Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NatGeo Launches Mission Expedition Online Experience

The National Geographic Channel announced the launch of Mission Expedition, an interactive experience inspired by Expedition Week. Lasting until Saturday, April 9, viewers can log onto between 2PM and 2AM EDT to control a camera attached to a model train which snakes through a miniature set of a remote Papua New Guinean village populated by cannibals, Victorian London during the time of Jack the Ripper, the Himalayan Mountains with Yeti sightings, and the Roman Coliseum during the gladiator era. 

For up to one minute, each participant will get to navigate the set and participate in a photo safari in search of hidden artifacts. If the captured image turns out to be one of the hidden artifacts of the day, the viewer will be notified and the artifact delivered from the Mission Expedition set. The expedition features nearly 200 miniature artifacts that are stand-ins for life-sized items totaling more than $10,000 in value. 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Mayday to save oil-spill birds

Mar 26, 2011 11:42 PM | By ANTON FERREIRA 

An oil spill in the South Atlantic is threatening tens of thousands of penguins with a slow and painful death - and only South Africa can save them.

129 oiled African penguins from Luderitz in Namibia via road � an epic journey of 1 300 kilometers � for rehabilitation at SANCCOB centre in Cape Town.Pic: ESA ALEXANDER. 21/04/2009. � SUNDAY TIMES
129 oiled African penguins from Luderitz in Namibia via road � an epic journey of 1 300 kilometers � for rehabilitation at SANCCOB centre in Cape Town.Pic: ESA ALEXANDER. 21/04/2009. � SUNDAY TIMES
Britain this week sent an urgent diplomatic Mayday to the Department of International Relations, appealing for South Africa's help in dealing with the environmental disaster unfolding near the remote British island of Tristan da Cunha.
The bulk carrier MS Olivia ran aground off the uninhabited island of Nightingale 11 days ago, releasing an oil slick that could spell doom for the estimated 40000 northern rockhopper penguins that breed there.
Because Tristan da Cunha has no landing strip for aircraft, the only country able to send help in time is South Africa, 2800km away. A fast vessel would take four days to make the voyage.
This week South African sea bird rescue experts were waiting for a suitable ship to be provided.
Said Venessa Strauss, chief executive officer of the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob): " The biggest concern at the moment is the delay in the response. The longer before we get on the ground and get ourselves sorted out, the more chance we have of losing birds. There's a real urgency to get there, and we're really just waiting for the transport to be sorted out."
Strauss said more than 60% of the global northern rockhopper population was at risk. "They're endemic to those islands. It really is a devastating environmental threat to them," she said.
The Sanccob team of about a dozen will concentrate on cleaning up penguins and other sea birds fouled by oil. South Africa's help will also be needed in trying to contain and mop up the slick.
Conservationists fear that apart from spilling fuel oil, the Olivia - which had been taking soya beans from Brazil to Asia - might have been carrying rats. These would desert the sinking ship and cause havoc on the island by feeding on eggs or fledgling birds.
All 22 crew were rescued from the Olivia, which is now breaking up and cannot be salvaged.

The ‘un-Cabo’ of Baja

One-third of the world’s marine mammals live in the Sea of Cortez

Beyond the headlines of Mexico’s drug-related violence, sea kayakers are having a whale of a time camping along the wildlife-rich waters of Baja California.

