JANUARY 2011: My Surface Interval named one of the best scuba diving blogs

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Hammerhead sharks sold out again

PROPOSALS to protect the heavily fished hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks were narrowly rejected today because of concerns among Asian nations over the trade in shark fins.

Japan, China and Indonesia were among those nations which successfully campaigned against the proposalsat the 175-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

They argued that trade restrictions over the shark fin industry were not the answer, would damage coastal nations and would be difficult to apply.

Oh that's okay then.

Too difficult to police? Let's forget it then!

Don't want to damage coastal nations? That's fine then, let's not worry about about damaging majestic species and forever altering fragile eco-systems.

The meeting did agree to offer greater protection to Porbeagle sharks. But conservationists claimed the other species of shark have been "sold out" by countries who voted not to protect them against commercial fisheries.

Sharks are being finned in greater numbers to supply the shark fin soup market which has long played central part in traditional Chinese culture. Demand for the soup has surged as increasing numbers of Chinese middle class family become wealthier.

Masanori Miyahara, chief counselor of the Fisheries Agency of Japan, told delegates: "This is not about trade issues but fisheries enforcement. Poaching is a big problem. Small scale long liners are chasing sharks all over the world."

But a "disappointed and frustrated" Jupp Baron Kerckerinck zur Borg, president of the Shark Research Institute based in Millbrook, N.Y., called it right.

He said: "Japan has been voting the shark proposals down because they are catching them, Singapore voted them down because they make money selling the fins and China makes money because they eat them.

"How can we win?"

Supporters of the restrictions argued that the unregulated trade had seen the populations of the endangered scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead and the threatened smooth hammerhead to plummet by as much as 85 percent.

Oceanic whitetip sharks face similar threats and their numbers are down 60 to 70 percent

If politicians on the tiny Pacific nation of Palau, which last year created the first ever shark sanctuary, can see the danger of over-fishing it's about time some of these more developed nations - JAPAN - saw the light as well.

Monday, March 22, 2010

hammerhead sharks in Birmingham

The first hammerhead sharks ever seen in a British aquarium have taken up residence at the National SeaLife Centre, Birmingham.
A pair f scalloped hammerheads has joined the black-tipped reef sharks and giant sea turtles in the attraction’s tropical ocean tank.
The new arrivals will spearhead the Centre’s drive to raise awareness of shark conservation needs.

Youngsters of only a little over three feet long, they could eventually grow to over two metres.
“They are truly amazing creatures and will help us in our efforts to persuade people that sharks are diverse and fascinating, and worthy of protection rather than persecution,” said curator Graham Burrows.
Scalloped hammerheads are a particularly appropriate choice to aid the Sea Life centre in its endeavours, as they may soon become a protected species.
“Though endangered, their larger cousins the greater hammerheads are much more seriously threatened,” said Graham.
“One of the prime reasons is the grisly shark-finning trade, and since the fins of both species are hard to tell apart, trade in scalloped hammerheads needs to be controlled to safeguard the greater hammerhead.”
There was good news for scalloped hammerheads in January when the Spanish government prohibited their capture by its own fishing fleet.
They are also benefiting from a recent decision by the Maldivesto declare 90,000 square kilometres of the Indian Oceana shark sanctuary where shark fishing will no longer be allowed.
And if all goes well scalloped hammerheads will be added to the CITES 11 list (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), which will afford them more widespread protection.
“We feel privileged to have been chosen to host these two amazing sharks,” said Graham.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gas company finds shipwrecks found in Baltic Sea

THE company behind the new Nord Stream undewater pipeline in the Baltic Sea has discovered 12 centuries old shipwrecks.

The firm said studies by the Swedish National Heritage Board have indicated that at least nine of the twelve findings are of "great cultural historical value" and "well preserved".

The oldest wreck probably dates back to medieval times and could be up to 800 years old, while the others are likely from the 17th to 19th centuries, the Associated Press reported.

The heritage board said three of the wrecks have intact hulls and are lying upside-down at a depth of 130 metres (430 feet).

Thousands of wrecks — from medieval ships to warships sunk during the world wars of the 20th century — have been found in the Baltic Sea, which doesn't (yet) have the ship worm that destroys wooden wrecks in saltier oceans.

The latest discovery was made during a search of the seabed east of the Swedish island of Gotland by the Nord Stream consortium, which is building a 750-mile (1,200-kilometer) pipeline in the Baltic Sea.

The 12 wrecks were found in a 30-mile-long and 1.2-mile-wide (48-kilometer-long and 2 kilometer-wide) corridor, during underwater investigations conducted by the Swedish marine survey company Marin Mätteknik.

In a statement, the company said: "The findings are a result of the extensive seabed surveys carried out by Nord Stream as part of the preparatory works ahead of the construction of Nord Stream’s gas pipelines."

The wrecks were found in so-called anchoring corridor used for anchor positioning by the pipelay barge during the construction of the pipelines

"During the entire preparation phase Nord Stream has been working in close contact with the relevant Swedish authorities. The documentation concerning the shipwrecks has been made available to the National Maritime Museums, which are now preparing a final report based on the survey documentation," the company added.

"Analyses so far indicate that at least nine of the twelve findings are of great cultural historical value and thus also well preserved. The authority will now proceed to register the shipwrecks as permanent ancient monuments.

"Most of them are commercial ships, originating from the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the most ancient wreck could be from the Middle Ages.

"The discovery of the shipwrecks is another example of how Nord Stream’s extensive investigations of the Baltic Sea are useful for researchers as well as the interested public."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Cove wins Oscar

THE campaign to highlight the plight of dolphins brutally butchered in an annual hunt in Japan is set to receive a major boost after documentary The Cove picked in a statue at the Oscars.

