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

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

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

 

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

By Angelina Cecchetto on 17th April 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

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

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

 

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!” 

By Angelina Cecchetto on 12th February 2013

Manta giving birth or intestinal eversion?

 

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.

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. 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 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.

By Angelina Cecchetto on 9 February 2013