Thursday, 30 December 2010

Scarred Earth

In just over 24 hours we will have completed the first decade of the millennium. It is an ideal time to look back over our recent history and see how we are faring from a conservation standpoint. The term Shifting Baselines entered the conservationist's vocabulary some time ago, along with the help of Jack Black and other Hollywood celebrities, they raised the perspective that we do not notice the changes going on around us; that over generations, even our own short lifetimes, the changes happening slowly around us are absorbed into our psyche and go pretty much unnoticed. Generational shifts are even less noticeable, with tales told to us by our grandparents of how this wetland used to be twice as large, or that housing project used to be a field with hedgerows full of wildlife, long forgotten by us in the mists of our childhood. And our own children, what we look upon as a degraded and destroyed environment, they will look upon as normal. And so what of our grandchildren?
I may be writing this at the risk of sounding a tad sentimental, but a recent online application made me realise that there are ways we can accurately look back into the past to weigh up the impact we are having on our planet, and what the real issues will be for our species in the years to come. The UNEP maps are viewable in Google Earth and other applications, that allow side by side comparisons of satellite images of a wide variety of sites around the world from very recent images and ones dating back numbers of years. The contrast of some of the images are stark to say the least, and certainly bring the changes we accept on a daily basis home to us. I recommend you look at it, if you are genuinely concerned about natural resource depletion, it is the cold flannel slap in the face you have been looking for to welcome you into 2011.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Get the Bite Back Calendar for 2011...

O.K. so it might be a little tiny bit late for Christmas shopping, but there is still plenty of time until January the 1st to get a Bite Back Calendar. It is featured here in a BBC Earth News piece today. I have long been a fan of Bite Back and recently had the pleasure of meeting founder and driving force Graham Buckingham. Bite Back have done an incredibly good job of bringing the sustainability issue of seafood to the attention of the UK's largest retailers, with several successful efforts at getting shark products and other endangered seafood removed from large retail shelves. Graham and his crew do sterling work for sharks and rays, and a purchase of this calendar is not just an option; It is essential.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Christmas message from Manta Claus

House Approves Shark Shark Bill (U.S.)

A report in the Washington Post describes this important process happening in the U.S.

The House adopted legislation Tuesday aimed at protecting sharks off U.S. coasts, though an exemption in the bill has raised concerns among federal fishery officials.

The Senate approved the bill Monday, and it now awaits President Obama's signature.

The Shark Conservation Act addresses loopholes in a law passed a decade ago in an effort to curb "finning," the practice of cutting off a shark's valuable fins and dumping its body overboard. It would require any vessel to land sharks with their fins attached and would prevent non-fishing vessels from transporting fins without their carcasses.

Shark finning, now prohibited off the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico but not the Pacific, has expanded worldwide due to rising demand for shark fin soup in Asia.

To win the support of Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the bill allows those catching smooth dogfish off his state's coast to bring in fins separately as long as they account for no more than 12 percent of the total weight of the catch.

Del. Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), who wrote the House version of the bill, told her colleagues just before the floor vote, "While I am not supportive of this exemption, I think it is important to note that this fishery represents less than 1 percent of all the shark fishing in the United States and that the restrictions on shark finning currently in the law will still apply to them."

When asked whether the president would sign the legislation, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said they were still examining the smooth dogfish provision and other portions of the bill.

"We are happy that Congress has taken up shark conservation," said Eric Schwaab, NOAA Fisheries assistant administrator, in a statement. "It's a priority for our agency. However, the bill's carve-out of one specific shark fishery presents major enforcement and implementation challenges, and we need to work to fix this loophole."

Most environmentalists back the measure on the grounds that it will help endangered shark populations recover.

"The law on the books was complicated and difficult to enforce," said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, "but this new set of standards will ensure that sharks will no longer be mutilated and thrown back in the water to face a gruesome death just for shark fin soup."

Friday, 17 December 2010

European Parliament Supports Strengthening the EU Finning Ban

16.12.10: The European Parliament today endorsed a resolution on shark finning that calls on the Commission to deliver a proposal to prohibit the removal of shark fins on-board vessels.
Four Members of the European Parliament (MEPs): Jean-Paul Besset, Chris Davies, Sirpa Pietikäinen, and Daciana Octavia Sârbu, from the ALDE, EPP-DE, Greens-EFA and S&D groups launched Written Declaration 71/2010 on shark finning on 20 September. By 16 December, over 400 of the 736 MEPs had added their names, achieving a majority. The Written Declaration is now adopted by the Plenary of the European Parliament. Endorsed as a Resolution of the Parliament, it will be forwarded to the European Commission, who last month launched a public consultation on options for amending the regulation, including a ban on at-sea fin removal.
“The removal of fins on board vessels and discarding the carcass is a wasteful and unacceptable way to fish. Europe is home to some of the world’s largest fishing fleets and poor European shark policies with lack of enforcement pose threats to sharks not only in European waters but in other parts of the world. The shark finning ban needs to be enforced effectively and we welcome this support from MEPs from across all European member states and political groups”, stated Sirpa Pietikäinen MEP, Finland, from the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats).
“I would like to thank EU citizens for encouraging us to take action. It sends a powerful message to EU decision makers that these valuable yet vulnerable species must be protected”, added Jean-Paul Besset MEP, France, from the group of the Greens/European Free Alliance.
“The current exploitation of the world’s oceans is unsustainable and we need to act now to preserve marine biodiversity. Sharks are crucial to the natural balance of marine ecosystem, and this Resolution is a positive step towards their much needed protection”, explained Daciana Sarbu MEP, Romania from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats.
“The EU Commission now needs to propose legislation as soon as possible in 2011 with the one truly reliable option for preventing finning - a complete prohibition of the removal of shark fins at sea”, stated Chris Davies MEP, UK, from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group.
Sharks’ tendency to grow slowly, mature late and/or produce a small number of young makes them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing. Roughly one-third of European species are considered threatened.

The Shark Alliance is a coalition of more than 100 conservation, scientific and recreational organisations dedicated to restoring and conserving shark populations by improving shark conservation policies. The Shark Alliance was pleased to support MEPs in this initiative.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

MOSSAD is controlling killer sharks in Sharm el Sheikh...

...but they are not effective in killing divers with over 50 logged it April the 1st? You might be forgiven for thinking so, but there has been intense heated exchange on Egyptian TV program "Egypt Today". Apparently General Abdel-Fadeel Shosha, the governor of South Sinai, backed a "famous" dive guide Captain Mustafa Ismail's theory that MOSSAD were sending sharks controlled by GPS into egypt to destabilise the tourist economy. In a phone call to the TV program, he said that it is possible that Israeli intelligence, Mossad, is behind the incidents and that they are doing it to undermine the Egyptian tourism industry. He added that Egypt needs time to investigate the theory.
In the meanwhile, as General Shosha and his friends await international experts to arrive (it is not known if these experts are knowledgeable in GPS, disaster movies from the 70's, or are agents of MI5 and the FBI) the dive sites around the town of Sharm are being reopened to divers with more than 50 logged dives.
If you don't believe me, read the original article here.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Now another shark attack in Sharm

The BBC is today reporting the death of a German tourist by shark attack in Sharm el Sheikh only a short time after beaches were re-opened to swimmers. The two sharks killed by authorities recently therefore were not the culprits.
The shark conservation movement has recently been quietly celebrating the protection of oceanic white tips in the Atlantic, yet in Sharm, not that far away, we see authorised killing of individual sharks with no real guarantee the right ones are taking the hit. There should be a thorough search, and preliminary tests to see if any individuals removed are the correct ones.
Of course, any loss of life is deeply regrettable, but knee jerk reactions are clearly not a suitable answer to the problem, as was regrettably discovered today.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Shiver. Probably the best shark documentary made.

