Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Jacques Cousteau in a box

The pioneering work of undersea explorer and environmentalist Jacques Cousteau, newly available on DVD, is as fascinating as ever to modern viewers, says Simon Reeve

Jacques Cousteau was the towering figure of marine exploration, a man whose adventures - circling the globe at least 15 times - make my own trips, most recently travelling around the Tropic of Capricorn and the Equator, feel positively mundane by comparison.

Jacques Cousteau
Jacques of all trades: Cousteau

More than anyone else in history, he introduced us to the beautiful and mysterious world beneath the surface of our oceans, co-inventing the Aqualung during the Second World War and then making award-winning films and scores of underwater documentaries for American and global television.

During his long career Cousteau, who died in 1997, was rightly recognised as a pioneer. After his friend and patron Thomas Loel Guinness gave him a former Royal Navy minesweeper in 1951, Cousteau spent nearly five decades sailing the oceans, making Calypso the most famous small boat in the world.

Cousteau turned Calypso into a floating laboratory, complete with a film-editing suite, and aboard it made the first full-length underwater film, the 1956 Oscar-winning epic The Silent World. He published more than 40 books, including a 20-volume encyclopaedia called The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau, and became one of the first global environmental stars, warning that humans were poisoning the planet.

So it is a fascinating treat, and a professional education, to watch the great man's later adventures on a new DVD box set featuring his documentaries on New Zealand, Tahiti, Haiti, Cuba and Cape Horn. He easily holds his own among the best television travellers, but even against the modern brilliance of Planet Earth the films stand up well.

Inevitably there are wobbly shots and dodgy angles. Cousteau had to make do without the full enhancing and grading capabilities of modern editing suites, and as a result much of the underwater footage appears visually dull and lacking in colour. Nevertheless, many of the images are still breathtaking, and rank alongside the finest modern natural history camerawork. The films feel real, genuine, like polished vinyl next to the CD-quality of recent wildlife films.

It is hard to imagine a major US network commissioning these programmes today - and more's the pity. The films have only the briefest of nods to dramatic tension, ponderous scripts, and a small, stooped Frenchman with bad teeth as the central presenter. Cousteau is also old and wise, both traits considered unattractive in our youth-obsessed world.

But Cousteau understood his medium and recognised the need for gimmickry. He used all manner of gadgets in his films, kept a red woollen hat on his head at a jaunty angle, and forced his crew to wear eye-catching silvery diving outfits underwater. They look like a cross between Flash Gordon and Woody Allen in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex.

Since Cousteau's death in 1997, his legacy has taken a few knocks. Allegations of anti-Semitism and mistreatment of wildlife during his early films have dented his reputation. But claims by bitter relatives that he was overly ambitious and arrogant, repeated in endless press profiles, cannot obscure the man's extraordinary achievements or the value of his timeless films.

As a documentary-maker, I particularly admire the fact that Cousteau does not commit the grave sin of focusing exclusively on glossy wildlife footage without giving the surrounding context.

For decades, even the finest natural history filmmakers have made wonderful films about concentrated groups of creatures living in small patches of wilderness, while ignoring surrounding deforestation and framing their shots to exclude the tourist coach party on safari. So we have watched in awe, but without learning of threats to the creature or the reality of their sanctuary.

Cousteau was approaching the end of his career when he made the films featured in this box set, and his formula had evolved. Less than half of the episode about Haiti is set underwater; the rest of the programme is an exploration of Haiti and an explanation of how precious land and marine resources have been systematically devastated.

In Cuba, Cousteau chats with Fidel Castro in various locations, and the footage is woven through the film. The US base at Guantanamo Bay even makes an appearance, with Cousteau questioning the base commander about whether a US presence on the island "whoo-milliates Cuba".

Viewers young and old who would never normally watch anything on Caribbean politics are gently introduced to issues that still resonate today, more than 20 years later.

In some small way, this is what the BBC and I have tried to do with our series Tropic of Capricorn. My latest adventure, following the southern border of the tropics, is an attempt to introduce television viewers to the delights and tragedies of obscure parts of the world.

Cousteau remains the master of the craft. His enthusiasm is contagious. I have long been happy on the ocean surface, sinking no further than the limitations of snorkelling allow. But after several hours watching Cousteau and his crew exploring the great blue depths, I will now be swapping my snorkel for a scuba tank, and learning how to dive.

  • Simon Reeve presents Tropic of Capricorn on BBC2, Sunday nights at 8pm, repeated on Thursday nights at 11.20pm. His accompanying book, Tropic of Capricorn, is published by BBC Books. Jacques Cousteau: New Zealand, Tahiti, Cuba & Cape Horn, the DVD box set, is released on March 10

Monday, 24 March 2008

Nudibranchs and Sea Snails

A beautiful book containing over 1020 color photos, depicting gastropods from the West Coast of the US to the Red Sea to South Africa.

Half of the book is devoted to gastropods with shells and half of the book concerned with those without shells(nudibranchs) all live and in their natural habitat. There is nothing so brightly colored as a nudibranch and to see one "swim" is pure joy. A must have for divers, aquarists and those who love nature.

Although there is some animals misidentified I find it still a good field guide and should be well received by anyone who appreciates beauty.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

CORAL Publishes Marine Recreation Standards

Sustainable Marine Tourism StandardsCORAL publishes first ever regional standards for diving, snorkeling and boating activities.

In areas of high volume tourism, repeated direct contact with the reef poses an immediate threat. Hundreds of boat groundings and hundreds of thousands of tourist interactions each year reduce sections of coral reef to rubble. Human contact also reduces coral’s resilience to other stressors such as rising sea temperatures and diseases.