Mainstream tourists find the manufactured brand of wild life at the end of the Baja peninsula around Los Cabos resorts. Meanwhile, savvy paddlers are relishing the real thing in stunning abundance near the still sleepy mid-peninsula town of Loreto.
Locals promote Loreto as Baja’s “unCabo.” It’s most notable landmark is a 300-year-old mission.
The New York Times recently listed the area as No. 8 on its list of the “41 Best Places to Visit in 2011”.
After a 90-minute flight from Los Angeles, paddlers land along the glistening Sea of Cortez, where several outfitters have the kayaks, gear and itineraries.
Among the most experienced in this area is Sea Kayak Adventures, which organizes trips from Canada to Patagonia from the company’s base in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“One-third of the world’s marine mammals live in the Sea of Cortez,” said Terry Prichard, who runs the company with his wife, Nancy Mertz. “We’ve known for many years that this is a very special place.”
Indeed, in just the first few hours on the water, our group of six paddlers and two Mexican guides encountered dolphins, a sea lion, squadrons of pelicans and cormorants and the constant companionship of gulls, oyster catchers, frigate birds, blue-footed boobies, turkey vultures and ospreys.
However, before launching our kayaks, we carved out a day for a van shuttle over to the Pacific side of the peninsula. The goal was to marvel at one of the wildlife wonders of the world at Magdalena Bay, where gray whales congregate from February into April to beef up their newborn calves.
We piled into a panga – a 22-foot outboard-powered fishing skiff – and cruised into a lagoon protected from the pounding Pacific surf by a barrier of sand-dune islands. Within minutes we were in the midst of whales – almost touching distance – although we were pleased our skipper got us close without trying to make contact or harass the marine mammals.
Mother grays weighing 30-40 tons would rise and blow beside us, showing the knuckles on their backs while their calves would awkwardly bob up around them. Sometimes the babies resembled little two-ton pickles gasping for air.
At one point we had eight whales surfacing around us.
“This is one of the best whale years we’ve ever had,” Mertz said later. “Last year was one of the poorest years because sediment from a hurricane partially blocked the whales from entering the bay. The ocean has resolved that.”
The wildlife experience continued as we set out for five days by kayak in the Sea of Cortez. After paddling across a wind-exposed channel we relaxed in the lee along the shore of Carmen Island. Bright-orange Sally lightfoot crabs caught our attention as they scurried across rocks exposed by low tide.
“They seem to be able to run in all four directions; but more than this, perhaps because of their rapid reaction time they appear to read the mind of their hunter,” observed John Steinbeck in “The Log of the Sea of Cortez.”
We made camp on a white-sand beach that turned out to be the Promised Land for the seashell enthusiasts in our group. Instead of using tent pegs, we used anchors made of cord strung through 4-inch squares of quarter-inch plywood buried in the sand.
The beach was crisscrossed by tracks of hermit crabs that would come to life under our feet from seemingly empty seashells they where inhabiting.
Beach hiking was mesmerizing, bordered by turquoise waters on one side and cactus on the other.
Blue whales, the largest creatures to inhabit the earth, worked offshore, revealed by spouts that resembled Old Faithful erupting from the sea. Each surface would be announced by a 20-foot high blast of mist that would stand visible for 15 seconds before dissolving in the wind.
A full-grown blue whale weighs as much as the National Football League. A human could swim through its arteries.
The blues looked like freight trains rounding over the top of an underwater mountain as their backs rolled up above the surface before sinking down out of sight. Every few rolls treated us with an encore as the blue’s giant fluke would emerge and create a waterfall we could see through binoculars two miles away.
Nights are long during winter, but the desert delivered a stunning spread of stars. Mars shined so brightly it cast a shimmering reflection across the sea.
We used headlamps before bedtime to comb the desert in search of scorpions, which would glow like fluorescent bulbs in the beam of a hand-held black light.
Vlady de la Toba, our Mexican trip leader, made us meals that he delighted in telling us he’d prepared first for his girlfriend’s approval.
Edgar Escobar, the other guide, with a degree in marine biology, was especially proud of his chicken mole, featuring five chili powders and chocolate in a recipe endorsed by this grandmother.
De la Toba is from a family that’s operated Baja lighthouses for five generations. He sees guiding as a powerful force for preserving Baja’s wildlife experience. He sells T-shirts and donates the profits to a program that trains local fishermen to be guides.
“Fishermen get 20 pesos per kilo of fish,” he said in his self-taught English. “If they can get 60 pesos for taking people bird watching, we can save fish and sea turtles from their nets.”
The marine bounty amazed the snorkelers in our group, with a colorful smorgasbord of anemones, urchins, sea cucumbers and numerous fish species.
Nevertheless, we were still camping and living a Spartan life that makes you feel like a king to have a hot meal and a Dutch-oven baked desert.
The portable toilet, group sessions to wash dishes, sleeping on the ground, bathing in salt water – all played into supercharging the mundane.
We were fascinated by the pellets coughed up by turkey vultures, and especially at finding the long skeleton of a coronet fish and other bones at the base of a tall cactus, where the ospreys had perched to eat their meals.
We peered into tarantula nests and felt the spongy texture of their webs.
We marveled at the flavor of prickly pear cactus in our salad.
We never tired of watching blue-footed boobies swarm the skies, gathering like locusts until one bird would rocket head-first into the water, followed by dozens more pouring down like a hail storm pummeling the sea surface.
At the end of a day of human-powered exploring, a margarita never tasted so good, even without ice.
Our group became a unit poised to take every negative Mother Nature delivered into a positive.
We looked at the sea salt that encrusted our clothing after a few days as a status symbol – like laundered, well-starched shirts.
We even got to where we relished the weather that challenged us on a few days midtrip.
One gusty afternoon forced us into a serious hour of nonstop paddling into a headwind. My wife, Meredith, leaned forward in the bow of our tandem kayak to try to reduce the wind resistance as she muscled her paddle into the whitecaps.
Her paddle strokes whipped sprays of water that splattered my face like a waterfall.
At times I vented my frustration by yelling curses at her.
She couldn’t hear a word I said.
It was a perfect storm.
And a destination we highly recommend.
If you go
For more information on Baja group trips, contact Sea Kayak Adventures, 800-616-1943,
On video: ABC’s “Good Morning America” features Loreto at
On Facebook: Sea Kayak Adventures’ Facebook page has client videos of encounters with whales at

