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conservation scientists at work

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#1 Jones/Shimlock

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 09:57 AM

Maurine and I have been receiving some very negative comments on one of our photographs originally published last year in our Bird's Head Seascape diving guide, which we produced for Conservation International. The image has recently been published in the Guardian and it has created quite a controversy. (Interestingly, we have had no negative feedback from any of the 1000's of divers who have bought the book.) We feel we should share the image in an attempt to help the community understand the context. Here is the image. Although some people think the image is of us, it shows Dr. Mark Erdmann (left) and Dr. Gerald Allen photographing a recently collected fish. The image was taken to show them at work. We are only the photographers.

I have forwarded a few of the more negative comments to Dr. Erdmann and I think his words help explain the context. I hope this helps everyone understand.

Mark's reply: "Thank you for your email of concern about the image of Dr. Gerry Allen and I photographing a new species in Cendrawasih Bay. I very much respect your concern, and I have no desire to create a polemic, but I do feel it may be of use for me to quickly clarify this photograph. Firstly, I note that Burt Jones and Maurine Shimlock should be absolved of any responsibility or blame; they were accompanying a scientific expedition (biodiversity survey) to Cendrawasih Bay with my organization (Conservation International) and were simply documenting the scientific process. As for the scientific equipment that is seen laying on the substrate in the photograph, this is indeed a real-life situation after I had just collected a new species of cryptic dottyback fish from 70m depth and we were taking specimen shots to document the live colouration of the fish for the purposes of the scientific description of the new species. I can imagine that this photograph may look as if there was significant coral crushing going on, but I can only assure you that:
a) the scientific equipment was carefully placed on the reef in a manner so as to not break any coral;
b) though Dr. Allen and I are indeed very close to the substrate to get the shot required for the description of the fish, both of us have well over 10,000 dives under our respective belts and most definitely are not "laying on the coral" and crushing it.
c) though the process of collecting and documenting new species may seem objectionable to some (and I certainly respect that opinion), it is in fact a "necessary evil" if new species are to be described and our global biodiversity heritage cataloged properly. I note that our efforts to describe patterns of biodiversity across the East Indies (and especially to highlight areas like Cendrawasih Bay that have high numbers of endemic species found nowhere else in the world) have helped governments in the region to prioritize where they invest conservation dollars and has led to the gazetting of millions of hectares of new marine parks - including the 1.5 million hectare park that now protects the marine biodiversity of Cendrawasih Bay.

Again, I have no desire to quarrel and I very much respect your concern for diver/photographer behaviour on reefs. I only note that the activity documented in this image is an important part of the scientific process that documents new species and directs governmental attention for conservation efforts, and I can assure you that we actively strive to minimize any damage to the reefs from our surveys. Thank you for your concern on behalf of the world's reefs - I can only affirm that we also share this concern. Thanks for your understanding."

Best,
Mark

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Edited by Jones/Shimlock, 16 July 2012 - 09:59 AM.


#2 Drew

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Posted 16 July 2012 - 02:54 PM

Huh? People thought Maurine had Mark's or Gerry's hairline?!? Posted Image Like you guys need vouching for, or Mark and Gerry for that matter!

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#3 Steve Douglas

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 08:25 AM

While the image certainly looks as if damage is being done, it just goes to show you that not all is as it appears to be, and, I hope we all take you on your word that this is not the case. You're right, sometimes you have to do what you have to do in order to do it right.
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Edited by Steve Douglas, 17 July 2012 - 02:28 PM.

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#4 Jones/Shimlock

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 09:32 AM

Thanks guys, some people get it and some don't. Using a computer means you support mining. Using a automobile means you support drilling. Living in a house means you support cutting down trees. Diving in Raja Ampat means you support Mark and Gerry's work. It's all the same thing. If you don't want to "hurt" the environment you don't have many choices other than to shoot yourself!

#5 Stuart Keasley

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 10:31 AM

Forgive me for pointing this out (and laying in the boot), but the issue is not just whether or not Dr Mark Erdmann and Dr Gerald Allen were abusing the reef, but also, regardless of what actually happened behind the scenes or the care that was taken, the message the image gives to the general diving public.

Perhaps some of those 1000s of divers who bought your book will now believe that it is OK to lay on coral, I'm sure the majority of them wont have the same in water skill or experience, or be able to get that close without causing damage.

