Saturday, October 2, 2021

World First: Ocean drone captures video from inside a category 4 hurricane

NOAA and Saildrone are collecting scientific data from inside Hurricane Sam.

(Sept. 30, 2021 – ATLANTIC OCEAN) – Saildrone Inc. and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have released the first video footage gathered by an uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) from inside a major hurricane barreling across the Atlantic Ocean.

The Saildrone Explorer SD 1045 was directed into the midst of Hurricane Sam, which is currently on a path that fortunately will miss the US East Coast. SD 1045 is battling 50-foot waves and winds of over 120 mph to collect critical scientific data and, in the process, is giving us a completely new view of one of Earth’s most destructive forces.

Equipped with a specially designed “hurricane wing” enabling it to operate in extreme wind conditions, SD 1045 is braving Hurricane Sam in the open ocean, collecting real-time observations for numerical hurricane prediction models, which are expected to yield new insights into how large and destructive tropical cyclones grow and intensify.

SD 1045 is one of a fleet of five “hurricane” saildrones that have been operating in the Atlantic Ocean during this hurricane season, gathering data around the clock to help understand the physical processes of hurricanes.

This knowledge is critical to improving storm forecasting and is expected to reduce loss of human life through allowing better preparedness in coastal communities.

“Saildrone is going where no research vessel has ever ventured, sailing right into the eye of the hurricane, gathering data that will transform our understanding of these powerful storms,” said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO. 

“After conquering the Arctic and the Southern Ocean, hurricanes were the last frontier for Saildrone survivability. We are proud to have engineered a vehicle capable of operating in the most extreme weather conditions on earth.”

The saildrones provide data directly to NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) and Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), Saildrone’s partners in this mission.

“Using data collected by saildrones, we expect to improve forecast models that predict rapid intensification of hurricanes,” said Greg Foltz, a NOAA scientist. 

“Rapid intensification, when hurricane winds strengthen in a matter of hours, is a serious threat to coastal communities. New data from saildrones and other uncrewed systems that NOAA is using will help us better predict the forces that drive hurricanes and be able to warn communities earlier.”

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Thursday, September 30, 2021

Race to the bottom: the disastrous blindfolded rush to mine the deep sea

Cutting machines developed for deep-sea mining.
Mining today is often from mega-pits so big they can be seen from space, but they are governed by laws drawn up 150 years ago in the era of picks and shovels.
Photograph: Nautilus Minera

From The Guardian by Jonathan Watts

One of the largest mining operations ever seen on Earth aims to despoil an ocean we are only barely beginning to understand

Ashort bureaucratic note from a brutally degraded microstate in the South Pacific to a little-known institution in the Caribbean is about to change the world.
Few people are aware of its potential consequences, but the impacts are certain to be far-reaching.
The only question is whether that change will be to the detriment of the global environment or the benefit of international governance.

In late June, the island republic of Nauru informed the International Seabed Authority (ISA) based in Kingston, Jamaica of its intention to start mining the seabed in two years’ time via a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, The Metals Company (TMC, until recently known as DeepGreen).
Innocuous as it sounds, this note was a starting gun for a resource race on the planet’s last vast frontier: the abyssal plains that stretch between continental shelves deep below the oceans.

In the three months since it was fired, the sound of that shot has reverberated through government offices, conservation movements and scientific academies, and is now starting to reach a wider public, who are asking how the fate of the greatest of global commons can be decided by a sponsorship deal between a tiny island and a multinational mining corporation.

The risks are enormous.
Oversight is almost impossible.
Regulators admit humanity knows more about deep space than the deep ocean.
The technology is unproven.
Scientists are not even sure what lives in those profound ecosystems.
State governments have yet to agree on a rulebook on how deep oceans can be exploited.
No national ballot has ever included a vote on excavating the seabed.
Conservationists, including David Attenborough and Chris Packham, argue it is reckless to go ahead with so much uncertainty and such potential devastation ahead.

 Louisa Casson, an oceans campaigner at Greenpeace International, says the two-year deadline is “really dangerous”.
Given the potential risks of fisheries disturbance, water contamination, sound pollution and habitat destruction for dumbo octopuses, sea pangolins and other species, she says no new licences should be approved.
“This is now a test of governments who claim to want to protect the oceans,” she said.
“They simply cannot allow these reckless companies to rush headlong into a race to the bottom, where little-known ecosystems will be ploughed up for profit, and the risks and liabilities will be pushed on to small island nations.
We need an urgent deep-sea mining moratorium to protect the oceans.”

Mining companies also insist on urgency – to start exploration.
They say the minerals – copper, cobalt, nickel and manganese – are essential for a green transition.
If the world wants to decarbonise and reach net-zero emissions by 2050, they say we must start extracting the resources for car batteries and wind turbines soon.
They already have exploration permits for an expanse of international seabed as large as France and Germany combined, an area that is likely to expand rapidly.
All they need now is a set of internationally agreed operating rules.
The rulebook is being drawn up by the ISA, set up in 1994 by the United Nations to oversee sustainable seabed exploration for the benefit of all humanity.
But progress is slower than mining companies and their investors would like.

That is why Nauru’s action is pivotal.
By triggering the “two-year rule”, the island nation has in effect given regulators 24 months to finish the rulebook.
At that point, it says TMC’s subsidiary Nauru Ocean Resources Inc (NORI), intends to apply for approval to begin mining in the Clarion-Clipperton zone, an expanse of the North Pacific between Hawaii and Mexico.

