The Great Barrier Reef is as iconic as it is breathtaking – but it was a relatively unknown Aberdonian who captured the first colour images of the reef from under its Australian waters.
Ivor Howitt was born in Aberdeen in 1927 and he was only 11 years old when the Second World War started.
At the end of the war he worked as an engineer cadet and lived in Northfield Place, which was eventually the base for the first post-war Amphibians Club in the UK in 1948, which was formed by Ivor and his friends.
Now Ivor’s story is being told by Dr Lauren Smith, a shark biologist who studied for her PhD at Aberdeen University and who wants to encourage the return of the Amphibians Club to the Granite City. She has started a blog to tell the stories of Ivor’s underwater adventures.
Ivor, who is now 91 and living in Palmerston North, New Zealand, said that even though his first interest was mountaineering, he was inspired by Dr William Beebe, an American, and the first scientist to descend into the deep sea.
Ivor said: “Diving was then an unknown hobby in the UK, so all equipment was homemade. We dived skin and this limited our time under the freezing North Sea.”
Ivor’s history of using homemade equipment includes the making of his own scuba gear with a war gas mask and a tyre-inflating foot pump.
He was the first civilian in the UK to purchase an air-scuba.
Under the £10 scheme, Ivor went to Australia in the 1950s to realise his dream of diving in the Great Barrier Reef.
In 1952 he captured the first ever colour images of the world’s largest coral reef – using a cooking pot to keep the film dry.
He said: “Kodachrome Colour 35mm film became available in Australia just in time for our first visit to the Great Barrier Reef in 1952 and we used it again in 1953.”
During his time in Australia in the early 1950s Ivor made the headlines for his help in numerous police operations, due to the police not having the right equipment at that time.
Ivor met his late wife, Mary, on a ship and they were married in London in 1956.
He said: “After six weeks exploring New Zealand alone I got homesick and returned to Aberdeen. First day at sea I met New Zealand nurse Mary and we immediately clicked.
“Shipboard romances don’t last, but our marriage lasted 62 years.”
In 2007 Ivor wrote a book called Fathomeering: An Amphibian’s Tale to encourage others to start sport diving.
Fathomeering is a word Ivor made up to describe what he did. He added: “I invented the name as folk always thought we did high diving. The term immediately connected our activities with the sea.”
In 2010 Ivor received the Historical Diving Society UK Reg Vallintine Award in recognition of his achievements.
Lauren, 35, who lives near Keith, said: “I find Ivor’s story incredible.
“We started diving at about the same age of 18. We speak a lot, like sometimes two emails a day, and I am really inspired by him.
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“The fact is that he never had any equipment. There are so many tales of him using a gas mask and how he would swim in the North Sea without a scuba suit.
“I have been chatting to Ivor for some years now and with his permission I am continuing his work that he began with the Amphibians while working to preserve his and the other members’ incredible pioneering legacy.”
Lauren’s blog The New Amphibians Club tells the story of Ivor and his friends who ventured the North Sea in nothing but their swimsuits and homemade equipment.