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Big Blue Conservation - Koh Tao - Thailand

eshark

Shark sightings After years of enjoying the beauty that Koh Tao has to offer, we started to notice the unfortunate decline in certain marine species and ultimate disappearance of them from the area. So now we realise action must be taken, and so in conjunction with Shark Guardian Thailand, we will participate in eshark, a project started in 2013 entries collected between Nov-Apr of over 10 shark species, over 4600 files of data was phase 1 of the project. Phase 2 is starting now, so any sightings can be recorded, collected and shared for the development of shark conservation projects in Thailand. Ending result is to show how there has been a decline in shark population around Thailand within the last 10 years, and if ignored could result in the permanent disappearance of these species from this area of the World. http://www.sharkguardian.org/thailand-eshark-project/

Strike a pose and hold your breath: Fashion models take part in stunning underwater freediving photo shoot with whale sharks

Take a look at these amazing images as underwater models brought the worlds of fashion and the ocean together in the shoot of a lifetime by freediving with 30-foot-long whale sharks.
Instead of flaunting their curves on the catwalk like other international models, Hannah Fraser, 36, and Roberta Mancino, 32, gamely dived up to 25-feet-deep into the ocean, complete with designer attire, for a one-of-a-kind photo-session posing in the wild with the 18-tonne world's largest fish.
The sight of top-models perfectly mimicking the graceful poses of whale sharks as they swam through the tropical waters of the Philippines was the brainchild of US photographers Shawn Heinrichs, 41, and Kristian Schmidt, 35, who spent four-months planning the five-day photoshoot.
The images come out only days after a whale shark was found by a scuba diver, still alive and trying to swim. Its pectoral and ventral fins were cut off by poachers who sell shark fins at a premium for the Chinese delicacy, shark fin soup. Locals, with the help of local government, pulled the still-struggling shark to shore where it died the next day.
This is not just something caused by Chinese fishermen, it is a global problem. Shark Fin soup is sold all over the world, even in the UK.

           
     
Mr Heinrichs described how they were able to take the incredible shots, by tapping into the knowledge of locals in the Philippine village of Oslob, where fishermen have developed a special bond with the whale sharks they share the ocean with.
'Each day the whale sharks come in to the shallow waters of the village and the fishermen feed them small handfuls of tiny shrimp,' he said.
'For a few hours a day, the whale sharks sit peacefully beneath the canoes waiting for a tasty treat.
'I had a real sense of how work with human subjects and these magnificent animals.
Combined with Kristian's expertise working with fashion models, we had all the tools necessary to get the job done.
'Managing composition, position of sunlight, and working with the models to connect with the whale sharks enabled us to really make these images shout.
'The experience, confidence and natural beauty that Hannah and Roberta brought to the project was a decisive factor in making the shoot such a huge success.'
Shawn explained the impact their underwater fashion shoot with whale sharks has already had with viewers.
'People are blown away by the images,' he said.
'Most find it hard to believe they are actually real - many people assume the models are photo-shopped into the picture.
'Though cleaned up and enhanced with colour and lighting effects as in any fashion shoot, nothing has been added to the images, including the models
'People are immediately taken by the connection between these models and the sharks, the juxtaposition between these beautiful vulnerable women and these creatures of the deep.
'The beautiful form, light and composition create a surreal world that really captures people's imaginations.'
Bringing art and whaleshark conservation together will only help our conservation aims. Please support the fight against shark finning.
* Spread the word.
* Share photos and stories such as this.
* Sign petitions. This one is petitioning the UN for a worldwide ban on shark finning: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/532/581/725/?cid=FB_TAF
* Write to local restaurants serving the dish: Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation have a celebrity-signed template letter and map listing restaurants in the UK selling shark fin soup. Find them here: http://www.bite-back.com/shark-sightings-map/
Most of these things can be done with such minimal effort, just a few seconds, or few minutes, of your time. Collectively our voices DO make a difference. Countries and cities have successfully implemented bans on the sale of shark fin products as a result of individuals coming together to make a stink about it.
Source: dailymail.com
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2259016/Strike-pose-hold-breath-Fashion-models-underwater-freediving-photo-shoot-30-foot-long-whale-sharks.html#ixzz2IIVP4BnC

Anchor-what??

