Monthly Archives: March 2017

Part One: Why Doing a Liveaboard in Egypt Will be One of the Best Decisions You Ever Make

Written by Guest Blogger, Alexandra Dimitriou

In November I was lucky enough to get a space on a diving Liveaboard (love-a-board) to the Brothers, Elphinstone and Daedalus Reefs in Egypt with Masters of the Red Sea. It was spectacular. Amazing. Extraordinary. They need a new word for how awesome this trip was!! It lived up to and went beyond every single one of my expectations. I love liveaboards, I love Egypt and I love scuba diving more than anything else on this planet! (Don’t tell my husband!)

Wanna know why?

Egypt is the closest, most marine diverse dive destination to Europe and the Middle East (great if you get as bored as a toddler with a broken rattle in under an hour!)

Located between Africa and Asia, the Red Sea is an in water inlet for the Indian Ocean that boasts a maximum depth of over 2000 meters/6560 feet. It is the most northern tropical sea in the Northern Hemisphere, meaning flights from even the most westerly European destinations takes around 5 hours.

It is a Global 2000 Ecoregion

Designated by the WWF as one to actively conserve, the Red Sea is a site that offers a staggeringly diverse marine ecosystem. Ranging from vibrant, shallow coral gardens to very steep walls and drop offs, the Red Sea is home to thousands of dive sites in a super concentrated area, each with its own achievable objective for every single diver under the sun. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Something for everyone: The Egyptian menu of the Red Sea can be broken down for liveaboard wannabes into 3 delicacies:

trigger-fish-egypt_liveaboard

Menu 1: Northern Itinerary. For those who love the colour, coral and Jacques Cousteau.

Dahab to Sharm-el-Sheikh is probably the easiest route to choose, but don’t let the difficulty level fool you, there are some very challenging dives for the tech-ey heads too – perhaps the most famous of these is the Blue Hole dive site in Dahab.

Other dive sites that are unmissable are Shark and Yolanda reef, the Million Hope wreck and the Thistlegorm wreck (discovered by Jacque Cousteau himself.)

You can even dive this historic wreck at night, but only if you’re a guest on a liveaboard – a very special treat, believe me!

Menu 2: Brothers islands and Variations

The two brother islands are close to each other but far away from the mainland. Elphinstone and Daedalus are the most popular highlights to this region too. The dive sites are world class and are most enjoyed by the more advanced diver; cleaning stations, nutrient rich waters and depth all make these sites a joy to be immersed in. Sharks are almost guaranteed too, wonderful!

Menu 3: South

Starting from Saint Johns you can enjoy dive sites such as Babili Ali, GotaKebira, Zabargad and the Rocky islands. I have never been to these myself, but the shark encounters are famous for being well within recreational divers’ depths in the summer months.

Dive sites that are all yours!!

egypt-liveaboard-2

Day Boats can only go so far. There is also a limit as to how early a diver will set their alarm for (me anyways!). Although the Northern dive sites are accessible by day the offshore sites are only possible by liveaboard. You can even combine the two to really get a taste for all the red sea has to offer.

Liveaboard dive trips are the best way to visit hugely popular day dive sites too, as you can choose when to enter the water. Your captain knows when peak diver hours are and will plan your arrival around them. I don’t know about you, but I hate to see boats and bubbles framing my field of vision at every turn. I want to see the beauty of the underwater world in all its glory – not the brightly coloured distraction of a fluorescent wetsuit that has been around since the neon 80’s!

When you are lucky enough to be the only boat for miles in every direction it can only be described as magical. There is something special about being able to name every diver that you see for the next 60 minutes, and it makes you feel very, very small. You are just a tiny spec under there; a tiny insignificant human who has adapted itself to fit into a tiny crevice of observation.

Big stuff, small stuff and everything in-between!

oceanic-whitetip-egypt_liveaboard

Egypt has it all. Coral gardens, bright nudibranchs, curious turtles, and moray eels the size of planets. Napoleon wrasse as big as houses, and if you choose the right time of year – mantas and whale sharks. Diving liveaboards deliver it all.

