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UK schools find the Costa Brava very fishy

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Oyster Diving’s Mark Murphy shares his experiences on a dive trip with a difference, accompanying a group of school teachers exploring Spain’s Costa Brava under and above water…

While most people were putting their feet up over the Easter holidays, myself and a group of teachers from Wellington College, Ratcliffe College, Rye St. Antony, BEDES, Headington College, TASIS, Warden Park and Bradfield College headed to Spain to explore the depths of Costa Brava. The trip was organised by Oyster Diving, the UK based PADI 5 Star scuba diving and travel centre that specialises in courses and holidays for schools and colleges.

Funded by the Costa Brava Tourist Board, we spent 4 days being shown the delights of Spain’s premier underwater locations, as well as many fascinating land-based activities.

With a mixture of new and experienced divers we began our journey with a night’s stay in Hotel Cala Joncols, hidden at the Northern end of the Costa Brava, close to the French border.

Hotel Cala Joncols is a relaxed retreat located at the tip of a national park, 20 minutes from the nearest village. Run by Michael and Alexis, this idyllic resort is small and family-owned and provides a genuine Spanish cultural experience. Michael and Alexis couldn’t do more to make your stay more personal and enjoyable. From the décor that compliments the landscape of the vines, pine trees and olive trees, to the amazing food prepared by the resident chef, this is a taste of true Spain.

On our arrival we were greeted with a tour of the estate and endless amounts of Spanish tapas that included fresh fish, shellfish, local meats and paella. The resort is becoming famous amongst wine connoisseurs for aging wines from the area 27m under the sea, creating a unique taste.

The following morning, we met Jan, the owner of the dive centre attached to the hotel. Jan has been diving here for 16 years, so imparted much of his local knowledge upon us. He and his team took great care of us ensuring that everyone had kit that fitted perfectly.

After setting up our kit, we boarded the boat from the beach and 10 minutes later we were entered the clear blue Mediterranean waters close to a small rocky outcrop. Underwater there was plenty to see including Octopus, Wrasse and Groupers. The typography was stunning with ledges and nooks and crannies that many species of marine life call home.

The more experienced divers, who have travelled to many exotic places in the past, were pleasantly surprised by the variety and quantity of the local marine life, often not associated with diving in other parts of the Mediterranean.

Off the beach there also provides diving opportunities and offers a great place for students to complete their dive courses in the confines of a large, protected bay.

After the dive we headed by mini bus, via a quick tour to the Salvador Dale museum, to the next destination, Calella de Palafrugell, approximately 1 hour from Girona. Calella is a small fishing village that is picture-postcard-perfect. The area boasts small, white fronted houses nestled around a golden sandy beach, the Pyrenees mountains providing the stunning backdrop. Calella is not to be confused with the Calella close to Barcelona that I visited on a ‘young persons holiday’ in 1987.

The next morning, we were greeted by the friendly and experienced instructors Angel and Melissa from Poseidon, the local dive centre. This charming local PADI centre is located right on the beach. You can board their dive boat straight off the beach to explore the local wrecks and reefs, or simply do what we did and stroll straight off the sand, which was greeted by some bemused looks from the tourists topping up their tans.

The shallow clear waters are perfect for students to practice their skills and complete their training courses. Swimming out a little further, the local marine life was lit up by the bright, sunny sky against the contrast of sea grass, rocky outcrops and blue sea. Scorpion fish, large schools of colourful fish varieties patrolled the small rocky pinnacles looking for their next meal. A few teachers managed to catch a glimpse of an Octopus and Dr. O’Loughlin from Wellington College conducted his own reef clean-up by collecting the few bits of litter and debris that lay on the seabed.

During the summer, the dive centre offers a barbecue on the beach. It’s a great opportunity to look up at the starlit sky and swap stories about the days diving.

After hanging our kit up to dry we were treated to a 4-course lunch at hotel Garbi which is a 5-minute walk from the dive centre. Hotel Garbi is an ideal place to put up students as it offers affordability, practicality, comfort and charming grounds. We inspected the clean and ample-sized rooms, had our photos taken on the hotel balcony that overlooks the village and ocean, and checked out the other facilities to ensure that school children would be kept entertained when they weren’t in the water. Table tennis, a heated swimming pool, pool table and breath-taking coastal walks were all things schools could endure!