So normally I post positive things about conservation action and developments in marine biology, but today I have some news. Unfortunately our artificial reef on Sairee suffered a horrible fate yesterday. Thanks to recent zoning plans and numerous mooring lines all around the island, anchor damage is now rare on Koh Tao. However, yesterday a dive boat dropped an anchor within metres of our coral nursery and artificial reef, and when we asked the captain to pull it up, he instead dragged anchor along with one of our structures 20 metres, destroying corals that we helped propagate on our nursery. Two years worth of coral growth was destroyed as the anchor dragged our poor dome and the concrete mooring block it was attached to before hitting the existing reef and damaging that too. The annoying thing is the boat was also attached to a mooring line - so why the need for the anchor? The boat was seen dropping the anchor by two divers maintaining the nursery at the time, who just about managed to get out of the way as the structure was destroyed. Despite us telling the dive school twice yesterday, the anchor is still there, and the boat still using it to moor on. They are also no where near where they normally moor up either.

           

PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE dive schools tell your captains that if there isn't a mooring line for them, we will set them one up for free. Dropping an anchor can has immediate drastic effects to our reefs, and on a shallow sheltered site like Sairee with so many mooring lines already, there is no need. This anchor has done significant damage to both existing and artificial reefs, and it's lucky that the divers were not hurt in the process. I can't wait for the next Save Koh Tao season.

Saved by a shark

A DAY after watching a film about being lost at sea, Toakai Teitoi was trapped in his own nightmare, drifting in a wooden boat for 15 weeks - before a shark helped to rescue him.

The 41-year-old Kiribati policeman and father-of-six relived his harrowing voyage in the central Pacific when he arrived in Majuro on Saturday on the Marshall Islands fishing boat which picked him up last week.He told of sleeping with the body of his brother-in-law who died during the ordeal, suffering severe dehydration and praying to be found alive.

Mr Teitoi's drama began when he joined his brother-in-law Ielu Falaile, 52, on what was supposed to be a two-hour sea journey back to Maiana in a 15-foot wooden boat.

But after stopping to fish along the way and sleeping overnight, they woke the following day to find they had drifted out of sight of Maiana and soon after ran out of fuel.

"We had food, but the problem was we had nothing to drink," he said.

As dehydration took hold, Mr Teitoi, a Catholic, said he turned to prayer as it gave him strength. But Falaile's health began failing and he died on July 4. "I left him there overnight and slept next to him like at a funeral," Mr Teitoi said. He buried his brother-in-law at sea the next morning.

Only a day after Falaile passed away a storm blew into the area and rained for several days allowing Teitoi to fill two five-gallon containers with a life-saving supply of fresh water.

"There were two choices in my mind at the time. Either someone would find me or I would follow my brother-in-law. It was out of my control." He continued to pray regularly and on the morning of September 11 caught sight of a fishing boat in the distance but the crew were unable to see him. Dejected, he did what he had done most days, curling up under a small covered area in the bow to stay out of the tropical sun.

Mr Teitoi said he woke in the afternoon to the sound of scratching and looked overboard to see a six-foot shark circling the boat and bumping the hull.

When the shark had his attention it swam off.

"He was guiding me to a fishing boat. I looked up and there was the stern of a ship and I could see crew with binoculars looking at me."