I've just watched "Shiver", a brand new shark conservation film by Dave Charley and Chris Scarffe. I have to say it is everything that I have always wanted to see in a shark conservation film, and leaves the dissapointment of Sharkwater a long way behind. I sincerely hope that this film will become the most quoted and referenced shark conservation documentary of 2011.
Why do I think it is so good? It covers all of the aspects that we already know about shark fishing, but the film embraces the problem from a local community perspective. It follows the journey of a mozamibiquan man as he tries to find out more about fishing interests that are threatening the shark populations along his coastline. I enjoyed it as it is refreshingly devoid of ego, and in the absence of such, the content is turned to concentrate fully on the subject at hand.
This film is a must-see for anyone interested in shark conservation, and underlines the idea that local communities ultimately loose out if shark conservation is ignored.
Shiver. Spread the word.

Shiver: shark finning in Mozambique from aaron gekoski on Vimeo.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Where Doha Failed...

At last ICCAT, the prehistorically slow moving regulatory body for the tuna fishing industry has pulled its finger out of the pie and after a meeting of some 48 countries in Paris, has protected the Oceanic White Tip shark and imposed catch limits on several species of hammerhead, as well as imposing catch data requirements for the shortfin mako.
Details are sketchy right at this moment, as this news is hot off the press, so expect more details in the coming days.
Although extremely welcome news, it remains to be seen whether this protective measure for the Oceanic White Tip will be enough as it is one of the most declined species in the Atlantic.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Costa Rica to close private dock to finning fleet.

Through an official communication of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock MAG (CP-078-2010), Minister Gloria Abrahan Peralta announced she had reached an agreement with the Costa Rican fishery sector, to close the private docks of Puntarenas to the foreign shark finning fleet as of December 1st, obligating them to land their products in the public dock of Barrio el Carmen, as is established by law. This measure would mean the government would finally be abiding by Articles 211 y 212 of Costa Rica’s Customs Law, which mandate the use of public infrastructure for the importation of products.


Science Leads on Shark Insights

There are two interesting articles today on the web-o-sphere, which makes a refreshing change from the usual killer-death-shock-horror-probe blah that abounds on most days.
First is an article about how scales play a role in aquadynamics in the Mako Shark. The high speed hunters rely on the angle of their scales and can change their dynamic profile which is affected by the position of the fine scales on their skin.
The second piece is slightly wierdly titled leading us to believe that whale sharks can do maths (or math if you're from the states). I think what they mean is that the scientists used maths to justify the principle of their observation, but anyway, interesting notheless. Read it here.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Dive Blue Sharks with us in the Azores

I have just released this very exciting itinerary for next summer, diving with blue and mako sharks in the azores. Our operator reports a 100% hit rate with the blue sharks, and about a 30% appearance of the elusive mako shark. This will be an incredible itinerary. Don't miss it. Only Eight Places.
Download the itinerary here and from the Acuatours site.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

D'day mate, which way to the Acropolis..

This interesting piece on the beeb's science and environment pages suggests that Great Whites from Australia were possibly touring the med some 450,000 years ago. I even think, if great whites could speak, they might possibly have an auzzie accent...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Tigers and Sharks

There are a lot of comparisons between tigers and sharks, and I don't really need to list them here. This wild aid ad contains some great action shots and is worth not just a look, but a bit of thinking about. Culture is the key.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Power of the Internet

We received some really great news this morning that the tag Andrea Marshall placed on our mantas back in September, having released near to the border with peru, drifting further south, and subsequently been picked up by a fisherman, has now been handed over and should soon be winging its way back to the states and will allow finer analysis of the data captured whilst it was on the manta.
The journey of this tag since it came off of the manta has been almost as interesting as when it was on the manta, and serves to remind us that the future of mantas is inextricably linked with our relationship with them.
After Andrea launched an internet campaign to try to find the tag, a contact from somewhere in south america put us in touch with Kerstin Forsburg who runs a marine non profit in the northern peru region where the tag was loose. After an exhaustive search with the help of local contacts and fliers, a fisherman came forward and the tag was handed over yesterday morning.
Such an operation would never have happened in days pre-internet, and is a marvelous demonstration of how, through technology, conservation efforts can reach to the farthest flung corners of the planet. Through finding this tag, we have also found an important allie in the future of manta ray conservation, and the global manta village has grown by a few more inhabitants.

Monday, 1 November 2010

A Great Success!

Phew!..24 hours after the Birmingham Dive Show and my feet are just about getting back to feeling normal, and after so much talking I think my mouth has lost some functionality. We had really strong interest in our manta and basking shark itineraries, and made some good business to business relations to sell some amazing new dive tour products. The Acuatours presence at the show was assisted marvelously by my '10 manta project volunteers Katherine Burgess, Christine Skippen and Tim Reynolds, who helped to inject some personal accounts of life in the field on our manta project so that our many potential assistants for next year can get a better idea of how we get things done. It was also great to catch up with some old friends, and to meet people who I'm sure will become new ones. It was also great of course to catch up with our favourite person of the year award winner Andrea Marshall and see her fill the auditorium to the brim with eager listeners on both days of the show. Top Notch!!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Birmingham Dive Show and November DIVE Magazine!

Acuatours, our travel company will be hosting stand number 230 at the forthcoming Birmingham Dive Show (October 30th and 31st). We are also featured in a full page article by Tim Ecott in the November issue of Dive Magazine. Come and see us on the stand and chat to us about our work this year, and we will see if we can fit you on a space during 2011. We will even let you buy us a cup of coffee...or even a beer if you are really lucky...

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Ecuador: Grace Under Pressure

Here are a couple of images I took in my last few days of my recent time in Puerto Lopez. Ecuador has always been a turbulent country, and recently the propensity of its people to generate their own instability showed itself again, with futher unrest in the capital, said to be part of the aftermath of the events that unfolded in Quito on September the 30th.
So unrest is nothing new. What is new to the people of Ecuador is stability and direction, and the pressure that that brings. Maybe things are beginning to crack, but then again, maybe it is just society adjusting itself to the effects of long term growth, change and a new found national responsibility. In these difficult financial times, felt by countries rich and poor, there can be no certainty of the outcome.
Ecuador is a gem in the world's crown, and like that of any country, its future can be seen only through the eyes of its children.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Secret Garden

We are drawing our research here in Ecuador to a close for the season. The mantas have not been seen here for over ten days now, and it looks like they have moved away on their migration to who knows where, and won't be back until well into next year, when we will be back again to meet them.
This week though, it wasn't a manta ray that took our breath away and had us talking long into the night about our latest discovery. This is one of the privelages that one is presented with as a researcher; that of exploration. We had heard mention of one or two deepwater pinnacles, where the fishermen talk about sharks and other ocean going creatures, but we have never had the privelage to have visited them. However, our building of trust that has been going on over the last years, today bore fruit, and we were taken to one of the mystery sites to dive, probably for the first time ever. Too deep for hookah fishermen, and never dived by sport divers, we were to be the first people ever to set eyes on this site.

It wasn't a deepwater monster that greeted us however, infact it was quite the opposite. Our nearly 40 metre deep dive took us to some of the most beautiful coral gardens we have ever seen. Huge rock formations punched wierd cavernous shapes up into the stark azure backdrop, caverns, walls and tables lay before us. It seemed to me that we were witnessing the aftermath of a game of dominoes, or jenga, played by giants from eons past, such was the chaotic order of the rock about us. But covering those dark and forgotten boulders was a marvel of coral and sponges probably not seen between here and the red sea or the carribean. I hope these few images do it justice. I was really surprised at how pristine the site was, considering that it is a commonly visited fishing spot, but then the huge rocks would keep any sane net worker a good distance out.

