Deeper water

Knee deep

I have snorkelled since I could swim, and have wanted for as long as I can think to grow up and be a mermaid. I think my tail would be blue…

In waters off Koh Kradan, Trang, Thailand

After years of (literally) dreaming about having the ability to breath underwater, I went and done did my PADI Open Water Certification.

It was a snap decision. Travelling in the western state of Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, I wandered into the Scuba Junkie office amidst the humdrum of Semporna to book snorkelling in the famous Coral Triangle; home to the Sipadan Marine Reserve, which is widely regarded as one of the world’s best dive sites.

“If you’re not getting your hands dirty on this issue, you should be.”

“If you have that many days in town, why don’t you just do your scuba diving certification?” It was an irresistibly sensible question. And so, with ten minutes to spare before the three day course began in the windowless, cramped back room of the dive shop, I signed on.

Five days later, after a full day of theory, two days training in the water, and another two of immaculate fun dives off the islands of Mabul and Kapalia, I had joined the ranks of one very special community.

 

 

“Up to here” with it

Back home in Melbourne, Australia my new addiction steered me to significantly colder waters and my dear friends at Dive2U. A family owned and operated business, these guys are un-believable in their engagement with community and conservation.

Just one of their many conservation-geared projects/events, Dive2U owner AJ Morton decided it was high time to take to the marina waters around Blairgowrie Pier and CLEAN UP; a way of giving back to the Blairgowrie Yacht Squadron for their support of the dive community over the years.

(Also see Operation Sponge – the cutest and my favourite – which got a great write up from the ABC).

As the team of 15 divers splintered off into groups, we started at the far (western) end of the marina fingers; working our way east towards the main wall, slowly weaving around the concrete support pillars, passing under the shadows of the yachts above. And boy did we find a lot of rubbish.

Plastic, rope, bits of metal, tyres, pots and pans, hats, clothes… even a mobile phone! As Dive2U reports, however, “it was great to see most of the debris found seems to be accidental… from broken ropes to dropped items. There was no sign of deliberate dumping.”

 

 

The next clean up dive with Dive2U will run in conjunction with the Sea Sheppard Marine Debris Campaign Australia team, and is scheduled for Sunday, 29th April at Mornington Pier. You can also sign up with Dive2U to participate in Slug Safari and contribute to the first nudibranch census run in the area by the Victorian National Parks Association, the 2018 Sea Slug Census.

 

Let’s stop drowning in it

When you hear the ocean is choking with plastic, that’s one thing. Seeing it is another, and both Mabul and Blairgowrie Pier are relatively pristine! When you dig a little deeper on this issue, or look to the leadership of old hat players in this game like Sea Shepherd, the message is clear; we are morally obligated to contribute to removing plastic from marine environments.

Yes, prevention is key. But we continue to accumulate rubbish in our oceans regardless of the present efforts to reduce and refuse plastics.

A recent estimate published in Science predicts that between 4 and 12 million metric tonnes of plastic entered our oceans in 2010 alone, reportedly enough to cover every metre of coastline on the planet. Taking direct action to address the tail end of this enormous influx of crap, groups like Sea Shepherd Australia and the Marine Debris Campaign run volunteer-powered clean ups to remove it from our shores. In 2016 alone, the Marine Debris Campaign removed some 430,000 pieces of junk, more than 75% of which was plastic, much of it represented by single-use items.

Here are the stats from a single 90 minute clean up run in Freemantle.

 

 

I am not going to mince my words here. If you’re not getting your hands dirty on this issue, you should be. Seventy percent of our planet is covered by oceans and seas. These vast spaces are predicted to host millions of marine species, as many as 91% of which remain unknown to science. There’s a parallel universe down there folks. And we’re choking it with plastic.

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Part 1: Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall is an incredible woman. A force to be reckoned with. She has a rare tenacity and a fierce sense of personal responsibility for her impact on the planet. In her own words:

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”

This year, Think Inc. delivered an Australia wide tour in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute; a ‘fire side’ chat with the woman herself, fronted up by a casual talk from Jane. I attended the Melbourne event at the Plenary on June 16th, where Jane Goodall told of her childhood fascinations with animals, the unfolding of her dream to work with animals in Africa, and spoke on her now long history of global activism.

This is a woman who worked crappy secretarial and hospitality jobs to scrape together enough pennies for the boat ride from England, around the Cape of Africa, on to Nairobi. A woman who essentially pioneered the field of animal behavioural science, in spite of being badly ridiculed by much of the scientific community. And a passionate activist that admits she has not been in the same place for more than two or three consecutive weeks for some 30 years.

Jane Goodall’s personal story brings together true anthropological discovery, which is still unfolding today (see Part 3: First Humans)–but which had more of a wild west-type twang through the course of the C20th (see Part 2: The Leakey Legacy)–with pressing modern day issues: environmental degradation, overconsumption and human desperation in the developing world.

In writing this three-piece blog series I came to realise that, in truth, there is little I can say to elucidate Jane Goodall’s work, insight and ferocity that she does not immediately demonstrate herself. Just watch her.

 

 

To end on a moral note as Goodall did herself, the crux of Jane’s fear for the world seems to be this; in spite of the undeniable evidence for human-induced climate change, in spite of the devastating degradation of natural habitats carried out by our species, so many of us continue to do nothing. And as she emphasises, our time to make a difference is already on the clock.

“The greatest danger to our future is apathy,” she says.

Since attending Jane’s Think Inc. talk, I have started to realise how often the children and teenagers I meet through my education and science communication work have already adopted, at their fledgling age, a wholly hopeless outlook on our planets future.

I, myself, am wholeheartedly committed to realism but, as Jane clearly indicates herself, we need, absolutely, to remain optimistic. In fact, our future depends on it.

“You would be amazed at what inspired children can do.” – Goodall

 

Information on the Roots & Shoots program referred to at the end of this video can be found here, with some 23 schools participating in Victoria alone at the time of writing.

Pooter power !

 

 

Extra-happy happy snaps of the fossil conservation process.

Each photograph is captioned with a brief description of the technique featured, but for a romanticised description and more detail of the ‘how’s’ and ‘why’s’ see the rockdoc article Patients.

Patients

Rock conservation’ has a certain ring to it… a ring that registers amongst the highest calibre of beyond-boring, watching-grass-grow type activities. It’s the kind of stuff we hope our dreams are never made. Not sending emails, not ironing, not rock conservation. These activities, we suppose, seep in and infest our colourful humanity with stupefying fuddy-duddyness, changing us from people into some embodiment of dreary.

The term ‘rock conservation’ refers to the treatment and storage of geological material in order to prolong its natural life. It is a curatorial process essential to the maintenance of important scientific resources worldwide.

“…these patients will help form the foundations of palaeontological research that will enrich and expand our understanding of life on this sweet planet we call home.”

Largely, the process involves an assessment of the stability of the rock patient in question: whether it is rich in clay minerals and likely to delaminate and crumble with time, whether it has through-going cracks or fossil roots that will encourage it to fall apart when handled, etc.. This assessment, and the treatment to be administered in response, is carried out by one we might affectionately (and very colloquially) call the ‘Rock Doctor’.

As the resident Rock Doctor in my lab, I paint my patients with paraloid B67, which seeps into the pore spaces between grains and holds them together like liquid bandaid. I take carefully measured strips of cotton bandage and wrap the rocks, to act as a splint and reinforce the paraloid. I patch broken pieces back to their other halves with epoxy resin. And I make custom-fit straight jackets using polyurethane foam, to hold the bigger rock slabs tightly together while they are split to reveal as-yet unseen fossil layers.

Although the execution of these tasks is roughly three quarters fuddy-dreardom, the remaining quarter of a rock doctor’s role can only be described as a shiny, rather pleasant privilege.

The privilege has it’s genesis here; these patients will help form the foundations of palaeontological research that will enrich and expand our understanding of life on this sweet planet we call home. Whether as small puzzle pieces falling into shapely gaps, or as ripples that perpetuate outwards, crossing paths with other concepts and creating something novel, the information extracted from these fossils can be invaluable. And this is true whether we seek to gaze into the labyrinth of deep time, or to look into the possible futures that extend before us.

Furthermore, a minority of lucky rocks that pass through the hospice of rock doctors find a moment in the limelight, featuring in geology exhibits that seek to capture the hearts and minds of public visitors. Although my patients are unlikely to see any such fame (destined for storage in the GNAS collection outside Wellington, New Zealand, or offshore on the Chatham Islands from which they hark), it is the insightful journey they travel in the interim that makes my patients special.

For the potential insights they conceal, my patients are worthy of the utmost care, considered treatment and delicate love.

Arcing from mundane to wondrous, I find myself with the utmost patience for these rock doctor tasks.

 

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