99% Ride: Story of a real hero cycling from North to South Poles for children

On 7th of September 2013 Dirk Spits, founder of the 99%RIDE Foundation, started a bike ride from Alaska, through all the American continents. His aim is to reach Tierra de Fuego, Argentina in the South Pole by mid 2015. Over 27,000 kilometers (17,000 miles) separate the North and South Poles and Dirk will cycle this distance in over a year and a half. Knowing of this fantastic adventure and challenge, I had to interview Dirk and ask him why he was doing this!

How and why did 99%RIDE come along?

–           Last year I decided to sell all my belongings and leave Holland, my home country to create the 99%RIDE Foundation to help children in less developed countries. We want to help people and especially children following the principles of the saying: ”Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

99%RIDE Breaking the poverty cycle

The concept behind 99% is pretty straight forward: 99%RIDE asks 1% of people’s time or donations whilst they do 99% of the hard work, that is cycling and getting involved in 13 projects in 15 different countries.

Why 1%?

–           I believe that people in western countries have enough time, money and knowledge, 1% of this doesn’t influence their own personal life, but it can positively influence many other people’s lives. A minimum amount for a maximum impact.

Whilst Dirk does the cycling, promoting his cause along the way, Wouter and Samantha are the media crew organizing the fundraisers for the foundation and making sure there is an agenda filled with presentations for Dirk to do. Their main aim is to raise awareness about the plight of millions of children in third world countries and help them in a positive way.

Any highlights of the last 10 months cycling you would like to share?

–           I did a presentation in Oregon in Portland, in front of families and children and following this a girl called Genevieve did her own presentation at her school and raised 23 USD. From the height of her 11 years, Genevieve, came to me to give me a pink envelope on which was written,“I am the 1%.”

Genevieve 99%RIDEThis was one of the most beautiful and certainly one of most emotional moments so far.

Dirk who is cycling an average of 110kms (70 Miles) a day with a 50kg (110 lbs) bike together with Samantha and Wouter who are organizing all the ground operational and PR work are simply truly amazing people who have decided to make a positive difference in this world.

We can all make a difference.

Children of Mexico

Should you wish to join 99%RIDE and contribute in time, money, knowledge or anything else, you can follow them or contact them.

The great thing about 99%RIDE is that they follow up on the interventions they have done in different places and you can view many of their contributions via YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

I wish 99%RIDE all the very best of success in their projects and as Dirk would say:

Adventurous Regards!

99%RIDE

 

 

 

 

 

By Angelina Cecchetto on 11th July 2014

Travel, wander, gone! Travel around the world without taking a single plane!

 

Photography: © Ayack

One of the great things when you work your way around is that you meet fascinating people and one of them is my good friend Ayack. I met Ayack when I was working in Tulamben, north east of Bali island in Indonesia. Ayack journey is full of adventures, life changing encounters and wild experiences.

It all started in Ireland in 2006, after an Erasmus exchange that was to seal Ayacks thirst for new horizons. After this successful exchange, Ayack set its sail to East Africa where he completed a Masters in Geography and Urban Management and Development studies. Stepping out of his comfort zone and facing racism, Ayack managed to adapt pretty well, stood up to the challenge and successfully completed his masters. The logical next step after this was for him to go on to a Doctorate but he decided to decline the student grant and to take off for the world instead!  And this, without taking a single plane!

Photography: © Ayack So what was your main motivation when you decided not to take a single plane?

–        I didn’t want to go for the «easy way around» and I wanted to keep my carbon footprint to a strict minimum. But above all, I wanted to give Time back to Space. I wanted to set myself in a purely geographical approach, as Geography is the encounter of Time and Space. I wanted to follow the approach of these Arabic Geographers who used to move around the geographical limits of the Land such as Muhammad al-Idrisi or Ibn Hawqal. I also wanted to escape France and its never-ending crisis.

How long did you think it would take you?

–        2 years maybe 3. It actually took 5 years.

How many countries did your travel through?

–        About 40 but I didn’t really count.

Did you take anything particular with you in your travels?

–        Yes, I took Purification Tablets (Potassium Permanganate) to purify water as I didn’t want to buy plastic bottles. I also brought a machete and a harpoon but these were confiscated by the American customs. Actually, I got more stuff taken away from me by authorities than thieves!

What challenges did you face during your travels?

–        In Colombia, 300 grams of cocaine were placed in my bag whilst I was going through a body search. I had to argument with the guys for a few hours not to get arrested. In the Bahamas, I was fishing with a Hawaiian sling and I got chased by two huge bull sharks quite obviously interested by the fish I had caught, so I let go of the fish and saw the two bull sharks feasting on it. I didn’t hang around too long after that and went back onto the boat.

–        When I was crossing Kyrgyzstan with a couple of horses, we went through an area ridden with horse flies that were harassing the horses quite badly. At some point, the horses totally flipped out and started galloping away quite frenetically. In the process I fell off together with most of my equipment for camp. I managed to gather most of it back and set off running after the horses. I was quite conscious that I was in the middle of the wilderness and that without the horses I could en up stranded there. I found myself confronted with myself and I was on the verge of flipping out just like the horses had done. I had 2 ways to react: give up or keep going so I just started running in the same direction the horses took and after about a mile, they were within sight again! I knew that eventually, they would stop running but I didn’t know when!

Photography: © Ayack

Have you travelled through all the oceans?

–        I have not crossed the Indian Ocean but I have crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 5 months and the Pacific Ocean in a year and a half. I took 2 boats from Panama to Tahiti and then Tahiti to New Zealand with the Infinity crew.

Did you travel through the Amazon?

–        Yes, I travelled through the mighty river, which brings life there and saw breath-taking red blood sunsets over the jungle. I also crossed through El Mirador in Guatemala.

What are the strongest moments of your 5 years travels around the world?

–        Moments in the wild, the Mayans Pyramids over the canopy, the volcano of Tambora, storms in the Strait of Gibraltar, the horses running away in the Himalayan foothills, the Australian desert and its bush fires.

What would you say the travels have brought you?

–        Naivety, innocence, suspicion and a definite will to keep a certain capacity to stay enchanted by new horizons and the immense beauty of this world.©AYACK All Rights Reserved

 

 

 

 

 

By Angelina Cecchetto on 25th April 2014

Magic encounter with The Big Underwear Social Tour

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!

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.  

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.

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!

By Angelina Cecchetto on 11th April 2014

Into the Wilderness: interview with Frank Dias

 

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:

–          I certainly came back with a greater sense of appreciation for enjoying each moment whilst I 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 the fact that ” true happiness is only real when shared” – which is the conculsion Chris came to after spending many days isolated.

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!”

In 1990 Christopher McCandless decided to leave civilization, maybe as his own rite of passage. 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. Christopher nonetheless tried to cross it 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 seems to have ingested some plants that ended up poisoning his body, you can read the latest theory on this in the New Yorker. Realizing that he could die there, he continued writing his diary until he eventually rolled up in his sleeping bag and passed away. He passed away in the  uncompromised rawness of a wilderness he loved so very much.

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.

By Angelina Cecchetto on 7th October 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

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

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

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