Treading In Deep Waters… Literally and Figuratively

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Photo by Rudolf Kirchner on Pexels, Edited by me

It’s been an extremely hectic Week 10 and unfortunately, it’s also the reason why I took a little longer coming up with this week’s entry, so I’d like to first apologise to my readers for the delay and I hope you’d enjoy this week’s content regardless!

Despite how tough it’s been, I’ll admit that what I experienced had a part to play in spurring what I wanted to write about even more. In fact, Anna, a fellow BES batchmate, was also the one who suggested this topic in the first place, and it’s none other than the deep-sea ecosystem.

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Oceanic Divisions – Everything below 200m is considered to be deep sea (Photo by K. Aainsqatsi under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

I’ve spent my fair share treading in deep water this week, so why not take a dive and turn it into something fun?

This time, it wouldn’t be wise to simply submerge with your typical scuba gear. Even though the world record for the deepest free dive’s (i.e. a method that relies on one’s ability to hold one’s breath) approximately 254m in depth, this could prove lethal, or worse, fatal, for many of us.

At the tender age of 21, I’d very much like to experience way more things in life (i.e. going for more dives), so let’s use a submarine instead to discover the world where the (truly) wild things are.

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A sneak peek into deep sea creatures

Growing up, I’ve always been fascinated by the deep-sea, and its content never failed to attract my attention. However, my sentiments never went beyond superficial awe, and it wasn’t until recently when I learned that it was more than simply being home to the weirdest creatures – it might be one of the answers to dealing with climate change if we protect it, and the same is said here too.

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How the oceans serve as a carbon sink (I)

How the oceans serve as carbon sinks (II)

Unfortunately, while the oceans absorb approximately 33% of all the carbon dioxide we produce, there is a chance its sequestration ability will be jeopardised in light of projected emissions from anthropogenic causes.

And to think we aren’t complaining about the weather enough.

On this note, I recall how most reacted when I shared about my interest. Believe me, it wasn’t too positive. In fact, they wondered why it should be protected, and that got me thinking about my Environmental Ethics lecture, which said that most people preferred to conserve species they were familiar with and those that elicited positive emotions (i.e. thought to be cute or cuddly). Not only did I observe that in my own personal interactions, the same was also observed here.

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Screenshot from Finding Nemo – it’s likely one would protect Nemo and Dory VS the Anglerfish

Personally, it’s a pity there isn’t much traction where the deep sea’s concerned, especially when it contains the answers we need to cure cancer, which causes 1 in 6 deaths worldwide, and other diseases. Sadly, their survivability’s already compromised due to increased ocean acidification and bottom trawling, and it definitely doesn’t help they take centuries to grow. At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re close to wiping out species before we can discover what they are.

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Discordermia dissoluta – a deep sea coral that can cure cancer

However, I strongly believe that when there’s a will, there’s a way, and one thing I’ve picked out is that there needs to be a change in the way these creatures are portrayed. It doesn’t matter if we only know 5% of what’s living in the ocean – just imagine if we had something like Finding Nemo, a story loved by all, based in the deep sea. Could that change perceptions?

Let me know in the comments below!

Diving With Rubbish… Wait, What?!

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Yellow fish hiding in discarded pipe (Image by Jenny Huang under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.), Edited by me

It’s been 7 weeks in real time and we’re still on the surface. That won’t do, so take a deep breath, and let’s go for our first dive!

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Diving in Bunaken (Image by Victor under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.)

I know I’ve been speaking lots about colourful reefs in Manado – it’s the reason why I learnt scuba diving. However, as soon as you submerge, you realise your surroundings aren’t what I promised.

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Filefish (Photo by Arhnue Tan from Pixabay)

At first glance, the ocean floor looks barren and dirty, and you’re probably wondering what you signed up for. There are so many different dives to choose from – wall dives, reef dives, night dives… Couldn’t I have picked a better one?

Today, let’s go “Muck Diving”.

It doesn’t sound too pleasant, and for most on their first dive, it’s even less appealing on sight. Not only is the sand coloured black, all thanks to North Sulawesi being bounded by many active volcanoes, it’s also littered with manmade debris like glass bottles, metal cans, shoes and even bicycle frames.

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Motorcycle Wreck (Photo by tomfreakz under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.)

As a 13-year-old who didn’t know much about marine pollution, I thought it was hilarious. However, after learning so much about how our oceans are in jeopardy from almost everything we dump in it, it got me thinking about what I’d do as a more informed individual.

If I saw any form of trash that I could throw or recycle, I’d do it without hesitation, and I’m not the only one. Out of the 16 responses I got from 47 BES students, more than 50% said the same.

