Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ocean One: June 1943

Jacques Cousteau's book, The Silent World, (first published in 1953) opens with this paragraph:
One morning in June, 1943, I went to the railway station at Bandol on the French Riviera and received a wooden case expressed from Paris. In it was a new and promising device, the result of years of struggle and dreams, an automatic compressed-air diving lung conceived by Emile Gagnan and myself.

I rushed it to Villa Barry where mu diving comrades, Philippe Tailliez and Frederic Dumas waited. No children ever opened a Christmas present with more excitement than ours when we unpacked the first "aqualung." If it worked, diving could be revoluionized.

First, some political histoyr. In June, 1943, what was the state of France?
Vichy France, Vichy Regime, Vichy Government, or simply Vichy are common terms used to describe the government of France which collaborated with the Axis powers from July 1940 to August 1944, during the Second World War. It officially called itself the French State (État Français) and was headed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, who proclaimed the government following the military defeat of France by Germany.

The Vichy regime maintained some legal authority in the northern zone of France (the Zone occupée), which was occupied by the German Wehrmacht, but was most powerful in the unoccupied southern "free zone", where its administrative centre of Vichy was located. In November 1942 the southern zone was also occupied and fully subjected to German rule.

Pétain collaborated with the German occupying forces in exchange for an agreement to not divide France between the Axis Powers. Vichy authorities aided in the rounding-up of Jews and other "undesirables", and at times, Vichy French military forces actively opposed the Allies. Much of the French public initially supported the new government despite its pro-Nazi policies, seeing it as necessary to maintain a degree of French autonomy and territorial integrity.

The legitimacy of Vichy France and Pétain's leadership was constantly challenged by the exiled General Charles de Gaulle, who claimed to represent the legitimacy and continuity of the French government. Public opinion turned against the Vichy regime and the occupying German forces over time, and resistance to them grew within France. Following the Allied invasion of France in June 1944, de Gaulle proclaimed the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF).

Most of the Vichy regime's leaders were later put on trial by the GPRF, and a number of them were executed. Pétain was sentenced to death for treason, but his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

The Free French, led by De Gaulle, were based in North Africa.

What about the French Riviera in 1943?
The Côte d'Azur (Azure (blue)Coast), often known in English as the French Riviera , is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France, also including the sovereign state of Monaco. There is no official boundary, but it is usually considered to extend from the Italian border in the east to Saint Tropez, Hyères or Cassis in the west.

The French Riviera coastline covers 560 miles and consists of both sand and shingle beaches.

[WIkipedia doesn't say anything specifically about how the average French person lived, on the French Riviera, during this time, but does mention:
The Second World War

When Germany invaded France in June 1940, the remaining British colony was evacuated to Gibraltar and eventually to Britain. American Jewish groups helped some of the Jewish artists living in the south of France, such as Marc Chagall, to escape to the United States. In August 1942, 600 Jews from Nice were rounded up by French police and sent to Drancy, and eventually to death camps. In all about 5,000 French Jews from Nice perished during the war.

On August 15, 1944, American parachute troops landed near Fréjus, and a fleet landed 60,000 troops of the American Seventh Army and French First Army between Cavalaire and Agay, east of Saint-Raphaël. German resistance crumbled in days.

Saint-Tropez was badly damaged by German mines at the time of the liberation. The novelist Colette organized an effort to assure the town was rebuilt in its original style.

When the war ended, artists Marc Chagall and Pablo Picasso returned to live and work.

Cousteau, a Navy man, was out of work after the Armistice of 1940, and did not join the Free French. However, as evidenced in the Wikipedia article below, he did do work for his country against the Nazis:
After the armistice of 1940, the family of Simone and Jacques-Yves Cousteau took refuge in Megève, where he became a friend of the Ichac family who also lived there. Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Marcel Ichac shared the same desire to reveal to the general public unknown and inaccessible places — for Cousteau the underwater world and for Ichac the high mountains. The two neighbors took the first ex-aequo prize of the Congress of Documentary Film in 1943, for the first French underwater film: Par dix-huit mètres de fond (18 meters deep), made without breathing apparatus the previous year in the Embiez islands (Var) with Philippe Tailliez and Frédéric Dumas, using a depth-pressure-proof camera case developed by mechanical engineer Léon Vèche (engineer of Arts and Métiers and the Naval College).

In 1943, they made the film Épaves (Shipwrecks), in which they used two of the very first Aqua-Lung prototypes. These prototypes were made in Boulogne-Billancourt by the Air Liquide company, following instructions from Cousteau and Émile Gagnan. When making Épaves, Cousteau could not find the necessary blank reels of movie film, but had to buy hundreds of small still camera film reels the same width, intended for a make of child's camera, and cemented them together to make long reels.

Having kept bonds with the English speakers (he spent part of his childhood in the United States and usually spoke English) and with French soldiers in North Africa (under Admiral Lemonnier), Jacques-Yves Cousteau (whose villa "Baobab" at Sanary (Var) was opposite Admiral Darlan's villa "Reine"), helped the French Navy to join again with the Allies; he assembled a commando operation against the Italian espionage services in France, and received several military decorations for his deeds. At that time, he kept his distance from his brother Pierre-Antoine Cousteau, a "pen anti-semite" who wrote the collaborationist newspaper Je suis partout (I am everywhere)

Begin a notebook for Ocean One, if you have not already done so. It should be a loose-leaf notebook, so that you can take out and insert pages as needed.

Write each name below on its own sheet of paper. Keep track of their activities in chronological fashion as we go through This Silent World.

* Jacques Cousteau
* Simone Cousteau
* Emile Gagnan
* Philippe Tailliez
* Frederic Dumas

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Details of live-fire exercises requested after orca killed

From the Vancouver Sun: Details of live-fire exercises requested after orca killed
he U.S. and Canadian navies are being asked to hand over details of live fire exercises and sonar use around southern Vancouver Island and Puget Sound in February, when an endangered southern resident killer whale died.

Brent Norberg, of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, said his agency hopes that information and a detailed necropsy will point to a cause of death.

The Royal Canadian Navy has been contacted by U.S. and Canadian agencies and will provide the information, said a navy public affairs statement.

“On Feb. 6, HMCS Ottawa was operating in Juan de Fuca Strait, specifically in Constance Bank, conducting workups training, including a period of sonar use and two small underwater charges as part of an anti-submarine warfare exercise,” the statement said.

Ken Balcomb, senior scientist with the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, Washington, believes three-year-old L112, also known as Sooke, was killed by an explosion — and said she may not be the only fatality.

“She always swam very close to her mother and brother, and not too far away from her aunt and cousin,” said Balcomb, who was present at an on-beach necropsy, but is not part of the team of U.S. and Canadian scientists examining tissue from the whale, which washed up near

Long Beach, Washington, on Feb. 11.

“It’s probable that other animals were killed,” Balcomb said.

Military bombs are regularly dropped in Juan de Fuca Strait and sonar and live fire exercises are common, Balcomb said.

“You would expect, once in a while, a whale would get blown up,” he said.

“It is absurd for our federal governments to have very strong endangered species law, and then exempt the military in the critical habitat of endangered whales.”

Balcomb said the beach necropsy clearly indicated a blast caused a hemorrhage.

“One half of this poor little whale’s brain was just soup,” he said.

That initial necropsy found that massive trauma was the cause of death, but bones in the whale’s head were not broken.

Zoologist Anna Hall, who captains a Prince of Whales whale-watching boat, said it is possible either sonar or live fire played a role in the death.

“Killer whales and other whales have suffered damage from very loud sounds,” she said.

Hall has video of an incident about four years ago, when the U.S. Coast Guard was using the live fire range when orcas were in the area.

“We managed to get someone in the U.S. Coast Guard and let them know endangered southern residents were passing by and the first response was, ‘We know,’ ” she said.

Detailed tissue examination, which will form part of the necropsy report, has been held up because of a delay in obtaining a permit allowing samples to be sent to the B.C. Centre for Animal Health in Abbotsford from the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor.

“I would guess it will take about six weeks from the time it gets there,” said Whale Museum executive director Jenny Atkinson.

It is not yet possible to draw conclusions, Atkinson said.

“Our strong belief is that [Sooke’s] body is going to tell the story. There is a lot of collecting of information and evidence to analyze. We don’t have all the pieces yet.”

Study: Ancient Civilizations Reveal Ways To Manage Fisheries For Sustainability;

From Underwater Times: Study: Ancient Civilizations Reveal Ways To Manage Fisheries For Sustainability;
PALO ALTO, California -- In the search for sustainability of the ocean's fisheries, solutions can be found in a surprising place: the ancient past.

In a study published on March 23 in the journal Fish and Fisheries, a team of marine scientists reconstructed fisheries yields over seven centuries of human habitation in Hawaii and the Florida Keys, the largest coral reef ecosystems in the United States, and evaluated the management strategies associated with periods of sustainability. The results surprised them.

"Before European contact, Native Hawaiians were catching fish at rates that far exceed what reefs currently provide society," said John "Jack" N. Kittinger, co-author and an early career fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. "These results show us that fisheries can be both highly productive and sustainable, if they're managed effectively." In contrast, historical fisheries in Florida were characterized by boom and bust, with serial depletions of highly valuable species for export markets. Today many species that were the target of 19th and early 20th century fisheries in Florida - including green turtles, sawfish, conch and groupers - have severely reduced populations or are in danger of extinction.

"Seven hundred years of history clearly demonstrate that management matters," said Loren McClenachan, co-author and assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College. "Ancient Hawaiian societies used sophisticated tools similar to innovative conservation strategies used today, like marine protected areas and restrictions on harvest of vulnerable species like sharks." The difference, the authors explained, was in the way fisheries governance systems were structured. Regulations were developed locally with the buy-in of community members, but they were also effectively enforced with methods that now would be considered draconian. "Today, no management system comes close to achieving this balance, and as a result, resource depletion and collapse is common," said McClenachan.

