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Jupiter Shark Dive (Watch Video)

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Florida has one of the largest concentrations of sharks in the world, with sharks present year-round. The Sunshine State is known to have tiger sharks, great hammerheads, bulls, scalloped hammerheads, lemons, sandbars, reefs, black tips, makos, duskys and silky sharks either visiting or resident in its waters. Depending on the time of year many of these species can be seen on dive sites off of its Atlantic coast near Jupiter, earning it a reputation as one of the USA’s top shark diving spots.

Jupiter gained global notoriety for its annual lemon shark aggregation after featuring on BBC’s “Blue Planet 2”.  Every year from December to late March lemon sharks follow the nutrient-rich Gulf Stream sweeping up Florida’s Atlantic coast.  It is thought that they congregate near the coast here to mate and subsequently return to the mangroves of the Bahamas to give birth.  Researchers actively documenting the aggregation have discovered that in addition to the lemon sharks, blacktips migrate in their thousands just offshore during winter.  Given this abundance of life, it’s not surprising that divers and shark lovers gather here to witness these amazing creatures up close.

Sadly sharks are fished both commercially and recreationally from the Florida coast to the waters of the Bahamas.  Getting people to view sharks as more valuable alive than dead is a major part of the conservation focus in Jupiter.  Several local eco-tourism companies offer shark tours catering to divers, snorkelers and those wishing to view sharks from the comfort of a boat.  With three international airports within driving distance and less than a 45 minute boat ride to most sites, if you want to get in the water and swim with sharks, this seems one of the easiest and most accessible ways to do it.

Recently Mike and I were fortunate enough to be transiting through Miami and thought it would be a great opportunity to delay our onward travel a few days to experience this amazing event.  After a bit of research on the various dive and tour operators, we booked a snorkel trip with www.floridasharkdiving.com.  Choosing to snorkel meant we could have good in-water interaction without any cages and also be able to fly out the next day without any offgassing concerns.  This option also means families with non-divers have the opportunity to share the same experience.

We headed over to the marina on a sunny yet pleasantly cool morning to meet with our captain and other shark enthusiasts.  With a stunning view of the Jupiter lighthouse across the waterway we were met by our friendly and efficient boat captain as the crew prepared our boat with supplies and introduced us to each other.  Having signed in and completed the necessary paperwork, we split into 2 groups of 6 to keep the group sizes small.  The boats were comfortable and fast and we enjoyed the cruise out of the Jupiter inlet and into the slight swell.

In under 30 minutes we were about 4 miles offshore at a site known for regular lemon and bull shark sightings.  In fact, the company has nicknamed it “Lemon Drop” for its predictability. Our three crew consisted of the Captain, our in water guide and shark specialist and a second in water safety freediver, all very knowledgable and enthusiastic!  On the way we were briefed on the boat safety features, what to expect on the upcoming experience and good in-water etiquette to keep both the sharks and ourselves happy.

We had expected to be waiting a while for the sharks to come in and investigate the boat, but less than 5 minutes after we arrived the first bull sharks were spotted below the surface, quickly followed by the call of “Lemon shark!”  We donned our fins and masks and slipped into the water along a buoy line to join our toothy friends and get a better look.  Our guide expertly drew the sharks towards us with a baited milk crate while also supervising the group, and we were soon totally absorbed watching a 3m long lemon shark and 15 or more bull sharks circling below and coming in for close passes.

My GoPro seemed to attract some of the sharks in, which gave me some fantastic close encounters, and an hour passed before we knew it.  Mike took so many photos he ran out of battery and we were both so engrossed we hadn’t realised how fast the time had gone.  We thrilled at being so close to so many large sharks, while they seemed perfectly at home cruising around us, eyeing these odd ungainly creatures bobbing on the waves in their blue domain.

Everyone was full of excited chatter on the return trip and we were escorted in by a squadron of pelicans seeking fishy scraps.  For us it was a short trip and we were glad to have gotten to see 2 iconic species on our blue water drift.  Later that week we heard that they were joined by some hammerheads too.