The deep ocean is the least known environment on Earth, a realm that still inspires awe and wonder.
By one estimate, 90% of the species that researchers collect are new to science, including the pale “ghost” octopus that lays its eggs on sponge stalks anchored to manganese nodules or the single-celled, tennis-ball sized Xenophyophores.
In the midnight, hadal and abyssal zones, fish and other creatures must make their own light.
Biolumescent loosejaw and humpback blackdevils, a type of anglerfish, have evolved with in-built lanterns to seek out and draw in their prey.
First-time human visitors often go expecting darkness and return filled with wonder at the undersea displays of living fireworks.
Marine biologists believe there may be more bioluminescent creatures in the deep sea than there are species on land.

There is also thought to be a greater wealth of minerals such as copper, nickel, cobalt and rare earth elements such as yttrium, as well as substantial veins of gold, silver and platinum.
Most are found near hydrothermal vents or in rock concretions known as polymetallic nodules that can be as big as a fist or as small as a fleck of skin.
The challenge is gouging them out and lifting them up to the surface.
When the first attempts were made to harvest nodules in the mid-1970s, the chief executive in charge of the operation exasperatedly described the task as like “standing on the top of the Empire State Building, trying to pick up small stones on the sidewalk using a long straw, at night”.
Today’s technology has moved on, but scientists and conservationists doubt that it is ready and the environmental risks are fully understood.
They would like more time.
Nauru and TMC have given them less.
The countdown clock now has 21 months left, and counting.

History does not offer much encouragement to the denizens of the deep that the issue will be resolved in their favour.
Mining has provided the building blocks of civilisation.
Without ore, humankind could not have had the iron age, the bronze age and certainly not the great cultures of ancient China, Nubia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Aztecs or Mayans.
In modern times, particularly the great post-second world war acceleration of the past 70 years, more has probably been gouged from the Earth than in all of previous human history combined.

The materials for a built and manufactured environment are extracted at the expense of natural beauty, resilience and stability.
For most of human history, this was considered a fair trade-off.
The costs – cleared forests, scarred landscapes, polluted water, air filled with dust, carcinogens and greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere – were either unknown or deemed small compared with the gains.
They rarely appeared on corporate or national balance sheets.
Miners extracted oil, gas, coal, iron, gold, copper, lithium and other minerals, while leaving other species, remote communities and future generations to pay the price.

‘Any claim of not being environmentally damaging is meaningless, as we have no idea now what that environment is’ ...
a grabber breaks off a section of hydrothermal vent.
Photograph: Nautilus minerals

‘A throwback to the robber baron era’

Mining has often proved a trade based on imported resources and exported risk.
In recent decades, this trade-off has come into question as scientific knowledge of the consequences has advanced.
Environmental concerns have prompted calls for stricter regulation.
But, oversight, if it exists at all, is often shaped by those who stand to benefit in the short term rather than those left to clean up the mess.
And mines are moving further from power centres, which means less likelihood of Nimby protests, media coverage, challenges by conservationists or legal redress.
Most of today’s mega-mines are in remote regions: the Carajás iron-ore complex and the Paragominas bauxite mine in the state of Pará, northern Brazil; the Oyu Tolgoi copper mine in Mongolia’s Gobi desert; Bingham Canyon copper mine in Utah’s Oquirrh Mountains; Chuquicamata copper mine in Chile’s Atacama desert; Mirny mine in Siberian Russia; or the many offshore oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

If mining in the deep ocean is technologically challenging and expensive, then independent oversight is even tougher: beyond all national jurisdictions, too expensive for environmental organisations to reach, too inaccessible for all but invited journalists to visit, and totally free of people so no chance of hold-ups by protesters.
Fish, crustaceans and microbes might suffer, but they cannot complain.

Just like almost every other mining project in history, TMC and other mining companies promise to maintain the highest environmental standards, and to operate within guidelines laid out by regulatory bodies.
And just like almost every other mining project in history, it is in their interest to exert pressure on those same regulatory bodies to ensure projects go ahead quickly with environmental standards that do not sink their bottom line.

Payal Sampat, mining programme director at the Earthworks environmental charity, said the rushed approach to deep-sea mining was reminiscent of the wild-west prospectors of the 19th century.
“This really is a throwback to the early robber baron era.
Our global heritage is being decided in small backroom discussions.
Most people are completely unaware that this enormous planet-changing decision is being made.
It is very non-transparent.” She said the mining industry had never been properly regulated.
Today’s mega-pits are so big they can be seen from space, but they are governed by laws drawn up 150 years ago in the era of picks and shovels.
“Deep-sea mining really represents a continuation of that destructive extractivist mindset.
It is all about looking at the next frontier rather than using the resources we already have much better.”

‘Nauru was once a tropical paradise.
Now, thanks to human avarice and short-sightedness, our island is mostly a wasteland’ ...
former minister of Nauru, which was scarred by phosphate mining.
Photograph: Reuters

The wasteland

Nauru ought to provide a salutary reminder of the destructive spiral that follows when an ecosystem is sucked dry.
Once described as a Pacific idyll, the island’s topsoil was stripped of phosphate first by the British, then the Germans, then New Zealanders and Australians.
They wanted the deposits to fertilise gardens and farmland in their own countries, and promised to restore the landscape and fully compensate those affected by environmental damage.
By the time of independence in 1968, enough phosphate was left to briefly make the country’s 12,000 inhabitants the second-richest people on Earth.
As phosphate prices rose from $10 a ton to more than $65 in the 1970s, gross domestic product per capita topped $50,000, second only to Saudi Arabia.