Read more:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Begich proposes federal coordinator for OCS

Alaska U.S. Sen. Mark Begich told the Alaska Legislature March 22 he will introduce legislation establishing an Arctic outer continental shelf federal coordinator and creating a joint regional lease and permit processing office for Alaska's OCS region, modeled after the federal gas pipeline coordinator position.
The new federal coordinator would have authority to work across many agencies involved in permitting, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Interior Department.
The bill would be introduced soon, Begich spokeswoman Julie Hasquet said.
Begich spoke in Juneau in his annual address to the Legislature.
"The federal OCS coordinator would work with the state of Alaska and affected local governments to streamline development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which hold such promise for future oil and gas development," Begich said.
He also urged serious discussion of which federal agency should have jurisdiction over air permitting.
Begich argued for federal air quality permit authority in the Arctic OCS region to be brought under the Department of the Interior, which now has jurisdiction over air permits in the Gulf of Mexico.
This would take away the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's current authority for air quality permits in the Arctic OCS.
An air quality permit for Shell's proposed exploration in the Beaufort Sea is now bogged down in appeals before the Environmental Review Board, an internal EPA appeals panel.
"We need to address the two different air permitting systems in the country. There are currently two processes and two different federal agencies overseeing air permits – one for the Gulf of Mexico and one for everyone else – including the Arctic," Begich said in his speech. "This makes no sense. It's not fair and it puts companies with projects in the Arctic at a competitive disadvantage. We need to level the playing field. It's time to move all air permitting under the Interior Department."
Shell reacted favorably to Begich's suggestions.
"The senator clearly understands the challenges facing responsible operators, like Shell, as well as the need for a regulatory process that is predictable and accountable," company spokesman Curtis Smith said in a statement. "A federal OCS regional coordinator for Alaska could go a long way in making that happen. Shell has already spent five years and over $50 million trying to secure an air permit for our drilling rig but with no success. The Senator's effort to align Arctic air permitting under the Department of Interior, as it is in the Gulf of Mexico, is one Shell supports."
Tim Bradner can be reached at

