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Diving in the News – week ending September 15th, 2012 September 15, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology, Miscellany.
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There are about 100,000 divers in China. Not that many considering the population. I enjoyed this WSJ article about diving a sunken part of the Great Wall of China. The water is green and visibility only 3′. Sounds like places I’ve been in Canada. One thing I noticed was that Pauli Husa needs a shorter inflator hose. It sticks out too much and will probably catch on something. From his LinkedIn profile I see he’s also a ham radio operator like me.

The US and Canada have agreed on measures to protect the Great Lakes, which has been praised by environmental groups. My father was an environmental engineer, although he dealt mostly with air pollution. He had a very pragmatic approach to his profession, and pragmatism is needed in environmental matters because there are so many variables and interests to balance.

Here’s some praise for the GoPro camera. Unfortunately, for most of the diving that I do the ambient light is much less than your average dive in Cozumel, and the low-light performance of the GoPro is terrible. I hope some day there’s a low-light version because I really like them otherwise.

I’ve only been back at the blog for about 10 days but have encountered the first report of a diver fatality.  The diver was 66 years old. No matter what shape we’re in, as we get older there’s a certain risk of having a medical issue under water. A medical issue anywhere is more likely, I suppose, but under water the chance of rescue and resuscitation are considerably less. Concentration of skills can help that by reducing the effort of diving, but sometimes you’ve got to go all out under water to rescue someone else. I suppose that means as you get older you should make sure you dive with people who know how to keep themselves out of trouble. That’s easier said than done.

The ice is melting in the Arctic and David Suzuki has spoken up about it recently. An interesting tidbit in the article is how the Republicans ignore warning about global warming except to mock the scientists who bring it up. Politics, a profession dominated by lawyers, is rife with advocacy over truth. Each side will argue what it believes will serve the usually short-term vested interests of its constituency to the point of outright lying, as many recent articles about U.S. vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan have revealed (whose response of course is to attack the reporters, which may well be justified in some cases). My grade 11 chemistry teacher, Mr. Newman, was fond of saying that in science, 1/2 of what you believe to be true will be invalid in 10 years. That doesn’t make science wrong, it is in fact its greatest strength in the search for truth. So when politicians mock scientists because some were worried about a new ice age in the 70’s, I believe they know full well that they’re in fact making a mockery of the truth. At least I live well above sea level. Later, another article talks about being able to sail the Northwest Passage due to the lack of sea ice.

A few years ago I addressed an audience in Vancouver about “green” technology companies, in which I appeared right after the president of the David Suzuki foundation. Someone in the audience asked me what my company was doing about it, and I told them we were encouraging telecommuting and shrinking our office space, and that our downtown location encouraged people to use public transit. Someone else asked me if I thought the world would actually address the global warming issue. My reply was along the lines of “no, we are going to dig up all the oil and burn it, then we are going to start burning our crops as well to supply our energy needs”.

There’s not really much I can add to this article and video about a frisky male dolphin making advances on diver. Warning there’s explicit scenes in this video, at least if your a dolphin .

Some diver deaths in the news this week. A 66 year-old Palm Beach man died while on a routine dive. An off-duty policeman Cayman Islands policeman also died while diving.


Diving in the News, 2012/9/8 September 8, 2012

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology, Emergencies.
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Coming up from dive in the open ocean and not finding your boat  is a scary thought, and in the ocean and on most other dives I carry an orange SMB, a reel and even a regulation whistle in case this happens. If you don’t have an SMB, improvise with whatever you have. In this story, the intrepid diver used her yellow bikini top attached to her fin to get the attention of a passing boater. Now that would definitely work – especially if the passing boat were full of young male divers. There’s some recent additional discussion about SMBs in Scuba Diving Magazine (and if you want to know, I’m on the “con” side because equipment can’t replace judgement.

