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).

Best of the Maldives: Leaf Fish – Ayada

When you first start diving, the big bold animals are the most alluring – sleek sharks, hovering turtles, soaring mantas. Over time, you start to get more enchanted by the more elusive creatures – tiny nudibranchs, camouflaged stone fish, hidden octopi. The dive becomes more of a treasure hunt than a safari.

One of the classic, masters of disguise is the leaf fish. If your bucket list includes one of these elusive creatures, then one treasure map is provide by Alexander Von Mende who points us to Mafzoo Giri in the Gaafu Alifu atoll:  “You will find a large coral block at around 15m that hosts no less than six residing leaf fish behind a dizzying wall of glass fish.” And if you want the most convenient access, the closest resort is Ayada.

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!

Best of the Maldives: Equatorial Cruise – Outrigger Konotta

Outrigger Konotta - equatorial cruise

For a deeper ocean experience, you can visit one of the most famous lines in the world – the Equator. Visitors to Gan get a certificate for flying over it, but visitors to Outrigger Konotta can take an excursion to swim right in it (and get a certificate)…

  • “Equator Cruise is a specialty cruise unique to Outrigger Konotta Maldives and lies its roots deep within the folklore history of Maldivian culture and traditions. It is a long cruise that begins with a wonderful on-cruise breakfast while the guests are on the way to the equator line. The hosts will be giving a brief history and briefing about the equator and historical stories related to Maldives. Upon arrival to the location, guests are required to change costumes to Local sarong, with Traditional fisherman Hat or Handmade Coconut palm leaves hat and Necklaces of tree root with corals or shells. The captain or main host will then make the announcement and will have a stick referred to as “King Neptune Pole stick.” The yacht will then put a balloon on the equator line. All guest will be instructed to go to the back of the yacht and say King of sea, Neptune..please let me cross your world and then jump. The guests will then need to swim 5 meters to cross the line. Lunch will be served on the way back to the resort where our GM and senior management will be waiting at the jetty to receive the guests and present them with certificates of participation. A group photo will be taken and framed to give to the participating guests upon departure.”

That really crosses the line!

Outrigger Konotta - equatorial cruise 2

Outrigger Konotta - equatorial cruise 3

Best of the Maldives: Eels – Maafushivaru

Zebra eel - Kurumba

Probably second to the sharks for looking fearsome and scary are the ubiquitous Maldive morays. The snake-like giant morays are everywhere, but like the sharks are pretty apprehensive creatures and prefer to stay tucked safely in some rock crevice with just their ominous mouth protruding. Often the teeth filled mouth is moving looking like it is practicing biting you (but it’s really just breathing). Occasionally, you will come across the more colourful Honeycomb variety. One snorkel, Lori even came across this baby (about 8 inches long) Zebra moray (see photo above) on the Kurumba house reef.

But we learned about the more extensive diversity of the Moray (or Muraenidae) family of eels during our visit to Maafushivaru. The Marine Biologist Nev held regular night snorkelings so you can see them when they are most active. You go out as sunset when there is still light and then watch the reef get darker as you bring out your torch to spotlight the nocturnal goings on. They have spotted the following morays on the house reef…

  • Giant moray
  • Yellow Margin moray (mostly at night)
  • Zebra moray (mostly at night)
  • Undulate moray
  • Honeycomb moray
  • Clouded moray
  • Peppered moray
  • White mouth moray

The house reef also features other eels as well including snake eels and cloudy eels.

We also learned that “Honeycomb Moray”, “Leopard Moray” and “Tessellate Moray” and “Laced Moray” are all monikers for the same species, Gymnothorax favagineus.

When you’re at the Maldives with lots of eels in the sea, that’s a moray.  When you’re at Maafushivaru and the eels are in view, that’s a moray…” ♫♪

Best of the Maldives: Longest Reef – Alimatha

Alimatha - Fottheyo longest reef

While the Maldives might have limited links land above sealevel, it’s undersea world is an expansive wonderland. And the most expansive of them all is the Fottheyo reef in the Vaavu atoll

We all know that Australia has the Greatest Barrier Reef in the World, but how many of you know, which one is the Greatest One in Maldives in terms of square kilometres?! The biggest one is Fottheyo Reef in Vaavu, with its 68 SQ KM.”

Great QI challenge by Paola.

Best of the Maldives: Albino Moray – JA Manafaru

JA Manafaru - albino moray

 

Today’s creature feature was brought to our attention during our visit to JA Manafaru and stopping by the Sun Diving centre there. They were exceptionally helpful orienting me to the dive sites in the surrounding Haa Alifu atoll and helping to fill out the dive site database with info and material.

