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Manta Madness in the Maldives

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Just as it was on my previous trip four years ago, it was a case of starting the week as you mean to go on.

On the first and second dive after our arrival in Male, we visited a dive site close to the city called Lankan Paradise: a cleaning station known for good Manta Ray sightings. Just the week before our dive boat had a dive there with around 10 Manta Rays so our hopes were high. The current on the first dive wasn’t running in the ideal direction for Manta sightings and we flew across the reef with no luck. We decided to try the site again to give as much chance as possible for a good Manta Ray sighting.

The dive started slow and we passed the cleaning station without luck. It was starting to get a little disappointing as the main reason to visit the dive site is for the Mantas. We turned around to head back as we were coming up to around 30 minutes into the dive. As we got closer to the cleaning station we saw a large aggregation of divers and got excited our luck was about to change. Sure enough when we arrived at the cleaning station we saw what was probably the biggest Reef Manta Ray I’d ever seen!

I’ve been lucky enough to dive with both Oceanic and Reef Mantas on a few occasions and this reminded me more of an Oceanic due to it’s sheer size. A great way to start our week in the Maldives, and great to see my fellow divers who had never done tropical sea diving before get a real buzz. The dive boat was rocking with the excitement after the dive and this gave me a great feeling as I had helped to organise the trip.

A couple of days diving had passed with only a fleeting glimpse of another Manta Ray by a portion of the boat (not me). Then came the second dive on day four to Moofushi Corner and wow, what a dive. Literally from the first minute of the dive there was action.

We plummeted straight down to around 35 minutes into the channel where we saw a school of 20 or more Eagle Rays gliding along in the current. We fought really hard to try keep up and I was in awe of such beauty and grace underwater. I managed to get a snapshot of the scene that greeted us butit was difficult to keep up and at 35 metres. We hovered over the channel marvelling at the many Grey Reef Sharks for a little longer until our computers were getting close to Deco and it was time to shallow up to the cleaning station to see if there were Mantas.

Can this dive really get any better. AMAZING!!!! As we got to around 24 metres we spotted the two Manta Rays on the cleaning station a little further above us on the sloping station. The current was really strong and threatening to take us off the reef and fly us away from the Manta show. However we fought hard and managed to work our way to a sheltered area at the top of the cleaning station around 15 minutes. It was nice to get a short respite from the current but where was the Manta?

I couldn’t see over the lip of the reef and started to get a little anxious. Then suddenly the adrenalin started pumping as this Manta came up over the top of the reef right above my head. It literally pinned me to the reef it got that close. What an amazing interaction with such a graceful marine animal. It continued to circle the cleaning station right above us and a couple of more Mantas came into view at times. I would definitely regard this dive as up there with some of my best ever.

The day didn’t end there and this is probably why it has become one of my best day’s underwater ever. We moored up in Fesdhoo Lagoon for the night where Manta Rays are known to come to feed on blooms of plankton. To increase our chances of seeing them, and possibly getting to do an extra night dive with them, the boat attached a large halogen light to the steps at the back of the boat. This attracted blooms of plankton up to the surface and below our boat to hopefully attract Mantas to the back of the boat to feed.

We started at night fall around 6pm and there was a huge anticipation on the boat for what might soon happen. Everyone waiting patiently on the back of the boat. 2-3 hours went by with the odd call of excitement – “NURSE SHARK”. A fairly large curious Nurse Shark went by on a couple of occasions intrigued by what was happening at the back of the boat. Then, “MANTA” was the call and sure enough a Manta made a quick bypass beneath the boat under the light full of plankton.

It was gone quicker than it arrived and we started to worry that our time in the water wouldn’t come. Slowly as the time approached 10pm most of the boat had succumbed to their disappointment and headed to bed. There were only three of us left committed to the cause. Then as the time worked it’s way to 10.30pm my excitement was plain to see as I screamed “MANTA” and quickly grabbed my camera, mask, snorkel and fins. Diving was not an option at this point and I just wanted to get in and get some photos. The bell rang and most got out their beds to come enjoy the show.

What a show it turned out to be as we had around three or four different Mantas dancing for us at the back of the boat, barrel rolling as they gorged on the plankton bloom created under the boat. This lasted for at least two hours until we eventually had to leave one Manta in there to continue feeding. Most the guests managed to get in with them at some point and a couple of other guests and I stayed in for 2-2.5 hours marvelling at the show. I was reluctant to get out of the water but knew I had enough photos to keep me happy for a lifetime and it was time to get to sleep ready for another day of diving the next day. With the high I was feeling I didn’t get to sleep until around 2am and was up at 6am to go diving. It was well worth every minute though and these memories will last a lifetime.

Sean’s trip was organised by The Scuba Place aboard www.topclasscruising.com. For more information and to book call +44 (0)207 644 8252, email reservations@thescubaplace.co.uk or visit www.comedivewithus.co.uk.

Sean Chinn’s scuba diving adventure started in a freezing cold quarry back in January 2011. Maybe the reason he wasn't instantly hooked! However, after an amazing trip to Indonesia in 2013, he realised he needed to see more of the underwater world. With no photography background, he enlisted some help in developing both his diving and photo skills. This kickstarted his diving and underwater photography adventure which has become something of an addiction. Seeing and photographing wildlife is Sean’s real passion in diving but he is always keen to try new ideas.

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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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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Take an immersive dive below the waves off the Welsh coast using 360 VR: Seagrass Meadows (Watch Video)

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A week-long series from Jake Davies…

Below the waves off the Welsh coast, there are a range of species and habitats that can be seen. However, you don’t have to venture too far from the shore to see them or don’t have to leave the comfort of your home. Using 360 videos provides an immersive feeling of being below the water and encountering many species and habitats from diving one of the most important habitats and species that aren’t often seen whilst diving. For more of an experience of being below the waves, the VR videos can be viewed using a VR headset.

Take a calming VR dive at one of the largest and densest seagrass meadow found along the Welsh coast, located at Porthdinllaen in North West Wales.

Seagrass meadows are important habitats as they provide a range of ecosystem services from carbon sequestration, production of Oxygen, coastal protection and act as a nursery area for many commercial fish species such as plaice and cod. Seagrass also help to improve water quality within the region as seagrass blades (leaves) help to trap particles within the water column, often making them great sites to dive in at due to increased visibility.


Follow Jake aka JD Scuba on the YouTube channel @Don’t Think Just Blog.

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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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