Saturday, October 11, 2014

The SRMR Video!


Yes I know.

That video has been on and off all day.
It will be re-uploaded shortly, likely after our long Fiji Day weekend.

Thanks for your patience in this.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Shark Reef Marine Reserve - breaking News!

I'm over the moon!
But first, watch this.

Did you see it, right at the end?
Yes, we've just received the official notification that from its humble beginnings as one of dozens of locally managed MPAs in the country, the SRMR has now been upgraded to a National Marine Park - one of the first if not the very first in Fiji!

Oh boy has this been an adventure!
It is the result of a whopping 11 years of constant advocacy and cajoling all the way to begging: hundreds upon hundreds of e-mails, dozens of formal meetings and position papers, several governments, multiple ministers, five different village chiefs chairing numerous village meetings with ever changing village committees, having to wait for the outcome of the ultimately failed Fiji Shark Sanctuary campaign, and the list goes on and on and on. And mind you: all these years and enormous effort had to be invested into a conservation project that was completely undisputed and where every single stakeholder had given his approval since the very beginning!
This just as an aside and as a warning to those groups that want to quickly parachute in and get fast results and instant gratification - this is not how Fiji works!

But in the end, we've pulled it off.
We are highly grateful to Government and specifically, to Frank Bainimarama for not only having single-handedly saved our sorry ass back then in 2010, but for getting Cabinet to finally endorse it. And an enormous shout-out goes to Aisake Batibasaga, Principal Research Officer at the Department of Fisheries, for his unwavering support and encouragement all throughout this interminable process. It is thanks to his very personal efforts that it got finally tabled, and for that we shall always be grateful to him.
Vinaka Bati, you're a good man and a good friend!

Our massive thanks also go to the village of Galoa.
Shark Reef lays is within their fishing grounds, and I must really say that contrary to others, working with them has always been easy, and fueled by mutual trust, respect and above all, honesty. To celebrate this event and show our appreciation, we will very shortly increase the marine park levy, with all incremental funds flowing to Galoa only.
Vinaka vakalevu!

And then there's our unmatched team.
Here's to James for having founded BAD and to Andrew for his excellent leadership, loyalty and hard work; to Papa and Nani that have been invaluable guides when navigating the treacherous waters of local protocol; to Rusi, quite possibly the world's best Shark feeder and my dive buddy who continues to inspire me every single day; and to the BAD boyz an gals that always make me so proud.

And then!
Here's to those wonderful people that have been helping us since the very beginning - for a decade of friendship, counsel and encouragement, and above all, for stellar company and shared adventures: Valerie and the late Ron, Juerg, Gary and Brenda, the Hawaii gang of Jack and his disciples John, Rob and Richard and least but not least, Alexander Goldknecht of the Shark Foundation who funded our first patrol boat, continues to fund Juerg' research and is a sponsor of the ongoing GFSC.
And to you, the many loyal friends we've made on the way, and the thousands upon thousands of visitors that have enabled us to keep going and finally achieve our vision of a tourism-based integrated Shark research and conservation project, and reach finally this milestone.
And to our detractors - your have only strengthened our resolve!
Thank you so much!

Oh yes this is long - but it has to be!
So, please, bear with me for another bit.

Back to the SRMR.
Yes in the big scheme of things, this is a nothing, a tiny insignificant speck in the vastness of the ocean - but here's why it may well be just a tad more than that.
As far as I know, this is possibly the first time anywhere that the public sector is conferring the day-to-day management of a National Marine Park to a private entity.
There will be a management committee comprising representatives from Fisheries, BAD, private societies and academia - but whereas Fisheries will always retain the final say in anything, BAD are the only operator entitled to conduct Shark dives, will regulate daily access, monitor the reef, coordinate research, and police and even enforce the fishing ban via our fish wardens. To that effect, we will be shortly conducting our fourth fish warden course, after which every single one of our staff will be a honorary park ranger with full authority to inspect vessels and catches, and apprehend perpetrators.
Methinks this public-private partnership is a great and possibly ground-breaking template, especially for developing countries with their notorious lack of resources - so you purists out there, please do consider the many advantages before summarily slamming it down!

Leaves the video.
Contrary to last time, this is obviously a professional job.
We commissioned it because we knew that something was cooking and as chance would have it, it just got completed one hour ago - in fact I'm posting this minutes after having obtained the Vimeo link! The editor is none other than Jackie's husband Dave who happens to equally be a keen Shark diver - and it sure shows, nobody else could have done it the way he has, bravo!

To be continued - and that's a promise!

PS - thank you Martin!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Western Australia - Government Bashing?

Well it was inevitable.

The bloody controversy is raging again.
And I cite.
With the start of the summer beach season, I expect there will be pressure to begin killing tagged great whites that set off acoustic alarms near beaches. The government has noted that this will not happen, but it is a logical next step in the current thinking.

