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Pierre-Yves Cousteau’s Galapagos: Final Dives

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Read Part 2 of Pierre-Yves’ Galapagos blog here.

One week in San Cristobal followed by a second diving expedition. Nothing scheduled but sunsets the first week. The waterfront of San Cristobal is forever bathed in the pungent smell of sea lion body odour. The Loberia and Punta Carola offer beautiful waves and vast spaces of peaceful wilderness. With nothing else to do, I decide to investigate further the establishment of the new marine sanctuary of Wolf and Darwin and its impact on the local population.

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Sunset at la Loberia.

I make my way to the Loberia, a beautiful rocky coast with beaches and powerful waves, to watch the sunset. I take a taxi to go there and back and ask the cab driver about the new sanctuary. He says many families on San Cristobal are fishermen, and that some of them used to go to Wolf and Darwin. He says there was a fishermen’s protest in the village that very morning in town. They are claiming their right to fish in Wolf and Darwin. He says that the three representatives of the fishermen cooperatives signed the agreement to make the sanctuary without consulting with their peers. He mentions rumors of bribery.

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I head to the mayor’s office to get his opinion about the new sanctuary. He says the sanctuary was imposed onto the fishermen, that they were not sufficiently consulted or compensated, and that they should be considered in these kinds of decisions. Regarding tourism in general, he says he wishes the marine activities related to the sanctuary benefitted the people of the islands more than they do, implying that foreign companies capture much of that value.

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The mayor of San Cristobal.

The next day I have lunch with Roberto Ochoa, a conservationist with marketing background who works with the ministry of tourism. He was part of the initiative to declare Wolf and Darwin no-take zones and joined their expedition earlier this year. According to their observations over 40 days, these two islands have the highest shark abundance in the world! He says the fishermen were not only consulted, they were also compensated for not fishing, subsidized to ease their reconversion to another professional activity. Later, a meeting with representatives of the ministry of environment of Ecuador reveals that much effort was put into building local consensus. They are shocked to hear about the protests, and say that the same people who are protesting signed the documents agreeing to the sanctuary.

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Roberto Ochoa and I chatting about plastic pollution, climate change and the marine sanctuary.

Why are there two opposite stories being told? How come the fishermen were demonstrating? Did the consultation and compensation package miss out some key stakeholders? Did the news of a compensation package suddenly turn the inhabitants of the island of San Cristobal into fishermen? The week goes by and I am unable to find an answer. Enforcing the sanctuary will be as hard as it is remote and uninhabited. Raising awareness and educating the local population to the world-class value of their natural resources will be extremely important in order to foster stewardship. The presidential signature last week marked the beginning of an endless endeavor, not the landmark of an accomplishment.

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Nostalgic iguana.

Seven sunsets later, I’ve met kind and interesting people in San Cristobal. I’ve seen sea lions crash salsa lessons and marine iguanas basking on black rocks, spitting seawater from their nostrils. I spoke to the students of San Francisco University about marine conservation issues and a small group stayed afterwards to discuss possible solutions out of the mess we’re in. Dying oceans… a collateral damage of our materialistic hypnosis. The silver bullet, if there is one, may reside in cultural and technological innovation.  We also discuss bottom-up conservation and the empowerment of local communities to manage their resources, the decentralisation of environmental decision-making. It is inspiring to see an enthusiastic and energetic young generation, motivated to make the world a better place.

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Students at the University of San Francisco in San Cristobal. Reinventing the world on a sunday morning?

Finally, I board the Galapagos Sky again and I meet the new passengers of this second expedition. They are mostly Indians from Bombay, from a variety of professional backgrounds, but also an English mathematician and banker couple and an American physicist with his retired army friend. Discussions on board range from spirituality and shamanism to quantum physics. New questions arise from our discussions… How can behavioral change be fostered in emerging economies, based on lessons learned from western countries? How can environmental stewardship compete for brain bandwidth, using the phenomenal behavioral conditioning machinery that is advertising and marketing. One day perhaps, faced with environmental emergency, mankind will use the powerful tools that created the problem to steer the ship.

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Marine iguana from Fernandina Island enjoying some delicious algae.

A few days later, we are diving again, in what I now feel is the richest, most extraordinary dive site in the world. Every instant of each dive in the Galapagos Islands, my attention is captured by some agitation of their untamed ecosystem. Everywhere around me, life is lush and surprising.

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An Eagle Ray gliding up the current.

Near the island of Fernandina, the sea’s surface is littered with scavenging marine iguanas, breathing turtles and sunbathing sea lions. I befriend a puffer fish that follows me during a whole dive. A whale exhales in the distance.

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Rivers of fish.

In Isabella, sea lions follow in my blind spot to use the video lights to hunt. One of them photo-bombs a test-shot: I did not see it for the whole dive, but discover it in one of my pictures… In Bartolome, I lose orientation as I enter a cloud of dozens of Mobula rays, feeling as though I am one of them.

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A cloud of Mobula Rays

Back in Wolf and Darwin, rivers of fish flow along the rocky seascape against the current. Two white-tip sharks engage in a circular mating dance, the male biting down regularly on the female’s pectoral fins. Out of the deep blue, a group of hammerheads daringly approach me and scatter as soon as I can no longer hold my bubbles… Returning from the dives, dolphins play in the bow of our dingy.

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A dolphin escorts us back to the ship from our dive at Darwin.

Temperatures varied greatly from site to site, from 19 to 28 degrees Celsius, and again I collected them using the Sensus Ultra and my dive computer as part of Project Hermes. The currents had greatly reduced since the last trip, and overall temperatures were a couple degrees lower. The El-Niño phenomenon seems to be receding here, just as corals begin to bleach on the other side of the planet, in Northern Australia. I leave the Sensus recording device with our guide Jeff, who agrees to using it on his dives year-round, which will provide a more comprehensive data set. This is the first of thirty locations to receive the temperature logger across the world.

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Our dive guide Jeff.

Just as I am zipping up my wetsuit and slipping into my BCD for the next dive, I spot a tiny ship approaching the Sky. Manned by two, it is a fishing craft. The captain hails them. They are perhaps the first poachers of the sanctuary, barely a week after it’s declaration. I can hardly believe the effort they have put into reaching these islands: on their minuscule vessel, they must have sailed for 3 days non-stop in the open sea to reach Wolf, the deck of their boat covered in gasoline containers. The captain tells them that they are not allowed here anymore. They reply that they know, but that their engine broke and that they drifted into the sanctuary… Sure. Today there are only 5 diving operators authorized in the sanctuary, taking turns. That means that at least 2 days a week there is nobody around to report illegal fishing. Our dive guide Jeff says that at least the presence of traditional fishermen dissuaded illegal poachers to enter in the past. The captain of the Sky argues that “traditional” fishermen were sometimes collaborating with poachers.

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These fishermen, who have probably fished here their whole lives, are now illegal visitors at Wolf and Darwin.

It seems that despite significant efforts to build consensus and help fishermen reconvert to tourism activities, the actual enforcement of the newly minted Wolf and Darwin sanctuary will be difficult. Let’s hope it’s not another “protection only on paper” and that a new socio-economic balance will be found that allows for meaningful conservation of this precious jewel of the ocean, one of the few remaining.

This concludes the story of the 2016 Cousteau Divers – Waterproof Expeditions Galapagos trip. I leave the islands and return to Europe to pursue my work with IUCN and Cousteau Divers. In the coming weeks, I will release a video compiling the most thrilling moments of the trip. Join me on the next adventure to Tahiti, in July 2017!

~ Pierre-Yves Cousteau

www.cousteaudivers.org

www.waterproof-expeditions.com

For more blogs from Pierre-Yves Cousteau, visit cousteaudivers.wordpress.com.

Marine Life & Conservation

Exhibition: Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research

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From now until 30 October, the photo exhibition “Protecting UNESCO Marine World Heritage through scientific research” features 21 photographs at UNESCO Headquarters, Paris, as well as a digital edition.

Exceptional photographs highlight how innovative marine experts and scientists take the pulse of the ocean by exploring ecosystems, studying the movement of species, or revealing the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs. Scientific discoveries are more important than ever for the protection and sustainable conservation of our Marine World Heritage. This memorable exhibition comes ahead of the launch, in 2021, of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (“Ocean Decade”). The exhibition was jointly developed by UNESCO and the Principality of Monaco.

