DIVE Contributors During Covid-19 Lockdown

 Zoe

DIVE writer Zoe McKenzie at home dreaming of diving (Photo: Rodrigo Pintos-Lopez)

DIVE has a host of contributors from all over the world - here is how a few of them are getting through the Covid-19 lockdown…

 

SteveJonesSTEVE JONES, PHOTOGRAPHER, OXFORDSHIRE, UK

I’m extremely lucky to be spending the current COVID-19 lockdown in the UK at home with my family. Some of my friends are not so lucky, with several having to deal with weeks of angst after getting caught inside foreign countries as flights were cancelled and borders were closed.

Diving, of course, is suspended for the time being, but it won’t be forever and I have a list as long as my arm of things that I’ve been continually putting off due to lack of time. No more excuses!

Editing my archives and refreshing my website are two of those jobs but it’s also important for a photographer to remain creative so I’ve found other genres to concentrate on. Insect photography is one of them, so my back garden has become a substitute for the ocean.

Little investment was needed to make the switch since good macro lenses are part and parcel of an underwater photographers’ kit bag. The addition of a cheap ring flash was all it took for me to enter the bug world, whose inhabitants I am finding to be as fascinating as those coveted critters found underwater.


 

ZOE MCKENZIE, WRITER, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIAZoe2

I'm used to working from my home office, hotels or airport lounges, so the shrinking world inside our front door didn’t result in great change for me, at first. As the weather changed from summer to autumn, I hunted around for the comfiest clothes I could appropriate from my fiancé’s cupboard, and I settled into my new pandemic pyjama look.

We have always travelled widely, mostly for diving, but we have also both lived and worked overseas, so we keep up with the news around the world. So we expected the lockdown – the limiting of our freedom of movement and association, also known as, our ability to hang out with mates.

It still doesn’t stop the yearning, to hear their voices and their laughter, which somehow, video conferencing cocktails with the girls aren’t able to recreate.

There is a vibrant diving community in Melbourne, and most enjoy the extraordinary and understated wonders of Port Phillip Bay, down the road from our beach home. Our local waters include weedy sea dragons, giant cuttlefish, a rich diversity of nudibranchs and sea horses, and soon, the great migration of the spider crabs. The diving community is torn: is it, or isn’t it safe or allowed to dive, it is exercise after all, isn’t it?

We took all our gear in for servicing, just so we wouldn’t be tempted.


 

alfieALFRED MINNAAR, PHOTOGRAPHER, GILI T, INDONESIA

I write this in my seventh day of self-isolation on my island paradise that is Gili Trawangan just off the coast of Lombok. Just over a week ago I was in Australia as everything came to a halt and the mood was tense. I was faced with either to stay in Australia for an unforeseen time (a financial prospect I could ill afford) or to see if I could make my way back to Indonesia.

Almost all flights were grounded. However, two were leaving from Perth and one was a Garuda Indonesia flight to Bali. A medical and a lot of hand sanitiser later I caught the flight. I was allowed back into Indonesia because I have a work permit. All other foreigners are currently excluded. The flights landed in Bali from there I had to book a second one to Lombok as all boats between the islands had been cancelled.

My friend Sundin who works at my dive centre in Gili T picked me up in Lombok. 'The normal driver I use could not pick you up today so that is why I am here,' Sudin tells me. 'His village is not allowing anyone to leave.' Local villages can l be a law onto themselves. In this case, I agree with them.

I asked him about the mood on Lombok compared to when the earthquake happened in 2018. I told him in Bali they said it is worse for the economy than the volcano eruption a couple of years ago. 'People don't know about the future', Sudin tells me. 'At least during the earthquake we got some donations coming in for food and we could eat. 'I heard Vietnam and other countries have stopped exporting rice and are keeping it in their own country'.

The boat ride over to Gili was calm. I was allowed on the island because I have a house there. For everyone else, the island is in full lockdown. People on the island are still allowed to move around but no one new is allowed on and you need special permission to leave. All our food is delivered from the mainland where the local vegetable market is still open. I have to self-quarantine at home for two weeks - something I 100% agree with. I was so pleased they allowed me home.

The first thing that struck about Gili T was how much more relaxed everyone is in comparison to Australia where the mood was tense. At first, I thought it must be willful ignorance but after thinking about it I realise that this is just one more thing for Indonesians. In the past three years, this county had two devastating earthquakes, a volcanic eruption and a tsunami. Here people still die of diseases long extinct in the western world. All this means the Indonesians tend to be far more fatalistic.

