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Conservation • Exploration • Adventure




Oceanographic Issue 04



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Editor’s Letter Most people a re n ' t m a r i n e biologists, social media influencers or p h i l a n t h ro p i s t s . I s t h e re re a l l y anything they can do?

A good citizen. It’s a sentence that could mean a thousand things: a conscientious neighbour, a professional pillar of the community, a dutiful public servant. Provided you’re doing something that contributes to the collective - directly or indirectly - you’re performing a civic kindness. That kindness can extend to your fellow townsfolk, countryfolk or even humankind (Earthfolk?). Your kindness might be social. It could be financial. Increasingly, it may well be ecological. As our planet continues to buckle under the strains of overpopulation, overexploitation and climate change, and as the associated rallying cries go out from environmentalists and conservation groups for people to be good citizens, increasing numbers are answering the call - particularly where our fragile and vital ocean is concerned. But most people aren’t marine biologists, they don’t have vast social media followings to influence, and they aren’t able to luxuriously split their week between business and philanthropy. Yes, they can change their consumer habits, but beyond that, is there really anything they can do? Absolutely. They can become a citizen scientist. Citizen science involves the participation of non-scientists in authentic scientific projects: assessing species diversity on a coral reef, collecting microplastic samples on an amateur sailing expedition, running transects on seagrass beds. The work is often labour-intensive, either taking on fieldwork duties for project leaders or working with them to increase the range of data collected. It’s hands-on, change-making stuff.

Will Harrison Editor

In this issue, we meet a citizen science collective collating a database of whale fluke images (cover story, p.20) they hope will help biologists better understand humpback migration patterns, and a team of volunteers removing proliferating starfish from a number of Malaysian reefs at risk of collapse (p.84). You'll also find citizen scientists making cameos in several other articles, and Project AWARE, in their column, recommend citizen science as part of your next holiday. A good citizen then? It can mean a thousand things. Including being a scientist.

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Contents O N T H E C OV E R



An underwater photographer captures an image of a humpback whale fluke as part of a citizen science program in the Kingdom of Tonga. Photograph by Joanna Lentini.

Get in touch

Understanding the movements of migratory species like humpback whales is a logistical and financial challenge for biologists. In Tonga, a citizen scientist collective is plugging the data gap by creating a centralised ID image bank of whales that visit the Kingdom. PAG E 2 0


Georgina Fuller


Amelia Costley


Joanna Kilgour


Chris Anson



Will Harrison



For all enquiries regarding stockists, submissions, or just to say hello, please email info@oceanographicmagazine.com or call (+44) 20 3637 8680. Published in the UK by Atlas Publishing Ltd. Š 2018 Atlas Publishing Ltd. All rights reserved. Nothing in whole or in part may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

A collection of some of the most captivating ocean images shared on social media, both beautiful and arresting. Tag us or use #MYOCEAN for the opportunity to be featured.

Printed by Warners Midlands Plc ISSN: 2516-5941

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The waters off the coast of Mozambique are full of life. Marine scientist and Mozambique resident Andrea Marshall reveals the wonder of what lies beneath, what's being done to conserve the marine environment and why such protections are so important.

Biologist and conservationist Lizzie Daly reveals the reality behind salmon farming in the UK - seals shot as pests. Her work on the issue, which includes a short documentary, also calls into question the value of the 'RSPCA Assured' sticker.

A number of reefs off the coast of Malaysian Borneo are under threat. Crown of Thorns starfish are decimating reefs, some left completely destroyed. A team of volunteer divers are taking the matter into their own hands, removing the starfish one by one.

On the small Indonesian island of Tanakeke, swathes of mangroves were felled in the 1990s by a booming aquaculture industry. Twenty years on the island's community is being empowered to safeguard its future and return Tanakeke's coastlines to health.

The animal kingdom is awash with unusual and rare behaviours. The 'manta cyclone' is perhaps one of the rarest, happening infrequently in very few places on Earth. For one zoologist and filmmaker, seeing and capturing this behaviour became a fixation.

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Each issue, we chat with one of the world’s leading ocean photographers and showcase a selection of their work. In this edition, we meet veteran Sea Shepherd photographer and Sea Legacy Collective member, Simon Ager.

Big wave surf champion, environmentalist and social change advocate Dr Easkey Britton discusses the emerging discipline of Oceans and Human Health, an exploration of our interconnectedness with the ocean.

Marine biologist and shark behaviour specialist, Ocean Ramsey, talks about the importance of environmentallyconscious travel, revealing some of the best destinations for healthy marine life encounters.

Dr Simon Pierce, Principal Scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation, discusses the importance of sharks to the ocean ecosystem and why 'shark infested waters' should be celebrated rather than feared.

The team at Project AWARE, Oceanographic’s primary charity partner, ask what it means to be an eco-tourist, offering some advice on how you should approach your next ocean-focussed holiday.

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Shane Gross Eleuthera Island, Bahamas A lemon shark pup uses the mangroves for protection from predators. She will spend the first five to eight years of her life in this mangrove creek and return to the same one to give birth. SPONSORED BY


Cameron Grant Yokohama Bay, Oahu A spotted eagle ray, the giant butterfly of the sea, elegantly glides through the tropical shallows of the Aloha State, rippled sand beneath, bright sunshine overhead. SPONSORED BY

Aaron Lynton Hawaii Just off the coast of South Maui, a pod of wild Hawaiian spinner dolphins. After a few minutes, they became comfortable and curious, says the photographer, allowing him to freedive down and "truly feel like one of the pod". SPONSORED BY


Svein Aasjord Norway While snorkelling with orcas in Kaldfjord, a photographer calls out to his buddy to turn and face the camera, two huge dorsal fins towering behind him. "The picture looks scarier than it was. He was actually shouting with joy!" SPONSORED BY


Fluke science

Understanding the movements of migratory species such as humpback whales can be a challenge. Marine photographers are helping scientists and researchers plug the information gap by uploading images of whale flukes to centralised databases.

Wo rd s a n d p h o t o g ra p h s b y J o a n n a L e n t i n i

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“The fluke of an adult humpback whale consists of identifying features on two lobes that are separated by a notch. The unique features of each fluke are functionally analogous to the identifying characteristics of a human fingerprint.”

s was the case with the majority of whale species, the nineteenth century was not kind to the humpback. Commercial whaling brought the species to the brink of extinction. In recent decades humpback populations have recovered again thanks largely to improved protections. With numbers bouncing back, researchers are keen to advance their understanding of the recovering species, particularly regarding migratory patterns and global population size. Financially and logistically, ambitious data-driven projects such as these can be hard to get off the ground. Small research teams, while capable of interpreting significant and complex datasets, rarely have the means to collect such extensive data in the first place - not at significant investment of both time and money, at least. To better understand the world’s humpbacks, collaboration would be key. Several citizen science initiatives are gathering valuable humpback data from people and organisations in regular contact with the species, collating information researchers can access and interpret. Some of these citizen science programs cover whale sightings around the world, while others focus on specific locations. One region-based initiative is the Tongan Fluke Collective (TFC), founded by wildlife photographer and expedition leader Scott Portelli. For the last 17 years, Portelli has been leading groups to Tonga for humpback encounters. During this time he has compiled a database of underwater and topside whale fluke (whale tail) images. Four years ago he invited additional photographers to the project and has had a lot of success garnering support. Between the months of July and October large numbers of humpback whales make their annual migration from the frigid, dark waters of the Southern Ocean to the warm, clear lagoons surrounding the South Pacific islands to breed and raise their young. One particular stopover that attracts both whales and freedivers alike is the quiet Polynesian archipelago of Tonga. With Fiji to the north-west, Samoa to the north-east, and Vanuatu to the far west, the remote Kingdom of Tonga is nestled in an idyllic part of the planet. Besides forty-ton humpbacks, others that make the journey to the Kingdom include scientists, divers, photographers and tour operators. The TFC relies on 50 semi-resident photographers leading groups and 38 tour operators that are out in the field every day for months at a time to help build its database. As the odds of seeing and documenting flukes are much greater for tour operators, the TFC regularly reaches out to these stakeholders for images. That’s not to say visiting photographers don’t contribute to the TFC. A dedicated Facebook group has been established to encourage participation in the Collective. PREVIOUS PAGE: A photographer watches on as a humpback calf swims between mother and surface. LEFT: A humpback fins away from the surface, its calf watching from below.


“One region-based initiative is the Tongan Fluke Collective, founded by wildlife photographer Scott Portelli. For the last 17 years, Portelli has been leading groups to Tonga for humpback encounters.�

Tour operators play an important role in the capture of fluke data, taking hundreds of amateur and professional photographers to dive with humpbacks every season.

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“The TFC hopes to consolidate its dataset into GPS points on a map, and present that data to the Tongan government to provide a bigger picture of humpback whale populations and movements around the Kingdom.”

However, critical metadata such as date, time, and GPS coordinates are often not provided with the images. The main purposes of the Facebook group are to raise awareness, provide regular updates and encourage a growing community of citizen scientists. The updates include information on where the whales are traveling, and sightings in other regions of Tonga, or even as far as Antarctica. Documenting and collecting images of humpback whale flukes is extremely important in order to help identify individuals in a population. The fluke of an adult humpback whale consists of identifying features on two lobes that are separated by a notch. The unique features of each fluke are functionally analogous to the identifying characteristics of a human fingerprint, perfect for accurately recognising individuals. The fluke may contain scars from predators or collisions with vessels, birthmarks and barnacles; but each fluke has three common identifying characteristics - the trailing edge, the fluke shape and the notch shape. Of these characteristics, the most helpful to researchers is the trailing edge, as it tends to remain constant throughout a humpback’s life. The tracking and geotagging of flukes therefore offers significant insight into the movements of individual humpbacks. The more comprehensive the data, the more compelling the picture. According to Portelli, a number of organisations have operated in relative isolation for years - conducting private research and making assumptions about humpback migration patterns and habits with limited data. Portelli noticed that researchers would drop in for short periods (often for PhD projects) and form assumptions about the whales based on a small amount of information, no larger dataset for them to tap into. And, as findings were generally not shared with colleagues before the researchers departed, often never to return, a great deal of information was being lost. Frustrated by the fact the majority of the organisations did not share their findings, Portelli set out to create a free, public database of fluke images from around the archipelago. By compiling images of humpbacks frequenting Tonga he hoped researchers would be able to get a more accurate gauge on the local population size, and a better understanding of its movements within the region. The TFC’s primary purpose is to provide an ever-growing hub of whale fluke images in order to standardise data points for the combined benefit of researchers and organisations. Historically, such groups have not shared information - and currently many still do not reciprocate any of their own images to the database - Portelli is hopeful they will eventually begin to see the benefit in doing so. Now, the TFC is helping to close the gap where traditional scientists and researchers faced limitations. Rather than leveraging just a small portion of data from one source for specific research in connection with a formal paper or funded assignment, science can now benefit from big data from multiple sources - unprecedented for projects in a specific region over a short period. To achieve these ends, the Collective maintains a database full of fluke information for researchers to access free of charge. Whether underwater or from a boat, the Collective encourages visitors to Tonga to contribute images of adult humpback flukes. While collecting fluke images may seem straightforward, it is not an easy task. Long lenses, accurate timing and patience are required to get a sharp image from a moving boat. Underwater, things can change quickly, and divers typically try to avoid positioning themselves near the rear of a humpback - colliding with the tail of an adult whale could result in death. Several organisations are already tapping into the collection. Some even provide feedback. However, to Portelli’s dismay, other organisations utilise the Collective’s database for research projects without contributing any of their own data. While the lack of reciprocity and finding new contributors can be challenging, he is not discouraged. For every fluke image the TFC can use, credit is given to the appropriate photographer and tour operator Swimming with Gentle Giants donates AUD$1 to the local community. Each season they end up donating approximately AUD$1,000 to the Tongan community and local initiatives, particularly on the island of Vava’u where Portelli and many of the operators are based. Currently, several organisations are matching the donation, including the Vava’u Environmental Protection Association and Phil Smith of Whales in the Wild. The Collective also engages with other non-

