26. Feb, 2019

This year February my wife permitted me🙂  to do my usual Bahamian  ‘two-step’ trip again, that is visiting two shark sites, mostly Tiger Beach and Bimini (another nice trip is Bimini and Cat Island later in the year, combining GHs and Oceanic white tips). The boat ‘Tresher’’  from the Cannabals takes the divers from the Marina at Bootle Bay at Grand Bahamas to Tiger Beach,  which is an almost two hours lasting trip. Plenty of time to read that nice book.  The Tiger Beach excursions are always well organized,  with the shark encounters taking place in relaxed and controlled conditions,  created by Vincent and Debra Cannabal and their captain (see picture). Big Tiger Sharks here are not to be seen as ferocious but rather as  ‘sweet’ creatures. Almost ‘dog-like’ the way they line up for their share of the bait. With the tiger sharks blinking their nictitating mem-brane when they take the bait, creating the impression of shyly rolling their eyes. 

Flamingo air has a  regular  25 minutes shuttle plane running between Grand Bahamas and Bimini. At Bimini, Neal Watson is still the main operator for the shark safaris, although this year I also spotted a little boat run by  Stuart Cove, normally operating in Nassau. The Watson boat takes the divers in a 20 minutes ride to the baiting site, mostly in sheltered waters of South Island. Unfortunately, the local weather gods were not with us this time, given the strong winds and torrential rains sweeping over the Big Game resort on Saturday 16 February After such violent weather conditions, one can hardly expect to find the crystal clear blue water above pure white sand, on which Bimini has built its reputation. The GHs where there nevertheless on Friday and Sunday with a rather big girl called Gaia circling regularly around the bait box.

Interestingly, the shark populations at Tiger Beach as well as Bimini have recently become more diverse. At Tiger Beach, the UW scene is dominated normally by lemon sharks and Carribean sharks with the tiger sharks moving in after a while.  GHs now also tend to visit Tiger Beach more frequently with ‘Patches’  (or: (Scylla), a huge, dominant and beautifully pigmented female hammerhead often rushing in after a couple of minutes. The bull sharks also seemed less timid than in former years, although still keeping a greater distance from the bait box and divers.  

Likewise, at  Bimini where one traditionally sees GHs, pushing themselves through a ring of nurse sharks gathered around the bait box, the tiger sharks are now also more frequent visitors. Neal Watson now also offers non-divers an opportunity to watch the Bull sharks from within a small cage, attached to a wooden platform. Here a regular gang of around six big bull sharks is closing in around the cage in the afternoon, attracted by pieces of bait thrown in front of the cage.  With some pelicans trying to get a crumb, careful not to get caught by the sharks

Point of concern. This year a big group of Chinese divers visited the Big Game club  (BGC) at Bimini in February.  The size of the group and the fact that they had booked collectively was the probable reason why the  BGC had reserved practically all the ground rooms facing the garden for the Asian visitors. This also held for the diving boat chartered on several occasions by the Chinese divers.  Considering the reputation of China as the major shark finning industry one can’t help feeling a bit worried about the sudden interest of Chinese tourist agencies for Bimini, being the sanctuary of the GH. The positive side  (apart for the profit for the Bahamian Economy) is that it could be a sign of a changing attitude of the young Chinese generation towards the environment, now admiring the huge dorsal fin of the GH  from another perspective than that of sheer consumption. And showing back home their GoPro selfies with the Hammerheads as a background.The Bahamian government should be aware, however, to keep control of resorts like BCG and not selling out to the Chinese. Which could mean a.o that local Bahamians now working in the tourist sector will lose their jobs

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.