my octopus teacher documentary

‘My Octopus Teacher’ Wins the Oscar for Best Documentary

South African nature documentary, ‘My Octopus Teacher’ has won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature at the 93rd Academy Awards, an event that honored the best films of 2020 and early 2021.

The Netflix documentary follows the heartwarming story of a diver – filmmaker and naturalist Craig Foster –  who befriends a friendly octopus in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean in False Bay, South Africa. It is a superb example of beautiful cinematography and offers a unique view of how life is like for the octopuses, these aquatic masters of camouflage.

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uss johnston, WWII destroyer mapped and filmed

World’s Deepest Wreck Finally Surveyed

More than 76 years ago, a U.S. Navy destroyer was sunk while attempting to protect an American landing force in the Philippines from multiple Japanese warships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. The vessel remained undisturbed on the seabed in the Pacific Ocean since 1944 and has only recently been mapped and filmed.

The Fletcher-class destroyer was first discovered in 2019, but its identity remained unconfirmed. Now, thanks to imagery from the undersea technology company Caladan Oceanic, researchers could identify the ship by its hull number, 557. The number was clearly visible on both sides of its bow and corresponded to a warship that was lost at the Battle off Samar.

The ship, named USS Johnston, lies at a depth of 6,500 meters (21,180 feet) in the Philippine Sea. It is about 60 percent deeper in water than the famous RMS Titanic. The lack of oxygen at such great depths helped keep the ship in nearly perfect condition.

Victor Vescovo, owner of Caladan Oceanic and undersea explorer, said: “The wreck is so deep so there’s very little oxygen down there, and while there is a little bit of contamination from marine life, it’s remarkably well intact except for the damage it took from the furious fight.”

What is known is that the USS Johnston was heavily outnumbered by the Japanese fleet. Despite this, the ship showed remarkable courage under such heavy fire. According to the expedition team, the position of the gun turrets seems to point to the fact that they were continuing to fire as the ship went down. Of the crew of 327, only 141 survived. The team laid wreaths before and after the exploratory dives.

The Johnston was captained by Commander Ernest Edwin Evans, of Native American ancestry. Despite having been seriously wounded in the battle, Evans fought bravely until the very end. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the first Native American in the U.S. Navy to be awarded this military honor, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command. He was one of only two destroyer captains in WWII to receive the award.

The expedition to the USS Johnston’s wreck site was conducted via Limiting Factor, Vescovo’s manned deep submersible, which has previously been to the deepest point in all five oceans. The sonar data, imagery, and notes taken during the dives have been turned over to the U.S. Navy for further research. The team of undersea explorers is now working with naval historians to shed more light on the WWII battle.

red wide bodied pipefish, among the top marine species discovered in 2020

Top 10 Marine Species Discovered in 2020

About 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is water-covered. The planet has one global ocean that has been divided into distinct geographic regions. Only 20 percent of it is visible to us. Scientists say that 80 percent of the ocean has never been mapped, explored, or even seen by humans. There’s still so much to learn about what it holds.

The World Register of Marine Species is a comprehensive database managed by hundreds of scientists worldwide. About 2,000 marine species are discovered every year and entered into the register. Earlier this month, researchers contributing to the World Register of Marine Species released their list of 10 favorite marine species that were discovered in 2020.

Without any further ado, here are the fascinating species humans have only recently found and described:

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underwater museum of cannes

Cannes Opened Its First Underwater Museum

Resembling something like the modern versions of the ancient moai figures of Easter Island, six stone faces now welcome divers eager to explore the underwater world off the French resort town of Cannes. This is the first project of this kind in the area, and who else to contribute to this remarkable museum than the renowned British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor.

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black sam bellamy and his crew

Pirate Bones Found on 18th-century Shipwreck off Cape Cod

The remains of at least six pirates were discovered in a 300-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Cape Cod, announced the Whydah Pirate Museum in West Yarmouth. Along with the human skeletons, the investigative team from the museum came across several artifacts, including small gold bars and silver coins.

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oil rig at sunset

Rigs-to-Reefs: Could Old Oil Rigs Help Save Marine Life?

Thousands of oil rigs pierce the surface of the water throughout the world. Some are still functional and drilling for oil, while others have been abandoned or partially removed. Oil rigs may not look like much above the surface, but underwater they provide some amazing photographic opportunities. These massive metal structures provide habitat to an abundance of marine life, which is also part of the reason why oil rigs have become such popular destinations for scuba divers in search of something else than natural reefs.

The Need for Artificial Reefs

At least half of the oxygen produced on Earth comes from the ocean. We cannot survive without healthy oceans yet ocean acidification threatens to disturb the ecological balance that produces what we need to survive. Corals, zooplankton, algae, shellfish, and other organisms cannot adapt to the rapid increase in acidity.

Over the past several decades, we have lost more than 30% of the Earth’s coral reefs. According to scientists, by 2052 we could lose 90% of the coral reefs due to acidification and other forms of pollutions, as well as overfishing. Such a scenario would have terrible ecological and economic consequences.

