A Guest Blog by Donovan Lewis
There are some truly breath-taking wildlife experiences to be had on our planet and some would be surprised what you can experience right here in the UK. For years I’ve dreamed of swimming with a true open ocean wanderer in the UK, the Blue Shark.
Blue Sharks are a true open ocean specialist, agile and adaptable, they specialize mainly on eating fish such as Herring, Sardine and Mackerel, but they do make vertical migrations to the depths to feed on Squid in deeper waters. It has been shown that these incredible Sharks spend a large amount of time in deep water riding currents and thermoclines but will still return to the surface waters to prevent body cooling. Unfortunately, the Blue Shark is the most heavily fished Shark species in the world, which has unfortunately led to this species being put on the IUCN List of Threatened Species and is currently listed as Near Threatened.
Back in 2017 I was lucky enough to do a dive with Blue Sharks when I was out in South Africa with Shark Explorers, who are based in Simons Town, False Bay. It was actually on this dive where I decided I really wanted to be a wildlife photographer/cameraman. Ever since this dive I have been itching to get back in the water with these truly incredible animals, but not only did I want to be back in the water with them, but I also wanted to introduce my Fiancée Charlotte to them as well. Well in September of 2021 I managed to do just that.
Now unfortunately, our trip which was originally booked for mid-August had been cancelled due to bad weather, which is what tends to happen when diving in the UK, obviously going out in a large swell is no fun for anyone so we eagerly waited for our trip to come up a few weeks later.
Myself, my partner Charlotte, and a friend from work Dom, set off from Ellesmere Port at around 1:00am to be in Pembrokeshire in time for ropes up at 8:00am, we had to be at the dock for 7:30am to put all our equipment on the boat before departing for the deep. We arrived an hour early, so we had a quick rest in the car and got into our Wetsuits ready for the trip and placed all our Camera and Snorkelling equipment beside the dock ready for the boat’s arrival. Here we were met by others on the trip with the likes of Francesca Page and David Millard who are both artists and Underwater Photographers as well as Kaushiik Subramaniam and Robin Fischer, both of whom are underwater Photographers and filmmakers. This is also where we of course met the Celtic Deep crew, Richard who is the one of the founders of Celtic Deep and also the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program, Liam an underwater Photographer and Filmmaker and Celtic Deep Deckhand, and Emma a Marine Biologist doing research on Sharks and other marine life in the deep.
At 8:00am we departed for the deep, passing Skomer and Skokholm Island on our way out, before the trip we were told that they had been recently seeing a large amount of dolphin and bait balling activity, and nature really didn’t disappoint with huge numbers of Common Dolphins and the calves Bow riding the boat, Emma who is doing some Research and conservation work on board took this opportunity to count the dolphins and their calves for local research. The dolphins seemed to come from every direction with seeming endless numbers of them. We got to witness several Bait balls on the way out with Dolphins herding fish against the surface from below along with Gannets diving from above and the odd Skua flying in to investigate the commotion.
After around 2 hours of steaming out we finally reached the area known as the Celtic Deep, this is an area between the UK and Ireland and is an area in the seafloor that reaches a depth of around 100 Metres, this is an area that attracts a whole range of open ocean predators from, Dolphins, Tuna, Blue Sharks, occasional Mako Sharks and even Whales.
Once we had reached the Deep Richard started chumming for the Sharks, it was a mixture of Herring and other fish which he mixed with Salt water and threw the fluid overboard. They also placed a metal Cage with Herring inside around 3 Metres below the surface and attached to the rope were pieces of Tin foil and other reflective material in what Richard referred to as a Shark Mobile, this was used to keep the Sharks interested and keep them around the boat. Liam an Underwater Photographer and part of the Celtic Deeps Crew jumped in to watch the deep water and surrounding area for approaching Sharks to let everyone know to start getting ready if one approached the boat.
As Richard Chummed for Sharks, Emma started setting up her research, she had a machine on board that was taking water samples from around the boat and sending it into a container where she was taking a number of samples for environmental DNA sampling, essentially this method is used to take a large sample of water from any given area and analyse the sample for traces of DNA that are left in the water column by any animals that have been in that area recently. This is used to gain a potential idea of what has been around recently and potentially in what number, it was amazing to see such work taking place on board the boat and with all members of the crew helping however they could.
Whilst we were waiting for the Sharks, Charlotte and I were sat facing each other chatting, but we were constantly looking over each other’s shoulders just in case one of us saw something behind the other we could let each other and the rest of the boat know, mid conversation I, by sheer luck, happened to look at a spot of Water where right at that moment a Minke Whale appeared and took a breath. Minkes are known to be Shy, so it didn’t hang around long before diving again to re-surface some 100metres away seconds later. Now due to promises being given of animals to be seen through my time diving I always go on trips like these with the notion that we won’t see anything and then that way if we do see something its always so much better, and we were not disappointed.
