Putting Ocean Warming into Perspective

Ocean temp 1

Few places provide the perspective the Earth’s vastness as effectively as standing on the seashore and gazing out on the vast expanse of the ocean. The level horizon provides an uninterrupted vista of the planet allowing the view to extend miles and miles (well, 3 miles about). A dip into this immensity adds the dimension of depth as you realise that this body of water plummets to fathoms below. In fact, the lowest point down in the ocean (Challenger Deep 36,200 feet) is deeper than the highest point up on land (Mount Everest 29,029 feet).

This immensity cloaks the blue planet in not just an aquatic wonderland, the birthplace of life and countless resources, but it regulates the world’s climate significantly. It absorbs and releases heat and water constantly. And with the inexorable release of Anthropocene carbon into the atmosphere and the consequential inching up of average temperatures, the oceans are doing their bit to absorb both.

The problem is that when the oceans absorbs carbon it makes the seawater more acidic which makes it less hospitable for a lot of its creatures. Also, when it absorbs the heat, it raises the water temperature which makes it less hospitable for the one of the pillars of the marine food chain – the coral reefs. The result is the widely reported bleaching and dying of the reefs. Over the two decades we have been visiting the Maldives, we have applauded the destination growing in many exciting ways, but each year (especially recently) we despair at the painful shrinking of the living coral primarily due to the warming sea temperatures.

In the Maldives, the reefs are not just foundation to the ecosystem, but the entirety of the county’s very being. As such, the country has been on the vanguard of campaigning for eco-sustainability and cutting carbon emissions. With the global prominence of Time’s Person of the Year Greta Thunberg and the impassioned television series by famed naturalist David Attenborough “Life on Our Planet”, the scale of carbon impact is getting a higher profile than ever.

But just how big is the impact right now? Forget all of the controversial models and forecasts. Forget the graphs showing tonnes of carbon emitted (as few of us are chemistry experts to know what all that carbon really means). Let’s just look at the actual, observed real world impact today of that carbon and climate change with a easily obtained and verified measurement – the temperature of the ocean.

I’ve happened upon a couple of illustrations of ocean temperature increase recently which prompted this post. The first from the Futurism website noted that

  • After analyzing data from the 1950s through 2019, an international team of scientists determined that the average temperature of the world’s oceans in 2019 was 0.075 degrees Celsius (.135 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than the 1981–2010 average…The amount of heat we have put in the world’s oceans in the past 25 years equals to 3.6 billion Hiroshima atom-bomb explosions. That averages out to four Hiroshima bombs’ worth of energy entering the oceans every second for the past 25 years. But even more troubling, the rate isn’t holding steady at that alarming figure — it’s increasing.”

But a possibly even more dramatic number and comparison is the simple quantification of the energy that the ocean has absorbed – an accelerating at average of 10 zetta-joules per year(and last year was over 200 zetta-joules added). ZETTA joules. You don’t know what that is? Not surprising since it is such a big number there really aren’t many things in the universe to apply it to. A “zetta” is “10^21” (1 with 21 zeros after it).

What To Do with a Male Layover?

Maldives lay over

One of the most frequently asked questions that I get is not about “visiting” the Maldives, but “passing through”. There are two major groups of these stopovers

  • Flight layovers
  • Cruise stops

What you can do is very dependent on how much time you have. The more time, the further down the list of alternatives below you can go…

