20. Aug, 2020

COVID-19 and its perspectives

 Some positive and negative perspectives of the recent viral crisis are summarized below:

-The famous diving locations in the world have practically been deserted during the lockdown of the past months. Backpacker  Ian Melvin from the UK who found himself stranded on the Galapagos Islands when the coronavirus lockdown came into force declared  “No one will get the opportunity to experience the Galapagos so quiet. ‘The swimming here’s amazing, the sea lions come right up to your face. Marine iguanas swim next to you and penguins peck your feet'  (see inset). In the Mediterranean,  National park rangers have observed greater biodiversity as manifested in an increase of groups of dolphins, floating groups of puffins, gannets, tuna hunting and gray heron passing by.

-The lockdown down also had positive effects on wildlife in National Parcs in Africa and the US. What about the creatures that live under the waterline?  In Cape Town South Africa the lifting of shark nets paired with drumlines for the duration of the lockdown allow the sharks to move a little more freely.   The bad news is that the long line fishing of hundreds of sharks a day is being allowed off Cape shores during the lockdown, even though the industry provides relatively few jobs, harms marine biodiversity, and offers no food security. White shark expert and naturalist Chris Fallows says: “It is a disgrace that a fishery which is, according to scientific evidence, unsustainably killing already collapsed shark stocks, is allowed to continue. When this is done under the banner of an essential service it becomes a tragedy."

-Some have speculated that underwater creatures that enjoyed many visitors in the past may become restless and even distressed by their absence. Like, for example,  in the Sealife aquarium in Blackpool where the staff is keeping their stingrays, sharks, and fish calm during the coronavirus lockdown by playing music and singing to them. Perhaps the same might happen at the famous shark baiting sites in the Bahamas where Emma, Patches, and other top sharkish predators are starting to miss their regular bait providers and visitors? Finally, the most significant spin-off of the lockdown seems that the number of unprovoked shark attacks at some notorious beaches in the  USA has sunk to dramatic lows, likely a side effect of closed beaches and widespread quarantines.

-Divers that feel fully recovered after being infected by the Coronavirus could still suffer lung damage which could permanently prohibit scuba diving and other forms of exercise.  In this respect, the disease is like viral pneumonia, which would also require a long period of convalescence before returning to diving.

-Recent updates suggest a continuation of safety regulations, local lockdowns and hazards connected with traveling in overcrowded planes to diving destinations, probably extending to the year 2021. This holds for areas in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean as well as the Red Sea. Visitors of the Bahamas will need to submit a  negative COVID PCR test result in the period 10 days before their visit.  A the end of July The Bahamas counted 1610 confirmed  COVID cases and 23 deaths (on a population of around 400.000).  Moreover, all visitors and returning residents are also required to quarantine for fourteen (14) days upon arrival into the Bahamas.  From 1 September, all persons (including those who hold Egyptian nationality) arriving from overseas, to any part of Egypt, will be required to present a negative PCR test certificate on arrival. The Egyptian authorities have advised that PCR tests must be conducted no more than 72 hours prior to arrival in Egypt.

-Padi has recently published an interactive map, presenting the latest information from each PADI dive center to provide the most up-to-date status right from the source. It shows that diving is still possible in most countries around the Mediterranean and the Red Sea. This however does not preclude that health officials maintain strict health regulations for tourists entering these countries, such as a  negative PCR test and a quarantine period. This may also hold for dive-centers  and liveaboards in the Red Sea.

-Conclusion: COVID-19 travel restrictions and border closings are constantly evolving. Nonessential travel is banned between some destinations, and others mandate a two-week quarantine period for travelers at the start or end of a trip, However, In the current maze of safety regulations,  the best strategy for the eager UW photographers is to exploit the photographic possibilities in their own country.  Hopefully,  the current collapse of the diving industry and the resulting frustrations of grounded Scuba divers will not last forever, and their former favorite tropical locations will become accessible again, as soon as the virus,  or at least its most dangerous symptoms are under control. An  example a useful initiative to help travelers to cope with Covid hazards in foreign countries  is Travel safe of Tripadvisors. It is meant to filter out health and safety regulations of their  travel destinations (mostly hotels and resorts). I would be nice if organizers of Scuba diving trips could follow the same procedure for their specific destinations, hotels and liveaboards

October 2020: See for a recent update of travel restrictions: travel advisories