Community: Education, Conservation, Exploration… GUE

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Cabo de Palos lighthouse

Cabo de Palos, Spain was going to be the host of the second GUE meeting in Spain, this time, just from the preparations, you could feel that it was going to be a huge community event; community, the key point!

One community, three missions… or four?

Education

With more than ten GUE instructors on site from all over the world, it was not a surprise that there would be some GUE fun around. Where’s the mix? fundamentals instructors were students on rebreather classes, candidates were evaluated as new fundamentals instructors, new cave divers were born, as well as new fundamentals divers and more blenders to fill all their tanks! Also welcome a few new friends to be part of the community.

Conservation

With Project Baseline, as the flagship of GUE conservation drive, some attendants ventured out into the Islas Hormigas Project Baseline site, despite the challenging conditions. This project is open to all GUE levels of divers, from Fundamentals (where actually most of the work is) until Rebreather, where one can test their skills with photography, survey and documentation for a specific purpose.  

Exploration

You know it has an exploration component, when before surfacing from a dive, you already have in your mind the plans to come back. This is what happened to all that dove the reefs, shallow and deep wrecks and caves, that are accessible to all those who explore Cabo de Palos.  

This new location was still to be explored by the community. Cabo de Palos is known by many divers in Spain but it was definitely a new place to be explored by all those who joined us from USA, Norway, Germany, Canada, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Portugal, Holland, Russia, UK, UAE, etc.

And there’s still more, many many plans on those reefs, wrecks and caves were discussed during the weekend.

The magic that makes everything happen: COMMUNITY

As it can’t be different, we hosted a few speakers as well, and had lot of fun during the social events: breakfast, lunch, dinner, tapas, coffee breaks … the way to the dives, the loading and unloading boat time, even on the dives, we had lots of laughs and fun.

All under the sun, outdoors and overlooking the mediterranean sea, with great food and company, what else can you expect?  This time was actually enhanced by the bad weather, since we couldn’t do all the diving we were expecting, what do divers do on these occasions? Talk about diving around a table, with food, drinks and laughs around!

On the evening, we heard about ET life, history, the water origin, WWII wrecks, hypogenic caves, abandoned nets, GUE origins, thermal water, extreme photography, scientific diving, the first Gavin scooter, what turkish caves were somehow the origin of GUE and the future looks like.

All of this, couldn’t have been possible with the effort of our sponsors and hosts:  Islas Hormigas Dive center and Halcyon Dive Systems; without the tireless instructors that made this happen. Also, the MOST IMPORTANT: THE PEOPLE THAT JOINED THE MEETING, those are the real important ones!!

 

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Keeping the exploration alive

When I knew there was the opportunity to start exploring a new part of the country, I didn’t think about it twice, it was an absolute YES, I’M IN! Even louder than my usual “I’m IN” for all water related activities. 

We had one objective this time: explore the less-dived sites around Whale Island, in Whakatane coast, and try to get as much information as we could: possible dive plans/strategies, depths, marine life, currents, visibility, reference points,… Summarizing: all that you need to call it a proper dive site with a good briefing. An additional task to consider was to take as much footage of the area as possible, so we could document the dive afterwards and establish some baselines for possible future projects.

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Excited divers getting the Deep Spirit on move

We paired up in teams of two divers, based on configurations, being Rob and Selina in one and Nicole and Belen on the other. We jumped on Deep Spirit, Oceans Alive Whakatane boat, with James Croker as captain and master of ceremonies.

He already had in mind some points with a lot of potential on them, mainly on the North side of the island, so the first step was to check the surface conditions there. Unfortunately, there was a non-negligible  current, so we all decided to explore some other points; we had the whole island for us!

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The detail of a rock in Spring boulders

We anchored on the Eastern side, where the first team jumped in the water, followed by the second, around 5 minutes apart. It looked like a calm easy spot, and all that we knew is that we had 18m of water under our bodies and a bouldery sea floor. We planned the dive to go back into the boat, drawing a circle, going first East, then North, and ending by a West and South approach. We kept in mind that we were on a big bay, navigation wise, so it would not be difficult to come back to the boat anyway.

