Prairie View of Mission 31

It is tough to add new and exciting things to an ocean blog when you don’t see the ocean very often. Sure I could write about things going on in ocean conservation, which was my original intent, but there are so many people out there more knowledgeable about these topics that I couldn’t never do them justice.  Many times I’ve wanted to rant about some of the terrible things going on (e.g. Western Australia shark cull) or the helplessness I often feel when reading about overfishing and plastic pollution.  But then opportunities emerge that are so unique that I want to do more research and share the results with anyone who will listen.  This new opportunity is Mission 31 (www.mission-31.com) and I have secured two Skype sessions with the Aquarius aquanauts through their Skype in the Classroom initiative.  I, along with two lucky schools, have a front row seat to witness history and the magic of technology.

As I type, Mission 31 is about to splash down in 11 days, 05 hours and 14 minutes.  A group of Aquanauts, led by Fabien Cousteau, grandson of Jacques-Yves Cousteau, son of Jean-Michel Cousteau, will live and work in the Aquarius research lab over the next month.  Cousteau will stay in Aquarius for 31 days straight making this the longest, deepest saturation dive to date.  The expedition pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of his grandfather’s 30 day mission on Conshelf Two located in the Red Sea and will bring the world’s attention to ocean conservation issues, enable valuable research to takes place and allow people from around the world to peek under the waves at this truly special research lab.

 

Fabien-Cousteau_photo-credit_KipEvans_Mission-Blue

So how does a Prairie girl with no marine biology training get involved in this you ask?  By asking, of course.  Through the great social network of Twitter, I connected with the on-land support team to ask if Fabien Cousteau would be doing interviews through Skype and if so, would he consider doing one with a school in Winnipeg.  I firmly believe that the worst thing that can happen when you throw questions like that out into the universe is that you will be ignored or turned down.  Anything else is a bonus. I knew it wasn’t an unreasonable request because they wanted to create connections all around the world but I figured they may want higher profile locations to connect with. In my request I pleaded my case for the Prairies; that all the cool ocean activities happened on the coasts where they are already lucky enough to have front row tickets to the ocean and all the high profile events happen in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver.  But here in Winnipeg, we care about the ocean too but don’t get as many opportunities to participate. Sure we can do an Earth Day clean up or an Oceans Day talk, but the superstars of the ocean world don’t end up in the Prairies.

To my delight they said yes to Winnipeg AND Calgary (where a couple little people I love reside).  I’ve been working with the wonderful Mission 31 team to arrange a 30 minute Skype session from Aquarius.  How cool is that? A chat with someone 63 feet under water in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  We get a chance to talk with Fabien Cousteau and the scientists working in the lab the day of our call.  There are some super cool people involved like Grace Calvert Young, an MIT grad, who is blogging about the experience. http://www.graceunderthesea.com. I don’t know her but I’ve read about her work and love her enthusiasm. It looks like the world has gained a great new role model and ocean champion.

I do, however, know the immensely talented, Kip Evans, 4P8A7874 who organized the trip of a lifetime with Dr. Earle two years ago. (Another fabulous Twitter moment if you recall. )  So my goal over the next few weeks is to help the two schools get up to speed on Mission 31, spread the word through all mean I have “at my disposal”, as Dr. Earle wished for in her Ted wish, and participate in another ocean adventure from my chilly Prairie seat in Winnipeg.

Stay tuned for updates as this Mission gets ready to dive deep into the heart of ocean conservation and education.

Follow along at the following links:

http://www.mission-31.com

like: www.facebook.com/CousteauMission31

Follow: @Mission_31 # @FCousteau @grace_h20 #Mission31

Watch the live feed: http://mission-31.com/watch-live/

And stay tuned here as I give you the Canadian Prairie commentary on this exciting global event.

 

 

 

 

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Ha Long Bay, Vietnam


As a prairie girl, I don’t get many opportunities to be in the ocean so when a recent trip to Vietnam included a side trip to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ha Long Bay, I packed my swim suit for a dip in these famous waters.  What I didn’t anticipate was the pollution I found once I got there.  There was no way I was getting in the ocean.