It's a hard enough battle trying to teach the unaware or uncaring to look after the aquatic environment, having this type of image from a set of people who are so well known and respected does nothing at all to help. Personally I'm surprised you chose the image for inclusion, surely you must have had an idea of the flak you'd get or the bad message it portrays?
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#6 Cerianthus

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 11:16 AM

I can imagine the reactions; it gives the wrong message..I dont know any of you. I have no objections in collecting fish or reef samples for science, But i have trouble to believe the words in bold as a defense against these comments. The diver to the right may look like it is just above the reef, but the diver on the left (cant see his feet anywhere): there is no way that the sling tank is not bumping anything. As for the stuff on the reef : if coral indeed responds to touch by dying : it had to be placed on either an already dead patch, or it is now.
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#7 diverdad

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Posted 17 July 2012 - 12:47 PM

I can see points from both sides of the argument, and you could argue them all day long. My only concern is you dived to 70m on those two small tanks.
Your balls (which are obvoiusly steel and very large) must be resting on/ crushing the coral!!


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#8 tdpriest

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 05:04 AM

Sad to say, Dr Allen and his colleagues were seen in a similar situation in a BBC documentary not so long ago. Because even slight contact with coral is thought to cause damage, we have to regard these practices as unacceptable today. It is a throwback to the mind-set of an earlier science, whereby the end justifies the means in ecological research.

At last weekend's British Society of Underwater Photographers competition an image was barred because a starfish had been lifted from the reef. "Look, don't touch" is now a guiding principle, manipulation of subjects and of their behaviour is increasingly frowned upon in all wildlife photography...

... although I would also like to congratulate Maurine and Mark on the book, and have great respect for Gerald Allen's work over the years.

Tim

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Edited by tdpriest, 18 July 2012 - 05:09 AM.


#9 DeanB

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 08:01 AM

So its okay then? Lets all lay on the coral... Oh no I forgot we are just 'normal' divers, if we had some letters after our names or were 'known' or TV personalities it would be okay...

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#10 Paul Kay

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 08:18 AM

As I suspect many viewers of this forum did, I scrolled down and looked at the image first of all, and, yes, you've guessed it, my immediate reaction was "please don't lie on the coral". So, yes the picture gives the wrong impression whether it is correct or not, and no, its not defensible, because of the bad impression it gives. Sorry but that's my opinion.

Edited by Paul Kay, 18 July 2012 - 10:08 AM.

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#11 newmanl

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 09:31 AM

In addition to the comments already, it appears as though the DPV and some other piece of gear directly behind (above) it look parked on the coral. As a marine biologist, and u/w photographer (of sorts), I understand what takes place to carry out such work. However, I think this image would have been best left in the confines of a harddrive.

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#12 John Bantin

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 02:34 PM

Without being sycophantic, I thought it interesting that this picture was universally condemned by those that did not know the identity of the divers involved but appear to be passed as OK by those that did. I don't make any judgement. I was recently pilloried for a picture published that appeared to show a diver POSSIBLY touching the coral when in fact he was a yard beyond it. Pictures do give false impressions but, alas, this one I fear does not. It was probably wrong to let it see the light of day, let alone get it published. (PS. Thank God I'm not the only one to lose his hair!) The fact is that this picture appears to have gone viral ion the Internet and cannot have helped any of the participants reputations.

Edited by John Bantin, 18 July 2012 - 02:37 PM.

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#13 okuma

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 06:35 PM

All right, so they are laying on the reef.
BFD !!!
All those who are crying about this should also get on your horse and whine about Doubilet's movement of nudies several years ago in the Geographic article.
Considering the contribution of all named in this thread, including Cousin Jones, I feel if they want to lay on the reef, then let them!

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#14 DeanB

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Posted 18 July 2012 - 11:21 PM

All right, so they are laying on the reef.
BFD !!!
All those who are crying about this should also get on your horse and whine about Doubilet's movement of nudies several years ago in the Geographic article.
Considering the contribution of all named in this thread, including Cousin Jones, I feel if they want to lay on the reef, then let them!

Let those without sin cast the first stone!


WTF! ... thats no excuse, considering their jobs they should have more thought to that environment... I supposed you would let Gary Glitter perform at a kids party because of his contribution to music during the 70's...

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#15 DamonA

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 04:02 AM

Another diver should of held the rest of the kit off the bottom or they should of found some sand patch to do their business, or get skilled enough to maintain depth.......Its a DIR nitemare!

Also highlights the weakness of a jacket BCD(air capasity), when the wearer grounds out because their trim is shockers(probably rental gear).
If only they used twinsets and BP/Wings, also some fitness work as then they wouldn't need a scooter, especially diving to 70m with that kind of gas supply is pretty crazy, I hope the guy taking the shots has extras, must of been a bounce of a dive plan. Seems to me to be to many accessories and not enough redundent gas supply(maybe they have deco gas on a line futher up???).

This isn't good PR. we(scuba divers) are trying to change the apathy towards marine environments, this is food for the enemy!

Who would love to see divers banned on some reefs......

I do understand in the greater scheme of things, it isn't a big deal- turtles and parrotfish do more damage- it grows back fairly quickly and I dont think touch would kill it from what Ive seen-


But in heavily dived sites this behaviour would turn it into a mess quickly, especially if tourist behaved the same way(like sites in thailand).



