This coming Saturday, June 8, is World Oceans Day, a global event designed to celebrate the important role that the oceans play in keeping our planet a vibrant place for us to live. Throughout the day there will be hundreds of events taking place across the globe that will help educate us on the importance of keeping our oceans healthy, while raising awareness of the challenges they face in the 21st century. One such event is an ambitious 12-hour live tour of the Great Barrier Reef that will give us a very personal look at one of the most important and beautiful marine ecosystems on Earth.
Stretching for more than 1600 miles along the coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is home to a dizzying array of species including sea turtles, dolphins, whales and countless smaller fish. Massive in size, the reef covers more than 133,000 square miles and is large enough to be visible from space. It also attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors on an annual basis, many who come to snorkel or dive the GBR’s breathtakingly clear waters.
Beginning at 10 a.m. Australian Eastern Standard Time on Friday, June 7, a team of marine biologists will launch a live event that will stream to the Internet via Google Hangouts. They’re calling this event “Reef Live” and throughout the 12 hours that follow, they’ll be broadcasting from their floating “Sea Studio.” While the event is ongoing, divers will share live images from the reef, while taking us on a guided tour of this very special place both above and below the ocean’s surface.
The event won’t be just about streaming pretty pictures from the waters off the Australian coast, however. Anyone who attends the Google Hangout will be able to ask the team questions about what they are seeing on their screens at any given time, while also interacting with a group of expert panelists who will be in attendance as well. This will give us unprecedented access to marine biologists and reef experts who will be able to provide the insight and knowledge that will make this event a unique and special one.
Reef Live is melding technology, the Internet and social media in new ways to deliver a live event that just wouldn’t have been possible a few short years ago. Streaming real-time video across the Internet while millions look on and have the opportunity to directly participate is a fantastic idea. I can’t wait to see how it all comes together in a few days time. If you want watch the live broadcast and participate in the event, there is a handy countdown clock available on the Reef Live site that will help you determine when the project has officially started. Find it by clicking here.
Earlier this week, the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) concluded their 24th annual meeting in Punta Arenas, Chile. Topics at the gathering included strategic planning for sustainable tourism in the Antarctic, methods of safe travel that can help protect the fragile ecosystem there and ways of enticing more travel companies to join the Association. During the conference, the IAATO also released its final tourism numbers for the 2012-2013 Antarctic travel season that has recently ended. Those numbers were up sharply over the previous year, indicating that there is still a strong interest amongst travelers to visit the frozen continent.
According to the IAATO, there were 34,316 visitors to the Antarctic last year – up from 26,519 during the 2011-2012 season. The organization noted that much of the growth came as a result of an increase of passengers on small- and medium-sized vessels over previous years as well as a jump in the number of travelers electing a cruise-only option. On those types of trips the visitors never actually step foot on the continent of Antarctica at all, but simply stay aboard their ship the entire time as it cruises about the Southern Ocean.
Looking ahead to next season, the IAATO doesn’t believe it will see nearly as large of an increase in the number of visitors as it did this year. Growth is predicted to be modest at best with most of the gains continuing to come from the cruise-only category. It seems that while interest amongst travelers for visiting the Antarctic is high, most would prefer to just see it from a distance.
Visitors who make the journey to the bottom of the world do seem to have some concerns about the impact of travel on the environment there, however. The IAATO revealed that more than $200,000 was directly contributed to various Antarctic charities by travelers who visited that part of the world with its member companies. That brought the total to more than $2.7 million over the past nine years.
You wouldn’t think that watching a massive ice breaker slice through the ice in the Ross Sea off the coast of Antarctica would be all that interesting. But the video below condenses two months of time spent aboard just such a vessel into a five-minute clip that is simply mesmerizing to watch.
Shot aboard the Nathaniel B. Palmer, the video captures the stark beauty of the Southern Ocean and the seemingly never-ending sheets of ice that cover its surface. Sometimes that ice is almost paper-thin and other times it is so thick that the ship can barely press onward, and yet it always seems to find a way. The ever-changing conditions of both the surface and sky are simply wonderful to watch, even if making a voyage like this one isn’t exactly on the agenda for most travelers.
The icy cold waters of the Southern Ocean are not a place you would expect to find a variety of aquatic species living and thriving, but that is exactly what a team of scientists discovered recently while conducting an underwater survey of the Antarctic. The expedition, which was a joint effort by Oxford University, the University of South Hampton, and the British Antarctic Survey, sent a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) under the ice for the first time, where it made some astounding discoveries.
Researchers piloted the ROV under Antarctica’s East Scotia Ridge to plumb the depths of the Southern Ocean, where they found a large number of hydrothermal vents. Those vents are actually cracks in the surface of the Earth through which heated water is released into the sea. In some instances, the temperature of that water can exceed 700 degrees Fahrenheit, which makes it possible for a number of unique animal species to survive in a part of the world that is usually inhospitable to most creatures.
Among the discoveries were a new species of yeti crabs that congregate in large numbers along the vents. In some extreme cases, there were as many as 600 of the crabs within a single square meter of space. Patrolling the periphery of these vast colonies was a never-before-seen species of starfish, with seven points no less, that preyed upon the crabs. An as yet unidentified pale octopus was also spotted along the ocean floor, as were a variety of new barnacle and sea anemone species as well.
These latest discoveries underscore just how much we still have to learn about the Earth’s oceans, where it seems life continually finds a way to prosper, despite some very challenging conditions. Reading about these creatures makes me wonder what else is still out there, waiting for us to discover it.
Not many of us will have the chance to visit Antarctica, especially with the new heavy-fuels ban introduced this year to protect the environment around the Southern Ocean. Next season only about 25,000 tourists are expected, about the same who visit Walt Disney World every DAY. Unless you are joining an adventure travel group like Quark Expeditions or happen to be an explorer like our own Jon Bowermaster, you may have to be content with gorgeous photos like this one from Flickr user Terra_Tripper. This gargantuan iceberg is just one of many you can marvel at near the South Pole.
Have you been to Antarctica? Add your best shots to the Gadling Flickr pool for a future Photo of the Day.