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Dive Notes from a Small Island: Part 3 – Ireland & Northern Ireland

CJ and Mike

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Having heard many great things about the diving in both Ireland and Northern Ireland and having the whole of August still ahead of us, we thought it would be rude not to go and investigate the diving on our neighbouring island of Ireland. Setting off from Holyhead on Sunday (sadly no diving in north Wales due to the weather, again!), we arrived in Dublin for some pints of Guinness and some city sightseeing. On the Monday we began our scenic tour around the wild Atlantic way, exploring the Irish countryside. Ireland is stunningly beautiful, if a little windy, and we got a lovely weather window for diving with Scubadive West, in County Galway.

Dive 7: Scubadive West house reef (“The 60 Footer”)

Site description:

Scubadive West is located in the stunning Little Killary Fjord. The dive center is well equipped and has friendly and informative staff, the house reef is accessible via the dive shop slipway and costs €10 per diver for access (boat dives are available on the weekends).

The house reef starts at the slipway which leads into a small sandy area sheltered by the kelp covered rocks, a channel in the rocks leads to “The 60 Footer” wreck, 30m out on a heading of 40°. The wreck is a 19m long, 6m wide wooden hulled former mussel tender and fishing vessel which sank while under tow in 2011. It now lies in 17m in the Little Killary Fjord and is covered in spectacular amount of life. After a thorough look around the wreck it is possible to continue along a line from the bow to some old scaffolding, which has huge numbers of tube worms growing on it. From here you can backtrack to the wreck and take a 270° heading back to the reef. Once beside the reef there are some old scuba cylinders with lobsters hiding in them, keeping the reef left, swim round the kelp covered rocks, over a small seagrass patch and back to the sandy area in front of the slipway to surface.

The Dive:

We arrived just after low tide and were joined by a keen young diver, Magnus, who was familiar with the shore dive and offered to guide us round. We waded out on the sand patch and did a surface swim over the shallow kelp covered rocks to the far side of the reef until we had a few meters depth to make our descent. The visibility was much better than any of our dives so far and we were very pleasantly surprised by the amount of life immediately visible on the sandy, silty bottom, such as long legged spider crabs, burrowing anemones and a thornback ray. The wreck was at about 14m and covered in life, huge plumose anemones, dead men’s fingers, crabs, lobsters, a shy conger eel and a sleeping dogfish. We explored the wreck and then headed over to see the organ pipe worms on the scaffolding, which were incredibly prolific and colourful. The rest of the dive was spent bimbling round the shallows near the reef looking for macro life, like the sea lemon nudibranch, pipefish, butterfish and a Yarrell’s blenny. Magnus was a great guide and I thought 75 minutes went by incredibly fast with so much to see. This is one of the best shore dives I have done in temperate waters!

Mike’s thoughts:

I had high expectations of diving in Ireland and this site did not disappoint. Much like our shore dives at Porthkerris in Cornwall, entry and exit were very convenient with parking and a full service dive center just meters from the shore. For an easy temperate water shore dive, the variety and abundance of life here was truly outstanding. From the scallops, crabs, gobies and dragonets in the sandy bottom to the anemones and tubeworms on the structures hardly a minute went by without something new to look at. I was especially happy to see my first dogfish up close as well. The only way to improve our dive for me would have been to wait for the tide to be a bit higher so that we could have seen more of the seagrass and kelp beds just off of the shore. As it was, I did manage to spot a pipefish in the seagrass on our way back in. With this much life right off the shore, I could only wonder at how much else there must be to see at the 50+ dive sites in the local area.

After being thoroughly impressed by Ireland’s diving we headed to Northern Ireland to do a boat dive on Rathlin Island with Richard at Aquaholics. The north coast is stunning with many National trust sites and Mike and I found ourselves getting very excited about the next days diving when we arrived and caught sight of Rathlin Island for the first time. On the morning of the dive we met at Ballycastle marina and got onto the Aquaholics catamaran and were introduced to our fellow divers. With some swell and a spring tide our first dive was on the sheltered south side of the island, before heading round to the wall on the north.

Dive 8: Sronlea Head, Church Bay, Rathlin Island

Site description:

Tucked in against the sheltered south facing cliffs the first dive of the day was on a rocky reef characterised by a sloping rock and boulder reef, covered in kelp down to 12m. The slope then continued gently down to 30+m, with the area known for having rich macro life and some rare species not found outside of this area.

