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Marine Life & Conservation

My Last Close Encounter

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Tigers, Great Whites and the Galapagos Sharks have been known to attack divers.  They don’t necessarily intend to eat the neoprene wrapped human, but the simple act of tasting is usually fatal.  I survived my meetings intact but they left me with a deep concern that I might die diving and that my remains might not be found and identified for a long time.

In the case of the Tiger Shark, it was late summer in 2013 and I was diving with three experienced Fort Myers divers– a cop, a bondsman and female underwater archaeologist. We were three hours out into the Gulf of Mexico from Sanibel Island. It was hot, the seas were up and storm clouds were blowing through the area. We jumped into the sea, grabbed onto the anchor line and pulled ourselves downwards. The boat was empty, bouncing in the incoming waves. My companions were going to spearfish; I was going to photograph them catching their dinners.

There was an artificial reef made from long concrete pilings 60 feet down. Before we reached the bottom  we were surrounded by frenzied schooling fish madly swimming between our legs, over our arms and buzzing past our heads.

Fish faces don’t usually show expression, but, these metre long fish looked frantic, and with good reason.  As we punched through the thrashing ring we could see through the gloom a large 8 ft tiger shark herding the fish. Behind the tiger were four smaller sharks, including a 6 ft bull shark. They were the next step down in the food chain – following the hunting tiger for bloody seconds.

We touched bottom and instinctively formed a circle, our backs touching and fronts facing the lazily circling sharks. I had a cop on one side and a huge bails bondman on the other. The young archeologist was gone, she had somehow gone missing.

The sharks continued to circle us in the gloomy warm turbid water, just within eyesight. Spear guns were put away and through pointing and sign language we decided to surface, hoping to find our companion on the boat.

Swimming upward we encountered a strong current. Breaking the surface we looked for the craft.  Rough seas had pushed us a mile away from the anchored dive boat.  It was so far away we could only see the boat when we bobbed on the crest of a wave and looked down at her in the trough of another wave.

With waves splashing hard into our faces, we had to continue to breath through our regulators as we started a long difficult swim against the current. It was a tough slog, made more difficult by the sharks that swam 2 or 3 feet directly below us. My companions disappeared under the waves several times to push at the pesky sharks with the butt ends of their guns.

It took 40-minutes to almost reach the stern of the boat. A few feet from safety I ran out of air.  I was dragged to the ladder by my buddy. Climbing into the boat I called down into the cabin for our fourth diver. No answer. She wasn’t there.

We all stood and searched the horizon for an SMB. North. South. East and West. Nothing. We were going to issue a May Day when suddenly we could hear her yelling far off the stern.

Our missing diver was coming home. She swam through the same sharks that had escorted us to the boat. She climbed exhausted aboard. Smaller and lighter than we oversized men, the current blew her farther away from the boat as she surfaced.

It was a long, bumpy butt-busting ride back to Sanibel Island.  Three hours in 6 ft swells.  Time enough to plan my next dental visit.

Stephen Weir has been writing about diving for several decades. He is a freelance writer/photographer based in downtown Toronto, Canada. He can be reached at stephen@stephenweir.com. His website is www.stephenweir.com.

Marine Life & Conservation

Review: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

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Regular contributors, CJ & Mike from Bimble in the Blue, review the Netlix documentary: David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

David Attenborough’s latest and arguably most important documentary to date is now showing on Netflix.  It is, in his own words, his “witness statement” of a unique life exploring and documenting the wonders of the natural world.

Attenborough looks back and realizes that the previously gradual changes he witnessed (animal species becoming harder to find and fewer wild spaces) have now become vastly more widespread and noticeable. As the human population increased, so has the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while the amount of wilderness has decreased.  His conclusion: human activity and man-made climate change have accelerated the pace of biodiversity loss.  This not only imperils the majority of natural habitats and creatures on Earth, but also the very future of humankind.

From images of lush green landscapes we journey with him over time to revisit these places, now wastelands. One of the most haunting is the contrast between early footage of orangutans swinging through the rainforest, to recent images of an orangutan clinging onto a lone tree devoid of all but one branch in the wreckage of a deforested site. Attenborough then makes a statement that has stuck with me since watching “A Life On This Planet”: that though we undoubtably have an obligation to care for the natural world, it’s not just about saving other species.  It is about saving ourselves.  His drive and determination to advocate and spread this message as much as possible at the age of 94 is both impressive and humbling, yet Attenborough manages to make this serious subject an unexpectedly positive learning experience.

In the final chapter of the movie Attenborough turns from the bleak reality of the destruction of Earth’s biodiversity, and offers a lifeline of hope and positivity. We can, he tells us, reverse the damage we have caused, we can save our species and the wonders of the natural world, and it can be done with just a few conceptually simple actions.  It’s enough to enthuse even the most jaded and pessimistic of conservationists!  Attenborough has an amazing ability to awaken our love of the natural world and now he shows us our future is in our hands. It’s time to act.  But we must start now and it must be a united effort.

