News

News

February/March 2004. Issue 80


82kg Marlin Speared


Freediver Andy Grierson landed his 82kg fish more than 10 nautical miles off Cape Brett on Sunday 25 January. It is the second time a marlin has been speared and successfully landed in New Zealand waters. With dive buddy Murray Clarke, Mr Grierson was targeting marlin in calm conditions off Cape Brett on Kerikeri skipper Grant Cummings’ boat Ellie. The speargun line had a 23m bungi and float attached to it and Mr Grierson hung on in the water as the marlin put up a fight for about 45 minutes.


Artificial reef’s permit ends


Conservationists are calling for the removal of an artificial underwater reef at Long Bay that has become home to oysters, green-lipped mussels and other marine life. The reef, comprising 32 large concrete balls with holes in them were installed two kilometres off the North Shore Bay by the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in 2001. But its two-year permit from the Department of Conservation has expired. DoC’s Auckland area manager, Beau Fraser, says the university must apply for a new permit or remove the reef. The East Coast Bays Coastal Protection Society, which promoted the establishment of the country’s first urban marine reserve at Long Bay Okura in 1995, wants the reef removed. www.reefball.com


Scallop diver killed


A 46-year-old North Shore man Bernard Langton died while diving for scallops with three friends off Kawau Island on 8 January when a 10 metre boat ran over him, its propeller killing him. (see editor’s comments in his Editorial)


Rare seaweeds discovered in Northland


Two rare New Zealand seaweeds have been discovered in Northland, and they could have exciting commercial applications for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) scientist and seaweed expert Wendy Nelson said one of the red seaweed species, Gelidium longipes had not been collected for 50 years, and another Gelidium allanii, had been recorded only from a single site since it was first discovered in 1942. Red seaweeds contain the commercially valuable polysaccharide agar, which is essential for many pharmaceutical, microbiological, and biotechnology applications – including DNA analysis for finger printing – and is also used widely in the food industry. World supplies of agar come entirely from harvesting certain species of red seaweed, which makes it naturally as part of their cell walls.


Police arrest fishers after assault at sea


Three were charged with assault and escaping custody in mid December 2003 under either the Fishery Act or the amateur fishing regulations. Fishery officers had stopped the three, who were fishing in a 4.6 metre fibreglass boat, near Pakatoa Island to inspect their catch. The fishers initially produced a chilly bin with 27 legal snapper (their combined legal daily limit) and all admitted knowing the daily and size limits. However the fishery officers also asked to inspect a large duffle-type bag in the front of the boat the fishers suddenly claimed a lack of English and, despite repeated requests, refused to hand over the bag. A tussle developed. As a result, the bag split open and a large quantity of snapper, estimated to be approximately 100 fish, fell into the water. Eleven of the snapper were recovered, the smallest of which was 20cm, well below the legal minimum size of 27cm. The runabout with the three fishers then headed into a rocky reef area where the Fisheries patrol boat could not safely follow. Police met the three fishers at Maraetai together with five of their associates who were waiting at the ramp. If found guilty, the three could face fines up to $250,000 on the fishery charges and a further $250,000 and forfeiture of their vessel for the obstruction of a fishery officer.


Shell fish take a hammering


• Weekend blitz in West Auckland recently fined 23 people for illegal hauls mainly for undersize paua. Harvesting of this sort meant MoF officers had not seen legal-sized paua taken in the area for about five years.

• A surveillance operation in Wellington recently netted four poachers with 800 undersize paua destined for overseas back markets.

• On Duders Beach in South Auckland, fisheries officers found 90 per cent of those collecting shellfish were not complying with catch limits. One person had more than 1000 cockles – 20 times the legal limit. District compliance manager (non-commerical) Matt Cowan said around 35 people were found breaching the limits. Most people received instant fines of $250 and $500, but the serious offenders received a court summons and could be fined up to $20,000. Mr Cowan found one vanload of people parked in front of a sign explaining how many shellfish can be taken. The people had read the sign, but said they did not care – an attitude typical among those caught.

• At Ohope, near Whakatane, a group of four people were found with more than 2800 pipis – four times the legal limit.

• Ten percent of amateur craypots off the Kaikoura coast had been found to be illegal.


INTERNATIONAL NEWS:


Thousands of relics found


A French-Egyptian archaeology team has retrieved more than 1000 artifacts, including statues and busts of pharaonic gods and goddesses, from the Mediterranean Sea floor off Egypt’s northern coast of Alexandria, according to the Egyptian antiquities officials in late January. Dating back to the third and fifth centuries BC the finds reveal a cult that worshipped the ancient pharaonic deity Amon and his son Konshu in a bid to preserve the legitimacy of the Ptolemaic reign.

‘The most impressive and beautiful item is a second century AD diorite bust of an unidentified person with long hair, which some believe (could be) the Nile god, Hapy,’ Zahi Hawass, head of the Supreme Council for Antiquities, said.


