Funding research through Dolphin Eco-Tourism

Funding research through Dolphin Eco-Tourism

One of my first memories of dolphins was as a child, Conservation standing with my Granny on the veranda of her holiday home in Ramsgate, southern KwaZulu Natal. She had spotted dolphins frolicking in the waves and was jumping up and down in excitement shrieking with joy each time one of the sleek, silvery-grey, torpedo-like creatures cleared the waves.

Text and images by Angie Gullan – Founder Dolphin Encountours in support of DolphinCare.Org

This joy is often relived now with guests I take to meet the Dolphins of Ponta.

Later on in life I was to learn that dolphins were revered amongst ancient civilizations and to ‘swim with dolphins’ ranked top on bucket lists. I discovered that dolphins are highly intelligent and are, in essence, persons. I learned that they are befriend-able and if approached in the right way, with the right attitude, these sentient beings would never cease to amaze.

The coastal waters off the east African seaboard are home to populations of semi resident Indo-Pacific, inshore bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus). These gregarious dolphins are different from their larger and more robust oceanic counterparts Tursiops truncates, the common bottlenose dolphin, in that they freckle on their bellies and have a longer and more slender beak.

The Dolphins of Ponta are one such population. Some 250 individuals live within a complex cross border network which traverses the towering ‘duned’ coastline and surrounding reef structures that makes up the Ponta Partial Marine Reserve in Mozambique and bordering the World Heritage site of iSimangaliso in South Africa.

Ponta do Ouro is home to the country’s first dedicated dolphin interaction and research project that was developed in the mid 90’s under the auspices of Dolphin Encountours. With the guidance of both scientific and spiritual advisers the special inwater program was developed to fund ongoing research through taking like-minded tourists to encounter dolphins in their natural environment.

The eco-tourism project served the growing need of people seeking to swim with dolphins as well as the need to assess the populations of marine mammals that frequented the area.

Priority number one was to create a safe space for human-dolphin encounters to take place and through the specially developed Dolphincare code of conduct this was made possible. Standard operating procedures were developed which included comprehensive pre-encounter briefings, snorkelling instructions and the collection of baseline data by means of a database that was compiled in collaboration with various institutes, mainly the Natural History Museum of the University Eduardo Mondalane in Maputo. As time passed we learned from the dolphins and were better able to understand, anticipate and distinguish different behaviours and postures, which offered a form of communication between them and us.

This understanding has led to some profound encounters with the Dolphins of Ponta. Some of these encounters leave one in a state of absolute bliss, finding both human and dolphin engaging in what seems to be a time of just being together.

If the situation arises a bout of seaweed interaction may take place and some energetic circle swimming will be had with people the individual dolphins know. They have been observed chasing sharks away from human swimmers and individuals have shown us the art of hunting and eating red-fang trigger fish. Mums and calves are observed in private time together where specific behaviours are taught and if something unusual happens to be in the area, the inquisitive dolphins will venture off to inspect, often leading us to wonderful sightings hidden down below.

Sadly the encounters sometimes leave us with a heavy heart as we realize and see first hand the impact human beings have on our finned friends. Mozambique’s pot of gold lies not only in tourism but in gas and oil exploration and industrial coastal development which will have adverse long term effects on marine mammals. Coastal tourism in Mozambique is growing exponentially and as its famed underwater kingdoms and fishing hotspots become accessible, more and more encounters with humans and their vessels are inevitable.

During the early 2000’s I was out guiding a dolphin session when we located two dolphins, one known to me as Spin. Spin was a young dolphin that enjoyed engaging with us. She was always the first on the bow and the first to initiate a circle swim.

On this day though, things were amiss. As the boat approached her, distressed vocalizing was heard and as I slipped into the water I could see why; the little dolphin was wrapped up in fishing line! I slowly unwrapped her, but found no way to remove the very large hook, which was by now deeply embedded in her belly. This was the last time I saw little Spin.

The DolphinCare.Org’s database comprises thousands of images, observational records, sound recordings and video recordings of semiresident dolphins and other marine mammals that frequent the area. Individual dolphins have their own files where relevant events are recorded with some of the individuals first being observed in the area when the project was in its pilot stage. Dolphin Encountours, the German Dolphin Conservation Society and volunteers primarily fund the project.

For more information on encountering the Dolphins of Ponta or finding out about how you can get involved and help the project please visit:

www.dolphin-encountours.com in support of www.dolphincare.org

HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon 2017

HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon 2017

Handicapped Scuba Association South Africa is located in Centurion, Gauteng and is a non-profit company that specializes in training people with disabilities, on how to scuba dive.

Our NPC number is: 2014/027833/08. The directors of Handicapped Scuba Association SA are: Vic Hugo, Euvrard Geldenhuys and Melissa Leonard.  HSASA is busy planning and organizing a “HSASA 50hr Dive-A-Thon” for next year, 10-12th March 2017.

In short, our vision and mission of this fundraising event, is to organize and plan, dive trips for- and the training of new disabled divers for 2017 – so that they can too share in the experience of diving.  We need everyone’s support to come on board with this project. Our goal is to get as many dive schools and divers of all institutes, involved. Therefore we would like to ask every diver, to participate in this event and help us make it a HUGE success through buying dive-slots.

We have created a Facebook event and would like to invite everyone to join. https://www.facebook.com/events/1614728932163335/?active_tab=discussion

We are going to have two special events taking place on Saturday the 11th March 2017.
They are:
1.  “Sinking the Obstacle to Freedom” – illustrating that HSA’s are free at last and they have no limitations anymore…but more about this later….
2.  Lighting the cross with glowsticks on one night dive (Saturday night 19:00-20:00 dive slot). It’s going be so much fun, an experience and quite a sight to see. So be sure to book one of your slots on this hour.

We are going to have food stalls, great prizes to be won, a boma fire at night, jumping castle for the kiddies, etc…

Demo gear will be available and DAN will also be joining us.

The weather will still be nice and warm and we are going to have so much fun!! We are looking forward- and would love to have you all there with us…

How it works:
There have to be at least two people in the water at all times – for the duration of the dive-a-thon.  People can book their one hour slot and choose any hour between Friday 10:00 – Sunday 13:00, to do a dive. They can also book more than one slot.  The first dive will start on the Friday, 10th at 10:00 and the last dive will end on Sunday, 12th at 13:00. The cost is R150 per person, per dive-slot hour (even sponsors of dive-slots are welcome). We aim to book 750 dive-slots and more.  There will be a Rescue diver or higher qualified, at all times, to ensure the safety of everyone.

So, what if you don’t have the time to join us in person and do your slot, but want to contribute? Well, you can sponsor your R150, and we will find a diver to do your slot of your behalf.

We need you to make this event a great success !!!

Time of Dive-A-Thon:
Start : 10th Fri 2017 at 10:00
End : 12th Sun 2017 at 13:00

Place:
Miracle Waters, North West

So, how do you book your slot?  You can book your dive slot, by making a payment into the following account:
Handicapped Scuba Association SA
Bank : Absa
Type of account : Cheque
Account nr : 4083663706
Branch : Mall@reds Wierdapark
Branch code : 336-346
Reference : “name” and “dive-slot/s”
Please email your details and proof of payment to: melissa@hsa-sa.co.za

About HSASA: Scuba Diving has a great rehabilitative effect on people living with disabilities – so great, that it restores their self-confidence and human dignity, as well as gives them a new perspective in life. After being trained on how to scuba dive, they do not only gain new skills in recreational diving, but they also meet new long-lasting friends and have a sense of belonging. Scuba diving opens up a new world to disabled people, who thought that their lives are over. After being trained, the disabled divers start to live more adventurously and live their lives to the full.

When diving (and with the help of their dive buddies), the physically challenged and wheelchair bound people, get the opportunity to be free from gravity for approximately 50 minutes (duration of a dive) and are able to move as freely as they like. These disabled people’s outlook on life, are permanently changed.
People with various disabilities, ranging from: spina bifida, hearing loss, amputees, paraplegics, quadriplegics, muscular dystrophy, sight impairment, hemiplegics, cerebral palsy, cognitive disability and locked-in syndrome, are all trained and are known as HSA Divers.

We at Handicapped Scuba Association South Africa are dedicated and aim to change and improve the physical and social well-being of people living with disabilities, through the recreational sport of Scuba Diving. We are dedicated to ensure, that the disabled people whom we train, are given the same opportunity to receive quality training, certification and dive adventures – just like the able-bodied divers do.
We not merely just aim to train disabled people and to let them have a once off experience – NO!, it is also our desire and focus to assist these disabled divers, to continue to dive and also experience ocean dives, as well as to get them socially involved.

