Tag Archives: UK

Win a diving holiday to the Red Sea

Win a 7 night diving holiday in the Red Sea courtesy of Monarch.

Monarch have teamed up with Emperor Divers to offer a 7-night stay in either El Gouna or Marsa Alam for two. The prize comes with a 3-day diving course. We enquired whether there was an alternative for qualified divers and were told “Unfortunately there isn’t but there may be a mean of working this out with Emperor – the diving school for a further course“. Even so, there is still a free holiday to the Red Sea on offer.

Marsa Alam is famous for dugongs and you can also see sharks, dolphins and turtles. It is close to the beautiful dive site Elphinstone.

Diving Marsa Alam. Compiled from original footage by David Collins.

The free holiday flights are from the UK (Manchester, Birmingham or Gatwick) to Hurghada. Enter at http://blog.monarch.co.uk/win-a-7-night-diving-holiday-to-hurghada/. The competition closes on the 24th July – Good Luck. Let us know if you win.

Win a Red Sea diving holiday

Marsa Alam Diving

At Abu Dahab you may see Dugongs, guitar sharks and turtles in the sea grass area.

dugong at Abu Dabab

Dolphin House Reef has been designated a protected area, to protect the shallow bay where the dolphin sleep. A day boat is used to reach this site, and attracts snorkellers who swim with the dolphins when they leave their protected area, as well as divers.

Red Sea Dolphins

The Canyon is a beautiful scenic dive from the boat anchorage and round the coral pinnacles in the area.

Marsa Alam Canyon

Although many of the bays around Marsa Alam have been developed with resorts and hotels, a few have been protected and make good shore dives.

Turtle in Marsa Alam

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) at Marsa Eglet

Deep sea fish remove a million tonnes of CO2 every year from UK and Irish waters

Fish living in deep waters on the continental slope around the UK play an important role carrying carbon from the surface to the seafloor.

It has been assumed that deep water fishes all depend on particles that fall from the surface for their energy. These bottom-living deep water fishes never come to the surface and the carbon in their bodies stays at the seafloor. However, at mid-slope depths there is an abundant and diverse ecosystem where a huge volume of animals make daily vertical migrations to feed at the surface during the night. The animals conducting this migration then transport nutrients from the surface back to the deep.

Researchers from the University of Southampton and Marine Institute, Ireland used novel biochemical tracers to piece together the diets of deep-water fish revealing their role in transferring carbon to the ocean depths.

They found that more than half of all the fishes living on the seafloor get their energy from animals that otherwise go back to the surface, and not from settling particles. These bottom-living fishes therefore become a carbon capture and storage facility. Global peaks in abundance and biomass of animals at mid slope depths (between 500 and 1800 m) occur because this is the depth range where the vertically migrating animals are most easily captured by fishes that live at or near the seafloor.

Lead author, Dr Clive Trueman from the University of Southampton, says: “As fishing, energy extraction and mining extend into deeper waters, these unfamiliar and seldom seen fishes in fact provide a valuable service to all of us. Recognising and valuing these ecosystem services is important when we make decisions about how to exploit deep water habitats for food, energy or mineral resources.”

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Further Reading:
Proc. R. Soc. B 22 July 2014 vol. 281 no. 1787 20140669

Photo credit: Citron, CC BY-SA 3.0

Calling British Divers: RNLI Diver Safety Survey needs You

Last year in the UK, divers reported 314 diving incidents. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s (RNLI) volunteer lifeboat crews have rescued 96 divers and saved 13 divers’ lives in the past five years.

To understand more about how and why people dive, what they know about the risks and what safety measures they take, the RNLI are currently conducting a survey of divers based in Britain. They want to hear from divers of all levels of experience, even those who haven’t dived in the British Isles recently.

The RNLI are conducting the survey in partnership with the British Diving Safety Group (BDSG). This was formed in 2002 to promote safe diving practices amongst the British sport diving community. Currently chaired by the RNLI, the group has a broad representation, with all of the UK diver training agencies, the HSE and the MCA having a seat at the table.

If you fill in the survey, you have a chance to win one of two prizes. First prize is a DX Dive Computer (RRP £995) donated by Suunto Diving UK. Second prize is an Abyss 22 regulator (RRP £340), donated by Mares.

You can complete the survey at http://www.rnlidiving.substance.coop/

Have you seen Basking Sharks, Jellyfish or Turtles in UK Waters?

