2014 top 10 cornerstone events worldwide

 

Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

In the usual ebb and flow of media waves, some events have certainly caught my attention and not necessarily the most talked about by the mainstream medias!

Here is a quick yearly retrospective of the best 2014 keystone events.

  1. With MacDonald’s closing all its restaurants in Bolivia, the list of countries where MacDo has been banned raises to 10 countries worldwide. The trend is in motion!
  2. India Declares Dolphins “Non-Human Persons” (February 2014). Some may consider this as an image cleansing gesture in a country where women’s rights are far from meeting any consideration standards, however it sends a clear message towards the protection of the cetaceans.
  3. Mexico strengthened Animal rights & welfare throughout the country and clamps down on animal cruelty overall.
  4. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered the cessation of the Japanese whaling program called JARPA II in the Southern Ocean, as it deemed the whaling program was not for scientific purposes (March 2014). This is a victory for the Sea Shepherds efforts and valiant campaigns against whaling for the last eight years!
  5. Shark fin soup sales drop (May 2014) after China bans Shark fins soup from official banquets and government receptions in December 2013. Again, some may think of China’s shark fin ban off official menus as a national image cleaning up gesture, but we have
    Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

    Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

    to admit that it has a positive influence on shark fin sales, which have lowered since. This is good news for sharks and for the ocean ecosystem as a whole!

  6. On June 3d 2014, 19 year-old Aerospace Engineering student Boyan Slat unveils the eagerly awaited results of his Ocean Cleanup project and confirms that the project is feasible! This is most certainly the best news of year 2014.
  7. The European Union reaches an agreement, allowing its member states to restrict or ban GMO crops in their territory (June 2014).
  8. On November 12th 2014 Seaworld reports a 28% income downfall compared to last year’s third quarter. A 30% drop in their shares price followed the day after the announcement. Since Blackfish official Premiere on July 19th 2013, Seaworld’s shares performance have gone down by 51%. This together with the closure of Rimini’s dolphinarium in Italy (May 2014) marks a raise in popular understanding that dolphinariums mean dolphin mistreatments and violent slaughter.
  9. California becomes the 1st US State to ban plastic bags! (September 2014)
  10. Russia officially and completely bans GMO foods! (November 2014)
Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

 

Overall, 2014 was a pretty good year for landmark events not only showing a raise in consciousness about key life themes but also showing a genuine will from the people to enforce a change in society worldwide.

We, the people, are the motion behind the change.

We are the change, so let’s keep acting!!

 

 

 

By Angelina Cecchetto on 19th December 2014

GoPro Hero 4, underwater lighting and filters

 

GoPro Hero 4 underwater Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

GoPro Hero 4 underwater. Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

If you are thinking of buying a GoPro Hero 4 to play and shoot underwater, there are a few tips you may find useful! I have just bought a GP Hero 4 myself together with an Ikelite Tray with the Orca Torch Underwater Lighting and Flex Arms Light Kit to shoot and make some underwater videos.

I must say the GoPro performance itself was pretty good overall and in natural lighting it was fairly decent for the depth delimited within recreational diving. The sound on the videos is also quite good and clear. I liked the fact that you could lower the volume underwater.

The photo definition for the 12MP/Wide angle photos was really good even without lighting and even at 30m+/100ft depth.

As I was curious to try some polarizing and red filters, I also ended up buying a set of 6 XCSOURCE underwater filters (red, blue, yellow, purple, polarizing and neutral density). They come in a nice little wallet and they include a very easy to mount filter mount. When I actually tried out the red filter for the first time, I had the great surprise to find out that all my photos and videos looked like I was diving on Mars!

GoPro Hero 4 underwater

GoPro Hero 4 underwater with XSource red filter

GoPro Hero 4 with XScource filter mount

GoPro Hero 4 with XScource filter mount

If you don’t want to give your photos a Martian red tint like on the picture on the left here, you’re better off getting an underwater color correction filter.

When using the polarizing filter, I also found out that the mount created a definite vignetting stamp on pictures when shooting above water as shown on the right here.

I found that the Orca Torches were excellent diving torches with a good battery life. For videos I found the beam to be quite strong in full strength, which created unnatural shadows on the subject. To compromise I ended up setting a dimmer light set which is possible with the Orca Torch D500V.

GoPro Hero 4 underwater Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

GoPro Hero 4 underwater with Orca Torches D500V. Copyright ©Angelina Cecchetto

To conclude I would say that the GoPro Hero 4 is quite a good camera to start playing with underwater especially if you intend to do wide angle photos but if you want to do macro you’d better invest in another camera with more versatile zooming options. In other words, if you are planning to make your GoPro your main underwater camera, consider its limits carefully but if you intend to take it with you on your next snowboard or rock climbing trip, like I do, then it’s definitely a great option!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 10th December 2014

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

 

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!

 By Angelina Cecchetto on 20th September 2013

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

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 you all!

 By Angelina Cecchetto on 13th August 2013

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

 

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!!

 By Angelina Cecchetto on 12th July 2013

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

 

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) 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 “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:

To stop dolphins slaughtering in Japan, please click here

To nan non-biodegradable packaging for food, please click here

Thank you for caring about Life!

 By Angelina Cecchetto on 21st March 2013

How to become a Scuba Dive Instructor?

 

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 or Professional Association of Dive Instructors founded in the late 1960’s and SSI or Scuba School International 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!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 26th February 2013

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

 

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. 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 other interesting piece of news is the discovery (or re-discovery) of a new whale species found under a California highway! 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”. 

By Angelina Cecchetto on 21st February 2013

What can we do to stop shark finning?

 

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.”

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.”

On the current IUCN Red List 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. Pregnant women are advised not to eat shark fin soups during their pregnancy and whilst breast feeding. 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!

 By Angelina Cecchetto on 18th February 2013