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Diving with…Craig Stephen, Mike Ball Dive Expeditions, Australia

Pacific DTA Team

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In this ongoing series, we speak to the people who run dive centres, resorts and liveaboards from around the world about their businesses and the diving they have to offer…


What is your name?

Craig Stephen

What is the name of your business?

Mike Ball Dive Expeditions

What is your role within the business?

General Manager

How long has the business operated for?

Since 1969

How long have you dived for, and what qualification are you?

32 yrs, OWSI

What is your favorite type of diving?

With so much great diving on offer, that’s a difficult question, I do however still get very excited, dropping in on remote uncatalogued reefs, especially when the current is ripping through 🙂

If you could tell people one thing about your business (or maybe more!) to make them want to visit you what would it be?

Our vessel Spoilsport is crewed by knowledgeable seasoned and enthusiastic individuals that form a most magnificent team dynamic and ensure our passengers needs are met.  Our expeditions always optimise the prevailing conditions to ensure we get the very best possible experience on each and every dive. We offer a diverse range of dive sites, dive styles and animals from large to small. People are what make the difference and whether travelling solo or accompanied, as soon as you step on board, you will feel as relaxed as in your own home.

What is your favorite dive in your location and why?

Osprey Reefs ‘North Horn’ is undoubtedly one of my favourites. Osprey is an isolated Atoll over 100 miles offshore and 70 miles beyond the GBR. Two converging walls plummeting to over 1000m (3000ft) adjoined by way of a small plateau creating a natural amphitheatre teaming with life. Grey whaler are the predominant shark species, Silvertip, Whitetip, Great and Scalloped Hammerheads are also commonly seen. It’s not just the sharks however, the western wall has a fabulous drift dive back towards the amphitheatre covered in beautiful pink soft corals and fans. Potato Cod, Morays and even the occasional Whale Shark turn up from time to time. Its got everything including that ‘Big Blue Abyss’ feeling we all love so much ….  a very special place.

What types of diving are available in your location?

Beginner to advanced, Bommies or pinnacles, classic reef, drift, night, wall, reef caves & caverns; Minke Whale, Shark, Nautilus …

What do you find most rewarding about your current role?

The variety, from managing vessel slipping to hiring the next passionate reef guide and developing exciting new itineraries …

What is your favorite underwater creature?

Nigh impossible to answer, a bit like saying who your favourite child is, and that’s a definite nono, haha. Until I meet an Oceanic White Tip, I’d have to say a Silvertip, grace, beauty, unpredictable, intimidating …

As a center what is the biggest problem you face at the moment?

There are a few concerns not relative to just our center, but Coral Bleaching is an obvious one.  We are very fortunate to have such a vast reef system stretching over 2600km with some 2900 individual reefs. Having a roving permit, means we can pick and choose where we dive and ‘rest sites’ as they recover. However, the trend for rising ocean temperatures and greater frequency of El Nino climatic events, allows less time for coral recovery which may ultimately see the time v recovery work against us. Shark baiting or netting near populated areas also concerns us. Too many sharks are targeted as a consequence of shark attacks, often as a knee jerk reaction by government agencies feeling they need to do something. Most educated people including the families and victims of attacks accept the risk and their consequences; it is really quite disturbing how much ignorance still exists around these most amazing (and important to the environment) animals.

Is your center involved in any environmental work?

As a company, we are Advance Eco Certified; this means that we apply best practice to manage ourselves in an environmentally sustainable way, which includes auditing by a government appointed regulator. We recycle at the end of every expedition donating the proceeds to local clean up charities; we have done away with ‘giveaway marketing’ plastic bottles and introduced metal ones, done away with glow sticks, we’ve repowered our engines both main vessel and tenders to minimise our environmental footprint and use suppliers with similar best practice and are constantly looking to improve. We have many affiliations with research groups both gov and NGO offering research space on our expeditions and are very proactive on boards and committees to secure MPA’s throughout the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea.

How do you see the SCUBA / Freediving / snorkeling industry overall? What changes would you make?

I’ve seen our industry go through some highs and lows, impacted by other emerging adventure sports and global events.  Those of us fortunate enough to work within this industry really do appreciate just how lucky we are to earn a living so close to nature. That connection feeds our passion for conservation and encourages us to be proactive as ambassador’s for change. Gone are the days when ‘diving was dangerous and sex was safe’; there’s little machismo connected with diving these days and a lot more compassion for what we all understand, is an extremely fragile environment. The planets future is in the hands of our youth so for me, we need to energise the youth to get involved in our ‘sport’ to ensure not only its future but to create new ambassadors for environmental change.