We will be back there, to see if we can find out more about that secret garden, and hopefully uncover a few more of its hidden gems.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Real Deal

There has been an unfortunate amount of banter going on in the shark diving community over the past few weeks, and recently has come to something of a nasty climax. I am in two minds at this point whether or not to comment, but I think that one overbearing issue should not be ignored, nor forgotten. That issue, conservation, is the one that drives us all, and probably why we are all here in the first place.
The more infighting and back stabbing that goes on, the weaker we become as a group. Marine conservationists are a wierd bunch of poeple, we all ask for as much help as possible to achieve our aim from a joint perspective, but when it comes to working together for that sole aim; ideals, objectives, and cashflow get in the way, and before we know it, barriers go up and we become a collective of individuals, rather than a unified movement. This, I guess, given the nature of the beast, is inevitable. We all paint our garden fence nice and pretty, to attract the vital incomes that keep us all going, but that same pretty fence is a barrier to powerful alliances and friendships that could help us achieve our prime objective: to conserve the ocean realm.
I can count on one hand the individuals who I know that fully understand the significance of this, and one or two of them I know are involved in the recent debacle. I am surprised, and saddened by the tone of recent public communication over the issue, and I hope that all parties involved will consider the image I posted above, and make the right decisions over the coming months to unify a quickly dissolving alliance of like minds, for the benefit of all of us.
The SA press today released a story about a poacher being killed in Gansbaai, and typically of the media, the overriding tone of the article was not how we might control poachers, but whether the shark feeding industry in the area was to blame for the poachers death. It is this I guess that prompted me to write this blog. We have enough people in our world trying to shut doors on our good work. We should not be shooting each other in the foot. For the sake of sharks all over the world, the prime movers in the industry must reunify, and form a transparent, faultless standard for feeding practice that is beyond reproach.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The Manta Dance

We've been suffering a bit with seemingly grumpy mantas who's mode of behaviour over the last few days has been restricted to 'fly by'. With this in mind we decided to resurrect the manta dance, which has been modernised and up-tempoed by our recent manta buddy Larry Chow (video to follow). Anyway, whatever vibe Larry was wacking out, it worked and this mantazo stayed around to show is his own verion of the manta mamba. Good Work Chowster!!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Mantas Behaving Badly

Oh dear! I couldn't think of a better title, which just goes to show how much I watch TV these days. I had the pleasure of meeting Martin Clunes last week, when he came to interview me as part of his next natural world documentary called Man To Manta. He was part of a team that arrived to shoot my work here as well as feature my best manta buddy Andrea Marshall, who was with us to satellite tag some of our rays as part of her worldwide study on Manta birostris.
True to any animal that gets to go on TV, the mantas refused to turn up for the cameras and in a show of defiance, left our study area for about five days. To be honest I was pretty happy with that as it adds to the mysterious awe they eminate when we do get to see them, and I hope the guys get to do that justice when they get in the editing suit. Man to Manta is due to air on the 2nd of January on ITV.
As for our mantas, they turned up again a couple of days ago and I will blog again soon with and update on how we are doing.
A pretty terrible photo of me, but a decent one of the other two..! Credit: unknown.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

One Manta In Time

There are certain events that happen in our lives that mark them for all of our limited sense of eternity, thoughts and memories that stay with us for the rest of our lives. Our short time on this planet is punctuated by events, so called rites of passage, birth, adolescence, falling in love, marriage, death. They effect us in such meaningful ways, but they affect only us personally and the handful of the people we surround ourselves with.

It is not often that we get to be involved in a moment in history that will be remembered for the rest of human time; recorded in Natural History Museum displays and vaults for the benefit of all of our descendants to come. Today I was involved in such an event, and as much as an encounter with a manta ray is always profoundly special to me, our encounter with this particular one will stay with me, and will be sigificant for the rest of the manta birsotris species for time eternal.

Five years ago I encountered my first manta ray at Isla de la Plata, and since then I have done what little I can to bring some sense of importance to the species in this area, and hopefully repay those magnificent rays with whatever I could to do help them enjoy a long and sustainable existence in the Pacific Ocean that they call home.

My interest in them soon had me taking handfuls of identification shots but it wasn't until 2009 when I brought my first volunteer researchers to Ecuador that the significance of this population became apparent. Unbeknown to me I had opened a chapter in someone elses life all the way over in Mozambique; Dr. Andrea Marshall soon got to hear about this population through my work, not too long a grapevine considering the tiny world of manta research.

With the support of the Save our Seas foundation, Andrea had embarked on a global manta ray satellite tagging program, and I myself had been awarded a Save Our Seas grant to continue my research here. By late 2009 it was almost inevitable that we were looking at making the first ever satellite tagging event in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

My work however was only based on four or five months work spread over five years, and given the fickle nature of the natural world, let alone the unpredictability and small population sizes of Manta birostris in pretty much all the places they are found, even up until the last minute, the whole project seemed it could easily fall into the catoegory of "An Impossible Gamble". Close to Andrea's visit date though, manta numbers seemed good, and despite challenging visibility and strong currents, we were getting regular sightings.
Our first dive was, for me, disappointing, a low amount of mantas seemed in a fickle mood and were navigating nonchallantly past us, cephalic fins tightly rolled, and it wasn't until later in the dive when we had all run out of air, that a relaxed, circling manta was spotted.
On our second dive to the same location, we were quickly into a more relaxed number of rays, but the visiblity looked somewhat reduced compared to the previous dive. I watched Andrea ready herself above one moderately sized male, and in a flurry of hand signals and fin strokes the manta decided he would dissapear into the enclosing gloom. Not two seconds later then another unmistakable shape appeared. It all seemed good. We were on a rock wall sitting above 100 metres of dark Pacific Ocean. The heavy plankton bloom fell around us like snow. Our limited range of viz made it feel like we were inside some kind of winter bound amphitheatre. All other divers had melted away into the darkness and it was just me, the queen of mantas, and...a manta. Heaven.

After diving with many very inspiring watermen (and women!) over my short underwater career, it takes a pretty special kind of diver to impress me, but the way Andrea handles all her tagging and camera and sampling equipment underwater is, well, impressive. With the blink of an eye the tag was in, and Andrea had changed tactics, now looking to photograph the tag to see if it had set properly. The manta received the tag with a movement that can only be described as just having had her bum slapped. Other than that she just resumed her nonchalant swim over the wall area, and dissapeared a fast as she had arrived.

Andrea dissapeared with her and for that moment I thought it was all over. I hung on the top of the wall in the current, breathing heavily after all the effort, looking down into the black deep listening to the strained wheeze of my regulator. I looked up to make my way back to the pinnacle to safety stop my way out of the site and nearly bumped my head on a large speckled belly sitting only ten centimetres above my head. At first I wasn't surprised as it wasn't unusual to see mantas do that here, they love hanging in the current with an annoyingly relaxed look on their face whilst us stupid and inefficient humans battle in our little plastic fins. As she gently slid back to come for another look at me, she dipped below the wall and I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing. There she was, the first ever manta to be tagged in the South American Pacific, hanging in front of me, studying me with her wide set, trusting and beautiful eyes. What she was doing there, why she came back to me, why she stayed with me for those eternal minutes effortlessly floating in the whistling current I will never know. I can only guess, hope, that she understood all the intense effort that is going on above her wide ocean waves to save her and the rest of her kind from what us humans know is happening to them.

Today was a special day, not only for me, but for mantas and manta lovers everywhere. I want here to publicly and warmly thank Andrea Marshall for her sincere effort directed towards a greater understanding of these magnificent ocean giants, and I would like to also thank her on a more personal level for affording me the undeniable privelage of being present when the first tag here went on.

This tagging program will enable us to learn a little more about this population and will give me a valuable insight to their lifestyle. I can then use that information to develop more indepth studies to gain further knowledge that will be valuable in our wider understanding of the species, both on a local and international level.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Basking Sharks Galore!!

In early August we headed up to Scotland for another dose of Basking Shark action, with hopefully another set of memorable encounters like those we had in 2009. The recession has certainly had an impact on firm bookings for this year, though with plenty of enquiries for next year, when hopefully at least the world's money worries will be a fading memory. I'm not altogether sure that the sharks will be any better, because, without wishing to wear out any superlatives, this year they were nothing less than blinking well gloriously amazing, incredible, AND spectacular. There you go, I didn't use too many, I didn't even say "stunning".

