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Underwater Photographers call for an end to harassment of marine life

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Marine Life

If you are an underwater photographer, and like to spend a bit of time on social media sites, then you may have seen plenty of comments about various competitions and the images that have done well in them recently. Many competition rules will state that any image that has been taken at the expense of marine life will be disqualified, but how do the judges and organisers prove that the marine life in the shot has been moved, harassed or manipulated? At the moment, the status quo seems to be that if they cannot prove it, then the image will be allowed. However, this sets a terrible example to other divers and underwater photographers and only encourages the practise of moving, usually macro critters, to more photographically pleasing places or poses.

Many may say “What is the problem?” it is only a shrimp, it was unlikely to have been hurt, there are more important things in life to worry about, all photographers do it.

Marine Life

A dive guide moves a wobbegong shark for a better shot for the underwater photographers in his group

All photographers do not do it!  As underwater photographers, we should care about the marine environment. It is our responsibility to show the great beauty we see beneath the waves in an honest and truthful way. The argument that there are more important issues going on in the world is just fatuous. Of course there are, but if we used this as reasoning for ignoring the smaller issues, then we belittle everything we do to protect marine life. Caring about the environment, marine life and how this is portrayed in the public domain is important to us.

What can we do? Well, competition organisers and judges can simply change their rules to say that any image suspected of any marine life fiddling will be disqualified. No proof needed. Yes, some people will have perfectly valid images disqualified, but soon would learn not to bother entering such images. For example, it is possible to come across an inflated pufferfish in the wild (it could have been recently licked by a dolphin!), but I would not enter the image into a competition, because I could not prove that it was not me that stressed the fish out. It is possible to find emperor or tiger shrimps in pleasing positions, riding nudibranchs and sea cucumbers for example, but the likelihood of some of these poses happening naturally fits into the same category as that fact that I might win the lottery. It can happen (please let it) but it is phenomenally unlikely. Maybe I should point out at this point that I have a Masters degree in animal behaviour, and so whilst this does not make me an expert in all marine species, it does give me some credibility to comment on such things.

These images should be removed by the organisers and judges, before the serious work of selecting a winner even begins. Underwater photographers can show that they care about these issues by not entering the competitions that fail at following this simple ethos, and complaining and demanding answers about this topic when they feel high environmental standards have not been met.

What can you do? Work with dive centres that do not reward this behaviour in their dive guides. The dive guides, usually in the Far East in our experience, do this because they know that a “good” image of a macro critter will get them a good tip. When we are travelling, we like to dive with centres that do not allow the guides to be tipped individually. Rather, they collect tips, and distribute them evenly among all the staff (those that fill tanks, man the shop, drive the boats etc.) One of our favourite dive centres in Indonesia will fire any member of staff that accepts a private tip and all divers are made aware of this at the beginning of their stay. At other centres, if we are taking a group, we will ask all the divers to tip at the beginning of the week. We give this envelope, with an excellent tip inside, to the centre manager and tell them that they can give it to the staff at the end of the week if no-one reports any dive guides moving critters while we are diving. If the guides are reported to have moved any marine life – the tip money goes to a marine charity instead. This has worked very well indeed!

To find out what support this movement has, Dr Alex Tattersall has setup a petition. It calls for a “cultural shift” that is “necessary at all levels” from “those with influence such as competition organisers and dive magazines” and that they “should promote more responsible UW photo behaviour”.

You can sign the petition here.

Marine Life

An emperor shrimp rides a gorgeous nudibranch with no manipulation of the critters

There are signatures and supporting comments from around the world. Dive Centres and guides have now also been included in the petition.

The reality is that everyone needs to get involved and try to ensure marine life of all shapes and sizes are well looked after. It must a collective movement by divers, underwater photographers, dive centre owners, dive guides, marine conservation charities, dive publications and competition officials.

Underwater Photographers have the ability to inspire people to protect our oceans. Many post images of amazing scenes, unusual animal behaviours, give us an insight in the world of rarely seen creatures, show us divers enjoying themselves. These images can make up our mind as to where to next travel to, they can be donated to marine charities to use in campaigns, or they can give us tips and ideas on how to next shoot a particular animal. They can also post images to raise awareness and promote conservation that are not pleasant to view, but necessary to share, such as images of dead sharks lying at the bottom of the ocean with their fins removed, plastic pollution, and ghost nets that carrying on killing for years.

We all need to get behind a more ecologically aware way of diving. This is one aspect of a much wider movement. As the new editors of underwater photography at Scubaverse, we will be doing our best to incorporate this ethos in the posts and competitions run on the site.

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 supported by Mares, Paralenz, Nauticam and Olympus. To find out more visit www.frogfishphotography.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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