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A day in the blue with Celtic Deep

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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.

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Top 12 Snorkeling Destinations in Oceania – Part 1

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Encompassing over 8 million square kilometers, Oceania hosts some of the world’s most idyllic snorkeling destinations. There are untouched reefs and shallow wrecks, countless forest-draped islands, and volcanic landscapes with rich black sands full of weird and wonderful critters. With abundant marine megafauna, including manta rays, whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and thousands of sea turtles, it is a paradise for every ocean fan. Read on for part I of our round-up of 12 great places to go snorkeling in Oceania.


Australia

Drop a pin on a map of Australia’s vast coastline and you will likely land close to some epic snorkeling spots. There are dozens of places to experience the best of Australia’s rich and varied underwater landscapes.

In the remote northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef, there is a sea turtle nesting area that hosts more than 60,000 green turtles each nesting season. A little further south at Cairns, there is classic Great Barrier Reef scuba diving and excellent snorkeling, with reef sharks, friendly dwarf minke whales, and vibrant coral reefs teeming with fish. If you’re keen to try diving, this is one of the best places to get your diving license and then hop on a short liveaboard to explore.

The southern Great Barrier Reef hosts Australia’s best-known manta ray hotspots, Lady Elliot Island and Lady Musgrave Island. Diving in Australia isn’t just about the Great Barrier Reef though. There is excellent snorkeling close to many of Australia’s coastal towns and cities.

You can snorkel with beautiful weedy sea dragons near Melbourne, go cage diving with great white sharks off Port Lincoln, or swim with enormous stingrays in Port Philip Bay. Ningaloo Reef’s many whale sharks are one of the top reasons to go snorkeling in Australia, but you will be spoilt for choice wherever you choose to explore.


New Zealand

New Zealand may be a lot smaller than Australia, but it packs a punch when it comes to snorkeling. With over 600 islands, 44 marine reserves, and the 9th longest coastline in the world, snorkeling in New Zealand is diverse, unique and fascinating.

Sun-soaked Northland is the best place to start your snorkeling trip in New Zealand and features the famous Poor Knights Islands. These unique islands were rated as one of the world’s top ten dives by Jacques Cousteau and offer sub-tropical snorkeling among sun-dappled kelp forests that huge shoals of fish and stingrays.

Further south, the Mercury and Aldermen Islands are a summer playground for Aucklanders and tourists alike. This picture-perfect area is dotted with white sand beaches and has fantastic warm-water snorkeling. There are volcanic rock formations with an abundance of marine and birdlife. Seasonal visitors include whales, bronze whaler sharks, makos, marlin and other prized finds.

You can go swimming with wild bottlenose, common and dusky dolphins in the Marlborough Sounds or head south to Kaikoura to meet some ocean giants. Kaikoura is one of the only places in the world where you can see sperm whales all year and is a great place to go swimming with seals. Make sure you spend a few days there to snorkel the coastline and join a local boat tour to meet Kaikoura’s albatrosses, dolphins and sharks.


Fiji

Fiji is a classic destination in Oceania, offering a wealth of forest-draped islands and snorkeling highlights worthy of any bucket list. If you’re looking for a destination that has something for every snorkeler, and plenty for non-snorkelers too, Fiji could be for you.

Viti Levu, the main tourism hub and largest of all Fijian Islands, is famous for its bull and tiger shark diving, and has beautiful coral reefs for snorkelers. Go island hopping from Viti Levu and you’ll be immersed in a world of rainbow-hued soft coral landscapes, pelagic fish, and manta rays. You could easily while away your days simply drifting over Fiji’s many thriving coral gardens.

Just make sure you leave some time to explore topside. The friendly Fijian welcome, excellent jungle hikes, lush rainforests and waterfalls are not to be missed.


The Federated States of Micronesia

Micronesia is high on the wish list for many divers and consists of over 600 islands strewn across the western Pacific Ocean. This stunning destination is best-known as a wreck diving mecca and hosts dozens of World War II wrecks calm lagoon waters.

The wrecks of Chuuk Lagoon are renowned among divers and some of the wrecks are accessible to snorkelers. This calm, warm lagoon was the site of a fierce battle in World War II that resulted in hundreds of ships, planes and submarines sinking. The wrecks remain there to this day and are covered in rainbow-hued corals and surrounded by fish. Diving among the tanks, trucks and airplanes of this special lagoon brings history to life in the most vivid way.

As well as an enviable list of wrecks, Micronesia also has countless shallow reefs, manta rays at Yap, and some of the world’s most pristine snorkeling at Kosrae Island.


Palau

Palau is a snorkeler’s paradise with dazzling coral gardens and over 1300 fish species. Made up of 340 coral and volcanic islands, this stunning destination offers exceptionally good snorkeling.

