By Michel Labrecque
Blue shark populations are in steep decline. They are falling victim to long lining and it is becoming rare to encounter sharks that are free of hooks or lines.
Sharks are often referred to as super predators. They have long been considered as ruthless killers. In modern times, Hollywood has contributed to vilifying these creatures that have roamed our oceans for over 450 million years.
Essay and photographs by Eirik Grønningsæter
The ocean has been looked upon as pristine, wild and impossible to deplete because of its abundance. However, during the last 50 years or so, collapses in fish stocks worldwide combined with an increased knowledge about our ocean, have led toseveral alarming discoveries.
The marine ecosystem is complex and difficult to understand, but there are clues we can use to monitor it. Seabirds are easily visible, and thus relatively straightforward to study. They are also completely dependent on the ocean. If the seabirds struggle, we can be pretty sure that the ocean is struggling, too. Seabirds are therefore perfect indicators of the health of our oceans, and at the moment, it does not look good. This essay is a celebration of the seabirds of the North East Atlantic.
According to the IUCN red list, seabirds are the most threatened avian group in the world. Out of the world’s 346 seabird species, 28% of them are considered globally endangered and another 10% are at immediate risk to join this category.
Norwegian scientists have studied and monitored seabirds along the Norwegian coast intensively since the early 1960s. Through their work, they have found that only about one-third of the kittiwake population remains today compared to 1980, and still it continues to decline 6-14% each year depending on the colony. Only half the population of the Atlantic puffin remains, and in many colonies along the Norwegian coast, few chicks have fledged in the last twenty years. The top predator of the Barent’s Sea, the glaucous gull, has declined by 65% since 1986 in the Norwegian Arctic region.
The bird that causes most concern is the common guillemot. Barely one percent of the common guillemot population still exists on the Norwegian mainland today! Coastal species like the European shag, black guillemot, and many of our seagulls have also seriously decreased in number over the last thirty years. The list could have been made longer. Virtually every sea bird colony in the countries bordering the North Atlantic shows similar trends.
There are many reasons for this decrease, and they vary between species as well as between different colonies of the same species. Lack of food is by far the main reason, but the cause of this is complex and numerous. Overfishing means insufficient prey to sustain the birds. Global warming causes our ocean to acidify, which in turn causes fish to spawn at different times so fish larvae no longer drift by bird colonies at a time that coincides with the seabirds’ breeding cycles. Disappearing sea ice in the Arctic also means less ice algae and less food for zooplankton and fish, which birds prey upon. Warming weather also means that copepods, which some seabirds depend on, are disappearing.
Population numbers are currently still in the hundreds of thousands for most species, so there ought to be enough time to act, though history tells us that high numbers are no guarantee for long term survival. Europeans need not look to the tigers of India, mountain gorillas in Uganda, or the lemurs of Madagascar to find threatened species. We have them right outside our doorstep. Scientists agree that the common guillemot is probably the next bird species in Europe to go extinct. Our seabirds are clearly not only living on the edge of cliffs, they are also on the edge of survival. Will we be able to change the trend? Only a few hundred of the world’s 10,000 bird species are seabirds. However, due to the number of individuals, they are a very important part of the marine ecosystem. It is crucial to remember that this is not only about the seabirds, but about our ocean, a vital resource for millions of people. The birds have given us a sign: Our Ocean is sick. It is now up to us to react to that sign.
Eirik has been a professional wildlife photographer and nature guide since 2007. Eirik has held several exhibitions, and is the author of one natural history book. In between his photography and guiding, he works as a field biologist doing fieldwork for various scientific projects. Though his main interest is birds, he has also worked with whales, large predators, and bats in different parts of the world. He has worked in High Arctic – Svalbard every season since 2001. Eirik is a highly sought after guide and photographer in the expedition industry, and was recently inducted into the Elysium Artists for the Arctic team as naturalist and contributing photographer.
The NOGI Awards
By Hillary Hauser and Bonnie J. Cardone
The legendary father of scuba diving, Jacques Cousteau received one, as did two astronauts, Scott Carpenter and Kathryn Sullivan, a former dive store owner (Mel Fisher) who found the fabulous treasure of a Spanish wreck, the man who made a blockbuster movie about a supposedly unsinkable ship James Cameron, another man (Howard Hall) who makes award winning underwater documentaries in 3D, and the inventor of the Newtsuit, a revolutionary deep diving system Phil Nuytten PhD.
All in there are over 200 NOGI recipients, including founder of Ocean Geographic Society, Michael AW (NOGI Arts 2013) — these are all people who have made significant contributions to the dive industry in four different fields: Arts, Sciences, Environment, Sports & Education and Distinguished Service.