DCIM100GOPRO

Ha Long Bay is situated in northern Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin where the landscape is peppered with 1600 limestone islands in the 43, 400 ha park.  It is primarily uninhabited save for a handful of floating villages.  The residents of these villages, some with populations up to 600 people, survive off of fishing, aquaculture and tourism.  They collect rainwater and they dump their sewage and garbage into the Bay.

DCIM100GOPRO

But it is the 500 to 600 junk boats (or tourist cruise boats) a day that really create a problem.  It is estimated that only 20 percent of these diesel fuelled boats have proper sewage treatment systems.  With an average of 30 passengers per boat, that amounts to 15,000-18,000 people flushing and washing their “stuff” into the bay.  During the day these boats ferry passengers through the magical landscape and at night, they cloister in the bay with diesel generators humming all night to keep drinks and rooms at the expected temperatures.  The air quality at night is so bad that even if you wanted to enjoy the “fresh” ocean breeze instead of running the fan or aircon you are quickly forced to close the windows to stave off the choking fumes from the flotilla of boats.

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During the day, you kayak beside stunning limestone cliffs that soar straight out of the bay. And as you drift along listening to the birds, you can count the plastic and styrofoam pieces littering the murky green water, or nestled in the cracks and caverns of the rocky banks.

I know this is a developing country in which enterprising Vietnamese are trying to emerge from years of war and embargoes.  These resilient people welcome tourists from around the world with a friendly smile.  But the practices of the tour companies are slowly killing the beauty.  In a country where tourist expect (and get) a bargain, tourist operators turn to cheap fuel, provide very few environmental features and compete for business on luxury and price.  An eco tour operator would be unique but when surrounded by pollution would offer little more than piece of mind that the tourist is not contributing to the problem.

What I don’t understand is how they can maintain their UNESCO status with this outright destruction and out of control tourist numbers.  If these practices continue, there will be no joy in visiting Ha Long Bay.  Like many popular tourist destinations, its popularity is ultimately the area’s demise.  I understand you can hire a charter boat to escape the more populated areas but to do that is to put blinders on.  But if you do want to see the area, and it is definitely worth seeing, you may want to pay the extra money to escape the crowds and the diesel;  even better if the operator shows some degree of environmental consciousness.  With or without UNESCO status people would travel to Ha Long Bay so it really is up to us, the tourists, to set the bar and ask for better stewardship of the area.

There is hope though. Environmental awareness is on the rise and projects such as this (http://www.dw.de/germans-help-preserve-beauty-of-ha-long-bay/a-16596749) has kick started efforts to improve water quality.

Despite staying out of the water and lamenting the pollution, being around water is always a welcome and treasured experience for me.  And given the extended prairie winter, I was happy to be warm. No air conditioner for me thanks. But I’ll take that cold drink please.

DCIM100GOPRO
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Happy Birthday Dr. Earle!

On this day in a small town in New Jersey in 1935, an ocean hero was born.  As an oceanographer, entrepreneur, author, explorer and voice of the ocean, Dr. Sylvia Earle has spent most of her life trying to understand, explore and protect her favourite playground, Planet Earth.

If you would like to know more about Dr. Earle’s life and work, especially the plight of our oceans, you can pick up “Sea Change” or her latest book, “The World is Blue”.  There are also a number of beautiful children’s books to peak interest early in life as well.

I, for one, am happy that on August 30th, 1935 the world gained a hero.  Happy birthday Sylvia! It was such an honour to meet you.

From Mavis

 

 

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Reaching out

I was on a whirlwind tour trying to spread the word about Mission Blue over the last month.  I still can’t believe I was in the Bahamas on a dive boat with my hero, Dr. Earle.  Not to mention all the new fabulous friends I made along the way.

When I lucked into a spot on this boat, I wanted to ensure I made the most of the experience by sharing the message.  In the process, I contacted Deb Castellana at Mission Blue.  Deb is another ocean hero who works countless hours to get the word out about our oceans.  You can read about some of her posts on her blog, Planet Ocean News or on Sylvia’s blog for Mission Blue.  Deb brought me into the communication loop for the trip and asked me to blog.  Being able to help out on the trip made me feel like I was actually contributing and not just a spectator.  Thank-you Deb.

In the latest Mission Blue post, Deb shared the story of my experience participating in the Mission Blue Efforts.  You can read it here.