The authors were able to characterize historical catch rates in Florida and Hawaii through an extensive review of archival sources, including species-specific catch records from the 1800s and archaeological reconstructions of human population densities and per-capita fish consumption back to the 1300s. Such information is relatively rare in coral reef areas. They then characterized management regimes associated with periods of high sustained yields using a variety of sources, including published work of Native Hawaiian scholars. This work revealed that sustainable fisheries existed during periods in which regulations were strict and socially enforced in ways that were often class and gender based. For example, many vulnerable species—like sharks and marine turtles—were reserved exclusively for high priests and chiefs.

Ancient Hawaiian societies depended entirely on local resources and needed creative ways to avoid resource collapse. For example, fishpond aquaculture was used to sequester nutrients and reduce pollution on reefs. In contrast, much of today's aquaculture requires large inputs of wild caught fish and antibiotics, often resulting in increased pollution. "Ancient Hawaiian society effectively practiced what we now call ecosystem-based management, which is something that modern society often struggles to achieve," says McClenachan. "Incorporating some of these ancient techniques into today's policy may be the key to sustaining our fisheries."

The authors of the study, entitled "Multicentury trends and the sustainability of coral reef fisheries in Hawai'i and Florida," point to the U.S. National Ocean Policy as an example of emerging attempts to manage ocean ecosystems more holistically, and local fisheries co-management as a modern way of including community members in designing effective fishing regulations. However, the authors caution that effective enforcement needs to go hand in hand with the development of local governance. "The ancient Hawaiians punished transgressors with corporal punishment," observed Kittinger. "Clearly, we don't recommend this, but it's easy to see there's room to tighten up today's enforcement efforts."

The Center for Ocean Solutions is a collaboration among Stanford University's Woods Institute for the Environment and Hopkins Marine Station, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Across these institutions, COS draws from about 80 scholars, researchers and educators who work on coastal and ocean ecosystems in the natural, physical and social sciences. COS also works with experienced conservation practitioners and policy experts. Located at Stanford and in Monterey, California, COS is uniquely positioned to leverage expertise and develop practical solutions to the most urgent and important ocean conservation problems.

Founded in 1813, Colby College is the 12th-oldest independent liberal arts college in the nation. Colby provides a rigorous academic program that fosters transformational relationships between students and faculty. Graduates emerge as committed leaders ready to make an impact on their world. Colby is committed to making the fjavascript:void(0)ull experience accessible to all qualified students, regardless of their ability to pay. The college enrolls 1,825 students.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Exxon Valdez likely headed for scrap heap in India Exxon Valdez likely headed for scrap heap in India
JUNEAU, Alaska — The ship formerly known as the Exxon Valdez, responsible for one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history, appears destined for the scrap heap in a shipyard along the Indian Gulf of Cambay.

Such an end for the ship that spilled millions of gallons of crude in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989 is fitting, says at least one person directly involved with the disaster's aftermath.

"My first reaction when I heard the boat is getting scrapped was 'good riddance,'" Stan Jones said.

Jones was a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News at the time of the spill. He now works as a spokesman for the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council, a foundation set up after the spill with the goal of preventing similar disasters.

"It's a symbol of a really dark day in Alaska's history. But then my second thought is that the boat alone is nothing. The problem was man and machine together. ... The good thing is that, today, the spill wouldn't happen that way, or it would have been much smaller because of changes we've made."

The tanker ran aground at Alaska's Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989, and spewed 11 million gallons of crude oil into the rich fishing waters of Prince William Sound.

The shoreline was coated with petroleum sludge. Towns like Cordova that relied on fishing the sound were devastated. An incalculable amount of damage was done to marine species and the surrounding environment.

An Anchorage jury in 1991 called for Irving, Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. to pay $5 billion in punitive damages, thought the U.S Supreme Court later reduced that to $507.5 million. Some litigation related to the spill is still ongoing.

Exxon maintained at the time that it should not be liable for the actions of the supertanker's skipper, Joseph Hazelwood, when the nearly 1,000-foot vessel ran aground with 53 million gallons of oil in its hold.

According to prosecutors, Hazelwood was drunk, but he denied it and was acquitted of the charge in criminal court.

Hazelwood apologized to Alaskans in a 2009 book, "The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster."

Changes that came after the spill include a federal law that has phased in double-hulled tankers, a requirement for tanker escorts into Port Valdez, creation of regional citizen councils that act as industry watchdogs, and storage facilities in Alaska fishing communities where spill response gear is cached.

The Exxon Valdez was engineered in San Diego and commissioned in 1986 to carry crude oil.

In the years since, the ship has been rebranded a few times with different names. It is now called the Oriental Nicety.

Though widely reported as purchased by a Baltimore-based company, Hong Kong-based Best Oasis Ltd. actually bought the ship recently for an undisclosed price.

Best Oasis is a wholly owned subsidiary of Priya Blue Industries in the western Indian state of Gujarat.

Company spokesman Gauray Mehta confirmed the purchase to The Associated Press on Friday, but he said he "can give no details till we take delivery of it."

The company would not disclose the purpose of its purchase, but it buys old ships solely to dismantle them, reuse salvageable material and discard the rest.

India has one of the world's largest industries for breaking down old ships and oil tankers in the town of Alang, and workers in the coastal town are expected to process the ship to salvage scraps of metal and parts that retain value.

News of the sale comes a few days before an odd-year anniversary of the spill that will feature no elaborate commemoration in Alaska communities affected by it. But people who have been around for a while and those still helping with cleanup efforts are breathing a sigh of relief as the ship meets what they consider a symbolic end.

Scott Pegau, who manages research efforts of the Oil Spill Recovery Institute in Cordova, said boats there would historically be gearing up for herring season this time of year.

Because the herring population has yet to rebound to a fishable level, the town now primarily fishes salmon, which comes into season late in April. Otters, sea ducks and a killer whale pod are also still impacted by the spill, he said.

"The Supreme Court's decision on the settlement had a huge impact on the community," said Pegau, who was a student in Fairbanks in 1989. "I suspect (scrapping the ship) will help end the story for a lot of people. They'll be able to say, 'It's finally gone, it doesn't exist anymore.'"

James Cameron Now at Ocean's Deepest Point

From National Geographic Daily News: James Cameron Now at Ocean's Deepest Point
At 5:52 p.m. ET Sunday (7:52 a.m. Monday, local time), James Cameron arrived at the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep, members of the National Geographic expedition have confirmed.

His depth on arrival: 35,756 feet (10,898 meters)—a figure unattainable anywhere else in the ocean.

Reaching bottom after a 2-hour-and-36-minute descent, the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker typed out welcome words for the cheering support crew waiting at the surface: "All systems OK."

Folded into a sub cockpit as cramped as any Apollo capsule, the National Geographic explorer and filmmaker is now investigating a seascape more alien to humans than the moon. Cameron is only the third person to reach this Pacific Ocean valley southwest of Guam (map)—and the only one to do so solo.

Hovering in what he's called a vertical torpedo, Cameron is likely collecting data, specimens, and imagery unthinkable in 1960, when the only other explorers to reach Challenger Deep returned after seeing little more than the silt stirred up by their bathyscaphe.

After as long as six hours in the trench, Cameron—best known for creating fictional worlds on film (Avatar, Titanic, The Abyss)—is to jettison steel weights attached to the sub and shoot back to the surface. (See pictures of Cameron's sub.)

Meanwhile, the expedition's scientific support team awaits his return aboard the research ships Mermaid Sapphire and Barakuda, 7 miles (11 kilometers) up. (Video: how sound revealed that Challenger Deep is the deepest spot in the ocean.)

"We're now a band of brothers and sisters that have been through this for a while," marine biologist Doug Bartlett told National Geographic News from the ship before the dive.

"People have worked for months or years in a very intensive way to get to this point," said Bartlett, chief scientist for the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE program, a partnership with the National Geographic Society and Rolex. (The Society owns National Geographic News.)

"I think people are ready," added Bartlett, of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. "They want to get there, and they want to see this happen."

Rendezvous at Challenger Deep
Upon touchdown at Challenger Deep, Cameron's first target is a phone booth-like unmanned "lander" dropped into the trench hours before his dive.

Using sonar, "I'm going to attempt to rendezvous with that vehicle so I can observe animals that are attracted to the chemical signature of its bait," Cameron told National Geographic News before the dive.

He'll later follow a route designed to take him through as many environments as possible, surveying not only the sediment-covered seafloor but also cliffs of interest to expedition geologists.

"I'll be doing a bit of a longitudinal transect along the trench axis for a while, and then I'll turn 90 degrees and I'll go north and work myself up the wall," said Cameron, also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence. (Listen: James Cameron on becoming a National Geographic explorer.)

Though battery power and vast distances limit his contact with his science team to text messaging and sporadic voice communication, Cameron seemed confident in his mission Friday. "I'm pretty well briefed on what I'll see," he said.

Bullet to the Deep
To get to this point, Cameron and his crew have spent seven years reimagining what a submersible can be. The result is the 24-foot-tall (7-meter-tall) DEEPSEA CHALLENGER.

Engineered to sink upright and spinning, like a bullet fired straight into the Mariana Trench, the sub can descend about 500 feet (150 meters) a minute—"amazingly fast," in the words of Robert Stern, a marine geologist at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Pre-expedition estimates put the Challenger Deep descent at about 90 minutes.

By contrast, some current remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs, descend at about 40 meters (130 feet) a minute, added Stern, who isn't part of the expedition.

Andy Bowen, project manager and principal developer of the Nereus, an ROV that explored Challenger Deep in 2009, called the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER "an extremely elegant solution to the challenge of diving a human-occupied submersible to such extreme depths."

