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


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.


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....

16 June, 2008

Oh What a Show !!!

I took part in Celebrate the Sea 2008 in Manila (Philippines) over 13-15 June. Probably one of the most inspiring events I ever took part in. Celebrate the Sea 2008 wasn’t only a festival of underwater imagery, most of all it was a very strong statement for preserving the treasures of the sea and, as a result, preserving our own existence!

To provide an idea of the weight this event carried it should suffice to say that in consultation with the organizers, President Gloria Arroyo of the Philippines proclaimed that, from here on end, the second Saturday of June be celebrated as “CELEBRATE THE SEA” day in the Philippines. This is a very powerful statement, the first of its kind made by a head of state, ever. One that it is sincerely hoped many other world leaders will imitate! As my good friend Patrick mentioned in a recent e-mail: “To me, this is most certainly more significant than say, Ronald Reagan’s proclamation of “Ice Cream day”…

The event was a combination of underwater photography contests with some stunning images and documentaries, presentations by some of the leading under-water heroes (explores, sports men, photographers, researchers….. you name it!!) and forums lead by the same.

As hoped one of the main subjects revolved around saving the sharks. Apart from a drawing competition on the subject with fantastic and very meaningful pictures drawn by kids from various parts of Asia, one of the highlights was the presentation of extracts of the 1971 blockbuster documentary / movie “Blue Water White Death” by Stan Waterman himself whom was part of the filming crew and whom grew into an underwater cinematography and exploration legend over the past decades. While the movie itself was shot at a time when the Hollywood film industry was keen to portray sharks as voracious man-eating creatures and in many regards the movie probably served that sensationalistic purpose, it should be noted that it was during the filming of this movie that Stan Waterman and the rest of the filming crew made, for that time, an extremely daring decision by deciding to step out of the shark cages in order to get better pictures of these majestic predators in the open waters of South Africa. Something anyone at that time would have deemed as utterly suicidal!! It was a first and with no little significance as, as Stan Waterman put it, apart from being like stepping into an elevator and falling into the open shaft, for the first time ever it became clear that as mighty predatorial as sharks may be they do not necessarily pose a threat to humans save in very specific circumstances which should be easily avoided. Cinematography on the subject has made tremendous progress over the past nearly four decades! Just compare “Blue Water White Death” by Peter Gimbel with “Shark Waters” by Rob Stewart! However, true understanding of sharks and their peril by the masses is still lagging behind.

The gala dinner on 14th June was a real blast and featured a full scale fashion show with the entire collection inspired by creatures of the sea while Frederic Buyle, 5-times free dive world champion now become shark tagger and photographer, ran free diving demonstrations in the oceanarium tank as a backdrop (Stunning!!!...the backdrop, the clothes and, of course, the models!).

It was an honor for me to be able to attend the event and meet people like Scott Tuason, Michael Aw, Leandro Blanco, Mathieu Meur and Lynn Funkhouser just to name a few. An event not to be missed next year! I know I won’t!!

11 June, 2008

A Very Sad End in Hong Kong

The events surrounding the demise of a beautiful specimen of Rhincodon Typus (Whale Shark)only show the terrible ignorance of Hong Kong fishermen and, more worryingly, of the local authorities. Read two articles here.

To DIR or not to DIR?....

Some consider them radical, some consider them a “bunch of clowns” and some consider them innovators. Whatever the case may be the DIR movement (DIR = Doing it Right) as attracted some attention as of lately among members of the more standard diving school and if you were to take a look across the diving on-line forums you are very likely to pick up quite a few threads on the subject; some of which can get pretty heated with exchanges between DIR disciples and followers of more traditional diving techniques.

To be fair to DIR, when reading these threads I always see a great amount of ignorance and / or misunderstanding on the subject matter.

I hold some 15 certification cards with PADI, Dive Master being the most recent, so you could say that I have been ‘brought up” as a fairly standard diver i.e. following very standard rules and procedures as per PADI manuals. This may be correct to a certain extent.

I started conducting some research into DIR diving a couple of years back. I visited the Global Underwater Explorers site a few times and bought a couple of books on DIR through the same (DOING IT RIGHT: The Fundamentals of Better Diving by Jarrod Jablonski and DRESS FOR SUCCESS by Dan MacKay). Since then I have also spent a few hundred dollars on reconfiguring my gear a few times. Trying and testing seeing for myself what all the fuss was about.

Personally I don’t think I can classify myself as a 100% DIR diver although most of my gear has been configured around it. DIR, as such, concedes very little or no room for deviation from its teachings but that is not something that puts me off as I believe in taking the best from what I learn and apply it to what I really need. May be it is that level of stringent doctrine that has earn them a reputation among traditional divers but if you look carefully and understand how DIR came to be it will be easy to understand their side of the story.

DIR was developed by some of the most experienced and daring cave and wreck divers. It was born out of necessity to provide the daring ones, the ones interested in pushing the limits beyond the traditional recreational diving, with clear set of procedures to minimize risk. DIR was conceived in some of the most extreme diving environments and situations and I can safely say that it was born out of the mistakes, at time fatal, of many over the years. A lot a thinking and practical experience has gone into DIR and the fact that its founders were able to conduct some of the longest and deepest cave diving explorations ever should be good enough proof that there is some truth to what they say. Sure!! If you want to apply DIR to the letter and in full to your 18m dive in crystal clear, warm waters without current a plenty of pretty fish you may think of it as over the top but if you transport that into a much more severe underwater environment you may start to see some value in it.

