Saturday, September 29, 2012

Surfing Mavericks : aerial footage

This clip is a sequence from the MacGillivray Freeman classic "Adventures in Wild California"
This incredible footage was shot by Greg MacGillivray, founder of the One World One Ocean campaign.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Genetically modified pet fish worries Florida environmentalists

GloFish's Electric Green Tetra may or may not have an unfair advantage in the wild.

From WP

Since Yorktown Technologies first sold its genetically modified pet — the GloFish — in 2003, the fluorescent fish, an altered variety of zebra fish, has become a popular aquarium item, with millions sold in various neon hues.

In February, Yorktown introduced the Electric Green Tetra, a genetically modified black tetra fish. Like its zebra fish cousin, the GM tetra is a small freshwater fish that includes genetic material from a fluorescent coral that makes it neon-bright. Under a black light, it glows in the dark.

The two GloFish are very different, however, in what environmentalists and some experts say is a crucial way: The heat-loving zebra fish is from southern Asia and can’t survive long in cooler U.S. waters; thus, the Food and Drug Administration has ruled that there would be little threat of invasion of U.S. waterways if it were released from home aquariums.
But the black tetra is native to South America and likely to be happy making a splash in the inland waterways of South Florida and Latin America.

In South Florida, the modified black tetras could upset an environment already burdened with 30 types of nonnative fish.
In South America, they could mean an undesirable interference in natural biodiversity.

“My worry is that they’ll be such a novelty that they will be imported back to [South America] and kids will let them go and they’ll start interbreeding with fish whose genomes are very similar,’’ said Barry Chernoff, a freshwater fish biologist and chair of the environmental studies program at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn.
“We would see the spreading of the fluorescent coral gene in the native fish.’’

 Genetically engineered angelfish (Pterophyllum) glow in a tank under a blacklight, at a fish farm in Pingtung, southern Taiwan on September 16, 2010.
The fish are the world's first fluorescent angelfish which were created by a joint project between Taiwan's Academia Sinica and Jy Lin, a private biotechnology company.
The breed is the largest fluorescent fish in the world which are able to mate and reproduce, said Yu-Ho Lin, Chairman of Jy Lin. The fish are expected to be sold at around $30 after certification. (REUTERS/Pichi Chuang)

Because pet fish are often let loose by owners who no longer want them, Chernoff and others say the threat is serious.

“The neotropical region contains the most diverse freshwater fish fauna and complex freshwater ecosystem in the world, with some 6,025 fish species so far recognized,’’ Gordon McGregor Reid, chair of the Wetlands International Freshwater Fish Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said in an e-mail.
“We meddle with this at our peril.”

Yorktown’s chief executive, Alan Blake, said the company chose the black tetra to modify because it is nonaggressive and shows no tendency to be invasive.
“The black tetra has been sold for over 60 years and there has never been an ecological concern with it,’’ Blake said.

There have been reports of natural black tetras in Florida’s waters.
But Blake said there is no evidence that groups of them live there permanently; probably, he said, they are eaten by predators.

Blake pointed to research by Jeffrey Hill, who was part of the task force that reviewed Yorktown’s successful application to raise the GloFish tetra in Florida.
In a 2011 study, Hill found that largemouth bass and mosquito fish in Florida ate twice as many red GloFish as regular zebra fish when they were all put in tanks together.
“Florida is a predator-rich environment. [The GloFish] is considerably more vulnerable’’ than its non-modified counterparts, said Hill, a nonnative fish specialist at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory.

That’ s not reassuring to environmentalists such as Chernoff.
“So their plan for not having these things take over the wild is predation by other species? Great,” he said.

Electric Green Tetra's swimming at night with blue LED.
Their DNA has been modified so they glo

An unfair advantage?

Breeding between escaped GloFish and native fish could weaken the progeny and negatively affect the native fish species in future generations, said Brian Zimmerman, aquarium curator at the Zoological Society of London.

