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Pierre-Yves Cousteau’s Galapagos: Dive into the Wild

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Read Part 1 of Pierre-Yves’ Galapagos blog here.

Ocean, how I missed you.

Wild and free, alive. Still full of promise, mystery and surprise.

A blood moon rises as the Galapagos Sky sets sail to explore the coastal waters of the Galapagos Islands. A variety of passengers, both in nationality and profession, further adds to the rich diversity of the trip. A New-Zealand farmer, a British administrative employee, a Dutch software designer and tester couple, an Indian real-estate developer, a Swiss family, Steve and I… The crew, with their dedication and skill, are the essential ingredient that makes the trip successful. I notice with pleasure that the Galapagos Sky has been “tagged” by my friend Wyland with a beautiful hammerhead mural.

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The M/V Galapagos Sky

The diving conditions are exceptional. As in exception. Our guides have never had waters so warm, or currents so strong. In principle, neither is a good sign for observing marine life. As the water warms and the thermocline dives deeper, fish who prefer cooler waters stay out of sight. Strong currents mean we had to shoot images using one hand, the other one being busy holding on for dear life to a rock.

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“All you need is gloves” ~ Steve Romano

As we dive into another world, we become the invisible witnesses of millions of lives. We enter a universe we still know very little about. We fly among creatures without being able to hear their language. Territory, predation, cooperation, social behavior… We see only what is manifest, when countless unseen codes and gambits are played out in silence. Confused by our bubbly presence, the animals chose to ignore us. They are entirely absorbed in the necessities of every moment, and curiosity is a luxury that few can afford.

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Hundreds of dolphins at the safety stop.
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Mamma sea lion is not happy about our presence.

Coming up from one dive Steve and I find ourselves a bit far from the rest of the group, after filming sharks. The sun is setting and the dingy is quite far away, collecting other divers. I am suddenly reminded of our status as strangers in this wilderness. Dangling at the surface above hundreds of sharks I think: we’re perfect prey! I immediately put on my mask and peer down into the thick, dark waters. Just at that moment, a silky shark bolts up from the deep to examine us. After a rapid assessment, it dives back down into the dark blue. Steve and I take turns looking down and hailing the dingy until they pick us up.

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1 , 2 , 3… Go!

Returning to the Galapagos Sky I am struck by the presence of a dozen dead birds floating around us, their corpses apparently intact. Of the thousands of birds who constantly circle the Island of Darwin, I wonder if this is a natural “skimming” of the weak by competition or by disease. Our guide Jeff explains that these birds have starved or drowned because the thermocline is too deep, and the surface waters are too warm, meaning that the natural prey of these birds have dived deeper than they can reach. (Those familiar with my father’s movies will notice a certain physical resemblance between Jeff and Falco).

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Deep thermocline = dead birds

As part of Project Hermes, I’ve been diving with the Sensus Ultra, whose accuracy was tested in the Australian waters of Heron Island by the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute team. Dive profiles were also recorded from our dive computers. The surface temperatures were a most comfortable and exceptionally warm, 30 degrees Celsius on most dive sites, with often no thermocline down to 30 meters depth. Speaking with Jeff and Max our dive guides of the Galapagos Sky, they’ve never had surface waters so warm.

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Collecting historical temperature data from the captain’s log.

In 2016, you have to travel far in order to witness the miracles of nature in its untamed wilderness. As far as possible from the mega-cities and industrial sprawls. Far from the madness of men and women who constantly obsess about growth, greed and domination. How the underwater world has degraded since the days my father revealed it with his movies… Clearly the situation would be worse if he hadn’t, but also clearly his efforts were insufficient to prevent the decline entirely. Raising awareness can only go so far. For the next expedition to Tahiti with Waterproof Expeditions, in July 2017, I will spend more time searching the Cousteau archives in an attempt to produce before / after visuals as a testimony.

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When my father visited the Galapagos with the Calypso in the 1970’s they focussed on studying the marine iguana’s unique ability to enter a state of transe and stop their heartbeat during their dives, something free divers are familiar with.

Climate change, habitat degradation, overfishing, plastic pollution… the list of our inconsiderate squandering of the ocean is long, and the Galapagos seem to have been successfully sheltered from these plagues so far. In fact I was delighted to note that I did not encounter a single piece of trash of any size during the week at sea: something I cannot say of any other place I have been in the world. Our guides explain that the National Park has very strict rules for disposal of trash in general and plastic in particular, with efficient collection mechanisms. However, I was saddened to learn that most of the plastic ends up in a landfill, here in the Galapagos. At least the collection is good. Recycling and disposal would be better. An absolute ban on single-use plastics, worldwide, but here in particular, seems necessary.

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Nobody wants to see the turtles of the Galapagos chocking on plastic bags.