But within two decades, the resource was virtually exhausted, leaving an inland moonscape of gnarled, spiky rock and an economy in tatters.
Restitution funds were supposed to rehabilitate 400 hectares (1,000 acres), but they have been frittered away in the past 25 years with barely six hectares recovered.

The gutting of the topsoil has caused unforeseen problems to the local climate, vegetation and society.
Loss of vegetation has prevented rain clouds from forming over the island and led to more droughts.
Several endemic plant species are now endangered and food production has been affected.
Locals have turned from healthy local produce, such as coconuts, to fatty and salty tinned goods, resulting in one of the highest levels of obesity, heart disease and diabetes in the world.
As one former finance minister put it: “Nauru was once a tropical paradise, a rainforest hung with fruits and flowers, vines and orchids.
Now, thanks to human avarice … and short-sightedness, our island is mostly a wasteland.”

The 12,000 inhabitants have resisted repeated attempts to relocate them to an island off Queensland and looked for new ways to make a living.
After the economy collapsed, the desperate government turned to offshore banking.
But with customers that included the Russian mafia and al-Qaida, the US Treasury blacklisted the island as a centre of money laundering and corruption.
After that failure, the microstate rented itself out to Australia as a detention centre for asylum seekers, a business that now provides more than half of the state revenue.
When that declined, Nauru began to eye up the surrounding seabed by teaming up with TMC, which is paying tens of millions of dollars a year in royalties for its fully owned NORI subsidiary.

At the ISA, Nauru is supposed to be a sponsor nation for TMC.
In reality, the island acts more like a client state for the corporation, and a company executive can behave as its spokesperson.
In 2019, as chairman of DeepGreen Metals, Gerard Barron, was listed as a member of the Nauru delegation and spoke from the island’s seat in the plenary meeting.

Gerard Barron says The Metals Company would halt production after the world has enough minerals for 2bn batteries, though critics are sceptical about this promise.
Photograph: Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock

Little wonder then that eyebrows were raised when this tiny nation, which constitutes just 0.00016% of the world’s population, took the initiative to open up the seabed.
Few observers doubt that this was done at the behest of TMC.

Matthew Gianni, co-founder of the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition, said: “This is all about money – money for DeepGreen [TMC] and its shareholders and money for Nauru – and the fear that if DeepGreen doesn’t get a licence soon, investors will walk away from the company and both DeepGreen and Nauru will lose out on any revenue.” He said the case showed the need to shake up international governance.
“The ISA’s decision-making process is seriously flawed and needs to be fixed.”

In lieu of comment, The Metals Company referred questions to three external experts that it said specialised in deep-sea ecosystems and plume dynamics.

TMC is among a cluster of mining companies that argue seabed minerals are essential if the world is to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
Barron, its chief executive and chairman, is fond of stating that a single 75kW electric vehicle battery requires 56kg of nickel and 7kg each of manganese and cobalt, plus 85kg of copper for the vehicle’s wiring.
To convert the world’s 1bn-plus combustion-engine cars to electric would require far more metal than is currently produced on land.
Barron says tapping seabed resources would still not close the supply gap, but that it could accelerate the transition, reduce mining emissions and provide revenue for poorer countries.
As a sign of TMC’s commitment to the environment, he says the company would halt production after the world has enough minerals for 2bn batteries, because that would be enough to allow full recycling.
Once you start, it'll be hard to stop.
Mining needs 30 years to recoup investment.
It’s not something you put back in the boxLisa Levin, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

But many battery-makers and industrial users are lining up with the conservationists rather than the miners.
In April, BMW, Volvo, Google and Samsung joined a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) call for a moratorium on seabed mining.
Scientists and campaigners say TMC is creating a false sense of urgency about the need for deep-sea minerals.
They say existing mineral supplies are sufficient for the coming 10 years and after that much of the demand could be met by fast-improving recycling technology.
Others are sceptical about the promise of a 2bn battery cap.
Lisa Levin, a professor of biological oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said: “Once you start up a new industry it won’t just be DeepGreen [TMC], it will be multiple countries.
It will be very hard to stop.
Mining needs to continue for 20 or 30 years to recoup investment.
It’s not something you put back in the box.”

A 2015 meeting of the International Seabed Authority (ISA) in Kingston, Jamaica.
Photograph: David McFadden/AP

Who are the ISA?

Many observers accept that deep-sea mining will go ahead at some point.
But it needs to be done carefully, after the risks are fully assessed, the technology is perfected and oversight systems are made as robust as possible to ensure minimal impact on ocean ecosystems.
The world might have more confidence that this was the case if the regulatory body was more open, more democratic, less focused on commercial gain and more attuned to environmental loss.
As it is, however, the ISA is geared towards ploughing ahead.

It held its first meeting in Kingston, Jamaica, on 16-18 November 1994.
The venue for this and subsequent gatherings was the Jamaica Conference Centre, which boasts of being “the Caribbean’s most sophisticated meeting place”.
In the heat outside, angular concrete lines stand out between palm trees and fountains.
Inside, the air-conditioned conference centre is decorated with bright hand-woven panels.
This is a multinational world where you pay in dollars.
ISA delegates roll up in diplomatic limousines, some with little flags on the bonnet, and congregate between meeting rooms, the marble lobby, and over cocktails in bars looking out across the Caribbean.
In the evenings, delegates and contractors are invited to soirees hosted by the Jamaican government or dinner at the mansion of the ISA secretary general, Michael Lodge, high on the hill overlooking the harbour.

