Author Archives: Angie

Magic encounter with The Big Underwear Social Tour!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 11th April 2014

What happens in Mexico, stays in Mexico! Well, having lived in Mexico, I normally abide by this principle but for once I decided not to, as there are some encounters in life that we have to share. May it be for the sheer magic of the encounter or the sheer magic of the harmony you can’t but feel with some people; my encounter with the Big Underwear Social Tour was definitely one of these!

©2014 Angelina Cecchetto

I met Irmi and Brady, who are the 2 main artists of the Big Underwear Social Tour, in a small fishermen’s village on the Caribbean side of Mexico where I was spending New Year’s Eve celebrations with friends. A few days later, having to catch a bus and a ferry to go to Belize to dive the Blue Hole, I met with Brady’s daughter Rosie who very kindly offered me a lift back to Playa del Carmen in “the bus”.

When I saw the Big Underwear Social Tour bus – a 1978 AmGen retired city bus that Irmi and Brady marvelously refurbished to fit their project – my eyes started glittering with joy and a big smile travelled through my face. This bus seemed to me to be the bus of happiness.

The Big Underwear Social Tour (BUST) is not just a bus, it is an inspiring itinerant artistic act founded by Irmi and Brady in 2010. They now travel across South America for about 6 months of the year in the bus and for the remaining 6 months they perform at festivals and corporate events in Europe.

©2014 Angelina Cecchetto

When I saw and entered the bus, I was in a state of happiness and excitement that only children have the privilege to feel. I felt privileged to be in it and to share some life moments with some of the most beautiful people I have been very lucky to meet in my travels.

Behind the great artistic show, there is a deeper message in the BUST act and philosophy that touched me particularly and this is a message of true Freedom and Altruism. Altruism towards people and the planet.

When I asked Irmi and Brady what was the main message behind their act and lifestyle, here is what they replied:

-       We are exploring the relationship between money and friendship. We don’t understand the evolutionary changes in our societies. Friendship and family is one thing. Strong family ties are another form of racism, they give you a border (look after our family and not the rest of humanity). Money has become more and more important and is taking away the friendship opportunity. Facebook, is symptomatic of this.

The second main axis of their philosophy is Nature conservation.

-       We often try to inspire people to pick up garbage as we find it to be an international emergency.  Sometimes we go around picking trash from the beach, do local initiatives to try to inspire local people to pick up the trash themselves. Some people just drop things in the street or just anywhere. Before buying new things at the supermarket, go and see if you can find it around you, this gets people together and strengthens friendship. It’s better than making corporations richer.

©2014 Angelina Cecchetto

Exploring the relationship between money and friendship, what a vast and fascinating topic! Irmi and Brady who hosted up to 14 artists when they did their first tour with the bus, have explored the boundaries between money and friendship more than anyone else maybe.

For me, Irmi and Brady incarnate a notion of Hope. They are two independent and talented artists who decided to live free mentally, physically and morally from a constrictive norm and are successful in doing so. They also teach us all a great lesson of altruism in the act of sharing space and taking time to have quality time with others and using their skills and talents to bring attention to the critical situation the planet is in and try to inspire people to act about it.

For what they do, I respect them and thank them. I am very grateful I have spent a couple of days in the Big Underwear Social Tour bus with Irmi, Brady and Rosie, they are some of the most inspirational, altruist and free artists I have met so far.

I wish them bons voyages!

Into the Wilderness: interview with Frank Dias

By Angelina Cecchetto on 7th October 2013

Copyright Frank Dias

Copyright Frank Dias

When my friend Frank Dias did some online research to find inspiration to design his own tattoo he was far from imagining that this would lead him to Alaska and film his own documentary “Into the Wilderness”. I interviewed Frank in order to share his amazingly lucky adventure into the wild!

It all started when Frank was doing some research online to try and find some interesting ideas to design his own tattoo. With Chris Nolan’s “Dark Knight” Batman film in mind Frank was looking for designs or images around the theme of swarm of bats. His research soon led him to a Nissan special edition “Dark Knight” car.  At the bottom of the advert page, there was a message stating “How much of a thrill seeker are you? Take our test” Frank clicked on it and the “Juke Built to Thrill” competition page opened up with an online test to take that Frank passed quickly. He then went through to the next step, which was to describe his most adventurous thrill of a lifetime. Deeply inspired by the story of Christopher McCandless which was both related by the book “Into the Wild” written by Jon Krakauer and the movie directed by Sean Penn, Frank mentioned that his thrill would be to go to Alaska to follow in the footsteps of Christopher’s hike into the wild to get to bus 142 and to question what adventure truly meant for him.

One month later Frank received an email that he was about to delete but thankfully the header read “You have been shortlisted for the “Juke Built to Thrill” competition”. He then went on to meet the production people in the London headquarters and was selected with 4 other people out of a pool of 12000 participants and ended up being the lucky winner of the competition! Very excited and also very well prepared Frank took off to Alaska to hike the trail that Christopher McCandless had walked in 1992.

How many people where you and at which time of year did you film the documentary?

-          We were a total of four, Mungo the cameraman and film director, Kevin and René, two local guides from Denali Backcountry Guides and myself. We went to the stampede trail in July of this year.

What is the underlying aim of “Into the Wilderness”?

-          It is to question what adventure means for me, but also to try and understand Christopher’s motivation, inspirations and realisations and to pay my respect to a young adventurer who sadly died – to visit another human being last resting place.

What challenges did you encounter on the way?

-          The hike was rough but the two main challenges were crossing the River Teklanika and the hundreds and hundreds of mosquitos! The River crossing was quite an adventurous step for me which I’ve never done before. There were dangers involved in that. In 2010 a young Swiss woman died trying to cross it. Thankfully thanks to Kevin and René’s experience everything went well. The other challenge I didn’t expect was the omnipresence of hundreds of mosquitos following us everywhere. Thankfully again, René and Kevin had brought us some protective anti-mosquito suits.

What special equipment did you have with you apart from the mosquito suits?

-          Extra pairs of shoes, water filtering device and waterproof gear and bags.

How long did it take you to walk to the bus, your final destination and what did you feel when you saw the bus?

-          It took us two days to walk to the bus and when I got there I felt quite emotional. It was quite an emotionally powerful moment to see the bus and everything in it left as it was when Christopher had lived there.

What learning did you take back with you from this experience:

-          It made me have a greater appreciation of enjoying each moment whilst you can. Always go with the perspective that you can have an adventure anywhere as you never know what life is going to bring you. I also came to agreeing with Chris that happiness is only real when shared – which is what Chris came to the conclusion of after his many days in isolation.

Do you think there is a message that we could take from Christopher’s experiences and decisions?

-          Yes, doing your own rite of passage – when you challenge yourself to become an adult and to find out who you truly are. In our modern society the rite of passage has evolved to a point that it has practically disappeared and with it a basic element of ourselves has been dissolved over time. Also, when going out on an adventure, be prepared, use common sense and stay alive, you’ll want to share your story with others!

Maybe as his own rite of passage, in 1990 Christopher McCandless decided to leave civilization. In April 1992 he ventured into the Alaskan wilderness to find peace and solitude and to be at one with his great passion for the wilderness. He may have had questions that he needed time and space to find answers for. He stayed in Alaska 112 days and was mainly living of berries and hunting and whilst out there he came to the realisation that true happiness is only real when shared. He realised that the most amazing adventures and the most beautiful experiences are only really so when you can share them with someone, so he decided to go back to civilization and his family. However, on the way back River Teklanika had greatly swollen up due to thaw and had turned into a deep, fast and very strong river which he nonetheless tried to cross and nearly drowned in the process, he finally gave up the idea and went back to what he called his “magic bus”; the bus that he had found in that great immensity of the Alaskan wilderness and which offered him shelter for the days he lived there. Whilst gathering his food, Christopher may have ingested something that ended up poisoning his body, (you can read the latest theory on this in the New Yorker). Realizing Nature’s might and adverse side, he continued writing in his diary until he eventually rolled up in his sleeping bag and passed away.

