01 December, 2008

Join the Dive Expedition to Tubbataha Reefs!!

This coming April 24 to 29, 2009, The Frog Man, in conjunction with DONSOL ECOTOUR, is launching a special diving expedition to the Tubbataha Reefs National Park.
Tubbataha Reef is found at the southernmost part of Palawan Island, Philippines and is composed of two attols with such rich marine life that this reef has become known across the world for the best diving that anyone can possibly experience!With 10,000 hectares of coral reef lying at the heart of the Coral Triangle,the Tubbattaha Reefs Natural Park as no less than:
- 573 species of fish
- 379 species of corals (about half of all the coral species in the world)
- 11 species of sharks
- 12 species of dolphins and whales
- nesting Hawkbills and Green Sea turtles
The Tubbataha Reefs can be visited strictly by liveaboard and are best visitedfrom March to June because of the clear skies, calm waters, and excellent visibility(30 to 40 meters).
This coming April 24 to 29, Diaries of a Frog Man and Donsol Eco Tour invites you to join in the Tubbataha adventure!
The Expedition Fleet's Oceanic Explorerhas been chartered by Donsol Eco Tour's mother company Fun Dive Asia, and we still have some slots open for more guests.
Deluxe : $1556 (twin share basia)
Standard : $1445 (twin share basis)
Inclusions:
- Unlimited Diving
- Tanks, Lead Weights, and Weight Belt
- Dive Master services
- Accommodations (1 of 2 on Twin Share)
- Full Board Meals
- Tourist Conservation Fees
- Souvenir Video
- Fun Dive Asia T-shirt
For details on the boat, please visit:
The live aboard departs from Puerto Princessa, Palawan and lands back there, so interested participants will need to book their Manila-Puerto Princessa-Manila trip.
Below is a high-level plan for the trip which should provide a good idea of coverage and also help with making the necessary travel arrangements in and out of Puerto Princessa:
DAY 01 MANILA/ PUERTO PRINCESA
- 0800H Depart Manila for Puerto Princesa City via PAL, arrive 0915H
- 0915H Depart Manila for Puerto Princesa City via Air Phil, arrive 1025H
- Transfers to port
- Briefing of Boat Manager/ Dive Master
- Afternoon at leisure
- 1800HLift anchor for departure to Bird Is., North Tubbataha (11 hours)
- Accommodation & meals onboard Explorer

DAY 02 NORTH TUBBATAHA
- Arrive at Bird Island, North Tubbataha
- Dive Sites: Shark airport, washingmachine (larry’s reef), seafan alley
- Whole Day Diving at North Tubbataha
- Night Dive

DAY 03 NORTH TUBBATAHA
- Whole Day Diving at North Tubbataha Dive Sites: Rangers station, Amos Rock,
- Night Dive
- Early morning departure for Light House, South Tubbataha

DAY 04 SOUTH TUBBATAHA
- Arrive Lighthouse, South Tubbataha
- Whole Day Diving at South Tubbataha
- Dive Sites: Black Rock, North wall of south Atoll
- Night Dive

DAY 05 SOUTH TUBBATAHA
- Whole Day Diving at South Tubbataha
- Dive Sites: Lighthouse, Delsan Wreck, Staghorn Point
- Late evening departure for Puerto Princessa City


DAY 06 PUERTO PRINCESA/ MANILA
- 0630H Arrive Puerto Princesa City
- Breakfast onboard
- Farewell program
- 0800 H - Transfers to airport/hotel
The above is subject to change depending on weather and current conditions.
If you are planning to join do let me have your response ASAP by e-mail:

18 November, 2008

Identity Crisis - Part II







This is the second part of a post kindly made available by Lene and Claus Topp (click on the link as their website is certainly worth a visit!!!) whom are representatives of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and whom have kindly provided this post which was previously published in Australasia ScubaDiver Magazine.

Click here to read Part I of the same.


Dots in Cyberspace

Using small, waterproof cameras, we’ve been in the water all morning taking photos of whale shark dots. Our BIO, Embet, has taken us around in his outrigger. He’s a good freediver and manages to take precise, useable photos. Later the same day we venture into an Internet café in the small city of Pilar – which has broadband – about half an hour from Donsol. Youngsters occupy most of the computers, giggling as they search Web sites for photos of their favourite pop stars and beauty queens. We’re there to upload photos of shark dots to the ECOCEAN library. Hours later Brad looks up from the computer. “We have a match!”
he exclaims. The very first uploaded photo from the local trainees turns out to be a match with a shark seen last year. This is fantastic news, a smidgen of proof the same sharks return to Donsol every year.
The next day the yellow DHL box finally reaches Donsol. Our tags have arrived. There’s still a lot to do. The tags need to be activated and the spear gun needs to be adjusted. We’re finally on the water again but encounter new problems. The spear gun is too weak to penetrate the thick skin of the whale sharks, and the tag just floats back to the surface. A bigger gun is finally found and the tagging resumes without further problems. Seven tags are placed behind the dorsal fin of as many sharks. Then we wait.

Wising Up

After nearly two seasons of photo ID’ing sharks in Donsol we’re starting to get a picture (no pun intended) of the individuals that visit. There are now more than 1,350 photos of individual whale sharks from around the world in the ECOCEAN library. As of June 2008, 196 individual sharks have been confirmed in the Philippines with only a handful from outside Donsol, and there have been 50 sightings of specific sharks in Donsol. New sharks and more matches are added every week. Though we don’t know the number of sharks that visit Donsol yet, we do know that many sharks return to this area to feed. Jurgen Freund took the first shark photo uploaded to the ECOCEAN library in 2003. This shark, “P001,” was seen twice in Donsol in 2008. The second upload, “P002,” is even more interesting as it was a photo taken in 1999; this shark was seen three times in 2008. All these “resights” make it even more crucial that we determine where the
sharks go when they leave. This is where the satellite tags come in. Unfortunately, a couple of the tags from the initial group came off much too early. This isn’t a surprise, but frustrating nevertheless. Of the remaining sharks, a small group stayed in the Donsol area much longer than expected – perhaps indicating that some sharks aren’t just short-term visitors to these waters. And then there was one. One whale shark in particular took a longer journey, providing us with a wealth of information. After leaving Donsol’s shallow, 30°C waters it moved to deeper waters, diving all the way down to 800m at times where temperatures dropped to only 5°C. The shark’s voyage ended in Taiwan. There the tag was released from the shark and popped up to the surface, where all its valuable information was sent via satellite. Sadly, the whale shark might have met its end in Taiwan. The country has recently banned hunting whale sharks, but it may be a while before enforcement is in place – and it’s well known that whale sharks are hunted in many other parts of Chinese waters. The knowledge gained from tagged sharks might be an important piece of the puzzle when trying to convince other countries to end the hunt. Our work with the whale sharks of Donsol will continue over the next few years, and hopefully we’ll generate more knowledge about these enigmatic fish. We need this knowledge to be able to save these gentle sharks – for their own sake and for the sake of places like Donsol, a community where a symbiotic relationship between man and animal has resulted in a unique concern for a fish


All pictures appearing on this post have been taken by Lene and Claus Topp whom retain all copyrights

09 November, 2008

Identity Crisis











The gentle giants of Donsol (Philippines) are not new to the Diaries of a Frog Man following the posting of Tourist Power - Discover Donsol (Philippines) by Jessica Noelle Wong of Donsol Ecotour.

They are now back thanks to the selfless work and dedication of Lene and Claus Topp (click on the link as their website is certainly worth a visit!!!) whom are representatives of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and whom have kindly provided this post which was previously published in Australasia ScubaDiver Magazine.

This is the first of a two-part series. Warmest and most sincere thanks to Lene and Claus Topp for their contribution.