Mission Blue is on a whole new expedition in Florida over the next few weeks to save the Aquarius Reef Base.  If you love the ocean, you will want to follow along on this adventure.  Dr. Earle and the other aquanauts will be living under water for 6 days. Aquarius is an amazing research tool and it will be a great loss if they close it down.  Stay tuned – there so much more to do under the sea.

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World Oceans Day

Happy World Oceans Day to my sea family.  Did you know that Canada first proposed this idea at the Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992.  Yay Canada!But what have we done since?

Today is a day to celebrate the oceans – what it has given to us, how it inspires us and how we should protect it.  You can find out more about Oceans Day here.  In the spirit of World Oceans Day, I have made a pledge and am carrying out my pledge through a series of classroom presentations in Winnipeg and next week in Calgary. And I’ve offered to these schools to do it all again next year, and the year after, because my pledge is:

” I pledge to spread the message about Mission Blue Hope Spots marine protected areas.” #worldoceansday

Talking to the kids in the schools has been a fabulous experience.  They are so in tune with the environment and sustainability.  And they are just cute!

Enjoy World Oceans Day and take a moment to think about why you appreciate the ocean.  What will your pledge be to protect it?

 

 

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Ocean Quote

“And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have, in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came.”

 ~ John F. Kennedy

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Latest on Huffington Post

The final account of our trips is now available on Huff Post Green.

I watch the dolphin video every day. Thanks Kip Evans for capturing that moment so brilliantly. I’ve been busy working on school presentations and a Pecha Kucha presentation for June 21st.  It was the easiest presentation I’ve ever prepared, especially with all of the fabulous pictures.  I can’t wait to share the Hope Spots message.

I’ll post pictures and updates from the presentations, including Breakfast Television on Monday.

 

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SEA blog post

I’ve been off the boat for a couple days now but still feel solidly at sea. It appears that I have what they call “land sickness”.  My ears still think they are at sea so I stumble around solid ground like a drunken sailor. And I assure you I didn’t have that many Kaliks before I left. I’m hoping it passes soon because I have stuff to do and would like to be able to stand up for more than a minute at a time without feeling sick.

If you want to see what else we were up to while away, check out the Mission Blue blog – click here.

Fabulous pictures once again taken by Kip Evans.

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Pure Awesome

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Life lessons from a Dolphin

Unbelievable but true. I played with a dolphin.  Not just swam beside, but actually engaged in play in the ocean with a wild dolphin.

Here’s the story. Grab a coffee because it is a bit of a long one.

On day 6 (May 26th), we arrived at Conception Bay after driving all night from Hawksbill Cay.  Our luck finally turned and it was nothing but blue skies.  Until now we had two dives in and a few snorkels.  Not my usual dive trip.  And although we hadn’t been diving, the lectures, the storm, blogging for SEA and chatting with everyone kept me more than happy and busy.  Our plan for the day was to play on the beach while they lowered the dive boats from the top deck, where they were stored for the 10 hour transfer, then go for two dives.

headed down the wall
photo: Christine Guinness

The first dive was a wall dive. I LOVE WALL DIVES (yes I’m shouting).  The wall started at 60 ft and my dive buddy Christine and I planned that she would go over the wall first then take video of me swan diving over the cliff to 100 feet.  I LOVE SWAN DIVES.  There is nothing greater than the feeling of soaring over the wall pointed toward the navy abyss.

Side note: I need to expand my blue vocabulary because they have every shade here.

One of the really cool parts of this trip is having three photographers who record some of the most beautiful pictures of what we’ve seen.  You can read about all the details on the SEA blogs to come.  On the way up my head started to hurt. I’ve been fighting this cold for a month and in the excitement of the day I forgot to take my decongestants.  By the time I hit the surface my head hurt so much my eyes were crossed. It was everything I could do not to throw up. I had a reverse squeeze, where the bubbles get trapped and expand.  I crawled off the dive boat, downed some drugs and went to bed.  Eventually the bubbles dispersed and I was up and at it in time for the afternoon dive.  Kip asked if I was going to dive again and since I was feeling fine I said absolutely.  That’s when the lesson started.  After rounds of discussions about pushing it and people they know going deaf because of pushing it, it became very obvious that I wasn’t going diving.  I was beyond upset.  We had been topside for so long and with two days left I was benched.  Since I felt fine it seemed crazy not to be underwater so Kip worked hard at extolling the virtues of snorkeling. I was not convinced but in the spirit of the trip embraced one guest’s philosophy of “wherever Sylvia goes, I go” so I donned one of Ann’s dive skins (a cool tiger print number) and prepared to snorkel.