A Riviera Beach, Florida man surfaces too quickly and gets taken to hospital. Nothing is mentioned about symptoms in this video. Whilst it’s good to err on the side of caution, and yes, you can get an gas embolism by holding your breath and coming up just 4 feet, I think in the absence of symptoms I’d just watch this guy who bolted from 6-8 feet for a bit rather than rushing him to the emergency room. I’d be interested in what DAN would have to say, and of course you can call there hotline for no charge if you want to know what to do, even if you’re not a member. I liked the expression “taking on water”. I assume they mean some water got past his regulator and it panicked him. Happens sometimes.

A man in Ireland wants to break the cold water open ocean scuba diving bottom time record. There’s a record for everything these days (except deep air, due to the number of deaths, which is not good publicity for beer that’s good for you). What made me laugh in this article (other than the reason for aborting his first attempt) was the bit “when he will be exposed to temperatures of less than 15 degrees Celsius”. My goodness 15 degrees! Now I won’t scoff at how cold that is after 15 hours but it’s hardly the Arctic ocean kind of cold, or even the Georgian Bay kind of cold, or anything in Canada after mid-October. Having dived comfortably myself in 3 degree water it does sound a bit hyped.

I don’t know what to say about this article on the dead fish in Lake Erie, maybe because it’s not directly about diving. While the Ministry of the Environment says it might be from natural causes, I’m sure most people have suspicions that lay elsewhere. A follow up article confirms that it was caused by a temperature inversion, a natural phenomenon.

It should go without saying that scuba diving while high on cocaine is a bad idea. I don’t think I’m stepping out on a limb by saying cocaine itself is a bad idea. But scuba diving is enough fun all by itself, and is a lot safer when you have your wits about you.

Crater Lake, in Crater Lake National Park, Oregon is in the news this week, over a scuba diving closure due to fear of invading species. This article actually makes me want to dive there, but I understand the reasoning having first-hand experience with Zebra mussels and Quagga mussels on my own dives in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River.

Cozumel Day 1 – Lion Fish Safari February 14, 2011

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Dive Log, Ecology.
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The boat from Blue XT Sea Diving was a little late picking me up but I didn’t mind as we were heading for Maracaibo shallows on the southern tip of the island near the lighthouse, one of my favourite spots. The big difference between this and last time I was hear was that 2 years ago there was mention of Lionfish being spotted on the reef but I didn’t see any personally. This time they were everywhere. Our guide speared more than a dozen and eventually had to give up because there were too  many.

We came across a spot where several of them were hanging out, with a Nurse Shark sleeping under a ledge nearby. The shark flinched when the Lion Fish was hit with the spear, but didn’t swim away, nor did seem to smell blood in the water – or perhaps it just wasn’t hungry. We also say porpoises on the surface before the dive, and then under water, although they didn’t come too close.

At the end of the surface interval, Captain Mago saw a large Eagle Ray. At first they thought it was a Manta but we got close and could see that it wasn’t. Unfortunately it was so bright I could hardly see the screen and that made the pictures hard to frame. This is probably the best one that doesn’t have part of the Ray outside the frame.

The highlight of dive 2 in Palancar Caves was running across a large Stingray. I really like the way the sand is rolling off its wing in this picture.

And that was just day 1. Lots more to go!

Living on Vegetables April 13, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology, Fitness and Nutrition.
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Trying to stay healthy into my old age so I can keep on diving is a challenge. Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol down can be a difficult as you age, and I lot of people I know that are my age are taking Lipitor and other medicines. That’s always an option but I’m doing my best to fight it without resorting to a lifetime on prescription drugs.

One of the things that’s changed slowly over the last 20 years is that we eat a lot less meat than we used to. We’re down to once or twice a month now, and the less we eat it the less we like it. We eat fish, mostly salmon, once a week, and there’s a scallop dish (based on a fiery Thai shrimp recipe) that’s a Saturday night staple, but otherwise it’s vegetables supplemented by low fat cottage cheese to keep the protein content up. Scallops by the way are very low in cholesterol, unlike shrimp.

It’s tough to make this kind of diet appetizing, although I like hot pepper and for me a little or a lot of pepper sauce is great addition to most vegetable dishes, along with other herbs and spices. It’s all the more important as I don’t add salt to anything.

