Around the world, it’s the same story: divers used to being in the water everyday are finding themselves stuck at home. Programs, training, dive expos, expeditions and underwater research have all been cancelled or postponed. But what about the divers who couldn’t just pack up their bags and wait until the pandemic blew over? We sat down with Vasilis Mentogiannis, founder of the Hippocampus Marine Institute, to hear about ‘prototype housing’, his underwater surveillance project nearly destroyed by the pandemic.
A Diver’s Greek Paradise
Since 2007, Vasilis Mentogiannis has dedicated his professional life to studying seahorses. Fast forward a decade and Vasilis founded the Hippocampus Marine Institute, a non-profit organization whose main focus is the study and protection of seahorses. His work didn’t stop there, however. Up until the days of the COVID-19 outbreak, he had spent his time doing research with a team at a wreck site just off the coast of Peristera Island in Greece. On this particular Greek island, divers are able to examine one of the most important wrecks of the classical era (sometime around 425 BC), as this sunken merchant barge carried more than 3,000 wine amphorae.
A Narrow Escape
It was at this very spot, as Vasilis and his research team were installing their prototype housing system around the amphorae that they received the order to evacuate. When asked further about the project, Vasilis responded that prototype housing is “the installation of an underwater, self-powered system (equipped with solar panels) providing real-time video streaming from five cameras. The housing system is connected to a land station which collects data and statistics regarding the weather, wind speed and direction, rainfall, and UV rays at the wreck site. The ultimate goal is to collect all data necessary to create the technical conditions for breeding seahorses in order to implement their population.”
Today, this area is closed off to divers, and the camera system is able to both live-stream the wreck site from underwater for anyone to see online as well as provide surveillance, keeping the location safe from any such divers thinking they might like to make off with an amphora or two. Unfortunately, the global pandemic brought Vasilis’ work to a screeching halt. “When the virus made its way to Greece, we were still performing the system installation. It was really difficult because we had to stop all our activities and return to Athens.” Vasilis goes on to explain the potential danger of leaving a project like this so abruptly and unfinished, “If we had left the system as it was, it would have been destroyed as soon as the next bout of bad weather hit.”
Luckily, Vasilis and his team were able to finish the installation in time as well as apply a few key protective measures. “It was a really stressful situation. The day after we left the site, the weather got bad. I imagine if we hadn’t stayed to secure it, it would have been destroyed by now.” The potential losses were enormous, Mentogiannis continues, including a 200-meter power cable and fiber optic cable, an underwater hub, solar panels, batteries, etc.
Vasilis credits the company Divesoft for the role it played in providing the much-needed equipment that made such a time-critical project possible. The reliable Freedom computers came in when Vasilis was feeling the pressure to complete the installation. With the help of a good team and the right dive gear, Vasilis was able to complete the project in time, making his prototype housing system a success.
Prototype Housing’s Next Application
Now, Vasilis is waiting at home, hoping the outbreak will come to an end as soon as possible. His intentions are to prepare his prototype housing “seahorse cage-hotels” for surveying and protecting the Stratoni seahorse colony (also located in Greece, just north of the Peristera Island wreck). “The same system will be tested in Stratoni, but with a different task. The main goal will be to recognize the seahorses and provide as much feedback and information as possible,” explains Vasilis. “One of our first systems is about 90% ready, but we haven’t been able to test it as the virus closed all of us off at home.”
Hope for the Future
We’re looking forward to the day to come in which Vasilis, his team, as well as the rest of us, can return to the water. At times like these, we have to keep positive and try to focus on the good. Vasilis is more than satisfied that they were able to finish their installation work and save their project in Greece. Now he, like so many of us, is just itching to get back to his prototype housing projects, and is especially looking forward to seeing the seahorses again. Coronavirus may have succeeded at slowing Vasilis and his team down, but the fight’s not over yet. A priority to preserve and safeguard the remaining seahorse population in the area remains.
For more information about the Hippocampus Marine Institute visit their website by clicking here.
Amazing Alonissos – The all round dive vacation destination
In early summer we were given a wonderful opportunity to visit Alonissos in the Sporades Islands in the northern Aegean Sea. This green and forested island sits at the edge of the Alonissos National Marine Park, the largest marine protected area in Europe. Our main focus was to be scuba diving, but during our short stay we were especially impressed with all of the other activities and experiences available on Alonissos for the discerning vacationer.
The scuba diving was really outstanding. In contrast to some areas of the Mediterranean, the marine biodiversity here was impressively diverse and abundant. Our short stay meant we just had a small taste of the diving available, however our hosts at Alonissos Triton Dive Center treated us to some exceptional sites from their impressively long list. The variety of marine life we encountered was a delight: large Gorgonian sea fans, many species of nudibranchs, small pipefish to large groupers, octopus, and much more.