So the shark guided him to a fishing boat and safety. Sounds like a pretty JAWesome shark if you ask me!

source: Herald Sun, Australia

The Koh Tao Shark Survey

On Koh Tao, we love our sharks. Whether it's snorkelling or diving with them, or watching a documentary on these ancient fish, we're there. So we want to make sure our shark populations on Koh Tao are being well looked after, so we have started the KOH TAO SHARK SURVEY. The aim of this group is to keep a database of our shark populations on Koh Tao. If you've seen a shark on Koh Tao, please submit sightings of ANY sharks, preferably with photos, where it was seen, the date and time, the depth of the shark, any behavioural observations and distinct markings or scars, and the sex of the shark if known (males have claspers, females don't). You can send us this information through This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or join our group on Facebook ("The Koh Tao Shark survey"). Even if they were sighted a while ago, if you have photos then please submit these too! This will help us monitor our shark populations on Koh Tao and provide us with observational data for research. All whaleshark photos we will submit onto ECOCEAN's Whaleshark database too. ECOCEAN and the Shepherd Project will use this information to assist scientific research and global conservation initiatives.

The information that you submit is encapsulated in an "encounter" that ECOOCEAN tracks.  Each encounter is assigned a unique number, and you can view that encounter at any time using the link below or by going to the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library (http://www.whaleshark.org). They will keep you informed of any changes to your submitted encounter, and email you if the shark is matched to another shark within the ECOCEAN Whale Shark Photo-identification Library.  We will also let you know if/when and where your shark is resighted by other community members.

We have started to see many species of sharks return to Koh Tao, such as the Bull sharks and white tip reef sharks at green rock, so it's a great opportunity to have one place where information can be submitted and collected to help monitor the shark populations. Thanks!

Whalesharks all around!!

Well haven't we come into a bit of luck! Despite monsoon season looming ever closer, the diving has never been more glorious. we are still enjoying crystal clear calm waters and sunny weather, but on top of that, how about adding 3 whalesharks spotted at Chumphon today and yesterday? Yes please! To have so many whalesharks in close proximity to our reefs means only one thing - that our reefs are producing alot of food for these massive creatures. Usually preferring the solitary life, whalesharks are known to school only when there is high productivity in an area, such as Ningaloo reef in Aus and our very own Chumphon Pinnacle! Whalesharks feed primarily on plankton, with over 8,000 bristle-like teeth filtering the waters for these tiny tasty treats. Whalesharks are thought to detect areas with high productivity (high amounts of plankton) through chemical sensing. Sharks have 2 extra senses than us - the jelly-like filled channels in their nose known as the Ampullae of Lorenzini detect electircal pulses in the water and are used to locate food, mates and danger. They also have sensitised lateral lines - two lines that run either side of the whalesharks body which help detect movement in the water. Although we know this, we still don't fully understand these huge beauties, such as where they reproduce. There is a lot of research still being conducted on whalesharks, some of which we contribute to here at Big Blue Conservation. Pretty cool huh? And you can see them in all their glory at Chumphon right now!

       

Jellyfication of the sea

With its eight thin tentacles, four thicker "arms" and purplish mushroom-shaped bell, the Pelagia noctiluca or mauve stinger has become a regular, unwanted feature of the Côte d'Azur.
Despite the use of protective anti-jellyfish nets, thousands of the ancient organisms, whose population is thriving thanks to overfishing and global warming, still make it into swimming areas and are washing up onto Riviera beaches. Contact with its hairlike tentacles that can reach three metres in length causes nettle-like burns that take three days to clear and can provoke asthma and allergic attacks, and in rare cases heart failure.
To help swimmers avoid being ensnared in shoals of the poisonous invertebrates, the oceanological laboratory of Villefranche-Sur-Mer is launching a 48-hour internet jellyfish forecast.
"We're offering a five-point probability rating going from zero (no risk) to five (maximum jelly alert) on beaches of the Alpes-Maritimes region," Lars Sternmann, one of ten scientists working on the project told Le Parisien.
Biologists say their proliferation is in part down to climate change and rising water temperatures, but also a decline in its only real predators – turtles and tuna. The species, which glows in the dark (!!), has also benefited from rising plankton levels and pollution-related nutrients.
All the oceans of the planet have seen rising numbers, leading to long-term fears of a "jellification of the oceans," according to Jacqueline Goy, a medusa specialist at the oceanographic institute of Paris.
Source: Henry Samuel, The Telegraph

Turt-ally amazing!

Another day, another 4 turtles! Adult hawksbill sea turtles have been known to grow up to 1 m in length, weighing around 80kgs on average. The heaviest hawksbill ever captured was measured to be 127 kgs. The hawksbill sea turtle has several characteristics that distinguish it from other sea turtle species. Its elongated, tapered head ends in a beak-like mouth (from which its common name is derived), and its beak is more sharply pronounced and hooked than others. The hawksbill's arms have two visible claws on each flipper. Big Blue had the great pleasure to spend our night dive (!) with one juvenile hawksbill turtle last night, and then we were greated by another 2 at Hin Wong Pinnacle this morning. And as if that was not enough - there was another hawksbill turtle at our coral nursery just an hour ago! Haven't seen one yet? Then come diving with Big Blue!

 

Another Day - Another Whaleshark!

Here on Koh Tao we are lucky having the chance to dive with whale sharks every other day. Only about 1% of the Earth’s population has ever seen a whale shark, let alone been diving with one! A whale shark (Rhincodon typus) is the biggest shark AND the biggest fish on the planet. It’s not a whale, even though the name might fool you! They are easily identified with their light colored dots on darker skin and a constant massive grin. Its mouth can be up to 2 meters across, has about 8,000 tiny teeth and still they only feed on plankton and the occasional small fish. Whale sharks are filter feeders and for every pound the whale shark weighs it needs 20 pounds of plankton to fill up! Even though their skin is really thick (up to 17 cm) they don’t like to be touched and here at Big Blue we go by the Divers Etiquette Whale Shark Code and always leave at least 3-4 meters between us divers and the whale shark. There is still a lot we don’t know about these beautiful creatures and it is especially hard trying to define their maximum size, age and weight! Stories have been told about 21 meter long giants but the largest verified whale shark was caught in Pakistan in 1947. That whale shark was 12.65 meters and weighed over 15 tons!

       
     
Whale sharks are known to be solitary creatures but in 2009 of the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico over 420 whale sharks were sighted at the same time. Sadly, whale sharks are still kept in aquariums all over the world. What scientists do know is that these animals like their space. Still, four whale sharks are being kept in one tank that is 10 meters deep, 35 meters wide and 27 meters long and holds the equivalent of 3 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of water which makes it a big tank but no way near big enough… Luckily most of us prefer them in the wild, where they belong! If you haven’t seen one yet – well, sign up to go diving with the best dive master & instructor team on Koh Tao, next whale shark could be seen tomorrow so don’t miss out!

A Team Effort!

Yellow saddle goatfish work together to catch their dinner, according to scientists. When an individual chases its prey around a coral formation, others gather around to block escape routes. The unusual co-ordinated behaviour was observed by scientists in the Red Sea, off the coast of Egypt. Yellow saddle goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus) are tropical fish found in the Indo-Pacific region, an area that is thought to be home some of the world's richest marine life. They have long whisker-like "barbels" protruding from their mouths, which they use to detect the movements of prey in coral reefs.

         

"The evidence is growing and growing that fish can show astonishing behaviours” Prof Redouan Bshary, University of Neuchatel, Switzerland The fish are known to live in groups that are based on their size rather than family relationships, with similarly sized fish forming groups. When a single goatfish chased its prey, the rest of the group worked together as a team to ensure its success: "Blockers" spread out across the coral formation to prevent the prey from escaping while the "chaser" pursued its target. Similar behaviour has only been identified in a handful of species - primarily mammals including chimpanzees, orcas, lions and dolphins, but also birds. Very few fish have been seen to "work together". If you fancy seeing this for yourself, Koh Tao has many goat fish species, including the Indian.

A White Spectacle!

A rare white humpback whale calf has been spotted near Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Believed to be just a few weeks old, the 12ft calf was seen at Cid Harbour in the famous reef's Whitsunday Islands area by a family out in the bay in their boat. White whales are highly unusual with only 10 to 15 believed to exist among up to 15,000 living along Australia's east coast. Wayne Fewings was diving in the harbour when he spotted the animal surfacing and described the sighting as a 'once in a lifetime experience'. He said: 'We were just drifting when I noticed the smaller whale in the pod was white. I couldn't believe my eyes. 'Then the white calf approached my boat, seeming to want to check us out. I was just so amazed at seeing this animal, it made me think how truly astounding the Great Barrier Reef is.' The calf's parents may both have been dark humpbacks carrying a recessive white whale gene, but Great Barrier Reef official Mark Read said one may also have been white themselves.


     
That raises speculation that the calf could be the offspring of famous white humpback Migaloo. Migaloo - the name is an Aboriginal word meaning 'whitefella' - is the world's best-known all-white humpback and has built up a loyal following in Australia since first being sighted in 1991. Humpback whales are currently on their southern migration, and the baby will be feeding heavily from its mother as it lays down fat stores for the 'cold Antarctic waters'. Its sex was unknown and Mr Read said there were no plans to give the young mammal a name of its own. Australia's east coast humpback population has been brought back from the brink of extinction following the halting of whaling in the early 1960s.

Swim for Sharks 2011!!

We all know that SHARKS need our help. Shark numbers are rapidly decreasing in Thailand and many divers have commented on the lack of shark sightings, even in our protected National Marine Parks. Over the last few years tourism and overfishing have all had a negative impact on our oceans around Thailand. On Koh Tao we have seen half the number of Whalesharks than last year. What we do see though, is a great many sharks in Thail...and is in the restaurants and pet shops. Tanks of Black Tip Reef Sharks an be seen for sale in Pattaya & Bangkok for the pet trade and large amounts of Bamboo & Zebra Sharks for sale at restaurants.
The Swim for Sharks 2011 is a statement by our small diving community to help protect sharks. We will be ditching our fins in favour of the more traditional sport of swimming! Participants will swim around Koh Nang Yuan unaided, but if you want to wear fins, that's OK too!

 

We would like your help to bring awareness to the plight of sharks in a publicity/media event we would like to organise called “Dive Tribes National Shark Release 2011”. So the money raised from this years "Swim For Sharks" is going towards the purchase of these sharks to release into back into the waters around Koh Tao. We don't expect the sharks to stay here, but there will be a higher chance of sightings if they are in the water in general, and are able to roam free, reproduce and visit our small island. So come along, even if you don't want to swim, learn more about sharks and conservation and help us raise the money needed to replenish our shark population.
Last year, Koh Tao's dive community raise over 17,000 baht and over 400 signatures for anti-shark finning campaign support - lets see if we can beat that this year!!
Come join us on September 4th for the big swim!

10 - 11 Meet at Big Blue Dive Resort for registration and welcome drinks
11 - 12 Shark conservation talk and petition signing
1 - 4 Swim time!! Swim 3 km around Koh Nang Yuan
7 - late Evening festivities including sponsored dares and drink deals (venue to be confirmed)

Pilot Whales spotted on Koh Tao!

A very exciting event last week as a pod of 20 - 30 pilot whales were spotted near Shark Island on Koh Tao. These infrequent visitor are not currently on the IUCN Red List of endangered species due to lack of data, but the killing of pilot whales has been carried out on Faroue, with around 950 pilot whales Globicephala melaena) killed annually, mainly during the summer. The hunts, called "grindadráp" in Farouese, or in English 'The Grind', are non-commercial and are organized on a community level; anyone can participate. The hunters first surround the pilot whales with a wide semicircle of boats. The boats then drive the pilot whales slowly into a bay where the beach themselves and suffocate.

