Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project & Burj Al Arab Aquarium covered in National Geographic Magazine

click to read article at National Geographic

click to read article at National Geographic

Article by Kennedy Warne

The old fisherman sat on a scrap of carpet in a thatched shelter by the sea.

His face was like a walnut shell, and his eyes squinted with a lifetime of gazing into the white-hot glare of Arabia. The shamal was blowing off the sea in scorching gusts, making even the date palms droop. “It is the western wind,” the man said in a raspy voice. “I feel its warmth.”

Behind him, the village of Film, notched into the mountains of Oman’s Musandam Peninsula, shimmered like a brazier. Goats panted in the shade cast by upturned boats and the walls of a mosque. Just breathing made me feel as if my nostrils might burst into flame. Sami Alhaj, my Yemeni dive partner, said: “Underwater, with the corals, we get a little piece of heaven. Above water, with this wind, we get a little piece of hell.”

We soon fled the inferno and descended into paradise once more. Color marked our passage between worlds as vividly as temperature did. Where the colors of land were those of the spice suq—pepper, cinnamon, mustard, mace—the undersea world was drenched in the sumptuous hues of a sultan’s palace. Long, waving indigo arms of soft corals mingled with pomegranate fronds of feather stars. Speckled-gray moray eels, whose gaping mouths reveal a startling burst of yellow, leered out of crevices, while butterflyfish flitted past in tangerine flashes.

Had the legendary Scheherazade known the richness of these seas, she would have had stories for another thousand and one Arabian nights. She might have piqued the king’s curiosity with the riddle of the reefs of Dhofar, in southern Oman; they flourish as coral gardens in winter and seaweed forests in summer. The trigger for this ecological shift—found nowhere else—is the onset of the khareef, the southwesterly monsoon, which bathes the coast in an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water. Seaweed, dormant in the warm months, responds to the cooler conditions with a burst of luxuriant growth, carpeting the reefs with green, red, and golden fronds.

Or she might have told the story of the tribe of mudskippers that have their sheikhdom on the shores of Kuwait Bay. Their name in Persian means “lazy ones,” because they appear too lethargic to follow the falling tide. Instead, each goggle-eyed fish builds and patrols its own mud-rimmed swimming pool. Shining in slippery coats of mud, they wriggle through the slurry of their ponds, waddle along the walls on their broad pectoral fins, then fling themselves into the air, exuberant as porpoises.

Might she have mentioned the ghost crabs of Masira Island? They build perfect miniature Mount Fujis of sand every night, only to have them leveled by the winds the next day. Scheherazade would have had no shortage of material.

“I am the sea. In my depths all treasures dwell. Have they asked the divers about my pearls?” the Egyptian poet Muhammad Hafiz Ibrahim wrote a century ago. Few survive today of those champions of the sea, the pearl divers of generations past who sought the greatest treasure of all. Forty, fifty, a hundred times a day they dropped to the seafloor, as deep as 65 feet, without goggles and often wearing only a thin woven garment to protect against jellyfish stings. With other risks, they took their chances. Men died from stingray jabs, from poisonous stonefish spines, from shark bites. Clownfish—cruel joke—attacked their eyes. Their eardrums burst, and some went blind from constant exposure to the salty water.

Pearls were the diamonds of the ancient world. In Hafiz’s time they were the Persian Gulf’s most valuable resource, and 70,000 men were engaged in collecting them. But the divers saw little of the wealth they brought up. The oysters were thrown into a common pile, to be opened the next day, when dead. Even if a diver brought up a pearl of Steinbeckian magnificence, he would never know it. Debt drove them to dive. Debt inherited from their fathers and their father’s fathers.

Yet pearling was equally a matter of deep cultural pride, part of a maritime tradition that is as Arabian as deserts and dates. Through the waters of the Persian Gulf, East met West, the wealth of Africa and India flowing to the empires of Europe. Until the 1930s, great Kuwaiti dhows, or booms, with names like The Triumph of Righteousness and The Light of the Earth and Sea, set their lateen sails to the billowing northeasterly wind that blew them to Zanzibar and Mangalore. Months later the khareef brought them home again. The seasonal fluctuations of the winds were the fuel of Arabian commerce. The winds were Allah’s, and the winds were free.

Then came oil, and a seafaring way of life that had endured for millennia melted away at the breath of a new monetary lord. Oil was the genie that granted the wishes of modernization and affluence. Arabia was transformed—from camels to Cadillacs, mud houses to megamalls—as its citizens rode the magic carpet of petro-wealth.

