Love diving, love Lundy
DIVERS HAVE BEEN BUSY over the past year, helping to identify where Marine Conservation Zones might be placed around England. We hope that they will be involved in a similar exercise
in Scotland. But the idea of marine reserves in Britain goes back 45 years, and, in 2011, we celebrate 40 years of marine conservation at Lundy Island.
The suggestion that we should have nature reserves to protect special features of Britain’s marine environment goes back to 1965, when
a group of diving marine biologists wrote to the Natural Environment Research Council.
They drew attention to threats caused by divers taking souvenirs such as dried seafans and urchins in large numbers for sale as curios, as well as collecting crawfish and spearfishing.
divEr (then Triton) published an article on “underwater nature reserves” in February, 1969. It invited divers to suggest locations for underwater reserves – and to send them to the Scientific Officer of Ilfracombe Sub-Aqua Club, Ron Machin. Yes, dive clubs in those days had a Scientific Officer!
The proposal that Lundy would be a suitable location for a marine nature reserve was first published by Heather Machin (now Booker) in December 1969. By this time, moves were already underway with the island authorities to pursue the proposal.
THE CONSULTATION WAS STARTED in February 1971 and, in the 40 years since then, we have seen Lundy become the country’s first voluntary marine reserve in 1972; the first statutory Marine Nature Reserve in 1986 (so there’s a 25-year anniversary there too); host the first No-Take Zone in 2003; and become England’s first Marine Conservation Zone in January 2010.
So, what’s in it for you Lundy is protected as an outstanding location for marine life, and we hope that the work done over the past 40 years has helped to safeguard the island’s wildlife and enabled you to better enjoy and understand the marine environment there.
Natural England and its predecessors have put major resources into providing information to help scuba-divers, snorkellers and rock-poolers to enjoy the marine wildlife at Lundy.
Three new publications are due out this spring, including a Lundy marine life ID guide, and you will find loads of information on the charter-boats that take divers to Lundy, and on the island itself.
For me, diving Lundy is a great escape from the rigours of mainland life. It’s not just about the time spent under water. It’s the anticipation, the journey, the friends and flicking through the images on those long, dark winter nights.
I live in the sleepy fishing village of Appledore, and Lundy is just 22 miles as the crow flies across Bideford Bay. Living so close, and having the benefit of a well-equipped sub-aqua club in the village, including our own 10m hardboat Compass Rose, we never take for granted how lucky we are.
Lundy offers the only significant protection from the prevailing weather off the North Devon coast. However the 18-mile stretch of water between Bideford Bay and the island is not to be taken lightly. Its relative shallowness, strong tidal flow and exposure to the North Atlantic weather can all add up to a steep and confused sea.
From April to October, we find ourselves tuned into the weather, using the best synoptic charts and wind predictions the Internet can offer.
When the forecast is in our favour, it’s a great feeling rolling out of bed, making the short drive down to the quay and onto the boat.
We climb the rolling Atlantic swells, and once we clear the headlands of Hartland Point to the south and Morte Point to the north, we’re frequently joined by pods of common dolphins, jumping and diving in our wake.
Here we’re well out into the clean water that flows into the Bristol Channel on each tide, and over halfway on our journey to Lundy.
Gannets dive all around, gorging on shoals of sand-eels and mackerel.
On a misty day, Lundy appears majestically out of the haze. Any westerly swell dies away as we arrive on the island’s sheltered east coast. It’s another world. Arriving on a day of typical prevailing westerly breeze, once afforded the protection of the island the surface of the Landing Bay can be mirror-calm.
The kettle goes on, dive sites are agreed and the boat becomes a hive of activity as the first wave of divers kit up.
This affords time for photographers to assemble their equipment and make last-minute checks.
A couple of relaxed dives take in the diverse marine habitats abundant with life, thanks to Lundy’s protected status. Perhaps we’ll do a third dive in the shallows, where the grey seals often oblige, swimming playfully with divers and seemingly posing for photos.
A gigabyte or two of images later, and with any luck we’ll have a cracking shot for the portfolio.
When tide and time allows, we return to the mooring, take the tender ashore and stroll up to the village to sample a beer in the Marisco Tavern, and have a brief catch-up with the staff before heading home.
As we leave the shelter of the island and roll home on the lazy westerly swell, we’re joined briefly by common dolphins as the sun sets behind us on another great day.
