Saturday, 3 November 2012

Long time - no blog.

It is about time I write a blog on something or other. I do feel though that there is not a lot of point in writing a blog unless you have something conclusive to say, and there is a lot up in the air at the moment. Myself and a handful of enthusiastic, hardcore and dedicated conservationists are currently working on a very exciting project - but as part of that team, I can't say too much on the subject right now. Needless to say, watch this space.

In the meanwhile I have updated my image galleries. There are some shots that I feel have been the best I have taken - but, I still have a lot to learn, and the advancement in technology and also technique - leading photographers constantly raising the bar - mean I still have a long way to go in this career. Again, watch this space as there are some superb projects planned for the next twelve months, and I hope I will be coming up with some of my best work during this time.

Have a look at my updated site here.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

An ocean heroine

This is not the first time that I have written about how some people have the ocean in their blood. Diving, or, let's be honest, the far more advanced 'art' of freediving, can only be achieved to a high level by those who can become one with the ocean. This week I have been honoured to share some sea space with a very inspiring character, Flavia Eberhard. Year after year whilst working with these sharks, whenever one comes close to us, we always wish we could represent a person and a shark in the same shot. However, due to limited visibility, and the fact that most of us are woosies who snorkel in cumbersome dry suits, makes it a very hard shot or sequence to achieve. So, Flavia agreed to help me in getting the job done, and in the most sensitive way possible, try to get a person and a shark in the same shot. The aim, to give anyone who hasn't seen one of these sharks a sense of their scale, and hopefully therefore generate even more fans of these home grown giants. Even with a water person such as Flavia, the shots have not been easy; we never chase the sharks, and getting in position as a shark approaches has proved challenging for the both of us. I will post the takes in a video edit as soon as I have it finished. Anyway, the purpose of this post was not to bang on about my work, but to say a huge thank you to Flavia, and send congratulations also, as shortly before coming on this trip, Flavia secured a new brazilian national record in the freediving discipline of Free Immersion to 69 metres (!!!). Not only is Flavia an awesome freediver, she is a total pleasure to work with, and is without doubt a genuine, dedicated spirit of the ocean. An inspiration to be around, a gentle soul who is a credit to our race. Look out for her, hopefully you will share a piece of ocean swell with her some day like I have been lucky enough to do this week.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Ahoy! I sight a FIN!

Phew, the basking shark season has crept up on me a bit this year, I can't believe it's June already, and it's not long at all before we will be on the waves with our good friends at Sea Life Surveys based out of Tobermory to look for basking sharks. This is truly an incredible experience, and every year I am astounded that we have such an incredible migration of gargantuan marine creatures happening on our doorstep. The area itself in something equally special, beautiful islands, bays and lochs teeming with more wildlife than anyone can imagine. I will be posting updates from the trips here as and when I can jump high enough on deck to get a telephone signal. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Shark Trade Online Continues Unabated