The dive centre manage alerted us to many wonderful sites (as well as the scourge of Crown of Thorn Starfish hitting many Haa Alifu reefs), but none so colourful as the colourless Albino Moray at Kurolhi Thila. You will have to be a bit of a mini-Ahab to spot this white wonder as it moves around a bit, but it is regularly spotted (that is, seen not complexion). But it never moves from the thila and has been seen there for years.

Today’s feature was inspired by the second consecutive “Bad Pun Monday” (and, in fact, prompting me to add a new Category tag “Bad Puns”).

Wait for it…

Smile 

 

Bad Pun - Moray

QI – Part Sex

Ribbon eel

On the reef, there is not only competition for living space, but a continual contest…it’s the arms race between them that…has produced today’s extraordinary diversity of form.” – David Attenborough, Blue Planet

Q: What small creature lives in a colony, has a “queen” who is the only one to lay eggs and others are specialized to perform particular tasks?
A: Bees?
Q: Buzzzzzz – Wrong. Sponge Shrimp. The piece below from BBC’s extraordinary “Blue Planet” provides a glimpse into the hive of activity for these underwater eusocialites.

This week, the crackerjack of the counterintuitive, Steve Fry, has announced his plans to step down from his iconic BBC series, QI. He will be replaced by a new queen bee/shrimp, Sandi Toksvig. This post here is the 6th instalment of the Maldives Complete’s special tribute “Maldives QI”. And the Latin word for “six” has provided this inspiration for today’s reef reproductive repartee.

Q: What gender is a black Ribbon Eel?
A: Male?
Q: Buzzzzz – Wrong.
A: Female?
Q: Buzzzz – Wrong.
A: ???
Q: Actually, black Ribbon Eels are juvenile and at that stage of their development, they have no gender. They are believed to be “protandric hermaphrodites” which is a creature which both male and female organs. But the juvenile has neither. It is only when it matures that it first becomes a male of the species. One could say that it literally “grows a pair”. You can distinguish male Ribbon Eels by their blue colouring (see above). But not for too long because as it matures even further, then it becomes a female of the species and changes colour once again to yellow. So at least in the Ribbon Eel world, the females are definitively the most mature beings of the species.

“Part Sex” is particularly fitting for the lead photo above where the tinges of yellow on the head indicate that this ribbon eel has started his/her/its transgender operation.

 

Blue Planet - Social Shrimps

Best of the Maldives: Marine Biologist – Verena Wiesbauer

Verena Weisbauer

When I first started coming to the Maldives, a few marine biologists kicked around the atolls usually on their own initiative maybe working on some research project. Now, every self-respecting top-fight resort has its own staff “MB” to provide presentations to guests, offer expert tours of the marine life on outings and also to support the resort’s eco-friendly initiatives to keep the reef and island healthy and vibrant.

I’ve meet dozens at this point, but one really stands out – Verena Wiesbauer. We first met her when he gave one of the best presentations on Maldives marine life at Kurumba a number of years ago. . She works as part of the “Eco-Islanders Maldives” organisation that helps resorts with a number of environmentally friendly initiatives especially around reef preservation. She’s the only Maldives MB I know of who is a published author on the Maldives. I’ve already featured her book, “Trees and Flowers of a Tropical Paradise” in one of the “QI – Maldives edition” series posts. In fact, she is a veritable “Maldives QI Elf” being by far the most prominent contributor to the quirky facts of that Maldives Complete series of posts.

In fact, in general, she is the most active MB contributor to Maldives Complete. She is always promptly responsive to questions I have and regularly offers up fun and useful information. Of course, she came into her own when I launched the “Dive Site Complete” feature. I have received material and information from many MBs across the country, but Verena has provided more support and material than everyone else combined (including the comprehensive list of the MPAs).

Best of the Maldives: Zebra Shark – Gangehi

Gangehi - Zebra shark

Shark Week!

The Discovery Channel’s annual Selachii celebration of these always intriguing ocean characters. In the Maldives, every week is Shark Week especially for the ubiquitous reef sharks (black-tipped and white-tipped). But the waters also are home to some more exotic varieties. One of these is the Zebra Shark. Native to the Indian Ocean, but nonetheless quite uncommon on the Maldives reefs. The best place to spot on is Gangehi resort where several have been spotted (pun intended) with considerable frequency. They are quite similar to the Nurse Sharks with their long caudal fin at back and their lazy daytime habits on the seafloor, but they are distinguished by their many spots along their back.

In honour of Shark Week, I have added the new “Shark” category tag to Maldives Complete so you have your own Maldivian virtual shark extravaganza any time you like.