Category Archives: exploration

Three years is too long between Great Barrier Reef dives!

Along with my reduced frequency of blogging, it’s been hard to find time to get away in the past few years for warm water snorkeling and tropical beach trips. We last went to Port Douglas three years ago and finally made it back in August 2018 after a few aborted attempts to book in trips between house renovations, a wedding and other  big events.

It’s hard to believe some people get to dive on the Great Barrier Reef every week (or the commercial dive boat crew, just about every day). Coming from a fairly cool winter where the water temperature was around 9 degrees Celsius, jumping in 24 degree water in a rash vest and shorts was an amazing relief. And the abundance of life on the GBR is well known but no Attenborough documentary prepares you for the variety of fish, coral, sponges, invertebrates… a truly incredible sight every time.

I was one of the lucky few on our Wavelength cruise that spotted a white tip reef shark (in the slideshow below), though most of the snorkelers seemed pretty inexperienced and happy to bob around the surface, far from the hiding spots of the sharks and rays.

Wavelength also regularly maintains a coral garden, where pieces of coral are grafted onto small cement blocks and grown until then can be transplanted onto new ground. A fellow uni graduate working on the boat was pretty enthusiastic about the potential of these coral gardens, though expanding the project to compensate for widespread coral bleaching is nearly impossible in today’s warming ocean (and political climate).

 

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Wilsons Promontory – amazing spot for coastal hiking

Anyone who has ever travelled a decent amount of Australia could make a list of their top 10 places to visit. When it comes to Victoria, the most common one I hear is the Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles.

Having lived for three years at the end of the GOR and within an hour of the Apostles, I admit they are impressive, easy to get to  and make for some nice tourist happy snaps. But for some of Australia’s best (southern) beaches, Wilsons Promontory – known as the Prom – beats anything that big windy road has to offer.

Do a Google Search for Wilsons Prom though and beyond the great Parks Victoria pages, it’s hard to find a decent site with much details on things to do and see at the Prom. This despite the region having some of Australia’s best hiking, most beautiful beaches in the right conditions and a variety of overly-friendly wildlife (see third photo of the wallaby who wouldn’t leave us alone).

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Refuge Cove, Wilsons Prom

Refuge Cove above is an amazing spot – we were lucky to do the 16km hike over there from the Mt Oberon carpark in perfect cool hiking weather and only had five other couples in the spacious campground. Conditions are primitive – people who need five-star chalets or resorts at the end of a leisurely hike should go elsewhere. The tracks can get muddy and toilets at the Sealers Cove and Refuge Cove campgrounds are basic but fresh spring water is readily available at both sites. The cove is within a marine park BUT not the marine national park, so fishing is permitted. I carried a small and fairly useless handspear in my pack and caught some goatfish. The best part of the dive (in only boardshorts) was the variety of fish species spotted and the novelty of spearing without a thick wetsuit!

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Waterloo Bay, within the Wilsons Prom Marine National Park. Wow.

There are several choices for camping along the hike. As we had only three days and the need for five guys to have ready access to cold beer, two nights in Tidal River and one at Refuge Cove made sense. But with more time, another night at Sealers, Waterloo Bay (above) or the Lighthouse would have been worthwhile. The last two places are within the Marine National Park area, where fishing is banned and the inshore fish life is obviously thriving. Blue gropers and moray eels are common here, unlike open access coastal areas further west.

Wilsons Prom is well worth a visit for anyone with an interest in Australia’s natural beauty. It’s a totally different experience to the tropical Great Barrier Reef islands or our inland forests and for those with a reasonable level of fitness, has some challenging and rewarding hikes on offer.

This wallaby is definitely used to human company

This wallaby is definitely used to human company

Filming sights of Sydney for Agence des aires marines protégées

Sydney ferry, view to Port Denison and CBD

Sydney ferry, view to Port Denison and CBD

I’ve been showing one of the Agence des aires marines protégées (French Agency for Marine Protected Areas) video team around Sydney over the past few days, filming at the Sydney Fish Market, Bondi Beach, Circular Quay and marine-focused touristy spots. Perfect weekend for it and the trip across to Taronga Zoo (pictured) provided some great footage.