How Rig Ecosystems Could Help Address Environmental Issues

Artificial reefs such as former oil rigs can be reconfigured to cultivate a limestone substrate on which coral can grow. The corrosion protection systems used on these metal structures have been found to cause the growth of limestone. The limestone growth process coupled with processes that can accelerate the growth of coral could potentially help grow coral reefs faster than they are dying off.

When oil rigs become obsolete, they require removal under environmental regulations, a financially demanding effort that requires sophisticated machinery and can cause a significant disturbance to the underlying ecosystems. Researchers believe turning oil rigs into reefs is a less expensive and less environmentally costly method of retiring and repurposing these metal structures.

Rigs-to-Reefs throughout the World

According to a study from researchers at the Aarhus University in Denmark, partial removal of the platforms is considered to deliver better environmental outcomes than complete removal. In the late-twentieth century, Denmark destroyed important marine habitats, including the breeding grounds for fish, through underwater mining. This ecosystem collapse has pushed the nation to think of ways to rebuild its underwater reefs.

The oil and gas platforms in the North Sea seem to be an ideal solution to this pressing problem. The underwater cameras installed on these structures showed thriving marine communities living on and around them. But these findings are in no way limited only to the North Sea. Rigs to reefs movements have had great success in other parts of the world like the United States, Malaysia, and Saudi Arabia.

The United States was among the first nations to see the ecological potential of oil rigs. The first planned Rigs-to-Reefs conversion took place in Florida in 1979 with the relocation of a subsea template from offshore Louisiana to a site off Florida. In 1984, the United States Congress signed the National Fishing Enhancement Act which provided the basis for artificial reef programs.

There are more than 4,000 oil production platforms in the United States portion of the Gulf of Mexico, the largest concentration of offshore platforms in the world. By 2000, over 150 oil platforms in the Gulf had been converted to permanent artificial reefs. As of now, it is estimated that more than 500 rigs have been turned into reefs in the outlying parts of the United States.

Popular Diveable Oil Rig Reefs

High Island 389A, Texas, United States

The High Island 389A is an eight-leg production platform that was installed in 1981 just outside the designated No Activity Zone for oil and gas production in East Flower Garden Bank. When the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1992, the platform fell inside the sanctuary boundaries.

Despite this, it continued to produce until 2012 and in 2014, the oil company initiated negotiations for the platform to be established as an artificial reef as part of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Rigs-To-Reefs program. Removal of the top portion of the platform and the deck was completed in 2018.

Today, the High Island 389A is recognized as one of the best artificial reefs in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The platform sits at a depth of 125 meters (410 feet) and displays a wide ecosystem of animals that range from critters such as tessellated blennies and barnacles to pelagics like silky sharks and whale sharks.

Eureka Oil Platform, California, United States

Platform Eureka sits in federal waters off the coast of Long Beach. Lying on the sea bottom at 220 meters (720 feet), it is the deepest diver-accessible oil rig in the world. The massive structure is home to many Californian species such as sea lions, garibaldis, blacksmiths, and more. The little creatures can be seen here too – nudibranchs, crabs, brittle stars, and scallops adorn the metal structure.

Nearby are the twin rigs of Ellen and Elly, a double platform with a bridge connecting them. They are a lot shallower than Eureka but still sit in about 80 meters (260 feet) of water, well beyond recreational diving. Diving these rigs is an amazing experience especially on days with great visibility. All three platforms are still in use.

Seaventures Dive Rig, Sabah, Malaysia

Maintaining the look of a working oil platform, the Seaventures Dive Rig is now a unique five-star dive resort located near Sipadan and Kapalai Islands. It sits atop its own house reef and offers 360-degree views of the islands. Divers gear up in a dive station and then take an external elevator that allows them to slide directly into the water or into the waiting dive boat beneath the platform. Guests can go on diving excursions across the region, including to the famous Sipadan.

In addition to being a reclaimed oil rig, the resort is committed to conservation and sustainability and offers classes to educate guests on the importance of preserving the delicate reef ecosystems. Being in one of the top diving destinations in the world and enjoying premier facilities in a one-of-a-kind setting sure sounds great, doesn’t it?

Baram-8, Sarawak, Malaysia

Located in the South China Sea, Baram-8 is one of the best examples of how leaving an oil rig in place can have a significant impact on the marine ecosystem. The oil platform was installed in 1968 offshore from Tanjung Baram, Miri. It collapsed in 1975 and was turned into an artificial reef in 2004 after being cut into two sections and moved to a shallower site at a maximum depth of 21 meters (69 feet).

Only three months after its relocation, Reef Check Malaysia found large schools of juvenile jacks, large groupers, snappers, bannerfish, batfish, fusiliers, damselfish, angelfish, and sweetlips thriving around the platform. The high diversity of marine life and accessible depth have attracted the local scuba divers and Baram-8 is now a popular dive site.

Not everyone agrees with the concept of rigs-to-reefs, with some individuals believing this practice may encourage “ocean dumping,” creating a loophole that could allow companies to dump obsolete machinery into the sea. Despite such potential drawbacks, researchers believe that with the right regulations, leaving these artificial reefs in place could in fact help the ocean heal from human intervention.

What’s your take on rigs-to-reefs? Leave us a comment below.