Ben, the manager of Manta Dive where I work, told me nearly all the dive instructors have stayed on the island. It is a lot easier and cheaper for them here than back home in most cases. At the start of the crisis, people on the island felt isolated and worried. Since the island has been locked down and the remaining population (less than 200 people) are allowed to move around moving around things have relaxed.

Some people are learning to surf. One instructor friend told me he did a shore dive the other day and saw a lot more fish than normal. Some instructors have taken up gardening. The resorts help out with food as most have a reasonable supply stockpiled. One thing about Gili Trawangan is the community is strong – something that was very important during the earthquake of 2018. Our dive centre is still paying small salaries to all the staff so they can send some money back to their families in Lombok. 

Talking on the phone a friend who manages another dive centre she tells me: 'We can live here cheaply, Alfie. $10 a day if we have to .'In the quiet streets and empty beaches of Gili resembles an apocalyptic movie. Until the tourists return the only silver lining is that we have this beautiful island to our selves... 


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VanessaVANESSA MIGNON, PHOTOGRAPHER, TOUR LEADER, SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

I have been in self-isolation since mid-March. Initially, by choice but at the end of March, our government implemented very strict rules of social distancing. They are asking us to stay home and to only go out for essential reasons such as medical needs, buying essential supplies, exercising or going to work. The government is, rightly so, enforcing those rules as some people do not seem to understand how serious this virus is.

It is a lonely time and a daunting one as work is quickly fading away. I try to stay positive and take one day at a time, but I cannot help feeling very anxious. I have started a gratitude journal and daily I add one thing I am grateful for. I realise that there are many things I have taken for granted all my life: my freedom, hugs, soap, toilet paper! I am developing a new appreciation for what I have, small or big.

This crisis is taking away lives and livelihoods. It’s creating fear, which then brings up the worst in people. But it is equally bringing up the best in people, with so many reaching out to help, doctors risking their lives and many businesses coming up with positive solutions.


 

DDSonLocationDOUGLAS DAVID SEIFERT, DIVE'S WORLD EDITOR, VANCOUVER, CANADA

We were onboard one of our favourite liveaboard dive boats, Damai I, off West Papua, Indonesia, for a few weeks and without internet service, so we really didn’t know the world had rather rapidly gone to hell in the last weeks of March. Once we got to Bali, we quickly found out the extent of the measures being put into place everywhere, with flights being cancelled and quarantines and all measure of stories of epidemics and privations throughout North America and Europe.

We quickly left Bali for what turned out to be the last direct flight from Tokyo to Vancouver, where we mostly live when not travelling. It was a shame to leave Bali — the island was deserted, a ghost town — like we had never experienced it before, with a slower more relaxed pace as I remembered it used to be, back on my first visit 30 years ago, before it became overrun with mass tourism.

We returned to Vancouver and were instructed to self-isolate for 14 days. We were confident we had not been exposed to the virus since we had been on a boat for three weeks and had no other close interactions with people except going through three airports on our return home but we accepted the mandate and hunkered down.

The self-isolation passed without a hitch, food deliveries have enabled me to hone my cooking skills as I get reacquainted with my cookbook library. The biggest danger, for now, is greater consumption of delicious calories going in without the ability to do much exercise to burn them up.

Having unstructured days and no clear plan ahead for the travel schedule is difficult after having had a routine for so many years.

There is a phrase in music notation called 'tempo rubato' meaning stolen time and I think this is a characteristic of our current situation. But stolen time can be taken advantage of by self-starting projects, cleaning out the unnecessary, and exploring new interests.

What is wonderful in this time of uncertainty and flexibility is the opportunity to catch up on reading. There are so many worthwhile books that had been put off because we were too busy with travel, with making photographs, and research. Now, I am able to give books the serious attention they deserve. I have a diverse selection of natural history, art, poetry and, of course, cookery books to keep my mind active and engaged.

I look out the window at a city that is a shadow of itself. Few people to be seen, the barest minimum of vehicular traffic. The commuter seaplanes that dock at a quay a few blocks away are gone, service suspended. Every evening at 7 pm, we go to the balcony and bang on pots to rally a cheer for the essential services people on the front lines of this pandemic as their shift changes and they emerge from the hospitals. The churches ring their bells, the harbour horn and signalling canon accompany, providing a sense of unity and hope for our city, the nation, and the world.

It is a sunny day and since it is possible, though not encouraged, we will drive to a suburban neighbourhood not so far away that has wide streets and blossoming cherry trees and we will walk in the sunshine, giving wide berth to others, and breathing in fresh air.