The fluorescence in the GloFish may give them an unfair advantage or a disadvantage as they forage for food or in their roles as prey and predator, Zimmerman said.
The point is, nobody knows for sure. “GM fish have only been around for a few years, and I don’t think we know enough to say they are safe,” he said.

If GloFish tetras breed with wild black tetras, the fluorescent gene would be passed on for only a limited number of generations, said Eric Hallerman, a scientific adviser to Yorktown and chair of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.

GloFish tetras reproduce at half the rate of regular black tetras, and the fry survive at 97 percent the rate of their natural peers, Hallerman said.
Furthermore, fluorescence takes energy and is a burden that makes the fish less fit, so it will be bred out, he said — eventually the trait “is going to disappear.’’

But some scientists disagree.
“There is no way of predicting any species’s fitness in the absence of environmental settings, because species do not behave as predicted by models,’’ Paulo Petry, a freshwater fish specialist in Latin America for the Nature Conservancy, said.
“I would opt for the precautionary principle and not allow the commercialization of these things in regions where there is even a remote chance of establishing a viable population,” he said.

GM fish are not allowed in Canada and much of Europe, and GloFish cannot be sold in California.
The FDA determined in 2003 that GloFish did not need to go through a full approval process, saying there was no evidence that the altered fish posed an increased risk to the environment and there was an absence of a clear risk to public health.
(Florida, which hosts a large ornamental fish industry, including the two fish farms that raise GloFish, requires approval before genetically modified fish can be raised there.)

“We think the feds should step in whether or not [GloFish] pose a threat. It shows the big holes in our regulatory system, in how we deal with genetically engineered animals,’’ said Eric Hoffman, food and technology campaigner at Friends of the Earth.
“If people look down into water and look at glowing fish, they might be pretty, but it’s a sign of genetic contamination and a type of pollution we don’t want,’’ Hoffman said.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Protecting harbors and ships with a robotic tuna fish

The BIOSwimmer is an underwater robot designed in the shape of a robotic tuna fish for surveillance and patrols.
(Jane Baker, DHS S&T | Boston Engineering Corporation’s Advanced Systems Group)

Speedy tuna capable of swimming tirelessly in the Earth's oceans have inspired the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to fund a lookalike robot for underwater patrols.

The "BIOSwimmer" robot features faithfully replicated fins and a flexible tail to pull off quick maneuvers like the real-life fish.
Homeland Security made the choice to fund the robot made by the Boston Engineering Corporation in Waltham, Mass., with an eye toward missions such as exploring the flooded areas of ships, inspecting oil tankers or patrolling U.S. harbors to watch out for suspicious activity.

"It's called 'biomimetics,'" said David Taylor, program manager for the BIOSwimmer at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"We're using nature as a basis for design and engineering a system that works exceedingly well."

Clips of tuna robotics project in Franklin W Olin College's Senior Capstone Program
in Engineering (SCOPE)

The robot, which is based on the tuna's sleek, flexible shape, would be able to squeeze into tight spaces such as the flooded bilges and tanks of ship interiors — not to mention fit in well with surrounding marine life.
Humans can control BIOSwimmer's activities through a laptop, but the unmanned underwater vehicle also carries its own computer for navigation, processing sensor data and communications with the home base.

BIOSwimmer represents just one of the new generation of robots that take their design inspiration from nature.
Animals such as flying cockroaches to slithering snakes have given rise to robotic imitators that try to harness nature's lessons for moving around during natural disasters or on battlefields.

Marine animals beyond tuna have much to teach human engineers.
Even squirmy starfish, worms and octopuses have inspired squishy, color-changing robots capable of both camouflage and squeezing into tight spaces.

Dive into the Great Barrier Reef with the first underwater imagery in Google Maps

From GoogleLatLon 

Today we’re adding the very first underwater panoramic images to Google Maps, the next step in our quest to provide people with the most comprehensive, accurate and usable map of the world.
With these vibrant and stunning photos you don’t have to be a scuba diver—or even know how to swim—to explore and experience six of the ocean’s most incredible living coral reefs.
 Now, anyone can become the next virtual Jacques Cousteau and dive with sea turtles, fish and manta rays in Australia, the Philippines and Hawaii.