           

Most Faroese consider the hunt an important part of their culture and history, but many oppose the mass killin event. The animals are trapped in the shallow waters where the islanders gaff the marine mammals with spears and slaughter them by severing the whales' spines with long knives. The whales are stoned, speared, stabbed, slashed, and clubbed by people in a festive atmosphere. This slaughter is particularly gruesome since the killing is conducted as a community sporting event with young children often participating in the killing of the visibly and audibly terrified whales.
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has recently sent their vessels off to the Faroe Islands to help rescue the pilot whales, but they are now reporting that 60 of these magnificent creatures have already been killed so far this year. By arriving on mass at the shores of the Faroe Islands the anti-whalers hope to bring an end to the killing, as well as creating some controversy over the issue in Denmark where many people are unaware of the whale slaying that is happening on Danish territory. They are also hoping to bring the attention of the world to the slaughter of whales on these tiny islands in the subarctic.

We wish you a merry BULLSHARK!

An early christmas present for us at Big Blue Conservation today - the Bullsharks are back! Fantastic news as with the extremely warm sea temperatures this year and lack of small fish, we had small hopes of seeing them this year. It's good to see the water quality improving and the larger life returning with it, but of course we want to keep it that way, so have a read below how to dive best with sharks and enjoy the experience more:

  1. Sharks are a rare species to see on Koh Tao, however baiting or attracting sharks with bottles can lead to unnatural behaviour by the sharks. Some sharks are curious and will approach divers, but some can come too close, particular if they associated divers with food.
  2. Stay in a vertical position - not many organisms swim in the ocean in a verticle position, and so a shark will not confuse you with food.
  3. Stay calm - erratic movements may provoke defence behaviours. If your calm, sharks will be more calm and your dive will be much more enjoyable.
  4. Learn about sharks and respect them. They are fascinating apex predators, some of the oldest organisms on the planet, and they deserve our respect.

Enjoy your dive with sharks - you won't regret it!

Eco goes to the Similans!

It's the opening of this years season in the Similans, so the crew of Big Blue Conservation made their way across to sunny Khao Lak and boarded Big Blue's very own liveaboard boat, the MV Pawara. The 4 day trip included some ornate ghost pipefish, leopard sharks, seahorses, cuttlefish, octopus and many a colourful nudibranch!
The Similan Islands are part of a Marine National Park, where fishing activities are banned. With granite rocks and exposure to different currents, the west coast of Thailand has very different marine life compared to Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. Lots of soft corals and granite rock formations dominate the aquatic landscape, and is frequently visited by large pelargics such as Manta Rays and the gentle Whaleshark.
So have a look at the pictures we took last week - you'll not want to miss out on this, so book your trip on the liveaboard now!

       

Big Blue Conservation Reusable Bags

The Big Blue Conservation Reusable bags have finally arrived!!
In our attempt to keep our seas and beaches clean and to rid the island of plastics bags which cause significant harm to numerous marine life, Big Blue Conservation now sell Reusable (and oh so fashionable) recycled-canvas bags. Check them out! And at only 100 baht each, with 50 baht going straight back into conservation, how can you refuse? Do something good for the environment, and look good doing it!

Whaleshark Sighting

Whale shark on Twin Peaks!! After 2 months or so of having no whaleshark sightings on Koh Tao, divers on Twin Peaks yesterday were lucky enough to spot a small 3 meter whaleshark - hopefully this means we may start to see more of them.
Darcy from ECOCEAN commented "the lack of sightings maybe a result of the abnormally high sea temperatures we are experiencing; more likely a result of less planktonic matter in the ocean due to increased temperatures and therefore lower oxygen levels in the water" so hopefully with the whalesharks beginning to come back to Koh Tao, so the temperature is decreeasing - good news for the coral too!
Remember, if you have any photos of whalesharks spotted in Koh Tao, send in your photos and we can pass them on to ECOCEAN's international monitoring database, to help us track these behemoths of the deep!

     

Using NASA Hubble telescope technology used to map stars, ECOOCEAN map the spots on the side of the shark, much like a human fingerprint! Recording sightings like this has already helped us to understanding behaviours of these big beauties. Learn more on their website: http://www.whaleshark.org/

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