If you have more time in the area it would be well worth a diving trip to visit more local hotspots.  Out on the deeper dive sites, large bull sharks can show up accompanied by groups of cobia. A full day’s diving could well produce lemon, tiger, bull, nurse and great hammerhead sharks. The opportunity to potentially see all these on a single day in the same location about a 45min ride from shore is pretty incredible.  The Intracoastal Waterway also features manatees that can often be sighted enjoying the warm water, nurse sharks as well as osprey hunting from above and the charismatic pelicans.  It is certainly an area worth taking the time to visit.

In the winter, the waters off Jupiter average around 24°C. This means most divers will feel comfortable in a 5mm wetsuit. Dive operators recommend full wetsuits, gloves and hoods as well as the water will be a bit cooler at 30m.  Gear can be rented if you are traveling light and the trip can be planned to include other great dives if you have time to spare.  A multitude of wrecks and reefs await in the Keys, just a short drive south down the US 1.  Wildlife enthusiasts can visit the everglades, drive to the west coast to do a manatee snorkel in Crystal River, or for more shark action of a different kind, join a megalodon tooth hunt near Venice.  The only big decision you have to make in Florida is which do you fancy doing first?


For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

CJ and Mike are dive instructors who have travelled all over the world pursuing their passion for the underwater world. CJ is a PADI MI and DSAT Trimix instructor with a degree in Conservation biology and ecology, who has been diving for 15 years. She loves looking for critters and pointing them out for Mike to photograph. Mike is a PADI MSDT who got back into diving in 2010. He enjoys practicing underwater photography and exploring new and exciting dive locales, occasionally with more than one tank. Follow more of their diving adventures at www.bimbleintheblue.com.

Marine Life & Conservation

UK Shark Fin Trade ‘dead in the water’

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The government has today signalled the end of the UK’s involvement in the global shark fin trade with an announcement that new legislation will require all imported and exported shark fins to remain attached to the shark carcass and only traded as a whole commodity.

The news has been welcomed by Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation and its supporters including wildlife TV presenter Steve Backshall MBE and chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who both endorsed the charity’s No Fin To Declare campaign, calling for a post-Brexit ban of the personal import allowance of shark fins to the UK.

Before Britain left the EU it had been bound by outdated legislation that permits anyone to carry up to 20kg of dried shark fins into and across European borders as part of their personal import allowance. According to Bite-Back, this loophole has been exploited by the shark fin trade to legally ‘smuggle’ fins undetected for decades.

Campaign director at Bite-Back, Graham Buckingham, said: “This news puts the UK at the forefront of shark conservation and represents a further blow to a global industry that is forcing sharks closer to the brink of extinction. We applaud the government for using Brexit to side-step this archaic EU legislation and instead lead the world in the conservation of sharks and the oceans. We hope and believe this announcement will encourage other European countries to impose similar constraints.”

It’s estimated that global fishing fleets hunt and kill 73 million sharks every year. As a result one in four shark species is now either endangered or threatened forcing populations of iconic shark species including great whites, hammerheads, oceanic whitetips and threshers to a tiny fraction of those recorded 50 years ago.

Over the past decade shark fins — used as the title ingredient in shark fin soup — have become one of the most valuable seafood items in the world, a fact the charity says, has created a ‘marine gold rush’ to catch and separate sharks from their lucrative fins.

Shark fin soup is widely regarded as a controversial dish. Not only are the cartilaginous strands from the fins tasteless, fishermen are known to cut the fins off the sharks they catch and throw the rest of the shark overboard to die.

Bite-Back first exposed the personal import allowance loophole in 2015. Alongside the detrimental environmental impact the NGO also highlighted that no other item on the ‘green channel’ list compared in terms of volume or value. In fact a 20kg consignment of fins is enough to make 705 bowls of shark fin soup and has a black market value of around £3,600.

Spain, France, Portugal and the UK all feature in the top 20 shark fishing nations in the world. Remarkably though, for years, the UK has exported around 25 tonnes of shark fins to Spain for processing and onward sale to the Far East.

However, it will soon become illegal to import or export individual shark fins making it extremely costly and inconvenient to buy and sell a product that is contributing to the decimation of vital shark populations.

