Saturday, June 19, 2010

Extreme Sailing Series - Sète 2010 - Round Up of the Event

From YachtPals

The racing tour that shows spectators the wild side of wind-power kicked off last week of May, as the first of this year's five event Extreme Sailing Series took place in Sète France.

Those teams which didn't compete in the Asia Series over the winter got a chance to dust off the cobwebs, and get back to the close-quartered, crowd-pleasing antics that this series is known for.
With super sailing conditions on the south-eastern coast of France, the consensus was that the first event of the Extreme Sailing Series Europe delivered just what fans have come to expect: big names, big competition, and big action.

Among the big names were Mike Golding, Loick Peyron, and the fastest skipper around, Franck Cammas, who traded his record breaking Groupama 3 trimaran for a catamaran, to compete in this crash-bang contest where the difference between glory and defeat can be a split second, and the only way to win is to ride the razor's edge of disaster.

Combine ridiculously tight courses, incredibly speedy boats, and some of the top sailing talent around, and it's little wonder why the Extreme Sailing Series has become so popular.

Extreme 40 Catamaran

Length (LOA): 40ft (12.19m)
Beam: 26ft (7.92m)
Hull Material: carbon fiber
Displacement: 1250kg
Mast height: 62ft (18.89m)
Mainsail: 75msq (upwind and downwind sailing)
Jib: 25msq (upwind sailing)
Gennaker: 78msq (downwind sailing)
Top speed: 35 knots
Designer: Yves Loday, in collaboration with TornadoSport
Builders: TornadoSport

Friday, June 18, 2010

RMS Lancastria - the forgotten tragedy

It was the worst single loss of life in British maritime history
and a Second World War tragedy that claimed upwards of 4000 lives,
more than the combined losses of the Titanic and the Lusitania.

From Tirial

About the Lancastria

The Lancastria was a converted Cunard liner, used as a evacuation ship during World War Two. Her name has gone down in history for the worst loss of life at sea, a tragedy greater than the losses on the Titanic and the Lusitania put together.

Four thousand people were known to have perished with the Lancastria. The true total may never been discovered. The British government sealed the records due to the potential damage to morale, which meant that until recently little was known about her loss.

Operation Ariel : the evacuation of France

The Lancastria was built as a Cunard Liner, but requisitioned at the start of the war. Originally used to carry cargo, she became a troop carrier and took part in the evacuation of Norway.

Two weeks after Dunkirk, another less well known evacuation took place. Operation Ariel was the evacuation of remaining troops and British non-combatants from occupied France. Less frantic than Dunkirk, the evacuation took place from Cherbourg and St Malo. Lancastria was pressed into service.

On 17th June 1940, the Lancastria dropped anchor three miles off the coast and waited for instructions.

Able to carry 2,200 people, the Captain was dismayed when instructed to take as many as he could fit. No count was kept of how many people pressed on board and some estimates say over 9,000 were on the ship. Civilians, troops and children were crowded on board, fleeing in front of the German advance.

At 1:50 The Lancastria was advised they could depart, but when they signaled for a destroyer escort none replied. U-boats were known to be active in the area. Overloaded and without an escort the Captain decided to wait for a second vessel to be loaded and set out together for protection.

The Bombing : the Luftwaffe against the Lancastria

At 3:45 the Luftwaffe arrived. The first Junkers-88 to target the Lancastria dropped four 500lbs bombs. They all found their target. Many accounts state that one went down the funnel by a freak chance, but this is untrue, as it is disputed by a survivor who was in the engine room during the attack. The bombs actually hit holds number 2, 3 and 4, and the last tore a hole in the port side below the waterline. The Lancastria was doomed.

As the ship listed and began to sink, the crew and passengers began to try to escape. Overcrowded, with many of their exits blocked by fire, few stood any chance. Those who got onto the hull and deck of the ship were strafed by the Luftwaffe, and covered in oil from the leaking fuel. Only a handful of lifeboats could be launched and many of those overturned.

