Yo-Han Cha has a cautionary tale that shows what can happen if diving’s ‘don’t touch’ rule is broken, albeit accidentally.

When I’m diving and photographing the life that I see underwater, I do my best not to touch or damage that very life, just leave bubbles and all that. However, there are times when nature chooses to interact with us. 

Whether it’s a positive or negative experience often depends on what species is involved. I was fortunate to learn to dive in Australia, where, despite all the media frenzy around sharks, the animal the diving and snorkelling operators were most concerned about was the box jellyfish, a family of small cnidarians with stings so powerful they can even prove fatal for humans.  

This always resulted in my friends and I wearing, in baking hot weather, brightly coloured stinger suits that covered us from wrist to ankle. We looked ridiculous, but none of us were stung. Possibly, due to complacency settling in, on other foreign trips, I haven’t been quite so diligent in what I’ve been wearing, so I’ve had the dubious honour of being stung by jellyfish on numerous occasions.

Pat Holliday Snakelocks anemone

Snakelocks anemone

Such painful encounters have typically taken place overseas; when I’m diving in the UK, I’m invariably wearing a mask and a hood. So I’m always happy to approach jellyfish here, especially lion’s manes, to take their photos. This had possibly lulled me to a false sense of security, believing that all that neoprene would protect me, not just from the cold but also from any stinging animals.  

On this occasion, I was doing a dive off Silver Steps in Falmouth. It’s a beautiful shore dive with lots of life just waiting to be photographed. It also happened to be the day of the British and Irish Underwater Photography Competition, so I was feeling particularly excited about finding good underwater photographic opportunities.  

So, when one presented itself in the form of a black-faced blenny, I set my sights and got into position by leaning over some kelp. The blenny was very obliging, which isn’t always the case with any species of fish, so the next few minutes were happily spent taking photos of it. 

Yo-Han's swollen lip
Yo-Han's swollen lip

While occupied with the blenny, I felt something brush against my lip. I was concentrating on the task at hand, so I thought nothing of it. I then felt a slight stinging sensation on my bottom lip. The discomfort was only slight, so I carried on taking photos. The pain got worse, so I brushed my lip and to my surprise I saw a tentacle from a snakelocks anemone float past my face. 

That’s when I realised that the piece of kelp that I leaned over had a snakelocks anemone on it, which then floated up into my face! I’ve never been tempted to get lip filler treatment, but I know what I’d look like if I did!

Of course, interactions with nature aren’t always painful. In fact, there are some I seek out. It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of diving the Farne Islands, and it’s certainly not to dive the wrecks there. I love seeing the seals, and when they decide to interact with me it’s a thrill that never fades. This is because every seal interaction I’ve had has been on the seal’s terms. If it doesn’t want to be around me, it’s off! When a playful pinniped chooses to stick around and nibble on my fins, it’s just brilliant!  

Article ‘’Mitts to yourself! by Yo-Han Cha, first published in SCUBA magazine, Issue 142 Jan/Feb 2024.

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