Sunday, March 29, 2015

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Royalty - and then some!

L2R: Back: Fabi and Tumbee; Middle: Douglas, Howard, Aceni, Rusi, Emily, Valerie, Bati and Papa; Front: Peni, Jayne and Michele - click for detail!

This would be a combined 50k+ hours of Shark diving experience.
Need I say more!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cheeky Manta!

Great video!

Mantas are gentle, smart, curious and playful.
And this astounding interaction? The dude is certainly pushy, and she may have wanted to put him in his place - tho having experienced some remarkable Manta moments myself, I tend towards play behavior. Of course we'll never know - but what a fabulous, unforgettable encounter!
AND - no mermaids! :)

Story here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cocos - beware of Shifting Baselines!

Victoria af Carlstad, 2004 - Source.


Talk about an epic data set!
The dive masters of GSD member Undersea Hunter Group have taken a whopping 27,527 dives between January 1993 and December 2013 and recorded 1,411,187 individual Sharks and Rays of 12 species.
These are the trends they have observed.

Click for detail!

And this is the Discussion.
Overall, we estimated that 8 of 12 elasmobranch species observed at Cocos Island declined significantly from 1993 to 2013. Six of these were declines in relative abundance, while the remaining 2were declines in probability of occurrence. The 4 remaining species increased in the odds of their presence and were among the larger bodied sharks at Cocos Island.

Large citizen-science collected data sets require careful scrutiny to ensure quality and consistency among observers.
Results based on the effects of divemaster-recorded environmental variables should be interpreted cautiously because these variables were not always standardized, as would be the case in a scientific survey. However, our analysis of this data set showed that individual divemasters had little influence on the number of sharks observed, and our parameter estimates for time trends were robust when using only a subset of the divemasters (Supporting Information). These results are in accordance with previous research indicating the effectiveness of using diver-collected data to assess trends in marinemegafauna (Ward-Paige and Lotze 2011; Vianna et al. 2014).

We hypothesized that large-bodied wide-ranging pelagic sharks and planktivores would experience declines, primarily as a result of overfishing.
The temporal trends for 4 of the 6 species within this category, including the iconic scalloped hammerhead, were in accordance with this hypothesis.

The scalloped hammerhead is considered endangered within the eastern tropical Pacific, where it is caught as bycatch in at least Mexico, Costa Rica, and Ecuador (Baum et al. 2007; Kyne et al. 2012). Scalloped hammerhead sharks are known to move among the major offshore islands in the region: Cocos, Galapagos, and Malpelo (Bessudo et al. 2011). Although each of these islands is designated as an MPA, scalloped hammerheads are still caught both illegally within these protected areas and legally outside them (Kyne et al. 2012). Thus, substantial declines in this species are not surprising. In addition to water temperature and seasonality (Ketchum et al. 2014), our models also revealed the importance of El Niño activity in driving the relative abundance of scalloped hammerheads at Cocos Island. During El Niños, scalloped hammerheads are thought to shift their distribution, either into deeper waters (Bessudo et al. 2011) or away from the equator (Lea and Rosenblatt 2000).

Silky shark, the other large pelagic shark that declined significantly, is the most commonly caught shark species in the eastern Pacific’s tuna purse seine fisheries (Watson et al. 2009).
Although silky sharks are listed as near threatened globally, they are considered vulnerable in the eastern tropical Pacific because of directed fishing for their fins and bycatch (Watson et al. 2009; IUCN 2014). From 1994 to 2004, capture rates of silky sharks as bycatch in purse seine fisheries in this region are estimated to have fallen by 50% (Minami et al. 2007). Although we examined silky shark presence instead of counts, our results indicate a similar dramatic decline.

Worldwide, mobula and manta rays are threatened by overfishing (Ward-Paige et al. 2013; IUCN 2014).
The population status of these species has been uncertain in the eastern tropical Pacific, but our results indicate dramatic declines in relative abundance of 78% and 89%, respectively. These declines likely stem from the multination fisheries in the eastern tropical Pacific because both tend to have a large home range and low rebound potential (Dulvy et al. 2014b).

Contrary to our initial prediction, tiger sharks showed significant increases in their odds of occurrence over time, arising from the abrupt increase observed since 2007 (Fig. 4b). It is possible that within this system of strong fishing pressure, tiger sharks have an advantage over other elasmobranch species because of their relatively high intrinsic rate of increase (Hutchings et al. 2012) and high post-hooking survival rate (Gallagher et al. 2014). Tiger shark population increases have been documented recently in the northwestern Atlantic (Baum and Blanchard 2010) and South Africa (Dudley and Simpfendorfer 2006). In the latter case these increases were attributed to competitive release. However, the abrupt increase in tiger shark observations at Cocos Island beginning in 2007 suggests that tiger sharks have simply moved to Cocos Island and established long-term residency there. Even though tiger sharks are a pelagic species capable of long migrations, recent evidence suggests that some individuals may display year-round residency at isolated reefs (Werry et al. 2014). The estimated increase should thus be interpreted cautiously because it may better reflect tiger shark movement than population trends.

