A photographer for Middle East Monitor in the Gaza Strip has started to document marine life off the coast of the besieged territory. Mohammed Asad believes that he is the first Palestinian photographer and film maker to produce images taken under water.
Even though the Palestinians in Gaza live on the coast of the Mediterranean, says Asad, they know little about marine life or rock formations. This includes the type of fish and their seasonal appearances, as well as other marine creatures.
Asad has been a photojournalist for 12 years and has won a number of international awards, including the Spirit of Humanity competition organised by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in the Middle East and North Africa region in 2015, using a GoPro 4 camera. "That was rare in the Gaza Strip, and I trained in filming swimming trips. However, my situation improved and I acquired simple equipment and started diving, and this led to a qualitative transition. I then began to get shots for films and press reports."
All that he has are worn fins, a wetsuit, goggles and a small GoPro camera to make underwater films. "Nevertheless, I finished the film Amputated Fins last year, which is considered the first undersea documentary from Gaza and it was broadcast on Arab satellite channels."
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He pointed out that he has created an exploration channel and scientific content on YouTube in which he talks about the sea and the environment, providing information largely unknown by the coastal residents who have been kept busy by Israel's occupation and blockade, and trying to earn a meagre living.
The "Diving Adventure" YouTube channel includes scientific and exploration content. Episodes cover creatures such as clams, octopuses and jellyfish. There are also episodes about cooking different fish and seafood dishes.
"I face many challenges and difficulties, as Israel won't allow diving equipment, even the most basic, into Gaza," explains Asad. "Underwater filming requires large waterproof cameras and oxygen tanks, which are not available."
Moreover, untreated sewage has been polluting the water ever since the Israelis destroyed the sewage treatment works. "Hence, there is a lack of clarity, so I try to film in the last quarter of the year when the northern currents bring clean water and it is calm at sea. The downside is that I cannot stay in the colder water for too long because thicker wet suits which would protect me are also unavailable."