Therefore your contribution is not in vain.

Bookings are now open!

Our website is: www.hsa-sa.co.za

Our Facebook page: Handicapped Scuba Association SA:
https://www.facebook.com/HandicappedScubaAssociationSA?ref=br_tf

For any queries, please contact Melissa at: 083 545 8295 / melissa@hsa-sa.co.za

A fun weekend awaits all divers.

Elena Salim Haubold

Elena Salim Haubold

“My dream is that the future generations are able to enjoy swimming with sharks the same way I do it today. For me sharks are the most beautiful, powerful and mysterious living organism on Earth and, as their populations are been decimated over the past years, they need our help.  I am sponsored for one year to travel around the world, living unbelievable underwater experiences and documenting through articles, pictures and videos about each one of them. Thanks to the Rolex Scholarship, I am living the dream and learning from the best people in the world, in order to achieve my goal: work towards shark conservation through ecotourism”

Elena Salim Haubold

Sharkoholic, Biologist, Entrepreneur

European Rolex Scholar-2014

Elena is a German/Venezuelan biologist who is extremely passionate about marine megafauna, especially sharks. Her dream is to work towards the long-term conservation of these predators using ecotourism.

Although a part of her family comes from Germany, she had the privilege of growing up in Venezuela: a beautiful tropical country with the longest coast along the Caribbean Sea, where she was strongly in contact with nature. Her favorite activities were swimming in the ocean and rivers, traveling around the exotic national parks and interacting with all kinds of species in their natural habitat. At a young age she realized that being surrounded by animals was her purpose and biggest motivation in life. She studied biology in the Simon Bolivar University (Caracas, Venezuela) where she received appropriate guidance to get into the scientific world. Meanwhile, she got certified as a scuba diver to gain a strong foothold in her job as a researcher of marine life. Elena also undertook a freediving course to be able to swim closer to the aquatic fauna without scaring them away with the bubbles from the scuba diving system.

Elena interacting with an adult lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) removing remoras from its body.  Picture by Johnny Gaskell – Tiger Beach, The Bahamas 

In the third year of her career she went to the multicultural city of Granada (Spain) for one year as an exchange student. There she had the chance to learn about social behavior and animal physiology through research projects at the university and discovered her other passion: travelling! Her experiences around Andalucia, East Europe, Morocco and Scandinavia gave her a holistic understanding of how different cultures live and use their natural resources. At this point she was unaware of how useful this knowledge would be in helping her achieve the goal of protecting marine life throughout the involvement of local communities.

Swimming with her favourite species! The lemon sharks (Negaprion brevirostris).  Picture by Gerardo del Villar – Tiger Beach, The Bahamas

She was sure that she wanted to work with marine fauna but she was in a dilemma when it came to deciding the species she liked the most. It was at this point that, just by chance, she watched a video of the world famous shark feeder Cristina Zenato on a television program. Elena was awestruck by the sight of big, majestic sharks surrounding this woman while she was touching them like they were her pets! Elena was so fascinated by it that decided to write a letter to Cristina without expecting that her answer will change her life! After that, her doubts vanished and then she decided to work with, and for the sharks. Following Cristina’s advise, she decided to get involved in shark research spending seven months at the Bimini Biological Field Station (The Shark Lab). Her research was about the effects of coastal development on the spatial ecology of the lemon shark (Negaprion brevirostris) population of this small and pristine island. She was finally able to see sharks in their natural environment and found it extremely fascinating.

Swimming with the biggest fish on the ocean, the whale shark (Rhincodon typus).  Picture by Armando Gasse – Isla Mujeres, Mexico

She got an honored mention from the university for her research findings (University of Granada) and couldn’t wait to follow the path of a shark biologist. Like any other top predator, sharks are fundamental in their ecosystem. They play a key role in maintaining the ecological balance. It was her dream to become a specialist in the tiger shark predatory behavior and its effect on the prey population. Her belief was that by taking this path she would be able to contribute towards shark conservation, but it dawned on her that the outside world is completely different from the academic environment. Her opinion is that what really determines the vulnerability status of any marine species is commercial fishery and perception of the general public regarding the danger faced by marine species.

Elena surrounded by sharks.  Picture by Johnny Gaskell.  Tiger Beach, The Bahamas

Elena’s goal of Marine Conservation using Sustainable Tourism required sound business knowledge of the tourism industry and so she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Business Administration in the field of Tourism Industry from European University, Munich. She got her dive master certification with the pioneers in bull shark diving with Phantom Divers in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, where she worked for two months. This experience coupled with her stint at the MBA gave her both, the theoretical and practical knowledge required to get started with her endeavor in the sustainable tourism industry.

Elena understands the importance of involving the society in the ecotourism industry. „I strongly believe that the contribution of local communities is a powerful catalyst in the conservation process. The realization of people that they are the real owners of nature and that it can be a viable source of high income, encourage them to protect it“.

Playing with cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) while freediving.  Picture by Jean Tresfon – Tsitsikamma National Park, South Africa

Recently Elena won the prestigious Rolex Scholarship which is giving her the right platform to implement her ideas in order to guaranty long term marine conservation. The scholarship provides young passionate divers brand new diving equipment and travels around the world to visit, work and learn from the top leaders of the underwater industry. For Elena this program is the perfect opportunity to enrich her ideas. She is having the chance of meeting scientists, tour operators, photographers, conservationists, business people, scuba and freediver instructors, journalists and many others top leaders of the world who generously host her and teach her all she need to know to start in her future a successful business model focused on marine conservation.

Holding a 3 meters female tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) after taking measurements and before releasing it. Picture by Sean Williams – Bimini Shark Lab, The Bahamas

The three Rolex Scholars 2014 selected by Our World Underwater Scholarship Society. From left to right: Courtney Rayes (Australasian Rolex Scholar 2014), Elena Salim Haubold (European Rolex Scholar 2014) and Ana Sofia Guerra (North American Rolex Scholar 2014)

Picture by Jayne Jenkins – New York, U.S.A. (May 2014)

Migration from Stills to Video: DSLR to RED

Migration from Stills to Video: DSLR to RED

A few years back the appearance of DSLR´s capable of capturing high quality video made a lot of underwater photographers as myself explore the world of motion picture. For me this journey started with a Canon Eos 7D and exploring its video capabilities in between photo shoots using available light. From the beginning I was hooked by the prospect of being able to switch from stills to video on the push of a button… as where most underwater photographers out there.

Text by Nuno Sa

On the next year I started taking video seriously and stopped constantly switching from stills to video during a dive and rather chose what I was going for and preparing the equipment and settings accordingly. I changed to a Full frame 5DMKIII and added a couple of lights and an external monitor as well as starting to use low compression picture styles such as the cinestlye. Trying to get stabile shoots and neutral buoyancy on a underwater housing created for capturing stills was probably the biggest challenge for me and most UW DSLR video shooters out there. As many others I would search on forums looking for solutions and do a lot of experiences such as attaching buoys and adding side wings on the housing with some moderate success.

And then a new revolution started with RED introducing the RED Scarlet and a Canon lens mount as well as dropping prices on the Epic. Suddenly all forums where talking about these high end 4K cinema cameras and how they where now only a small fortune instead of a big one. The problem was there seamed to be no information out there of DSLR UW shooters making the change to RED. But when you watch footage of videographers such as Howard Hall shooting amazing footage with these cameras one could start dreaming on taking the next big step.

In my case the decision to go for RED came from meeting two well known videographers in a summer in the Azores, curiously they had pretty different feelings about working with cinema cameras. I first met Rafa Herrero, a well-known Spanish videographer in Santa Maria Island and he was nice enough to show me the inside of the beast and the results and logistics using it involved. As a many year user of Run n Gun cameras producing documentaries Rafa did warn me a lot about the logistics backing up huge RAW files involved as well as the whole post production of getting nice imagery out of RAW flat images. But I must say I was immediately drawn to this camera and its potential.

The final choice came when a couple of months latter a close friend of mine, Mauricio Handler, came to shoot sperm whales with me in the Azores. I then had a chance to try his camera UW and hear the opinion of someone that was coming from the same place as me… from DSLR to RED. Meanwhile I have bought two Run n Gun cameras for top shoots and to use as B cameras (Canon XA20 and Sony FS7) and I must say that for someone coming from the world of DSLR the RED is actually easier to use than smaller handheld cameras. In essence the RED is pretty much a DSLR on steroids as you will be doing basically the same adjustment UW using manual exposure and focus, as well as choosing basic parameters as aperture, shutter speed, frame rate and ISO as well as a low depth of field to work with (especially in macro shoots). Perhaps the biggest differences will be logistics wise, as you will be carrying a substantially heavier system as well as accumulating very large files (a good day of shooting in 5K RAW with a 7:1 compression and 50 fps can easily bring home 1 TB of footage and that is for little over 60 min of footage).

Perhaps one of the most significant aspects that one has to seriously look into before making the decision to chance systems would be exactly how much it will cost you. So far RED has kept the “modular camera” concept witch was one of the main reasons that made me go for this camera. In short this means you buy a brain and then attach several accessories needed to make the camera work (Side SSD for media, lens mount to attach lens, LCD for live view etc.…). So far the brain is “upgradable” so this means if you want to upgrade from Epic X to Epic Dragon you just send in the brain and now have a different camera but the same accessories and above all… the same housing. So of course for UW works this brings a big advantage as for example Gates has the same housing for the Scarlet, Epic X and Dragon. The downside is many people think the price of the camera is the price of the brain, however you can expect to about double the price (or at least add another 10 000$) just for a basic package. Another aspect to keep in mind regarding upgrades is that if you miss one you may be left out of the loop indefinitely (for instance if you don´t upgrade from Epic X to Dragon until a certain date you will then not be able to make the next upgrade, in this case the Dragon to Weapon upgrade).

As for Pros and Cons I would point out:

Pros:

  • The housing – Oh the housing!!!… Perhaps more than everything else having a perfectly balanced video housing that just floats horizontally in front of you with a nice 5” or 7” screen is going to bring beautifully stable imagery, with perfect pans, even when swimming like crazy after a whale.
  • Future proof concept – The RED is pretty much as future proof as it gets (shooting in 5K or 6k for Epic X and epic Dragon) but if you add the fact that is upgradable to the equation you have a camera and housing for the next decade (at least).
  • Frame rates – Choosing anything from 1 fps to 180 fps in 5K (in the Epic X) and even more than this if you upgrade brings you the chance to capture pretty much anything from time-lapse to verrrry slow-motion.
  • Shooting RAW – The amount of information you get in a clip for post production is simply amazing, but of course backing this up is a challenge and post-production is demanding. Also keep in mind RED cameras use RED media period.
  • From web to BBC – Going for a cinema camera does, of course, make you equipped to pretty much work for any kind of client from web based to full broadcast and cinema.
  • UW OLPF – Red has just developed an interchangeable OLPF (Optical Low Pass-Filter) system for specific uses such as low light or skin tone-highlight. The good news is they have just developed a H2O OLPF for underwater use that should deliver new color science in the blue channel.

The cons:

  • The price – This is the big one and does make the other cons pretty irrelevant. A good housing, nice pro lights (15 000 lumens each or so) and a fully functional camera should go for around 50 000$ – 60 000$. Keep in mind this is for UW use only without a nice tripod, grips, cage etc.… for surface work.
  • Upgrades – This is pretty much the same as above. Upgradable cameras make them future proof but they are, unfortunately, expensive. At around 10 000$ per upgrade and you might need to make an upgrade until a certain date to keep your camera eligible for the next upgrade.
  • File size – Just like the upgrades one of the Red’s main advantages is also a bit of a downfall as you will, of course, spend a lot of time and money backing up your files. Fortunately the price per TB is dropping by the day and working in favor of RED owners. You can check online what a card will go for at http://www.red.com/tools/recording-time, but each of my 512 GB cards will go for around 30 min with my most common settings.
  • Post production – You can forget about using Red files without considerable post production work. That is what shooting in RAW is all about, taking a flat image with no contrast, sharpening, saturation etc.… and having the freedom to deliver the final image just like you want it.

In conclusion I would say that DSLR´s do make beautiful imagery and are good enough for many clients and uses. They are very light weight, handle low light conditions very well and can deliver amazing – ready to use – images with the right color profiles. I must say however that since I started with the RED system my 7D´s and 5D´s have been on the shelf.

Bellow you can check a couple of links and compare for yourself, the top one is the first production I made with the 7D and the second my first reel with Red Epic.

Using Canon 7D

Using RED

error: Content is protected !!