Identity Crisis:
“Doesn’t it hurt them?” asks one of the older men standing in the small building. Like the rest of the fishermen at this meeting in the Philippines’ tiny town of Donsol, he is a Butanding Interaction Officer (BIO), guiding tourists who want to swim with whale sharks – locally known as butanding – in the coastal waters. World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF, wwf.org) representatives from Denmark and Philippines as well as Australian whale shark expert, Brad Norman, have called for a meeting with the BIOs to put forward a plan to uncover where the whale sharks go after they leave Donsol. It’s a mystery the 40 BIOs want to solve too. It’s odd to hear fishermen ask after the wellbeing of a fish, but it illustrates the relationship this local community has with these spotted giants.
Whale sharks, after all, create a large part of the income for the people of Donsol, and everybody wants the whale sharks to return for the next season. One of our plans is to fit satellite tags on a group of whale sharks. It’s created a Catch-22 though. WWF earlier helped Donsol’s tourism operators implement a set of rules related to whale shark interaction – one of which clearly states that sharks cannot be touched – and now this talk about shooting a metal anchor under the shark’s skin. Even though the BIOs themselves are pretty good at breaking these rules, they have a point. This is a special case; a compromise is needed. WWF needs to attach the tags to the sharks to be able to follow their migration routes away from Donsol waters. After we assure the fishermen it’s for a good cause, and that the thickness of the shark’s skin means the tagging feels akin to mosquito bite on a human, they agree to the plan. The information the tags might give us is crucial to their survival, and the survival of whale shark tourism in Donsol.

Unsolved Mystery

Whale sharks have always come to Donsol. At first they were considered pests, ripping fishing nets apart and scaring people because of their size. Though they were fished in other parts of the Philippines, whale sharks were never hunted in these waters. The fishermen tell us their fathers never told them how to kill these huge animals, and they thought the meat was inedible. In the late 1990s the community realised it had a treasure out there in the murky greenish waters – a treasure a lot of people are more than willing to pay big bucks to see. The whale shark was declared a protected species in the Philippines in 1998, and whale shark tourism in Donsol began in earnest. The first year saw around 200 visitors to the sleepy town, the next year more. Accommodation was needed and homestays opened in Donsol town and simple resorts mushroomed along the coast. In 2001 the first Butanding Festival was held. Now a colourful annual event, the festival honours the whale shark with an art festival, fair, and town hall dances. The highlight is the parade. Villagers spend weeks creating their life-sized versions of the whale shark; several dozen floats participated in last year’s “floating” parade. Today the number of visitors is closer to 10,000, and the revenue derived from tourism has elevated Donsol from a fifth-class municipality to a fourth-class, a steep jump in just 10 years. Whale shark tourism has created more than 300 jobs, and 200 fishermen now have seasonal employment as a result of this tourism. Not all is rosy, though. While a lot has been done to develop this tourism, very little has been done to secure the source: the whale sharks. The sharks come to Donsol every year to enjoy the nutrition from the plankton-filled water, but there are a number of unanswered questions. Not just about Donsol’s whale sharks, but whale sharks around the world. How many sharks visit Donsol? Do the same animals return year after year? Where do they go after Donsol? How long do they live? When do they mature? Where do they breed? Even though the ancestors of these sharks can be traced back to the Jurassic period, our knowledge about their lifecycle and movements is still as murky as the water off Donsol’s shores.

Waiting Game

Our tags have been stranded in Manila customs. Days pass. Fortunately we can spend our time on other activities, like training the BIOs. The satellite tags will show us the movements of the sharks over larger distances, but we also want to know how many sharks visit Donsol each year, and if these are the same sharks year after year. And Brad Norman’s just the person to help. In 2006 he won the prestigious Rolex Award for Enterprise for his work with photo identification of whale sharks and building an online photo database at ECOCEAN (ecocean.org). In Donsol we want to start a sub-library, so these trainees need to be able to run the whole process. Drawing a square in the air he explains how the photos need to be taken. “It must show the area behind the fifth gill, up to the back of the shark and down to the belly, and preferably the left side,” he says. The photos can then be uploaded to the ECOCEAN library, where his staff will process them for matches. The pattern of dots on a whale shark’s body is like a human’s fingerprint. Each shark has unique markings, and via a patternrecognising computer programme all new photos are scanned, most obvious spots highlighted and marked, and these markings then matched with pre-existing photos on the database. Other characteristics such as the size, gender, and distinguishing scars are also registered.
To be continued...........
All pictures appearing on this post have been taken by Lene and Claus Topp whom retain all copyrights

30 October, 2008

09 October, 2008

A Provoking Comment

Stephanie recently posted a comment on the Diaries following the posting of "Sharks with an Image Problem".
Her comment read:
"That's all well and good but Lawrence Groth's company Shark Diving International was also behind U.K's Endemol production Killer Shark Live three years ago.I am not sure how his shark diving organization gets held up as one of those who are changing the perception of sharks. It starts by NOT allowing and enabling crews like that with show titles designed to perpetuate the myth of sharks as killing machines."
I thought this comment deserved more attention and shared it with Michael Aw, Director of Ocean Geographic, whom had actually been a guest aboard one of the boats of Shark Diving International while taking pictures aimed at changing the public opinion on Great Whites (GW).
Michael has kindly and promptly provided some comment which I post below:
"Dear Marco,

I am not aware of Endemol scam until the post of Stephanie; well done, we need more ‘watch dogs’ to keep us on toes. Absolutely appalled by the news media, reality programs like Survivor, Discover Channel which continue to portray sharks as senseless killers. In truth, sharks are really clever, capable of learning and they do learn quickly. I can only report my observation – unlike other operations I have observed elsewhere whereby GW are wrangled to surface for that gruesome jaws agape image to satisfy egoistic photographers which feel the constant need to wank, I did not see such operation with my trip with Lawrence on the Solmar V.

I know that many operators spend time teasing GWsenseless with some dead fishes and wrangled them to the surface for the blood thirsty shot to for their photographer and video client! It is not a natural behavior of sharks but rather a human induced one. It is silly for media to promote conservation of sharks and at the same time portrayed sharks as fearsome beasts of the ocean.
We need to break this hypnotic hold of the ill-informed mind perhaps, jarring awareness of the foolish and barbaric image of sharks created by an ill educated generation. Our campaign must appeal to the compassionate nature in the same human being who ignorantly believes the lies about shark. Absolutely agree with Stephanie that responsible shark dive operators must REFUSE the custom of photographers, media that comes on shoot that perpetuate the distorted image of sharks.

Michael"
Many thanks to both Stephanie and Michael for their terrific input

Killing Whales for Scientific Research?






During a recent visit to Japan I came across a few restaurants and food shops specializing in the sale of Whale meat.


In Japan 14% of the Japanese are against whaling. Only 11% are for it. The remaining 75% has no opinion.


It is really hard to understand what kind of political pressures can allow a government like the one of Japan to allow the slaugther to continue. Perhaps the same kind which allow the US government to maintain a very open policy on guns control?


What I am trying to say is that instead of trying to stigmatize one particular government for lack of action in areas such as the preservation of human lives (US) and the preservation of whales (Japan), we, as individuals, should do more to shake up into participative action the sleepy majorities whom, while appearing not to have any particular opinion, are actually basking in total ignorance about the consequences their lack of opinion and involvement can mean for all.

05 October, 2008

Lost Divers


The following post is courtesy of DAN AP and provides us all with some useful tips and reminders about simple gear that, when carried along on a dive, can make a serious difference to the outcomes of a potential emergency situation:


We have all heard about divers Richard Neely and Allyson Dalton and their recent incident in Cairns, so I won’t rehash the facts.


