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The Republic of Maldives is one of the most unique geological places on our planet. Made up of 26 atolls and over 1,150 islands spread across approximately 35,000 sq. miles. It is one of the most dispersed countries on earth. It is also the lowest country on earth with more than 80 % of the country’s land less than one meter above sea level. The Maldives lies close to the equator between latitudes 1°S and 8°N and longitudes 72° and 74°E.
While these islands are one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Maldives has been challenged with high sea temperatures. In 1998, sea-temperature warming of as much as 5 °C (9.0 °F), due to a single El Niño phenomenon event, caused coral bleaching, killing almost two thirds of the nation’s coral reefs.
To induce the regrowth of the reefs, scientists placed electrified cones anywhere from 20–60 feet (6.1–18.3 m) below the surface to provide a substrate for larval coral attachment. In 2004, scientists witnessed corals regenerating. Corals began to eject pink-orange eggs and sperm. The growth of these electrified corals was five times faster than untreated corals.
Scientist Azeez Hakim stated: “before 1998, we never thought that this reef would die. We had always taken for granted that these animals would be there, that this reef would be there forever. El Niño gave us a wake-up call that these things are not going to be there forever. Not only this, they also act as a natural barrier against the tropical storms, floods and tsunamis. Seaweeds grow on the skeletons of dead coral.”
Again, in 2016, the coral reefs of the Maldives experienced a severe bleaching incident. The surface water temperatures reached an all-time high in 2016, at 31 degrees Celsius in May 2016. Over 95% of coral around the islands died, and, even after six months, 100% of young coral transplants had died. While this event challenged the local marine life, a trip to the Maldives will not disappoint. The biodiversity on the reef is still incredible.
During our trip, we visited two separate islands in addition to Male. The first, Vommuli Island located in the Dhaalu Atoll, is approximately 69 km south of the capital Male and is reached via sea plane. The St Regis resort on the island opened in September of 2016 and had been open a little over 9 months when we arrived. The hotel occupies 100% of the island and houses about 200 staff in addition to hotel guests. When you arrive, you are greeted by some of the hotel staff lined up on the dock and waving.
Think Fantasy Island. da plane, da plane…..
Getting to the island requires a short sea plane ride from Male. The St. Regis will meet you at the international terminal and take you to a private lounge at the Sea Plane terminal to wait on your flight. You can get light hors D’oeuvres, snacks and drinks while you wait inside a small but nicely appointed lounge. The trip on the sea plane is only about 45 minutes and usually you make one stop to drop off other passengers at other resorts before you arrive at o the St Regis.
This is probably one of the most amazing hotels in which we have stayed. Our spacious over water villa had floor to ceiling windows that looked out over the ocean. Everything in the room was new with lots of automation. We had a 20 X 50 foot (6 x 18 meters) or so deck which had an infinity pool and a staircase that led down to the ocean. I know it is difficult to suffer through these types of accommodations, but someone has to do it. 🙂
Like many resorts in the Maldives, we were assigned a personal butler to attend to our needs during our stay. This is where it gets a little creepy. The hotel will go online to look up guests, go to their Facebook page if it is accessible, or other social media sites to find out about the guests. One couple on their honeymoon told us that the hotel had printed copies of photos from their wedding that were posted on line and had them in their room when they arrived.
The staff on the island are also supposed to know the guests. They use Whatsapp to communicate information about guests to other staff members. So, when I went out for a dive one day and came back looking for my wife, the first staff member I came too told me where she was and what she was doing. This place was over the top with service.
This hotel provides a wide range of amenities, including water sports, boat tours around the area, tennis, yoga, complete fitness center, great pool, and a beautiful library. At this type of property, your only options are the activities on the island. We came to dive in the Maldives so no problem, we were in the water every day. For others visiting these islands, you should consider carefully the activities available at the resort you choose. The diving here was a bit expensive, but the service was amazing.
Your Butler will arrange almost any activity you desire and virtually whenever you would like it. They even provided bicycles to our room, so we can ride to and from our over water villa back to the main part of the property.
