Archive for the ‘Esther Underwater’ Category

In September 2011, I was able to showcase some of the work I produced last summer, in the annual show of the Society of Wildlife Artists, at the Mall Galleries, London.

The exhibition of all my underwater art and more was due to be on show in Dorset in May… but due to a slight change of plan, it has been postponed till later this year!

I will keep you all posted, and I will have a mini-show in the village hall before the work heads south.

– Esther

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Visibility: three metres. Exposure protection: wetsuit, hood and boots.

I’ve discarded my gloves today, as they make drawing a little more cumbersome. The sun is shining. My buddy and I make our final checks, wade into the water and dive.

The visibility is very good and within the first ten minutes I spot a pipefish! It’s only the second I’ve seen in as many weeks. I signal Shep and he spots it, just as I get his attention. I find it unexpectedly unnerving initially; with its head out of sight, it’s like a snake in the grass!

We watch it for a while, then move on… another! We pass an area of weed and Shep spots two more.

It has been one of the best dives to date: one hour and twenty-five minutes of incredible sea life, good visibility and warm waters.

Everything was right, and we really thought we would see the illusive seahorse today. But no… still no horses.

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It was my first dive from a rib today. Slightly apprehensive, but kind words from the skip across from Brownsea made my approach clear.

Chris, a member of the local dive club, had arranged to meet me at Swanage Pier (this place still holds foreboding) at around two-ish, with the aim to head out at two thirty prompt. I arrived early, dumped my kit at the kiosk and parked up the other side of town – giving myself a short walk back to collect my nerves, all of them it seems…

Back to the Pier and I noticed a chap, suited up and sitting in a grey rib eating his sandwiches. It’s Chris. We shout our greetings and I’m introduced to Gary: our skipper for the afternoon and general boat cover. Once togged up, I wade out to join them on the rib, hand over my kit and clamber on (in a very un-ladylike fashion).


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One hour and twenty minutes in my wetsuit, hood, gloves and boots, and I am cold. D is very cold.

We made it to the far end of south beach and it was worth it.

Blenny, dragonet, hermits, shore crabs of all sizes, wrasse, snakelock… and I even caught a glimpse of mullet grazing the shallows.

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No sooner am I back in Dorset than I’m jumping in the sea with D. Studland, with borrowed kit (thanks Matt), a BCD from the dive centre, and away we go. The beach is packed! I’ve never seen it like this before. The number of boats moored have increased, too. We make our way to the water and don fins. It’s good to be back!

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(To read all of Esther Tyson’s “Swimming Underwater” posts on one page, please click here.)

The Grand Finale.

Open Water 3 and Open Water 4, Swanage, Tanville Ledges! It’s 28ºC. I’m in a wet suit, hood, gloves and boots. I have 10kg of weights around my waist and 2kg of ankle weights. We are diving in salt water from a boat in a controlled environment. I have 230psi in my tank and we are about to do our giant stride!

Skills: Equipment preparation, donning and adjustment. Pre-dive safety check. Entry and weight check. 5 point descent. Buoyancy control/Oral inflation fin pivot. Full mask flood and clear. Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent. Cramp removal. Free descent. Underwater exploration. 5 Point Ascent with a 3 minute safety stop (hovering the correct way up for a change!) and a tired diver tow (I was the tired diver by the end of that!).

16º at the surface, 16º bottom temperature and 7.7 depth. Done, and it all went well.

This is when I make a big mistake. (more…)

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Thursday 6.30pm

It is one month to the evening since I began training to scuba dive! I’m back at the pool side with Eileen, and we are about to finish off confined water 4 and 5. I feel calm and collected…?! On the cards tonight is the hover; I imagine Tom Cruise at the end of his line, but it doesn’t quite work out like that…

Heather is also going for her open water 3 and 4 on Sunday, and we are to do most of the skills together this evening.