When I was a kid, I was into science fiction. I’d imagine wonderful worlds, worlds of strange creatures, worlds to explore, dangerous worlds where things, mistakes or events could kill you, worlds in which you could fly.
As a youngster I remember watching Alien, with the parasite bursting out of John Hurt’s chest. In my 20s I started diving with Appledore Sub Aqua Club. My early dives were at Lundy, and I never dreamed my imaginings of those different worlds would come true.
Imagine a world in which tiny creatures inject themselves into other creatures’ bodies and take them over; a parasite taking over an armoured predator. A tiny chink in the armour is all that’s needed for the parasite to enter the predator’s body. It neuters that body, lays its own eggs and makes the victim nurture them.
The victim then dies as the parasite’s offspring explodes from its body. The parasite is a barnacle and its victim is a crab. Amazing, huh
Imagine a world where everyone in your species is born female, but where the biggest, strongest and most virile is male. When the male dies, the biggest female changes sex to carry on the line.
The cuckoo wrasse begins life as a female and may become a male – imagine.
Imagine a place where there are few plants, and virtually everything is an animal, even the things that look like plants.
If you can’t find a mate you can try cloning, a common means of reproduction in the seas. Look no further than a wall of jewel anemones.
Imagine a world where you would die in minutes without life support, but in which you can fly. Imagine a drift dive on the east side of Lundy.
Imagine a world where ancient and modern artefacts are scattered around, giving evidence of another world, your past world. The Iona II, preserved and accessible only to a few divers.
The underwater world at Lundy is a strange place, a fascinating place, a place stranger than fiction.
To me, the magic of Lundy is the sheer diversity of diving it offers.
The western side, being exposed to the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, provides clean granite gullies interspaced with golden sand. No wreck survives long against this onslaught, but gently drifting through the towering rocks covered in dead men’s fingers makes for such a relaxing dive.
The eastern side is more sheltered, and along with the brilliant colours of the anemones and soft corals, the wrecks are more protected, and provide homes to amazing numbers of fish and crustaceans.
Everyone must respectfully say hello to Robert the lobster when diving on his wreck.
You never know what to expect in a day’s diving. You could be hanging motionless at 25m on Pete’s Pinnacle, looking at a vertical wall extending out of view above and below you, covered in every colour of jewel anemone imaginable. Or fast-drifting through the magnificent pinnacles below Black Rock, looking down on wreckage of long-forgotten ships. Or being hypnotised by the swaying carpet of plumose anemones on the Robert.
But whatever you do, don’t forget to look behind you, as there is always an inquisitive seal wanting to play.
I’m going to stick my neck out and state that Lundy is probably one of my favourite places to be – anywhere – at least, when the sun is shining.
A trip to Lundy for me and my dive mates is an annual pilgrimage, and one that’s planned months in advance. I love the excitement of loading a boat with camping and diving gear, and the anticipation during the two-hour crossing to the island. You really feel as if you’re embarking on an expedition to a new and far-off land – but one that has a good pub in the middle, and decent washroom facilities.
For me, the best time to explore the island topside is very early in the morning, where you’ll encounter even fewer people than you might normally. This is the most serene and tranquil part of the day.
The diving is like nothing else off our British coast, and I have to admit to feeling slightly nervous before jumping in with those cheeky seals each time.
I feel very privileged to be running Obsession, a dive charter to the first Marine Conservation Zone in the UK.
The cool, clear oceanic waters of the Gulf Stream mix with the clear but warmer waters from the Mediterranean at the mouth of the Bristol Channel. While travelling to the island from Ilfracombe, we enjoy regular sightings of dolphins, porpoises, sunfish and pilot whales.
Lundy offers remarkably good underwater visibility and lack of pollution, and it’s a wonderful habitat for the many animals that live on the rocky reefs. The seafans and soft corals show such vibrant colours.
There are more than 100 well-broken wrecks scattered around the island, the only intact one being the Robert, though the historic Iona II lies only a short swim away.
The eastern side of the island is a protected area, which allows for the inhabitants to recover – as the increase in the number of lobsters has shown.
