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Have a Ray Day



Mike Anselmi, the owner of Porthkerris Dive Centre in Cornwall, said that the Helford River Estuary is one of the most popular dive sites in the area. The shallow seabed attracts all sorts of interesting marine life including Sea Hares, Cuttlefish, Clams, Scallops, Hermits and Blonde Rays. May through to August is peak season for Thornback Ray (Raja clavata) sightings. Mike said that the Rays congregated in larger numbers around mid-August. During this time it’s not unusual to see at least 5 or 6 different individuals on a single 1 hour long dive. The Rays stick together in loose packs, so when one is sighted there are usually others somewhere close by.

This is a unique underwater experience and gives divers and photographers the perfect opportunity to get up close and personal with these creatures. It’s even possible to swim side by side as they effortlessly ‘fly’ across the seabed. Thornbacks shouldn’t be confused with their close relatives, Sting Rays. They are totally non-aggressive and pose no threat to divers. There are no lethal looking barbs protruding from the tail. Instead they have 30-50 spines along the tail and up the back which could potentially give someone a graze but only if the Ray is grabbed or picked up. The mouth is located on the white coloured underside. This has rows of very small teeth which make perfect tools for crunching on Crabs, Prawns and Flatfish – not divers.

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The Charter Boat

Mike has been running the family business for more than 22 years. He owns 2 hard boats and a twin engined RIB. We went out on Mike’s flagship, the 14 metre long Celtic Cat. Getting onto the boat is quite a novel experience. There is no jetty, so divers have to walk along a high rise gangplank which is then pushed into the sea by a Tractor. Mike’s other hard boat, the smaller 8 metre long Celtic Kitten, has a bow ramp so it can come right up to the beach. Celtic Cat has plenty of room onboard for kitting up and gear stowage. The boat also has a big enclosed cabin area and an inner sanctum where I could get hot drinks. Mike has fitted a double diver lift on the stern which is controlled by CCTV linked to the high rise Bridge. Mike normally offers the Thornback Ray dive as and when he’s asked. He said that the Rays come closer inshore during calm weather; they don’t like choppy seas.

Arrival at the site

Porthkerris Dive Centre is located way down on the South West Coast of Cornwall near the Lizard. RNAS Culdrose is a good landmark to aim for and then follow the signs to St Keverne. The last few miles can be quite confusing (I took the wrong turning, duh!) but there’s still a mobile signal for any ‘help, I’m lost’ SOS calls to the dive centre. When I started seeing the Basking Shark (this is the other big attraction) signs I knew I was on the right track. The narrow hedge-lined lanes eventually open out onto a very picturesque little bay. The new dive centre building is located right next to the pebble beach. On-site facilities include a dive shop, 2 camp sites, toilets, cafe, car park, gas fills and plenty of shore diving possibilities.  There are even a number of Pubs close by. The local Seal sanctuary located at Gweek is also worth a visit during off gassing periods.

Pre-dive briefing

ray 8ray 2The Helford River is about 20 minute’s boat ride from Porthkerris Dive Centre. At high water it’s around 12 metres deep at the river mouth and 8 metres further up the estuary by the boat moorings. The seabed is made up of sand and shingle in the central channel. Nearer the edges and further up the estuary this changes to a maerl-like composition interspersed with patches of weed (perfect for Scallops).

There can be strong currents, so it’s best to dive a few hours before high water on the flood tide when things are calming down. The visibility will be better and there is more chance of seeing Thornback Rays. Keep a close eye on air supplies, as chasing after Rays can be quite a tank-draining exercise. All divers should carry a delayed SMB. Mike asks that they are deployed at the end of the dive before commencing any safety stops. This is a busy waterway so be extra vigilant on ascents. Propeller haircuts are not advisable.

Mike dropped us in the middle of the channel right by the River mouth. The tide was still flooding which meant that the current would take us inside the channel rather than out to sea. We would also have ‘cleaner’ water for my photographs. We made a free descent without reference to the seabed. The Rays are not in any particular area so there is no set direction to take, it’s basically pot luck. We drifted along with the current scanning the seabed for any Ray like shapes.