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profit environmental groups on the neighbouring islands of Haapai, Eua, and Tongatapu for image acquisition. One of the organisations that reciprocate images to the Collective is Happy Whale, based out of Santa Cruz, California. Founded by Ted Cheeseman in 2015, Happy Whale operates similarly to the Tongan Fluke Collective, but on a global scale. To date the organisation has created a database of roughly 125,000 whale fluke images from around the world. Cheeseman and Portelli connected through the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium a couple of years back. Cheeseman, who is working on a PhD about humpbacks, has encountered possessiveness from some research organisations, but attributes that to a lack of funding. Not surprisingly, the two fluke collectives are supportive of each other and share data regularly. The goals of Cheeseman’s PhD research project are to understand the differential survivorship rates across different humpback populations and to improve upon the quality of image recognition. Sorting through whale fluke images takes time and can be messy. It’s a process Cheeseman is working hard to streamline. With research continuing to show a positive trend in the eastern Australian humpback populations, many are hopeful for their continued recovery. Curious calves that spend the first months of their lives nursing and frolicking alongside their mothers, vying for the attention of divers, while she is frequently distracted by pods of

males competing for her affection in intense heat runs, eventually make their way to the Southern Ocean for the very first time. Where the pair goes after that is what organisations such as Portelli’s and Cheeseman’s strive to help researchers understand. Citizen science initiatives are changing the way information is obtained and distributed. The TFC hopes to consolidate its dataset into GPS points on a map and present that data to the Tongan government to provide a bigger picture of humpback whale populations and movements around the Kingdom. Whether or not this will have a material effect on relevant sovereign decisionmaking remains unclear, but what is certain is that informed decisions can only derive from meaningful, substantial data. Each year, participation in citizen science initiatives continues to grow, with a few million people now volunteering on research projects. The ongoing collection and analysis of data by members of the general public has the power to change the landscape of scientific research. While efforts such as the Tongan Fluke Collective and Happy Whale remain relatively young - with limited empirical results to boast of at this stage - their promise is real, and their mission necessary. Joanna Lentini

PREVIOUS PAGE: Two worlds, two species, about to engage. THIS PAGE: A humpback calf moves beneath the belly of its mother with a flick of its fluke.

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marine Serengeti

Overfished and undermanaged, a critical section of East Africa’s once bountiful coastline is under threat. A team of marine biologists and conservationists, including the Marine Megafauna Foundation’s Andrea Marshall, is working to redress that balance and bring abundance back. The future of Africa’s marine Serengeti depends on it.

Wo rd s a n d p h o t o g ra p h s b y A n d re a M a r s h a l l

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“Manta rays littered the surface of the water like leaves. Sailfish would breach out of the water repeatedly during frenzied hunts. In winter, thousands of humpback whales would move up the coast to give birth to their calves.”

PREVIOUS PAGE: A loggerhead turtle rests on a shallow reef off San Sebastian. THIS PAGE: A humpback whale breaches off Pomene during its seasonal migration through Mozambican waters.


ave you ever stopped to wonder what the planet would look like if someone had not had the foresight to protect some of our most iconic and wild spaces? What if there was no Yellowstone or Serengeti? What if Yosemite was full of tract housing or the Yasuni National Park in Ecuador had been levelled to extract its subsurface oil? Ever pause to consider how these areas were spared? Who we owe a debt of gratitude to for this tremendous insight? Or how many more wild spaces have we lost because no one stepped up to fight for their protection? I have. I think about it all the time. As a conservation biologist I think one of the single greatest tasks of our time is to critically identify the remaining areas of true wilderness and prioritise the protection of these spaces. Many folks are in agreement. In fact, it has been suggested we aim to protect at least 20-40% of our terrestrial environments. To be clear, the suggestion is more of a warning. This is not just about protecting our natural heritage for beauty’s sake anymore but about preserving genetic biodiversity, moderating climate, detoxifying our air and water, protecting food stocks, etc. The sense of urgency of this task is great. In fact, there are few unspoiled regions left and each passing year brings further development and destruction, some of which can never be undone. We also have a new understanding that while some of the greatest wild spaces and natural wonders ever identified have been on land, we are living on a liquid planet - and our waters do not receive equal representation. Slightly more than 70% of the surface of the globe is covered with water, namely our great oceans. Like our great forests, our oceans provide us with indispensable climate regulation, half of the air we breathe, food and medicine. They also act as a carbon sink. Our oceans are actually the lifeblood of the planet and they have been grossly neglected. Recognising that they deserve equal consideration and care to wild spaces on land, we now desperately need to identify priority marine habitats to safeguard as well.

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TOP: An old male dugong swims in the shallows o Bazaruto Island in the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park, golden trevally for company. MIDDLE: A manta ray - a passion for Andrea "Queen of the Mantas" Marshall - swims overhead, displaying unique markings used for identification. BOTTOM: A whale shark feeds o Tofo Beach, suctioning plankton from the surface.


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It has been seventeen years since I moved to Africa on a whim. I had no plan or expectations when I first visited, and while I distinctly remember feeling incredibly drawn to the continent, I never expected to give up everything for a life along the rural coastline of Mozambique. I would say that I am from a pretty average American family. I grew up in Northern California. In fact, up until the age of about 20, I had a fairly normal life. Don't get me wrong, I loved adventure, animals, and travelled abroad quite a bit. But if someone had told my twentyyear-old self that I would end up living my life in rural Mozambique, I'm pretty sure I would have laughed in their face. That being said, I have never for one day regretted my decision to stay in Africa. In fact, it has been the most enriching and rewarding experience of my life. The continent is alive with diversity of all kinds. The wilderness here is undeniably wild. There is a pervasive feeling of living a more authentic life. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about living in Africa has been finding a community of conservationists who are equally committed to preserving the natural world as I am. Being African means you are inescapably connected to nature and wildlife and that connection means that conversations about the environment seem more relevant to people and their everyday lives. The extraordinary endemism we are surrounded by helps too. It is hard not to feel compelled to save the majesty of Africa and its wildlife when you know that giraffes don’t just walk around in most places. Of course, there will always be those who remain ignorant to the importance of these wild spaces, those who fail to grasp that extinction is forever, those who may not realise how unique this continent is or how quickly we are losing its identity. When I first travelled to Mozambique I had no impressions and even fewer expectations. What I found almost defied imagination. The long pristine coastline seemed to stretch onwards into infinity. Sandy beaches were periodically punctuated by rocky headlands, providing calm bays and decent launching areas. The water was blue, warm and inviting. The wildlife was prolific. Manta rays littered the surface of the water like leaves. You could walk across the backs of whale sharks as they lazily fed together in loose groups of 20-30 individuals. I remember sitting on top of sandy dunes watching the bays below me boil with fish. Sailfish would breach out of the water repeatedly during frenzied hunts. In winter, thousands of humpback whales would move up the coast to give birth to their calves. These miniature whales would then spend months learning the ins and outs of what it meant to be a whale (incidentally watching a baby humpback whale awkwardly learn how to breach might be one of the most amusing things to witness). There was just so much life - and the diversity of it all was just staggering. I had never been to a place where you could see hammerheads and frogfish in one dive. I never imagined that I would be able to have daily encounters with the last viable dugong population in

Africa. I certainly never suspected that I would discover new species or be the first person to see and dive some of Mozambique’s most remote reefs. This place was just about as magical as it gets. Even the topography of the region was spectacular, evenly matching the unspoiled splendour found just beneath the waves I immediately wondered why Mozambique wasn’t one of the top tourist destinations in the world. Indeed in the 1950s and ‘60s it was well on its way, but a long and incredibly violent series of wars essentially closed Mozambique off, for all intents and purposes, to outsiders. When things calmed down for the country in the mid 1990s, it was slow to open up. Infrastructure had been destroyed making getting to and traveling through the country difficult. Much of the coastline had not been developed making accessing some of these spectacular areas almost impossible. There were a lot of dangers and corruption was rife - not the kind of conditions which were exactly welcoming to tourists. Land mines were not entirely removed from the country until 2015. As soon as things settled down though, people began taking an avid interest in Mozambique. Wanting to champion this region I worked with the media to promote the country - showcasing what an extraordinary location it was for marine megafauna. I also co-founded the Marine Megafauna Foundation, an organisation dedicated to the study and protection of our most iconic and vulnerable marine species. Mozambique turned out to be an incredible place to study some of these animals and the country quickly became known for the scientific work being done on elusive marine species like whale sharks, manta rays and dugong. What I did not predict at the time is how quickly the pristine conditions of the coastline would deteriorate. It started with a general perception of decreased abundance, fewer sightings. First it was brindle bass, then it was manta rays, then whale sharks, then devil rays and so on and so forth. Our scientific datasets began to show distinct declines in the abundance and distributions of most marine megafauna species after 2006, with the observational sighting records of some species crashing by up to 95% over a 15-year period. The marine utopia I had stumbled on was at risk of collapsing. The root cause? In my mind the most profound impact on the coastline has been the growth and mechanisation of artisanal fishing practices. Hand-line and spearfishing practices had swiftly transitioned into less discriminate gillnet and long-line fisheries, which started the rapid removal of untargeted species from dolphins and mantas to sea turtles and sharks. Then directed fishing started, fuelled by Chinese buyers looking to transport valuable products like shark fins back to Asian markets. Rowboats and sailing dhows, which restricted the range of fishermen, were slowly replaced with motor-powered boats enabling them to reach more remote and pristine areas of the coast. The size and efficiency of nets and lines kept getting bigger and better. But this is just what I could see. There was no accounting for the catastrophic impacts

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“The results of our surveys were pretty compelling. Most of the marine megafauna species living in or visiting the country were spatially aggregating along a 400-kilometre area of the southern coast. This was the critical habitat that needed to be prioritised for protection.�

The spectacular Bazaruto Archipelago is home to shifting sands, tidal channels and the highest sand dunes in eastern Africa.

of offshore industrialised fishing or the sinister effects of boats which crept in from the horizon at dusk to rape the inshore reefs at night. So, I shifted gears. Nurturing marine tourism along was not going to be enough to save this coastline. If we were going to make a real attempt to stem the loss of diversity along the coast we were going to need a paradigm shift in Mozambique’s approach to marine conservation. Mozambique was going to need to step up and invest in the development of a well-managed, scientifically sound network of marine protected areas along the coast. No more paper parks. They would need to create large functional protected areas, that strung together down the coast, that might offer these animals enough of a refuge to keep their populations afloat. To help encourage and inform on this decision, scientists at the Marine Megafauna Foundation hit the water and took to the skies in the hopes of determining the most critical regions along the coast. Hundreds of hours of aerial and underwater transects began to tell a story. Marine megafauna species from dugong to manta rays have preferred habitats. Their needs are surprisingly quite specific, and they tend to preferentially use certain areas over others. The results of our surveys were pretty compelling. Most of the marine megafauna species living in or visiting the country were spatially aggregating along a 400-kilometre area of the southern coast, including much of the length of the Inhambane Province. It was in these waters that we were finding the greatest concentrations of animals and in general the most prolific diversity. This was the critical habitat that needed to be prioritised for protection. Data from more advanced technologies like acoustic and satellite tags placed on key indicator species, were telling the same story. As we slowly learned how and why animals are utilising habitats along the coast, we began to see a pattern. Many animals would disperse from this coastline for parts of the year or would migrate seasonally, but they would always return. This area seemed to provide an important feeding ground and breeding ground for many species. One that they relied on and sought refuge in. We also began learning about the oceanography of the coastline and its influence on life in this region. The Inhambane coastline is the blue heart of coastal east Africa. Brought on by unseen natural forces, including converging currents, exposure to natural slow-moving gyres making their way down the Mozambican channel, and natural upwelling, this coastline is bathed in enough nutrient waters to sustain a vast abundance of life. Its narrow continental shelf helps to funnel nutrients from the deep into inshore areas and the close proximity to a drop off provides quick access for many species to deep foraging waters. If the threats could be removed, ocean systems would likely allow this region to bounce back quickly and regain equilibrium. As fortune would have it, this key stretch of coastline already included the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (BANP), Mozambique’s first marine protected area, the Vilanculos Wildlife Sanctuary and the coastline immediately in front of the Pomene Special Reserve, meaning that a significant portion of the desired area could be protected with minimal effort. It was a good starting point. Luckily, African Parks Network couldn’t resist coming on board to take over the management of the BANP. They began a long-term partnership with Mozambique’s National Administration of Conservation Areas in mid-2018. With an outstanding reputation for revitalising and/or securing comprehensive protection for foundering National Parks in Africa, the takeover is a ray of hope for the region. Off the back of this momentum other large-scale conservation projects in the province have taken shape, some of which will offer important buffer zones around the park and increase the range of the needed protection in the Province. To date we are close to realising 50% of the total goal of protection. To say this region could one day represent one of the most important marine protected areas in Africa would not be a stretch. The region was already mooted as a future UNESCO World Heritage site and our understanding of the importance of this coastline grows every year. We are standing on the precipice of achieving something critical for Mozambique, something historically important for Africa. This must have been what it felt like back in time when some of the greatest terrestrial parks were being created. I am privileged in my lifetime to be witnessing the birth of East Africa’s marine version of the Serengeti. A n d re a M a r s h a l l


By Dr Easkey Britton

The social ecologist OCEANS AND HUMAN HEALTH

“ There is a growing body of evidence pointing towards the powerful healing effects of regular and gradual build-up of immersion or swimming in the sea.”