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Finger sponge and striped anemones covering the rock formations

We found an sandy bottom with big rocks around, and those covered in a very healthy kelp. There were a couple of schools of yellowtail and koherus around, goatfish, blue cod and snappers not to forget the big school of Blue Maomao, which reminded me of Blue Maomao arch, in the Poor Knight Islands.

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Blue Maomaos are around!

Keeping on exploring around, we found a big rock covered in white striped anemones and with green finger sponges on it: the spring has come underwater! So we named this dive site: Spring boulders.

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G.U.E. diver Nicole Miller taking some video of the site

We found some clown and jewel nudibranchs, and I’m sure some other experts would have found more! As a bonus, I photographed something that I had never seen before: a snake eel; it’s head is similar to a moray eel, but it’s hidden on the sand, rather than in a rock hole, and it has a more pointed nose, which grabbed my attention. We had some help from the locals to identify it!

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The snake eel hidden on its sand hole
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Marine life swimming on top of the healthy kelp

We spent our surface interval on that same spot, delighted by home cooked brownies, gingerbread and orange and chocolate chip cookies, and of course including a lot of laughs, we were all very happy divers!! That was a good trick from our skipper and host!

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Whale island with the two dive sites explored

We continued along Whale Island coast, clockwise, until we saw the arches. They were so beautiful on the surface that we all agreed on exploring more the underwater world! An arch can never be bad, and it looked quite promising with the visit of some seals around. As before, one team after the other.

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Diver Checking currents

We splashed down completely synchronized, from each side of the boat, which was an indication of what was going to happen. The dive plan was to explore the different arches along the coast, take reference points to guide some dives and explore the fauna and flora underwater, as per the first dive. The topography of the site is a bouldery bottom, decreasing depth smoothly as you approach to the wall, with a depth at the arches between 3 and 5 meters. The diver can choose its desired depth according to the phase of the dive, or the dive profile itself.  

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Surface views, we needed to explore underwater!

The entire dive run smoothly, under the arch, we just playing with the seal and the seal playing with the school of Jack mackerels. We spent around 30 minutes under the arch, with a maximum depth of 5m, only admiring the light coming through them, and the marine life players.

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I am a seal, I can mess up with other fishes!

The rest of the dive  run exploring the boulders and the little cracks between them, where crabs, nudibranchs and some other various critters were hiding, including shrimps and moray eels, with kelp and nudibranchs, more schools of koherus as a bonus, red mokis, two spot demoiselles, parores, etc.   

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The seal did some poses for us

Dive 1 tech parameters:

  • Maximum depth: 18.9 m
  • Average depth: 13.4 m
  • Dive time: 59 min
  • Water temperature: 18 ºC

Dive 2 tech parameters:

  • Maximum depth: 12.2 m
  • Average depth: 5.5 m
  • Dive time: 59 min     
  • Water temperature:18 ºC

 

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Plenty of life under the arch

There is definitely more room to explore, as it is a huge area, with plenty of potential dive sites, including those which are deeper and have never been dived before. Stay tuned for more!

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A crab between two rocks

If you are interested on seeing more about this site, the videos edited by Nicole Miller, from Wellington Underwater club can be found in: https://vimeo.com/198747233

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Very happy divers coming back home!

An additional comment: Why do I only see a hammerhead in Whale island satellite photo, rather than a whale?

On the business of becoming a kiwi Part n-th: the hunting and gathering

It’s the scallops season. Or it is since the 1st of September, when spring took off for kiwi-minded people. Being involved with kiwi life, and with more and more kiwi friends on my environment, this has become a huge deal.

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Found one! yay!

This weekend, every New Zealander that is a bit into fishing, has make a little bit of time for a small soak to get some scallops. It’s all in the culture of gathering and hunting, and do it your own. People are out there to get their daily ration of 20 units per head, which is a reasonable amount if you are sharing with someone.  They are just lying in the bottom, not too deep, as our maximum depth was 5 meters!

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Always measure them!

As most of the houses in New Zealand have their own boat, people meet to go together, to finish the morning with a barbecue on the beach, enjoying the premiere of the spring and have some laughs with your friends.