Also contrary to our initial hypothesis, we observed a slight increase in the odds of occurrence for whale sharks at Cocos Island.
There is, however, large interannual variability for this species; its odds of occurrence at Cocos Island appeared to spike every 3 years (Fig. 4j). This suggests that Cocos may be a stopover for whale sharks moving to feeding or mating grounds (Hearn et al. 2013). Our results are in contrast to documented whale shark declines elsewhere in the world, which have resulted primarily from overfishing (IUCN 2014). Although whale sharks are protected under several international agreements, this species has continued to decline in many places (IUCN 2014).

We had expected that smaller sharks (whitetip reef) and bottom-feeding rays (eagle and marble rays) would experience increases in their relative abundance because of mesopredator release, but all 3 species instead declined greatly in relative abundance. This is likely due to a combination of other predators (Galapagos, tiger, and blacktip) increasing in presence, thereby changing species interactions, and illegal fishing activity within the Cocos Island MPA (Baskett et al. 2007; Arias et al. 2014).

We initially hypothesized that reef-associated sharks (blacktip, Galapagos, and silvertip), because of their high site fidelity, would be better protected by the Cocos Island MPA.
Our results are consistent with this hypothesis for both blacktip and Galapagos sharks, but silvertip sharks declined over time. Silvertip sharks may be in direct competition with blacktip and Galapagos sharks, which may explain why the latter 2 species increased at the same time as the recent severe declines in silvertip sharks occurred (Figs. 4e, f, and g). Additionally, increases in the presence of blacktip and Galapagos sharks could be due to the Cocos Island MPA working effectively for these largely reef-restricted species.

Despite substantial declines in 8 shark and ray species we documented, Cocos Island continues to be hailed as an example of a successful MPA and aworld class location for viewing large numbers of elasmobranchs (Friedlander et al. 2012; Edgar et al. 2014). This suggests a problem of shifting baselines, with recreational divers failing to recognize how much of the megafauna at Cocos Island already has been lost. Moreover, while many divers are excited by the increasing number of some larger elasmobranch species (i.e., tiger, blacktip, Galapagos, and whale sharks), these shifts reflect the changing community assemblage that has occurred at Cocos Island over the past 21 years and are not necessarily an indication of the MPA’s effectiveness (Baskett et al. 2007). It is unclear if the current dynamics of the Cocos Island elasmobranch community are simply indicative of a long transient response following creation of the MPA (White et al. 2013). Although management efforts have increased in the past decade, illegal fishing still occurs within the island’s waters (Arias et al. 2014). It is unclear if the Cocos Island MPA is even properly designed (Botsford et al. 2003) to protect such large and wide-ranging species (Hooker and Gerber 2004; Gr¨uss 2014). 

Conservation efforts at Cocos Island cannot be focused simply on expanding the protected area (Arias et al. 2014); rather, efforts should be put toward increasing enforcement and management (Kelaher et al. 2015). Costa Rica’s efforts to increase their MPA coverage are admirable, but the establishment of MPAs cannot be the end point. Explicit plans and dedicated funding for monitoring and enforcement must be in place to prevent the creation of a network of paper parks. These plans need to include using both theory about MPAs and empirical data (White et al. 2011). Further, there must be stronger penalties for noncompliance with MPA rules to offset the potential gains of illegal fishing (Arias et al. 2014). We found that data collected by divemasters can be a reliable way to discern trends in relative abundance. We recommend that monitoring and enforcement of Costa Rica’s MPAs be increased substantially and that international environmental NGOs and foundations contribute to these efforts. Such efforts are urgently required if Cocos Island is to recover its elasmobranch populations and claim its status as a truly successful MPA.
Wow - again!
I love Cocos and have been there many a time - initially in 1982 guerilla-style, later with the venerable Victoria af Carlstad, then with the (deservedly) infamous Inzan Tiger and finally, on Avi and Yosi's fantastic Sea Hunter - so I'm personally definitely not suffering from shifting baselines but on the contrary have witnessed most of the described changes. 
In the early 80ies, the biggest Hammer schools comprised thousands instead of today's hundreds of Sharks, one would see huge Silvertips on nearly every dive, there were squillions of Whitetips, dozens of Marble Rays and very frequent Mobulas and Mantas, the latter especially during the El Niño years where the Hammers would be far and in between, and very very deep. But there were indeed no Tigers despite of reliable earlier sightings by Hans Hass and the legendary fisherman Zane Grey.