John Lippmann (Divers Alert Network Asia Pacific - Executive Director) had several conversations with the couple, both DAN Members, following their experience during which they advised they had the following safety devices on them during their incident: o 1.2m Safety Sausage o Whistle.


Allyson and Richard normally dive with a flashlight but as they were travelling space and weight were limited and so they made a decision to leave the torch at home. This incident provides a timely opportunity to review the safety devices that DAN considers an essential part of every divers kit.


Safety Sausage/SMB


A safety sausage/SMB is recommended on all dives. They are light, fold down to a small size so don’t take up much space, are easy to deploy and effective in gaining attention. However, length is an obvious issue. In Richard and Allyson’s case the 1.2m Safety Sausage they deployed was not effective, so size is a definite issue! DAN recommends a length of at least 1.8m. In addition to standing up out of the water to attract the attention of boats, they can also be laid flat on the water to signal aircraft, adding to their overall value.


Dive Alert/Other Compressed Air Signalling Device


Dive Alert is an air driven sound alert that attaches to a divers inflator hose. It is loud and some can be used underwater as well as on the surface. However, these are useless if there is no air left to draw from.


Safety Whistle


Safety whistles can be useful in alerting your dive boat or companions if something untoward happens in the sea. Safety whistles can equally be useful if a scuba diver suddenly becomes injured or disabled and there is no way to get help. Safety whistles can work in and out of the water and some can be heard as far away as 1.6km. Whistles, however, will lose their effectiveness if the boat you are trying to gain the attention of is upwind and/or has the engine on. But given their small size and light weight they should be an essential part of your kit.



Torch/Strobe


The small glow in the dark from a torch could prove to be a lifesaver. A strobe is a high-intensity white light that flashes at regular intervals from 50-70 times per minute. Both are very practical for a diver as they are available in a small size, are affordable, and make an incredible difference in terms of alerting your position and existence. Strobes flash upwards as well as around, which will ensure you are seen even in rough seas.


Mirror/CD


A mirror or CD will work to catch sunlight and attract attention to you. These are small and light to carry and can prove effective in drawing attention to your location, so they should accompany you on every dive. Of course to be effective you need to create a visible and ongoing reflection of light in the direction of your dive boat and/or potential rescuers.


Reel


A small wreck reel or explorer reel can be used for navigation, towing a flag & staying connected to your dive buddy if you end up in a stranded situation together, so should also be incorporated as part of your safety kit.


Dive Knife or EMT Shears


Effective if you need to cut through line or if you find yourself tangled in something. These above items will ensure you are prepared for whatever situation you may be faced with. As a bonus they are small in size, light in weight and therefore a logical addition to your safety kit.


Don’t get caught out. Make sure you have each of these elements in your safety kit. Finally, it is essential that you know how to use your safety equipment to maximum effect. And don’t be shy in using your devices. Deploy your safety devices immediately should you find yourself in a potentially dangerous situation. Don’t assume you have been seen or think that you may be overreacting to a situation. Wouldn’t you rather laugh at your overreaction from the safety of your dive boat or in the bar with your buddies once on shore?

DEEP Indonesia 2009


Promoted as the most spectacular marine show in Indonesia, DEEP Indonesia is
getting ready for its third edition. The 3rd Show is set to take place on the 27-29 March 2009. Jakarta, as the capital of the world's largest archipelago country will once again host what is the biggest international diving, adventure travel and water sports exhibition in the country.


Can You Help With Our Jellyfish Investigation?

The follwing post is in support of the Divers Alert Network (DAN) Asia Pacific reserach on the increase in the number of dangerous jellyfish and related accidents particularly in waters around Thailand and the Philippines:

There has been an increase in reported serious jellyfish stings in Thailand, and possibly elsewhere in Asia. We have received several great photos of jellyfish, some being very dangerous species found in Thailand and the Philippines. It is important to track where these creatures are. To this end, DAN AP encourages any underwater photographers in Asia, especially Thailand, to photograph any jellyfish they see on a dive and email a copy of the photo to us. This will help to increase our understanding and to better catalogue the potentially dangerous species present in parts of our region and so help to establish appropriate prevention and management strategies. The photos can be emailed directly to johnl@danasiapacific.org.

Many thanks for your help with this important project.

Hot Tuna.... The Sequel






A few days ago I was sleepless in Tokyo. Rather than staying in bed I decided to take a look for myself at the famous Tsukijii Central Fish Market on Tokyo Bay. Being very early in the morning I did manage to take a sneaky look into the tuna auction and could not help it but remember some of the extracts from "Hot Tuna" which was part 3 of the 5-part article "Hominids" published on the Diaries of a Frogman by Patrick Schwartz of Scuba Seraya last June.


For your information "hominids" features in this month Ocean Geographic issue with a new title "Wired for Extinction".


All pictures on this post were taken by Marco Gorin whom retains all copy rights.

A Plea to Help Save Sharks in Costa Rica

The following post is an alert received by Rob Stewart the director of the now very famous environmental movie Sharkwater:
Help us end illegal shark fishing in one of the last sanctuaries for sharks on earth. Cocos Island, featured in Sharkwater, is still under intense pressure from illegal fishing. The problem no longer lies in the lack of policy to protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the problem is a lack of enforcement. Sharks are still being finned because the is little public pressure to force the government into action.

Friends of mine have created a project that will combat the issue by educating Costa Ricans, particularly children. They plan on creating a permanent Cocos Island exhibit in San Jose, the nation’s capital. This exhibit will educate Costa Ricans about the importance of sharks as apex predators, as well as the significance and beauty of their extremely remote national treasure. Cocos is a 36 hour boat ride from mainland, making it very difficult for anyone but the extremely wealthy to visit. People tend to only protect what they love and understand, and this exhibit can bring the beauty and value of Cocos to the people, creating public pressure.

This project is one of 25 being voted on by American Express cardholders. Only the most popular project will receive funding. Please join us in voting for this project. The contest is free, but we have only have a couple more days before the contest is over. For more information and to VOTE, go to this site:

Kindest thanks, Rob Stewart

02 October, 2008

How Far would You Go?


This is an extract from a recent newsletter by Sea Shepherd which was passed on to me by my friend Patrick of Scuba Seraya in Bali. Sea Shepherd is currently advocating and taking serious action against shark finning:


".....Shoppers on Regents Street in central London likely got more than they bargained for last week. On September 3rd in a dramatic illustration of how sharks are caught and killed for their fins, Alice Newstead, performance artist and former employee of LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, voluntarily had her skin pierced with actual de-barbed shark hooks and hung suspended from the ceiling in the window of one of LUSH's busiest shops for 15 minutes.

As a crowd gathered to watch in horror, Newstead said, "I am doing this because the demand for shark fin soup and other shark products is wiping out the shark population." Unlike the 100 million sharks who are brutally slaughtered each year for their fins, Newstead commented, "I will be left with scars, but the wounds will heal....."

Jacks of Balicasag - Philippines


This picture has been kindly contributed by Mauro Resnitzky a good friend of mine, a gifted artist, an avid diver and underwater photographer. He retains all copyrights to images appearing on this post. Thank you Mauro! We want to see some more!!

Sharks with an Image Problem...