The resort had only been open about 7 months when we arrived, and everything was new. The dive boat was great and each day we were typically the only divers on the boat. I think some people go to the Maldives for other reasons than diving……
Food on the island was amazing. From the marvelous breakfast buffet at Alba, to the Orientale, great Asian cuisine, to the Whale Bar you will not be disappointed. Cargo and Crust offer casual beach front dining and you can always order room service. If you like wines there is a very interesting underground wine bar, Decanter where you can sample a variety of wines during an elegant bespoke five-course meal.
You can arrange a private dinner on the beach or on a roof top where the view of the stars is breath taking.
A thoroughly wonderful experience that I would love to do again.
Coral Bleaching threatens much of our fragile coral reefs around the world. In 1998, sea-temperature warming caused extensive coral bleaching in the Maldives. As a result, almost two thirds of coral reefs died.
Again, in May of 2016, the coral reefs of the Maldives experienced a severe bleaching incident. The surface water temperatures reached an all-time high in at 31 degrees Celsius in May 2016. Consequently, over 95% of coral around the islands died.
Scientist Azeez Hakim stated:
“before 1998, we never thought that this reef would die. We had always taken for granted that these animals would be there, that this reef would be there forever. El Niño gave us a wake-up call that these things are not going to be there forever. “
In Australia, back-to-back bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 devastated a 1,500 km stretch of the famous barrier reef. While, before 2016 there had only been two bleaching events along the Great Barrier Reef in the past two decades.
Reefs are formed by Corals “… animals that live in symbiosis with algae, a plant,” according to Jessica Bellworthy a PhD student at Professor Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences. The university’s study Red Sea corals seeks to understand their ability to resist extreme temperatures.
Corals and algae “provide services for each other,” with the algae providing “up to 90 percent of the coral animal’s food” through photosynthesis, said Bellworthy. “When ocean temperatures get too hot, this symbiosis, this relationship, breaks down,” she said.
Yet in the Red Sea, where I have been diving many times, ocean temperatures can be much higher. The Red Sea routinely experiences temperatures higher than the Maldives or in Australia. So, could the Red Sea corals offer an opportunity to introduce “bleach resistant” coral into other threatened areas?
Dr. Fine’s research regarding Red Sea corals provides potential avenues and approaches to protect our coral reefs in the future.
Scripts Institute conducted a study of coral bleaching in the central Red Sea in the summer of 2010. During this event the region experienced up to 10-11 degree increases in temperature many of weeks. The study found that shallow reefs and inshore reefs had a higher prevalence of bleaching. While Red Sea reefs are subject to increasing temperature pressures, the study showed that these reefs have a much higher temperature change tolerance. Therefore, the implications are quite clear. Corals that have lived and thrived in higher temperature environments are better suited to survive higher temperature seas in other areas.
Consequently, saving our coral reef system is critical to maintaining food stock, industries and related jobs in many countries around the world. In conclusion, introducing non-native species into a specific environment poses a number or questions and risks, yet a key question remains. “Should we introduce corals that are already acclimated to higher temperatures to other environments?” Finally, this answer could determine our ongoing ability to feed ourselves and our children in the future.
A south swell has been running for several days with the wind blowing briskly out of the north. It is Friday morning and I am looking forward to scuba diving with the Hammerhead Shark. The dive site for today is about an hour from Lahaina Harbor across the Pailolo Channel and on the northeastern end of Molokai. This dive will take approximately five hours from the time we leave the harbor until our return.
I checked into the Lahaina Divers shop, whom I highly recommend, around 6:50 am. I have been diving with them in Maui for over 10 years. They have great boats and a skilled and highly professional crew. Lahaina Divers is the only dive operation that has a regular Hammerhead Shark dive to Molokai. After checking in, I park my car and then head down to the boat slip. After all of the divers are aboard and a short safety briefing from the crew we head for Molokai. A
few of the divers on board have done this dive, including myself, many times. However, for most on board this will be their fist dive on Molokai and the first time with Hammerhead sharks.
