Celebrate World Oceans Day With A Live Tour Of The Great Barrier Reef

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.

Mission Aquarius: Journey To The World’s Last Undersea Research Station

For 50 years, the underwater Aquarius Reef Base in the Florida Keys has been an important center for oceanic exploration. Today, it is the last remaining undersea research station in the world. But funding for the program is about to be cut and unless a new source is found, Aquarius will soon be shut down.

To bring attention to this issue, One World One Ocean and MacGillivray Freeman Films are teaming up for Mission Aquarius, a six-day underwater expedition and media campaign headed up by Dr. Sylvia Earle, an oceanic research pioneer and National Geographic Explorer-In-Residence. By documenting the expedition, these parties hope to bring attention to the accomplishments of the Aquarius Reef Base, as well as highlight the importance of oceanic research and the challenges facing the world’s oceans.

“We know more about the moon than we do about our ocean, which sustains all life on this planet,” Earle said in a release. “Only by making undersea exploration and research an international priority can we learn what we need to know about the ocean to protect it and protect ourselves.”

Mission Aquarius, which runs from July 16 to 21, will provide a fascinating glimpse at life 60 feet under the sea. Individuals will be able to dive into real-time footage on Ustream.TV, explore related content on One World One Ocean‘s website and sign an online petition to signal their support for continued program funding.

James Cameron to dive the Mariana Trench

Legendary director James Cameron is no stranger to big adventures. After all he is the man responsible for bringing such Hollywood hits as Titanic and Avatar to the silver screen. Last week Cameron announced plans for a big adventure of his own, saying he now plans to dive to the lowest point on the planet, which is found at the bottom of the Mariana Trench.

Located in the Pacific Ocean, the mysterious trench stretches 1580 miles in length and plunges nearly seven miles below the Earth’s surface. Using specially designed equipment, Cameron plans to spend about six hours at the Challenger Deep, the absolute lowest point inside the trench. While there he’ll collect samples for use in research in marine biology, microbiology, geology, and a host of other scientific fields.

Cameron has partnered with National Geographic and Rolex for this expedition, which he calls “DeepSea Challenge.” The filmmaker plans to shoot the entire experience with 3D HD cameras for use in a future documentary on the voyage, which will be made in a submersible that has been specifically built to withstand the incredible pressures that exist inside the trench. That vehicle was built by Cameron and his team and has already been tested to a depth of five miles.The bottom of the Mariana Trench has only been visited by humans on one previous occasion. In January of 1960 ocean explorers Don Walsh and Jacques Piccard made their way to those incredible depths where they were surprised to find a number of lifeforms thriving.

There is no specific date set for Cameron’s dive, but he is currently in Guam making last minute preparations. Follow the entire adventure on the DeepSea Challenge website.

[Photo courtesy National Geographic]

Bowermasters Adventures: Update from the coup in the Maldives

In a move surprising those not living in the Maldives — where most of the recent press has focused on its green-thinking on climate change and carbon use — the island nation’s president, Mohamed Nasheed, has apparently been forced out in a coup d’etat.

Fingers are being pointed at allies of the previous president, Maumoon Gayoom, for orchestrating Nasheed’s resignation. It was the Gayoom administration, which spanned 30 years, that had locked up and tortured a younger Nasheed before he became the first democratically elected president in the country’s history.

While celebrated internationally for his environmental politics, Nasheed’s presidency has been at risk at home. Critics have claimed the “Island President” (the name of the documentary that has recently won awards and attention at festivals from Toronto to Sundance) was paying too much attention to global issues and not enough to his backyard; others complained his leadership was not “Islamic enough” for the all-Muslim nation.
In recent months the country has experienced its own brand of “Arab Spring,” but here rather than oust a dictator the movement was against the country’s first democratically elected president.

Three weeks ago President Nasheed ordered the arrest and jailing of a high court judge — an ally of the former president — on charges of corruption. Street protests against the president, said to have been coordinated by allies of the former president including a half-brother and members of his security force, were successful enough that the military was sent into the streets.