The Marine Conservation Society wants to know if you’ve seen any basking sharks, turtles or jellyfish – in UK and Irish waters.

Jellyfish? Yes, because jellyfish are the favourite food of Leatherback Turtles. And they don’t just want to know about live jellyfish but about strandings on beaches as well. Identification of live jellyfish is usually easy but once they’ve washed up on the beach it can become more difficult. They want you to therefore send photos if possible, and offer a jellyfish identification guide.

Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are the largest species of turtle, and occasional visitors to the North and Irish seas. By comparing the distribution of jellyfish with environmental factors such as sea temperature, plankton production and current flow, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) hope to understand what influences the seasonal distribution of jellyfish and leatherbacks in UK waters.

The basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) is Britain’s largest fish. They can grow up to 11 metres long and weigh up to 7 tonnes – about the size and weight of a double-decker bus. Once numerous in the UK basking sharks were hunted for their liver oil and their populations declined to such an extent that now they are considered to be endangered in UK waters. The MCS Basking Shark Watch programme has generated the largest basking shark sightings database in the world and is instrumental in identifying surface feeding hotspots.

So if you dive around UK or Ireland, get over to the MCS site and report your sitings at http://www.mcsuk.org/what_we_do/Wildlife protection/Report wildlife sightings/Report wildlife sightings

Government must act on State of Nature Report

The UK’s first State of Nature report, which has been launched by Sir David Attenborough, reveals that 60% of UK wildlife species are in decline. And that is just the species which have been well studied. Our ability to monitor the state of nature, and respond with appropriate conservation action, is hampered by a lack of knowledge on trends for most of the 8,500 marine species.

wrasse in kelpThe UK’s marine area covers over 850000 km2: that’s three times more than her land area. Her seas regularly host 13 species of marine mammal and even leatherback turtles. When divers first visit UK seas they are often amazed at the diversity and abundance of life (although, in winter, they are sometimes also dismayed by the cold water).

Despite its importance for wildlife, our knowledge of the state of our seas is poor. This lack of knowledge hampers our ability to assess the impact of man’s activities. Species commercially fished are the best known. The state of UK fish stocks has improved recently but overall 75% of EU fish populations continue to be overfished. Skates and rays are no longer viable commercial species in many areas.
anemones Isle of Man
Since 1996, harbour seals have declined by 31% in Scottish waters, particularly around Orkney (which showed a 66% decline) and northern Scotland, due to a combination of factors including pollution, disease, prey availability and competition with grey seals. From the 1950s to the 1990s, grey seal pup production increased consistently, but it is no longer increasing in some regions.

There is evidence that sub-tidal marine sediment habitats have been damaged over large areas by fishing activity, in particular by bottom-trawl and scallop dredge gear. Such activities can have huge impacts on bottom-dwellers such as the ocean quahog, a remarkable bivalve mollusc that can live for 500 years! At a more local scale, these activities also damage sensitive features, such as maerl beds and seagrass, that shelter a range of wildlife.

Sharks, skates and rays face continuing declines and are severely depleted all around the Scottish coast, in part due to overfishing. Elsewhere, most commercial fish stocks around the UK remain depleted, though there have been improvements in stocks of certain species in the last 5–10 years.

Historically, however, national and international fish landings are a fraction of the highs in the 1960s and 1970s, and generally smaller than in the early 20th century. The problems of overfishing and discards are being discussed as part of the reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy.

The continuous plankton recorder has been monitoring plankton in UK waters since 1931. These small plants and animals form the base of our marine food webs and play a pivotal role in the ecosystem by regulating larval fish stocks. Since 1950, there have been substantial changes to the main animal group within the plankton – copepods.

The total abundance of copepods has declined markedly, and the species present are changing as the sea warms. Already, these changes are negatively affecting fish species, such as cod, as well as seabirds.

At a smaller scale, there are almost no areas of pristine marine biodiversity left around the UK, as a result of increasingly intensive human pressures. Not only are fewer fish caught today compared with 20th century baselines, but they are also significantly smaller and they mature at a younger age. This is because the relative abundance of small and early maturing species increases as a result of overfishing.

Plastic pollution is a persistent problem in all areas. There have been significant recent improvements in water quality, however, due to the treatment of land-based discharges and international laws on marine pollution from ships.

Heads of leading UK conservation organisations are putting their names to a letter calling on David Cameron to act now for nature.

