31’, reasonable rainfall (passes quickly) and the sea breezes are most welcome!
  • Water temperature: 28-30°C. A 1-3mm full suit is recommended to protect from scratches and stings and to keep the sand out.
  • Visa requirement: No tourist visa was required, but under COVID there are protocols in place. See https://www.bonairecrisis.com/en/travel-to-bonaire/ for the current requirements.
  • Currency: US Dollar with ATMs easily found, and all major credit cards are accepted.
  • Electricity: 120V with American 3- and 2-pin plugs. Our US/UK converters worked without issue

Accommodation: You mention Bonaire and Buddy Dive Resort is the first place people mention. Only 10 minutes from the airport makes for a super simple transfer. Multiple room types, all with kitted out kitchens and air-conditioned bedrooms. Two pools, two restaurants, full-service dive shop and staff always around to answer questions or lend a hand.

Diving: With both world class shore and boat diving available, warm and clear water, abundant marine life, coral and sponges like you’ve never seen, what more could you ask for?

Price Guide: Expect from £1500 per person based on two sharing for 7 nights with bed and breakfast. Unlimited shore and house reef diving, Nitrox and car rental all included. Return flights and transfers also included.

Additional costs:

  • STINAPA Marine Park passes: $45 per calendar year. We purchased ours online prior to departure and carried a copy in the vehicle when shore diving.
  • Buddy Dive Vehicle Insurance: $19 per day of vehicle rental for one named driver for the duration of your stay. For an extra $5 you can name another driver for a day. This was added to the room bill, and we split the cost with the rest of our apartment.

Our Advice: Stay longer…. 10 days would be the perfect amount of time in our opinion to get the most out of the shore and boat diving. And with numerous flights during the week to choose from, any duration can easily be arranged.


Find out more about the worldwide dive itineraries that The Scuba Place offers at www.thescubaplace.co.uk.

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Competitions

Egypt | Simply the Best Itinerary | 04 – 11 November 2021 | Emperor Echo

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. Great value for money and perfect for small groups of buddies with a ‘Book 5 and 1 dives for FREE’ offer all year round.

Price NOW from just £1275 per person based on sharing a twin cabin/room including:

  • Flights from Gatwick to Hurghada with 23kgs baggage
  • 7 nights in shared cabin
  • 3 meals a day, soft drinks, red wine with dinner
  • 6 days’ diving, guide, 12ltr tank & weights, Marine Park fees and port departure fees
  • Free Nitrox

Subject to availability.
Alternative departure airports available at supplement.

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email info@diversetravel.co.uk.

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