I’ve always wondered if there was a common cause for all this blind destruction. It seems to me that the reason is embedded in our minds: a lack of foresight and understanding of the real costs of our actions. What is referred to in business as “externalities”. I am convinced that sustainable development is possible, but it requires far more brainpower than is currently being used. More innovation, more research, and a shift in subsidies. So why don’t we turn our mind’s eye towards achieving it?

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In a recent piece of work I did for IUCN, people were consulted across Europe to identify the main barriers to achieving sustainable development for the sea. Awareness and education came out on top as the most powerful ways to overcome those barriers. However, the social ecosystem itself appeared to be the main blockage in converting that awareness into action. The cultural values and cognitive frameworks that infuse our contemporary societies are diametrically opposite to the ones that would foster environmental stewardship. The obsessions with financial success and personal image prevent us from making the sustainable decision when given equivalent choices.

But how can you appeal to moral duty and self-transcendence when people are struggling to make ends meet, and constantly terrorized by the media into avid conformity? Social sciences are the missing piece of the puzzle for conservation and sustainable development to steer the Titanic of our civilization, and as the environment degrades, so do the options for living outside of the “rat race”. A vicious cycle. We must bring people into the equation of conserving natural resources by appealing to intrinsic values and calling for a transparent examination of the values that we are constantly being bombarded with, mostly by mainstream media and advertisement.

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Wolf and Darwin were declared no-take sanctuaries last week.

The information I had received prior to my previous blog post was true: the islands of Wolf and Darwin have been given no-take status by the president of Ecuador. This is fantastic news for marine life in these exceptional sites. But it seems the people, the few local fishermen who have always practiced small-scale traditional fishing in that area, were not considered in this process. They demand some kind of compensation, or right to fish in a reduced area between the two islands. In such a remote place, where daily enforcement is practically impossible, it would seem wise to at least consult, if not actively engage the fishermen in the establishment of the protected area. Once again, social sciences have been left aside, and the consequences for the success of the protection remain to be seen. I have interviewed the mayor of San Cristobal and the local fishermen during my time here and will give more detail on this in the next post.

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Steve and I scheming to get great footage.

All the images you see here are screenshots from the videos I have been filming. The Big Blue lights have proven to be amazing and incredibly durable. I have not yet managed to cycle through the battery entirely, even by leaving them turned on for two consecutive dives. Next week I will try to shoot some good stills, but I’ve been having some technical problems with my strobes. They fire optically and the housing I have for the camera has an in-built electrical system, which I had no time to replace before the trip. So I use an electrical to optical converter, and that has proven to be a nightmare… firing rather randomly. I plan on piecing together the videos into a mini-documentary for the web, featuring some of Steve’s exceptional high-speed footage. Stay tuned.

~ Pierre-Yves Cousteau

www.cousteaudivers.org

www.waterproof-expeditions.com

For more blogs from Pierre-Yves Cousteau, visit cousteaudivers.wordpress.com.

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Northern Red Sea Reefs and Wrecks Trip Report, Part 2: Wall to Wall Wrecks

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red sea

Jake Davies boards Ghazala Explorer for an unforgettable Red Sea diving experience…

The second day’s diving was a day full of wreck diving at Abu Nuhas, which included the Chrisoula K, Carnatic, and Ghiannis D. The first dive of the day was onto the Chrisoula K, also known as the wreck of tiles. The 98m vessel remains largely intact where she was loaded with tiles which can be seen throughout the hold. The stern sits at 26m and the bow just below the surface. One of the highlights of the wreck is heading inside and seeing the workroom where the machinery used for cutting the tiles are perfectly intact. The bow provided some relaxing scenery as the bright sunlight highlighted the colours of the soft coral reef and the many reef fish.

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Following breakfast, we then headed to the next wreck, which was the Carnatic. The Carnatic is an 89.9m sail steamer vessel that was built in Britain back in 1862. She ran aground on the reef back in 1869 and remains at 27m. At the time, she was carrying a range of items, including 40,000 sterling in gold. An impressive wreck where much of the superstructure remains, and the two large masts lay on the seafloor. The wooden ribs of the hull provide structures for lots of soft corals, and into the stern section, the light beams through, bouncing off the large shoals of glass fish that can be found using the structure as shelter from the larger predators that are found outside of the wreck.

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The final wreck at Abu Nuhas was the Ghiannis D, originally called ‘Shoyo Maru,’ which was 99.5m long and built in Japan back in 1969 before becoming a Greek-registered cargo ship in 1980. The ship then ran aground on the reef on April 19th, 1983, and now sits at the bottom at a depth of 27m. Heading down the line, the stern of the ship remains in good condition compared to the rest of the hull. The highlight of the wreck, though, is heading into the stern section and down the flights of stairs to enter the engine room, which remains in good condition and is definitely worth exploring. After exploring the interior section of the ship, we then headed over to see the rest of the superstructure, where it’s particularly interesting to see the large table corals that have grown at the bow relatively quickly considering the date the ship sank. After surfacing and enjoying some afternoon snacks, we made sure everything was strapped down and secured as we would be heading north and crossing the Gulf of Suez, where the winds were still creating plenty of chop.

red sea

The next morning, it was a short hop to Ras Mohammed Nature Reserve for the next couple of days of diving. The 6am wake-up call came along with the briefing for the first site we would be diving, which was Shark & Yolanda. The low current conditions allowed us to start the dive at Anemone City, where we would drift along the steep, coral-filled wall. These dives involved drifts, as mooring in Ras Mohammed wasn’t allowed to protect the reefs. As a dive site, Shark & Yolanda is well-known and historically had a lot of sharks, but unfortunately not so many in recent years, especially not so early in the season. However, there was always a chance when looking out into the blue.

