GAVIN: British divers love to wreck dive. What do you feel about the removal of artefacts from wrecks, and the new code of conduct being promoted by the main diver training organisations, the Department of Transport and Ministry of Defence?
JOHN:It depends what and where the wreck is. If divers visit the site every week, it won't be worth taking anything off, but if you find something new, it should be possible to take something to help you identify the vessel.
TONY: We find unknown 49s off Dymchurch with no identifying marks, but if you find something with the name of the ship on it, there's no problem taking it off. However, if the wreck is 17th or 18th century, by all means pick up stuff, but let's restore it and put it in a museum.
DOMINIC: But why are you taking stuff off wrecks? Once it's gone, nobody else will see it.
TONY: Yeah, but it's like the Titanic - why are they touching that? You can't stop one person doing one thing and then let another go ahead.
DAVE: But they're only taking that to preserve it.
DOMINIC: Some are. Some are just salvaging.
DAVE: It depends whether you're doing it for salvage or archaeology. I know guys who pull stuff off boats and make a museum out of it.
ANDY: Surely that's a good thing.
GAVIN: So what do you think of folk going down to a popular wreck and ripping the portholes off because they're brass?
DOMINIC: A porthole in a museum doesn't tell you anything, does it? You're also taking details away from other divers in the future.
TONY: The trouble is, I don't think there are many divers who wouldn't go down to get a porthole.
DAVE: Anyone going down and seeing a porthole lying in the sand is going to pick it up, no question about guilt or anything like that.
TONY: What about unbolting it, though? Going down and ripping into a ship?
DAVE: People going down with crowbars and hammers and stuff like that can get too much, especially when the tools actually become their weightbelt. But no one knows what the wrecks are we've been diving, so we need to remove certain things to get the identity. If you bring the bell up, that changes the situation.
DOMINIC: That's great, but don't keep it under wraps once you've identified it; don't just stick it in a cupboard or even on a mantelpiece. And leave a certain amount down there so others can see it. No one likes to see a skeleton every time they go down on a wreck
DAVE: We dive a lot up in Mull, and every wreck is spotless. There's nothing left - not a brass flange or pipe, not a coupling. The wrecks are still pretty and have the marine life, but there's nothing of interest left. People don't go there any more to dive the wrecks for what they are.
PAUL HILL: What I can't understand is why people take stuff off the Stoney Cove wrecks. The helicopter has been stripped - someone is even taking the roof to bits. I can't see the point.
GAVIN: But they're the very people who are ripping railings off other wrecks. What do you feel about that? You guys could be taking a group of students out to wrecks that are stripped to bits.
DOMINIC: You want something decent to get future business from.
DAVE: If you go up to Stoney and see this new wreck they've put in, what's that going to be like in a few months' time? Its whole purpose is for instructors to show students what a wreck dive is like. It's a sales pitch at the end of the day.
PAUL: Having dived war graves, I feel you have to be very careful. Taking something small that is definitely not a personal item on a normal wreck is one thing, but if it's a war grave you leave it right alone, because someone lost their lives on that.
GAVIN: What about the wrecks which aren't war graves or even lost in the war, but still had people die on them?
JOHN: If someone lost their lives on a wreck, you leave it alone; possibly take a small item for identification. I've worked as a divemaster on the President Coolidge in Vanuatu, and we had to spend a lot of time making sure divers didn't take stuff off it. People came from thousands of miles to see that wreck and it was about all the local economy had, so it was very important that we kept it intact.
GAIL: Surely the point with taking stuff off wrecks is where you draw the line. You either will take stuff or you won't. Why say one thing is OK, but not another? And why do people need to take stuff off wrecks, anyway?
TONY: We should be educating our divers to stop. But how would you police it?
DAVE: It should be done though the clubs.
TONY: But if someone goes down and finds a gold chain, or a button off a soldier's tunic, they're going to pick it up.
DAVE: That's a bit different from the actual fixtures and fittings, isn't it?
TONY: How is taking a gold chain any different to taking a railing?
DAVE: A diver isn't going down to look at the chain, he's going to look at the whole wreck, or as much of it as he or she can see. I don't have a problem with someone picking it up. It's a souvenir, isn't it?
