Diving doctors take a plunge into diver health – and Beqa Lagoon!

Last week Fiji played host to the South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society’s (SPUMS) 52nd Annual Scientific Meeting. The conference, held at The Pearl Resort, Pacific Harbour attracted just over 130 delegates and guests.

Each year at the annual SPUMS scientific conference, speakers present on important health and safety issues for snorkelers and divers, everything from venomous marine animals to the dangers of full-face snorkel masks, and the treatment of decompression illness. The conference is held over 5 days, with delegates enjoying two dives each morning, and attending the scientific meeting each afternoon for seminars, research presentations and workshops. This year’s diving was in Beqa Lagoon, allowing delegates to experience Fiji’s world-famous shark dives.

Cocktail party
Delegates enjoy Fijian hospitality at the Welcome cocktails function

This year’s conference focused on recreational diver health, and the conference experts have developed important guidance for divers about heart health and diving. Speakers included Dr Peter Wilmshurst (Cardiologist), Professor Simon Mitchell (Diving Medicine Specialist) and Dr John Lippmann (Diving safety expert).

The purposes of SPUMS are to promote and facilitate the study of all aspects of underwater and hyperbaric medicine, provide information on underwater and hyperbaric medicine, and to communicate research and best practice findings to members globally via a journal and annual scientific conference. According to Conference Scientific Convenor and SPUMS President, Dr Neil Banham, the outcomes provide the global medical community with the most up-to-date management for these conditions which pose a risk for diver health and safety.

Spums delegates 0515 1024
SPUMS delegates say BULA! to Fiji!

Keynote Speaker for this year’s conference is Dr Peter Wilmshurst, a British cardiologist and world authority on persistent foramen ovale (PFO, a hole in the heart) and diving as well as immersion pulmonary oedema (IPO, wet lungs). Dr Wilmshurst reported the first cases of these conditions back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Other speakers at the event shared a multitude of medical and scientific learnings:

  • Dr Mark Turner, presented practical tips and problems with PFO closure surgical procedures.
  • Dr John Lippman, providing an update on shark incidents and snorkelling deaths in Australia and around the world.
  • Professor Simon Mitchell provided an update on decompression illness.
  • Dr Hanna van Waart presented results of research into the safety issues of full face snorkel masks.
  • Professor David Smart presented research and treatment of dive-related hearing loss and inner ear barotrauma.
Professor david smart presents 0429 1024
Professor David Smart presents on ear barotrauma

Local Fijian speakers included Dr Akuila Waqanicakau, who provided an update on hyperbaric services in Fiji, Dr Luke Nasedra presented an overview of Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva, Dr Raymond Vuniwa shared his experiences managing diving injuries in Lautoka Hospital and Dr Katarina Mocelekaleka presented her research paper on the clinical outcomes of patients treated with Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) at Colonial War Memorial Hospital.

Annette smart diving beqa lagoon wreck
One of Beqa Lagoon’s coral festooned wrecks. Photo by David Smart.

The fact that Fiji was chosen as a venue for this conference is significant. Few South Pacific destinations have the capacity to cater to over 100 divers each day at a single location, providing both a safe environment and spectacular diving.

“As the host country for the South Pacific Underwater Medicine Society’s 52nd Annual Scientific Meeting, Fiji is proud to showcase its exceptional diving opportunities and commitment to marine safety. With some of the world’s best diving sites, Fiji offers not only spectacular underwater experiences but also a platform for critical discussions on health and safety for snorkelers and divers. We extend a warm vinaka vakalevu to all delegates and guests, inviting them to immerse themselves in Fiji’s hospitality and natural wonders.” – Tourism Fiji CEO, Brent Hill.

Bistro bega lagoon bull sharks
Fiji’s famous shark dive. Photo by delegate Eben Viljoen

Conference Convenor Professor David Smart has a life-long personal affinity with Fiji. He has spent a lot of time over the past three decades training Fijian medical and nursing staff in Emergency Life Support and managing serious illness in remote environments. He has also assisted with training hyperbaric medical and nursing staff in managing diving emergencies, hyperbaric medicine and chamber operational safety at Colonial War Memorial Hospital, Suva.

Convenors david smart and neil banham with fijian delegates
Convenors David Smart and Neil Banham with Fijian delegates

Professor Smart said: “It is always a pleasure to return to Fiji. It starts with big friendly smiles, and even bigger bula and namaste welcomes. Everyone is so hospitable. Fijian doctors and nurses are so enthusiastic and keen to network with other South Pacific colleagues and gain new skills. The theme of this year’s conference is very relevant to Fiji – recreational diving, which is a huge part of Fiji’s tourism industry. Fiji has some of the world’s best diving. Our conference delegates and guests are excited to be here and to enjoy everything Fiji has to offer. Vinaka vaka levu.”

Participants in the conference were over 100 doctors who specialise in treating and preventing dive-related illnesses. Speakers and delegates flew to Fiji from all over the world. While the majority were from Australia and New Zealand, some flew in from Canada, Hong Kong, the United States, Oman, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Also in attendance, five Fijian medical practitioners and two nurses who were awarded scholarships provided by a partnership between SPUMS and the Australasian Diving Safety Foundation (ADSF). The Fijian delegates are also specialists in diving emergencies and hyperbaric medicine, some managing the recently installed chamber in Suva. Some of the Fijian delegates, including Dr Akuila Waqanicakau, presented updates on various aspects of dive medicine and retrieval services in Fiji, at the conference.

Akuilla waqanicakau asinate salabogi saula tunisau katarina mocelekaleka shane ghand 1024
Fijian delegates: Dr Akuilla Waqanicakau, Asinate Salabogi, Dr Saula Tunisau, Dr Katarina Mocelekaleka, Shane Ghand

Amongst local issues raised by Fijian presenters was the need for more resources and training. Participation at the 2024 SPUMS conference has provided them with valuable networking opportunities to assist these requirements.

Natalia marletta gm the pearl maryanne hines of aquatrek dr neil banham spums president professor david smart spums convenor deboarh simon of diveplanit aquatrek s jona baro 1024
The SPUMS 2024 management team: Natalia Marletta GM, The Pearl Resort, MaryAnne Hines of Aquatrek, Dr Neil Banham, SPUMS President, Professor David Smart, SPUMS Convenor, Diveplanit’s Deb & Simon, Aquatrek’s Operations Manager, Jona Baro.

All aspects of the conference, including accommodation, conference facilities and dive operations were organised by yours truly: Diveplanit Travel, with diving managed locally in the main by Aquatrek Fiji, with a few divers also catered by Beqa Adventure Divers.

Pearl staff
The Pearl Resort’s amazing team!

In the planning of this event, we worked closely with Fiji Airways, who, recognising the importance of dive tourism to Fiji, provided discounted airfares for delegates. Shout out too, to staff and management at The Pearl Resort who were amazing – we could not have done this without their consistent support.

It is a privilege to help facilitate these important medical and scientific discussions.
The Diveplanit team is honoured to be chosen as SPUMS Official Travel Partner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *