The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
I don't usually get worked up enough to write to magazines, even DIVER, which I buy each month. But at the moment I am feeling pretty pleased with myself. One of my other hobbies is golf, and my club has an excellent menu, which satisfies one of my other hobbies!
Imagine my dismay when I noticed a new item on the menu: "Shark Steak". Obviously, being a diver this did not sit well with me. So I wrote to the secretary explaining the plight of our sharks, with the help of a lot of text from the shark-conservation sites.
Weeks passed, and I was preparing for a face-to-face confrontation when the club phoned me. It had decided to investigate for itself. After all, it is its menu, and who was I to tell it what to do with it?
However, on raising my concerns with its two fish suppliers one had agreed and, due to much bigger environmental pressure than I could exert, was no longer going to supply shark meat at all. The second supplier agreed with the facts but said that the meat it supplied was a bycatch of long-line tuna fishing.
I was beginning to think that the golf club was going to blank my request for removal of shark steak from the menu. But no, the club said that it too was an integral part of the environment, and through careful management was trying to encourage wildlife onto the course if at all possible. The shark steak would be removed from the menu, never to appear again, and it would throw away the shark it had left.
So well done to Bromsgrove Golf Centre. My point is that if we sit around and do nothing, we affect nothing. But if we all challenge things like this when we see them, maybe, just maybe, we can make a difference. Oh, and from now on I am to be known as Swampy!
Bob Coy, Redditch
Ever wondered where all the schools of big-eye trevally have gone? Where are the huge swirling vortices of barracuda that we loved to be engulfed by? What about the vast herds of marauding bumphead parrotfish that we gazed at as they munched their way across coral grazing fields? Or those impossibly large Napoleon wrasse that we would frequently encounter on our diving holidays?
Here's the bad news - they have all gone. I'm afraid we've eaten them all. And they won't be coming back unless we do something about it.
Now for the good news - we can do something about it and bring them back. It's simple; just stop eating them! When the buying stops, fishing can too!
You don't believe your efforts will make a telling difference? Consider this: even in a small tourist resort destination such as Phuket in Thailand, if every tourist said "no" to fish just once when on holiday, that small action would save the lives of 4 million fish a year.
Imagine the dive sites if they were enriched by that number of marine creatures!
We can help maintain stocks of fish by declaring and protecting no-take marine-protected areas. But we must also help reduce the demand for caught fish, as it is clearly unsustainable at current levels.
Aren't we divers supposed to be the proud ambassadors and guardians of the marine environment? You wouldn't take sea shells and corals home from the seabed, so why take fish and seafood? They are equally valuable assets.
A cynic might say that divers eating fish is like wildlife enthusiasts going on safari and eating cheetah cutlets and wild-dog stew, or Green-peace activists munching on whale steaks as they make their way across the South Pacific on Rainbow Warrior II!
So help return our reefs to the time when rare and endangered large fish species could be regularly encountered, and we'll be sure to come back for more!
Sheldon Hey, Dive The World, Phuket, Thailand
What a load of namby-pamby whingers you divers are! Ever since I did a spot of scallop-dredging on the East Tennants in Lyme Bay, I've had nothing but earache.
Just because I smashed up a few of them seafan things. I don't know what all the fuss is about - they'll grow back again in a few hundred years (if they're left alone, that is, which of course, they won't be - that's a good few scallops I got there).
Listen, you divers just need to get your facts right before you go on complaining.
None of your so-called dives sites has any legal protection whatsoever. I could trash the lot of 'em if I felt like it, and there's nothing you could do about it.
Actually, I did hear there is one tiny speck of coastline off Lundy Island that has been made into some kind of "No Take Zone". But what a waste that is! I mean, there's no point in having all those huge lobsters if no-one's allowed to catch 'em, is there?
I suppose you've heard the rumours about this Marine Bill going through Parliament. They say it might beef up the protection for some of these marine habitats and whatnot, so I suppose some of you are busy scribbling letters to your local MP about it.
What a laugh! As if they'll take any notice of you lot, with your rubber suits and funny feet. After all, everybody knows there's nothing worth seeing down there anyway.
See, it doesn't matter if you divers do out-number us fishermen by about 10 to one, we've got a proper industry lobby group, we have, so no amount of moaning on by you is going to make any difference.
