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A Most Unusual Dive Site: Bonne Terre Mine

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After a fun filled summer of diving in the UK, my partner CJ and I decided to head back to the USA to spend the autumn (fall, for us colonials) hiking and camping in some of the national parks out west. Of course, being avid divers, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a few dives as well!

We started our adventures in St. Louis, Missouri. It’s an excellent base partly due to the huge numbers of micro breweries and excellent eating establishments, and partly as this is where my family are based and so they get nominated to be the designated drivers to and from the tap rooms… However beer and pizza aside, Missouri also boasts some great hardwood forested state parks in which we have been gaining some hiking fitness and also a pretty unique dive site in an old lead mine, Bonne Terre Mine. It is known as a different and interesting dive site so we headed an hour south of St Louis, for three dives there on a Saturday.

Bonne Terre Mine is only open to divers on weekends and provides accommodation and diving packages for those traveling long distances, or not fond of early morning starts. There are also boat trips through the mine offered for any non divers – see www.bonneterremine.com. The mine is a national historic site; the earliest shaft was dug in 1864 and it was once the world’s largest producer of lead ore. Mining continued until 1962, when the pumps that kept the water out were turned off, forming the 17 mile long underground “Billion Gallon Lake”. For fans of Jacques Cousteau, he filmed here in 1983.

The air temperature in Bonne Terre is 17°C (62°F) and the water temperature 14°C (58°F) year round with over 30m (100ft) of visibility. A total of twenty-four dive trails have been laid out in the lake, taking the diver through numerous archways, around massive pillars and past abandoned mining artifacts. Depths of the dive tours average between 40 to 60 feet. Divers are toured through the mine by specially trained dive guides. Customers are not allowed to use personal dive lights in the lake, but these are not really needed due to the 500,000 watts of above-water illumination as well as the guides’ torches. For first-time visitors, all dives are lead by a dive guide and you must complete trails 1 and 2, before being allowed on any other trails. On completion you can get your dive log or a card stamped so you may do different trails on subsequent visits.

Dive 1: Trail 1

The first dive was a group checkout dive with a max depth of 15m (50ft). The dive started on a flat area at 10m, where all divers demonstrated a few basic skills such as mask clearing and an out of air drill. From there, we struck out as a group over some deeper areas of the mine, making a roughly circular loop through an area close to the entry platform. The guides were great about using their torches to point out items of interest, including an ore cart with a pickaxe that we all took turns picking up.

CJ’s thoughts:


The first dive was pretty impressive as check out dives go, the visibility is excellent and you get a real feel for the vastness around you as you swim across over deeper water. The pillars loom out of the twilight-like light and the ore carts and abandoned tools connect you with the history of the mine. It is also nice not be blinded by lots of torches, and the guides are very good at highlighting points of interest and checking on the group without shining the lights in your face.

Dive 2: Trail 2

The second dive trail penetrated slightly farther into the mine, with the group being lead through many more arches and short passageways. A highlight was swimming through the ‘opera window,’ a door-sized opening from one smaller passage into a ledge above a large open cavern. It was quite amazing to see the dark outlines of seven massive support pillars looming out of the shadows.

CJ’s thoughts:

This trail has more swim-throughs and cool sights than the first dive and the opera window is pretty incredible. Despite the trail being very good, I had a harder time relaxing on this dive due to some other divers having buoyancy issues. The guides dealt with this well, but as an instructor I always find it tough to see potential safety issues and not be the one to react! With the swim-throughs and yoyo-ing divers I found it a little more crowded on this dive despite there being the same number of divers, so this was not my favourite dive.

Dive 3: Trail 4

This dive was my favorite by far. Most of the other divers that day departed after the first two dives, so we were treated to a much smaller group, and the route for this trail included even more passageways not traversed during the basic checkout dives. We were able to swim to and through a large metal superstructure that formerly housed an ore elevator. The ceiling lights illuminated it brightly from above. The effect was very atmospheric! Another highlight was a cavern with a “cloud” formed from wisps of iron oxide. Since there are no real currents in the mine, rust from deteriorating mining equipment and tools floats gently above. This created a mesmerizing atmosphere for our group to enjoy.

CJ’s thoughts:

This trail/ dive was incredible! By far the best dive of the day and well worth the trip here. We had a smaller group for the last dive of the day and the trail took us through several really nice swim-throughs, to the elevator shaft and into a room with an eerie-looking cloudy layer, caused by the oxidising iron equipment and lack of water movement. When lit by the torch light it was quite breathtaking. This and the general beauty of the trail really made the day, I’m looking forward to returning to try out some of the other trails next time!

Both of us enjoyed the day’s diving immensely and would highly recommend a visit for a day or weekend if you find yourself in the middle of the United States.

CJ and Mike are dive instructors who have travelled all over the world pursuing their passion for the underwater world. CJ is a PADI MI and DSAT Trimix instructor with a degree in Conservation biology and ecology, who has been diving for 15 years. She loves looking for critters and pointing them out for Mike to photograph. Mike is a PADI MSDT who got back into diving in 2010. He enjoys practicing underwater photography and exploring new and exciting dive locales, occasionally with more than one tank. Follow more of their diving adventures at www.bimbleintheblue.com.

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Wining and Diving – Costa Brava, Spain

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The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.

**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.


The Costa Brava is a hugely popular destination for those seeking sunshine, but it has much, much more to offer that just beaches and bars. One advantage to the huge number of tourists heading in this direction each year, is that the flights are competitively priced and go from all our major, and some smaller, airports. We had heard that there was some excellent diving around the Medes Islands and we got the opportunity to head to L’Estartit for a long weekend to check it out, as well as exploring the local region to sample its excellent food and wine. We flew into Girona, which is about an hour away from our coastal base and flew back to the UK from Barcelona, about 2 hours away from L’Estartit.

Our diving was to be based around a group of pinnacles called the Medes Islands. These can be reached by a very short boat ride from L’Estartit and are a series of weather-worn rocks rearing up out of the sea. The islands and the sea that surrounds them have been a marine reserve for over 30 years and the protected area immediately around the island excludes all fishing and hunting activities as well as throwing anchor. A much larger area, which is increasing in size all the time, has a series of further protections, to prevent any harmful fishing activities and preventing all but the handful of local line fishing boats from coming into this area at all. This protection, over a long period of time, has made these islands a mecca for divers.

The rock formations, when you go down to around 20m are covered in amazing gorgonian corals. Red, orange, yellow and pink corals cover the walls, anemones fight for space, so that dives are packed with colour. The fish life is also excellent. We encountered large octopus and grouper on all the dives. Schools of smaller fish patrol the shallows, barracuda form large schools and circle in the sunlight and blennies hide in every small hole that can be found. We also saw the biggest scorpionfish you are ever likely to see! On the short boat ride back to shore between dives, we encountered mola mola.

In our short stay, we got to visit 4 dive sites over 2 days of diving. Our first dive was actually on the main coastline rather than the Medes islands themselves. In flat calm water, basking in sunshine, we dropped down to find a series of overhangs, tunnels and caves to explore. Barracuda glinted in the sunlight near the surface and we were treated with an octopus poking out of a crevice on our slow descent. Closer inspection of the reef revealed both huge and tiny nudibanches, camouflaged scorpionfish and blennies hiding in every hole in the coral. It was a great dive, topped off by seeing a Mola mola, or sunfish, at the surface from the boat on our short journey back to harbour. After a bite to eat, we were back on a boat and heading for our first dive of the Medes Islands.

Les Farranelles is one of the smallest islands in the Medes Islands. The dive ranges in depth from around 8 to 40m. As you go deeper, you find more and more rock formation covered in amazing corals. Large grouper hang motionless in the water and even come up to divers to see what they are up to.  As you come up shallower, you can spend time looking for tiny critters on boulders closer to the surface. Moray Eels hide between the rocks, with their cleaner shrimp companions.

The next day we dived El Salpatxot, where a vital marine ecosystem of sea grass shelters juvenile fish. This dive site is on the largest of the islands and so can provide some shelter for divers in windy conditions. However, for us it was another perfect day, with visibility of about 15m, flat seas and the water temperature which suited our 5mm wetsuits well (around 21 degrees). Our final dive was to be one of the most famous dive sites in the area: Dolfi Sud (or Dolphin South). The site is named after a small statue of a dolphin that can be found at the entrance of one of the many caves that make up this dive site, one of which cuts right through the island from one side to the other. Grouper patrol the caverns that, at certain times of day, are flooded with sunlight. Conger eels lie tucked away in the caves too. It is a great site for those that like to explore.

Our diving over for this trip, we picked up our hire car and planned a route with the tourist board that would allow us visit some of the best, though not well-known, vineyards in the area and to be able to sample the fabulous local produce. This part of Spain is famous for olive oil and wine, as well as great food. We took our car up into the Roses region to sample some of what was on offer. Much of the area on land, as well as at sea, is nature reserve too, so the growers of olives and grapes follow a more traditional way of production, using organic methods and shunning heavy machinery. Our first stop was to a local co-operative, Empordalia, who work with local farmers to bring to market, the wines, olive oil and other local produce to sell in their shop and café. The wine, especially the sweet, red wine, and olive oil were wonderful and so we decided to bring some home with us (regardless of our tight weight limit on the plane!)

We then headed further towards the coast to visit a vineyard that was run by the granddaughter of the founder, Col de Roses. She whisked us into her 4×4 and said I have something to show you. She drove us through the stunning coutryside down to the coast, along smaller and smaller roads, until we were driving through the terraced national park along her vines. All this so that she could show us her sea view vines that get their cooling straight from the sea breezes. “You are divers” she said, “so am I – I thought you would like this!” We did. Up on the terrace, with got a chance to sample the wines and then, to our delight, she gave us 3 bottles to bring home and try in our own time (packing really was going to be a problem!)

Our final stop was to a gourmet restaurant, called Terranova, for lunch. This was to be no ordinary lunch, but a tasting menu, where food seemed to be never-ending, each small course being accompanied by a local wine (for Nick – who was not driving). We sat on the terrace, in dappled sunshine and loved every minute of it. Our tour was a perfect day trip from L’Estartit. The tourist board have created wine tours for all those that fancy a go at this and provide maps and recommendations to help you along.

As a final bonus, with our return flight from Barcelona, we got to do a quick day trip, taking in a leisurely walk up Las Ramblas, stumbling across a festival with human towers reaching scary heights with tiny children in crash helmets at the very top, jumping on a bus tour around this stunning city, all before heading to the airport and home.


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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Take an immersive dive below the waves off the Welsh coast using 360 VR: Black Bream (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 VR dip into the blue waters off the Welsh coast with a species which are often shy with divers, the Black Bream (Spondyliosoma cantharu).

Black bream are often very wary of divers underwater, however they were curious to find out more about the VR camera. As a species, black bream are a more southerly distributed species however, over the decades with waters warming they’re distribution has increased northerly. During the summer period, they come inshore to breed and males will build nests and protect the eggs.


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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