"It's been engineered to be very effective at getting from the surface to the seafloor in as quick a time as possible," said Bowen, of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who also isn't part of the current expedition.

And that's just the idea, the DEEPSEA CHALLENGE team says: The faster Cameron gets there, the more time for science. (Read more about DEEPSEA CHALLENGE science.)

Pursuing speed and science in tandem makes the DEEPSEA CHALLENGER test dives—and even the Mariana Trench mission—perhaps as unorthodox as the sub itself.

Typically "you conduct a sea trial for a vehicle, you pronounce it fit for service, and then you develop a science program around it," Cameron said before heading to the trench. "We collapsed that together into one expedition, because [we were] fairly confident the vehicle would work—and it is."

Techno Torpedo
Now, at the bottom of the trench, the sub's custom-designed foam filling and the pressure-resistant shape of the "pilot sphere"—are helping protect Cameron from the equivalent of 8 tons pressing down on every square inch (1,125 kilograms per square centimeter). (Video: how sub sphere protects Cameron.)

Among the sub's tools are a sediment sampler, a mechanical claw, a "slurp gun" for sucking up small sea creatures for study at the surface, and temperature, salinity, and pressure gauges.

While that might sound like a gearhead's paradise, Cameron knows he'll "have to be able to prioritize."

"Is my manipulator working properly? Do I still have room in my sample drawer? And do I still have the ability to take a [sediment] core sample? ... I only have [tools for] three sediment cores available on the vehicle, so I have to choose wisely when to use them."

By contrast, the sub's multiple 3-D cameras will be whirring almost continually, and not just for the benefit of future audiences of planned documentaries.

"There is scientific value in getting stereo images," Cameron said, "because ... you can determine the scale and distance of objects from stereo pairs that you can't from 2-D images."

But, Scripps's Bartlett said, "it's not just the video." The sub's lighting of deepwater scenes—mainly by an 8-foot (2.5-meter) tower of LEDs—is "so, so beautiful. It's unlike anything that you'll have seen from other subs or other remotely operated vehicles."

The Search for Life
Right now it's a mystery what Cameron is seeing, sampling, and filming at depth, in part because so little is known about the Challenger Deep environment.

The only glimpses scientists have had of the region, via two ROV missions, showed a seafloor covered in light gray, silky mud.

Cameron may be detecting subtle signs of life—burrows or tracks or fecal piles—said DEEPSEA CHALLENGE biological oceanographer Lisa Levin, also of Scripps, who's monitoring the expedition from afar.

If the water's clear, she added, Cameron may be seeing jellyfish or xenophyophores—giant, single-celled, honeycomb-shaped creatures already filmed in other areas of the Mariana Trench. (See "Giant 'Amoebas' Found in Deepest Place on Earth.")

"If we get lucky," Cameron said before the dive, "we should find something like a cold seep, where we might find tube worms." Cold seeps are regions of the ocean floor somewhat like hydrothermal vents (video) that ooze fluid chemicals at the same temperature as the surrounding water.

Earlier this month, during a test dive near Papua New Guinea, Cameron brought back enormous shrimplike creatures from five miles (eight kilometers) down. At 7 inches (17 centimeters) long, the animals are "the largest amphipods ever seen at that kind of depth," chief scientist Bartlett said. "And we saw one on camera that was perhaps twice that size."

At Challenger Deep depths, though, the calcium animals need to form shells dissolves quickly. It's unlikely—though not impossible—that Cameron is finding shelled creatures, but if he does, the discovery would be a scientific jaw-dropper.

Even if he uncovers "a rock with a shell limpet or some kind of bivalve in the mud"—such as a clam, perhaps—"that would be exciting," Scripps's Levin said.

Aliens of the Abyss
Expedition astrobiologist Kevin Hand, of NASA, imagines that the life-forms Cameron might be encountering could help fine-tune the search for extraterrestrial life.

For instance, scientists think Jupiter's moon Europa could harbor a global ocean beneath its thick shell of ice—an ocean that, like Challenger Deep, would be lightless, near freezing, and home to areas of intense pressure. (See "Could Jupiter Moon Harbor Fish-Size Life?")

By studying the wavelengths of light, or spectra, reflected off life-forms and sediments brought up by Cameron, Hand should get a better idea of which minerals are needed for life in such an environment. This, in turn, might help him design a space probe better able to detect signs of life on Europa.

"There's an old adage in geology that the best geologist is the one that's seen the most rocks," said Hand, a National Geographic emerging explorer.

"I think astrobiology could have a similar adage, in that our best capability for finding life elsewhere—and knowing it when we see it—will come from having a comprehensive understanding of all the various extremes of life on Earth."

And for UT Dallas's Stern, DEEPSEA CHALLENGER's rock-sampling capability offers the opportunity to better understand our planet's inner workings.

"Challenger Deep is the deepest cut into the solid Earth," Stern said, "and this gives us a chance to see deeper into the Earth than anywhere else."

Once the trench-dive data, specimens, and imagery have been analyzed, National Geographic magazine plans to reveal the full results in a special issue on next-generation exploration in January 2013.

"A Turning Point"
By returning humans to the so-called hadal zone—the ocean's deepest level, below 20,000 feet (6,000 meters)—the Challenger Deep expedition may represent a renaissance in deep-sea exploration.

While ROVs are much less expensive than manned subs, "the critical thing is to be able to take the human mind down into that environment," expedition member Patricia Fryer said, "to be able to turn your head and look around to see what the relationships are between organisms in a community and to see how they're behaving—to turn off all the lights and just sit there and watch and not frighten the animals, so that they behave normally.

"That is almost impossible to do with an ROV," said Fryer, a marine geologist at the Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics & Planetology.

In fact, Cameron is so confident in his star vehicle that he started mulling sequels even before the trench dive.

Phase two might include adding a thin fiber-optic tether to the ship, which "would allow science observers at the surface to see the images in real time," he said. "And phase three might be taking this vehicle and creating a second-generation vehicle."

DEEPSEA CHALLENGE, then, may be anything but a one-hit wonder. To Bartlett, the Mariana Trench expedition could "represent a turning point in how we approach ocean science.

"I absolutely think that what you're seeing is the start of a program, not just one grand expedition."

Thursday, March 22, 2012

France and Spain back down on fish discards after internet campaign

From the Independendent: France and Spain back down on fish discards after internet campaign
France and Spain today backed down over a plan to carry on throwing dead fish overboard after an internet campaign organised by a television chef.

Prior to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s social networking campaign, the two countries had been hoping to persuade fellow fisheries ministers to sign a declaration opposing a ban on discards, when trawlers exceeding their allowable catch throw back fish into the sea dead.

More than 130,000 Twitter and Facebook messages were sent to ministers urging them to oppose the draft declaration and France and Spain did not insist on a vote. Britain's fisheries minister Richard Benyon went into the meeting saying he would oppose France and Spain. The EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki now looks likely to phase out discards over four years, by reforming the Common Fisheries Policy in a way that ultimately kills fewer fish.

Last night Fearnley-Whittingstall told supporters: "I'm coming back on the Eurostar and it's been a satisfying day. Discard disaster has been averted as the French, Spanish, Portguese and Belgian revolution just didn't happen. Maria Damanaki led from the front and seems to be building consensus among the ministers. Everyone agreed that the amazing Twitter and Facebook activity over the weekend made a real difference."

Jacques Cousteau, a biography pt 3

In 1980, Cousteau traveled to Canada to make two films on the Saint Lawrence River and the Great Lakes, Cries from the Deep and St. Lawrence: Stairway to the Sea.

In 1985, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan.

On 24 November 1988, he was elected to the French Academy, chair 17, succeeding Jean Delay. His official reception under the Cupola took place on 22 June 1989, the response to his speech of reception being given by Bertrand Poirot-Delpech. After his death, he was replaced under the Cupola by Érik Orsenna on 28 May 1998.

In June 1990, the composer Jean Michel Jarre paid homage to the commander by entitling his new album Waiting for Cousteau. He also composed the music for Cousteau's documentary "Palawan, the last refuge".

On 2 December 1990, his wife Simone Cousteau died of cancer.

In June 1991, in Paris, Jacques-Yves Cousteau remarried, to Francine Triplet, with whom he had (before this marriage) two children, Diane and Pierre-Yves. Francine Cousteau currently continues her husband's work as the head of the Cousteau Foundation and Cousteau Society.

From that point, the relations between Jacques-Yves and his elder son worsened.

In November 1991, Cousteau gave an interview to the UNESCO courier, in which he stated that he was in favour of human population control and population decrease. The full article text can be found online.

In 1992, he was invited to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for the United Nations' International Conference on Environment and Development, and then he became a regular consultant for the UN and the World Bank.

In 1996, he sued his son who wished to open a holiday center named "Cousteau" in the Fiji Islands.

On 11 January 1996, Calypso was rammed and sunk in Singapore harbor by a barge. The Calypso was refloated and towed home to France.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau died on 25 June 1997 in Paris, aged 87. Despite persistent rumors, encouraged by some Islamic publications and websites, Cousteau did not convert to Islam, and when he died he was buried in a Roman Catholic Christian funeral. He was buried in the family vault at Saint-André-de-Cubzac in France. An homage was paid to him by the city by the inauguration of a "rue du Commandant Cousteau", a street which runs out to his native house, where a commemorative plaque was affixed.

During his lifetime, Jacques-Yves Cousteau received these distinctions:
* Commandeur de la Légion d'Honneur
* Grand-Croix de l'Ordre national du Mérite
* Croix de guerre 1939–1945
* Officier de l'Ordre du Mérite Maritime
* Commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
* Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia (26 January 1990)
* National Geographic Society's Special Gold Medal in 1961

Cousteau's legacy includes more than 120 television documentaries, more than 50 books, and an environmental protection foundation with 300,000 members.

Cousteau liked to call himself an "oceanographic technician." He was, in reality, a sophisticated showman, teacher, and lover of nature. His work permitted many people to explore the resources of the oceans.

His work also created a new kind of scientific communication, criticised at the time by some academics. The so-called "divulgationism", a simple way of sharing scientific concepts, was soon employed in other disciplines and became one of the most important characteristics of modern television broadcasting.

Cousteau died on 25 June 1997. The Cousteau Society and its French counterpart, l'Équipe Cousteau, both of which Jacques-Yves Cousteau founded, are still active today. The Society is currently attempting to turn the original Calypso into a museum and it is raising funds to build a successor vessel, the Calypso II.

In his last years, after marrying again, Cousteau became involved in a legal battle with his son Jean-Michel over Jean-Michel licensing the Cousteau name for a South Pacific resort, resulting in Jean-Michel Cousteau being ordered by the court not to encourage confusion between his for-profit business and his father's non-profit endeavours.

In 2007, the International Watch Company introduced the IWC Aquatimer Chronograph "Cousteau Divers" Special Edition. The timepiece incorporated a sliver of wood from the interior of Cousteau's Calypso research vessel. Having developed the diver's watch, IWC offered support to The Cousteau Society. The proceeds from the timepieces' sales were partially donated to the non-profit organization involved into conservation of marine life and preservation of tropical coral reefs.

* The Silent World (1956)
* World Without Sun (1964)
* Journey to the End of the World (1976)
* Cries from the Deep (1981) (Jacques Gagné, director)
* St. Lawrence: Stairway to the Sea (1982) (co-director)

Television series
* 1966–68 The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau
* 1968–76 The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau
* 1977–77 Oasis in Space
* 1977–81 Cousteau's Odyssey Series
* 1982–84 Cousteau's Amazon Series
* 1985–91 Cousteau's Rediscovery of the World I
* 1992–94 Cousteau's Rediscovery of the World II

Are Submarines the New Yachts for the Wealthy?

Actually these are submersibles, not submarines. Submarines is the military term for submersibles.

From ABC News: Are Submarines the New Yachts for the Wealthy?
Some call it the final frontier. While humans have breached the limitations of land, air and space, the underwater world remains largely untouched.

In addition to researchers and scientists, another group has taken an interest in the underwater unknown--the mega-rich.

The race to the bottom of the sea is being led by director James Cameron and British entrepreneur Richard Branson.

This week, Cameron is launching his unprecedented mission to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the South Pacific. The "Titanic" and "Avatar" director is hoping to make the seven-mile dive as a solo venture, which no one has ever done before.

The only pair to ever make it all the way down made the trip in 1960 and spent only 20 minutes at the site. Cameron hopes to spend six hours shooting footage of the dive for a National Geographic documentary, complete with 3D footage.

Branson unveiled a single-person submarine in April 2011 that he said would break records by exploring the five deepest sea locations of the next two years.

"More people have been to the moon than to that depth of the ocean," Bailey S. Barnard, associate editor of luxury magazine Robb Report, told

The magazine for the "ultra-affluent" has written about private submarines in the past and plans to include the vessels in an upcoming "Toys of Summer" feature.

"They're pretty darn cool and we'll continue to see more of an uptick in them as toys and vessels for exploration, as opposed to underwater homes," Barnard said.

For those who consider sports cars, yachts, and private planes old news, private submarines may be the new accessory of choice for the wealthy, ranging from about $2 million to $90 million, depending on the model.

"Most people don't have any idea what happens below the surface of the ocean," L. Bruce Jones, U.S. Submarines CEO, told "I've been doing this for 25 years and it's something that's getting more popular all the time."

In addition to U.S. Submarines, Jones is CEO of four other companies including Triton Submarines, which specializes in luxury deep-diving submersibles. Depending on the model, the subs hold two to three people, dive between about 1,000-3,000 feet and cost between $2-3 million.

The company sells about four or five subs every year, but Jones has seen an "awful lot of activity" in customer interest for the private vessels. Most of the interest has come from mega-yacht owners wanting to get a submarine for their boats that they can take out whenever they want, without having to go through an underwater tourism company.

"They can sip champagne, sit around and see things no one else has seen," Jones said. "They love it."

U.S. Submarines built one $90 million submarine that was the equivalent of an underwater yacht, complete with dining areas, kitchens and a gym. Even so, Jones does not expect submarines to become common.

"I think that they're always going to be relatively unique," Jones said. "We expect to continue to accelerate to a new place in production, but I don't think it will ever become a household item."

Ian Sheard, director of engineering for SEAmagine, a leading producer of two to three person submersibles, agrees with Jones.

"We started in tourism and then had people asking, 'Can I have one?'" Sheard said. "[Customers] want a submarine and they want to drive it themselves."

SEAmagine is currently training its latest customer to purchase one of the vessels, a sea enthusiast who plans to move his yacht and submarine all over the globe to the world's best diving spots, like Costa Rica, the Galapagos and Alaska.

So, what's the draw?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Study: Good management can save fisheries

From Study: Good management can save fisheries
NEW YORK, March 19 (UPI) -- One solution to the global problem of overfishing is "co-management" with local communities, conservation groups and governments, a U.S. wildlife group says.

A study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, Australia's ARC Center for Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and other groups examined more than 40 coral reef fisheries and their management in five countries around the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

The researchers studied local fisheries' arrangements on coral reefs in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

They found co-management partnerships were having considerable success in both meeting the livelihood needs of local communities and protecting fish stocks, a WCS release reported Monday.

"In an age when fisheries around the world are collapsing, fisheries experts have struggled to find the magic balance between livelihoods and conservation," Tim McClanahan, head of the WCS coral reef research and conservation program, said. "What we've found is that effective solutions require both top-down and bottom-up approaches with a foundation of community-based management."

The study can provide fisheries managers with an example of how governments and local communities can work together to protect local environments and food resources, researchers said.

"Finding and implementing solutions to overfishing that work for impoverished coastal communities is critical for the long-term viability of our oceans and the people that depend on them," Caleb McClennen, Director for WCS's Marine Conservation, said. "This study demonstrates that long-term investment in co-management regimes is essential for the sustained health and economy of coastal populations and their supporting marine ecosystems."

Anglers ruining Scots salmon DNA, claims scientist

From Deadline News: Anglers ruining Scots salmon DNA, claims scientist

ANGLERS have been blamed for “ruining” the DNA of wild Scottish salmon by killing the best fish.

Dr Martin Jaffa, a supporter of the salmon farming industry, claims many of the best fish are killed by fishermen before they can pass on their DNA.

Dr Jaffa, in a controversial submission to the Scottish government, says as many as 350,000 potential breeding salmon have been taken by anglers over the past decade north of the border.

The Manchester-based fish farming consultant with Callander McDowal was responding to the government’s consultation on its aquaculture and fisheries bill.

Dr Jaffa said the weakness in the salmon gene pool – “genetic drift” – identified by scientists was not the result of escaped farmed salmon and the wild fish interbreeding.

He said: “Genetic drift is caused by random events that occur by chance. As a result, some individuals have a greater impact on the population than might be expected.

“This is because other individuals might die suddenly and unexpectedly and cannot contribute to the ‘pool of genes’ of the whole population.

“In wild salmon populations, such a sudden and random loss might be associated with the catching and killing of salmon by anglers over the last 150 years.

“Over the last 10 years about 350,000 potential breeding salmon from Scotland’s rivers have been killed by rod anglers.

“This number would have been much higher had it not been for the recent introduction of a catch and release policy on many rivers.”

Dr Jaffa based his conclusions on the Focus Atlantic Salmon Management on Populations Project (FASOMP), a Scottish Government funded study to produce a genetic map of wild salmon in Scotland.

It found genetic differences between fish from rivers Dee, Annan and Deveron were very weak.

Farmed fish interbreeding with wild salmon has long been a bone of contention between anglers’ groups and the fish farming industry.

Nick Chisholm, director of the River Annan Fisheries Board and Trust, said Dr Jaffa’s thesis was ‘quite bizarre.’

He said there was no doubt farmed salmon would breed with their wild cousins if they escaped.

He said: “A number of years ago some eminent scientists in Ireland did some work looking at the survival of fish-farm-bred fish in the wild and they discovered their survival rate…was a couple of orders of magnitude below that of wild fish.

“So if farmed fish get into a river and they breed with wild fish, you introduce these survival traits.”

Jacques Cousteau, a biography pt 2

Late 1940s: GERS and Élie Monnier
In 1946, Cousteau and Tailliez showed the film Épaves to Admiral Lemonnier, and the admiral gave them the responsibility of setting up the Groupement de Recherches Sous-marines (GRS) (Underwater Research Group) of the French Navy in Toulon.

A little later it became the GERS (Groupe d'Études et de Recherches Sous-Marines, = Underwater Studies and Research Group), then the COMISMER ("COMmandement des Interventions Sous la MER", = "Undersea Interventions Command"), and finally more recently the CEPHISMER. In 1947, Chief Petty Officer Maurice Fargues became the first diver to die using an aqualung while attempting a new depth record with the GERS near Toulon.

In 1948, between missions of mine clearance, underwater exploration and technological and physiological tests, Cousteau undertook a first campaign in the Mediterranean on board the sloop Élie Monnier, with Philippe Tailliez, Frédéric Dumas, Jean Alinat and the scenario writer Marcel Ichac. The small team also undertook the exploration of the Roman wreck of Mahdia (Tunisia). It was the first underwater archaeology operation using autonomous diving, opening the way for scientific underwater archaeology. Cousteau and Marcel Ichac brought back from there the Carnets diving film (presented and preceded with the Cannes Film Festival 1951).

Cousteau and the Élie Monnier then took part in the rescue of Professor Jacques Piccard's bathyscaphe, the FNRS-2, during the 1949 expedition to Dakar. Thanks to this rescue, the French Navy was able to reuse the sphere of the bathyscaphe to construct the FNRS-3.

The adventures of this period are told in the two books The Silent World (1953, by Cousteau and Dumas) and Plongées sans câble (1954, by Philippe Tailliez).

In 1949, Cousteau left the French Navy.

In 1950, he founded the French Oceanographic Campaigns (FOC), and leased a ship called Calypso from Thomas Loel Guinness for a symbolic one franc a year. Cousteau refitted the Calypso as a mobile laboratory for field research and as his principal vessel for diving and filming. He also carried out underwater archaeological excavations in the Mediterranean, in particular at Grand-Congloué (1952).

With the publication of his first book in 1953, The Silent World, he correctly predicted the existence of the echolocation abilities of porpoises. He reported that his research vessel, the Élie Monier, was heading to the Straits of Gibraltar and noticed a group of porpoises following them. Cousteau changed course a few degrees off the optimal course to the center of the strait, and the porpoises followed for a few minutes, then diverged toward mid-channel again. It was evident that they knew where the optimal course lay, even if the humans did not. Cousteau concluded that the cetaceans had something like sonar, which was a relatively new feature on submarines.

Cousteau won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1956 for The Silent World co-produced with Louis Malle. With the assistance of Jean Mollard, he made a "diving saucer" SP-350, an experimental underwater vehicle which could reach a depth of 350 meters. The successful experiment was quickly repeated in 1965 with two vehicles which reached 500 meters.

In 1957, he was elected as director of the Oceanographical Museum of Monaco. He directed Précontinent, about the experiments of diving in saturation (long-duration immersion, houses under the sea), and was admitted to the United States National Academy of Sciences.

In October 1960, a large amount of radioactive waste was going to be discarded in the Mediterranean Sea by the Commissariat à l'énergie atomique (CEA). The CEA argued that the dumps were experimental in nature, and that French oceanographers such as Vsevelod Romanovsky had recommended it.

Romanovsky and other French scientists, including Louis Fage and Jacques Cousteau, repudiated the claim, saying that Romanovsky had in mind a much smaller amount. The CEA claimed that there was little circulation (and hence little need for concern) at the dump site between Nice and Corsica, but French public opinion sided with the oceanographers rather than with the CEA atomic energy scientists. The CEA chief, Francis Perrin, decided to postpone the dump.

Cousteau organized a publicity campaign which in less than two weeks gained wide popular support. The train carrying the waste was stopped by women and children sitting on the railway tracks, and it was sent back to its origin.

A meeting with American television companies (ABC, Métromédia, NBC) created the series The Underwater Odyssey of Commander Cousteau, with the character of the commander in the red bonnet inherited from standard diving dress) intended to give the films a "personalized adventure" style.

In 1970, he wrote the book The Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea with Philippe, his son. In this book, Costeau described the oceanic whitetip shark as "the most dangerous of all sharks".

In 1973, along with his two sons and Frederick Hyman, he created the Cousteau Society for the Protection of Ocean Life, Frederick Hyman being its first President; it now has more than 300,000 members.

Three years after the volcano's last eruption, on 19 December 1973, the Cousteau team was filming on Deception Island, Antarctica when Michel Laval, Calypso's second in command, was struck and killed by a propeller of the helicopter that was ferrying between Calypso and the island.

In 1976, Cousteau uncovered the wreck of HMHS Britannic. He also found the wreck of La Therese in Crete island

In 1977, together with Peter Scott, he received the UN International Environment prize.

On 28 June 1979, while the Calypso was on an expedition to Portugal, his second son, Philippe, his preferred and designated successor and with whom he had co-produced all his films since 1969, died in a PBY Catalina flying boat crash in the Tagus river near Lisbon. Cousteau was deeply affected. He called his then eldest son, the architect Jean-Michel Cousteau, to his side. This collaboration lasted 14 years.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Jacques Cousteau, a biography pt 1

From Wikipedia:
Jacques-Yves Cousteau, commonly known in English as Jacques Cousteau; 11 June 1910 – 25 June 1997) was a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water. He co-developed the Aqua-Lung, pioneered marine conservation and was a member of the Académie française. He was also known as "le Commandant Cousteau" or "Captain Cousteau".

Early life
Cousteau was born on 11 June 1910, in Saint-André-de-Cubzac, Gironde, France to Daniel and Élisabeth Cousteau. He had one brother, Pierre-Antoine. Cousteau completed his preparatory studies at the prestigious Collège Stanislas in Paris. In 1930, he entered the École Navale and graduated as a gunnery officer. After an automobile accident cut short his career in naval aviation, Cousteau indulged his interest in the sea.

In Toulon, where he was serving on the Condorcet, Cousteau carried out his first underwater experiments, thanks to his friend Philippe Tailliez who in 1936 lent him some Fernez underwater goggles, predecessors of modern diving masks. Cousteau also belonged to the information service of the French Navy, and was sent on missions to Shanghai and Japan (1935–1938) and in the USSR (1939).

On 12 July 1937 he married Simone Melchior, with whom he had two sons, Jean-Michel (born 1938) and Philippe (1940–1979). His sons took part in the adventures of the Calypso.

In 1991, one year after his wife Simone's death from cancer, he married Francine Triplet. They already had a daughter Diane Cousteau (born 1980) and a son Pierre-Yves Cousteau (born 1982), born during Cousteau's marriage to his first wife.

Early 1940s: Innovation of modern underwater diving
The years of World War II were decisive for the history of diving. After the armistice of 1940, the family of Simone and Jacques-Yves Cousteau took refuge in Megève, where he became a friend of the Ichac family who also lived there.

Jacques-Yves Cousteau and Marcel Ichac shared the same desire to reveal to the general public unknown and inaccessible places — for Cousteau the underwater world and for Ichac the high mountains. The two neighbors took the first ex-aequo prize of the Congress of Documentary Film in 1943, for the first French underwater film: Par dix-huit mètres de fond (18 meters deep), made without breathing apparatus the previous year in the Embiez islands (Var) with Philippe Tailliez and Frédéric Dumas, using a depth-pressure-proof camera case developed by mechanical engineer Léon Vèche (engineer of Arts and Métiers and the Naval College).

In 1943, they made the film Épaves (Shipwrecks), in which they used two of the very first Aqua-Lung prototypes. These prototypes were made in Boulogne-Billancourt by the Air Liquide company, following instructions from Cousteau and Émile Gagnan. When making Épaves, Cousteau could not find the necessary blank reels of movie film, but had to buy hundreds of small still camera film reels the same width, intended for a make of child's camera, and cemented them together to make long reels.

Having kept bonds with the English speakers (he spent part of his childhood in the United States and usually spoke English) and with French soldiers in North Africa (under Admiral Lemonnier), Jacques-Yves Cousteau (whose villa "Baobab" at Sanary (Var) was opposite Admiral Darlan's villa "Reine"), helped the French Navy to join again with the Allies; he assembled a commando operation against the Italian espionage services in France, and received several military decorations for his deeds.

At that time, he kept his distance from his brother Pierre-Antoine Cousteau, a "pen anti-semite" who wrote the collaborationist newspaper Je suis partout (I am everywhere) and who received the death sentence in 1946. However this was later commuted to a life sentence, and Pierre-Antoine was released in 1954.

During the 1940s, Cousteau is credited with improving the aqua-lung design which gave birth to the open-circuit scuba technology used today.

According to his first book, The Silent World: A Story of Undersea Discovery and Adventure (1953), Cousteau started diving with Fernez goggles in 1936, and in 1939 used the self contained underwater breathing apparatus invented in 1926 by Commander Yves le Prieur.

Cousteau was not satisfied with the length of time he could spend underwater with the Le Prieur apparatus so he improved it to extend underwater duration by adding a demand regulator, invented in 1942 by Émile Gagnan. In 1943 Cousteau tried out the first prototype aqua-lung which finally made extended underwater exploration possible.

Glow in the dark sushi made from genetically modified fish becomes the latest food craze to hit America

From Daily Mail Online: Glow in the dark sushi made from genetically modified fish becomes the latest food craze to hit America
Sushi that glows in the dark has become the latest must try food craze across America.

Inspired by genetically modified fish first bred for scientific research, a video showing how to make the glowing sushi has become a huge hit online.

The recipes use glofish, a brand of genetically modified (GM) fluorescent zebrafish sold by Yorktown Technologies, which are available to buy in pet shops.

The modified fish were originally bred to help detect environmental pollutants.

By adding a natural fluorescence gene to the fish, scientists planned to create fish that glowed when rivers became contaminated.

First researchers perfected a fish that constantly glowed, which was then bred and sold in pet shops.

The fish are available in a choice of bizarre colours - Starfire Red, Electric Green, Sunburst Orange, Cosmic Blue and Galactic Purple.

Now, they have become the latest must-try cooking ingredient.

Recipes using them include ‘kryptonite roll’, ‘stop and glow nigirizushi’, ‘not in California roll’, and even a glowing pizza which is apparently best served ‘in complete darkness with backlight as the only light source.’

According to the site, the kryptonite rolls, made by mixing the fish with wasabi, have a ‘definite fishy taste’ - and a rather odd side effect of making any fish fragments stuck to your teeth glow.

However, not all of the US can enjoy them - the fish are currently illegal in California due to a regulation that restricts all genetically modified fish.

For the even more adventurous food fan, the team is also working on recipes for cooking glowing mice, created using the same techniques.

Safety gear, trained scuba divers mulled in sports measure

From Inquirer News: Safety gear, trained scuba divers mulled in sports measure
Instead of regulating the sport itself, why not regulate its safety gear?