Dive In To Earth Day 2004


People across the planet are gearing up for the fifth annual Dive In To Earth Day event that will take place during the week of Earth Day, 22 April 2004. The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) coordinates ‘Dive In’ each year to ensure that the 72 percent of the planet covered by water is not forgotten during the annual Earth Day celebrations. People are invited to organize and participate in a wide range of activities to help protect underwater ecosystems. Each year, celebrities such as William Shatner, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tanya Streeter and Peter Benchley join in the celebrations. In more than 80 countries and territories around the world (go to http://www.coral.org/divein to post your activity or find activities in your region).


The Ted Eldred Rally 2004


This is an amazing opportunity to be involved in an historic event. The aim is to get as many Porpoise Scuba units in the same place and at the same time with their creator Ted Eldred. What a photo opportunity! Then we want to dive as many units as are diveable in the company of any other vintage scuba units, especially twin hose, and surface supplied gear. Where: Descend Underwater Training Centre, 1/826 David Street, Albury N.S.W. 2640, Australia phone : 0260 411405 fax : 0260 216732. email : dive@descend.com.au www. descend.com.au   When: Friday night – Saturday – Sunday 26,27,28 March, 2004


UN adopts resolution calling for ban on targeting sharks for their fins


The United Nations General Assembly has passed a non-binding resolution which calls for a ban on shark finning operations and urges countries to reduce or eliminate the ‘by catch’ deaths of dolphins, turtles and other creatures. While the resolution is non-binding and cannot be legally enforced, it is viewed as a significant step for two reasons: it was voted for by China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, the major consumers of shark fins; and it represents a global awareness of the plight of sharks and the need to adopt sustainable fishing policies. Despite the best efforts of campaign groups, the current UN resolution only bans the deliberate targeting of sharks for their fins. Fishing vessels can still fin any sharks caught as by catch, and by the time the authorities inspect their catch, there is no way to tell how the sharks were caught. Shark finning is not simply an activity undertaken by fishermen from countries such as Japan and China; Spain is one of the major suppliers of shark fins to the world market. Finning is widely practiced in New Zealand and Australia.


Pollution changes sex of whales


Male whales, dolphins and seals are the latest animals to show signs of developing female sex organs as a result of pollution, scientists say. A wide range of marine life has already demonstrated hermaphroditic traits, from molluscs and fish to polar bear cubs. But it is now thought that more mammals are being similarly affected, placing populations and species in danger. Prof Peter Matthiessen, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology at Lancaster Environment Centre, said: ‘There is now increasingly convincing data about marine mammals – otters, whales, dolphins and seals – that seem to be suffering in some areas the syndrome of feminisation. The deformities are caused by so-called gender-bending substances, principally oestrogen and chemicals that mimic its effect. Oestrogen can occur in sewage, while its chemical mimics are found in paint used on ships’ hulls.


Artic and Antarctic Sea ice marching to different drivers


A 30-year satellite record of sea ice in the two polar regions has revealed that while the Northern Hemisphere Arctic ice has melted, Southern Hemisphere Antarctic ice has actually increased in recent years. However, due to a dramatic losses of Antarctic sea ice between 1973 and 1977, sea ice in both hemispheres has shrunk on average when examined over the 30 year time frame. Over 30 years, from 1972 to 2002, the Arctic sea ice cover decreased per decade by roughly the size of the state of Arizona, some 300,000 square kilometres (almost 116,000 square miles) per decade. However, between 1979 and 2002, the sea ice area shrunk. In contrast, there was a dramatic loss of Antarctic sea ice cover from 1973 to 1977m, and since them the ice has gradually spread in area. Overall, from 1972 to 2002, the Antarctic ice declined on average by 150,000 square kilometres per decade (almost 58,000 square miles).


Plan to reduce global warming could devastate sea life


A Bush administration proposal to mitigate the effects of global warming by capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and injecting it into the deep sea could have disastrous effects on sea life, according to a University of Rhode Island researcher, Brad Seibel. Increase carbon dioxide in the oceans would result in decreases in the pH levels of seawater, resulting in dramatic physiological effects on many species, Seibel said. Seibel said that there is typically a natural exchange of carbon dioxide between the sea and the atmosphere, but increases of atmosphere carbon dioxide are already affecting the equilibrium. Intentional injections of carbon dioxide will further disrupt the ecosystem.


