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28.03.14

Dive Britain: The Blog

I’m not knocking blue water divers but I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the words “I don’t do British diving” only to discover they haven’t even tried it! This series of blogs will focus on a number of popular UK wrecks and marine species in a bid to ‘educate and inform’ the unbelievers out there. I am hoping to inspire some interaction, so if you feel as passionately about UK diving as I do please leave a comment or two about your thoughts and experiences. Happy British diving!

Blog topic: Seahorses

Let’s face it, everybody loves seahorses, and fortunately for me they can be found right on my doorstep down at Studland Bay in Dorset. Yes, you’ve got it, seahorses can actually be found alive and kicking here in the UK. Studland Bay is a well-known seahorse spotting area, where the spiny seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus and the short snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus) are often sighted. Just recently the picturesque little bay has been covered in controversy due to the fact that boat owners have been dropping anchors at the site, but I don’t want to cover this issue at present.

Seahorses are currently protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981), schedule 5, section 9. In basic terms this states that it’s against the law to purposely go searching for seahorses unless you have been granted a special permit or have proper authorisation. Basically, if I’m diving and happen to bump into a seahorse by chance, that is okay, but if I intentionally go looking for them then I can be fined thousands of pounds for breaking the law.

Seahorses are gorgeous little creatures...

For a number of years I had been hearing rumours about a site in Poole Bay where seahorses were regularly being caught inside fishing nets so I decided to investigate further. I spoke to local fishermen and managed to get a rough idea where they might be found. As a rule of thumb sea grass areas make good seahorse habitats so it is always worth an extra scout about whenever you come across any sea grass. That said, the chances of actually finding a seahorse camouflaged against the fronds is pretty slim, unless of course you are lucky enough to find an area with a dense population.

Okay, so hypothetically you stumble across an area of lush sea grass during your dive and the miracle of miracles happens - you actually find a seahorse and believe it or not you have a camera in hand. But hold on, we now move on to the next controversial subject. Underwater photographers are not allowed to take pictures of seahorses using flash as this purportedly stresses out the creature to such an extent dormant diseases can be activated. The seahorse won’t keel over and die in front of you; it may well take a week for the disease to take hold. A couple of months ago I was emailed an overseas study where a reasonable number of seahorses were exposed to flash photography and other stimulants to see if this affected them in any way. The results of this particular study showed that the seahorses were unaffected by flash. I haven’t actually seen any studies proving flash does kill seahorses so if anybody does have any information on this subject I would love to see it.

...and supremely camouflaged

I have added a few pictures of two seahorses that were found in Poole bay. I didn’t intentionally go looking for them so was not breaking the law. Unfortunately now I know where they are I can’t go back for a second viewing. The seahorses were both around the same size, 10-12cm with long spikey manes. They were quite shy so after taking a few pictures I backed away and let them be. To date this was my first and only encounter with UK seahorses.

Bio: Stuart Philpott is currently running two dedicated underwater photography centres based at Poole and Portland on the south coast. After spending the past 15 years ‘on the road’ as a fulltime travel journalist and photographer it seemed like the right time to put down some roots and focus on promoting UK underwater photography, which is where he initially started. The centres are stocked with a variety of underwater cameras and action cameras, including a full range of lighting options and accessories. Stuart also runs regular one- to three-day photography workshops on all manner of subjects, from macro to wide angle. The workshops are geared to suit all levels and run at a variety of popular UK dive sites throughout the year. Check out www.h2photo.co.uk or call Stuart on +44 (0) 7795 195 245 for more details.

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