Looking forward to World Parks Congress kicking off on Wednesday, so much prep work has gone into it over the past four months!

Reef sharks and aggressive triggerfish: diving on Fiji’s Coral Coast

I’m still sorting through about 200 short videos from my Fiji trip so put together a clip of some highlights from the first week. I could make a Finding Nemo sequel with all the anemonefish footage (though they weren’t the clownfish variety but still very cute). Yes, not all fish in anemones are clownfish – try telling that to kids who grew up watching Nemo and expect to see talking orange and white-striped fish under every rock 🙂

And the fishing shot at the end is from a morning trip with a local villager, who charged tourists FJ$50 to help catch fish for his village. Well worth the (minor) expense and my first chance to see reef sharks up close, though my videos were mainly blurry.

Predicting mining impacts on deep sea communities

Group shot at the 4th SPREP/SPC Deep Sea Minerals workshop

Group shot at the 4th SPREP/SPC Deep Sea Minerals workshop

 

The complex and little-understood nature of deep sea biological communities needs to be further researched before any deep sea mining licenses are granted in the Central and West Pacific.

Speakers at the 4th Regional Training Workshop: Environmental Perspectives of Deep Sea Mineral Activities in Nadi, Fiji, discussed the potential commercial value of deep sea minerals and the expensive but vital research that should be continued to determine the impacts of mining on abyssal plain, seamount and hydrothermal vent communities.

The four-day workshop, organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), aims to build on the work undertaken by the SPC-EU Deep Sea Minerals Project to strengthen governance systems in Pacific Island countries and territories to manage and minimise environmental impacts from mining activities.

Mining companies have yet to start any mining operation in the deep sea but are exploring several zones in the Central and West Pacific, searching for rich deposits of manganese nodules, cobalt-rich crusts and seafloor massive sulphides.

Duke University Marine Laboratory director Professor Cindy Van Dover, who has piloted the Alvin submersible to assess deep sea environments, said mining operations could have potentially long-term impacts on the fish, molluscs, sponge and worm communities of the deep sea.

“A single mining event could have the same impact as a volcanic eruption and it would be no big deal. Multiple events would be different,” she said.

“Hydrothermal vents are likely to be more resilient than anything else … but there’s still potential for things to go wrong.”

Prof Dover said hydrothermal vents, a key target for seafloor massive sulphide mining, were also being utilised for their genetic resources to develop medical, pharmaceutical, cosmetic and therapeutic products.

Dr Malcolm Clark, Principal Scientist at New Zealand’s National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), said the faunal communities in manganese nodule and cobalt-rich crust environments were very different and mining operations should build in large buffer zones to reduce impacts.

Professor Mike Petterson, director of SPC’s Applied Geoscience and Technology Division (SOPAC), also launched the SPC-UNEP/GRID-Arendal Pacific Marine Minerals Assessment Report and presented Mr Samuela Namosimalua, Permanent Secretary, Fijian Ministry of Local Government and Environment, with copies of the report.

More information on the SPC-EU Deep Sea Minerals Project is available at

http://www.sopac.org/dsm

 

 

 

Plastic piles up in ‘paradise’

Rubbish pile at Cape Tribulation

I had forgotten about this photo above, taken at Cape Tribulation in far north Queensland during my trip there in July this year, and rediscovered it in a scan of the images left on my camera card.

Trash piles near tropical holiday resorts are nothing new: google Hawaii and plastic waste for some disturbing images of rubbish dumped by oceanic gyres and storms. But this lot looked to have just been mainly bottles possibly left by tourists, which makes it sadder to think that people would visit one of the World Heritage Areas and be too lazy to take their trash.   