When one thinks of what NOGI stands for today – excellence in work related to the ocean – exploring it, studying it, photographing it, preserving it – it is ironic that NOGI stands for New Orleans Grand Isle, and the NOGI statuette that was first made was spawned from the awards given to the spear fisherman who got the biggest grouper, biggest barracuda, biggest shark, biggest fish in the New Orleans Grand Isle Scuba Diving Tournament – (a three day spearfishing orgy started by Jay Albeanese and Louis Cuccia in 1959). This contest pulled in scuba divers from all over the world, who got on boats and sped out to Louisiana’s offshore oil platforms to start spearing everything big. The event was an extravaganza that featured parachuting exhibitions, the inevitable posing for photos beside mammoth fishes bigger than their captors, and prizes ranged from sports cars and cash to trips to exotic places like Aruba. “Wednesday’s fishing proved that more and even bigger fish are still in the Gulf, and also brought forth certain species that had not been speared on the first day,” trumpeted the October 1959 edition of Skin Diver Magazine.
Of course, these were the early days of diving, before anyone had any idea of man’s impact on the ocean. In those early days, spearfishing was a natural part of going underwater. One year, Jacques Cousteau spent several days with these spearfishermen in Louisiana, both on and underwater. He is quoted as saying how fortunate the contestants were, “to have such an abundance of fish!”
By Michael AW
If Christopher Columbus was alive today, the only place he would recognise on our planet would be Jardines de la Reina, “the Gardens of the Queen”, an archipelago of a thousand low-lying islands embraced by lush mangrove swamps. In his exploration of the Americas, Columbus discovered this magnificent outpost and named it in honour of Queen Isabella of Castile (the country that later become Spain). Since its establishment as a national park, Gardens of the Queen, has become Cuba's oldest and largest protected area. Strictly prohibited from any development, the Gardens have not changed since the time of Columbus. However, the great explorer could not have possibly seen the garden’s incredible splendour, as its secrets are largely beneath its wave.
Embargoed by the world’s most powerful country since 1960, Cuba became our planet’s biggest time capsule. Even HAVANA, THE COUNTRY’S CAPITAL, IS SURREAL like a freeze-frame from a Federico Fellini movie. Instead of googling on smartphones and tablets, children are found playing ball games in the street; you won’t find women ogling at the shop windows of Mui Mui and Prada either but they are often seen in curlers, hanging their laundry on balconies. There are no shopping malls in Cuba, no McDonalds, no Porsche or Audi showrooms but every so often, a 1952 Buick rattles past with a for sale sign in its back window.
By Matthew Smith
For me one of the most wondrous parts of any dive is the moment that the water engulfs my mask as my head slips below the surface. I think it is the anticipation of the unknown, of what lies beneath, the transition from one element to another and the thought of what alien creatures I might encounter that makes it all feel so magical. And that is what inspires me to take above-and-below pictures. I try to convey to the viewer that magical feeling in an image. It is also the best way to communicate to a non-diver - marry a wet, unfamiliar world with a dry, familiar one.
I view my above-and-below images as a single landscape photograph; a composition that complements both the above and below elements. I prefer brooding and atmospheric skies over blue sunny mid-day skies. I undertake many location scouts with my snorkel gear on. Whilst doing the scouts, I take reference pictures so I can plan how to make my final image when a suitable location has been found. A final image in my portfolio is often a well-researched and planned affair.
In addition to the visual components, there are some technical issues. To create an above-and-below image, you are basically creating a window into another world where light and focus behave differently When compared to the “air” part of the image, the underwater part will generally be darker, less contrast and saturation so underwater strobe lights are a must, especially on those dark and stormy days, at dawn and dusk. Wide-angle lenses are essential if you want to achieve an image that is sharp all over, though great effects can be made using a standard or short telephoto; the rule is to experiment.
If I were to give one useful tip when creating an above-and-below picture, that would be to use of a bigger dome port. The bigger the better! It helps to blend the two worlds by pushing the water line meniscus further away and makes it less conspicuous in your image. The large dome also increases depth of field, aiding sharp focus both above and below, near and far.
I have always used Aquatica housings for all of my underwater photography -their ingenuity, tough build and quality is exceptional in every circumstance.
“Your Move” – American Crocodile, Jardines de la Reina, Cuba
So for this shot, I am deep in a Cuban saltwater mangrove, snorkelling in about two metres of murky water and looking at a wild, two-and-a-half meter long American saltwater crocodile through my viewfinder. My photography has led me into a few interesting situations in the past, but this takes the cake. I was trying to stay as still as possible, and was mumbling profusely to myself, "Focus, frame, get the shot, and get out." It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life!