Photograph by Victoria Harrison / Basho


Oceanographic Issue 04


n Issue 01 I talked about ‘blue health’, how our health and wellbeing are inextricably linked to the health of the ocean. I want to dive a little deeper into this emerging discipline of Oceans and Human Health. There are a growing number of initiatives exploring the complexity of our interconnectedness and interdependency with the ocean. For example, the We Are Ocean initiative in the UK asked people in cities to describe their relationship with the sea and discuss what it means to be connected to it. As a lifelong surfer, I was gifted this sea connection through my surfing family - stories passed down like genetic code, ancestry, a sense of belonging on the west coast of Ireland. As a child, I’d go on family road-trips and camp next to the breaking surf, my little sister and I curled up between our parents in the back of the van. I remember my excitement staying up late to listen for a rise in the sound of the waves, signalling a shift of tide or the arrival of a new swell. But it’s not just me who has this ‘blue heritage’. The sea remains in the saltwater of our blood, our cells, our DNA from when we first came ashore and took up life on land. Consider the imprint water experiences can leave on our body and mind. We experience the world, and comprehend it, through our senses. The sea, especially, is such a multi-sensory experience. It’s visually stimulating with a thousand shades of constantly moving blue. Smells and sounds of waves have an effect on our sense of wellbeing. And that’s before we dive into it. Our bodies have been shaped and formed by water - we have an ocean inside us. Like the Earth, we are 70% saltwater. In 1897 French physician Rene Quinton discovered a 98% match between our blood plasma and sea water, or what we called ‘ocean plasma’. Like our mammalian cousins, dolphins and seals, we too have evolutionary aquatic markers. Take for example our brains - simply looking at water changes our brain wave frequency, putting us in a more meditative state. Consider our nervous and endocrine system - cold water stimulates the vagus nerve, calming our fight or flight response, lowering cortisol and releasing feel-good hormones. I learned from freediver, friend and ocean conservationist Hanli Prinsloo to tap into our innate biological effect known as the mammalian dive reflex, which causes our heart rate to slow when in water as soon as we immerse ourselves. This all holds incredible importance for a stressed-out society. There is a growing body of evidence pointing towards the powerful healing effects of regular and gradual build-up of immersion or swimming in the sea. These include decreases in stress hormones and inflammation, increases in an adrenal hormone associated with ‘aliveness’, white blood cell count (strengthening our immune

system), and even increases in sex hormones. Returning to this notion of ‘interconnection’ - our blood, our sweat, our tears, all return, ultimately, to the ocean. Each drop of water has been here forever and continually returns to the ocean where it is recycled and renewed. Our heart mirrors the circulation of ocean currents. Planet Earth, to quote ocean scientist Sylvia Earle, is actually a beating blue heart. We depend on this blue heart for our survival, development and wellbeing. It connects us all. Despite all this, we live in an age of disconnectedness. We live more urbanised lives. We are spending less time outdoors than any generation before us. One of the greatest crises of our time is the rise of mental health issues. In his recent book, Lost Connections, Johan Hari reveals how sky-rocketing stress and anxiety are linked to the fact that we’ve become disconnected. This has consequences not just for our health but also for environmental health - a vicious loop. Take, for example, how our actions on land impact the ocean: 97% of our waste ends up in the ocean, and it’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish. Of the nearly 250 people surveyed in the We Are Ocean study, more than 90% said we are not an ocean literate society. To be ocean literate is to understand how and why we are ocean. In Issue 01, I highlighted the momentum building for how we might overcome this disconnect with powerful examples of actions individuals and organisations are taking to (re) connect by creating stories, collaborations and experiences. These are especially important when overcoming deeply entrenched cultural norms. The EU-funded project Seas and Oceans for Public Health in Europe (or SOPHIE). SOPHIE sets out to help build new research capacity for the emerging scientific discipline of Oceans and Human Health. The project seeks to unravel the complicated mix of relationships between people and the sea and the threats and opportunities that can result. What if we could pride ourselves, as citizens of a blue planet, with being fluent in the language of the sea? Ultimately, change comes through the heart. About Easkey Dr Easkey Britton, surfer and founder of Like Water, is a marine social scientist at the National University of Ireland Galway. Her work explores the relationship between people and the sea, using her passion for the ocean to create social change and connection across cultures. Currently resides in Donegal, Ireland. To learn more, or get involved visit: www.sophie2020.eu

Oceanographic Issue 04



S L AU G H T E R Scotland's salmon farming industry is booming. But at what cost? Wildlife presenter and journalist Lizzie Daly looks into the reality of how some farms are protecting their stocks from predators. Wo rd s b y L i z z i e D a l y / P h o t o g ra p h s b y A s s o r t e d

Oceanographic Issue 04

PREVIOUS: A grey seal rests on a bed of kelp. THIS PAGE: Scotland's salmon industry includes both coastal and loch sites. Some use lethal force to repel seals, some don't. OPPOSITE: One of the seals Lizzie Daly was alerted to, washed up on a Shetland beach, a bullet hole in its head.



eals are social creatures. I have seen them tug on a diver’s fins, stalk a stray surfer and stare mischievously up at me from a kelp-carpeted seabed. As a UK-based marine biologist - I live in Pembrokeshire, and much of my time is spent exploring its epic and wild habitats and inhabitants - a lot of my work focusses on the sea around Britain, and seals have become a big part of that. I have grown particularly fond of sharing the water with these incredibly playful animals. Some people refer to seals as ‘sea dogs’. Spirited, and with curious eyes, I can see why. On the mornings prior to snorkelling with seals I’m full of excitement, but on one particular morning in August of this year, as I waited to board a 7am flight to the Shetland Islands, it wasn’t flutters of excitement that filled my stomach, but waves of anxiety. I was both nervous and angry about what I was travelling north to see: dead seals. Some had bullet holes in their heads, others had shattered skulls. Playful no more. Two species of seal call the UK home: the grey seal and the common seal. Approximately 40% of the world’s populations of grey and common seals are found in Britain, with most of these found in Scotland. The seals attract a huge number of tourists, making them an important part of not just Scotland’s marine ecosystem, but its economy too. Scotland’s modern coastal economy is not defined by wildlife and eco-tourism alone, however. Another industry has, in recent decades, become a hugely important part of the country’s marine economy: salmon farming. These farms, which generate more than £500 million in exports every year, support thousands of jobs and help sustain economic growth in rural and coastal communities. The Scottish government estimates the value of the industry will double by 2030, from £1.8 billion to £3.6 billion. Jobs are also expected to double to approximately 18,000. Such growth is fantastic for the economy, no doubt, but what does it mean for the environment? While conducting research into the environmental effects of the UK’s aquaculture industry I read an article by a local campaigner who was pleading for the shooting of seals in Scotland to be stopped. I was shocked. Why hadn’t I heard about this? Could such a practice really still be happening? Oceanographic Issue 04



Common seals adopting their characteristic 'head-up, tail-up' pose.


On reflection, it is perhaps no surprise that seals have become a problem for salmon farmers in Scotland. As mentioned, seals are commonplace in Scottish waters. A booming, ever-expanding industry that farms fish in waters frequented by a marine mammal that feeds on those very same fish meant that conflict was, ultimately, an inevitability. Seals are, quite simply, bad for business, whether through broken nets (seals attempting to gain access to pens and causing damage) or loss of product (seals gaining access to pens and feeding on stock). I was angry. These salmon farms had been placed in the natural habitat of one of our country’s most iconic marine mammals. Those mammals were, in turn, being executed for attempting to access pens full of prey, for following their natural predation instinct. What did the fish farms expect to happen? Why weren’t there effective preventions put in place when the pens were put in? I decided this was a story that needed to be told. After consulting a conservationist / producer who wanted to work with me on the project, we went to work on finding out the truth and creating a documentary about it. In 2010, the Marine Scotland Act was put in place for the protection of seals. A comprehensive licensing system was created to ensure the appropriate management of seals in Scotland. Salmon farm companies can apply for licenses to shoot a quota of seals each year. It is legal. The licensing system is meant to be strictly regulated - each salmon farm has a limit on the number of seals it can shoot and it is a principle of the licensing system that seals should only be shot as a last resort. However, what constitutes a “last resort” is not specified. I find the idea of “last resort” shootings a pretty unpalatable management tool, but if that’s the law, should there not be clear details regarding what constitutes a “last resort” kill? How regulated could such a licensing system be? More pertinently, were there no effective non-lethal deterrents that could be used instead? As the project developed and I spoke with people and organisations close to the story, I was informed there was a disparity between official kill quotas given under the licensing system and the number of seals shot. I was told of seals shot and sunk at sea, lobster pots filled with seal carcasses, remains found washed up on beaches. Then in August this year I received a call from a contact in Shetland about a number of carcasses that had washed up on a remote beach. This would be the first time, in almost two years of research, that I would encounter an executed seal first hand. By 6am the day after that call I was in Bristol Airport, on my way to the Shetland Islands, nervous. This was the evidence we needed to tell the story, but as someone who has spent so much time interacting with this beautiful, boisterous species, I knew what awaited me would be uncomfortable viewing. On heading out to the beach, the murky morning heavy around us, it didn’t take me long to spot the first carcass. It would turn out to be the freshest of them, blood still matted in its fur. We found a total of seven dead seals. While each carcass was at a different stage of