Lodge, a British lawyer, wants member states to agree on a rulebook that will set standards for mining practices and allow commercial operations to begin.
Discussions on this topic have been under way since 2017, but have been snarled up over how to share future mining proceeds among nations.
The ISA prefers to treat this as a technocratic problem.
But, as the intervention of Nauru has shown, this is about much more fundamental issues of global governance and politics.
Does the world want to be pushed into the final frontier of the global commons by a desperate microstate and a multinational mining company? Is it willing to take the risk that the ocean floor will end up like Nauru, a victim of over-exploitation and false promises of restoration?

Archive documents show corporations have tried to influence the ISA since its inception.
In the 1980s, multinational corporations, such as Lockheed Martin and Sumitomo, were lobbying governments to ensure the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea “should contain a bias in favour of mining production”.

The UN general assembly subsequently approved the funding of the ISA in 1994, noting that the ocean floor and subsoil, beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, were the common heritage of humanity and should be dealt with in line with “the growing reliance on market principles”.
Other species and ecosystems were an afterthought.
To circumvent regulatory hold-ups, wealthy nations also pushed for a “two-year rule” that could be initiated by any country.
Once that process begins, the onus shifts to the regulators to adopt exploitation regulations within 24 months.

In theory, every country in the world is involved in the ISA’s decision-making.
In practice, power lies with a small group of experts that is weighted in favour of mining.
There is no specialist environmental or science assessment group to vet applications for new contracts.
Instead, new contracts are initially made by the ISA’s Legal and Technical Commission(LTC), which comprises just 30 members.
Their decisions can only be overturned by a super-majority of two thirds of the full council, which comprises 36 states.

The commission has a 100% record of approving exploration applications, for which ISA charges a $500,000 (£365,000) processing fee.
Membership of the LTC is skewed towards extraction rather than environmental oversight – a fifth of the members work directly for contractors with deep-sea mining projects.
They include Nobuyuki Okamoto, who established Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation, which has started its own seafloor exploration, and Carsten Rühlemann, who works for Germany’s Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, which holds exploration contracts in the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
Many others have a background in mining or oil and gas exploration.
Among them are the chair of the commission, Harald Brekke, who is a senior geologist at the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate; Pakistan’s representative, Khalid Mehmood Awan, who has worked for offshore oil and gas companies; and an Australian geologist, Mark Alcock, who is listed as working previously in surveying for petroleum and minerals exploration.
By comparison, only three members are obviously focused on marine ecosystems, such as Gordon Lindsay Paterson, a zoologist at the Natural History Museum in London.

A spokesperson for the ISA said: “Members of the LTC are elected by the council from among the candidates nominated by states parties to UNCLOS [United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea].
States parties shall nominate candidates of the highest standards of competence and integrity with qualifications in relevant fields.
The council shall endeavour to ensure that the membership of the LTC reflects all appropriate qualifications.
In the election of members of the LTC, due account shall be taken of the need for equitable geographical distribution and the representation of special interests.”

It added that 31 contracts for exploration had been granted so far and the “evaluation by the LTC of an application for a plan of work for exploration is a rigorous process”.

Deep-sea mining off the Papua New Guinea coast.
Photograph: Nautilus Minerals

Some members of the LTC privately recognise the need for change, so the risks to this vast new area of exploration can be properly evaluated.
“We probably know more about outer space than we do about this [deep-sea] frontier,” said a delegate who asked to remain anonymous.
“I have heard suggestions for more environmental oversight, and I cannot say I have a contrary view.”

It is not just small island states that are complicit.
Seabed resources are supposed to benefit all of humanity and promote sustainable development, but just three companies from wealthy nations have a hand in eight of the 10 contracts to explore for minerals in the Pacific’s Clarion-Clipperton zone that have been awarded since 2010: the Canadian-registered TMC (formerly DeepGreen), the Belgian corporation Dredging Environmental and Marine Engineering (DEME), and UK Seabed Resources, a subsidiary of the US arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

The role of these companies is opaque.
None of the parent companies are included by the ISA in its list of contractors.
A common practice is to operate through subsidiaries or by taking shares in partners in small island states, often in conjunction with national governments.
This leads to concerns about accountability in the event of an accident: the subsidiaries are often small, which could leave poor nations with huge liabilities.

The British government has fudged its response to Nauru pulling the two-year trigger.
This seems appropriate for a former colonial power that is still struggling to match its claims for environmental leadership with actions that run against its continued dependence on exploiting overseas resources.
In 2019, the House of Commons environmental audit committee, including the Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, now Lord Goldsmith and minister for Pacific and the environment, concluded that deep-sea mining would have “catastrophic impacts on the seafloor”; that the ISA benefiting from revenues from issuing mining licenses was “a clear conflict of interest” and that the case for deep-sea mining had not yet been made.