Friday, March 25, 2011

Expeditions - The Ten Rules of the Canoe

  1. Every stroke we take is one less we have to make. Keep Going! Even against the most relentless wind or retrograde tide, somehow a canoe moves forward. This mystery can only be explained by the fact that each pull forward is real movement and not delusion.
  2. There is to be no abuse of self or others. Respect and trust cannot exist in anger. It has to be thrown overboard, so the sea can cleanse it. It has to be washed off the hands and cast into the air so the stars can take care of it. We always look back at the shallows we pulled through, amazed at how powerful we thought those dangers were.
  3. Be flexible. The adaptable animal survives. If you get tired, ship your paddle and rest. If you get hungry, put in on the beach and eat a few oysters. If you can't figure one way to make it, do something new. When the wind confronts you, sometimes you're supposed to go the other way.
  4. The gift of each enriches all. Every story is important. The bow, the stern, the skipper, the power puller in the middle, everyone is part of the movement. The elder sits in her cedar at the front, singing her paddle song, praying for us all. The weary paddler resting is still ballast. And there is always that time when the crew needs some joke, some remark, some silence to keep going, and the least likely person provides.
  5. We all pull and support each other. Nothing occurs in isolation. When we aren't in the family of a canoe, we are not ready for whatever comes. The family can argue, mock, ignore each other at its worst, but that family will never let itself sink. A canoe that lets itself sink is certainly wiser never to leave the beach. When we know that we are not alone in our actions, we also know we are lifted up by everyone else.
  6. A hungry person has no charity. Always nourish yourself. The bitter person, thinking that sacrifice means self-destruction, shares mostly anger. A paddler who doesn't eat at the feasts doesn't have enough strength to paddle in the morning. Take that sandwich they throw you at 2:00 A.M.! The gift of who you are only enters the world when you are strong enough to own it.
  7. Experiences are not enhanced through criticism. Who we are, what we do, why we continue, flourish with tolerance. The canoe fellows who are grim go one way. The men and women who find the lightest flow may sometimes go slow, but when they arrive they can still sing. And they have gone all over the sea, into the air with the seagulls, under the curve of the wave with the dolphin and down to the whispering shells, under the continental shelf. Withdrawing the blame acknowledges how wonderful a part of it all every one of us really is.
  8. The journey is what we enjoy. Although the start is exciting and the conclusion achieved, it is the long, steady process we remember. Being part of the journey requires great preparation; being done with a journey requires great awareness; being on the journey, we are much more than ourselves. We are part of the movement of life. We have destination, and for once, our will is pure, our goal is to go on.
  9. A good teacher allows the student to learn. We can berate each other, try to force each other to understand, or we can allow each paddler to gain their awareness through the ongoing journey. Nothing sustains us like that sense of potential that we can deal with things. Each paddler learns to deal with the person in front, the person behind, the water, the air, the energy, the blessing of the eagle.
  10. When given any choice at all, be a worker bee -make honey!
The ten rules of the canoe developed by the Quileute canoe contingent for a Northwest Experiential Education Conference in 1990.

Earth Hour March 26 2011

© Jeremiah Armstrong / WWF-Canada

Tomorrow, March 26th, at 8:30 p.m. join over a billion people around the world and switch off your lights for one hour to show your support for clean energy.

Of the people who did not turn out their lights last year, 45% said they simply forgot.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

New seabird discovered, first in 55 years

New seabird discovered, first in 55 years
Jeremy Hance
March 23, 2011

Stephen Maturin, if he were not fictional, would be delighted. A new seabird has been discovered by an international expedition headed by one of the world's top seabird-experts, Peter Harrison, after he received photos from vacationing birders of an unusual looking storm petrel off the coast of Chile.

During the expedition, Harrison and his team were successful in photographing hundreds of the unknown species as well as taking measurements and collecting feathers and blood samples from captured birds. The materials are now being analyzed, but Harrison does not doubt the eventual outcome.

"We're waiting on the feather and blood work, but we know we have a new species," he told the Oregonian.

If it is a new species, it's the first new seabird in 55 years, and the first new storm petrel identified in nearly 90.

Sparrow-sized, storm petrels are the smallest of the seabirds. They hover over the water while feeding on fish and plankton, which gives them the name 'Jesus-birds' according to Harrison. The new species is black, white, and gray.

"We believe this is a relic population that was completely missed by Darwin himself, who sailed along that very coast a century ago," Harrison told the LA Times. "And guess what? There are thousands of them in that area, which is plied by cruise ships, cargo vessels and fishing boats, all within sight of crowded beaches."

If the tests determine that it is in fact a species, the only question will be what to name it? 

