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Marine Life & Conservation

Ocean Revival: A New Marine Reserve in the Algarve

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Photos by Jeff Goodman and Kam Arya

As all divers know, ship wrecks of all types make great habitats for all kinds of marine life. Unfortunately they are often not protected against fishing and pressures of careless diving. Now there are four new wrecks in the Algarve, Portugal, which have been put on the sea bed to act as sanctuary for marine life and are to be protected by the Portuguese Fisheries Department and the Navy.

I was a guest of Luís Sá Couto, the project leader of Ocean Revival and owner of the SUBNAUTA Diving Centre. I had been invited to see the last ship of the four become a future reef. The Hydrographic ship Ex-NRP Almeida de Carvalho was to be submerged into 30 metres of water where her top decks would only be 15 metres below the surface.

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The evening before the event, Luis gave me a tour of the ship while she was still in dock. By the time I saw her she had been fully prepared for sinking. All toxic and dangerous materials had been removed. Doorways opened and passageways all made accessible for the safety of future divers. Whole sections of flooring were removed for easy access to the lower decks and hold areas.

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Luis then checked with the demolition crew where the on-board cameras were to be mounted. They would capture the entire sinking from the ship itself. Known to be reliable and produce high quality images, sixteen Gopro were mounted in various parts of the ship on deck and inside the hull. While each camera was being set up we were able to monitor their output on Luis’s iPhone via a Gopro app. Fantastic! (Scubaverse will be showing the actual Gopro videos soon.)

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The next day we were in a rib dive boat heading out to the site of the sinking. As we got near the Almeida de Carvalho it was obvious the people on board were making the final preparations for the explosions which would send her to the sea bed. The ship’s hull was filled with tons of concrete so that she would sink in an upright position and not roll over on the way down. This would also give stability to the wreck and minimize any movement during winter storms.

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The tugs made their final adjustments to the ships position and the anchors were dropped. Cameras were clicking constantly as the anticipation rose and we were told by the Pilot boat to now head away to the safe perimeter. There would be a five minute warning over the radio to let us know the sequence for detonation of the explosives was about to start.

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I looked over to the mainland where I knew Luis was holding a press conference in one of the hotels. It was there that Luis was able to verify from the Minister of the State of the Sea, the Fisheries Department and the Navy, that these four Ocean Revival ships, with a limited area around them, would be a marine reserve and so protected by legislation and enforcement. This was indeed great news for marine conservation and the future.

Then it all happened. Three fireballs rose from the decking. A series of explosions cracked through the air as debris from the ship flew into the sky. All went quiet as the ship sat still in a small pall of smoke. Gradually the bow started to sink. It was very slow, but then it gathered momentum and within a minute the entire ship was swallowed by the blue water, leaving only a tell-tale footprint of froth and air bubbles. Almeida de Carvalho had gone.

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A group of Navy divers now had to go down and make sure all the explosives had detonated. Two hours later we were able to dive the ship ourselves. With trapped air bubbles still rising to the surface we made our way down the shot line tied off near the bow. It’s quite surreal seeing a ship on the sea bed that was only a few hours ago sitting up at the surface. The shiny metal looked out of place and there were no fish to ease the desolate feel of the wreck. But that would change in time.

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The three previous wrecks, only a few months old, have already become home to marine wildlife. Fish shoal around the rigging and railings while an octopus finds sanctuary in an old vent. Trigger fish patrol the forward decks; smaller fish browse the fast growing algae.

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The wrecks will not take long to become mini reefs and as such should sustain a good diversity of life. Before having to return to the UK I had a chance for a dive on one of the local reefs in about 15 metres of water just off a nearby headland. The water temperature was a pleasant 20C and the visibility was an adequate six metres. At first it seemed very similar to diving on a reef at home in Cornwall, but without the kelp. Gradually I started to realise there was an interesting mix of species, both of temperate and warmer waters, Conger eels living next to Morays eels.

On this dive there were no great shoals of fish to see but the small species where abundant.

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It was a great dive and only slightly marred for me by the body of a dead fish on the sea bed with wounds from a spear gun. It no doubt suffered before dying but will now go to feeding a host of other marine animals.

The Algarve is not high on the destinations of many divers but after my visit I certainly look forward to going back again. In my next article I shall be interviewing Luís Sá Couto about diving in the Algarve and the high standard of facilities divers can expect.

Jeff is a multiple award winning, freelance TV cameraman/film maker and author. Having made both terrestrial and marine films, it is the world's oceans and their conservation that hold his passion with over 10.000 dives in his career. Having filmed for international television companies around the world and author of two books on underwater filming, Jeff is Author/Programme Specialist for the 'Underwater Action Camera' course for the RAID training agency. Jeff has experienced the rapid advances in technology for diving as well as camera equipment and has also experienced much of our planet’s marine life, witnessing, first hand, many of the changes that have occurred to the wildlife and environment during that time. Jeff runs bespoke underwater video and editing workshops for the complete beginner up to the budding professional.