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The Dive

ray 7Creeping up on Thornback Rays turned out to be easier than I expected. I had brought along Brian Hayes, a diving friend of many years, to act as ‘model’ and Ray spotter. We found our first Ray in the first 2-3 minutes of our dive. I could make out the diamond shaped outline hidden under the sand. A pair of eye stalks and a sharp pointy nose were the only parts visible. I guess this was in readiness to strike at any prey that unwittingly wandered into the kill zone.

Working as a team we managed to get within touching distance of around 5 or 6 different Rays on each dive. The Rays seemed to react differently depending on the tide conditions. While the tide was still flooding they were more active and on the move. Mike thinks this is when they are feeding. On 3 occasions we had to swim like lunatics just to keep up. When there was very little tide we found 2 or 3 different Rays buried in the sand and they were very easy to approach – in fact, I could have touched them with my camera dome and they still wouldn’t have budged. I even got Brian to do a ‘Steve Irwin’ manoeuvre over the top of a Ray for a close-up head shot and there was still no reaction. Maybe the Ray thought that its camouflage was so good we couldn’t see it.

ray 4As the tide turned there seemed to be less Rays about and they were moving much more slowly. We had also moved up the estuary nearer to the boat moorings. The seabed composition had changed and there were far more Sea Hares around. We swam along with one particular Ray for a good 5 minutes and then bumped into a very photogenic Cuttlefish. None of the Rays shot off in an erratic manner or seemed distressed by our presence. Considering they were being sandwiched by 2 divers this was quite surprising.

The Thornbacks we encountered varied in size from small 20cm wingspans to much bigger 50cm plus specimens. The colour schemes were usually grey or brown with a kaleidoscope pattern of spots and splodges on the topside. Most had 2 claspers dangling from the tail area meaning they were males. We only encountered one small female. Average recorded sizes are around 60 cm and weigh in at 3 or 4kg’s. They can grow to more than a metre in length and weigh over 15kg’s.

ray 5This has to be one of the best marine life dives in the UK and it’s at a shallow depth where every level of diver can safely join in the fun. Our close encounters were totally natural. There was no provocation or feeding enticements going on in the background. They say a picture paints a thousand words so hopefully my photographs show just how close we managed to get. With rather more luck than judgement we had chosen a perfect day for weather. There was plenty of sunlight and very little wave action to worry about. Underwater visibility was around 8 metres throughout and the current took away any kicked up silt during our power finning spurts. For once I actually had to admit this was pretty good going for UK conditions. The toughest part of the day was keeping my model focused on the job in-hand. Brian was getting more and more distracted by the number of decent sized Scallops scattered over the seabed. He even had his goody bag at the ready!

Stuart has spent the past 26 years taking pictures and writing stories for diving magazines and other publications. In fact, this equates to more than a year of his life spent underwater. There have been plenty of exciting moments from close encounters with crocodiles and sharks to exploration of deep wrecks and more recently rebreathers. He lives in Poole, Dorset and is very much an advocate of UK diving.

Marine Life & Conservation

Dive Guides invited to apply for the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship



Reef-World’s campaign is helping dive guides in need receive Green Fins environmental certification

The Reef-World Foundation – international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is calling for dive guides to submit their application for the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship.

As a result of the Scholarship campaign, dive guides working around the world – including Brazil, the Philippines, Egypt, Colombia, South Africa, Indonesia and Turkey – have received their certificate proving their status as a Green Fins certified dive guide. Yet, thanks to funding from Reef-World’s partner Paralenz, 149 more scuba diving guides will be able to receive their Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course environmental certification.

Dive guides who meet the criteria (outlined below) can apply for the scholarship at any time through the Green Fins website. To be eligible for the scholarship, guides must:

  • have completed and passed all modules of the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course
  • be able to demonstrate they or their employer are not financially able to purchase the certificate
  • be a national of a country which receives official development assistance from the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Scholarship was created in response to feedback from dive guides who had passed the Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course and were keen to download and display their personalised electronic certificate but were not financially able to cover the associated cost (£19 / $25 USD). The personalised electronic certificate can be displayed to entice eco-minded guests by informing them the guide has received this vital environmental certification and is aware of how to reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with diving.

