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Jumping into the Deep End

As you may know, GUE advocates adding helium to your breathing mix when diving beyond 30 m/100 ft. But the recommendation is not just limited to tech divers. Here GUE’s 2019 NextGen scholar and recreational instructor Annika Andresen shares her experience taking GUE’s Rec 3 course, aimed at recreational divers who want to venture a little deeper. In addition to minimizing narcosis, it’s a great way to lighten their load.

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by Annika Andresen
Header photo by Kim Hildebrandt

Jumping into the deep end (quite literally!) to kick off my scholarship year and the new decade, the first course I undertook as the NextGen Scholar was the GUE Recreational Diver 3 course (Rec 3). This is a limited decompression course designed to teach advanced diving skills to prepare divers to use decompression cylinders and breathe helium-based gas mixtures. For this course our maximum depth is 40m/130ft. This course was perfect to get me ready for the year ahead, full of diving adventures.

Before the scholarship year, I knew I wanted to do my Technical Diver 1 (Tech 1) and Cave Diver 1 (Cave 1), but in all honesty, I didn’t really know much about the recreational courses. I did my Fundamentals course within my first twenty dives in 2014 and gained my Technical Pass the following year. My scholarship mentor suggested the Rec 3 as a really good stepping stone for Tech 1.

Surface Practice

Day one quickly approached. I excitedly packed my car with all the dive gear I would possibly need and more before heading to meet the team. I was joined by fellow New Zealand (NZ) diver Tyler as he is also using this course in preparation for Tech 1. The NZ diving community is very small which is great because everyone knows each other. We greeted each other with hugs while reminiscing about Christmas before we launched into the jam packed schedule for the next four days.

Practicing dry runs of our skills.
Photo courtesy of Josh Fretwell.

​Like all GUE courses there is both theory and in-water training. Before we jumped into any gear, we went through dry runs with all our equipment—especially how to use a stage bottle for decompression. This was new! I had never used one before and I was interested to see how it was to swim around with an extra bottle attached to the side of me.

On land, it’s a lot easier to go through scenarios and drills when you can talk to each other. Underwater…not so much. You have to rely on what the plan was and how to translate that into hand signals. A hilarious game of charades can arise from those moments of “what?” “huh?” resulting in either a) repeating the signal with more gusto and intensity, or b) amusing facial expression of pure confusion. Fun times ahead!

For the first two days of our course we were joined by Xavier, from the University of Auckland, who is doing his PhD on the effects of inert gas narcosis on our brains while scuba diving. He made a technical subject really easy to understand.

Diving Lake Pupuke

Once our gear was set and were confident in our dry runs, we were ready to head to the lake. Lake Pupuke is a 150,000 year old volcanic crater lake located in Auckland NZ’s North Shore. It is a popular recreational spot especially for dive training, and for the last couple of years it has been monitored by Project Baseline Lake Pupuke. This project has been investigating why the water quality has been deteriorating in the lake and is led by New Zealand GUE diver Ebi, and was a subject of an InDepth article, “Bringing Citizen Science To Lake Pupuke.” 

Project Baseline at Lake Pupuke.
Photo courtesy of PB Lake Pupuke.

The cold, murky waters of Lake Pupuke provided a great training ground for the first two days where we conducted our dives, practiced using our stage bottle, ran through different safety drills and learned how to hold our decompression stops in low visibility. Once we had the nod of approval for our skills in a controlled low visibility environment, we headed north to complete our final two days of diving out in the open ocean at the Poor Knights Islands. These islands lie 50 kilometres to the north-east of Whangarei, New Zealand. 

​The Poor Knights Islands

With an 8am start, we arrived at Dive! Tutukaka to be greeted by the lovely staff before making our way onto the boat to load our gear. The Poor Knights Islands are protected by a no-take marine reserve with incredibly varied plant, animal, and fish life. The 11-million year old volcanic islands sport a myriad of spectacular drop offs, walls, caves, arches and tunnels. One of the sites at the Poor Knights was ranked in Jacque Cousteau’s top ten dive sites in the world. It’s no secret why I love this place!

About to descend at Poor Knights Island.
Photo courtesy of Dive! Tutukaka, Jack Austin.

It takes under an hour to get to the islands and choose a site for our first dive. This was a big day because if we could plan and execute our dives correctly while responding to the different scenarios given to us, we would be able to dive trimix for our final day! 