Science Limited by capabilities of existing submersibles


A new report from the National Academies National Research Council USA says new submersibles – both manned and unmanned – that are more capable than those in the current fleet are needed and would be great value to the advancement of ocean research. Over the years, manned and unmanned deepsea vehicles have improved understanding of the processes that govern plate tectonics and ocean chemistry, and of the origins and evolution of life. But despite significant improvements in the design and operation of manned, remotely operated and autonomous underwater vehicles, much of the ocean and seafloor remains beyond the reach of US scientists. The report notes that human observation is still often the best way to study some aspects of the ocean and seafloor. The report calls for a new manned vehicle that could provide scientists onboard with improved visibility and achieve neutral buoyancy at various depths so that researchers can pause to study life forms that exist between the surface and the seafloor. A detailed engineering study also is needed, according to the study to assess the costs and technical risks of extending the diving range of an upgraded manned vehicle to 6,500 metres.


Cancer killer’s ocean hideout discovered after 20-year hunt


In 1984, Harbor branch Oceanographic Institution scientists exploring waters off the Bahamas discovered a piece of sponge that harboured a chemical with a remarkable ability to kill cancer cells in laboratory testing. Despite almost two decades of searching, though, the group was never able to find enough of the sponge to fully explore its potential. However, now the process can finally begin as scientists have found the animal’s secret hiding place and collected enough of it to support years of intense research. A chemical produced within the sponge, which has not yet been given an official name, has proven in one test of cancer-fighting potential to be about 400 times more potent than Taxol, a widely used treatment for breast and other forms of cancer. The sponge was found in water over 1,000 feet deep in an area the researchers often refer to as the ‘dead zone’, because it generally characterized by bare rock and very low biodiversity. The full process of turning the chemical into a commerically available cancer treatment would likely take more than a decade.


Octopuses are the first soft-bodied animal found to have erectile tissue


Octopuses can get erections, US researchers have discovered. They are the first soft-bodied animal found to have erectile tissue. The inflatable organ, called the ligula, lies at the tip of a male octopus’ mating arm. When it’s not aroused, the two-spot octopus (Octopus bimaculatus) ‘has an exceptionally tiny ligula that’s very hard to see’, says Janet Voight of the University of Chicago1. But Voight glimpsed a rather different ligula while watching a failed mating. ‘It was quite prominent,’ she recalls.

Its structure is remarkably similar to mammal penises and clitorises, Voight and her colleague Joseph Thompson found. It has cavities that fill with blood held together by collagen. Male octopuses produce a packet of sperm and it into their mate using this specialized arm. When all goes according to plan, the ligula is deployed inside the female, obscuring its function and size. It might help to transfer sperm, or it might scrub out the sperm of previous mates. The organ is bright white, lacking the colour-changing cells that camouflage the rest of the octopus. In the two-spot, which hunts by day, this might be a beacon to predators. Shrinking it away might minimize this risk.

‘For defensive purposes, you want a tiny copulatory organ, but you also want to transfer large quantities of sperm,’ says Voight. In most octopuses, which are nocturnal or live in the deep sea, the ligula is muscular, like a continuation of the arm, and comes in just one size.


Canada’s seal hunt


A new protest begins after Canada announces a quota of 975,000 seals that could be killed. Escalating a sporadic 35 year old protest campaign, opponents of Canada’s seal hunt are advocating a travel boycott, pushing their cause in the US Senate. Many countries, including the United States, ban imports of seal products, but the Canadian government has steadfastly supported the hunt to show political solidarity with hard-up coastal towns. The industry earned about $15 million last year, primarily from pelt sales to Norway, Denmark and China. The hunt was among the earliest target of the international animal welfare movement, with, major protest starting in 1969, Brigette Bardo was among many celebrities backing the killing of whitecoats – the cute baby seals prized for the snow-while fur. Canada curtailed the hunt, then expanded it in 1996. That triggered renewed protests led by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which distributed grisly videos of seals being slaughtered. Canadian officials remained unswayed, saying the hunt’s importance had grown because of the north Atlantic cod fishery’s collapse. They also say the region’s harp seals are far from endangered, now numbering an estimated 5.2 million. The Humane Society has taken out full page newspaper ads urging Americans to consider cancelling trips to Canada and boycotting Canadian products.


Salvage team in three-year plan to raise the Graf Spee


A salvage operation has been launched recently to raise from the estuary of the river Plate which divides Uruguay and Argentina the wreck of the German battleship Graf Spee, which spread terror across the south Atlantic at the start of the second world war. One of the most potent symbols of Nazi sea power, it hunted down and sank allied merchant vessels before being disabled by British warships and New Zealand’s HMS Achilles in the first great naval battle of the war before being scuttled by its captain on 13 December 1939. The salvage operation, a private venture with German funding and Uruguayan government backing, is expected to last more than three years. The ship is only eight metres below the surface, but it has broken into two and been engulfed by mud. Once raised and restored, the Graf Spee is expected to become a major tourist attraction in Montevideo.


