This was probably sparked and fuelled by my professional life, as well as my personal circumstances. I am a Senior Marine Conservation Officer with the Countryside Council for Wales, and a lecturer in the Coastal Zone and Marine Environment Research Unit
at Pembrokeshire College (University of Glamorgan), but I am also a differently abled Thalidomide. Combined, this powerful cocktail could result in only one thing: a wish to blow serious bubbles.
Many of you will smile at the word serious, because my big idea did not involve technical diving or any other extreme dive experience, but revolved around exploring Welsh lakes and rivers.
My then-dive buddy seemed to like the challenge too but, soon afterwards, we
drifted apart.
It looked like the premature ending of a good idea until Lisa Whitfield enrolled on the BSc degree course on which I was lecturing.
A PADI Instructor, Lisa also admitted to taking underwater photographs. It turned out that she had dived, taught and photographed in many exotic locations, and was proprietor of Celtic Images, a gallery for photographs of Pembrokeshire. I gathered my courage to suggest that we get together to dive Welsh lakes and rivers: You camera, me dive cover.
A lecturer asking a student to participate in extra-curricular activities can be problematic. You can be accused of undue influence and may lose credibility with other students. Some will even scream favouritism.
However, we both seemed to be inspired by Henry Thoreau, the 19th century American philosopher and naturalist, who considered lakes to be the Earths eyes. Diving into our first one, we were both captivated by the magic displayed before us.
The shallow, clear water, with the sunlight playing on the surface, allowed the rays to filter down through the ripples, at times dousing the lush green stonewort beds in sparkling, dancing light spots. With plant reflections in the mirrored under-surface of the water, it was beautiful, at times eerie and, overall, surreal.
It was a revelation to see the world under the lily pads, and to follow a labyrinth within a reed bed. There were shoals of roach, among other fish, and a juvenile pike tried to acquaint itself with us.
The photographic conditions were good for scientific purposes but also for arty images. We emerged feeling privileged to have explored this extraordinary underwater world.
Lisa and I are now collating a catalogue of underwater photographs of Welsh freshwater sites, with the goal of publishing a book. The images include interesting freshwater life, such as aquatic plants, fish and invertebrates.
Underwater vegetation can provide spectacular views, from turf-like meadows to dense, tall plant forests that penetrate or float on the surface.
Under exceptionally good light conditions, some underwater scenery would make a great backdrop for the Lady of the Lake legend.
There are also nature-conservation merits
in such a project, as freshwater habitats will be impacted by climate change to varying degrees, so photographic records will assist in establishing reference conditions.
Welsh lakes and rivers can pose a surprisingly physical challenge, as entry and exit points are at times extremely difficult, and getting entangled in dense underwater vegetation is a real possibility.
Additional hazards include rapid surface currents with even stronger counter-currents below, and tree trunks and branches can frequently be found lodged in river gorges.
Any divers who wish to follow in our fin-strokes should bear in mind that many Welsh lakes and rivers are Sites of Special Scientific Interest and/or Special Areas of Conservation, so are protected under national and European legislation respectively.
Diving them is considered a potentially damaging activity, so requires written consent from the Countryside Council for Wales and, if applicable, the landowners permission.