Back then there was no GPS, and LORAN did not reach the island.
Thus getting to Cocos required good weather and good skills with the sextant, to the point that the fishermen from Puntarenas would only dare to mount sporadic convoy-style expeditions that obviously exerted a substantially lower impact on the Fish population. That all changed when GPS was released to the wider public and the rest, as they say is history - albeit certainly not in a positive way!

But I'm certainly digressing.
Epic paper, and huge kudos to the Undersea Hunter Group for having started this way back then when nobody cared, and for having persevered for so many years!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Stanley and Samu Shark diving!


Stan and Samu have revisited Shark Reef.
Last time was in 2009 when they shot a stellar reportage to commemorate the then International Year of the Shark and the Fiji Shark Conservation and Awareness Project.
And they haven't dived since!

Stan kept posting and Samu, taking images - so there.
Stan's posts here, here and here - Samu's pics here. And here's the video - just to show you what somebody with less than 10 dives and who hasn't dived in 6 years can do with a GoPro!
Provided he's on our dive! :)


And here's our PSA from 2009.
For remembrance's sake and because I'm still proud of it!

Johann about Shark Provisioning!

But first.
Mike did not set up BAD but only became a shareholder later, after bailing them out following a shareholder dispute. And Mike did not set up the Shark dive on Shark Reef.
The dive was already in existence but the site was not protected.
Mike mediated the talks between the Fijian government and the village of Galoa that led to the establishment the SRMR, a locally managed MPA, and where BAD were simultaneously appointed as trustees and the only dive op allowed to conduct baited Shark dives there.
Last year, the SRMR was then designated Fiji's first National Marine Park.

Also, Rusi and Manasa are not BAD's only Shark feeders.
They are the original feeders but since then, we've trained several new feeders among which Rusi's son Mavoa and Manasa's son Tumbee.
But the gist of the story is correct! :)

But I'm digressing.
Johann is an experienced Shark diver and knows what he's talking about. Of course there are localized effects but the principal statement as I see it is
Si l'activité est bien gérée et j'insiste, si elle est bien gérée, il n'y a pas de risques majeurs pour l'homme.
Echoed by Rick who correctly states
Hand feeding data from the studies that have been done do not show any long-term changes in behavior. There are temporal changes in activity around feeding, but after feeding sharks appear to go back to biz as usual. I'm not an apologist for shark feeding... I remain skeptical as well. But the data to date does not appear to indicate negative behavior change IF STRINGENT PROTOCOLS ARE FOLLOWED.
As people are regularly and painfully reminded of, it's not WHAT you do, it's HOW you do it!
And I repeat my assertion that Shark dives may well be safer than normal dives, this because we in the industry know of the risks and are extra vigilant!

Bravo Johann, nice job! :)

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Vaquita - it' not gonna be easy!

Read this.

Yes as always it is complicated.
All-the-more, huge kudos to the Mexican authorities for having initiated their rescue plan. My sources also whisper that the SSCS may be pondering to try and help by stationing a vessel in the Northern Sea of Cortez. If so, well done and godspeed - tho I fear that persuading the authorities to deputize a pirate ship filled with amateur do-gooders will require some major skills!

Great to see that after all the talk, there is finally meaningful action - so here's to it translating into progress on the ground!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Pitcairn protected!


Read this and this - background here.
I'm a big fan of Matt Rand, and it's great to see him doing what he does best = helping turn big visions into reality.
Like I said, Pew are very good at what they do!

And the FSM fiasco?
We shall see shall we not! :)

Forrest Galante - disrespectful Moron!

Bullshit story here.

Oh yes - he's boasting about that shit!
Riding video here - original media Scubazoo which if true would really be highly, highly disappointing.
What the fuck!
And no, I really got nothing else to say.

PS - Martin here.

Coral Bleaching - have we dodged the Bullet?

Temperature anomaly map - you can clearly discern the track of cyclone Pam - source.

It sure looks like we have!

Have a look at the forecasts here and here.
This is quite possibly also the consequence of cyclone Pam having sucked away so much heat from the SoPac - but it sure appears that the area of biggest concern has shifted way North towards the equator where over the next months, it is expected to extend first to Kiribati and then, to the Galapagos and the Gulf of Panama.

Not good.
But I'm sure you can forgive us for breathing a sigh of relief!

But the Fat Lady hasn't sung quite yet - so fingers crossed!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New Zealand - pilfering GWS!