CORAL's "Voluntary Standards for Marine Recreation in the Mesoamerican Reef System" (PDF 668 KB) provides detailed requirements for environmentally friendly and safety conscious marine tourism businesses in the areas of diving, snorkeling, and boating and can be used by a variety of different groups such as:

  • Concerned tourists to help them choose sustainable and safe marine excursions
  • Marine Tourism Businesses to evaluate their own practices
  • Non Governmental Organizations and Governments as a basis for creating standards in their area
  • Bulk purchasers such as cruise ships to select sustainable and safe business partners
Download your copy of the "Voluntary Standards for Marine Recreation in the Mesoamerican Reef System" (PDF 668 KB)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

FVB Dive ME Guide

Look at the FVB Dive ME Guide here:
Here you will find an "e-brochure" about Fiji diving and it's awesome!

“Any country with coral reefs like this has a national treasure that should be protected. Fiji is on of the lucky countries.”
Roger Steene: Author, photographer and marine naturalist.

“We dropped into the blue and descended to a sandy ledge at 100ft where a hammerhead shark was sighted. Schools of barracuda and jack inhabit the channel where a large coral pinnacle is washed by 100ft plus visibility. From bottom to top there were intense pockets of filter feeders: crinoids, giant gorgonian fans, black coral, and massive soft coral trees. The diving is timed to hit enough current to engorge the soft corals and cluster the fish together. That’s what makes these reefs so vibrant and alive.”
Stephen Frink: professional underwater photographer.

Monday, 10 March 2008

New Book! A Diver's Guide to the Art of Underwater Photography

FiNS Magazine Associate Editors Andrea and Antonella Ferrari have just released a new book titled The Art of Underwater Photography. The book showcases first-rate underwater images from the Ferraris and contributors around the world, as well as setting out the Ferrari’s personal philosophy of the art behind creating outstanding marine images...

The book offers eight very enjoyable chapters covering topics such as motivation, equipment, technique, mindframe, artistic and media influences, housings, strobes, macro, wide angle, portraits, topside dive integral photography and much much more.

The illustrations are spectacular and also include the works of world class photographers such as: Doug Perrine, Charles Hood, John Scarlett, Alex Mustard, Eric Cheng, Tony Wu, Stephen Wong, Takako Uno and many more. There are over 300 amazing photographs and each is extensively captioned explaining the technique used, the equipment, location, creative goal and more.

About the Ferraris

Andrea (born 1957) and Antonella (born 1960) Ferrari have been happily married since 1986 and have no children. He is a movie journalist and film critic by profession and she works in the same publishing company as a technical printing advisor.

They live in the cold, foggy countryside south of Milan, Italy, in an old and beautifully restored farm going back to the eighteenth century, with their beloved third English Bull Terrier (yes, they're addicted to that lovely breed!), which comes by the name of Undaunted (he's Scottish) but has been rechristened Glen (he likes it better). They share a true love of nature and of course are just crazy about diving and the sea.

After having published two major photographic books on land wildlife in the early '90s (Wild Edens and Venezuela - In the Kingdom of the Jaguar) they finally turned their attention to underwater marine biology and photography.

Andrea and Antonella Ferrari have published several ground-breaking and very successful photographic books and hundreds of magazine articles on travel and marine life.

Their books - published in Italy, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, Great Britain, Malaysia, the Unites States of America and Japan - include Malaysia Diving Guide (1997) Malaysia - An Underwater Paradise (1998), Layang Layang - The Island of Dreams Come True (1998), Top Nature and Dive Resorts of Borneo (2001), Reef Life (1999), Sharks (2000, with a foreword by Doug Perrine and contributions by Valerie Taylor, Marty Snyderman and Howard Hall), A Diver's Guide to Underwater Malaysia Macrolife (2003) and the spectacular coffee-table photographic volume Oceani Segreti (2004), which has been awarded the prestigious World Grand Prize at the Underwater Image Festival at Antibes.

Andrea and Antonella have also recently been honored as associate editors of Singapore-based FiNS dive magazine, on which they author a regular column on underwater critters.

To learn more and/or order the book visit:

Source: FINS

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Digital Camera Questions

Digital Camera Questions

By Ikelite

Many of the digital cameras require the strobe setting to be in a special position with just the 'lightning bolt' symbol showing in the window to activate the flash consistently. 'Auto Flash' settings may leave the camera to decide if the light level is low enough to require flash, resulting in no fill flash in your pictures. Read the camera instruction manual for correct information pertaining to your camera. This special position may be referred to as 'Internal Flash Active', 'Flash On', 'Forced' or 'Fill Flash' in the instructions."

More here at Ikelite Digital Camera Questions

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Fabulous Fiji

Fabulous Fiji

"Ready for an exotic diving trip? Planning your next getaway and can't decide where to spend those hard-earned dollars? Let's go down under to experience the kaleidoscope of colorful scenery in Fiji's teeming underwater world.

Begin the day in a swimsuit, grab a quick cup of coffee, then slip on a wetsuit (usually still damp from the previous day's activity), and load pounds of gear onto your body. Air tank on, mask in place, you take a giant stride off the stern platform of the dive boat. It's such a relief to be in the water again; all the heavy gear becomes lighter as you slowly descend through the clear, warm water. Drifting down, you look around for any chance encounters with cruising sharks or manta rays. Once at the bottom or agreed-upon depth, you establish your buoyancy control and check in with your dive buddy that everything is OK.

If this is your first peek into tropical Pacific waters you won't believe the color and profusion of marine life. Fiji's reefs are some of the most diverse and untouched in"

Fabulous Fiji