Encounter with a Mega-Manta

Filed Under (Special People) by Alexa & Cindy on 22-06-2010

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Last month, we saw a news headline featuring an ocean photographer-diver who had captured some stunning underwater images of  a Manta ray (Manta birostris) while diving in the Pacific, off the Socorro and San Benedicto Islands, at the tip of the Baja peninsula. Rays are among our favorite sea creatures, so we had to have a look.

We quickly found that this ray was a bit – different – than what we were expecting to see.

For starters, it was 16 feet wide!

And this Manta was not shy, as they can often be around divers in the water. Such giant Mantas are well-known and highly sought after by divers in the area, but they’re not always willing to come out and pose for the underwater paparazzi.

Such giant Mantas, also known as devil rays, Atlantic Mantas and Pacific Mantas, are the largest of their kind and are closely related to sharks. These mantas don’t have stinging spines and are truly considered harmless. They can leap high in the air and are often seen with Remoras hanging around to feed on parasites that attach themselves to Mantas’ bodies.

We figured that this must be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for even a seasoned pro like Franco Banfi, 50, who lives in Cadro, Switzerland.

So we caught up with Franco and asked him for his personal account of his time with this awesome sea creature, and found out it was pretty amazing not just to us, but to him, too.

Here’s his account of his swim with the Mega Manta:

With my partner, Sabrina, we went on board the Solmar V to Socorro to see and photograph the giant mantas. On our second day we met the dive almost at the end of the dive and we were already happy to pass some time with the manta.

We found the manta so friendly that we went back on board, changed tanks and went back into the water.

During this time the manta was round the boat, almost like it was waiting for us.
We went back in the water to find the manta and start to photograph it. The manta went close to Sabrina and back, swimming around, rolling on itself, turning on its belly upside down and waiting for Sabrina to come close.
We stayed in the water more then one hour, all the time with this manta. On this trip I started using the digital camera, of course I was lucky because in the film era I could do only 36 images before changing film. With the camera I shot 140 pictures, and I was surprised and frightened because before going in the water, my camera said that I could do 114. I understood later that these images with a lot of blue and not many colours are smaller in size, to make possible to save more images on the memory card.

What do YOU think about this Mega Manta encounter? Leave a comment and tell us what you’d do if you could play with one!

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Happy World Oceans Day, part two: Fabien Cousteau’s planting fish, and the future of ocean conservation.

Filed Under (Special People, conservation) by Alexa & Cindy on 08-06-2010

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Part Deux of our WOD double-header may be last, but you know what they say about what you save for last.

What would today be without mention of Jacques Cousteau, who if alive today, would be celebrating his 100th birthday just three days from now.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, don’t stay that way. O4E encourages you to find out all you can about the life and work of this important man, who was a french naval officer turned oceanographer extraordinaire who became an iconic educator of all things ocean via his ten-year television series The World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1966-68) and then The Undersea World of Jacques-Yves Cousteau (1968-76).  (One of us sat glued to the TV on Sunday nights as a VERY young child; one of us, well, is a bit newer to the Cousteau legacy.)  

Captain Cousteau’s body of work includes more than 120 television documentaries, 50 books and an environmental protection organization, the Cousteau Foundation, which has more than 300,000 members.

He developed the Aqua-lung in 1943 and late in his life, he became an environmental consultant to the United Nations.  Needless to say, he was – and is remembered today as THE steward of our oceans in our lifetimes.

We could fill O4E’s pages for months talking about J.Y. Cousteau, but today we are actually here to talk about – and TO - F. Cousteau – his grandson and oldest of his four grandchildren.

What about?

Give you three guesses.

Yes, he’s carrying on the stewardship, and yes, his mission is to educate – and also empower – the young.

Fabien’s been extremely busy as of late, as one might guess, given his heritage and what’s going on with our oceans this year.

He was practically on the eve of launching his new organization, Plant A Fish, an initiative that will literally replant, restore and protect key components of our ocean ecosystems so they on the whole can have a healthier  future, when we caught up with him.  He made time for our request anyway (made because Alexa is growing a Cousteau fascination and would not give her mother a moment’s peace until we asked – who can blame her). We think you’ll understand why he did shortly.

Listen in on what we asked Fabien, and keep your ears finely tuned to what he thinks about kids and their power to save the ocean…

and change the world.

O4E: Tell us about Plant a Fish. What do you want to instill in people young AND old, and what’s your ultimate goal with this project?