Survey Results #1

Now, I’d like to focus on those who’d ignore it and the ones who’d survey the situation before taking action. It’s tempting to find out who they are and wonder why they do as such, but… they’re not actually wrong.

For starters, many creatures found in muck dives are either small (they’re known as critter hotspots for a reason), masters of camouflage (you need time and patience here) or lack predators (i.e. nudibranchs).

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Can you spot the Pygmy Seahorse? (Photo by Steve Child under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.)

However, as with all things, there are exceptions, just like this Golden Goby, who has now used the drink can to seek refuge from the dangers out there (i.e. frogfishes, you find many of them quietly waiting to ambush their prey here).

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Golden Goby in a drink can (Photo by Christian Gloor under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.)

With this, doesn’t it become a dilemma, because by simply clearing the ocean, you might end up being the one bringing about unintended and adverse consequences for doing something “good”.

In fact, it’s almost as if you’re taking away parts of a reef, albeit small and artificial. How does that sound?

On larger terms, let’s look at shipwrecks. Some call them harmful, but they are one of the most common sources of artificial reefs. If done right (i.e. placed on empty seabeds), they can harbour a wide variety of species, from corals to predatory fish, and become a whole ecosystem, as well as a whole type of dive on its own.

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Wreck Diving (Photo by Marcel Ekkel under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.)

From this, perhaps trash isn’t as terrible as we think they are.

Survey Results #2

However, this doesn’t mean the oceans become even more of a dumping ground. We know all too well on the effects of plastics to marine life and the fact it has become the reason why some are threatened by extinction, but I’d like you to take a step back with what’s already in there. Perhaps we could start practicing discretion and consider what could possibly arise from our “good” actions.

It’s a point of view we don’t see often, but like they always say, isn’t too much of a good thing a bad thing eventually?

Let’s Talk Accomodation: Resorts VS Liveaboards, Which Is Better?

Taken and edited by me

It’s been a long week and I’m glad it’s over. Despite the fact that I love adventure, there are days when I’d prefer to stay home and do the things I love as a form of relaxation.

And for scuba divers, relaxation’s key if you’d like to get through the trip without feeling fatigued (believe me, I don’t enjoy much when I’m tired).

As calming as scuba diving can be, it’s considered an extreme sport, and for good reason. If I were in Singapore for the holidays, I could sleep as late as 4am, but a diving trip? I’d be off to dreamland by 10pm. Ironically, it’s the result of easy dives, so imagine what it’ll be like for more challenging ones. Therefore, it’s no surprise that divers want a comfortable place to rest and get ready for the following day.

However, with rising concern for the environment and the concurrent rise of Eco-tourism, I thought about the two types of accommodation – dive resorts and liveaboards (i.e. staying on a boat).

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What Liveaboards Look Like (Image by Paul Nendick under Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license.)

And which is better? Let’s look at how both have played a part in marine conservation.

I recall how the resort I stayed at in Manado embodied the zero-waste attitude – instead of storing food in Styrofoam containers and plastic, it was in reusable containers instead. Even the cutlery was metal! This might seem trivial, but it’s effective.

In fact, as much as we think the dumping of plastics is due to irresponsible waste disposal or excessive consumerism, as interpreted from the figure, there are times when it’s accidental.

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As you go from one dive site to another, the winds are strong enough to send anything light flying into the ocean. Hence, by simply not using these persistent materials, the risk of accidental marine pollution became non-existent.

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Now, how about other touristy spots, like Raja Ampat and the Philippines?

Take Misool Eco Resort, a subsidiary of Misool Eco Foundation, in Raja Ampat. One key thing the foundation did was create a 1200km2 marine reserve to prevent unsustainable fishing, which ultimately led to the return of sharks and manta rays. As for the resort, it took steps to reduce its carbon footprint by using solar energy, and aims to stop using petrol for its boats.

In Cebu, Philippines, Evolution Dive Resort committed to making every dive an effort to clean the ocean, which means ordinary people, like you and me, can help! Not only that, it is also part of the Green Fins programme, which I will get to in a minute.

Liveaboards were difficult to find, especially local ones, but I stumbled across Explorer Ventures, which also committed to joining the aforementioned programme. In a nutshell, Green Fins gets members to reduce their impact on the environment and raise awareness among the general public. Practices include briefing divers on the importance of not touching anything underwater and teaching them the rules of Marine Protected Areas.

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In conclusion, I haven’t decided which option’s better, or at least not based on what I’ve considered. For example, what you want to see matters too – liveaboards travel further, so divers have a better chance of seeing bigger creatures (I’ve always wanted to see a school of hammerheads), but they’re also difficult for people who get motion sickness (unfortunately, like me). However, I realised it’s not hard looking for greener alternatives to reduce my environmental impact – it’s just a matter of choosing to.