Sharks are an absolute favorite of mine and was my primary reason for booking my November liveaboard in Egypt. We saw sharks on every dive. EVERY DIVE! My favorite shark sites were:

Shark Dives

Big Brother

The first shark I saw was a Thresher Shark. I easily identified it by its long foxlike tail, which also gives this shark its Latin name Alopias vulpinus (alopex is the Greek work for fox).  The long tail makes them appear more graceful than other sharks, but this tail is its weapon. It uses it in whip-like movements to stun unsuspecting mid water fish, transforming them into its favourite snack. Yum!

Little Brother

Oceanic whitetips were everywhere, especially under our boat!  Our first dive on the smaller of the two islands that make up the Brothers was quite a challenging one. Lots of current and high waves made rib entries and exits rather exhausting but rewarding. We saw a couple of white tip Oceanics, but this was nothing compared to our second dive! We spent it simply hanging onto the mooring/drop lines connected to the island itself.  There we were, 20 divers, all dangling like wet grapes along a flag pole in total awe of the conveyor belt of the Oceanics around us. Oceanic whitetip sharks are super confident and extra curious, making them the most interactive of all the sharks in the Red Sea.  Humans are curiosities to Oceanics, allowing divers and sharks alike really up-close-and personal encounters. The current was so strong it was distressingly impossible to use a camera however. Both hands were clamped around the rope; and mask covered noses aren’t particularly delicate enough to operate even the one button GoPro unfortunately!

Daedalus & Elphinstone

Hammerheads, Hammerheads, Hammerheads!

This shark is my absolute favorite. Their strange, elongated flat heads gives this species its unsurprising name. Its head is truly an amazing piece of anatomy. With an eye on either side, the Hammerhead can scan the ocean faster than other sharks and find its favorite stingray meal quickly. It then uses its nose to pin it to the ocean floor before eating it.

They were everywhere at both Daedalus & Elphinstone. Top tip? Leave your nitrox behind because these guys like it deep. If you want a close encounter to these big nosed beasts then you are going to be approaching your air depth limit let alone your nitrox one. Techy – heads are the luckiest of all and an envy of everyone else at these two sites.

 

Check out part 2 of Alexandra’s Egyptian liveaboard adventure!

5 Top Dive Sites in Ibiza

Part of Spain’s Balearic Islands, Ibiza is synonymous with idyllic beaches, peaceful retreats and vibrant culture. Below the waves, divers are treated to an equal measure of beauty, diversity and Mediterranean bliss. We’ve rounded up five of many incredible dive sites that surround the island, so read on and get ready to extend your scuba wishlist.

Don Pedro

The name could suggest this is the titular villain in a mafia movie, but fear not, there’s no chance of sleeping with the fishes here! The Don Pedro shipwreck is a formidable beast lying on its side 26m below the surface, just minutes away from the Port of Ibiza. Measuring 142m in length and with a maximum depth of 46m, the Don Pedro became the Mediterranean’s largest shipwreck when it sank in 2007. Although an unfortunate and costly mistake for the owner of the Don Pedro, PADI Advanced Open Water Divers haven’t stopped smiling since. You can expect to be guided around the enormous propellers and the wheel house, but the Don isn’t accessible for exploring inside. It’s not uncommon to hit some thermoclines here, so plan to wear a bit more neoprene than a 5mm suit if at all possible.

Minimum Level: PADI Advanced Open Water Diver
Keep an eye out for: Greater Amberjack, nudibranch

Fish Factory (Formentera)

Just a 30 minute boat ride from Ibiza you’ll find the Balearic’s 4th island, Formentera. En route to this insanely beautiful and peaceful island, there is a sunken fish factory, known locally as La Plataforma. Although the structure is underwater because of a violent storm, the seas around these islands are often calm and it’s not unusual to be accompanied by dolphins as you journey across from Ibiza. The dive itself resembles an underwater oil rig, with visiting dive boats mooring to the top of the platform at 11m. With a maximum depth of 33m, PADI Advanced Open Water Divers will drop to the bottom before spiralling their way up around the monstrous structure. PADI Open Water Divers will be restricted on how deep they can go, but it makes for the perfect deep dive during an Advanced Open Water Diver course.

