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Diving with…Mark Murphy, Oyster Diving: London, Surrey, Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Kent, Hertfordshire and Sussex

European DTA Team

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In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…


What is your name?

Mark Murphy

What is the name of your business?

Oyster Luxury Travel & Diving Ltd

What is your role within the business?

Managing Director

How long has the business operated for?

14 years

How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?

I did my first Discover Scuba in the South of France in 1997 and completed my Open Water in 1999. I am currently a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer and have been teaching for 16 years.

What is your favorite type of diving?

Shark diving! There are few things in life that are as exhilarating as diving with sharks. They are amazing creatures that have been around since before the dinosaurs.

If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?

We are a professionally run 5 star PADI dive centre offering courses from beginner to instructor. Incorporated is a fully bonded travel centre which means we can offer holidays around the world as well as UK trips to our customers and club members. We stock the major brands of diving equipment at competitive prices and are proud to be an Aqua Lung partner centre. We have 6 pool locations around the South East to make it as easy as possible for customers to take their first breaths underwater.

What is your favorite dive in your location and why?

I’ve been really fortunately to have been to some truly amazing places including the Med, Red Sea, Mexico, Thailand, Virgin Islands, Barbados, Sudan, UK, Australia and Djibouti but nothing has ever come close to the Galapagos. The shear abundance of marine life, the giant schools of hammerheads and huge whale sharks is unlike anywhere else on earth. It’s very expensive but worth every penny.

What types of diving are available in your location?

We offer dives around the UK and we have regular boat dives off the South Coast close to our offices in Brighton. We also visit some of the inland sites to complete training and allow newer dives to gain additional experience.

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

Since we’ve become one of the largest dive centres in the UK I find that I am spending less time teaching courses then I used to. So, I’m always really pleased to receive thank you emails from customers that we have taught as it means that all the hard work we put in is paying off and our instructors and Divemasters are doing a great job.

What is your favorite underwater creature?

After sharks I love big schools of fish. Watching hundreds of barracudas swirling round and following each other’s tails is great to watch.  However, I could also just plonk myself on the sand (carefully of course) and spend hours just watch clown fish dancing around their anemone.

Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?

We have recently taken delivery of Ocean Reef Full Face masks with underwater comms so we can’t wait for our customers and instructors to give these a whirl. We’ve also just become stockists for Paralenz so it means that the quality of the videos we and our customers produce on our trips will be even better – even our most technophobes can operate them.

As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?

The biggest problem Oyster Diving face in the UK is awareness of the ‘referral system’. Many people in the UK have the idea that diving in the UK is dark and cold and don’t realise that you can complete the theory and pool skills saving on valuable holiday time. If the industry could generate more awareness of the referral system then it would allow our instructors to educate people about ways to keep warm and talk about some of the great dive sites we have in this country. This means they could carry on diving on returning from holiday and continue their new passion instead of just forgetting about it and moving on to the next challenge.

I find that the other challenge in the UK is getting new divers boat diving in the sea. If you look at most of the dive boats these days they have an aging population of men on them who have been diving for years. I believe the one of the reasons for this is that many of the dive boats don’t offer the same level of service that people find on their overseas holiday. So, when people do go for their first UK sea dive they are usually disappointed, feel uncared for or are just scared.

A lot of new divers are understandably anxious when they do their first sea dive. I think it would be great for the industry to have boats that offer proper briefings, an experienced guide that knows the dive site and an option for some decent food (even if it’s sandwiches and hot chocolate) or a few few other luxuries.

We are trying to introduce this level of service to our South Coast boat dives but without owning our own boat it is very difficult.

Is your center involved in any environmental work?

We believe that as divers we are the ambassadors for the underwater world and need to educate people on the impact that our lifestyles are having on the environment. We have set up some corporate dive clubs where we give regular talks on what we can do to help our oceans. We regularly post on our social media and newsletters with the latest news. We have run many ‘Project Shark’ trips with blue o two which have also encouraged many of our customers to spread the word about the plight of many shark species.

How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?

I think in the modern age of cheap and fast travel it gives us a great opportunity to visit destinations that would never have accessible to our parents. I would like to see more schools offering diving and holidays to accompany their usual annual ski trip. Diving offers kids the chance to put many of their subjects they learn such as physics, chemistry, maths, biology and history in to practice in a fun and rewarding manner. Unlike many school sports you don’t have to be a great sportsperson to be a great diver so everyone can get involved regardless of age and sex.

On school trips we run we find the students really bond with each other despite being in different year groups and coming from different backgrounds and it makes them much more sociable when they return home as well as having a new passion that can be used in a future career.

What would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?

I would say come along to one of drinks nights in London or Brighton and meet some new friends. We have a great crowd with people from all different ages, different levels of dive experience and from different backgrounds from bin men to wealthy stock brokers. By meeting like-minded friendly people opens up the opportunity to join our holidays around the world and have some amazing experiences.

Where can our visitors find out more about your business

We have two websites:

Dive School, Club and Holidays – www.oysterdiving.com

Online dive shop www.oysterdivingshop.com

We have a freephone number 0800 699 0243 and people are always welcome to e-mail us at info@oysterdiving.com.

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Marine wildlife experiences you never knew existed in the UK

European DTA Team

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You don’t need to travel abroad for spectacular wildlife encounters that can also help to protect our seas

When dreaming up your next marine-based wildlife adventure, it’s common that our minds instantly drift to those exotic tropical locations famed for their mystical megafauna and turquoise waters. Marine conservation projects are plentiful and for many, this is a trip of a lifetime.

This year, those unable to travel and desperate for their next ocean adventure have been looking back towards our own shorelines, with many shocked with what they’ve discovered. It’s well known the UK boasts some of the most dramatic and varied coastlines in the world, but what lies beneath the waves is often as spectacular as it is overlooked.

Marine conservation organisation Blue Ventures and marine scientist and presenter Charlie Young are on a mission to change this by launching Saltwater Britain, a series of ocean adventures with impact, showcasing the very best of the UK’s marine wildlife and the chance to help protect the incredible biodiversity found across the British Isles.

shark

Image: Nicki Meharg

Blending science with adventure the Saltwater Britain 2021 expedition series is now running:

  • Scuba diving in the Farne Islands – Northumberland, England (September 21’) Home to thousands of grey seals, each autumn hundreds of pups are born here. Scuba diving in the temperate waters around these stunning islands you’re able to get up close and personal with the UK’s largest native carnivore. Read more about diving in the Farne Islands here.
  • Cetacean surveying and conservation retreat – Cardigan, Wales (March 22’) A four-day conservation retreat that packs in everything from dolphin surveying to conservation workshops and mindfulness. All based at the breathtaking forest eco-retreat in West Wales this wildlife retreat will live long in the memory. Read more about the cetacean conservation retreat.

Not only can UK marine experiences match those found in the tropics, removing the need for long distance travel cuts down costs, minimises your carbon footprint and supports the local organisations that are integral to restoring healthy marine ecosystems. To ensure its positive impact on the planet Saltwater Britain invests 100% of its profits straight back into fueling conservation that is both urgent and critical.

Blue Ventures is an award-winning marine conservation charity with over 18 years of experience running marine conservation expeditions and rebuilding marine ecosystems.

Visit the website for more information or to talk to the team at hello@saltwaterbritain.org.

Cover image: Charlie Young

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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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