There are three fundamentals to good and safe diving, no matter the level nor the environment at / in which it is done: Diving Experience, Diving Ability and a Robust Equipment Configuration. In my view DIR takes these fundamentals to a higher level for the ones interested to make that jump and also fills in some of the gaps left by some of the more commercially minded dive training organizations.

Tulamben Impressions Part IV

This is the 4th part of a 6-installment series of the best pictures taken on a recent trip to Tulamben (Bali). Together with one the expert resident guides of Scuba Seraya Resort (SSR) I went for a very early morning dive at Alamanda, only 5 minutes from the resort by speed boat. I had a good feeling that morning about diving at Alamanda and, I guess, that feeling proved right when we spotted a couple of fairly large black-tip sharks roaming the reefs. I took some footage at about 37m deep but being early in the morning it did not turn out so clear. We also caught a glimpse of a large tuna out in the blue but the presence of the sharks made it nervous and it disappeared pretty quickly.

Later on, on the same dive, while levelling at shallower depths, a large school of hump-head parrot fish came our way. I reckon they were the same ones that normally roam around the Liberty wreck early in the morning and that they may have been disturbed by the first divers of the day which forced them to move east. At first they looked rather nervous (may it have been the sharks again?) but after a little while they settled down and allowed us pretty close up, just swimming next to them until it was time to go up.

One of the resident boxer crabs at Seraya Secrets also stand out in my mind. Seraya Secrets is one of the best spots in the area for macro, in my opinion it is at its very best when dived at night but it has plenty to offer during the day as well. Like Clown Fish, Boxer Crabs have got tremendous courage given their size. They stand their ground hardly wavering under the gaze of giants like us!! I like it!
All pictures in this post, unless stated otherwise, were taken by Marco Gorin who retains their copyrights. Pictures taken with an Olympus camera Miu795SW in underwater case PT-035.

01 June, 2008

Solo Diving?

A few days ago my amphibian friend Mark shared with me some comments about a recent diving accident which left 10 divers sick an one Russian diver dead in the Maldives (read article).
I do not wish to examine the how's and why's of this particular accident but, reading about this tragedy, has made me think once again about what I personally see as the importance of diving with a "solo" mentality.
By saying this I am not recommending solo diving, which is a personal choice, but I believe too many times accidents and fatalities in diving could have been avoided if a "solo" diver mentality and approach had been used over the "sheep" diver mentality and approach.
I have been diving at resort where the local diving operation personnel, in their eagerness to provide good service, assemble and disassemble gear, turn on air etc. leaving you to perform the recommended buddy check with, in many cases, a buddy you are meeting for the first time and of whom you have absolutely no idea about diving skills, mental and physical fitness or level of care about others' health and safety.
By trusting others, many of us often forget all about the only ultimate safety check.... the one only each of us can conduct on our own air, gear set up, mental and physical condition at the time of the dive.
This is what I mean by "solo" diver mentality approach. Check your own gear thoroughly, check your own air thoroughly, go through safety procedures mentally by yourself, carry your own spares including spare air, be trained and prepared in first aid and self-rescue. Ultimately the only true responsibility for your safe diving is yours!
Interaction and checks with a buddy, in my view, should only be an additional level of safety checks to complement one's own thorough self pre-dive and during the dive checks.

Tulamben Impressions Part III

This is the third instalment of a six-part series of pictures taken on a recent diving trip to Tulamben (Bali). These were taken over a series of early morning dives at the world-famous dive site of the Liberty Wreck, probably the largest, most easily accessible wreck on earth.

Over the years I must have done over 20 dives over the Liberty. Early morning, afternoon, night, rainy days, sunny days, calm seas days, rough seas days dives. Changing light, changing currents, teeming underwater life in perennial motion this place is one of my favorite dive spots.

The huge cargo hall (click on the link to check out an amazing 360 degrees picture!!) now set at such a steep angle, always hold something magical for me especially when diving at night with my torch off and surrounded by Flashlight Fish and bio luminescence. It is a massive metal structure which over the decades has taken a lot of battering from Japanese torpedoes, volcanic lava, stormy seas and water erosion. Every time I enter the cargo hall or perform some of the other penetrations I wonder how long it will be before it all comes crushing down in a big cloud of sand.

For now I wish to continue to visit it, its resident Barracuda and school of Jacks and pick out some detail that went unnoticed on the previous dive.

All pictures were taken by Marco Gorin with a Olympus Miu 795SW in an Olympus PT-035 case. Copyrights apply.

Sunblock may be Good for You.... Not for the Reefs!

I was shocked this morning when I learnt that sunscreen lotions used by swimmers around the world are contributing to the phenomenon known as coral bleaching, threatening the coral and the teeming marine life that depends upon it.

A new study sponsored by the European Commission found that even tiny amounts of cream-based UV filters used to protect the skin from the sun's rays caused bleaching of coral reefs.

The chemical compounds join climate change, industrial pollution and high UV radiation due to the "ozone hole" as a leading threat to coral reefs. An estimated 4,000 to 6,000 tonnes of sunscreen are released annually in waters around coral reefs, with 25 per cent of the sunscreen ingredients on skin released into water over the course of a 20-minute swim.

Perhaps it is time to invest in more UV blocking garments specifically designed for water activities which also look rather cool instead of covering ourselves in sunscreen lotion?