Malta Diary What is happening under the seawater surface – now possible to be virtually present to make my dreams come true
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The sea has always been my magnet from very, very early days. We lived ten minutes walking distance away from the seashore and my late father was a keen amateur fisherman and had an attractive small boat which he rowed.
Sometimes we fished from the boat and sometimes from the shore – and the catches then were almost always bountiful.
His boat was moored in Sliema Creek which in those days used to be crammed with Royal Navy cruisers, destroyers and minesweepers, He often rowed around them and we inhaled the aroma of food being cooked in the kitchens and the sailors would wave to us and bid us good day. At night the ships would be full of light and in the stern many of them mounted a large screen and showed films for those sailors who did not venture ashore and were off duty.
Those were memorable days of bliss that enamoured me to the blue Mediterranean Sea.
Sadly it all came to an end in January of 1954 when my father once more rejoined the Royal Air Force and we transferred to London, England, and took up residence there.
I was seven years old at the time and one of my greatest shocks came shortly after our arrival in the metropolis. From East Dulwich we took a bus to Central London and disembarked near the Houses of Parliament. I was looking forward to set my eyes on the River Thames for the first time, conjuring a view in my mind of the flow and blue of my beloved Mediterranean.
Imagine my great shock when for the first time I set my eyes of the sluggish, murky water of the Thames and was dumbly astounded!
However, my love for the sea remained untainted and I began reading lots of books about underwater life and life at sea and devoured television documentaries at the time by Jacques Cousteau and Hans and Lotte Hass.
My mind was made up. My life was to be dedicated to becoming a marine biologist and a deep water diver.
There were two setbacks. The first was my total failure to academically grasp the sciences. On one occasion at my Strand Secondary Grammar School in the end-of-year Chemistry test I obtained just 4% – and I guess that mark covered the fact I had written my name correctly on the exam paper!
The other was my growing fear of claustrophobia and being in enclosed places. The thought of being deep underwater with volumes of sea above me sent shivers down my spine.
So that was that. Fortunately I was a good surface swimmer and later, on return to Malta, I took up surface snorkelling and spent many hours at it and was able to glimpse sea bottom views in shallow water.
Now, thanks to technology (this does carry some advantages!) my dreams have been realised.
A few years back Malta Heritage inaugurated an Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit at the Maritime Museum in Vittoriosa. At the time Timmy Gambin, a Professor of Maritime Archaeology at the University of Malta who was in charge of the project, said the unit would be taking care of the culture found under water and on the Maltese seabed.
Now, this is indeed a never-ending cultural heritage because the seawater environment of the Maltese Islands is literally infested in a panoramic history that stretches from sunken Phoenician and Roman vessels, all with intact artefacts on board and many wrecks of different seafarers down through the ages, including WWI and WWII vessels, submarines, aircraft and anything else imaginable.
Indeed, this makes the Islands a natural magnet for deep sea divers and although sadly there are annual fatalities, the attractions draw many, many thousands.
Last week, Heritage Malta announced there is an even further advance and the public may now access ten underwater archaeological sites in the comfort of their own homes.
‘The Virtual Museum – Underwater Malta’ website is an online museum which ranges from old archaeological findings to sunken aircraft and submarines.
Launching the underwater museum at Fort St Elmo, Professor Tim Gambin explained that through means of virtual reality, one is now able to experience the underwater world, which is usually explored only by divers. He said that the concept of the museum highlights the importance of Malta’s heritage found underwater.
“What we see today is just the tip of the iceberg, as there was a lot of work behind this project which consisted of research, using different media and technology to bring the final product we have now,” Gambin said.
The project features 10 sites, where each site is given a detailed description and videos which show the sites in great detail. The project is in collaboration with the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), the University of Malta and Heritage Malta.
“This has reduced my life by ten years”
An expression on hearing bad or sad news or experiencing a great shock.