Turning Knowledge Into Practice & Why It Matters

Taken and edited by me

Finally, after 4 long weeks of planning and mental preparation (I didn’t get this luxury), we’re finally in Manado – the capital of North Sulawesi, Indonesia!

And this time, welcome to the place where my diving journey began.

I don’t exactly know why my dad chose Manado (he thought it wasn’t exciting), but I’m convinced he finally saw the opportunity to get me to dive by enticing me with the most colourful and attractive reefs I had ever seen at that age.

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Diving in Bunaken National Marine Park

He succeeded with snorkelling, and with how adamant he was to get me to dive, it came as no surprise he did it again.

And if he didn’t succeed, this blog wouldn’t have existed.

To most, diving seems simple – all you need is the equipment, basic swimming skills and sheer water confidence, and you’ll be good to go. However, quite a fair bit of time is actually spent on textbook theory and practice before you head out to where the wild (and beautiful) things are.

Textbooks and a Dive Table (Taken by me)

It isn’t just because your life’s potentially on the line, but if you’re not careful, you might end up leaving a trail of destruction behind.

Two weeks ago, I featured this infographic, and today, I’m bringing it back.

DiveIn’s 10 Things Scuba Divers Need To Know Infographic

According to a study assessing the correlation between diving practices and their subsequent impacts, it was observed that live hard corals and marine life experienced the most damage,  relative to how many of them managed to escape that fate.

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Graph from Recreational Diving Impacts on Coral Reefs and the Adoption of Environmentally Responsible Practices within the SCUBA Diving Industry under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Interestingly, hard corals aren’t actually resistant to damage. In fact, because they produce more calcium carbonate, combined with the problem of ocean acidification, they’re more susceptible to damage than we think.

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Effects of Ocean Acidification on Coral Reefs

Thinking back, it all makes sense now as to why finning techniques and buoyancy controls are important (especially when hard corals are the ones constructing the reef), because you do not want to disrupt an already fragile environment. Furthermore, it’s also for safety, because the last thing you’d want to crash into is a blue-ringed octopus.

While diving gloves are discouraged, I personally needed it after getting stung by a soft coral, and that’s where you need to listen to your dive masters and be conscious of your actions. When you’re diving in Manado, Bunaken National Marine Park’s probably on the agenda, which is home to 20 times more reef fish species than Singapore.

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Bunaken National Marine Park (Image by Matt Kieffer under Creative Commons Attribution – -ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.)

The rules are strict, and if you do breach them, it’ll be a heavy sentence. The briefing and entry form might be long, but it cannot be longer than the time it takes for a coral to regenerate (and you can imagine how increasingly difficult this is now).

While the future seems bleak, it doesn’t hurt to hold onto a glimmer of hope. When I was there, it’s clear how much the dive masters cared for the marine environment, especially with how serious they were when it came to ensuring the number of divers at any dive site remained within the quota, and emphasising time and time again not to touch anything underwater. On this note, shouldn’t we at least respect what many call home?

After all, if you think about it, everything begins with the protection of the reef, all the way to the depths of “Atlantis”.

The Importance of Marine Ecosystems; A Personal Outlook

Photo from Pixabay, Edited by me

Sadly, time flies and recess week’s ending.

The break may be over in real life, but here, we’re just getting started – we’re on our way to our destination!

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The Coral Triangle – Any guesses where we’re going? (Image by WWF under Creative Commons Attribution -NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license.)

It barely takes 2 hours by plane, and I’m not surprised if you didn’t sleep; you’re literally embarking on an exciting experience.

Personally, on short-haul flights, I always find myself reflecting as I look out the window, so I decided to turn that into a post.

Last week, we discovered that Singapore’s marine ecosystem is surprisingly diverse, and we learned about what’s been done for it. It was eye-opening but… Why is the marine ecosystem so important?

We know why coral reefs are important, we’ve learnt that, so why not look at it from an aspect closer to home?

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Marine life in Singapore

For me, without marine ecosystems, I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate what I was learning. As mentioned before, I took up Marine Conservation and Ecology, and it would be a pity if we didn’t have the chance to go to Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (which I wrote about during my stint at the National Parks Board), for example, for the first-hand experience.

In fact, we even got to witness the changing tides, as well as a crocodile (which our lecturer, Dr Paul Chen, pointed out was a good sign, showing that the lower trophic levels were stable enough to sustain an apex predator) too.

