Marine-related MOOCs from edX

As a fourth and final (perhaps) installment to our guide to ocean-related MOOCs for the curious armchair scholar, here is a list of offerings from provider edX, including one about SHARKS. All about sharks!

I have only just discovered edX, so (unlike Coursera, Future Learn and Open2Study) I have not done any of these courses, and don’t speak from experience. The format looks similar to Coursera, so you can pay to get a “verified certificate” for the course, or just choose to audit it (like a Scientologist… bad joke, sorry), which doesn’t cost anything. Like Coursera, edX has an app so you can work (on certain mobile-friendly courses) on your iPad or Android tablet.

Sharks! Global Biodiversity, Biology, and Conservation is from Cornell University and the University of Queensland, and looks like a complete primer about sharks, from their evolutionary and life history all the way through to management issues and human-shark interactions. The next sessions starts on 28 June. Will I see you there?

Tropical Coastal Ecosystems (also from the University of Queensland) is self-paced, which means you can start whenever you want to. The Great Barrier Reef is used as a study example in many instances, and the course deals with coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and mangrove swamps.

Two courses that are focused more specifically on climate and related science are:

Climate Change: The Science from the University of British Columbia in Canada doesn’t have any current or future sessions scheduled, but you can still view the course material. This course not only covers climate, science, but aims to equip you to evaluate climate science, and to communicate facts about the climate to others.

Sensing Planet Earth – Water and Ice from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden deals with the measurement and monitoring of earth’s ice and water bodies, in order better to understand the changing climate.

Have fun!

Newsletter: Blooming tides

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Launching at 6.00am from Simon’s Town jetty for a double tank dive

Coral display at the aquarium in Copenhagen
Coral display at the aquarium in Copenhagen

The water is really doing its best to limit diving right now. It is either murky green or way too windy for decent diving on a regular basis. At some point it will change, but I doubt it will change in time for the weekend. There are areas in False Bay that are clean and free of red tide, but you need to go and look for them.

Saturday has pretty strong south easterly wind and a fair amount of swell, Sunday is not looking much better. I have students who require shore and boat dives so I will launch at 6.00am on Saturday for a quick look and double tank dive, and plan the weekend around what we find.

If you’d like to be notified of diving plans that may materialise if we find suitable conditions, let me know!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Dive sites: Vulcan Rock

Esther exploring
Esther exploring

Vulcan Rock is a dive site just outside Hout Bay. We dived it on a day when the south easter had been blowing for a while, so the visibility was quite good. The dive site is essentially a huge stack of granite boulders, with Vulcan Rock as the highest point. The rocks are covered with sea urchins, rock lobster, corals, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, and a bit of red seaweed.

Urchins, brittle stars, corals at Vulcan Rock
Urchins, brittle stars, corals at Vulcan Rock

Esther and I stayed within the range of Open Water divers, not going deeper than 18 metres, but it is possible to go as deep as 30 metres at this site if you go for a bit of a swim. This is definitely a site to visit when the surface conditions are good and the swell is low (not that Hout Bay diving is ever great – or particularly safe – in a big swell).

Granite and kelp
Granite and kelp

I had the little Sony camera with me and took some happy snaps. Underneath all the granite is an enormous cave, with several entrances. Peet, who joined us on this dive, made a video of the cave that I will share with you later this week.

Mark bringing the boat
Mark bringing the boat

Dive date: 19 April 2015

Air temperature: 23 degrees

Water temperature:  10 degrees

Maximum depth: 15.6  metres

Visibility: 12 metres

Dive duration: 39 minutes

Panorama of Checkers, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Plate coral at Checkers
Plate coral at Checkers

The dive site Checkers, that I visited for the first time on our most recent trip to Ponta do Ouro in southern Mozambique, is notable for the amount of plate coral that can be seen there. Unlike many of the other sites in the area, Checkers has quite dramatic topography, changing depth over relatively short areas. Here’s a short panorama video I shot at one point during the dive. There weren’t many fish around at this point, but you can see the plate coral and the slope of the reef.

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQe0vUQE8pc&w=540″]

You can also see, right at the end, one way of diving with your main squeeze!

Dive sites (Southern Mozambique): Checkers

There are a lot of reefs around Ponta do Ouro and Ponta Malongane, and it was great to dive two new ones (Checkers and Steve’s Ledge) on our visit there in June-July. I did this dive with Christo and Laurine. Esther and Tony were feeling a bit under the weather with mild colds, so they sat out the first dive of the day on the Thursday of our trip. Checkers is a short boat ride from the launch site at Ponta.

Giant cushion star
Giant cushion star

The first thing I noticed at Checkers was the abundance of plate coral, which is beautiful but requires divers’ buoyancy to be impeccable to avoid crunching it. (It is surprisingly strong, though – on two separate Sodwana trips, owing to poor buoyancy control and body awareness, I have witnessed divers reclining on huge plate corals like overdressed burlesque dancers in giant martini glasses, and the plate corals survived without breaking. The divers almost didn’t, though! Grr!) There are plate (or table) corals of all sizes, some of them growing across gaps in the reef. This provides excellent habitat for marine life.

Soldiers hiding under plate coral
Soldiers hiding under plate coral

The reef has more interesting topography than a place like Doodles, even though it is relatively close to Doodles with no other reef in between. It slopes quite dramatically in some places. Christo suggested swimming back and forth across it in both directions so as to be able to have maximum opportunity to see into all the crevices and under the overhangs. The reef is relatively small and round rather than long, meaning that it’s probably not ideal to dive in a strong current, because doubling back will be tricky.

A porcupinefish on the move
A porcupinefish on the move

There are sand channels running through the reef in places, and as we swam over one of these we were passed by a beautiful porcupinefish with sad eyes, making his way somewhere. He swam right between us without batting an eyelid. I spent quite a lot of time trying to photograph this juvenile batfish, but he was far too busy demarcating his personal space among clouds of other fish under an overhang to turn sideways to the camera.

A juvenile batfish under an overhang
A juvenile batfish under an overhang

This is a great dive site for spotting hidden, interesting animals. There is enough life in the form of schooling fish over the reef to keep divers who don’t like sticking their heads under overhangs busy too! Photographic opportunities abound (despite the evidence I have presented here), but it isn’t possible to get to everything in an ethical manner (i.e. without lying on the reef like a plonker) because of the delicate structure of the coral.

Dive date: 2 July 2015

Air temperature: 21 degrees

Water temperature:  23 degrees

Maximum depth:  16.8 metres

Visibility: 12-15 metres

Dive duration: 57 minutes

Snappers at Creche, Ponta do Ouro (southern Mozambique)

Above the coral reef at Creche, a dive site in southern Mozambique, hang huge and colourful schools of fish. A quiet, calm diver may approach them quite closely. Here’s Tony filming some yellow snapper:

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMhGvv1yp8M&w=540″]

I love this close up of snappers:

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6w_EGQ4lRY&w=540″]

And here’s another school of snappers making shapes in the water:

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvlxlZR6yEI&w=540″]

I find them quite hypnotic!

Newsletter: In the red

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving planned

Variable soft coral by Georgina Jones
Variable soft coral by Georgina Jones

Last Saturday we visited Outer Photographer’s Reef and Fan Reef. The conditions were excellent, with almost top to bottom visibility at Fan Reef, but deteriorated on Sunday. Thank you to Georgina Jones for the above photo, which is in keeping with last week’s orange and purple theme!

Tomorrow a 6.5 metre swell passes by, accompanied by 50 km/h winds. The odds of good diving conditions following that hot mess are slim so I am not planning anything for this weekend.

Shore diving

I have not forgotten about doing a weekend shore dive for folks who are rusty and/or desperate to get in the water, but this weekend isn’t the time for it. I’ll keep those of you who expressed an interest in the loop, and publicise it here and on facebook too.