As ever our hearty Captain Fairbairns was up for the adventure and no sea would be too stormy, no wind too foul, no rain too watery(!?), to keep us from our quest. The site that eluded us last year proved to be this years hotspot. We had already spied one shark on leaving port, but we were not prepared for the sight that greeted us at the southern end of our destination island.

Some 40 sharks circled the spacious bay, and we only had to stay in one spot and patiently wait for them to circle. They were in full feeding mode, circling down current and then back up again ready to pose for us in some of their legendary mouth open passes.

We tried our our new itinerary modification this year and camped on some beaches to leave us closer to the action for the next day's work. We learned a few of the ideosynchrasies of beach camping in the process, and let ourselves be well prepared to offer this as a full product for the 2011 season. Look out for the new itinerary and lower prices to be posted on the Acuatours site soon.

Next up: The Giant Manta Rays of Ecuador. Supported by the Save Our Seas Foundation.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Amazon Itinerary 2011

We have just posted details of our Andes to Amazon itinerary on our Acuatours main site. You can download it here. Condors, Volcanos, Spectacled Bears, Cloud Forest, Amphibians, Caiman, Pink River Dolphin. This has to be one of the most comprehensive Ecuadorean ecosystem naturalist and photography tours available today.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

What a Corker!!!

Cor Blimey Guvna!! I could get a job at the Sun writing headlines like that. Not that I would want one...well..just the pay cheque maybe. Anyway, on with the reasoning behind the post. My good friend and top class guitar player (her tutor says she has a really nice rythm) Marta "La Tomata" Rodriguez Herranz sent me this article about how eco friendly different types of wine bottle sealers there are. Cork, Screw Top or Plastic? Well, knowing nothing at all about the cork making process, after reading the article (sorry if you clicked the link and don't speak spanish!) it seems the 2.2 million hectares of land currently occupied by forests of trees grown for the industry, are important absorbers of CO2. Plastic corks are responsible for 6 times more CO2 emmisions than cork, and aluminium screw tops (you know, the ones where you think the wine must be crap before you even buy it) are responsible for fifteen times more CO2 emmisions than cork. Despite this, alternative wine "tops" are increasing in popularity, so much to the extent that WWF Spain have launched a "Save the Cork" campaign after studies showed that forests used for corking, which involves cutting limbs from live trees and allowing them to regrow, absorb between three and five times more CO2 than dormant forestry.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Probably the Best Diving Videos Ever...

This video was first sent to me by my friend Wolfgang, a couple of months ago, back then I think it had something like 750,000 views on youtube. Now it has over 4 million!!! It is simply stunning. Fantastic camera and editing work and of course an inspirational subject.

And this is from the infamous blue hole in Dahab.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Why we should appreciate Shark Savers...

Shark Savers, the stateside non profit organisation, seems to be the first such organisation to be mentioning the need to include manta and mobula products alongside the call to protect all shark species.
It has surprised me how quickly the demand for manta/mobula products has risen, we have seen the growth of considerable mobula catches in Ecuador where only 12 months ago there were none.
It has been mentioned a time or two in the UK press, including this article in the Times, that as a side effect of the overfishing of sharks: a reduction in worldwide total shark catches, the buyers supplying the lucrative fin trade are seeking manta/mobula products to fulfil that demand. Of course it is not long taken before the fishermen answer that demand and begin to target these massive and graceful rays.
It will be interesting to see how long it takes the scientific community to begin to call for protective measures. There is very little research into population sizes, and for mantas it is thought that the numbers could be very small indeed, far smaller than global shark populations, and so the demise of these most magnificent of species could be swift, and dare I say, hardly even noticed by the land loving general public.
Shark Savers do not seem to be bogged down with the requirement of every argument to be backed up with scientific evidence. Although this does have its severe pitfalls (imagine the mess the IPCC would be in now if it didn't have peer reviewed scientific data to back up its arguments...errr..what..oh ok....sshhhhhhh), there is a definite case for much of the emphasis of conservation effort to come from the heart, and not the mind. There is a certain air of haughty exclusivity amongst much of the science community, some of that I would hazzard a guess, is derived from stopping someone from stealing all your data. Understandable, of course, but the closed society of science is not paritucalarly brilliant when it comes to asking for help from Joe Public. Shark Savers therefore is a fine example of how to bridge that gap. They have a very well qualified baord of directors, who collectively know an immense amount about the subjects that shark savers deals with, but, they present it to a broad audience, global in fact, in a non patronising, informative manner. Let's hope that the conservation community takes at least one leaf out of the Shark Savers book and starts to talk about the problems faced by a quickly dwindling population of Mantas and Mobulas.

Click here to sign the Shark Savers petition to save the mantas and mobulas of Raja Ampat.

Monday, 28 June 2010

The Way of the Dragon

Heavyweight environmental bloggers, Mongabay, have published a very insightful piece on their site today, in a revealing interview with Grace de Gabriel, Director IFAW Asia. The post is a transcript of an interview originally aired on the radio show 'The Wildlife with Laurel Neme'.

The main interest of the interview is the deep cultural dependency from some sectors of Chinese society on traditional medicine, and how that is clashing with efforts to conserve the last remaining wild tigers on the Asian sub-continent. This revealing insight into what is probably one of the conservation sector's most urgent battles raises issues that are commonly encountered in shark conservation. What can us marine conservationist hope to learn from this scenario? One would think that, having estimated that there are only 3,200 tigers left in the wild, that us humans would have an easy time in convincing perpetrators of tiger crimes that it is time to hang up the traps and guns. Sadly, the Mongabay Article reveals that quite the opposite is true....
Image Source

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Whaling Talks Break without result

The blogosphere has started humming after the IWC talks in Morocco are reported to have ended without a solution. Therefore, the status quo will be upheld, i.e. whaling is still illegal, but those who deem that law non applicable will continue to break it. Japan, Iceland and Norway all currently kill whales illegally and conservation groups go out in their boats and try to stop them. This will now officially continue as before. It seems that not enough common ground could be met during the talks on which the opposing sides could hope to broker a deal.
Am I cynical enough to wager that Japan thought their long term benefit would be best served if the talks failed? Did they orchestrate the failure of the IWC talks, whilst the conservation lobby walked away thinking they might have scored a victory?
Hmmmmm I need a few more coffees before I try to answer that one. In the meanwhile, click on over to Bill and Ted's Most Excellent Blog that is usually about shark conservation but, but they have currently made space for a little Whale Discussion.

image source

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Japan Corrupts

I'm always one for a good consipiracy theory, in this world of ours that at times seems so boringly difficult, it is somewhat relieving to feel that it should not be like this were it not for those darkened souls that are deep within the mechanisms of society, working the agenda for their own super-enrichment. Unfortunately consiracy theorists are often poo-pooed for being extreme and mistrusting malefactors, who unnecessarily upset the status quo.

However, a pair of brave and virtuous reporters at The Sunday Times have been burrowing way beneath the surface of the shimmering mire that is international diplomacy. During preparations for next week's meeting of members of the International Whaling Commission in Morrocco, they unconvered some iritating truths about the commercial power of Japan. At the conference in Agadir,the end of the international 24 year moratorium on whaling is at stake, and Japan is doing its very dirty best to make sure that commercial whaling will be relegalised.
No doubt spurred into action by the disgusting tactics by Japan at the recent CITES conference in Doha, where the Japanese pilfered and plied marine resources from under our noses with promises of enrichment in return for votes, the Times reporters posed as lobbyists working on behalf of a made up swiss billionaire and attempted to corrupt the voting process with hefty bribes.

You can read an excerpt below and a link to the original article is here

"Doreen de Brum, the chief fishing policy adviser to the Marshall Islands, was the next official to meet the reporters. She seemed keen on taking up the reporters’ offer of aid to switch the vote.

Reporter: Do you think ... that would create a problem with Japan and maybe cease their funding?

