Friday, May 25, 2007


Review: On-Line Coral Reef Course

Beautiful Oceans
Coral Reef Ecosystem & Food Web Course

This new course for divers discusses the coral reef ecosystem and food web. It illustrates its points using animals and plants found in and around coral reefs. For instance, the Caribbean Reef Shark is discussed as a top-level, active, predator. The authors manage to pack loads of information on their example species into a small space, without the prose becoming uninteresting. And even when I thought I knew lots about a subject they managed to surprise me. For instance, did you know that sponges may be able to live to over 1000 years old?

Although much of the information applies to coral reefs throughout the world, the example species are found in the Caribbean.

By the end of the course its authors hope that you will have learnt to appreciate all life on coral reefs from the tiniest phytoplankton to the shark. You will also have learnt how each creature is interconnected with the others.

The course is available on-line, where you work through at your own pace at your computer. It includes videos of animal behaviour and interactive quizzes. You can also take the course at selected dive schools in the Caribbean.

The course materials are well written, with many interesting asides. The Manual, in pdf format, is 119 pages long. It has a comprehensive index and is lavishly illustrated with a high-quality photograph or diagram on nearly every page.

We are delighted to be able to offer our newsletter subscribers the chance to win the course. Subscribe at then send us an e-mail with "Beautiful Oceans" as the subject line. Closing date is 11 June. Your e-mail entries will not be passed to any other company unless you win, in which case Beautiful Oceans will be in touch with you.

For more information visit

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Thursday, May 17, 2007


Healthy Coral Reefs Hit Hard by Warmer Temperatures

Coral disease outbreaks have struck the healthiest sections of Australia's Great Barrier Reef, where for the first time researchers have conclusively linked disease severity and ocean temperature. Close living quarters among coral may make it easy for infection to spread, researchers have found.

"With this study, speculation about the impacts of global warming on the spread of infectious diseases among susceptible marine species has been brought to an end," said Don Rice, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Chemical Oceanography Program, which funded the research through the joint NSF-National Institutes of Health Ecology of Infectious Diseases Program.

For 6 years, the international research team, led by University of North Carolina (UNC)-Chapel Hill, tracked an infection called white syndrome in 48 reefs along more than 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) of Australia's coastline.

The colorful coral colonies that attract visitors to the Great Barrier Reef live atop a limestone scaffolding built from the calcium carbonate secretions of each tiny coral, or polyp. While polyps provide the framework, coral's vivid hues come from symbiotic single-celled algae that live in the polyps. The algae supply much of the food coral need to survive.

When disease or stressful environmental conditions strike a coral colony, the polyps expel their algae. This algae loss makes the coral appear pale.

"We're left with a big question. Can corals and other marine species successfully adapt or evolve, when faced with such change?" Rice said.

Understanding the causes of disease outbreaks will help ecologists protect reef-building corals, which support commercial marine species and buffer low-lying coastal areas.

"More diseases are infecting more coral species every year, leading to the global loss of reef-building corals and the decline of other important species dependent on reefs," said lead study author John Bruno at UNC. "We've long suspected climate change is driving disease outbreaks. Our results suggest that warmer temperatures are increasing the severity of disease in the ocean."

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Divers to attempt to visit un-dived wreck Stella Polaris

On the 2nd September 2006 the famous first class luxury liner Stella Polaris sank off the coast of Kushimoto, Japan.

The ship sank to a depth of 72 m, and has never been dived by commercial or scuba divers. She lays upright on a sandy, gently sloping bottom. Her two masts reach a depth of 40 m.

An international technical dive team from Austria, Sweden, UK and Japan, will attempt visit the wreck between the 22 and 30 May to photograph and film the her.

The wreck is in a water depth beyond recreational diving and the dive equipment will be rebreathers on mixed gas.

Local mariners in Japan consider the dive site to be demanding and dangerous.
The Stella Polaris wreck is situated in the Kuroshio current which is the second strongest tidal current in the world with speeds up to 4 knots. Additional shark encounters are anticipated.

Further Reading:

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Monday, May 14, 2007


Bush Sets Record for Denying Protection to Endangered Species

There are currently 279 highly imperiled US species that are designated as candidates for listing as threatened or endangered and that face potential extinction. But the Bush administration has failed to protect any one of them in the last year.

The last species protected by the administration were 12 Hawaiian picture-wing flies listed in a single rule on May 9, 2006. Overall, according to a report released by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Bush administration has listed fewer species under the Endangered Species Act than any other administration since the law was enacted in 1973, to date only listing 57 species compared to 512 under the Clinton administration and 234 under the first Bush administration.

“The Bush administration has killed the program for protecting new species as endangered,” says Noah Greenwald, conservation biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “and in the process has contributed to the extinction of at least two species. This government’s war on science is also a war against wildlife.”

In October of last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Hawaiian plant Haha (Cyanea eleeleensis) is likely extinct and thus is being considered for removal from the candidate list. The summer run of Lake Sammamish Kokonee salmon in Washington state are also believed extinct.

A copy of the Center’s report can be found at:

Further reading: Center for Biological Diversity

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Friday, May 11, 2007


Egypt Stops Reef Fish Exports

Egypt have cancelled a decree which allowed companies to collect reef fish and export them to Europe and other markets .

According to the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA), the previous decision had a devastating effect on nature and on the coral reef condition in the whole area. HEPCA launched a huge campaign against this decision and lobbied with other agencies, enthusiastic individuals, and major media representatives.

As a result of the decision HEPCA have ceased legal actions against the Minister's old decree.

Further Reading:

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Thursday, May 10, 2007


Scientists Start Encyclopedia of Life

example pageThe world's scientists plan to document all 1.8 million named species on a web site for all to see.

