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Thailand Twin Centre: Part Two

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After a two hour journey to the pier, we got a first glimpse of our boat – the MV Sawasdee Fasai – run by West Coast Divers. This was going to be our home for the next few nights and where we would enter the water from. What struck me straight away was the length of the boat. A long boat at 37m, it made for an extremely spacious dive deck onboard. Luckily we weren’t at maximum capacity onboard either. For the dive company this isn’t ideal but for us as divers it meant more space and less divers in the water. The boat has 15 cabins and can accommodate up to 30 guests. We came across most other liveaboards along our journey and I’d say our boat looked to be the biggest and most spacious in the area.

We set sail after a thorough briefing by the boat leader Beto and a delicious dinner prepared by the two chefs onboard. It was five hour sail during the night over relatively calm seas. We woke in the morning to stunning views over the turquoise sea that met with meticulously placed granite boulders at the island’s edge. The islands rose to a modest height but were densely covered in lush green rainforest with white-bellied sea eagles frequently seen patrolling each island. We had arrived at the stunning Similan Islands National Park for our first day of diving.

We were treated to much better visibility diving here compared to some of the sites around Phuket and Phi Phi. 25+ metres was the norm, although the odd thermocline rolling in made the dives more adventurous as they chased us through the water engulfing us in hazy water reducing the vis and the temperature drastically for a very short moment.

Again, scorpionfish were abundant during the dives here and for the first time in my diving life I also got to watch as one awkwardly bimbled along the sandy bottom. The soft coral here was just as stunning as the day diving but was more abundant as gorgonian fan corals dominated the boulders underwater creating interesting swim throughs, especially at the Elephant Head Rock site. The change of current through each turn was interesting to see but did make some of the dives more difficult on occasions. Air didn’t last as long on these dives but the adventure was cranked up a little to compensate.

After dive three we moored up in Donald Duck Bay and had the opportunity to go on the island and marvel at the beautiful white sandy beach surrounded by lush rainforest. After a short but interesting hike up granite boulders in only flip flops to a view point, we were greeted with a view where I instantly knew why this had become a protected national park. The rainforest oozed with life as the soothing sounds of birds greeted our presence and if you listened carefully the ground would talk, as small lizards and insects worked their way through the foliage. One lizard even scuttled across our path.

The coral reef was easily visible through the clear turquoise water as the colour of the sea turned a deep blue the further you looked out. I certainly felt a sense of paradise standing there in awe of Nature’s beauty. Once we returned to the boat it was time for a night dive in the bay and my favourite dive of the day. I love a night dive and after saying I was going to find a pygmy squid, it gave me great joy to catch one in my light. A little guy only about a centimetre in size that I unfortunately lost before I could get my camera focused on it. Other critters were a little more willing to be photographed though and it was an enjoyable dive.

Day Two was the start of our journey north to the islands of Koh Bon and Koh Tachai. The topside view hadn’t changed but we were here as these two islands gave us the better opportunity to hopefully get lucky with some big sightings. Manta rays and whale sharks are the stars of these islands as long as you are lucky. Unfortunately, we were the unlucky ones and they both proved elusive this time. It left me a little despondent after dive three where a ripping current at Koh Tachai Pinnacle left us suspended like waving flags on a mooring line and unfortunately didn’t deliver the whale shark we were hoping to see.

We decided to risk the current at the Pinnacle once more for the sunset dive and luckily for us it had died down and let us explore a site full of life. This dive saved the day and I didn’t let the disappointment of a whale shark being elusive get me down. I could appreciate this stunning site of granite boulders covered in soft coral and full of life surrounding them. We had fish feeding on jellyfish and a titan triggerfish let me get close and photograph it as it gorged on its feast. Then at the surface we had a beautiful white-spotted jellyfish to photograph as the sun was setting.

After a nice leisurely drift dive at the start of day three in Surin Island, it was time to head north again to the site I’d been eagerly anticipating since this trip was organised. Richelieu Rock was the destination and sure enough it didn’t disappoint as it was magnificently manic as soon as you dropped in. Schooling fish engulfed the site as small bait fish were hunted by bigger fish such as giant trevallies, big eye jacks, barracuda and more that would swarm round you as we drifted through the site. It was also the colours of the site that blew me away as soft coral dominated the pinnacles and anemones full of clownfish covered the top of the rocks like a carpet.

Richelieu Rock is also a great site for macro spotting but beware of the current as on some occasions it can be difficult for macro photography as you can’t take it slow exploring the reef. Then even if you do spot a macro wonder, it’s hard to stop and compose the shot without sucking the air out of your tank too quick. Luckily for me the last dive of my trip provided calmer currents and an opportunity to photograph a stunning ornate ghost pipefish, along with a peacock mantis shrimp, some nudibranch, dancing shrimp, and a white-eyed moray. Unfortunately I missed out on a harlequin shrimp that someone else on our boat spotted. A critter that still remains elusive for me. A good reason to do a few dives at this site and experience it all including a change in current. Another word of warning at this site is not to get too close and put your hand down. I’ve never saw so many scorpion fish in one place before.

It was unfortunately time to head back to shore but on the morning of day four there was the opportunity for a couple of last dives before the trip ended. The dive site was BoonSoong Wreck, only an hour and a half from the marina. Unfortunately for my group we were all flying back at midnight that same night and after careful consideration decided after a hectic schedule of diving we would reluctantly miss this dive.

We heard from the others who dived it that the visibility wasn’t great at all but it is a great site to see honeycomb moray eels and one was spotted hunting along the wreck. Different species of nudibranch are also common here and the talk was of finding some along the way. A shame we couldn’t add the extra dive but the swarms of jellyfish at the surface kept me entertained as I gazed across the ocean.

I must admit I was at first left a little underwhelmed by the diving here and it was saved by the stunning Richelieu Rock site. However, on reflection, I feel that was my own fault in building up my expectations too much and telling myself I was going to see a whale shark, a manta, a zebra (leopard) shark and guitarfish. This was very naive of me considering the experiences I’ve already had diving around the world. This is nature and in most circumstances we can’t guarantee what’s going to happen, and that is what’s great about diving and keeps bringing us back underwater, the anticipation of what we may find.

I know that all these big exotic marine animals can be found here as I’ve seen photos of them from people diving the Similan Islands itinerary. Some were even seen by other dive groups on our boat, such as a zebra shark and feeding eagle ray. However, I was only diving here for three days so I’d have to be incredibly lucky to get all of them. This is a destination where you travel knowing that you are going to be surrounded by stunning topside views and the diving is going to be great fun no matter what happens. You have a great chance of hitting the jackpot with some unusual sightings and its all in the mindset how you see it. I’d certainly recommend a trip here, you never know what you might find! A word of warning though, the currents can get a little interesting.

Sean’s trip was organised by The Scuba Place. 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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