What would you say to our visitors to promote the diving you have to offer

Our itineraries offer incredible diversity of marine life and photo opportunities from macro to wide-angle from pygmy sea horses to Minke whales and if you like sharks, well, we have lots of sharks. No two dive expeditions are ever the same for marine life encounters which is one of the reasons we have so many repeat guests. The friendliness of our crew, the chef prepared meals on a large spacious vessel, all make this big comfy girl a very pleasurable experience. Whether travelling as a group a couple or on your own, you will feel as welcome as in your own home.

Where can our visitors find out more about your business?

Website: https://www.mikeball.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MikeBallDiveExpeditions

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mikeballdive/

Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/mikeballdive

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Top 12 Dive Destinations in Oceania – Part 2

Scuba Schools International (SSI)

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Oceania has a fascinating mixture of well-known romantic destinations and wild, remote dive spots that few people ever get to visit. It is a region of contrasts with enough dive destinations and cultural highlights to satisfy even the most adventurous divers. In part II of 12 great places to go diving in Oceania, we take a deep dive into some of this region’s most famous and little-known islands. Get inspired for your next dive trip to Oceania here.


French Polynesia

French Polynesia’s Society Islands have a stellar list of dive destinations, including Tahiti and Moorea. Between them, they offer easy coral reef diving and calm, turquoise lagoons with friendly stingrays and blacktip reef sharks. You can also swim with humpback whales, tiger sharks, lemon and nurse sharks there.

This beautiful nation’s best-known dive spots, Fakarava and Rangiroa atolls, are just a short flight away from the Society Islands. Both of these huge atolls offer exciting pass dives with hundreds of grey reef sharks and resident dolphins.

For a completely different dive experience, visit the Marquesas Islands. This island group is the farthest from any landfall on Earth and has a unique underwater world that hosts unusually large mantas and melon-headed whales.

And if that all sounds like too much effort, go Bora Bora scuba diving instead. This ‘Pearl of the Pacific’ has fantastic diving, and you can spend your downtime relaxing with champagne lunches on deserted islands.


The Solomon Islands

The Solomon Islands are a haven for more than 1000 reef fish species and numerous prized critters, plus dolphins, sharks, rays and six species of sea turtle. Hosting hundreds of wrecks and remote hard coral reefs, there is something for every diver there.

The Russell Islands host some of the best-known dive sites in all of the Solomon Islands. There, you can glide between the walls of a crevasse that cuts through an island, immerse yourself in wreck diving at White Sand Beach, swim through a halocline at Custom Caves, or go in search of pygmy seahorses.

For the best wreck diving, make sure you visit Iron Bottom Sound. This stretch of water hosts around 200 ships and more than 600 aircraft wrecks from World War II. It is a wreck diving mecca that offers excellent tech-wreck dives.


The Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands is a chain of volcanic islands and coral atolls that few people know about. As the fifth least visited country in the world, these islands offer remote diving among exciting deep wrecks and vibrant coral reefs.

Bikini Atoll is the main dive destination in the Marshall Islands. Made famous by US atomic bomb tests in the 1940s, this atoll hosts numerous deep wrecks that offer incredible tech diving.

As well as some of the best tech-wreck dives imaginable, the Marshall Islands also have thriving hard coral reefs without any dive crowds. There are pinnacles, drop-offs, channels and shallow coral gardens to explore, busy with colorful reef life.


The Cook Islands

When it comes to warm welcomes, it’s hard to beat the Cook Islands. From the moment you arrive, you will be drawn into one of the friendliest nations in the world and won’t want to leave.

This wonderful country is a perfect place to get your Open Water Diver certification or take your family diving. Rarotonga is the main destination for tourism and is a charming island with fresh markets, cafes, restaurants, and resorts tucked away among the palms. There are around 25 dive sites just offshore and gorgeous beaches for laid-back surface intervals.

Nearby Aitutaki has fewer visitors, yet it hosts around 22 dive sites, with many still being discovered. It is a great place to dive among remote coral-covered landscapes and forget the rest of the world exists. Whichever island you choose, the waters are warm and full of colorful reef life.


New Caledonia

New Caledonia is one of those wish-list destinations known for its spectacular diving, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life. Unlike some remote destinations in Oceania, New Caledonia has modern infrastructure that makes it easy to explore at your pace – by car or island hopping with regular domestic flights.