Further Reading:
The State of Nature in the UK and its Overseas Territories RSPB 2013

Scientists unveil first maps of deep sea corals

deep sea coralsScientists have unveiled the first-ever set of maps detailing where vulnerable deep-sea habitats, including cold water coral reefs and sponge fields, are likely to be found in the North East Atlantic.

The Bristish team used complex modelling techniques to chart a surface area more than three times the size of the UK’s terrestrial boundaries. Importantly, the maps let researchers determine the proportion of coral reefs and sponge beds that would be covered by the proposed network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The maps show that if all of the current proposed Marine Protected Areas are put in place, 30% of the UK’s deep sea coral reefs will be protected – but just 3% of the sponge fields.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 world leaders committed themselves to creating representative networks of MPAs by 2012.

Dr Kerry Howell, project lead and member of the Plymouth University Marine Institute, says the maps are important evidence with which to present to present to policy-makers. She said: “Many people think of the deep-sea as the last great wilderness on earth, but we are increasingly relying on it for food from fishing, energy from oil and gas, and now we are even mining it for precious metals like gold, copper and zinc.

Dr Howell continued: “We have better maps of the surface of Mars than some parts of our deep-sea – but this marks the dawning of a new era in deep-sea mapping, and our first steps into understanding the deep-sea realm as never before.”

Cold-water coral reefs, like their shallow water relatives, provide a source of food and shelter to many species – but unlike them, do not require light in order to grow. The UK has extensive cold-water coral reefs in its waters, and all but one are found in the deep-sea, below 200m in depth.

Deep-sea sponge fields are similarly important in the role they play in the ecosystem. They live on soft, sandy or muddy sediments at a depth of around 1,300m, in total darkness, extreme cold and under crushing pressures. Individual sponges are about the size of a tennis ball, but they live at such densities that they form a unique habitat.

Rebecca Ross, a researcher at Plymouth University who produced the maps, said “Although the mathematical process is complicated, the principle of the technique is quite straightforward: we know the conditions that we find a reef under, so we can use mathematical models to find other places that have the right combinations of conditions for reefs to grow.

“The use of predictive modelling is an important step forward in deep-sea exploration because the deep-sea is so vast and so expensive to visit that we cannot possibly hope to survey it all.”

The study is published in the scientific journal Diversity and Distributions.

What are Marine Protected Areas?

Marine protected areas describes a wide range of marine areas which have some level of restriction to protect living, non-living, cultural, and/or historic resources. The UK has signed up to international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the OSPAR Convention, that aim to establish an ‘ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs)’ by 2012.

Further Reading

Ross, R. E. and Howell, K. L. (2012), Use of predictive habitat modelling to assess the distribution and extent of the current protection of ‘listed’ deep-sea habitats. Diversity and Distributions. doi: 10.1111/ddi.12010
So what is a representative network of MPAs?, WWF
University of Plymouth

UK Eats Last of Home-Grown Fish

The UK today ran out of fish from her own waters, and became dependent on imported fish for the rest of the year, according to a report from NEF (the New Economics Foundation) and OCEAN2012.

If stocks were allowed to recover, the UK could meet her annual demand and stop consuming more fish than her seas produce.

Though dependent on foreign stock as of tomorrow, the UK does better than many of its European counterparts. The fish dependence days of France, Germany and Italy fell on May 21, April 20 and April 21 respectively, while EU citizens on average ran out of fish on July 7 this year.

Overfishing means the UK is getting much less out of its fish stocks than if they were restored and sustainably managed.

The report Jobs Lost at Sea published by nef earlier this year estimates the benefits of rebuilding 43 European stocks (out of more than 150) and finds that:
– Restoring commercial UK fish stocks to their maximum sustainable yield would increase the additional catch in 467,292 tones, 1.6 times the current fish import deficit.
– If directed only to human food consumption, the additional landings from rebuilding UK stocks could provide for the annual consumption of 23 million Brits and would allow the UK to meet the annual fish demand for the whole year.
– At current levels of consumption, restoring UK stocks would allow the UK to move from being a net importer to being a net exporter.

Rupert Crilly from the New Economics Foundation said:

“The UK is an island nation with access to some of the richest and most productive fishing grounds and has moderate levels of fish consumption compared to Spain and Portugal. It could produce as much as it needs but instead it is a net importer of fish.

“Consumers understand that we import tuna which is virtually non-existent in its in waters; but it will wonder why we need to import cod and haddock from China when our cod and haddock stocks could deliver five and three times more catches with better management.”

