1. Dec, 2018

Tiger Beach  is a remote spot at the edge of the little Bahamas banks, about one and a half hour boat ride from West End Grand Bahamas. It had already built its reputation as a shark sanctuary in the late 90ties. Jim Abernethy was then one of the very first operators who organized live-aboard trips with Shear Water departing from West Palm Beach in Florida. The site also gained its reputation from the variety of sharks: Tiger, Lemons, Caribbean reef sharks and occasional visits of the Great hammerhead (GHHs). Some of the tiger sharks have reached a star status, with names as Emma (no doubt the grandmother of a large offspring), Jamin, Hook, Lady, Princess, and Tequila. Tiger Beach is also considered as a safe haven for female tiger sharks to mature, gestate, and give birth to their pups.

Bimini is the best place for meeting the GHH (Sphyrna Mokkaran) 65 miles south of  West End. A shy and mostly solitary species, unlike its cousin the Scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) Large and increasingly rare GHHs are really difficult to meet underwater. Every winter a healthy population of GHs gathers just off the coast of Southisland. Their annual aggregation was discovered by the staff of Dr. Samuel Gruber’s Bimini Shark Lab back in 2002. But the lab managed to keep the whole thing to themselves for over 10 years. When the word eventually got out, South Bimini became firmly established as a tourist eco site to meet  GHHs from a close distance. Bahamian Neal Watson started organizing baited GHH safaris around 2012, now using the Big Game Club as his home base. The underwater scene at Bimini is different from that of Tiger beach, with Nurse sharks often visiting the baiting sites at South Island as ‘entourage’ of the GHHs. Occasionally a Bull shark from North Island may join the baiting party while keeping its distance. Although Tiger sharks do not mix with GHHs at South Island, they have been spotted around Bimini. From one particular pregnant female marine investigator James Sulikowsky has even been able to visualize the pups with a sonogram

Most of the 20 hammies showing up at Bimini South Island have been tagged by the Shark lab for studying their migratory behavior. The large areas of mangroves and sea-grass  at Bimini are an ideal nursery for young sharks, in particular baby lemons sharks. Bimini is also uniquely placed to benefit from the life-flow of the adjacent Gulfstream providing the eggs and larvae to grow into crabs, lobsters, and conch. And providing a source of food for the large predators. GHHs annual return in the winter season, however, is believed to be triggered not for mating or giving birth for but feeding purposes, with stingrays and crabs serving as their favorite dish. During their migratory leave in spring, triggered by rising water temperatures, GHs have been tracked while visiting coastal waters in Florida as well as Virginia, probably also the sites where they meet the ‘boys’ to mate with. Some exchange of sharks between Bimini and TB may also take place. For example, a notorious female GHH resident of Bimini, intermittently called ‘Patches’, ‘Bite Back’ or ‘Scylla’, has now also become a regular visitor of Tiger beach (see insert).


 Sulikowski, James A. et al. Seasonal and life-stage variation in the reproductive ecology of a marine apex predator, the tiger shark, Galeocerdo cuvier, at a protected female-dominated site. Aquatic Biology. Vol. 24: 175-184. February 22, 2016. 







9. Nov, 2018

 Confronted with the decline in nuclear power worldwide, nuclear industry leaders and their political and media allies are trying to impose the idea that this technology is an appropriate and indispensable solution to fight climate change. Nuclear power can make a vital contribution to meeting climate change targets while delivering the increasingly large quantities of electricity needed for global economic development, according to a new IAEA report. With electricity demand expected to rise sharply in the coming years as countries need more power for development,” said IAEA Deputy Director General Mikhail Chudakov, Head of the Department of Nuclear Energy. “If nuclear power deployment doesn’t expand in line with this scenario, the other technologies may not fill the gap—and we may not meet our climate target.  Even in Holland, the country of tulips, green meadows and clean water, often seen as an ideal candidate for exploiting green energy in the form of building more windmills, the political climate seems to be changing.  

Dutch parliament majority now also seems in favor of nuclear power plants. Conservative parties in Holland seem to like the idea to build more nuclear power plants to fight global warming.  This concerns the party for Freedom (PVV), the Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), the Forum for Democracy (FvD) and VVD. The Green and Social-liberal parties still say no to nuclear energy expansion. Surprisingly, even intellectuals with a leftish profile (cognitive psychologist and writer of bestsellers Steven Pinker is a recent example) are now ready to embrace ''ecomodernism', that is accepting nuclear energy as the last resort for saving the world from environmental destruction and poverty. 

