Tag Archives: marine reserve

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.

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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.

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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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Cuba – opening up to the World…

Silky shark in the Gardens of the Queen

Silky shark in the Gardens of the Queen

The historic announcement this week by President Obama heralds a long-overdue warming of the US relationship with Cuba.  It came as I finished another fantastic photography trip to the Caribbean island. I had been wondering ever since I first visited Cuba, to dive in its amazing waters, what the impact of a thaw in US relations might have on the country and in particular on its apex-predator-heavy coral reefs.

Foremost might be the pressure for more diving inside long-established marine reserves, where most of the predators find rare sanctuary.  It could be hard for Cuba to resist the assumptions that might come with any new investment in the diving infrastructure.

But the Cubans have a great feel for conservation of their resources, so I hope that they will resist any pressures that ultimately threaten what they currently have, which is a reef system in balance and dominated by hundreds of predators: sharks of many types; huge groupers in big numbers; saltwater crocodiles; and big schools of large game fish like Tarpon.

I’m optimistic that sense will generally prevail.  But having seen this coming for some time, I’ll repeat what I’ve been telling many of my friends over the same period: if you want to guarantee seeing Cuba at its best – above and below water – visit in the next few years before the big corporations make their moves on property and the leisure industries.  Although some investment will be essential and create very welcome improvements, Cuba may never be the same again.  So go now!  Here’s a link if you’re interested in the diving: Shark Diving in Cuba

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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.

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my best wishes to you, dear friends

Paul

 

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