Just over a quarter of all imports of cod in 2010 came from Iceland. The second largest exporter of cod to the UK was China (14 thousand tonnes). Imports from EU member states accounted for 29 per cent of all cod imports into the UK in 2010. More than half of all haddock imported into the UK in 2010 came from Iceland (17 thousand tonnes) and Norway (16 thousand tonnes). The next largest was China, which exported 8 thousand tonnes of haddock to the UK in 2010.

Image copyright Matt Banks

Further Reading:
Fish dependence – 2012 update

Diving the Marine World Heritage Sites

Forty-five World Heritage Sites – places of “outstanding cultural or natural value” – are located in marine areas. And many are also fabulous diving spots. Jointly, marine World Heritage sites comprise one third of the planet’s marine protected areas, in 34 countries. They are designated by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The first marine Heritage Site to be listed was the Galapagos Islands, in 1978. In the Pacific Ocean some 1,000 km from the South American continent, these 19 islands and the surrounding marine reserve have been called a unique living museum and showcase of evolution. Situated at the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galapagos are a melting pot of marine species.

Next listing was Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It contains the world’s largest collection of coral reefs, with 400 types of coral, 1500 species of fish and 4000 types of mollusc.

Dugong or Sea Cow

Australia has the most Marine World Heritage sites of any country: five. Ningaloo Coast was inscribed most recently in June 2011. Ningaloo, in Western Australia, is famous for its whale sharks. Also on the West coast is Shark Bay. This has three exceptional natural features: its vast sea-grass beds, which are the largest and richest in the world; its dugong (sea cow) population; and its stromatolites. Stromatolites are rock like structures built by microbes, similarly to how corals build reefs. Shark’s Bay stromatolites are 2000 to 3000 years old, but stromatolites have been being built for 3.5 billion years. Shark Bay is also home to five species of endangered mammals.

Further north is the Philippines’ Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. In the middle of the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is 128 km from inhabited islands and is dived by liveaboard from March to June. The site comprises pristine coral reef with perpendicular walls, extensive lagoons and two coral atolls.

Another fantastic diving area is the French Pacific Ocean archipelago of New Caledonia. The Lagoons provide habitat to a number of emblematic or threatened marine species such as turtles, whales and dugongs whose population here is the third largest in the world.


Moving to the northern hemisphere, Cocos Island National Park, 550 km off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, is the only island in the tropical eastern Pacific with a tropical rainforest. The underwater world of the national park is one of the best places in the world to view large pelagic species such as sharks, rays, tuna and dolphins. Also listed in Costa Rica is Guanacaste.


Colombia boasts the Malpelo Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. This vast marine park, the largest no-fishing zone in the Eastern Tropical Pacific, provides a critical habitat for internationally threatened marine species, and is a major source of nutrients resulting in large aggregations of marine biodiversity. It is in particular a ‘reservoir’ for sharks, giant grouper and billfish and is one of the few places in the world where sightings of the short-nosed ragged-toothed shark, a deepwater shark, have been confirmed. Widely recognized as one of the top diving sites in the world, due to the presence of steep walls and caves of outstanding natural beauty, these deep waters support important populations of large predators and pelagic species (e.g. aggregations of over 200 hammerhead sharks and over 1,000 silky sharks, whale sharks and tuna have been recorded) in an undisturbed environment where they maintain natural behavioural patterns.

Finally, Europe also has diveable Marine World Heritage Sites, notably Saint Kilda in Scotland with its oceanic blue water and visibility. The only dive site in Britain which is outside the green coastal waters.

Further Reading:

World Heritage Marine Programme

Scuba Challenge on This Weekend

This year’s Scuba Challenge will be held on Saturday 25th February 5.30pm till 8pm at Woolston Leisure Centre, Warrington WA1 4PN. Experienced divers are invited to join in the Going the Extra Mile Challenge (64 lengths underwater) and none-qualified divers are invited to sign up for a supervised taster dive.

If you are not available or don’t want to join in, please show your support by sponsoring event founder, disabled diver Dave Thompson, by donating online at http://www.justgiving.com/scuba2012.

Dave Thompson’s story…

In January last year I was leading a team of volunteers attempting to raise over £30,000 to ensure we could run Europe’s largest voluntary led disability event which promotes independent living. Prior to my accident in 1989 I would have run, walked, pushed a car, towed a bus or anything else to raise the funds, but as all of these activities are beyond my limited physical ability I had to consider something else. You guessed it ‘scuba diving’, the term ‘going the extra mile’ sounded right and we agreed. Going the extra mile, scuba challenge, but I didn’t think too carefully about the physical effort it would take to swim 64 lengths of our local swimming pool, one handed!