We enter the pool with a giant stride. My mask is less tight, because I’ve been wearing a hood. (I leave it as is, in the hope that I have less of a mark on my face when we finish.) Making sure I hold the mask firmly as I hit the water, it remains in place and no water is leaking in… cool. We buddy up for a 5 point descent and all is well. I have to remember: part of ‘sorted’ is to elevate and equalise.

I’ve struggled a little with buoyancy this evening. Even with my BCD empty of air, my body wants to float and it’s difficult keeping both knees on the tiles. We watch Eileen do the hover, and then it’s my turn. In my attempt I turn turtle and hover upside down. Feet in the air and totally un-Cruise like; what is going on?! I can just see myself – what a picture! Hover complete and finally into an upright position (with help), I kneel on the bottom.


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Caught the Castello early this morning, then the chain ferry, and made my way to Studland. A short walk to the beach: lovely, calm and not many people!

Damon and Jim pulled into the car park five minutes later. We walked down to the beach for a recce, as neither have dived Studland before, then returned to the van to don our gear. It’s a longer walk to the beach all togged and weighted, and thankfully it’s downhill!

We discuss the dive ahead and make our way to the water. I have a real problem to begin with: my BCD isn’t tight enough (I’m a bit weak with the straps) and I keep turning turtle. It takes a while to sort it out, then we make our way out to look for eelgrass.

Being new to diving, the possible loss of control in buoyancy whilst drawing could be a real problem. I am mindful of this and remain a meter above the grass throughout the dive. I’m surprised by the abundance of small snakelocks anemones. They are attached to stems of grass: all healthy, and all like little children’s sunshines. The grass is cleaner, with some darker areas and some lighter.

I keep the boys in sight at all times. Damon looks back now and then, to check I’m still there, and sits cross-legged hovering above the grass – show off! If only it was so easy. I struggle to cross my legs out of water, never mind in the water! And the last time I hovered, it was upside down?!

I make two drawings of Damon as he leads the way. The 300lb paper no longer works; it’s breaking up as I draw. The 425lb holds up well and holds the graphite for the duration. There is a dark shore crab (not as large as the Brownsea crabs) and little sand fish. Damon and Jim see snails, but we don’t come across the seahorses.

The sun sends rays through the water as we swim toward shore. Damon’s computer reads 2.5m and Jim’s going one better, at 2.8m with a 50 minute dive. It’s been good to finally see the environment I hope to work in. I thoroughly enjoyed it – even the walk back to the van, which warmed me up!

Coffee and Green & Blacks white chocolate… cool!

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Sunday afternoon.

We had a group in over the weekend, so Vic and I took the landy down to the clock tower with all the bags and went to meet the boat. As the guys readied to leave, Shep (the skipper) spotted me and shouted over “Est, it’s a perfect time to snorkel!”

Oh heck, he’s right. The water’s pretty clear and the sun is in just the right position for a good look around. I’ve no excuse, even though my gear is at the Villa.

Decision made, I walk two students back to base with a short guided tour, pick up my box of bits (snorkel, mask, fins, wetsuit, hood, gloves, boots, towel) and make my way back to the castle jetty.

The harbour is crammed. There are speeding boats, jet skis, sailing boats and fishing boats, all running back and forth in the channel. I’m standing at the top of the steps looking at the swell as it comes in between the two jetties and up toward me.

Do I really want to go in there? I don’t feel nervous, but I’m a bit apprehensive about the depth and these waves. I sit a while and watch.

Shep has done a second run to Sandbanks in this time.
“Working yourself up to it?!”
How true!

The question is: do I really believe I’m getting in? I’m already talking myself out of it.


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Wednesday evening.

At Swanage pier, I have my second open water dive. Damon is my instructor for the evening and Jim is my buddy for the skills. I’m nervous as we approach the floating jetty, but as Damon pulls on his fin, the strap comes away. My mind is focused on his fixing it, and then on trying to stand solid as he leans on my shoulder for balance while donning his fins… so much so, that I’m calm and ready to take the first skill.

