Archive for June, 2011

Matt Walker –

An odd-looking ancient fleshy fish continues to serve as a reminder of just how little we know about the natural world.

In 1938, scientists discovered the coelacanth, a large primitive deep-dwelling fish that was supposed to have been long, long extinct.

The fish provided an immediate link to our dim evolutionary past, resembling the lobe-fin fish that were likely the first to leave the water and take to land, ultimately begetting the amphibians, reptiles and mammals we see today, including the human race.

The fish’s discovery was a worldwide sensation, and the coelacanth remains famous to this day, its name synonymous with the concept of living fossils and great natural history discoveries.

But new research just published reveals, in its own way, just how little we still know about this fish, despite it being the subject of intensive scrutiny and excitement for more than 70 years.

A team of scientists based in France and Germany has just summarized the results of a 21 year study into coelacanths living in the Comoros Islands, in the western Indian Ocean.

That in itself is impressive.

After its initial discovery in South African waters, another was not sighted by western scientists until fourteen years later, when a few fish were found swimming off the Comoros. The fish was not filmed alive until the BBC serendipitously took some footage of one for the programme Life on Earth broadcast in 1979 (see video below) and the first photos of the fish in its natural habitat were not taken until 1988.

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BBC News – 

The owner of a Cornish marine company has been fined £10,000 for safety breaches which put a diver’s life at serious risk, a court heard.

Kenneth Dunstan, owner of Mylor Marine Maintenance of Marlowe Bridge, pleaded guilty to breaching four diving safety regulations before Truro magistrates.

The court heard Mr Dunstan from Saltbox Road, Mylor Bridge used incorrect equipment and an unqualified diver. The Health and Safety Executive found the breaches on 5 May 2010.

‘No choice’

The court heard that one of Mr Dunstan’s employees had been working underwater on moorings in the estuary near St Mawes. Inspectors said they found the diver was using one tank of breathing gas with a mouthpiece.

They said a full face mask and two tanks were required. The court heard there was no standby diver or a lifeline and the employee did not have the proper qualifications.

There was also no diving plan for the work being carried out, which should have included a risk assessment and a project plan, the court heard.

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Dorset Echo –

A missing diver was found alive and well shortly before a massive air and sea rescue operation was called off.

The diver managed to defy the odds by swimming for four hours to shore after becoming separated from his boat.

He stumbled ashore and made his way to the top of the cliff where he managed to alert the emergency services.

A major rescue operation was launched after he disappeared off the coast close to the Lulworth Banks off Ringstead yesterday afternoon.

Portland Coastguard received an emergency call at 4pm and tasked the search and rescue helicopter, Weymouth all-weather and inshore lifeboats and Dorset Police’s inflatable rib craft to scour the area for the missing man.

Local boats in the area also answered a call to join in the hunt.

A spokesman for the coastguard said: “We received a call at 4pm of a missing male diver in Weymouth Bay and we got the helicopter, two lifeboats and police rib and various other local boats on scene.

“It is believed that a couple of people had gone scalloping, it wasn’t a dive boat he was with.”

The man is believed to have been wearing full scuba diving gear.

Coastguards were close to calling off the search when the man was found on the coast near Ringstead shortly before 8pm.

Full story…

News Herald –

An aquatic robot swam along the side of a ship in a demonstration of new technology at the U.S. Navy’s Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City on Thursday.

It’s all part of the testing of underwater unmanned vehicles, or underwater robots, that will be incorporated into the Navy’s arsenal to fight enemies of America at sea.

Researchers, scientists and military personnel have gathered to watch the latest gadgets and gizmos tested as part of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research Mine Countermeasures Science and Technology at the warfare center over the past two weeks.

Phil Bernstein, head of the Unmanned Systems Technology Branch at the warfare center, discussed why robots are important to the military and why the demonstration took place.

“We are trying to get the robots to do the dirty, dull and dangerous work,” Bernstein said. “This is a place where we have the opportunity to bring lots of robotic and unmanned systems together and demonstrate them in a relative environment, out into the ocean and not just in somebody’s backyard. We get sailors and Marines out to see the technology that will be coming out in the next five years.”

The varieties of robots are constantly evolving at the Navy’s research center.

“There are different vehicles (robots) for different missions,” Bernstein said. “But they are all predominantly related to (sea) mine hunting.”

Many of the robots showcased Thursday could be deployed as equipment on board the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Bernstein said. The LCS is designed to be active in shallow coastal waters.

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Angela Pownall – 

WA’s Ningaloo coast has been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO at a meeting in Paris.