GAIL: It's a bit like boys with their toys, then. Why can't you just take a picture?
JOHN: If it's just a piece of cargo lying in the sand, it'll be picked up no matter what.
DOMINIC: It's still part of the wreck. It shows how the ship hit the bottom.
ANDY: But there's stuff down there that is a piece of history, which perhaps you should bring up and put into a museum for people to see. I don't see that there's anything wrong with that.
DOMINIC: As long as that's what happens.
TONY: You have to say to all divers, you can't pick anything up. If it's a wreck that's known about, leave it alone. If you get a wreck which needs some research, only allow a certain group to go down and sort it out.
GAVIN: How are you going to do that?
PAUL: It's the law of the country and anything you bring up has to be declared.
ANDY: Who's going to declare something to the Receiver of Wreck? If it's something small, even valuable, I don't think anyone would do it.
PAUL: We have to do it through education. People here and in all dive shops, schools and clubs around the country have to say we're going to leave wrecks alone for future generations to look at. Think about the people who were lost on some of the wrecks that we dive in the Channel.
TONY: You're talking about war graves.
PAUL: No, any sort of graves. When people are lost at sea, that's the bottom line. Most wrecks have had people lose their lives, that's the nature of an accident at sea.
ANDY: Do non-divers not deserve to see any of this stuff as well?
GAIL: You have cameras, and video cameras.
DAVE: But most of the stuff has gone anyway, during salvage and even during the early days of diving. The boilers are out, the engines are out, the props are off and anything that's brass or valuable is gone.
JOHN: The wrecks at Scapa Flow are even having the metal taken off them to re-use, because it's non-radioactive.
GAVIN: But that's going to a good cause, to help save people, and most wrecks up there aren't war graves, anyway.
DAVE: In Scapa there are museums dedicated to the death of the Royal Oak, and that was just normal divers taking stuff off and handing it in. Why can't we do that down on the South Coast?
TONY: If I picked anything up and thought it was interesting, I wouldn't know where to take it. It wouldn't be worth the aggro.
DAVE: There should be more information to help divers, but it should also go back to club involvement. Many of the BSAC divers we know have stuff at home that tells them about wrecks they've dived. And in some clubhouses they have bells hanging up. It's nice that everyone can see it, but it's just for club-members.
GAVIN: Exactly. There should be somewhere everyone can go and see it. What do you think of this Amnesty idea, where you can hand in whatever you've taken?
ANDY: That's not going to work. No one's going to take it seriously.
JOHN: If someone has an artefact they picked up because they liked it, they're not going to hand it in.
GAVIN: When they start prosecuting people, will that change people's minds?
JOHN: People still don't wear seatbelts, and some people still speed.
ANDY: They'll maybe catch one person in a hundred.
GAVIN: So what do you suggest?
GAVIN: But how are you going to educate someone who's been diving for 20 years and taking stuff all that time?
DAVE: How can you educate someone in a club environment when the bloke doing the teaching has a porthole hanging up behind him? And how can you look up to someone who has all the stuff at home?
TONY: It's not the guys who've been taking stuff out of the water, it's the new people you have to teach not to touch wrecks.
JOHN: No, you can't say that; it has to be all or nothing. Otherwise a new diver is going to see old hands taking stuff off and want to be part of it.
GAVIN: Changing the subject, who or what do you think is responsible for coral damage across the world?
DOMINIC: Everyone. I've seen locals walking across reefs, dropping anchors into the coral and doing all sorts, as well as divers on holiday. Some struggle with their buoyancy, but it's not just novice divers.
GAVIN: Do you think divers know what they're doing, that the coral is going to die when they touch it?
DOMINIC: I don't think people believe it, because coral doesn't scream at you. It's like trees, when you rip branches off, they don't yelp or even flinch. People know that if you do something to a dog or cat it will react, but they don't appreciate how fragile coral is.
DAVE: But coral conservation is drummed into everybody who does a PADI or a BSAC course.
DOMINIC: They just see this hard, crusty knobbly thing and don't appreciate that it's a living being.
TONY: They're still educated not to touch.
DAVE: The easy way to stop people touching is to stop them wearing gloves. You see loads of people in places like the Red Sea still wearing them. I don't want to be rude to photographers, but you see them holding onto the reef just to get the shot.
