A SCUBA diver who is registered blind has discovered a hidden talent – as an underwater photographer.
Mark Jeffrey has been a member of the British Sub-Aqua Club (BSAC) for 26 years, and says that despite losing his sight, after being diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition, he feels his disability does not affect him underwater.
The 48-year-old has stunned fellow divers at his local Stratford-upon-Avon Sub-Aqua Club with the quality of his photographs, including close up encounters with anemone fish, a shark, crabs and other wildlife.
Mark started losing his vision after he was diagnosed with the hereditary disease Stargardt’s macular dystrophy (SMD). The condition affects around one in 10,000 people and has left Mark with little to no central vision leaving him to rely on peripheral vision.
Mark, who previously worked in the construction industry as a digger driver and still does limited labouring work, explained: “I was diagnosed at age 23 and progressively my vision has got worse and worse. There is no cure sadly, but I refuse to let it get in the way of what I like to do and that’s diving.”
“I’ve learned to adjust and cope with my loss of central vision at all times but when I’m diving I don’t feel I have a disability, it gives me a sense of real freedom.
“So long as I can manage to use my peripheral vision to read my gauges and see my buddy diver I’m absolutely fine.”
Mark dives as often as he can but prefers to dive with people who understand his condition, and who share his love of aquatic wildlife.
He added: “I have never had any complaints from people I have dived with but I do need help getting off and on boats for instance and I have to be very careful on quaysides so I don’t trip over ropes and things like that.
“It’s important the people I dive with understand my parameters.”
Fellow Stratford SAC member Clive Shepherd, who regularly dives with Mark, says some of the images his buddy diver produces are the envy of club photographers.
He said: “Mark is very patient and in many ways his disability and lack of sight disappears when he gets into the water.
“We have done around 80 dives together, as we both like underwater photography and have an interest in wildlife.
“Mark’s underwater navigational skills are unbelievable; it’s almost like a sixth sense.
“He’s an exceptional diver and a wonderful photographer despite his lack of vision. Quite how he manages with only peripheral vision I don’t know.”
Stratford SAC meets every Thursday evening at Stratford Leisure Centre. Visit www.stratforddivers.co.uk for further details.