Any claim of not being environmentally damaging is meaningless, as we have no idea now what that environment isWill McCallum, Greenpeace

However, ties between the UK government and the deep-sea mining industry have been unhealthily cosy.
A Cabinet Office official has moved to Lockheed Martin, which owns UK Seabed Resources, to head their government affairs department.
The former prime minister David Cameron used Lockheed Martin’s estimates of the potential value of the deep-sea mining industry, rather than independent analysis.
When Greenpeace was finally granted a freedom of information request for the deep-sea mining licences between the British government and UK Seabed Resources, it found it was “riddled with errors and inaccuracies”, that it was based on outdated legislation and that it extended for a duration beyond the limits permitted by UK law.

When asked a parliamentary question about Nauru and the two-year trigger, the then business minister Nadhim Zahawi refused to support a moratorium and said the UK’s position was to wait for sufficient scientific evidence and strong environmental regulations.
Zahawi has a deeper background in mineral exploration than any other MP.
Before he joined the government, he received more than £1m in salary and bonuses from Gulf Keystone Petroleum, worked as a consultant for the Canadian oil firm Talisman and declared shares in the oil firm Genel Energy and Gulf Keystone.
There is no suggestion of wrongdoing but – like many members of the LTC – he may be predisposed towards the extractive industries, having made a living from them for so many years.

Activists say it is not too late to stop the clock; opposition is gaining momentum.
The world congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature earlier this month voted overwhelmingly to ban deep-sea mining.
Support for the motion came from government delegates as well as civil society.
Although the vote is non-binding, it highlights the broad unease at the shotgun tactics of Nauru and TMC.
There are also plans for an appeal to another UN body, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, against allowing deep-sea mining.

Hydrothermal vents in the Lau Basin, near Fiji.
Photograph: Charles Fisher/Pennsylvania State University/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute
Our common heritage

Few countries are outright opposed to the mining, but many would prefer to wait.
Their motives differ widely.
On one side are nations such as Costa Rica, Fiji and Germany that are wary about the environmental implications.
On the other are nations such as Chile and many African countries, with strong terrestrial mining interests, that do not want to see more competition that could drive down prices for their minerals.
The African Group of nations has come out strongly against Nauru’s move, saying it is “likely to weaken rather than facilitate the development of an effective regime fully embodying the common heritage of mankind principle”.

Academics and civil society groups believe TMC has overplayed its hand.
They hope its premature move to set a deadline will spur reforms of the ISA.
Pradeep Singh, an ISA observer and ocean expert at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, said: “It does not say too much about the ISA decision-making process, to be honest, except that it is regrettable that the provision has been invoked.
Perhaps the timing of the move to invoke the provision is less related to actually getting the process moving at the ISA but more related to increasing market confidence or value, and attracting investors to invest in the contractor.”

The case raises still deeper questions about humanity’s treatment of the Earth, particularly the dangerous gap between caring for our immediate local environment while turning a blind eye to what happens in the planet’s more remote corners.
The French philosopher Bruno Latour traces this back to colonial thinking, which continues in present-day neoliberal capitalism.
“Every state delineated by its borders is obliged, by definition, to lie about what allows it to exist since, if it is wealthy and developed, it has to expand over other territories on the quiet, though without seeing itself as being responsible for those territories in any way,” he writes in his new book After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis.
“That’s a basic hypocrisy that creates a disconnect between, on the one hand, the world I live in as a citizen of a developed country, and, on the other, the world I live off, as a consumer of the same country.
As if every state was coupled with a shadow state that never stopped haunting it, a doppelganger that provides for it on the one hand and is devoured by it, on the other.”

A pithier argument is made by Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, who fears the deep sea will suffer like all other newly opened territories.
“Any claim of not being environmentally damaging is meaningless, as we have no idea now what that environment is,” he said.

“We have never entered a frontier and not fucked it up more.”

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Fishing rights row: French anger as UK rejects most permits

French fishing vessels demonstrate in St. Helier, the capital of the Channel Island of Jersey, 
on May 6, 2021. 
Sameer Al-Doumy / AFP

From The Guardian by Chris Morris

Fresh tensions have surfaced between Britain and France over post-Brexit fishing rights.

In the latest round of applications, the UK granted just 12 licences from 47 bids for smaller vessels to fish in its territorial waters.

French sea minister Annick Girardin reportedly said: "French fishing must not be taken hostage by the British for political ends."

Meanwhile, Jersey refused licences to 75 French fishing boats.

The UK said it would consider further evidence to support remaining bids for fishing rights.

Overall, the UK has granted 117 EU licences for its inshore territorial waters and almost 1,700 EU vessels have been licensed to fish in the larger UK exclusive economic one, which stretches 200 nautical miles from shore.

Ms Girardin, quoted in French newspaper Le Monde, said: "It is a new refusal of the British to apply the conditions of the Brexit accord despite all the work undertaken together.
"I have only one watchword; to obtain definitive licences for our fishermen as the accord foresees."

Fishing was one of the most contentious issues in the post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and the EU, and it continues to be a source of tension.

Both sides have substantial bargaining chips: many European boats have traditionally relied on fishing in British waters, while many British companies rely on selling their catch in European markets.

There is a particular focus on the number of French boats that will be able to fish in British waters in the English Channel, and around the Channel Islands.

The French Prime Minister Jean Castex recently sent a letter to the President of the European Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen warning that the problem was far from over - so, a local dispute could quickly become a broader European issue.

After protests by French vessels in the waters around Jersey in May, the deadline for foreign boats to submit evidence that they have fished near Jersey in the past (which helps determine future access) was extended until the end of this month.
"Le Dolmen", a trawler based in Lorient, fishing in the North Sea on 7 December 2020.
But it's safe to say that France won't be impressed by the rejection of 75 boats.