ANDY: But you can go out on one boat and are told, no gloves. You're briefed thoroughly, guided and the divemaster will pull you away from the coral if necessary. Then the next two boatloads from a different place full of other nationalities - we all know which ones - come along and disobey every rule there is. I'm not saying the English are blameless, but they do seem to take more notice of their dive guides.
DAVE: Dive guides should have the power to pull people off the corals or whatever. They should be able to say, if you do that again you won't be diving.
GAVIN: But that person has paid maybe £800 for that holiday.
DAVE: They still have to respect the rules.
ANDY: You're told the rules. If you don't abide by them, tough luck.
GAVIN: You could be talking about an 18-year-old divemaster who's told to f... off when he approaches someone who can't control his buoyancy.
PAUL: Now you're touching on the problem. On the professional side of the trade, I don't think the guys are old enough or experienced enough. Organisations such as PADI are leading the way, but are they doing enough? Once divemasters come out, are they really equipped to deal with the personal side?
TONY: If you go to a place like Hurghada or Sharm, you know the rules. You know not to drink 25 pints the night before diving and that when you get down, you don't touch anything. If you do, there should be a fine.
DAVE: Most of the centres make you read the rules and sign a disclaimer.
GAVIN: But do they act if they see those rules being broken?
DAVE: Yes. I've had two people kicked off a boat for climbing on the reef.
ANDY: I've worked in Australia, and people's attitude out there is that the reef is their future. Without it, they'll have nothing to sell.
GAVIN: But look at popular places which are destroyed. You still get hundreds of people going there, and they think it's wonderful because there are more fish than they would see in the Mediterranean.
PAUL: You have to accept that. You almost need a sacrificial area which isn't particularly good and doesn't matter if it's trashed, but until you've checked your people out you can't let them onto the other reefs. That's what we had when I was working in the South Pacific. We made it clear that if people kept crashing into the bottom there they would never get anywhere near the main reefs. We had huge gorgonian fans and we needed to be sure that no one would take one out.
GAVIN: What if a diver had said he should be allowed to dive wherever he wanted because he was your paying customer?
PAUL: We had the law of the land behind us, because it was a conservation area. The dive centres were fined huge sums if they were caught allowing it to happen.
DAVE: That's a situation they should set up in the Red Sea.
GAIL: They can set up artificial reefs. They take a while to grow, but at least you could make sure people dived them first, so you could see how good or bad they were.
DAVE: Everyone should do a shake-down dive. We take eight or nine trips out to places like the Red Sea and the first dive is always a shake-down. It isn't just to get people's buoyancy right and get them used to the sea, but to ensure that their equipment is working.
PAUL: We have to realise that it's not just divers. In places where I've worked, many of the problems were caused by the indigenous population making a living, and that was encouraged by the tourist trade. You can understand it to a certain extent, because selling cowry shells or whatever is the only bit of extra money they can get.
GAVIN: Is that an excuse?
PAUL: Not now, but you need to address the balance between the two.
ANDY: The locals are only trying to make a living and while people are still buying, they won't see anything wrong with it. You need laws enforced. Check people leaving that country and check them coming back into this one.
DAVE: In the Maldives there are serious fines if you get caught but, again, how do you police it? You see people there walking down the beach picking up little shells because they're pretty. They want to put them in their bathroom and technically that's illegal.
GAVIN: You also have stores here selling dried-up seahorses and dead starfish.
PAUL: We're back with the wreck issue. You need everyone to toe the line...
ANDY: No, I don't agree. We're talking about living things that are part of the ecosystem, whereas a wreck is an inanimate foreign body.
PAUL: OK, but we're coming back to education. It'll take time to work, but that's the answer.
GAIL: Doesn't it depend on the diver's attitude? You have these go-deeper and go-faster divers who don't care what they've seen. They're more concerned with the depth they've reached and what equipment they're using. They have no interest in the fish or coral.
GAVIN: Talking of going deeper, there's been a great deal of talk about deep-air diving since the record was broken by Mark Andrews. What are your feelings on the subject?
ANDY: He was incredibly lucky to survive. I don't think we should encourage that.
