Big Blue Diving - Koh Tao - Thailand - steven develter

steven develter

Over 70 years after it was sunk by the British Navy, a Nazi U-boat has once again become a major threat to its surroundings after it was revealed the submarine is leaking dangerous levels of toxic chemicals into the sea.

 

The wreck of the U-864 submarine is sitting off the coast of Norway about 3km from the town of Bergen, and was been ripped apart when torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Venturer in early 1945. It is known that U-684 was sailing for Japan carrying jet parts when it was discovered by British code-breakers at their Bletchley Park decoding centre in London, who had intercepted a German message related to the U-boats mission. It was struck by 1 of the 4 torpedoes fired by the HMS Venturer in what is said to be the only fully underwater submarine battle that ever took place. All 73 crew members onboard were killed.

 

 

 

It was first re-discovered in March 2003 by a Royal Norwegian Navy minesweeper after being alerted by local fisherman, and the 2400 tonne wreck is now sitting at a depth of around 152 metres. It contains 1800 barrels with 67,000 kilos of mercury which are leaking into the sea at a rate of about 4 kg a year. This deadly ooze has contaminated over 30,000 square metres of the sea bed and huge amounts of marine life so badly that the Norwegian government has declared a boat and fishing ban in the area.

 

 

 

Originally it was planned to raise the wreck and salvage the mercury, which is by far the most environmentally friendly solution, but recent events and a seemingly eco-ignorant government have led to a Dutch company named ‘Van Oord’ to be hired to bury the wreck and 11 acres of the seabed in 100,000 tonnes of sand and rubble to stem the leakage – not a permanent solution at all unfortunately, especially as we’re dealing with possibly the largest mercury deposit in the whole world, and potentially one of the world’s worst environmental catastrophes!

 

 

The operation is scheduled to begin in 2018, will take a year to complete and will cost around $32 million. A similar process of entombing has apparently been successfully used around 30 times in the past to contain mercury-contaminated sites over the last 20 years, researchers say.

 

However campaigners and specialists warn that despite these measures mercury could still leak out from the vessel for decades to come, becoming an “underwater Chernobyl” as it was previously described by a Norwegian Coastal Administration spokeswoman. Norway has the funds to salvage the mercury, but not the interest in stopping what will no doubt be a disaster in the future.

 

 

So what can we do to help?

 

Unfortunately there’s not a great deal we can do alone (unless you’re a member of the Norwegian government) but if you could take a moment to sign this petition -

 

https://www.change.org/p/the-norwegian-government-stop-covering-the-mercury-from-the-submarine-u-864

 

 

Also anyone supporting the salvaging of the mercury (rather than taking the cheapest/worst option of just covering up the problem) can download an appeal written by the ‘Global Mercury Scandal’ group, who are very active in fighting this decision. The appeal can then be distributed to environmental groups, companies, press and politicians around the world, and can be found here -

 

https://www.globalmercuryscandal.org/appeal

 

 

 

Save the Oceans!

 

 

 

Saturday, 13 October 2018 10:20

Koh Tao and 711 Say 'No' to Plastic Bags

 

Anyone who’s spent time in Thailand will be familiar or perhaps even have an intimate relationship with everyone’s favourite convenience store, the all-conquering 711.  Having supplies of the ubiquitous cheese and ham toasties 24 hours a day, every single day of the year is certainly not to be sniffed at by most Thailand backpackers, who seem to be fuelled almost entirely on a concoction of Pringles, cheese toasties and buckets of cheap booze– thankfully Thailand isn’t a country famous for its cuisine or they may all be missing out on something…

 

However, in an extraordinary move that has surprised the whole of Koh Tao, and after decades of asking politely, demanding, begging, pleading and grovelling it seems that the powers that be at 711 have finally taken our advice and stopped giving out unnecessary plastics. I’m sure there’s not a person amongst us who hasn’t returned form a 711 trip to find some sneaky frigging plastic spoon or straw slipped into your bag without your knowledge, and often when you didn’t even buy something that warranted the use of one! Packet of cigarettes? Plastic bag. Can of Coca-Cola? Plastic bag and straw. A couple of bottles of Singha to drink immediately? Triple-bloody-bagged, with a handful of straws lurking in them. Multiply this by the 10,000 or so 711 stores just in Thailand, and you can see where the root of the problem lies.

 

Of course we cannot blame 711 entirely for this, as consumers it is up to us to refuse the bags and straws we’re offered. We all no doubt know by now that plastics are a huge worldwide problem and the oceans especially are in particular trouble of succumbing to the invasion of plastics dumped in it by us ungrateful humans, but by cutting out our supplier it’ll certainly help a huge amount.

 

As responsible visitors to this amazing island there are also plenty of other ways to help combat the plastics problem facing all of us – for example you could join in one of the regular beach clean-ups, divers can dive for free (!) on the underwater clean-ups that Big Blue and a handful of other places offer, or you can invest in your own reusable ‘Trash Hero’ water bottle (as seen below) and enjoy the free water fill-ups offered by almost 50 of the dive schools on Koh Tao, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lipe and more!