De Brum: I don’t know, seriously, but I think that’s why we do have the position that we have. It is because of that aid.

Reporter: What, you support whaling because of the aid that Japan gives you?

De Brum: Yeah. We support Japan because of what they give us.

She went on say that the other Pacific islands also supported Japan’s whaling position because of the money they received. “Aid, the aid, that’s it,” she said."

So, there you have it. No matter what we think, however hard we try, we are being bought. I would encourage anyone reading this blog, to link to the original Times article from your own webspaces and do your utmost to spread the word. Corruption is a filth, a stain on our collective concience, and it must not be allowed to prevail.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Wierd Science

Treehugger report on their site of a strange little experiment whereby a Brazilian aquarium has made a window in a shark eggcase to observe its stages of foetal development. Throughout the video you can see the tiny bamboo shark writhing around still attached to its embryo. It is rumoured that British shark specialists are to attempt a similar experiment with an endemic catshark species but are so far still trying to develop an eggcase window with double glazing.

Slightly more serious and potentially significant for the conservation success of many shark species is a report in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that reports that shark cartilage has no positive effects to sufferers of lung cancer. The notion that eating shark cartilage has health benefits is often cited by the pro fin soup culture and so this new report, the only one of its kind, will hopefully dispell the myth that shark cartilage has any health benefit at all and hopefully the demands for sharks fin will fade a little.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Just How Big is the BP Disaster Oil Slick?

There's an interesting web page recently developed that puts the BP oil disaster into your local perspective. You can use google earth technology to see how big the slick would be if it was on your own doorstep. Click here to access the site, where I have planted the slick over London.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Basking Sharks Expedition June 2010

We are getting excited now about the prospect of another trip up to Scotland's Inner Hebrides with the Fairbairns Sea Legend Captain Jimbo to look for and ultimately swim with Basking Sharks. Last year we managed in water encounters for four out of our five days at sea, and this year we are aiming at fine tuning our search areas. We already operate in the country's best Basking Shark hotspots, but after last year we have identified a few ways to get on site quicker and at optimum shark times.
If you are interested in joining us, then contact me here on the Acuatours site. Don't miss Basking Sharks 2010. Prices start at only £450 per person.

Monday, 24 May 2010

More Chevron Muscle Flexing

Chevron continues to fight its court battle against claims it should pay 27 billion USD to communities in the Lago Agrio region affected by massive contamination by the then operators Texaco.
After recently demanding that over 600 hours of raw footage be handed over by film maker Joe Berlinger, who made a documentary on the disaster named "crude", Chevron are now demanding that an environmental expert witness be disregarded in court.
The case is taking place in Lago Agrio, a town built amidst previously virgin rainforest at the time of the Texaco explorations during the 1980's.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Tiger Mind Maps

A new study by University of Hawaii researchers suggests tiger sharks may use mental maps and calendars to guide their migrations as they search for food.

The study used satellite tags to track sharks at French Frigate Shoals in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

Researchers led by Carl Meyer of the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology found some tiger sharks stayed at the atoll year-round.

Others visited in the summer to feed on fledgling albatross but then migrated to other spots along the Hawaiian islands or to the open ocean.

The study was designed to develop a better understanding of long-term movement patterns of sharks in the monument.

The study appears in the journal Marine Biology.


Saturday, 22 May 2010

Thoughts on Oil

It is interesting at this time of the immense and catastrophic oil disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico, to note the wave of anxiety issuing forth from the blogosphere about the entire context of offshore drilling and what that means now or could mean in the future. It has been pretty usual over the last two weeks or more to be getting three or four mails per day asking me to sign a petition calling for the banning of some programs, or the halting of plans for future others.
These emails caused me to reflect on a conversation I had about oil exploration in the amazon back last year when I took a group into the rainforest for a three week trip. Our guide was a very active advocate of indigenous rights, and we were conversing about how the Ecuadorean government had opened up a part of Cuyabeno reserve to oil exporation. The communities were protesting about the invasion of their territory, and were mostly worried about what would happen in the event of a disaster happening to their part of the world. Our guide was of the opinion that technology has come so far, as well as awareness and global and social responsibility, since the 80's where we saw the Texaco destruction in the Lago Agrio area, as well as the Exxon Valdez disaster, so after three decades of learning how not to do it, he opined that lessons had been learned, and that such disasters were extremely unlikely. The wider and possibly more serious consequences of such exploration are the effects of social change on indigenous communities, and the ever lasting effect that continues long after the oil runs dry.
At the time, that made sense to me, and clear cut logging was probably inevitably more destructive in the longer term, and so was oil a viable alternative with possible ecological benefits?
I have not answered that question in my own mind, but what I can now say, is that "a low risk scenario" is not at all acceptable. There absolutely has to be a "zero risk scenario" or we just simply should not be exploring for fossil fuels in these pristine wilderness'. The multi identity (pass the buck) BP mess up in the gulf of mexico has reminded everyone that even the small risk is too big to take, and that even the tiniest chance of risk can bring the most monumental consequences.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Peruvian Government plans to explore untouched Amazon for oil...

This is the first blog I am hosting from my Acuatours Blog, rather than maintain two blogs, I am now going to post everything here, to save me time and hopefully allow for more inventive blogging, so now instead of just marine world activity, you will be able to read my posts on the Amazon Rainforest and other things.

Here's some bad news to start with:

Spanish-Argentine oil giant Repsol-YPF has applied to Peru's government to cut 454 kilometers of seismic lines and construct 152 heliports in its search for oil on uncontacted tribes' land in the remote Amazon rainforest. Repsol's plans were revealed in a report sent last month to Peru's Energy Ministry, which will now decide whether to approve the project. Cutting seismic lines, a key part of oil exploration, involves clearing paths through the forest and detonating explosives at regular intervals.

The area where Repsol hopes to work, known as Lot 39 (in Loreto department near the Ecuador border), is home to at least two of the world's last uncontacted tribes, who could be decimated if contact occurs between them and the company's workers. Repsol has already carried out some preliminary exploration in this area in the past, when it recommended its workers defend themselves from potential attack from the tribes by using a megaphone: "If peaceful contact and understanding can't be reached and the attack continues, try to establish communication using a megaphone."

If Repsol finds commercially-viable quantities of oil, a pipeline would be required to transport it from the remote Amazon to a terminal on Peru's Pacific coast. Plans for a pipeline have just been made public by Anglo-French company Perenco, which has already found large oil deposits in the region. Lot 39 includes large areas of a proposed reserve for uncontacted peoples, and indigenous organization AIDESEP is suing the companies for working there.

Survival International director Stephen Corry said, "What would the uncontacted Indians in this region make of seismic lines and heliports? They're likely to respond in one of two ways—either by fleeing, or by attacking people they will view as hostile invaders. Either way, the consequences will be profoundly damaging. Repsol and the Peruvian authorities should know by now that you simply can't look for oil in rainforest belonging to uncontacted Indians in a safe manner." (Survival International, April 20)

On the identity of the uncontacted peoples in the area, Survival International's David Hill writes: "One of the two uncontacted groups is possibly related to the Waorani/Huaorani, known by some as the Taromenane. The identity of the other group is less clear, but names such as Pananujuri and Arabela have been used."

Meanwhile, Juan José Quispe, leader of Peru's independent Legal Defense Institute (IDL) issued a public statement demanding the government take measures to protect the life of Asterio Pujupat Wachapea, an imprisoned Awajun indigenous leader accused in the death of a National Police officer who disappeared in the violence at Bagua last June. The statement said that Pujupat had been "savagely beaten" by guards at the National penitentiary Institue (INPE) at Bagua. (La Primera, Lima, April 25)


Saturday, 15 May 2010

Vote for me...

I have entered the Bradt/Independant on Sunday travel writing competition. Please help me get the peoples choice vote by clicking on the banner on the righthand menu and then voting. You can read the entry there, it is about an amazing experience I had last year in the Amazon. I hope some of you that like my blog postings can give me a vote!

Friday, 7 May 2010

Sail powered ships found it easier...

A report from the Marine Conservation Society and the University of York built on data from historical government records has shown how today's fishing fleet has to work seventeen times harder than when the fleet was mainly sail powered. The study measured exactly how much fishing power in the UK fishing fleet was used to catch the amounts of fish shown in the records, and that the tecnhnological and industrial advancement of the fleet has not resulted in an increase in catches. The records show that the UK fleet landed four times more fish into England and Wales in 1889 than it does today. The report is likely to shed light on the long term implications of European fisheries policy that is based on catch data that goes back only 20-40 years.
Professor Callum Roberts, from the University of York’s Environment Department, said: “This research makes clear that the state of UK bottom fisheries – and by implication European fisheries, since the fishing grounds are shared – is far worse than even the most pessimistic of assessments currently in circulation.

With that in mind I have just returned from a meeting with representatives of Balanced Seas who are currently collecting data from all water users so that the government will be better informed when establishing its commitment to a European directive to create Marine Conservation Zones by 2012. The indepth questionaires identify areas of water used by people from all disciplines such as yachting, diving, angling and commercial fishing. The data collected will hopefully help to identify key habitat and species dependant areas that could benefit from the protection that would be beneficial from conservartion zone status. You can contact Balanced Seas here.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Is this Zimbabwe?

A politician in a plane crash, angry voters barred from voting, uncertainty and a certain British sense of mayhem. This could be a military junta run republic in the tropics, but no, it is jolly old England on voting night. I'll hopefully take a look at what the possible changes will mean for marine conservation in the UK, once we know who will hold the power. For now, back to the swing-o-meter.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Is Sea Shepherd Embracing Public Sensibility?

Love or Hate Sea Shepherd, you have got to admire the tenacity of Paul Watson, and have more than a fleeting ounce of respect for his grasp of media wiles and how he plays that understanding to his generous advantage.
There are aspects of some Sea Shepherd campaigns that have had many or most marine conservationists publicly wincing whilst, I suspect, celebrating a well controlled inner yell of victory. However, there is ongoing serious debate amongst most major marine NGO's as to whether SS's tactics are actually damaging the cause. It is not helpful to be lumped in with a band of black shirted pirates, and seeing the SS stands at some dive and travel events has you wondering whether their recruiters hang out at local hells angel establishments, such is the mottliness of their crew.

So, it is with an pucker of trepidation that I read today that Sea Shepherd are to embark on an educational campaign within the Galapagos Islands. Is this a first for Sea Shepherd or is my understanding of their politica such that I can only envisage them as bestubbled gas mask wearing alumni? Maybe the dictatorial might of presidente Correa has cuddly pseudo terrorist Cpt Watson trembling in his Dubarry's.
It is a possibility that Watson's rattle shaking has brought about some unwanted attention of the angry president and another booting-out is on the cards, or, what would be more desirable is that the Sea Shepherd camp have recognised the success and acceptance of local community educational programs and that this new gentler side of Sea Shepherd will spread through the pirate ranks and become wider policy.
Imagine...antarctia next year will be a tranquil sea of westerners teaching japanese whalers the why's and wherefore's of conservation aboard a candelit flotilla.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

First No Bus...

Good News is like public transport. You wait for ever for a bus and then two appear at once. Well, it happened like that for sharks this week. I have been holding off on writing a blog for a while as most of the shark conservation world has been hanging on to hear whether the Hawaiian Shark Fin law would be passed and today we received the news that yes the bill had passed with only one contrary 'no' vote from the original instigator of breaking the bill's passage a few weeks ago. No surprise there then.
Hawaii Shark Fin Ban bill - SB2169 now outlaws the posession, sale and distribution of shark fins in the state of Hawaii. This will hopefully send out a clear signal to other ocean nations who are capable of imposing such a measure of control over their ocean heritage.
Not only is this success a mark of intuition and bravery by Hawaiians who wish to protect their precious marine resources, it is also a demonstrative measure of the power of the internet, and how unified voices of shark advocates from around the globe united to bring a wave of support to help move this legislation through the senate. It would be wrong at this point to state immaturely that we had become 'an unstoppable force' or even something to be remotely 'reckoned with'. We are too close to coming out of the other side of the recent CITES disaster, and the thoughts that many of us held before and during the Doha conference, that the world 'had' to listen to us are too fresh in our minds.
Indeed, if anything, this Hawaiian victory is a perfect example of why CITES might never work as a convention for international conservation requirements. Many of the failures at CITES pointed to the fact that regional fisheries management plans should sway the control over regulations direly needed to protect sharks and other endangered species. Bill - SB2169 is a perfect example of how such local pressure, supported by global interest, can indeed sway the balance in our favour.

The second piece of good news to come whizzing into the inbox today was that Robin Culler's Shark Finatics have been nominated for Oceana's Ocean Hero award. Robin is a regular contributor to The Shark Group discussion board where we get regular updates about her students, who make a big deal about shark conservation in their class studies. You can join the Shark Finatics facebook page, and take a look at their nomination and other nominees at Oceana's voting page here.

Unfortunately, it was not all good news this week, as a fishing vessel with 100 blue sharks on board were captured in the Galapagos National Park. It was the second time this vessel had been intercepted in Galapagos waters. Once question. Why is it still floating?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

A publication in Ecuador.

If anyone is flying on the TAME airline this month you can see some of my images illustrating an article written by my friend Jorge Antonio Mahuad. Jorge's family own the Tip Top fleet in the Galapagos Islands and Jorge spends his time between the islands and their offices in Quito. Jorge is the communications director for Tip Top operations, and despite his young age is an astute and well versed professional in the business world and lends more than a passing ear to conservation concerns for the Galapagos and mainland Ecuador. I don't usually give my images away, but this time I was happy to donate them to Jorge's work as I know that the future of places like Ecuador lies in the hands of brilliant young men like Jorge.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Take a deep breath...

It is with some trepidation that I poke my head above the parapet to write this blog. The dust is beginning to settle after CITES and everyone's thoughts are starting to clear. The more cynical of the NGO's have dried their faux tears whilst the more astute peer out from their locked studies for a break from their already half drawn battle plans for the next phase. What prompts me to write today of all days is that in my mail this morning was a post by my friend and shark hero Wolfgang Leander alerting his followers to this blog. It is a well written and well researched piece, and everyone should go and read it. I have to say that the tone of the piece hits the nail squarely on the head. The most surprising aspect to the article is a link to a video by Oceana which must surely be the most discraceful piece of conservation PR I have ever seen (and I used to be a fan..shame on you Oceana...(but more of that later)).

Somewhere between 1781 and 1785 Thomas Jefferson asked "What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypoctrites". He was talking about christianity back then, but the words apply equally today, particularly aptly to the lobbying of delegates at CITES. But who are the real fools? Are the conservation protagonists at fault in the first place for believing that there could ever really be hope in conservation goals at a convention dealing with trade in species? Personally, and I hesitate to say it, there is too much hippy idealism working within the conservation sphere. Take the Oceana video. A girl that can be little older than a graduate, she may at a push be post doctorate, paints a quaint picture of her personal and corporate dispair at the pro-conservation failure at CITES. She drops a failed simile in the name of science (I'm sorry...10 million kilograms of shark fins is how many elephants??!!) whilst her colleagues cackle in the background, sounding very sippy champagny. Sorry again Oceana but if your delegates did have a "really exhilarating and really exhausting day" shouldn't they be too tired for that?). What is needed desperately in this realm are hardened negotiators. The Oceana party (excuse the pun) should have been made up of experienced and hairy looking scientists, (or better still, field researchers), who can hold court with their commercial counterparts. In the corporate world, would you send a post-grad to broker a multi million pound merger, or your top honcho who cuts heads of in her coffee break? (Yes, women can be hairy too).

