The Last Quiet Place on Earth

“In a world of seven billion people, where every inch of land has been mapped, much of it developed, and too much of it destroyed, the sea remains the final unseen, untouched, and undiscovered wilderness, the planet’s last great frontier.

photo.phpThere are no mobile phones down there, no e-mails, no tweeting, no twerking, no car keys to lose, no terrorist threats, no birthdays to forget, no penalties for late credit card payments, and no dog shit to step in before a job interview. All the stress, noise, and distractions of life are left at the surface. The ocean is the last truly quiet place on Earth.”-James Nestor, “Deep”

 

Have a nice week all

-merbabe

Gulls: Mine Mine Mine

Growing up on the coast, seagulls have been a part of my landscape always.  In fact, they have been so omnipresent that I almost ignore them.

Mine? Just try to ignore them.

Mine? Just try to ignore them.

However, they deserve recognition.  They are pretty large birds who provide more than ambiance to the coast.

Gulls are large, ground nesting carnivores.  They can be seen fishing or scavenging alike, and are known to many beachy communities as being bossy and sneaky, walking quite adeptly with their famous side to side waddle on big webbed feet. They are also accomplished fliers: they can take off suddenly (good for french fry thieving) and hover well (stealth opportunistic missions).

They nest in large colonies that are densely packed and loud, loud, loud.  (Could you imagine a seagull co-op house? Loud and messy!) Seagulls are monogamous and mate from the life of the pair, laying on average 3 eggs a year.  Chicks are born precocial, and are fully mature in 4 years.

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You probably already knew this, due to the awesome movie “The Birds”, but seagulls are intelligent and are known to work together, even mobbing predators or other animals that attempt to steal their food, eggs, nests, or eat them.

Here’s your word of the day: Kleptoparacitism.  Gulls are kleptoparasites: but you knew this, when they’ve stolen your french fries behind your back. They flourish by stealing, its a large part of their diet.  Like many birds, their ability to fly increases their menu availability: they can snack on the land, in the air, and from the sea.  Also, from your local In N Out. Some gulls will even land on surfacing, living whales and snack right off them! Pretty ballsy.

Noms.

Noms.

Some interesting tidbits:

They (many different species) breed on every continent.  Including Antartica (I don’t know why my high school thought they could banish them with those fake owls)

They can drink salt water and fresh water.

Although same pairs may mate for life, divorce is not unknown.  The social effects of the divorce are experienced for years after during the mating seasons.

Some gulls use tools: for instance, they may use bread as bait to catch fish.

Amazing!

Happy July 4th! I hope you are all enjoying your beachy, thieving buddies, the gulls, who are as American as apple pie, and as international as futbol.

xmerbabe

Marine Protected Areas, A Safe Space

1.17% of the world’s ocean is under protection, or considered a Marine Protected Area, which is basically a national park that lives underwater. Commercial or private fishing is not allowed.  Essentially, these areas have to be left alone to heal and regrow.

California passed a law in 1999 called the MLPA-The Marine Life Protection Act, which split coastal California into 4 sections plus the San Francisco Bay.  Those sections were allowed to create their own MPA zones and regulations.
There are different kinds of MPA’s.

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1) In a state marine reserve, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living geological, or cultural marine resource, except under a permit or specific authorization from the managing agency for research, restoration, or monitoring purposes.

2)In a state marine park, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living or nonliving marine resource for commercial exploitation purposes. Any human use that would compromise protection of the species of interest, natural community or habitat, or geological, cultural, or recreational features, may be restricted by the designating entity or managing agency

3)In a statemarine conservation area, it is unlawful to injure, damage, take, or possess any living, geological, or cultural marine resource for commercial or recreational purposes, or a combination of commercial and recreational purposes, that the designating entity or managing agency determines would compromise protection of the species of interest, natural community, habitat, or geological features

4)In a state marine recreational management area, it is unlawful to perform any activity that, as determined by the designating entity or managing agency, would compromise the recreational values for which the area may be designated.

5) A special closure is an area designated by the Fish and Game Commission that prohibits access or restricts boating activities in waters adjacent to sea bird rookeries or marine mammal haul-out sites.