The Rock Islands hosts the most popular snorkeling spots in Palau and can only be accessed by boat. This UNESCO World Heritage Centre is dotted with forest-draped islands surrounded by coral reefs. There are diverse underwater landscapes to explore, including drop-offs, walls, channels and sheltered bays.

With over 1300 fish species, 700 coral species and numerous prized critters, there is plenty for underwater naturalists and photographers to enjoy at Palau. Being the world’s first shark sanctuary, Palau’s waters are also busy with sharks.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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Snorkeling In India: 5 Great Reasons to Go There Now

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With its white-sand beaches and tropical islands, India is a must-visit snorkeling destination, but it doesn’t get the attention it deserves. There are isolated coral reefs, numerous shipwrecks, remote atolls, and shallow coral gardens that host an eye-popping array of marine life. With India recently opening its borders to fully vaccinated travelers, now is the time to explore this incredible destination before the rest of the world finds out.


1. Choose from numerous idyllic destinations.

With over 8000 kilometers of coastline and 1382 islands nestled in the Indian Ocean, India has a huge variety of destinations and world-class snorkeling spots. The best time to visit India’s top destinations varies, meaning you can find somewhere in India to indulge your inner mermaid at almost any time of year.

The Andaman Islands are surrounded by bright blue waters and fringed with isolated coral reefs, making them one of the best places to go snorkeling in India. It is a tropical paradise destination with thriving mangroves that support diverse marine life and extraordinary birdlife.

Havelock Island and Neil Island are two of the most exceptional snorkeling spots in the Andaman Islands and are regularly rated as two of the best places for scuba diving in India.


2. Snorkel among vibrant marine life in crystal-clear waters.

Sitting in the warm Indian Ocean, India’s snorkeling sites host a dazzling array of life, including abundant tropical reef fish, lionfish, moray eels and prized critters. Manta rays, whales and dolphins are also seen in India’s waters.

Sea turtles are regularly spotted cruising the reefs and nest at many of India’s islands, including at the Lakshadweep archipelago.

Kadmat Island (Cardamom Island) in Lakshadweep is all about turquoise seas, white sand beaches and encounters with numerous sea turtles.  With healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs to explore, it is a mecca for marine life. Make sure you leave time to visit this impossibly idyllic island.


 3. Explore endless golden beaches and castaway islands.

India’s islands are easily on a par with better-known island destinations such as the Maldives and Mauritius. There are swathes of golden and white sand beaches to explore, plus numerous untouched coral reefs and remote atolls.

Bangaram Atoll is entirely surrounded by coral reefs and the continuous nature of the reef makes it one of the most interesting places to snorkel at Lakshadweep. As well as gorgeous corals, Bangaram hosts Princess Royal, a famous 200-year-old shipwreck that attracts divers from around the world.

Sitting on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea, Goa is known for its long beaches and lively nightlife. But if you step back from the bustling bars, you will find picturesque snorkeling sites and a destination rich in culture and history.

There are several snorkeling spots to choose from at Goa, with Grande Island being one of the most popular. The water can be cloudy around Goa but the shallow coral gardens, abundant fish life, and underwater shipwrecks make up for it.


4. Visit the chic ‘French Capital of India’.

Puducherry’s crystal-clear waters are enough to attract any keen snorkeler to explore this well-known French colonial settlement and the surrounding area.

Above water, Puducherry is a quaint destination with a French Quarter of bougainvillea-lined streets, colorful colonial villas, and sophisticated boutiques. You could easily while away a couple of days there.

Below water is equally as eye-catching, with a huge range of marine environments along Puducherry’s vast coastline. There are unexplored coral reefs and shipwrecks, plus famous dive sites that also offer great snorkeling.

Aravind Wall at Puducherry is a popular snorkeling spot that is renowned for its diverse marine life. As well as numerous vibrant reef fish, there are lionfish, eels, rays, parrotfish, and crustaceans. If you visit during February or March, you might even see a passing whale shark.


5. See the second tallest Shiva statue in the world.

Netrani Island (Pigeon Island) is one of India’s best-known snorkeling spots and sits off the famous temple town of Murdeshwar. Shaped like a heart, it is also known as ‘the heart of India’s diving’ and offers world-class snorkeling with excellent conditions.

There are rarely any currents at Netrani, making it an ideal destination for snorkelers who like easy conditions or want to earn their Open Water Diver certification.

Start your days by exploring Netrani’s diverse coral landscapes then visit the fascinating Murdeshwar temple, which hosts the second largest Shiva statue in the world. At 123 feet (37 meters) tall, the statue is an impressive sight.


When is the best time to go snorkeling in India?

The best time to go snorkeling in India depends on which area of India you are visiting:

  • Andaman Islands: November to April.
  • Lakshadweep: October to May.
  • Goa: October to May.
  • Puducherry: February to April, September to November.
  • Netrani Island: October to May.

Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

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