Nikon D810 Nikkor14-24 F2.8 Lens, Aquatica AD810 Housing
“Sailing” – A Portuguese Man of War (AKA Bluebottle), Bushrangers Bay, NSW Australia
During strong summer, due to the north easterly winds, the east coast of Australia sees huge armadas of Portuguese man-of-war siphonophores (Physalia Physalis or “Bluebottle”) washed ashore. Often mistaken as a jellyfish, each individual Portuguese man-of-war is a colony of four different types of organisms living together in a symbiotic relationship - a floating city of animals if you like, each one with its own important job to support the colony.
This image was taken in a place called Bushrangers Bay in Shellharbour NSW. I had noticed that the man-of-wars often get trapped in the bay, making them slightly easier to photograph in their natural environment. I wanted to pick out the beautiful colouration and detail in the tentacles against the eerie darkness of a stormy early morning. The wild atmosphere adds testament to the lifestyle of this sailor of the open seas.
Lighting was the most critical component of this image, as I needed to retain the desired darkness of water yet pick out the details of the animal. This took a lot of experimentation with different techniques over several weeks. Eventually, employing the use of fibre optic snoots on my underwater flashes enabled me to pick out just the right amount of detail without over exposing too much of the surrounding ambiance.
Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5 F2.8 Fisheye Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing
“New Pennies” – Silver Bream, Bushrangers Bay, NSW Australia
I have learnt from diving in Bushrangers Bay, that large schools of bream circulate the bay early in the morning, especially during periods of hot weather. I tried several ways of shooting them over the course of a few weeks but decided this was my favourite way to portray them. This was taken using a standard Nikkor 50mm F1.8 lens behind an 18” dome port. The lens was set to F4 to create the soft tonal 50mm goodness in the above part, with my strobes turned as low as they could go, to stop blowing the fish out. Luckily for these guys, Bushrangers Bay is a marine reserve, or they would have been on a plate long ago.
Nikon D300s, Nikkor 50mm F1.8 Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing
Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5 F2.8 Fisheye Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing
“Crimson Tide” – Waratah Anemones, Port Kembla, NSW Australia
Nikon D300s, Nikkor 10.5 F2.8 Fisheye Lens, Aquatica AD300 Housing
About Matthew Smith
I have always had an attraction to the water and the tricks it plays on light for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of my brother and I snorkelling in France and the Mediterranean Sea. I can clearly remember my first experience of watching shafts of sunlight weave and dance down into the deep blue, carved by the rippling ocean surface. I bought my first Nikon film SLR a camera in my teens to try and capture what I loved to see and I used it to shoot the coastlines of my home country of the United Kingdom. It wasn’t long before my curiosity and appetite for shooting the ocean meant I would have to get in and shoot underwater, so I saved and updated my camera gear and bought an Aquatica so I could explore further. As my photography skills grew I needed to travel more to get the images. Now residing in Australia I have the worlds biggest playground at my feet, the Pacific Ocean….. And I have truly fallen in love with it."
Review by Brett Lobwein
One of the most important attributes to enjoyable diving is comfort. We all know when we’re breathing comfortably, we’re diving comfortably. So, I spent this winter trialing the available regulators in the Oceanic range, searching to find the best regulators for my varied diving needs. Due to extreme comfort, increased ease of breathing, the great colour, and an awesome look, the FDXi 1st stage coupled with the Zeo 2nd stage is now my new regulator combination of choice.
After diving with the GT4, then the EOS, I find the Zeo the most controlled and comfortable breathing regulators of the range. The diver’s inevitable "dry mouth" feeling is almost non-existent, so no more nasty-buddy-breath post-dive! Then, with a combination of a swivel, M-Flex hose, and orthodontic mouth piece, the reg sits perfectly in my mouth, which means greater comfort both during and after my dive.
I personally enjoy the ability to control my air-flow and utilise a set of regs that are applicable for the varied water temperatures and depths encountered at Port Stephens throughout the year. Temps here range from 13-26°C with depths from 5-45m across the multitude and variety of dive sites.
The FDXi 1st stage with an over-balanced diaphragm lends to effortless ease of breathing. Moreover, having a first stage that is environmentally sealed means I have one set of regs for all my diving needs, wherever I decide to dive. The compact and lightweight construction of the regs with in-line design, is extremely beneficial when travelling to help minimize space and weight. So, having one set of regs that I can use both recreationally & professionally suits me and my budget.
Clearly, after trying many different regulators, due to the reliability, consistency, and unexpected comfort, the FDXi 1st stage coupled with the Zeo 2nd stage is now my new reg combo of choice.