Get up close and personal with sea turtles at Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef 
(View Larger Map)

Starting today, you can use Google Maps to find a sea turtle swimming among a school of fish, follow a manta ray and experience the reef at sunset—just as I did on my first dive in the Great Barrier Reef last year.
You can also find out much more about this reef via the World Wonders Project, a website that brings modern and ancient world heritage sites online.
 At Apo Island, a volcanic island and marine reserve in the Philippines, you can see an ancient boulder coral, which may be several hundred years old. 
And in the middle of the Pacific, in Hawaii, you can join snorkelers in Oahu’s Hanauma Bay and drift over the vast coral reef at Maui's Molokini crater.

We’re partnering with The Catlin Seaview Survey, a major scientific study of the world’s reefs, to make these amazing images available to millions of people through the Street View feature of Google Maps.
The Catlin Seaview Survey used a specially designed underwater camera, the SVII, to capture these photos.

The Catlin Seaview Survey team on location on the Great Barrier Reef, encountering a manta ray (View Larger Map)

Whether you’re a marine biologist, an avid scuba diver or a landlocked landlubber, we encourage you to dive in and explore the ocean with Google Maps.
Check out our complete underwater collection, featuring a Google+ underwater Hangout from the Great Barrier Reef.
And you can always explore more imagery from around the world by visiting

Explore more underwater images
Links : 
  • TheGuardian : Google Maps' virtual diving brings the Great Barrier Reef into view
  • BBC : Google adds coral reef panoramas to Street View map
  • TheTelegraph : Google offers virtual Great Barrier Reef tour

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mysterious underwater crop circles

 From DiscoveryNews

A 39-year-old man quits his office job to pursue his dream as an underwater photographer.
He spends the next 30-odd years living la vida aqua, and then one day, he sees something quite remarkable: a circular pattern in the sand beneath the waves, a veritable work of art with valleys and ridges.

other picture (NHK)

But who or what could have made such a thing, so intricate, so far from shore, so ... well, underwater?

Amami-Ōshima (Japan)

The man, whose name is Yoji Ookata, shared the mystery marine art with friends and colleagues from the Japanese broadcaster NHK.
To their shock, they found that it is the work, not of a UFO, not of a hitherto undiscovered tribe of aquatic artisans, but a tiny puffer fish:
The unlikely artist – best known in Japan as a delicacy, albeit a potentially poisonous one – even takes small shells, cracks them, and lines the inner grooves of his sculpture as if decorating his piece.
Further observation revealed that this “mysterious circle” was not just there to make the ocean floor look pretty.

Attracted by the grooves and ridges, female puffer fish would find their way along the dark seabed to the male puffer fish where they would mate and lay eggs in the center of the circle.
In fact, the scientists observed that the more ridges the circle contained, the more likely it was that the female would mate with the male.
The little sea shells weren’t just in vain either.
The observers believe that they serve as vital nutrients to the eggs as they hatch, and to the newborns.

I'll be honest.
When this story first started bouncing around the Twitterverse, I was skeptical:
Nobody had ever seen this behavior or these structures before?
Where is the video?
Who are the scientists?
Is there any kind of peer reviewed study being written?
Was this a hoax?
(I wasn't the only one to be dubious; although, inevitably some folks' skepticism had more to do with the this-has-nothing-to-do-with-UFOs explanation.)

My brother, who lives in Japan, checked the links in the original post and assured me that none of them said "Ha, you've been Rick Rolled" in Japanese.
I checked with a couple of researchers, who responded with the scientific equivalent of "WTF?" (in fact, one of them did actually type, "WTF").
But I haven't seen or heard anyone blow it up yet.

