October 2017: DIVE 2017, Birmingham, UK

Sunday October 21st, 2017

This month was my first opportunity to discover the UK dive scene before plunging into the water, as I headed to Birmingham to get the latest from the largest diving exhibition in the UK. Known as DIVE, the 2-day event has been organised each year since 1991 by DIVER, the UK’s best-selling diving magazine..  Hundreds of exhibitors participate, offering holiday packages, training courses and dive gear but it’s also a chance to network, get tips and advice, receive gear discounts, sign up for magazine subscriptions or simply sit down with a coffee and catch up with old friends.

Upon entering the venue and walking through the crowds, I could feel the tension and excitement building among the many visitors and those who had come to represent their dive shop or resort. For the visitors, it was an opportunity to learn more, establish contacts with dive schools and decide on their next diving destination. For the dive schools, it was a chance to catch up with familiar faces, gain some new customers and present their services, goods and special offers.

For me, DIVE was a great insight into the UK underwater scene. Without further ado, here are some bits and bobs from the big day:

First up, I stopped to listen to a talk by diver Jack Perks on freshwater diving. Jack has written about river diving for DIVER and recently published his first book, Freshwater Fishes of Britain. While showing us some stunning underwater shots, he talked about the use of natural light in photography and introduced different areas across the UK that were good for freshwater diving. Being an Advanced Open Water diver, he does not organise any trips himself but did suggest getting in touch with local councils to talk about suitable sites.

Heading towards more sounds of laughter and talking, I met a dive school called Sound Diving based in Plymouth, another area in the UK that is a hotbed of diving activity. Plymouth is famous for a host of marine-related activities from diving to marine conservation and university research and the underwater environment is rich and varied, with abundant wrecks and reef systems, stunning sites that date back to the 1700s and drop offs full of marine life. Sound Diving offers regular boat dives and caters to customers coming alone, so even if you have nobody to dive with, you will still be looked after. With most customers staying at a hotel just a short distance away, it seemed the ideal destination for a weekend away and I was delighted to make contact with a shop in one of the UK’s most famous diving spots.

Foreign destinations were also out in full force. One shop in Egypt and the Maldives had returned this year to promote diving in both countries and introduce the famous coral reefs, crystal clear blue waters and tropical underwater world that I would love to see one day.  Violence, terrorist attacks and political conflicts have had huge negative impacts on Egypt and diving in the Red Sea, which is why the dive shop is developing its centre in the Maldives, but on a positive note, fish populations in the Red Sea have apparently exploded, with many more sightings of sharks and manta rays as well as more vibrant reefs that are healthier than they have been for years. Divers who end up visiting the Red Sea are said to be guaranteed some of the best diving ever, while the white sandy beaches, soft coral, atoll lagoons and rocky pinnacles of the Maldives were just as appealing.

Back to the UK, and an underwater photography contest was also underway with a host of photos by DIVER readers. There were many categories, including photos taken abroad, but I was blown away by the shots of UK and Irish waters. They introduced some impressive creatures that make their home in the chilly waters here, such as little fish that weave through seagrass, seals that meander over rocky seabeds, huge vibrant jellyfish, curious-looking shrimp and hungry cuttlefish drifting slowly by…these photos were a great introduction to marine life off and along the coasts of the UK and made me want to dive even more. So it was only fitting that soon afterwards, I joined Rosemary Lunn’s talk on UK diving. She said that despite the negative image of UK waters, there is actually a lot on offer. Titled “What’s Wrong with UK Diving?” Rosemary’s talk described how words such as black, silty, cold and boring had been heard all too often but usually by those who have never dived in the UK. She took us on an underwater tour introducing quarries, wrecks, drift diving, easy shore diving  and fun weekend trips.

DIVE was definitely worth attending, with a range of exhibitors and speakers in a really good location. Compared to Japan, diving in the UK is much more serious, perhaps because the Atlantic is a harsher environment than the Pacific with more wrecks, deeper diving and of course colder water! The understanding is that you are a certified diver who can take care of yourself and take full responsibility so it is up to you to plan your dive, dive your plan and make sure you are confident in all the necessary skills. After some easier shore dives to try out UK waters and get back into diving, I fully intend on joining a club in Bristol and diving in earnest here from 2018.

See you soon in UK waters!

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