Marine Life & Conservation

Leading UK-based shark conservation charity, the Shark Trust, is delighted to announce tour operator Diverse Travel as a Corporate Patron

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Corporate Patrons provide a valuable boost to the work of The Shark Trust. The Trust team works globally to safeguard the future of sharks, and their close cousins, the skates and rays, engaging with a global network of scientists, policymakers, conservation professionals, businesses and supporters to further shark conservation.

Specialist tour operator Diverse Travel has operated since 2014 and is committed to offering its guests high quality, sustainable scuba diving holidays worldwide. Working together with the Shark Trust will enable both organisations to widen engagement and encourage divers and snorkellers to actively get involved in shark conservation.

Sharks are truly at the heart of every diver and at Diverse Travel, we absolutely share that passion. There is nothing like seeing a shark in the wild – it’s a moment that stays with you forever!” says Holly Bredin, Sales & Marketing Manager, Diverse Travel.

We’re delighted to celebrate our 10th year of business by becoming a Corporate Patron of the Shark Trust. This is an exciting partnership for Diverse and our guests. We will be donating on behalf of every person who books a holiday with us to contribute towards their vital shark conservation initiatives around the world. We will also be working together with the Trust to inspire divers, snorkellers and other travellers to take an active role – at home and abroad – in citizen science projects and other activities.”

Paul Cox, CEO of The Shark Trust, said:

It’s an exciting partnership and we’re thrilled to be working with Diverse Travel to enable more divers and travellers to get involved with sharks and shark conservation. Sharks face considerable conservation challenges but, through collaboration and collective action, we can secure a brighter future for sharks and their ocean home. This new partnership takes us one more valuable step towards that goal.”

For more information about the Shark Trust visit their website here.

For more about Diverse Travel click here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Shark Trust Asks Divers to help with Shark Sightings this Global Citizen Science Month

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Whether you are stuck for ideas of what to do with the kids or are off on the dive trip of your dreams. You can get involved in Citizen Science Month and help the Shark Trust by providing vital data about sharks are rays both close to home and further afield.

In addition to reporting the sharks and rays you see on your dives, the eggcases you find on the beach, the Shark Trust is looking for some specific data from divers who are asked to report any Oceanic Whitetip and Basking Sharks.

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

The Shark Trust are looking specifically for Oceanic Whitetip Shark sightings over the coming weeks and months. So, if you are diving anywhere in the world, please report your sightings via the website or app.

Website: https://recording.sharktrust.org/

App: Search The Shark Trust in your app store

The Oceanic Whitetip. Known for their incredibly long dorsal and pectoral fins, this species was once the most abundant oceanic-pelagic species of shark on the planet.

Large and stocky, they are grey or brown above, and white below and famous for their huge rounded first dorsal fin and paddle-like pectoral fins. The fins also highly prized within the shark fin trade. Whilst they are mostly solitary, Oceanic Whitetips do occasionally hunt in groups.

An inquisitive species, they were easy prey for fisheries. Combined with their low reproductive rate, they were inevitably at high risk of population depletion. And declines of up to 99% have been reported in certain sea areas. They are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Redlist (2019).

Conservation efforts to discourage further declines include listing on CITES Appendix II and CMS Appendix I. They’re also the only species prohibited from take by all the Tuna RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organisations). However, these measures do not mean that Oceanic Whitetips are not still caught – whether targeted or as bycatch – in some parts of the world. With populations declining at such a high rate, effective implementation of management measures is essential to ensure that the species can recover.

If you are lucky enough to get an image of an Oceanic Whitetip and you record your sighting on the Shark Trust app or website YOU CAN WIN! All images submitted with sightings, that also give consent to use in conservation messaging, will be in with a chance to win an Oceanic Whitetip T-shirt and mug. The competition will run until the end of “Shark Month” in July – so keep those sightings (and images) coming in.

Basking Sharks

Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) season is upon us, and the Shark Trust is asking everyone to keep an eye out for these majestic giants over the summer months. If you see any, you can record your sighting to the Basking Shark Sightings database.

Each year, these mighty fish return to British waters to feed on plankton. You may see one, (or a few if you’re really lucky) from around April-October. They can be seen feeding at the surface of the water, where they look like they’re basking in the sun. Thus, their name!

Sighting hotspots around the British Isles include southwest England, Isle of Man, north coast of Ireland, and western Scotland. The Sea of the Hebrides is the most prolific sightings area in Scotland, but they have been spotted all around the coast and have even ventured into some of the sea lochs. The Shark Trust has received thousands of sightings since the Basking Shark project began, but more data is needed to truly understand what is going on with population numbers and distribution. You can help by recording your sightings this summer.

Great Eggcase Hunt

The Shark Trust has an Easter Egg Hunt with a difference for you to try. Take part in the Great Eggcase Hunt and get involved with a big citizen science project that helps shark, ray and skate conservation. And it’s an enjoyable activity for all the family.

The Shark Trust also want snorkellers and divers to record their underwater eggcase findings. Underwater records help pinpoint exactly where sharks and skates are laying their eggs and can help link to beach records. Learning the depth and substrate that they lay on also helps better understand the species.

Find out more: https://www.sharktrust.org/great-eggcase-hunt

Whether you are diving, snorkelling or exploring on the beach you can take part in Citizen Science Month and get actively involved in shark and ray conservation. Find out more: www.sharktrust.org

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