California has had wonderful success with their MPAs.  Fish size and diversity have increased since their implementation, and in central california, lobster size has increased.

Follow the jump to read about more MPA success stories.

But I mention this because President Obama has promised to create the largest MPA in the world, which would more than double the size of all the world’s marine protected areas.  As quoted from the BBC

“The White House will extend an existing protected area, known as the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

Fishing and drilling would be banned from an area that could eventually cover two million sq km.”

What happens when the ocean is allowed to regenerate? Well, a major food source is allowed to replenish, and recover during fishing intervals, and areas like tropical reefs can regrow. Keystone species like sharks find refuge, because even though sharks are movers and shakers and travel long distances, they are often captured within coral reefs, and protecting those areas protect all those who may be traveling through.

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In fact, I can’t think of an instance when protecting the ocean caused any sort of problem, besides not lining the pockets of those who consider the ocean an inexhaustible supply.  unfortunately that is how many people consider it, and its supply is diminishing.

Consider the Pantheon in Rome, Stonehenge, or the Mona Lisa.  Each item is protected because overexposure causes damage, and that damage deteriorates the item.  If we treat our ocean this way, its only a matter of time before its beauty is lost, and the relationship we rely upon with it is gone forever.

cheers to protecting our resources, to protecting our lifesource

-merbabe

my, my, what a few years difference makes.  Photo from http://www.theblackfish.org/

my, my, what a few years difference makes. Photo from http://www.theblackfish.org/

What kelp tells us about Fukushima

Kelp Watch 2014: Did you know that the same way your hair can tell the history of what’s been in your body, kelp can tell the history of what’s in our water?

Kelp Watch 2014 was started by Dr.Manley and Dr. Vetter  in an effort to measure the impact of radiation from Fukushima in our coastal ecosystem.  Radioactivity released during the Fukushima disaster is starting to reach our shore, and in order to measure the levels, they needed to find a good source of measurement.

Kelp is a good measurement for a few reasons.  It is located up and down our coast and radioactivity will first come into contact with the kelp forests before they hit our beach. It also grows quickly, and is easy to harvest, and easy to measure.

If you are interested in the findings of Kelpwatch, follow Dr Manley on twitter.

Here are his most recent tweets from June 10th:

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I think his findings are important; to balance reason and truth in the face of hysterical anecdotal evidence.
ciao bell0s!
*merbabe

Tentacle: Ocean Vocab!

What is a tentacle? In this week’s installment of Ocean Vocab, let’s explore what a tentacle is and why it’s SO awesome!

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Humans use five senses to measure and take in their surroundings.  While watching my young niece play, I noticed that she would take toys in her hands and then place them in her mouth, in order to get a sense of them. In a lot of ways, we have to combine multiple senses in different ways in order to get a feeling.

However, many animals use tentacles to combine their senses into one graceful appendage.  Tentacles can cover many things, but basically are described as sensory organs that can function like “muscular hydrostats” .  The comparison I will draw, and the closest thing we have to tentacles is your tongue: which is a muscular hydrostat because it manipulates food and is composed of muscles with no bone support. Most tentacles function to grasp and feed the animal.

Who are some famous animals with tentacles? Land snails were the first tentacles I discovered as a child, finding out that they had their eyes at the end of their tentacles was astounding! Also, these kinds of tentacles are retractable, which is also quite a feat.  They exhibit the common quality of tentacles coming in sets of two.

Merbabe with Geronimo at the AOP.  Gorgeous, red, strong, willful. TENTACLES

Merbabe with Geronimo at the AOP. Gorgeous, red, strong, willful. TENTACLES

But many sea creatures have tentacles because they are so convenient in water (also because tentacles are common on invertebrates and invertebrates are common in water).

My favorite tentacles are affixed to a beloved sea creature: the octopus.  Octopi have 8 arms, which of course many know to have suction cups on them, or hooks on them to help get a strong hold on things. Although technically they are “arms” they work similarly enough to tentacles to be called that.

 

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Tentacles are also found on cnidarians, like jellyfish or corals.  These tentacles are thin and hair like, and have cnidocytes on them, which we all know cause a STING. This helps to catch food and deliver this food to be digested!