After lunch we hopped back on the bus and went for a late afternoon dive on the Medes Islands. These islands are famous amongst the French, Italian and Spanish divers, but as yet haven’t been discovered by the masses of UK divers. The island became famous after it became the first of 20 protected national marine reserves. In the 15 years since it was established it has allowed the marine life to thrive.

We descended into the blue, went through a large tunnel that had plenty of ambient light and followed the reef wall. This dive site is for more experienced divers but is one of the best dive sites to be found in the Med as it offers big schools of fish, huge groupers and Octopus. They are all tolerant of divers and their cameras, and if you come between May and June there is a really good chance of seeing sunfish.

After the dive, our VIP status continued as we were introduced the Mayor and met some of the other local friendly dive centre owners. They shared the delights of the area and how schools from France and Spain make this such an appealing trip for their children, returning year after year.

On our final day we were treated to a tour of Girona, an ancient City steeped in a fascinating history. For Game of Thrones fans, this was a chance to see the backdrop for some of the most iconic scenes.

The Costa Brava tourist board couldn’t have been better hosts and really made us feel very welcome. Oyster Diving have already arranged to take Ratcliffe College and Warden Park back to the Costa Brava in October half-term and next Summer. The students will finish their PADI open water theory and pool skills in the UK and then complete their certification in Spain. This allows for a few extra days of exploring the reefs with their new life-long diving qualification.

Oyster Diving are looking forward to taking another group of school teachers to the Costa Brava next year to show off the delights and benefits to schools and their students. If you are interested, then you can get in touch with Oyster Diving at info@oysterdiving.com, or for general information about scuba diving courses and trips visit their website www.oysterdiving.com.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Sharks the Ocean’s Greatest Mystery – Part 2

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Sharks are an incredibly significant animal in human culture of both the past and present, they are an animal that have been embodied in our culture for millennia. They are represented in formats such as books and clothing, but most notably in our TV and films, which is where a large portion of their negative reputation stems from. A popular TV representation of sharks comes from Discovery Channel’s ‘Shark Week’, and I believe sharks are possibly the only animal on our planet to have an entire week dedicated to them every year. However, despite this, we still know more collectively about the surface of the Moon and Mars, about Galaxies outside of our own, and even about animals that have been extinct for millions of years, than we do about sharks.

Sharks are our Ocean’s top predator, and they represent just how little we know about our blue planet. We have put more money into exploring outer space than we have exploring our seas and whilst many people call space the final frontier, I believe the final frontier is our Oceans. There are people that have lived in space for over a year, yet we aren’t able to stay underwater for more than a few short hours, and with each dive, scientists are discovering something new in the deep sea, giving us a better understanding of our oceans and the top predator that lives within them.

What we do not know

It is easier to talk about what we do not know and the implications of not knowing it, we still don’t know where most shark species mate or give birth, knowing this would accelerate conservation efforts for sharks in a huge way as these areas could then have realistic protections placed on them, allowing us to preserve key stages of the Sharks life cycle.

Marine Biologists have stated that the discovery of a White Shark breeding ground would be the holy grail of Ocean Science, but the only reports of White Sharks mating come from a handful of sightings from Fisherman and Sailors, so these cannot be used as an official record.

We know that Sharks mature late in the same way as us humans, it is estimated that some species are estimated to not be sexually mature until their late 30’s and 40’s, which means that these species are at extreme risk of disappearing due to fishing, as they aren’t able to replenish their numbers fast enough when put under extreme fishing pressure. There is a lot of debate over whether Sharks mature at a certain age or a certain size, for example it was estimated that White Sharks mature at four metres in length, however, in South Africa in 2017 a female White Shark was killed by Orcas, and it was determined that she was either immature or hadn’t mated, as there was the presence of a Hymen.

We are also still unsure about the impacts of human activities on Sharks and how losing Sharks, or their habitat, would affect the habitats and environments on land, environments in which we depend on for our survival.