The Dive:

The dive was planned as a gentle drift with the tide and on our descent through the kelp we found there was little current and we made our way down to about 22m based on the recommendation of our skipper Richard. It was a fantastic dive with excellent visibility and vast amounts of macro life, that had us stopping every meter to photograph a new nudibranch or cup-coral. We didn’t even make it to the main part of the dive site as we were so wrapped up in spotting all the life on the rocks and I spent a very enjoyable 55mins geeking out on this incredible site.

Mike’s thoughts:

The visibility for our dive was great and I enjoyed our relaxing drift along the rubbled slope. Although not quite as easy to spot as their brightly-colored tropical cousins, the nudibranch life in this area was definitely a highlight for me. We managed to spot five different species on the dive, which I thought was nice considering we only drifted for about 100 meters from the drop off point. I was also happy that my critter-spotting eyes were improving. The greenish waters all around the UK and Ireland make the general panorama a bit monochrome, so you really have to train your eyes to adapt and a learn a bit about various creatures’ preferred habitats to appreciate all of the life that is present. A dive torch is a necessity and I was quite lucky to have my friendly torch-wielding, critter-spotting buddy along.

Dive 9: Pinnacle, Farganlach Point, Rathlin Island

Site description:

The north side of Rathlin island is known for is deep walls that go from a few meters down to over 100m. The north has shallow gullies and pinnacles going down onto the main wall and after the first 16m of kelp covered rock the walls become sheer and are covered in a huge amount of life all the way from the kelp line at 18m to the depths.

The Dive:

We waited for slack tide (a must on spring tides) and entered the water on the pinnacle. After dropping down about 18m we found the kelp stopped and the wall began. Despite the slack tides, the currents were having a party up, down and sideways on the wall and so we took the excellent advice of our skipper and stuck close to the wall to avoid the worst of it. The visibility was good again and the walls absolutely packed with life, dead men’s fingers, jewel anemones, white striped anemones, Devonshire cup-corals and a variety of sponges covering every inch of rock. We also had a visit by a compass jellyfish, albeit briefly, which rocketed up past us in the current. We had a good dive, sticking to the wall and moving gently along with the flow. The diving here is excellent and definitely lived up to it’s reputation!

Mike’s thoughts:

The diving potential in this area seems enormous, with seven miles of sheer walls to explore; in our case I’m glad we stayed fairly shallow and within a small area of the drop off point. While not quite approaching a washing machine, the currents throughout the dive were strong and constantly changing making buoyancy control very challenging. Nevertheless, by hugging the wall closely we could enjoy inspecting the life on the wall as we drifted by. Again, the density of life was impressive with a wide variety of creatures from tiny cup corals to large lobsters packed into every nook and crevice. The huge shoals of pollock and coley streaming by us were more evidence of just how nutrient-rich the local waters were. The conditions on our dive were definitely for more experienced divers but I thoroughly enjoyed my introduction to boat diving in Northern Ireland!

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Western Ecology Tour Expedition Report: Stats & Scotland

Donovan Lewis

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Expedition Overview

During June 2021 a team of us Photographers, Filmmakers, Scientists and Divers took part in the Western Ecology Tour, an expedition that involved diving some of ‘The Best’ of the West Coast of the UK. The Expedition took place between the 17th and 29th of June, and we traveled to 3 key locations throughout the UK. The expedition started out in the Lochs of Scotland and finished along the Pembrokeshire coastline.

The expedition was led by Andy Clark of ATND Services and @fancy_a_brew_podcast. He sought out talent, sponsors, and expertise to aid him in achieving the goals he had planned for the expedition.

The expedition had three main aims; To support scientists who are working to better understand and protect our coastlines, wildlife, and ecosystems, to tell the unseen stories of our hidden coastline, and to promote sustainable adventures.

The expedition had a number of sponsors with all of them supplying equipment to the WET Team, these sponsors included Northern Diver who supplied Cylinders and Dive Lights and a Northern Diver bags for the Crews equipment, Analox who supplied a Nitrox Analyser, Dryrobe who supplied Dry Robes to members of the WET Team, GearAid supplied Cleaning and Repair equipment, Stream2Sea Supplied Alcohol Hand Sanitiser, Neptunic supplied T-Shirts and Rash Vests and Modena Journals supplied Journals to each member of the WET Team to make notes throughout the expedition.

Other sponsors included OThree who donated an array of items for Raffle Prizes and Finisterre who donated a £150 Voucher also for a raffle prize.

A prize raffle was run leading up to the trip, this raised £2,005 with £397 being given to each of the 3 projects that were supported, and the rest going towards supporting the team throughout the expedition. To reduce costs and minimise the teams carbon footprint, we lived life as simply as we could, which we did by staying at campsites.