“I HAD PRESUMED - AS I THINK MOST PEOPLE WOULD - THAT THE 'RSPCA ASSURED' STICKER WAS A GUARANTEE OF EXCELLENT ANIMAL WELFARE STANDARDS." decomposition, they all appeared to have been shot. Some had holes in their heads, others had totally shattered skulls. It was heart-breaking. That moment was the culmination of years of questions, phone calls, research. There I was, staring down at seals that had been killed by the salmon farming industry, nothing more than pests. In that time between learning of this “last resort” process and seeing its consequences firsthand, the story had deepened beyond one of abhorrent pest control. About a year into the project, while in Scotland on a research trip, I passed a salmon farm, a number of signs and symbols decorating its entrance. One of those symbols was familiar to me - the RSPCA Assured logo. This surprised me - I knew this particular farm had shot seals. I had presumed - as I think most people would - that the RSPCA Assured sticker was a guarantee of excellent animal welfare standards. Surely the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the largest animal welfare charity in the UK, wouldn’t support farms that killed seals? Sadly, it does. On learning that the RSPCA supports a number of salmon farms that have licenses to shoot seals, I approached the organisation for comment. I was informed the charity had to “consider the welfare of the salmon”. Digging a little deeper, I discovered that 20 of the 24 individuals sat on the RSPCA Assurance scheme actually work for salmon farm companies. I was stunned. When I started this project, I was keen to navigate towards finding a long-term solution. This wasn’t an exposé, rather a journey to find a non-lethal deterrent that worked for salmon farmers. The industry, after all, isn’t going anywhere. I have worked on projects previously that have worked to reshape our relationship with wildlife: the use of translocation devices on elephants to mitigate conflict risks over shared habitats with people; the problem of humpback whales eating juvenile Pacific salmon from hatchery releases. Regardless of each particular relationship dynamic, the same issue lies at the core of the problem: shared space, shared resources. Double-netting - the provision of a secondary barrier between the salmon and seals - is the most effective deterrent currently available to salmon farms. It is also the most expensive, which is why just 20% of farms use this method. Other non-lethal options include tensioned nets, which make it difficult for seals to push into the netting towards the fish; seal blinds, a smaller mesh placed at the base of nets to prevent seals from seeing fish at the bottom of the pen; and acoustic deterrent devices (ADDs), which emit high-pitched sounds to discourage seals from targeting the pens. ADDs are to only be used if a seal is seen attacking a pen. Despite being used by approximately 70% of Scottish salmon farms, ADDs are a controversial tool due to the impact they are believed to have on cetaceans, including the many dolphins and porpoises that also call Scotland’s wild waters home. Harbour porpoises, for example, are believed to suffer hearing damage from noises above 165db. Most ADDs emit sounds in excess of 180db. Each salmon farm can have between four and 20 ADDs. In Norway, one of the world’s biggest salmon producers, ADDs are banned - as is the shooting of seals. Double-netting is increasingly prominent there too, with many farms in Canada also installing them. Silent Slaughter, our film about the shooting of Scotland’s seals, received a huge response from the public. People were appalled that such a practice was being used by aquaculture businesses in the UK. But public outrage only goes so far. There is still a long way to go. Salmon farmers need to be put under pressure to stop shooting seals. It’s needless, particularly with non-lethal deterrents available to them. If you feel the same as me and want to see this practice stopped, please share this message. And if you eat salmon, know where your salmon is coming from, and at what cost. Don’t trust every label you see. I will never forget that day on a beautiful and windy beach on Shetland, standing next to the bloody carcass of a dead seal. We should be proud of our wildlife. We should celebrate it. Let’s talk it up, not gun it down. Lizzie Daly


A grey seal recovers after a fight - a more natural form of bloodshed for the species.

Oceanographic Issue 04


By Ocean Ramsey


“While you are traveling there are a number of things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet. Small efforts can have a huge collective impact.”


Oceanographic Issue 04


s a marine biologist and shark behaviour specialist I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to many special places for research, conservation and awareness projects. I always try to incorporate environmental consciousness into my travel by being selective about what I choose to support and participate in. I encourage anyone traveling to vote with their wallets and actively support practices that give back to the local community and environment. Do your research, be aware of how operations may impact local wildlife, choose operators and individuals that respect the reef and don’t cause damage with their activities and don’t touch animals unless you are approached first and it is a truly mutual interaction. When traveling there are a number of things you can do to reduce your impact on the planet. Small efforts can have a huge collective impact. Travel with your own reusable containers instead of using single-use plastic or Styrofoam containers, and invest in reusable utensils like a bamboo spork or reusable straw. When going out to eat at restaurants it’s also a good idea to ask where your food is coming from. I made the choice to become a vegetarian more than 10 years ago to reduce my impact on the environment, especially marine ecosystems. If you choose to eat seafood download the Seafood Watch app by the Monterey Bay Aquarium to ensure you are not supporting unsustainable fisheries, such as longlining operators which land marine life indiscriminately, netting (especially gill nets) which can turn into ghost nets, or bottom trawling for shrimp/prawns which has high levels of bycatch and devastates the seafloor.  I often get asked for travel recommendations, and the following locations represent my top choices for the environmentally-conscious traveller:  Hawaii The Hawaiian islands have so much to offer, including a variety of marine life (with several endemic species found nowhere else on earth) and natural beauty above the water. I’m based on the north shore of Oahu, where you can join me for a pelagic research dive at @OneOceanDiving. Sandbar and Galapagos sharks are regulars, with tiger sharks and scalloped hammerheads also showing up on occasions. We run these dives daily throughout the year. Each season has something special to offer, including whale watching from November-March and sea turtle snorkelling (@LittleOceanTours) in the summer (or upon request year round if the conditions are suitable). 

list. The cultural respect for sharks here is high and the waters are full of them. You can snorkel with blacktip reef sharks and stingrays in the shallow lagoons or venture further offshore from AugustOctober to freedive with humpback whales, pilot whales, tiger sharks, schools of grey reef sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks. Cocos Island  Cocos Island National Park, off the coast of Costa Rica, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for the range of wildlife that, as a migratory hub, it supports. Species that frequent its waters include tiger sharks, whale sharks and huge schools of hammerhead sharks. My personal favourite is the night dive with whitetip reef sharks where divers can witness hundreds of sharks working together, hunting as a pack along the seafloor. Norway  Although personally not a big fan of the cold, traveling to Norway to freedive with orcas was a fantastic experience! Being able to observe large pods of these highly intelligent animals socialising, cooperatively hunting herring, and swimming by or spy-hopping to check us out (on their own terms) was truly unforgettable. This is how cetaceans should be encountered - not in captivity. Bahamas  Tiger Beach with its beautiful white sand, relatively shallow water and amazing visibility is a worldrenowned destination and one of the only places in the world you can reliably dive with large female tiger sharks. The Bahamas realised years ago that sharks are worth more alive than dead and passed legislation that prohibited commercial shark fishing in Bahamian waters.  Guadalupe Island  Cage diving off the remote island of Guadalupe, Mexico offers unparalleled visibility, making it one of the best places in the world to see great white sharks. You can join me and Dr Mauricio Hoyos of Pelagios Kakunjá, a leading researcher, on one of our annual @OneOceanResearch trips to tag and study white shark behaviour. Being surrounded by multiple white sharks or looking one in the eye as they pass by the cage is life changing and almost impossible to describe. OR About Ocean

French Polynesia I often refer to this part of the world as my second home because I love it so much, and if you are a shark lover like me this should definitely be on your

Oceanographic Issue 04

Ocean Ramsey is a marine conservationist and biologist, specialising in shark ethology. She is the founder of the non-profit Water Inspired, and co-founder of One Ocean Research and Diving in Hawaii. She is a PADI MSDT and a competitive freediver. TED talk: ‘How sharks affect us all’.




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Behind the lens I N A S S O C I AT I O N W I T H

SIMON AGER Behind the Lens places a spotlight on the world’s foremost ocean conservation photographers. Each edition focusses on the work of an individual who continues to shape global public opinion through powerful imagery and compelling storytelling.

Oceanographic Issue 04


Q&A SIMON AGER Sea Shepherd Conservation Society campaign photographer and SeaLegacy Collective member Simon has spent the last ten years working as a diver and stills photographer for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. His work has featured in numerous publications, including the NY Times, National Geographic NZ and Le Point Magazine.

OC EA NO G R A PH IC M AGAZ I N E (OM ): W H E N D I D YOU FIRST CONNECT WITH TH E OCEAN? SIMON AGER (SA): As a kid I was lucky to have parents who would take me on vacations to the ocean. I was born in Canada but I grew up in the UK. Devon and Cornwall were a big part of my childhood, so I spent a lot of time by the sea, looking in rockpools, that sort of thing. I had a fascination for frogs and toads. Every house we moved to my dad would help me build a fishpond in the back yard. The ocean and marine life has always been with me. OM : W H EN D ID YOU F I RS T P I C K U P A C AM E R A? SA: I was interested in media at an early age, and along with my fascination of nature I also had a love of the Armed Forces. I’d spend a lot of time at air shows with my dad and got my first camera at nine or ten years old. I started photographing airplanes. Broad media has always been a big part of my life and that’s where most of my career has been spent. OM : A S A N A L B E RTA N AT I V E , H AV E YO U A LWAYS FELT A CONNECTION WITH THE NATURAL WO R L D ? SA: I think so. I love the outdoors, and was lucky growing up where I did. You see the outdoors more than most, so there’s more connection there – more than someone who grows up in a city, certainly. That connection has allowed me to understand and appreciate what allows us to exist on this planet. I was also lucky to have folks who wanted to go places, to travel. OM : H OW IMPO RTAN T I S I T T H E N T H AT W E F I ND A WAY OF CONNECTING CITY FOLK WITH TH E NAT U R A L W O R LD ? H OW BI G I S T H AT C H AL L ENGE? SA: It's huge, particularly where kids are concerned. There are so many young people growing up in cities who don’t have the opportunity to go to the coast, to rivers, to connect and realise that it’s an ecosystem that’s allowing them to live and breathe on this planet. Schools need to be more focussed on creating that connection. That’s the challenge - getting the masses involved. OM : W H E N D I D YO U F I R S T F O C U S YO U R AT T ENTIONS – AND YOUR CAMERA – ON THE OCEAN? SA: It was around nine or ten years old that I was introduced to Greenpeace. My aunt was a member. I remember her showing me some TV clips of people ripping around in zodiacs and having barrels of nuclear waste dumped on their heads. Those visuals grabbed me. And at that stage, I was already taking pictures of the frogs in my fishpond. They weren’t very good though! OM : A S A VIS UA L ART I S T W I T H A L OV E OF NATURE, WAS CONSERVATION P H OTOGRAP H Y P ER H A PS A N INE V I TABI L I T Y F OR YOU ? SA: I think it was a path that was in the back of my mind for a long time. I spent a lot of time in the film industry doing visual effects and news graphics, that sort of thing, but during vacations I’d go on dive trips, camera in-hand. I love sharks, so often returned home with lots of images of those. When I went on my first Sea Shepherd (SS) trip, I was taken on as a deckhand, not a media guy. It was purely by chance that one of the officers onboard saw me editing some of my shark photos. He didn’t know I was a diver and underwater photographer. He turned to me and said: “You’re a photographer now.” And that was it. I moved up from deckhand off the back of my shark images. It took off in a bigger way from there on in.


Oceanographic Issue 04


O M: YO U ’ V E D ON E A L OT OF W ORK WITH SEA SH EP H ERD IN RECENT YEARS. H OW DID TH AT F IR S T MI S S I ON C OM E ABOU T ? SA: I started watching this show called Whale Wars on Discovery Channel. I knew about Greenpeace but I didn’t know so much about SS. There were these guys down in Antarctica facing off with the Japanese whaling fleet, direct action, getting into the think of things, banging steel on steel. I thought: I want a piece of that. I needed a change from the film industry and this feeling I’d had as a kid resurfaced. It took a little while of me bugging them, but I got there. It was meeting Paul Watson in Vancouver that changed things. I got to sit down and have a cup of tea with him in 2009. I told him I loved what he was doing and that he was a huge inspiration. I asked how I could help. A little while later I got an email from Paul: “We’re going to Libya for the bluefin tuna. Get your ass to New York and get aboard the Steve Irwin (SS’s flagship) if you want a piece of this.” I ached over it for a few days - leaving a good job and its security, going into the fray, doing something completely different. I decided to take the leap. O M: H OW D I D T H AT F E E L ? SA: I turned up in New York in the small hours of the morning and looked up at the Steve Irwin. I thought: Man, I’m really doing this! I’d seen these guys on TV, and now I was climbing aboard. Initially I thought it might last a year. I knew Libya would be interesting, but after that, who knew? It’s now been almost ten years. O M: H AV I N G D ON E T E N Y E ARS W I T H SS, WH AT ARE YOUR EMOTIONS NOW, P RE-DEPARTURE, C O M PA R E D TO T H AT F I R S T O U T I N G ? SA: I think I’ve done almost twenty campaigns, but the first is still one of my favourites. We did it all - jumping inside tuna nets, cutting the nets and setting the fish free; having a fishing boat ram us; having fisherman throwing missiles at us. I felt like a big kid - I’d been promoted as we were crossing the ocean from New York and was now running around, camera in-hand, with a big smile on my face, action all around me. Then I’d be jumping in the water to set tuna free. It was spectacular. I was then asked to go to Antarctica to mix it up with the Japanese whaling fleet. I think that was the flagship campaign at the time, and I did five seasons. There’s always a heightened level of expectation on those campaigns. Everyone’s looking at you to get down to the Southern Ocean and kick some ass, to try and stop the Japanese from killing more than 1,000 whales. All eyes are on you. I was on the Brigitte Bardot (SS ship) during that time. A lot of money went into making those campaigns happen. You feel pressure. Conservation group vs Japanese whalers made mainstream news. We had to return home with a victory. O M : WA S T H E R E PA RT I C U L A R P R E S SURE AS A PHOTOGRAPHER? SA: There was always a pressure to get ‘the shot’, something that said something about the campaign as a whole. That’s where I prefer photography over videography - the ability to capture one image that pulls it all together, that shows the world what we’re doing. I like that side of things. I perform better under that pressure, when it’s all kicking off. That’s a better environment for me than having all day to turn something around. My better shots are when the action is unfolding. That’s when I’m in my element. O M: D O YOU F E E L P ROGRE S S H AS B EEN MADE IN TH E TEN YEARS YOU’VE BEEN AT SS? SA: Whale Wars put conservation on the map. A lot of people didn’t know whaling was still going on. It definitely got the general public involved more - we saw more applications to get involved as crew on our ships, to be actively involved in trying to stop illegal activities on our ocean. There are more people now aware of the direction we’re heading, and they don't like it. So I think things are moving forwards, but I do feel, sometimes, that the world’s conservation groups - including SS - are putting band aids on problems. We need formal, decisive action from governments and big business to stop those band aids from falling off. The whaling campaign made a lot of progress, for sure. The Japanese were down there trying to kill 1,033 whales every year. We did that campaign for ten years, until they got taken to the International Court of Justice at the Hague where they were found to be conducting commercial whaling in the guise of research. Iceland and Norway are now the biggest perpetrators of whaling. Iceland landed a blue whale this year, a highly endangered species.