Today human hands are reaching deep into Arabia’s seas and taking more treasure than the seas can possibly replenish. Overfishing, pollution, seabed dredging, and massive coastal modification are crippling marine ecosystems by degrading water quality and exacerbating toxic algal blooms. In 2010 a group of marine scientists described the region’s most strategic waterway, the Persian Gulf, as “a sea in decline,” bedeviled by a storm of malign influences. “If current trends continue,” they wrote, we will “lose a unique marine environment.”

One of the groups at greatest risk are sharks. Of all the insults to Arabia’s marine life, none is more grotesque than the mountains of shark carcasses that arrive every evening in the Deira Fish Market in Dubai, trucked from landing sites around Oman and the United Arab Emirates, from there to make their way east—a stinking tide of fins and flesh.

Rima Jabado, conspicuous in her yellow rubber boots and pink top, moves through the market counting and measuring hammerheads, threshers, bulls, silkies, and makos: the thoroughbreds of Arabia’s seas, carted here to be hocked like horsemeat. Totemic animals that divers dream of encountering underwater are hauled out of the backs of trucks with meat hooks and lined up on the pavement, grimy and bloodied, row upon row of scowling mouths.

An auctioneer works his way along the line, followed by a retinue of buyers calculating profit margins on their smart phones. In their wake a man expertly severs the fins and lays them out on plastic tarps for separate sale. A pickup truck pulls up, and the driver unloads a dozen sacks of dried fins. He plunges his hands into a sack and lifts out handfuls of small gray triangles, stiff as plywood. There must be several thousand fins in this one shipment.

“When I started working here, I thought, That’s a lot of sharks,” Jabado, a doctoral student at United Arab Emirates University, tells me. “But when you see it every day, you ask, How is this possible? How can this last?”

A muezzin gives the evening call to prayer from a mosque whose minarets make artful silhouettes against a golden sky. Across the parking lot, the fish market is crowded with Emirati housewives gliding down aisles of laden stalls, passing their purchases to Pakistani boys who wheel them in garden barrows to a rank of SUVs.

The old name for this part of Arabia was the Pirate Coast. Trading ships carried companies of archers to repel thieves. But how to solve the plunder of the sea itself? Jabado travels the length of the U.A.E. coast, from Abu Dhabi to Ras al Khaimah, tallying sharks and interviewing fishermen. Everywhere it is the same story: Catches are down, and fishing intensity is up.

One of the questions Jabado asks the fishermen is whether they think sharks should be protected. Some say, No, why should we protect them? Sharks are a gift from God. He will replenish them. Others say that sharks should be protected but that it needs to happen across the region. If we protect them here, do you think the Iranians are going to stop taking them? they tell her. Why should I stop fishing for sharks and miss out on revenue if some other person keeps taking them?

Eight countries border the gulf. “They have the same kind of culture and heritage, mostly speak the same language, face the same problems, and share the same resources,” Jabado says. “Why aren’t they working together?”

Her concerns run deeper than fisheries management. The impact of an environmental disaster in so shallow and enclosed a waterway is appalling to contemplate. There are many hundreds of oil and gas platforms in the gulf, and tens of thousands of tanker movements annually through a narrow stretch of the Strait of Hormuz between the Musandam Peninsula and Iran. “What if there was a Deepwater Horizon event here?” she asks. “The average depth of the gulf is about 30 meters. One big spill could wipe out whole marine ecosystems.”

There are inklings that the unified approach Jabado seeks may be starting to take shape. Several countries are considering following the lead of the United Arab Emirates in giving legal protection to a single species of shark: the whale shark, the biggest fish in the sea. The giant filter feeders have been turning up in unexpected places. In 2009 David Robinson, a Dubai-based whale shark researcher, was startled when a Google image search turned up a photograph of whale sharks swimming among the platforms of Al Shaheen, a major oil and gas field off the coast of Qatar.

“The photograph was on the Facebook page of a worker on a gas rig,” Robinson said. “I sent him a message, he added me as a friend, and now we’re getting a stream of pictures from him and others. In one photograph I counted 150 animals. I’d like to say we discovered the sharks through tirelessly scouring the oceans, but that would be a lie. It was through scouring the oceans of cyberspace! Science by Facebook—a bit embarrassing, really.”

The discovery of whale sharks at Al Shaheen has led to other finds. Seasonal mass spawning of lobsters has been observed, with the lobsters rising to the surface at night and turning the sea into a vast crustacean soup. With fishing banned and boat traffic restricted in many oil and gas fields, these areas likely serve as de facto marine reserves. The platforms certainly act as giant fish-aggregating devices. At Al Shaheen, with a flare stack belching flame overhead, I watched a shoal of jacks circle the legs of the platform and spinner dolphins launch their lissome bodies into the air. A hammerhead cruised at the edge of visibility, finding sanctuary within the ring of fire.