I believe it is true that starting with the release of the movie JAWS back in the 1970's the image problem for sharks went from bad to worse. Just look around you: Honestly, have you ever seen any representation of sharks that looks remotely friendly? Normally it is wide open mouths and baring sharp triangular teeth! Well, at least it was until recently.
Something is definitely changing for the better and some of the leading activists and people involved in the movement to bring the truth about sharks to the surface and to the masses have started realizing that to gather momentum we need to get over that well rooted sense of fear of sharks.
What if pictures of a smiling Great White started appearing on the covers of magazines?
The following is an extract from an e-mail from Michael Aw, Director of Ocean Geographic:
"......I have just returned from an awesome Great White shark shoot at Guadalupe; without a doubt the location and operation is the best in the world – much much better than South Africa and South Australia. The operation was run by Lawrence Groth of Shark Diving International – it was his 98th trip and his success rate - 100%. For years I have been chasing for a picture of a smiling Great White; you know those gruesome bloody jaws agape pictures of Great White – very popular with magazines and TV are mostly induced and teased by sadistic shark wranglers… these pictures give sharks, especially the GW a very bad reputation. In real life, GWs are cool, cautious, caprice as leopards, cheetahs, lions and likewise very powerful formidable predator. See my pics at -www.michaelaw.com/masite2006/Great%20Whites/index.html; en route to Guadalupe we encountered half dozen Blue Whales resting on surface and on the way back hundreds of common dolphins. You know I will be going back. If you wish to join me, let me know ASAP......." The pictures on Michael's site are an absolute MUST SEE!!!
This is a tremendous effort in support of the shark cause. As responsible divers and caring people we should help stop perpetuating the myth of the man eating machine by boycotting anything that remotely portraits shark in that manner, by educating kids to the truths of sharks, by making our voices heard when the media tries to exploit that old blood-hungry sharp toothed image which actually haunted me until the day I actually found myself face to face with one of these wonderful creatures in their own habitat!

04 September, 2008

Tourist Power - Discover Donsol (Philippines)


This post was kindly contributed by Jessica Noelle Wong of Donsol Eco Tour in the Philippines. Thank you Jessica!! Jessica is directly involved in this terrific operation which has great ramifications into diving, preservation and development both below and above the waves!!


Tourist Power:


If there is one place that must be visited at least once in your life this would be Donsol, Sorsogon, Philippines. The Whale Shark, the biggest and probably the gentlest fish in the world, migrate to Donsol waters from December to May annually. Although there are other areas worldwide known for Whale Shark sightings, Donsol has marked itself internationally because of the fact that the largest known congregation of Whale Sharks worldwide is in Donsol. Imagine swimming beside a fish that is 18 meters (approximately 60 feet) long and 40 tons heavy? Now, imagine swimming with a school of fishes that big! That is what Donsol has to offer. There is an indescribable thrill when you catch yourself beside this magnificent creature that glides in the water with a certain grandeur of timeless beauty. Without any words, the Whale Shark tells you, I have been here for millions of years, respect me...admire me...be awe stricken. And while beside his grandness, one cannot avoid but just bow in humility.

The Whale Shark (Rhincodon Typus), is said to trace back 245 to 265 millions of years back to the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. The Whale Shark has managed to survive until this time and age, but little is known about them and these creatures are currently marked as endangered. Several organizations like the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and ECOCEAN are active in finding ways to protect and preserve these animals.

Generally speaking, Whale Sharks were unharmed in the Donsol. The hunting of these Whale Sharks were rather controlled until the 1990s when there was a sudden demand for Shark meat and Shark fin by the international market. In 1998, the slaughtering of Whale Sharks in Donsol and around the Philippines somehow caught media attention. The news attracted both potential hunters, but also tourists and conservationists. The attention that was brought to Donsol paved the way for the protection and preservation of the Whale Sharks in Donsol. WWF, the Philippine Department of Tourism, and the Donsol Local Government has since then been working together to push for eco tourism in the area. Among the actions done was the administrative order giving Whale Sharks protection from all forms of harm, the municipal waters of Donsol was declared as a sanctuary, and the set up of the parameters for responsible Whale Shark interaction for tourists.

These protection, preservation, and ecotourism efforts have shown its success. In the past 5 years, the popularity of Donsol internationally has increased, the number of tourists that visit Donsol continue to double year after year, and more importantly, the number of Whale Sharks in the area are increasing, there is proof of revisits from the same Whale Shark, and there have been more active studies on these animals.

I go on at least one holiday every year, and sometimes I wonder if going on holiday is a selfish act for self enjoyment. I honestly ponder on that thought and try to rationalize my actions and my (over)spending. I think to myself, why is it important to be a tourist? In Donsol’s case, each tourist has contributed in his/her own little way and has brought back hope and life to these creatures. When visiting Donsol, the locals have a level of respect for the tourists because with them, the locals have found an alternate source of livelihood in tourism and have veered away from the thought of hunting the Whale Sharks for livelihood. And in the same regard, these Whale Sharks have given each tourist, an experience worth a lifetime.

What else is in store in Donsol?
1. Diving at the Manta Bowl, “Manta Ray Capital of the Philippines”, the habitat of the world's biggest ray.
2. Diving at San Miguel and Ticao Islands. Only an hour’s boat ride from Donsol’s shore, get stunned with the beautiful fish and coral life. Known for great for macro encounters and overall beauty.
3. Trekking up Mt Mayon. Mt Mayon is an active volcano, famous for its perfect cone shape. Spend a day or two trekking up the majestic mountain.
4. Island Hopping – Spend a day at the beautiful white sand beach of San Miguel Island. Enjoy the day snorkelling, swimming, kayaking or just wading by the pool created by the beautiful waterfalls.
5. Firefly Watching in the evenings is a must! The Donsol River is lined with mangroves lined with trees overflowing with Fireflies. Especially on a starless and moonless night, let these Fireflies light your path.
6. Spending your early morning or late afternoon, River Kayaking down the Donsol River, is a great way to get exercise and to enjoy the creations of mother nature.
7. City/Provincial Tour – Hop into a hired vehicle and ask the driver and/or tour guide to take you cultural and historical sites in the Bicol province.
For more information, visit http://www.donsolecotour.com/.


Editor's note: Also check out how to adopt a Whale Shark.



The picture appearing on this post was made available by Jessica Noel Wong and was taken by Gutsy Tuason.

02 September, 2008

Diving in Koh Tao






Koh Tao (Turtle Island) is located off the eastern shore of the Gulf of Thailand. Not far from Koh Samui and Koh Pha Ngan. It offers some of the best diving you can hope for in the waters of the gulf and, while it offers a good selection of dive sites, in my opinion, it cannot be put in the same league of sites on the west coast. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly given the rapid development on these islands, in spite of its name, over the five days of diving in the area, we did not spot a single turtle. It ultimately all depends on the kind of diving one likes and, in my personal opinion once again, although the island in itself offers plenty opportunities for rest and relaxation, diving can be either extremely exciting or extremely boring.

The dive sites the local dive operators refer as Local Sites tend to be fairly shallow dives. Some with nice coral formations and the usual suspects swimming by. Ideal for beginners or for divers who feel most comfortable at shallower depths. We dove with Planet Scuba which, like with other operators during peak season, appeared to have a tendency to revisit a limited selection of local dive sites like Japanese Garden, Twin Rocks and Mango Bay all located on the north west side of the island thus leaving us ignorant of any other local site of which the island of Koh Tao, judging from its map, appear to be rich of. So please do bear this in mind when reading this post as I can only base my judgment and thoughts on what I was ultimately able to experience. However, I don’t mean to sound negative as, in fact, there were also some exciting dives to be had at Sail Rock, which lie at south east of Koh Tao not far from Koh Pah Ngan, and the Chumphon Pinnacle (see previous post). Given their respective locations in more open, deeper waters, both can offer a greater variety of depths and sights including caves, chimneys and sharks (grey reef, black tip, bull and the occasional whale shark). The dives we conducted at the Chumphon Pinnacle were worth the entire trip to Koh Tao as far as I am concerned and will certainly provide me with the incentive to go back again with the view to explore more of the dive sites the island has to offer.

