Western Ecology Tour Expedition Report – Pembrokeshire
Whilst the team were in Pembrokeshire, we were supporting Neptune’s Army of Rubbish Cleaners, a charity run by divers who are passionate on keeping their local dive sites clean. They have been running clean ups since 2005 and were the first underwater clean up group. The team and I were guided by Lloyd Jones and David Kennard, who have been running the operation for several years now. NARC work alongside the local community as they help locate pollution and rubbish that needs to be cleared, a lot of these reports come from local fisherman who lose their gear and take a note of the location to tell the team later. NARC use equipment to aid their team and to maximise their efficiency, from cutting equipment, lift bags, and boat crews to help them in removing as much rubbish as possible. NARC also take a great stance on education and take the time to not only carry out these clean ups but to also educate the local community and public on the importance of clearing debris off our beaches and to pick up any trash you may see whilst diving.
The first day was spent working with NARC and diving a local dive site in the evening. The first dive was at Hobbs Point, and we were given a full briefing about what to expect on the dive and the kinds of rubbish that needed to be lifted from the site. The team were told that there were 12 Oil Drums, Nets, fishing line and a whole assortment of other rubbish, on this dive we were all equipped with net bags for smaller chunks, as well as Lift Bags for lifting the bigger pieces. There were several RIBs on standby to pick up what came up on the Bags and who also waited for our team to surface and bring us back to the dock. We were only working mere feet from the dock, but this was an active shipping lane with a Ferry actually just in from Ireland, unloading no more than 300 metres down.
Dave gave the go ahead to descend and the visibility was no more than 0.5 metres with some of us struggling to see our own hands in front of our faces, let alone seeing our feet or even our buddies. Therefor the work was done through a combination of touch communication, very close signalling and using torches to keep people together. Andy descended and dropped straight into a shopping trolley which he sent up along with nets, other members such as Lloyd, descended onto the Oil Drums with four of the twelve being lifted. There was a lot of rubbish present at this site unfortunately, with it being as easy to find as simply putting your fingertips into the mud and pulling up handfuls of discarded fishing line and lead weights. In total we managed to lift Four Oil Drums, one Scooter, one Shopping Trolley, and four Nets with one of them containing three fish which were saved and released. We also managed to retrieve bags and handfuls of fishing line and lead weights. At this point the team at NARC were due back at this site five weeks later with their goal to retrieve the rest of the oil drums and other large pieces of debris.
The second dive of day one was at Martins Haven, a dive site situated inside the Skomer Island Marine Reserve, during the briefing we were told about what to expect at the dive site and were also told that if we were to remove any Lobsters and Scallops at the site, it would incur huge fines along with the confiscation of our dive gear. The site was truly breathtaking, with large kelp beds that flattened out on to Sand flats that were covered in huge Scallops, some reaching 6 inches in width! There were large Spider Crabs who littered the bottom searching for food and a mate. The turning point of the dive was when the team came across a Pink Sea Fan, something that looked as if it belonged on one of the worlds tropical reefs rather than in the UK’s frigid waters. On the way back in we came across beautiful walls lined with kelp, anemones and barnacles, with copious amounts of Moon and Purple Jellyfish sitting in the surface water.
The final day of the expedition was a single dive at Stackpole Quay, a shallow site with easy access to the water. The crew parked at a National Trust Car Park and kitted up before walking 100m to the shore, some members of the team, including myself, were yet to see a single Catshark during the expedition and we were hoping to see some before the trip came to an end. This dive definitely didn’t disappoint, with many Small-spotted Catshark’s resting amongst the gulley’s and Kelp, some of us counted upwards of 15 Sharks on this single dive. Other sights on this dive were large shoals of Sand Eel and Sprat, young pollock and huge male Spider Crabs which had managed to gather up a number of females and whom fiercely protected them from those who came in to close to take photos. The visibility on this dive was around 3 metres so caution was took to keep close to one another and to ensure that none of us became separated.
After the dive was done, we returned to the campsite for a debrief, not only the final day, but also from the trip, along with a final meal at a local pub.
Surprisingly for some of us, the trip was not quite over as when we arrived in Pembrokeshire, we heard about spaces being available on one of Celtic Deep’s trips, namely their snorkeling trips, on this trip you get taken out to snorkel with Puffins, Razorbills and potentially Seals. There were 2 spaces available on the Saturday and Sunday with 4 of us taking up the opportunity to go out and experience another unseen story and finish the expedition with a bang.
The boat left shore at 9am but everyone had to arrive at 8:30am for briefing before disembarking, the briefing was led by Richard and Nicki of Celtic Deep. Everyone was told about how the trip is to be structured and how to effectively swim with the Puffins and how to get in close to take photos, after the briefing it was a 40-minute steam out to Skomer Island, once moored up we all jumped in off the back the boat and began to slowly approach large amounts of Puffins, Guillemot’s and Razorbills. The birds were a little shy and aired on the side of caution even if they are naturally curious, thankfully one person in each buddy group had a puffin decoy on a string, painted and donated to Celtic Deep by David Millard. These decoys were larger than an actual Puffin, so this of course peeked the Puffins interest, however as the birds approached and a camera appeared from under the water this of course scared the birds away. Nicki and Richard mentioned that the birds were unfortunately a little more skittish than usual and judging by some of their images it shows that the birds do indeed come much closer.
After spending 2.5 hours in the water with the birds it was time for us wll to get out and warm up for an hour before heading to the next site at Skokholm Island, here everyone was told that there was a chance to swim with Grey Seals or as the Skipper Fen calls them, “Maggots”, due to how they move when out of the water and how they look from a distance. Everyone jumped in and the rule of thumb to stick by was to allow the animals to get confident with us all being there and then allow them to come you, after around 2 hours in the water and the animals popping up to have a look at us all at distance it was time to head back to the boat to head back to port. As everyone was exiting a young seal came and approached the group and even grabbed onto cameras with her paws resulting in some truly close shots.
In total the trip with Celtic Deep was truly amazing with some breath-taking encounters and the opportunity to experience something truly wild, the team were professional and incredibly knowledgeable allowing us to truly enjoy a British wildlife encounter unlike anything else.
Expedition WET Summary
In conclusion the UK is almost a hidden gem of diving, many people would argue that going abroad is better. But as our team experienced during the trip, there is some truly breath-taking diving and wildlife encounters to be had, the UK has Sharks, Seals and Nudibranchs that rival that of those overseas. With a wealth of Charities carrying out hard work, experts who lead them, and life that is truly special, it’s difficult to say what the UK doesn’t have to offer for keen Divers and Photographers alike even if you must look that little bit harder to find it.
Not only is diving just as good as places abroad but it’s also easy to access with all the sites described in this report being accessed by simply walking off the beach and taking the plunge. Not only is it easy to access but it’s also better for the environment and our planet by diving local sites rather than only diving abroad. The team may have done a lot of driving during the expedition but in terms of our carbon footprint, it is a mere drop in the Ocean in comparison to getting a flight.
Keep an eye out soon for Expedition WET’s Film, which is currently in production with Ollie Putnam & Andy Clark. It will show more about the projects that were supported, the team, and life that was found during the expedition.
New 60m Reel and Dive Torch Combo from Northern Diver
Northern Diver have launched a new 60m Reel & Dive Torch Combo.
The innovative Northern Diver line reel has a unique design and it has been manufactured from a combination of anodized aluminium and synthetic polymers, to make it strong, lightweight and corrosion resistant. The free-flowing spool has a thumb operated spool-lock, to ensure controlled line deployment and a ‘sprung’ reel handle. Allowing the handle to extend whilst in use, if wearing gloves but springs back to half its length, for easy storage. Supplied complete with 60m (197’) of high-vis orange reel line.
The reel also incorporates an attachment point on the top and rubber fixing band allowing you to easily mount Northern Divers Varilux Micro Dive Torch. Ideal for hands-free directional light, ideal for lining out in reduced visibility (within a wreck). Other torches of a similar size to the Micro may be mountable but you should check dimensions first.
Check out https://www.ndiver.com/60m-reel-dive-torch-combo for more.
Marine Life & Conservation
Reefs Go Live returns for new season
CCMI brings the ocean directly to classrooms around the world through live-stream lessons from underwater
In 2018, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) launched Reefs Go Live, their innovative, flagship education programme that live-streams directly from underwater on the coral reefs in Little Cayman to students in classrooms around the world in real time. For the 2022 season, the four episodes of Reefs Go Live reached more than 107,000 viewers in 22 countries. CCMI’s Reefs Go Live team hopes to expand their reach with four new episodes and supplemental teaching resources to help integrate the material into classroom lessons.
Science Communications & Development Manager for CCMI, Beth Chafin, is excited to be part of another year of Reefs Go Live:
“Knowing we have an audience that spans the world, our team is energised as we plan and implement our Reefs Go Live season for 2023! We feel that creating a connection to the ocean and sharing the beautiful coral reefs of Little Cayman with others, both locally and abroad, is one of the most important ways to increase support for critical, timely issues such as marine protection and sustainability. At CCMI, we are fortunate to have these stunning reefs at our doorstep; not everyone is so lucky to be this connected to coral reefs, but healthy coral reefs are vitally important to everyone on earth. Bringing the ocean into classrooms and homes through Reefs Go Live allows us to share the work we do at the Little Cayman Research Centre, facilitate real-time interactions between viewers around the world and our experts in the field, and inspire the diverse audience to take positive action for the future of coral reefs.”
The first episode of 2023 will take place on Friday, 31st March at 10 am Cayman time (UTC -5h). The episode, ‘Finding Hope on our Reefs’, will feature what CCMI’s long-term monitoring of Little Cayman’s reefs shows us. The data from the annual surveys reveals important trends in reef health over time that reflect global threats and the benefits of strong local protection. Reefs Go Live hosts will explain why this annual monitoring is important and what the results tell us about the future of our coral reefs that we all depend upon. Viewers of each episode will be able to ask questions of the diver and participate in polls through the online platform to make Reefs Go Live an interactive experience.
Additional episodes for this year will run at 10 am (UTC -5h) on the following dates:
Thursday, 11th May: Adaptation on Coral Reefs
Wednesday, 24th May: Reef Resiliency & Restoration
Thursday, 8th June: World Ocean Day – 25 Years of Coral Reef Research
Registration for Reefs Go Live is free and is only required once to receive access to all episodes: https://donate.reefresearch.org/rgl2023.
Reefs Go Live provides an opportunity for students from all over the world to engage with the stunning ocean environment in its most natural format. As coral reefs around the world face unprecedented pressure, generating increased engagement with these precious ecosystems creates an opportunity to promote marine sustainability in a positive and fun way.
Reefs Go Live utilises streaming technology with underwater video and audio equipment to enable real time broadcasting from Little Cayman’s stunning coral reefs. Little Cayman, a Mission Blue Hope Spot, hosts one of the healthiest reef ecosystems in the Caribbean, which overall remains healthy and shows resiliency to climate change impacts. The broadcasts and education materials draw connections from CCMI’s current research conducted in Little Cayman to the national science curriculum and key ocean literacy principles, making CCMI’s work relevant and accessible to students and viewers of all ages, and emphasizing the relationship that we all have to coral reefs, no matter where we are.
Reefs Go Live is a free education programme that is made possible by the generosity of The Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Foundation. To register for the broadcasts and teaching resources, please visit: https://reefresearch.org/what-we-do/education/reefs-go-live/
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