And if it is true - well, it would be fantastic and wonderful and impressive.
But then the natural world frequently astonishes and amazes, particularly when sex is involved.
As Jerry Coyne notes in his "Why Evolution Is Real" blog, "sexual selection is a marvelous thing."
It leads to behaviors like the singing of humpback whales, physical attributes like the plumage of birds-of-paradise; and the building of extraordinarily elaborate structures, like those constructed by the bower birds of Australia and New Guinea - and, it seems, by tiny fish off the coast of Japan.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Brazil DHN update in the Marine GeoGarage

27 have been updated 
(DHN update August 10 & 17)

    • 701     PORTO DE MUCURIPE (Fortaleza)
    • 906     PORTO DE SUAPE
    • 1821     BARRA DE PARANAGUÁ
    • 1908     PORTO DE IMBITUBA
    • 21     ILHA DA TRINDADE
    • 830     PORTO DE CABEDELO
    • 902     PORTO DO RECIFE
    • 1622     BAÍA DE SEPETIBA

    Today 319 charts (369 including sub-charts) from DHN are displayed in the Marine GeoGarage

    The 'big melt' at the roof of the world

    This iceberg, named PII-2012, is beginning to go to pieces off the coast of northwest Greenland after breaking from the Petermann Glacier in mid-July.
    (NASA Earth Observator)

    From BBC

    Dig into the history of polar exploration and you might wonder what all the fuss is about with this month's news of a record sea-ice melt in the Arctic.

    In 1893, the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen ventured through the "titanic forces" of the ice, amid the "howlings and thunderings" of the floes splitting around his ship, the Fram, but then found himself in a stretch of open water.

    The same had happened the day before. And this was within striking distance of the North Pole - Nansen eventually reached 86 degrees North, further than anyone at the time. And no one back then had even thought of global warming.

    The break in the ice surrounding Nansen's ship was not just some narrow channel.
    It "stretched far away towards the northern horizon".
    Naturally, he wanted to head that way.

    Faced with the same scene now, the pressing question for us would be whether that open water might stretch all the way to the roof of the world.

    The prospect of the Pole (also known as the Geographic North Pole or "True North") not being a permanent icy wilderness but instead a sea exposed in summer has been brought significantly closer by the size of this year's melt - and it would mark a monumental change.

    But Nansen had a different question in mind.
    "Could it be land?" he wondered.
    Even then, a little over a century ago, it was still conceivable that some mythical polar continent was waiting to be discovered. Instead, there was no land; only more ice.

    It's easy to forget how recently the Arctic has been explored and how recently scientists have tried to comprehend it.
    The Pole was only reached in 1926 when that other Norwegian hero, Roald Amundsen, flew an airship there from the outpost of Ny Alesund on Svalbard, which I visited earlier this month.
    An earlier claim by the American explorer Robert Peary is widely discounted.

     Ice retreated rapidly in the Parry Channel—part of the famous and elusive Northwest Passage
    acquired July 17, 2012

     Sea Ice Retreats in the Northwest Passage (NASA)
    acquired August 3, 2012

    Big annual variations

    The reality of the Arctic is that the ice is not consistent.
    Nansen noticed it heaving with the tides.
    Atlases convey a solid sheet of unbroken white but this frozen ocean is constantly shifting, breaking apart, reforming, its condition varying massively year by year.

    And the total dark of the polar winter guarantees that much of the sea will freeze whatever happens.
    That is sometimes forgotten in all the talk of a record melt.
    The question is the fate of the ice in summertime: how rapidly it melts and how extensively.

    Gaps in the ice are not significant, nor are very short bursts of melting.
    They did not help the generations of explorers who for several centuries tried and failed to sail through the Northwest Passage, a sea route linking the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Canadian arctic.

    Even in 2007, when the previous record for melting was set, and satellite pictures showed the passage to be entirely clear of ice, there was only a short period of open water.

    When I sailed through the passage on a Canadian icebreaker, the Amundsen, in October that year, we encountered huge floes of thick ice.