Wildlife TV presenter and Bite-Back patron, Steve Backshall MBE, said: “Today’s news is a fantastic outcome for shark conservation and the culmination of years of campaigning from Bite-Back. The government’s decision to effectively ban the trade in shark fins will be significant in helping to restore the balance of the oceans. At the same time it sends a clear message to the world that shark fin soup belongs in the history books and not on the menu.”

Support shark and marine conservation at www.bite-back.com

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Protecting England’s Wreck Sites: Site Security Protocols Launched

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The security of heritage assets is of the utmost importance; a monetary value cannot be attached to the significance of a site or its associated artefacts. This statement is true for both on land and underwater sites.

The policing of underwater sites however, is often a trickier affair, with out-of-sight often equalling out-of-mind. Unfortunately, a site’s underwater location does not stop thieves from stealing or damaging artefacts.

To aid in the protection of our underwater cultural heritage, a selection of sites of historical, artistic and archaeological importance have been protected by law under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/what-is-designation/protected-wreck-sites/). Historic England manage these sites on behalf of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, Digital and Sport (DCMS), and a team of Licensees, effectively voluntary custodians, play a key role in their ongoing management.

The licensees work tirelessly on the wrecks and have had a special relationship with them since the very first days of the Protection of Wrecks Act. If it wasn’t for them, many of the sites would still be unknown and we would have very little knowledge of many of the existing sites. Their presence on the sites acts as a deterrent to anyone thinking of accessing the sites illegally and their monitoring ensures that the sites are understood and enjoyed by many people.

To further aid in the physical protection of these significant sites, Historic England funded a partnership project between the Protected Wreck Association (PWA https://protectedwrecks.org.uk/) and MSDS Marine (https://msdsmarine.com/). This national-level project has seen the development of Site Security Plans for protected wreck sites. The model developed is based on the highly successful model developed by Ron Howell and the SWMAG team who are Licensees for the Salcombe Cannon and Moor Sands protected wreck sites.

A Site Security Plan is the end result of a process which assesses how secure a site is from illegal access. By completing two very easy to use but highly specialised forms, the site is given:

  • Its own Site Security Champion
  • Its own Heritage Crime Officer in the Police
  • A level of risk of heritage crime occurring to enable appropriate response to be put in place and to allow targeting of resources
  • Quick win opportunities to decrease its level of risk
  • A protocol for the licensees to follow every time they access the site
  • Specialist guidelines to enable crime reporting to enforcement authorities
  • A toolkit consisting of: A High Vis vest, to help identify the Site Security Champion to the public / authorities and pocket-sized card, summarising guidance on reporting crimes.

The project team will be supporting Licensees and their teams in completing a Site Security Plan and Risk Assessment for each Protected Wreck Site. MSDS Marine will be contacting Licensees inviting them to book a slot to work through the process. Individual Licensees and teams can also follow the guidance to complete the documents on their own with MSDS Marine on hand to support as required.

The Site Security Forms are accessible on the Protected Wreck Association website, in the members only area https://protectedwrecks.org.uk/members-area/site-security/ . If you are not a member and would like to join, this is an excellent time, as its free!

Assessing the security of a wreck site will inform Historic England of any sites which are at a high risk of heritage crime, and aid them in the future management of these sites. It will assist Licensees in highlighting areas for concern and in turn offer positive actions that can be taken to reduce the threat. It is hoped that the scheme will help put practical measures in place to ensure that the sites are protected from illegal activity in future.

Alison James, Project Manager at MSDS Marine said: “I spent ten years working at Historic England managing England’s protected wreck sites and at times was incredibly frustrated by being unable to ‘police’ the sites. The model we have developed is based on the highly successful model developed by SWMAG which has been shown to work on a number of occasions. We hope this will make a real difference to the sites and the teams that work on them.”

Professor Mike Williams, Chair of the Protected Wreck Association said: “We are delighted and grateful that Historic England has funded this project. It will enable us to undertake valuable work to support our members, who are dedicated volunteers protecting our maritime heritage.”

Hefin Meara, Marine Archaeologist at Historic England said: “We are pleased to support this important project and recognise the enormous contribution that licensed volunteer divers are making to help protect England’s fascinating marine historic environment.”

For more information please visit www.ProtectedWrecks.org.uk , www.MSDSMarine.co.uk, and www.historicengland.org.uk.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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