Minimum Level: PADI Open Water Diver
Keep an eye out for: Conger Eels, Moray Eels, Barracuda, Scorpion fish

Dado Pequeno

Remember earlier we mentioned the Don Pedro? Well now you can meet the rock that sank it! As the huge ship exited the Port of Ibiza, it went mano a mano with Dado Pequeno – and lost. On first appearance, the little rock poking out from the Mediterranean is rather uninspiring and lacklustre, but as you get closer and the depths of the sea turn from a royal blue to the most vibrant turquoise, it quickly gets the dive juices flowing. This is a dive that has it all: depth, shallows, fascinating topography and a who’s who list of marine life. To put it into relative terms just how good this dive site is, it was always number one when discussing where to go on a staff jolly.

Minimum Level: PADI Open Water Diver
Keep an eye out for: Barracuda, Grouper, Octopus, Scorpion Fish, Stingray, Wrasse, and Amberjack

The Lighthouse

On the East coast of Ibiza, a 5 minute ride from Cala Martina, lies the Santa Eulalia Reef. This underwater rocky platform is surrounded by depths of 30m and has three unique dive sites on it. However, it is the famed lighthouse dive which grabs the most attention. It is important to note that this isn’t actually a sunken lighthouse, it’s more of a beacon, used to warn passing boats of the shallow reef. Perhaps locals referred to it as a lighthouse because beacon didn’t sound as good. In any case, the shallow platform starts at about 2m, the lighthouse goes from this depth down to 12m and then there are routes to explore down to 24m. With the dive site lying in such shallow water, the light is fantastic and the marine life never disappoints.

Minimum Level: PADI Scuba Diver
Keep an eye out for: Lobster, Octopus, Barracuda and (very rarely) Moon Fish

Cave Of Light

On the north coast of Ibiza, nestled in between San Antonio and Portinatx, there lies a hidden gem, the Cave of Light. Known locally as La Cueva de La Luz, the cave and surrounding columns can be likened to a block of Emmental cheese. Divers are free to weave in and out of the rock formations before entering the cave, where upon entry, you will be greeted with the most spectacularly piercing and dramatic ray of sun light – you know the kind –  the type of light likely to be booby-trapped in an Indiana Jones movie. Definitely a dive site for underwater enthusiasts and posers alike – just avoid on a rainy day.

Minimum Level: PADI Open Water Diver
Keep an eye out for: Shrimp

Tempted by these incredible dive sites? Locate a PADI Dive Shop and book your next trip to Ibiza!

PADI AmbassaDiver Birgitta Mueck Talks Wildlife Conservation and Underwater Filming

 

Birgitta Wildlife Header

Photo Boris Unger

We caught up with PADI AmbassaDiver, Birgitta Mueck, to talk about her passion for wildlife conservation and her work with Crystal Water Film Production…

What inspired you to take up underwater photography & videography?

It all started with my early passion for the ocean and its many charming inhabitants. As a small kid I wanted to spend as much time as possible close to, and in, the water. When my father (who is the founder of Crystal Water Film Production) went out on his diving and filming adventures, I was the little girl in the boat looking overboard watching his bubbles move around, imagining what it was like under the surface. This made me both curious and inspired, and I knew then that I would find myself making those bubbles one day.

As I always loved the feeling of freedom snorkeling gives me, for a long time I was happy just discovering underwater life with only a mask, snorkel, and fins. In 2004, I started to bring a camera underwater while snorkeling. It was at this time, when a group of socializing sperm whales in the blue, pelagic waters of the Azores became my first underwater models! From that very first moment immortalizing my amazing encounter, and the feelings I got to experience with these friendly giants, I knew I was totally hooked! Thanks to the camera, I felt that I could share both my experiences and the interest and awareness I so strongly felt for the ocean, more easily. A good year later, I received my first PADI certification, which opened the door to discovering and documenting the amazing life hidden in deeper waters.

