A Round-up of Some of the Best and Worst Diving News of 2019
Another year goes by and it's time to reflect on some of what's been happening over the past twelve months. From the most tragic diving incidents to resounding success stories, conservation dramas and photographic magic, here's some of the most popular articles from our website in 2019.
The year got off to a fine start, with the British members of the dive team that rescued the Wild Boars youth football team from the Tham Luang cave system in northern Thailand in June 2018 receiving awards in the New Year's Honours List. The honours are dished out by the Queen in recognition of extraordinary services rendered, and there is no doubt that the bravery of these men was extraordinary. In environmental news, the popular tourist destination of Bali announced that it was to ban single-use plastic bags, a triumph for local environmentalism given that Indonesia is the second-largest world contributor to single-use oceanic plastic pollution. Meanwhile, in the western hemisphere, the December 2018 closure of Red Sea liveaboard divers' favourite the Brothers Islands was extended after concerns there may be a repeat of the oceanic white-tip aggression that placed the island reefs off-limits. With much in the way of scare stories and uncertainty as to how to deal with aggressive shark behaviour, DIVE's guide to shark diving safety tips proved popular with readers.
February saw the successful completion of the first expedition to the bottom of the Belize Blue Hole, conducted by Aquatica Submarines and sponsored by Virgin CEO Richard Branson, who participated in the submersible dives. At the bottom, to everybody's horror – but perhaps not surprise – the team found... a plastic bottle, proving that the scourge of single-use plastics is worldwide and runs deep. In sad news for the UK, the London Diving Chamber was closed due to NHS funding cuts, the end of a long and worthy contribution to scuba diving safety. Rounding out the month, the stunning winning pictures of the 2019 Underwater Photographer of the Year competition were announced.
After a three-month hiatus, the Brothers Islands re-opened to scuba diving tourism, but with new rules for boats, crews and divers. All dive guides working the area were required to undertake mandatory shark awareness safety training by the Chamber of Diving and Watersports (CDWS), the regulatory body which supervises diving activities throughout Egypt. Shortly after the Brothers re-opened, the most important movie sequel ever made - Sharkwater Extinction, the final masterpiece of the late and dearly missed Rob Stewart, who died during filming - was released in UK cinemas on March 22. On a lighter note, The World's deepest pool opened in Poland.
The news that UK divers would be required to recertify for EU diving post-Brexit caused a certain amount of consternation, possibly even panic, amongst divers who hadn't checked the date of the press release. Those who realised it was 1 April saw the funny side - but perhaps also took a moment to consider, given the uncertainty of leaving the EU, whether or not it might become a reality. Down Under in Australia, the controversial Queensland shark-culling program was finally suspended after much campaigning, and the drum-lines had their hooks removed. The news was welcomed by ocean advocates worldwide because - as DIVE's investigative report discovered - the actual consequences of the cull extended far, far beyond the removal of potentially dangerous sharks. In other news, the much loved, much hated, much respected and much-mocked PADI eRDP-ML was retired from service, to a chorus of applause, and also boos.
May saw something of a slow-down in exciting news to report, or possibly less news was reported because our Senior Correspondent was DIVE's staff were busy dealing with the overwhelming flood of nominations to our 2019 DIVE Travel Awards. Nevertheless, we found time to produce a fantastic guide to the best of Bali scuba diving, and also reveal yet more spectacular pictures from the winners of the 2018 Underwater Photography Guide competition. May also saw the release of Scubapro's Galileo HUD, perhaps the first of several attempts to produce a mask-mounted dive computer that would prove successful.
June was a month for sinking things that didn't really need to be sunk but got sunk anyway. Turkey broke the world record for largest underwater aircraft when it sank an Airbus A330 as an artificial reef for divers, only to have its thunder taken, limelight stolen and world record broken just two weeks later, when Bahrain sunk an even larger Boeing 747 'Jumbo' Jet. June also saw the winners of our inaugural Original DIVE Photo competition announced - fantastic photos which would later be published in our Autumn Print Issue.