We stayed at the Sensi Paradise Resort just off the piers at the Mae Haad Village. A very good location for divers as it is located at walking distance from all of the major dive operators offices and piers saving considerable time to and from diving excursions. A very relaxing set up with impeccable and extremely friendly service by both the local and the “imported” Burmese staff.

The entire trip was arranged through the Bangkok offices of Planet Scuba whom also have an office / dive shop in the center of Mae Haad Village in Koh Tao. They run a smooth operation and try their best to keep to their promise of keeping dive groups small and visiting sites off peak times which can make a huge difference in the quality of the experience. Their diving staff is friendly and caring, the only sour note being one member of their office staff who seemed too concerned with being paid for extras immediately, in spite of the fact that we had already booked and paid for a full 10-dive package, instead of trying to blend into the relaxed / care-free / fun attitude divers normally enjoy and look for. In any case, when seeing other dive operators boat loaded with tens of divers all heading out for the same dive sites at the same time, I was prepared to put personality issues aside and rate Planet Scuba as a good diving operation in Koh Tao.

There are two ways to reach Koh Tao. We flew with Bangkok Airways from Bangkok to Koh Samui on a 06:00 am flight to catch the 08:00 am Lomprayah high speed catamaran which put us at Koh Tao at about 10:30 am. The same operator can also be used making use of a bus service from Bangkok to Chumphon and on by ferry to Koh Tao which is a slower yet cheaper option.

All pictures shown in this post were taken by Marco Gorin whom retains copy rights.



29 August, 2008

The Moment I was Hoping Would Never Come....

This post has been kindly contributed by Ken Chan, a veteran diving instructor currently based in Hong Kong and one of the founding members of the Sandy Bottoms Divers Club. If you live in Hong Kong or if you are just passing by and have time for a dive or two you should definitely check them out:
The Moment:
Last Saturday I was out diving, the first time out at sea for my two open water students.
Dive one was on a sandy bottom, max depth 6 mtrs and bottom time was 24 minutes.
The last exercise was a “5-point-ascent”. My students performed it very well, a textbook ascent. Though the fin-kick wasn’t that beautiful, hands were up, air was released from their BCDs as they went up, no faster than 18 mtr/min, all the while turning around and looking up.
Just as we were about to reach the surface something looked wrong. One of my students stopped kicking and started going down again with head slumped down.
I grabbed the BCD, brought the diver up and established positive buoyancy while telling the other student to hold on to the dive marker next to us. I called the student’s name but got no reply, there were no signs of breathing either.
My student had blacked out and stopped breathing less than 30 cm from the surface!

I started Rescue Breaths and called/signaled for help in between. (Wow was I glad there were no other divers on the surface*) Just before help arrived, my student regained consciousness. Very weak and barely breathing, but conscious.
I removed weight-belt and BCD and towed my student to the boat. Another instructor and the boatman took care of the other student and equipment respectively.

My student recovered on the boat while the other divers were returning to the boat. Once back in Sai Kung, it was straight to the hospital.
As the doctor and nurse did their tests, I expressed my thoughts regarding an excessive amount of CO2 as a possible cause. They put her on oxygen to flush-out any possible excess CO2. I then called DAN / DES for some more input. Could it be as simple as hyperventilation leading to hypercapnia? Doesn’t that happen to free-divers only? DAN / DES advised to contact the HK hyperbaric chamber, just in case bubbles were a factor, which I did. Not much help there. Once they heard we were already in a, public, hospital I was told just to wait to see what the doctor would say and do.

Results from the blood-tests showed a high CO2 level, likely b/o hyperventilation and/or shallow breathing.
My student would be fine but was kept overnight for observation none-the-less. The next dive with my student has already been planned.


I now think that maybe one, or more, of the fatal accidents in HK with divers going missing and found drowned at the bottom of shallow water might have had hypercapnia as a cause. Little or no experience (in low viz) lost from your buddy and low light are enough to get one to hyperventilate/breath very fast.
I learnt a number of things, though not exactly the way I had in mind to learn about this. At least all my training paid-off.


What to take from this?
- Our practice, at SBD, of only taking as many students you can see (as you swim behind
them) diving, is spot on.
- Never wave your arms for attention, unless in an emergency. Local divers seem to
habitually surface far away from their boat and then wave for the tender to pick them
up. As I was downwind from the boat I could not be sure that I could be heard correctly
on the boat so “waving” was important to get the message across.* Hence I was glad no
other divers were on the surface.
- Know your rescue skills and practice those skills.
Thank you Ken - - - - The Frog Man

27 August, 2008

Join the Elysium Expedition

The following is an alert for interested experienced divers. Information in this post was made available by Michael Aw of Ocean Geographic For more information contact info@ElysiumEPIC.org
Project Abstract

In 2010, the heroic spirit of Sir E. Shackleton lives on through a new team of explorers: To follow his footsteps, not for the glory of being the first to cross the Antarctic or the first to climb the highest mountain but to produce a momentous documentation of one of the most beautiful places on Earth. This production will serve as a gift for future generations with an imaging epic that guarantees to inspire, invigorate and challenge for preservation of planet earth. Elysium is a project that draws upon the world’s finest nature artists and scientists to document the vista, flora and fauna of the Antarctica Peninsula and South Georgia. The area is regarded as one of the most enchanting wilderness regions of our planet, yet volatile and under severe threat from the warming of the world’s climate. The production promises the most awesome and most stunning audio visual interpretation ever seen of Antarctica.
To achieve the desired outcome, some of the most world’s most celebrated explorers have been selected for the principal team which includes David Doubilet, Jennifer Hayes, Wyland, Amos Nachoum, Heather Angel, Leandro Blanco, Jonathan Shackleton, Göran Ehlmé, Paul Nicklen, Michael AW and Jamie Watt.
Opportunities now arise for individuals who wish to be part of an expedition among the giants of twentieth-first century explorers in a benchmark project that will leave behind a legacy of achievement and discovery for this generation and the next.
Download Abstract and to join the expedition

24 August, 2008

Shark Humor


Since I have just written a post on sharks this vignette sent to me by my friend Christian is quite timely!!!

It is true! Diving at Chumphon Pinnacle is a lot of Bull….Sharks!!

A few months back I read a little insert in a regional diving magazine announcing the discovery that what were believed to be large Grey Reef Sharks at the Chumphon Pinnacle dive site, located in the waters between Chumphon on the mainland and the island of Koh Tao in southern east Thailand, were, in fact, Bull Sharks.

I must admit I totally forgot about that reading until boarding the dive boat bound for the Chumphon Pinnacle this past Tuesday. On a fine August morning the Chumphon Pinnacle can be a very busy dive site with half a dozen boats neatly lined up at the only two mooring lines but on a windy afternoon with choppy sea you can end up having the site all to yourself with a few privileged companions. I got to experience both.

The top of the pinnacle lies at about 15 meters deep and with a sandy bottom at just over 30 meters the site provides for easy navigation. However, visibility can get rather poor.

On our first dive, past the frenzied traffic of divers ascending and descending the mooring line to and from the top of the pinnacle and on the way to the sand field at the bottom I caught (unfortunately not on camera) one of the most fascinating sea life scene for me so far. A large Barracuda swam by me and turned to hover just above my head before darting forth and, with a loud SNAP!! sound, cut in half a passing fish of which it quickly ate the first half. Within a split second a second large barracuda dashes for the second half followed at great speed by a shark. SNAP!!! goes the Barracuda and off goes the shark having missed his chance for a tasty morsel. Some action!!! It happened so fast I really cannot tell what kind of shark that was.