Any half-decent photograph of a tompot blenny was always going to bring
a smile to the faces of the tightly packed audience on voting day of last year’s second Lundy Splash-in competition. I wasn’t disappointed with the wave
of giggles that broke out around the room as my shot of an apparently cross-eyed example of Parablennius gattorugine appeared on the wall of Lundy’s Marisco Tavern.
Following my somewhat unexpected success in the inaugural Lundy splash-in in 2009, and the friendly – but nonetheless competitive – banter with my fellow divers, the pressure was on as I entered the water in 2010 in an attempt to capture a shot that would, in my eyes, elevate me from first-time fluke to a seasoned competition winner of whom Alex Mustard would be proud.
Clearly these musings should be treated with the same irreverence that I unashamedly gave to the inquisitive little tompot. It clearly wasn’t crossed-eyed at all, but just had one eye on my flash and another on me.
He still managed a smile, as did the voters; and I got to smile with a third place in the Mega-to-Macro category.
Lundy has inspired Appledore Sub-Aqua Club divers for the 40 years of the club’s existence, and the Robert is one of our favourite dives. It’s the only intact wreck at Lundy, and because of its 40m length and maximum depth of 25m, most of it can be seen on one dive.
Washed by a strong tidal stream, it’s best to dive the wreck at slack water, but because of these currents there’s a real profusion of life.
It’s the perfect artificial reef, with prominent parts of the wreck covered in white and orange plumose anemones, dead men’s fingers, shoals of bib and individual fish species such as wrasse and pollack.
The best part, however, is searching for the harder-to-find stuff – congers in the pipework, tompot blennies in the crevices and nudibranchs on the hull.
The eastern side of Lundy is sheltered from the prevailing weather, and features many rocky reefs. One of these is Pete’s Wall, in the north-eastern part of the island.
The jewel anemones are particularly spectacular on the reef walls, bright blocks of greens, reds and yellows. You’ll find pink seafans and, if you’re lucky and it’s the right time of year, you might find the pink seafan slug, Tritonia nilodhneri.
Because Lundy is in the Bristol Channel, the waters are relatively warm, clear and clean. This allows all the corals found in UK waters to be represented. At Knoll Pins, a pair of pinnacles breaking the surface at low tide, you’ll find pink seafans, red fingers, Devonshire cup corals and the magnificent sunset cup coral.
In the wall crevices there are usually edible crabs and lobsters, much more common since the start of the Lundy No Take Zone. While there was initially a lot of debate in the club about the merits or otherwise of the NTZ, it’s been universally adhered to by the club. While there’s no longer “one for the pot”, there is a lot more opportunity to see and photograph these beautiful crustaceans.
Over the years our members have been involved in underwater research on the historic wrecks at Lundy, in particular the Iona II, a 75m paddle-steamer that sank off the east coast in 1864. It is speculated that the vessel was running the Federal blockade during the American Civil War.
We have been privileged to be licensed to dive this protected wreck for a number of years. It’s understood that local charter skippers may now be included on the licence, to allow visiting clubs to dive it on a strictly look-no-touch basis.
It’s well worth a dive, as the boilers, the hull up to the bilges and parts of the paddle-wheel and steering apparatus are still visible.
No visit to Lundy would be complete without a dive with the seals. When diving one of the walls or pinnacles on the eastern side, we usually try to end the dive in one of the bays, and more often than not there’s a seal encounter of the close kind.
In deeper water you’ll feel a tug on your fin and get a quick glimpse of a seal disappearing in the distance, but sit on the bottom quietly in 5m and the fun begins. They’ll come face to face and inspect you all over with whiskers and open mouths – a must for underwater photographers.
|GETTING TO LUNDY|
Lundy lies some 15 miles off the north Devon coast, where the Bristol Channel meets the Atlantic. It is owned by the National Trust.
The island attracts around 20,000 visitors a year. You can visit for the day or book one of Lundy’s 23 self-catering cottages. These have been restored by the Landmark Trust, which manages the island.
During summer, Lundy’s own passenger vessel, the Oldenburg, sails from Ilfracombe or Bideford. In winter, visitors travel by helicopter from Hartland Point. For details contact the Lundy Shore Office on 01271 863636, or visit www.lundyisland.co.uk
To find out about diving Lundy, go to the Lundy Field Society site www.lundy.org.uk/dive, or contact the island’s Warden Nicola Saunders 01237 431831, email: firstname.lastname@example.org