One of the most incredible experiences was the chance to dive the oldest accessible shipwreck in the world, the Ancient Shipwreck of Peristera underwater archeological site from 500 BC … an amazing dive site with a very unique automated underwater museum monitoring system in place to protect its archaeological heritage. It was a busy but hugely satisfying few days of diving and we could certainly spend much longer on this idyllic isle!
Greece has a huge number of beautiful islands to visit, so why choose Alonissos?
This island is one of the quieter Greek islands and as such has a very relaxed and welcoming feel, where you can find an authentic slice of the Aegean region. And, it is really easy to get there — so many airports in the UK offer flight connections directly to Skiathos (the hub of the Sporades) that you should not have to drive more than 100km in the UK to an airport.
Finally, the variety of non-diving activities is hard to beat. There are boating day trips into the National Marine Park, taking you to visit secluded beaches and giving you a chance to see some amazing wildlife (such as monk seals, Eleonora’s Falcon, and several species of dolphin to name a few). Both the main port town of Patitiri and the old village of Chora are full of interesting shops, charming alleyways, and restaurants with delicious meals. As an added bonus, the Alonissos cheese pie is a particularly moreish local specialty!
As a holiday destination, Alonissos really had everything one could ask for. Look for our full print article in an upcoming issue of Scubaverse’s own Dive Travel Adventures magazine!
The Municipality of Alonissos (https://alonissos.gr/en/)
Alonissos Triton Dive Center (https://bestdivingingreece.com)
Alonissos National Marine Park (https://alonissos.gr/en/marine-park/overview.html)
Paradise Hotel (https://paradise-hotel.gr/)
Albedo Travel (https://alonissosholidays.com/)
Diving With… Sporades Diving Group in Skopelos & Alonissos Islands, Greece
What is your name?
(Anastasios) Tasos Ktistis
What is the name of your business?
Sporades Diving: Skopelos Dive Center operates in Skopelos island and Ikion Diving that operates in Alonissos island, which is run by my business partner Kostas Danis.
What is your role within the business?
Master Scuba Diving Trainer PADI & Co-Owner of Skopelos Dive Center & Manager of Skopelos Island diving operations
How long has the business operated for?
How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?
I have been diving since 2012. I am a Mechanical Engineer with a BA in Documentary Photography and since 2012 I am qualified as a Master Scuba Diving Trainer PADI, since 2021 Tec65 diver and since 2022 as a Tec40 Diving Instructor
What is your favorite type of diving?
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 offer our clients a safe and relaxed type of diving in the exciting and crystal-clear waters of the Sporades islands in Greece. Christoforos and Peristera’s ancient wreck are two must dive destinations.
What is your favorite dive in your location and why?
My favorite dive location is the “Christophoros” shipwreck. A 83m long modern shipwreck that sank in 1983 in Panormos Bay in Skopelos island. As a wreck diving lover, I am so excited that as one of our dive locations I get to dive on this amazing site with our clients.
What types of diving are available in your location?
On our dive sites the rocky landscape is dominant with beautiful reefs, walls and caverns that I am sure everyone will enjoy. And of course wreck diving at the “Christophoros” shipwreck
What do you find most rewarding about your current role?
The satisfaction and the happiness on our clients’ faces after a dive.
What is your favorite underwater creature?
As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?
I would say the fact that the Sporades islands have a short summer season (July-August) although the weather is ideal for diving from May till October.
Is your center involved in any environmental work?
Of course we are! First of all, we are all great advocates of the less plastic movement that has started in 2014, not only in Skopelos but also in Alonissos (Ikion Diving). We participate in underwater clean-ups as well as in projects for local management of plastic waste (#zeroplastic with iSea and Re-Shape plastic-funded by Beyond Plastic MED.)
Are there any exciting changes / developments coming up in the near future?
We currently aspire to get more involved in Scientific Diving projects by actively supporting the operations through our involvement in EU funded projects, while at the same time we are also exploring the possibilities of Technical Diving as me and my partner of the Alonissos base, Kostas Danis, are certified PADI Tec40 Instructors. We believe that in the future our business will be well known for not only its recreational diving services but also its involvement with the Scientific Diving community through its technical diving services and expertise.
How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?
I believe that SCUBA and in general alternative tourism becomes more inclusive and even more people are interested to get to engage in this type of activities that ultimately protect the environment by raising awareness of the public about the ecosystem of the sea and its significance to a viable future.
Finally, what would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer?
At Skopelos Dive Center and Ikion Diving Alonissos (Sporades Diving Group) you can create fantastic underwater experiences – including guided dives, PADI courses, and snorkeling tours combining the two islands. It is our goal to create a safe, comfortable experience for divers of all abilities.
Where can our visitors find out more about your business? (This is where you enter your contact details and any specific details on how our audience can reach you)
Skopelos Dive Center (Skopelos Island)
Ikion Diving Alonissos (Alonissos island)
+30 6940 448 004 (WhatsApp: +30 6984181598)