Keep warm everyone!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Diving in Sodwana

We enjoyed a beautiful few days diving in Sodwana in April. My photos were really poor, but I did take some videos that are marginally better simply because the water was so clean and the surroundings were so lovely. So here is a taste of what it’s like to dive at this wonderful diving destination. All of my dives were done on Two Mile Reef, the most heavily dived part of the Sodwana Reef system.

Here are some of our group of divers at Chain, a site at the southern end of Two Mile reef.

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLNLFp5oXgs&w=540″]

Chain is named after a ship’s anchor chain that (apparently still) lies across it. I have never seen this chain, and word is it’s practically invisible under all the encrustation of marine life by now.

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVxHB4Wy-BE&w=540″]

I had never dived Zambi Alley before this most recent trip to Sodwana. It’s also a site on Two Mile, in the southern part of the reef adjacent to Chain. It’s named for the fact that fishermen used to see Zambezi (bull) sharks swimming up and down the sandy alley here. There aren’t any of those left here any more, but it’s still a beautiful dive site.

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vm2vHxGQsv8&w=540″]

Stringer is one of my favourite dive sites on Two Mile reef. It is a nursery area for juvenile fish, and some lovely elusive specimens can be spotted there with a bit of patience.

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KxTjcsn8lZ0&w=540″]

Another site that was new to me this trip is Garden Route, which we dived more than once because it’s roughly in the middle of Two Mile reef and thus protected from the swell and surge to a certain degree, as well as from sand kicked up by the water movement. The coral here is magnificent.

[youtube=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AO2A0B74vW8&w=540″]

Video (TED): Richard Pyle on exploring the reef’s twilight zone

In this TED talk, self proclaimed “fish nerd” Pyle speaks about his work studying coral reef fish that live in the 100-200 metre depth range. This depth is too deep for scuba, and too shallow for submersibles, so Pyle pioneered the use of rebreathers (he was an early adopter, in 1994) to access this part of the ocean. This is a high risk pursuit, but the diversity and numbers of new species to be discovered here is stunning.

I first heard about Richard Pyle through Monty, who encouraged the readers of his Scuba Culture newsletter to check out an article Pyle wrote about an incident of decompression sickness when he was nineteen. The article is called Confessions of a Mortal Diver: Learning the Hard Way, and Monty is right – you should read it. Pyle actually mentions this incident right at the start of his talk. Watch below:

[ted id=471]

 

Movie: Sphere

Sphere
Sphere

Sphere is a B grade horror/psychological thriller from the late nineties. I remember borrowing the Michael Crichton novel that it is based on from the library as a teenager, and being terrified by it. The book had a cool pale green green cover with a silver sphere on it, and a nice font – I recall these factors influencing my decision to read it at the time.

The mostly excellent main cast play scientists sent to investigate a large, spherical object that the US Navy has discovered lying on the ocean floor, encrusted with 300 years’ worth of coral (deep water coral, one assumes). Samuel L. Jackson plays a mathematician, which makes me happy. The scientists install themselves in an underwater habitat close to the sphere, and try to figure out what the spherical object is. The answer is surprising and, when the scientists think about it, not promising for their future health and happiness. The conclusion of the film is quite intellectually satisfying, if not spectacular.

This isn’t really a horror movie, although it does have a bit of gore and a lot of tension. The wisdom of middle age gave added perspective when Tony and I watched this a few months ago (I forgot to publish this post). At times I was forced to grab Tony’s arm with sweaty palms, but as many times I was able to chortle quietly as a mysterious underwater creatures (squid! jellyfish! sea snakes!) menaced various members of the crew of the underwater habitat. As in Sharknado, it wasn’t hard to see who was going to be eliminated next.

Shakespeare it isn’t. Grab your bowl of popcorn and leave your skepticism at the front door.

Get the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.