Plant a Fish initiatives empower people around the world to restore our water planet and to become better stewards of our one and only life support system. The ultimate goal is to connect people with their own aquatic “back yard” thru targeted programs to “replant” native plants and animals where depleted. Think of the success of planting trees on land, now lets do that in the oceans.
O4E (from Alexa): What made you follow in your grandfather’s footsteps once you became an adult professional?
I’ve always loved the oceans ever since my first dive on my fourth birthday. My family have been great teachers of the unique beauty of the undersea world, and I have been going on expeditions my whole life.

After university and a brief business world career, the ocean sirens sang, and thier enchanted songs brought me back to them.
O4E: Everyone we talk to is extremely angry and feeling helpless over the disaster in the Gulf. But how about turning anger into action? How about some inspirational words for helping us get moving for oceans?
The most recent disaster in the Gulf only serves as a wakeup call to action.

Many disasters have happened previously, but no one has paid attention until it reached our shores. Anger must be put to use in taking much better care of our one and only life support system, our water planet.

Advocacy, conservation and restoration should be key words we live by in our every decision in life. We can no longer use the oceans as an endless resource and a garbage dump. The Gulf oil disaster is impossible to ignore and will be a reminder for decades of the impact humans are capable of. Its time to get rid of our bad habits.

O4E: What do kids need to know about their power to help oceans (for relief but also in general)? What can they do no matter where they live? How can they make a difference, and can their young age actually be an advantage?
Kids are the most powerful voice on this planet. They have the ear of adults who are polluting and stealing from their future.

I would like to see an international coalition of kids  composed of millions to rise up and say “enough is enough, we are taking back the planet you are spoiling for us.”

I am encouraged that the children of today know much more about our planet than their parents and can teach them to make better decisions.

Kids can start stewardship and restoration initiatives in their schools and their communities to nurse the planet back to health. I would love to see a million kid march on Washington DC to tell policy makers to make decisions based on the future wellbeing of the next seven generations!

I am greatly disappointed, frustrated and often disgusted with paralysis of my generation but I am encouraged and optimistic about the generation of youth who can and want to make big changes now! Don’t let anyone stop you from having a healthy planet to live on!

O4E will be following Fabien as he works his way through several Plant a Fish projects in 2010 and 11. Yesterday, he kicked it all off by replanting the start of what will be 130,000 oysters in New York Harbor with students from the New York Harbor School (catch them in action here).  If successful, these oysters will eventually form a reef.

Coming up are the replanting of mangroves in Florida, coral in the Maldives, and sea turtles in El Salvador

How might you use your power to plant something for our water planet’s future?

We’d love to hear, and we’re sure Fabien would, too.

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Tony Wu’s Ocean

Filed Under (Special Events, Special People) by Alexa & Cindy on 07-06-2010

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Why on earth are we happy it’s Monday, you ask? Glad you did:

it’s World Oceans Day Week here on O4E, and we have a fantastic celebration planned, which includes a chat with Fabien Cousteau, the 411 on a six year-old ocean-saving tour de force, announcements galore – including Alexa’s new project – and we can’t not hold at least one contest.

We’re excited, and hope you are, too!

While finalizing the revelry, we realized that we could not celebrate WOD without one of our favorite ocean friends, underwater photographer Tony Wu.

Plainly put, Tony is Alexa’s idol, and if you’re unfamiliar with him, you’re missing out on some of the most mesmerizing underwater images (and great tales of their making) - ever. Period.

So, we asked Tony for a favorite image for WOD, and why he chose it, and the story behind it. What we got was the best way we can  think of to kick off the week.

 Immerse yourself in Tony’s ocean.

I took the photo in a remote destination called the Eastern Fields, which is located in the waters of Papua New Guinea. It’s a submerged atoll system about half way between Port Moresby and Cairns, out in the middle of nowhere, subject to strong currents, winds and storm systems.

As a result, not many people have ever visited the area, with probably fewer than 1,000 divers ever having been there. There’s little to no fishing activity there (though levels have increased in recent years) due to the remote location and level of risk associated with traveling there. As a consequence, the reefs and marine life are…pristine. I’ve never seen such beautiful reefs and abundant marine life anywhere, though I’m sure there are other isolated, protected places like this on the planet.
I like the photo not so much because of what you can see (trillions of fish and innumerable coral growths), but for what you can’t see in the image. In the location where I took this photo, the reef stretched as far as I could see in every direction, with trillions of fish and innumerable coral heads everywhere. In other words, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s not in the picture is worth a billion.

If there’s a message I’d like people to contemplate on World Oceans Day, it’s that this photo shows what the oceans should look like.

-Tony Wu

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