Sporadic squabbling about how the new UK-EU trade agreement should be implemented looks set to rumble on for years, placing a nagging strain on what should be a close relationship.

A spokesman for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the UK's approach "has been reasonable and fully in line with our commitments in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA)".

The spokesman said that to get a licence for fishing in the UK territorial sea, which is between six and 12 nautical miles from the coast, EU vessels must provide evidence of a track record of working there.

It comes as Jersey said it had granted 64 licences out of 170 applications from French boats.

A further 31 boats have been given temporary licences to give them more time to show they have a track record of fishing in Jersey's waters, in line with the UK's post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.

The remaining 75 boats are being given 30 days' notice, after which they will no longer be allowed access to the island's waters.

Jersey became a flashpoint for tensions over fishing rights in May, when two Royal Navy ships were sent to patrol the area after French fishermen staged a protest outside the port of St Helier.

The fishermen complained about being prevented from operating in British waters because of difficulties in obtaining licences.

Under an agreement with the EU, French boat operators must show a history of fishing in the area to receive a licence for Jersey's waters.
But it has been claimed additional requirements were added without notice.

The row led Ms Girardin to threaten to cut off Jersey's electricity supply - 95% of which is delivered by three underwater cables from France.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The sea is not made of water by Adam Nicolson review – of mollusc and men

Digging deep: Adam Nicolson in Argyllshire. Photograph: Sarah Raven

From The Guardian by Alex Preston

This lyrical dive into rock pools illuminates the interconnectedness of all natural habitats

There’s a WTF moment about a third of the way through Adam Nicolson’s new book, The Sea Is Not Made of Water.
The first chapters largely follow in the footsteps of his last book of nature writing, The Seabird’s Cry, applying the same characteristic form of lyrical scientific investigation into the creatures of the rock pool that he’d deployed on the birds of the cliffs and wide oceans.
The opening section of this book is called Animals and we leap from sand hopper to winkle to prawn, understanding the complex interconnectedness of these underexamined lives, learning a new and perspective-altering fact on every page.
Then, all of a sudden, there’s a chapter on the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus.

It’s a segment of exquisite beauty, a bravura act of writing that seems not only to provide a model for the rest of this book, but changes the way you understand the whole dizzying Nicolson oeuvre.
This is a writer who has moved from memoir to literary criticism to nature writing via The Mighty Dead, one of the best books on Homer ever written.
In his chapter on Heraclitus, Nicolson reads a rock pool through the work of the great philosopher, bringing to the crucible of tidal life “a systemic understanding whose wholeness relies on its union of opposites”.
We begin to understand that the thread that links Nicolson’s books is precisely this – a philosopher’s wish to provide a way of comprehending the place of the individual in a vast and shifting world, the quest for a good life, the search for new answers to old questions.
The chapter on prawns makes us consider whether invertebrates have a consciousness, a right to dignity in life and death

The Sea Is Not Made of Water takes the reader on several journeys.
First, there is the contemporary story of Nicolson, in his 60s, deciding to dig rock pools on the shore near his wife’s family home in Argyllshire.
Nicolson writes off for official permission for his project and is slightly wounded to receive a response saying that he ought not to have bothered, as “they do not appear to be any different to anything built by local children during the holidays”.
Undeterred, Nicolson seizes his pickaxe and waterproof cement and sets to work.
The first pool fails – it is too far out of the water – but the next ones don’t, and are soon full of scintillating life.

With life comes drama.
There’s the slow-motion battle between two anemones – red foot and blue foot; there’s the self-sacrifice of young winkles so that their elders can escape (“the winkles speeded up from about an eighth of an inch a minute to about half an inch a minute, running for the hills”); there’s the remarkably tender, week-long lovemaking of green crabs.
The chapter on prawns is one of the best, doing for the cockroaches of the sea what David Foster Wallace did for their big brothers in his wonderful essay Consider the Lobster, making us consider whether invertebrates have a consciousness, a sense of self, a right to dignity in life and death.

The real journey of The Sea Is Not Made of Water occurs in its second and third parts, though.
We come to recognise that the chapters on rock pools have only been a rehearsal, a study for what is to come.
From the Lilliputian intimacy of the rock pool we spool out to chapters on the tides and the formation of rocks – vast in space and time, vertiginous in their scope and ambition.
The last part of the book provides a history of the humans who inhabited this wild and rocky Scottish shore from pre-history to the present, with Nicolson applying the same sympathetic scientific curiosity to these lives that he gave to the winkles. 
“Life is tidal, full of loss and arrival, a thing that makes and ebbs,” he writes at one point, and this is what we take away from the book – that we are all in rock pools, knitted within complex systems. We are part of nature, not separate from it.

Here’s an idea: the best books are never only, or even mainly, about the subject they claim to be about. The novelist John Barth said something like this when asked what kept people turning pages. 
“The question ‘Who am I?’ is what ultimately motivates the reader,” he said.
The greatest literature – and this unique and terribly moving title is great literature indeed – reaches beyond itself to speak to us of the most profound and essential things.
Spending time in Nicolson’s rock pool will change your life and the way you view the lives of others.

The Sea Is Not Made of Water: Life Between the Tides by Adam Nicolson is published by William Collins (£20).