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The gentle drift took us along the steep walls of the site, with plenty of anemone fish to be seen and a huge variety of corals. It wasn’t long into the dive before we were accompanied by a hawksbill turtle, who drifted with us between the two atolls before parting ways. Between the two reefs, the shallow patch with parts of coral heads surrounded by sand provided the chance to see a few blue-spotted stingrays that were mainly resting underneath the corals and are always a pleasure to see. With this being the morning dive, the early sunlight lit up the walls, providing tranquil moments. Looking out into the blue, there was very little to be seen, but a small shoal of batfish shimmering underneath the sunlight was a moment to capture as we watched them swim by as they watched us.

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Towards the end of the dive, we stopped at the wreck of the Jolanda where the seafloor was scattered with toilets from the containers it was carrying. This provided a unique site to make a safety stop, which was also accompanied by a large barracuda slowly swimming by, along with a hawksbill turtle calmly swimming over the reef as the sun rays danced in the distance.

For the next dive, we headed north to the Strait of Tiran to explore the reefs situated between Tiran Island and Sharm El Sheik, which were named after the British divers who had found them. We started on Jackson before heading to Gordons Reef, where we also did the night dive. All the atolls at these sites provided stunning, bustling coral reefs close to the surface and steep walls to swim along, which always provided the opportunity to keep an eye out for some of the larger species that can be seen in the blue. Midwater around Jackson Reef was filled with red-toothed triggerfish and shoals of banner fish, which at times were so dense that you couldn’t see into the blue. Moments went by peacefully as we enjoyed the slow drift above the reef, watching these shoals swim around under the mid-afternoon sun.

red sea

The night dive at Gordon’s Reef was mainly among the stacks of corals surrounded by sand, which was great to explore under the darkness. After some time circling the corals, we came across what we were really hoping to find, and that was an octopus hunting on the reef. We spent the majority of the dive just watching it crawl among the reef, blending into its changing surroundings through changes in colour and skin texture. It’s always so fascinating and captivating to watch these incredibly intelligent animals, in awe of their ability to carry out these physical changes to perfectly blend into the reef. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to the boat to enjoy a well-deserved tasty dinner prepared by the talented chefs onboard.

Check in for the 3rd and final part of this series from Jake tomorrow!

To find out more about the Northern Red Sea reef and wrecks itineraries aboard Ghazala Explorer, or to book, contact Scuba Travel now:

Email: dive@scubatravel.com

Tel: +44 (0)1483 411590

www.scubatravel.com

Photos: Jake Davies / Avalon.Red

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Marine Life & Conservation

Double Bubble for Basking Sharks

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The Shark Trust is excited to announce that, for two more days only, all donations, large or small, will be doubled in the Big Give Green Match Fund!

Donate to Basking in Nature: Sighting Giants

The Shark Trust is hoping to raise £10k which will be doubled to £20k. This will go towards Basking in Nature: Sighting Giants. And they need YOUR help to reach they’re goal.

The Shark Trust’s citizen science project is to monitor and assess basking sharks through sightings; encouraging data collection, community engagement, and promoting nature accessibility. This initiative aims to enhance health and wellbeing by fostering a deeper connection with British Sharks.

Campaign Aims

  • Increase citizen science reporting of Basking Sharks and other shark sightings to help inform shark and ray conservation.
  • Provide educational talks about the diverse range of sharks and rays in British waters and accessible identification guides!
  • Create engaging and fun information panels on how to ID the amazing sharks and rays we have on our doorstep! These can be used on coastal paths around the Southwest. With activities and information on how you can make a difference for sharks and rays!
  • Promote mental wellbeing through increasing time in nature and discovering the wonders beneath the waves!

Donate, and double your impact. Click Here

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Experience the Red Sea in May with Bella Eriny Liveaboard! As the weather warms up, there’s no better time to dive into the crystal clear waters of the Red Sea. Join us on Bella Eriny, your premier choice for Red Sea liveaboards, this May for an unforgettable underwater adventure. Explore vibrant marine life and stunning coral reefs Enjoy comfortable accommodation in our spacious cabins Savor delicious meals prepared by our onboard chef Benefit from the expertise of our professional dive guides Visit our website for more information and to secure your spot: www.scubatravel.com/BellaEriny or call 01483 411590 More Less

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