But how realistic are the current predictions made by proponents of nuclear energy?  For example in France, a country that beats the world record with producing 75% of its electricity from nuclear power, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are four times too high to reach the climatic objectives. In 2014, fossil fuels still accounted for more than half of the country’s primary energy consumption.  So even with a drastic increase in electricity from nuclear power, fossil burning by industries,  households,  automobiles and aircraft will likely continue, instead of  replacing fossil burning. And apart from the enormous costs involved in building safe nuclear plants, storing reactor  waste, dismantling  and replacing the current unsafe older plants, there are more problems to look at.

It has often been argued that  like wind, solar and hydro electricity, nuclear produces far less GHG than coal or petrol. But critical minds have also  pointed to  negative factors for the environment such as  dumping of millions of gallons of warm water in the oceans, radioactive pollution of beaches and water near nuclear plants,  and reactors using huge quantities of steam and water vapor that also warm the atmosphere.  It has been argued that every nuclear generating station spews about two thirds of the energy  it burns inside its reactor core into the environment. Only one-third is converted into electricity. 

The mining and enrichment of uranium; the manufacturing, transport and reprocessing of nuclear fuel rods and waste; the building and dismantling of the reactors. At every step, nuclear energy produces greenhouse gas (GHG).  The problem of disposal of high-level reactor wastes has proven to be much less of a relatively simple problem than has been argued by nuclear lobbyists. And what about floods and forest fires? Which now seem to become an increasing threat of climate change and may damage even the more solidly built nuclear plants. The bottom line (in my view) is  NOT to be tempted by nuclear lobbyists, who most likely are motivated by the perspectives of new markets, and not by what is best to save the environment. For the next decades, it would be wiser to stimulate electricity as an energy source in private cars and public transport. This would certainly help to improve the air quality in our big cities, although it would still depend on fossil energy plants. Discouraging further growth of international airports and air traffic, as long as kerosine remains their major energy source. would be a very crucial step, but unfortunately not easily taken by national governments still depending on the major airports. A clean environment will also ask sacrifices,  of which the increasing prices of air tickets or gasoline, may be hard to digest for those living on a low budget.





8. Oct, 2018

 Scubadivers visiting the northern Red Sea normally go for the magnificent reefs flanking  the southern Sinai peninsula in Ras Muhammed National Park. Sharkreef and Yolanda reef are its most prominent hotspots. The steep drop offs and strong currents  make this the most spectacular diving site of the northern Red Sea, with packs of Bohar snappers visiting the area in the right season. The sandy plateau at 12 meters changes abruptly in a steep drop off, descending  to an abyss of around 3000 m deep. Marking the place where millions of years ago the African and Asian continents drifted away from each other  by powerful geological forces, leaving  the Gulf of Aqaba and the Gulf of Suez as shallow clefts at the east and west side.

At the eastern side of the Sinai peninsula,  at the entrance of the Gulf of Aqaba, there is  the Tiran Protected area with Tiran Island and Jackson reef. At the western side,   at the entrance of the Gulf of Suez one finds lots of cargo ships passing to and from the Suez channel.  Close to the Sinai peninsula there is Shab Ali  reef with the famous  Thistlegorm wreck, perhaps the most famous sanctuary for divers and UW photographers. Thistlegorm was sunk in 1941, packed with a cargo of supplies bound for the British army based in Alexandria, but bombed by German plane on her way to port.

West of the entrance of the Gulf of Suez (closer to the Egyptian mainland)  one finds still more popular wrecks lined up in the area of Shab Abu Nuhas, also called a ships graveyard.  In respective order:  the Ghiannis D.,  Carnatic, Chrisoula  K. and Kimon M.  South of Abu Nuhas lies Shadwan Island,  the largest island of the northern Red Sea.  

All these sites have become a must for wreck lovers and are visited by numerous Egyptian live-a-boards and day boats from  Hurghada as well as Sharm el Sheikh,  packed with divers. Only in the very early morning, one can hope to find some tranquility. My personal favorite spot is a small  -at first sight insignificant-  wreck called the Barge. It is located at Bluff point  at the eastern side of Gubal island  in 14 meters of water and particularly popular as a place for night dives.  There is not much left of the wreck itself, no superstructure, only a mass of pieces of twisted metal providing ideal shelters  for literally hundreds of species of marine life. At a  5 minutes swim from the wreck there is a shallow lagoon where rare yellow gobies seek shelter in the branches of large Acropora corals.

 The Barge is an open hull some 35m long, now broken in several parts. It is believed to be a tugboat sunk during the Arab-Israeli war.  Its corals are poor but  It’s inhabited by schools of sergeant major, soldierfish, numerous gobies, triggerfish (including the Arabian Picasso triggerfish), various species of damselfish, angelfish (including the Arabian angelfish), stonefish, scorpion and crocodile fish and two giant moray eels, one of which is nicknamed George. George is normally found at the bottom of the wreck at the port side with the head sticking out of its shelter (see insert).  The other eel has chosen the top of the wreck, hiding in its favorite habitat under a lump of coral. 