The inscription gives international recognition and protection to the area after a seven-year campaign by the Federal and State governments to secure a successful nomination.

UNESCO made its decision on the sixth day of its 2011 session, declaring the area was a worthy addition to the list of places around the world deemed to have unique global significance and value.

Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said the inscription was a major achievement.

“The Ningaloo coast’s striking land and seascape tells a dramatic story about the formation of oceans, movement of continents and changes in our climate,” he said. “With more than 200km of spectacular coral reef off a rugged limestone peninsula, the Ningaloo coast is a stunning and unique contrast between reef and arid landscape.”

Conservation group WWF said the listing would put the protection of the Ningaloo coast under much greater scrutiny and deter industry from proposing potentially damaging projects near the area.

Paul Gamblin, who has led the organisation’s Save Ningaloo campaign for more than a decade, said the case for World Heritage status was abundantly clear as it was one of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.

“It’s really important because it builds the profile of the natural and cultural value in the eyes of people who perhaps don’t know a great deal about it,” he said.

The decision was made by UNESCO’s world heritage committee, which is made up of representatives from 21 countries, including Australia.

Ningaloo’s World Heritage site covers the 260km continuous stretch of reef and the adjacent rugged limestone coastline of Cape Range National Park, a 708,350ha area of land and ocean.

Not everyone has been supportive of the listing.

Full story… 




Dennis Taylor – 

When he was 12, future marine biologist Jon Hoech donned a scuba mask, stuck his face in the ocean, and got his first look at a school of fish, performing a majestic underwater choreography — something that only happens in the wild. Until now.

“The other day, this school of sardines created a ring around the full exhibit,” Hoech said, pointing to the frantic army of 9,000 fish zipping around the 1 million-gallon tank that houses the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s new Open Sea attraction. “We threw krill in the middle and the sardines all fanned toward the center to create this huge, flat pancake. Then they erupted into this big cone. I almost dropped to my knees when I saw that happen.

“It’s a spectacular thing to see in the wild, and it takes the right exhibit and a lot of resources to make it happen in a place like this,” he said. “But we’re going to do it, and it’s going to be very exciting for our guests to see.”

The Open Sea exhibit is the centerpiece of the aquarium’s $19 million renovation, which will debut to the public July 2 (with a sneak preview for members on July 1). The mammoth tank that houses the sardines is also home to many of the sea life that previously were part of the Outer Bay attraction — schools of tuna, mahi-mahi, and a pair of giant, green sea turtles, now believed to be at least 60 years old.

“Repeat visitors will recognize a lot of the old cast, but we’ll be integrating a lot of new animals, too,” said Hoech, director of husbandry for the aquarium. “This will be one of the largest schools of sardines we’ve ever displayed, which pleases me a lot because it’s a magnificent animal that we’ve never really done justice to, displaying them in all of their color and glory and numbers like we’re going to have.”

Inhabitants of The Open Sea will be enhanced by new technology that includes a fresh lighting regime to bring out the natural beauty of the animals, a bubble curtain that not only adds ambiance but helps the animals navigate without encountering the glass barrier and a water-motion device that will create waves that will cause the light waves to dance.

Full story…

Brett Anderson –

Nick Collins pulled a dredge up alongside his oyster boat, numbly resigned to finding his worst fears realized.

“I knew there were going to be dead oysters, ” he said after emptying a load of shells onto a metal work table at the bow of the Broad & Tracy, the largest of his family’s three-boat fleet. “It’s still sad.”

Collins ran a dull knife through a pile large enough to fill the trunk of a fuel-efficient sedan. After several minutes of rooting around, occasionally pausing to inspect an oyster or clam shell with his gloved hand, Collins was able to unearth only two live oysters. That meager catch, however, was not the main cause of his disappointment.

It had taken Collins 3 1/2 hours to arrive at Snail Bay, which on a map sits roughly halfway between Port Sulphur, the industrial town on the west bank of the Mississippi River, and Golden Meadow, the village on Bayou Lafourche where most of the Collins family has lived for generations and his starting point for this mid-May excursion.

Of the more than 2,000 oyster bed leases owned by the Collins family, whose Collins Oyster Co. was started nearly a century ago by Levy Collins Sr., Nick’s great-grandfather, the ones in Snail Bay usually are among the most fertile.

That at least was until a year ago, when the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Structure was opened in the hopes that the rush of Mississippi River water it allowed in would push oil from the 2010 BP spill out of the area’s delicate coastal wetlands. Collins knew the resulting drop in the water’s salinity would spell doom for most of the oysters on his Snail Bay leases. His mission this day was to see what the future held.

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