“Swimming with seals through a kelp forest was when she fell in love with the underwater world…”
Hannah Douglas, 23, from Co. Wicklow has been awarded the 2022 European Our World Underwater Scholarship®, one of three global SCUBA diving awards funded by Rolex each year.
The objective of the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society®, set up over 50 years ago in the USA, is to help to develop the careers of young people who are talented, passionate divers with a strong academic record and a deep-seated desire to build a career in our industry. Three scholarships are awarded each year, one in the USA, one in Australasia, and one in the EU. The scholarship can sound too good to be true as each individual spends a year on the road, diving and working with, and most importantly learning from and contributing to the work of leading divers, academics and conservationists around the world.
Hannah’s love of diving began during her Transition Year, when she completed an Open Water Diver course with Ocean Divers in Dunlaoghaire, at the end of which she experienced her first boat dive off Dalkey Island. It was on that dive, swimming with seals through a kelp forest that she fell in love with the underwater world and decided to study Marine Science at NUI Galway.
During her undergraduate studies she continued her SCUBA training, and under the guidance of kelp research specialist Kathyrn Scheonrock, became a NAUI-certified Scientific Diver. Subsequently, she worked on multiple scientific field research projects. Including her own final year thesis, focused on Pachycerianthus multiplicatus (Firework anemones) on the West coast of Ireland with the help of Seasearch Ireland, a citizen science diving organisation.
A passion for sharing the underwater world with others led her to complete her PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor qualification in Water World, Co. Kerry in 2021. In Summer of that year, as part of their bursary programme, she worked as a Communications Content Creator for the Marine Institute, Ireland’s state body for marine research and development.
In the long run, Hannah Douglas aims to continue studying life in the ocean while broadening her knowledge of economics and politics by delving into the world of resource management and legislation. Alongside many other marine scientists, she fervently believes that ‘you can only love what you know’ and a global awakening to the beauty of our oceans is what is needed to drive the protection of marine biodiversity.
The ultimate objective of the Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society®, is to keep talented young people in the underwater industry to drive it forwards, and it works. Scholars who graduate from this unique program go on to become underwater filmmakers, eminent underwater archaeologists, highly successful diving educators, hardware designers, leading conservationists, leading marine biologists and policymakers and explorers, all in our underwater world.
The organisation is run exclusively by volunteers including a healthy number of previous recipients of the scholarship who want to give something back to the Society which has supported their career development in such a meaningful way. The diving scholarship is supported by Rolex and is the watch brand’s longest continuous running involvement with any sport.
Hannah Douglas will attend the OWUSS award ceremony in New York in June and after that she will begin her scholarship studying underwater videography with Saeed Rashid in Northern Indonesia. During the year she will be tasked to produce articles and publications about her experiences, culminating with an end of year short film.
Header Image by Nadya Helmer
British freediver sets new national record with 112m dive
British freediver Gary McGrath has set a new national record at the prestigious Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas.
Using only a monofin for propulsion, Gary swam down a measured rope to a depth of 112m (367ft), returning to the surface to receive a white card from the AIDA International judges to validate his dive.
Gary, 41, held his breath for three minutes and 13 seconds to complete the dive.
Freedivers descend underwater on a single breath of air and the atmospheric pressure on their bodies increases as they go deeper.
At 112m deep the pressure is 12 times greater than the surface, meaning the air in Gary’s lungs would have shrunk to less than a twelfth of its original volume – around the size of a golf ball.
Freedivers train to cope with the physiological strains placed on their bodies by their sport, and Gary uses his background of yoga and meditation to help his physical and mental preparation for deep dives.
He has also had to overcome physical challenges after contracting Covid last year during preparations for a previous national record attempt.
Gary said: ‘Diving below 100m is a totally unique environment, it’s my therapy.
‘This year has been extremely challenging for my mental health and freediving has helped me overcome that for sure.
‘At depth I have complete isolation from the everyday world we live in. Down there it’s just me and nature. It’s that escape that all freedivers crave.
‘There are moments of extreme mental clarity and purity that I can only achieve when underwater. The flow state that a deep dive allows me to experience is unique and addictive.’
Gary, originally from Twickenham, began freediving in 2006 and has been competing since 2008.
A former tree surgeon, he became a professional freedive instructor in 2014, and he and his partner Lynne Paddon run Yoga and Freedive Retreats in Ibiza.
Remarkably, he completed his 112m national record dive on Tuesday (August 9) despite being forced to compete wearing a borrowed monofin which was a size too small for his feet.
His entire kit bag containing his monofin, bifins and two wetsuits was lost by an airline as he travelled to the competition.
Despite his careful preparation, Gary said he suffered nerves on the morning of his national record dive, and relied on a phone call to his partner Lynne, who helped him focus on breathing techniques and visualisation to calm his nerves.
Speaking immediately after his dive, he said: ‘That was all for Lynne – this whole week has been about her. I could not do it without her. I hope that everyone finds someone they can click with, it’s the most magical thing in the world.’
Gary also thanked supporters who helped him to crowdfund to raise the money needed for him to travel to the Bahamas and compete.
Vertical Blue is considered one of the most elite events on the freediving calendar and has been dubbed the ‘Wimbledon of Freediving’.
Owned and run by world record freediver William Trubridge, the event takes place in a 202m (663ft) deep sinkhole known as Dean’s Blue Hole, off the coast of Long Island.
The previous British national record of 111m was set by Michael Board in 2018, also at a Vertical Blue competition.
All Photographs courtesy of Daan Verhoeven (www.daanverhoeven.com)
Film Review: Thirteen Lives
Ron Howard’s recreation of the 2018 rescue of a Thai junior football team is impressive. Even though we know what happens in the end the tension and drama played out is palpable.
On 23 June 2018, 12 members of a Thai junior football team, the Wild Boars, and their coach became trapped deep in the Tham Luang cave system by rising flood water. The film details the incredible international rescue efforts that ensue. And Ron Howard has judged the tone perfectly. There is no Hollywood glitz and glamour and the two leading actors: Colin Farrell and Viggo Mortensen, who play John Volanthen and Rick Stanton respectively, capture the intensity of the situation perfectly.
The diving scenes are claustrophobic in the extreme. Although I suspect that the visibility was even worse than the film depicts as you have to be able to see something in the dramatization! All the way through the film I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at the extraordinary feat these divers pulled off. The skill and bravery required still impresses after watching films, hearing them speak in public and reading about the rescue.
I loved that, whilst the divers took centre stage in the film, the heroic rescue efforts of the water engineer and his team was also given the attention they deserve, as well as the incredible Thai Navy Seals and the thousands of people that flocked to the region to help.
Thirteen Lives is a must watch movie about an incredible cave rescue. It’s sober tone hits the mark. The cinematography is skilled and creates an impressively tense experience. It is available on Amazon Prime right now.
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