The boat heads toward the dive site, staying close to the western shore of Maui, until we are almost directly across from the dive site. The boat then makes a sharp turn to cross the channel. The seas are running four to six feet with an occasional swell in excess of eight feet. Some first timers on the boat get a bit nervous. It takes about 25 to 30 minutes to cross over to Molokai and by that time a couple of divers on the boat that are sea sick. This channel is one of the roughest in the Hawaiian islands. Its name literally means “crazy fishermen”. Because if someone was going to go fishing across this channel they must be crazy.
The captain of the boat gives us a 10 minute warning telling us it is time to put on our gear and get ready to enter the water. We put on our wet suits, BC’s, and fins while sitting in assigned stations on the boat. The water is rough so we wait on the crew to help us stand up and move into position at the back of the boat. But, we don’t enter yet. We wait for the captain to move the boat into position and give us the signal to enter the water. The crew tells us “1 minute”, “30 seconds”, “captain divers are ready”, then we wait for the captain. The back of the boat swings round toward the islet, then the captain yells “dive, dive, dive”. Our group jumps almost in unison and we are all in the water within 15 seconds.
The surface is choppy and after making sure all divers are OK, we rapidly begin our descent. The water is light to medium blue for the first thirty to forty feet with rays of sunlight filtering around us. Then the water begins to slowly darken as we descend on the dive site know as Fish Rain. The reef is on our right and blue water is to the left. The bottom slopes gently downward from about 40 feet to around 120 feet. While I love the reef, I constantly look into the blue, hoping to see a Scalloped Hammerhead Shark.
Fish Rain is located on Mokuhooniki Rock and is one of the most bio-diverse dive sites on the planet. The density of marine species, the health of the corals and the presence of pelagics make this a must dive. But, again we have come to see the Hammerhead Shark.
The dive starts out in the lee of the islet which is somewhat protected from the crazy waters of the Pailolo Channel. While this site can on rare occasion be like glass, it most often has swells of 2 to 4 feet and can grow on occasion to well over 6 feet. This is not a dive for the novice diver. This is an advanced dive and anyone thinking about going should carefully consider their level of experience and confidence.
You enter the water quickly from a moving boat a quickly descend to around 50 feet. After your dive group assembles you will slowly make you way around the Islet in an arc. The dive is a drift dive and can be one of the most difficult dives you will every make due to the entry into and exit from the water. Again this dive is not for the novice, but oh what a dive. I have been on this site dozens and dozens of times yet it never ceases to amaze me.
The Scalloped Hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) is a species of hammerhead shark, and part of the family Sphyrnidae. This shark can be found over continental and insular shelves and in nearby deeper water. It is found in warm temperate and tropical waters, worldwide from 46°N to 36°S. It can be found down to depths over 500 m (1,600 ft), but is most often found above 25 m (82 ft). During the day, they are more often found close to shore, and at night, they hunt further offshore. Adults are found alone, in pairs, or in small schools, while young sharks occur in larger schools. see this Wikipedia article for more details on Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks
The Scalloped Hammerhead Shark in Hawaii has been known to reach lengths of up to 13 feet however 6-8 feet is typically the average. Near Mokuhooniki Rock, the Scalloped Hammerheads tend to be adults of 6 to 8 feet with the occasional shark measuring well over 10 feet. These sharks can be found from very near the surface to about 130 ft. We see them very often cruising just off the bottom of the channel between Molokai and Mokuhooniki Rock, where the depths run typically 100 to 130 feet. We will see them in groups of 1 to 3 but many times you can see groups of 5 to 10 and occasionally many more. On my best dive here I have just under 50 Scalloped Hammerheads and have been literally surrounded as I am taking photographs.
These are magnificent creatures. It is a wonderful experience to remain absolutely still in the water and observe these sharks as they interact with you. I have have had many occasions where sharks have swam with me for 10 to 15 minutes. They are curious and will come in close to you and your group if you will remember a few key things:
As I have said before, if not my very favorite, definitely in my top five. This site has an amazing reef, tremendous bio-diversity, a very healthy reef system, does not see many divers and it has ….. Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks.
If you are an advanced diver, this site is definitely for you. Maholo nui loa and safe diving.