  • MALE AIRPORT (more than 1 hour) – Velana airport has a number of things to do itself including eateries, lounges and spa treatments:
    • Moonima Spa (domestic terminal): Really fine little facility and all things considered a reasonable value for a range of packages it offered.
    • Hulhule Island Hotel (5 minute walk): Pool use fee and restaurant with elevated ocean view.
  • MALE VISITS (more than 2 hours) – With the opening of the new bridge, getting over to the capital city of Male is easier than ever (no more ferries needed), but you still require a shuttle or taxi ride over and the extra logistics will require having a bit of time on hand. Here’s my report when I made a day visit there.
  • HULHUMALE VISITS (more than 3 hours) – Adjacent to the Male airport island of Humale is the newly created and developed island of Hulhumale. It also takes either a taxi or bus ride of about 15 minutes so requires a bit more time available to get over there, but it includes lots of new restaurants, public beaches, shopping and provides a taste of modern Maldivian city life not quite so bustling as Male itself.
  • MALE EXCURSIONS (more than 4 hours) – A number of companies offer trips and excursions around the Male area based out of Male, but again, the duration and logistics required would mean having even more time on hand). The best place to start looking into excursions from the Male area is the TripAdvisor “Things To Do” list which includes comprehensive details and often useful reviews.
  • DAY VISIT RESORT (more than 5 hours) – A number of properties in the Male area do allow day visitors which enable you to see one of the legendary “drops of sand in the middle of the ocean” resorts in person and sample some of their trademark activities like snorkelling their house reef or enjoying their manicured beaches. However, these day passes typically entail a not cheap fee. Hulhumale Tours and Excursions features specific packages for visiting local resort islands (they also offer their other excursions for visits to local islands, diving and waters sports) which is a pretty comprehensive list of near-to-Male resorts that offer this service:
    • Adaaran Club Rannalhi
    • Adaaran Hudhuranfushi
    • Adaaran Prestige Vadoo
    • Centara Ras Fushi
    • Cinnamon Dhonveli
    • Club Med Kani
    • Fihalhohi
    • Malahini Kuda Bandos
    • Summer Island

Other islands which have featured day passes in the past or are reported to offer such visits (always best to contact the resort to confirm their current policy and protocol) include:

    • Bandos
    • Crossroads
    • Embudu
    • Paradise Island

Secret Paradise also offers a range of excursions including snorkel trips which I have featured previously.

QI: What Exactly Is It??

Q: What are those things swimming around the reef?
A: Fish?
Q: Buzzzz…there’s actually no such thing as a fish.

That’s the conclusion of eminent natural historian Steve J. Gould (small world coincidence – Lori sang in the same choir as him years ago). There are all sorts of creatures dubbed “fish” and yet they all exist on all different branches of the species taxonomy – jellyfish, cuttlefish, crayfish, shellfish starfish. There is no one Order or Genus that contains all or even the vast majority of species that people popularly refer to a “fish”. As a Telegraph piece describes: “Unlike mammals and birds, not all the creatures we call fish today descend from the same common ancestor. Or put another way, if we go back to most recent common ancestor of everything we now call fish (including the incredibly primitive lungfish and hagfish), we find that they also were the ancestor of all four-legged land vertebrates, which obviously aren’t fish at all.” (at least in the Maldives you can be pretty sure that the “fish” you are dining on is actually the fish they say you are eating which is not always the case elsewhere).

On a similar note, Bird and Moon flippantly points out another aquatic “Animal With a Misleading Name” – the Peacock Mantis Shrimp. They look like a walking lobster tail where the claws and long legs have been removed (but they’re not even Lobsters either). Mantis Shrimp are their own distinct order of “Stomatopods” (which falls under the Subphylum of Crustaceans). But their mendacious moniker isn’t the only curiosity of this colourful creature. In fact, the Oatmeal, illustrated a complete portrait of the bizarre life of the mantis shrimp (“my new favourite animal”) with such factoids as and they can move their limbs so quickly they can supercavitate the water (like boiling it), they can accelerate as fast as a bullet, their limbs are so resilient that the cell structure has been studied for the development of combat body armour, they can’t be kept in aquariums because they tend to break the aquarium’s glass.

Peacock Mantis Shrimp

Mantis Shrimp nightmare

Maldives Tour 2019: Maldives Weather in July

July Maldives weather

Per ritual, we checked the weather.com forecast for the Maldives the week before we departed. We tend to visit in July and pretty much the standard forecast is “Thunderstorms” EVERY day. But this time, several of the days showed the graphic above – pretty much a perfect depiction of Maldives weather in July. It combines in a single JPEG rain, cloud, thunder, sun. It’s basically the meteorological equivalent of saying “hell if we have a clue?!?”

One would think this profusion of thunderstorm forecasts would spark trepidation for our keenly anticipated trip to the tropical sun. It certainly does for a number of TripAdvisor Maldives Forum posters who fear their trip of a lifetime is going to be spoiled when they see these predictions. But, as I have described numerous times, you have to know how to interpret these forecasts.

