Scuba Diving and Coral Monitoring
“From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface of the water and he is free.”― Jacques Yves Costeau
I cannot express how happy I am about being part of the LPC Coral Monitoring team. It is a service that combines my passion for the ocean with all I could wish for: wonderful and inspiring people, diving and marine protection. You might be wondering “Coral Monitoring? What is that?” It is one of my Quan Cais (click here to learn more about Quan Cais). It is a service that focuses on monitoring the major coral communities at Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park in which a WWF Marine Studies Centre has been constructed. Being a member of the team involves students being trained as divers and learning about marine systems as well as identification and survey techniques. We monitor the corals by using Reefcheck and Coralwatch protocols, and share the data with both of those organizations, as well as PADI Project Aware, WWF, and the Hong Kong Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD).
On Friday all first-year members had their first dive training in the pool, where they learned the basics of scuba diving. SPLASH, a dive center in Hong Kong that has been working with LPC for a long time, conducted the lessons. Because Jeremy, Dominic and I are already certified as divers (thank you Active Blue Dive Center for everything you have taught me!) , we only had to do a review and show Betty, one of the dive teachers, that we did not forget any important (lifesaving) skills. Our review did not take long, but enjoyed being underwater so much that we decided to stay in the pool to watch our co-years learn how share air and clear their masks, and take funny pictures underwater. John, our schools chemistry teacher accompanied us – without tank! He is a Level 1 SSI Freediver and it was very impressive to see him glide through the water and hold his breath for so long. It was wonderful to see our co-years go scuba-diving for the first time and come back out of the water with big smiles on their faces. I always get happy when I see people enjoy and develop love for diving. The next two years with the Coral Monitoring team are going to be unforgettable!
On Saturday, Jeremy, Dominic and I were scheduled to go on a boat dive with SPLASH. We were very excited!! We had to wake up early to go to Sai Kung, where the boat was supposed to take off. I fell in love with Sai Kung on that day and it is now my absolute favorite place here. It is an absolute contrast to the skyscrapers in urban Hong Kong and looks like a tropical town by hills and peaks. After stopping at the SPLASH dive shop, we walked to the promenade alongside the scenic harbor that overlooks numerous small islands (as I found out later the biggest ones are called Sharp Island (Kiu Tsui Chau) and Kau Sai Chau) e marina with hundreds of boats lying in the calm waters. The colourful harbour was a hive of activity and fishermen in little boats were selling catches of seafood direct to the public and local seafood restaurants. At the pier we met LPCers who were about to go to a beach clean-up. Since I am used to go diving from a little speedboat, seeing the big two-deck junk that was taking us to the island surprised me! Together with a bunch of new friends that we met (one of them was German, yaay!) We waved at our coyears on the other boat and then took off. The scenery was stunning: lofty peaks, rugged coastline, idyllic beaches and a colourful fishing town in a sheltered bay populated by dozens of tiny pristine islands that we passed. The boat ride took about 45 minutes.
Darren, one of the dive teachers gave us a briefing about the procedure once we arrived at Shelter Island, our dive spot. The boat was equipped with tables that had holes in them to place our tanks and hooks for the bouyancy compensators. We put our wetsuits and weight belts on, assembled our gear and were ready to go. The visibility was not very good on the surface, but the deeper we went, the better it got. Chris, a dive-teacher from Poland accompanied us together with Darren. The underwater world of Hong Kong is so different from Turkey, yet so beautiful. We saw sea urchins with very long spines, lion fish hiding in the sand and even an octopus who locked itself in a little pot!
The currents were very strong, making the dive physically demanding, but I really enjoyed it. We discovered crabs and sea snails, swam past sunken tires and enjoyed floating with the currents. After two dives in the Hong Kong waters, it was time for the BBQ that Liam, one of the SPLASH teachers had prepared for us divers. The air was filled with the delicious smell of chicken wings, beef and marinated vegetables. On our way back to Sai Kung, Dr. Andy Cornish, an independent ecologist, who served as Hong Kong’s WWF Conservation Director from 2005 to 2012 gave us a brief insight to the long campaign for the trawling ban in Hong Kong (special Blog post about it will be posted soon).
The day ended quite spectacular – after returning to the college and meeting up with everyone else, we went to a beach close by to have a bonfire. The atmosphere was wonderful, the water was reflecting the city lights on the other shore side. Since unexpected decisions usually turn out to be the best, we decided to go swimming! The water seemed cold, but after we dived in and the wind hit us, it felt warm. At first we were only a small group of people who were in the water, but more and more of our coyears followed and at the end almost everybody was playing in the waves. S time approached our curfew we dried ourselves in the warmth of the fire and then headed back to our dorms. Tired but happy.
A complete day by the ocean with friends. What else could I wish for?
PS: Photos will be up soon! Stay tuned