The Cove, which follows an elite team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers as they embark on a covert mission to penetrate a remote and hidden cove in Taiji, Japan.

Utilizing state-of-the-art techniques, including hidden microphones and cameras in fake rocks, the team uncovers how this small seaside village serves as a horrifying microcosm of massive ecological crimes happening worldwide.

The film highlights that the number of dolphins killed is several times greater than the number of whales killed in the Antarctic, and claims that 23,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed in Japan every year.

The migrating dolphins are herded into a hidden cove where they are netted and killed by means of spears and knives over the side of small fishing boats.

During the Oscar ceremony environmental activist and star Ric O'Barry, who once worked as a trainer on the popular 1960s television show "Flipper", held up a sign as the team collected their award.

"It was a number to text where people can go to take action for the dolphins," O'Barry said. "It's not a protest sign, and I didn't mean to be disruptive, but there were a billion people watching."

Already more than 50,000 people have sent in text messages of support, O'Barry said.

the gribble marine pest could cure global warming

Well not exactly....
But a wood-munching marine pest could be the key to a biofuel breakthrough, say scientists.
The Gribble, which resemble pink woodlice, has plagued seafarers for centuries boring through the planks of ships and destroying wooden piers.
But now environmental scientists are taking a keen interest in the crustaceans because the tiny creatures are able to break down woody cellulose and turn it into energy-rich sugars - or liquid biofuels for vehicle engines.
Researchers at the universities of York and Portsmouth made the discovery.
They wrote in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: "This study has revealed a combination of glycosyl hydrolase genes in Limnoria that seem likely to endow it with greater autonomous facility for lignocellulose digestion than animals such as termites. This may in part help to explain why these animals can survive on a diet of lignocellulose without the aid of gut microbes."
No, I haven't got a clue what it means either but if it stops the planet warming and reduces the damage to fragile coral reefs caused by increasing sea temperatures then they have my vote.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Top underwater photographers

SALTY blogger Deep-Sea News has come up with a list of 11 - well why not? - underwater photographers you should know.

Without wishing to rip-off their selection (check out their own entry) I have decided to copy their idea with five underwater photographers you should follow if you value improving your own picture-taking abilities.

Have a look at their fantastic work and work out how they shot it. I guarantee we can all learn from them to help improve our own pics.

In no particular order, here are my favourite five at the moment.

1) Dr Alex Mustard. The bloke (author, photographer,marine biologist) has just about done everything and his tutorials regularly feature in scuba diving magazines to help us mere mortals improve our skills. And his stuff is not just from some far flung tropical destinations. Check out his amazing UK pics as well.

2) Thomas P Peschak. Chief Photographer of the Save our Seas Foundation, he is a former marine biologist who specialized in kelp forest ecology and the impacts of illegal fishing. He left science to pursue a life in environmental photojournalism and has spearheaded campaigns to proclaim marine reserves, end abalone poaching and illegal shark fishing. His book Wild Seas Secret Shores is a coffee table favourite.

3) Eric Cheng. The man behind Wetpixel website and magazine, he is turning out some awe-inspiring images that are worth checking out. Eric is also involved in ocean conservation, and is technical advisor and photographer for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

4) David Doubilet. Considered to be among the best by editors, peers and colleagues the world over. He has photographed over 60 stories for the National Geographic Magazine where he is currently a Contributing Photographer-in-Residence. What more do I need to say.

5) Scubazoo. Okay, not technically a photographer but a team of professional underwater cameramen and photographers. Based in the Far East they have worked on many of the biggest TV projects and their book Reef is a brilliant study and aid to helping improve your pics.

Deep Sea News chosen few included:
Jason Bradley

Friday, March 5, 2010

how low will you go for a free lunch? How about the dead zone?

FORENSIC archaeologists have for years been using pigs to study how the human body decomposes as part of research into murders and mass killings.

But sometimes scientists uncover things they were never expecting.

While running experiments at how the body decomposed in sea water (using pig carcasses of course), scientists in Canada found deep sea dwelling animals risk their own lives to take a free lunch and a chance on feeding at great depths.

Low-oxygen (hypoxic) zones are caused by the nutrient-rich run-off from agricultural land. This feeds algae in the ocean. When this algae dies, sinks and decomposes, it consumes most of the vital oxygen supply in the water, leading to what are known as dead zones - areas where nothing can survive for long.

But the research, coordinated with Canada’s VENUS project, has found creatures are prepared to push the envelope for food.

In one case, the project filmed several six-gill sharks annihilated a carcass, eliminating it within a day at more than 900 feet below sea level.

The scavenger animals usually hang out at shallower depths, where oxygen levels are higher. But the pig carcasses attracted a daring crowd. If the crabs, squat lobsters and other animals stay too long in oxygen-depleted waters, they will suffocate.

The lead researcher, Verena Tunnicliffe of the University of Victoria, said the scientists were very surprised to see how far animals pushed their limits to go after an enticing meal.

"This big hunk of meat on the seafloor represented a good food source for these marine creatures," she told the BBC.

"Scavengers are very important in the world. They're what allow things to restore."

The study placed three pigs into very oxygen-poor zones in the Saanich Inlet, which is off the coast British Columbia.

She added: "On day one, we lowered the pig. By day two, we've had crabs and shrimp, then octopus. Then sea stars arrive. They've had to travel across the bottom. They know something's there and they arrive almost immediately and stay there."

At levels down to almost seven per cent oxygen in the water the animals still coped.

But at depths where the oxygen level was much lower than that severe level, nothing stirred on the pig carcass. On the seafloor, therefore, nothing feeds and bacterial decomposition is the only thing that works.

The findings will help scientists in their study of other locations, such as the Mississippi Delta, where fertilizer in upstream agricultural runoff lowers oxygen levels.