The 50 marine sites inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, distributed across 37 countries, include a wide variety of habitats as well as rare marine life still largely unknown. Renowned for their unmatched beauty and emblematic biodiversity, these exceptional ecosystems play a leading role in the field of marine conservation. Through scientific field research and innovation, concrete actions to foster global preservation of the ocean are being implemented locally in these unique natural sites all over the world. They are true symbols of hope in a changing ocean.

Since 2017, the Principality of Monaco supports UNESCO to strengthen conservation and scientific understanding of the marine sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. This strategic partnership allows local management teams to benefit from the results obtained during the scientific missions of Monaco Explorations. The partnership also draws international attention to the conservation challenges facing the world’s most iconic ocean sites.

The exhibition invites viewers to take a passionate dive into the heart of the scientific missions led by Monaco Explorations in four marine World Heritage sites: Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Philippines), Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary (Colombia), Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), and the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France). It is also an opportunity to discover the work of a megafauna census; the study of the resilience of coral reefs and their adaptation in a changing climate; the exploration of the deep sea; and the monitoring of large marine predators through satellite data.

To visit the Digital Exhibition click here.

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Dive Training Blogs

Deptherapy returns to its Roots – Part 7

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Join Richard Cullen from Deptherapy for the final part of his Blog about the charity’s recent expedition to Roots Red Sea, El Quseir, Egypt.

Deptherapy expeditions do not just magically happen, they need planning and they need funding.  This expedition was funded by our long-term partners the Veterans’ Foundation.  The funding is part of a grant they awarded us for programmes this year, which were then put on hold because of COVID.

All charities in the Armed Forces’ Sector are struggling for funds. Deptherapy desperately needs support going forward and every penny counts.

We know what we do works and at the end of this blog you will find details of the research studies into Deptherapy’s programmes and how they impact on the lives of our beneficiaries.  This includes details that are hot off the press about the latest study that reports that what we offer through scuba diving and 24/7 support has benefits beyond those found in other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

Well tomorrow we fly home, late in the evening with the journey home for some of the guys who live up North taking around 15 hours after leaving Roots.

We want to make the most of today but with the tide running we are not going to be able to dive until later this morning which means only two dives today.

Oatsie and Swars about to start their sidemount dives

Things, however are really busy over at the dive centre with Swars and Oatsie putting their sidemount kit together for their training dives with Steve Rattle leading to their RAID sidemount qualification.  It has been nice to be able to offer the guys this extra training, given the amount of work they have put in this week.  They have needed to get through their theory quickly but given the RADI online learning system this has not been too arduous.

Steve came diving with us yesterday to get some more photos and was really amazed at the progress that Corey had made. He was quite open in his praise, as in his view Corey has gone from a non-diver to being a very competent OW diver capable of diving, unsupervised, with a buddy.  Praise indeed.

Other than the sidemount course we are diving as a group today: Corey, Keiron, Michael, Moudi and me. Corey has been given some tasks – SMB deployment on both dives and the afternoon dive will be a ‘naturalist dive’.  Guy Henderson has set Corey a task: ‘to identify three species of fish and record the time into the dive and the depth at which each one was spotted’.  Guy runs Marine Biology courses on the reef and knows where the fish are to be found, how long into the dive, and at what time.

The two Toms are getting put through their paces. They have walked their cylinders down to the entry point, but Steve sends them back to the dive centre to collect other kit they should have brought with them.

Our general dive goes well and the sidemount guys appear from their sidemount dive some 90 minutes after dipping their heads under the water.

Corey enjoying being a RAID OW20 Diver

Lots of bubbly chat at lunchtime, a group of really happy divers. Corey really has benefited from the week and over lunch thanked the team for making him a diver. He has very quickly become part of the family and after returning home he published an amazing post on Facebook about his experience.  Corey really gets Deptherapy and had soon realised that we see past mental and physical injuries and see the person inside and work with that person.  He also realised that we want beneficiaries to see their fellow beneficiaries in the same light.  He knows he now has another ‘family’ – a family of brothers in arms who have two things in common, they served their country and they have suffered life changing injuries or illnesses.

Back into the water for the afternoon dive and Corey identifies the fish and records the details on a slate.  The two Tom’s complete their second dive and qualify as RAID Sidemount Divers. Great!