After 90 minutes or so of waiting, a fishing rod that had been deployed with a herring on a line to a depth of around 30 metres started screaming, David turned and said “That’s a Shark” which Richard confirmed, seconds later Liam’s head came up and he shouted “Shark! Shark! We have a Shark” it was then I saw the tell-tale electric Blue colour of a Blue Shark. Myself, Charlotte, and Dom had been in our wetsuits since 7am so were told to get ready as we were going in first.
We finished gearing up and jumped in, the water visibility was at most around 5 metres so we couldn’t immediately see the Shark but then out of nowhere the unmistakable silhouette of a shark, came into view its deep Blue electric coloration glowed brightly, its curiosity was equaled by its cautious nature and we were told not to duck dive down to the sharks and to stay on the surface at first to allow the animals to gain confidence in us. Therefore we went in small groups at first to make sure we don t scare the animal away, but once everyone had been in, we would then be able to all get in the water. The Shark made continuous passes getting closer to us and checking us and the camera out with its large endearing eyes. At one point I looked over to Charlotte to make sure she was OK when she told me that that the Shark was on the bait cage, I put my head down to have the shark literally 2 inches in front of me, it came in close to have a look and went over to Charlotte, with her literally having to arch her body to get out of its way. After around 15 minutes Richard called us back to the boat as the second group were ready to get in, we swam back to the boat with smiles, hugs, and high fives to go round.
We then watched as the second group swam with the Shark for few minutes before the Shark decided to leave, at first, we were a little confused as to what caused it to leave before noticing a hub of activity in the distance, it was a pod of Common Dolphins heading in our direction. Richard told the group “Dolphins, behind you! Heads Down!” The group lowered their heads and were met by a pod of dolphins swimming all around them, Francesca said when she got out that she had never seen a dolphin underwater and you could see how happy she and the rest of the group were through their excitable expressions and happy tears.
Unfortunately, due to the Shark leaving we did have to wait around for 30 minutes before getting back in but it so worth the wait with not one but two Sharks showing up. There was a large female around 2.5 metres in length and a smaller 1.5-2 metre male. It was noticed almost immediately by both Liam and Emma that the large female had a hook lodged in her mouth and was also trailing fishing line behind her. Emma stated that the hook was barbless which is what should be used for recreational Shark fishing because if the Shark escapes, then the hook will fall out, but unfortunately the line that was attached was creating drag thus keeping the hook firmly in place. The large female may have had a large hook in her mouth, but this didn’t influence her curiosity as she just couldn’t get enough of us, she did pass after pass bumping into cameras as she went.
After what felt like mere minutes was actually around 40 we were asked to get back on board as the sun was beginning to hang low and we needed to head back to port, but before we did Emma grabbed a knife and went after the large female shark in the hopes of freeing her from the line that was attached to the hook, Robin followed to get some footage for his Masters film that he was making, 10 seconds later Emma surfaced full Rocky style with the her hand up cheering with the line hanging from her hand. Emma had succeeded in freeing the shark, Emma stated that with the line now free it will allow the barbless hook to fall out in its own time which was a huge relief to hear.
The journey back took around 2 hours with the sun setting over the smalls lighthouse the most westerly lighthouse in the UK. Me, Charlotte, and Dom were all aware that when we get back to shore that we would still have around 5 hours of travelling before we got home. Once back on shore we said our goodbyes and made our way for the car. The drive was clear, with me and Charlotte doing half a journey each, we returned home at 1:00am a near full 24 hours after leaving to head down but the exhaustion was worth every minute spent with the incredible animals and crew alike.
In summary the day out with Celtic Deep was incredible, a day where UK Marine life was a true spectacle, we experienced something that up until recently not many people knew about in this part of the UK, a place where Ocean wandering predators gather to take advantage of rich feeding grounds. The wildlife, facilities and service were 10/10 with crew that were accommodating and professional from start to finish and is somewhere that I am keen to return to and look forward to another day out in the Blue with Celtic Deep.
For more information about Celtic Deep visit their website by clicking here.
The Suit Ocean Team leads the Ultimate Curacao Snorkeling Adventure
As passionate residents of our Dutch Caribbean Island, we must congratulate The Suit Ocean Team for creating more awareness about the importance of protecting our beautiful fringing reef systems in Curacao.
The film, Curacao Underwater Kunuku (Kunuku is Papiamento for Garden), not only documents this ultimate snorkeling adventure showing you how easy it is for everyone to access and enjoy a snorkel or diving experience, but it also showcases the interaction between man and nature, highlighting the beauty of underwater life while promoting conservation, preservation and the need to protect these vital habitats.
These are the key ingredients to this beautiful short film documentary. Watch NOW and please enjoy our “CURACAO UNDERWATER KUNUKU”.
This film, produced by the Lawrence Mensa Foundation (LMF), is also available in multiple languages including: Spanish, Papiamentu, Dutch, Portuguese and German.
Top 12 Snorkeling Destinations in Oceania – Part II
Oceania has a fascinating mixture of well-known romantic destinations and wild, remote islands that few people ever get to visit. It is a region of contrasts with enough snorkeling destinations and cultural highlights to satisfy even the most adventurous snorkelers. In part II of 12 great places to go snorkeling in Oceania, we take a deep dive into some of this region’s most famous and little-known islands. Get inspired for your next snorkeling trip here.