Through your work with Crystal Water Film Production, do you feel that you’ve impacted how others view aquatic environment and conservation?

Yes, we receive many e-mails from people who express their great appreciation for the work we do, emphasizing how our films and documentations have an eye-opening effect on them. I feel that our work does impact others’ views on aquatic environment and conservation.

Birgitta Orca in Sight

Photo Christian Tousignant

Are there any environment and wildlife conservation issues that you feel are particularly important at the moment?

I would like to highlight Marine Protected Areas and the importance of developing more, and bigger, ‘no take’ zones. A ‘no take’ zone is a protected marine area where all fishing pressure is removed completely, providing areas where fish are able to reproduce, spawn and grow to their adult size. Only a small fraction of the world’s oceans are protected today, and the vast majority of existing marine reserves need much better management to control the illegal fishing happening in them. During our recent film expedition, when recording ‘Life Against All Odds’, we were sailing and diving in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and in Scandinavian waters to document the difference between protected and non-protected marine areas. The difference we experienced truly was impressive, especially in the well managed ‘no-take’ zones.

What has been your most memorable diving experience?

That is a very difficult one as there are so many amazing diving experiences of various kinds! One of them was when we were searching for sharks in Nordic waters. We dedicated two years to the expedition, sailing and diving; trying to find, and film, cold water sharks in the waters of Scandinavia, Scotland and Ireland. We saw various species, from the smallest velvet belly sharks to huge basking sharks. During the entire two years, we searched for the spiny dogfish, a shark normally found in Scandinavian waters. The spiny dogfish was once one of the most abundant sharks, but, due to overfishing, its populations have decreased by at least 95% in European waters during the last two decades. Since this shark species is a late maturing fish, where the females mature at an age of 18–21 years, giving birth to only a small number of living offspring (2-11) after a two-year gestation period, it’s been very hard for the population to recover. After two years of searching, when our deadline for the film was almost upon us, we made one final dive on a 300 meter deep drop off in Norway. This was when we finally met the spiny dogfish! Not content with that, however, the sharks were attracted to our film lamps and suddenly there were hundreds of spiny dog fish surrounding us – both underneath and above us, they were everywhere! Imagine the sight of hundreds of hammerheads but with spiny dogfish! After so much time and effort searching for this shark species, it was a truly unbelievable experience.

We must work towards Wildlife Conservation in the Ocean

Photo Armin Mueck

Do you think it’s a diver’s responsibility to encourage the wildlife conservation of our oceans?

Yes, as divers we are lucky enough to experience the joy and beauty of the underwater world. With this knowledge, and pleasure we get from the ocean, also comes a responsibility to protect and encourage conservation. The great experiences we get while diving, and our strong passion for marine places and wildlife, make divers an inspiring and informed source of information. To actively share our knowledge and passion with others is a good start to encourage and spread the word about the importance of ocean conservation.

Do you have any tips for aspiring divers / underwater photographers?

The first thing, before even bringing the camera underwater, is to be comfortable underwater and with your dive skills, especially buoyancy. It helps a lot to spend time familiarizing yourself with your camera equipment in a controlled setting above water so that you don´t end up struggling to find the settings underwater, missing out on good shooting opportunities. Try to gain knowledge about what you are photographing and to study the animal´s behaviours. Always remember that the welfare of the marine life comes first. No picture is worth taking if it has a negative impact on the wildlife.

What does MyPADI mean to you?

For me MyPADI means to inspire others, raise awareness and share my passion for the ocean.

 

To learn more about how you can help the environment whilst diving, read our article The Power of Scuba Divers to Heal the Planet.

If you’re keen to learn more about underwater videography, try checking out our Underwater Videographer specialty course.