Before degrees became so dissapointingly de rigeur, the way you learned your skill was as an apprentice. It was impossible to jump up the ranks just because you were fortunate enough to be able to afford a few more years of education and earn a degree. I was speaking to a retired professional a few days ago who told me that a non negotiable prerequisite back when he was climbing the corporate ladder, to enter middle management was that you had to be forty five years old and not one day less. Sure, society has realised since then that if you are 45 you still might be stupid, but we have failed to hold dear the value of essential experience. We know without question that the future of our planet lies with the younger generation, but to hand the torch to student negotiators is far too permature, and just a little more than pinky quaint. How could we have improved the experience for delegates at CITES? An impromptu performance of high school musical, or a reasoned debate with a sunburned fifty something with bugs in his beard?

So what do we do next? If there is one message that should be adhered to post-CITES, it is that the emphasis on regional fisheries management agencies should be taken very seriously, and is the field where battles will be won. I have long said that there is a huge disparity between dive centre operators and real conservation initiatives, and who should be more passionate about their local maritime health and wellbeing than the network of local dive operators utilising it? There is a fine example of this going on right now in Hawaii where stalwart shark advocate Stephanie Brendl is rallying support for important local legistalation that will, if successful provide a precedent for global shark conservation initiatives.

I remember back a few years when attending DEMA and conversing with what we thought were a leading global shark conservation NGO: "well oh yes we know Ecuador has a terrible problem with shark fishing, here "take some leaflets". The feeling that I had been betrayed in that moment has never left me. Leaflets. LEAFLETS!! I can just imagine the next board meeting for that NGO. "Oh yes we are now 'in Ecuador'".

Things have moved on for my collueagues and I in Ecuador. We are now operating our own science based research, supported by doers, not talkers, from around the world and this year, we became Save Our Seas grant holders to continue our work there. We are fighting our corner, but we need our own hardened delegates to support us on the world stage. We should take a lesson from the Japanese, who practice a British political trait observed back in 1824 by historian and politician Thomas Babington: "The object of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion".

Friday, 2 April 2010

Great White Dive Record

The scientifically ubiquitous great white shark has appeared in the media again, this time with a dive recorded at over 1200 metres. Previous recorded max depths were around 1000 metres, so this record off of New Zealand is a considerable extension to that. You can read the full article here.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

My Summary of CITES

They say a picture paints 1000 words...

CITES reverses porbeagle decision.

Honestly I feel too damned angry and frustrated to write anything right now. What the hell is wrong with these people? It's probably better if you read a nice professional summary from the New York Times.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

CITES. Lip service or successful green monitor?

There has been terrific bad news drifting out of CITES over the last weeks, and one wonders if the small victories won were offered up as cynical "feelgood" bait for the media and conservation lobbyists present at the event.

Despite determined efforts to persuade delegates to vote in favour of further protection for sharks, pink and red corals and the mighty bluefin tuna, all of the tough and determined lobbyist's efforts proved futile as only one shark species, the porbeagle, was adopted to appendix II and attempts to bring ivory back into legal trading circles were rightly deafeated.

The porbeagle shark is the only victory to come out of CITES. How did it succeed where all of the other shark species failed? Maybe the porbeagle doesn't represent a threat to market forces in Asia. Its fisheries are primarily derived from the Atlantic and although their fins do find their way to the far east, they are under the jurisdiction of European governments, which so far have portrayed a decent amount of conservation savvy at CITES. Fisheries for the other species can be found all around the globe and are probably far more lucrative from a profit margin perspective as they are sourced from more poverty stricken nations than those of Europe. Sadly the lack of adoption for Oceanic White Tips to appendix II might be the final nail in the coffin for that species. Shown to be down to 99% of original stock levels, and dissapeared from many areas, their appearance in most fisheries now are as genuine bycatch, which is extrememly hard to legislate for. The next CITES meeting might be too late.

As with all debate, whether that is on a global scale, or locally, there are lessons to be learned and encouragements to be understood from CITES. Much of Europe and the developed world made sensible votes for marine species, and us conservationists, as though we didn't already know, were revealed the true cynicism of the destructive behemoth that is Japan and China. All conservation efforts must now concentrate on these countries and the effect that these gigantic markets are having on our flora, fauna, ecosystems and marine environments. It is obvious that these sentimantally inert people have no regard for the natural world, and are only interested in consumerist gluttony. They are happy to destroy everything that the rest of us hold dear. We must be heard. They must be stopped.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Libya Filibusters Tuna's Chance at CITES

Humanity took a turn for the worst yesterday as political debate fuelled by scientific reasoning failed to make a show as Libya forced a vote on tuna proposals.
The Economist reports that a Libyan delegate exploded into a frothy rage in the middle of preliminary discussions, yelling that the move was a consiracy by developed nations to inhibit growth of developing nations, and that the science was flawed. He then demanded an immediate vote, hence forcing the meeting to a premature motion. The nation bringing the proposal to the table, Monaco, backed by interests within the united states and other nations were said to be 'dissapointed'.

Libya holds Africs'a largest amount of proven oil reserves, and GDP's in the mid 2000's show annual growth at over 8%. It does not sport the face of an international beggar very well at all, and likely the desert nation was plied with promises of international finance from a pro tuna nation to force that vote. It is said that this is how the real deals are made during CITES conventions. Japan hosted a meeting for delegates in their embassy the night before the debate and plied guests with top bluefin tuna sushi. Perhaps we should try this tactic in human related political decisions. Before meetings held to discuss human rights or other critical points of law we should hold a party the night before and eat the bodyparts of the underdog. A sure way to win the vote.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

CITES falls at the first shark hurdle

A proposal to bring openness to the shark fin trade and implement measures to curb illegal practices in the industry, failed to win the vote yesterday. Lesley Rochat, in Doha reporting for South African media reported that the votes were "52 in favour, 36 against and 11 abstentions". There needs to be a two thirds majority for a vote to succeed, so 14 votes short of a victory.

The most blindingly stupid statment in the whole proceeding was that China and Russia stated that shark populations were not in any danger of decline. How can it be possible that the country fast becoming the world's leading industrial and commercial powerhouse, can make such a bold and ignorant statement in the face of so much scientific data for the contrary?

However, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for us looking into this from a doom and gloom perspective. There was some opposition to the proposal based on the detail that if the proposal was adopted, that the governments of the nations would be responsible for the controls implemented. This would prove too costly for poor nations, burdening them with expensive enforcement requirments (AP)and it has been argued from some that the responsibility and costs should be met by regional regulatory bodies, those involved in shark protection measures.

We could look at it by saying that this is not within the remit of CITES. It was not a proposal on listing for the appendices, and to incur extra costs to poorer nations outside of this remit might not be the best way to proceed. The overriding concern is that this is a precursor for the more important votes on addition to the appendices for certain species, and that those too will fail. Let's hope that this will not be the case, and the vote will swing in favour of protection on that more specific agenda.

Monday, 15 March 2010

CITES convenes in Doha and the world awaits...

Today the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES opened in Doha, Qatar. This Oil and Gas rich desert peninsula, with a higher per capita carbon emmission rating than any other country, will be home to CITES nations delegates for the next two weeks. They will discuss the future of the world's most fragile and affected wildlife, and whether or not to implement trade restrictions relating to each proposed species.

CITES has long been criticised for failing to protect wildlife from trade, and rather than restricting commerce in certain species, may only serve to legitimise trade under its licensing system. The only safe place for a species to fall on a CITES list is appendix I, for which all international trade is banned. Appendix II listings are allowed to be traded, but under strict licensing controls. However, listing in appendix II does give incentive for host countries to implement strong pro-conservation initiatives for the species, and such a listing is considered critical for effective conservation management.

Eight species of shark are scheduled for discussion in Doha, the first time that such a significant number of shark species has been discussed by CITES. Currently only great whites, whale sharks and basking sharks populate appendix II but during this meeting, spiny dogfish, porbeagle, oceanic whitetip, scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, dusky and sandbar sharks will recieve attention for discussion, debate, and hopefully eventual listing on appendix II.