Filmed and directed by Mungo, Into the Wilderness is a beautiful documentary retracing the footsteps and the poignant story of a young adventurer who escaped civilization to realize that happiness was only truly meaningful when shared. Mungo’s photography pays tribute to the uncompromising and raw Alaskan landscape beauty.

The film will be released in thirty selected cinemas throughout the UK, from the 14th October to the 30th November as part of a set of short films for the Adventure Film Festival. So if like me you love adventure, nature and inspiring stories, do go and watch Frank’s film and the others!

For those of you who would like a taster, here is the trailer:

 

INTO THE WILDERNESS TRAILER from Black Diamond on Vimeo.

Extra-ordinary tales: the first 12 year old Ironman rescue diver girl!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 20th September 2013

Meb Ziegelbauer getting ready for the Ironman Rescue 2013

Meg Ziegelbauer getting ready for the Ironman Rescue 2013

On the morning of the 8th of September Meg Ziegelbauer, 12, woke up at 3.30 am to head to Lake Monona, Wisconsin to be part of a crew of seven Rescue Divers assisting the 2500 Ironman competitors who had to swim 2.4 miles in the lake. The challenge of lake Monona swim, beyond the water temperature which on average revolves around 70°F/21°C, is that part of the race is against current. The seven rescue divers were divided into two boats and followed the swimmers progression. Overall the swim went rather well with only about 10 out of 2500 participants having to be rescued for exhaustion. To qualify for the final stages of the Ironman, the competitors have 2 hours 20 minutes to swim 2.4 miles/3.8 kms with a fair bit of the way against current.

Meg who started diving at 8 years of age, was part of the crew to rescue the Ironman swimmers. Non recue divers may wonder how it is possible for a 12 year old girl to rescue Ironmen competitors. To that, experienced rescue divers would reply that a water rescue involves techniques and equipment which allow a smaller person to rescue a bigger one, and thankfully so I would say!

This being said, as a dive Instructor myself I must pay a huge tribute to Meg’s courage and attitude which are frankly amazing. At 8 years old, Meg started diving in local queries with her dad, Greg Ziegelbauer who has been a diver and who has rescued people for years as a professional firefighter. Whilst quite a fair amount of adults are scared or reluctant to dive even in clear, warm tropical waters, Meg aged 8 went down to poor visibility and cold lakes and queries waters! This is not a small achievement.

I interviewed Meg about what she thought of the Ironman rescue experience and what were her future plans:

What did it feel to participate to the Ironman experience?

-          It was kind of cool, quite interesting!

Would you do it again?

-          Yes definitely, I would like to do it next year and the year after, every year if I can.

Do you remember the first time you started diving?

-          Yes, I was kind of scared of the deep end and really cold as it was in April but in the end I really loved it! My dad started diving for firefighting and got me into it.

How many dives do you have?

-          200.

What are you plans for the future as far as diving is concerned?

-          I want to become a Dive Master, then an Instructor and then I would like to become a Navy Seal* as women have just been admitted to become Navy Seals. If I can’t get to do that, I would like to become a Marine Biologist.

*For the record, to become a female Navy Seal, you have to do between 50 to 90 push-ups and sit-ups in two minutes. 10 to 18 pull-ups and run a mile and a half in 10 minutes. Swim 500 yards/460m in 12 minutes, sidestroke.

What is your motivation?

-          I like diving, and helping people.

To conclude I would only say one word: admirable!

A new star is born! Explosive star birth captured by ALMA 1400 light-years from Earth!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 27th August 2013

Watch the amazing video below of the violent birth of a new star 1400 light-years from Earth!

On the night of the 20th to the 21st of August of this month the birth of a new star was captured in the high desert of Chile thanks to the new giant radio telescope array called the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array or “ALMA”

Thanks to the high-resolution imaging capability of ALMA, astronomers were able to capture the somehow violent birth of the new star located in the constellation Vela, 1400 light-years away from planet Earth.  In the creation process astronomers spotted 2 main streams of matter being spewed out or “exploding” one might say at a speed of a million kilometers (620,000 miles) an hour!

The result of this explosion of matter, dust and gas being a cradle of vivid and brightly glowing matter surrounding the new baby star! Truly amazing!

Diving lesson learnt: when you dive in a school of anchovies, watch your back, your front and collatorals!!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 13th August 2013

Two divers named Shawn Stamback and Francis Antigua got the fright of their lives when they nearly got snatched away by two enormous humpback whales who suddenly surfaced out of the water to feast on a school of anchovies. This happened a few weeks ago off the coast of central California. The two dive buddies who were surrounded by a school of anchovies never thought that two enormous humpback whales would simultaneously jump out of the water by their side! They both instantaneously thought the other had been swallowed by the whales.

In areas known to be populated or popular with whales, boaters are  advised to stay at least a hundred yards/meters away from whales and this explains pretty clearly why. This is certainly a dive experience they will both remember for quite a while, not to say for ever.

Lesson to learn for us divers: when you dive near a big school of anchovies (or any school of praying fish, I would even say) watch your surroundings and keep an eye underwater until you get back on board!

Happy and safe diving to all!

Amazing discovery of a hidden underwater 52 000 years old forest!!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 12th July 2013

Amazing discovery of a hidden underwater 52 000 years old forest

A 52 000 years old underwater Bald Cypress forest[1] which was buried under ocean sediments was recently discovered by scuba divers in Alabama! The amazing thing is that the forest has been protected in an oxygen free environment for over 50 000 years and is now home to a flourishing reef rich in fish, crustaceans, sea anemones and other underwater organisms.

It is thought that hurricane Katrina contributed to uncover the hidden forest in 2005. After that date, a local dive shop owner realized that something exceptional was happening in the area after a local fisherman revealed that the area was extremely prolific in fish.

The following year, a friend of the dive shop owner went down to see what was happening underwater and marveled at the finding of the underwater forest. Diving the forest was described as “fairy like”. The spot was kept secret for several years mainly to avoid pillage and to protect it however in 2012 the dive shop owner finally disclosed the existence of the forest to scientists who are now researching the area. The forest which lays at 18m/60ft depth covers an area of about 0.8 sq kms/0.5 sq miles and is located a few miles away from the coast of Mobile, Alabama and could well reveal new information on the climate of the Gulf of Mexico thousands of years ago. This could reveal valuable information on the period also known as the “Wisconsin Glaciation” when sea levels were much lower than they currently are.

Because Bald Cypress trees can live thousands of years, the underwater trees could potentially reveal thousands of years of climate information on the area which for scientists is a very exciting perspective that could bring new explanations on nowadays phenomenon. Whatever the outcome of researches will be, I must say that as a diver, I would love to dive this awe inspiring underwater forest!!

Do we really know what we are eating?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 31st May 2013

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto.  All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto.
All Rights Reserved.

Do you think you know what you are eating? If you think you do, then think again!

For the last few weeks the media in Europe have been delighting themselves with a “horse meat” and a “fecal matter” scandal whereby horse meat was found in ready-made supposed to be “beef” lasagna and fecal matter was found in Ikea’s chocolate almond cakes. The whole of Europe got the hiccup about it. One of the issues here is the lack of transparency on the food labeling which should trace the origin of meat for instance but doesn’t.

Another recurring food industry related scandal revolves around Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and this is a big one! Do you know whether the corn you eat for breakfast in your cereals is GM or natural? Do you know if your milk you drink is rBST-free (recombinant bovine growth hormone) or not? Do you know if your soya milk is from GM beans?

If you don’t know it may be time to start asking yourself a few questions like I did! Interestingly, I found out that GMOs are present in over 80% of all processed foods! So, if you didn’t grow yourself the corn you eat for breakfast or the soybeans in your soya milk, then it is most probably genetically modified corn and soya you are eating or drinking!

Well, most of us don’t know and there is a reason for this. The people at the top of the agribusiness do not want people to know so they can sell more GMOs and increase their revenues. It sounds simplistic but that is what it comes down to. The top organization in the agribusiness is called Monsanto. It’s an American based multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation which is the main producer in Genetically Engineered (GE) seeds and glyphosate herbicides (Roundup). Monsanto is extremely rich and powerful, so much so that it influences regulations on production and distribution of GE products with hefty strategically political contributions and lobbying, all of which are detailed in the very comprehensive Wikipedia article on Monsanto. A few interesting facts about the scandals attached to Monsanto:

In 1984 a group of people sued the corporation for “dioxin poisoning” after a train containing dioxin derailed. Although no direct harm was declared to occur, Monsanto got charged for not warning the public about dioxin’s harmfulness and toxicity. Dioxin is used in wood preservatives.

In 2002 documentation provided in a lawsuit showed that in Alabama the local Monsanto factory knowingly discharged both mercury and PCB-laden waste into local creeks for over 40 years.[1]

In 2003 Monsanto paid a $300 million settlement to the people in Alabama affected by the manufacturing and dumping of the toxic chemical polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)[2]

In 2004 Swiss Syngenta which is one of the largest agrichemical corporations sued Monsanto for coercive tactics to monopolize markets. [3]

In 2005, the US Department of Justice prosecuted Monsanto for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (15 U.S.C. § 78dd-1) and making false entries into its books and records. Monsanto admitted to it and to bribing Indonesian officials.

In 2006 the Correctional Tribunal of Carcassonne in France fined Monsanto for their knowledge of the presence of unauthorized GMOs in bags of seeds imported by Asgrow on 13 April 2000.

In England a government report showed that 67 chemicals, including Agent Orange derivatives, dioxins and PCBs exclusively made by Monsanto, were leaking from the Brofiscin quarry, near Groesfaen in Wales, the result of which was groundwater pollution there since the 1970s.[4]

There seems to be many more stories, cases and scandals involving Monsanto, going from Child Labor, Farmers Suicides, Industrial bio test laboratory tests falsification, scientific misconduct, fraud, corruption, unfair business practices, bio-piracy, false advertising, political contributions and lobbying in the US, the UK and Continental Europe. This being said, it would be logical to ask how do they keep going? I would be inclined to say precisely because they make money circulate. They pollute, people sue them, they pay. They bribe people, small and big and craftily win markets over.

Now these are the scandals behind the corporation but what about the products? Genetically Modified Organisms? Do you know the consequences of consuming GMOs? You don’t? How strange that we don’t know anything about a product which is in the food business since the 1970’s, i.e. over 40 years! Well in his article titled “GMO Scandal: The Long Term Effects of Genetically Modified Food on Humans” F. William Engdahl clearly states the reason why most of us don’t know the effects of GMOs consumption: “The GMO agribusiness companies like Monsanto, BASF, Pioneer, Syngenta and others prohibit independent research.”

In his book “Seeds of Destruction: Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation” F. William Engdahl explains how Washington and four agribusiness giants target world domination by controlling food production globally from crops to animals.

In his article “Unsafe Genetically Modified Food” Stephen Lendman highlights many GM food issues. In “Seeds of Deception” Jeffrey Smith highlights the dangers of untested and unregulated GM foods exposing consumers to potential health risks. Studies on rats fed GM potatoes showed they ended up with smaller livers, hearts, testicles, brains, damaged immune systems, and showed structural changes in their white blood cells making them more susceptible to infection and disease than other rats fed non-GM potatoes. They also had thymus and spleen damage, enlarged tissues, including the pancreas and intestines, liver atrophy, and other serious problems.

As Stephen Lendman rightly states, this could affect people too: “Humans may be harmed the same way because GMOs saturate our diet. Over 80% of all processed foods contain them as well as rice, corn, soybeans, soy products, vegetable oils, soft drinks, salad dressings, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, meat, and other animal products plus an array of hidden additives and ingredients in products like tomato sauce, ice cream and peanut butter.”

The situation is pretty serious I would say. People at the top of what I call the “agri-corporates” chain seem to be ready to put the world population in potential danger to quench their thirst for market domination.

Thankfully, people are now starting to become aware and initiatives are starting to find the right way forward but some deep structural changes need to happen to protect the consumers worldwide and protect the farmers and producers.

What can we do at our modest level? One of the things we need is adequate product labeling. Spread the word about food related issues and sign petitions for a clearer product labeling and more transparency in the food traceability in the food industry globally.

Here is a list of petitions that can make a difference:

FDA petition to label GMOs nears one million signature: http://www.naturalnews.com/035223_GMO_labeling_petition.html

Global petition against commercialization of GMO Maize in Mexico: http://www.etcgroup.org/content/sign-global-petition-against-commercialization-gmo-maize-mexico

Bring Down Monsanto… http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/bring-down-monsanto-monopoly/

For GMO Free Hawaii and GMO labeling:

http://www.causes.com/actions/1726703-petition-for-gmo-free-hawaii-and-gmo-labeling

For GMO food labeling in Argentina – Para una Ley de etiquetado de OGM o TRANGENICOS http://www.avaaz.org/es/petition/Exigimos_una_Ley_de_etiquetado_de_OGM_o_TRANSGENICOS_QUEREMOS_SABER_QUE_COMEMOS/?tmlGfeb

Dare to care and contribute to a positive change!

 

The Ocean Cleanup project: the best intention of the century!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 17th April 2013

There are many good and bad news every day when it comes to nature and ocean conservation and one of the best news of the year for me is the newly added species of sharks and manta rays on the CITES list of endangered species but I must say that the “Ocean Cleanup” project is by far the one which gives me the biggest thrill of all of them simply because I am aware of the huge problem we are facing with omnipresent plastic and garbage pollution and should this project materialize it could make a well needed difference to worldwide plastic pollution.

Some of you may or not have heard of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” also called “Pacific Trash Vortex”. It is a gyre of marine debris mainly made of pelagic plastic floating in the seawater; its size is estimated between 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 sq mi) to 15,000,000 square kilometers (5,800,000 sq mi). The source of the debris is mainly land-based but also ocean based (from ships). There are 5 gyres in the world.

The result is dramatic for the marine life, plastic ending up in the digestive system of many birds, turtles (turtles mistake floating plastic bags for jelly fish and end up eating whole plastic bags) and other sea organisms but also on us as floating debris absorb organic pollutants that end up in fish and therefore in our alimentation.

The “Ocean Cleanup” project is led by Boyan Slat an Aerospace Engineering student at the Delft University of Technology who also happens to be a very inspired diver. As the name clearly states, his project is to clean up the ocean garbage patch.  In 2012, The Ocean Cleanup Array has been awarded Best Technical Design at the Delft University of Technology, and came second at the iSea Clash of the Concepts sustainable innovation award by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. The project which is still in study and testing phase is quite promising. The idea is to use huge floating booms like telescopic arms instead of nets to funnel all the plastic debris floating in the ocean. One of the great points of the project is to use the surface currents to help funnel the debris avoiding the by-catches as the booms would divert the debris and not catch them. Beyond the sustainability aspect of the project, from a business perspective what is interesting is that it could potentially be financially profitable.

A very good example of plastic recycling has been made by “Method” a producer of cleaning products who marketed a dish soap whose container is made partly of recycled ocean plastic[1].

According to Boyan Slats calculations the cleanup method he is working on could potentially clean up the garbage patches in 5 years which would be a miracle considering the situation. For the moment, we cannot be sure of the results as Boyan Slats mentions on his website, they are at about 1/4th of completing their feasibility study so the whole study is far from over.

I truly hope that Boyan Slats project will materialize and will successfully help overcome the garbage patches in the ocean however, should the project not materialize yet, I must say that it is great to see that the young generations are aware of the current global situation and are actively involved in finding solutions. Without mentioning the fact that once more, divers help and contribute to valuable ocean conservation projects maybe because diving makes them ever so aware of the underwater invaluable beauty and biodiversity but also of the daunting presence of plastic and garbage in the oceans.

Cleaning the ocean would be a virtually miraculous step forward and would put us back onto the planet’s sustainability path; not just for us humans but for all the others forms of life on this planet, however, this will not tackle the source of the problem. For this we need a deep structural change to our consumption habits and work to implement more biodegradable solutions again. This will require global cooperation going from industrialists to consumers and passing by political and legal authorities. Every one of us is concerned directly or indirectly by nature and ocean pollution, either as a food toxicity issue or as a simple financial or health issue so every one of us has or will have to act or contribute to conservation initiatives.

Last but not least, I will add a petition that pleads to ban non-biodegradable packaging for food, should you want to contribute in a couple of clicks:

http://signon.org/sign/ban-non-biodegradable.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=1333790

 

Petitions: do they really work and how?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 7th April 2013

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

The straight answer to this question is yes, petitions do work!

Successful petitions put pressure on corporations, governments and other local authorities.

How? By helping information circulate in an unbiased way, petitions keep people informed of what is going on and help spread the word on particular aspects of information that may not be covered by the mainstream medias. The great thing about petitions and particularly about online petitioning or e-petitioning is that it makes it very easy for people to do something about a cause they may have at heart to defend and to force groups or institutions who may not want to hear to actually listen to people’s opinion.

How does the petition process work exactly? To create an e-petition it’s very simple; you can go on different online petition websites such as www.avaaz.org , www.care2.com , www.change.org  and many others. Should you want to find a petition site in your country, you just need to search for the petition in your own language in Google and you find many in your own language or related to your country. Before creating a petition, make sure that there is not one already existing which defends the same cause.

Some people think that signing e-petitions will not make any difference in the great scheme of things, well, they are simply wrong and I am going to give you some examples showing that in a couple of clicks and less than a minute people can make a positive difference in society. Of course, I am not talking about “all heroic happy-ending” unrealistic scenarios like “petitions-will-save-the-world” type of scenarios, I am saying that thanks to e-petitions, people can easily gather as a powerful group of individuals whose voices and opinions cannot be ignored by institutions.

In the UK for instance, when an e-petition reaches 100 000 signatures, the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee receives a notification from the Leader of the House of Commons (Parliament) about the petition which is then taken into consideration and discussed during the weekly hearing of MPs representations. MP’s have to make the case for the e-petition consideration.

Here are a few examples of successful outcomes thanks to e-petitions:

In December last year, thanks to a WWF[1] “I Will If You Will” campaign for Earth Hour 2012 which gathered the voices of 120,000 Russians and presented it to the government, the Russian Parliament voted a long-awaited law to protect the country’s seas from oil pollution.

On March 8th 2013 the California Coastal Commission (CCC)[2] who heard people’s outcry and petitions voted unanimously to reject the US Navy’s request to maintain military testing, sonar and bomb deployments throughout Southern California, Hawaii, Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast. Many dolphins and whales have been killed already but should the CCC have approved the maintenance of the Navy’s project, millions of cetaceans would have been killed in the next 5 years so this is a prime example of how efficient petitioning helped towards life preservation of numerable cetaceans.

In his very comprehensive article “Slacktivism: Why Snopes got it Wrong About Internet Petitions”[3] Randy Paynter gives a few good examples of how petitions can make a positive difference like the striking story of independent journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee who were imprisoned in North Korea, charged with grave crimes against the state, and sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. As Randy Paynter relates, “Their friends and family created petitions on “Care2” to raise awareness and call on North Korea to free the women. Close to 90,000 people signed these petitions, helping to keep the story in the national spotlight for months and eventually former President Bill Clinton traveled to North Korea and negotiated Laura and Euna’s release”.

Read more: http://www.care2.com/causes/slacktivism-why-snopes-got-it-wrong-about-internet-petitions.html#ixzz2PagpvGwg

I personally sign about 2 to 3 petitions a day on average because this is a great way to help causes and raise awareness about things that are happening in the world and that people may not know about, because people don’t necessarily have the time to get informed or simply because some issues receive very low mainstream media coverage. So, if like me, you care about justice and want to get involved, then, think about petitioning as a first easy step to make a positive difference!

To conclude, I will cite Margaret Mead’s famous words:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

I will finish with a petition working towards Nature and Ocean Conservation which mainly pleads to ban non-biodegradable packaging for food which would help reducing the dramatic impact of plastic on nature and a whole array of animals and especially aquatic life:

http://signon.org/sign/ban-non-biodegradable.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=1333790

Many thanks.

Angelina Cecchetto

 

Nature is sheer genius and beauty

Actions speak louder than words. In the same way, pictures and videos can speak louder than a million words. This is why I would like to share this sublime video entitled “Celestial Lights” from  Ole C. Salomonsen as it shows in a stunningly powerful manner how amazingly beautiful nature is. Nature is sheer genius and for me pure inspiration, this is why we need to protect it. We come from nature and we are part of it.

Celestial Lights from Ole C. Salomonsen on Vimeo.

If you were ever so slightly touched by what you have seen and care about the protection of nature, please take one minute to sign a petition:

  1. Avaaz petition calls for Commission to curb new incineration capacity:

http://ukwin.org.uk/2013/02/18/avaaz-petition-calls-for-commission-to-curb-new-incineration-capacity/

  1. Ban non-biodegradable packaging for food:

http://signon.org/sign/ban-non-biodegradable.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=1333790

Thank you.

Conservation : People’s voices are being heard ! Some historic steps forward have been made.

By Angelina Cecchetto on 21st March 2013

Nature together with the existence of many species have never been so much in danger of extinction, there is a lot to do to protect Life. Thankfully some people do care and act about it and thanks to these people’s solidarity and efficient campaigning, some great steps forward have been achieved.

The first great news is surely the decision to finally place five species of highly traded and endangered sharks (oceanic whitetip, porbeagle and three species of hammerheads), both manta rays and one species of sawfish on the protected list at the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) meeting held this month in Bangkok, Thailand. This was one of the first strong engagements to admit the criticality of sharks and rays situation and to finally protect them.

On March 8th 2013 another great step forward was achieved by the California Coastal Commission (CCC)[1] who heard people’s outcry and petitions and voted unanimously to reject the US Navy’s request to maintain military testing, sonar and bomb deployments throughout Southern California, Hawaii, Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic Coast. Many dolphins and whales have been killed already but should the CCC have approved the maintenance of the Navy’s project, millions of cetaceans would have been killed in the next 5 years so this is great news for the life preservation of many cetaceans in these areas so thanks for signing the petition everybody!

The other step forward was also achieved in Thailand when Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra announced that Thailand is ending the sale of elephant ivory. This is a fantastic step towards elephant conservation there. Once again this was achieved thanks to people’s mobilization and especially WWF actions and campaigns gathering thousands of petition signatures.

In December last year, thanks to a WWF[2] “I Will If You Will” campaign for Earth Hour 2012 which gathered the voices of 120,000 Russians and presented it to the government, the Russian Parliament voted a long-awaited law to protect the country’s seas from oil pollution.

Last but not least, we will mention the fantastic work achieved by the Sea Shepherds team who returned to Melbourne last Monday after “Operation Zero Tolerance” which is their most successful campaign to date. Their courage, solidarity and perseverance saved the lives of hundreds of whales in the Antartic and showed yet again that when people get together to defend the right cause they can have a positive influence on events or history. As many environmentalists, I was also delighted to hear that Germany finally dropped their warrant against Captain Paul Watson.

To conclude, I would say that we can all make a positive difference in this world, there is no right or wrong way to do so. As Zachary Scott rightly said, “As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do” so if you want to do something about what is happening you can.

We have a voice and we can use it! Here are a few petitions to sign should you want to use your voice to make a positive difference:

  1. “Stop Japan Killing Dolphins!”

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/632/220/224/stop-japan-killing-dolphins/

  1. “Don’t Eliminate Protections For At-Risk Marine Species!”

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/275/718/873/

  1. “Mexico: Protect Critically Endangered Sea Turtles”

http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/410/105/666/

  1. Ban non-biodegradable packaging for food

http://signon.org/sign/ban-non-biodegradable.fb23?source=c.fb&r_by=1333790

Thank you.

Angelina Cecchetto

How to become a Scuba Dive Instructor?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 26th February 2013

How to become a dive instructor

 

Many of my friends have asked me how to become a scuba dive Instructor and although I am by no means the ultimate specialist I can share some tips on how to become a scuba dive Instructor, keeping in mind that things can change very quickly in the diving industry.

First of all I would say that there are several schools, companies or organizations to go with for those interested in becoming dive instructors. The two main organizations are PADI[1] or Professional Association of Dive Instructors[2] founded in the late 1960’s and SSI[3] or Scuba School International[4] founded in 1970. Both are international companies and are therefore found and recognized worldwide.

To reach instructor level you have to do a certain amount of certifications. With PADI this is more or less the fastest path to become an instructor:

  1. Open Water Diver Certification: 4 logged dives
  2. Advanced Open Water (AOW) Certification. Before doing the AOW you  normally have to have 20 logged dives recorded in your log book
  3. Rescue Diver Certification
  4. EFR Certification
  5. Dive Master (DM) Certification (1st PADI Professional certification). Before doing the DM you normally have to have 40 logged dives recorded in your log book and at the end 60
  6. IDC (Instructor Development) Course. Before enrolling onto the IE (Instructor Examination) you normally have to have a minimum of 100 logged dives.

With SSI this is more or less the fastest way to become an instructor:

  1. Open Water Diver, Level 1: 5 logged dives
  2. Level 2: 12 logged dives
  3. Level 3: 24 logged dives
  4. Level 4: 50 logged dives
  5. Level 5: Dive Guide Certification (1st SSI Professional certification): 50 logged dives
  6. Level 6: Dive Master: 50 logged dives
  7. Dive Control Specialist
  8. Open Water Instructor. You need a minimum of 75 logged dives before and 100 logged dives at the end of the course.

If you are starting from scratch you can in theory become an Instructor in more or less 6/7 months, at least with PADI. I personally recommend gaining some experience as a Dive Guide or Dive Master before enrolling into the Instructor course for 2 main reasons. First to get some experience and knowledge of the dive industry and its people, in particular with the people managing or owning dive shops or dive centers. The second big reason is money. Get some experience first to see if you really want to invest another 2500/3000$ average in course cost and fees. If money is not an issue then go for it!

Many IDC centers offer package prices that cater for all the different entry levels from non-divers to all the certified levels. You can check them online by looking for “IDC centers”. I would say that if you start from scratch it will cost you roughly 5000 to 6000$ in courses and fees. Then you have to take into account the fact that during the few months that you are doing the courses and dives you have to feed and lodge yourself very often at your own cost. So be generous when you prepare your budget! You can actually choose the countries where you decide to do your course accordingly to the languages and/or resources you have to invest. The 2 cheapest countries in the world for courses costs are Honduras (Utila) and Thailand.

Before enrolling onto an IDC course, not only you will need a certain amount of dives but also your complete set of diving equipment and this amounts to an average of about 2000$ depending on the brands and conditions of the gear you go for.

As far as salary is concerned once you are a DM or an OSWI, it depends hugely on the country in which you work and even the dive center you work for. There are no strict regulations worldwide as to how much a dive pro should earn so it is down to each individual to negotiate their contract and salary when they can. What I can say is that you don’t become a dive instructor to make big money!

Now there are ways to cut down the costs of the courses. There are many dive shops who will train you as a DM for free in counterpart of you working for them for a pre-arranged period of time. If you think of this option beware as some employer will try to squeeze you like a lemon and treat you like a “glorified slave”. Once again there are no regulations there so it’s up to each individual to negotiate terms. One thing that I have noticed is that it can be a bit more challenging to find jobs as a DM in some tropical countries as generally they tend to employ locals as DM.

To summarize I would say that there are as many positive sides as there are negatives to become a dive instructor. It’s a great job but it can be quite a precarious one, very often you don’t get a written contract of employment; you get paid in US dollars, when you are sick or when the port is closed due to bad weather for instance, you don’t get paid either. This being said you can get written contracts and a base salary but this is mainly in more structured or bigger dive shop chains.

I hope this answers a few questions and helps some of you to make the right decisions for yourselves. If you have other questions, please feel free to post them!

Angelina Cecchetto

Ocean conservation: still a lot to do but some great news!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 21st February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

As far as Nature and Ocean conservation are concerned we all know that there is a lot do to do prevent many species from extinction.

There are however many courageous people, source of true inspiration, who fight for the defense of Life and Justice against very often more powerful greedy bullies. What gives a glimpse of hope in such a gloomy global context is that many initiatives to protect environment have seen the light, together with associations, projects, foundations and active defense groups and their actions do have positive results! Thanks to all these different actions, we can see some progress forward. In the last few months a few positive steps have been made in the right direction.

On the 22nd of November 2012, the EU Parliament voted a stronger shark finning ban preventing the fins to be landed without the shark body attached. The EU actually banned shark finning in 2003 but there was a major loophole to that ban as the fins could be landed separately from the shark body. The EU Parliament put an end to that loophole with the newly enforced ban.

On the 6th of February 2013 the EU Parliament voted to restore Europeans fish stocks by 2020. A historic vote by an overwhelming majority of 502 vs. 137 members of the European Parliament who called for the restoration of fish stocks by 2020. This casts a strong line and a clear message upon the upcoming negotiations on the Common Fisheries Policy reform between the EU fisheries ministers and Parliament.

Last week, the local government in Raja Ampat announced the creation of a Shark and Manta Ray Sanctuary in the Coral Triangle (aka “The Amazon of the ocean”) to protect many species and particularly sharks and rays. The Coral Triangle is a rich marine ecosystem located in the tropical waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste.

Considering Indonesia ranks as the world’s largest exporter of sharks and rays, the Shark and Ray Sanctuary seems like a step in the right direction. Hopefully the Indonesian authorities would have realized that the international interest from divers brings more long term benefits than the short term benefits from fishing and that there is therefore more value to live sharks and rays than dead ones.

Yesterday some great news came out of Captain Paul Watson’s Sea Shepherd fleet extremely brave actions against hostile Japanese attacks in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary[1]. Amongst Icebergs, the Sea Shepherd fleet bravely opposed an 8,000 ton Japanese ship (the Nisshin Maru) which was trying to illegally get a transfer of Heavy Fuel Oil from another Japanese ship (the Sun Laurel) in the protected area of the Antarctic Treaty Zone where it is illegal to even bring Heavy Fuel Oil.

The three Sea Shepherd ships knowing of the plan of the illegal refueling, took strategic position around the Sun Laurel to prevent the refueling. In the end four Japanese ships reacted with much violence towards the Sea Shepherd fleet going up to blatantly attacking them with high power water cannons and throwing concussion grenades at the Sea Shepherd ships. One of the Japanese tanker even heeled over one the of the Sea Shepherd fleet who bravely stood its ground despite the extremely intimidating and dangerous Japanese actions. Thanks to the heroic actions of the Sea Shepherd team the illegal refueling didn’t happen but even more importantly all  the harpoon vessels have gone away and the whale fleet seems to be giving up for now. As Captain Paul Watsons relates in his article: “The best news of all came with the announcement that the Institute for Cetacean Research has called a temporary halt to all whaling operations.”

The fourth great news is the discovery (or re-discovery) of a new whale species found under a California highway![2] During major construction projects of a California highway, it seems that several species of early toothed baleen whales were discovered in the Laguna Canyon outcrop. Scientists believed that this type of whales were extinct over 5 million years ago before these were found! The actual discovery was made between 2000 and 2005 and the researchers studying the findings for years just announced their views this week. The new toothed whale specie which is said by the researchers to be much larger than the other species and prey on sharks was nicknamed “Willy”.

Angelina Cecchetto


[1] http://www.facebook.com/captpaulwatson “Japanese Road Rage in Hostile Waters Leads to Shutting Down Whaling Operations”, by Captain Paul Watson

What can we do to stop shark finning?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 18th February 2013

Baby black tip shark. Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

Baby black tip shark. Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

Shark finning is described as such: “Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins. The rest of the body is generally discarded in the ocean; […] Sharks without their fins are often still alive; unable to move normally, they die of suffocation or are eaten by other predators.”[1]

Sharks are fished out of the water, their fins are being cut on boats whilst they agonize in excruciating pain and then thrown back out into the water without being able to swim properly, they are then pretty much doomed to die.

I wonder how we would like it if some predator would hunt us out, cut our legs and arms off slowly whilst still alive and then throw us back into nature without arms and legs?

Shark finning needs to stop not only because this is a barbaric practice but because the shark population is being depleted and several shark species are in danger of extinction.

According to the report of the IUCN that the Shark Specialist Group published in 2007 after 7 years of experts’ studies “32% of the world’s pelagic sharks and rays (20 species) are threatened.”[2]

On the current IUCN Red List[3] numbers speak by themselves; 15 species of sharks are critically endangered of extinction whilst 11 species are endangered.

Shark finning is one of the main causes behind shark depletion. China is often pointed at as the most important market as shark fin soup is a delicacy there and is thought to have curative properties. The great irony of the situation is that far from being curative shark fins can actually be toxic!

Wildlife non-governmental organization “WildAid” warned that eating too much shark fin soup can cause sterility in men[4]. Pregnant women are advised not to eat shark fin soups during their pregnancy and whilst breast feeding[5]. The reason for this being the presence of mercury in shark fins due to industrial pollution absorbed by the smaller fish that sharks prey upon. The presence of Mercury in the ocean stems back from industrial contamination of lakes and rivers, mercury being used in the manufacture of batteries, plastic and paper.

The situation is not only highly ironic but ironically tragic I would say. So what can we do to help stop this?

I truly believe that we need to work on education, passing on the right information and multiply initiatives worldwide. Some Chinese newspapers have published articles about the dangers related to eating shark fin soup regularly or for pregnant women. I would like to know more about what else is done there and I am starting to work on a “long haul” awareness project which would ideally be diffused in China too.

I think that the more we campaign and petition about the subject the more people will be aware of what is happening and will be in grade to take informed decisions for themselves in their own conscience. The idea is to work on the demand of the markets. If the demand drastically decreases the markets will die off by themselves. I am fully aware that it will take years before seeing a noticeable positive change of population habits but we have to clearly bear in mind that the 26 species of sharks and rays that are in danger of extinction do not have many years ahead of them before they are totally extinguished from the planet. We need to act and fast!

Angelina Cecchetto

[2] The Conservation Status of Pelagic Sharks and Rays https://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/summary_of_report.pdf

[4]  “Watch out for shark fin soup” China Daily.

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-05/21/content_444520.htm

[5] “What You Need to Know about Mercury in Fish and Shellfish” EPA – http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/fishshellfish/outreach/advice_index.cfm

The New Shakespeareans Diaries

By Angelina Cecchetto on 14th February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto  Copyright. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

We have all heard about William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet tragedy. Although there is no accurate record of the exact date when it was written it is alleged that it has been written in the mid 1590’s. We are now in 2013, so about 420 years have passed since Romeo and Juliet died in the name of their forbidden and impossible love.
One would think that over 400 years after, things would have changed drastically and many things must have changed however I have been the incredulous witness of what I would call the “New Shakespearean’s diaries”. The story can be perceived as totally hilarious or totally pathetic depending on perspective.

I have been living and working for a couple of months in a very small island resort-hotel in the middle of the Indian Ocean, in the south of the Maldives. On the island there are about 160 members of staff working in different departments of the hotel. The majority of the staff working for the hotel is either from Sri Lanka or Bangladesh and either work at the service in the restaurant or as cleaners, cooking staff or gardeners. There is a small front office management team from Sri Lanka and a small team of Europeans working in the dive center, the spa or as travel reps. The hotel customers are mainly Europeans and Chinese.

Despite the fact that European staff can enjoy quite a certain degree of freedom compared to the rest of the non-European staff, people are not free to do many things. To my great surprise I found out that certain member of European staff could not go out or have any sort of relation with Maldivian staff. This is not officially written in anybody’s contract of employment prior to arrival but is discovered once on the island. This is where I became aware of the new Shakespearean’s diaries. One of the young female European staff who has been working on the island as a manager started seeing a member of one of the boats crews. Unfortunately for them she is European (I will call her Juliet1) and he is Bangladeshi (I will call him Romeo1). Despite the fact that they are both responsible for their actions and willing to be together, they cannot. One day Romeo1 and his whole team were dismissed and sent back to their island. Now his presence on the island is not allowed. Juliet1 is not allowed to leave the island at night to go and see him. A few days ago he came to pick his Juliet up with a small fisherman boat at night only to be able to spend a few hours with her. Many would think this as ultimately romantic I guess.  Two lovers lost in a fisherman’s boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean. I guess it would make a great story line for a Bollywood movie.

Last year the marine biologist of the hotel a young Italian woman had a relationship with the Maldivian barman. He got dismissed from his functions in the hotel and declared “persona non grata” on the island as well. The things they invented to see each other were unbelievably funny for some and sad for others. I was told that one day Romeo2, we will call him, came to pick up his Juliet2 but the island security team refused the authorization for his boat to moor (just to moor) on the pier to prevent them to see each other so, against all expectations, she jump fully dressed in the lagoon and swam up to the outer reef were the boat was waiting for permission to moor. The current staff on the island finds this anecdote hilariously funny. I guess it can be seen as funny however I also find it very disturbing somehow, considering we live in 21st century. I guess William Shakespeare would be right at home here even over 400 years after his time.

Many things I really cannot understand. Maybe someone can tell me in the name of what law, rule or what work contract are two people who like or love each other forbidden to see each other?

What law, rule or contract can justify that someone or a group of people limits or deprives someone else’s from their freedom? And who is doing anything about this?  I guess no body is so it’s down to each individual to stand up for their right and defend their freedom the best they can because if they don’t do it themselves no one else will to do it for them.

Happy St Valentine’s Day to all.

Angelina Cecchetto.

To dive or not to dive? Is diving more detrimental than beneficial?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 12th February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

When you work as a dive instructor or a dive video photographer you witness a lot of the underwater world as the ocean becomes your office. A friend of mine who has been a great dive instructor for years and lately also became video photographer decided to stop being a dive instructor and an underwater video photographer all together. When I asked him why, he told me that he could not handle seeing the damage that the dive industry caused upon the reefs and especially the shallow coral reefs where novice divers are brought to on their very first dives. I must say that I have myself witnessed a few beginners’ divers walking or clumsily finning on coral reefs and I also wondered if the dive industry was not generating more damage than protection.

After reflections and discussions, I came to the conclusion that diving was more beneficial for the ocean than it was destructive. I even now go as far as believing that divers and diving professionals could constitute a strong “manpower” towards ocean conservation along with the marine biologists.

First I would say that when people start diving they discover a whole new world that was totally unknown to them. Then as they dive more and become more confident, they really relax and start appreciating the underwater world, its diversity and magic beauty. As they dive more and more in various dive spots around the world they become aware of the ocean pollution across the world, of the traces of human consumption such as plastic bags floating around, plastic or glass bottles, metal cans laying around the reefs. This is where divers influence can positively make a difference in the right direction. I estimate there are several millions of divers in the world and a few thousand professional divers. If all the divers who come across garbage picked it up, this would definitely start making a noticeable difference.

More and more dive centers also start organizing regular “clean-up” dives on their house reefs or local reefs, this is a great action that should become common in most dive centers in a near future.

I also know of a few non-professional divers who have been organizing individual actions within their county or province to raise awareness to non-divers about the state of the reefs but also the lakes in which they dive near their homes.

Beyond dive centers and individuals initiatives there is another important positive impact related to diving. In many of the tropical countries where I have been working and diving, I have witnessed that the local people can only live off 3 main activities, fishing, tourism (diving) and drugs dealing. Before tourism developed, their main activity was fishing. As we all know overfishing is a major threat to many species and the main cause of some species depletion. The fact that the dive industry is developing and offering the locals more and more job opportunities help them shift their main activities from fishing to diving or tourism. Not only more and more locals start working in the diving or tourism industry but they become aware that they can generate a good income doing so and as a result some started protecting the ocean wealth. The Maldives, that are now very famous for manta presence, have fully understood the great value of manta diving. Millions of divers go to the Maldives on expensive holidays to see the mantas and whale sharks and this contribute heavily in the wellbeing of the Maldivian tourism industry.

Now whilst some countries have understood the value of the underwater biodiversity and the importance in protecting this natural heritage, some others have not yet realized this.

I must be honest and say that before becoming a diver years ago, I was not aware of all these issues and therefore I was not doing anything about them. Now I am aware of these issues, like many divers I know, I do my best to act and try to have a positive impact about it. When I used to lead dives I would show the example by picking up debris whenever I saw some. I am now trying to work on an awareness project against shark finning which would ideally be diffused in China if possible. I truly believe that if the millions of divers across the world did a small gesture towards ocean conservation, it could have a definite positive impact on the situation. I know that many divers and dive centers are involved in conservation projects and this is the way forward.

Many would argue that the tourism industry is one of the sources of sea pollution and I would agree however I know for a fact that there is a higher probability that a “diver” gets involved in an ocean preservation project rather than a “non-diver”. If two individuals pollute equally but one of them cleans up some of its pollution then he is the example to follow.

I truly believe that divers can protect the ocean more than they damage it, so to the question “To dive or not to dive?” I would reply “Dive it is!”

Angelina Cecchetto

Manta giving birth or intestinal eversion?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 9 February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Following the great feedback I received from the last post “The first breathtaking photo of a giant oceanic Manta Ray giving birth??” it would seem that the picture could well show a case of what is called “gastro-intestinal eversion” where the manta actually ejects the lower part of its intestine out of the cloaca in order to clean its intestine from indigestible debris.

This is an event which has so far been rarely recorded in the wild. One other case has been recorded in 2007 at a cleaning station in waters off Maui[1].

Since I am no marine biologist I will leave it to the specialists to decide whether the picture shows a manta giving birth or everting its intestine. In any case this is a very rare and lucky shot!

What this information leads me to wonder is whether the regularity at which the mantas evert their intestine has been increased by the anthropogenic pollution factor? It would also be interesting to know what sort of impact this has on the mantas habits and behaviors if any.

It would also seem that the shot could be of a Manta alfredi rather than Manta birostris, this is still to be defined with other shots. The differentiation between Manta alfredi and Manta birostris is fairly recent and dates back from 2009[2]. In fact Manta alfredy, also known as Reef Manta Ray and Manta birostris are both part of what is called the “genus Manta” family and they can easily be confused. It would seem that manta birostris do not display markings between the gills.

What is pretty certain is that the situation of the mantas alfredy is also critical. The same over fishing threats apply to both species and the population is drastically decreasing. The IUCN[3] categorized the manta rays as “Vulnerable” in between the “Near Threatened” and “Endangered” species and states that “Overall, the rate of population reduction appears to be high in several regions, up to as much as 80% over the last three generations (approximately 75 years), and globally a decline of 30% is strongly suspected.”

As I mentioned in the previous article, there are various factors that led to this critical state of affairs: overfishing, very low fecundity rate and anthropogenic pollution.  It would seem that in the wild female mantas give birth to a single pup every 2 to 3 years cycle. When we add this factor to the overfishing trends we can easily understand that populations are being easily depleted.

Whether this picture shows a Manta birostris or a Manta alfredi and whether it is showing a birth or a gastro intestinal eversion (I leave it to the knowledgeable marine specialists and scientists to decide), the important message is that Mantas are in danger and they need a strong global protection. I am hoping that this picture will raise awareness, open up discussions, ideas exchange and humbly contribute towards global mantas protection.

Angelina Cecchetto

[1] “Intestinal eversion in a free-ranging manta ray” by Springer-Verlag 2007. http://www.himb.hawaii.edu/sharklab/Clark_et_al_manta%20intestine%20eversion.pdf

The first breathtaking photo of a Manta Ray giving birth??

By Angelina Cecchetto on 7th February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Martin Ureta. All Rights Reserved.

When my friend and Film Maker Martin Ureta came to the Maldives for a dive holiday he was far from imagining that he would be the amazingly lucky and first ever photographer of a giant oceanic manta giving birth in its natural environment!

Despite a growing number of scientific studies on manta populations very little is known thus far about the giant oceanic Manta ray also known as Manta Birostris. No one has ever seen them give birth so far. So it would seem that Martin is the first person to have ever photographed a Manta Birostris in the process of giving birth in its natural environment, and this happened during the first week of January 2013! The shot was taken during a dive in the southern part of the Ari Atoll in the Maldives in a dive spot famous for spotting mantas. During the dive a group of 3 Mantas Birostris were twirling over the shallow reef to feed to the delight of the group of divers observing their graceful underwater moves. The divers were all mesmerized by the spectacle and couldn’t believe their luck to have spotted the mantas and have them twirling over them for some magical minutes. Martin was busy enjoying the show and capturing this underwater ballet on camera. None the divers, nor their guide noticed anything particular happening with the mantas during the actual dive but when they came back to the island and viewed the pictures we noticed something unusual in one of the manta’s pelvic area. I immediately thought this might be the unbelievable capture of a manta birth but I am not a marine biologist.