Twenty minutes later and the Lancastria had gone down, taking with her thousands who had not managed to escape the ship.

The Luftwaffe attacks on the survivors : dropping incendiary bombs

Worse was to come. The survivors have detailed how, once the Lancastria was sinking, and the survivors were struggling in the water, the Luftwaffe began to firebomb them to set the fuel coating the sea ablaze.

Survivors on the hull, clinging to flotsam and struggling in the water were also machine gunned.

The lifeboats fared no better as they were strafed despite containing women and children, civillian non-combatants by any definition.

Rescuing the survivors : adrift in oil-soaked waters

While the Luftwaffe continued their attack, the other evacuation vessels began rescue attempts. The Cambridgeshire, a trawler, apparently managed to take onboard 900 survivors. Some survivors were rescued by small launches with French crews that took them to the waiting evacuation vessels.

Of the people onboard the Lancastria, only 2,500 survived.

The cover-up : preventing the survivors speaking

With the fall of France occurring at the same time, Churchill was concerned about the effects on British morale. He ordered that the records on the Lancastria be sealed, and issued a D-notice to prevent the survivors speaking.

These restrictions have in part worn off. It appears that the full record of what happened on the Lancastria will not be known until 2040, and the British Government refuses to release these restrictions. Across the Channel the French have built a monument to the Lancastria dead. None such exist in Britain.

In 2005, with 65 years passed and the first restrictions relaxed the Lancastria survivors were free to speak. The Lancastria Association was formed in Scotland, where the majority of the crew hailed from, to represent the survivors and their relatives. It has members from all over the world, New Zealand, Canada, France and Britain among the represented countries and is campaigning for a memorial to the Lancastria.

Not a war grave : no official recognition from the British Government

The site of the Lancastria is not protected as a war grave. The British Government has repeatedly refused requests for the site to be given that status. The records were unsealed in 2005 when the first petitions were put it. The request was rejected then and rejected again in 2007. It is suspected this is because the ship was overloaded and they do not want to be sued. The British government also refused to issue a medal to survivors.

The Scottish Assembly are fighting the decision, and talking about producing a pack for schools to ensure that the Lancastria is not forgotten. The Assembly also issued a commemorative medal for survivors.

The French Government has placed an exclusion zone around the wreck to protect it.

Marine GeoGarage Lancastria wreck position (Lat : 47°09,0555' N / Lon : 2°20,3961' W - WGS84 / depth : between 8 and 18 m)

Links :

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hollywood at the rescue of BP

The leak started more than six weeks ago following an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform that killed 11 rig workers.
An estimated 12,000-19,000 barrels gush up daily from the seabed, posing a major threat to the Gulf of Mexico's flora and fauna.
BP, the owner of the rig about 80 kilometers (50 miles) off the Louisiana coast, has tried with little success to stem the flow of oil.
It says it is now managing to gather about 10,000 barrels of oil a day using a special plugging device attached to the head of the drill to siphon oil up to surface ships.

Some movie celebrities share their experience to fight BP oil spill :

  • BP buys into OTS's oil spill clean up plan, orders 32 separators

One of the weirdest parts of the BP oil spill is the work that actor Kevin Costner is doing to help clean up the spill. Except that it's really not that weird at all.

We just weren't that aware of the work Costner has been doing on oil cleanup work with his Costner Industries company and Ocean Therapy Solutions since his interest was piqued after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.

After all this time developing and promiting his oil separation devices, OTS now has some good news to report: BP is "excited" about the potential for Costner's centrifuges to help get some of BP's mess out of the Gulf water.

The excitement was realized with BP's order of 32 of the machines, some of which can clean 200 gallons a minute and extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day.

According to OTS and ABC News, Costner spent $20 million of his own money to develop the separators which apparently leave the "water 99 percent clean of crude."

  • BP calls for Russian mini-subs to tackle oil spill

The British oil giant BP wants Russian mini-subs to help in eliminating the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Izvestia daily said on Monday 7.

Anatoly Sagalevich of Russia's Shirshov Institute of Oceanology, which owns the Mir submersibles, was quoted as saying that talks with BP officials had started soon after the accident.

Sagalevich told the Izvestia daily the Mir mini-subs could stop the leakage, but it would take some time.

Sagalevich said the Mirs would be the most effective since they are operated by people on board rather than remotely, allowing for a more thorough investigation.
"Visual research by specialists is very important, regardless of the fact that more than 50 remote-controlled underwater robots are working at the scene of the accident delivering the images from the seabed to the surface," the paper quoted the researcher as saying.
He added, however, that the depths involved could hinder the submersibles' operation.

Last week the U.S. filmmaker James Cameron suggested to BP that Russian mini-subs Mir help to tackle oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but the oil major rejected the idea.
Cameron, the director of the two highest-grossing films of all time, Avatar and Titanic, worked with the Mir mini-subs while filming in the latter 1997. The advanced deep-water equipment, used during an expedition to the sunken liner, helped to film the ship's destroyed interiors and provided the movie with more authentic sets.

Explaining BP's dismissal, Sagalevich said last week that "we are Russians, and if we go to the Gulf of Mexico with Mirs and do something there, the Americans would be appalled."

  • Plan to hire unemployed veterans to build Gulf oil spill clean-up boats

On June 8th, 2010, Congressman Bob Filner (San Diego, CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, will announce a plan to create a program to hire unemployed Veterans to build specially designed boats with patented technologies designed for cleaning up oil spills, for help with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.
The technology is patented by a French company, ECOCEANE (video), which is connected to the family of actor David Charvet. Charvet is a member of the Blue Seals Board of Directors.

Also to be announced is a mission to bring the Blue Seals rapid response team of conservation experts, Charvet and his fiancee actress Brooke Burke to Louisiana to aid in the Gulf Coast Oil Spill cleanup efforts. The crew will fly a specially modified Albatross seaplane to areas of the Louisiana coast to document the devastation to the coastal environment.

The Blue Seals is a division of the non-profit organization Blue Rage Films, and embraces the mission that healthy oceans are essential for our collective survival. The Blue Seals is a globally active network that was formed to be a rapid response force to environmental emergencies, and to bring together conservation activists.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ixtoc offshore well: Gulf's other massive oil spill no longer apparent

From TheMiamiHerald (Glen Garvin)

The oil was everywhere, long black sheets of it, 15 inches thick in some places. Even if you stepped in what looked like a clean patch of sand, it quickly and gooily puddled around your feet. And Wes Tunnell, as he surveyed the mess, had only one bleak thought: "Oh, my God, this is horrible! It's all gonna die!"

But it didn't. Thirty-one years since the worst oil spill in North American history blanketed 150 miles of Texas beach, tourists noisily splash in the surf and turtles drag themselves into the dunes to lay eggs.
"You look around and it's like the spill never happened," shrugs Tunnell, a marine biologist. "There's a lot of perplexity in it for many of us.

For Tunnell and others involved in the fight to contain the June 3, 1979, spill from Mexico's Ixtoc 1 offshore well in the Gulf of Campeche, the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico conjures an eerie sense of deja vu.

Like the BP spill, the Ixtoc disaster began with a burst of gas followed by an explosion and fire, followed by a relentless gush of oil that resisted all attempts to block it.
Plugs of mud and debris, chemical dispersants, booms skimming the surface of the water: Mexico's Pemex oil company tried them all, but still the spill inexorably crept ashore, first in southeast Mexico, later in Texas.
But if the BP spill seems to be repeating one truth already demonstrated in the Ixtoc spill - that human technology is no match for a high-pressure undersea oil blowout - scientists are hoping that it may eventually confirm another: that the environment has a stunning capacity to heal itself from manmade insults.

"The environment is amazingly resilient, more so than most people understand," says Luis A. Soto, a deep-sea biologist with advanced degrees from Florida State University and the University of Miami who teaches at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
"To be honest, considering the magnitude of the spill, we thought the Ixtoc spill was going to have catastrophic effects for decades. ... But within a couple of years, almost everything was close to 100 percent normal again."

That kind of optimism was unthinkable at the time of the spill, which took nearly 10 months to cap. The 30,000 barrels of oil a day it spewed into the ocean obliterated practically every living thing in its path. As it washed ashore, in some zones marine life was reduced by 50 percent; in others, 80 percent. The female population of an already-endangered species of sea turtles known as Kemp's Ridley shrank to 300, perilously close to extinction.

What survived wasn't much better off. Soto, surveying fish and shrimp in the Mexican coastal waters near the spill, found them infested with tumors.
The sizable fishing industry in the area was practically shut down - not that the boats were able to make their way through the massive clumps of giant tar balls bobbing through the Gulf of Campeche anyway.

"There were a lot of those balls of oil at that time, and they could really mess up the machinery of your engines," recalls 62-year-old Isidro Vega Morales, who operates three fishing boats in Ciudad del Carmen, a Mexican port about 60 miles southeast of the Ixtoc oil well.
"There were so many balls, and so few fish, that after a while some of the fishermen started catching the balls instead. They'd melt the tar down into oil and sell it as a kind of sealant for other small fishing boats."

In Texas, meanwhile, tourism curdled.
Oil was so unavoidable on the popular beaches of Padre Island, just south of Corpus Christi, that hotels installed special mats outside along with signs pleading with guests to clean their feet rather than track tar into their rooms.

And scientists feared a less visible but more insidious effect of the spill: that it had killed off small organisms living at the tide line that form a crucial part of the marine food chain.
"These are things that most people never notice, some small segmented worms called amphipods, some little shrimp-like crustaceans," says Tunnell, associate director of the Harte Research Institute at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. "They were practically wiped out. And if they didn't recover, it would have drastically affected the food chain, from small fish and crabs up to shorebirds and beyond."

But after three months in which nothing went right, Texas had some good luck - or, to put it in a glass-half-empty way, Alabama and Mississippi had some bad luck. Hurricane Frederic, while plowing into those two states, sent tides of two-foot waves reeling into the Texas shoreline. Overnight, half the 3,900 tons of oil piled up on Texas beaches disappeared. And human clean-up efforts began putting a dent in the rest.

Even in Mexico, which had neither the resources nor the hurricanes of the United States, the oil began disappearing under a ferocious counterattack by nature. In the water, much of it evaporated; on beaches, the combined forces of pounding waves, ultraviolet light and petroleum-eating microbes broke it down.

"The environment in the Gulf of Mexico is used to coping with petroleum," says Tunnell. "The seabed is crisscrossed with petroleum reservoirs, and the equivalent of one to two supertankers full of oil leaks into the Gulf every year. The outcome of that is a huge population of bacteria that feed on oil and live along the shoreline."

The bacteria as well as other marine life forms along the shoreline got a boost from a strategy employed by both the United States and Mexico: to more or less give up on stopping the oil spill from reaching beaches while concentrating on keeping it out of estuaries and wetlands.

"Texas just made a superhuman effort to keep the oil away from rivers, with two or three or four layers of booms to skim it away," said Thomas C. Shirley, a biodiversity specialist at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. "We know how to clean up beaches, and it's simple. It's just sand."
"But you get up into wetlands, where you're cleaning up shrubs and sea grasses, and it's far more difficult. Everything you're cleaning is alive, and you have to be careful not to do more harm than good."

By keeping oil out of rivers and lagoons, authorities ensured a steady stream of nutrients back into the coastal areas. And as the spill diminished, marine life had a baby boom.
"A lot of the fishermen around here will tell you that the fish never came back," says Vega Morales. "They'll say, 'Oh, in the old days, you could catch fish with your hat, it was so easy.' That's how we are, always talking about the one that got away. But the truth is, after maybe nine months or so, it was back to normal."
Soto, who followed the fish and shrimp population off Mexico closely, found to his surprise that for most species the numbers had returned to normal within two years.

"The catastrophic effects that everybody's looking for, those are mostly limited to the first months," he says. "Then you start looking in subsequent months, the long-range view, and it all diminishes. The pollution effect becomes more and more difficult to find .... It's like a radio signal, when you're close, it's strong. But when you start moving away, the signal starts to fade."
Even the physical evidence of the spill quickly began disappearing. Tunnell has been visiting Mexico regularly for 30 years, mapping the spilled Ixtoc oil on the country's beaches and coral reefs.

"In 1979, the islands around Veracruz looked like black doughnuts, there was so much oil clustered around them," he remembers. "It was 12 to 15 inches thick in some places. But as I came back over the years, it got harder and harder to find. After five to seven years, it was hard to see the outline, and by 2002, an unsuspecting person would have thought it was a rock ledge - it was covered with algae and shells and just looked like a normal part of the environment."
Even under water, where the sun can't help the oil break down, nature subverts it, says Mexican marine biodiversity analyst Jorge Brenner. "If you visit the coral reefs in the Gulf of Campeche, the tar has been covered with sea grass, algae and sediment," he says. "You actually have to dig a little bit to find it, although it's definitely there."

As much as the experts marvel at the way the environment recovered from the Ixtoc spill, none of them are shrugging off the BP disaster. Some larger species with longer life spans took years to recover from the Ixtoc spill. It wasn't until the late 1980s that the population of Kemp's Ridley turtles, which lay a couple of hundred eggs a year, as opposed to the millions produced by shrimp, started recovering. The immediate losses from an oil spill continue to ricochet through larger species for generations.
"I look at those oil-covered pelicans I see on the news every night," says Shirley, "and I think about all the chicks back on the beach that are left without a parent. Most of them are not going to make it, either."

And while the Ixtoc and BP spills are in many respects startlingly similar, they also have important differences - particularly the depth at which they occurred. The Ixtoc well was in relatively shallow waters, about 160 feet deep. Nobody knows what happens to oil at 30 times that depth.

"Do I think the environment has an amazing resilience? Yes, I see it every day as we patrol the shoreline," says Travis R. Clapp, a National Park Service resource manager who works at the Padre Island National Seashore. "But I'd be cautious about saying how quick the recovery from this spill is going to be. We're in a whole new ballgame here."

Links :
  • Reuters : Deepwater spills and short attention spans
  • TheGuardian : Dave Martin (AP) picture

iPhone/iPad Marine GeoGarage application for NOAA charts

Marine US universal app displays all NOAA nautical charts online from GeoGarage servers with the ability to use them offline with previously browsed tiles cache.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New online map shows network of protection for North America’s marine ecosystems

Virtual fly-over using the CEC's North American Environmental Atlas through ecoregions (level I-III), priority conservation areas, marine protected areas and habitat maps of marine species of common conservation concern

From CEC

Marine protected areas map promotes understanding of North America’s shared ocean resources to enhance biodiversity conservation and protection of critical marine habitats

North America’s nearly 2,000 marine protected areas represent an unprecedented effort to protect the continent’s fragile marine environments and are found throughout the marine ecoregions that encircle our continent.

The latest map from the North American Environmental Atlas—coordinated by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)—for the first time brings together information about all types of marine protected areas in Canada, Mexico and the United States, offering details about protection status and those responsible to manage the sites.

The marine protected areas information is provided by the Canadian Council on Ecological Areas, Quebec's Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks , Mexico's Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas, and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration NOAA National MPA Center.

A functional network of marine protected areas is crucial for maintaining ecological integrity and protecting migratory species and transboundary habitats.
They are also important to help ecosystems recover from or adapt to a wide variety of threats, including pollution from oil spills, overexploitation and rapidly changing environmental conditions.

“North Americans are particularly reliant upon oceans. At the same time, human economic activity is driving changes profoundly affecting the integrity and balance of our marine ecosystems, with serious habitat destruction, wildlife impacts and loss of biodiversity. Greater knowledge and collaboration are essential elements in safeguarding these priceless ecosystems,” said Evan Lloyd, CEC Executive Director.

Different levels of protection in North America’s marine ecoregions :

In meeting the extraordinary challenge of protecting North America’s rich and fragile marine ecosystems, the map shows the important strides Canada, Mexico and the United States have made in establishing protected areas.
However, challenges remain to ensure that adequate protection and management extends throughout all ecoregions.
Although some ecoregions have limited number of protected areas the Alaskan/Fjordland Pacific ecoregion, for example, has protected areas covering almost 80 percent of the ecoregion. Likewise, the Northern Gulf of Mexico ecoregion has more than 250 protected areas.

Map tools and resources for teachers, students and others :

To celebrate previous week’s World Oceans Day, the CEC has brought together tools and resources to help decision makers, industry, universities and other learning institutions, as well as concerned citizens better understand North America’s shared ocean resources.

These maps and publications include:
  • A new map viewer using Google Maps & Google Earth to explore all of the Atlas’ marine ecosystems maps and data.
  • Marine Ecoregions of North America: a set of maps and detailed descriptions that provide a platform for sound management and conservation of marine biodiversity.
  • Baja California to the Bering Sea: an assessment of 28 priority conservation areas requiring concerted conservation action along North America’s West Coast.
  • Conservation action plans for four marine species of common concern for North America: vaquita porpoise, humpback whale, leatherback turtle and pink-footed shearwater.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How a small sponge may save an ocean

From Andy Mathisen (AllVoices)

A small marine invertebrate known as a Glass Sponge has probably helped keep Haida Gwaii and Hecate Strait a little safer from oil exploration today.
Canadian Fisheries & Oceans Minister Gail Shea announced in Ottawa today that certain reef areas in Hecate Strait where the sponge resides are to be "areas of interest".
Conservation groups applauded the announcement as this is the first step towards designation as a "Marine Protected Area" which would see the area protected from development in perpetuity.
On Monday, the Federal Government announced a 10km protected area in all the waters around the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve on South Moresby Island.

Although a moratorium of both oil exploration and oil tanker traffic has been in place for decades...the past few years have seen keen interest by both the BC Provincial Government and oil companies to develop the oil and gas reserves in the area.

At present, Enbridge wants to build a pipeline from the Athabaska tar sands project down to Kitimat, BC. This could mean oil tankers plying the precious and precarious coastline.
Many see a showdown in the works between the two levels of government over these issues
BUT...for the time being the rich marine diversity of Hecate Strait and nearby Haida Gwaii is safe.
We may end up owing a great thanks to these rare little glass sponges!
(see video narrated by well known Canadian enviro-icon Dr. David Suzuki)

As you watch it imagine the impact of the "Goo in the Gulf" oozing through this rich kelp forest...covering clams, spoiling sponges, tarring birds and sickening seals!
Is it worth a short burst in jobs and megabucks for already rich oil companies?
Many think not !!

Links :
  • Fishery and Oceans : Area of interest for potential Marine Protected Area in Pacific Region
  • CPAWS : Glass sponge reefs

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Image of the week : travelling by sea

‘In Search of Missing Pieces’ is a series of original sculptures by French artist Bruno Catalono.

At first glance, the 'Travelers' sculptures look like amazing optical illusions; as if these statues appear to be floating in mid air. But on a closer look you'll notice that the tops and bottoms of these statues are connected.

Really cool when it's situated outside like in these pictures since the scenery always changes.