But one thing we learned in cooking school I’ll share, and I think it’s important both environmentally and gastronomically, is the creation of vegetable stock. As we eat of lot of stews and soups, using stock instead of water adds a lot of flavour. Stock cubes, like Knorr or Oxo, are full of salt and who-knows-what-else, and I try to avoid them. We used to make chicken stock, but as we don’t each chicken more than twice a year or so we can’t make it any more.

So what I learned was that all the things that normally get thrown in the garbage like the ends of carrots, potato peelings, stalks of herbs, onion and garlic skins, or just about anything else can be set aside for making stock. So we just stick it in a container, along with any water used for steaming, and freeze it after a week. Once we have a bunch of containers it all gets boiled into vegetable stock, which is then used and/or frozen for later use. It adds a ton of flavour to anything we cook and is free.

Once the stock is made, all the vegetables are tossed into the composter along with coffee grounds, tea bags, paper towels, wine corks, apple cores, banana skins, avocado pits and so on to support my wife’s gardening habit, and along with the paper, cardboard, glass and plastic recycling we hardly have any non-recyclable garbage to speak of. In fact, most of that garbage consists of plastic bags, which we (a) reuse at least once, and (b) are trying to cut down on. We’ve even started to bring home compostable stuff from lunch at work which may be bordering on fanaticism.

It’s a contribution. I still don’t feel it’s enough.

Instructor Stuff April 8, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology, Training.
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There sure is a lot to buy when you want to be an instructor. Here’s a list of what I still need. Fortunately my rescue diver manual, divemaster manual, diving encyclopedia and diving knowledge workbook are all current, and I have the instructor workbook and instructor manual from the AI course, with the latest manual coming free with my PADI membership.

  • Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty Instructor Outline
  • Project AWARE Specialty Program Instructor Outline
  • AWARE – Coral Reef Conservation specialty Instructor Outline
  • eRDPml
  • Open Water Diver Quizzes and Exam Booklet
  • Adventures in Diving Manual
  • Rescue Diver Final Exams Booklet
  • Divemaster Final Exams Booklet
  • Aquatic Cue Cards – Open Water Diver, Adventures in Diving, Rescue Diver Divemaster and Discover Scuba Diving

Many of these are under $10, but the bundles of cue cards add up to a couple of hundred dollars. There is package called the Instructor Crew Pack which is about $800 but wasteful as I already own most of what I need. My local dive shop has given me several items at no charge that were just lying around, which has also been great, and include several videos.

Speaking of videos, I have a copy of the Rescue Diver pro video now, which has both the instructor  video and the student video. I watched the instructor video, then went to student one and realised how much I’d forgotten or never been taught. It’s almost 4 years since I took the course, and the finer points were long gone. I’m glad I gave it another look.

Looking at the above list reminds me of how difficult it will be for me to do anything with project AWARE, especially with no coral reefs within a thousand miles of here. Environmental issues are very important to me, and a couple of months ago I wrote a report on the use of information technology for conservation, but there is so much information readily available, from Cousteau movies to TED.com, I have a hard time figuring out why someone would come to (more to the point – pay) their local dive shop for a short course on it. Maybe my expectations are too high.

I’ll have to give this more thought. It would be great to teach an environmental course (my dad was an environmental engineer, so I’ve had a big dose of pragmatism in my outlook). The Great Lakes still have more than their fair share of pollutants, with the biggest problem these days being the presence of persistent organic pollutants like PCBs that enter the atmosphere in other countries and end up in the food chain in the lakes, especially the colder ones like Superior and also in the Arctic.

The Flamingo Tongue Snail March 20, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology.
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On my recent Cozumel trip I snapped this photo of three Flamingo Tongue Snails, which I posted a few days ago. I thought I’d republish it (in full size if you click through the picture), to point out how this beautiful animal has needlessly suffered at the hands of divers and snorkellers, becoming much less common that it once was.