Damon steps off the jetty first. All’s well and he signs “OK”. I step over to the edge. “It’s a flippin’ long way down there”, Jim is happy to inform me that at only a metre “it’s not!” Right gloves heal on reg, fingers on mask, while left hand holds down any dangly bits. I step off the jetty, go under and surface. OK, but with a little water in my mask. Jim’s turn.


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Parwich artist Esther Tyson is working on a project to immortalise the seahorses of Dorset in art – but first of all, she has to learn to dive and swim under deep water. Esther’s project diary continues below…

6 days later.

There’s a big grin on my face right now, but I’m already starting at the end of my story and that won’t do.

Damon was Lou’s buddy tonight and my instructor for the evening. We talked about my experience of the dives to date, a brief history of my progress in swimming underwater and the forewarned mask problem. Why am I doing this? Work? Recreation? To overcome fear? Yes, overcome FEAR sounds about right! (more…)

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Click here to read all of Esther’s diary posts on one page.

Friday, 5pm.

Panic is irrational. Though kitting up when instructed, it was far too soon and sitting in a wet wet-suit for half an hour on a cold overcast evening wasn’t a good start. Already shivering, and the unexpected entry plan just about finished me off.

We had our briefing. Listening to what Lee had to do for the end of his open water put my head in overload. Lou and Eileen would be concentrating on his efforts; Lou would move between Lee and myself; Steve (the Dive Master) would keep an eye out for me. This again conspired against my rational thought. To my mind I’m hearing: one or the other will keep an eye on me, but they are watching how Lee progresses, so they will be distracted and that is when things can go wrong…

Next, we trudge to the pier where we are to step off the floating jetty. A boat pulls in just as we arrive. A quick change of plan and we are stepping off the back of this boat, just like stepping off the edge of the pool. But my head is crowded. I stand on the edge of the platform, don’t want to bang the tank as I step off. 3,2,1 – go. A giant stride (with a helpful shove, once I step out) and it is OK.

I surface and I’m too buoyant. I need to let air out of my BCD, but I don’t; I feel unbalanced and my feet are up. I feel like I did when I first got in the pool with an oversized BCD. My weights feel unbalanced and I am starting to panic. I won’t signal OK. I don’t thrash around in panic, but mentally I’m freaking out. Tears fill my eyes. Lou is facing me the whole time, but I am not able to verbalise how I feel, and why I feel panic. I can write it here, after the fact. She is calm and helps me work through it. It takes so long to calm down. I want out, but I won’t let myself, not after the age it’s taken to get in! (more…)

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Click here to read all of Esther’s diary posts on one page.

Wednesday evening.

51 minutes is not bad for my first open water dive. I was (not literally!) holding my breath the whole time, waiting for the dive to be over. Is this good for a first dive? It’s not exactly the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean, but there is a certain macabre charm about the murky depths.

First the briefing, then we kitted up.

On my first ‘try dive’ with Matt, he said that setting up the tank, the buoyancy control device (BCD) and the regulators would become easy. I wasn’t convinced, but now it’s the one skill I’m most confident with.

With fins in hand, we walked over to the steps… and down, one by one, holding the guide rope to steady myself. Standing in the water we donned fins, inflated the BCD, walked backwards and then sat back, in the sea. Done.

I’m getting nervous again, writing this!

We get to our position under the jetty. Lou must have decided against a buoyancy check, because she indicated straight away the 5 point descent. It took me a while to get under the water, even with deflating my BCD; it seems that when you’re uneasy, your lungs are packed full of air and this keeps you buoyant. I’m now weighted to the hilt and given a helping hand in the form of a tug from Lou below. I’m sinking, equalizing my ears as I go and trying to breath slowly, hoping to fool my brain into feeling calm…

We begin to fin. I hold tight to Lou’s hand. I’ll probably cut off her circulation before long, but it’s a huge comfort.

It is so alien down there; the light is a cool green and everything has a grubby feel, possibly due to the sand and the algae. A crab is my first sighting; they are also the creatures I have found remains of on the shore at Studland. This spiny spider crab is covered in algae and is massive! It’s walking along the sea bed below me. The next is a Cuckoo wrasse, although not with the colours in the book; I saw pale and darker browns. I remember stripes from head to tail and a little iridescence in the stripe under torch light… My mind is concentrating on breathing rather than good observation.