I had a conversation this week with Rich Clothier from Shark Guardians. Rich has been promoting shark conservation through an awareness drive, drawing particular attention to shark products being made readily available on popular domestic outlets such as ebay and Amazon. Their primary goal is to achieve ten thousand signatures in this petition. There will be a few people who read this who will grumble about petitions not being effective, but I would draw their attention to the fact that it was not so long ago, 2008/09 that one such opinion based movement managed to dislodge's zeal for online shark fin trade, and thesharkgroup campaign led by shark superman Wolfgang Leander achieved a promise by chairman Jack Ma that there would be a cessation of trade in shark fin products on alibaba. This recent listing shows that orders do show up from time to time, but alibaba's 'no fins'policy is internally policed and such incidents are controlled whenever they come to light (we are told).
So, what about us bastions of conservation, the Europeans and North Americans, you know, the ones that make laws with handy finning loopholes allowing us to be one of the primary suppliers of shark's fin into the Hong Kong markets? Should we even be surprised that ebay and amazon have a vast array of shark products for sale? When I looked at ebay today to see just how many shark products are up for grabs, I could see over 14,000 listings for sharks teeth, beginning with full jaws of megalodon and great white, with the former topping nearly 60,000 USD. I'm sorry, did I say great white jaws were for sale? Surely I must be mistaken, as trade in their body parts are tightly restricted due to them being CITES appendix I listed right? Oh sorry, this guy's informative listing tells me I can only buy it if I am not asking him to post it across a border. Silly me.
Squalene is the next item to have a series of multiple and sometimes high priced items, starting at a massive $US 750 for a few pills, with no less than 4000 listings on amazon.
It would be naive of me to suggest that this trade is clear cut black and white good versus bad. Obviously it is not going to affect the megalodon population by trading a few fossils, I even came across a guy on our local beach last spring hunting for fossilised sharks teeth; for anyone who doesn't know, I live on the south coast of England where the now defunct fishing fleet wiped out our local sharks about 20 years ago, so fossils are about the only thing you can find here that is shark related here. I guess therein lies the deeper question: Is a person who collects shark fossils and memorabilia, the die hard shark fan, are they deeply allied to the wider cause of shark conservation? There must be a philanthropic based shark research paper mileage in that one surely.
But the real problem here is the wider issue of online trade in shark's fin. Thankfully ebay and amazon were free from those products, but it was not difficult to find a number of online bulk traders elsewhere, pushing dried shark fin based in the Far East and India, with many traders promising to meet a demand of 1 tonne per week. So depending on what loophole your supplier is exploiting and the size of the shark caught that could mean anything between 3300 to 5000 small sharks (>1m juvenile hammerheads for example) or 400 to 550 medium sharks (2m requiem species) and I'm making a wild stab at those figures based on what I've seen happening daily on some beaches, and those wild stabs are probably way underestimating the fact that I'm totting up freshly caught sharks, considering these traded fins are dried, therefore a lot lighter. Remember, that 1 tonne is a per week figure for one supplier, to one online trader. That means that one trader could be accounting for 1/4 million sharks per year. Ok lets not get into the whole how many millions? detraction, whatever the total is, that's a hell of a lot of sharks, and it is happening online, easily, and freely, just like our weekly shop at Tesco.
I am not going to theorise a solution here, but I have been somewhat surprised to see one possible solution bandied about freely, as if it were the holy grail of halting shark demise; that is eco-tourism through shark diving. The paraphrase popped up during the widely discussed Giam Choo Hoo fracas last week, and today is proposed as a discussion on the highly respected RJ Dunlap page.
I won't go into the pros and cons of the behavioural changes issue and how that weighs in against the pro shark Zeitgeist generated by elated divers emerging from such interactions, basically because this guy will, and has done a better job of it, but, I will say this loud and clear: the view that all sharks can, or should, be saved by eco-tourism operations is deeply flawed. Most of the sharks that suffer from pressure generated by overfishing are migratory, skittish and predominantly pelagic. Developing any kind of tourist activity around these sharks, if not impossible, would require an enormous amount of input, and many hours of failure at encountering the quarry, and a decent helping of insanity (in this summary, I don't mean rocking up and copying someone else's business model, I mean getting out there and changing the game from scratch). Many such species, threshers, makos, even blues, would be impossible to dive with for the average Joe tourist, who might be falsely lulled into thinking they were a reborn shark whisperer after being suffered by the slumbering cuddliness of a nonchalant whale shark or having enjoyed the approaches of an inquisitive manta ray. How many thresher shark dives are there worldwide? Two? one and a half? The interests of these ops are in the hands of a few locals or ex-pats, who have the capital to invest in a tourist class boat or resort, whilst the rest of the impoverished fishing community stick to eking out a meagre living from a very uncomfortable panga from an ever dwindling supply of fish. I think the quantifiable potential income for the wider fishing communities is as incalculable and unlikely as ever determining just how many sharks are falling victim to directed fishing each year. The real answer to the overall problem lies in community derived sustainability through fisheries management where the community is the stakeholder, and where eco-tourism forms a part (small or large, depending on the circumstances) of that plan.

Oh dear, I seem to have wandered from the initial purpose of this post, please sign Rich's petition and then have a long hard think about the rest of this blog, if you come up with any more answers let me know.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Acuatours Spring Update

Would you like to be included in these quarterly updates? If so click here.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Acuatours, Blue Sharks Discounts until end of March

Are you interested in diving with blue sharks in the Azores? The Azores is the upcoming dive destination of Europe, with superb reef diving and cetacean watching opportunities. Blue shark diving has been developed by a handful of operators in the southern islands and we have access to a week long program to see the very best the Azores has to offer.
We are offering a discount on our charters for 2012, if you book before the end of March only! Please email us here for more details.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Is Ecuador doing enough to limit shark take?