The event seemed to develop a life of its own, creating so much interest with experienced and novice divers wanting to join Graham and I, not to mention our swimmers, and it motivated others to think about other ‘going the extra mile’ challenge events.

Terry Wood and the guys from Cybaqua Dive Centre in Warrington provided all of the equipment for our novice divers and the technical support to ensure the safe running of the event. As the clock struck six I called everyone together to welcome them and thank them for helping to create a great atmosphere, after wishing everyone good luck I finished off by mentioning that it wasn’t a race and it was about taking part! I thought I was addressing Graham as he does have a very competitive streak, but I’d not counted on Simon, chief executive at 5 Boroughs NHS Foundation Trust were we work. As soon as he was in the water he was off, well not straight away, he did slow down once or twice to support his son Thomas. His finishing time was 53 minutes, which is an excellent time for the mile. Graham followed a few minutes behind, but the jury is out as he claimed that Rachel, his son Tom’s girlfriend might have miscounted and in fact he may have done ten lengths extra. It is interesting that Rachel is best of friends with Simon, but I won’t go there; after all he is my boss.

For me it was a more realistic pace, slow, slow and even slower to be exact. After ten lengths I felt a deep pain in my one good shoulder which was probably due to the weeks of training. I managed to stop a few time (under water) whilst John my dive buddy for the day adjusted my weights. But once into a rhythm the next thirty lengths flew by, and at forty five lengths John signalled that I should change my tank as I was low on air, I must admit that I was so knackered, I hadn’t noticed. As I surfaced briefly, my wife Pam handed me a drink, but just reaching for the bottle was excruciatingly painful. The stretching hadn’t done me much good; in fact my single arm long stroke was now reduced to a very small flicker type movement, but it kept me going between several rests lying on the bottom. At one stage I just wanted to close my eyes and go to sleep, thinking that I might wake up and it would be over.

But eventually John counted down the last few lengths from ten, and then somehow I saw one finger. This was it just one to go. One final push to the finish and as I surfaced everyone was standing around the pool cheering and clapping. As I hung onto the edge of the pool I remember seeing Simons face with a huge smile, and then Graham grabbed hold of my tank just as I was sliding back into the water. I remember looking around and feeling a huge sense of physical achievement, a sense that I hadn’t felt for twenty two years. One of the highlights of the day was swimming the last length with my son Gavin who was attempting a try dive. Ironically I finished at the opposite end to the pool hoist and had to swim back to get out. But on the way back John handed me a stud earring that had glistened at me each time I swam past it. It’s strange how something so small became a focus even though I was totally exhausted. My spirits were lifted as one by one everyone came forward as I handed out their ‘going the extra mile’ certificates and Simon handed me mine.

The scuba challenge raised over £18,000, launched other challenge events and helped attract three new sponsors which enabled us to exceed our target. Interestingly last year’s Disability Awareness Day attracted over 28,000 visitors including Her Royal Highness the Countess of Wessex, eight officials from the government of Thailand and coverage on ITV News channels.

Creature of the Month: Plumose Anemone

Plumose anemonesPlumose anemones (Metridium senile) occur in large numbers in good diving areas in temperate waters. They comprise a tall, smooth column topped with a crown of feathery tentacles. When they contact they look like swirly blobs, as can be seen in our photograph.

Individuals may be white, orange, green or blue in colour. They grow up to 30 cm tall and 15 cm across at the base. They like areas with currents so tend to live on prominent pieces of wrecks or on rocky pinnacles.

Plumose anemone pictureWith fine, delicate tentacles they are unsuited to capturing large animals like fish. Instead they specialise in smaller prey such as small planktonic crustaceans. The anemone’s columnar body is narrower just below the tentacles. A current will bend the stalk at this point and expose the tentacles broadside to the flow in the best position for feeding on suspended matter.

Plumose anemone photographThe Plumose anemone occurs from the Bay of Biscay (North of Spain) to Scandinavia in the northeast Atlantic, and on the west and east coasts of North America. It is unknown from the western basin of the Mediterranean but has been seen in the Adriatic, where it is believed to have been introduced. It has also been seen in Table Bay Harbour in South Africa where it was probably introduced from Europe.

Great photo of a plumose anemone and jellyfish

Further Reading:
Great British Marine Animals, by Paul Naylor
Ask Nature

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