The key species of this event however, has to be the Bluefin Tuna. The proposal for its listing in appendix I has received much media attention, and so it should. There is probably no greater icon for conservation requirement versus human appetite and desire than this majestic oceanic giant. It's latin name Thunnus thynnus conjures visions within us, of a creature of great stature and magnitude. But like all things spectacular, man has tried to harness it, and in so doing, has all but destroyed it. Said to be only worth $0.50 cents per kilo back in the seventies, the fine meat of the bluefin captured the imagination of asian chefs and now it is one of the most valuable fish in our oceans. A single tuna can command a price of hundreds of thousands of dollars. A war in the middle east in the next two weeks will be fought between those wishing to preserve this conservation icon, and those wishing to further their commercial interests and the subsequent imminent destruction of this king of the seas.

During the last years of the seventeenth century, mankind killed off the dodo. This giant flightless bird, populating a single island in the Indian Ocean, was not good to eat and probably didn't receive much attention from hunting practices of the day, however, introduced pigs and macaques were the liklely downfall of this waddling ground nesting bird. It went extinct because no-one really understoond the significance of extinction during that time. In fact, no-one really even noticed it had dissapeared, and it became a thing of myth, until discovery of their bones proved they really did exist. The same thing happened with the Great Auk, a large seabird, not dissimilar to a penguin, but inhabiting the North Atlantic, said to number in the millions, and populating Britain, Iceland, New Foundland and Canada. By 1840, a man named Henry Evans and a couple of friends caught and beat the last Great Auk on British Shores to death because they thought it to be a witch. So, we might comfort ourselves with the thought that superstition and ignorance were the real causes of extinction for the Auk, and for the Dodo too.

If the 175 CITES nations cannot agree to protect the bluefin tuna, then their failure will be down to only one thing. Greed. Today, with our abundance of science and news, we cannot side with ignorance. If we fail the bluefin, then can there really be any hope for the endangered species that might follow in years to come?

image source

Sunday, 28 February 2010

HK Shark Foundation call for support.

Please help a chinese based shark conservation organisation in their call for support in preparation for the CITES meeting in Qatar this coming month. Their online form is easy to fill in and only takes a few seconds. The CITES meeting is set to determine whether eight vulnerable species of shark will be listed on appendix II which will restrict international trade and hopefully alleviate commercial pressure bearing down on them.

You can find the online petition here.

Congratulations Felix

It is always good to hear about what my old friend Wolfgang is up to. Wolf has been a leading light in shark conservation opinion and activism for years. His seriousness in such issues does not come immediately to light as he is a pure delight when you meet him. His small wiry frame belies the giant of a man that lives within it, and his elder gentlemanly appearance is betrayed by bright shining eyes atop his beaming grin. He is full of a childlike energy, and in the water moves like a man of only twenty years. He is an ispiration to everyone who spends time with him.

Now it looks like the inspiration not only rubbed off, but is actually present in the Leander genes. Felix, Wolf's son has just won the best Human Interaction category in the iDive sharks imaging festival. Let us hope that Felix proves as mighty as his father in all things shark, then at least a few sharks in our oceans will rest knowing a family of giants is looking after them.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

More Manta News

Manta Ray conservation looks set to take on new meaning in coming years. I have just read a report that came to my attention after my post last week about mantas in Mozambique. This particular post was from a report by investigative blogger Andy Stokes, and you can read it here. Andy and his friend visit a shark fin wharehouse but end up investigating an apparent thriving market in gill rakers from mobula rays.

If there is anyone reading this that doubts the seriousness of the possibility that mantas and mobula can dissapear within the next generation, I would like to recount the following: I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is a very dedicated scientist working in the amazon and also the andean highlands on a number of raptor projects. He grew up on the coast of Ecuador and recalled during our conversation how as a child he would visit the beach with his father and see the sawfish that the fishermen used to catch. He said it was not uncommnon to see numbers of sawfish. Many fisherman would have a saw bill hung up outside their door as a decoration. Today, no kind of sawfish is ever seen along the beaches of Ecuador. They are only likely ever to be found on the CITES appendix one listing or the IUCN redlist. How old is my friend? Is he 75 or 80? Sadly he is only in his early forties. Such irreverible environmental mayhem happens in the space of a few years. It may be that we are only here to witness that. To document it, and watch helpless as it happens. I would like to think not. The time to act on manta ray conservation is now, before the worst happens.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Will mantas disappear before sharks?

When you work in conservation, you get used to seeing the things you love being broken. A part of you hardens, and it becomes an everyday part of your life that you will see environmental destruction. You begin to feel less emotional every time you see a shark pulled onto a beach to make a bowl of soup. Your head hurts less when you see a line of trees cut down to make way for a road, or a giant hole bored into the heart of a rainforest to make a new oil well.
You have to harden up at the thin end of the wedge. It’s not a case of not caring; it’s a case of surviving. If I went every day feeling so desperate about the state of our oceans, like the first time I filmed unborn sharks being cut from their mother’s bellies, I would have shrivelled up and locked myself away from it all, or at least gone and got myself a boring job in an office somewhere and pretended it wasn’t happening.
Once it was hard to see just one dead shark, then it took twenty dead sharks to get me angry, and now, I can look at a line of a hundred shark hacked up on a beach, and although the sight will always disturb me, I know that out there, miles from me, there are people who care, who read our words, cry our tears, donate, write letters, get angry, frustrated and eventually become the movement that changes the world.
You could say that we form the thin end of the wedge. We drive ourselves forward and bring you the news so that you can form and disseminate your own ideas on how to tackle the problem. In doing so you become the thick end of the wedge; the part that finishes the job that the thin end started; the part that wedges open doors in high office until someone in a suit gives in; the part that cracks congress or parliament wide open; the part that gets the ink on the statute book; the part that won’t let the door slam until the job is done.

Back in 2004 I sat bewildered on a beach watching thick-set fishermen haul sharks out of the pacific in numbers that we were sure were not sustainable. We had no idea then that there was a movement beginning world-wide to bring attention to a global demand for shark fin soup. We felt hopeless, but resolute. Many of us dotted about the globe stayed into the early hours of each night tapping out emails and ideas; we began networking to bring down the giant. Our thin ended wedge grew in many of the right places, and we initiated a momentum that probably none of us thought possible. Although today there is still a long way to go for shark conservation, there is no doubt that we have made important progress.
It seems though, that the destructive nature of mankind is some way ahead of us. Back in the spring of 09, a report emerged stating how a drop in supply of shark fins meant that buyers were looking to mobulids to fill the supply gap to the fin market. It is normal for me to look into the media looking glass and sniff hard for the faint scent of alarmism in everything I read, and I guess it is a form of self protection that raises a cynical ear to every bad word written in the press. But, it looks like on this occasion that the bad news is correct and that there is a concerted drive to target mantas and mobula rays. For the first time in Ecuador this year, worrying photos have begun emerging of numbers of mobula on the beaches, and this morning in my email, I received word from a contact showing photos of fishermen in Mozambique with significant numbers of mobula and manta rays in gill nets.
The Mozambique fishery has been going on for some time, but an increase in activity seems to be developing. It seems that these latest developments are a worrying confirmation that manta fisheries will step up a gear and that we may be facing the destruction of populations of these most docile and majestic marine giants. As with sharks, reproduction rates are slow, birth numbers are low (only one per pregnancy). The worrying aspect though, is that populations are not large. Even today, the numbers of sharks caught stands at millions per year. Manta Ray populations do not even slightly reach these proportions and could be wiped out very quickly.
In Mozambique, respected researchers and tourism operators are looking out on an ocean with an uncertain future. They are probably bewildered and utterly distraught at the events unfolding around their family of manta rays. The thin end of the wedge has formed once again, new battle lines are being drawn in the sand. We must grow as a global community to help. We must drive our purpose home and ensure that the door does not slam on the mantas of Mozambique.

Click here if you want to keep informed on developments in this campaign.