Tag Archives: conservation

Cambodia’s first large-scale marine protected area declared

I’m just back from the Red Sea buzzing from the excitement of running a pilot new underwater photography course, but even more overjoyed to hear news from colleagues in Cambodia.


Cambodian local community crab fisherman

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Cambodia has just approved Cambodia’s first Marine Fisheries Management Area (MFMA) in the waters of the Koh Rong Archipelago.  Situated approximately 20 km off the coast of Sihanoukville and home to coral reef, seagrass and mangrove habitats, it supports many charismatic species including sea turtles and seahorses as well as three Community Fisheries located across Daem Thkov, Prek Svay, Koh Touch and M’Pai Bai villages.


Cambodian local community squid fisherman

The Fisheries Administration and conservation organisations have been working tirelessly for more than five years within the archipelago to consult with local stakeholders and communities and gather baseline data about the area’s biodiversity to support the designation of the site.
Fauna & Flora International and other organisations including Song Saa Foundation and Save Cambodian Marine Life have also played an important part in protecting the site and supporting the designation of the MFMA.

Although I can claim no direct role in this, I was delighted to support Fauna & Flora International and to work with both the Song Saa Foundation and Save Cambodian Marine Life. The images from that project continue to support the initiative and, as with all these ventures, there is still so much to do.

But for now, I offer huge congratulations to those hard working scientists, project managers, government officials and local fisheries community staff who made this happen, against difficult odds.


The enigmatic seahorse


For my fellow underwater photographers who care about the environments that they dive in, this is another example of how images can count in the conservation of our oceans, lakes and rivers.

Best wishes, dear friends


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Gorgeous Gentle Giants

Giant Manta Ray - I need a wider lens!I’m not long back from what might have been the best dive expedition of my life.  It would be easy to overdo the superlatives, but three things made the trip to Socorro in the Pacific Ocean stand out.

First the boat, Nautilus Belle Amie, and its crew.  Outstanding in every respect.  It can be tough diving in strong and unpredictable currents over very deep water.  But the balance between safety and freedom to get on with your dive was perfect.  5 star accommodation and food, wonderful service from a friendly and very interesting crew.


Secondly, the geology above and below water.  Volcanic, big, stark, spectacular.Paul_Colley-29

whitetip close up-2

And then the animal encounters.  Uber-playful dolphins, huge swirling schools of jacks parading against the azure blue, sharks coming out of your ears.  But also what we really went for, which was the giant mantas.

If you follow the brief and don’t chase them, you can get some amazing encounters from these 6 metre wingspan intelligent giants of the ocean.  They look like stealth bombers in their sometimes all-black livery as they approach silently out of the deep.

I don’t want to say much more.  Just to retain the images and emotions of diving at such a remote location with some of the Pacific ocean’s most charismatic creatures.

Magnificent.  Wonderful.  Exceptional. shark_jacks


Best wishes, dear friends.


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Volunteering for Adventures…

_2293564-2Psychologists argue that people who volunteer their time or other resources are generally far happier in life than those who do not. It’s a chance to give something back. And to feel good about it.

I try to set aside a few weeks every year for good causes. It means that I earn less, but in reality we all become far richer through these experiences. This year I agreed to work with Fauna and Flora International, an organisation that is supporting an important initiative by the Cambodian government to create a Marine Protected Area in the Koh Rong archipelago. The organisation wanted a portfolio of images above and below water to communicate what was at stake.


Volunteering does not necessarily mean that you pay for the privilege too! In this case, the organisation funded my logistic and field costs. My concession was to not over-burden a hard working charity, so I lived at modest cost within the local economy and waived my normal photography fees. To offset loss of earnings, the organisation happily accepted a non-exclusivity clause and I hope to recover a modest amount through articles and talks. For the most part, the deal involved living in remote fishing villages with no running water or flushing loos and to use fairly austere sleeping quarters. This just meant living properly with the locals.  A problem? Certainly not; it just adds to the sense of adventure and it’s amazing how soon you forget all those silly luxuries that we don’t really need._DSC4712

I’m writing an article about this for DIVER magazine, so will not tell all the stories here. But with three weeks of solo diving in some quite novel settings that included jumping off commercial fishing boats, it had more than its fair share of excitement. I came back quite battered physically, coming as close as I ever have to breaking a limb. And I even ended up in hospital just after I got back to UK, having collapsed with a nasty lung infection.

But the rewards were huge.  I met some wonderful people during my time in country. Young and old. Most of them Cambodian. But some other nationalities too trying to help the country on its way, or to carve out new businesses. Nearly all of them completely positive in their outlook.



There’s something profoundly rewarding about volunteering. I think it gives us better perspective about how fortunate we really are in life.  And a chance to help others who might not be.

We should all do more of it.

Best wishes, dear friends.  Paul

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Making those images count in 2016…

I’m excited about 2016.  Without setting out the full list of what is in prospect, let me highlight three important things that will feature in my programme this year.  I hope that all will result in more images that count in the conservation of our streams, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Foremost is a photography commission.  A portfolio of images above and below water for Fauna & Flora International; a big conservation organisation that has a Marine Protected Area project in Cambodia in need of high quality imagery.  I will be there in February and March to start the work.  The Blue Marine Foundation recommended me for the job after my voluntary work to help create a marine protected area for Ascension Island, which has just been announced by the UK government.  Incidentally, I met Clare Brook, BLUE’s CEO and Charles Clover (Chairman and Trustee) in December.  You should watch this conservation charity in 2016; its people are achieving much and quickly.