There’s not many undisturbed “rainforest meets the ocean” areas left in the world, so we should be doing our best to see they remain clean and free of plastic pollution.

Empty beach, Cape Tribulation

Palau weighs up cost of banning foreign trawlers; Fiji conference beckons

The MPA News is a regular and very word-heavy newsletter with usually at least newsy story to interest those not excited by the remaining policy-driven interviews (some would call them ‘boring but important’).

This piece from the latest newsletter looked at Palau’s plan to ban foreign commercial fishing from their Exclusive Economic Zone (200 nautical miles from a country’s coast), a strategy that will deprive the country of license revenue but boost the local fishery and of course the sustainability of fish populations for the long-term.

Palua, north-west of Papua New Guina

Palua, north-west of Papua New Guinea

Earlier this year, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau announced he intends to ban foreign commercial fishing throughout his nation’s 604,000-km2 EEZ.  A study group is now examining the “total marine sanctuary” proposal, as it is known.  The examination will include how the large protected area would be financed.

Like Kiribati and other Pacific Island nations, Palau generates revenue from the sale of commercial fishing licenses to foreign tuna vessels.  The closure of Palau’s EEZ to foreign commercial fishing would result in a loss of fishing license revenue.  Umiich Sengebau, Palau’s Minister of Natural Resources, Environment, and Tourism, told MPA News the marine sanctuary study group is exploring all possible options for offsetting that revenue loss, including conceivably a reverse fishing license mechanism like PIPA’s.

That being said, Palauan waters are not as tuna-rich as other nations in the region, and as a result Palau is not as dependent on fisheries revenue as Kiribati and others.  Palau has focused instead on other revenue sources, particularly the use of environmental protection as a lure for foreign tourism.
This led Palau to designate its waters as a shark sanctuary in 2009.

In a speech in Monaco this year, President Remengesau said, “People have started to equate Palau with sharks.  Palau has effectively cornered the market on seeing sharks.  This is only the beginning of what the protection of apex predators can accomplish for us.”

An article on the total marine sanctuary plan, as well as Palau’s new initiative to test the use of drones to enforce its shark sanctuary, is at http://bit.ly/totalmarinesanctuary

On another note, I’ve signed up to volunteer at the 9th Pacific Islands Conference on Nature Conservation and Protected Areas in Fiji in December.

A uni lecturer (written about previously for her efforts in promoting seaweed cuisine) helped to initiate contact with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, which saw my previous PR and journalism experience as a useful addition to their conference team.

Should be a fascinating experience, as well as chance to explore more of Fiji in between long days at the conference!

Conference promotional poster

Conference promotional poster

Holiday break in Far North Queensland

On board the Wavelength dive boat near Long Bombie

On board the Wavelength dive boat near Long Bombie

Some fortunate timing and a partner keen to try snorkeling helped provide me one of the best diving experiences of my life last week. Nine days in Port Douglas wouldn’t have been complete without a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, which I’d never visited before and nothing could have prepared me for.

Being a student, my budget hasn’t stretched to a new underwater camera after my last one died so I settled for recording the action with a HD Flip camera (a present from a friendly Google employee at a conference in North Carolina 3 years ago) in a waterproof case. The editing process may take a while but results will be up here and on Youtube in a week or so.

We also hired a cheap car for a day at Cape Tribulation and the Daintree, hoping to spot the elusive cassowary. It was only in literally the last five minutes of our drive before boarding the ferry back across the Daintree River that we spotted this youngster below, happily snacking on berries on the roadside.

Young cassowary

Young cassowary

 

Port Douglas, even in the peak of school holiday winter break, is a laidback place compared to the madness and plastic nature of the Gold Coast resorts. Many of the southern families seem to stay ensconced in their resorts a few kilometres from town, leaving locals and some lucky tourists to enjoy sunsets like this from vantage points close to the marina.