 

So next time you go shopping at 711 remember to take your Big Blue tote bag with you (available for free from us when you like our Facebook page) or you’ll be faced with a massive 15 baht fee to use one of the stores bags. Hot food still comes in a little plastic bag, but we must take baby steps here guys, first Koh Tao, next stop the world!

 

 

 Do your part here on Koh Tao with our conservation team here at Big Blue, for more information click here

 

 

 

Monday, 08 October 2018 15:49

The Beluga Whale That Spoke

When we think about the loudest creatures on the planet, most minds will go to the trumpet of an elephant, the howl of a wolf or the screech of a woman scorned. In reality, the creatures that make the loudest noises by far are the whales that inhabit our oceans all around the world: the loudest apparently being the sperm whale, which can raise its voice to a crazy 230 decibels underwater – it doesn’t sound that impressive until you consider a 10-ton bomb gives off 210 decibels and a space shuttle launch generates around 170 decibels of noise!

 

So what the hell are these gobby gargantuans going on about anyway?

 

We know that whales make noise to communicate, locate and tell others about food sources, and to find each other. The tend to speak in clicks, whistles and pulsed calls which can travel hundreds of miles underwater, and it’s actually thought the sperm whales’ calls can reach half way around the world…although it would take a few hours.  One of the most talkative whales out there is the beluga, which is where this curious tale begins…

  

The year is 1984, and here I should insert some inane Big Brother pun but I’ve leave that to you lot. The National Marine Mammal Foundation were studying and training dolphins and whales for ‘Cold Ops’ (otherwise called top secret naval stuff) and had a number of belugas undergoing constant training. It was during a normal session when researchers reported hearing what sounded like a muffled conversation, which they described as sounding like someone talking loudly in an adjacent room. It was then that one of the divers (and co-founder of the foundation), Sam Ridgeway, climbed out of the whale enclosure and asked his colleagues ‘Who told me to get out?’

Noc’ was a beluga whale that had been living in the research centre for 7 years, and was very familiar with trainers and the language they used every day with him. It appears that unbeknownst to the staff at the foundation Noc had been working on communicating with his human friends, and had managed to produce a pretty damn good impression of them too, which you can hear for yourself right here:

 

https://www.cell.com/cms/attachment/2021739480/2041549424/mmc2.mp3

 

Pretty remarkable eh? It’s like he’s been listening to them and decided that the English language is simply humans going ‘duh duh duh, doo doo doo’ over and over again, suspiciously like the Swedish language as a matter of fact.

 

To teach him a lesson in showing off and to remind him just who was the boss around there, the researchers immediately inserted tubes into his nasal cavity to try and find out just how he’d managed to produce this kazoo-like sound and discovered he was manipulating pressure in his nasal tract which caused this bizarre noise. The reason why remains a mystery, though Michelle Jeffries, one of Noc’s early trainers, described in an interview:

 “He was very easy-going. He wanted people’s attention. He wanted you to stay around and interact with him and rub him. He didn’t try to bullshit you like some of the dolphins did”

We should take a moment to enjoy that incredible statement about the bullshit from dolphins.

Michelle continued, presumably after taking out her obvious frustrations by kicking a dolphin and eating a tin of cheap tuna:

“He was just glad for your time, and he was very patient. Plus being the younger one, he was a little bit more reactive, eager. Noc was the kid who was willing to try. I think that was part of the thing behind him mimicking speech. He liked watching people. He liked being around people…He wanted to make a connection.”

Noc spoke in this way both underwater and above, responded to his trainers or would spontaneously start chatting away but only if there was a human present or he was alone – strangely he would never talk in this was around the other whales.

So what happened to this genius beluga whale, the first animal (or maybe second after that dog that says ‘sausages’?) to manage a passable attempt at the English language?

 

Dead.

 

 

 

Friday, 05 October 2018 16:42

Freediving on Koh Tao

 

When I was a child my family and I would take yearly trips to see my Italian family in Sicily, during which my father would take my ten-year old self and my brothers out spearfishing. The thrill of being in the ocean wielding my very own weapon (a ferocious trident that was my absolute pride and joy) at an age when I was barely allowed to cross the street alone was incredible, and then to go on the hunt for elusive octopus, delicious passing snapper, aggressive eels and basically anything else that looked reasonably edible was something I’ll never forget to this day.

What really had me fascinated was when my father would spend a bit of time breathing quite deeply on the surface for a minute or so, take what seemed like a gargantuan breath and effortlessly disappear beneath the waves to impossible depths for a child to imagine – how did he do it? How could he hold his breath for so long? Why weren’t the fish scared away by him? I had so many questions, and that’s when freediving first piqued my curiosity.

 

It wasn’t till years later that I learnt that what we were doing (in a very amateurish fashion) was called ‘freediving’, and was becoming a very popular pastime for those wanting a little more from their diving. The 1988 Luc Besson movie ‘The Big Blue’ we’re named after then showed me just what freediving could offer with some training and what seemed like a lot of effort, and I was hooked.

 

Surely for people to dive to such depths on just one breath you have to be some sort of super healthy, non-smoking, yoga loving athlete, right?