A different story at the bottom where the very distinctive, stocky shapes of Bull Sharks roaming the sands restlessly and rather uncaring of the daring few divers getting close enough to get a good look through the silt hovering between 25 and 30 m, confirmed what I had been reading months earlier. Magnificent creatures which seem to be wanting to make a clear statement about their name and status in the shark family. Below is a video of one of the Bull Sharks taken on the first dive at Chumphon Pinnacle.

The second dive at Chumphon Pinnacle was a different experience as, while we were the only one diving on the site last Thursday afternoon, visibility at the bottom was rather poor and the Bulls would just materialize in front, behind or on your side 2 or 3 meters away from you and even then only as a majestic silhouette. The second video below is very poor in definition but serves to provide an idea.

More on Bull Sharks at the Chumphon Pinnacle here.

All videos and pictures below are taken by Marco Gorin whom retains copy rights.

13 July, 2008

Call for Action

This is the fifth and final installment of Hominids, the unedited version of the award winning article by Patrick Schwarz, founder and managing director of Scuba Seraya Resort in Tulamben (Bali - Indonesia).

The edited version of Patrick's article will appear to start with in the October issue of the Ocean Geographic Journal by the Ocean Geographic Society which is well worth checking out regardless. Worth considering subscription at the Premier level to have exclusive invites to OG's expeditions and events!!!
Call for Action:
So where does one start? Continue talk (and write) until our grand children find themselves hanging on for dear life on a sea spanning the globe devoid of fish on man made flotation devices as depicted by Hollywood in the movie Waterworld? Stop eating seafood altogether? Boycott Japanese goods? Certainly, though nothing comes to mind that would truly make an impact. Thinking about it more than fleetingly is enough to throw one into deep depression since there is no solution in sight. The organizations at our disposal – governments, NGOs, corporations and their CSR, the UN – are all about talk and mostly ineffective, restrained by political and capitalistic constraints. The cost to run the UN, for instance, to tax payers is mind boggling. Its programs are by its nature too concerned with problems directly relating to humanity to make truly significant efforts with problems concerning the very base on which humanity depends, the environment. Technology may be of help to a point, but that would require a level of coordination I believe humans are not capable of.
I was in a gloomy mood while thinking about nature’s doom some weeks ago when I sorted through periodicals along with paperbacks guests often leave behind at the resort when they check out. I was just about to toss a copy of The New Yorker into the round file, when, perhaps out of curiosity of what occupies younger American minds these days, I started leafing through it. A guy with long grey hair and drooping moustache caught my attention. “Naw”, I thought. The face reminded me of a wrestler I heard of some years ago who became governor of Oregon (or was it Utah?). Words like “asshole project” that stood out in the underlying text seemed to confirm this. Then I noticed that the guy in the picture wore a black jacket with four golden stripes and an anchor on his sleeve, and he stood in front of a big, interesting looking black ship with gold colour trim bearing the name Farley Mowat. Beneath that, more text stood out: “whales don’t die when we are around”, “whales are more intelligent than people”; “earthworms are more ecologically important than people”; “humanity resembles a virus, on the verge of killing its host, the planet”; “the indifference that people exhibit towards mass extinction of plants and animals”. It was an in-depth article on Paul Watson, one of the original founders of Greenpeace who later distanced themselves from him for being too radical. He set up the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society 30 years ago. Now, here is a man with a mission - a wild crusade rather - to save the oceans! And although he does talk a lot, speaking in candid language and unmistakable terms, he mostly acts. The article describes – besides the man himself – his almost pirate style forays into the Antarctic and the Galapagos marine park; his capability to weasel in and out of courts, getting away most of the time with what normally would be perceived as sheer acts of terror. Whether he has rammed and sunk 10 whalers as he claims, or 2 with 2 damaged as his opponents do, is irrelevant. Here is a man who knows it is late and goes out and does something about it and shakes up the talkers among us.
Watson’s thinking is perhaps best explained by quoting the following excerpt out of the New Yorker article, written by Raffi Khatchadhourian:
Watson believes that humanity’s impulse to organize its surroundings – no matter how benign–seeming or elevating – is inherently destructive. This impulse, dating as far back as the first hoe, has been considered beneficial, because people have assumed that altering the shape of nature does not have consequences, or because they have measured those consequences only in relation to how they affect humanity, or because they believe that they have a God-given right to do what they wish with plants and animals. Religion is an invention of an arrogant species that has spent too much of its existence attempting to remove itself from the animal kingdom”. This is why he chooses to call people Hominids
In the seventies, Watson became interested in the writings of Henry Beston, an early twentieth century naturalist, who wrote “The animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained.” He found similar ideas in the work of Henry Fairfield Osborne and William T. Hornaday, and in the Deep Ecology movement associated with Arne Naess, a Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer who argued that “no species was of greater worth than another”. Ecosystems should be protected for their own sake, not simply to benefit mankind. A “deep” ecologist would react like 5 year old Chaya featured in the Ocean Geographic Magazine’s inaugural edition when asked “What is in the Ocean?” and she replied that “…we look after the beach by cleaning it up so the sea creatures don’t get sick”. A “shallow” ecologist – and I am afraid that’s most of us – would say that we look after the beach to preserve it for future generations. Naess believed the two views can coexist; to Watson they are contradictory. There are only two currents that matter: anthropocentrism and biocentrism. They function like a Marxist dialectic: the anthropocentric view is dominant and amoral, fixated on the interest of one species only. It is inherently unstable, violent and therefore destined to collapse. The bio centric view, however, being held by a vanguard, is egalitarian and just. As it represents every specie’s interests, it will triumph.I got his point. Humanity will not survive as it will be unable to restore or even sustain its natural habitat if we don’t involve and respect all creatures equally. Among human groupings and believers, Buddhists are perhaps the ones closest to understanding this, though even they are not perfect, and they represent a diminishing minority. The more I think about it, I am unable to come up with even the slightest, most remotely feasible suggestion that might lead to a solution without brooding in utterly radical thoughts. Perhaps being a radical, even at my age, wouldn’t be such a bad idea, considering the magnitude of what is at stake? I don’t know. All I am sure of at this moment is this: I will never want anybody call me a Hominid.

07 July, 2008

Unmistakably Japanese

This is the fourth installment of Hominids, the unedited version of the award winning article by Patrick Schwarz, founder and managing director of Scuba Seraya Resort in Tulamben (Bali - Indonesia).
The edited version of Patrick's article will appear to start with in the October issue of the Ocean Geographic Journal by the Ocean Geographic Society which is well worth checking out regardless. Worth considering subscription at the Premier level to have exclusive invites to OG's expeditions and events!!!
Unmistakably Japanese:
Besides the regular slaughter of a thousand whales in Antarctic waters each southern summer, every January the bay at Teiji in southern Japan turns read with a flood of warm blood. Thousands of Bottle Nose Dolphins are being herded into the bay and their escape route back into the open sea cut off. There, “humans” slit their throats and awkwardly stab their chests in an often failed attempt to penetrate their hearts. Many of the Dolphins take hours to bleed to death.
I am not a sentimentalist. Pictures of dying, bleeding whales and their calves being towed up the stern-end ramp of a purpose built floating slaughter house and thousands of Dolphins bleeding to death shock, grieve, hurt and anger me no more nor less than any other warm-blooded being with a muscle beating inside that’s supposed to be more than just a mere pump. Yet these are emotions; feeble, finicky human notions that pass as quickly as falling stars in the night, latest by the time the next shocking news flicker up on our Sharps, Sonys, Toshibas, Panasonics or what have you. Sciences have come a long way over the last 3 decades. Their ongoing revelations necessitate an equally ongoing process of learning and re-thinking by all of us. It is scientifically proven that Whales and Dolphins are not just fish. They are extremely sensitive, intelligent, warm blooded mammals that have been around longer than we have. Take the x-ray of the fin of a Whale or a Dolphin and look at the bone structure; it is all too obvious to see where we came from. Take the countless – true – stories where Dolphins saved human lives. Or the proven therapeutic, healing effects swimming with and touching Dolphins have on humans. Or even that of a Whale re-surfacing a drowning snorkeller. Simply declaring anti whalers and opponents to the Dolphin slaughter sentimentalists totally misses the point.
Because of such indifference to new knowledge of these life forms, Japanese culture (to me) is an oxymoron. Japanese culture is based on Buddhism, the world’s most tolerant religion or philosophy. It respects nature and has finely tuned the ways and traditions how we humans relate to it and interact with it. Especially Zen Buddhism, the form of religion that is based on meditation rather than the mere study of religious text, produced a normally open minded, tolerant society. The Japanese view the world in dichotomies. They call it shikitari, which roughly translated means coexistence.
It is therefore especially difficult to comprehend Japans arrogance and official justification of the slaughter of Whales under the disguise of “research” and Dolphins as “inherent traditional rights”. This behaviour can not be condemned enough in the strongest possible language:
Whales and Dolphins are of superior, kinder and gentler intelligence that eludes us humans. Their slaughter is tantamount to murder. When the Japanese government tolerates, defends and even endorses these brutal mass murders that take place in the Antarctic and the Bay of Teiji, they behave no differently than they did in China and South-East Asia during Imperialistic times. The rest of the world has every right to protest and do whatever it takes to stop such irresponsible, ignorant and inhuman behaviour not fit for the 21st century.
To be continued with the 5th and final part... stay tuned!

