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Not all Entanglements End Happily

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Don’t you love seeing whale and animal rescues on YouTube or on TV or the News?  I know I do.  Like the one with the whale that was freed and thanked her saviors by giving them a breaching display for over an hour?  Not all of these stories end happily, though.  In fact, most of them don’t.

Most ocean lovers or divers dream of saving an animal in dire circumstances.  Fish hooks, plastic, fishing nets, fishing lines… they are all enemies of our underwater friends.  When these items are found in a national park, where no fishing is supposed to be permitted, it is that much more tragic.  The number one killer of our cetacean and fishy friends?  Fishing nets.  Dolphins, whales, mantas, whale sharks…. these are large species who are in grave danger from these carelessly placed nets by fishermen who do not care about the possible casualties of other species.  Did you know that the bodies of 300,000 whales and dolphins wash ashore each year, killed by fishing nets?  Just try to imagine the hundreds of thousands who disappear into the depths… the ones that don’t wash ashore.  And what a horrible death – long and drawn out, suffering from exhaustion, from asphyxia, and from the terrible fear and horror of being unable to get free.

I am in Ecuador at the moment, volunteering as a diver to take Identification photos of Manta Rays, Humpback Whales, Mola Molas, and turtles for the Marine Megafauna Foundation, and yesterday was quite a day for whale sightings.  The Humpbacks were out in force – blowing and breaching! How can someone fail to be touched by the sight of pods of whales with their babies, waving, flipping, breaching?  Right now, the whales are migrating through this area of Ecuador, off the coast of Puerto Lopez, a fishing village where 3 major currents converge.  We go out daily in a boat to dive Isla de la Plata, where Mantas aggregate in huge numbers at this time of year.  The sight of the whales coming through is an incredible bonus to our work every day.  Until yesterday.

Yesterday it became personal. Our group came across an adult Humpback Whale, tangled in fishing net over it’s mouth, eyes and blowhole.  The odds of freeing it were slim, and we had to choose: snorkel with feeding mantas on the surface (always exciting), or try to free the whale?  Of course we went for the whale.  Two of the foundation’s leaders, Andrea and Janneman, suited up and jumped in to help.  They went in four times, managing a few cuts of the net, but the whale was just too fearful to allow them to help.  It was heartbreaking, watching this magnificent animal struggling to survive.  We were at Isla de la Plata, in the heart of the Machalilla National Park located in Ecuador, a park which forbids fishing for 2 miles out in every direction from the island.  There were a dozen fishing boats.  At least.  They are there every single day.  And not one of them stopped to help. In fact, we saw one of the boats hook a manta (they released it, but they usually leave the hook and line in the animal).

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Larry, Andrea Marshall and Janneman, waiting for the whale to surface again.

You know, putting aside our compassion for other creatures, (especially animals of such high intelligence and social behavior), humpback whales, mantas, whale sharks, and dolphins bring in tremendous amounts of tourist dollars.  They are worth a lot more in dollars in the ocean, unharmed, than they are dead. The deaths of these animals are not just senseless and cruel, they are harmful to the local economies they could be supporting!  If you want to help, and I hope you do, please go to the Marine Megafauna Foundation’s website here or visit us.whales.org/support-us-1.  Adopt an animal, be a volunteer, boycott businesses who sell illegal products! I can tell you this: I know the folks at MMF personally, and every dollar goes to research and helping these animals.  No one is living the high life in this organization.

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Trying to save the Whale

It was not possible to save the animal. The danger to Andrea and Janneman was immense….a full grown humpback whale could break a person’s bones easily; these animals are huge, and a fearful dive could drown a person who could not free their hand from the net in time.  We were all saddened to leave the animal, but there was nothing further to do.  The other volunteers – Ralph, Larry, Peg and Tina – had been involved here in a successful whale rescue a few years ago… but yesterday there was no happy ending.

Tam Warner Minton is an avid scuba diver, amateur underwater photographer, and adventurer. She encourages "citizen science" diving, whether volunteering with a group or by one's self. For Tam, the unexpected is usually the norm!

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PADI meets with Maldivian Ministry to confirm protection of sharks

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Over recent weeks, there has been speculation about the possibility of the Maldivian government lifting the ban on shark fishing in the country’s waters. PADI®, and the dive industry at large, were instrumental in establishing these protections over a decade ago.

With concern for the continued protection of sharks in the Maldives, the PADI organisation and Project AWARE®, along with 200 concerned local and international stakeholders opposing the lifting of the shark fishing ban, called on the government to continue to enforce the legal protections of sharks. PADI staff met with Maldivian Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture Zaha Waheed to reinforce the position of the dive community and critical role sharks play in dive tourism.

In those meetings, Minister Waheed assured PADI that the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture has no intentions to lift the ban on shark fishing. She affirmed that they remain committed to sustainable and responsible management of fisheries and marine resources in the Maldives. On 20 April 2021, the Ministry of Fisheries, Marine Resources, and Agriculture released a statement asserting that “the Maldives does not intend to permit a targeted shark fishery in the Maldives.”

“Sharks are a dominant force in dive tourism in the Maldives. We congratulate the Maldives’s commitment to their ongoing protection,” says Drew Richardson, President and CEO of PADI Worldwide. “The Maldives continues to lead by example, among the most progressive countries on this critical issue.”

There are currently 17 shark sanctuaries in the world; the first established in Palau in 2009 and others in popular dive destinations including French Polynesia, Honduras, The Bahamas and several others in the Caribbean. The Maldives shark sanctuary was established in 2010 and covers 916,000 km2 (353,000 square miles).

Tourism accounts for an estimated 25 percent of Maldives’ GDP (according to 2014 figures), with diving and snorkeling being the most popular tourism activity. Prior to the formation of the Maldivian sanctuary, shark fishing was worth US$0.7 million to the Maldives’ economy, compared to US$2.3 million from shark tourism. In 2018, the shark sanctuary increased dive-trip demand in the Maldives by 15 percent, raising an additional US$6 million. Consumer research indicates that any re-opening of a Maldives shark fishery could potentially decrease dive tourism demand by over 50 percent, which could result in a loss of US$24 million.

Sharks are some of the most endangered species in the ocean, with recent research showing that the global number of oceanic sharks has declined by 71 percent. Over a third of shark and ray species are threatened, facing an increased threat of extinction, primarily due to overfishing.  There are an estimated 600,000 shark watchers globally spending $314 million per year and directly supporting 10,000 jobs. Research indicates these figures are expected to rise as global tourism returns to pre-pandemic levels.

As part of its commitment to ocean conservation, PADI will continue to stand up for sharks and advocate for their protection. For more information on responsible shark tourism, read Project AWARE’s Guide to Best Practices. To learn more about PADI’s efforts and how you can join the community of PADI Torchbearers working to save the ocean, visit padi.com/conservation.

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Miscellaneous Blogs

The BiG Scuba Podcast… with Rosemary Lunn

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Ian and Gemma chat among themselves and are also are joined by well-known Dive Industry Professional Rosemary Lunn.

We talk about dive fitness and entering the CrossFit 2021 open games and being members of our local CrossFit Box. You can also listen to our new member of the team – Rosemary Lunn – answer some scuba diving questions.

Find out more about Rosemary at www.tumc.co.uk.


Find more podcast episodes and information at the new www.thebigscuba.com  website and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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