French Polynesia has some of the world’s most famous destinations in Oceania, including Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora. Between them, they offer snorkeling among colorful reefs in warm, calm lagoons and the chance to meet a variety of marine life.
Go snorkeling with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks at Moorea Lagoon or swim with humpback whales a little further offshore. Snorkeling and diving in Bora Bora are high on the wish list for many people and don’t disappoint, with pretty coral gardens and dozens of snorkeling spots in warm, azure waters.
At the nearby Tuamotu Archipelago, you can experience the thrill of drift snorkeling through Tiputa Pass and meet the pelagic fish, dolphins and sharks this pass is famous for. At Tikehau, a small atoll near Rangiroa, you can swim with graceful mantas at a shallow cleaning station.
The Solomon Islands
The Solomon Islands are a haven for more than 1000 reef fish species and numerous prized critters, plus dolphins, sharks, rays and six species of sea turtle. Hosting hundreds of wrecks and remote hard coral reefs, there is something for every snorkeler there.
Most snorkeling is conducted at resort house reefs of by boat tours to nearby islands and reefs. At Mary Island, you can go open-ocean snorkeling among dramatic coral-covered landscapes, home to sharks and large schools of fish.
The awe-inspiring Marovo Lagoon is the largest saltwater lagoon in the world and is made up of a chain of coral reefs and islands that are absolutely stunning. This popular tourist spot hosts some of the best coral gardens in the South Pacific, with deep and shallow snorkeling sites and remarkably clear waters.
To experience snorkeling over wrecks, make sure you visit the Florida Islands. The Solomon Islands have hundreds of WWII ships and aircraft, with many shallow ones that snorkelers can explore.
The Cook Islands
When it comes to warm welcomes, it’s hard to beat the Cook Islands. From the moment you arrive, you will be drawn into one of the friendliest nations in the world and won’t want to leave.
This wonderful country, with its warm, calm waters and excellent facilities, is the perfect place to teach your kids how to snorkel and maybe even get your Open Water Diver certification. Rarotonga is the main destination for tourism and is a charming island with fresh markets, cafes, restaurants, and resorts tucked away among the palms.
There are plenty of snorkeling spots off the beaches, with coral bommies, diverse tropical fish, giant clams, and occasional sea turtles. Muri Lagoon is one of the most popular places for snorkeling, as is the Fruits of Rarotonga Marine Reserve. This well-known reserve is absolutely teeming with fish.
New Caledonia is a wish-list destination known for its spectacular scuba diving, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Unlike some remote destinations in Oceania, New Caledonia has modern infrastructure that makes it easy to explore at your pace – by car or island hopping with regular domestic flights.
There are several snorkeling trails at New Caledonia, built to allow you to meet the diverse array of marine life that calls the New Caledonia Lagoon home. This UNESCO World Heritage Site contains coral-encrusted walls, channels, and easy snorkeling trails busy with marine life. Simply follow the underwater trails and enjoy!
With dozens of islands to choose from, there are numerous other snorkeling options around New Caledonia. The extensive marine reserves ensure the waters are teeming with life, including mantas, dugongs, dolphins, stingrays, sea turtles, and an array of corals. With few people in the water and great conditions year-round, it is one of the best places to go snorkeling in Oceania.
Nearby Vanuatu is the perfect place to reconnect with nature, offering untouched rainforests, natural swimming holes, and excellent snorkeling.
Pristine reefs abound in Vanuatu, with many accessible simply by walking off the beach. The amount of marine life in Vanuatu is impressive and similar to New Caledonia, though the landscapes are quite different.
Tanna Island has breath-taking snorkeling among deep blue rock pools and coral gardens. At Lemnap, you can snorkel in the sun-dappled waters of a huge grotto. There is excellent snorkeling with sea turtles at Tranquility Island and you can go snorkeling in jaw-dropping inland blue holes at various islands.
Million Dollar Point is one of the most unique snorkeling destinations and hosts an array of machinery and equipment dumped by the US after World War II. Boasting wrecks in 15 to 25 meters of water off the beach, you can simply grab you snorkeling kit and explore.
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with more than 850 known languages and hundreds of different tribes. It is unlike anywhere else in Oceania.
Along with the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, including at Kimbe Bay. This special bay was once ranked as the most beautiful reef by National Geographic and is an exceptional place to go snorkeling, with huge corals and large reef fish.
Milne Bay has great conditions for snorkelers, with gorgeous beaches and sands full of bizarre-looking critters and plenty of fish life. New Ireland Province boasts snorkeling among war wrecks, big fish, thriving reefs and sharks, whilst East New Britain has a spectacular drop-off at Tavui Point.
Some of the best snorkeling sites are at Tufi. These fjords are covered in lush rainforest and have crystal-clear waters. There are beautiful corals, countless fish and sea turtles, plus Birds of Paradise in the surrounding forests.
Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.
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