Nasheed’s resignation speech indicated he was stepping down to avoid further and more serious clashes between the military, the police and protestors.
Coincidentally, when I flew into the Maldives four months ago I landed at the southern island of Laamu, where a sizable crowd was gathered on the sidewalk outside the airport. The street was clogged with women in headscarves and men in pickup trucks. They seemed to be surrounding a man walking; I asked what all the hubbub was about and was told it was former president Gayoom, who was clearly still liked by many.

One of the ironies of Nasheed’s three year long democracy is that a number of political parties emerged, including one devoted to his predecessor. When I met Nasheed later that week, he was clearly worried about his upcoming re-election, especially due to the loyalty being garnered by Gayoom’s Progressive Party and a handful of other, smaller pro-Islamic political parties. I don’t think then that he envisioned that his presidency would last just another 100 days with his being forced to quit.

That same day I had dinner with then-Vice President Dr. Waheed Hassan, a seemingly kind man who had previously worked for UNICEF, and his wife, a teacher who schooled students in her home. When asked at dinner (by Richard Branson) if he wanted to be president, he politely deferred. I’m sure he did not imagine that night that 100 days later he would be being sworn into the office.

There is concern that Nasheed may be being detained. Reports show military men going in and out of his private residence, carrying out boxes, including so-called “illicits” like liquor bottles. Be sure and read the accounts in the Guardian by Nasheed’s environmental adviser, Mark Lynas, who reports: “Gayoom controls the judiciary, now the executive, the media, and in couple of weeks probably the parliament. One thing he cannot control is popular support for President Nasheed, so he needs to find a way to jail or discredit him ahead of the 2013 election,” the spokesperson said.

“Using violence and then taking over the TV station, as well as recruiting converts among the police, the anti-democratic opposition faced Nasheed with a choice – to either use force or resign,” writes Lynas. “Ever the human rights activist, he chose the latter option and stepped down to avoid bloodshed. Even as I write, his whereabouts are still unknown, and though he is supposedly in the “protection” of the military I fear desperately for his personal safety and that of his family. I have heard that he is currently being held against his will under military house arrest, in which case he must be immediately released. All I can do is take comfort from the fact that the struggle can only continue for a man famous in the west for his outspokenness on climate change, but whose real lifelong cause has been his commitment to bringing democracy to his Indian Ocean island homeland.”

Several members of the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) were seriously injured during the lead-up to Nasheed’s resignation and some are reportedly missing. Part of the president’s decision to quit was hoping to avoid a bloodbath on the streets of the capital city Male, where 100,000 live squeezed into 1.5 square miles.

Bowermaster’s Adventures: Protecting the Maldives

Laamu, Maldives— The recent four-day, ocean-focused conference — dubbed WaterWoMen by its sponsors, Six Senses Resortsand +H2O— was a first-of-a-kind blend of water sport activities and intellectual athleticism.

Equal part coming out party for the resort on this remote Maldivian atoll just a100 miles north of the equator included were not just some of the world’s top water athletes (surfers, windsurfers, free divers, kite boarders) but some of the planet’s more thoughtful thinkers on ocean issues as well.

On the athlete side were surfers Layne Beachley and Buzzy Kerbox , windsurfers Levi Silver and Keith Teboul, kite surfers Mark Shinn and Alex Caizergues and extreme wake boarder Duncan Zuur.

The slightly less active contingent included biologist and oceanographer Dr. Callum Roberts; aquatic filmmaker and 3rdgeneration ocean lover Fabien Cousteau; Carl Gustaf Lundin, director of the IUCN’s Global Marine Program; Bollywood producer/director Shekhar Kapur; Chris Gorell Barnes, executive producer of the film “End of the Line;” and Water Charity co-founders Dr. Jacqueline Chan and Averill Strasser.