Can you spot the crocodile? (Taken by me)

In fact, it was all these small memories that became something bigger, and perhaps the appreciation helped to solidify what I wanted to pursue. Furthermore, we wouldn’t have had the chance to simulate what the advocation of Chek Jawa’s preservation was probably like. Hence, it not only enhanced our learning, but it also allowed the honing of our speaking and critical thinking skills about environmental issues – two of the things I’ve discovered which are extremely important now.

In a nutshell, the experiences made me want to learn more, and we’re supposed to change the world with that knowledge, right? The marine ecosystem helped me with that.

Now, what about Singapore as an entity?

I sent a survey to 47 BES Y1 students and asked if they knew about Neptune’s Cup. As shown in the results gathered from 17, most didn’t.

Survey Results

The Neptune’s Cup sponge is a significant part of our history in the 20th century, and it wasn’t just museums and collectors looking for it, there were ordinary people too. Unfortunately, it disappeared from our shores in 1908, and was only spotted again in 2011.

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Neptune’s Cup (Photo by Karenne Tun)

Since then, studies have been done to find out more about this relatively mysterious species, and it was found to be food for sea turtles, which NParks is also putting in effort to protect. With all this, we might just be able to enhance our efforts at protecting two vulnerable species at once, and not only would we be able to brag , we would also be able to do our part in marine conservation.

Pretty cool for such an urbanised and expanded nation, don’t you think?

What about you? How was the marine ecosystem important for you? I’m looking forward to hearing about these experiences. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a diver, we’re doing that in the coming weeks anyway!

Marine Life in Singapore: What’s It About?

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Sister’s Island, Edited by me

It’s the start of recess week and time for a break. Now, imagine yourself looking through options for a dive holiday, which can be intimidating with the sheer number of choices. It’s no surprise travel planning’s stressful, especially with the fear (or adrenaline) when you’re going to try something new.

Perhaps staying home’s better, but… what’s here? Based on this, I wasn’t the only one who felt as such.

Survey Results #1

I’ve never dived in Singapore, but I thought it would be interesting to find out and share my findings. With adventures, you always start somewhere, and home’s a good place, isn’t it?

To begin, Singapore’s tiny. All you need is an hour to travel from one end to the other, and it’s pretty amazing how we still have space for 300 parks, 4 nature reserves, 7 million trees and approximately 28,000 land animals. From this, it’s no wonder why we’re a City in A Garden, but did you know this applies underwater too?

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Global Species Richness and Hotspots of Marine Biodiversity

Singapore’s located in the nutrient-rich tropics because of tropical upwelling, which drives nutrients from the deep to be utilised by life at the surface.

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Ocean Upwelling Process

We also experience high amounts of sunlight all year round and support a constant supply of phytoplankton – the base of food pyramids in the marine ecosystem.

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Marine Food Pyramid (Figure from Science Learning Hub – Pokapū Akoranga Pūtaiao, University of Waikato, www.sciencelearn.org.nz)

All this probably explains why our waters teem with life, with half of the species of seagrasses in the Indo-Pacific region and over 100 species of reef fish. There’s also more than 250 species of hard coral and 200 species of sponges – that’s a lot to see. And besides, we’ve had dolphins around too!

All this knowledge is interesting, because who would have thought a country with so much reclaimed land, which brings about adverse effects to marine life, would have so much to offer?

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Map of Singapore showing original, reclaimed and future reclamation plans

Then comes the next question, is there any protection, especially when over 90 marine species (I counted) are listed in The Singapore Red Data Book? Or is there anything being done to give them a fighting chance?

Seems like we’re skeptical.

Survey Results #2

While the laws are a little sketchy in my opinion (The Singapore Red Data Book, page 11), with no specific protection and hazy definitions regarding the jargon used and the authorities in charge, it is heartening to note that the people’s voices were actually heard when it came to the preservation of Chek Jawa, which was originally set for development.

Furthermore, private firms have also taken it in their stride in contributing to increasing marine flora and fauna with the installation of artificial reef structures at Sister’s Island. Even though the effects would only be seen over the next few years, it’ll definitely be better than letting nature take its course, especially with the quickening rate of climate change.

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To end, this has been quite eye-opening personally, and I hope it has been the same for you too. Perhaps it’s truly time to take a dip into what’s available here and take a look. As with all experiences, hearing about it is one thing, but doing it is a whole different ball game altogether.

So start packing, the adventure begins next week!

Taken and edited by me

Diving Practices & The History of Marine Conservation

Photo from PixaBay, Taken by Elias Sch, Edited by me

Hello again, and I hope all of you have been doing great ever since the introduction!

