From the North Coast and Donegal, to the Maldives, Iceland and Israel, there’s no part of the ocean one Mid Ulster woman isn’t prepared to explore.
Karen Patterson from Maghera is a biomedical scientist by day in an Antrim laboratory, but at weekends, she’s become a rather adept diver.
Indeed, since 2012 she’s been discovering just what lies beneath Northern Ireland’s waters, and the answer is a heck of a lot more than what most people think.
Having completed more than 200 dives in just four years, Karen has also spent the last year mastering underwater photography. Her pictures are ultimately what get people talking about her adventures, as they’re constantly surprised at what she finds beneath the waves.
“When I started taking photos, people who don’t go into the water were surprised by what was there, and by all the colour,” she said. “We actually have quite a vibrant marine life around our coast, because we don’t do as much dredging as other places. I want people to see that, because if you don’t know what’s here, then you won’t protect it.
“Usually I get asked, why on earth would I dive here in Northern Ireland, where it’s cold? Sometimes, the conditions are awful but when they’re good, it’s absolutely fantastic. This weekend I was in Malin and it’s spectacular. There are lots of WW1 and WW2 wrecks and submarines around the North Coast and Donegal. It’s just unbelievable what’s on our coastline.”
On this most recent dive, Karen explored the SS Laurentic and Iris gully and wreck at Malin. She posted on Facebook afterwards: “The Laurentic, used as an armed cruiser in WWI, sank in 1917 after hitting two mines. The 15,000-tonne White Star liner has a max depth of 40m and is an amazing sight as you descend the shot line (and at every other point thereafter!).”
Although Karen loves diving in Northern Ireland and indeed, does most of her dives here, she’s also ventured overseas on various occasions. Having started off at Portnahapple in Portstewart, and dived at Dunseverick Harbour, Rathlin Island and other North Coast locations, she also explored the Israeli Navy Ship ‘Kidon’ in Nahariyya this April. Another trip saw her dive around Svalbard in the Arctic while in 2015, Karen dived at Silfra in Reykjavak, Iceland, with previous dives also including the Maldives. Her next trip in just three weeks’ time, is to Greenland, where she hopes to spot humpback whales.
“Most people are drawn to the sea,” she told the Mail. I’ve always loved the sea and being in the water, and I always wanted to learn to dive, but it’s an expensive hobby, so it was 2012 when I started, after I got my job in the lab. Once you have all the equipment though, it’s quite cheap and you get so much out of it.”