Story here.


Randy Jordan, protecting Sharks!


Check out the video on Martin's blog.

It really beggars belief.
Why a Shark diving operator could ever do this and on top of it, think it was somehow cool to have a pal film and then post it on social media will forever elude me.

This is deeply repugnant, and shameful.
Pity they've only fined him - like I said, they should have shut him down.

And to my diver pals in Florida.
You really gotta stop giving this troglodyte your business. 
Bravo Martin for having preserved the evidence.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Shark Research and Conservation in the Dominican Republic!

OK, here goes.

I must say that I was initially mightily confused.
The indefatigable Susana of Save the Sharks wants to start this project in the Dominican Republic, and is soliciting funds via this Indiegogo campaign.
At first glance, it is all rather, for lack of a better word, vague - but having talked to her and especially, having rekindled some of my rusty Spanish in order to read the Spanish synopsis, it appears that the project comprises the following.

There is no proper fisheries management in the Dominican Republic and as a consequence, the Sharks are severely overfished, and in dire need of help.
Susana and co have come up with this plan of action.
  • They want to finish off an existing project to protect a Mangrove habitat that acts as a Shark nursery in the vicinity of Estero Hondo where there is already a marine mammal sanctuary.
  • They then want to expand the protection to several other similar locations throughout the Dominican Republic.
  • They want to establish a program with the locals in order to monitor Sharks, but also to monitor the protected areas and any activities that may impact Sharks.
  • They may want to tag migratory Sharks in order to research their movements within Dominican waters.
  • They want to produce a film about the project.
  • They want to conduct presentations about their project both locally and internationally
The team is comprised of Susana, Lee as a videographer, researcher Guillermo and Manuel from the DR. Apparently, the local Government and local University professors are all for it.

And for all of that, they are asking for a paltry 5,000 bucks to get things off the ground.

Susana - is the above correct?
If so, it's certainly ambitious and will require a lot of meticulous project management - but it is a good thing and certainly worth investing a bit of money into. Later on, I anticipate that it will get MUCH more expensive - but by then there will hopefully be an established track record and a detailed plan of action.

Long story short?
I approve - go get 'em Tiger! :)

Vanuatu - Urgent Help needed!

Before and after. Being an urban setting, this far from the worst - Source.

It is much like I feared.

The situation on the ground is really very very bad.
Among many, read this, this and this, and watch the videos, e.g. the second one here. Those people in the outer islands live subsistence lives and are among the poorest of the poor, and had little to start with - but now they have lost everything: their homes, their crops, their belongings, even their sources of drinking water.

Here is a list of orgs that accept donations.
Please, if you can, give generously.
And don't only think about money - clothing and household items go a long way in helping rebuild lives.

Thank you.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sustainable Tuna?

Great job by Greenpeace!

So here is your Tuna Shopping Guide.
Great service to the public, and because it promotes sustainability, great contribution to Tuna conservation via proper fisheries management, too!

And if so, why does this continue to be anathema - and by extension, why are we not promoting the notion of sustainability in ALL Shark products!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Attempted Bite !

And here we go again.

This is, undoubtedly, Tiger Beach.
And this is the direct consequence of all those idiots, charlatans, media whores, whisperers, warriors, men and girls and whathaveyou that claim to be dispelling the myth by suggesting that those large predatory Sharks are completely harmless.

They are not.
They are not puppies that only want to hug, or whatever, but instead dangerous and potentially lethal wildlife. As a minimum, give them the fucking respect of acknowledging what they are!
And incidentally, this is precisely why we have our procedures, and why we will never negotiate with the adrenaline hunters and the over-eager photographers!

Anyway - watch.

PS - Pete Thomas, with erroneous interpretation here - but thanks for the shout-out! :)
PPS - stupid video here. No it is NOT mistaken identity and no, I am NOT taking aim at Jimmy who is a friend and whom I respect very much!

Uprising 2015 - Video!


Well done!

This is really nice.
Not only the images and the editing, once again courtesy of David Emery - but it's also really good of manger James to have included images of all of his staff!


Congratulations Silio!

For you fans of the BAD boyz.

Silio is now our first home-grown dive instructor.
That's a huge achievement for the then jobless boy that came to us as a trainee from Papa's church group in 2008. We're extremely busy running courses, and this will go a long way in safeguarding a secure future for his brand new little family.

Needless to say that we're all very proud.
Huge congratulations!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Does Fish belong on the Menu?


