Monday, July 30, 2012

New blog I created with some of my favorite photos I've ever taken - not really Eleuthera related, just thought some people might be interested.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Great morning dive today, saw a huge spotted eagle ray that glided ten feet away from me and a couple of reef sharks. Also broke my depth record, from a previous 109 feet to 112 feet at the wall only a few hundred feet from the cage. It's really amazing there, the seafloor just drops into the deep blue.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Two quick videos i took when I had to do surface support for some divers (surface support means I sit on the boat and make sure it doesn't float away/make sure all the divers are ok) I apologize for the bad underwater shots, I couldn't quite reach far enough the keep the camera in the water all the time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Some news stations in the UK are picking up the Henry story:

Monday, July 16, 2012

So apparently our boathouse mascot, Henry the Pigeon, is a racing pigeon. He showed up one day at the boathouse and hasn't left since, following people around and sleeping in the rafters. We didn't know where he had come from until recently when our boathouse guy Jason learned that phone numbers on racing pigeons were often inscribed underneath the back feathers, so he caught Henry and called the number he found. Apparently Henry belongs to a gentleman in Leeds, England, and Henry had last been seen racing from France to Leeds in what I guess are pigeon races. As far as we can tell he got blown off course and presumably stayed aboard a ship until he reached the Bahamas and showed up at our doorstep. Pretty amazing stuff, he's traveled over 4,000 miles  . He is very friendly and we can even feed him from our hand, as I am doing in the video above. We are not sure if his owner will pay to have him shipped back to England; if not, we get to keep him.

Here are some pictures from when we took some Island School students diving on the cage a couple weeks ago, you can see the amount of big fish that are attracted to the cage.

Students feeding the Cobia through the mesh, Yellowtail Snapper looking on

My hair turns into luscious locks when I dive apparently

Students scrubbing the cage of algae, a freediver at ~50ft, and me photobombing

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Three things - 1) Happy Bahamas Independence Day! 39 years of independence.

2) Just finished two books recently which I want to share some quick thoughts about. First one was Lawrence Durrell's Justine, book one of the Alexandria Quartet. The book has very little plot, as Durrell intended, for it seems to me to be more of a poem than prose, dedicated to the city of Alexandria. Essentially it describes the life of an unknown narrator in Alexandira, Egypt in the 1930s, concerning mainly his relationship between Justine, wife of a wealthy merchant. But the novel deals with so much more than this, focusing on the role of the city as the most important character and the nature of love. Indeed, Alexandria is the only source of energy in the otherwise directionless and listless lives of the human characters. This Guardian eloquently describes my exact reaction to some passages , "There are many passages of such grand inspiration that reaching them feels like emerging from choppy seas into marvelously clear blue Mediterranean waters." There have been very few books that I have read where I have looked up after reading a passage and think "Damn, that was good." It is a difficult book to read, there being no plot that one can easily follow. The real worth of the novel lies in its poesy, mysticism, and allegory. I don't have favorite books, but this is pretty close to #1 should I ever rank them- highly recommended, read an excerpt here.

Also just finished a short article, A Time to Keep Silence (around 100 pages) by Patrick Leigh Fermor, as recommended by Gene Campbell (so its gotta be good). When Fermor was 18 he left to tour Europe for a few years in the 1930s. He ended up walking from Holland to Istanbul, which he wrote about later in two other books, fell in love with a Romanian noblewoman, worked for British intelligence in WWII behind enemy lines in Crete working with the resistance, traveled the Caribbean and Greece extensively, and referenced several times by Ian Fleming in 007 films. Basically the real James Bond.
   A Time to Keep Silence recounts Fermor's time spent living in various Benedictine and Trappist monasteries while he was traveling Europe, as he had no money to live anywhere else. The book elegantly describes why people are attracted to Asceticism, why they were necessary, and the effect the complete tranquillity monasteries had on him.  Also worth reading, especially because it is so short and easy to read.

3) sadly one of the tanks in which we kept our Cobia broodstock (sexually mature fish) broke, dumping our few fish and water all over the wetlab and our only female died after we dumped her into an ice chest and tried to pass oxygenated water through her gills. She was about 3 feet long, and was a delicious lunch.

Monday, July 9, 2012

One of the biggest research activities here at CEI is actually shark research, and we have done some pretty interesting projects on local shark populations. Tonight I watched a presentation that was given to some visiting students and thought some of the information might be worth passing along.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) - courtesy Eric Chen, Wetpixel
According to some of the latest figures, perhaps 73 million sharks are killed each year (from UN data), and some more liberal estimates based on the fact that over 3 in 4 shark kills go unreported puts the figure at perhaps 150 million sharks killed each year (from independent environmental groups). That is half the population of the US, killed in one year. Almost all of these shark kills are just for their dorsal fin, used in Asian markets to produce shark fin soup, which is a sign of affluence. The shark fin has no taste; the soup itself is often flavored chicken or pork - the only discernible difference is the texture. 99% of the Oceanic Whitetip Shark population have disappeared. That is like the population of the Earth going from 7 billion to 70 million, the population of the UK.  And there were certainly not 7 billion Whitetip sharks to begin with. In fact, CEI is the only research institute that collects data on Oceanic Whitetip Sharks in the world, simply because no one else can find them. Sharks are K selected species, which means they have few young in their lives due what was once a stable environment for them to thrive in - like humans. Fishing sharks is like mining minerals - you fish 80% of the sharks, then you will be stuck with 20% of the population as the new baseline, as long as fishing pressure stays consistent (which it doesn't).

However, there are now many shark reserves in the Pacific and Indian island countries, as well as a very recent one  in The Bahamas. Studying Reef Shark population changes over the period from 1980 to 2011, there has been a marked increase in shark population. China has just recently banned shark fin soup at official functions, marking (hopefully) a new direction in which shark fin is viewed. Ensuring shark survival is not just some Romantic crusade to preserve a set of amazing creatures, increased shark diversity and density has a direct correlation to increased coral reef biodiversity and biomass, as sharks prey on weakened fish or fish whose populations have grown too high. Kingman Reef, a US dependency and one of the last truly pristine reefs in the world, has a predator biomass of 85%, 3/4 of which are sharks (from an old NG article,  highly recommend reading). They are some of the most beautiful and awe inspiring inhabitants of the sea, and they deserve our protection. We can't live without them, but they would chug along just fine thank you very much should human disappear tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

This just got posted today, a video documentation of our Cobia movie - really great, you can see me starting at 1:20. Since there aren't captions, I can summarize what is happening. At :04 you see the juvenile Cobia in their wet lab tank waiting to be transferred, and at :14 we begin to add Clove Oil as a mild sedative. At :34 the Cobia are transferred from their rearing tanks to two blue transport containers aboard a truck, which is then driven to the marina at Cape Powell. The Cobia are then transferred from the truck (:54) to our biggest boat, also named the Cobia. The boat is then motored out to the cage about a mile offshore, and we prepare to send the Cobia down into the cage. At 1:07 you see divers preparing to raise the cage, as the axis of the cage contains an inflatable bladder that can be inflated to raise the structure up. At 1:20 we begin to scoop the Cobia from the totes on board to a tube that drains into the cage, and they pop out at the other end into the net!

All is going well now in the cage, we are feeding them around 3 kilos of feed daily, and scrubbing the cage of algae to increase water flow through the cage. They bite a bit when you stick your fingers through the netting!