A sense of marine guardianship seems to be growing across the region. In Kuwait hundreds of keen amateur divers have formed the ecological equivalent of SWAT teams, dedicated to repairing the environmental damage of war and waste. They lift sunken vessels from the seabed and remove tons of snared fishing nets from Kuwait’s coral reefs.

Off the island of Qaruh, I helped cut away a net that was twined around the brittle stubs of staghorn coral—a nightmare of knotted nylon mesh that yielded reluctantly to our collection of chef’s knives and garden shears. Our odd assortment of reef repairmen included a computer engineer, a television producer, and a former leader of Kuwait’s Grand Mosque. On the return journey, crossing a smooth, tawny sea with a dust storm billowing on the horizon, two of the team found space among the scuba gear on deck to pray. Oblivious to the symphonic thunder of twin 200-horsepower outboards, they prostrated their bodies and uttered the ancient words of invocation and praise, giving voice to the hope that good might come to the world.

At the other end of the Persian Gulf, in Dubai, public-spirited beachgoers collect stranded turtles and take them to a rehabilitation facility in the luxury Burj al Arab hotel. In 2011, 350 juvenile turtles were brought in, many victims of “cold stunning”—inertia caused by the winter drop in sea temperature. “If they survive the first 24 hours, there’s a 99 percent chance they’ll recover,” Warren Baverstock, the aquarium operations manager, said as we walked along a line of bubbling tanks. He reached in to scratch the backs of splashing turtles, which twisted their necks and flippers in pleasure at the attention. “They always know where the sea is,” he said. “They swim up and down the wall nearest the sea, lifting their heads up, looking for it.”

Mass releases of the rehabilitated turtles are staged at a nearby beach to publicize the work and reinforce the message that Arabia’s marine life is valuable, vulnerable, and in need of protection. Each turtle is implanted with a microchip for identification. In the seven years the project has been operating, no turtle has washed ashore twice.

The hotel’s most famous patient was an adult green turtle called Dibba, which had arrived with a fractured skull. Baverstock and his team needed 18 months to rehabilitate the turtle, but Dibba, released with a satellite transmitter glued to its carapace, repaid its caregivers with a 259-day, 5,000-mile migratory journey, looping down the Arabian Sea, passing the Maldives, skirting Sri Lanka, and reaching as far as the Andaman Islands before the transmitter battery failed.

Dibba traced an ancient route imprinted not just on turtles but also on the cultural memory of Arabia’s peoples. This way came the dhows laden with Basra dates and pearls. This way they returned, carrying camphor, silks, sandalwood, and cloves. Every Arabian family had its sea captains and sailors, its pearl divers and boat carpenters—a saltwater legacy written in its genes.

Modernity has dimmed that memory. “We have lost the thirst for the sea that can only be quenched by going to the sea,” one Omani businessman told me with sadness in his eyes. Yet for others the thirst is returning. Increasing numbers of Arabs are going to the sea not to exploit it but to experience it as it is. They are renewing their bond with ancient shores and rediscovering the poet’s truth: “In my depths all treasures dwell.”

Jumeirah announces the successful reproduction of a shark through parthenogenesis…

Parthenogenic zebra shark pup

Parthenogenic zebra shark pup hatched and reared by the Burj Al Arab Aquarium Team

Zebedee may have never met a male of her species, but that hasn’t stopped the nine-year-old female zebra shark from reproducing on a recurring basis.

In a phenomenon that has defied everything science ever knew about the zebra shark, Zebedee, who lives in an aquarium at the Burj Al Arab Hotel, has been giving birth for the past four years, a first-ever for her species, reveals Warren Baverstock, Aquarium Manager at Burj Al Arab and co-author of an article featured in the Journal of Fish Biology.

Baverstock and co-author, marine biologist and assistant aquarium manager David Robinson explained the reason the news wasn’t brought to public attention was because tests had to be carried out, DNA had to be sampled, research conducted and theories approved, before making a statement that could potentially change the way we view zebra sharks forever.

For the scientifically inclined, the process is called parthenogenesis. To the rest of us, it’s when an egg cell is triggered to develop as an embryo without the addition of any genetic material from a male sperm cell.

Perhaps even more surprising than the fact that Zebedee does not need a male to reproduce, is the possibility of her spawning an entire breed of pups who will grow into full-blown adults capable of parthenogenesis themselves, perhaps eradicating the need for the male altogether.

“It’s not quite that simple,” says Robinson. “All 21 pups are still young, with the eldest being one and a half years old and the youngest just a few months.

“We have approximately six years of waiting before we find out whether Zebedee’s offspring will reproduce exclusively through parthenogenesis, or would mate with a male if the opportunity arose, or would be able to alternate between the two styles of reproduction.”

For now, all these possibilities are just theories.