Remember the 30%/70% solution I mentioned here?
Right on clue, here comes this paper assessing the status of  global capture fisheries and global aquaculture - read it! 
Long story short: contrary to what the doomsayers would want us believe, the Armageddon is not upon us. Instead, there has been progress, some of which remarkable. Yes there are of course challenges, but they can certainly be overcome. And when it comes to capture fisheries, the solution is obviously sustainability - and of course, those mega-MPAs people are talking about!

It is nothing but the elitist supercilious clap trap of the privileged, and it continues to anger me whenever I read it.
I mean, seriously, just look at what agriculture and urbanization have done to our own terrestrial biota! All the future population growth, and that of the individual ecological footprints is going to happen in the developing word, and to suggest that we continue promoting those failed policies, and clear away and reticulate ever more wild habitat is just simply stupid and reckless.

Food will have to be a mix - and Fish will certainly be a part of it.
Anyway, nuff said!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pam - Vanuatu!


First images from the capital Port Vila.

This is a proper town with reinforced structures.
There's nothing like that on the outer islands, and chances are that people have lost everything.
Stories here and here.

The relief effort should get under way shortly.
Please do consider making a donation.
Thank you.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Pam - Port Vila!

Source - click for detail.

This is absolutely devastating.
God have mercy on those poor souls.

Troglodyte Operator convicted!


Watch this.

That would be this dude.
I of course bemoan the Florida Shark feeding ban - but the Law is the Law and like I said back then, as long as the protocols remain so poor, the ban is probably the best solution. Story here.
And in the meantime, the Bahamas are laughing all the way to the bank!

Oh - and have you seen this from Hawaii? 

Hooking Great Hammerheads - two!

Interesting tag - are they any good? Source.

Remember this kerfuffle?

It once again undermines how the Hammerlabs are trying to minimize the impact of catching those endangered and extremely fragile GHHs.

Quite impressive - thanks for sharing!

Pam - new Track!

Source - click for detail!

So, here it is.

Pam is now a Cat 5.
That's the highest category - but it is still intensifying further as it soaks up heat from the ocean.  It will be sitting well West of Nadi by this evening and then slowly wander off. The way it looks, the heavy rain will have stopped by tomorrow noon but we'll still be experiencing some heavy northerlies and then north-westerlies for a bit longer.
Animation here, Pacific forecast map here, Fiji here, FMS warnings here.

And yes we are well, thanks!
But our thoughts go out to Vanuatu that is truly experiencing a Black Friday.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cyclone Pam - Rain Rain Rain!

Source - click for detail.

Poor Vanuatu is copping it big time.

And Fiji is now being rained in.
If you look at the picture, you can see how the rain is being dumped as the clouds cross Viti Levu's mountain range, meaning that down here, we're relatively unaffected - but like anticipated, the rest of the country is being inundated, with the Yasawas, the West and the North bearing the brunt of the deluge.
Pam is now a Cat four and will undoubtedly intensify further.

Best of luck everybody!

FSM Shark Sanctuary - two!

Source - bravo Timbo!

Well well.

Leo Falcam Jr. does not like to listen to expert opinions.
Interesting. Where I come from we say, la gallina che canta ha fatto l'uovo - but that's, possibly, besides the point.
The point is that maybe he should.
Maybe, had the Office of the President been a tad more receptive and professional, the sanctuary legislation would not have been such a fiasco. Maybe, the FSM President would have been spared the embarrassment of proudly announcing that Micronesia's livestock would henceforth be fed with the likes of shredded Whale Sharks, Turtles, Dolphins, Albatrosses, Mantas and the like, and that it would be the fishermen's patriotic duty to procure them.
I mean, seriously, what were they thinking!

Because the experts had warned them.
An anonymous benefactor has shared this remarkable document - click for detail.

This is really as good as it gets.
All I did bemoan is there, and then some: the need for an explicit fishing ban, the problems with the mandatory bycatch provisions and also the observation that the final legislation differs considerably from what had been announced - even the fact that it is in direct contradiction to the national Shark sanctuaries, something that had escaped me!

So WTF has happened?
Of course the FSM are a sovereign entity that can legislate whatever they want provided that it is legal - which incidentally, this probably is not. Maybe they did change their mind and did not know how to tell - but if so, were the member States consulted before this policy reversal?
Yours truly however smells shenanigans, likely some nefarious special interest (WESPAC is apparently well ensconced in Pohnpei) that has managed to torpedo the whole exercise at the eleventh hour.
Or was it merely abject incompetence?
Leo? :)

Leaves this problematic press release.
No, sorry, stating that the measure prohibits the commercial fishing and trade of sharks and rays and their parts is simply not true, and it is grossly misleading the public. Having observed the pewculiarities of that org and noticed the degree of pico-management whereby nothing is being said let alone published without multiple vetting, and where transgressors are being summarily executed regardless of rank and past achievements, this is definitely not the proverbial "unfortunate misunderstanding" and as such, it is highly disappointing. I understand the diplomatic need to make the best of a bad lot - but an outright lie?

