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Scubaverse Underwater Photographer Interview: Wolfgang Poelzer

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In an ongoing series, Scubaverse’s Underwater Photography Editor Nick Robertson-Brown talks to underwater photographers from around the world that he admires. In this blog: Wolfgang Poelzer


Wolfgang Poelzer is a well known Austrian full-time photojournalist and underwater photographer. He is a regular contributor to the leading German diving magazine TAUCHEN for more than 20 years, but his photos also gets published regularly in various media around the world. After getting a Master degree in Marine Biolgy he started taking photos under water seriously. Not to be forgotten at a time when digital photography was not yet invented and you had to limit yourself to 36 shots of a film during a dive. Among the numerous wins in photo competitions, two gold medals in the CMAS World Championships in underwater photography and one gold medal in the prestigious competition in Antibes deserve special mention. After he made underwater photography and journalism his profession, he no longer took part in photo competitions. If he is not travelling arround the world, he is taking pictures of babys swimming in the pool to please their parents. For many years Wolfgang Poelzer has also been an Ambassodor of MARES, the worldwide leader in the manufacturing and distribution of state-of-the-art diving equipment.

www.underwater-photos.net

Instagram: @wolfgang_poelzer

Facebook: @wolfgang poelzer


NRB: How did your underwater photography start?

WP: Oh, it was back in the 90s of the last century when I borrowed a friend’s underwater camera just for fun. I bought the used camera including the Seacam underwater housing. That was a Minolta 7000 – the first SLR with autofocus! In the absence of a flash, my then girlfriend (and current wife) Barbara had to illuminate my motifs while taking pictures with her UW lamp. I quickly reached my limits with this equipment and first switched to the Nikonos system and soon after to a Nikon camera in the housing. Funnily enough, with one of my first photos with a fisheye lens in the housing, I won many awards at photo competitions. A landscape shot with my snorkeling wife in a crystal clear mountain lake in my home country Austria. A photo that participants tried to copy many years later when I was already on the jury at various competitions. One of my prizes in photo competitions was a trip to the Maldives, where I got in contact with the leading German diving magazine TAUCHEN, for which I soon wrote my first article. Only a few years later (1998) I became a professional and since then have been working as a travel journalist and underwater photographer.

NRB: What is your favourite u/w camera equipment (past & present) & why?

WP: Nikon D850 in a Seacam Housing with 2 Seacam Strobes. My favorite lens is the former 13 mm Fisheye lens from the Nikonos RS because it’s the best wide angle lens for underwater photography ever!

NRB: What would be your advice to anyone new to underwater photography?

WP: Learn to perfect your buoyancy skills first. Only when you feel completely at home under water, you can concentrate fully on photography and achieve good results.

NRB: What, or who, has been your single biggest inspiration for your underwater photography?

WP: After watching Hans Hass and Cousteau films in my childhood, I was mainly inspired by David Doubilet.

NRB: What image are you most proud of and why?

WP: A fishey photo of mating dolphins in the Red Sea (see top of page), just an arm’s length away from me! That was not only an extremely impressive feeling, it also led to a great result. That was in film times almost 20 years ago.

NRB: Where is your favourite dive location, and is it for the photography?

WP: My favorite diving region is Indonesia. 17,500 different islands offer a huge variety of great diving spots and are enough for much more than a whole diving life.

NRB: What are you views on marine life manipulation, moving subjects?

WP: I don’t want to be “more Catholic than the Pope”. Basically you shouldn’t touch or change anything under water! The least I like to see, if somebody takes a nudibranch and put on another surface, just to get a better photo. However, in my opinion it makes a difference, if you gently turn a sea cucumber to examine it for imperial shrimps or to tap a fan of gorgonians with a pointer to look for pygmy seahorses. The least to complain about environmentally friendly diving is anyone who photographs supermacro. Nobody can tell me that with 10 diopter lenses it is possible to take perfect sharp photos of tiny marine organisms while free floating in the water.

NRB: What do you look for when you are making your images?

WP: I am still looking for spots of beautiful, largely untouched nature on my dives. In order to show the beauty of nature in my photos even in times of pollution, marine acidification and extinction of species. If you only search and show the negative, many think that it is no longer worth protecting nature.

NRB: What motivates you to take u/w photos?

WP: I love the underwater world with all of its creatures or even “empty” landscapes. I can never stop trying to discover new things. And if nothing new, then at least familiar objects in a new light and a new perspective.

NRB: If you could photograph any one thing/place what or where would that be?

WP: There are still so many places, regions and countries left to visit – maybe Antarctica or New Zealand. Believe it or not, the Great White is still high on my bucket list, but also the bizarre-looking Leafy Seadragons from South Australia.

To see more of Wolfgang’s work click here.

Nick and Caroline (Frogfish Photography) are a married couple of conservation driven underwater photo-journalists and authors. Both have honours degrees from Manchester University, in Environmental Biology and Biology respectively, with Nick being a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, a former high school science teacher with a DipEd in Teaching Studies. Caroline has an MSc in Animal Behaviour specializing in Caribbean Ecology. They are multiple award-winning photographers and along with 4 published books, feature regularly in the diving, wildlife and international press They are the Underwater Photography and Deputy Editors at Scubaverse and Dive Travel Adventures. Winners of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Photo-journalist of the Year for a feature on Shark Diving in The Bahamas, and they have been placed in every year they have entered. Nick and Caroline regularly use their free time to visit schools, both in the UK and on their travels, to discuss the important issues of marine conservation, sharks and plastic pollution. They are ambassadors for Sharks4Kids and founders of SeaStraw. They are Dive Ambassadors for The Islands of The Bahamas and are supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.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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www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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