Neville Coleman didn't need to net fish to get great indentitifying shots of marine creatures and why didn't they then surface with the specimen if they caught and handled it? Maybe these guys have learned a valuable lesson here, hope they tell their collegues what trouble it caused- funding helps doesn't it and you need people to support you to get funding- and just claiming you do the right thing doesn't mean you actually do, getting blase' after too many years in the game, maybe its time for a younger one to take over the research? Like handing in a drivers licence, sorry Pop you've been cut from the squad!
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"Dr. Gerry Allen, former Curator of Fishes at the Western Australian Museum (1974-1997) is a coral reef fish specialist who has worked extensively for CI and TNC over the past 11 years. He recieved his Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii in 1971 and since that time has worked throughout the Indo-Pacific region, having logged more than 8,000 hours of diving. Gerry is definitely “old school," in his approach to science(add diving too!!!), spending nearly as much time in the field as behind a desk looking through a microscope. He is the author of 36 books and more than 400 scientific articles, many of them devoted to the Indonesian region."

I see lots of people bumming an easy working life in the evironmental sciences, politics, charities, but no real change in direction for our "Planet train crash". Seems their just in it to dive for free and sell out to big corps, so they get a BMW in retirement.(cynical, but what do you know!)

The golden rule is: don't destroy what you came to enjoy!
It should be part of any dive plan.

Reminds me of this utube vid-
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zgclsxKrydI

Edited by DamonA, 19 July 2012 - 04:54 AM.


#16 NWDiver

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Posted 19 July 2012 - 05:56 AM

I have had the opportunity to do a fair amount of collection dives with local aquariums and can say the image captured would not be acceptable. Scooters are tethered and weighted to float above the diver when close to the substrate. All collection bags, nets, etc, are hooked to waist/bc and bungeed in place, or typically there is a biologist collecting and an assistant handling transport/misc gear. Of course animals are captured, dissected, plant and invertebrates disturbed or relocated in hopes of finding a way to preserve them. While the work they are doing is to be supported there is always ways to improve procedures.

Edited by NWDiver, 19 July 2012 - 06:05 AM.


#17 Steve Douglas

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Posted 20 July 2012 - 09:32 AM

What a shame that the shark attack video was so out of focus. It could have been a real money shot. Notice the shark never opened its mouth...it was just investigating and having fun making the diver s**t his pants.

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#18 Giles

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 06:42 PM

I believe this image sends out the wrong message.
I believe that no matter who you are and what you are doing there is a method of doing it that involves no contact with things that contact can damage.
I believe that no one is perfect but can try their best.
I believe it is arrogant to say it is ok to do something for the better good. (infact it admits guilt)

All the stuff they have laying around them on the reef could easily be held by an assistant.
But more than all of it, if you know you are going to be laying on the reef like that and you want to cause as little damage as possible put that second tank on your damn back and not loosely strapped to your front where it can bang away at the reef.
Hell even novice divers learn to tidy away their hoses .. which isn't being done here.
So with all due respect to the men and the work they do, it is complete rubbish to be saying "I can assure you that we actively strive to minimize any damage to the reefs" because quite clearly that is not true.
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#19 danielstassen

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 10:01 PM

I have had the opportunity to do a fair amount of collection dives with local aquariums and can say the image captured would not be acceptable. Scooters are tethered and weighted to float above the diver when close to the substrate. All collection bags, nets, etc, are hooked to waist/bc and bungeed in place, or typically there is a biologist collecting and an assistant handling transport/misc gear. Of course animals are captured, dissected, plant and invertebrates disturbed or relocated in hopes of finding a way to preserve them. While the work they are doing is to be supported there is always ways to improve procedures.


Agreed procedures could always be improved... Maybe with the years, procedures can become slack, and it is always time to tighten them up. To do conservation work is not an excuse to do whatever we want. During my Marine Biology studies, I have seen a lot of what this picture shows, a complete disregard to the environment for the name of science; hence I am not suprised at all at this photo.
However, I must also agree with Okuma "Let those without sins cast the first stone", we all are to blame at some point, accidently or intentionally. What is very important is for people like Mark or Gerry to send the best message possible, this picture should never have been published. Like many have highlighted in here, many big names in conservation or underwater photography did or still do things like this without thinking of the consequences on the general public, especially onto new divers who are still learning what to do and what not to do underwater.

At the end, I think we can all do better, and learn from past mistakes as whoever we are we are still just human after all.

Edited by danielstassen, 21 July 2012 - 10:07 PM.

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#20 John Bantin

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Posted 21 July 2012 - 11:05 PM

I mount two tanks on my back PLUS the DPV. All hoses are tucked away. (I don't use a hp hose.) This means that I can concentrate with my camera without getting hooked up on that damned coral. It works for me. If I use CCR, I rarely use a sling tank (oops! Perhaps I should not have admitted that!)

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