When it says “Thunderstorms”, it doesn’t mean that thunder and lightning will be raining down on you from dawn till dusk. In fact, in many cases, the predicted storms hit at night when you are tucked comfily in your cozy villa and when you wake the sun is breaking through the clouds to dry up the puddles littering the sand-scape. The thing is that most of these storms come in quite isolated “little black rain clouds” (as Winnie the Pooh would say). Sometimes we entertain ourselves sipping cocktails and watching these storms approach our island and placing bets as to if it will hit us. It gets closer and closer with the sheets of rain becoming more and more visible. Sometimes it just bypasses us completely. Other times, it hits us full on and we scamper for cover while it passes over for a few minutes.

The video below is a classic example of one of these isolated “showers” we filmed at Faarufushi. We had just emerged from snorkelling (so a bit damp already) and the heavens just opened up on us. Strangely, the day was quite sunny and when you looked all around you saw plenty of blue sky. It’s just that one particularly sodden cloud decided to dump its precipitation on us then and there.

As I was flying amidst these mid-summer clouds themselves, I perused the Trans Maldivian Airways Magazine “Island Skies” piece from Eleonora Fiorini titled “It’s Always the Right Time to Visit the Maldives”. He starts off noting himself “Bruno’s father used to visit the Maldives islands every year for a month in July, and every time, he never had more than just a handful of consecutive days of rain.” The article goes on to look at Bruno’s meteorological study of the area explaining why Maldives weather is “basically nice all year round”. ]

First of all he noted that the Maldivian weather is, by definition, unstable saying “The climate at the Equator is like a boiling pot, and you have to guess where the next bubble will come up” (and micro”storms” like the shower in the video below is a perfect example of a little bubble of weather).

  • Constant Low Atmospheric Pressure – “first index of weather instability
  • Surrounded by Hot Water and Humidity – “it is enough that the atmospheric pressure drops slightly for the air around to raise enormous quantities of moisture from the ocean, dragging them into the atmosphere where they quickly condense generating clouds and downpours in a short time.”

But what the equatorial conditions do to volatility, they also do to moderation:

  • No Coriolis Effect – “…Which allows huge amounts of energy to be stored in the atmosphere, no hurricane can occur in the Maldives, and bad weather doesn’t last long.”
  • Low Moisture Accumulation – “The atmosphere is not able to accumulate amounts of energy so the bad weather episodes cannot last weeks as in other parts of the world.”
  • Highly Localisation – “If it is raining on our island, chances are that the sun shines brightly on a island located two sand banks south

Fantastic Underwater Beasts

Unusual creatures 3

…and you will find them in amongst the vibrant and varied marine life of the Maldives! Snorkeling and diving has long been one of the great appeals to this aquatic wonderland. Triggerfish, reef sharks and wrasses are ubiquitous, but some species are much more elusive. After 20 years of visiting the Maldives staying at over 90 resorts, we have yet to see a whale shark. Sad smile Mind you, I would be just as happy if I spotted one of these rare creatures in my underwater meanderings…

  1. ZEBRA BAT FISH – Swimming in schools, their stripes confuse the predatory Lion Fish (above).
  2. LACCADIVE CROCODILE – Distant relative to the African variety thought to have migrated from Madagascar (below).
  3. SEA-REX – A living fossil as ancient as the Megalodons that prowled these waters millions of years ago (bottom).

Unusual creatures 1

Unusual creatures 2

The Curious Octopus

Octopus 1

The octopus’ abilities seem downright otherworldly. In fact, a number of scientists writing in the Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology have proposed literally that octopuses come from another planet through a process called “panspermia” where “microbes, viruses and even tiny life forms like the tardigrade might travel dormant from space rock to space rock via collisions, eventually making their way to new planets” (though the consensus in the marine biology community is that such a conjecture is “fanciful”).