There have been a couple of interesting articles springing up across the internet over the last couple of days, bringing with them the ubiquitous 'likes' and whooops of joy from pseudo-satisfied readers on the ever burgeoning social network.
But how new are the efforts alluded to in these articles? How many sharks will be saved? This article on the International Institute for Sustainable Development site highlights the recent development by OSPESCA nations who have agreed to a multilateral approach to the problem of finning and passed a law prohibiting the finning of sharks.
But wait, before you press the like (or even worse the share) button, take some time to read the article, particularly the paragraph that states 'Furthermore, exports from or imports into SICA countries of fins not attached to a body must be accompanyied by a document from the competent authority in the country of origin, certifying that it is not the product of finning'. Oh dear!!! If anyone is unfamiliar with latin american gang politics, due to the normality of the extended family structure within latino society, it is most likely that any boat captain will have corruptible contact within the enforcement agencies. So this add on paragraph will only serve to increment opportunities in corrpution, otherwise known in Europe as a 'loophole' similar to the one we cleverly structured around the 5% law.
Then this article throws Colombia into the mix, saying it too has agreed to work with Costa Rica on prevention of shark finning.
Meanwhile, Ecuador sits quietly below (geographically, if not morally) having already regulated against shark finning back in 2007. Decreto 486 prohibited the landing of directed fishing of sharks, with all shark having to be landed whole. Fins are allowed to be commercialised under a licensing system, lo and behold exactly as in the OSPESCA nations pact.

Personally having worked in Ecuador since 2005 and being closely involved with marine conservation there, I have not seen the slightest reduction of sharks landed on any beach in Ecuador before or after Decreto 486 and I can only assume that the OSPESCA agreement will work about as well as trying to pick a lock with recently caught mackerel.
It is astounding to think that given the latin amercian love affair with corruption, that anyone could think that making any kind of law with such easy opportunity for flagrant disregard would do any good at all, unless of course such activity was created with the sole aim of appeasing the green (blue?) lobby.
This document by the Shark Specialist Group has some useful and telling histories of Shark Finning Law over recent years. A read of it will leave you unsurprised as to why the shark fin trade continues unabated, and where fins-on law has been successful has not reduced shark take from the ocean, but has resulted only in this.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

The end of the Amazon Rainforest?

The end of the Amazon rainforest could be in sight if a highly controversial road is allowed to go ahead, ploughing its way through the heart of Peru's most pristine rainforest, disturbing at least two previously un-contacted tribes.

The proposed road will connect directly with the 'Inter-Oceanica' highway, already well under way in Brazil, that would make road transport possible between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

Such a highway has been the nightmare of conservationists for years, but until now political instability in the entire Amazon region has kept the completion of it at bay.

However, recently, many inter-Amazonian governments have stabilised due to high economic growth fuelled by a number of factors, including not least the boom in the Chinese economy that has seen investment in the Latin American region spiral without check.

If the 'Inter-Oceanica' highway goes ahead the fragmentation of the Amazon basin is likely to grow apace, so bringing the end the huge rainforest tract as we know it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Blue Shark Azores Gallery

I've just got around to posting some images in our blue shark gallery. If anyone is thinking of joining us for the 2012 season with a hosted trip to the Azores with our chosen top operator, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Humboldt Giant Mantas Exceed Expectations

Of any project, the field work is where the foundations are laid for successful data processing. Processing that data is maybe not as action packed as collecting it, but it is equally as engaging and fascinating. It is here, in the frigid blue light of a computer station that the real secrets of what we discover are revealed.

I have probably mentioned already that the start to this season was depressingly non productive. Almost a whole month without seeing a manta, but the later stages of the field work more than made up for the lull at the start. Herein lies something of a problem. Last year I chose a later field trip, but frustrated by local reports of mantas earlier in the season, in 2011 I organised an earlier field season to try to take advantage of those early mantas, and perhaps avoid the blank two weeks suffered in 2010 as the mantas left early. Our budget only stretches so far and aiming our field time to coincide with these mantas remains something of a guessing game. Unfortunately in a script written by murphy himself, the mantas arrived and left late, a complete opposite to last year.

Just as we finished the field work, some critical hardware problems caused a delay in processing of the data, but luckily our hard copy originals saved the day. Now, as our mantas are somewhere perhaps distant, and certainly a yet unknown, I am wading through gigabyte after gigabyte of data. It is going to take some time yet but early results show an increase in our year on year re-sightings. This is encouraging as previously we had only managed to capture one re-sighting. Whilst it is great to see new manta after new manta, it is important to quantify a result and simple addition is of little value for this purpose.

Another result that looks promising is that this year a greater percentage of females were recorded. Although the population remains predominantly male it is interesting to note at least one year where we captured more females than normal. There are some trends beginning to show. Our repeat sightings show some interesting patterns, and the next batch of ID’s I am working on will hopefully underline these early suggestions.

Piece by piece, my small dedicated team and I are beginning to reveal the secrets of this population. We look forward to what we will find out about them as we reach further into their unknown territory.

This post also appears on my Save Our Seas blog entry.