Kit packed away and it is time to return to the camp for a few well-earned last night drinks.

I am often asked why we use Roots as our exclusive base for diving. I have mentioned before that it offers us an ideal retreat, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. We are secluded and there are no distractions such as late-night bars etc.

Roots Accessible Room

The second reason is the amazing welcome we receive from Steve, Clare, Moudi and the team.  We have been going to Roots since 2014 and many of the staff have become good friends, they understand our needs and are the friendliest people you could ever wish to meet.

The third reason is the huge investment Steve and Clare have made in making the resort and dive centre accessible for those with physical injuries including those who need to use wheelchairs.  All our beneficiaries can enjoy Roots and, in fact, love it here.  The reef is perfect for us and in non-COVID times we can travel to the Salem Express and other dive sites to enjoy more of the Red Sea experience.

Accessible toilet on the Roots beach

After discussions with the team I was very proud to be able to tell Corey that his progress had been such that we were inviting him on the Armed Forces Covenant Fund Trust sponsored two-week Marine Biology Course at Roots in June 2021. There is lots of homework to undertake under the guidance of Dr Debbie McNeill of Open Oceans and Corey will be sent the Red Sea Guide which is the basis for study.

While on that programme, Corey with fellow beneficiary Dale Mallin, will complete his RAID Advanced 35 course.  This all builds to a 10-day Red Sea liveaboard in 2022, onboard Roots’ new boat Big Blue where 18 beneficiaries will compare the coral and aquatic life on the wrecks of the SS Thistlegorm and the less known SS Turkia that is to be found in the Gulf of Suez and is rarely dived.

Paul Rose, our Vice President, is supporting the programme and is seeking the support of the UN and the Royal Geographical Society. A comprehensive report will be submitted to our partners in the project and to the Egyptian Authorities.

Last night and chill

What we do works:

In recent years there have been three academic studies into our work:

2018 – A study by a team from the University of Sheffield Medical School.

2019 – A study by The Centre of Trauma at Nottingham University.

Both these studies reported very positively on Deptherapy’s work both underwater but also in terms of the provision of 24/7 support.

The following is from our press release which was issued on 26th October:

‘A new study into Scuba Diving Rehabilitation Charity Deptherapy’s approach to supporting Armed Forces veterans with psychological injuries such as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) through the medium of scuba diving has been carried out by Petra Walker in conjunction with Hanna Kampman of the Posttraumatic Growth Research Unit at the University of East London.

This study, which used Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), demonstrates that scuba diving has rehabilitation benefits beyond those found in other forms of sporting rehabilitation exercise. IPA is a qualitative methodology that examines the experiences of participants and has been used in previous studies of Posttraumatic Growth (PTG) in para-athletes.

Petra is an experienced diver herself and was exploring the wellbeing aspects of scuba diving as part of her Masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology when she came across a previous study on Deptherapy. Past studies have mainly focused on the medical aspects of diving, so the opportunity to examine the mental health side of rehabilitative scuba diving was impossible to ignore. The full study is currently embargoed until it is published at a future date in an academic journal, but it follows similar academic research into the work of Deptherapy by the University of Sheffield Medical School (2018) and the University of Nottingham (2019).’

This is amazing news and sets us apart from other sporting rehabilitation programmes.

We are currently working with our VP Richard Castle who is a Consultant Psychologist and our Dive Medicine Advisor Mark Downs to identify further areas of psychological and physical dive related research.

We end the week on a happy note.  A young man who has learned to dive properly with a RAID OW 20 certification, a new RAID Master Rescue Diver, two new RAID Sidemount Divers, 5 new RAID O2 Providers, many assessments for our DMs but most of all a week of learning, of making new friendships, renewing old friendships, and building on our family ethos.

Until we meet again…

For us, Deptherapy is a journey, a journey that continues to push boundaries in the use of scuba diving in the rehabilitation of those suffering life changing mental and/or physical challenges.  On our journey we want to change the way the scuba diving industry views diving for those with disabilities.

In the new year, we will be launching, with our diver training agency partners RAID, a new and exciting adaptive teaching programme that will offer diving to the disabled community. We can’t wait to share it with you!


Find out more about the work of Deptherapy and Deptherapy Education at www.deptherapy.co.uk

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