When he returned from holidays, Martin contacted The Manta Network[1] in California to get an opinion on what is actually happening on the photo. Robert Aston, The Manta Network Executive Director shared the photo with Dr. Robert Rubin who is one of the foremost experts on Manta Birostris and from their very enthusiastic feedback, it would seem that the picture is indeed the first picture of a Manta Birostris giving birth.

We would like to use this picture as a flagship picture to defend mantas and especially the giant oceanic mantas. We hope this picture will create the awareness that mantas are some of the most peaceful and graceful underwater creatures. Very little is known about them so far but all the studies being led are highlighting a drastic decline in their populations. According to the IUCN[2] “The rate of population reduction appears to be high in several regions, as much as 80% over the last three generations (approximately 75 years), and globally a decline of 30% is strongly suspected.”

The IUCN categorized the manta rays as “Vulnerable” in between the “Near Threatened” and “Endangered” species. There are a various factors that led to this critical state of affairs.

The first main threat comes from fishing as mantas are highly valuable in international markets and in particular in Asian markets. As Africa Geographic’s Science Editor Tim Jackson[3] mentions in his article entitled “Myths about manta rays”:  “In traditional Chinese medicine, it is believed that the gill-rakers of mantas and other rays cure chickenpox and alleviate high blood pressure. They don’t!”

The fact that mantas are easy to spot from the surface due to their large size, and easy to fish out because of their slow swimming speed and the fact that they don’t avoid humans, make them a very easy prey for many fishing boats.

Another important factor to understand is mantas reproductive cycle. Although there is a lot to be learnt still, it is thought that Mantas Birostris have a gestation period of one year and generally give birth to a single pup at a time. It is still not quite clear whether females have a pup per year or one every 2 years. At this rate it is important to understand that if the fishing rate is higher than the manta rays reproductive rate, they will soon be extinct.

Another factor to mention is the anthropogenic factor such as water warming and pollution which indirectly affects mantas habitat although it is pretty difficult to evaluate in which measure.

To conclude I would say that in the light of all of the above it appears quite vital that worldwide measures are taken as soon as possible. Some countries have already applied strong measures to protect mantas as the UICN states, mainly the United States, the Republic of Maldives, the Philippines, Mexico, Ecuador, Australia and New Zealand. Whilst this is a great start, Mantas are in danger and need a strong global worldwide protection.

Mantas are some of the most peaceful and graceful underwater creatures I have been given the chance to see. It would be a lot more than just an “awful shame” to loose such a magical underwater specie in the name of an unfounded cure property.

Angelina Cecchetto

When all natural resources will be poisoned will Men survive eating money?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 2nd February 2013

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

I have been lucky enough to turn one of my passions into a job and to become a dive instructor.  When I dive every day I see a fascinating underwater world that never ceases to amaze me and the divers that I take underwater. The underwater world is simply magical. Unfortunately every day I dive I also see the devastating mark of human consumption everywhere in the ocean.

Every day, I see plastic bottles both at the surface and in the sea. In the sea and in the heart of the reefs I see baby nappies, plastic bags, metal cans, plastic and glass bottles, fishing lines, constructions materials to name just a few. I pick up as many things as I can but this is nothing compare to the amount of trash we pour in the ocean every day.

We are all culprits of this “poisoning”. In the Indian Ocean, the safari boats simply dump their rubbish in the sea. The island resort hotels do the same. Instead of taking their refuse to a processing island they just wait for night to fall so no one sees them and dump the rubbish in the sea a few miles off the island. It’s cheaper. The profit that these island resort hotels make could very easily provide for a refusal budget but the greed for profit at all costs seems as infinite as the universe itself.

The governments worldwide seem to be turning a blind eye to the situation so I am inclined to think that the refuse processing is a big money scam in many countries not to say worldwide.

In Italy the rubbish are being buried in fertile agricultural grounds… In his book “Gomorra” the journalist and writer Roberto Saviano denounces all these refuse processing or rather non processing scams. Of course the fact there is no regulation or control about the rubbish processing results in constant daily poisoning of our soil and seas.

We are poisoning our own environment and killing many other innocent species in the process… In the sea the situation is dramatic. The land to water ratio on the planet is about 30 to 70% so the ocean covers about 2/3 of the planet. With this in mind you would think, the ocean is so big that you would hardly ever see traces of human consumption there. Well that’s precisely where the situation becomes alarming, the reefs are not only the victims of the overall global warming phenomenon which is more subtle to perceive but they are also ridden with human rubbish everywhere and this we cannot ignore.

We all know that the oceans are overfished, we all know about global warming, we all know about species disappearing due to human over consumption and damage so the question is what do we do about it? Individually we can do localized actions but separate we cannot change the big picture. So when are we going to get involved all together?

The main issue beyond the refuse processing is the whole consumer product industry. Packaging. Do we really need 3 layers of plastic around our products? Do we really need to have our strawberries in a plastic container and an extra cellophane layer around it?  Do we really need baby nappies made out of Polyethylene i.e. plastic?

It is time to rethink the whole consumer products packaging worldwide and fast! It is not only killing or endangering many innocent species worldwide; it is also endangering us humans. The bottom line of the issue is that “money rules” in this world as we all know.

My question to conclude is simple:  when all natural resources will be poisoned or extinct will Men survive eating money??

Angelina Cecchetto

 

Nature vs “Civilization”, do we have to choose?

By Angelina Cecchetto on 30th January 2013

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto All Rights Reserved.

Photography: ©2013 Angelina Cecchetto. All Rights Reserved.

Nature versus culture or “civilization” could be a philosophical topic for many philosophy students. For me it is a question that sits at the core of my life decisions, choices and directions. Some people may call this dichotomy or life dilemma. I call it simply having options.

When I made some 360 degrees life and career changes going from capital city life to natural heavens the people closest to me at the time thought I was mad because this implied major salary cuts. It so happened that a few years later I happened to have tripled the salary I had prior to change, so somehow something about the “crazy” life and career changes I had done was right.

We all have the choice to live different lives and in different countries but many people are scared of the unknown and because of this they keep living a life that doesn’t necessarily fulfill their needs. They keep living it for the sake of what I would call “fitting expectations” may these expectations be family, economically or socially based. From what I have seen, generally people who do that end up banging their heads against the walls sooner or later.

I truly believe that change can make us better and more adaptable so people shouldn’t be scared by complete changeovers. The important is to believe in yourself, do what is most important for you and think outside the “mainstream box” that society tries to mold us into.

Some people are lucky enough to know what they want to do from a young age but for all the others I would say that if you are lucky enough to be “gifted” for several things, then go ahead and try them all out and eventually you will find what you are really made for. It is never too late to give a chance to a passion. This may require drastic changes from city life to nature life and a few “adjustments” but I believe this transition is achievable by most of us. The important is finding a healthy life balance and being in phase with what we like to do or what we are passionate about. Follow your dreams! If you slightly went “off-pist” doing so, well I am sure you would have learned some very good life lessons in the process. Don’t be afraid of getting lost, as you may well find that it is by getting lost that you find your way.

Angelina Cecchetto.

Welcome to Life of the Worlds

First of all I would like to welcome you all to Life of the Worlds and thank you for your visit and your contribution.

As some of you know may know I am very passionate about Nature and its defense, photography but also about travelling, adventure to name but a few and this is one of the primary reasons that lead me to create this web space.

The idea is to share information and open discussions about a broad variety of topics ranging from life, society matters, photography, travel, animal rights to environment issues and nature conservation. The bottom line is to share life experiences and make people react and think about today’s society. The ultimate aim is to raise awareness on today society issues and create a frame of reflection which will hopefully have a positive impact on life.

I would like to say special thanks to Martin for all his help and support with this blog and for making this space possible.

I hope to see you all be part of the discussions!

Many thanks.

Angelina.