29 June, 2008

Hot Tuna





This is the third installment of Hominids, the unedited version of the award winning article by Patrick Schwarz, founder and managing director of Scuba Seraya Resort in Tulamben (Bali - Indonesia). Recently Patrick was defined as a ‘harmonist’ who can win converts to the environmental cause, not from fear or misplaced sentiments, but on the premise of care, passion and compassion. I could not agree more with that!!


As someone of stature within the environmental and underwater journalistic circles put it: "It’s one of those articles that provokes the mind not into urbane or fashionable environmentalism, but the essence of ecology and the environment. We don’t need more elitist environmentalist whose actions only heighten the sentiments within their group; it does not win converts. In fact it loses them."


The edited version of Patrick's article will appear to start with in the October issue of the Ocean Geographic Journal by the Ocean Geographic Society which is well worth checking out regardless. Worth considering subscription at the Premier level to have exclusive invites to OG's expeditions and events!!!



Hot Tuna:


The world’s Tuna population is now so precariously low that I wonder when the day will come I will have to replace a favourite on our menu, Tuna fish sandwich, with jelly fish sandwich, as available catches keep diminishing. The Pacific Blue Fin Tuna is fast disappearing. It is probably extinct in the Atlantic by now. Even Japans fisheries department had to admit that they overdid it and cut catching quotas in the Pacific by half. Catches now primarily consist of Yellow Fin Tuna.
Antara, the official Indonesian news agency, recently released the following to the press: Bali province earned a total of USD 52.3mio from Tuna exports in the January-November period 2007, a 56% increase against the corresponding period of 2006. The value of Tuna exports during the first 11 month of 2006 stood at USD 33.5mio. The total volume in 2007 was 15,871 tons, up 75% from 9,064 tons the previous year. Bali is exporting its Tuna to China, Japan, the United States and Taiwan. Good news for Bali, then, it has a growing Tuna export industry, right? Wrong! What that report really says is this: Having seen some of the catches at Bali’s Benoa harbour (an awesome sight by the way) I would estimate that the average fish weighs in at approximately 30kg. In other words, while I was diving in the seas surrounding Bali getting all excited about occasional Tuna encounters (a really awesome sight) during 2006
and 2007, a staggering 830,000 of those marvellous creatures have been tricked and plucked out of surrounding waters, never to reproduce again. A small processing plant at Benoa harbour employs perhaps 200 workers earning IDR 800,000 (USD 90.00) a month. Even considering the fishermen’s income, the cost of boat charters, rentals, logistics, administration, overheads, taxes and levies, less than 5% of the export value remains with the Bali people. The price in the USA for yellow fin Tuna loins at present is around USD 34.00kg. Assuming Bali’s Tuna are all yellow fin and 35% goes to waste in the form of heads, bones, innards and fins, this corresponds to 7 to 8 times the export value, roughly USD 375mio if all 15,871 tons are sold at US market prices.
Bali’s Tuna exports are relatively small. Indonesia’s richest fishing grounds and probably the richest in the world, are in the Moluccas. Stunningly beautiful, tiny Kay Islands, a small archipelago in the Banda Sea, mere speckles in an azure sea surrounded by blindingly white sandy beaches, west of the Aru Islands (the natural habitat of the birds of paradise) is probably one of the remotest corners in the world imaginable that time seems to have all but forgotten. Yet it is now a base for a huge Thai fishing fleet, complete with docks, processing plants, cold storage, the works. It is all but a matter of time until these waters will be depleted just like the Gulf of Thailand. The value of fish caught in these waters goes into the billions, of which only the tiniest fraction benefits the Indonesian people, with the exception of course of those in the government that issue fishing permits. Where is Corporate Social Responsibility in the fishing industry?


To be Continued........


All pictures appearing in this post were taken by Marco Gorin whom retain copyrights.

23 June, 2008

Raping our Oceans






"Raping our Oceans" is part II of the award-winning masterwork titled Hominids by Patrick Schwarz of Scuba Seraya Resort in Bali (Indonesia). Just in case you missed Part I read it here.


This week I decided to complement Patrick's contribution with some of the pictures I took on my most recent trip to Bali. Stay tuned for Part III... coming soon!


Raping Our Oceans:


What personally angers me most and outright scares me is how humanity treats our oceans. 90% of the world’s original fish populations since the advent of industrialization have disappeared. Coral reef fish vanish along with their bombed out and poisoned habitats. Fish stocks are less and less renewed as their micro breeding grounds, the mangroves, are being eroded. Extinction of more and more species continues at an alarming rate. I see fewer and fewer sharks on every dive, and I am fully aware that this is not just a matter of perception, but in line with actual declining shark population estimates. Yet long line fishing for sharks goes on unabated even in designated protected areas in all oceans of the world. More than a hundred thousand shark fins continue ending up as a Chinese delicacy daily. While protection used to be at work with the cooperation of the Costa Rican government for the shark grounds in the Pacific Cocos islands, Taiwan has bribed Costa Rica with massive investments. Taiwanese long liners now find safe harbours in Costa Rica along with docking, processing and shipping facilities. Similarly, the protection of the Galapagos Islands fishing grounds is a subject of constant tugs of wars due to political bickering.
An alarming trend has started in the shark fins trade. They – the illegal fishermen, their mafia style middle men and high ranking organizers are aware of diminishing supplies. They utilize technology and are internet savvy. In his blog, renowned underwater photo-journalist Tony Wu suspects that the rich shark grounds at the Eastern Fields dive sight in Papua New Guinea that included guaranteed sightings of Hammerhead sharks, had been fished out in between dive live-aboard visits. They must have read on the internet where we visit, enjoy and photograph our sharks. Does the pursuit of the sport of the divers among us these days necessitate that we must act like spies, disguising where we shoot our pictures, and travelling to remote dive sites by pretending false routes, making sure there are no malevolent spotters in pursuit?
Perhaps most telling just how far shark-finning has depleted the oceans is the fact that they know that it is late, and that the end may be near, meaning there will soon be no more catch. So it is time to make a killing on the market with what is left; the savvy middle men have started hoarding shark fins like a high value commodity (remember Blood Diamonds?), waiting for prices to go up, as evidenced with the increasing number of warehouses full of shark fins and tightly secured in Asian distribution centres.