Hitler’s chemical weapons a seeping menace


Six decades after the defeat of Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler’s chemical weapons are coming back to haunt Europe as they ooze from rusting and poorly mapped graves on the seabed. Far from the hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, corrosion, deeper fishing by trawlers and seabed cables or oil pipelines and disturbing stockpiles in what once seemed inaccessible dumps from the Baltic to the Atlantic. A new seismic survey would be carried out this year to locate ships loaded with Nazi stocks or mustard gas and the nerve agent taburn which were scuttled off Norway in 1945. Norway knows the exact locations of just 15 of a probable 36 ships in waters about 600 metres (1,970 feet) deep off the southern town of Arendal, one of the main postwar chemical dumps with 168,000 tonnes of Nazi ammunition. European governments reckon the stocks are safest where they are, slowly seeping poisons that may break down in contact with sea water or become diluted over decades. Greenpeace says they should be recovered. Apart from the threat to people working at sea, a sudden release of nerve gas could kill fish stocks. Other poisons might sink into the sediment and damage the food chain.


Security at Port Vila International Airport, finds WWII shells in scuba diver’s baggage


The recently installed, state of the art ‘smart’ x-ray baggage screening equipment, operating since only 9 July 2003 at the international airport at Port Villa, has already proven its value on several occasions by preventing the carriage of dangerous goods on aircraft. Last year Aviation Security officers found 15 WWII artillery shells packed in the luggage of visiting scuba divers who had been on holiday in Espiritu Santo. The shells had been removed from a dive site in Santo, in breach of the normal diver’s code of practice which requires artifacts to be left in their place for others to see in the future.


Mexicans outrages bysSea turtle massacre


The massacre has Mexican authorities so worried that they have put out this warning to citizens: ‘Do not order turtle meat in restaurants, do not eat their eggs and do not buy boots or belts made out their skin.’ Mexico’s Environment Ministry has been repeating the message all this month to curb the killing of hundreds of sea turtles who lay their eggs along Pacific Coast beaches. Mexican authorities estimate more than 500 turtles were shot to death in the first few days of this year in Guerrero state, 400 miles (700 km) from the capital. Their carcasses were found 7 January scattered along a four mile stretch of beach. There are an estimated 10,000 sea turtles in Mexican waters, and only one in 1,000 hatched turtles survive to adulthood. Sea turtles can be worth up to US$800 a carcass before processing. A kilogram (2.2 pounds) of turtle meat can fetch $50. By comparison, 40% of Mexican families live on less than $500 a year. One turtle can lay 100 ping pong ball-sized eggs, sold in coastal villages for a dollar and a half a piece.


Mercury fears with dead dolphins


Record levels of mercury have been found in dozens of dead dolphins recovered from South Australia’s Spencer and St Vincent gulfs. Toxicology research on 114 bottlenose dolphins by Adelaide University student Nicole Butterfield has found the mercury level of one dolphin to be four times higher than Australia’s previous worst case. The dolphin contained 1900mg of mercury per kilogram and was retrieved near Point Riley, on the Spencer Gulf and just south of the industrial town of Port Pirie. The source of the mercury remains unclear and no direct link between the dolphin deaths and mercury has yet been established. Inshore dolphins had mercury levels on average 14 time greater that common dolphins living offshore in the Southern Ocean.


Australian diver recovering after shark attack


A diver whose legs were mauled by a three-metre long shark south of Perth was in a stable condition after undergoing emergency surgery. The Western Australian Fisheries Department has so far been unable to determine what type of shark was involved in the attack on Sunday 25 January on the 46 year old man. He had been diving for crayfish about 20km off Binningup beach, 120km south of Perth, when he was attacked. The shark struck from below, biting the man’s legs 11 times before his two companions were able to pull him into the dive boat and wrap his legs in towels to help stem the bleeding. A fisheries spokeswomen said the diver was recovering well.


New Zealand salmon fed chicken remains


Two of the country’s largest salmon companies are feeding their fish ground poultry feathers – a practice damned by a marine expert who says it’s a potential ‘recipe for disaster’ for public health.

But the companies, New Zealand King Salmon and Sanford, both say feathermeal is safe. It is a by-product of chicken processed for human consumption, heat-treated and hydrolysed to make the feathermeal, then heat-treated again to remove any traces of bacteria. Both companies have been assured by Australian suppliers of the product that it is ‘perfectly safe’.

But UK marine expert and environmentalist Don Staniford, who visited King Salmon’s farm in Pelorus Sound while in New Zealand, was not aware of any other country using feathermeal in salmon farming.

‘Clearly wild salmon don’t feed on chickens. It would be fundamentally altering the make-up of the salmon. It’s a recipe for disaster. We don’t know the potential public health impacts. Salmon don’t eat chickens and they don’t eat artificial colourings.’

King Salmon also acknowledges using the anti-parasite treatment formalin – a known cancer-causing agent – in small quantities in the salmon hatcheries. Formalin is a European Union-banned substance, but is legal in New Zealand.

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