I led our team’s first dive pre-dive checklist, the so-called GUE EDGE (Goal, Unified Team, Equipment, Exposure, Decompression, Gas, Environment), and made sure everyone knew their roles. I soon realised that my tendency was to lead a dive in a very similar way that I was used to when looking after a group of people. However, these dives were very different in the way your team is positioned and how you ascend/descend to ensure you stay within your plan for your decompression. 

Preparing for my dive.
Photo courtesy of Kim Hildebrandt.

Debriefing after the dive included some laughs about how relaxed we were during our out-of gas scenario and ascent. Tyler did an excellent job of running the next dive after we discussed what we wanted to improve on. After catching a glimpse of a John Dory (a very delicious NZ fish) and practising more valve failures (very successfully, phew!), our instructor gave us the thumbs up to do trimix dives the next day!

Diving Trimix for the First Time

Exploring the reefs at Poor Knights Island.
Photo courtesy Matthew Coutts
.

The following morning, we headed out again with Dive! Tutukaka. Our amazing skippers, Chris and Jack, took us to the entrance of the world’s largest sea cave where we started our dive. Our dive plan turned into hysterics when I suddenly spoke with a high-pitched chipmunk voice- forgetting I was on helium. My baby voice kept us amused while being very serious with our instructor looking on having a laugh.

The dive itself was incredible! The visibility in the water was so clear! I loved seeing species that are uncommon in shallower water. I’ve guided this site many times before but I was always diving above 30m/100 ft. It was amazing to see what it was like even if I was only 10m/10ft deeper.

Practicing my gas switch onto my deco bottle.
Photo courtesy of Josh Fretwell.

The following dive was even better – exploring a Landing Bay pinnacle that starts at 5m/16 ft and drops down to the sand at 50m/164 ft. We explored some amazing swim-throughs, but the highlights of the day were seeing a white wandering anemone, massive sponges, four long finned boarfish and my favourite—a couple of pairs of Lord Howe coral fish! ​

Next step…. Tech 1. 

Why Recreational Diver 3 Course?

This course is fantastic! I gained so much confidence in gas switching, practicing holding my deco stops while managing failures and an awesome introduction into diving with trimix. I was expecting the course to be similar to my fundamentals course and I personally found it easier. 

I am my biggest critic and got frustrated by some of my bad habits that I discovered in my Fundamentals course. When I started the Rec 3, I had only heard of stories about Tech 1 and I thought the course would be much more aggressive. Instead it was the opposite. I was using all the skills I had learnt in my Fundies course and then building on them. 

We were never dealing with multiple failures like I had heard about in Tech 1 but learnt how to deal with each failure individually to build a strong foundation for our next courses. After completing my tech pass in the Fundamentals course and Rec 3 (both allow you to progress to Tech 1) I could not recommend Recreational Diver 3 Course more highly. This is a course I felt was essential before starting my Tech 1 course. I feel more prepared and confident to allow me to enjoy my Tech 1 course more.

Rec 3 completed and now ready for Tech 1.
Photo courtesy of Josh Fretwell.

​A HUGE THANK YOU to my amazing instructor, to Xavier for sharing your amazing depth of knowledge and answering all my questions, my team member Tyler for being the best dive buddy and always double checking my math and the team at Dive! Tutukaka, they are all amazing people and the owners Kate and Jeroen are truly incredible. They have always supported me, and I have always admired their passion for protecting our unique and beautiful underwater world.

Additional Resources:


GUE’s first NEXTGen scholar, Annika Andresen is a virtual reality environmental educator for BLAKE NZ, connecting thousands of young Kiwis with their marine environment. Annika holds a Master of Architecture degree, where her thesis investigated the role architecture plays on the connection people have with their environment. During her studies, Annika worked as a dive instructor for Dive! Tutukaka and was the President of the Auckland University Underwater Club. Annika has just been awarded New Zealand Women of Influence Youth Award for 2019. Using her natural enthusiasm and infectious personality, Annika hopes to educate others to understand and cherish our unique environment to better protect it for the years to come.

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Resurrecting a Ghost: The Launch of Ghost Diving USA

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By Katie McWilliams. Photos courtesy of Ghost Diving USA unless noted. Header image by Jim Babor

Ghost Diving, formerly Ghost Fishing, has officially arrived in the United States. Naming Southern California as home for the United States chapter is not an expansion to a new territory; instead, it is a warm welcome home after a long journey. 

Ghost Fishing first arrived in Southern California in the mid 2000s spearheaded by Karim and Heather Hamza. Their team, a group of volunteer technical divers, set out to improve the health and viability of the Southern California waters. The team started with the Infidel, a sunken squid fishing vessel near Catalina Island in 45 m/150 ft. They diligently worked to clean the Infidel which took almost two years. This victory was huge for their effort. Sadly, due to lack of funding, they were unable to continue other projects. Despite this hardship and some time away from their pursuit of the ghosts, Karim and Heather are back and more motivated than ever. 

Heather’s passion is deeply rooted in her mission to advocate for animals. This passion has helped her to push through and focus on advocating for the animals that are often unseen. The marine life that goes undetected but is ever threatened in our oceans. These are the animals Heather makes very certain to see. Her passion and love for them is palpable; it radiates from her like the warmth of a sunny day. It beckons you to join her cause. This is what keeps the fire alive in her heart for Ghost Diving. She knows that she can turn the collection of nets and her experiences into educational opportunities. Heather’s aspirations for Ghost Diving USA include continuing to educate others regarding the threat of abandoned and discarded fishing gear, seeking legislative solutions to the problem, and ultimately, building an informed and empowered community that takes care of our oceans.

Karim thrives in situations that require precision and accuracy. He explains that for him, this new era of Ghost Diving is providing a fresh opportunity to build a community of elite divers that share a passion for and commitment to a great cause. He has the knowledge and experience to help train and mentor divers along their path to becoming ghost divers and intends to give all he can to the process. He wants to bring to fruition teams of divers who trust not only each other but also the process, as well as high training standards and passion for the cause. As Karim described all the things that a ghost diver needs to be, one of the original team members immediately sprang to mind, Jim Babor. 

Jim recounted the arduous process that is becoming a ghost diver and being active with projects. He started with the project as a safety diver. The deep team would come up from the dive to the nets, and Jim would ascend with them through their scheduled decompression. He then progressed into his technical training and began photographing and documenting the work the divers were doing. Jim shared something that truly captures the essence of the passion needed to be a ghost diver. When asked about some of his most memorable incidents, he recounted the amazing experience of rescuing live animals by cutting them out of nets they were trapped in.. When asked what it felt like to cut an animal out of the net and watch it swim away, Jim was simply at a loss for words. We spoke on the phone and despite Jim’s reflective pause as he gathered his thoughts, it was apparent that the experience resonates with him on a deep level rooted in compassion. For Jim, the Ghost Diving USA launch brings his commitment and journey as a ghost diver full circle.  

Helping to lead Ghost Diving USA into the future is scientific coordinator Norbert Lee, Scuba instructor, marine biologist, and active technical diver. To speak to Norbert is to feel his can-do attitude and realize his aspirations are rooted in protecting and fostering the growth of the underwater world while educating the community about ocean conservation. More importantly, his strong sense of commitment to the team effort shines through everything. In asking Norbert about his journey to becoming the US chapter coordinator, he cited the significance of the mentorship he has and continues to receive. This mentorship comes from a variety of sources including Pascal van Erp, the Hamzas and Jim Babor. 

Norbert Lee’s goal is to collect data about the environmental impact of ghost nets and how their removal impacts the health and growth of a given area. By collecting this data, he is confident he can help to educate the community about the true impact of abandoned fishing gear. He does not want to stop with nets. He wants to help recover lobster pots and other fishing apparatus that continue to catch fish after being left behind. Through educating the community, he does not want to villainize or chastise commercial fishing but rather to build working, symbiotic relationships with fishermen. By working together, Norbert hopes to have the nets removed before they do irreversible damage. 

The Founding of Ghost Diving

Pascal van Erp has a commanding grasp on the issue of abandoned fishing gear. As the founder of Ghost Diving. Pascal’s passion has built a formidable and forward-thinking movement. Speaking to Pascal is a unique experience. He exudes a quiet confidence that only time and experience can build. In researching his work to prepare for his visit and subsequent presentations, it became quite apparent that Pascal is consistent in his message. The message is that Ghost Diving breathes new life into abandoned nets that can be recycled or upcycled. To reuse and upcycle the nets means to actively contribute to the health of the planet for today and more importantly, future generations. 

Next, Pascal emphasizes Ghost Diving is dangerous. He explains that the dangers are not always apparent. Instead, they lurk in the shadows cast by ghost nets. Team dynamics are not only critical but a matter of life and death. Pascal frequently mentions the significance of trust. The ability to trust teammates to maintain composure in the face of adversity. Trusting that if something goes wrong, they can and will continue to problem solve. Trusting that they can and will save your life. The team must always perform at the highest levels. It is critical that the dive is executed according to plan and that the procedure is applied with absolute fidelity. The nets do not discriminate between human life and marine life. They are not forgiving. A diver can meet an untimely fate in the grasp of a ghost net. 