So Pew, it appears, are having their own PIPA moment.
Yes it's rather embarrassing - but to the gloating NGOs I say, beware of glass houses and stones!
Like in the case of the PIPA that is now apparently fully implemented and holding (! - yes, and my prediction was wrong!), this can be turned into a win - so how about instead of sniping and god forbid, penning public letters and other stupidities, you earn your salaries and work on solutions instead!

Plus, those NGO wars are simply pathetic.
Instead of engaging in those petty tribal wars (notable exception, since he is being explicitly mentioned: Ian Campbell of WWF!), how about remembering that there are many paths towards the goal of reducing Shark mortality. I can understand that the fact that Pew do not need to go begging and generally do whatever they please is making others look ineffective by comparison, and is generating a lot of envy - but let's face it, they are very good at what they do, and their continued successes are impressive!

Plus, those sanctuaries are certainly not the final solution, either.
IMO they are merely indefinite Shark fishing moratoria, stop-gap solutions that need to lead to other, more holistic approaches - which Pew is incidentally already tackling via its Global Ocean Legacy projects!
Yes having disproportionately fished away the predators, it is OK to selectively protect them - but of course, species protection does not work in the long term. Shark populations cannot be expected to thrive as long as we continue to obliterate their prey, destroy their coastal nurseries, and boil and pollute their habitats to smithereens; and the Mantas will have no chance if we don't stop acidifying away the Plankton.

Remember the principal issues?
Plus, fishermen got to live, and those ever-increasing legions of people got to eat, too - especially considering that at least in theory, seafood is a renewable resource!
I hear that smarter minds are already looking into that.
There is talk about a mix of 30% mega-MPAs (which IMO appear only possible in non-populated areas, or places that are highly dependent on tourism like Palau) and 70% managed fisheries - and if so, there is ample scope for everybody to cooperate and at the same time, to go absolutely nuts on one's preferred solution!
As long as the populace feels adequately represented by snowball-throwing clowns, the task at hand is hard enough without those pathetic internecine fights - and yes that would be ME talking, but contrary to YOU, I'm not being paid for doing the right thing! :)
So be nice to each other!

Yes I'm certainly digressing big time.
The issue at hand is obviously, how to correct this abject PR fiasco - and I'm very confident that like me, you're equally really looking forward to act two! :)
So, to paraphrase poor maligned Ian, here's to this not being seen as "job done", but as "job started"!
To be continued no doubt!

Pam - Cat Three!

Amazing - watch it by zooming in here!

Anyway, the sucker has hardly moved.
As it starts to track South and then South-East, it will undoubtedly intensify and although it is highly likely to pass to the West of Fiji, the West and the North will be particularly affected. Plus, there is now cyclone Nathan close to Queensland that is expected to reverse its course and start tracking West, i.e. towards us.

So let's continue being vigilant!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

GHH attacking a Diver?

Stuart Cove hides a dead barracuda behind his back – the hammerheads were easily fooled! 
Right. Source.

Watch this video.

Is that an attack?
Or rather, is that an idiot teasing a Hammer by not handing it the bait?
Gee, thanks Stuart Cove's, way to go - for the idiotic showboating, for the idiotic headlines it has generated and for rubbishing the reputation of both Bimini and its GHHs!

PS - Felix here and Martin here!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Vaquita - bravo Mexico!

Source - read it!

Read this.

It is good news.
Don't know whether at this stage, it may already be too late - but it's a valiant effort that needs to be applauded.
Contribution by the breathy Whale whacks - a big fat zero. Rather than helping to halt the demise of a critically endangered Cetacean that is rapidly going extinct right on their doorstep, they continue to squander all that energy, emotions and money on non-issues.

And so it goes.
Like I said, this is happening on their watch - and their collective apathy is increasingly hard to fathom and smacks of total hypocrisy.
Nuff said.

Cyclone Pam!

So here it is.

You can see it churning away right here.
My prediction stands, and you can see the anticipated tracks below. But as you can see, it's a real monster and we will certainly be affected - so keep consulting the forecasts!
FMS warnings here.

You know what to do!

Monday, March 09, 2015

Micronesia Shark Sanctuary - Bycatch Retention?

I gotta be careful with this one.

So, first things first.
Huge congrats to Pew, the Micronesia Conservation Trust and a plethora of individuals and smaller orgs for having assisted the Congress of the Federated States of Micronesia, and President Mori in finally passing the "Shark Bill" that establishes the Micronesian Shark Sanctuary. Together with the sanctuaries in the Marshall Islands, Guam, the Marianas and Palau, this represents the largest area of shark protection in the world.