The visibility is poor, thick with sediment hanging in the water. From nowhere, a dark shape appears before us… a pillar. Slowly we pass by, and before long the next ominous shape looms. At this depth I’m in limbo, neither able to see the ground nor the reassuring light from above. Here is obscurity. There is a shimmer of light caught in the flanks of bass and small mackerel, but no other life. I shudder. I am feeling the cold and I signal Lou.

Five minutes more?

We arrive at the Tompot Blenny’s pillar. Lou places a stone in its hole and we wait. A moment later the stone is propelled out and I see it drop from the ledge. Repeat… I see the stone, I see the stone fall from the edge, but I don’t see the Blenny. We move on.

A five point ascent goes well and I surface, holding high my snorkel rather than the buoyancy control device with low-pressure inflator on my BCD. Fool! We flip onto our backs and have an agonizing swim from the end of the pier back to the steps. I can see how exhaustion can kick in; we rest for a moment, then continue.

Back on dry land, and relief that my first sea dive went well in their eyes. My memory will be: “keep going, just a bit longer; you’ll be back on land in thirty minutes.” Does it sound bad? It was an experience; I am glad I’ve done it… but I was lost, had no idea of my bearings and felt claustrophobic.

Thursday evening, Rockley Park.

Two hours in the pool with Steve. He is calm and methodical and it helps. Step by small step, mask clearing… and almost there?

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Click here to read all of Esther’s diary posts on one page.

Dorset: day four.

More Theory, and a very long day. I crammed the last section, and I was still late leaving. Review #5, an exam and a further written examination: done and passed. My brain is fried! 

I’m staying at The Villa on Brownsea Island, in Poole harbour. Walking back along the board walk, I saw deer in the edge of the marsh and a tern whilst waiting at the jetty. I’m tired… will write more tomorrow.

Rockley Park and my first confined dive.

Tomorrow is tonight and I dislike diving intensely! I fought back tears in the pool; it’s tough. Almost drowned at the bottom, trying to clear my mask; coughing and spluttering at two and a half meters is not funny. On surfacing, I’m emotional. Lou asks me if I want to continue with the course, “because you don’t seem to be enjoying it”… (more…)

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Click here to read all of Esther’s diary posts on one page.

Dorset: day two.

I found my way to the medical centre over in Parkstone with one minute to spare. Blood pressure, pulse, heart and lungs. The result: fit for diving, with no restrictions. The Doc examines guys that dive to a depth of 200m – and here I am, thinking 2m is too deep!

There was light mist this morning and drizzle the rest of the day. I took a detour via Studland on my return, but didn’t stop. There are National Trust car parks everywhere, which makes things expensive on the ‘recce’ front.

On to the B&B and more study. The dive manual, chapter 4… and an afternoon nap?! I must be tired.

This evening I was invited to a bbq at the PADI centre. I met Eileen, the instructor who will be teaching me tomorrow evening, and chatted with a couple of ladies.

I need an Ordnance Survey Map, National Trust membership, and to work out where I can store my materials on the mainland to make it easier traveling back and forth to the island…

Dorset: day three.


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Parwich artist Esther Tyson is working on a project to immortalise the seahorses of Dorset in art – but first of all, she has to learn to swim underwater. Esther’s project diary continues below…

Dorset: day one.

I’m tired; it’s been a long day starting with a drive around Holton Heath Trading Estate looking for a PADI sign. In actual fact it began earlier with a full English breakfast, but that was an unexpected treat due to a double booking on the accommodation front.

9.41am, a cup of tea and we jump right in to Chapter One of the dive manual: The Underwater World, followed by Dive Equipment, Scuba Systems, The Buddy System and Confines Water Dive Preview. At the end of each chapter there is a two page knowledge review and I’m tested.