Continued on p.80... Oceanographic Issue 04



Q&A Continued...

OM: T H E U N H IGH S E AS S U M M I T S TART E D T H IS YEAR. H OW WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE TH AT P RO G R ES S ? SA: I’d like to see the ocean policed properly. It’s a frontier. The High Seas is the biggest area on our planet and there are no laws governing it. The biggest problem we have at the moment is illegal, unreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing. We need the ocean more than anything else, and if we fish it out we’re all dead. As Paul Watson says: If the oceans die, we die. If this UN summit brings about a resolution, great: quotas dropped, better policing, bigger penalties for illegal fishing and more sanctuaries. But it’s about enforcing these accords, that’s the problem. Just look at the Paris climate accord. It’s great on paper, but if no one follows it up, it’s worthless. Developing nations are so important here. SS has, in recent years, started assisting African countries, using our logistical expertise to support their coastlines. We’re currently working with five countries, sending our ships down there to counter illegal fishing and police their waters. We used to be regarded as a bunch of hippies, a joke to some, but a big change came in 2015, when we took action against IUU fishing. We went up against five infamous boats everyone had been looking for for years. We found one of them, the Thunder, in Antarctica fishing for Patagonian toothfish (Chilean seabass). We chased it for more than 10,000 miles over 110 days, all the way up the West Coast of Africa. They scuttled the ship in front of us. During that campaign we worked with Interpol, NATO and a few other organisations and forces. It was the most professional we’d ever been. It woke the world up to how good we could be. OM: T H E CH A S E OF T H E T H U N D E R WAS A T URNING P OINT FOR SS TH EN? SA: The Australian government had been looking for that boat for ten years. We found it in two days. We proved it could be done. We dealt with police organisations around the world and finally got the Thunder’s officers in court in South Tome. It was something different for us, and was certainly a springboard for working with other countries in Africa, who are now using our logistics to support the guarding of their coasts. It was a huge thing. OM: R EG A R D ING P ROS P E C T I V E H I GH S E AS P OLICING, DO YOU TH INK TH E INTERNATIONAL CO M M U N I T Y C O U L D L E A R N F R O M T H E T H U NDER CHASE? SA: We learned a lot from it, particularly in terms of working with governments. Our ships are now being used with certain countries’ militaries, with armed personnel and fisheries officers coming aboard. It’s a great partnership and it’s producing results. I’d like to think that as these big intergovernmental meetings are happening - particularly if conservation groups are in the room they can use SS as an example of how High Seas policing could work. OM: H OW DID IT F E E L WAT C H I N G T H E T H U N D ER DO DOWN? SA: I jumped onboard as it was going down. We were on there for about 20 minutes, looking for evidence of their illegal activities. We’d followed them for 110 days, so it was a relief that it was over, but it was sad to see the ship sink. We were all ready to go home - it’d been a long time without seeing land! The fact we knew that all that time hadn’t gone to waste was also a great feeling. And because we’d been working with various police organisations, and knew the ship’s officers would be going to court and probably jail, there was certainly a sense of satisfaction. That’s the biggest thing: when you’re out there for that long, no matter the campaign, you want a result. You don’t want to return home unsuccessful. Success allows you to blueprint the methods used and hopefully do similar work again. OM: A R E T H ER E AN Y PART I C U L AR S S M OM E NTS – TH UNDER ASIDE – AS VIVID TO YOU NOW AS W H EN T H EY TOOK P L AC E ? SA: I think my first campaign, Operation Blue Rage, when Paul invited me to join SS for the first time, remains pretty vivid. Going to Libya, chasing down fishing boats, jumping in the water to cut bluefin tuna nets. It was special. I remember being in the nets, looking down at 1,000 massive tunas the size of small cars. There were five other guys in there, hacking away at one side of the net to let them free. We pulled it off. Watching them escape was incredible.


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Another time, in Gabon with the maritime police and military, we boarded the EU tuna fleet. I got to dive underneath the nets. The staggering amount of bycatch - other species caught in the nets - was unbelievable. Whale sharks, manta rays, loads of sharks. That’s stuck with me. It’s worth remembering that these were legal fishing boats, and one day I saw them throw 128 sharks overboard. That was just one boat. O M: H A S YOU R C AM E RA E V E R TAK E N A H IT? SA: Almost - during the Thunder chase. We were in a small boat when a guy in a balaclava came out on deck and threw a big chunk of chain at me. It missed me - and my camera - by about an inch. I saw him throw it through the lens and got a pretty neat photo. He had a pretty good arm - from one moving vessel to another, he almost got me square in the face, so fair play. He should have been a baseball player! I think if I was a cat with nine lives, I’d be three or four down by now. You put yourself out there, you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you know no one’s coming to get you if something goes wrong. O M: YO U ’ RE N OW A M E M BE R OF T H E SEALEGACY COLLECTIVE, AN OUTFIT WITH SIMILAR G OA LS , BU T D I F F E RE N T C H AN GE -M AKING METH ODS. WH AT DO YOU TH INK SEALEGACY H AS B R O U G H T TO T H E OC E AN C ON V E RS ATION? SA: SeaLegacy is a beautiful organisation. It brings together photographers who are renowned in their specialities - sea wolves, a particular species of shark, coral reefs, and so on. It’s a great collection of people who have huge followings. Look at Paul (Nicklen) and Cristina (Mittermeier) - both National Geographic photographers. It’s difficult to make the average person take an interest in the natural world and conservation - we’re so bombarded with news now that people have short attention spans. Paul and Cristina have created something that cuts through the noise, that makes people sit up and listen. Amazing people, amazing images, actively out there on the front lines, making a difference. Cristina is especially fierce, her passion is from the heart. She has such a desire to get out there, be a part of change. She inspires me. OM: HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK HARNESSING THE VISUAL IS TO CREATING REAL CHANGE? SA: That’s an interesting one. Sometimes I get criticised for showing the less pleasant side of our blue planet - the stringing-up of sharks, for example, instead of a graceful image of a shark slicing through the water, sunrays dancing around it. I get criticised for showing these things, for telling people that this is where their sushi comes from, or that this is what bycatch is. But I believe people need to be made aware of their consumer choices and the effects they have. It’s ugly, but there has to be a balance. Ultimately, I want people to just think a little bit, consider their choice next time they’re in a store. People can’t think that all is A-OK with the ocean. O M: W H AT OC E AN I S S U E W OU L D YOU MOST LIKE TO SEE MOVED H IGH ER UP TH E GLOBAL AGENDA? SA: It’s hard to make people love a fish, but they need a lot more protection. We need more sanctuaries where fish can be left alone. I’d back a moratorium on commercial fishing. There’s enough money in the world to pay fishermen to stay at home and allow the ocean to recover. It needs a break. Unfortunately, a lot of scientists I’ve spoken with think it’s too late. We’ve gone off the cliff. We’re in freefall. It’s a matter of how much damage there is when we hit the bottom. O M: W H AT ’ S BE E N YOU R P ROU D E S T MOMENT AS A P H OTOGRAP H ER? SA: I love it when images have an effect on someone. I don’t have an ego about these things, but it’s nice to hear. I get emails from people saying my work has had an impact on them. It’s the biggest compliment a photographer can get. It makes the months away from home worthwhile. O M: F INAL LY, W H AT ’ S YOU R N E XT P R OJECT? SA: I’m heading out on the Brigitte Bardot in a couple of weeks. We’re just finishing off in the Galapagos and are then heading off to the Cocos to do some diving with hammerheads. It’s been on my list for years. Sharks are the most vilified species on the planet, so we’re hoping to get some great footage of hammerheads in their natural environment, looking beautiful. Hopefully we’ll be able to take the edge off all the bad press sharks get, to shed some light on their importance to the ocean and, therefore, us.

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Southern Ocean, Antarctica Harpoon vessel ‘Yushin Maru no.2’ targets Sea Shepherd’s interceptor vessel ‘Brigitte Bardot’ during a High Seas skirmish. Moving at speeds of 18-20 knots, collision would have likely spelled disaster for the smaller Sea Shepherd vessel - and its crew.

Southern Ocean Heading south from Hobart, Tasmania to Antarctica during Sea Shepherd’s anti-whaling campaign ‘Operation Relentless’. The vessel ‘Bob Barker’, named after the game show host, battles through the infamous Southern Ocean weather and waves.

Gabon As part of a joint venture between Sea Shepherd and Gabon, ‘Operation Albacore I’, a Gabonese soldier observes an EU tuna fleet vessel. The fisheries officers, supported by armed military, board the vessel and inspect its tanks, papers and permits.

Sao Tome, West Africa Adrift in a life raft the crew of the fishing vessel ‘Thunder’ look on in disbelief as it disappears beneath the waves. The Thunder was chased for 10,000 miles and 110 days by Sea Shepherd as part of ‘Operation Icefish 2015’.

Antarctica Crabeater seals use floating pack ice, which extends seasonally out from the Antarctic coast, for resting, mating, social aggregation and accessing their prey. The most abundant seal species in the world, there are an estimated 75 million individuals worldwide.

Antarctica The floating, ever-changing ice sculptures of Antarctica. Blue ice occurs when snow falls on a glacier, is compressed and becomes part of the glacier. Air bubbles are squeezed out and ice crystals enlarge, making the ice appear blue.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador Marine iguanas huddle for warmth after spending time in the frigid waters of Galapagos feeding on algae - their primary food source. Large males dive to feed, while females and smaller males access algae during low tide in the intertidal zone.

Tiger Beach, Bahamas. A shark feeding frenzy occurs when a number of sharks fight for the same prey. Sharks are usually solitary diners, and a feeding frenzy indicates why that might be. To an observer, it looks like the sharks lose their mind, biting at anything that's in their way.

Gabon Bycatch. These sharks were among 128 hauled aboard a tuna vessel that had cast a wide net around a school of highly endangered yellowfins. The sharks were strung up by the tail before being discarded, dead or dying, back into the ocean.

Gabon A deckhand onboard an EU tuna vessel off the coast of Gabon, Africa positions a ‘bucket’ laden with skipjack and yellowfin tuna over a funnel, releasing the catch into tanks filled with ice water.

Sierra Leone The crew of a Chinese longliner hook a highly endangered yellowfin tuna. Longlines can have 3,000 baited hooks and stretch for up to 50 miles. The hooks catch more than 80 kinds of nontargeted creatures, including endangered sea turtles.

Southern Ocean A crew member aboard ‘Brigitte Bardot’ prepares to launch a bottle of red paint at the hull of Japanese whaling factory ship ‘Nisshin Maru’. The red paint represents the blood of the whales that will spill on the ship’s decks.