But this press release irritates me, and I cite.
Importantly, the new law also allows all types of by-catch, in addition to sharks, to be utilized in the future. This provision alone has the potential to help boost the economy, while at the same time create a new industry for the local production of livestock feed, which should cut down on the import of livestock feed and create job opportunities.
The announcement years ago stated that the sanctuary would make it illegal to fish for sharks and outlaw the trade in shark fins, this release states that the law includes the prohibition of possessing, handling and selling of shark and shark fin in all of FSM’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and the Shark Defenders educate us that a shark sanctuary is a national-level fishing regulation established through decree, legislation, or regulation amendment, which bans the commercial fishing of sharks throughout a country’s full exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

And the reality, i.e. the "Shark Bill"?
I've gone digging and have found it here.
I've read it more times than I care to count and I still cannot find any explicit Shark fishing and/or trading ban. Instead, the way I read it and assuming this is the entire, final document (is it?), it does not explicitly ban the fishing of Sharks (and if so, can this be called a sanctuary?) but only mandates that if any Shark is caught alive, it must be returned to the sea alive whereas dead Sharks may not be discarded but must be instead landed whole, thus outlawing finning. And if so, at least according to what I can see, any "legal" by-caught Shark and its parts including the fins can then be possessed and traded freely.
Or am I missing something here - maybe a subsequent regulation or the like?

Here's the good news.
By mandating that all Sharks be landed whole, it is assured that managers are able to assess Shark mortality and possibly enact better management measures; and the wire leader ban offers some degree of protection against incidental bycatch.

But is that "bycatch" really gonna be accidental = unwanted?
If the FSM establishes that livestock feed industry, it will require a regular supply of by-caught Sharks and Fishes - meaning that the fishermen will be incentivized to ensure that all Sharks are being caught dead, and to lie by claiming that all landed Sharks were caught dead even when they may have been caught alive.
Yes the wire leader ban offers some degree of protection - but this only in determined situations and with determined species, see e.g. here. Plus, there's those deadly purse seines and gill nets, there are those Shark lines, soaking times can be extended to make sure the Sharks drown - in brief, there is plenty of scope for shenanigans.
And to make things worse, there will now be legal and illegal Sharks and fins that look identical and that will make enforcement practically impossible.

Long story short?
Like I said, I gotta be careful as I may have misinterpreted the document, or there may be other provisions I ignore - but if this is like I unfortunately suspect, then matters are far from ideal and the legislation presents titanic challenges.
For this Bill to result in an effective reduction of Shark mortality, there would have to be a) an explicit ban on targeting Sharks, b) a fin trading ban, to remove the biggest economic temptation, c) further reaching bycatch mitigation measures and d) full observer coverage on all vessels in order to reduce cheating.
Regarding the latter, the reality is that whereas observer coverage in the purse seine fishery is good, that in the longline fishery is dismal, see here, with no significant improvement in sight.

I trust this is not simply a cold blooded exercise in BS - but still, this smells like somebody has taken his eyes off the ball whilst at the very last minute, some fisheries interests have smuggled in language that will effectively torpedo the whole exercise. With all the above caveats - this is not even a SINO, this is just simply not a sanctuary to begin with!

Not impressed, sorry.
Or am I missing something here?

Cyclone - off the Charts?

Click for detail!

Take a good look at the above.

Yes that would be a jaw dropping 872 millibar!
I've reached out to the weather geeks and this is one of the possible scenarios - but even the most conservative forecasts anticipate that this is going to be a monster, with the consensus hovering around 950 hectopascal by Friday as it tracks down past Fiji.

My forecast from last week appears to hold.
But those cyclones are known to change track, and a direct hit would be simply devastating - so do keep your eyes glued to those charts! You will be able to observe the cyclone developing and then starting to track South in real time here - and here is the forecast for the Pacific Islands whereas the forecast for Fiji is here.
Expect serious stuff to start happening by Wednesday afternoon, this especially in the West and North, and to start dissipating by Saturday. When it comes to us down here, I'm anticipating periods of rather massive rain but comparatively moderate winds first from the North and then stronger from the NW.

Good luck!

Friday, March 06, 2015

Hawaiian Monk Seal and Mantas!


This is cool.

And yes, a Monk Seal beats a mermaid anytime!
Story here.


Fiji - next Week's Weather!

Source - click for detail!

Looks like we're in for trouble.