Wrong!

Freediving is something that everyone (regardless of shape, size, or fitness levels) can try and be successful at – as log as there’s no serious ear problems. In fact, the first man to freedive more 100 metres was 65 years old when he did it!

It starts with learning about the mammalian dive reflex, and controlling the urge to breathe (those contractions you feel in your diaphragm) which we all feel when we’ve held our breath underwater for a while. You learn relaxation procedures to help not just hold your breath for a minute or so but to really push the limits of your body and mind away from their comfort zones, control the feeling that you need to breather and before long enter into the realms of proper freediving – to be able to breath-hold for 2 minutes plus whilst gliding silently around the reefs, without a care in the world.

It’s not so much physical exercise, but more about knowing your body, mastering the psychological effects felt and strengthening our mind’s ability to live the moment peacefully, whilst in full control of the situation. 

 

 

So what are the benefits of learning how to freedive?

The freedom felt whilst underwater without the heavy scuba equipment is really quite exhilarating. Scuba diving is wonderful when you want to spend a long time underwater exploring every nook and cranny, but with freediving the beauty is in its simplicity and silence. 

 

When freediving the marine life you encounter aren’t as skittish as when you’re scuba diving – bubbles from scuba regulators are noisy, and there isn’t that much sound underwater other than the communication of the different creatures down there so it inevitably disturbs everything. Freedivers, on the other hand, appear to be less of a threat, so the creatures down there let you get closer to them, and they also come closer to you – after all you appear to them to be just a new, big fish so they’re also very curious. Of course, you are always limited in the time you can stay down there interacting, but it opens up so many places for exploration where it just isn’t feasible to go scuba diving - maybe there’s no dive centre to rent equipment or get your tanks filled, but with freediving all you need is to don your mask, grab some weight and a buddy and you’re good to go!

 

What’s next?

Easy; all you have to do is set aside at least 2 days of your life to visit us on Koh Tao, and the SSI Level 1 freediver licence can be yours for the rest of your life. To book your courses, or for a little more information take a look here!

 

 

“The scuba diver dives to look around. The freediver dives to look inside.

 

Umberto Pelizzari, world champion freediver.

 

 

 

Sunday, 30 September 2018 17:56

Weird Dolphin Story of the Day No.3

When choosing a dive centre on Koh Tao there’s a lot of factors to take into consideration, yet one that is often ignored by those doing a little research is the frequency that the dive centres share weird dolphin sex stories to the world via its blog – in my experience the more they share, the better they are so without further ado I present No.3 in a series that must surely run out of stories soon:

 

 

1960’s was a swinging time, by all accounts. Free love, drugs galore, optimism and open-mindedness ushered in by musicians such as The Doors, Hendrix and the Rolling Stones meant it was THE decade where everything goes, and in this story our ‘hero’ Margaret Howe Lovatt certainly followed that motto by getting it on with a dolphin, all funded by everyone’s favourite space-pervs NASA.

 

Excuse me what?

 

So it turns out that Ms Lovatt(she certainly does) in 1963 heard of a locally-run experiment studying dolphins on the US Virgin Islands, and soon volunteered to become part of the team. She convinced them it would be beneficial to flood the house they were based in to turn the whole of the downstairs into a dolphinarium, the excuse being that the researchers wanted the opportunity to study the animals from home, which to me deserves a prize for pure laziness. So what was the reason for this project? I can tell you now that it was to teach the dolphins how to speak English – again, a lot of drugs were taken in these years.

 

It was during this time where she bumped into ‘Peter’ the dolphin, who was presumably just swimming down the street when it saw the flooded house of sin. As she bonded with the dolphin whom she describes as being ‘sexually coming of age’ - did he have a pube? -  the relationship inevitably progressed to a physical one, as Peter rubbed his ‘Little Peter’ up against Margaret, who explained:

“Peter liked to be... with me. He would rub himself on my knee, my foot or my hand and I allowed that…I wasn't uncomfortable - as long as it wasn't too rough…it was very precious and very gentle, Peter was right there, he knew that I was right there."

 

I imagine he knew you were right there because you had his dolphin-boner in your hand Margaret.  

 

This wasn’t just a one-off Margaret claims, as she said it would be a regular occurrence during lessons:

"It would just become part of what was going on like an itch, just get rid of that we'll scratch and we would be done and move on…I was there to get to know Peter, that was part of Peter”

 

It certainly was a part of Peter, at least she got that right.

 

The experiment ended in sadness, with the man in charge turning into a full-blown hippy and feeding all the dolphins except Peter LSD to see if that would help them learn to speak English, the stupid idiot. A few weeks later Peter committed suicide, no doubt because he also wanted some LSD like his friends who were now chatting to lamp-posts and listening to Pink Floyd.

 

Margaret later on married the original photographer on the project (I guess to shut him up) and didn’t speak publicly of the experiment for nearly 50 years. She revealed all a few years ago in an interview for a documentary, named ‘The Girl Who Talked to Dolphins’.

Thank God they went for ‘Talked’ eh?

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