Well, I suppose a few of them inland MPs might pay a bit of mind, seeing as how they don't have any real sea-going folk to vote for 'em. And then there's all those tourism jobs round the coast - I suppose that might get a few of 'em confused, too.
Of course, I know not everyone in the fishing industry shares my views. I've heard there's some that's actually starting to think this "sustainable development" thing might be the right thing to do after all.
Spent too much time ashore with you lot, that's their problem! They're just a bunch of haddock-huggers - the only thing I'm interested in sustaining is my bank balance.
PS: See www.marine-bio-images.com/ Marine_bio_images_Reef_Research_index.htm for the Lyme Bay sea-fan survey results before and after scallop-dredging, and www.mcsuk.org for more on the Marine Bill.
Cap'n Haddock (aka Mick Quickfall), Bromsgrove
I have tried to follow the logic of the various arguments on whether wrecks can be dived or not, but I am still confused. There are three main camps in the debate: divers who wish to dive wrecks without restriction, archaeological people who wish to restrict/ban access to wrecks; and the families of those who were lost, who also want to restrict/ban access.
The first group's position is straightforward, but the thrust of the archaeological group's argument seems to be that if divers are allowed free access, they'll mess everything up.
So just what are they going to mess up? These wrecks have been through some major event that caused them to sink.
They have fallen through the water column to smash into the seabed. They have sat there being acted on by tides and currents, their metal bits corroding away.
I remember overseeing the recovery of wreckage and bodies after a helicopter crash in the sea in 30m. Even in such a shallow location, the debris field was extensive.
If the archaeologists asked for information from divers, I'm sure the response would be more than favourable, and would provide them with a very cheap workforce.
Members of the family group are concerned mainly about desecration of the resting place of their loved ones.
You hear phrases such as: "They went down with the ship" or: "They were lost when the ship sank", which seem to imply that the bodies are lying there inside the wreck.
Hollywood has to take much of the blame. The fact is that if a boat is sinking on you, you don't just sit there, you try to get off. I know, I've been there.
Even if you're not able to help yourself, badly injured, unconscious or dead, you are still likely to float away from the wreck. The exception is something like the Kursk submarine incident, where again I had some peripheral involvement in the salvage.
You can't compare a shipwreck with a grave on land. Anybody lost at the time of the sinking is unlikely to have ended up in the area of the wreck, and crabs, prawns, lobsters and fish will have recycled any remains, bones and all!
So what is there left really to desecrate? Harsh? Probably. Unfeeling? Not intentionally. True? I'm afraid so.
There is a fourth group, the commercial operators, salvors, wreck dispersers and the like. Salvage operations are not like John Wayne movies with clear vis, diving in MkV Standard gear and loading work baskets with gold bars.
Often no divers enter the water - a target is identified with a depth-sounder and a crane and grab go to work, bringing up any and everything with which the grab comes into contact.
When I became a commercial diver in the '70s, I worked for a firm that had a contract with Trinity House. Several East Coast wrecks had Trinity House buoys on them, and they wanted these removed to save money on maintenance. The easiest way to allow this was to reduce the wrecks' height off the seabed.
On more than a few of these wrecks lives had been lost when they sank, but we checked for remains, and provided nothing was found we didn't consider it a grave and blew it.
I've seen no comment from the fourth group - I guess they're probably just keeping their heads down and getting on with business.
Andy Roberts, Brundall, Norwich
My last visit to Hurghada was 10 years ago to do my Advanced Open Water Course. Then there were three or four decent hotels, the majority of visitors were divers, and the dive boats were dedicated to divers only.
We have just returned from a week in Hurghada, where there are numerous luxury hotels and divers are now in the minority.
Dive boats are now multi-purpose, taking divers, snorkellers and Discover Scuba people. For four of the five days we dived we were the most experienced divers on the boat, and felt like Master Yoda from Star Wars as we were approached by trainees and just-qualified divers for advice, or just to talk about where we'd been and what we'd seen.
Do I mourn the passing of the Red Sea as a diver-only reserve? Of course. But when you see the faces of the young and older having seen the wonders below the surface for the first time - if only one of them helps to protect and preserve this delicate eco-system, it's worth giving up diving's exclusivity.
The coral is still beautiful - every dive is another day in paradise and every day brings something new. This year for the first time we saw dolphins , and blue-spotted rays mating . How can it be wrong to share all this with others?
