Effects of Increased Acidity on Coral

Further evidence that increased acidity of sea water could be bad news for the world’s coral reefs. In Papua New Guinea carbon dioxide is bubbling into the water on the slopes of a dormant volcano. This is making the water slightly more acidic around the vents,  and is allowing researchers to examine the effects on marine life at different levels of acidity. Acidity is important as it reduces the ability of coral and marine animals to form hard structures such as shells.

Seawater typically has a PH of 8.1. In an area of the study site that had a PH of 7.7 reef development apparently stopped. Instead, seagrass covered the seabed, but even this lacked the hard shelled snails that normally live on their fronds. Where the PH was slightly higher – 7.8, reefs still formed, but were dominated by one particular genus, the Porites (pictured here thanks to Wikipedia). Unfortunately these don’t have the branches that can shelter fish and other marine creatures, that many other species of coral do have.

This is particularly worrying as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are projecting that  by the turn of the century the ocean’s PH may have fallen to 7.8.

Is this the future for the world’s coral reefs?

You can read more detail on the BBC’s website from where the first and third photo were taken.

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BBC’s Top Ten New Species

The BBC have a photographic feature on the top ten species discovered in 2010 as by the International Institute for Species Exploration at Arizona State University. It includes the bizarre-looking Pancake Batfish.

You can see these on the BBC’s website.

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TED Video by Richard Pyle from 2004

TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading and its website has over 900 “TEDTalks” available online for free, from a wide variety of presenters.

Richard Pyle is a self-proclaimed fish-nerd. He is also a highly accomplished deep diver, who gave his name to “Pyle stops”, or deep water stops.  In 2004 he gave a talk on diving the reef’s twilight zone. This is the part of the reef wall beyond most recreational scuba divers, in the 60 – 150 metre range. The video includes a quick introduction to the effects of depth on divers, as well as Closed Circuit Rebreathers, before turning to the wide range of new species of fish that exist in that depth range. Throughout the talk you can hear his passion and enthusiasm, and it is well worth watching and is on TED’s website.

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Trawling Banned in Hong Kong Waters

At long last the Hong Kong Government has banned trawling in Hong Kong waters. The hope is that this will save fish stocks, and also that it will give soft corals and other bottom-dwelling creatures the chance to recover as these are often destroyed by the trawlers’ nets.

Most of us who have dived in Hong Kong can testify to the destructiveness of inshore trawling as a fishing method, as the seabed is scoured of life by the nets. Fish catches have declined dramatically since the 1970s.

Legco has apparently proposed a HK$ 1.7 billion dollar scheme to provide payments to some 400 trawler owners and crew.

So, great news there, and I might have to make time for a dive the next time I’m back in the territory, in the hope that this ban will make a difference.

There’s a story on the SCMP’s website, and more information on WWF’s website.

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Diving the Great Wall Video

Before I left Hong Kong a number of us from South China Diving Club toyed with the idea of going up to Beijing and diving the Great Wall with Steven Schwankert of SinoScuba. Unfortunately it didn’t happen and it’s a bit further for me to travel now, although at least it gives me time to work out how to use a drysuit before we do it.

So, diving the Great Wall? Well, yes. After the devastating Tangshan earthquake in 1976, which Rita remembers since she was a child in Beijing at the time, plans were made to rebuild the city. These plans included providing a water source, so they dammed a river and flooded a valley to create the Panjakou reservoir. About 300km north-east of Beijing the Great Wall drops down from the hills into that flooded valley where it continues underwater for several hundred metres before heading back above the surface.  Over the last few years, Steven has been organising occasional expeditions to dive parts of this Underwater Wall. Recently a friend of Steven’s was up there where he took a video of his diving. You can see it on You Tube. And for all you wildlife enthusiasts, there’s even a fish to look at, at around  2:45 minutes in.


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Diver Dies of Heart Attack at Poor Knights

An American has sadly died over the weekend while diving at the Poor Knights. He was apparently 55 years old and an experienced diver who had been taking underwater photographs. As he was swimming back to the boat crew members noticed he was in trouble. It is believed that he suffered a heart attack and his death has been reported to the coroner.

You can read more on the New Zealand Herald’s website.

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17th Century Wreck in Dorset

Lying in around 7-9 metres of water on a sand and shingle seabed on the edge of Hook Sands in Dorset, is the Swash Channel wreck. This is believed to be an early 17th Century armed merchant ship, which has been described as the most significant wreck found in British waters since the Mary Rose.   It was discovered in 1990 when a Dutch dredger hit it. It took until 2005 before an assessment was carried out for English Heritage. This showed that the site was much more important than had been suspected. Five carvings have been found so far, including the really ornate male head at the top of the rudder which is shown in the above photograph.

The wreck  is protected by sediment, which is now eroding. As it does, parts of the wreck become exposed and are decaying before they can be recorded. The surface of the wooden timbers are eaten away by a small crustacean called a gribble, and shipworm is boring into the wood, causing structural damage.

The plan is to raise the first 12 metres of the bow, then bury the rest in situ to try and preserve it.

You can read more about the wreck and a dive that was carried out by divers from the BBC programme Britain’s Secret Seas on the BBC’s website, from where the above photograph came.

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Tech Divers Cave Expedition

Last year Paul Neilsen from Extreme Technical Diving was coordinator  on a cave diving expedition to the Hinatuan Enchanted River Underwater Cave. Hinatuan is a town on the east coast of Mindanao in the Philippines. The Enchanted River may have got its name as a result of its rich, blue colour, but there are also local stories about it being inhabited by spirits. It is a spring that is fed by an underwater cave, and it was that which Paul and his team had gone to explore.

There is an access to a large chamber called Mayor’s Chamber. The plan was to accurately define this and to see what lay beyond it. To that end the expedition was successful, as they were able to find an easier, low-current entranceto  Mayor’s Chamber, measure the chamber, and they found a passage that enabled them to get 90 metres further on into the system.

There is a great report on the expedition on Tech-Divers’s website, from where I borrowed the photograph of some of the gear involved for the 5 rebreather and 2 open circuit divers.

We know Paul from his time in Hong Kong as one of the leading technical diving instructors there. He now spends a lot more of his time in the Philippines as the main man behind Extreme Technical Diving, which is based in Puerto Galera and provides high quality technical diving and training.

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Hong Kong – Mandarin Divers’ Quarry Bay Store

Mandarin DiversFor many years Mandarin Divers were located in Wong Chuk Hang, conveniently round the corner from where South China Diving Club used to meet every Thursday evening. Unfortunately they closed that outlet last year. But now they’re back, although this time in Quarry Bay. On 9th May 2011, they had a Grand Opening for their new store, which is located at:

3/F, Unit 305,
Technology Plaza
651 King’s Road
Quarry Bay

The nearest exit from Quarry Bay MTR station is exit C.

Good luck to them, and it will be high on my list of places to visit the next time I’m in Hong Kong.

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Underneath the Arches – The Poor Knights, May 2011

To celebrate Rita getting a job and me becoming a kept man, last weekend we decided to go diving. Despite a less than impressive weather forecast, Friday afternoon saw us heading north from Auckland to Tutukaka. Not long after setting off we drove through a torrential rainstorm, which was made even more frightening by the fact that the windscreen wipers don’t work properly. Fortunately the further north we got  the better the weather became, and we finally arrived at the Tutukaka Holiday Park where we were staying. This is a great holiday park, it’s very peaceful and spacious, especially with it being so late in the season which meant that we had the place to ourselves. They have tent and powered sites, along with a variety of cabins, in beautiful scenic countryside, only a few minutes walk from Tutukaka itself.

That night we headed to the Schnappa Rock, which is a bar / restaurant right next to the harbour. The seafood chowder was excellent, and the beer was very welcome. We took advantage of a mild evening and sat out under the stars, being treated as VIPs as we were the only people in the place. This was partly because it was the end of the tourist season, and partly because everyone else was in another bar watching the rugby league.

First thing (‘ish) on Saturday morning we drove over to Dive Tutukaka. We actually dived with them 3 years ago and were very impressed at how slick and efficient they were at getting everyone organised. Fortunately they were just as slick and efficient this time too,  which was just as well as we turned up late and would have missed the boat otherwise. (We were working on the principle that the late worm avoids the early bird). So it was at 8:30am when Bright Arrow left the mooring with the 2 of us, 3 girls from Auckland, 2 girls from Israel and an Italian snorkeller and his diving girlfriend. Oh, and Skipper Ben, and Kieran and Joe from Dive Tutukaka. Outside the protection of the harbour the swell was pretty bad and Kieran and Joe were kept very busy handing out sick bags to some of the more unfortunate passengers.

Our destination was the Poor Knights, which is a marine and nature reserve. They consist of 2 main islands, Aorangi and Tawhiti Rahi,  along with a group of smaller islands. No-one is allowed to land on the islands and fishing is also prohibited. Since all the introduced pests have been removed, the local wildlife is now flourishing on the islands, as is the marine life in the waters around them. They are volcanic and are protected by steep, near-vertical cliffs which are peppered with dramatic arches and caves. They were occupied until the early 19th century by a Maori tribe, whose last chief was called Tatua. He apparently insulted Chief Waikato of the Hikutu tribe by refusing to trade pigs with him. Several years later while Tatua and his warriors were away on a raid in the Hauraki gulf, a slave escaped and told Chief Waikato that the islands were undefended. Chief Waikato attacked the islands and killed everyone they could find. When Tatua got back, he declared the island tapu, or sacred, and no-one has lived there since.

Moray EelIt took almost 50 minutes to get out to the Poor Knights, and then Ben took us up to Middle Arch to see what the conditions were like. Middle Arch is half way up the islands, between the imaginatively named Northern and Southern Arches. Unfortunately it was still quite rough, so he turned us round and took us to South Harbour instead. Here we did our first dive on Magic Wall, which, believe it or not, is a wall. It’s also encrusted with all sorts of life and lots of kelp, which was swaying in the surge. Visibility was around 15 metres, and there was good fish life, including snapper, a stingray and several moray eels. I had a great dive, unlike Rita who came up complaining about how painful her foot was. For future reference, don’t tie your boots so tight.

After lunch, our second dive was Blue Maomao Arch. We swam underneath a boulder at around 9 metres, and emerged into beautiful blue water, lit by a shaft of sunlight coming from the left hand side of the arch. The site is named for the schools of blue maomao that are often found there, and which we were hoping to see. We weren’t disappointed. The whole area was so full of  fish that I  couldn’t see more than a foot in front of me. It was like being part of the shoal. There was quite a lot of surge, but my only reference was the fish around me, so it didn’t look as though they or I were moving. And then suddenly the shoal would thin slightly and I’d see a large chunk of rock racing past me, which was quite disorientating. We spent the whole dive just swimming gently backwards and forwards through the arch, surrounded by blue maomao. After this dive, I can see why Cousteau rated the Poor Knights as one of the top 10 divesites in the world.

Scorpion FishThe run back to Tutukaka wasn’t quite as bad as the trip out, which was just as well as we were running out of sick bags. When we got back, we bumped into Andy and Fiona, the National Instructors with our dive club. They had driven up from Whangarei for the afternoon, and had decided to dive on the Sunday. When Dive Tutukaka found out that we knew each other, they arranged to put us all on the same boat. That evening, Rita and I had a pretty good dinner at the pizzeria down at the end of the marina, before walking back under another beautiful, starry sky.

Sunday morning, and we weren’t quite as late as we’d been on the Saturday. We were on Blue Arrow again, with Andy and Fiona, plus an English Kiwi, a Dutch guy, and Joe and Sophie who work at Dive Tutukaka but were out for a fun dive. Kieran was crewing again, but today’s skipper was Sam. Although the swell was still very bad the wind had dropped, so the run out to the islands was better than the previous day.

This time we decided to give Middle Arch a go.  Rita and I headed along a wall and it was only when I checked my compass and found that we should have been swimming directly into the wall itself that I realised that we’d actually swum through the arch and almost out the other side. The arch is so big that despite the great visibility, I couldn’t see the opposite wall, although the lack of kelp was a bit of a giveaway. Next to the arch at around 15 metres, is a large, deep cavern called Bernie’s cave. This has an air pocket in the roof. There were lots of fish all over the floor and walls, including some large scorpion fish. Outside and Rita spotted a kingfish swimming past us.

Firebrick starfishWhile we had lunch, Sam took us into Rikoriko cave, which is apparently the largest sea cave by volume in the world. It’s only when you get inside in the boat, that you realise just how big it is. After that, we carried on to the south and anchored near where we’d been the previous day. This time we were on Ngoio Reef, which connects Aorangi island with Ngoio Rock, and along this shallow reef are a series of pinnacles that almost break the surface. We swam along the reef and circumnavigated the rock. There was lots of kelp, plus a stingray, moray eels, blennies, triplefin, scorpion fish, and some large snapper. We also came across a small nudibranch, and a lovely firebrick starfish.

All in all, it was a great weekend and some spectacular diving. The only real drawback was that Rita has lost an ankle weight that she borrowed from Mitch, one of the BSAC New Zealand guys. So let’s hope he doesn’t read this dive report!

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BSAC Incident Report for 2010 Available Online

BSAC’s Incident Report for 2010 is now available online. It contains details of incidents in the UK, or involving BSAC members overseas, and was presented at their Diving Conference in mid-February.

364 UK incidents were reported, which is inline with the numbers from the last 5 years. In order of frequency, the top 4 categories were:

  • DCI
  • Boat / Surface
  • Ascents
  • Injury / Illness

Illness and Injury may actually include some cases of DCI, as those reported by the RNLI do not specifically state DCI.

There were 17 fatalities, which is slightly above the ten year average of 15.8.

  • 3 cases apparently involved divers who died of natural causes
  • 10 involved separation
  • 2 involved rapid ascents
  • 2 involved running out of breathing gas
  • 1 involved a solo snorkel diver

Often there are multiple factors involved and it is not possible to explain the actual chain of events involved.

47% of the fatal incidents involved divers over the age of 50, compared with 57% last year. Since only 16% of the diving population is over 50, this is a cause for concern since health and fitness often decline with age.  As we get older we should all remember to factor this into our diving.

I would encourage you to read the full report from BSAC’s website. It includes summaries of these incidents and is well worth browsing, to help us learn from things that have happened to other people.

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Truk. Dive 17 – Kansho Maru

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Kansho is one of my favourite dives, but on our previous dive, we didn’t have enough time to explore the cavernous engine room properly. So we had a word with the dive guide and he took us into the engine room and then let us get on with it.

With just 2 pairs of divers in a 3 storey engine room, there was plenty of room. We explored all 3 levels, looking at gauges, flow meters, and all sorts of knobs, switches and dials. There was a set of tools on the wall, a wooden stool, a carpenter’s workbench with a vice attached to it. I’ve dived this a number of times over the years, and there is always so much to see.

Finally we headed up and past the galley. We took a look at the steering gear before heading out of the wreck through the bomb damage in the stern and along to the superstructure for a lengthy deco stop.

Kansho Maru

  • Displacement: 4,861tons
  • Length: 380 feet
  • Beam: 52.5 feet
  • Engine: 1 diesel engine
  • Depth: 8 – 40 m.

Our Dive

  • Depth: 35.4 m.
  • Time: 56 minutes
  • Gas: Nitrox 30

Graphic courtesy of Captain Lance Higgs of S.S. Thorfinn.

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