What we do know

New Shark discoveries are made every year, and scientists are predicting that in the next 15-20 years we will be entering the golden age of ocean and shark discoveries. We already know that sharks are the oceans top predator and we have determined that they affect the very mechanics and functions of the Ocean, if we were to remove them, we would be putting the worlds ecosystems at risk of collapsing. Sharks are an integral part of the balance of the oceans, they help by controlling populations of other species, if we were to lose sharks, species such as turtles would have an increase in population, therefore leading to more seagrass being eaten, which is a prime food source for many animals. Thus, other smaller animals would not be able to feed, and their population would decrease, also the decrease of sea grass would affect us humans on earth as the oceans plant life helps to absorb carbon dioxide and create oxygen, and actually up to 75% of the oxygen we breathe is created from the oceans.

We know that some Shark species have complex social relationships that aid in their survival, although this has only been observed in a handful of species. Lemon Sharks form bonds as pups and hunt together in the shallow mangrove swamps of the Bimini Atoll, and will learn and hunt together and learn vital skills needed in their future survival. Hammerheads are possibly the most famous for social interactions as they form huge schools off places such as the Galapagos Islands and it has been observed that the more dominant females swim in the centre of the school and display for the males.

Some shark species, such as the Zebra Shark, have been known to mimic other animals. Zebra sharks are born with stripes (which fade as they get older) and they have the second longest tail (after the Thresher Shark), this helps them to mimic the highly venomous, White-Banded Sea Snake in order to trick predators into avoiding them, they have even been reported to mimic taking a breath at the surface like a sea snake would do.

It has recently been discovered that Greenland Sharks are now the longest lived Vertebrate on our Planet, they are believed to be able to exceed the age of 500, with females not reaching sexual maturity until they are around 150 years old. This was discovered by examining special proteins in their eyes that do not degrade with age. Determining age and sexual maturity are crucial for understanding and managing shark populations as knowing what age a Shark can breed will allow us to gauge what protections a species needs.

It has recently been discovered that female Whale Sharks are able to store sperm to use over a period of time, this is in order to ensure their chance of reproducing, even without recently mating. This is a huge advantage for conserving the species, as Whale Sharks are classed as an endangered species and so, with the number of whale sharks declining, this ensures the species can continue. Along with this, Whale Sharks have also been found to be pregnant with up to 300 pups, and these pups can be at different stages of development due to the staggered use of stored sperm.

Of all things we know there is one thing that is certain, a Shark, no matter the species, is unique and worth more to our world alive than dead. In the next blog we will explore the threats that Sharks face and how we can help Sharks through the tough times ahead.


Follow Donovan on Instagram at www.instagram.com/donovans_reefs

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Nauticam NA-α1 Housing for Sony α1 Camera now shipping

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The Sony α1 is the company’s flagship full-frame interchangeable lens camera.  Designed around the new 50.1MP Exmor RS BSI CMOS sensor and the BIONZ XR processor, the α1 is truly a camera which can do it all.  It’s 759 point Fast Hybrid Autofocus system offers advanced subject tracking and real-time eye autofocus on both humans and animals.  The optimized processing within the α1 allows it to achieve 30fps continuous shooting at full resolution along with 8K 30p and 4K 120p 10-bit video recording.

Nauticam has supported the Sony Alpha full-frame line since the original a7 with professional grade aluminum housings that offer intuitive access to all the controls and functions of the cameras. As the cameras have evolved, so have the Nauticam housings. The NA-α1 underwater housing provides fingertip access to all key camera controls in a rugged and reliable aluminum underwater housing. Ergonomic camera control access is one of the defining strengths of a Nauticam housing, and the NA-α1 continues this tradition.

Integrated DSLR-housing styled handles with ergonomic rubberized grips and stainless steel stiffening brackets add stability and accessory mounting points. The NA-a1 also features dual rear thumb-levers that are easily reached from the handle that access three of the most-used controls on the rear of the camera. The right lever actuates the AF-ON and RECORD buttons while the left lever is mapped to the PLAY button.

Atop the housing on the left side are controls in the form of a MODE dial and FOCUS mode lever. The C1, C2 buttons as well as the EV compensation dial also have direct access from the top of the housing. The C3, which is typically assigned to control switching between the EVF and the LCD screen is easily reachable on the rear of the housing from the left handle.

For more information visit the UK Nauticam website by clicking here 

or to visit the USA Nauticam website click here.

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Competitions

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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