Chapters Two and Three are long. They cover: Adapting to the Underwater World, Respiration, Dive Equipment, Buddy System: Communication and Procedures, Confined Water Dive Preview, The Dive Environment, Dive Planning, Boat Diving, Problem Management, Confined Water Dive Preview, General Open Water Skills, Open Water Dives 1 and 2.

The objectives are covered; I fill out the self-assessment and take three short exams.

I’m done in. Lunch, another mug of tea and we plough on with the practical side of things. We look at the different masks on show and check for fit, the snorkel, boots and fins. I try on a semi-dry wetsuit. Boy, it’s tough to pull on. How I’d fasten it on my own, I don’t know! My suit may be a cerise/purple, rather than the red of the dive center. I had hoped to be coordinated – but just when I’d pondered the red and black theme, I’m now red, cerise and yellow! Where’s the pot of gold?

We stand side by side to set up our gear. In front of me is the tank filled with compressed clean air, a BCD and some regs. I copy the routine of putting the equipment together then pack up. It’s now my turn to set up without help; did it all sink in? This was one of the steps I thought would be difficult, but having repeated the process a couple of times it now seems quite simple. This is good!

We finished at 6pm, and I’ve spent the last two hours walking in the edge of the surf, along the beach in Swanage. Revitalizing! And there is so much pink along the tide line…!

Click here to read all of Esther’s diary posts on one page.

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Parwich artist Esther Tyson is working on a project to immortalise the seahorses of Dorset in art – but first of all, she has to learn to swim underwater. Esther’s project diary continues below…

I have not been under water for six weeks, due to an inner ear infection. But now, rested, all is set!

The plan is to wade through the PADI Open Water Manual (along with DVDs), which will guide me through the theory of scuba diving and the safety aspects. Throughout this book there are mini-quizzes and knowledge reviews, all of which are to be completed by the start of the course.

Lou, who will be my instructor, has filled me in with the basic plan. The initial dives will be in the local pool, to learn a variety of scuba diving skills. These are called ‘Confined Dives’. They will last from four to six hours daily, over four days. The following two days will be open water sea dives. All the skills learned and practised in the pool will be assessed in the open water environment during these dives.

The first two open water dives will be at Swanage Pier (with a very early start!) These will take us to a depth of three to four metres. The last two open water dives will be in Vobster Quay in Somerset. This is an inland quarry with a depth of 37 metres (121 feet).

If all goes well, the following week will be down to Studland… and drawing seahorses!

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Parwich artist Esther Tyson is working on a project to immortalise the seahorses of Dorset in art – but first of all, she has to learn to swim underwater! Esther’s project diary continues below…

Day Eleven.

I’m back from London in time to grab my swim bag and walk to Matt’s. (Matt is a dive instructor in Parwich!) The prep talk is over and we are in the pool, discussing what comes next. Tonight, we are going for a bit of depth.

“But first, I would like you to leave your mask on the side – and, breathing with your regulator, go under.”

I didn’t see that coming. I ready myself above water, breathe in, breathe out, in, out… It takes me a couple of minutes to get my head under water, but I’m under!

I’m breathing steadily through the regulator for a minute or less; it just feels longer. No water up my nose!

Squatting in fins is difficult; I end up with one knee bent and one foot forward, with the other knee on the tiled floor and the other foot back for balance while we prepare. Ready, I bring my left fin round, getting into position for the swim, but as I do, the weight distribution shifts. My tank is now heavier than my body and I pirouette to an upside down turtle. It makes me laugh and my mask immediately fills with water! Managing to clear it – while at the same time upside down, laughing and letting more in – isn’t good!

Matt grabs my strap and rights me. Thank goodness for that! Now for the deep end…


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Parwich artist Esther Tyson is working on a project to immortalise the seahorses of Dorset in art – but first of all, she has to learn to swim underwater! Esther’s project diary continues below…

Day Seven.

I couldn’t repeat the last session – my face is burning from all the failed attempts at holding my breath. I settle into the more comfortable rhythm of breathing out through my nose underwater and in through my mouth above water.

Did I say more comfortable? When did that happen? I swim half a mile!