 

SiskiTropicConce1SISKI KALLA,  ILLUSTRATOR, WRITER AND FORMER DEPUTY EDITOR OF DIVE, WHO LIVES IN THE COUNTRYSIDE NEAR CHILE'S SECOND CITY CONCEPCION

I was worried about living in 'el campo' when we first moved to Chile, but never has living far from a city seemed like a safer option. The cities of Chile are in full lockdown and while the vast majority of the people who live in the countryside are dirt poor we are still free to move around in our virus-free isolation.

We can go outside, breathe the fresh air, feel the sun on our faces, plant more vegetables and fruit trees. My kids are thriving, planting things, learning to cook, sew and hammer nails to make stools and raised beds for vegetables. I feel guilty about being so lucky.

The city dwellers, however, are really suffering. Outbreaks have been mainly focused on the most wealthy parts of Santiago and these are the areas that have now been put under strict orders to stay at home. People living there must apply for a permit to walk the dog and to shop.

In Chile, so many more businesses rely on face-to-face contact. Online shopping is still in its infancy. I keep imagining how the street vendors are living right now – the thousands of people who make money selling fruit or veg from street stalls, all the people selling chocolate bars, water bottles to passing vehicles. It's not as if these people would have had any savings, nor will they get any 'business compensation' from the government. What will they do?

The kids and I have rewatched Blue Planet II and now are starting on The Life of Birds. There is nothing quite like the soothing tones of David Attenborough and astounding imagery of wildlife to calm an anxious mind.

 

Baja34DUNCAN MURRELL, PHOTOGRAPHER, PALAWAN, THE PHILIPPINES

I was looking forward to getting back to my overseas base in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, the Philippines in good time for the whale shark season that usually commences around the full moon in April. I had booked my flight from London for Friday 13 March 1long before the coronavirus crisis had started, and fortunately, it turned out to be a lucky Friday 13th for me as it was the last Saudia Air flight before they suspended flights to the Philippines.

A friend had already given me advance notice of the lockdown that was commencing in Manila on 15 March, and when I arrived at the domestic terminal for my flight to Puerto Princesa there was pandemonium as everyone was racing to beat the restrictions. I was starting to panic when I saw that my flight had been cancelled but fortunately I was put on the very last flight around 9 pm and arrived at an eerily quiet airport in Puerto Princesa.

When I first walked into the city to stock up with food just before the supermarkets and non-essential shops closed it was like travelling back in time to when I first came here more than ten years ago and there was much less traffic than now.

I live at the end of the main road that passes through the city, on the outskirts within earshot of the sea on the way to Honda Bay where the whale sharks come to feed every year.

There is a small community of people here with small roadside shops lining the street that sell all the essentials including a steady supply of fresh fruit and vegetables. I only need to walk along the tree-lined road a couple of times a week to get what I need including the mobile internet credit to remain in contact with the outside world and follow the news.

There is more nature than city on my doorstep here with the sound of dogs barking, roosters crowing and children playing more prevalent than cars. However, there is a cement factory not far away that has been pumping out cement for the expansion of the city but now silenced by the lockdown. A most welcome benefit, as is the lack of planes that normally roar past my residence as I live very near the approach to the runway.

Just a few days ago a small flock of endangered endemic Philippines cockatoos flew past my door. Right now it’s just after11pm and the large tokay gecko that lives above my room has announced its presence with its loud chirping and not far away another regular nocturnal neighbour, a large bird, is calling like someone strumming the strings of a double bass.


 

Francesca Page FRANCESCA PAGE, ARTIST & CAMPAIGNER, SURREY, UK

For me, the lockdown didn’t start in my home studio. It started in the heat of the Costa Rican rainforest with a dodgy phone signal speaking to British Airways after they cancelled my return flight to the UK. After a couple of days with three flights already cancelled on me, Costa Rica slowly shutting down and the media headlining 24/7 what felt like impending doom, a part of me just wanted to stay put. I was in Drake Bay with an ocean view and toucans and sloths in the surrounding trees; it felt safe being quite isolated and worlds away from reality.

I remember that morning clearly, I woke up with a heavy feeling in my stomach. I knew something crazy was about to happen. I moved my phone to the highest point in the house to get the weak WiFi signal I needed to check my emails and there it was, CANCELLED. My heart sank, not again I thought. My boyfriend reassured me: ‘It’s going to be okay, let’s just call BA again.’