The project, called the Encyclopedia of Life, will provide written information and, when available, photographs, video, sound, location maps and other multimedia information on each species. Built on the scientific integrity of thousands of experts around the globe, the Encyclopedia will be a moderated wiki-style environment, freely available to all users everywhere.

To provide depth behind the portal page for each species, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), a consortium that holds most of the relevant scientific literature, will scan and digitize tens of millions of pages of the scientific literature that will offer open access to detailed knowledge. In fact, the BHL now has scanning centers operating in London, Boston, and Washington DC, and has scanned the first 1.25 million pages for the Encyclopedia. They estimate that some species pages will be available by 2008, but the full Encyclopedia will take around 10 years.

“The Encyclopedia of Life will be a vital tool for scientists, researchers, and educators across the globe, providing easy access to the latest and best information on all known species,” said Jonathan F. Fanton, President of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “Technology is allowing science to grasp the immense complexity of life on this planet. Sharing what we know, we can protect Earth's biodiversity and better conserve our natural heritage.”


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Friday, May 04, 2007


The Seahorse is Creature of the Month

Seahorses are delightful to spot, curling onto sponges, coral or sea grass. They range in size from the tiny Hippocampus denise which is just 16 mm, to the 35 cm (1 foot) Pacific seahorse.

Seahorses are not easily seen as they blend in with their surroundings. They can change skin colour to match their environment and even grow skin filaments to imitate seaweed or sea grass growths.

The seahorse is remarkable as the male becomes pregnant. The female seahorse deposits her eggs into the male's pouch where they are fertilised. The eggs remain in the male's pouch until they hatch, when the male gives birth to tiny seahorses. The time to hatching takes between 10 days and four weeks, depending on the species and water temperature. Male seahorses are often pregnant for as many as 7 months in the year. The natural lifespan of seahorses is not known, but believed to be from one year for small species to five years for a larger species.

Seahorses are opportunistic predators, sitting and waiting until prey come close enough and then sucking them rapidly from the water with their long snouts. Their eyes move independently of each other, maximizing their search area. They will eat anything small enough to fit into their mouths

The name hippocampus comes from the ancient Greek, loosely hippos meaning horse and campus meaning sea monster. Hippocampi refer to the mythical creatures on which the sea gods rode. Early zoologists initially classified seahorses as insects not fish.

All seahorses for which data is available are listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as either Vulnerable or Endangered. This means they are facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. There are many reasons for their vulnerability. Seahorses are exploited for traditional medicines and the aquarium trade. Male brooding means that young depend on parental survival for far longer than in most fish. Many species are monogamous so widowed animals don't reproduce until they have found a new partner. Their low population density and low mobility means that this can take some time. Habitat degradation is also a real threat to populations as they mainly inhabit shallow, coastal areas, which are highly influenced by human activities.

Further Reading

IUCN 2006. 2006 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. <>. Downloaded on 20 April 2007.

Project Seahorse -

Seahorse photo taken in Dominica, copyright Harald Jahn.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2007


SCUBA Diving News: Dominica - "the Nature Island" - Supports Whaling

SCUBA Diving News: Dominica - "the Nature Island" - Supports Whaling


Dominica - "the Nature Island" - Supports Whaling

Dominica has rejected criticism that its vote on the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was up for sale, after the prime minister returned from Japan and renewed his support for commercial whaling.

Ironically, the Caribbean island markets itself as the "Nature Island", with whale watching being one of its attractions.

As a response to the financial input from Japan, a British peer, Lord Ashcroft, has commissioned an unprecedented television advertising campaign which he hopes will persuade the inhabitants of Dominica and five other West Indies nations not to support Japan's plan to overturn the ban on commercial whale hunting.

The campaign is being mounted in conjunction with the UK- and US-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

In recent years, the Japanese government, recognising the importance of national votes at the IWC, has been actively recruiting support from some of the world's smaller nations, trading financial assistance for pro-whaling votes at IWC meetings. The governments of six island nations in the eastern Caribbean, with a combined population of about half a million people, have succumbed to such overtures. Along with Dominica they are Antigua & Barbuda; Grenada; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Vincent & the Grenadines. In every case, the Japanese have provided these nations with financial support in the form of fisheries aid.

Dominica joined the IWC in 1981 then left 1983 without voting on the ban on whaling in 1982. It rejoined the IWC in 1992, mostly taking a pro-whaling position, but often abstaining on key votes, including the vote to establish the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. However since 1997 Dominica has voted almost exactly in line with Japan, with 95 out of 98 votes cast mirroring Japan’s vote.

Lord Ashcroft, who has a home in Belize, said, "Amongst the sightings of which I have the most vivid and fond memories are of humpback whales in the Southern Ocean, close to Antarctica. To watch these huge and extraordinary creatures 'breach' - launching themselves head first right out of the water and then crashing back down - is in my view amongst the great wonders of the world. It is entirely beyond my comprehension that the Japanese now plan to harpoon fifty humpback whales next year in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary itself. We must persuade our Caribbean friends to resist the Japanese bribery, and to vote in favour of the whales and a continuation of the ban."

The 59th annual meeting of the IWC takes place in Anchorage, Alaska, from 28th to 31st May 2007. In the run up to this meeting, the TV ad will be showing on prime time television in all six Caribbean countries that vote with Japan.

The Caribbean Whale Friends web site, funded by Lord Ashcroft, is asking people to e-mail the government departments of Dominica and the other nations, urging them to oppose commercial whaling. Contact details are at

The television commercial can be downloaded from the following link:
Username: ftp017 / password: whalepass
You can also view it at

More information:
Environmental Investigation Agency
Caribbean Whale Friends
SCUBA Diving in Dominica

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