What a day, beautiful sky, little wind, flat seas, wonderful temperature and Whales.
I love the southern coast of California. Where we have the privilege to live next to one of the most diverse whale populations on the planet.
Numerous whales, can be seen traveling up and down the coast. These include, the Gray Whale – Eschrichtius robustus, Blue Whale – Balaenoptera musculus, Humpback Whale – Megaptera novaeangliae, Minke Whale – , Sperm Whale – Physeter macrocephalus, Pygmy sperm whale – Kogia breviceps, Brydes Whale – Balaenoptera cf. brydei, Sei Whale – Balaenoptera borealis, Baird’s beaked whale – Berardius bairdii, Blainville’s beaked whale – Mesoplodon densirostris, Ginkgo-toothed beaked whale – Mesoplodon ginkgodens, Perrin’s beaked whale – Mesoplodon perrini, Stejneger’s beaked whale – Mesoplodon stejnegeri, Cuvier’s beaked whale – Ziphius cavirostris and the Fin Whale – Balaenoptera physalus.
All of these whales can be seen at different times during the year along the coast of Southern California. Several of these whales have multiple thousand mile journeys every year, traveling between the rich feeding grounds off the coast of Alaska in the summer to the warmer waters of Mexico in the winter.
These amazing mammals can be seen beginning in November when they are heading south to the warm-water lagoons of the Baja peninsula and then again in February and March as then head north to the feeding grounds of the Bering sea.
By late December to early January, the first of these amazing creatures begin to arrive the calving lagoons of Baja. The first to arrive are usually pregnant mothers that look for the protection of the lagoons to give birth to their calves, along with single females seeking out male companions in order to mate.
The three primary lagoons that the whales seek in Baja California are Scamnon’s , San Ignacio and Magdalena. Scamnon’s was named after a notorious whale hunter in the 1850’s who discovered the lagoons and later became one of the first protectors of the Grays.
The California Gray Whales were called the devil fish until the early 1970’s. At that time a fisherman in Laguna San Ignacio named Pachico Mayoral reached out and touched a Gray mother that kept approaching his boat. The fisherman have been interacting with the whales ever since. Today the whales in Laguna San Ignacio are protected but it is possible to visit a whale camp and have the same experience that Pachico had.
Throughout February and March, the first Gray Whales to leave the lagoons are the males and single females. The other whales start leaving the lagoons once they have mated. The whales then begin the long trek back north to their summer feeding grounds in the Bering seas. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborn calves are the last to leave the lagoons. They leave only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid-April.
Gray whales appear most prominently in the wintertime, migrating south toward Mexico in the early winter and returning to Alaska in February and March. Humpback whales and blue whales migrate during the summer months, from early June to late September.
Scuba Diving Lighthouse is always a treat. It is located off the island of Lanai which provides some of the better dive sites in Maui County. Lighthouse is a great dive site that is not visited often due to the distance from Maui. I dive this site with Lahaina Divers, my favorite dive shop on Maui, usually on a drift dive charter that runs each Thursday. Check out Lahaina Divers, dive schedule for more information.
It is about an hour around to this site from Lahaina Harbor and it is usually a nice boat ride, but the channel between Maui and Lanai can be rough so if you are prone to sea sickness, make sure to take Bonine, ginger, use the patch, etc., before you get on the boat.
This scuba diving site gets its name from a structure on shore that resembles a small lighthouse. The site has a number of large boulders strewn around the bottom and has a wide variety of marine life. This scuba diving site can get blown out by wind and current and be very cloudy. However, the boat captain and dive master will check out the conditions prior to getting in the water. The conditions today were great. The sea was very flat, the current was quite mild and the visibility was 100+ feet.
You can typically see smaller White-tip Reef Sharks, a wide variety of butterfly fishes, Triggerfishes and much more. Make sure you check in the cracks and crevices where you can find octopus, a wide variety of eels, crabs, shrimps and other small marine life. The hard corals here are also in good shape as they get a lot of nutrient and not many divers on the site.
Scuba Diving Lighthouse is a treat if you are going to be on the Maui for a few days. I usually dive on Lanai two or three times during each trip and Lighthouse is often the second dive on Lahiana Divers’ Lanai drift dive.