GAVIN: In a way, it was a challenge to the medical community. They said people couldn't survive on air at those depths, and he proved that wrong.
ANDY: That was a mere fluke.
GAIL: Is it really worth risking his life to that extent?
PAUL: You could do that sort of dive in a chamber if you desperately wanted to prove a point, but he's an incredibly bad role model. We've talked about education all the way along, and there are set limits for air diving. Yes, I've done 70m on air and we were dive-fit, young and possibly stupid. I look back and say, never again. We know a lot about the risks and we drum into people that we don't go over the limits. But you see something like that and someone else will try it. Then we, the divemasters, instructors and the clubs, are left picking up the pieces.
DOMINIC: I don't necessarily agree with what the guy did, but most of the research done on air diving has been carried out on goats, not humans, so the only way to find out what the limits are is by doing it yourself. In a way, he may be pushing the limits, could be considered stupid, but it might lead to something else; the next step.
GAIL: Why do we need to dive deeper? The plant life and everything is not there, so what is?
TONY: Big ships.
ANDY: But how much air are you going to have to take down that far?
PAUL: And what average person is going to be able to have all the back-up you need?
DOMINIC: It's pointless, now that you have the ability to do it a lot safer with mixed-gas diving anyway.
GAVIN: If Mark Andrews wanted to set a record, and there are plenty of stupider records set each year, what harm does that do to anyone?
ANDY: But he wasn't alone. He had safety divers, and endangered their lives.
PAUL: Think of the poor person on the surface. I quote from my experience when someone did something incredibly daft and we had to pick up the pieces. We watched someone die in front of us. If you want to do it, fine, but he was portrayed as a hero, and that's wrong.
ANDY: We all want diving portrayed as a safe sport. The press and non-divers just pick up on the deaths and another pointless death, which that record could easily have been, doesn't help. We get fathers ringing to book their children on courses and then their mothers ringing back and saying, sorry they can't do it because it's too dangerous. People who don't know about diving see this guy going to 150-odd metres in the paper or a friend's magazine and think everyone goes to that sort of depth.
PAUL: You always just hear the bad side.
ANDY: What we want is to promote the good side, reduce the number of deaths. You don't see "Schoolchildren do 10m dive in Hurghada, have fantastic time" in the headlines. There is very little positive promotion outside the diving press. And to glorify something that could have gone spectacularly wrong is crazy.
DOMINIC: It's about understanding. Most students ask how deep they can go. They think they can just go deeper and deeper.
ANDY: OK, this guy was trained and was not going in blind, but should we be encouraging others, the majority even, who are not taught decompression diving, who don't really know how to use their computers?
PAUL: He could quote his tables back to front, probably, but how many others do? How many people actually have tables in their BC pocket, so if their computer fails they at least have a set of bail-out times? And our baseline tables are still based on fit, young naval divers. How many divers are like 22-year-old marines who could run 25 miles in a morning?
DOMINIC: Just wander around the car park at, say, Stoney Cove at a weekend and you'll see what divers in this country are like.
PAUL: Yeah, they're knackered. Many are overweight and smoking.
ANDY: You also lose your perception of reality when you're deep on air. Talk to any mixed-gas diver about the moment they change from air to whatever gas blend they're using. They'll say it's like taking a set of blinkers off, and the whole world opens up again. People just don't realise how narked they are.
GAIL: Most people in this room dive on average once a week, but there are people who have the little card that says they are a diver, and off they go and want to do everything. It's like driving. You can pass your test at 17 and get into any car and go as fast as you like. I think that's possibly what happens with divers, and much of the time they don't understand what they're doing, don't understand the equipment, the tables or even the computers.
ANDY: All many of them do is look at the front page of the instructions.
GAVIN: How many people read the instructions for a hi-fi?
DOMINIC: Your life isn't at risk with a hi-fi, but they can go into a dive shop and buy something and it isn't explained to them.
TONY: That shouldn't matter. What happened to planning a dive and diving a plan? A computer should be a back-up.
GAVIN: But the divers I see just haven't got the skills everyone assumes they have.