This was suggested by Gary Cases, an official of the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving (PCSSD), during Friday’s public hearing on a proposed Provincial Ordinance regulating scuba diving in Cebu.

Cases said mishandled diving gear would pose more danger to the person using it.

Cases, who is also a dive shop operator in Malapascua Island, cited an incident in Bohol where a dive shop worker lost his hand when an oxygen tank exploded.

“Tanks are like bombs. Mishandling them could endanger the lives of people,” he told the Provincial Board (PB).

Also present in the public hearing was PB member Sun Shimura, Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy, , dive shop operators and tourism students of the University of San Carlos (USC).

Cases also suggested that foreigners should be covered in the regulation of individuals under the proposed ordinance.

He said an ordinance would be a big help to to his organization since the PCSSD has no police powers over individual divers.

PCSSD is an accrediting organization for dive shops and water sports activities, and is an attached agency of the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Mayor Sitoy said that a foreigner, before going diving, must be certified by the hotel or dive shop operator that he has complied with the requirements under Section 4 of the proposed ordinance.

Under this requirement, a diver must have completed at least 10 hours of combined classroom and pool water training conducted by a duly certified diving instructor.

Daanbantayan municipal administrator Mamerto RodrigoRodrigo said that the local government must be the one to collect the penalties under Section 6. He said this should be an “administrative fine” instead of a “judicial fine.”

PB member Arleigh Sitoy, sponsor of the proposed ordinance, said he would welcome all suggestions.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Ocean One: Jacques Cousteau

Discovery Core: Ocean One is a new series. Posts will be made every Tuesday.

We will begin with the work of Jacques Cousteau.

Our texts for this course will be:

1. The Silent World (1953, with Frédéric Dumas)
2. Captain Cousteaus Underwater Treasury (1959, with James Dugan)
3. The Living Sea (1963, with James Dugan)
4. World Without Sun (1965)
5. The Undersea Discoveries of Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1970–1975, 8-volumes, with Philippe Diole)
o The Shark: Splendid Savage of the Sea (1970)
o Diving for Sunken Treasure (1971)
o Life and Death in a Coral Sea (1971)
o The Whale: Mighty Monarch of the Sea (1972)
o Octopus and Squid: The Soft Intelligence (1973)
o Three Adventures: Galápagos, Titicaca, the Blue Holes (1973)
o Diving Companions: Sea Lion, Elephant Seal, Walrus (1974)
o Dolphins (1975)

6. The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau (1973–78, 21 volumes)
o Oasis in Space (vol 1)
o The Act of Life (vol 2)
o Quest for Food (vol 3)
o Window in the Sea (vol 4)
o The Art of Motion (vol 5)
o Attack and Defense (vol 6)
o Invisible Messages (vol 7)
o Instinct and Intelligence (vol 8)
o Pharaohs of the Sea (vol 9)
o Mammals in the Sea (vol 10)
o Provinces of the Sea (vol 11)
o Man Re-Enters Sea (vol 12)
o A Sea of Legends (vol 13)
o Adventure of Life (vol 14)
o Outer and Inner Space (vol 15)
o The Whitecaps (vol 16)
o Riches of the Sea (vol 17)
o Challenges of the Sea (vol 18)
o The Sea in Danger (vol 19)
o Guide to the Sea and Index (vol 20)
o Calypso (1978, vol 21)

7. A Bill of Rights for Future Generations (1979)
8. Life at the Bottom of the World (1980)
9. The Cousteau United States Almanac of the Environment (1981, aka The Cousteau Almanac of the Environment: An Inventory of Life on a Water Planet)
10. Jacques Cousteau's Calypso (1983)
11. Marine Life of the Caribbean (1984, with James Cribb and Thomas H. Suchanek)
12. Jacques Cousteau's Amazon Journey (1984, with Mose Richards)
13. Jacques Cousteau: The Ocean World (1985)
14. The Whale (1987, with Philippe Diole)
15. Jacques Cousteau: Whales (1988, with Yves Paccalet)
16. The Human, The Orchid and The Octopus (and Susan Schiefelbein, coauthor; Bloomsbury 2007]

Thailand: Coastal development destroying reefs off phuket

An aerial photograph taken recently by the Phuket Marine Biological Centre shows the largescale property development on Cape Panwa. / Courtesy of the Phuket Marine Biological Centre

The Nation: Coastal development destroying reefs off Phuket
Massive land development in Phuket province will be strictly controlled by environmental regulations after findings that large amounts of sediment caused by construction has destroyed a large area of coral reefs and marine ecosystems.

Over 250 square kilometres of coral reef surrounding Phuket's Tang Khen Beach had been covered by a massive amount of sediment from land development, according to a study by Phuket Marine Biological Centre.

It said that previously over 250 rai of coral reef at the end of Cape Panwa's Ao Tang Khen was alive. However, coral reefs, particularly staghorn corals, had been totally destroyed. It was now covered by a large amount of sediment - from the seaport and building of three hotels in the area.

There has been massive land development in coastal areas of Phuket over the past five years. Over 100 areas on the coast and mountains, especially western beach areas such as Patong, Ka Ta, Karon and Kamala, were opened and dredged to build resorts.

The large number of building and land projects would hit marine resources, particularly coral reefs around Phuket province, which is a top destination for tourists around the world.

Niphon Pongsuwan, a coral expert who conducted the study, said he was worried the removal of land surfaces in mountainous and coastal areas would accelerate the amount of sediment flowing into the sea, harming reefs and aquatic animals and plants.

His team is now monitoring the changing of coral reefs and marine ecosystems, especially "at risk" areas such as Patong, the north of Ka Ta, the eastern part of Phuket, and Koh Rad. An evaluation will be conducted every six months. Preliminary investigation results have found that staghorn coral can no longer live there due to the changing marine ecosystem.

Boonchop Sutthamanaswong, directorgeneral of the Marine and Coastal Resources Department, said he had had many complaints about land development and building of resorts in coastal areas like Laem Singh beach in Phuket. The construction had released sediment, including sand and cement, into the sea and affected coral reefs and seagrass.

"Many resorts and hotels are now being built in the mountains near coastal areas reserved for the tourist industry. These land development projects are affecting the marine ecosystem. We could not see the impact in the shortterm but in the longterm, these marine resources will be totally destroyed," he said.

To prevent further damage to marine resources, Boonchop said his agency would talk with the Office of Natural Resources and Environmental Policy and Planning about stricter controls under the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for land development near coastal areas. He will also ask local authorities to follow regulations under environmental protection announcements to reduce the impact from land projects on the marine ecosystem.

Bluefin Tuna Demand Lures Japanese Investors Chasing 7% Return

From Bluefin Tuna Demand Lures Japanese Investors Chasing 7% Return
The world’s appetite for Japanese tuna, Wagyu beef and other delicacies prized in restaurants as far away as New York’s Morimoto is attracting funds chasing 7 percent returns from investments in farms and fish ponds.

Institutional investors and regional banks have poured at least 23 billion yen ($280 million) into about a dozen funds aimed at boosting exports of Japanese foods. Four are managed by Daisuke Mori, a former Citigroup Inc. (C) banker who has pooled 10 billion yen to invest in projects including tuna farming, most of them on the island of Kyushu in Japan’s south, far from the radiation contamination in the northern Fukushima area.

“Food is the one area that has a big investment potential,” said Mori, 44, president of Dogan Investments Inc. in Fukuoka City. “Locally farmed tuna, pork and beef on Kyushu island should get a stronger connection with the big market outside of Japan.”

Enthusiasm for Japanese food products has led at least 25 regional banks to increase lending to farmers who want to export abroad. Even Japan’s largest brokerage, Nomura Holdings Inc. (8604), is getting involved, assigning former stockbroker Shigekazu Wakabayashi to oversee the farming of sweet mini-tomatoes, the first of which ripened in January. Nomura wants to sell the tomato technology it has developed to China, Russia, India and Southeast Asian countries, company officials said.
Fish Farming

Mori, who ran Citigroup’s Fukuoka branch during his six- year tenure with the New York-based bank, has directed 48 million yen into Burimy Corp., which has set up confined areas where hundreds of thousands of bluefin tuna and yellowtail swim in pens about half a mile offshore. Japan has spent more than three decades pioneering a way to farm tuna, which is one of the most difficult fish to breed.

Burimy plans to sell 2,000 farmed tuna this year and to more than double sales next year, said Takahiro Hama, 42, a company director. While Burimy won’t disclose its returns, Ryohei Hayashi, a senior Dogan manager, said the latest of its funds, which are closed to individual investors, is targeting 7 percent this year.

The tuna farm exports about 40 percent of its fish, mostly to stores and restaurants in California and New York, including the 10th Avenue fusion establishment owned by Masaharu Morimoto, star of the television cooking show “Iron Chef.”
Tuna Pizza

Morimoto’s tuna pizza, an appetizer featuring Japanese farmed-tuna sashimi on a crispy tortilla with olives, is one of the most popular dishes on the menu, according to General Manager James Roberts, who said the restaurant buys farmed tuna from Japan because of concern that ocean stocks of the fish are being depleted.

Burimy has started talks with Tokyo-based Nomura about an initial public offering to fund further export growth in the Middle East and Europe, Hama said.

Regional banks, faced with anemic lending rates of 1.04 percent, also are seeking to capitalize on the popularity of Japanese delicacies abroad to boost lending volumes and profits.

Kagoshima Bank (8390) Ltd., based on the southern end of Kyushu, has increased loans to farmers willing to concentrate on specialty foods for export rather than rice or sugarcane for domestic consumption. Agricultural lending by the bank rose 3 percent as of Sept. 30 as average loans outstanding in Japan declined for a second consecutive year.
Wagyu Beef

Among farmers benefiting from the lending increase are those raising Wagyu beef and Kagoshima black swine, said Masanaka Mei, head of trade promotion at the bank, who has accompanied the lender’s president, Motohiro Kamimura, on trips to Asia and Europe along with customers to scout out new markets for their exports.