There are over 100 dive sites scatted around New Caledonia, offering a tempting mix of deep drop-offs, thrilling drift dives, wrecks, and easy reef diving. Most diving is conducted at the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, a vast 1500 km-long reef that encloses a UNESCO World Heritage lagoon. Within the lagoon, you can explore coral-encrusted walls, channels, and easy dive sites in shallow waters.

New Caledonia’s extensive marine reserves ensure these dive sites are teeming with life. For the best chance to see mantas and sharks, visit from April until September.


Vanuatu

Vanuatu is the perfect place to reconnect with nature, offering untouched rainforests, natural swimming holes and excellent scuba diving.

Pristine reefs abound in Vanuatu, with many dive sites accessible simply by walking off the beach. Million Dollar Point is one of the most unique dive spots and hosts an array of machinery and equipment dumped by the US after World War II. The SS President Coolidge, a former World War II troop carrier, and the 1874 three-masted Star of Russia are excellent wrecks to dive.

The amount of marine life at Vanuatu’s dive sites is staggering. As well as rainbow-hued corals and countless reef fish, there are sea turtles, sharks, rays, and numerous pelagic fish. You can also go swimming with dugongs there.


Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, home to more than 850 known languages and hundreds of different tribes. It is unlike anywhere else in Oceania.

Along with the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea has some of the healthiest coral reefs in the world, including at Kimbe Bay. This special bay was once ranked as the most beautiful reef by National Geographic.

The nearby Witu Islands are a great place to go critter hunting and drift dive among schools of tuna and barracuda. Milne Bay is the home of muck diving and offers excellent shallow muck and reef diving with numerous critters.

There are seamounts busy with reef sharks and exciting walls at Fathers Reefs, and you can dive in the shadow of jungle-covered fjords at Tufi.


Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for SSI (Scuba Schools International), wrote this article.

 

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Fiji drops pre-arrival Covid-19 testing requirements

Pacific DTA Team

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The news that Fiji is dropping pre-arrival Covid-19 testing requirements is a welcome one for divers wishing to explore some of the world’s healthiest and most vibrant soft coral reef systems on the planet.

Effective 1 May 2022, fully vaccinated visitors to Fiji will no longer be required to produce a pre-arrival negative COVID-19 test prior to entry, a move that reduces costs and lends greater convenience to those traveling to the country.

The change applies to all visitors entering Fiji by air or sea who were previously required to take a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test or rapid antigen test (RAT) prior to their arrival to Fiji.

This step is in line with best practice for entry requirements among highly vaccinated societies and follows countries such as Australia and Singapore which have also removed COVID-19 testing as an entry prerequisite.

The current requirement to book an in-country pre-COVID RAT test, prior to departing for Fiji, remains. The test must be done within 48 – 72 hours of arrival. In-country tests must be booked prior to arrival to Fiji on https://entrytestfiji.com/.

Commencing 1 May 2022, the vaccination requirement for entry into Fiji has also been widened. All visitors above the age of 16 years must now display proof of full COVID-19 vaccination prior to entering the country.

The lowering of the age requirement for the vaccine prerequisite comes as more children globally are granted access to vaccines. Fiji’s key visitor markets have considerably high coverage of vaccination amongst those below the 18-year age threshold.

In Australia, the vaccine coverage for ages 16 and above is significant across all key visitor market states of New South Wales (95%), Victoria (94%), and Queensland (92%). New Zealand has a vaccination coverage of 95 percent for those 12 years and above. In the United States, vaccine coverage for those between the ages of 12 and 17 years the vaccine coverage is 77.4 percent.

Requiring that all tourists aged 16 years and above provide proof of vaccination prior to visitors to Fiji further reduces the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 and allows Fiji to capture a greater percentage of the fully vaccinated tourism market.

All other existing conditions for entry remain applicable and can be reviewed at https://www.mcttt.gov.fj/.

These moves follow Fiji’s continued effort to strengthen its in-country testing program and wider community surveillance efforts designed to ensure the safety of visitors and Fijians alike.

The COVID-19 Risk Mitigation Taskforce will continue to review Fiji’s entry requirements and COVID safe measures, with a focus on strengthening community surveillance and the robustness of the in-country testing digital platform, supplemented by the already high vaccination rates.

With thanks to Volivoli Beach Resort (pictured) for the story.

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