And as is the case with theories, they come attached with a lot of scepticism, with critics saying that the pups may not be able to display the same ability as the mother, or, since the pups are clones of the mother, sexually, they have no ability of their own.

“Parthenogenes are not clones of their mother,” explains Robinson. “They’re genetically different to each other and to her as well. They are parthenogenes, not clones [who are unable to reproduce on their own]. There is no reason why they can’t be reproductively viable. They have a normal reproductive system that we’ve seen and learnt about through post-mortems of the pups that didn’t survive.”

In layman’s terms, sexual reproduction results in offspring with two versions of every gene (one from each parent) while asexual reproduction leads to offspring with only one version of every gene.

“Sharks continue to inspire and amaze us with their remarkable adaptability,” adds Baverstock. “There is no wonder that sharks have been such an evolutionary success story. A lot of hard work has been put into this project by the Burj Al Arab aquarium team and I am glad to see the effort and research are successful.”

Although “virgin births” are known among invertebrates and some vertebrates such as hammerhead, black tip and bamboo shark, it was unheard of for a zebra shark to display this ability. “At first we had to eradicate all doubt of the possibility of her having had intercourse with a male shark of a different species,” says Robinson. “We tested her, we tested the male hammerhead shark and we tested all her pups to find out if the babies carried any DNA that didn’t match the mother’s. Our result showed no paternal DNA at all.”

Moreover, when examined, Zebedee had none of the bite marks that are usually inflicted on her gender during mating. Nor was it possible for her to store the male sperm in her body for future use (sharks have that ability), since her six years in captivity would have made the sperm redundant.

“Working closely with Dr Khazanehdari of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory, we have confirmed that parthenogenesis took place through the DNA analysis of Zebedee’s offspring. This discovery is extremely exciting for us as researchers and raises further questions about what we thought we knew about shark reproduction.”

click to be directed to press release

VISION Magazine Publication – Small Wonders by Nikki Schreiber

photographs by warren baverstock - article by Nikki Schriber - copyright VISION Managazine

photographs by warren baverstock – article by Nikki Schriber – copyright VISION Managazine

The aquarium at the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai is small; in fact you could be forgiven for not knowing it’s there. The only indication that anything aquatic is going on behind the scenes are the mesmerizing tanks of tropical fi sh that line each side of the escalator from the lobby to the first floor; that and a round tank in the Al Mahara restaurant which contains so many different brightly coloured fish in a reef-like environment, that trying to hold a conversation with anyone in there is like trying to talk to a child playing a computer game. Should you ever find yourself in Al Mahara look carefully into the tank and you’ll see two greyish white sharks covered in black spots with a cylindrical body shape, a broad head at one end and a rudder-like tail fi n at the other. They are zebra sharks (also known as leopard sharks), mother and daughter; the subject of an astonishing discovery by the Burj Al Arab’s team of marine biologists and the focus of their scientific paper on parthenogenesis or asexual reproduction. This may be a small team of marine biologists working in a small aquarium but they are punching above their weight with the discovery that the female zebra shark reproduced without a mate. Parthenogenesis has only been confirmed in a few other species of shark, namely blacktip and bonnethead sharks, which both give birth to live young (livebearing – ie not egg-laying), and the egg-laying bamboo shark.

The phenomenon has never been observed in the egg-laying zebra shark before, making this finding an international fi rst for a genetically confirmed parthenogenic birth for this type of shark and only the fourth time it has been seen in sharks at all. “This is the only aquarium in the world that has managed to [observe and] exhibit a parthenogen pup,” points out Warren Baverstock, the aquarium’s Operations Manager. “Breeding zebra sharks is hard in itself. Even without the parthenogenesis this would be interesting,” adds David Robinson, Assistant Operations Manager and principal author of the scientific paper. Back in 2007 a scientific paper was published in the US confirming that a bonnethead shark which had been kept in isolation from a mate had given birth to a pup. Genetic analysis proved the pup to be a clone of the mother. The zebra shark at the Burj Al Arab had also been kept in isolation from a possible mate and so when she produced eggs in 2006, the marine biologists didn’t think anything of it and discarded them. However, the publication of the paper on the bonnethead shark prompted Baverstock and Robinson to keep the eggs their zebra shark produced in 2007. “It was a bit of a long shot,” says Robinson, “because that was a live-bearing shark, completely evolutionarily distant from our shark which is egg-laying.” But the long shot worked out and the aquarium has been producing live pups since those first eggs were kept in 2007. It has not been easy, though, and the fact that asexual reproduction is an extreme form of inbreeding meant that there were many abnormalities, as Robinson explains: “When a shark releases an egg, it splits into four polar bodies; in parthenogenesis one of the polar bodies fuses back with the mother so that all the offspring are genetically identical to the mother but not to each other. It depends which part of the egg fuses back. If the mother is carrying a bad allele [one of the alternative forms of a gene, found at the same place on a chromasone] and mates sexually it may well be overridden, but if she reproduces asexually it’s amplified.”

Even with the tender care of Abdulkareem Vettan, who is in charge of the husbandry of the pups, there have been problems with nutrition. It’s difficult for the team to know whether these problems are genetic or developmental, and the data collection and research are ongoing. The findings of this research are important for marine biologists all over the world who are interested in understanding shark reproduction and evolution. As Robinson points out: “It shows that evolutionarily speaking, when they move back to a common ancestor, it is probable that all sharks across the whole range of sharks can do this.” Dr Aaron Henderson from the department of Marine Science and Fisheries at Sultan Quaboos University in Oman, says: “It also elicits a number of interesting questions such as, do females only revert to parthenogenesis when there are no males available? What are the implications for genetic diversity and fitness? What are the physiological processes giving rise to parthenogenesis? The questions are endless.” As are the future research possibilities, the next stage of which is discovering whether these parthenogen pups can reproduce. The scientific community is particularly excited by the fact that this shark has produced litters of pups parthenogenetically over successive years, because up until now they didn’t know this was possible. It means that this species can reproduce without the input of a male if it has to and suggests that rather than being a one-off response to isolation when in captivity, sharks could, potentially, be doing this in the wild. Most importantly, it means that this shark is able to keep its genes within the genome in an effort to survive. Jennifer Schmidt, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Illinois, Chicago points out: “As shark numbers continue to decline there may be more and more populations facing breeding pressures of this type. An increasing rate of parthenogenesis could have both helpful and harmful effects on a dwindling population, maintaining the number of individuals in the short term, while altering sex ratios and reducing genetic diversity in the long run.” With this exciting discovery, the marine biologists at the Burj Al Arab are keen to work with others and share their research. Baverstock and Robinson say they can see a point in the future when they will be twinning with aquariums around the world, sharing knowledge, and continuing to contribute to the global understanding of fish biology.

photographs by warren baverstock - article by Nikki Schriber - copyright VISION Managazine

photographs by warren baverstock – article by Nikki Schriber – copyright VISION Managazine

article by Nikki Schriber - copyright VISION Managazine

article by Nikki Schriber – copyright VISION Magazine

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Where is Emerald Now?

Okay so 14 days ago the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project successfully released Emerald (AKA Dredger) after over 3 years of intensive rehabilitation. See the photograph below, before and after and refer to my earlier blog to find out more about the procedure: https://warrenbaverstock.wordpress.com/2008/12/01/repair-of-a-fractured-plastron-in-a-green-turtle-chelonia-mydas/#more-334

before…

after…

The question is…where is Emerald now? – well here is the latest update…she is off the coast of Abu Dhabi and she seems to like it there. If you want to keep track of Emerald, all you simply have to do is save this link http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/index.shtml?tag_id=112054 in your favourites and click on it from time to time to get the latest satellite feedback.

The Wakatobi Experience…..the first verstodigital photographs…


Well i’m finally back from my Wakatobi experience and what an adventure it was. At present I have only just started to work my way through the many photographs I took during my two week stay but progress is good and results are extremely pleasing. I am going to be writing an article about it very soon but meanwhile…here are a few quotes accompanied some images….

stunning colourful soft corals are a common sight at wakatobi…

“As an underwater photographer, Wakatobi exceeded my expectations on so many fronts. From the trouble free check in of my heavy camera gear on Wakatobi’s transfer from Bali through to the provision of a highly knowledgable personal dive site guide, my two week stay was hugely productive and extremely enjoyable.”

gentle slopes covered with hard and soft corals that are buzzing with marine life…

“The daily dive routine was faultless with quite frankly the best organized dive operation I have ever experienced. With nothing being too much trouble for the extremely friendly and sociable boat crew, gearing up for every dive was pleasurable and easy. All you had to do was just be on the boat…Wakatobi’s dive operation took care of everything else.”

from gentle slopes to dramatic drop off.’s…wakatobi has it all…

“from gentle slopes to dramatic drop off.’s…wakatobi has it all…“With hard and soft corals competing for space on the reefs surrounding Wakatobi, you can understand why the team work so hard with the local fishing community to preserve it’s condition. Dropping down on to any of Wakatobi’s dive sites and you are treated to an array of beautiful marine life on a coral backdrop that is simply stunning.”

with critters of all shapes and sizes…wakatobi has an unforgettable surprise on every dive…
“With many different critters on every dive site, Wakatobi lives up to its claims to being an underwater photographers paradise. Shooting mostly wide angle I was blown away by large colorful fan corals, towering sponges and incredibly densely covered coral slopes. When I did shoot macro, pygmy seahorses were plentiful and literally every site offered at least one of the five pygmy’s found in the region.”

with coral so healthy and in such an abundance, competing for space, is a common sight…
“With 5 star food consistent in quality every day and the perfect comfort found in Wakatobi’s new luxurious select villa, I found myself wanting very little other than more hours in the day for diving.”

you can’t help but be taken back by the incredible density of marine life…
“Wakatobi is quite simply a 5 star, luxurious eco dive resort, with some world class diving thown in for good measure.”

the jetty and longhouse…
“With 5 star food consistent in quality every day and the perfect comfort found in Wakatobi’s new luxurious select villa, I found myself wanting very little other than more hours in the day for diving.”

my last sunset at wakatobi…

“Would i return to Wakatobi….i certainly will and am already looking forward to experiencing Wakatobi all over again.”
RSS this blog and keep an eye for more underwater and topside photographs of Wakatobi…

Hundreds cheer as Emerald heads home – The National

DUBAI // In 2008, a 40-kilogram green sea turtle was found floating with near-fatal injuries off the coast of Jebel Ali.  But through the efforts of the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project (DTRP), she was yesterday released into the sea from the beach at the Mina A’Salam hotel as hundreds of onlookers cheered.  The turtle, named Emerald, was taken to within 15 metres of the water in a crate and pointed towards the sea, but just lay there, seemingly in a state of disbelief.  Dr Mariam Hampel, who nursed her back to health, looked on in tears.  “When she was found, she was floating on the surface of the water, she was weak, dehydrated, thin and close to death,” said Dr Hampel, a German who works at Al Wasl Veterinary Clinic.  “The injury was filthy and infected with algae growing in the massive crack in her belly. She was barely hanging on to life in the water, positively buoyant, unable to dive.”  Kevin Hyland, a DTRP member from the UK, worked with Dr Hampel to nurse Emerald back to health, along with staff from the Burj Al Arab Aquarium, the Jumeirah Group, the Dubai Falcon Clinic and the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory.  “We did blood-work analysis on her when she came in, then I was off to a chandlery to buy screws, epoxy and wires so Mariam could close the gash in Emerald’s shell,” Mr Hyland said.  “We thought she was well enough to be released a year ago but then the positive buoyancy returned and we thought we were going to lose her.”

Among the hundreds watching yesterday were a group of 40 orphans from the Zayed Foundation for Humanitarian Care, and Faye Gordge, 32, from the UK, who named Emerald in a competition on DTRP’s Facebook page.  Emerald began to slowly make her way to the water after hesitating for a few minutes.  As observers cheered and clapped she slipped below the surface and was gone. Where she is off to is anyone’s guess, but if she is anything like Dibba, a turtle previously released by DTRP, she may swim thousands of kilometres to Thailand.  From tomorrow, her movements can be tracked by the public at the website seaturtle.org, thanks to a GPS transmitter strapped to her back and sponsored by the Burj Al Arab hotel.  Five younger turtles were also returned to the sea yesterday from the beach. DTRP has released about 400 turtles so far this year. Warren Baverstock, the Burj Al Arab Aquarium’s British manager, asked that anyone who sees a turtle washed up on shore looking sick or covered in barnacles should call the aquarium at 04 3017198 to report it.   “We have a large turtle-rehabilitation facility at the aquarium where the turtles receive treatment when they first come in,” said Mr Baverstock.  “Then once they are better they are taken to the holding tanks at the Mina A’Salam hotel, where visitors can come view them on Wednesdays at 11am and Fridays at 1pm.”

THE NATIONAL: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/environment/hundreds-cheer-as-emerald-heads-home

OTHER RELATED PRESS RELEASES:

http://www.ahlanlive.com/-emerald-returns-the-ocean-153221.html

http://www.7days.ae/article/news/national/turtles-released-back-wild-31144

 http://www.breakingtravelnews.com/news/article/jumeirah-releases-rehabilitated-sea-turtles-back-into-the-arabian-gulf/

http://www.outdooruae.com/index.php/news/354

 http://raffatourism.blogspot.com/2011/11/tourism-news-jumeirah-releases.html 

http://www.businesstravellerme.com/middle-east/news/sea-turtles-to-check-out-from-burj-al-arab

 http://www.emirates247.com/lifestyle/living/dmi-jumeirah-group-release-turtles-2011-11-28-1.430453

Say aaaaahhh! How world’s biggest shark (thankfully) finds small fry like humans hard to swallow – The Mail On Line

It’s got jaws that could easily swallow a diver whole – but thankfully humans are definitely not on the menu for this monster of the deep.

The whale shark is the largest shark in the world, growing up to 40ft long with a mouth that’s 4ft 9ins wide. But despite their enormous size, they have no teeth and live almost entirely on microscopic plankton.

Fearless Devon photographer Warren Baverstock captured these amazing images while working with a scientific survey team in the Indian Ocean, just north of Somalia……….click to see mail on line

My first underwater test of the Sigma 15mm Fisheye behind the Zen 4″ Fisheye Dome Port on the Nikon D3s in a Subal ND3

Finally after successfully cutting off an amount of the shade on my brand new 15mm Sigma Fisheye lens I have managed to get it behind the Zen 4″/100mm fisheye mini dome port and get it in the water. The reason why I wanted to do this was so that I could take CFWA (Close Focus Wide Angle Photography) on a full frame underwater camera system. The Zen 4″ is an awesome piece of gear and although it does come with a hefty price tag, the workmanship and quality makes it worth every single dollar – I bought mine from Backscatter.

Keeping it simple – to achieve CFWA you need to find a nice fisheye lens that allows you to focus very close to your subject. Unlike larger dome port, the distance from the front of the lens to your subject is a lot shorter when using the Zen 4″ mini dome port, therefore allowing you to focus closer in on those small subjects which can allow you to achieve a pleasing photograph. Up until now, the most common lens that works perfectly with the Zen 4″, is either the Tokina 10-17mm or the Nikkor 10.5mm. With both of these lens not being suitable for a full frame camera, the Sigma 15mm fisheye with its very close focusing abilities, seemed the obvious choice. Sadly out of the box, the metal shade to this lens hits the inside of the port preventing you from fixing it to the camera housing. With this in mind, there are not many people out there willing to risk buying and chopping up a new lens to just see if it works behind the Zen mini dome and so I have found information about this set up very limiting.

Having a full frame Nikon D3s, I really wanted to give it a try as I believe the results will be great from this camera and so I took the risk of cutting down a brand new Sigma lens and buying the Zen 4″/100mm Fisheye Mini Dome. The following is the first of three tests to see if Sigma full frame 15mm Fisheye lens works behind the Zen 4″ dome port on the Subal ND3 with the Nikon D3s. The goal of this first pool test was just to see if the lens focused properly and just how sharp my initial test shots could be. I am quite pleased with these initial results although the next test will more focus on corner and subject sharpness from f2.5 through to f22.

The following photographs have not been sharpened – click to enlarge.

Shaving the Sigma 15mm Fisheye down for the Zen 4″/100mm Fisheye Mini Dome Port


So with the new Zen 4″/100mm fisheye mini dome port on my desk all the way from Backscatter, its time to get shaving. Shaving what? – well to get the Sigma 15mm full frame fisheye lens behind the Zen 4″/100mm Fisheye Mini Dome Port I first have to cut off an amount of the shade off the lens. Obviously taking a saw and cutting up a brand new $600 lens needs a little research first and after finding a lot of web sites with some even offering to do it for you, I believe I have picked the best bits of advice and come up with the following.

Tools for the job:

  • Not one site suggested using a Dremel Multi-tool and so I used one – why? because i’m not patient enough to use a handsaw, the handsaw blade had to be a special type (straight teeth or something), it would take up to 30 minutes to cut off just one shade and the finish can be a bit untidy. Instead I opted for a steel cutting disc attachment and a steel sanding attachment for the final finish.
  • Of course a dremel can be a little untidy if you go mad or it gets out of control so the next thing I needed to have was a perfect guide – a large Jubilee Clip
  • A Pencil to mark where I needed to cut.
  • An Air Blower – I used a hand blower so I could remove the fine metal shavings that got everywhere while I was cutting.
  • Something to Protect the Lens while cutting. This had to be something rigid/sturdy and that fitted perfectly inside the shade. I chose a Sea & Sea YS250 PRO strobe cap – I had one damaged that was hanging around. What better use for something that was responsible for the flooding of one of my strobes.
  • Black paint.


My secret to success during this whole procedure was taking my time. The Dremel is a great tool for the job but its easy to put it on full power and go crazy!
Because the shade to the Sigma is made of metal I needed the right cutter – I found this to be perfect.
Preparing the lens was very easy. First I established just how much I had to shave off and once calculated, marked with a pencil. The next stage was to carefully fix the jubilee clip which was to act as a perfect guide for the Dremel cutter. I made sure that the screwing section was away from the area that I would be cutting. The next thing I had to find was something that would protect the lens from the tiny fragments during the cutting process and just in case I slipped with the Dremel. Amazingly an old strobe cap fitted perfectly behind the shade. The next stage was to go to a well lit area away from camera housings etc. and start cutting.
The whole cutting process was so easy. I put the Dremel on a nice speed and let the tool do the work, keeping it flush up against the jubilee clip. I was very much aware that at certain points while cutting through the shade I was also cutting through the plastic cap. However, with the cap having a thickness of about 3mm, this did not matter. Once both shades were cut off I then used the blower to remove as much of the metal shavings as possible. Eventually once satisfied that it was pretty much clear of filings I removed the old strobe cap/lens protector from the lens and again blew the remaining filings away (at no point did i use a cloth to polish the lens). I had perfectly shaved off an amount of the shade without trashing my brand new lens. The final stage was to very carefully sand down the cut surface which was quite sharp in places. I did this using the Dremel on a very slow setting.
Placing the lens onto the camera and into the housing I put a small amount of toothpaste on all four corners of the shade and slowly placed the Zen port into place making sure that I had cut off enough of the shade. The trick with the tooth paste was that I found it tricky judge whether I had shaved enough of the shade off. With fear of scratching the inside of the port, the tooth paste would act as an early warning just in case I had not. With the port securely fitted the next thing was to check if the shade touched the inside of the port during focusing. Again, its tricky to see so the tooth paste is a perfect guide.
The end result – with a nice perfect finish and a lick of paint, I have managed to get a full frame fisheye lens behind the Zen 4″/100mm Fisheye Mini Dome Port……..sorted! 😮

Wakatobi….here I come….

the following photographs are © protected by Wakatobi Dive Resort – www.wakatobi.comSeveral months ago I accidently clicked an advert on facebook, while not paying attention to what I was doing – chatting to my wife on the phone. While talking and deciding about what I wanted for supper, I became distracted by what I was seeing on my mac. Of course my wife would say, “nothing new there then”, but that’s not true, I always listen to what she is says…..I can multi task.  Anyway, back to the mac and with a new web browser window opened, I slowly watched as stunning aerial images of a perfect reef environment uploaded onto the screen. Scrolling down and there were photographs of beautiful corals as far as the eye could see with flocks of color hovering just above them in perfect visibility. It looked idyllic, it looked perfect….

It was around this time I was looking for the next special dive destination. Fed up with the Maldives and the real lack of love for solo underwater photographers, I had recently discovered Indonesia and with two seasons of critter photography under my belt at the very special Kungkungan Bay Resort in Manado, I was finding myself wanting more of the critters but with a bit of reef and nice visibility thrown in for good measure. The other thing that I was increasingly aware of was being an annual vacation; it was paramount that I kept my wife happy (unhappy wife means no camera upgrades so its all about give and take). With this in mind I had already been advised during our second trip to KBR that next time, it would be advisable if I searched for something a little bit more 5 star for the non-diving partner. Of course there is nothing wrong with KBR, but my wife deserves the best and so I recognized that I really had to come up with something special if I was going to get to this neck of the woods again. That’s when I came up with Raja Amput and the Misool Eco Resort. It looked idyllic and I had heard so many good things about the diving.

Well, that was until I bumped into this unknown paradise. Hanging up the phone I was able to divert the rest of my attention to what was unfolding/uploading in front of my eyes, the resorts name – Wakatobi. I had previously heard about this place before but had put it out of my mind as being a slightly expensive place to get to from Dubai (but hey, when you see a set of photographs like I was seeing, well it really put things into perspective). Navigating around the resorts website and I really got the feeling that this place was the real thing, with endorsements from the likes of Berkley White of Backscatter, a great feedback section finished off with a great slideshow of the resorts best photographs, I was convinced…this is where I wanted to go and see in 2011…Wakatobi Dive Resort..
Funnily, when mentioning Wakatobi to my wife, she seemed quite interested. With the temptation of a stop in Bali before hand she had pretty much given me the green light although there were conditions. Agreeing to no corners being cut with the accommodation at Wakatobi, I found myself paying the deposit on one of the resorts new Select Villa’s (Villa no.1). Of course you can get cheaper rooms at Wakatobi, but with my wife islandlocked while I was doing three to four dives a day, it made perfect sense that she was catered for in every way. The resorts web description is as follows: The closest villa to the heart of the resort (restaurant and longhouse). With it’s own corner of the Northern Beach complete with its own Bale or “love shack”. This villa offers secluded privacy in an intimate setting. Enjoy a relaxing massage in your beachfront Bale. I mean who wouldn’t be sold by that….with the deposit paid, it was time to start saving.

I wont go into how special the island is now as I have not actually been there yet but you can find out more on www.wakatobi.com. Of course later on I will be blogging and writing an article about my 13-day adventure at the Wakatobi Dive Resort and just what it is about Wakatobi that makes them an award winning luxury eco resort that boasts a world-class reef on its doorstep. For the time being though, you can check out other people’s feedback from Trip Advisor.