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

France & misc. (SHOM) layer update in the GeoGarage platform

126 nautical raster charts updated
Main information :
As the needs of the Shom's civilian and military clients evolve and ENCs (electronic navigational charts) become more widespread, the Shom has decided to rationalise its portfolio of charts in foreign waters, mainly reproduced in facsimile (foreign charts reproduced in the French portfolio).
As a reminder, the Shom's cartographic offer in paper charts can be broken down as follows
  • French maps, produced by the Shom (including foreign maps reproduced in facsimiles);
  • maps from the supplementary portfolio, mostly of British origin, intended exclusively for the French Navy;
  • foreign charts, not included in the supplementary portfolio, intended exclusively for the French Navy.
  • from September to December 2021, the Shom will carry out a major evolution of its portfolio as follows
  • the deletion of 194 French nautical charts (mainly facsimiles) ;
  • the introduction of 180 charts to the complementary portfolio.
During the implementation of the rationalisation, information on the planned evolution of the portfolio will be disseminated:
- At the end of each month, a special notice will be published in the Notice to Mariners Group (NtM) indicating the changes planned for the following month for information purposes: this special notice does not change the portfolio;
- deletions and introductions will be announced to the GAN once they are effective;
- this document, presenting the forecasts, is available on

SHOM changes for september 2021
in red, 18 charts withdrawn from the GeoGarage SHOM layer (NtM 2137)

SHOM changes for october 2021

SHOM changes for november 2021

SHOM changes for december 2021

So in september 2021 (compatible with NtM2137), 18 charts have been withdrawn in the GeoGarage SHOM update layer : mainly international UK (see examples below)
The GB original charts are included in the British Isles & misc. (UKHO) GeoGarage layer.
Coverage of South England in the previous update
New coverage of South England in the current update
Coverage of South England with the British Isles & misc. (UKHO) layer

Thailand perseveres with new vision for Kra Canal

The long-discussed Kra Canal route, in yellow
(Copyright Lowy Institute)

From The Lowy Institute by Shaun Cameron

In 1677, the Thai monarch Narai the Great had a dream.
He sent an engineer south to investigate the possibility of excavating a vast waterway through the narrowest part of the Malay Peninsula, known as the Kra Isthmus, with the hope of opening a direct trade route between Siam and Burma – imagine a Suez of Southeast Asia, if you will.

The engineer returned with the unhappy verdict that the project was impossible.
But this idea of a “Kra Canal” has persisted through the centuries since.
The canal is seen as an option to bypass the longer and congested route through the Strait of Malacca, the narrow sea lane that runs between modern-day Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore and carries 25 percent of the world’s traded goods.
At different times in history, the French wanted to build it, the British sought to block it, and successive Thai governments have investigated its viability in recent decades.

Now, according to one Thai parliamentarian, China might have an ambition to create it – but there’s a twist.

The concept of a sea passage linking the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea was dismissed by the government in 2020; the dream of a Kra Canal became a Thai Land Bridge, utilizing road and railway networks to transport goods to and from deep sea ports on each coast.
This land-based route would avoid major drawbacks involved in digging a canal, such as environmental waste and cutting off a southern part of the country embroiled in insurgency.
Supporters of the idea also estimated it would fit into a combined budget less than the extraordinary US$55 billion projected to be required to dig a canal.

Chumphon East entrance of the Kra canal project with the GeoGarage platform (Thai map)

Ranong Westentrance of the Kra canal project with the GeoGarage platform (Thai map)

If built, a Thai Land Bridge would provide an alternative route cutting approximately 650 nautical miles and two to three days from a journey through the busy Strait of Malacca, saving transport costs, reducing the risk of piracy and easing pressure on a waterway forecasted to exceed its capacity in the next ten years.

The “if” in this question is a big one.
One wry observer estimated a great number of Thai forest reserves have been logged over the years to supply the paper for canal feasibility studies, let alone the land bridge, and the last two Thai prime ministers to show interest also had their deliberations interrupted by coup.

But the attraction to China seems obvious.
Chinese energy security rests on a solution to the “Malacca Dilemma”, a term introduced by former president Hu Jintao.
An estimated 80 per cent of Chinese energy imports pass through the chokepoint of the Strait of Malacca.
It’s not difficult to envisage that a blockade or disruption of the Strait could be instigated by Indonesia or Malaysia in response to habitual Chinese encroachment into territorial waters, or by India due to conflict on the Sino-Indian border.

There is also the matter of “certain powers” that Hu saw as a part of China’s dilemma, generally interpreted to be a reference to the United States.
An energy blockade in the Strait of Malacca by the US Navy would significantly damage China’s economy, and such a prospect is seen as a driving motivation for Beijing to diversify its energy security, such as via oil and gas pipelines from Myanmar.
In 2005, a leaked report for US Defense Department outlined how China was considering investing in the Kra Canal.

One feature of China’s ideal plan for a “Malacca solution” would be control.
China has sought dominance and security over its maritime environment in the South China Sea through coercion.
This has been accomplished via the building of artificial islands and via seemingly benign economic means, such as the mooring of fishing trawlers in disputed waters.
Control over a transport route through Thailand would allow China not only to increase its energy security and resilience to blockade.
If it were a canal, it would also permit navy vessels easier access to the Indian Ocean.
This would align with China’s “String of Pearls” strategy of a series of strategic assets and influence stretching along oil routes from the Horn of Africa to China.

