Archive for 07/14/2011

Alison Rourke –

Conservation groups in Australia say a decision to allow Shell to carry out exploratory drilling near Australia’s newest world heritage site, Ningaloo marine park, could devastate the area if there was a spillage.

“It beggars belief that the government is not requiring a full environmental estimate of this drilling proposal,” said Paul Gamblin of the World Wildlife Fund.

Instead, the energy giant must abide by certain conditions, including visual observations for whales. The Australian government said Shell’s proposal did not require further assessment.

Ningaloo reef, about 750 miles north of Perth, is best known for its whale sharks, the world’s largest fish. The 160m long reef is also home to rare and endangered wildlife including whales, sea turtles and birds. Ningaloo marine park, which includes the reef, was designated a world heritage site last month.

The exploration well will be dug 30 miles from the edge of the park, primarily in search of gas.

In a statement Shell said it was “mindful of significant biodiversity and heritage values of the Ningaloo region and plan to continue our operations accordingly”. The proposal said in the unlikely event of a spillage travelling towards the reef “there is sufficient time to collect dispersant and boom…to contain any damage.”

Full story…


Ben Gutierrez –

The U.S. Army is set to begin a demonstration project that will use a remotely operated vehicle to recover and dispose of old munitions that were dumped off shore, which was the practice for years after World War II.

“Out of sight, out of mind, was the mental attitude a lot of people had back in those days,” said Hew Wolfe, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health. “So when they had excess, it was like almost after any war: any excess material or munitions, if it were close to the ocean, it got pushed into the ocean.”

The 21-day project aims to remove the ordnance in a way that decreases danger and the chance of damaging the reef.

The process will begin with the Remotely Operated Underwater Munitions Recovery System, also known as ROUMRS (pronounced “rumors”), which was displayed for the media at Pearl Harbor.

“It mirrors classic Navy mine recovery,” said John Coughlin of ARA Inc., which worked on the vehicle. “Except instead of using divers and people, we pulled the man out of the mine field and use an ROV (remotely operated vehicle).”

“The danger is that the things on the bottom go boom and you come up and you fix the ROV and you don’t have to take anyone to the hospital,” said ROV operator Jeff Ledda of Oceaneering International.

Ledda will be one of the operators aboard a barge who will manipulate ROUMRS while it is underwater, using cameras and an operating system that mimics arm and hand movements.

“Most manipulators are controlled with buttons,” said Ledda. “They’re not a very graceful motion. I can practically write my name with this.”

“They’re unique because they have a feature called forced feedback,” Coughlin said. “So when an operator is moving the controller and the manipulator touches something, you feel resistance as you’re operating it.”

ROUMRS can carry up to 200 pounds of old explosives, which will be brought up to the barge to be X-rayed.

Then they will cut using a band saw that is in a shipping container and remotely operated for safety.

Full story…

Roger Highfield –

The Bajau Laut, or Bajo, are marine nomads thought to come from the Philippines, who for centuries have lived out their lives almost entirely at sea. In dugout canoes known as lepa lepa they ply the ocean between Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia, fishing with nets and lines.

They are also expert free divers, as can be seen in this image, taken in the waters off Wakatobi, south Sulawesi.

But their way of life is under threat. The WWF is working with the Wakatobi National Park Authority to prioritise marine conservation in the area. “The WWF is doing excellent work in creating a maritime park,” commented Cliff Sather, author of The Bajau Laut. “Otherwise, the environmental situation is a disaster.”

Local people are abandoning traditional fishing methods and turning to homemade fertilizer bombs and sodium cyanide to stun the fish. This damages coral reefs and can lead to loss of life.

“We have come across cyanide fishing in the Wakatobi islands, particularly for the grouper trade, and also some bomb fishing,” comments Tim Coles of Operation Wallacea, an academic network that backs conservation efforts.

Unfortunately, they are not the only problems facing the reefs, he adds. “You could wipe out cyanide and bomb fishing and the reef fishery in the Wakatobi Islands would continue to collapse because of overfishing by techniques such as fish fences, bubu traps, gill nets, seine nets and so on.”

The good news is that the Wakatobi reef fishery has a maximum sustainable yield that, potentially, is significantly higher than current catches. However, it needs time to recover.

To reduce the pressure on this marine ecosystem, The Operation Wallacea Trust, funded by the Darwin Initiative and Operation Wallacea, has been registering the fishers and their boats and plans to buy their fishing licenses and compensate them with shares in a factory.

BBC News –

Submerged sites of ancient communities could be hidden in the seas around the Western Isles, according to experts.

Dr Jonathan Benjamin and Dr Andrew Bicket believe the islands’ long and sheltered lochs have protected 9,000-year-old Mesolithic relics.

Rising sea levels may have covered up to 6.2 miles (10km) of land on the west coast of the Outer Hebrides.

The archaeologists are to give a presentation in Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s council chambers on Monday.

During the Mesolithic period, also known as the Middle Stone Age, Britain was transformed from a peninsula to an island.

It is thought that landslides in Norway – the Storegga Slides – triggered one of the biggest tsunamis ever recorded on Earth when a landlocked sea burst its banks.

The water struck the north-east of Britain with such force it travelled 25 miles (40km) inland, turning low-lying plains into what is now the North Sea, and marshlands to the south into the Channel.

Dr Benjamin has conducted fieldwork in the UK, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and North America.

He recently returned from test excavations at an underwater late Mesolithic site in Denmark that is more than 6,500 years old.
Roman Empire

Dr Bicket is an expert in coastal geoarchaeology and is currently working in both the UK and Mediterranean as part of an international team focusing on the coastal prehistory of Greece and Italy.

Both work for Wessex Archaeology, which has offices across England and one in Edinburgh.

Full story…