Wagyu cattle, including those from Kobe in western Japan, are a Japanese breed known for the tenderness and marbled texture of its meat. Black swine, trademarked as Kagoshima Kurobuta, are a rare breed of pig whose meat has high fat content and is prized for its consistency and flavor.

“Going to food shows and researching overseas food markets is part of my job to seek ways to search for places where Kagoshima-brand products can be sold,” Mei said last month.

Bankers moonlighting as traveling salesmen for their borrowers have paid dividends for Kagoshima Bank: Higher lending helped increase net income 0.9 percent in the six months ended Sept. 30 compared with an average 9.7 percent year-on-year decline among 84 publicly listed regional banks, according to data compiled by Nomura.
‘The Wealthy Class’

A 615 million-yen Kagoshima Bank fund investing in agriculture pays an annual return of about 1.6 percent, said Sota Yonemori, a senior manager of the lender’s business- promotion division.

Kagoshima is the biggest producer of beef and pork among Japan’s 47 prefectures. Exports of Kagoshima beef may eclipse a record 220 tons in the year ending March 31 after quadrupling from 53 tons five years ago, said Noboru Sugiyama, a manager at the Kagoshima prefectural government’s livestock division. Hong Kong buys 80 percent of the exports, he said.

“Kagoshima beef is getting its popularity from the wealthy class in Hong Kong and Singapore,” Sugiyama said. “We want to ship more Kagoshima beef out to Asia. At the same time, we can’t draw a rosy picture of domestic beef demand on the back of stagnant economic growth.”
Yellowtail Exports

Minami Kyushu Chikusan Kogyo Co., a Kagoshima beef and pork farmer and wholesaler, borrows about half of its 3.5 billion yen in loans from Kagoshima Bank and may increase debt to expand farming and capitalize on rising demand from customers in Asia outside of Japan, said President Hirofumi Onimaru.

Japan’s exports of tuna and yellowtail climbed 16.9 percent and 18.1 percent in 2011, respectively, to 7.36 billion yen and 7.76 billion yen from a year earlier, according to data compiled by the agriculture ministry. That compares with an 8.3 percent decline in the country’s total food and forestry products exports last year. Beef shipments abroad totaled 3.48 billion yen last year, up 2.4 percent from 2010, the data shows.

At Nomura Wago Farm Co. -- a partnership between the brokerage and vegetable-farming and wholesaling firm Wago Co. -- Wakabayashi, 58, the former stockbroker, rises at 7 a.m. daily and dons a T-shirt, jeans and boots. Instead of driving to visit customers in Osaka, Tokyo and Kanagawa, where he was in charge of Nomura sales offices, he surveys the indoor farm in Chiba prefecture, 75 kilometers (47 miles) east of Tokyo.
‘Big Change’

His responsibilities include overseeing the greenhouse temperature, which is kept at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), the nurture of 13,000 seedlings and the workers who package tomatoes in plastic cases marked “Premium Frutica.” Each of the four 1-inch tomatoes in a package has about 30 percent more sugar than other tomatoes sold in Japan, the company said.

Nomura has invested 2.8 million yen in the project and plans to build more greenhouses and expand annual production to 60 metric tons from the current 16 tons, Wakabayashi said.

“It’s a big change in my life, turning into a farmer from a securities salesman,” Wakabayashi, president of Nomura’s farming unit, said. “We are confident we can sell Japan’s advanced crop technologies to overseas markets.”

Wago also is moving ahead with its own mini-tomato projects. It plans to build 50 greenhouses and reach annual revenue of 30 billion yen in the next three years, Takehiko Kogo, deputy head of the firm, said in January.

“China and Southeast Asia’s wealthy class is one of our targets, given that people in the region are fond of raw vegetables and fruits that have strong tastes like sweet mini- tomatoes and strawberries,” said Kogo.

The largest bank in the prefecture where the tomato farm is located, Chiba Bank Ltd. (8331), hired its first agriculture business researcher in 2009. Partly as a result, the bank expanded agribusiness lending by 23 percent to 8.04 billion yen in 2011, helping boost net income by 0.6 percent in the six months ended Sept. 30. The bank also increased loans outstanding 3.9 percent, outstripping the average growth for regional banks of 2 percent.

Explosions at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant in northern Japan after an earthquake and tsunami last March contaminated soil, water and forests, delivering a blow to the country’s 100 trillion-yen food industry and the perception of the safety of Japanese food products.

Hama of Burimy estimated that the impact on his business from the nuclear crisis, including lost sales and testing, amounted to about 200 million yen.

“The nuclear accident forced us to do tests at our expense for our farmed fish,” said Hama. “Testing to show our products are safe is the only remedy to cope with harmful rumors after the crisis and convince our customers that our fish are safe.”

Saturday, March 17, 2012

NOAA reauthorizes killing of California sea lions at Bonneville Dam

Bonneville Dam (from Wikipedia):

Bonneville Lock and Dam consists of several run-of-the-river dam structures that together complete a span of the Columbia River between the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington at River Mile 146.1. The dam is located 40 miles (64 km) east of Portland, Oregon, in the Columbia River Gorge. The primary functions of Bonneville Lock and Dam are electrical power generation and river navigation. The dam was built and is managed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Electrical power generated at Bonneville is distributed by the Bonneville Power Administration. Bonneville Lock and Dam is named for Army Capt. Benjamin Bonneville, an early explorer credited with charting much of the Oregon Trail. The Bonneville Dam Historic District was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1987.


In 1896, prior to this damming of the river, the Cascade Locks and Canal were constructed, allowing ships to pass the Cascades Rapids, located several miles upstream of Bonneville.

Prior to the New Deal, development of the Columbia River with flood control, hydroelectricity, navigation and irrigation was deemed as important. In 1929, the US Army Corps of Engineers published the 308 Report that recommended 10 dams on the river but no action was taken until the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration and the New Deal. Now at this time, America was in the Great Depression, and the dam's construction provided jobs and other economic benefits to the Pacific Northwest. Inexpensive hydroelectricity gave rise, in particular, to a strong aluminum industry. During the New Deal and funded from the Public Works Administration, in 1934, two of the larger projects were started, the Grand Coulee Dam and the Bonneville Dam. 3,000 workers in non-stop eight-hour shifts, from the relief or welfare rolls were paid 50-cents an hour for the work on the dam as well as raising local roads for the reservoir.

To create the Bonneville Dam and Lock, The Army Corps of Engineers first built one of the of the largest scale models in history of the purposed dam, the section of river it was to be located on, and its various components to aid in the study of the construction. First a new lock and a powerhouse was constructed which were on the south (Oregon) side of Bradford Island, and a spillway on the north (Washington) side. Coffer dams had to be built in order to block half of the river and clear a construction site where the foundation could be reached. These projects, part of the Bonneville Dam were completed in 1937.

Both the cascades and the old lock structure were submerged by the Bonneville Reservoir, also known as Lake Bonneville, the reservoir that formed behind the dam. The original navigation lock at Bonneville was opened in 1938 and was, at that time, the largest single-lift lock in the world. Although the dam began to produce hydroelectricity in 1937, Commercial electricity began its transfer from the dam in 1938.

A second powerhouse (and dam structure) was started in 1974 and completed in 1981. The second powerhouse was built by widening the river channel on the Washington side, creating Cascades Island between the new powerhouse and the original spillway. The combined electrical output of the two power houses at Bonneville is now over 1 million kilowatts.

Despite its world record size in 1938, Bonneville Lock became the smallest of seven locks built subsequently at different locations upstream on the Columbia and Snake Rivers; eventually a new lock was needed at Bonneville. This new structure was built on the Oregon shore, opening to ship and barge traffic in 1993. The old lock is still present, but is no longer used.

Environmental and social implications

The Bonneville Dam blocked the migration of white sturgeon to their upstream spawning areas. Sturgeon still spawn in the area below the dam and the lower Columbia River supports a healthy sturgeon population. Small very depressed populations of white sturgeon persist in the various reservoirs upstream.

To cope with fish migration problems, the dam features fish ladders to help native salmon and steelhead get past the dam on their journey upstream to spawn. The large concentrations of fish swimming upstream serves as a tourist attraction during the spawning season. California Sea Lions are also attracted to the large number of fish, and are often seen around the base of the dam during the spawning season. By 2006, the growing number of crafty sea lions and their impact on the salmon population have become worrisome to the Army Corps of Engineers and environmentalists. Historically, pinnipeds such as sea lions and seals hunted salmon in the Columbia River as far as The Dalles and Celilo Falls, 200 miles (320 km) from the sea, as remarked upon by people such as George Simpson in 1841.

Electricity controversy

Creating electricity was sensitive at the time of the Bonneville Dam's construction. Constructed with federal dollars, the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration wanted the electricity to be a public source of power and prevent energy monopolies. Advocates for private sale of the electricity were of course opposed to this as they did not want the government to interfere. In 1937, the Bonneville Project Act was signed by Roosevelt, giving the dam's power over to the public and creating the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). A rate of $17.50 per kilowatt-year was maintained for the next 28 years by the BPA.

From Oregon Live: NOAA reauthorizes killing of California sea lions at Bonneville Dam

Oregon, Washington and Idaho will be allowed to resume killing California sea lions at Bonneville Dam this spring, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said today.

The agency authorized removal of up to 92 sea lions annually through May 2016 but estimates that 25 to 30 will be taken each year. The authorization allows taking only sea lions having a "significant negative impact" on salmon and steelhead.

Bonneville Dam, the first dam on the Columbia, is an ideal spot for the sea lions to feed in the spring as spring chinook and steelhead congregate to climb fish ladders, and an estimated one-third of the salmon and steelhead eaten are listed under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA says. Biologists estimate that California sea lions have eaten from 1.5 percent to 4 percent of returning adult salmon at the dam each year.