Whatever China’s interest may amount to has already – if reports are to be believed – drawn countervailing attention from the United States, as well as Australia and India.

But all these speculative advantages remain vulnerable to the same challenge that lead to the dream of the canal in the first place.
How much power does any route provide when it can simply become another chokepoint? The fate of the giant container ship Ever Given, stuck fast for almost a week in the Suez Canal this year, gave a sense of how easy it is to disrupt an essential artery of global trade.

The canal dream is nonetheless a stubborn one.
Since 2015, the prospect of a link across Thailand has been driven by the Thai Canal Association (TCA), a group of retired generals, politicians and business executives, and the Thai-Chinese Cultural and Economic Association, who reported support for the project from Chinese officials (although past claims of official deals have been swiftly denied).
The TCA states it has financing from Chinese investors and held a 2017 conference on the project, while as recently as June this year the Thai Transport Minister spruiked the idea as an avenue for Thailand to again become “Southeast Asia’s ‘economic tiger cub’.”

Whatever China’s interest may amount to has already – if reports are to be believed – drawn countervailing attention from the United States, as well as Australia and India.
Thailand is close to China, but is also a US treaty ally.
How Thailand would navigate the geopolitical ambitions and rivalry of such a major protect is open to question.

In the meantime, the government seems intent on pressing ahead with the idea of a Thai Land Bridge.
There is talk of crossing the Kra Isthmus once calls for investment close in 2023, with a six-year timeline for completion.
Maybe the strategic premonition of King Narai so long ago could finally come to fruition.
Or maybe the talk will continue for hundreds more years yet.

Links :

Monday, September 27, 2021

Navigating without GPS is one thing – so let's jam it and see what happens to our warship

The HMS Severn (click to enlarge), used with permission Pic copyright: Helen Harper 
From The Register by Gareth Corfield

WECDIS (Warship Electronic Chart Display Information System), the computer system at the heart of Royal Navy navigation, will preserve the ship's last precisely known position.
Should the GPS go down, WECDIS will continue automatically plotting the ship's heading and speed from that last known position.

Cdr Harper demonstrated the GPS jammer on the ship's bridge, a handheld gadget about the size of a 1980s mobile phone and with an aerial to match.
He turned it on.
The ship's two GPS units, (civilian) radar display and WECDIS immediately displayed little captions saying "position lost." Audio alarms began sounding on the bridge.
The ship's navigator cancelled them, and the FNO course students nodded and made notes.
Navigating accurately without GPS availability is something the Navy places a high premium on.

And that was that.
Severn kept on plodding along at a stately eight knots (nautical mph) through the late summer afternoon sea, her bridge crew and the FNO students completely unfazed by the jamming.

On top of equipment failures and loss of signal, there is the possibility of spoofing, or deliberately tampering with GPS.
The best-known example of this is in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies when fictional warship HMS Devonshire is guided off course to start a war so the fictional media mogul can profit from breaking the news.

Meaconing [PDF] is the art of receiving and rebroadcasting GPS signals from another location.
This introduces a problem: while the original transmitter will give its own location as the signal's origin, the rebroadcast signal copies that precisely – meaning receivers picking up the meaconed signal pick up a position error.
Even with encrypted GPS for military applications, in some cases repeating the raw signal can generate the same position-finding problem.

The exercise took place off the Isle of Wight.
Although the handheld jamming unit "only has a range of a couple of hundred yards" as the captain put it, safety and prudence came into play.
For shipboard low-power jammers, navy regulations say no other ships should be within 1,500 metres.
Severn played it extra safe with a nautical mile and a half's clearance (2.7km) from other vessels nearby.

GPS jamming is a pain at sea and even more so in the air.
It's prevalent in the Eastern Mediterranean to the point where EU air traffic control organisation Eurocontrol wrote a formal report complaining about the amount of disruption to commercial airline flights.
While no nation state has made a firm attribution of GPS disruption to any one source, Russia has an increasing presence in and around Syria.

HMS Severn can be tracked on all good ship-tracking websites through her AIS.
Unless the crew turn it off or experiment with GPS jamming again, in which case you might find her vanishing or speeding through dry land at airliner velocities.

Your correspondent also learnt about the "cocked hat" of navigation.
After hearing the phrase several times and deducing that this wasn't in the same nature as "scran", "heads", or sundry other Jackspeak (naval slang) terms, a kindly officer explained.

The 'cocked hat', a nautical navigation concept.
The hat is at the arrow
When you take three bearings from landmarks to fix your position, there's always an element of uncertainty: was your bearing as precise as you hoped?
If you're cross-referencing it against other bearings, are those pinpoint accurate – or is there a known element of inaccuracy in your compass?
And if you're doing it by hand, how far has your ship travelled between bearings?

Plotting all the bearings on the chart gives you an area, rather than a precise spot, in which your ship is.
For three bearings this is triangular; the same shape as an 18th century cocked hat.
The size of the cocked hat gives an indication of how big your position fix error is – and in some circumstances it's possible for the ship's true position to be outside the cocked hat.

Sunday, September 26, 2021


Sandra Bessudo, marine biologist and founder of the Malpelo Foundation in Colombia, reflects on her first expedition to Malpelo Island and the infinite beauty that has kept her coming back for over 30 years, dedicating her life to its protection.
However, no matter how large Malpelo Island's protected marine area is, it isn't immune to the devastating disappearance of shark species around the world.