Over the course of the week, I thought about how I wanted to structure my blog and figured that I would present it as if you were experiencing a new scuba diving adventure. This was actually inspired by the survey I conducted, with the results shown below. And I really hope this blog would provide the push and inspiration to actually try something new.

Survey Results

I mean, you only live once, right?

And it’s true, because imagine having to sign a waiver at 13 just to dive. This was also when I realized the necessity of preparing yourself and knowing what you sign up for. Hence, in today’s blog, I have decided to cover how the history of marine conservation ties in with current practices that have been put in place today to ensure that both you and the environment stay safe.

For anything deemed “extreme”, a long list of Do’s and Don’ts follow, and scuba diving is no exception, as illustrated in the infographic below.

DiveIn’s 10 Things Scuba Divers Need To Know Infographic

Did you notice that “Don’t Touch” appear twice? That’s simply because the environment’s a lot more fragile than we thought and could prove dangerous too.

So how did all this come about?

As compared to terrestrial conservation, which was said to have begun during the period of rapid industrialisation (some argue it took place even earlier), the idea of marine conservation only surfaced from World War II, thanks to Jacques Cousteau, one of the few world-renowned pioneers who kickstarted the whole movement.

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Jacques Cousteau, inventor, filmmaker, photographer and conservationist (Image from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons Attribution – CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication license.)

He was known for many things, but what he is probably most well-known for would be the invention of the diving regulator, which he did with Emile Gagnan. Without this, all of us wouldn’t have been able to spend more than 5 minutes admiring the underwater world.

With all that knowledge and exposure, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that he was one of those who contributed to the stopping of commercial whaling (which also  inspired the US to embark on marine conservation) and the dumping of harmful chemicals into the deep blue. All that took place in the 1950s, and now, it’s safe to say that marine conservation has officially become a global movement, with laws regulating marine pollution, areas cordoned off to conserve biodiversity, social media campaigns (#SaveOurOceans), businesses who have dedicated themselves to raising awareness, and NGOs providing education. It might seem like a business ploy to some, but it’s heartening to know there is at least something propelling this idea forward.

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Siladen Island, a part of the Bunaken National Park, Manado

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Seastainable.Co’s Reusable Essentials

Ending with a diver’s opinion, there are times when we don’t mean to “destroy” the environment, because in times of strong currents, all you can do is hold on or risk being swept away (I got stung by a soft coral once because of this and believe me, it hurts). However, when you find yourself compelled to touch something instead, perhaps this clip from Finding Dory might put things into perspective.

Whale, hello there!

Photo from Pixabay, Edited by me

Welcome to my blog! I’m Natasha, a Year 1 student doing Environmental Studies in NUS. Growing up, my interests were always changing, but there was one thing that stood the test of time, and that was my interest in what covers 70% of our Earth’s surface – the ocean. I remember spending hours watching BBC’s Blue Planet, and I ended up watching so much of it that I was able to memorize and recite the late Sir David Attenborough’s entire script. Even until now, I can still remember bits and bops of it when I revisit the clips on YouTube. Of course, my childhood wasn’t so mundane, and I loved movies like Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid too, which sparked my interest even further as to what could be living under the sea.

I suppose it will come as a surprise that I used to be terrified of the sea and the sand, until my mum decided to kick me off the jetty at the age of 6. In other words, she threw me into deep water. I panicked, of course, shattering the peacefulness of Tioman Island with my screaming, but all it took to calm me down was my dad pointing out that Nemo was swimming right below me. Thankfully, he wasn’t lying, and that was where everything truly begun. 7 years later, I learnt to scuba dive (though I did use the phrase “over my dead body” when I was asked to learn it), and that was when I discovered what my definition of paradise was – being surrounded by colourful and interesting creatures, be it coral or fish, in crystal clear waters, and just the sound of my own breathing.

A picture of me diving in Bali, Indonesia, 2015

It’s been 5 years since I last went on a diving trip, but my interest never died off, and I seized the opportunity to learn more about the deep blue by taking up an elective on Marine Conservation and Ecology in Republic Polytechnic. It wasn’t easy, but I learnt so much during that short 13 weeks. Until now, it still baffles me that we only know less than 20% about our oceans and less than 10% of what’s living in it (which served as the main inspiration for the name of this blog, it was not the movie). Yet, we don’t seem to be helping ourselves either, with recent studies saying that we might end up seeing more plastic than fish, which is both a scary and saddening thought.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch

However, as much as we think that we’re on a runaway train towards our own demise, I believe there is still hope, and through this blog, I hope to provide a personalised experience to shed light on what’s being done in an attempt to save our natural underwater world, and what we can do to play our part, both above and underwater.

Photo from Pixabay, Edited by me