You don’t have to be a scuba diver to be impressed with the eloquence of David Attenborough’s words, or his powerful yet simple message. We are self-confessed Attenborough super fans, but I don’t think anyone could contest that this is a stunning 1 hour and 20 minutes of hard hitting brilliance. The film closes with the comment, “Who else needs to see it?” The answer is all of us.  We highly recommend this documentary to everyone. Put simply if you watch no other documentary this year, watch this one.

For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Join Reef-World’s sustainability webinar at the first ever Scuba.Digital

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Reef-WorldJoin Reef-World and a panel of industry experts at the first ever Scuba.Digital for an open discussion on green tourism and how this might be shaped by a post-corona world.

 The Reef-World Foundation – the international coordinator of the UN Environment Programme’s Green Fins initiative – is pleased to invite its supporters to its Sustainable Diving event on the main stage of Scuba.Digital 2020 (3pm BST on Friday 23 October 2020). At this virtual Q&A, members of the public will hear from industry leaders about the steps they’re taking towards sustainability, particularly in light of the current pandemic.

The Covid-19 pandemic has changed plans and caused uncertainty across the dive industry: not least when it comes to sustainability. It has also led to a surge in the volume of plastic waste – particularly from single-use and hard-to-recycle products – with masks and gloves being found washed up on beaches. So, what now for green tourism? In this session, attendees will discover the unexpected environmental challenges that have been caused by the pandemic, how sustainability leaders are overcoming those obstacles and the simple changes YOU can make to protect coral reefs for future generations.

Reef-World and the United Nations Environment Programme will host a lively virtual discussion with PADI, Explorer Ventures Liveaboard Fleet, Scuba.Digital, Paralenz, ZuBlu and Bubbles Dive Centre. Together, they will talk about how the sustainability of the diving industry has been impacted by Covid-19 and predictions for the future of green tourism. Attendees will learn:

  • Why is coral so important and how they can be protected through sustainable diving practices
  • What sustainability leaders across the industry are doing to protect coral reefs
  • And how they’ve adjusted their plans in light of the current pandemic
  • What the future of sustainable tourism might look like, according to the expert panel
  • & the simple changes YOU can make to protect coral reefs for future generations.

The panel discussion will be available to watch on the Scuba.Digital main stage at 3-3.30pm and 4-4.30pm BST (with a short break in between the two sessions) on Friday 23 October 2020. Attendees will be able to submit their own questions to the panel too.

Chloe Harvey, Director at The Reef-World Foundation, said: “Reef-World’s sustainable diving events have been gaining momentum in previous years so we’re delighted to be able to host this exciting panel event despite current travel restrictions. While the pandemic is causing challenges across the industry, it also offers the opportunity for us to pause, regroup and plan to build back better with a more sustainable tourism industry. We must act now to protect our coral reefs – the very asset upon which our industry depends – and we must work together. So, we’re thrilled to be shining a light on the future of sustainability and help both recreational and professional divers around the world understand how they can support the cause.”

Natalie Harms, Marine Litter Focal Point, COBSEA Secretariat, UNEP – who will be chairing the event – said: “This crisis is hitting marine tourism and the people who depend on it hard. It has showed us once more that our health and the health of our ecosystems are inextricably linked. There is no silver lining for nature – now more than ever the diving community can lead by example and join hands for a sound environmental response to the crisis.”

The 2020 panel represent a range of companies who are innovating when it comes to sustainability:

Reef-World – the leader in marine tourism sustainability – aims to make sustainable diving and snorkelling the social norm.

The UN Environment Programme – the leading authority setting the global environmental agenda, which provides technical advice, support and funding for Reef-World’s Green Fins programme

Scuba.Digital – run by the team at ScubaClick Ltd – was created to help the diving industry network, collaborate and innovate in a way that won’t be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

PADI – The world’s largest diving organisation made a proclamation for the planet in 2019: shifting its brand tagline to “Seek Adventure. Save the Ocean” in order to expand its mission to include a deeper commitment to taking action to protect people and planet.

Explorer Ventures Liveaboard Fleet – is enhancing environmental operations through a customised management strategy, starting with its Caribbean vessels. It is also helping The Reef-World Foundation establish targeted liveaboard protocols as part of the Green Fins initiative with the hope of improving dive operator and liveaboard policies worldwide.

ZuBlu – is a travel platform helping scuba divers and marine enthusiasts discover and book their next underwater adventure in Asia

Paralenz – has developed a camera that enable divers to capture and share the state and life of the Ocean as a seamless part of the dive

Bubbles Dive Centre – in Pulau Perhentian, Malaysia, is one of the global Top 10 Green Fins members.

This online panel event is relevant to representatives from all segments of the diving industry: recreational divers, dive professionals, dive operators, liveaboards, resorts, travel providers, diver training organisations, manufacturers, photographers, the media and more.

Jason Haiselden, Marketing & Sales Director at ScubaClick Ltd and Scuba.Digital, said: “It is great that Reef-World has grabbed the opportunity that Scuba.Digital presents to tell the industry and the diving and snorkelling public how they can make what we do more sustainable. Covid is forcing change upon us so why not take the opportunity to make sustainable changes.”

For more information, please visit www.reef-world.org / www.greenfins.net or come and meet The Reef-World Foundation team at Scuba.Digital.

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