Behind the lens SIMON AGER Born in Alberta, Simon has always had a passion for nature and what lies beneath the waterline. Having scuba dived around the world for more than twenty years, Southern Ocean Performing defensive drills it was a natural progression to step into the realm of ocean conservation - from onboard Sea Shepherd vessel armchair warrior to direct action. ‘Bob Barker’ during ‘Operation Prior to working with Sea Shepherd and, more recently, SeaLegacy as one of the Relentless’. Japanese harpoon vessels trailed propeller-fouling first members of the Collective, Simon worked for 18 years as a TV graphic artist cables in a bid to disrupt the creating opening titles for shows including BBC’s 'Wildlife on One'. He also worked campaign, cutting across the Bob Light. Motion. Moment. The Leica the camera for capturing special asSL anisaward-winning Visual FX artistphotos. for filmItsand television, most notably Stargate Barker bow in a continuous wave ® forcing the Sea Shepherd vesselis to among the fastest, and itsSG1, autofocus technology revolutionary viewfi nder and Tropic Thunder. Angels &EyeRes Demons, iRobot makeprovides evasive manoeuvres. complete control over each Every time. Its 24 MP CMOS full featured frame Hispicture. conservation photography has been in world-renowned newspapers sensor guarantees exceptional picture quality over the complete range – from brands such as Billabong. and magazines, andISO used by ocean


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reef invasion A collection of reefs o the coast of Borneo are under threat from proliferating Crown of Thorns starfish. With a small team of volunteer divers, one NGO is setting about saving those reefs - one starfish at a time. Wo rd s a n d p h o t o g ra p h s b y E l i z a b e t h F i t t

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PREVIOUS PAGE: A Crown of Thorns starfish feeds on coral in the Celebes Sea off Pom Pom Island, Sabah, Malaysia. THIS PAGE: Matt Lynn, an Australian volunteer with TRACC, hunts in the shallows of a coral reef in East Malaysia.


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rmed with kitchen tongs and tent pegs, gloved hands clutching a plastic crate, a group of scuba divers descends into the shallow waters off a small island deep in the Celebes Sea, Borneo. They are Crown of Thorns starfish hunters. Their mission is singular: to remove as many of the invasive, coral polypeating species as they can. The future of that particular reef could depend on it. Most of the group are not marine biologists. They are citizen scientists. They are in Borneo as part of the Tropical Research And Conservation Centre’s (TRACC) mission to save the ocean “one turtle, one shark, one coral at a time”. And they are doing just that. The Crown of Thorns Starfish (COTS) removal program has removed more than 10,000 starfish, saving an estimated 60,000sqm of coral in the last six months. Jeeth Vendra, TRACC’s 24-year-old science officer, sits at a table on the sandy floor of “Number 4” - the main socialising, meeting and eating space of the camp - surrounded by a barefoot group of slightly bleary eyed, but attentive volunteers clutching coffee mugs. They listen carefully as he gives an early morning briefing for the day’s COTS-catching exercise. The Crown of Thorns, while beautiful, is not only harmful to coral, it packs a nasty punch for humans too - like a wasp sting, but the pain doesn’t dissipate quickly and the puncture site can ache for weeks. The team need to be careful in the field. Starfish play their part in healthy marine ecosystems. It’s when things get out of balance that trouble starts. In this instance, overfishing and shell collection in the area has removed the COTS’ main predators, leaving them to reproduce unchecked. This has resulted in an outbreak that could decimate thousands of square metres of coral, with catastrophic consequences for the local marine ecosystem and the communities who depend upon it. Vendra describes how it all began on a leisure dive on TRACC’s base island of Pom Pom, back in January. He noticed more COTS, closer together than usual, alerting him to the presence of a possible problem. He began organising removal dives. By February, Vendra had realised they needed to develop a management strategy to deal with the issue. He enlisted the help of marine biologist Dr Catherine Jadot, who informed him the targeted removal of COTS is the primary strategy used to manage outbreaks, but to do that effectively they need “an understanding of the demographics and dynamics of local populations”. Jadot and Vendra set up a monitoring program, surveying multiple sites around Pom Pom Island, initially to assess whether or not outbreak levels had been reached. “The results from those surveys showed that all sites had passed the outbreak threshold of 40 starfish per hectare,” Vendra says. They began leading teams of volunteers to remove COTS from the water, burying them on Pom Pom Island. On each collection Vendra recorded the number of COTS removed, time spent inwater and the number of divers who took part. He did

this to establish what he calls the “catch per unique effort” for each site - enabling comparisons to be made between them. Under Jadot’s direction, he also began researching gonad-to-body-weight ratios. Both male and female starfish have gonads, the organs that produce eggs and sperm. Vendra and his team take samples from 30 COTS from each collection, dissecting them to remove and weigh the gonads. They also measure overall size, weight and number of arms. Jadot maintains that “understanding the causal factors of outbreaks of [COTS] is the principal weapon in the fight to prevent future coral loss”. COTS release eggs from their gonads into the water seasonally, so Jadot and Vendra’s research aims to establish when the local population is doing this. Vendra can then plan intensive removal efforts for the months before egg release. The probable impact of climate change on marine environments also concerns Jadot. As outlined by a recent IPCC report, which warned of unprecedented disaster without major social and industrial transformation, coral

“This has resulted in an outbreak that could quickly decimate thousands of square metres of coral, with catastrophic consequences for the local marine ecosystem and the communities who depend upon it.” reefs are at risk of extinction by 2050. Jadot theorises that one impact of climate change may be an increase in the frequency and severity of COTS outbreaks. Her worries are backed up by findings from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which found a two-degree temperature increase improved COTS survival rate by 240%. Once they had stabilised the problem on Pom Pom, Vendra turned his attention to neighbouring islands and reefs. “That’s when we realised the issue was much bigger than expected,” he says. The program was expanded to include ten further reefs in the area - an area that an estimated 1,500 local residents depended on. By April they had collected more than 1,000 COTS. Serious outbreaks had been confirmed on all ten reefs. In the following six months a further 9,000 COTS were removed, all by the same team, financed by TRACC. TRACC’s volunteers take a pragmatic view of hunting starfish. “It’s not fun killing any animal,” says 19-year-old volunteer Sophie Bruder from Germany, “but in this case it is necessary.” It is also a process that requires care - and not just because of the venom. “If they get the OMG-I’mgoing-to-die feeling, they release their eggs,” she says. More COTS in the water is not part of the plan. Alex Hoel, a 29-year-old volunteer from Austria was shocked the first time she saw an outbreak site.

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“It’s not just the corals [that have been lost], but a whole ecosystem fish, eels, octopus, shrimp, crabs.” ALEX HOEL, TRACC VOLUNTEER


MAIN IMAGE: Borja Gonzalez, a TRACC volunteer, empties Crown of Thorns starfish into a disposal pit on Pom Pom island. TOP: Gonzalez passes a full crate of starfish up to a local Bajau boatman. BOTTOM: Dr Catherine Jadot dissects a starfish to determine gonad-tobody-weight ratio to predict spawning and therefore optimum culling times.

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TRACC volunteers bury crown of thorns starfish removed from the water that day.


“[They were] everywhere, feeding on coral,” she says. On this occasion she was confident that, provided the outbreak was contained, the reef was healthy enough to regenerate. Hoel had previously had the sobering experience of visiting a reef decimated beyond the point of return. “It’s not just the corals [that have been lost], but

“Vendra intends to use and share the results of the gonad-to-bodyweight ratio research to inform future outbreak control policy.” a whole ecosystem - fish, eels, octopus, shrimp, crabs.” Hoel believes we are to blame for COTS outbreaks so concludes that it is up to us to deal with the mess. “Seeing that huge dead reef made me realise how important it is to intervene,” she says. Bruder, Hoel and the other volunteers are also involved in TRACC’s reef rehabilitation project. They spend their days collecting coral fragments from damaged coral on bomb fishing blast sites. These are planted in a coral nursery to allow them to establish before being placed onto artificial reef structures and installed on the ocean floor immediately outside their camp. By September, analysis of the gonad-to-body-weight ratio data showed a clear trend, with steady decreases since May. “What this means for us is that it is likely that we need to focus our removal efforts in the first four months [of the year] because that’s when we know they will be building up to release the eggs,” Vendra explains. “When they have spawned, removing them is still useful, but they have already released their eggs into the water column, further increasing the size of the outbreak.” According to Vendra, despite the removal of more than 10,000 starfish, the problem continues. “In the Semporna region the outbreaks are still out of control,” he says. He intends to use and share the results of the gonad-to-bodyweight ratio research to inform future outbreak control policy. He plans to petition other NGOs, dive resorts and the local government for their involvement in a program designed, according to the results of his research, to remove COTS in early 2019 before they spawn. TRACC’s founding director, Hazel Oakley, says the organisation is behind the expansion of the COTS management program to reefs and islands outside of TRACC's own coral reef projects. “We could just keep ‘our bit’ clear, which would save us a huge commitment in volunteer time and boat fuel, but dividing the world into ‘ours’ and ‘somebody else’s’ problem is really at the heart of a lot of global issues right now,” she explains. “We’re committed to doing as much as we can with the resources we have. What other choice is there?” Elizabeth Fitt




healthier future

Following years of commercial mangrove deforestation on the Indonesian island of Tanakeke, an Omega / Goodplanet Foundation project has helped revitalise the precious ecosystem - and the island’s future with it.

Wo rd s b y G e o r g i n a F u l l e r / P h o t o g ra p h s c o u r t e s y o f Ti m e f o r t h e P l a n e t


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he people of Tanakeke are looking after their roots biological and familial. The small Indonesian island’s mangrove forests, after decades of destruction and misuse, are growing once again, new shoots planted and taking hold as part of coastal regeneration projects. At the same time, conservation seeds are being sown amongst the island’s young, an education focussed on Tanakeke’s bountiful past, and how a return to abundant coastlines could help reshape its future. Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, part of the famed Coral Triangle. Alongside Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, the Solomon Islands and TimorLeste, Indonesia’s waters comprise more than 100,000 square kilometres of coral reefs - 34% of the global total, in 1% of the space. These reefs teem with life of all shapes and sizes, from tiny nudibranchs to mighty blue whales. Vibrant corals decorate sun-drenched shallows, which in turn run away into deep, nutrient-rich ravines, an intricate web of waterways that weave in and around tens of thousands of islands, the majority of them uninhabited. These scattered isles are a collection of fragments from the ancient, splintering masses of the Asian and Australian tectonic plates, remnants of a fiery past that gave rise to the incredible diversity of flora and fauna that inhabits the expansive area today. In a region of colliding archipelagos, one of the most important ecosystems is the mangrove forest, extensive coastal woodlands that serve as a buffer between land and sea. These forests, which consist of trees specially adapted to survival in unique and hostile conditions (salt water, tidal variation, silty soils low in oxygen and nutrients, high luminosity and intense heat), provide a range of vital functions. It is a half-submerged world that influences life in both the coral reefs and deep ravines out at sea, and the hills and villages inland. The forests are reserves of biodiversity, home to fish and crabs, shrimps and molluscs, as well as mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. The ecosystem acts as a nursery for a number of species, its tangled mass of roots providing shelter from larger predators. Life is allowed to establish, flourish. This is particularly important for local fisheries, the offspring of key species allowed to develop amongst the shelter of the mangroves before moving out to sea - a strong, healthy catch. For island communities, mangroves offer protection from storms and, in an area of tectonic volatility, tsunamis. They also offer stability and resilience in the face of climate change, warding off the effects of rising sea levels and reducing the effects of coastal erosion and the dispersal of sediments that damage seagrass beds and coral reefs. They are also carbon sinks - one the most effective natural storage systems on the planet, with carbon sequestered in both the biomass and the soil. As for the communities that live behind these carboncapturing, climate change-defending bio-walls, mangroves play an important role in day-to-day life: the wood, known for its rot-proof and insect-resistant qualities, is used for building and for fuel. The mangroves are also a source of tannins and fibres for the textile industry, various plants are used for medicinal TOP: A young mangrove forest takes hold on Tanakeke Island. BOTTOM: An abandoned fish pond, returned to mangrove.


