In October 2016 The Queen’s Own Yeomanry and a selection from other Reservist units, deployed on Exercise Northern Blue Juice to Fuerteventura.
The aim of the expedition was to conduct diver training and to qualify all participants in either the BSAC Ocean Diver or Sports Diver. We were also extremely fortunate to participate in a shark conservation project working in conjunction with Deep Blue Dive Centre and the Alianza Tiburones Canarias (the Canarian shark conservation group).
Alianza Tiburones Caranarias aims to save the Angel Shark from near extinction. The expedition dates coincided with the time of year when the Angel Sharks arrive in the shallows of the Canary Islands to breed and give birth. The Angel Shark is currently the most endangered shark species on our planet caused through activities such as fishing and pollution of the marine environment. As part of the project, our expedition members conducted a detailed survey of all shark sightings. These sightings were documented using written and photographic evidence which is used to estimate the increase or decrease in the shark’s population. The information gathered will be used by the organisation to educate the local population and tourists of the need to protect the world’s most endangered shark and of the fragility of the North Atlantic Ocean and its inhabitants.
The journey started in the Wigan Army Reserve Centre, with all the expedition members arriving to commence their theory lessons prior to deployment. Due to the nature of the exercise and everything involved in gaining the BSAC qualifications, the week ahead was set to be incredibly busy with a tight schedule to maintain. Morale was high however, and everyone was extremely keen to learn and refine both their theory and practical skills.
On arriving in Fuerteventura, the hotel was only a short walk away from the Deep Blue Dive Centre, the sun was shining, the water was calm and everyone was enthused and ready to dive. The Centre had access to several dive sites all within a short boat ride that catered for every level of experience at varying depths. This enabled our BSAC Ocean Divers to progress in a safe and controlled environment whilst still having access to some incredible aquatic life and underwater scenery.
We were divided into two groups, each diving 3 times a day with enough time in between to
complete our logs and brush up on our theory before the next dive. As the week progressed, so did our skills and confidence. We went through our SEEDS brief (Safety, Exercise, Equipment, Discipline, Signals), then the ‘Buddy Check – B.A.R (Buoyancy, Air, Releases) before each dive. These checks and briefs are vital to reinforce diver safety and strengthen the ‘buddy-buddy’ trust both above and below the surface. As our diving experience increased, so did the expected standard we were required to achieve. We were able to dive deeper for longer and explore more of what the North Atlantic had to offer around the coast of Fuerteventura.
In line with our participation in the Angel Shark Conservation Project, their team came to our accommodation to deliver a presentation all about this incredibly rare species of shark. We learned all about their lifestyle and their current existence within their habitat. We learned about underwater etiquette in approaching these magnificent sharks, what to look for and how to record the information. It was important for us to note the length, the sex and the location of the shark, to take photos and any videos to further the work carried out by the project. Throughout the expedition, we were lucky enough to have several sightings of Angel Sharks and even spotted a male and female together, which is very rare as they only come together to mate.
At this time of year in Fuerteventura the weather is usually still hot and the ocean very calm. This combination normally forms for perfect dive conditions. This year though, we were unfortunate to get 2 days of storms resulting in a no-dive day. All was not lost as it did enable us a chance to go through more theory and complete the relevant exams per qualification. The two days of storms however stirred up the ocean floor reducing visibility quite considerably for our last day of diving. This was no deterrent for us intrepid divers as all the work we had put in throughout the week, the confidence, knowledge and skills we had gained, enabled us to cope with the conditions effectively, and put in to practice the dry drills we had learnt on the surface. This lead to a very successful dive pushing everyone further outside their own comfort zone.
The 7 days in Fuerteventura on Exercise Northern Blue Juice resulted in a combined total of 224 dives, 5430 minutes under the water, over 6 hours spent underwater per person to an average depth of 18 meters with a maximum depth of 35 meters for our Sports Divers. The chance to work with Alianza Tiburones Canarias on their Angel Shark Conservation Project was hugely educational and enlightening, made even sweeter by seeing these beautiful sharks on several occasions. The whole experience was certainly very challenging and rewarding. To be placed in an environment with what is in effect a ‘self-contained life support machine’, in a completely foreign and alien environment with any number of potential challenges ranging from aquatic life, visibility, depth, time under water and decompression stops. All of them must be planned for with the relevant courses of action in place to draw upon when required.
This was an incredible experience for all our Reservists involved and one that was both testing and challenging. We are looking forward to planning our next expedition in 2017 to further our skills and develop more experience to push towards our next diving qualification.
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