The forecasts still anticipate a very nasty cyclone.
But as you can see from the Pacific Islands Chart at the top, the eye is anticipated to track south between Vanuatu and Fiji, meaning that both countries and possibly even New Caledonia will experience strong winds and torrential rain but still be spared the worst, see at the bottom. And like I said, this would siphon off a lot of heat and probably mitigate the anticipated Coral bleaching.

We here in the South of Viti Levu are relatively sheltered.
But 945 hectopascal are simply massive, likely a Cat 4 to 5, and any deviation towards Fiji from the anticipated track would be extremely alarming.
So keep your eyes glued to those charts!

You know what to do!

Source - click for detail!

Marine Dynamics joins GSD!

Funny how this has come about.
GSD membership is usually bestowed by invitation, and I happen to be MD's patron - and I can tell you that what really did pique my initial interest in the company has been Michelle's gleeful deconstructing of all those moronic opines posted on that GWS Facebook page during the South African OCEARCH fiasco!
But of course I've since done my due diligence, and the overwhelming majority of the opinions by people I respect agree that this is quite probably the only South African GWS operator that truly walks the talk and that fully matches our three guiding principles of safety, research and conservation - and this in spades!

For the mossbacks among you - this is André's original company.
Via the Dyer Island Conservation Trust he has founded, Wilfred has since turned it into an integrated tourism and research facility, much like BAD. Should you want to know more about the pleathora of rather stellar initiatives they are involved in, please consult MD's website, maybe best starting with this page.
Very impressive indeed!

Anyway, a big welcome aboard!
And it's obviously not over yet - next stop Micronesia! :)

Thursday, March 05, 2015

David - almost there!

It really looks like OSAM is nearing completion.

Read this.
For once, I really got nothing to add except for, godspeed, fingers crossed and all!
This is an equally titanic and crazy undertaking, and I do wish that all that hard, hard, lonely work will finally earn David the recognition he so amply deserves. The movie will be stellar no doubt - light years ahead of that recent shallow, rushed and solipsistic crap many of us have had to recently endure.

Anyway - enjoy!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Woodpecker - Photoshop?

Yes, obviously, the pics at the bottom are - but the first one is genuine!

Or not? :)

Shark Diving Tourism - Paper!

Absolutely agree! 


I say, this is as good as it gets!
After years of frustration at the various stupidities about our industry that have been proffered by an motley array of researchers and other bloviators with little personal experience but obvious agendas, here comes a paper written by people who being Shark divers have been there and done it, and obviously understand what they are talking about.
And... nice to see the frankly surprising cooperation! :)
Required reading!

The global code of conduct and scoring system?
Absolutely agree! 
Developing a meaningful code that is not too generic will be a huge challenge in view of the highly diverging circumstances in terms of legal framework, location, species etc. - but on top of the general statements (= e.g. don't harass), one could envision sub-categories (e.g. provisioned or not) that could lead to the necessary specificity. Plus, there will have to be considerable industry buy-in - so guys, talk to us!
And when it comes to the rating which I strongly advocate, the challenge will be to avoid the obvious issues of liability for the rating agency - but again, it can, and should be done.
And guess what - people are already working on both issues! :)

So, does this paper make me 100% happy?
Of course not! :)

Precautionary approach?
Like I continue to state, we've been enduring decades of unsubstantiated slander despite of having built one of the safest tourism activities anywhere - and I am really sick an tired of that.
Our track record speaks for itself and with that in mind, I do not at all buy into the recommendation that we need to adopt a precautionary approach on all those assumed potential risks pending more in-depth analysis by the intelligentsia.
E.g. Ben and Cristina have been hand feeding those Reefies for what feels like time immemorial, and this with zero documented side effects and owing to their protective gear, zero incidents. With that in mind, it makes zero sense for them to discontinue anything only because somebody proffers some hypothetical caveat - but at the same time, should somebody come up with hard evidence, I am equally convinced that Cristina would be the first to implement the necessary changes!
So once again - stop speculating but show me the fucking evidence instead!

Or the bloody ban of flash photography!
This stupidity has been the "mainstay" of sustainable Whale Shark snorkeling procedures, see e.g. here. Methinks it was likely once developed by some tree hugging do-gooder and then simply copy/pasted uncritically, and it has been my pet hate ever since. 
I mean, seriously: eye trauma? How does the intensity of an electronic strobe compare to those gasquillions of bursts of UV-saturated sunlight that are hitting the eyes of a WS when it basks at the surface? 

And no - regulation is the very last resort!

But yes I'm digressing.
Not 100% happy - but 99.5% I am!
This is spot-on both in scope and content, and I cannot but applaud the authors for an exhaustive, thorough, unbiased and what is more important, accurate analysis of the issues at hand.

Bravo - job well done!