In total the team collectively covered around 12,500 miles, with travelling taking between 5 – 10 hours to travel between each area of work.

Expedition Stats

  • Collective Miles driven – 12,500
  • Dive Sites Visited – 12
  • Max dive time – 74 Minutes
  • Collective Total Dive Time – 30.7 Hours / 1,847 Minutes
  • Max Depth Reached during Expedition – 34 Metres
  • Camp sites visited – 3
  • Collective Midge Bites (Scotland) – Unknown (Possibly Hundreds)
  • Largest Item of Pollution removed – Oil Drums
  • Projects Supported – 3
  • Total money raised during fundraiser – £2,005
  • Money raised for each charity – £397

Scotland

In Scotland, our team were supporting Shark & Skate Citizen Science Scotland, with Chris Richard and Dr Lauren Smith. Chris and Lauren are working alongside fisherman and the local community to better understand the movements of the Flapper Skate, an animal that was once in abundance, hence why it used to be called the Common Skate, but it is now classed as a Critically Endangered Species. Chris & Lauren have managed to identify an egg laying site of the Flapper Skate but are unsure of how many animals are using the site and with the surrounding area being used for fishing, it puts the site at risk. Thankfully the specific site is closed to fishing and even diving, Chris & Lauren are working to try and better understand the Skates and learn more about their movements as this will help them place better protections on not just the site itself, but also the routes the Skates are using in and out of the site.

The one thing they mentioned is that the local community are an almost untapped source of local knowledge and resources. Due to the rarity of Flapper Skates Chris and Lauren have put together a Facebook page where local divers, walkers and nature enthusiasts can report their sightings of Flapper Skates and other Shark & Ray species.

We left from Andy’s house in Wigan for around 10:30am and it took us around 10 hours to travel up and arrive at The Wee Campsite which is located on the shores of Loch Carron. As soon as we arrived, we were mobbed by thousands of Highland Midges which resulted in some members of the team having between 10 – 100 midge bites on a single arm. We were warned about this before heading up but we weren’t expecting the sheer amount of them.

The campsite was however situated amongst some of the most breath-taking landscapes and vistas that the UK has to offer. Once we had all set up camp and eaten, it was time to set up our cameras and make sure that we were packed and ready to set off for 9am the next morning.

The First day included diving the shores of Loch Duich with the first Dive Site being outside the Ratagan Youth Hostel, this had a gentle sloping seabed with a muddy bottom. Here lies a huge amount of Short-Clawed Squat Lobster, Brittle Stars, Harbour Crabs and Jellyfish. This dive was unbelievable in terms of the sheer amount of life and is a Macro Photographers dream with life that was not only in high abundance but were also confident allowing you to truly take your time in getting the shot.

The second Dive Site is known by the unfortunate name of the Rubbish Dump, this dive site sits below a small lay by that is known for dumping rubbish, and when you go underwater you see why. The wall was covered in rubbish that ranged from plates, fishing line, car tyres, and even more shocking, was the sheer amount of animal remains with skulls and bags of bones littering the seabed. Even with this sheer amount of waste present at the site, there was life clinging to the debris, from crabs who made makeshift homes beneath the rubbish, Lauren even found a Mermaids Purse that had been wrapped around discarded fishing line but after Lauren did a quick check, she concluded that the egg wasn’t hindered and rather than try and move it and damage the egg she decided to leave it to develop.

After the dive at the Rubbish Dump, Chris spotted what was first believed to be an Otter but as a surprise sighting it turned out to be an invasive American Mink who swam past the team with what was believed to be a Rockling in its mouth, only a few shots were able to be taken before it darted under some rocks.

The final Dive site of the first day is known as School Bay, this is once again a dive site with a muddy bottom. The mission on this dive was to find and photograph a Fireworks Anemone and Sea Pens. The dive site is essentially a bowl that drops to around 25 metres. Chris advised us to follow the slope down into the Bowl at a depth of 20-25 Metres and here we found huge amounts of life from Sea Pens, Sea Whips, Long-Spined Sea Scorpion and of course we found Fireworks Anemone. This site was being swept by a gentle current which was shown by how many filter feeding animals that were present here.

The only problems that we ran into on this site, was entry and exit from the water, as it was over a very rocky beach, followed by shallow areas with thick algae, so extra care was taken when walking and swimming with cameras.

After day one the team returned to the campsite and settled down, after eating and preparing cameras for the second day, to dive briefings for day 2 which were delivered by Chris and Lauren.