I’m delighted to take a turn as Chairman of the British Society of Underwater photographers for 2016, following the footsteps of irrepressible Joss Woolf.  I’m fond of this organisation and want to help it sustain and develop what first attracted me to it as an aspiring underwater photographer.  It’s people were generous with their knowledge and profoundly helpful to me.  I would like to give something back by making the Society ever-more accessible to those who might benefit most from it.  I’ll be starting a dialogue about this with its members very soon.

the freshwater river project: trout and grayling on the river Anton in Hampshire

the freshwater river project: trout and grayling on the river Anton in Hampshire

The third thing I’m itching to resume is my freshwater river project (see previous blogs too).  This grew and grew in 2015.  I was interested principally in trout and grayling for 2015.  At an end-of-season charity presentation to the good folk of Stockbridge in Hampshire, who had helped me with the project, I made some interesting new connections who helped to fire my imagination ever further.  So I shall be  developing the technical, conceptual and artistic sides of this fascinating project.  I feel that this project is getting somewhere and that I’m on the cusp of some great work.  Maybe my best yet…

There’s always more to tell, of course; trips to new locations, some teaching through the traditional Red Sea workshops, my first formal exhibition of printed work and a speaker programme that gets broader and ever more interesting.  To chat about later, I think.

For now, let me wish you great success in your 2016 endeavours.  And a very happy New Year to all of you, dear friends.


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fix the largest solvable problem on our planet

an image that is supporting conservation projects

an image that is supporting conservation projects

I thought that life might feel flat just after the book launch, but not a bit of it.  An unintended consequence was a stream of interest in the announcement that I made about working with the Blue Marine Foundation or BLUE.  Like many of you who have direct experience of the underwater world, my instinct is to protect what we have become part of and I have always found ways for my images to support the protection of marine species, for example the Bluefin tuna campaigns and very recently a sea turtle project in Barbados – because good images help to draw people into conservation initiatives.

BLUE is in a different league, though.  It has an instinctive vision that we would all easily buy into: a world in which marine resources are valued, carefully managed and used sustainably.

But what rings my bell is BLUE’s intent to:

fix the largest solvable problem on out planet, which is the crisis in our oceans

That’s quite a statement.  And when you look below the surface it is more than an eye-catching strap line: BLUE’s declared mission is the active and effective protection of 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020, delivered through a network of marine reserves and private sector led solutions in the sea.

What really impresses me is BLUE’s early success in establishing reserves, one twice the size of the UK in Chagos, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean.  This makes BLUE a serious and high-achieving charity.  Why do I tell you this and why have I so readily initiated a self-imposed call to arms?  Well, through one of those happy coincidences, a friend working in conservation noted that BLUE might be able to use some of my Ascension Island images to support fundraising for “Protecting Paradise”, a project seeking to provide evidence for what could be the biggest marine reserve in the Atlantic around that island.

This is ambitious work.  But I’m convinced that the crisis in our oceans caused by over-fishing CAN BE REVERSED.  It is too easy to leave the challenge to others, but as divers I think that we have a moral obligation to help if we can.  What these charities benefit from just as much as donations is volunteered expertise.  We all have some, whether it is project management, marketing, fund raising, translation, artistic skills – whatever.

So take a look at what BLUE is doing through the link below and – if you can – offer support. Even if you cannot support directly, the least that you could do for me is to spread the word of this noble work around your own networks.  That is how BLUE found me and there will be others willing to support out there.  Use the social network share buttons below to help us find them!

Protecting our Oceans

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make a difference on World Ocean’s Day: help create a marine reserve

an opportunity to create the biggest marine reserve in the Atlantic Ocean...

an opportunity to create the biggest marine reserve in the Atlantic Ocean…

Why make a difference?

I often think about an important question put to me by a good friend and fellow underwater photographer.  She asked, “Why do we do this?” (take photos).  One of my answers is that we can show others the wonderful underwater world that we are fortunate enough to enjoy, and that we can support conservation initiatives to safeguard it for future generations.

One campaign I’m supporting directly – and I invite you to support it too – is close to my heart.  I’m one of those lucky few to have dived in the remote waters off Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.  I felt compelled to write about it and said that:

…the rewards for divers are immense; the isolation that makes access difficult also makes Ascension a natural marine reserve…Ascension surpasses many locations for its sheer abundance of marine life to the extent that I rate it as one of the best places that I have dived in the World. It gives both hope and cause for reflection and is thus something of a paradox: only where mankind cannot easily reach an environment does it seem to thrive as it was intended.”

Ascension enjoys some protection due to its remoteness, but it might not be long before the world’s fishing fleets find it economically viable to search out what little might be left, if the current depredations of fish stocks take their final toll.  And some of you may be aware that a survey discovered important new species in Ascension Island’s rich waters.  So there may be a case now to create the biggest ever protective marine reserve in the Atlantic.  I’m hugely supportive of this initiative and now working with the Blue Marine Foundation, which is launching its first ever crowd funding campaign, going live today on World Ocean’s Day.

How can we make a difference?

The project that the foundation is raising money for is: “Protecting Paradise” – a survey into Ascension Island and its unique biodiversity.  If you are interested in this and would like to support – check out the details through the link below.  For those that can, dive deeper and help us to raise critical funds that might protect our beautiful underwater world.

Here’s the link to BLUE’s Campaign, which has gone live today on World Ocean’s Day.  If you do nothing else, please do “like” the idea at the preceding campaign link; spreading the word really does help.

Please also consider a small investment in a richly-illustrated unique guide to diving and snorkeling in Ascension Island.  I will donate 10% of any royalties to the marine reserve conservation project, in addition to the direct support that I’m already providing.


my best wishes to you, dear friends



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