A new snorkelling school is opening in Swanage in time for World Ocean Day, with the aim of showing children and adults the exciting underwater world that exists in the bay.
Snorkel Dorset has been set up by underwater photographer Maria Munn who wants to share her love of the oceans with a generation whose seaside experience of marine life might otherwise be limited to crabbing off the jetty.
Snakelock anemones are among the beautiful inhabitants of Swanage Pier
Raising awareness of the sea’s crucial role
After a career in conservation and underwater photography which took her around the world, Maria has now settled in Swanage where she will begin her snorkel experiences for children and families on World Ocean Day, Thursday 8th June 2023.
The concept of an international Ocean Day was first proposed in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro as a way to celebrate a personal connection to the sea, to raise awareness about the crucial role the ocean plays in sustaining life and how everyone can help protect it.
Maria is hoping that she can foster her love of the underwater world in a new generation of children and encourage them to share the same passion for recycling and sustainability that she has.
Half-day courses will be run through the summer, planned around high tides when there is most to see underneath the pier, and will cost £50 per person with a £10 rental for mask, snorkel and fins supplied by Mares, a leading company in dive gear.
Maria Munn in her photography studio in Daisy Mays Arcade, Swanage
“No better experience than being in water”
Maria, who has a snorkelling certification from Scuba Schools International, said:
“I’ve always had this dream of helping to encourage kids to learn about the ocean, which is why I brought my studio to Swanage after the pandemic, so that people could come here to learn about the ocean and conservation.
“I’ve seen so many kids having fun crabbing in the summer that I thought how great it would be to get them in the water, snorkelling and seeing marine life up close.
“Crabbing is great, but there’s no better experience than being in the water and seeing what is there. Swanage Bay is so shallow, and has so much amazing sea life that you don’t need to be a scuba diver to go and enjoy how beautiful this underwater playground is.
“Dorset is an incredible place to discover beautiful marine life and colour, with so many safe, shallow spots to explore around our coast, and snorkelling is a fabulous way to exercise without putting any pressure on joints, to unwind and enhance mental health and well being.”
Maria receives her certification from Scuba Schools International
Approved snorkel diving programme
A website, Snorkel Dorset, has been set up to take bookings as classes will be kept deliberately small – just two people or one family – for the best and safest experience.
The experience will begin in Maria’s photography studio in Daisy May’s Arcade, learning about snorkelling equipment and skills on an approved Scuba Schools International snorkel diver programme.
The SSI course will introduce young snorkellers to the importance of protecting and preserving the world’s oceans, learning why they are so important and what everyone can do to help protect them.
A fun, easy to understand TV presentation will go through the importance of using the right equipment and how to snorkel safely, before a five minute walk to Swanage Pier for an underwater adventure.
Changing room facilities have been provided by Pierhead Watersports, and once everyone is in wetsuits, masks, snorkels and fins, and after a last review of snorkelling skills, it will be time to get into the water to spend an hour exploring a whole new world.
Beauty abounds under Swanage Pier and you don’t need to go far to find it
So much colour and life around the pier
“Underwater life is amazing and even by just snorkelling on the surface you can see so much – big schools of fish, sand eel, bream, blennies, there are so many wonderful creatures and colours.
“The pier itself has so much life from little tompot blennies, shrimps, crabs and anemones hiding in the crevices to beautiful swathes of seagrass and kelp with schools of fish.
“There is so much colour around the pier legs themselves with marine creatures hiding in amongst them all – even a pipefish if we’re super lucky!
“Snorkelling is one of the easiest and safest ways for a child to experience the ocean and is an inexpensive hobby which is also educational, opening up a whole new world of fun and adventures.”
A shy pipefish is captured on camera under Swanage Pier
Another resident of the pier, the tompot blenny, is always inquisitive
Similar mental health benefits to yoga
Courses are being offered for children from the age of six, who should be able to swim confidently and competently before attempting to snorkel. Floatation devices are available, as well as a buoy to hold onto in the water to be extra safe.
It is recommended that snorkellers wear wetsuits – which can be hired separately – to provide extra buoyancy as well as protection from jellyfish or sharp rocks.
Snorkel sessions are also being offered to adults to help with mobility and mindfulness issues, as the sport can improve overall strength and endurance, tone muscles, reduce stress and boost cardiovascular health.
Water resistance in the sea allows for a good workout without putting pressure on joints, while the ocean’s colours and sounds have been proven to create sensations of calmness and peace while reducing negative thoughts – similar mental health benefits to yoga.
An image taken at Durdle Door shows off the true colours of a seascape
A talent for underwater photography
Maria discovered her passion for the ocean whilst recovering from life-changing injuries, and self funded a project to help the Shark Trust and Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society by giving talks.
She launched conservation campaigns with the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and the author of Jaws, Peter Benchley, and travelled the world to get more experience.
Exploring the oceans also helped take her mind off her injuries, strengthened wasted muscles and gave a sense of purpose helping to calm trauma and anxiety from her accident.
She also discovered a talent for underwater photography and became the first person in the UK to receive a distinction from the Royal Photographic Society for her work with compact cameras.
A carpet of seaweeds taken at Kimmeridge Bay
“I wanted up close experiences with sharks”
“Originally I wanted to have up close experiences with sharks, so that when I gave talks for the Shark Trust they would be more interesting.
“I’ve been doing underwater photography since 2001. I was laughed at for having a small compact camera, but I was just looking to take interesting images.
“I came back to the UK in 2004, my idea was to share my knowledge and help people to believe that they could take nice images with their cameras and use their pictures to help other people become more passionate about the ocean.
“Now I use my photography studio to encourage visitors, particularly children, to take their own photos, to share a passion for all things recycled, upcycled and sustainable – and now hopefully to find a love for snorkelling as well.”
A two-day Sea Search observer course will also be run by Snorkel Dorset in July, either at Swanage or Kimmeridge depending on weather conditions, as part of a national project to collect information about ocean habitats, plants and marine life.
The beautiful colours beneath Worbarrow Bay