Day two in Scotland was a day of drift dives which first lead the team up to Conservation Bay a short drive from the campsite and a short walk down a slope to a gentle shore entry. The dive started on shallow kelp bed, but with a short swim out however had us swimming out into a gentle drift dive, the walls here were covered in Dead Man’s Fingers, Kelp and Anemones. Ollie managed to get some incredible footage here of the walls and life that clung in the gentle drift.

The second dive was another short drive to Castle Bay, a beautiful dive site which had Strome Castle overlooking the bay that we were diving in. The current on this dive was much faster, however manageable when we were trying to capture imagery and footage of the site. The walls on this site were once again adorned with Dead Man’s Fingers, Anemones, and Common Urchins, however the drift was fast enough that it lasted for around 20 minutes before slowing in much slower water. The wall at this point flattened out and became a gentle sandy floor with huge amounts of flatfish, decorator Crabs, Moon Jellyfish and Nudibranchs. This area alone would have constituted a dive all on its own due to the abundance of life that was present.

The final dive of day two was a quiet one with only two members of our team going down for this one, as other members of us went off to photograph the site from above water and conduct drone shots for the Expedition film that is currently in production. It was Chris and Ross who decided to get in for the final dive of the Scottish leg and they dived on a huge Maerl bed, Maerl is a hard Seaweed that forms huge carpets on the seabed and creates a diverse habitat for other wildlife, they reported back after the dive after seeing Nudibranchs, Butterfish and Flame Shells amongst the Maerl beds. Scotland was finished off with Chris and Lauren giving their interviews about what they do at Shark & Skate Citizen Science Scotland, along with some time to take images of some of the expedition’s sponsors.

After the final dive we spent an hour or so filming and taking photographs of expedition sponsors, and the general scenery before heading back to the campsite for the evening. The evening was spent with us chatting about the amazing diving we’d had during the Scottish leg and spoke about the next stop on Expedition WET’s itinerary, this was of course beautiful North Wales.

Tune in for the next entry of Expedition WET’s Trip report where I’ll be collaborating with Co-Scubaverse blogger Jake Davies, where we’ll be talking about Project Seagrass and about what the team saw and achieved during this amazing leg of the journey.

Header Image: WET Team in Neptunic gear. Photo Credit – Hannah Rose Milanković

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Wining and Diving – Gozo

Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown

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The Wining and Diving series sees Nick and Caroline Robertson-Brown embark on a tour to tickle the taste buds as well as to discover amazing dive sites in wine-making regions around the world. Some of the best wines are influenced by sea breezes and a coastal climate, allowing two of Nick and Caroline’s passions to be combined into one epic journey.

**Please note, Nick and Caroline are not encouraging drinking before diving! The two activities are kept well apart on each of these trips.


Gozo is one of the most popular diving destinations for British divers, offering stunning underwater scenic dives along with plenty of wreck diving. Add to this the sunshine, professional dive centres and the relatively short flight and it is a perfect short-haul getaway.

We went for a long weekend dive conference and had heard that there was also an excellent vineyard on the island for us to try out on our non-diving day before flying home – perfect! With only two days of diving on the itinerary we wanted to pack in a much as we could, but the weather and the fact that Caroline had fallen down the stairs the week before and was struggling to walk very far – we needed help and the team at Calypso Divers really went out of their way to accommodate us, so rather that the usual shore diving the island has to offer, we started out visiting some of the most popular dives by boat.

Cathedral Rock and the Blue Hole showed off the dramatic seascape that is a feature of Gozo, with cliffs towering up out of the sea, caves and caverns where the power of the waves has created an underwater playground for divers. We visit Crocodile rock to see the schools of barracuda and to hunt for nudibranchs.

Our final dive saw us visit the wreck of the MV Karwela. This wreck is famous for its staircase that divers can descend and makes for an excellent photo opportunity.

Gozo is also well worth exploring top-side, with beautiful beaches, plenty of history and some lovely places to stop, relax and enjoy the food and drink of the region. We visit the family-owned Tal-Massar winery which hosts twice-weekly tours for groups, taking guests through the winery’s private estate and allowing them to enjoy the spectacular, unspoiled surroundings.

Tours also include a wine tasting featuring at least four different wines, plus traditional Gozo bread and cheese, sundried tomatoes and cold pressed olive oil. It was all delicious!


Links

  • For more information about Frogfish Photography click here.
  • For information about visiting Malta and Gozo click here.
  • For details on the dive centre we dived with click here.
  • For more information about the wine we sampled: Tal-Massar Winery
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