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“It is a half-submerged world that influences life in both the coral reefs and deep ravines out at sea, and the hills and villages inland.�

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“Since the arrival of the aquaculture industry to Indonesia, more than 20,000 square kilometres of mangroves have been destroyed.�


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TOP: Community-driven mangrove restoration. BOTTOM: Established mangroves provide protection from coastal elements.

purposes and bark is even used as a condiment. The mangroves provide. They are a part of life. Indonesia has 40,000 square kilometres of mangroves across its 80,000 kilometres of coastline, the most extensive mangrove coverage on Earth - critical on both a micro and macro scale. Sadly, this abundant and important coastal ecosystem has, since the 1970s, been systematically destroyed to make way for aquaculture, primarily rearing ponds for fish and shrimp. Deforestation has also occurred as a result of agriculture, urbanisation and overexploitation (as well as natural disasters and erosion). Since the arrival of the aquaculture industry to Indonesia, more than 20,000 square kilometres of mangroves have disappeared. Naturally, some islands were hit worse than others. On the island of Tanakeke, located off the southwestern tip of Sulawesi, not far from the local capital Makassar, 70% of the mangroves were lost. Most of this came as a result of an aquaculture boom in the 1990s. For an island community that relied on the ocean and its biodiversity, the replacement of mangroves for rearing ponds was always likely to have adverse long-term implications on island life - coastal ecosystems and livelihoods were, after all, inextricably linked. But in the late ‘90s the rearing ponds provided jobs, income and security. The approximately 3,000-strong population didn’t need the mangroves like they used to. By 2013, 80% of the rearing ponds had been abandoned, leaving the island without either natural or commercial bounty - both the mangroves and the fisheries were significantly depleted. The island needed rebalancing. The natural ecosystems that had provided so much for so long had to be nurtured back to health, and then preserved for the long-term health of Tanakeke and the people who call it home. In a bid to return Tanakeke to its former, abundant health, a new participative mangrove restoration project was started. A partnership between the Goodplanet Foundation, Omega and Indonesian NGO Blue Forests, the aim of the project was to plant new mangrove forests to rejuvenate Tanakeke’s coastal habitats, and to safeguard these prospective gains through education outreach programs focussing on the importance of mangroves to island life. This participative approach focussed on a selection of villages, home to more than 1,500 people - almost half the island’s population. The aim was to convert one square kilometre of abandoned fish ponds back into mangroves - the start of the reclamation of Tanakeke’s coastline. The method used to replant the forests, Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR), combines the hydrological restoration of the area in question with the physical planting of mangrove tree saplings. This facilitates a natural regeneration - or as natural as it can be when part

of a restoration project. Key to the project’s long-term success was getting Tanakeke residents to take on an active role in the reclamation process. By planting new mangroves, and taking responsibility for the coastal regeneration scheme, the people of Tanakeke would have a better understanding of the mangroves from a conservation perspective - a hands-on involvement in the planting process would help foster a closer connection between community and ecosystem. This would serve to bolster the longer-term regeneration plan, namely the effective management (consolidated by local regulation) of the newly established habitats. The planting of the mangroves would take weeks, but their long-term ecological restoration would take years. Management would need to continue beyond those initial years of external funding and NGO involvement. As such, the project did not just focus on the regrowth of the mangroves, but on Tanakeke’s younger residents and their connection with the coastline - the nurturing of a relationship lost. Primary and secondary school students were taught about the critical roles the mangrove forests played in island life, the science of the ecosystem, the extent of its biodiversity - a magical place between land and sea. Teachers took children out of the classroom and into the forests, revealing a place that had always been there but never seen. The process was a different kind of regeneration, just as important. Food resources and revenue-earning activities in mangroves are worth approximately USD$200 million a year. With a new focus on coastal revitalisation, Tanakeke was on the path to once again playing a part in the mangrove economy, this time in a sustainable, futureproof fashion. The Omega/Goodplanet Foundation project ran for a duration of three years. Mangroves were planted, seeds of conservation were sown in the island’s youngest minds and effective management tools were established amongst community members committed to the project’s longterm success (including the monitoring of neighbouring ecosystems, such as seagrass beds, which offer insight into mangrove health). Although the true long-term impacts of the project will not been known for some years yet, the early prognosis is good: mangrove coverage is on the rise across Tanakeke, including in rehabilitated fish ponds where EMR has been implemented. The hope now has to be that, alongside its restoration, the ecosystem is used sustainably, whether that been for wood or fish. Of course, the story of Tanakeke, a beautiful ecosystem ravaged by commerce now trying to return to health, is a microcosm of the ocean at large, an ecosystem upon which the global village relies. Tanakeke, at least, has taken meaningful steps to develop a more balanced, sustainable future.

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Georgina Fuller



By Dr Simon Pierce



here are 905,000 results on Google for “sharkinfested waters”. That isn’t just an indictment of lazy writing. It’s genuine fake news. Fact is, a quarter of all shark species are threatened with global extinction. As a vital component of healthy marine ecosystems, we need a lot more sharks than we’ve got. That makes it important to recognise and learn from real marine conservation success stories. It takes a lot of work, and long-term commitment, but the ocean can be protected and restored. A new paper, led by the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE), with help from the Tubbataha Management Office and myself, has showcased the benefits to sharks that can be achieved by effective marine protected areas (MPAs). Around 200 species of the world’s 1,148 shark and ray species live in the Philippines. There are around 1,800 MPAs in the country, but most are very small. Too small for wide-ranging animals like large sharks. Just two MPAs make up 85% of the total no-take (off-limits to fishing) area in the country. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, the larger of the two areas, covers 1,000 square kilometres in the Sulu Sea. Tubbataha is an iconic marine reserve. A map of the park is shown on the 1,000 Peso note, the largest banknote in circulation in the Philippines. The reefs have been protected since 1988, and the area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. While there’s been a lot of excellent science done at Tubbataha, there had been no dedicated shark surveys prior to 2015. The scientists at LAMAVE became intrigued after hearing from dive operators that their trips to the park were getting better every year. We were all keen to know if the numbers of these highly-mobile predators were recovering. Ryan Murray from LAMAVE, the lead author on the study (published in the Journal of Asia-Pacific Biodiversity), spent months living at the ranger station at Tubbataha. This structure, on stilts to minimise impact, is the only permanent habitation in the park. It’s staffed year-round by marine park rangers, consisting of Tubbataha Management Office staff, the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy, and representatives from the local government unit of Cagayancillo. They conduct regular patrols and monitor vessel activity throughout the park with a radar system. The rangers helped Ryan to deploy underwater video systems all around the park to depths of 100m. A bait


bag was attached to encourage sharks to investigate the unit. We also used the WWF Philippines vessel, the M/Y Navorca, to move divers around the park for underwater visual surveys along the reef, at around 5-25m depth. At least 23 species of sharks and rays use the park, from whale sharks and tiger sharks to gorgeous eagle rays, but it’s the reef sharks - whitetips and grey reefs that dominate, through sheer force of numbers. Their densities are some of the highest recorded worldwide, more than three times those seen in no-take areas of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. It’s shark heaven. Lots of other big predators are present too, from dogtooth tuna to massive schools of jacks. How has Tubbataha been so successful? Well, it does have some natural advantages. It’s a big area, which definitely helps. The reefs are around 170km from the nearest major port in Palawan, though it’s still within easy range of the fishing fleet. Really, these fantastic results are a tribute to good management. The foresight to protect the area in the 1980s has allowed multiple generations of reef sharks - which reach adulthood at around 10 years - to live and reproduce without fishing pressure. These gains compound over time. Similarly, the first couple of years after the park was created were tough. There was a lot of attempted illegal fishing activity, and the rangers had to be vigilant. After a while, when it was clear the park was being patrolled carefully, such attempts became rare. The presence of small, but mean-looking naval vessels in the park are a powerful deterrent to poaching. The main lessons? Larger MPAs, with no fishing, can support more sharks. Active enforcement and time are the other main success factors. The best time to protect a habitat is before it is damaged by people. The next best time is today. SP

About Simon Dr Simon J Pierce is a marine conservation biologist and underwater photographer from New Zealand. He is a co-founder and Principal Scientist at the Marine Megafauna Foundation, where he leads the global whale shark research programme, and a regional Co-Chair for the IUCN Shark Specialist Group.

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“The foresight to protect the area in the 1980s has allowed multiple generations of reef sharks - which reach adulthood at around 10 years - to live and reproduce without fishing pressure. These gains compound over time.�

A thriving shark population is an indication of a healthy reef.

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storm Zoologist and filmmaker Danny Copeland has spent years studying and diving with manta rays. In all that time, one extremely rare and captivating feeding display had evaded him. Until now.

Wo rd s a n d p h o t o g ra p h s by Danny Copeland

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loating at the surface, I squint through my mask to review my camera’s screen in the setting sun. It’s the end of a productive day in Hanifaru Bay. My last battery is running low, and I’m regrettably deleting photos and video clips to make space on my memory card. I typically save such a process for my laptop back on dry land, but I have a pretty reasonable excuse: thirty manta rays are feeding beneath me. They glide back and forth in a single-file train with their mouths agape, filtering microscopic zooplankton from the water column. The mantas pass so close their fins look certain to clip my camera. But I’ve nothing to fear. These gentle giants manoeuvre effortlessly around me, continuing an unbroken feeding ballet they have performed - and I have photographed and filmed - for the last several hours. I look up briefly to see the last of the safari boats beckoning their guests to come back. The researchers I’m with are hauling themselves back on board too. I amble towards my ride home, before glancing one last time at the animals below. Their performance begins to change. At the front of the train, the leading mantas turn in unison. They continue to bank more and more, to the point that they cross paths with the rays trailing behind them. Then the rest start to turn, with every subsequent manta following in formation. I smile. The manta train is evolving into my first manta cyclone, a phenomenon I had waited a long time to see. Baa is one of 26 atolls that make up the Republic of the Maldives. Starting 475km off the tip of India, the island nation stretches a further 870km south before ending just beyond the equator. Despite being a low-lying country, the archipelago itself is perched on top of the ChagosLakkadive Ridge - an underwater mountain range that towers above the adjacent depths of the Indian Ocean. Every year the seasonal winds of the southwest monsoon - known locally as Hulhangu - drive nutrients up from these depths against the western side of the ridge. The resulting plankton blooms drift through the Maldivian atolls towards their eastern borders. They provide enough food to nourish the marine ecosystem along the way, as well as directly feed some of its largest and most numerous inhabitants: manta rays. These charismatic animals were the reason I first visited the Maldives in 2012. Having been inspired by documentaries featuring them, I was now fresh out of my first year of a Zoology degree and working as an intern with the Manta Trust’s Maldivian Manta Ray Project (MMRP). Established by my colleague and now close friend, Dr Guy Stevens, the MMRP was born out of Guy’s fascination with the numerous reef manta rays he encountered as a marine biologist working in Baa Atoll. He wanted to better understand their life history, why they were so numerous during certain times of the year, and how he could ensure their protection both PREVIOUS: Mantas feeding at the surface are a common sight in the Maldives, home to the largest population of reef mantas in the world. RIGHT: As the tides change and the plankton levels wane, the mantas of Hanifaru often disperse into the shallows to feed on the leftovers.


“Manta rays utilise a suite of feeding techniques to maximise how much zooplankton they can gorge on. Of these behaviours, the manta cyclone is the most spectacular.�

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"There is a reason why underwater footage of a manta cyclone hasn't found its way into the wildlife documentaries we all enjoy: the behaviour is unbelievably rare."

within the atoll and beyond. Since then the project has expanded into a nationwide network of biologists, divers and engaged citizen scientists. Through more than 55,000 sightings spread across ten years of near-daily research, the MMRP has identified more than 4,500 individuals - making the Maldives home to the largest known population of reef manta rays in the world. During those three months as an intern, every day was an adventure. Life out at sea consisted of being in the water with mantas or standing on top of our research dhoni scanning the waves for shadows and breaching fin-tips. When we later returned to our island home, we spent long hours at our laptops laboriously matching new ID photos against the MMRP’s existing manta database. The routine was fun but exhausting. Each time I hauled myself back onto the deck after the umpteenth failed attempt at photographing a skittish manta, I would long for every other day, when our permit allowed us to enter Hanifaru. There, the mantas came to us. Hanifaru Bay sits on the eastern edge of Baa Atoll. It is a marine protected area, and is nestled beneath an uninhabited island and lagoon that shares the same name and protection. It is a special place, but you’d be forgiven for wondering why you should ever visit. No larger than a football field, this shallow sandy bowl contains little beyond a few coral bommies dotted within its boundaries. Yet Hanifaru is anything but lifeless. During the southwest monsoon, the bay hosts large feeding aggregations of reef mantas. A typical day sees 40-100 different rays piling into Hanifaru to feast on the zooplankton buffet that accumulates inside. On the best days of the year this number can double, with the current record standing at 250 mantas - nowhere else have so many been seen at the same time in such a small area. As interns, our job was to collect ID photographs of as many of the visiting individuals as possible. With feeding frenzies sometimes lasting only a few short hours, we had our work cut out. But little else can top spending every other minute underwater, camera in hand, whilst a train of mantas flies overhead. On the way home following a successful day in Hanifaru, I would often sit with my fellow interns and recount notable moments from the day. But no matter how breath-taking the day’s encounters, the resident researchers would remind us that we’d not come close to seeing Hanifaru at its best. “Wait until you see a manta cyclone,” they would say. “You haven’t seen anything yet!” Manta rays utilise a suite of feeding techniques to maximise how much zooplankton they can gorge on.