The shell of the Cyphoma Gibbosum is actually plain white or a light apricot colour, and the colour is actually living tissue (mantle) which will die and fall off once the snail is removed from the water. So while it looks like a pretty thing to collect, it will soon be disappointing.

The bright colour of the living snail is a warning to predators of its distastefulness, believed to be a result of the aggregation of chemicals derived from the Gorgonians upon which it feeds.

Bottom line is that you’ll be much happier with a photograph than the real thing.

Cozumel, Feb 17, 2009

San Francisco Wall, Cozumel, Mexico. Feb 17, 2009.

Another oil spill, who’s at fault? March 13, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology.
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The price of oil can be measured in more than dollars per barrel, with another oil spill in Queensland, Australia wrecking the habitat for marine life. While its easy to point to the captains and crew of the vessels involved in the collision that led to the spill, our insatiable demand for foreign oil is also at fault.

People who think that politicians need to do something about it should look in the mirror. I spoke to a fairly senior civil servant recently who told me that politicians are reluctant to do anything because governments which have attempted to enact environmental legislation, and especially carbon taxation, have not lasted long in office. If the most recent Canadian election, with the massacre of Stephane Dion over his call for Canada to enact a carbon tax, is anything to go by, his words ring true – and demonstrate how the average citizen sets his or her priorities. Mr. Dion certainly dug a hole from himself by the way he presented his message to the public.

Businesses should not be expected to change their ways significantly without this kind of prompting. To be sure, many businesses are cleaning up their acts. Most managers, all else being reasonably equal, will not wilfully damage to the environment. But being in business means managing the bottom line – and so it should. That’s what creates our standard of living. So a business will support environment sustainability because its good for its image (which helps sell its product and provides other benefits), saves money (by saving energy and so on), or pleases its own employees (for better productivity, employee engagement and lower turnover). All these things affect the bottom line – but is it enough?

Anything that has zero cost, like release of CO2 into the environment has today, will be used with abandon, and so the status quo will result in irreversible climate change. Years ago I remember hearing that bread was so heavily subsidized in the Soviet Union that children used loaves as footballs. Unless there is a true economic cost to releasing carbon into the atmosphere we’ll never solve the problem, the world will warm up, the oceans will rise, and many species will become extinct. Carbon dioxide, like persistent organic pollutants (e.g. PCBs, DDT, etc.), is a global pollutant, and getting the entire world to act collectively and enact appropriate controls has never been easy. The successful curbing of chloroflourocarbons in the early nineties (which were affecting the ozone layer) is a ray of hope in an otherwise gloomy outlook.

In the meantime there are lots of things that individuals can do to lower their carbon footprint. Better driving habits rate very high on my list. Although the 55mph legislation brought in by Jimmy Carter in the late seventies was highly unpopular, cars use dramatically less fuel (and thus emit less carbon) at that speed than say 70mph. When I used to have a VW Jetta, I was driving back from Florida and decided to just set my cruise control on 90km/h, which is about 55mph. My trip odometer showed 1002 km when I stopped for gas in Georgia, which was about 250 km more than I’d usually get from the 53 litres of usable fuel that I could carry in my tank. So if you’re going somewhere, you can at least drive at a speed appropriate for the time you need to be at your destination, rather than just going as fast you can all the time.

Eventually the human race is going to have to consider sustainability in all of its activities – treating them as closed systems. The sooner we do it the better of the natural world, including the lakes and oceans, will be. If the citizens want change, the politicians will follow their lead.

Cozumel & Diving in the Sixties March 9, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology.
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My in-laws had an old book collection that they gave to us, and one of the titles was World Beneath the Sea, by James Dugan, published by the National Geographic Society in 1967. Dugan was long involved with Jacques Cousteau and edited many of his books, and died of a heart attack at sea in 1967 before the book was published.

The book is full of colour plates (as you’d expect from this publisher) depicting divers with ancient Scuba gear. Suprisingly, most had single hose regulators, but as I expected there were no Buoyancy Compensators (occasionally a “horse-collar” flotation device, as this was introduced in 1961), Octopus regulators, depth gauges or submersible pressure gauges. When the angle was right you could see the pull  rod going up to the J-Valve.

