Ocean water

Sun and steel

A wandering albatross soars over the rolling crested waters of the southern ocean, very far from land.  She’s been airborne for weeks on her great wings, over three metres from tip to tip, aside from sudden plunges to snatch squid or fish from the waves.

At a cruising speed of 55 km/hour, she’s pushed along by constant wind at about five metres above the sea, and she misses few opportunities to feed.  She passed a ship twenty minutes ago, but she’s already forgotten it; she’s seen many and cares nothing.

Suddenly she catches a gleam in the water, a flash of silver scales in the afternoon sun, and she veers and dives as quick as thought.  In an instant and a brief splash the target is snapped up and she rises again into the air.  But something’s wrong: her head is yanked back and she tumbles after it in a clumsy tangle of wing-beats, the object in her beak hard and sharp and inanimate.

She plunges into a wave, her throat filled with sea-water, and finds herself being dragged along just below the surface. Far away, the long-liner is reeling in her 20 kilometres of monofilament nylon with its freight of steel bait-hooks, tuna and sea-birds.  The albatross lives for a few long minutes more.

Communities as partners

There are islands in Maluku (the Moluccas), in eastern Indonesia, where local people have a tradition of managing nature collectively.  Called sasi, this was easily adapted to scuba divers, when they realised that divers enjoy pristine coral reefs with plenty of fish, and are happy to pay for them.

Divers spend at least a dollar for every minute that they spend underwater, if all their costs are considered, and often up to three if you include international travel.  So a typical dive costs the diver up to US$150.  This is only worth paying if the water is clean and the environment healthy. So the villagers did a deal with nearby dive resorts, to be paid the equivalent of a dollar a dive, in exchange for their help in protecting the reefs near their homes.

This is given directly to the village, and has turned every single inhabitant into a reef guard, continually alert to the possibility of raids by dynamite or cyanide fishers from elsewhere.  The result is that there are at least a few dive sites in South-east Asia that will still be worth diving in ten years’ time.

If every sport diver insisted on participating in an arrangement like this, then quite soon there would be tens of millions of people working to make the future safe for divers and the marine ecosystems that they visit.

Read on: Swamp water.