But sometimes truth is stranger than fiction and the actual mechanism for many of the octopus’ extraordinary capabilities has to do with maybe its strangest trick of all – changing its own genetic material. Scientific American’s article “Curiouser and Curiouser–Octopus’s Evolution Is Even Stranger Than Thought” described the bizarre genetic sleight of hand of the octopus…

  • “These aquarium oddities can modify the proteins found in their bodies without having to change the basic sequence of their DNA blueprint…The new paper reports on a process called ‘RNA editing,’ which involves enzymes swapping out one RNA base (or nitrogen-based “letter” in the RNA/DNA alphabet) for another, presumably in the interest of an organism adapting to its environment. RNA editing is rarely employed in most animals…’No one knows why cephalopods are so keen on RNA editing. Perhaps it is a faster, easier way to adapt to their environment than waiting for a random mutation to occur. Or maybe it better suits their relatively short life spans. Cephalopods grow up fast and die young . Most live only for a few years and they only breed once. Ragsdale feels RNA editing may help them navigate what are often lonesome, fleeting lives. ‘This may explain why they’re such good problem solvers. No one’s around to show them how to figure out the world!’ Ragsdale says, ‘How to make their dens. How to camouflage themselves and attack prey. They’re on their own, and fortunately for them they have big brains and can sort matters out’.”

For a stunning example of self-camouflage, beyond the colour and even texture changing trickery of their skin, check out Blue Planet’s piece on their sub-aquatic sartorial skills…

Cute Li’l Fish Day

Octopus brain

The octopus’ Cephalopod cousin, the cuttlefish, is no less intriguing. Itself a clever chappie, they have one of the highest proportions of brain size to body size of all invertebrates. But all the more crazy is that the brain itself is shaped like a donut (a bit of a messed up donut) and the esophagus passes straight through the hole.  They must really get serious brain freeze when they eat ice cream too fast!

QI 14

Octopus coconut shell

  • Q: What colour is the blood of an octopus?
  • A: Red?
  • Q: Buzzzz…no blue.
  • Q: How many hearts does an octopus have?
  • A: Ah, you said “hearts” so it must be 2!
  • Q: Buzzzz…no, they actually have 3.
  • Q: What does the octopus have 8 of that as inspired technological innovations?
  • A: Legs?
  • Q: Buzzz…8 layers of films that make up their cornea – used in camera technology to reduce the number of lens so reducing costs of cameras
  • Q: Give me an incorrect version of the plural for “octopus”.
  • A: “Octopuses”?
  • Q: Buzzzz. Actually “octopuses” is perfectly acceptable English. You can also refer to them as “octopedes”

Octopus Day today. One of our favourite things to see underwater. And yet so elusive. We never see enough of them (although we did have fun encounter on the Olhuveli house reef this summer with the creature in question playing hide-and-seek with us changing his skin texture and colour with every new hiding place her moved to).

If you think the fun facts above are intriguing (thanks Isley), you ain’t seen nothing until you read about the Pillow Octopus…

  • Female pillow octopus is 40,000 times larger than the male.  Equivalent of a male human dating a woman 4 times larger than the Statue of Liberty
  • For a male pillow octopus to “pull one off” is actually more literal than colloquial.  Hectocautilus – arm that contains sperm.  Gets broken off and then they die within a year. Only reproduce once. (Female dies after reproducing too)
  • Pillow Octopus are known to rip of tentacles of a portugese man-o-war (built up resistance to poison) and use them as swords.  Some octopuses have learned to open jars (where their food was kept)

Octopi are clever creatures.  They have personality and have been observed playing, problem solving, learning.  In fact, some octopus use coconut shell halves as a portable home (see photo at top). 

Octopus’s garden in the sea is a curious place indeed.

Maldives QI – Part (Unlucky) 13

Falling coconut warning

Q: What living thing is most likely to kill you in the Maldives?
A: A shark?
Q: Buzzzz! Actually, there are not recorded incidents of shark attacks at all in the Maldives.

The real answer is likely to be the innocent coconut. And today being Coconut Day is an appropriate time to investigate the treacherous hazards of the humble coconut. Exhibit A is the ABC News article “Coconuts Called Deadlier Than Sharks”…

  • “George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville, Fla…pointed to recent data that suggested people were 15 times more likely to be killed by falling coconuts than by a shark. “

As it turns out, many resorts have staff who regularly harvest coconuts from the trees. I always thought that this was to get refreshing treats for the guests, but speaking to a manager this past trip I found out that their primary motivation is to reduce the risk of ripe ones falling and hitting guests.