July was a mixed bag of quite entertaining diving news, with the heartwarming story of a manta asking a dive guide for help to remove a hook from her eye no doubt moistening human eyes worldwide, as perhaps did the world's largest flooded cave diving wedding in the Plura cave system of Norway, although possibly for different reasons. A jolly giant jelly dwarfed the divers that filmed it off the southern coast of the UK, and three sturdy gentlemen from Burghead Sub-Aqua Club (Burgsac) in Scotland broke the Three Lakes Challenge record previously set by Monty Halls and Andy Torbet. Following along with the theme of sinking things unnecessarily but yet interestingly, Aqaba sank several tons of hardware to provide divers with the opportunity to visit the world's first underwater military museum. July also saw the voting phase of the DIVE 2019 Travel Awards open to much voting enthusiasm.
August saw British Airways become the latest tour operator to end trips to SeaWorld – where before they had previously refused – a direct consequence of public outrage following the 2013 movie Blackfish. A new study from the Marine Megafauna Foundation revealed that manta rays form distinct social bonds and like to hang out with their mates at cleaning stations, and The Diver Medic unveiled a new Diving Emergency Responder Specialty Course, a much-needed upgrade to the standard First Response programmes that many divers undertake.
September began with the single most tragic diving story of all time, as 34 divers were killed on a liveaboard that caught fire off the coast of California. News spread rapidly, and for the first time, the world's mainstream media paid attention to a problem that is not unknown amongst the dive community, but which has never before been so awfully severe. The oldest and second-largest British tour operator, Thomas Cook, collapsed, leaving hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers stranded, many of them divers, and popular Red Sea liveaboard operators were forced to make drastic changes to their services. We also started a popular six-part series on the deep wrecks of Malta, some new to diving, taken under the wing of Malta's Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit earlier in the year.
Following August's decision by British Airways to ban trips to SeaWorld, Tripadvisor followed suit and ended ticket sales to all tourist attractions that involved the display of captive cetaceans. The Cave, a feature film following the breathtaking rescue of the Thai youth football team was released to critical acclaim, but the big news of October, and perhaps the whole year for British divers, was the announcement by the UK Government that it would finally, after four years, rescind the travel advisory preventing direct flights from the UK to the scuba diving paradise of Sharm-El-Sheikh. Egypt's tourism industry suffered mightily without the British presence in Sharm and the news was warmly – ecstatically, in some cases – welcomed by Sharm's dive operators. The first flights to the beleaguered resort were announced less than 24 hours later, and DIVE took a look at just what British divers had been missing in the intervening years.
November saw another diving tragedy as a Red Sea liveaboard caught fire in the middle of the night, killing one of its passengers. With September's Californian disaster still fresh in divers' minds, the latest incident provided calls for a review into liveaboard safety practices, and DIVE took a closer look at what divers should consider when choosing to vacation on a small boat out at sea. In other news, the deepest military wreck in the world was discovered in the Philippines, but the second half of November was all about the winners of the 2019 DIVE Travel Awards. After six months and nearly 20,000 votes, Indonesia, Egypt and Mexico took the top three spots in the destinations category; Raja Ampat's Papua Explorers, Bunaken's Siladen Resort and Spa and Sharm-El-Sheikh's Elite Diving took the top places in the dive centres or resorts category, and Coralia, Dewi Nusantara and Mermaid I rounded out an Indonesian top three of liveaboards.
December began with a call to action from the WWF as the organisation urged central and western Pacific fisheries to change their practices to prevent the regional extinction of the oceanic whitetip shark. The world-leading Coral Restoration Foundation Curaçao (CRFC) announced its seventh coral nursery in the fight against reef degradation, however on the other side of the world, a global coral reef expedition found that the reefs of French Polynesia are amongst the most healthy and vibrant in the world. Finally, seeing us through to the New Year and beyond is our brand new DIVE's Big Shot photo competition, where 20 winners will be published in the next issue of our glorious print magazine, and one super-lucky winner will find themselves the recipient of an Aggressor Liveaboards adventure.
With all the best from the team at DIVE and Syon Publishing - have a wonderful New Year and we look forward to seeing you in 2020 for a brand new decade of underwater adventures!