There is no anti-Shark conspiracy here.
Yes the retribution killing is totally misguided, principally because it does nothing to improve public safety, and it is good to say so and to suggest better strategies - but let's spare ourselves those gratuitous innuendos and accusations shall we. 

The facts?
Yes Rory is undoubtedly under pressure, how could it be otherwise - but there is no evidence whatsoever to justify those continuous public attacks on his integrity. Yes Barnett is certainly not a Shark lover  -  but he was not obliged to accept the recommendations by the EPA, and yet he has done so. Yes more could be done to educate and inform the public - but Sharksmart is definitely a big step in the right direction. Yes those killings are totally unwarranted - but the WA government is also spending millions on research and Shark-friendly mitigation measures.

I understand the passion and the outrage.
But this is slowly smelling like some people are trying to make a bloody career of it, and this continuous public bashing of the authorities does only further alienate them and is certainly not conducive to promoting more Shark-friendly policies.

Seriously, people, you really need to calm the fuck down!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Bremer Canyon - two!


Here is a more recent article.
These are really wonderful observations, and we can only hope that the Riggs team will translate them into yet another fascinating documentary - highly successful funding drive here!

Here are those Orcas - nice! :)

And the mysterious super-predatory giant GWS?
They really got to stop riding that tired old pony - last June, CSIRO did reveal that it was much ado about nothing, and that the tag, not the Shark carrying it had been likely eaten by another GWS.
End of mystery - sorry!

But I sure look forward to the next documentary!

Monday, October 06, 2014

PAT Tags - fishy Data, cagey Manufacturers?

Acoustic tag in front, PSAT tag at the rear. Source.

Please do read this.

Prima vista, nothing spectacular.
As far as I understand it (correct me if I'm wrong), it simply states that the researchers don't have direct access to raw data but instead, they are using data that are being processed/analyzed either by the tag manufacturers or via proprietary software given to them by the manufacturers; and that some of those processed data might be faulty; and that because they are commercial entities, the manufacturers tend to be reticent about their algorithms and software specs - meaning that the researchers need to engage in constant dialogue with the manufacturers and not simply blindly rely on those processed data.

So what's the big deal?
Turns out that behind the scenes, this has led to some major kerfuffle, with some reviewers encouraging a more open dialogue about this issue but not wanting to stand in the front lines; whereas others have been positively outraged and have accused Juerg of being cavalier and incendiary, of disrespecting fellow researchers and more nonsense of this sort.
IMO this is a clear indication of the fact that a) there is a problem, b) many researchers are a tad too timorous (a euphemism), maybe because c) the tag manufacturers, being quasi-monopolists, are exerting way to much influence (another euphemism) on their customers and d) journals may be lacking fortitude, too!

Long story short, I'm disappointed.
I thought that science was better than that.
Kudos to Juerg for having persevered and gotten this published in the end - the question being, will this now lead to more pointless demagoguery, or will this now be discussed publicly as should have happened all along?

Anybody taking bets?

Imagine then, an Ocean without its Monsters; loveless and boring.

 And I cite.
After fishing out the big sharks from the east coast waters, either through fishing methods that involve a lot of bycatch like long lines and gillnets, or through targeted shark fisheries, the ecosystem changed.
In the absence of large predators, a sizeable population (for which we had no fishery) of adorable cow-nosed rays began foraging in the eelgrass for their preferred shellfish food. I don’t blame them. It would take very little to convince me to rummage face-first in the mud for fresh scallops. The mechanical disturbance of foraging rays to the eelgrass, uprooted those plants. The habitat for all of the invertebrates and fish that need it for shelter was lost. By that same token, the rookery habitat for the juvenile fish for which we had our own fisheries was lost; damaging the fisheries and our economy. Our fishery economy was further damaged by the loss of shellfish to ray predation. Without shellfish to filter the water, pollutants were retained and plankton bloomed, causing a depletion of oxygen and creating dead-zones and poor water quality.
Plankton bloomed?
I like this guy - for obvious reasons!
I've found his long 5-part treatise about Sharks, from trophic cascades to Shark strikes, by pure serendipity when searching for a picture of a PSAT tag. Please do take the time to read it in its entirety, from first to fifth post as it is really as good as it gets - highly entertaining, intriguing, exhaustive and remarkably erudite.

Fifth post here, with links to the preceding ones.
From what I understand, the author is likely Chris Reeves - this guy.

In any case - kudos, well done!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Shark Stopper stopped?

Now THAT's what I call a REPELLENT!


The funding drive has been cancelled.
Provided that the backers get their money refunded, that's good news - this was nothing but a useless noise maker that would have lulled its wearers into a false sense of security and quite possibly triggered more risky behavior.

And the other gizmos?
Hopefully, they too will go the way of the AquaShield and all those other previous scams and failures before somebody gets hurt.
We shall see shall we not!

Malapascua - Video!

And talking of those Pelagic Threshers.

I really did like this.
Monad Shoal close to Malapascua Island is where divers get to experience those Sharks being cleaned, whereas they have been filmed hunting at Pescador Island.