Diving related damage to sensitive marine ecosystems, including coral reefs, is becoming an increasingly significant issue. This damage makes them less likely to survive other local and wider stressors, such as overfishing or run-off from land containing pollutants and plastic debris as well as the effects of climate change, such as rising sea temperatures. The Green Fins Dive Guide e-Course, created with the support of Professional SCUBA Schools International (PSS) and running on their innovative EVO e-learning platform, teaches dive professionals how to prevent diving-related damage to coral reefs by following the highest environmental standards and better managing their guests to prevent damage to the reef.

Sam Craven, Programmes Manager at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “We’re proud to be offering dive guides around the world the opportunity to become Green Fins certified; no matter their background. Both the e-Course and the Scholarship have been a great success so far and we’re delighted to see so many dive professionals demonstrating their commitment to sustainable tourism by taking the course. We urge dive guides who haven’t yet taken the course to consider taking this step and welcome Scholarship applications from anyone who meets the criteria. Together, we can protect coral reefs through sustainable diving and we’d love as many dive guides as possible to join us.”

Dive guides who want to be considered for scholarship can visit to apply.

To donate to the Green Fins Dive Guide Scholarship Fund, please visit

Supporters who are interested in helping additional dive guides receive their certifications can also donate to Sponsor a Dive Guide.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Go Fish Free this February



There are no longer plenty more fish in the sea! Fish Free February challenges you to help protect our oceans by removing seafood from your diet for 28 days and helping to raise awareness of the issues caused by intensive fishing practices.

Our oceans are in a state of global crisis, brought about by ocean warming, acidification, pollution, and habitat destruction. However, the biggest immediate threat to ocean life is from fisheries. Each year an estimated 1-2.7 trillion fish are caught for human consumption, though this figure does not include illegal fisheries, discarded fish, fish caught to be used as bait, or fish killed by not caught, so the real number is far higher. It is no wonder then, that today nearly 90% of the world’s marine stocks are fully exploited, overexploited or depleted. If we do not act fast, overfishing and damaging fishing practices will soon destroy the ocean ecosystems which produce 80% of the oxygen in our atmosphere and provide three billion people with their primary source of protein.

Fish Free February, a UK-registered charity, is challenging people around the world to take action for marine life in a simple but effective way. Take the Fish Free February Pledge and drop seafood from your diet for one month, or beyond. Fish Free February wants to get people talking about the wide range of issues associated with industrial fishing practices and putting the well-being of our oceans at the forefront of dietary decision-making. A third of all wild-caught fish are used to create feed for livestock, so Fish Free February urges us to opt for plant-based dishes as a sustainable alternative to seafood, sharing our best fish-free recipes on social media with #FishFreeFebruary and nominating our friends to do the same.

“Not all fishing practices are bad” explains Simon Hilbourne, founder of Fish Free February. “Well-managed, small-scale fisheries that use selective fishing gears can be sustainable. However, most of the seafood in our diet comes from industrial fisheries which often prioritise profit over the well-being of our planet, resulting in multiple environmental challenges. In some cases, the fishing industry has even been linked to serious human rights issues such as forced labour and human trafficking! Fish Free February hopes to shed more light on fishing practices, create wider discussion around these issues, and offer solutions to benefit people, wildlife, and the natural environment.”

To learn more about these issues and to take the Fish Free February pledge visit

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This is the perfect start to your 2021 diving season… and at an incredible lead-in price of just £885 per person.

Jump on board the latest addition to the Emperor fleet and enjoy diving the famous sites of the Red Sea with this fantastic special offer. This itinerary takes in the wonderful South & St Johns from 26 February – 05 March 2021.  

Subject to availability – limited flight seats at this price so don't delay!

Call Diverse Travel on 01473 852002 or email to book your spot!

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