Tune in with with Mom and Danja
A mother and daughter diving team has produced a guide that aims to make you more focused on the wonders you swim past, not that you'd miss a dolphin or a lionfish. By John Bantin.
Non-divers remain nonplussed when you try to explain the excitement of finding a frogfish or a leaf-fish during a dive, but once you get tuned in to seeing such marvellous examples of marine life, you seem to see them everywhere.
"Tuning-in" is what New Holland's coffee-table volume The Underwater Explorer, sub-titled Secrets of a Blue Universe, is all about. A joint effort by a mother and daughter, their excellent macro photographs enrich the pages and will show you what a cockatoo waspfish or a ghost pipefish looks like before they explain how to go about seeing it.
"A profusely populated reef is visually overwhelming. Divers must learn to concentrate on individual species," is their message.
Hawkfish, wire coral shrimps, merlet's scorpionfish, sabre-toothed blennies, crocodile fish, allied cowries, decorator crabs, hingebeak shrimps, depressed crabs, translucent gobies, imperial shrimps, peppermint seacucumbers, eggshell anenome shrimps, anglerfish, peacock flounders and endless nudibranchs - just a few of the species that the authors say divers regularly swim past, oblivious of their presence. No wonder the crabs are depressed!
The book tells you where to look and what to look for. One chapter is devoted to life to be found on featherstars, another to cellapods, those masters of disguise. Then there are the seastars, assorted crustaceans and the magnificently bedecked worms of the sea.
Finally comes a chapter devoted to mankind and the environment. I found this a little out-of-step with what is otherwise a very interesting and practical book. It is as if the authors dropped in something extra in the name of political correctness.
Some of the picture-captions sit uncomfortably with the situation illustrated and fail to ring true: "Danja on the point of releasing a (inflated) porcupine pufferfish just rescued from some novice divers who were unaware of its distress" is one that comes to mind.
Putting aside these last few pages, I found the content of the book intriguing. If more divers took an interest in such matters perhaps we would hear less of the question: "What was it before you trod on it?"
The Underwater Explorer by Anne-marie and Danja Koehler, New Holland 0171 724 7773. Hardback £17.99.
The meat of Malta, but not the best cuts
Frank Allen believes a new guide to the dive sites of Malta might make a
serviceable holiday aid, although it falls well short of covering the best the island has to offer.
IT SEEMS that wherever you want to go diving, be it in search of the lost island of Atlantis or in a village pond in Ambridge, a diver's guide of some sort has been written about it. Maltese Islands Diving Guide by Ned Middleton seeks to add another well-established diving spot to the list.
To be fair, the book is a well-presented and interesting piece of work. It opens with a brief summary of Malta's turbulent past and leads the reader through a number of good introductory sections on general diving conditions, wreck diving, flora and fauna and environmental hazards. Then comes the meat: detailed descriptions of 28 dive sites.
For ease of reference each is dealt with in a standard format: a map and illustration precedes a comprehensive section describing the location, the dive itself and tips on photographic possibilities.
This layout is easy to follow and in each case the text is supported by four or five good colour pictures per page. Their richness gives the book much of its appeal.
If Ned Middleton had chosen to call this book The Holiday Diver's Guide to the Maltese Islands, my only grumble would be about some of the strange terminology he uses.
In the section about a World War Two Blenheim bomber, for example, he talks about the "English Air Force", the aircraft's "control lever" and even speculates about the crew "ejecting" prior to the crash. He is equally uncertain about the difference between a fuselage and a tailplane, and there are many similar errors.
However, my main worry is the claim that the book describes the most outstanding dive sites around Malta and Gozo. While certainly interesting, the wrecks of HMS Maori, the Carolita barge and a deliberately scuttled diver attraction (a tug) in no way deserve the tag of "outstanding". One or two other sites fall into the same category.
As a holiday guide this book will prove very useful to those making their first trip to Malta. But no one should make the mistake of believing that the sites described are the best the islands have to offer. They aren't - not by a long chalk.
Maltese Islands Diving Guide by Ned Middleton, Swan Hill Press 01743 235651. Hardback £16.95.
Hurghada after the rescue
In November we reported on the hasty preparation of a dive guide to the Hurghada area of the Red Sea. Now it's published, and Mark Webster thinks it will do very nicely.
Any diver who has visited the Red Sea regularly over the past 10 years - 20 in my case - will have noticed the damage to popular reefs brought about by the expansion of diving tourism.
This was inevitable given the popularity of the sport and the accessibility of the Egyptian Red Sea, but sadly it has taken years for the authorities to realise that measures must be taken to arrest damage and provide protection.
The problem is not caused solely by divers but by careless or indiscriminate anchoring by diving charter boats and the tendency to congregate too many boats on popular sites.
Hurghada, with some of the hardest-hit reefs, has been the first to tackle the problem with the establishment of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association, or HEPCA. The core of this protection system is the installation of 250 permanent mooring buoys around the most popular sites offshore from Hurghada and Safaga further south.
HEPCA is funded by donations from USAID, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency and Ministry of Tourism and local businesses and diving operators.
Now it has produced its own diving guide to the area, and proceeds from sales will help to maintain and expand the mooring system and fund training schemes for charter-boat skippers and crews.
The handbook comes in a useful wirebound format that will fit easily into a dive bag, but the heavy paper pages are not waterproof, so keep it in a plastic bag.
It provides background to the HEPCA project and an overview of the code of behaviour for both diving operators and visiting divers, before going on to cover individual dive sites. Hurghada, Shaab Abu Nuhas and Safaga each get their own introductions and maps.
Included too is a four-page guide to the most common fish types, with small photographs and common names.
The dive sites are illustrated and described by Pete Harrison, who is well qualified to comment. He has worked in the area as a dive guide and has a degree in marine biology in addition to his artistic skills.
Readers of Diver will be familiar with his bold illustrative style, which produces clear and easy-to-follow coloured diagrams. Having dived many of these sites myself I can vouch for their accuracy, and the presentation will please both novice and old campaigner alike.
Information for each site is concise and covers location, likely sea conditions and prevailing currents, a suggested dive plan and a short marine life guide with mention of any rare species you might encounter.
Most of these sites have permanent moorings established, identified by red dots. The most popular show several moorings but this does not necessarily identify them as being badly damaged, as many moorings are preventative rather than recuperative.
Having the basic facts on each site in this guide will aid dive-planning and log-completion, while the drawings can be transcribed to logbooks for future reference. They are a better representation than many of the more optimistic diagrams in other guides to the area.
I hope HEPCA's efforts will be mirrored at the popular dive sites accessible from Sharm El Sheikh, which have suffered just as much. Permanent moorings are a success story in other locations, particularly the Caribbean, and there is still time to preserve the Red Sea's most popular sites with the right effort and education.
The Official Dive Guide to Hurghada and Safaga by Pete Harrison, HEPCA, 002065 445035, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
a MARINE life identification guide has a lot to live up to (writes Paul Kay). I had some photographs of as-yet-unidentified marine creatures I had taken recently in waters covered by A Guide to the Seashores of Eastern Africa, so I sat down with a lightbox, magnifier, slides and the book. All bar two of my pictures were identifiable, which was impressive, because photos are not always easy to identify from drawings.
This is a fascinating reference book, crammed with intriguing colour drawings. Presentation is conventional, with each page of descriptions adjacent to a page of illustrations. The pictures are clear and of reasonable size. Text is obviously aimed at readers with some biological knowledge, and makes no attempt to steer away from the technical terms deemed necessary for identification.
At 448 pages this is a pretty comprehensive book, although even a solid softback like this can show only so much. It is a very good buy at 20. Flicking through the picture pages made me want to book a flight to the warm waters off eastern Africa. Talking of which, perhaps the only real drawback with this book is its weight...
A Guide to the Seashores of Eastern Africa and the Western Indian Ocean Islands, edited by Matthew D Richmond, Tyler's Academic Books, 01248 372057. Softback £20.
New, improved Clyde
When Clyde Shipwrecks and its companion Argyll Shipwrecks were first published, it followed many years of painstaking research on the part of Peter Moir and Ian Crawford. They have not stopped there, because Clyde Shipwrecks has been updated with an extra 16 pages, including new wrecks, more photographs, superb positional maps and GPS co-ordinates for the most popular dives off the west coast of Scotland.
Available now only in hardback, each book is split into five chapters. The former covers Bowling to the Mull of Galloway, the latter the Mull of Kintyre to Skerryvore. Each wreck is examined from a historical, diving, marine life and photographic point of view.
Original photographs of the ships, numerous plans and underwater drawings are included, and virtually every wreck gets its own location map and transit sightings. There are detailed descriptions of 283 wrecks and additional information on another 469 that have been lost.
I regard these two books as the definitive wreck guides to the south and west of Scotland.
Clyde Shipwrecks and Argyll Shipwrecks by Peter Moir and Ian Crawford. Moir-Crawford, 01475 520141. Hardback £12.95.
Appeared in DIVER - June 1998