Historically known for producing excellent fortified wines, the Madeira archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean has drawn visitors for a variety of reasons over the past two decades. This archipelago – located west of Morocco and north of the Spanish Canary Islands – is now known for adventure sports such as hiking, paragliding, mountain biking and diving. The island archipelago, an autonomous region of the European country Portugal, hosted from October 4thNS till 9NS this year for the 18thNS World Championship of Underwater Photography and 4NS such a championship for underwater video.
Kerim Sabuncuoglu is President of the Visual Commission of the World Confederation of Underwater Activities (CMAS), which coordinated this diving event. CMAS is the result of an organization founded in France in 1959 by the marine scientist Jacques Cousteau, which is now based in Rome.
Sabuncuoglu grew up in Istanbul, Turkey and immersed himself in water sports whenever possible.
“I’ve been sailing, windsurfing, snorkeling. First scuba diving in 2000. ‘
Attracted by underwater pictures, he bought a stock of photography equipment on eBay and then followed his passion. Sabuncuoglu’s own photo of a dead moray eel, photographed in Bodrum, Turkey, attracted attention because death was caused by the eel becoming entangled in a fishing line. For this picture he was named Ocean Conservation Photographer of the Year in 2021.
CMAS, together with the Portuguese Association for Underwater Activities (PAS) and the Nautical Association of Madeira (ANM), hosted the underwater photo / video event off the coast of the island of Porto Santo, a two-hour boat trip (or 12-minute flight) southeast of Madeira.
“The competition is the most important of its kind,” continued Sabuncuoglu. “We have a hundred divers from 18 nations competing underwater. Unfortunately, Far Eastern countries like China, Japan and South Korea couldn’t make it this year because of the pandemic, but this year Kuwait is there for the first time. Teams of two dive at one of four locations on the island for 90 minutes at a specified time and are not allowed to dive deeper than 30 meters. We have pages of rules.
“When the divers come up, we take the camera videos and photos, format the cards, and seal the cameras so that no one can change pictures or add pictures that were previously taken. We only allow software to modify photos according to the capabilities of the camera and this is only possible when the divers are underwater. We have underwater referees who check whether divers are harming the underwater flora and fauna, and emergency boats for sea rescue. ‘
There are six categories of photographs and three categories of videos in the competition, making a total of nine categories and nine medals.
“It’s a very expensive sport, so having nine champions instead of one means more social media followers and more sponsorship.”
The top photo prizes by category this year went to Chile (Team Yakasovic / Duarte) for “Fish” and to Chile (same team) for “Close-up”; to Croatia (Team Zurub / Mihaljinec) for “Crustacea”, to Turkey (Team Pasa / Pat) for “Creative”, to Hungary (Team Lorincz / Takár) for “Wide Angle” and to Italy (Team Cicerchia / Molsa) for ‘ Wide angle with model. ‘
The winners of the underwater video were Germany (Team Boettcher / Riegel) in the category “unprocessed”, France (Team Maignot / Locqueneux) for “Short Film” and Spain (Team Illan / Barros) for “Film”.
“We show people the beauty of the underwater world. People on land who are not lucky enough to go diving do not know what is hidden under the water. The idea here is that when you see what’s there, you’re trying to protect it. They love it. These divers are now tourism representatives for Madeira for the time being. They will share their pictures – on land and under water. ‘
“Porto Santo is a fantastic place for diving. The island is equipped with the needs for competition. They have tanks, weights and are very well prepared for emergency situations. Divers came here to do training dives and love the flora and fauna underwater. It is important that the people of Porto Santo have big hearts so that the visitors can enjoy themselves. ‘
Porto Santo Island is only 16 square miles in size [42 square kilometers] in size. It was here that the navigator Christopher Columbus met and fell in love with Filipa de Moniz, the daughter of the local governor, in 1479. The two later married in Lisbon. Every year residents recreate the landing of Columbus on its shore – with locals in period costume on the beach and a large galleon sailing ashore. Island life, heritage and culture revolve around the ocean.
Renée Cappozzola from Los Angeles, USA, headed the photo jury at this CMAS event; she went to Porto Santo to judge.
“It’s a very difficult task because we get a lot of pictures that we have to look through. One of the things we all look for in the beginning is the “wow factor”. Does the picture make an impression on us? We also evaluate images in terms of composition and lighting. Participants are not permitted to adjust or crop images. We’ll look at the general technical details of the images. We also have six remote judges who will vote from all over the world. Our seven combined results determine the winners. ‘
“I went wreck diving this morning. Very impressive. Nice view, lots of marine life. Since it is a large wreck, there will be a wide variety of images. ‘
Teofilo Cunha is Secretary for Seas and Fisheries for the Autonomous Region of Madeira. He spoke of the region’s respect for nature conservation.
“We have 10 diving schools on the islands of Madeira, Porto Santo and Deserta as well as a protected area with over 40 seal species. Two thirds of the land of the Maderia Islands are protected. We also protect areas in the seas. We have more protected land in terms of numbers and area than anywhere else in Portugal. One of the challenges we face is integrating marine protection into the fishing industry. The most important thing is to give the future a better ocean than we received. ‘
Event manager Pedro Vasconcelos based in Madeira works with a diving school. He provided local information about the event.
“Porto Santo and Madeira are very similar in terms of marine life and fish, but Porto Santo has greater visibility and transparency of the water. There are 113 divers and about 70 employees at this event. There are not enough resources to organize this event in Porto Santo on our own, so we received support from local and regional governments and the tourist office. ‘
At the awards dinner after the event, Licínia Macedo (formerly Miss Portugal and now TV presenter at RTP Madeira) mentioned her own reasons to love Madeira – besides the beautiful diving. “The food, the wine, the mountain hikes. We have quality of life and we feel safe and we have good weather all year round, ”she said before rhetorically asking her audience:“ Did I convince you to return? ”