Of these behaviours, the manta cyclone is the most spectacular - a collection of several dozen rays feeding with purpose in a layered, spiralling formation. The force created by so many large animals draws the water surrounding them towards the centre of the group, and through an impenetrable wall of giant mouths along the way. The zooplankton it carries has little hope of escape. One day, I asked if anyone had any video footage of a manta cyclone. No one did. The behaviour had only been properly recognised several years earlier, and few serious attempts had been made to film it. Coincidentally, later that day we pulled up alongside a liveaboard to reconnect with Guy, and the blue-chip production team accompanying him in search of a manta cyclone. While everyone engaged in the group chat, I couldn’t help but gawk at the cameraman’s underwater video rig sitting on the deck a few metres away. I didn’t know it yet, but that moment was one in a series spanning several years that saw my career aspirations of studying life underwater evolve into a desire to use media and storytelling to drive its conservation. What I did know in that moment was that I needed to see a manta cyclone, and I wanted to be one of the first people to film it. There is a reason why underwater footage of a manta cyclone hasn’t found its way into the wildlife documentaries we all enjoy: the behaviour is unbelievably rare. A manta cyclone typically happens when you combine two key ingredients - an immensely dense patch of zooplankton, and a lot of manta rays coming together at the same time in that same area. The recipe is deceptively simple, but there are few places in the world where you’ll find those two ingredients in combination. Hanifaru Bay is one of them. Its unique location in eastern Baa, along with its bowl-like topography and large local manta population, has resulted in the only place where manta cyclones are consistently recorded. Yet even in Hanifaru, a cyclone event requires consistently strong monsoonal winds, combined with the right moment in the lunar cycle and a high tide. The need for such specific conditions means that a manta cyclone may only happen during a few days of the year. Some seasons, the behaviour is barely seen at all. This summer I returned to Baa Atoll as a filmmaker on assignment for the MMRP. Despite several trips since my time as an intern, I had still not seen a manta cyclone. But this time, things were different. The first few months of the season had seen big moments in Hanifaru, with plankton levels and manta numbers rising with every day we drew closer to the biggest tides of the year. It hadn’t been this good for nearly a decade. Momentum was building. Something big was going to happen. One morning towards the end of the trip, I found myself floating in the centre of Hanifaru with Tam Sawers, Project Leader of the MMRP. Fifty manta rays were feeding around us. The days prior had seen impressive aggregations, as well as several whale sharks and a pod of bottlenose dolphins. I had even seen my first fleeting manta cyclones, technically achieving a dream

Oceanographic Issue 04


TOP: The MMRP use a dhoni - a traditional Maldivian boat - to search the reefs and sandbars for feeding manta rays. MIDDLE: Mantas - curious, intelligent creatures - have no qualms swimming close to visiting snorkelers. BOTTOM: Established in 2009, the Hanifaru Bay Marine Protected Area includes the nearby island, reef and neighbouring lagoon.

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“We raced after them towards the outer wall of the bay, just in time to see them merge into a spiralling mass of wings and cephalic fins. From surface to seabed and everything in between, there was nothing but manta rays.�


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I never thought would be realised. By all accounts it was another incredible morning in a week already filled with epic moments. But Tam and I were unconvinced. Things seemed quiet. Perhaps Hanifaru had peaked, and aggregations would only fade in scale for the rest of the season - and with it, my hopes of encountering another (proper) cyclone. Tam and I set off towards the mouth of the bay, hopeful there were bluer pastures on the horizon. En-route, the mayhem of mantas feeding around us was rapidly replaced by a quiet, empty void. Aside from the odd ray travelling at depth, there was no sign of activity ahead. Tam and I swapped regretful glances. The doubt quickly vanished. Almost as soon as we looked ahead to continue swimming, we were greeted with a wall of three-metre mouths emerging from the blue. An army of mantas gracefully charged between us, speeding through the water with a purpose more focused than I’d ever seen before. And their ranks were endless. Twenty mantas flew past, then forty, sixty - their numbers quickly dwarfing any aggregation we’d seen so far. Unwilling to see where the charge would end, we raced after them towards the outer wall of the bay, just in time to see them merge into a spiralling mass of wings and cephalic fins. The sight was astounding. From surface to seabed, there was nothing but manta rays. The few gaps between them were filled with an orange fog that buzzed with life - a planktonic soup so thick and plentiful, that my arms were unrecognisable under a layer of copepods now glued to my rash vest. There I was, amidst the storm: a vast swirling manta cyclone. I readied my camera, waited for an opening, and began freediving down the outer wall of rays. It may have been the largest gathering of mantas I’d ever seen, but if the plankton supply couldn’t keep up, the whole spectacle could end at any moment. Despite my concentration, I found myself laughing and crying every time I glanced to and from my camera’s view-finder, unable to comprehend what I was filming. It had been six years since I started my quest to capture the legendary manta cyclones of Hanifaru. That time had seen a lot of fruitless trips, both for me and for the many crews and productions that chased the same goal. A manta cyclone felt increasingly like a myth - rarely seen and seemingly impossible to film. Yet here I was in the centre of it all, largely alone, capturing footage of one of the most beautiful displays offered by the natural world. Like any legendary performance, the show ended before I could properly take it all in. But it didn’t matter. I sat on that dhoni, feet dangling over the bow once more, a childish grin that lasted well beyond the journey home. The stories were true after all, and I finally had the footage I needed to share them.

In between filming, Copeland captured a quick frame on the edge of the manta cyclone.

Danny Copeland

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Project AWARE ® is a global movement for ocean protection powered by a community of adventurers. Project AWARE is an international non-profit organization working to create positive change for the ocean.

www.project aware.org


W H AT D O E S I T M E A N TO B E A N E C O - TO U R I S T ? The conservation actions you can take whilst exploring the world MEGAN WHITE, COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALIST, PROJECT AWARE

As ocean lovers, exploring far-flung surf breaks or coral reefs in crystal clear waters is an exciting part of any getaway, but how do we make sure these coastal and underwater paradises are kept that way? It’s important to make informed decisions when choosing and visiting a destination. Finding facilities dedicated to responsible social and environmental business practices such as water conservation, energy reduction, and respect for local cultures can prove challenging but researching where to stay and play goes a long way. Once at your chosen destination, there are many actions you can take to reduce your impact. Respect underwater life Understanding and respecting underwater life is key to reducing unwanted stress to an already fragile ecosystem. A conscientious and respectful ocean lover should never touch, feed, handle, chase or ride anything underwater. When interacting with certain animals you can research best practices to make sure you do not cause distress, for example, minimum distances should be kept when swimming with manta rays, whale sharks or humpback whales. For those wanting some advice on implementing best practices for interacting with sharks and rays, Project AWARE, in partnership with Manta Trust and WWF, has launched the world's first guidelines for shark and ray tourism operators. Choose companies working with the local communities Companies and organisations that work with local communities often benefit from the local knowledge and understanding of the surroundings. Finding tour operators who work with local people helps provide jobs, and training, which in some cases is exchanged for access to traditionally-owned marine resources. Choose operators that invest in conservation and provide local people with new opportunities.


Taking part in citizen science Citizen science uses the power of volunteer research to collect much needed raw datasets in quantities that researchers simply couldn’t manage by themselves. There is so much that is unknown about the ocean and its inhabitants, that being an active part of a citizen science project can meaningfully contribute to ocean conservation. Becoming a citizen scientist whilst on holiday is on the rise and there is plenty of choice for ocean-related projects. For budding photographers, photography is often used to catalogue and identify individual animals found at a particular site. Photos are also used to investigate habitat use and preference, reproductive activity (courtship behaviour, pregnancies), threats, injury healing rates and movement patterns. This method is particularly useful for manta rays as their spotted pattern is as exclusive to each individual as a fingerprint. Scuba divers participating as citizen scientists are in a unique position to provide underwater data for research and fisheries management as well as coral reef checks and marine debris collection. An astonishing amount of waste makes its way underwater, reaching even the most remote ocean areas. Once there, it kills wildlife, destroys habitats and threatens our health and economy. Scuba Key benefits from eco-tourism • Reduces the impact on natural habitats and helps protect pristine environments • Adds significant value to local communities • Follows regulations and permits that safeguard marine animals like sharks and rays • Ensures sustainability for generations to come

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T R AV E L W I T H A P U R P O S E divers removing and reporting what doesn’t belong underwater through Project AWARE’s Dive Against Debris® surveys is helping to support the implementation and improvement of policies in solid waste management, both locally and globally. Take only photos, leave only bubbles Keepsakes that remind us of an island paradise or a windswept wilderness hold precious memories, but nearly everything natural found underwater is alive or will be used by a living creature. If you take a coral, shell or animal, you can disturb the delicate balance and add to the depletion of the waters for future generations. The simple act of taking a shell home from a beach could be removing a potential home for a hermit crab. When under the waves - whether you’re swimming, snorkelling or scuba diving - it’s important to be aware of your body and any equipment you may have with you. Underwater plants and animals are more fragile than they appear and a swipe of a fin, bump of a camera

"Participatin g i n [ c i t i z e n science] as p a r t o f yo u r holiday will h e l p p ro v i d e solutions to t h e m a n y problems fa c e d b y t h e ocean s.”

MAKE YOUR DIVES COUNT FOR A CLEAN OCEAN. R E P O RT M A R I N E D E B R I S T H R O U G H P R O J E C T AWA R E ’ S C I T I Z E N S C I E N C E P R O G R A M M E - DIVE AGAINST DEBRIS® www.projectaware.org/diveagainstdebris

#DiveAgainstDebris Project AWARE creates positive change for a return to a clean, healthy ocean through community action WHAT YOUR SUPPORT HELPS ACHIEVE





or even a touch can destroy decades of coral growth, damage a plant or harm an animal. Protecting the ocean planet begins with us. Small conservation actions, whether we’re home or away, multiplied by many like-minded individuals can add up to big results. Let’s help keep the ocean as it should be, for our next adventure and for the generations to come. Pledge to follow the 10 Tips for Divers to Protect the Ocean Planet (you don’t have to be a diver!) to make a difference for ocean protection every time you’re in the water, travelling or at home, via the website below.







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Hard to fathom

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For every product sold, United By Blue removes one pound of trash from our world’s oceans and waterways. UNITEDBYBLUE.COM

THE ULTIMATE NIGHT-READING GMT WATCH FOR JET-SET TING EXPLOR ATION. Two-color bezel. Three time zones. Endless discovery. The Engineer Hydrocarbon AeroGMT II features a beautifully curved rotating GMT bezel illuminated by micro gas lights. Along with extreme luminosity on the dial, the timepiece tracks three time zones, while the patented folding buckle withstands up to 1,400 newtons of force. It’s ready to handle all the demands of global exploration.


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Profile for Oceanographic Magazine

Oceanographic Magazine / Issue Four  

Oceanographic Magazine is filled with captivating storytelling and beautiful imagery. World-class writers and photographers combine to bring...

Oceanographic Magazine / Issue Four  

Oceanographic Magazine is filled with captivating storytelling and beautiful imagery. World-class writers and photographers combine to bring...

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