This picture, published without permission which I think is OK under current copyright laws 42 years after publication, has the caption In a Coral Glade of Isla de Cozumel, Mexico, an amateur diver 70 feet down gathers swaying sea fans.


The first thing to notice is the presence of large sea fans. You don’t see many of these in Cozumel these days. I doubt this is from the gathering efforts of amateur divers (which these days is quite frowned upon) but more likely the result of Hurricane Wilma.  Her dive gear is also pretty basic. A two stage regulator with no other attachments, a weight belt (on backwards by today’s standards – note the left hand release), a horse-collar buoyancy control device with oral inflation, a backpack mounted tank, and a swimsuit. The T-shaped yoke screw has gone out of fashion and I’m sure it was a real nuisance getting caught on things.

Strange to think that the woman in the picture must now be in her sixties. I wonder if she still dives.

The Fish of Cozumel February 20, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Ecology.
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During our stay at the Occidental Grand in Cozumel, there were several days I took off from diving, and on each one I went snorkeling in front of the hotel at least once. While I’d done this the last time I was there, and had been amazed the large school of fish (Big Eyed Jacks) that were hanging around at the furthest point in the swimming area, this time I undertook to inventory all the species of animal life to be found beneath the surface. I was surprised at the number of species that I encountered, and managed to photograph many of them. Here’s a list of the ones I can name:

  1. Spiny Lobster
  2. Spotted Moray
  3. Southern Stingray
  4. Yellow Stingray
  5. Horse-Eye Jacks
  6. Bluestriped Grunt
  7. French Grunt
  8. Parrot Fish
  9. Peacock Flounder
  10. Arrow Crab Spider Shrimp
  11. Smooth Trunk Fish
  12. Spotted Trunk Fish
  13. Great Barracuda
  14. Sergeant Major
  15. Needlefish
  16. Sand Diver
  17. Trumpet Fish
  18. Blue Parrotfish
  19. Juvenile Angelfish (Probably French)
  20. Blue Tang
  21. Nassau Grouper
  22. Banded Butterflyfish
  23. Bluehead Wrasse
  24. French Angelfish
  25. Honeycomb Cowfish
  26. Rock Beauty Angelfish
  27. Yellowtail Snapper
  28. Ocean Triggerfish
  29. Squid of some kind, almost transparent
  30. Various Sea Anemones

The Southern Stingray swam right in front of me about 30 feet from the beach as I was heading out of the water. Many of the others were hiding under ledges created by discarded concrete slabs or by the concrete anchors for the buoys that marked out the limit of the protected swimming area. Most of the photos were taken from under water while I was holding my breath. Not being equipped with weights I had to kick to stay under water which made the photography more difficult.

The big school of Jacks was still there, under the watchful eye of a Barracuda which appeared to treat it as its private buffet. The school changed places once in a while but never went very far.

If I’ve got any wrong please correct me.

The Amazing Mantis Shrimp February 4, 2009

Posted by Chris Sullivan in Diving Books and Films, Ecology.
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I was just watching a video from my favourite podcast source, ted.com (you can watch directly from the site or subscribe to the Podcast feed, I do the latter and watch them on my iPod on the way to and from work). This talk was from UC Berkley biologist Sheila Patek who researched the speed of the Mantis Shrimp‘s feeding strike. This little shrimp has an appendage that strikes prey at amazing speed to either spear it, or in another variety club it. The latter type of shrimp bashes a snail so hard it can break it shell.

Her research project measured the amazing speed of the strike – even more amazing when you consider that it also has to overcome the resistance of water. The appendage moves so fast that it causes cavitation, which actually vapourizing some of the water (causing another shock wave to hit the hapless snail).

In order to make accurate measurements, she was helped by a BBC film crew that chanced upon her lab. The high speed low light camera filmed at a rate of 20,000 frames per second, which she shows running at 15 frames per second. Incredible.

This video, like almost everything on TED, is well worth watching.