Sunset from the point at Port Douglas

Sunset from the point at Port Douglas

Seaweed passion leads to crowd-funding research

Followers of education writing and/or interested in crowdfunding stories may have noticed this one pop up this week: a university academic, Dr Alecia Bellgrove, who is raising money to fund research into edible seaweeds growing along the Victorian southwest coast.

Photo: Warrnambool Standard

Photo: Warrnambool Standard

She happens to be one of my Deakin marine biology lecturers (who I plan to interview on this topic as it heads closer to its funding target) and here’s a brief explanation of the research:

At a time when over 60% of adults and 25% of children in Australia are obese or overweight and the world is experiencing an unprecedented increase in atmospheric CO2 and associated climate change, there is compelling evidence from both the health and sustainability literature that seaweeds should become a common part of global diets.

Seaweeds are incredibly nutritious and can significantly reduce obesity and associated illnesses. Regular consumption of seaweeds thus has the potential to enhance the health of societies now, and for generations to come.
Seaweeds are incredibly efficient at photosynthesising and have amongst the highest rates of carbon fixation per unit area of any plants on the globe. The production of seaweeds for food and other commercial applications thus represents part of a viable solution for climate-change mitigation without compromising the availability of agricultural land and water resources into the future.
Southern Australia has the highest diversity of seaweeds globally with approximately 70% endemic to this region. The unique diversity of seaweeds on our shores represents a treasure chest of potential health and pharmaceutical benefits waiting to be opened. “But seaweed? Does it really taste any good?” I hear you ask. Well, millions of people in Asia think so; but this is a great question, and really important to assess when we are talking about the potential for new food products from the Australian marine flora.

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Aims
With the $5250 requested we will be able to assess the taste preference of local (Victorian) seaweeds compared with seaweed from other parts of the world. We will do this by recruiting tasters and then cooking up a storm of local and imported seaweed delights to tempt their taste-buds. Funds will be used to lease a commercial kitchen, purchase ingredients and pay a research assistant to assist with the data collation.

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Future Possibilities
There are also other important aspects to consider such as the nutritional value of the seaweeds and ecological sustainability of harvesting.
With additional funding beyond that requested we can also
1) examine the nutritional quality of local seaweeds, with comparisons to commercially available species and
2) estimate the local biomass of high-value, edible seaweeds and prospects for sustainable harvesting of wild populations.

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Keep informed
You can follow us on Facebook : http://www.facebook.com/Wouldyoulikeseaweed
And on Twitter: @DeakinSeaweed and @Deakinsensory

Last of the leatherbacks? Majestic turtles closer to extinction

Leatherbacks_Beach_Tapilatu

Photo: UAB News

Leatherback turtles – one of those amazing large creatures that gives us a window into the world of prehistoric giants – have been reported to be in serious decline at its last stronghold in the Pacific. The University of Alabama (Birmingham) has helped provide recent data from Indonesian beach site visits:

An international team led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has documented a 78 percent decline in the number of nests of the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) at the turtle’s last stronghold in the Pacific Ocean.

The study, published online today in the Ecological Society of America’s scientific online journal Ecosphere, reveals leatherback nests at Jamursba Medi Beach in Papua Barat, Indonesia – which accounts for 75 percent of the total leatherback nesting in the western Pacific – have fallen from a peak of 14,455 in 1984 to a low of 1,532 in 2011. Less than 500 leatherbacks now nest at this site annually.

Thane Wibbels, Ph.D., a professor of reproductive biology at UAB and member of a research team that includes scientists from State University of Papua (UNIPA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia, says the largest marine turtle in the world could soon vanish.

“If the decline continues, within 20 years it will be difficult if not impossible for the leatherback to avoid extinction,” said Wibbels, who has studied marine turtles since 1980. “That means the number of turtles would be so low that the species could not make a comeback.

Leatherback turtles can grow to six feet long and weigh as much as 2,000 pounds. They are able to dive to depths of nearly 4,000 feet and can make trans-Pacific migrations from Indonesia to the U.S. Pacific coast and back again.

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