To be continued..........
All pictures appearing on this post were taken by Marco Gorin whom retains theis copyrights.

17 June, 2008

Hominids



Hominid is being kindly contributed by Patrick Schwarz, Founder and Managing Director of Scuba Seraya Resort in Tulamben (Bali).


It is the first part of a 5-part series which has won Patrick the "Underwater Photo Journalist Award" at the recent CTS 2008.


I have had the honor of knowing Patrick for sometime now. He is a visionary, a doer and ultimately a fighter who never gives up.


Hominids:


I was awoken the other day by an incoming sms alert my daughter had sent from half way around the globe. She wrote: As it was zooming by, a planet was looking at the earth and asked: “you don’t look well. Are you ill”? “As a matter of fact, yes” said the earth. “I am suffering from severe homo sapiens”. “Oh, don’t worry”, replied the planet, “that will pass”. More people than one would think now believe that we are about to ruin the very foundation that sustains us. Just the day before I learned that the European space agency and the Alliance to Rescue Civilisation will set up a colony on the moon where scientists will store human DNA with which one day our species could be revived. In Norway, the Svalbard Global Seed Vault opened on February 28 on the island of Spitsbergen. Its mission is to provide a safety net against accidental loss of diversity in traditional gene banks. Coral banks in several locations should one day enable us to “replant” lost reefs.
The year 2007 ended with a grand event here on Bali. More than 15,000 delegates from all over the world attended the UNCC meeting on global warming. Attendance was truly global. Among innumerable heads of governments, ministers and NGO (non government organizations) representatives, our (Swiss) Minister for the economy, Doris Leuthart, was here. Early into her new posting in what I take was a clever political move, she made it clear into whose portfolio environmental matters belong. Mainstream politicians and political parties increasingly embrace environmental matters, much to the chagrin of green parties everywhere, as this is a trend that is eroding their very raison d´etre.
Australia had a government change just before the event. The new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, signed the Kyoto protocol before his arrival on Bali. Al Gore, certainly the most outspoken heavyweight in matters of global warming, essentially came here to apologize for his country’s not ratifying it. Much impressed as I was reading his acceptance speech for the Nobel Price, I couldn’t help feel frustrated. The writing’s so clearly on the wall, yet there is still way too much talk only. While humanity bickers, nature suffers and temperatures keep rising. And as we now know, much faster than during any cyclical climate change ever before. The world’s ice caps are melting. The situation will not worsen in increments; once the white of the poles and glaciers diminishes and more and more heat from the sun is absorbed by the dark spots, it will snowball. At the rate we are going today, probably by the time I retire, my resort’s sea wall will be a fish habitat and the waves will lap at the doors of our sea frontage bungalows. And should I ever decide to return to my roots in Alpine Switzerland, chances are that there will no longer be great skiing there despite some NGOs covering glaciers with huge tarpaulins during summers in an attempt to slow down their meltdown. Unless of course, the polar melt down will be so massive, it whacks the Gulf Stream off its course. Then, white Christmases will be guaranteed. It will be very cold and stormy, year round, and obviously many will ask: what global warming? The more the issue is being politicized, the more talk we must endure. In today’s overly liberal and capitalistic world governments are run much like businesses. Spurred by approval ratings and vote gathering, politicians are obliged to ride waves of public opinion and trends that are so finicky and ever changing it is rendering them nearly ineffective. Doers and shakers will not last long in a political environment. Case in point perhaps is Australia’s former Environment Minister under the Howard Government, Ian Campbell. He just joined the Advisory Board of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who by many is regarded as a group of dangerous militants for their forceful actions protecting the world’s oceans. As you read this Sea Shepherds have a season of physically doing battle at the Antarctic behind them. They were again harassing the Japanese whaling fleet and their murderous business that is condemned by all, yet with no one actually intervening on nature’s behalf. Greenpeace and even the Australian government were present for some time, but they behaved politically correct and just observed, taking pictures and sending them out for the world to see, upsetting a lot of people, temporarily, until the next shocking news cast appeared in the media that drew their attention onto the next subject, as every year. Ian Campbell says that twenty years of diplomacy has failed to stop a steady escalation of Japanese whale quota. I wouldn’t be surprised if he achieves more over the next two years into his new, laudable venture.
Globally, there is a hot debate going on into whose domain the environment issue will and should primarily be: governments, NGOs or even corporations. In the capitalistic world, a new trend has taken hold; CSR, or Corporate Social Responsibility. Robert Reich, former secretary of Labour under Bill Clinton and now professor of public policy at UC Berkeley has this to say: “That (CSR) is a completely meaningless term. If a company is doing something because it’s good PR and it helps the bottom line, that’s fine. If it’s taking certain actions to lower costs, like recycling, that’s good management. But there is nothing socially responsible about any of this. We should give up corporate social responsibility in favour of laws and rules that set boundaries around how companies are allowed to operate”. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF) based in Geneva, Switzerland, by contrast, has this to say: “The days of the all-powerful nation-state are long gone. The need for business to play such a role (shoulder the burden of tackling the problems of environmental degradation and the threats to public health) is now beyond question. Businesses should start to create what I call Corporate Global Citizenship and become a catalyst for a new Global Governance System”. Wow! He does not say or make suggestions how such a system could possibly work though.
The problem with NGOs is that they are often bi-polar due to their interdependence with corporate funding. This leaves them prone to abuse by business interests. WWF (World Wildlife Fund) in 2006 received more than USD 30 million in donations or consultancy fees. They say that they will not accept cash from companies unless they are committed to change. NGO-corporation alliances do produce tangible results at times, however. Wal-Mart shoppers, for example, now buy fresh fish from sustainable stocks thanks to Environmental Defense, an NGO that has an office inside Wal-Mart’s Bentonville, Arkansas corporate headquarters. Greenpeace is an exception. They depend wholly on private donations. Business as an ally needs to be treated with extreme caution; NGOs are easily duped, say sceptics. “Green is red hot this season” screamed a recent headline. Companies are adding eco-prefixes to every product imaginable. How about “Earth-friendly” vodka? (360) or a bamboo encased laptop? (Asus). Those may be harmless excesses. However, too much is at stake with our environment to waste time on eco-trivialities. NGOs are still the most dominant catalyst; but governments have, and always will have, more clout. What it takes is political will. When a government is dragging its feet in matters of the environment, it is the NGOs and the populace at large that need to mobilize and engage it. Vice versa; when the populace gets too complacent in environmental matters, it is the government’s responsibility to redress and guide. Take Japan for example: 14% of the Japanese are against whaling. Only 11% are for it. The remaining 75% has no opinion. Political wrangling and the failure of the International Whaling Commission allowed Japans minority pro-whaling lobby to have its way. And what does the Japanese government do? Instead of redressing the situation by stepping in and shake up the complacent 75% lot, it insists on it’s “legal” right to tolerate whaling “for research purposes” and starts a counter-campaign airing how “brutal Australians” (the worlds most outspoken anti-whaling lobby) are slaughtering Rabbits and Kangaroos. It tops this off by sending a navy ghost ship after the whaling fleet, just in case. When Ocean Geographic pronounced in a recent article “Japanese are Killing Whales” they were absolutely right, because under the circumstances, this is exactly what Japan is doing, not just its 11% pro-whaling minority. The Japanese government is clearly in the wrong. International lobbying by NGOs or voluntary boycotts of Japanese goods is not sufficient. Governments of nations with a strong anti-whaling majority must put much more determined pressure on an errant government like the Japanese in matters that concern the entire globe. When whales are extinct, they will be missed not just in the seas surrounding Japan.


... To be Continued....