ANDY: In our club, we have a strict set of rules. Regardless of experience, anyone who has never dived with us does a novice dive first. We assess how they are on the boat, in the water and their general ability and understanding. They're only allowed onto the next level when they've proved themselves
GAVIN: Do you think, then, that everyone should dive within a club structure?
DOMINIC: I think it could lead to problems with some clubs.
TONY: If you have a ticket that says 18m, you shouldn't be at 30. If you have a 30m ticket, you shouldn't be at 40 or 50 without proper training.
ANDY: You only have to look at the stories that make the papers to see that doesn't happen. Take the girl who died in Australia at the beginning of the year. She ran out of air. Why wasn't she checking her contents gauge? She was with a buddy pair, but he then ran out of air. Why weren't they following the basic rules? And they were on a guided tour.
TONY: But hadn't she done one of these quickie courses in Thailand? In Spain, I know a group that was halfway back on a boat before someone realised they had only seven people onboard instead of eight. They went back and found the girl who had only dived two or three times before - in 40m. Where was her buddy or the guide?
ANDY: Look, you can qualify in Egypt, get your Open Water and the next day they'll take you off to dive the Thistlegorm. And they're quite happy to take you into the water, because you're giving them the pound notes. To me that's wrong. Dive schools and clubs have a duty of care to a certain point, but divers have to take responsibility for their own actions.
TONY: But they'll see others doing it and want a part of diving the Thistlegorm or whatever, and if they're allowed to dive it, they won't argue. In our club that just wouldn't happen, but what they do abroad very often is take the money and not care.
GAIL: Computers these days have interfaces which allow the user to download the information. A club, school or boat could say you can't go out until they've seen a computer. Anyone can make up a dive in a log book, but not with a computer. If the diver is only a novice and has dives to 30m or whatever, they can be refused.
DOMINIC: You could borrow someone else's computer.
PAUL: But it's still a control, and more effective than any current system.
ANDY: They have a working system on boats in Australia. Everyone has to log onto the boat with their qualifications, experience and so on, then everyone has their computer checked after the dive by the divemaster. Anyone with a bad profile isn't allowed to dive.
PAUL: Unfortunately, in this country until a dive centre is successfully sued, nothing much will change. In the States and Australia, the controls are so tight because they have had some successful litigation.
TONY: It should still be down to the diver. If I'm an open-water student qualified to 18m, what the hell am I doing playing about at 42m? It's down to me, it's my fault.
DOMINIC: I disagree. If you're on a boat, you're stuck with what the guide does.
GAVIN: You shouldn't be. If the divemaster is down deep and you're not trained for it, you shouldn't follow whether he's right or wrong.
DOMINIC: I appreciate that, but the last time I was in Egypt my regular buddy didn't go in on one dive and I was paired with someone else who went down much deeper than we'd agreed. I knew exactly what my depth had been previously and there was no way I was going down to get her. I had to make sure other people were with her, and that there were people with me who knew what I was doing. But I have also seen novice divers being taken down much deeper than they should have been by a divemaster. The novices were young and inexperienced and they saw the dive guide as knowledgeable and experienced. They would follow him through hell or high water.
ANDY: What happens if they lose the guide? They have no idea where the boat is, or what to do.
TONY: If you get on a boat you should be able to take care of yourself. You should ensure that you plan the dive carefully and have the experience to make the dive in safety.
GAVIN: At least when you get on a boat in Sharm or wherever, you know there will be a divemaster. In this country, and I'm not talking about the club system now, they can't even pay a divemaster to be there. So the skipper takes you to wherever and puts you over a site. He has no idea of your experience or how you dive.
TONY: The other thing is equipment. You get your tank tested every two years, but there's nothing to say you must have your regulator serviced. It's just as important as your tank, so surely it should come under the same legislation.
DOMINIC: How many divers read the manuals, know even how to clean their reg properly, wash it under pressure? Could they be relied on to have it serviced?
PAUL: The most important thing to guard against with equipment is complacency. Divers have accidents because they think their equipment has always worked and will continue to do so.
TONY: If you have a bottle and it's not stamped, it won't get pumped, but why at the same time can't we ask to see someone's regs? It doesn't mean they're spot on and going to work, but it is some sort of control. We all know of people who don't have their regs serviced in two, three and even four years...