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Our boats waiting for us having lunch
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Enjoying the recent catch

Absolutely everyone respects the quota, and of course the size. Most of the people, leave a margin for sizing as well, and of course, never fishing on marine reserves. This is an example of sustainable fishing, and fishing for eating, well done New Zealand! 

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Happy divers

 

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And thanks to the respect towards the marine life, you can enjoy orcas (or killer whales) from the beach on a random day in New Zealand

Dive technicalities:

  • Environment: Sandy bottom
  • Maximum depth: 5 m, high tide
  • Location: somewhere secret close to Waiheke Island
  • Dive time: 30 minutes
  • Minimum Deco, one safety stop at 3 m, Gas: 21%

Tecfest New Zealand – don’t expect just a dive show

Where in the world can you in 24 h dive into a volcano caldera, drift dive a river and dive in a hot stream to finish it all off?

I had the opportunity to attend TecFest NZ this year. It´s not an event with a lot of history, but it is definitely an enormous (for NZ) and great gathering of the technical diving community in New Zealand.

The event is not focused on being a showcase for technical diving brands on the market or teaching agencies, but on getting people with a common interest together. The feeling from the inside is that you are spending a weekend diving and sharing experiences with most of the technical community in New Zealand. It is a gathering of tech divers, or those who are interested in become one, and an excuse to spend a couple of days together, sharing experiences, making new plans or having some laughs.

During the whole weekend, there are talks on almost every time slot, and what is quite different from other events of this kind, is that during the conference, the main activity is diving. The focus of the conference is to get divers introduced to Technical diving, with the aid of those who already are, that come along to share experiences and to have some fun with their friends, from all around New Zealand.

And what we are all here for: THE DIVING is not just a random dive, you get to dive in one of the biggest volcano calderas in the world, with 100 m vertical walls and dozens of years old trees buried underwater. But you don´t need to be a tech diver or an advanced diver as the other big focus is to discover what tech diving is about. Running on every slot, there are try dives for underwater scooters, full face masks, sidemount configurations, twin tanks or drysuits, of course, all of them free of charge, with a compressor on site for air fills. There is a dive for everyone. This allows almost unlimited diving, for those who want to become a fish during the entire weekend.

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Lake Taupo, waiting for divers
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Diver passing by the huge Rhyolite

Another highlight of the event, is the possibility to do a drift dive on the Waikato river, emptying Lake Taupo, the previous dived volcano caldera. The logistics about the dive include knowing when the floodgates will open or close to regulate the river flow, something that we are not used to take care of. Timing it right will allow you to fly on water at almost 20 km/h while passing by huge boulders and (not to be missed) exiting at a Hot Water stream, another feature of geologically active New Zealand, where cold water from rivers mixes with hot stream resurgences in thermal areas.

Learning and expanding your horizons, all the talks are focused on technical diving experiences from other members, as well as topics of interest of deep divers, like decompression sickness, discussion about tissue super saturation, issues with breathing high density gases, comparison of different ascent techniques and decompression profiles as well as optimization of decompression; explorations in caves, what are the issues of diving in the middle of nowhere, when you are the first human there, and equipment needs; wreck deep diving around the world; discovering our heritage; maritime archaeology, etc. Most of the speakers are well known and recognized divers on the New Zealand community, as well as in Australasia, and most of them worldwide.

Some of the speakers this year include Dr. Simon Mitchel, with several diving community from all around the world awards on his belt, including DAN and EuroTek; Peter Mesley, a recognized lead on wreck exploration and technical diving teaching; Tom Crisp, cave diver explorer; Matt Carter, maritime archaeologist; the New Zealand police dive squad representative, gave an insight on statistics and their rescue missions, with data that is not surprising but shocking for most of us. All the talks were centered on what is important for tech divers: the learning, exploring and the example of the leads of the Southern Hemisphere on these disciplines.

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Dr. Simon Mitchel presenting super saturation on tissues with different decompression strategies

 

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BBQ’ing

 

All of this, is combined of course, with social events, promoted by the organization, like a huge BBQ on the beach or a huge dinner before the talks and relaxing evening time, again a great idea to get people together and promote the social side of the tech diving.

 

 

 

 

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An amazing sky color on the way back home