“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small”. These ten words penned in 1848 by Cecil Frances Alexander succinctly sum up the extraordinary life we can encounter in our seas.
And one of the smallest animals that we get excited about is the Nudibranch, spotted, striped, tentacled, bald, frilled and horned. There are over 2,000 different species of this soft bodied mollusk, with a spectrum of many extraordinary colours, sizes and striking forms! It is amazing that something akin to an underwater slug, and the size of a boiled sweet, somehow always gives even the most hardened wreck diver a thrill when they spot one.
British marine life is utterly fascinating
You can be quietly cruising over a reef, and suddenly the seabed takes off in front of you. Queen scallops suddenly become animated swimming castanets, hermit crabs scuttle, plaice ripple away, starfish waggle their arms in greeting, and as you turn a corner you’ll find football-sized sea urchins camouflaged with algae, shells, kelp and other debris.
It would appear that jellyfish don't much care for camouflage. Walnut-sized comb jellies are joyous to watch. Their translucent bodies delicately pulsate with ribbons of iridescent lustrous rainbow colours. Like some mad mobile Essex Girl disco. The “flashing lights” have a purpose – the cilia beats in order to move the jellyfish through the water.
We also dive with the largest species of jellyfish – the aptly named, magnificent Lion's Mane. Its diaphanous body is wreathed in showy orange tentacles that are strongly reminiscent of a lion’s mane when the jellyfish slowly pulsates.
Watching fish school whilst streams of sunlight dance off their silver scales can also be quite mesmerising. Certain fish are helpful to us divers. Pouting or Bib have the nickname “wreck fish” because you often find a shoal of them swimming very close to a wreck.
Some marine life likes to take a closer look at us - the cheeky Tompot blenny can appear to be walking on its fins as it checks out visiting divers. This amusing, inquisitive little fish, with unmistakable slightly protuberant eyes and feathery tentacles, loves watching the world go by from a crevice.
Acrobats of the deep
But probably the cutest, most close up and personal marine life experience an avid British diver can have is with a seal. The sheer exhilaration and thrill of diving with seals is something that will be forever seared into your soul. A dive you will never forget.
Watch 360° video of BBC’s Miranda Krestovnikoff diving with seals
Ungainly on land. A ballerina in the sea. As impish and as cute as a puppy. Seals are curious and cheeky and make for a playful companion. They quietly tail you. Watching you with their bright black button eyes, before darting in to mouth your gloves and hood, before spinning away. Effortlessly ignoring Boyles Law. And before you know it, they are back, wanting to play again, as you wish
“oh if only I could dive like a seal and have the buoyancy of a fish”!
We also get the joy of diving with sharks, in particular the second largest living fish, the Basking Shark. Sharks have terrible PR. In reality they enthrall divers and our time with them in the water is limited, because they are really not that keen on bubbles.
The graceful, harmless Basking Shark cruises shallow waters, filter feeding on plankton and small invertebrates. Encounters with this shark are special. It looms out of the gloom before quietly passing you and, with one flick of the tail, it is gone again.
Plenty to see above the surface
And before you know it you are heading for the surface once more. Time to do a safety stop. You are sitting there, watching your buddy and your computer when all of a sudden you are being buzzed by a bird! Sleek Guillemots effortlessly zoom around our heads, chasing our bubbles, and making us laugh. What a way to end a Great British dive.
So anyone who ever remarks that British diving is boring, stupid and cold has never dived our wondrous waters. There's so much to see, and never enough time.