Predation peaked in 2010, when about 6,000 adult salmon were eaten. Last year, about 3,600 fish were eaten. The states have trapped and removed 38 California sea lions since 2008, killing 28 and relocating 10 to aquariums and zoos.

NOAA first authorized the states to kill sea lions in 2008. In response to a Humane Society of the United States lawsuit, a federal appellate court suspended the program in 2010, with the court questioning why NOAA allowed commercial and sport fishermen to catch more salmon than sea lions consume at the dam.

NOAA temporarily reinstated the program last year, but pulled the plug after the Humane Society filed another lawsuit.

NOAA said Thursday that fisheries are heavily regulated and have been curtailed sharply, with limits on the take of both hatchery and wild fish, while pinniped predation is unregulated.

Sea lion "predation rates are proportionately higher when salmon runs are lower, which is exactly the time the salmon runs should receive greater protection," the agency said, and "sea lions feed indiscriminately, which can have a greater impact on the wild fish that are so vital to recovery."

If there is no further court action, the authorization will take effect March 20.

Sharon Young, the Humane Society’s marine issues field director, said she and the group’s attorneys are wading through NOAA’s decision. Spring runs are stable or increasing, she said, one sea lion was at the dam at last check and sea lion consumption has dropped.

“It’s not really clear to me what the emergency is here,” Young said. “It just makes no sense.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Giant squid eyes are sperm whale defence

From BBC News: Giant squid eyes are sperm whale defence
The world's biggest squid species have developed huge eyes to give early warning of approaching sperm whales.

Colossal and giant squid both have eyes that can measure 27cm (11in) across - much bigger than any fish.

Scientists found that huge eyes offer no advantages in the murky ocean depths other than making it easier to spot enormous shapes - such as sperm whales.

Writing in Current Biology journal, they say this could explain the equally huge eyes of fossil ichthyosaurs.

Lead scientist Dan Nilsson from Lund University in Sweden was present at the unique dissection of a colossal squid performed four years ago in New Zealand.

There, he examined and handled the eyes - in particular, the hard parts of the lens.
" Predation by large, toothed whales has driven the evolution of gigantism in the eyes of these squid”
Sonke Johnsen, Duke University

These alone are bigger than an entire human eye.

"We were puzzled initially, because there were no other eyes in the same size range," Prof Nilsson told BBC News.

"You can find everything up to the size of an orange, which are in large swordfish.

"So you find every small size, then there's a huge gap, then there are these two species where the eye is three times as big - even though squid are not the largest animals."

In general, other squid species also have eyes that are smaller in proportion to their body size.

The streamlined giant squid (various species of Architeuthis) and the much chunkier colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) can both grow to more than 10m long, as measured from the tip of the body to the end of their tentacles.

The colossal squid especially is equipped with a fearsome arsenal of weapons, including barbed swivelling hooks.

Scars on the bodies of sperm whales indicate that they regularly do battle with the colossal squid, at least in the Southern Hemisphere waters where it lives.

And the number of colossal squid beaks found in the stomachs of sperm whales indicate that the latter often win.

Though colossal squid are encountered remarkably rarely by people, they are thought to make up about three-quarters of sperm whales' diet in the Southern Ocean.

Whereas the whales can spot squid using sonar, the squid can deploy nothing except vision - which suggests there would be a powerful evolutionary pressure towards developing effective eyes.

But structures this big and complex are "expensive" in terms of nutrients, meaning that for most animals the evolutionary pressure is against evolving them.
Prof Nilsson with core of squid eye lens Dan Nilsson saw the colossal squid's eyes and their hard lenses during the dissection in New Zealand

Prof Nilsson's team used mathematical models of how different sizes of eye perform at depths up to 1km.

There, moving objects are most detectable through the bioluminescence they provoke from countless tiny creatures in the water.

The models showed that in general, there is no benefit to be gained from developing eyes bigger than the swordfish's.

The exception is a really large moving object.

Here, large eyes enable better detection of a pattern of point sources of bioluminescence - light given off by tiny organisms - in low-contrast conditions.

This would give the squid warning of a sperm whale approaching at a distance of about 120m, the researchers calculate - potentially allowing it to take evasive action and avoid being eaten.

"It's the predation by large, toothed whales that has driven the evolution of gigantism in the eyes of these squid," commented Soenke Johnsen, a biologist at Duke University in Durham, US, who was also part of the research team.

They speculate that eyes of the same size might have enabled ichthyosaurs, large marine reptiles that died out about 90m years ago, to avoid the fearsome jaws of the even larger pliosaurs.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

James Cameron, others to explore the real abyss

From Yahoo News: James Cameron, others to explore the real abyss
WASHINGTON (AP) — Earth's lost frontier is about to be explored firsthand after more than half a century. It's a mission to the deepest part of the ocean, so deep that the pressure is the equivalent of three SUVs sitting on your toe.

And it's being launched by the rich and famous.

In the next several days, James Cameron, the director of "Titanic," ''Avatar" and "The Abyss," plans to dive nearly seven miles down in a one-man lime green submarine that he helped design. The location is the Mariana Trench in the South Pacific.

Airline and telecom entrepreneur Richard Branson is not far behind. And Google co-founder Eric Schmidt is funding another deep water submarine project that's still on the drawing boards.

More people have been to the moon than to this place beneath the sea roughly 200 miles southwest of Guam.

Only two people, Swiss engineer Jacques Piccard and U.S. Navy Capt. Don Walsh, have been to this underwater valley. And they spent only 20 minutes there. Their sub kicked up so much of the sea floor that all they could see out the window was a murky fog.

That dive was in 1960 and no one has been back since. Unmanned subs have ventured that deep, but there's a difference between seeing something remotely on a computer monitor and being there, seeing it up close.

"It's the last frontier for science and exploration on this planet," Cameron said in a ship-to-shore interview with The Associated Press. "It's to draw public attention to the oceans and continued need for exploration as well as stewardship. It would be a good thing if we understand the oceans before we destroy the life that's in them."

Cameron plans to spend at least six hours on the bottom in his cramped, almost form-fitting sub, Deepsea Challenger. He plans to film an undersea documentary with his partner National Geographic, including 3D footage.

Craig McLean, chief of research for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls Cameron a hero.

"This is an awakening for the public on how little we know about our planet," McLean said. "We don't have to look up in the sky to find what's out there. We've got it in our oceans."

Andy Bowen, director of the deep sea sub lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, remotely guided the unmanned Nereus to the same sea floor for 13 hours in 2009. He describes the pitch dark, icy cold place as "the most hostile, most remote environment on the face of the planet."

McLean said the 16,500 pounds-per-square inch pressure isn't bone-crushing, "it's obliterating." Cameron said if there were a leak, the pressure would crush him so fast he couldn't even cry out.

But getting to that dangerous place, Bowen said, "is frankly intoxicating."

Cameron already feels the majesty and he hasn't been quite that deep yet. Last week, on a test dive for his 12-ton, 25-foot vertical sub, Cameron went to a different trench 5.1 miles down. That set a record for the deepest solo sub dive and Cameron was mesmerized by deep sea anemones that looked like hanging gardens, tube worms and jellyfish that would pulse by.

There was a moment when Cameron was photographing a jellyfish that swam right in front of his viewport, backlit by special lighting techniques.

"I just saw this very ancient and very simple animal," Cameron recalled. "The thought that popped through my head was that God must have been proud the day that he created the jellyfish."

And, Cameron added, he's an atheist.

Cameron's plan for the deeper dive depends on calm weather and pinpoint timing to conserve battery life. In 1960, Walsh and Piccard took nearly five hours to reach the bottom.

Cameron said his plan "is to scream to the bottom as fast as possible, then work at the bottom with all lights blazing." His descent in the dark, slightly-above-freezing water will only take 90 minutes and technically there's enough life support for a 56-hour dive. Cameron won't say how much the expedition costs.

While it may seem desolate — it's too deep for traditional fish to survive because of the pressure — there is life. Ravenous little shrimp-like creatures, sea anemones, worms with bristly feet, and sea cucumbers live in this section of the trench called Challenger Deep, said scientists on the Nereus team at Woods Hole.

"Exploring the trenches is a view back in time because they are so isolated from the ocean and circulation," Woods Hole submersible chief Bowen said. "It's inevitable that it's going to reveal something about the biological history of the planet."

Back when Don Walsh, now 80, took the plunge, he and Piccard saw sparkly tiny fish in the dark that glowed like light reflecting off snowflakes. He could hear sea animals outside. But once the ship landed and caused a dust-up in the fine flat oatmeal-colored bottom, he could see nothing.

"It was like staring into a bowl of milk," said Walsh, who is in Guam with the Cameron expedition.

Cameron won't be alone in trying to follow Walsh. But the next up is likely to be Branson. His company last year bragged that it's been to all seven continents and is going into space, so a $17 million sub venture is the next logical step. Google founder Schmidt is helping fund a $40 million effort by California-based DOER Marine to work on a more science-oriented human deep sea sub that is at least two years away. Also said to be in the hunt is Triton Submarines in Florida, a firm with no celebrity connection.

While some people call this "a race to the bottom," DOER Marine's president Liz Taylor said this is far more collegial.

"What we really have is a race against time in terms of what humans are doing to the oceans," Taylor said. Oceans provide most of the world's oxygen.

"Basically it's our planetary life support system at stake," she said, "and we're treating it as a supermarket and sewer at the same time."



James Cameron and National Geographic's Deepsea Challenge site:

NOAA's animation of diving into the Mariana Trench:

Branson's Virgin Oceanic:

DOER Marine:

Triton Submarines:

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution's Nereus sub: