Science News

The island of Mo’orea in the South Pacific is undergoing an extensive biodiversity project in an attempt to save it – DNA barcoding of all of the non-microbial species on the island and in its waters: A South Pacific Island, Under the Microscope

Scientists and the pro-science public tend to see scientific method as the infallible process by which we discern facts about the world around us. When scientists make mistakes, they are often admonished, disgraced, and ridiculed by their peers; unfortunately, admitting that one has made a mistake can be career-destroying if you are a scientist and you have messed up in your field of expertise. The author of this article talks about the human side of scientists and the mistakes that we make: How Science Failed during the Gulf Oil Disaster

Not an environmental news story, but spectacular nonetheless and worth sharing. Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait posts a stunning time lapse picture by Turkish photographer Tunç Tezel’s of Venus’ orbit around the sun: Venus, from one side of the Sun to another

Jeff Barnard writes about the effects of ocean acidification on oyster aquaculture (surprise: it’s not good news): Study blames ocean CO2 for oyster declines

An orca’s death off the northern Pacific coast is undergoing investigation; a massive blunt force trauma caused her death, but what caused the injuries is still unknown: Experts sleuth out what killed Puget Sound orca

The positives behind urban farming: Urban Farming is Growing a Green Future

And finally!!!

NZ Forest and Bird’s 2012-2013 Best Fish Guide is now available for download. Also on this page are the methodologies used to rank fisheries, the full publication of the ecological assessments, and also links to the 2011 annual report.


Today, in No Duh News

Finally! The NZ Herald is starting to catch up to what conservationists, divers, surfers, and other ocean aficionados have known for a long time: sharks are not interested in humans.

Fancy that!

Lots of credit to the NZ Herald though, because they often get a stern correction from people when they (usually) misrepresent sharks as being dangerous and a threat to humans. That’s not to downplay the injuries that people can sustain when an incident occurs, but the fact that the incidents are so rare in the first place – considering how often people are in the water, sharing the same areas as sharks – is a pretty good indication of how much we aren’t a part of their diet.

And right on, Christopher Neff! I look forward to reading your thesis. Please send it to me, kthanx.


Malaspina 2010 Expedition in Auckland

The Hesperides, docked at Princes Wharf in Auckland

Three weeks ago, I had the honour of checking out the Hesperides, one of the Spanish ships making a circumnavigation and studying the effects of climate change on the oceans, as well as exploring the biodiversity of the deep.  The Hesperides is a Spanish naval ship that is being used as a research vessel on the Malaspina 2010 Expedition, which set sail from Spain in December of 2010 and is set to return in July this year.

It was very exciting to be aboard a research vessel of that size; being able to speak to the various scientists and students (yes!!! STUDENTS!!!) that were working aboard the ship, find out what they were working on, and learn a bit more about what life would be like while working on a research expedition like Malaspina 2010 (please note this site is in Spanish, but the Wikipedia article on the expedition is here).  The well-respected Carlos Duarte is the lead scientist on this expedition, which is set to hit Honolulu any day now.

We were allowed to take photos, examine some of the results of the various samples collected, ask questions, snoop around labs… oh it was heaven, my friends, seriously.  I was positively green with envy of the masters and PhD students that were lucky enough to be part of this expedition.  Below are some of the photos I took:

A scientist explains the research equipment used in monitoring and mapping the oceans.

Our tour consisted of various scientists and student scientists taking us through the major labs, explaining what the equipment was for, how they were using it, and what they were doing with the results.  As expected on any boat, everything was crammed into any spare space one could find.  People who prefer to live their lives without clutter would not do well in an environment like this!

The Roseta. All hail the Roseta.

One of the tenets of research on which the expedition is focusing is water quality and content, to observe the interweaving relationships of carbon sequestration in oceans (leading to higher acidity levels), temperature change, pollutant contents, nutrient content, eutrophication and biodiversity.  The Roseta, or Rosette, pictured above, is a large contraption that basically is a multi-chambered series of tubes* arranged in a circle.  The ends of the tubes have a quick-release trap door, so when the Rosette descends through the water column, each tube shuts at a certain depth, to collect samples of water and any microfauna/flora that are present at that depth.  The Rosette descends to collect 24 samples from the water column, from the surface down  to 4,000 metres.  The samples are tested for salinity, acidity, nutrient content, any species that are picked up are collected, and thousands of samples have been gathered.

Sieves on the aft deck

During the navigation, these sieve nets are dropped behind the ship, trawling for organisms in the open oceans.  The sieve nets collect any species or detritus larger than 200μm (1/5th of a millimetre).

One of the labs in the lower decks

This is pretty much what my room looks like, I could so easily work in this environs.

Instructions for decanting zooplankton

The above instructions basically describe how to sieve zooplankton according to their relative size and preserve them on petri dishes.

Now everyone knows I’m a total sucker for SCIENCE!!! And so, I was practically drooling all over the decks, but more than just having the opportunity to see a research vessel like this, knowing what’s happening at the front lines of discovery when it comes to the open ocean (of which we know so little) is really exciting.  The research being done on the Malaspina 2010 expedition is invaluable, and the lack of pretension among the scientists – chemists, biologists, etymologists, environmentalists, atmospheric scientists, and all the others I’m forgetting – has helped to foster an open, cohesive learning environment for the students aboard.   It also helps that they are approaching the research they’re doing from a more holistic position than has been done in the past.  Knowing that the collective efforts of so many different people are gearing towards a common goal, and actually being able to see that cohesion exist in the way everyone interacted with each other, was refreshing, inspiring and just…

I SO wish I was on that ship.


*The Roseta ≠ The Internet.

It’s been a while!

Where have you been?! - Photography by Diverkat

And for good reasons – so many new things, so much news, and loads of things going on, things to do, and things to celebrate!

Firstly, I’m really excited to be able to say that I’ve been made one of the trustees of the White Shark Conservation Trust.  I’m stoked to be working with Bruce and David, and I foresee lots of fun things in the future in that respect.  Both of them are brilliant, and the balance of personalities between the three of us is different enough to really create a dynamic group, and I hope that we can continue to grow the Trust in a way that expands our influence and our reputation in a positive way, for the benefit of our cartilaginous friends.

Second on the list, I’ve picked up studying again – I’m doing part-time study at the University of Auckland for (surprise) Marine Biology/Ecology and Conservation.  So yay!  Loads of work on though, but it’s all very interesting.  I’m halfway through week 3, and it’s pretty full on, but really great to be working my brain again.

As predicted, the diving work with Global Dive over the summer has taken up loads of time, but not without some fruits of the labour; some excellent photos taken by yours truly and good friend and fellow instructor Will Fox below.

More plugging for Sustainable Coastlines – these guys have been busy!  The weekend of 2 – 4 April 2011 is the Great Coromandel Coastal Clean-up, and if that one doesn’t suit you geographically or temporally, then there’s always the North Shore Coastal Clean-up, which is on 15 – 16 April 2011.  I am planning on attending the Saturday, come along and play if you can!

Also, as a trustee of the White Shark Conservation Trust, I will continue to shamelessly plug the events that we hold in the future.  Due to the tragedies that have befallen Christchurch and Japan, we feel that it is not appropriate to be holding any fundraisers for the foreseeable future; however raising awareness and promoting education are still ongoing projects, and I will continue to work on those when I am not studying.

One more thing that I want to mention, because conservation doesn’t have to just be in the ocean – anyone in the Auckland area who is interested in learning a bit about the reforestation/reintegration efforts being done on the islands in the Hauraki Gulf should try their hand at doing some volunteer work on Motuihe Island. Every other Sunday or so they have volunteer days where you can catch a ferry from Auckland to Motuihe, and do some work with reforestation, collecting seeds for growing seedlings, work in the nurseries, take a hike around the island, or whatever needs doing – the project is funded by sponsors of the Motuihe Trust and the Department of Conservation, and it offers a wonderful opportunity for one to learn more about native flora and fauna as well as the methods they are using to restore the endemic species.

And now, photos!

My favourite photo I've taken, ever. - Photography by Diverkat

Coming over the ridge - Photography by Will Fox

Spiny Sea Urchin - Photography by Diverkat

A close up of Scorpionfish, Scorpaena cardinalis (Grandfather hapuku) - Photography by Diverkat

Updates and Opportunities

Hi everyone,

With the lengthening days, as always, there’s a shortage of time – things are getting busy in the upcoming summer months!  I just want to take this opportunity to plug a few things that are happening and if you’re interested, please come along and offer a helping hand!

First things first, on this upcoming Sunday, 14 November 2010 at 9:00am, the White Shark Conservation Trust’s Mystery Ride, a charity motorbike ride being held on the North Shore.  For more details, visit the link posted.  Yours truly will be there as well, so come stop by and say hello, offer some support or make a donation!   If you have a bike and would like to join in on the ride, it costs $20 to register.  Please contact Bruce Goorney at the link posted above.  All proceeds will be going to the White Shark Conservation Trust, in support of conserving and protecting the white shark, educating the public about the white shark, and of course spreading the love among like-minded people.

Secondly, I’d like to plug Sustainable Coastlines, a non-profit organisation whose founders I had the opportunity to meet recently.  Sustainable Coastlines works to support communities in keeping their coastal environments clean, develop sustainable environmental practices and support coastal cleanup efforts to positively impact the environment, raise awareness and of course leave the coasts a little cleaner than they were when we found them.  Sustainable Coastlines is participating in the Love Your Coast event, which is a series of coastal cleanups that are happening across New Zealand.  On Monday, 6 December 2010, a cleanup is scheduled for Rangitoto Island.  Other cleanups are scheduled throughout the rest of that week in Wellington, Christchurch, and Te Tai o Poutini (West Coast).  Visit the posted links for more details.  I highly recommend checking out Sustainable Coastlines, as they are a pretty large, well organised outfit and they offer a lot of opportunities for getting involved, especially anyone who is concerned for environmental welfare.

November is looking to be an incredibly busy month, with several more dive courses starting and therefore a lot more work to do, but I hope to post again soon with some rather exciting news – watch this space.


International Cleanup Day Results – Job Well Done!

Recycled 2009 Banner - we practise what we preach!

Once again, Project AWARE‘s International Cleanup Day was a smashing success! This past Saturday, 25 September 2010 we tackled Mission Bay Beach’s shores for our beach and underwater cleanup.  Volunteers, divers and non-divers alike, showed up to help us collect about 12 kilograms of rubbish from the beach and the ocean.  And again, the most numerous bits of trash left behind were cigarette butts and drink bottle caps/lids.  Food wrappers and containers were the next most prevalent, indicating that in the more populous areas, individuals littering is the biggest issue we need to tackle – as well as getting food shops and food suppliers to use more biodegradable materials when packaging food and/or handing out utensils.

And once again, more than half of the volume we picked up was recyclable material.

Bearing that in mind, my suggestion for trying to curb this behaviour?  Why, yes, as always, education! If we tirelessly continue to educate ourselves, our kids, our friends, loved ones, colleagues, et cetera about the need to dispose of/recycle our trash responsibly, we can help stop thousands (yes, thousands) of tonnes of garbage from polluting our seas.  Last year on International Cleanup Day 2009, 220,000 kgs of debris were removed from the ocean alone (see Project AWARE’s global data here).  This was what was collected in one day.  Also, getting involved in being part of the solution – as our wonderful volunteers from NIWA, Global Dive, the White Shark Conservation Trust and my own dear (unaffiliated) friends did – helps raise awareness among the general public too, and of course reminds us to be responsible with disposing of our own rubbish.

Another bright moment from Saturday, other than the intermittent sun showing its face once in a while, was the chance to meet with Sam, Camden and Simon from Sustainable Coastlines, a charity organisation based in Tirau, Waikato.  Sustainable Coastlines takes a holistic approach to developing solutions for keeping our coasts clean and working with communities and individuals to implement solutions throughout New Zealand.  I am hoping to meet with these guys again soon – I’m looking forward to working with them toward a common goal, and gain some insight into what projects they are planning – and see if I can help.

Some photos from the day are below.   Thanks again to all of you who helped out, I am so grateful for the support shown and I am proud of the efforts you all put forth!  And of course, a big thank you to Global Dive for sponsoring the materials and the barbecue on the day!


Divers getting kitted up for the underwater search

Bruce and Zoe sweep the west end of the beach

Francois and Juliet team up

Harry is all smiles - before he realised he'd be in 3m of water!

Jonas getting ready for the dive

Andreas, Alex and Kate on land duty

Sharkilage – an unsustainable product from a “sustainable” business

Today, it was brought to my attention by Bruce Goorney of the White Shark Conservation Trust that Good Health, a New Zealand owned and based natural supplement/naturopathy company sell two shark-based ingredient products: Sharkilage and Squalene.  Sharkilage is, as you can guess from the hybridised name, shark cartilage.  The description on the website states “Shark fin has been highly prized by some cultures for many years.”  Which is true, but it was not really prized for its health benefits – shark fin soup is mainly prized for its status-giving properties.  Shark fin soup is a sign of affluence, holds no nutritional value, has no flavour, and most health benefits that are quoted (many claim it has cancer-fighting properties) have been shown to be insignificant.

Chondroitin is a naturally occurring glycosaminoglycan, or GAG, a large molecule that is essential in building connective tissues in the body. Chondroitin sulfate, while administered with glucosamine, has been shown in some studies to slow (but not prevent or reverse) the degeneration of joint cartilage in humans – however whether or not there is any pain relief is still contested.  Chondroitin is found naturally in all sorts of intra-skeletal animals (including humans) and can be sourced from bovine cartilage as well as shark cartilage, or synthetically produced – therefore there is no need to obtain it from shark cartilage.

Shark liver oil benefits are less hocum; claims that shark liver oil has cancer-fighting abilities have undergone much testing and there may be some benefit to using the active organic compound, squalene.  However it is important to note that squalene can be derived from plant sources as well, such as olives or wheat germ, therefore there is no need to source squalene from shark liver.

Good Health’s environmental policy claims they “employ environmentally sustainable practices in our business.” As I have mentioned in previous posts, shark fishing/finning is not an environmentally sustainable practice.  Low fecundity rates coupled with slow rates of maturation means that sharks take longer to have offspring, and have fewer – so replenishing their populations takes a much longer time than say, tuna, who mature in 4-6 years and have numerous offspring.  The white shark, for example, takes about 15 years to reach sexual maturity, gestation is 11 months, and as intrauterine cannibalism is a common phenomenon in white sharks, only a few pups are birthed.  There is no doubt that we are fishing sharks at a much faster rate than they can replace their populations, which is the very definition of un-sustainability.

I have been living in New Zealand for over 3 years now, and I have made it my home.  I consider myself, for all intents and purposes, a Kiwi.  I want to support kiwi-owned businesses and purchase kiwi-made or kiwi-grown products, and I do.  But this company demonstrates exactly the problem I’ve noticed in this great country: with the undeserved “green reputation” that New Zealand seems to have overseas, there is a great margin of disconnect with individual kiwis, and kiwi-owned businesses alike.  Good Health, for example, spout the sustainability of their products, yet they indirectly promote one of the most unsustainable fishing practices in the world.  This cognitive dissonance is not rare, I’ve seen it in the New Zealand government’s behaviour at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen last year as well, I see it in the lack of recycling facilities and campaigns at home, and I see it every time I pick up rubbish off the side of the road or a beach.  There is a trend here in NZ, a lack of foresight when it comes to environmental sustainability – and that needs to change.  But that I think is for another post, and begins at an individual level as I’ve said before.

I want to make this clear: I do not for a moment think that the people at Good Health are promoting the use and sale of shark products out of malice; I think there is simply a lack of knowledge about shark products, how they are sourced, and how they impact the environment.  If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: the best way to combat this is through education. I cannot state that enough.

Therefore, in the light of educating those who may not be aware of the damaging effects that come from sourcing certain ingredients, I have written a letter – one that I am posting below, and sending on to  I encourage you to do the same, my friends, and by all means use my letter if you want, or write your own.  I’d love to hear whether or not anyone gets a response – and I will certainly let you know if I get one.



Dear Messrs Dave and Brian Blanchard,

As a fellow New Zealander who proudly supports Kiwi businesses, I am shocked and disappointed in the disconnect between your environmental policy and the unsustainability of the main ingredients, shark cartilage (or chondroitin) and shark liver oil, in your products Sharkilage and Squalene.

Your environmental policy as stated on your website says:

”Good Health believes every New Zealand business should do its best to preserve New Zealand’s clean, green reputation and we accept our share of responsibility for the environment.

For this reason our endeavours to employ environmentally sustainable practices in our business.”

Sharks are slow-growing apex predators, and their reproduction rates are substantially lower than those of other apex predator fish.  Apex predator populations are of vital importance to the health and welfare of marine ecosystems, and they are not fished in sustainable or ethical methods.  An estimated 70 – 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, and shark populations have been estimated to have declined by nearly 90% in the past three decades.

Shark finning itself is an unethical and unregulated practice – shark meat is often laden with high mercury levels (like other slow-growing marine animals), and holds little market value.  The most common finning method is to land the shark onto the boat, cut off all of its fins, and toss the carcass back into the water.  This does not necessarily kill the shark.  The shark can take up to five days to die by either starvation or asphyxiation (as it cannot swim to pass oxygenated water through its gills).  Other times the shark can be eaten alive by other sharks.  The whole process is extremely wasteful and very inhumane.

Encouraging shark fishing/finning through the promotion and sale of shark cartilage and shark liver oil is irresponsible business practice at best, and disingenuous to your environmental policy.  I encourage you to remove these products from your online store and encourage your suppliers to remove these products from their shelves, and reinstate the integrity of your environmental policy.

Both chondroitin and squalene can be obtained from more sustainable sources – chondroitin can be found in bovine cartilage or synthetically produced, and squalene can be found in olives, wheat germ and other plant sources.  Please consider using more sustainable sources for your products in order to be consistent with your policy.

I will be sharing this information with everyone I know and discourage them from using your products until a change is made.  If you do remove Sharkilage and Squalene from your line of products, I will happily and proudly support your Kiwi business once again.