6. Oct, 2018

The huge and ambitious project of  24 years old  Dutch Boyan Slat and his team has now reached an important final stage. That is testing his Ocean Cleanup device in the Pacific Garbage Patch  between Hawaii and the US West coast (See also my prior Blog).  The present  system is nicknamed  Wilson after the volleyball of Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. Wilson  recently left the docks of San Francisco and  is now pulled oceanwards by a tugboat towards the great  North Atlantic Gyre. Yesterday it passed Golden Gate Bridge around 2 pm. After 2 weeks of operational testing, Wilson and its escorte will continue its journey to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, another 1000 nautical miles away. Wilson consists of a 600 m long  floating tube with  a  3 m deep  screen attached underneath to  catch the drifting plastic particles. In contrast with earlier models  the new system will float  in the Ocean with the  circular current of  the gyre.  While drifting with the current the floating tubes will take an U shaped form  slightly moving  ahead of the particles of the  plastic soup.  A ship will regularly collect the  garbage  and transport it back to  the coast

Latest news (early October): after the initial 2 weeks testing period, that included the following checkpoints,

  • U-shape installation
  • Sufficient speed through water
  • Ability to reorient when wind/wave direction changes
  • Effective span in steady state
  • No significant damage by the end of the test 

system 001 now seems ready to GO for the actual cleaning phase in the Garbage belt itself. 

9. Aug, 2018

 Is it really possible to make investments in Africa,  not merely from resource extraction and sheer opportunism?  The term "millionaire" is taking on a new meaning in Africa.  Not all  Africa's new and emerging generation of millionaires are  just excited about money. They're also passionate about impact; they want to create value that touches and improves people's lives.  Some  idealists indeed believe that such initiatives are possible,  and they call it impact entrepreneurship: a new way of making money and doing good, at the same time. 

From another angle, an increasing list of millionaires, not necessarily from African origin,  also called ‘green philanthro-capitalists’ seem to follow the same ideology.  These very rich people  are not primarily interested in boosting economy and the profit principle but rather in saving  that what  is left of the  wilderness  on planet earth and its rapidly decreasing populations of wild animals.   They do so by buying large areas of wilderness.  Examples in Europe  are  Paul Lister a British furniture millionaire, called the ‘Wolfman’ who bought 90.000 ha  in Scotland (Alladale) to bring back the wolf  in the UK. Lister planted 800.000 trees and put down a fence to keep out the deer, that will return when a pack of wolves is able to keep their number in balance. Politicians and farmers however don't like his initiative that they consider too radical.  Similarly, HansJörg Wiess is an American  Swiss millionaire who purchased  200.000 ha woodlands  in Rumanian  Carpates to restore rivers, woods and landscapes threatened  by deforestation, and restoring it for ecotourism. 

Others have bought land in  African countries like  Tanzania, Botswana, and South-Africa.  For example,  former Puma marketeer Jochem Zeitz bought 10.000 ha at  the foot of Mount Kenya, called Segera Wildpark. Jochem is an idealist and Africa adept promoting his four Cs: ‘Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce’, and restored cattle grazing among lions. Other examples are Paul Fentener van Vlissingen from Holland  who bought Marataba, South Africa, 23.000 ha adjacent to the 63.000 ha Marakela National Park, and Ed Zeeman and Anka Reijnen from Holland of the Foundation Morokuru South Africa running luxury holiday lodges in Madikwe game reserve. Then we have Paul Tudor Jones, an American  hedge fund millionaire who created  a wild park of 140.000 ha in Serengeti region in Tanzania. Combining low impact tourism with luxury  lodges.

Ecotourism in Africa  may help to protect wildlife but could also mean profit for local inhabitants because it brings in jobs like park rangers and hotel personnel. Investing  in wild life projects  is a pretty expensive affair with little profit for the investors: one hectare of land in South Africa might easily cost thousands of Euros, and to set up a decent park  one minimally  needs 10.000 ha. Which makes these projects only interesting for the very rich philanthropists not primarily interested in making profit.  Some advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages: better protection against poachers, faster action, large budgets with little bureaucracy, profiting from networking among the superrich philanthropists.  

Disadvantages: lack of knowledge of wildlife management, lack of long-term continuity, the risk of social discontent among the local population (neo-colonialism). Privatizing of national property, emphasis on touristic photogenic zones,  not most threatened areas.

Adapted from the Volkskrant August 9, 2018