Marie Jewkes, Nuneaton
I can't believe that after six years of diving I have only just paid my first visit to the Red Sea. I took some friends to Dahab to teach them Open Water and Advanced Open Water, and we were all amazed at the overwhelming hospitality and warmth of the local people.
The diving was spectacular, the food delicious and the weather perfect - it was impossible to fault the week.
The only downside was the distinct lack of other tourists, though it was certainly nice to be alone at the dive sites.
The restaurants and hotels were near-empty, and on talking to the locals it seems that many jobs have been lost and business has slumped following the recent bombings.
I know the diving community has rallied round following these terrible events, but it seems this has not been enough.
I only hope that business in Dahab picks up again soon, and that the beautiful people of the Sinai are rewarded for their strength and determination in the face of adversity. I will certainly be visiting again.
Tabitha Codd, Chichester, West Sussex
Saturday 28 May was a day that my dive club, Romsey Sub Aqua (RSA), will not allow me to forget in a hurry. Not only was it my first dive of the season but it was also my first dive with the club.
The evening before and the morning of the dive I had packed and unpacked my dive bag at least three times to ensure that I hadn't forgotten anything. I had even brushed up on the buddy check BWRAF (BC, Weights, Regulator, Air and Final check), for obvious reasons. Once satisfied that I had everything, I set off for Horsea Island.
The club has now modified the procedure especially for me to BWRAFK, because after getting completely kitted up five minutes before the dive, I stupidly locked not only my car keys but also my spare keys in the car.
After numerous profanities and jokes from my fellow-divers, I called the AA. The operator also found the situation highly amusing, but when the AA man turned up he told me it wasn't the first time he had helped a diver who had locked both sets of keys in the car.
I think he was just trying to console me. Anyway, it didn't take him long to break into my new car, which was a little worrying.
Suffice to say that I missed the first dive, but I had a first-class second dive, which was good considering where I was. I have recently been informed that I have been nominated for RSA Boob of the Year 2006.
Will Murphy, Romsey, Hants
I have just read, with some amazement, John Bantin's excellent article on excess baggage charges (Weighed Down By In-Flight Regulations, Deep Breath, August). If the airlines insist on introducing these punitive charges, it must mean that fewer divers will travel as often.
I have just returned from the Caribbean with BMI, and had no problems with the weight allowance as it stands today, but at 58kg I was getting pretty close to the limit.
I have pared my gear down as far as is safely possible, including a lightweight travel wing and only a 5mm shortie suit, and very little clothing - a few T-shirts and shorts (and a pair of sandals for evening wear) usually suffice - to keep the weight to a minimum.
So I feel very sorry for other divers who need considerably more kit than I do. At this rate, their baggage excess will cost considerably more than the flight itself !
If this is to be the case, it may well work out cheaper, where possible, to buy some of your gear at your destination and flog it back to the local dive-shop on your return!
What a farce! The only fair way to set weight charges is to add the traveller's own weight to his or her baggage, including the "one item of sports equipment" that is allowed, and then have a scale of charges that reflects the total.
In the ensuing rush by passengers to lose weight, thereby saving money, the main bene-ficiary of this would, however, probably be the NHS, and thence the the Treasury, which could then afford to subsidise the airlines - which could then afford to provide cheaper flights for all. Easy!
John Hurst, Bolton
Re your article on BA baggage allowances (DIVER News, August), I recently had an adverse experience with Easy Jet and its policy on excess baggage charges.
Although most airlines these days allow extra allowance for scuba gear, Easy Jet does not yet appear to have heeded the pleas of us divers. It refused to accept my scuba gear as "sports equipment" and promptly charged me £40 excess baggage (£5 x 8kg).
Has anyone else had the same problems with Easy Jet? Its customer service desk failed to respond to any of my four email enquiries.
Tony Faulkner, Bo'ness, West Lothian
I read Yvette's letter about buying a face mask in London with interest (Should We beware Black Masks?, Medical Q&A, July). We are a central London store and offer eight masks with black silicone skirts.
We carry these mainly for freedivers and for underwater video and stills photographers, for whom black skirts offer specific advantages.
I am unaware of black skirts being implicated in provoking narcosis. Before silicone mask skirts were introduced in the '70s, all dive masks had opaque skirts. They were also higher-volume, so the skirt had a more pronounced blinkering effect.
It seems unlikely that narcosis was a greater issue then than it is today.
Steve Warren, Mavericks Diving, London