The pool is open…
Ahhh… Hawaii. Back on the island of Maui and looking forward to some great diving.
The day began with a short ride over to the island of Lanai for our first dive at First Cathedrals.
I am diving with Lahaina Divers, my favorite dive operator on the island. I have been diving with them for almost 10 years and they are a great choice for scuba diving Lanai.
First Cathedrals is a lava tube that rises to the surface of the ocean. As the name implies there is a large underwater dome inside the lava tube with a number of openings where light shines down into the “cathedral area”.
This is one of the most popular sites for scuba diving Lanai and even though I have been on the site dozens of times, I still thoroughly enjoy the dive.
The entrance into the lava tube looks small and dark, but the interior is quite large. The “cathedral” measures approximately 60 feet in length and the height varies from 10 feet to 40 feet.
If you have ever been to a church or cathedral with stained glass windows, you probably noticed the light shining through the glass as you entered the chapel or sanctuary. This dive site gets its name from a similar effect caused by the light shining in through the holes in the lava tube, e.g, the stain glass windows.
Another interesting feature of this dive site is the exit from the lava tube. It is fondly know as the “shotgun”, because when you exit, the surge may “shoot” you out of the cathedral as you surf the pressure wave. If the wave action is strong, it reminds me of what it must feel like to be “flushed”. But don’t worry; the exit is wide and I go through it with my camera with no problems.
If you are concerned about exiting this way, just let your dive master know and you can exit via the way you came in and just circle around the pinnacle to meet up with your group. This site also has several other interesting lava formations off the main lava tube and a variety of marine life.
First Cathedrals has been the site for numerous underwater weddings and proposals and it is a great place for underwater photography. To get the best photographs, it is important that everyone going into the “cathedral” is careful not to stir up the bottom or you will get a lot of backscatter in your photos.
In order to get the best lighting effects, I check the forecast to see when it is going to be sunny and then compare that to the Lahaina Divers’ schedule. You can get the best photos when it is sunny and you can see rays of light coming through the holes in the lava tube and shining down inside.
You can frequently see turtles, dolphin, eagle rays, sharks and wide variety of fish, eels and coral on this dive site. Please check out some of my other photos of First Cathedrals and underwater photography of Hawaii on my website.
The pool is open….
The San Gabriel Fine Arts Association is hosting an exhibit titled Marine / Aquatic Exhibition from April 14 to May 23. The exhibit includes artwork that reflects a myriad of images and themes in the Marine/Aquatic environment including, Oceanic Scenery, Sea Animals, People at Sea, Marine Vessels and the Marine ecosystem.
I will have several aluminum prints on display including:
Star of India
Predator – Hammerhead shark, Molokai Hawaii
Manta Ray Trio
The San Gabriel Fine Arts Association (SGFAA) is a non-profit organization, founded in 1965 for the purpose of promoting traditional fine art in the community and to provide a venue for member artists to show their work. The association maintains a large group of over 200 members and represents all of Southern California and several states.
The SSGFAA supports awareness and education in the arts from aspiring artists to professionals by providing a venue and platform for members to display their works, providing art classes and art demonstrations, and encouraging growth and exploration in various forms of art to our community.
In addition to my work their will be a number of other artists displaying a variety of photographs, paintings and other work. I would encourage everyone to go out and support the San Gabriel Fine Arts Association and their ongoing efforts at education and awareness of the arts in southern California.
The venue is at 320 Mission Deive, San Gabriel, CA the next door to the San Gabriel Playhouse and near the historic San Gabriel Mission and provides great ambience for the exhibit.
Come support the local arts community and enjoy historic San Gabriel.
“Where are the ancient mariners from earlier days
Who roamed the oceans’ ever changing maze;
Where have they gone?” cry voices from the deep
And caverns of darkness answer: “They sleep!”
What greetings come from the voiceless dead?
Did they always live in constant dread?
What salutation, welcome, or reply,
What pleasure from the shells that lifelessly lie?
