Do you have a lust for rust or are you a lover of vibrant corals and sloping reefs? Marine life in both environments can be abundant and colourful, but most divers do have a preference. There are wrecks in the seas that you would never know were wrecks because they are so encrusted in marine organisms. There are also reefs across the globe that have been decimated by ships that have crashed into them and never recovered. We look at the man-made artificial reef vs the real thing in our latest blog. Feel free to tell us your preference in the comments below.
My first wreck dive was the liner The Bianca C in Grenada. I have fond memories looking at the swimming pool on board and thinking how surreal it was that it would be forever full of water under the sea! Some shipwrecks have a spectacular life history, and they continue to tell stories in their submerged retirement. I remember from my instructor days in Egypt that SS Thistlegorm trips had excited guests talking late into the night. The dive guide on the other hand would tell a very different story to their colleagues of the difficulties tying the mooring lines!
What makes wrecks such a pleasure to dive is the story that accompanies their life and their demise, whether it be a war story or a simple tale of being scuttled. Either way you can still imagine crew walking the decks, navigating from the bridge and working in the engine room. Many wrecks still carry cargo and undiscovered items of value which makes them attractive to divers. But who is to say that the empty or rotten shipwrecks of old aren’t as interesting, particularly if they have local or personal interest? I watched the recent Samuel L Jackson series Enslaved with awe. The diving historians wanted to find certain wrecks to better understand the conditions 12 million African slaves were subjected to. It was heart-wrenching to see the evidence of how they were transported across the oceans, thousands of miles from home.
It doesn’t matter if you are a fair-weather diver or a UK stalwart, the feeling you get when the shadow of a wreck looms up at you on descent has the same thrill. Even if you know it has been dived by tens of thousands of others, it is still a journey of discovery.
Wreck specialty courses are a great way to learn both the technical terms of the layout of a shipwreck but also to navigate them, map them and identify hazards. Remember wrecks aren’t always ships – they can be bombers, tanks, submarines and entire aeroplanes, among others!
There are 150 year old ghost ships in pristine condition in the freezing lakes of America, but many of us may not have the cold-water experience to witness them first hand; the Japanese fleet of Truk Lagoon is on many divers bucket lists, but some will never afford the trip; a handful of wrecks off the Dorset coastline are deeper than your certification level allows……these are circumstances where film, photography and photogrammetry come in bringing the wrecks to life for us all to enjoy! Alternatively, save those pennies or do a con-ed course to experience them for real!
Tropical reefs are home to around 25% of the world’s ocean species. They are often called the rainforests of the sea because of the role they play in the marine ecosystem. Divers don’t love reefs for their history, they love them for their colour, biodiversity and behaviour.
From the Coral Triangle to the Cornish coast, reefs span the whole world and have relationships within them that keep them healthy. Without them the whole ocean ecosystem would fall apart. Those relationships are one of the reasons we get so much pleasure from diving on a reef.
I have fond memories in the Red Sea watching tiny ghost shrimp cleaning anemonefish. Now and then the fish would scurry among the anemone tentacles depositing its waste as food. That anemone in turn provided safe shelter for the fish. This is known as symbiosis and is key to a healthy reef system. Parrotfish would munch on algae growing on coral which they would then excrete in the form of sand. This creates beautiful islands and beaches. The fish also stop the algae getting out of control and smothering the coral. Reef fans love harmony!
Dive guides the world over will point out pretty fish and invertebrates, interesting behaviour and delicate corals to the divers following them. They will then help to fill out log books with what was seen during the dive. There is huge satisfaction to be gained identifying a new organism in a book and using its latin name. Fish ID and Naturalist courses are a great way to gain more knowledge about reef dwelling marine life.
It was Jacques Cousteau who said we only protect what we love. Marine Conservation Zones have been created to keep fragile reef environments safe from pollution and overfishing, which results in an abundance of marine life. There are more than 1,700 of them around the world, and they are another reason why diving on reefs is such a pleasure. We even have reefs in the UK! Our cold water reefs are over 8000 years old and in 2017 we joined the Coral Reef Life Declaration, committing to safeguarding them.
So are you a “wreckie” or a “reefie”? Can there be a winner? I defy anyone who says they only like diving on wrecks not to enjoy drifting between healthy sea fans and schools of snapper in the tropics. There will always be hardcore fans of either genre but what is important is having thrilling underwater encounters that we never forget, whatever the environment.