    The warming had indeed achieved massive melting.
    But it had also dislodged vast chunks of ice from around the Pole and they had drifted south into our path.
    The clanging of metal on ice resounded through the hull.
    The Arctic is not straightforward.

    What matters is the overall pattern of freezing and melting, and how that is changing.

     Icebergs off Western Greenland
    (NASA acquired 2005)

    In southern Greenland, back in July 2004, a local man - Ferdinand Egede - dug into the soft earth of a field to show me something he'd never expected to see in his lifetime: potatoes.

    They were creamy-white and unblemished, the fruit of a warming Arctic.
    Now the newspapers say Greenlanders are even growing strawberries.

    In Alaska, in September 2008, the US Coast Guard had just started operations in the Arctic and we joined a C-130 patrol flight to Barrow.

    On board, a rather macho admiral bellowed over the intercom that he didn't care about global warming - but his job was to keep watch over the waters around the US and there was now a lot of water where there used to be ice.

    Scientists stunned

    None of this means the ice will vanish overnight. Earlier this month, at Ny Alesund, I went aboard the Norwegian Polar Institute's research vessel, the Lance.

    It had been investigating the area between Svalbard and Greenland, known as the Fram Strait, named after Nansen's ship.
    The strait is the exit route from the Arctic Ocean, a current carrying the floes south into the Atlantic.
    The scientists were stunned by the overall melt across the region but much of their time had been spent surrounded by ice.

    So is it scaremongering to report on this new record?
    Several people have suggested I should mention how the sea ice around Antarctica has expanded this year.
    It has, but Antarctica is a continent isolated by an ocean with its own unique and incredibly cold weather.

    The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land where even small rises in temperature can cross the threshold between freezing and thawing so it's far more responsive to change.

    Others say I'm underplaying the risks, that the record set this summer is tantamount to a planetary meltdown, an emergency.

    New images Nasa show reveal the full extent of Arctic ice shrinkage, showing a new record low compared to the average minimum extent over the past 30 years (in yellow).

    I think we should be guided by the hard facts of observation.
    We know very reliably that the extent of melting has increased massively not just this year but also that it is part of a trend of decline in the sea ice over the past three decades.

    This year's melt has left the Arctic with half the ice it has had on average in Septembers of the past 30 years.
    By a rough reckoning, that difference amounts to a dozen United Kingdoms.

    We also know there is good evidence that the remaining ice is getting thinner and therefore weaker.
    But we do not know when the day will come when a ship might sail across the top of the world without bumping into any ice at all.
    We are heading that way, and faster than expected; a profoundly important prospect - but we cannot be sure if it will be as soon as this decade or later.

    Nansen wrote of "moonlit vapour rising from open water".
    Satellite pictures could show him the vast tracts of ocean where the floes have disappeared.
    There was too much ice for him to reach the Pole.
    He'd have a far better chance now.

    Links :
    • DailyMail : Arctic ice reaches record low as it shrinks to just HALF the size it was in the 1980s
    • TheGuardian : How record sea ice melt is changing life for Greenlanders

    Monday, September 24, 2012

    Rules halt program using 'ghost fleet' ships as artificial reefs

    Aerial, on-board and underwater video of the sinking of the 2nd largest artificial reef just off the coast of Key West.
    This 13-year project to create a new artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary finally ended May 27, 2009, with the intentional sinking of the former missile-tracking ship the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg.
    The 523-foot-long ship is situated about seven miles south of Key West.
    The bottom of the ships hull rests on sand at depths between 140 and 150 feet.
    But the ship is so massive that the superstructure extends to about 45 feet below the surface.
    Even though the process to acquire, fund, permit, rid the Vandenberg of potential environmental contaminants and tow her to Key West took 13 years, only a minute and fifty four seconds were needed to sink her after a demolition team ignited forty four explosives cutting charges.