With the BA hold music embedding into my brain, I waited 45 mins and then suddenly ‘Hello can I help you’. I blurted out ‘My flight’s cancelled, please get me home!’ After being put on hold again and a toucan singing very loudly by our balcony I finally got an answer: ‘There is a flight tomorrow morning at 10:55 am, it’s the last plane back to the UK.

I looked at the time – it was midday with an eight-hour drive through rainforest tracks and rivers with a curfew starting at 9 pm in San Jose where we would stay the night - it was going to be very tight.

We packed our bags at lightning speed. My boyfriend really testing out his four-wheel-drive truck as we raced through dirt tracks and rivers. As I bumped around on my seat all I could think was thank goodness it was the dry season.

Bob Marley's ‘Don’t Worry About A Thing’ came on the stereo, there was a flash of a rainbow in the distance and a keel billed toucan flew by; I let out a big sigh of relief - it appeared everything was going to be alright.

The next morning masks and gloves at the ready, I headed into the almost deserted airport. The flights home were fully booked with everyone leaving San Jose wearing a mask; the realities of this pandemic were slowly sinking in and my over-use of hand sanitizer was making my eczema scream.

I walked what seemed like forever in Miami airport to get to the gate for my connecting flight back to London Heathrow and as I was boarding the plane I realised I was in a window seat. Damn, I thought, the worst seat to have on an eight-hour flight. I made my little nest and waited for my neighbours to arrive. A while later the captain came on the tannoy ‘We are closing the plane doors now. It’s a fully booked flight but we didn’t allow two passengers on due to potential risk of COVID-19’. I looked to my right and couldn’t believe my luck - those two people were meant to be sat next to me.

I got back to the UK in one piece, tired, sad and dazed by the past 24 hours and straight into two weeks of isolation given all my close contact while travelling. I’m back in my studio and painting like there is no tomorrow. This will be all over soon, we just need to sit tight, stay at home and remember, everything is going to be alright!


 

louise murray 1LOUISE MURRAY, PHOTOJOURNALIST, DULWICH, SOUTH LONDON, UK

As someone who exercises outside every day, all-year-round, initially, the lockdown hit me hard. All my swim coaching sessions with the lovely Lido Mike at the 1930s heated Charlton Lido, and training at Crystal Palace pool were cancelled in swift order. Military Fitness classes in the local park followed next. The structure of my week disappeared along with my social life, which to be honest largely involved meeting friends at various local hostelries at the end of my working day for a couple of beers or a weekly visit to one of the local cinemas.

Into Week Two, I was drinking too much and spending too much time on video calls in the evenings to friends around the world to replace my pub time. Now I feel that life has settled into a new normality as my regular exercise classes have moved to online streaming (though I really miss swimming), and long looping cycle rides around the newly empty back streets of South London. I am tackling a long list of things that I used to categorise as ‘life’s too short’ to do. For me that list includes growing vegetables from seed, making my own pasta, sorting out my photography archive, editing and uploading pictures to my agencies and building a new website. I’m even thinking of tackling some underwater photography in my pond of the newts and tadpoles that have just hatched.


 

JasonIsleyJASON ISLEY, FOUNDER OF FILM PRODUCTION COMPANY SCUBAZOO, BASED IN SABAH, MALAYSIA

Here in Borneo, we are lucky that the Malaysian government reacted relatively fast, direct flights from China into Sabah were immediately cancelled - an extremely difficult decision considering 95 per cent of the tourism here currently comes from China. Our lockdown was announced on 17 March, just as I had arrived in Semporna ready to travel out to the Island of Mabul to start a production shoot, needless to say the shoot was immediately cancelled and I returned home to begin my official lockdown on 18 March. Since then I have been informed someone on that flight has tested positive and therefore I needed to be tested, that happened on the 30 March - 10 days later and I’m still waiting for the results isolated in home quarantine.

Our business has stopped overnight, our office closed on 18 March, all our foreign productions coming into Sabah cancelled probably for the remainder of 2020, therefore we have to somehow survive on local projects once the lockdown is lifted. We are fortunate that Scubazoo are working on a guide book for diving in Sabah and therefore I can keep busy. However, working from home with a 7-month-old and a 3-year-old means productivity is not what it should be.

Our lockdown is due to end on 15 April and although the curve in Sabah is flat we will be dictated to by the numbers and government order from Peninsula Malaysia which isn’t quite as flat. Even if the lockdown is removed and life heads back to normality by the end of April, I doubt very much there will be much international travel, dive operators will certainly suffer and foreign productions will take a long time to resume. The only positive I see from all this is that the reefs, the forests, the oceans and the planet, in general, have had some form of relief from the largest virus of all - humans!


 

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