Ghost Diving USA provides a unique and exciting opportunity by planting its roots here. With support from Zen Dive Co., ghost divers will have access to equipment, standard gasses and service that will meet all their needs while ensuring the quality and reliability of these resources. While funding issues had previously plagued Ghost Fishing, the Ghost Diving partnership with Healthy Seas along with other community sponsors helps to ensure the security of the critical funding that makes these projects possible. 

Launching Ghost Diving USA

Zen Dive Co. hosted a launch event for Ghost Diving USA on Thursday, April 28. The energy in the building was electric. Everyone was thrilled to network, build community, and work towards supporting Ghost Diving USA in any possible way. Karim opened the evening by describing the net diving mission that the ghost divers had gone on earlier in the day. He explained in detail that the Moody, a Wickes class destroyer, sits at approximately 45m/150 ft. Conditions at sea were challenging. Spring is a rough season in Southern California. Variable winds cause large swells, and upwellings bring up life giving nutrients. Unfortunately, both phenomena significantly reduce visibility. This dive was no exception. Karim described a thick green cloud in the shallower depths cutting visibility to 4.5–6 m/15–20 ft. This green cloud blocked out all ambient light as the ghost divers descended, and then cutting the nets only made visibility worse. Essentially, there was no ambient light, and visibility quickly became next to zero. The ghost divers were forced to rely upon the light they brought with them. Despite the challenges, the net clean-up was successful, but the work is far from done. The ghost divers will have to return to remove more net. 

Pascal made a brief presentation about the problem of ghost nets. It was incredible to experience a room full of people feeling compelled to act, and everyone looking for the way they could best support the mission. Veronika Mikos of Healthy Seas helped to drive the point home when she explained that through partnerships with organizations such as Bracenet and Aquafil, the recycling and upcycling of nets can help to significantly reduce carbon emissions. Additionally, as the ability to recycle nets and the products made from nets grows, they become sustainable and renewable. The yarn made from the nets can be processed infinitely and never loses quality. 

The most precious resource to any of these projects is manpower. Volunteers. People willing to train hard, think of the many versus the one and ultimately focus on safety. A ghost diver is a technical diver that has successfully completed a series of training workshops that help to best prepare them for what they will experience on a net retrieval dive. The workshops also serve to build team cohesion. Pascal and Karim both explain that the need to work with technical divers is not to be exclusionary. Ghost divers need to be able to handle any situation that may arise at any moment. Technical divers are trained to do exactly that. 

For recreational divers and non-divers alike, there is a place for everyone. Ghost divers cannot do what they do without support. Jim shared with me that his son, middle-school-aged at the time, used to volunteer as surface support. He and a friend would help to bring nets onto the boat and then search through them meticulously for any trapped marine life that could be released back into the ocean. Not only did his son help to raise awareness through multiple award-winning science projects, but he also became a diver crediting his experience helping with ghost nets. The Hamzas and Norbert hope to grow Ghost Diving USA to include recreational limit projects that allow for the training and participation of recreational divers. 

Ghost Diving USA is hitting the ground running. If you are looking for a way to get involved, a great place to start is to follow them on their social media pages. They are on Facebook and Instagram as Ghost Diving USA or @GhostDivingUSA. If you would like to inquire about the application process, you can reach the USA chapter via email at info@ghostdivingusa.org

You can also act right now. Learn about what abandoned fishing gear does to our oceans and talk to others about it. Through raising awareness, you can help remind people that while the surface of the ocean is beautiful, it is what is below the surface that desperately needs our help.

Photo by Sean Farkas

Additional Resources

Ghost Diving International:https://ghostdiving.org
Aquafil:https://www.aquafil.com
Bracenet:https://bracenet.net/en
Healthy Seas:https://www.healthyseas.org
Alert Diver:Ghost Fishing by Michael Menduno. The story of Heather Hamza and her team (2014).


Katie McWilliams is an avid diver, spending every spare moment she can in the water. Currently completing her divemaster and training for her technical pass, she wants to not only further her education and ability to explore the ocean but help with the training of divers. Specifically, Katie wants to focus on spreading awareness of how we can help the health and conservation of the oceans and marine life. Outside of diving, Katie works in moderate/severe special education. She enjoys reading, exercise, off-roading, camping and spending time with her husband, family and friends. 

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