It turns out my ears weren’t fine and my legs started cramping as well so it was a good thing I stayed up top.  Plus with the setting sun, all the colour was at the surface surrounding the huge stands of Elkhorn coral that reached from 35 feet to the surface. So the first part of the lesson learned: when you suffer from a dive incident, best to stay above water for a while.  In discussion with some of the more experienced people, they stated that often divers will push through pain and reasonable judgement because their underwater time is so precious and often rare.
The next morning I woke up and although I felt fine I decided we were too far away from help that if I got into trouble I would ruin everyone’s day.  So on the last day of the trip I decided not to dive. I couldn’t even say the words when asked if I was diving today. I just burst into tears giving a very clear indication what the answer was.  Once again, Kip tried to assure me that snorkeling would still be fun.  They were going back to the wall.  I just wanted to crawl back into bed and feel sorry for myself but since Sylvia would be on the boat, I would be on the boat.  So I pulled on Ann’s tiger print skin again and pasted on a teary smile.  At least I would be in the boat with Sylvia and Kip.  After everyone dropped over the side and sank into big blue, I put on my gear and slipped over the side of the boat.  The plan was to follow the divers since it was easier to spot a tiger in the water than the bubbles of the divers.  As I prepared to follow, I turned to Sean, our captain, and said as a joke, “if you could conjure up a pod of dolphins, that would really make my day better.” And off I swam to play in the diver’s bubbles.  I was having fun watching Sylvia at work, taking pictures and moving around like she was born with gills.  At 77 years old, she is the picture of zen under water.  The divers started to surface and were hanging in the water for their safety stop.  After a couple free swims past the crew 20 feet down (I also borrowed Ann’s free diver fins which are huge) I decided to head for the boat. My job as a spotter was done.  I pulled my head out of the water to yell to Sean that I was coming in when I saw him pointing and yelling at me.  It took a few seconds to register.  Dolphin! Go!

I put my face in the water and sure enough, a bottlenose dolphin was rocketing right for me.  These are incredibly shy mammals, despite what you might think after seeing them in Sea World.  I’ve been in the water twice with wild dolphins and every time they stay just on the periphery of your vision.  I wasn’t expecting what happened next.  The dolphin did a wide turn, swam up beside me and stopped.  He looked me in the eye, just out of reach, inspected me and then started to circle.  Game on then little guy.  You want to play? I’ll play.

what a face!
Photo by: Dr. Sylvia Earle

We circled and rolled together, him always about 5 to 10 feet away.  My lungs and legs burned from the effort and I’d gasp for air at the surface and plunge back down again.  It only lasted a minute, maybe less, but Kip got is all on video.  Others soon joined me in the water and we had a game of chase going.  He would zoom in, play for a bit, then dive down to the sandy bottom, flip onto his back to wave his tale then zoom off to the other dive boat where Sylvia and a couple others had surfaced, about 300 feet away.  They had a similar game of chase going on.  It took my breath away in all possible ways.  To have such a beautiful animal play, inspect, say hello, was true magic.  Although I made my pledge to Sylvia about preserving our ocean resources, I also made my pledge to him.  Back on board the Sirenuse we were inspecting the photos and noticed deep cuts in his tail where he may have been caught in a net. It is a miracle he even survived.

Damaged tail
Photo: Dr. Sylvia Earle

Sylvia, in her enchanted way of looking at things, is convinced that someone freed him and he came by to say thank-you. Maybe he did. Maybe he sensed I was having a bad day. Or maybe he just wanted some entertainment for a while.  Even though I couldn’t communicate with him, he taught me that if you embrace the opportunity you have rather than dwell on what you missed, you put yourself in the game to have something truly life-changing happen.  On a simpler note, he also taught me there is always magic to be found in the ocean whether it is at 100 feet or on the surface.  As Sylvia says, “wet is wet”.  So thank-you dolphin and thank you Sylvia. I will do everything I can to protect this blue heart of the planet.  Because it is now fully and completely a part of my heart.

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