Monday, March 21, 2011

Aleksander Doba successfully sea kayaks across the Atlantic

An obscure Pole named Aleksander Doba has pulled off a somewhat obscure first: Sea kayaking across the breadth of the Atlantic Ocean in 98 days, 23 hours, 42 minutes, the longest open ocean kayaking adventure ever.

Leaving quietly from Dakar on October 26 and spending much of the first two months fighting into relentless winds and currents which kept pushing him north, it seemed – if you followed the GPS tracker online – that the 64-year-old Doba was going in circles, or repeating some kind of weird figure-8 patterns.

A straight line from Dakar to his finishing point in Fortaleza, Brazil, would have been just less than 2,000 miles. Of course thanks to winds, storms, currents and the two hours he slept each night, there are no straight lines in ocean paddling. In the end he paddled a total of 3,352 miles (average speed: 1.4 miles per hour; average daily distance, 33.5 miles; longest day, 78.6 miles).

Doba is hardly a novice to the kind of physical strength and mental endurance necessary for long solo paddles. Though this time he embarked in a sophisticated, 23-foot kayak with monster roll bars and a pair of flotation cabins at either end – he had previously kayaked more than 40,000 miles, including a 2,600-mile trip around the Baltic Sea in 1999, a 3,300 mile journey from Poland to Norway in 2000 and a 1,200 mile circumnavigation of Lake Baikal last year.

A previous effort to cross the Atlantic, in 2004, lasted just two days thanks to an "unstable" boat. This time around it wasn't until the middle of the expedition that he worried he might not be able to push the heavily-loaded kayak (1,200 pounds) all the way across, especially when in December he became mired in a series of storms that had him traveling in circles at the same time his automatic desalinator went down, meaning to create fresh water he had to hand pump four hours a day.

On January 8, he confessed to feeling like Sisyphus, who rolled the boulder uphill only to have it tumble backwards on top of him. "This is how I feel fighting the current."

His expedition manager was his son, Chez, who stayed positive throughout that his old man would make it across. "He promised his wife he's coming back. He's not a man to break a promise, otherwise she will kill him."

While Doba's effort is the longest paddle yet, he now tops a short-list of other obscure long-distance paddle record holders (thanks to Canoe & Kayak):
In 1928 Franz Romer crossed the Atlantic from Portugal to Puerto Rico in a folding kayak dependent on just a compass, sextant and a barometer. After landing in St. Thomas and a brief sail over to San Juan Harbor in Puerto Rico, Romer again took to sea, bound for New York. Unfortunately, he missed a hurricane warning by one hour and steered straight into the storm. No trace of him was ever found.

In 1956 Hannes Lindemann spent 72 days paddling from the Canary Islands to the British Virgin Islands in a store-bought folding kayak, subsisting primarily on beer, evaporated milk, rainwater and speared fish. His mantra? "West ... Never give up ... Never give up."

In 1987 Ed Gillet's left from California heading for Hawaii; the crossing took him 63 days. Out of radio contact for eight weeks, he ran out of food, endured a 40-hour stretch of sleep deprivation and winds that nearly drove him north of Hawaii. He was described as being in a "hallucinatory state" when he arrived at Kahului Harbor on Maui.

Englishman Peter Bray was the first to paddle west to east across the Atlantic in 2001, without the tropical trade winds to ease his passage. His first attempt nearly cost him his life: Asleep after his first day at sea, he awoke to find his cockpit three-quarters filled with water and his pumping systems inoperable. Bray survived 32 hours submerged in 36-degree seas and spent the next four months learning to walk again. A year later, he launched again from St. John's, Newfoundland, reaching Beldereg, Ireland, 75 days later.

In 2007 Australian "Adventurer of the Year" Andrew McAuley attempted the relatively short (1,000) crossing of the very wild Tasman Sea, from Tasmania to New Zealand. In 29 days he got to within one day – 30 miles – of Milford Sound, New Zealand where his wife and young son waited on the beach for him. He disappeared on that last day; his boat would be found, but never any sign of Andrew.

In late 2007 a pair of young Australians – James Castrission and Justin James – successfully crossed the Tasman Sea in a custom-built, double-kayak, in 62 days.