Previously off-limits to human beings, Jacques Cousteau brought the wonders of the ocean depths to the general public in two ways: he helped create the first French underwater film called “18 Meters Deep,” and with Émile Gagnan, the precursor to modern scuba diving equipment, the aqua-lung. Had he foreseen how such an introduction would lead to a near-absolute destruction of the silent color and diversity that lives below the surface, the intrepid explorer may never have shared his secrets.
But he did, and though he can’t be blamed, we have subsequently ruined many coral reefs and other marine ecosystems around the world. The Red Sea is in danger, the Gulf States continue to pressure their waters with blind expansionism, and the Eastern Mediterranean’s ecosystem is so disfigured that, sans the distraction of beauty, it has become the perfect place to learn how to dive.
At war with the sea
Lebanon’s Daily Star reports that scuba diving became popular during Lebanon’s civil war and that environmental degradation has had a “macabre effect.”
The Mediterranean is so turbid in the summer months that visibility is limited to 1 to 20 meters, though in the winter months ocean currents sweep the detritus and pollution to Cyprus, increasing visibility to 15-100m.
But the real benefit according to Philipp Breu, who interviewed several scuba divers in Beirut, is that the lack of underwater beauty helps beginner divers focus on technique instead.
“Situated at the eastern end of the Mediterranean, the marine life is poor, with some sites best described as “moonscapes” rather than landscapes. On some days, divers should avoid inspecting the detritus floating in the shallows too closely,” wrote Breu.
Henri Abdel Jalil, 23, a part-time diving instructor for the National Institute for Scuba Diving (NISD) told the paper that “the divers can focus on their air consumption and focus more on technical details without distraction.”
Once divers have mastered their technique, they can then explore the wrecks that litter the sea off Lebanon’s coast.
The ghosts of wrecks
HMS Victoria – a 19th century British vessel buried in the waters off Tripoli – and the Vichy French submarine Le Souffleur are two such attractions.
“There are four other wrecks, including the cargo ship Macedonia in a beginner-suitable average depth of 12 meters, and the British cargo ship SS Lesbian, which was sunk by the French in deep waters in 1941 to prevent British forces from destroying her and blocking Beirut harbor,” writes Breu.
Perhaps it was Andy Revkin with the New York Times who wrote that our capacity to destroy is far less remarkable than our ability to adjust to the apocalypse we thereby create. Will we really allow our future to be so bland and so brown, or will we fight to live in color?
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image via Petteri Sulonen