Cuddlefish, giant squid, abalone, feather duster worms, anenomes, nudibranchs.  Sea creatures are KING of the tentacle.

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Reptiles and some mammals are known to have tentacles that can smell acutely, and some moss animals have tentacles around their mouths which pull food inside.

When I hold a fruit in my hands, I can feel the weight of it, but I cannot smell it unless I bring it to my nose.  I cannot taste it unless I bite into it.  I cannot see that it is red and ripe unless I look at with my eyes.  Animals lucky enough to have tentacles often multi task these feats.  They Taste as they Touch, They see as they smell.

Amazing Tentacles!

Merbabe

 

 

Hyperbaric Treatment

Last week, Southern California divers celebrated a staple in our community: The USC Catalina Hyperbaric Chamber.  For 40 years, divers and divers and divers have been treated and saved by the hyperbaric chamber.

Ads for this year's Chamber Day and Chamber Eve

Ads for this year’s Chamber Day and Chamber Eve

So what is a hyperbaric chamber and how does it work?

I guess we’d need to take a few steps back and consider the circumstances that bring scuba divers to chambers in the first place.

Scuba divers, breathing compressed air under increased pressure underwater absorb nitrogen in our tissues.  This doesn’t happen to folks on the surface, where under 1 atmosphere of pressure, nitrogen is breathed in and out again, exerting practically no influence on our bodies.  Under pressure, however, the body is absorbing nitrogen at a rate that prevents humans from exhaling it quickly enough.  It starts to build up in all our tissues: bones, organs, all your goodies, but we are especially mindful about the nitrogen build up in our blood.

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Consider a scuba diver’s blood like soda inside an unopened bottle.  If you gradually and slowly twist off the cap of that soda, the bubbles saturated in the soda will slowly escape without making the soda fizz up.  If you open that bottle quickly, the bubbles will all try to escape at once….causing the soda to fizz up and maybe out of the bottle.*  This is what happens when a diver ascends (or removes the added pressure of depth) from their body.  Their blood needs to slowly ditch that accumulated nitrogen, or else it will bubble up and cause some nasty problems.

Mistakes happen, and emergencies arise.  Sometimes, even when a diver does everything right, too much nitrogen will bubble up and cause problems. But luckily there is a way to treat these situations safely.

The USC Chamber, large enough to treat multiple patients comfortably.

The USC Chamber, large enough to treat multiple patients comfortably.

A hyperbaric chamber is literally like a sealed breadbox with medical professionals inside and outside.  A diver (or any person) requiring treatment is placed inside and thus begins their “dry dive”.

A dry dive brings the people inside the chamber to a prescribed depth by increasing pressure in the breadbox (chamber). This forces all the nitrogen in the blood (tissues) to become more compressed and the bubbles smaller. The blood is able to circulate throughout the body normally, supplying the body with delicious and necessary oxygen.  The chamber also pumps in increased oxygen percentages so that people in treatment can absorb more healthy and healing oxygen. Normal respiration functions begin to ditch the extra nitrogen.

Old school chamber, very small and claustrophobia inducing.

Old school chamber, very small and claustrophobia inducing.

Over a period of time,  the chamber tenders very very slowly decrease the pressure exerted on the body.  Because the body is naturally ditching the nitrogen, the slow decreases in pressure (or “surfacing”) does not cause anymore soda fizz bubbles.  After hours of treatment, nitrogen levels get back to normal and hopefully there is no lasting damages. I’ve heard stories of people temporarily paralyzed by DCS recover full function.

You may have some questions:

1) Why don’t you just go on a dive in the ocean and re-compress yourself: it’s cheaper?

Why its bad: You can’t supply yourself with pure oxygen from a scuba tank, and it would be a terrible idea to do so under depth without medical assistance (who do so only for prescribed times and depths to prevent oxygen toxicity).  Also, people may lose consciousness. also, you probably couldn’t do a dive long enough to treat yourself.

2) Is this whole big breadbox just for diving accidents?

No: Lots of things can be treated by the chamber. gangrene, strokes, carbon monoxide poisoning, abcess, anemia, burns, etc. High concentrations of 02 help a lot of things.

3) Have you ever been in a chamber?