Day Eight.

Talking to Matt this evening, I feel reasonably… confident. Famous last words! It looks like Thursday night will be my first scuba session – and as I don’t have a wetsuit, it will be swimsuit with T-shirt.

I wasn’t too concerned, until he mentioned I may have to do the mask clearing at depth: 18 metres.  Another day; thank goodness the pool isn’t that deep!

Day Nine.

I’m sat in the corridor at the baths and was OK until a moment ago; never mind flooding my mask, my mind is flooded with madness. Surrounded by all these guys, scuba gear, noise, the reality of the situation suddenly dawns: I’m going to have to do this.

The guys have a prep talk, one of the girls talks of her recent instructor training and I’m sat with my mind racing.  All I have to do is clear my mask, and all I want to do is leave! (more…)

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Parwich artist Esther Tyson is working on a project to immortalise the seahorses of Dorset in art – but first of all, she has to learn to swim underwater! Esther’s project diary continues below…

Day Five.

I’ve moved from the pool at Sandybrook to the 25m pool in Ashbourne Leisure Centre.

Every pool I’ve swum in has had a gradual grade to the final depth, but here it’s ever so sudden: half way, the depth plummets! In my first swim, it took me completely by surprise; coughing and spluttering, I grasped the rail whilst composing myself.

Back to the present day: looking at the length and wondering how it will go. It’s a long way… (more…)

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Swimming underwater

Parwich artist Esther Tyson is immortalising the seahorses of Dorset in art. This is her first collection of project diary entries. Please click here to find out more about the background to the project.

Day One.

Been to the pool, put my goggles on upside down and filled them with water, almost drowning in the process! My thoughts crowded with the prospect of swimming underwater, without my most treasured swimming apparatus… the essential, fluorescent green, nose clip. A good idea on dry land, but now there be dragons…

So, a summary of my first attempt: snot – and lots of it. Swapped my nose clip with my fingers, and they remained firmly clamped… will try again tomorrow… any suggestions, anyone?


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Note from the blog team: Starting from today, Parwich artist Esther Tyson will be posting regular diary-style updates on her new creative project: to immortalise the seahorses of Dorset in art. In this first post, Esther gives us some personal background on the project, before explaining her forthcoming activities in more detail. Esther, it’s over to you…

1. The past.

We had been paddling along the gullies, sand squishing through our toes, small fish tickling our legs. I remember the excitement as the sand came alive and a flat fish darted from our feet. We sped up the shore to dry and get warm, then away again to searching the tide line, full of anticipation.

A stick, with a dragon head?

Once home, we rushed upstairs, knowing exactly where Dad’s Observer book of the sea shore stood and thumbed through every page until there it was – we had found our very own pipefish! It was moved out to the shed pretty quickly. Mum disposed of it when we weren’t looking; apparently it smelled bad!

Our following trip to Tridely left a stronger impression. We had been treading the gullies as usual, but the next moment was filled with fear. The ground fell away, and I was scrambling at the edge of the sand bank with nothing but clouded water beneath me. Clutching handfuls of bank, I couldn’t get out. My little sister came running; she grabbed my arm and pulled me out…

In 2005, I spent three months on an island in the Seychelles, working alongside scientists studying the indigenous magpie robin. Surrounded by the Indian Ocean and beautiful clear water, how could I not explore the reef? I decided there that I would attempt to get over this fear of deep water… maybe take swimming lessons back home.

In 2008, the Dorset Wildlife Trust announced they would be offering a diving bursary to explore UK waters. How exciting – for someone else! Or maybe it would focus my attention to break this water thing…?

Five swimming lessons on a “back to basics” course, six months and my confidence grew. Three years on, I decide to apply for the diving bursary…

2. The Project – A Personal Sense of Place: Studland, Dorset.

The aim is to produce a body of work inspired by the rare and unique seagrass meadow habitat and the weird and wonderful creatures that make it home (predominantly the two species of seahorse). With hope, this body of work will help increase awareness of the importance of this habitat.


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