They are no longer here; they all are gone
Into the land of shadows
by Steven W Smeltzer
Sea Turtles, what lies ahead for these intriguing animals?
Once numbering in the hundreds of thousands as little as a hundred years ago, the Green Sea Turtle, the Hawksbill, the Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridely and the Olive Ridley are all listed as endangered species. While the Loggerhead Turtle is the only sea turtle not currently on the endangered species list, conservation efforts-including placing these turtles on the endangered species list and the actions of many countries and individuals has helped select population groups. However, much work is yet to be done.
I remember my first encounter with Sea Turtles (almost 30 years ago) as if it were yesterday. I had just returned from a business trip to Australia and had stopped by the big island of Hawaii for a little relaxation before heading back to the states. I had wanted to start scuba diving for several years and the resort I was staying at had a dive shop on site that offered an “introductory dive” experience. After some brief drills in the pool, I was off to the boat and my first scuba diving adventure.
We were the second group to enter the water and just after my giant stride to enter the water, I looked to my left and there were 3 Green Sea Turtles, Chelonia mydas, just off the reef not more than 5 meters from the dive master and me. It was love at first sight; the turtles were very relaxed and the dive master did an excellent job of having us just hover and watch the turtles as they swam in and around our small group and snacked at the local reef “deli”.
The Sea Turtle population in Hawaii is one of the few population groups that have been increasing over the last 30 years due to the actions of both the local government and concerned citizens. Major population reductions around the world over the last three generations show a decline in the number of mature females between 48% to 67%-depending on the species-and startling reductions in the overall population sizes in a number of key nesting sites.
Sea Turtles are fighting for survival. They are hunted for their shells, eggs, meat and skin. Their habitats are under stress from human development, they fight accidental capture in fishing gear, and they face new diseases, worsened by changes in the environment. Nesting sites are critically important to the survival of wild Sea Turtles and we must find ways to protect these sites in a responsible fashion or we may soon face a time where the only sea turtles to be found are in an aquarium.
Green Sea Turtle, Chelonia mydas:
Eastern Pacific Ocean, Mexico – 96% to 98% reduction
Southeast Asia, Malaysia (Sarawak) – 94% to 99% reduction
Southeast Asia, Peninsular Malaysia – 88% to 92% reduction
Western Atlantic Ocean, Venezuela (Aves Is.) – 98% reduction
Mediterranean Sea, Turkey – 93% reduction
Eastern Indian Ocean, Myanmar – 89% to 90% reduction
Northern Indian Ocean, PRD Yemen (Sharma) – 74% to 80% reduction
Eastern Indian Ocean, Indonesia (West Java) – 96% reduction
Hawksbill Sea Turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata:
The Hawksbill has decreased an estimated 85+% over the last 100 years from over 70,000 turtles to roughly 10,000 animals today.
Indian Ocean, Egypt – 99% reduction
Indian Ocean, Maldives – 96% reduction
Pacific Ocean, Milman Island 46% reduction
Pacific Ocean, Indonesia 93% reduction
Atlantic Ocean, Bahamas 96% reduction
Atlantic Ocean, Nicaragua 97% reduction
Atlantic Ocean, Brazil 80% reduction
Atlantic Ocean, Panama 95% reduction
Loggerhead, Caretta caretta
Leatherback, Dermochelys coriacea
East Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica 95% reduction
West Pacific Ocean, Malaysia 100% reduction
West Pacific Ocean, Indonesia 76% reduction
Because of the threats facing the Sea Turtle it is evident that these turtles face a measurable risk of extinction. The time for action is now to help preserve these wonderful creatures for future generations. Conservation actions, such as those in islands of the Seychelles, Hawaii, Florida and other locations demonstrate that the turtle populations will increase with aggressive conservation activities, but without specific protective actions these turtles are in critical danger.
Take the pledge. Educate yourself regarding the dangers facing Sea Turtles and commit yourself to tell at five other people. #takethepledge, #conservation, #seaturtles
Note: Endangered species information and population estimates are provided by CERN Redlist
More information on the dangers facing Sea Turtles can be found at:
Also visit my gallery for more Sea Turtle photographs