Not to be treated, but yes on a tour! It’s really a modern marvel.

Previously I said that southern california was celebrating our chamber last week.  Every year, The hyperbaric chamber in Catalina holds a fundraiser.  Many in our community come together to dive, raffle prizes, and have a fancy “scuba prom” at the Aquarium of the Pacific, in order to help maintain and promote the services offered there. Now that you know how important a well maintained and funded chamber is to us recreational divers, I hope you’ll consider offering your support.

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stay safe! but plan for the worst: get DAN in case you ever need to be treated by a chamber, you’ll be covered.

xmerbabe

 

*this is Henry’s Law, AKA “At a constant temperature, the amount of a given gas that dissolves in a given type and volume of liquid is directly proportional to the partial pressure of that gas in equilibrium with that liquid.”

The Ocean’s Slowest Shark

Trivia time: what is the world’s slowest shark?

 

the world's slowest shark's teeth!

the world’s slowest shark’s teeth!

If you guessed the Greenland shark, you’d be correct! These sharks are about 10 feet (plus) on average, but they only move at the pace of a crawling baby.  Often described as “sluggish”, and very nearly blind, these sharks have been a mystery to scientists for years.

 

They are the only sharks that can survive in the frigid waters of the arctic, which perhaps explains why they swim so slowly (to conserve energy for keeping organs warm enough to function).

nom nom nom. cruising along slowly.

nom nom nom. cruising along slowly.

An excellent ocean mystery about Greenland Sharks is that they have been found with Seal remains in their stomach. Why is this a mystery? Anyone who has seen a seal knows that they swim quite quickly.  How could the world’s slowest shark catch up?

Previously, it was assumed they merely scavenged dead seals, but some seals showed no signs of being consumed by other scavengers prior to the shark (like brittle stars or the like). They were, in other words, freshly dead seals.

sleeping or awake?

sleeping or awake?

A new hypothesis is that the Greenland shark moves so slowly they are actually able to sneak up on sleeping arctic seals, who sleep in the water in order to avoid polar bears.

Amazing: the slowest shark using their lack of speed to their advantage.  Like Andy hitting Dwight with his silent Prius in The (US) Office, this shark is slow and steady and can win the survival race.

How do you evolve your skills for your benefit?

xmerbabe

information learned from:

http://ngm-beta.nationalgeographic.com/archive/greenland-sharks/

Earth Day: Recycling Your Scuba

Happy Earth Day! In honor of our lovely planet, I want to acknowledge the 71%, the amazing blue portion that gives Earth it’s moniker, The Blue Planet.

 

Our Blue Planet

Our Blue Planet

Oceana had a great post about 10 things you can do to help our ocean: I highly recommend you check out their excellent suggestions.  I decided to go into more detail about one of them: properly disposing of your waste so it doesn’t infect our ocean.

Any material that isn’t recycled is waste.  All waste goes to a landfill, which can then infect our soil, and by run off, our water, our planet.  That’s why its so important to properly dispose of your waste.  Things like batteries and light bulbs don’t belong in the trash: they need to be taken to a properly designated area.  Increasingly, places like Vons, Home Depot, or Lowe’s are accepting these products for FREE to recycle for you.

Ditto for plastic bags.

So what about old scuba gear? Where does the scuba gear go when you can no longer use it?

I asked myself this, as I looked upon my two dead dive computers, some old neoprene booties I’ve outgrown, and some varied masks and single fins I’ve collected from shore dives.  What to do with old dive gear? It too can be recycled!

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First, ask around if someone else wants it.  A lot of the time, the easiest way to get rid of your junk is to GIVE it away. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Your lone fin might make a good match for someone else’s lone fin.  Or re appropriate the fin straps. A found mask can be cleaned and a new strap purchased.  Dive gear is meant to be dived! If you’re not using it, let someone else love it.

Next, you find no one else wants it, or it’s unusable.  Ask yourself what kind of material is this? If it’s a dive computer with a battery inside, this is e-waste.  You can dispose of batteries at the same places you would dispose of an old TV, or paint. Whole computers, regulators and gauges can be returned to the manufacturer.  They will often strip it of any usable material, and use it in new products

If it’s something like a wetsuit, there’s plenty of options. Check this link for companies that can up cycle your old neoprene into a door mat, dog dish, or even if it’s good enough shape, find it a new home. But neoprene products can be used as padding or blankets, and if you’re the type of proactive person to sew, you may be able to invent something else.