    From PilotOnline

    The U.S. Maritime Administration has adopted new rules that, for now, effectively end a high-profile program for getting rid of old ships by making them into artificial reefs.

    The federal agency once trumpeted its reefing program as an environmentally responsible alternative for disposing of junk behemoths by stripping them down and sinking them offshore, where they often became popular destinations for fishermen and divers.

    Several unwanted ships owned by the agency - including two from the James River Reserve Fleet, better known as the "ghost fleet" - were converted into metallic reefs after being prepared and purged of toxic innards at local shipyards.

    >>> geolocalization with the Marine GeoGarage <<<

    But the Maritime Administration recently changed two standards that, taken together, removed all remaining junk ships as possible reef candidates.
    Curt Michanczyk, director of ship disposal for the agency, a branch of the Department of Transportation, said Wednesday that the program still exists, just that none of the 40 anchored vessels at reserve fleets in Virginia, California and Texas qualify.

     The sun sets over the James River Fleet, otherwise known as the Ghost Fleet,
    on Thursday, Oct. 28, 2010. (Amanda Lucier | The Virginian-Pilot)

    Only 12 obsolete ships are left at the James River fleet, off Fort Eustis in Newport News, where there used to be more than 100 less than a decade ago.
    Most have been towed away to salvage yards and recycled for scrap metal and steel.

    Chief among the changes is a rule that all ships built before 1985 no longer can be sunk as reefs.
    The rule is targeted at curtailing PCBs, a highly toxic class of chemicals that, before 1985, often were found in ship wiring, insulation, gaskets and paint.

    Several environmental groups applauded the changes, saying they will end a program that for too long allowed toxic remnants to pollute the ocean.
    "The Obama administration got this one right," said Colby Self, an activist with the Basel Action Network, a Seattle-based group that has lobbied against reefing for years.
    "They should be commended for putting in place a more conservative policy that protects our resources, our jobs, as well as the marine environment."

    The Navy also runs a reefing program.
    In the past two years, it has watched as coastal states sunk a former destroyer, the Arthur Radford, and a former aircraft carrier, the Oriskany, off the Atlantic coast as recreational venues, according to a spokesman.
    Lt. Cmdr. Paul Macapagal said Wednesday that there are no changes planned in the program, though no ships are in line to become reefs.

    Nor are changes expected in another disposal initiative that is similarly protested by the Basel Action Network - using old ships as target practice for warplanes.
    Macapagal said four ships were destroyed under the SINKEX program last year, all in the Pacific.
    No actions are planned in 2013, he added.

    Divers marked the 10th anniversary of the conversion of a retired Navy ship
    into an artificial reef in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

    Changes by the Maritime Administration also are not expected to alter reefing efforts at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.
    The state agency has created numerous artificial reefs over the years in the ocean and the Chesapeake Bay, made from old ships, outdated commuter train cars and Army surplus vehicles, among other items.
    The focus today is not on ships but on concrete, said Mike Meier, who coordinates the program for the state marine commission.
    "We're using clean demo concrete, primarily in the Bay," Meier said.
    "We've gotten away from using ships."

    The Maritime Administration adopted its new rules in late May but did not publicly air them until recently - after the Basel Action Network issued a news release claiming victory in its long-running debate over ship disposal and reefing.
    Michanczyk, the agency's ship disposal director, said the new rules were viewed as "business changes, a management change" and were not announced publicly.

    Sunday, September 23, 2012

    Waves of Southern Ocean

    Filmed in Storm Bay, Tasmania.
    Tasmania is an island State off the South Eastern tip of Australia.
    The surf here can be as good as anywhere; from the wild and powerful swells of the west coast - uninterrupted all the way to South Africa - to the refined swells of the East breaking at reefs, points and river mouths from one end of the coast to the other, and then there's the perfect points of Storm Bay.
    Clean waves can also be found at white sandy beaches all around the State; somewhere is always offshore.

    >>> geolocalization with the Marine GeoGarage <<<