El Diego - Interview!

El Diego's favorite Shark, the Pelagic Thresher, with Cleaner Wrasse. Source.


Meet El Diego!
Please don't tell him, or he may get even cockier than he already is - but I actually do agree with Jillian that he's a really nice guy with tons of passion, and a huge positive influence on the Shark research of Projects Abroad.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Fish Counts - better on Rebreather!

John's geek on rebreather, surveying a deep reef at Johnston Atoll. Source.

Cool stuff, and I cite,
Inside MPAs, fish surveys conducted with close-circuit rebreathers (CCR) recorded similar community metrics to fish surveys conducted with conventional open-circuit SCUBA. 
In contrast, outside the MPAs, the bubble-free diving system recorded 48% more species and up to 260% greater fish abundance. These differences reflected the ability of a diver wearing the silent CCR unit to sample the larger, most heavily targeted species that are shy of divers in fished areas. This difference was also large enough to change some results from ‘reject’ to ‘accept’ the null hypothesis of ‘no significant differences exist between fished and protected areas’. 

The use of CCR for fish surveys clearly minimizes behavioural biases associated with fish avoiding open-circuit SCUBA divers. 
We recommend the use of this bubble-free diving system for surveys assessing reef fish populations, especially in areas where fish are heavily targeted by spearfishing. If fish behaviour is not accounted for, surveys using SCUBA could result in erroneous conclusions when comparing fished and protected areas. While the behaviour of fish towards divers is rarely mentioned in conclusions from studies using Underwater Visual Census, it is an important source of bias that should be acknowledged and minimized where possible.
Now that I read it, it's pretty obvious.
With one caveat: only in places where spearfishing on SCUBA is legal!
Where it is not = where spearfishing is only being conducted on breath-hold, any such recorded difference between the counts of SCUBA divers vs those of rebreather divers would be perplexing.

Anyway, good to keep this in mind.
Paper here.

And what about the Shark Shield?

Wowza. All sharks are dangerous and unpredictable. Source.

And why am I not surprised.

A friend just sent me this.
I hadn't seen it before, but I knew that the gizmo was likely to be pretty useless after talking to the Taylors many years ago. They had tested the then SharkPOD and found the prototype to be rather effective, at least with some species - but the voltage in the final product was then substantially reduced, likely for liability reasons, and the Taylors told me that they were convinced that the device would not anymore deter a motivated Shark.
And here we now have the scientific confirmation - the efficacy is dependent on context, motivation and even differs from individual Shark to individual Shark.

In brief, the Shark Shield is not 100% effective, see at top.
And if so... :)

GWS vs GWS - two!

Male GWS from the Neptunes with battle scars. In females, the scars could stem from either brawling or mating. Source.

Here we go again.

This is really highly disappointing.
DNS is usually strictly science-driven, with authors that know exactly what they are talking about. But alas, 5,000 dives or no 5,000 dives, Rocha is a Coral Fish guy, not a Shark behaviorist - and it sure shows, along with the fact that like many of his peers, he appears to be against Shark provisioning without having bothered to engage in even the most basic due diligence.

So there.
The Neptune Islands feature a natural GWS aggregation, meaning that the operators did not in any way cause it. Actually, they relocated to there from their initial site at Dangerous Reef once it became clear that GWS sightings at the Neptunes were more regular, numerous and predictable.
Read this - bravo Andrew and once again, no thanks to Barry Bruce whose unfortunate papers are now continuously being abused by the anti-feeding faction!

When the GWS reach those islands, they  sometimes brawl.
They are from two genetically distinct populations and likely do this in order to establish and re-affirm rank. Those confrontations are usually ritualized but can become combative. This behavior is species specific: the same happens in Guadalupe, another natural GWS aggregation, and e.g. the same is being reported from brawling Sicklefin Lemons at Moorea where provisioning has however created an aggregation that is not natural but instead man-made.
Conversely, although we observe the exact same hierarchical confrontations among our Bulls when they come back in January, in this species, dominance is being asserted by posturing and not brawling and therefore, we observe no intra-specific bites other than extremely rare genuine mistakes.

Back to the GWS.
Those confrontations are likely to happen where- and whenever GWS aggregate, and this specifically whenever new arrivals upset the established order - but it stands to reason that we are much more likely to observe them at those commercial sites and not out there in the wilderness, and hence those images, so far, stem from there. 
Do I need to elaborate?

Case in point, this recent video that is equally from the Neptunes.
See? No competition over food but same bite and same tail slapping etc - and remember Howard's video, equally from the Neptunes, equally featuring tail slapping and equally happening away from any bait?

Yes that would be evidence - and Rocha's conviction?
That this “brutal battle” wouldn’t have happened without human intervention and that the correct description of that video would be “Shark feeding by humans causes sharks to attack each other”; “Endangered species of shark forced into battle by human feeding"?
Nothing but the usual unsubstantiated anti-feeding claptrap!

Like I said, highly disappointing!
Sutor ne supra crepidam!