The Maldives is a perhaps the perfect place for such a meeting since warming sea temperatures have put its coral reefs at risk, thus endangering both its local population and the tourism industry that is its economic base. The event was prudently also a fundraiser for a trio of ocean non-profits:

The Blue Marine Foundation(www.bluemarinefoundation.com), created by Barnes, a recent initiative pushing for ten percent of the world’s ocean to be placed into marine reserves by 2020 (today less than one percent is thus protected);

Plant A Fish(www.plantafish.org), Fabien Cousteau’s hands-on marine education and restoration effort to engage local communities around the globe through schools, businesses and government agencies to “re-plant” aquatic plants and animals in environmentally stressed areas;

Water Charity(www.watercharity.org), focused on providing safe drinking water, effective sanitation and health education to those most in need via the most cost-effective and efficient means.

One the most important subjects whenever marine folk gather is that of how to better protect the ocean at the edges of our coastlines. The statistics are simple and seemingly ridiculous: More than 12 percent of the earth’s land is protected, whether as park, reserve, preserve or sanctuary. Of the ocean, which covers nearly 72 percent of the planet, far less than 1 percent is formally protected.

The Maldives is proudly home to the new, 1,200 kilometer square Baa Atoll World Biosphere Reserve.
One frank discussion during the Maldives gathering included some of the more experienced players in that arena: Callum Roberts, whose “Unnatural History of the Sea” is perhaps the best book out there about how man has so badly treated the ocean over the past 500 years; Chris Gorrell Barnes, a London-based advertising executive who used his promotional skills to help “The End of the Line” move from book to internationally seen film about man’s grave impact on the planet’s fisheries and Carl Gustaf Lundin, who oversees marine and polar programs for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is responsible for helping create MPAs around the globe.

Roberts led off and was most direct: “So-called paper MPAs won’t work,” he said, referring to all the talking about, thinking about and hoping to protect parts of the ocean that goes on without actually doing it. “Establishing them, then enforcing the boundaries is key.”

“And only local protection works,” he continued. “Bringing in environmental groups or government agencies from outside won’t work. Local people have to protect their own waters.”

Calling MPAs “barometers” of the ocean, he said he was thankful for the newly announced set aside of the Baa Atoll — one of 26 big atolls that make up the Maldives, which include more than 800 individual islands or smaller atolls — because the Indian Ocean that surrounds the island state has been badly impacted by development stress, overfishing, pollution and, particularly, the impacts of climate change.

Barnes, whose Blue Marine Foundation — created as a follow up to the success of the “End of the Line” — was among several instrumental in getting the Baa Atoll approved as an official UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The goal of Blue Marine is to see 10 percent of the world’s ocean formally protected in the next decade.
“What we need now is not more science. It’s money. The biggest challenge is how to fund marine reserves, especially in bad economic times,” said Barnes.

Working with the IUCN, an MPA five times the size of the one in the Maldives has been set up in the Chagos Islands. “But in order to get that accomplished,” said Barnes, “we had to raise outside money to help the U.K. government, which is a prosperous First World nation. Imagine how difficult it is for countries in the developing world to find money to protect the ocean.”

Roberts chimed in that the money needed to protect even 30 percent of the ocean was not that much, in the big picture. “That would cost just over $14 billion,” he said, “or about the amount spent on beauty care products each year.”

The IUCN’s Lundin suggested that $14 billion was paltry compared to the $70 billion spent by countries around the world to subsidize fishermen. “The big question for MPAs, including here in the Maldives, is how do you subsidize people notto fish?”

He had dived off Laamu earlier in the morning and had seen just five big fish in a stretcher where “I should have seen 50.”

“We have to do better at teaching people that a live manta ray, which helps bring millions of tourist dollars to the Maldives, is a far better deal than killing and selling its gills in China for a few hundred dollars.
“But the time to act is now,” he said,” since we’ve only got 10 percent of the fish left.”

He agreed with Roberts that enforcement was key to making MPAs work.

“We have helped many areas in India gain protection, but enforcement then becomes a low priority. The reality is that you have to hang a few people high from time to time, as example, to help with enforcement,” he said.
The IUCN keeps a list of scofflaw vessels around the globe, including the names of ships and their captains, but Lundin liked the example of Malaysians who when they catch a boat poaching in its waters sink it within 24 hours.

” ‘Warm and fuzzy’ doesn’t always work,” he said. “For MPAs to work, enforcement has to be swift and effective.”