Scuba tanks: first make sure that your SCUBA tank is actually donezo.  Well maintained tanks can have long lives.  However, if you have determined that you tank is no longer safe and usable, remove all valuable bits, and sell the main steel for scrap. Some people like to be creative with old tanks and make art projects.

a landfill. This is no disappearing act.

a landfill. This is no disappearing act.

It is easy to forget what happens to our waste.  In a first world country, waste is just removed and it seems to disappear: but it doesn’t ever disappear.  It’s important to reduce waste by reuse, and to recycle everything that can have a second life.

happy earth day merfolks!

xmerbabe

 

The muscles of SCUBA

Scuba can be a lazy sport, but it is a physical activity and as such, being in good physical health is important.

Some muscles are more valuable than others in scuba, for instance:

Glutes: Nothing like walking up 30 or 40 stairs, dripping wet, carrying 20 lbs of lead weight to let you know your ass is dragging.  You will also be climbing up ladders on boats.  And squatting to pick up tanks or weights.  Strong glutes go a long way.

Abs: This is a funny one, but oftentimes on the boat, I see people put their gear on while seated and then grunt, struggling to pull their gear forward and up with them! In this case, it’s about core strength.  If your core is not strong enough to take the weight of your bcd and integrated weights, it’s going to be very hard to stand up with your gear on.

Calves: SCUBA is all swimming legs, no swimming arms.  Although this is a hard lesson to learn for many, once you stop using your arms and wasting your air, you may find an increase in calf cramps: your calves may not be used to that much love! Even if your calves are super tone, you may still get cramps due to dehydration or malnourishment.  Prepare yourself for long surface swims with some calf exercises.

Heart: Scuba puts a lot of pressure on your heart, and being heart healthy is important.  Plus, doing cardio to strengthen your heart can help you prepare for surface swims, or long dives powered exclusively by your legs. If you can’t walk a mile comfortably, or go up a set of stairs without getting winded, you should not be diving.  This is a very serious topic, as many people will die from heart attacks while diving, and if you are a smoker, or live a sedentary life style, scuba is not for you.

Thanks Dudley, for capturing some SCUBA strength in profile.

Thanks Dudley, for capturing some SCUBA strength in profile.

Shoulders: Tank lifting, weight lifting, swimming.  Having strong shoulders can make the weight lighter, and your life easier.

In general, scuba can be very easy going.  Once you’re in the water, and weightless, and cruising using your fins, and the current to your advantage, it can all feel like a breeze. But if the conditions turn on you, you may find that you are the mercy of your weaknesses.

stay strong, divers.

xmerbabe

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Electric Jellies at the Aquarium of the Pacific

I just finished reading “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson, and I can’t sing its praises enough. What a wonderful book!  This week, an excerpt.

“I mention all this to make the point that if you were designing an organism to look after life in our lonely cosmos, to monitor where it is going and keep a record of where it has been, you wouldn’t choose human beings for the job.

But here’s the extremely salient point: we have been chosen, by fate or Providence or whatever you wish to call it. As far as we can tell, we are the best there is. We may  be all there is. It’s an unnerving thought that we may be the living universe’s supreme achievement and its worst nightmare simultaneously.

Because we are so remarkably careless about looking after things, both when alive and when not, we have no idea-really none at all-about how many things have died off permanently, or may soon, or may never, and what role have played in any part of the process.

….

If this book has a lesson, it is that we are awfully lucky to be here-and by “we” i mean every living thing.  To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky of course: we enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.”

 

a school of fish, playing it safe.

entitlement brings with it the duty of stewardship.  We are entitled beings, stamping out 20,000 species per year. Or more. We don’t even know, and can never be sure on that number!!  But we have the ability to appreciate what we do have, and more, the ability to slow down or stop the damage. Instead of being discouraged and overwhelmed by the idea that people are causing the next great mass extinction, be grateful for this short period we are permitted

and seriously, read this book.

xmerbabe