Friday, 29 July 2016

Water contamination could spell trouble at the Rio Olympics

Between the high levels of pollution, overcrowded favelas and the Zika Virus running rampant, Rio’s health concerns seem to be going from bad to worse. Now, with Olympic preparations shining a light on the South American city, issues seem to be piling up by the day. Many competitors have already dropped out of the games in order to protect their health, and now another massive issue has been brought to the forefront – water contamination.

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We’re not talking about the occasional tin can being thrown into the bay either; Rio’s beaches and waterways contain deadly bacteria, viruses, human waste and even a few dead bodies. That’s the same water where athletes will swim, surf and sail their way to Olympic glory.

Competitors have been warned to “keep their mouth shut” while in or on the water, as they will “literally be swimming in human crap”, according to local paediatrician Dr Daniel Becker. The problem is in large part due to the fact that much of Rio’s sewage and trash is dumped, untreated, directly into the water, where it is left to fester. This in turn has led to the growth of ‘superbacteria’, which pose a significant risk to anyone with a weakened immune system.

It’s not just sewage and human waste that flows through the waters of Rio; countless factories pump waste and by-products into Guanabara Bay, and oil tankers flush their holds. The damage to the local ecosystem is already apparent.

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Cleaning out the bays, beaches and waterways was, in fact, a major factor in Rio’s bid to host the Olympic Games. Officials pledged $4 billion (USD) to be spent on tackling the city’s filthy waters, but reports suggest that only around $170 million was actually spent, with government officials citing a budget crisis.

Athletes training in the area, although justifiably unhappy with the conditions, have said that on the whole they’re happy with the improvements they’re starting to see. Government officials insist that both Guanabara Bay and Copacabana Beach, the venues for swimming, sailing, windsurfing and triathlon events, now meet World Health Organisation standards but still require some additional work. Hopefully said work is completed before the opening ceremony.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The wettest places on earth

Approximately 71% of our planet’s surface is covered by water, constantly subjected to the heat of the sun (at least during daytime). This results in a lot of water vapour, and as the old saying goes, what goes up must come down. Many variables affect this process including; geographical features, air pressure, temperature and wind speed, creating some truly extreme climates.

If everything lines up just right, or wrong, depending on your point of view, you can get rainy seasons that make the average monsoon look like drizzle. So, where exactly are the most rain-drenched locations on Earth?

Emei Shan, China
Average annual rainfall: 8,169mm

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Located in the Sichuan Province of China, Emei Shan is home to Mount Emei, the tallest of the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism. The lay of the land forces the clouds to form into two distinct layers as part of a local phenomenon known as the ‘Cloud Sea’, which generates a massive amount of rainfall.

Kukui, Hawaii (US)
Average annual rainfall: 9,293mm

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This incredible location on the island of Maui, Hawaii is now considered to be a nature reserve. Home to a volcanic peak which rises over 5700 feet above sea level, the fallout from the eruption of said volcano also created the breath-taking Lao Valley. The Maui Land and Pineapple Company, which monitors the preserve, typically only allow scientists to venture into the region.

Mt. Waialeale, Hawaii (US)
Average annual rainfall: 9,763mm

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With a name that literally translates to ‘overflowing water’, Mt. Waialeale fully deserves the number 8 spot on this list. The abundance of rainfall results in the slopes of the mountain maintaining an incredibly slick surface, poising both a challenge and a significant risk to hikers. The sheer volume of rain is believed to be due to the mountains conical shape and elevation.

Big Bog, Hawaii (US)
Average annual rainfall: 10,272mm

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Situated within the Haleakala National Park, reaching Big Bog requires a helicopter trip or a two-day hike, but Hawaii’s rainiest region is a popular tourist spot nonetheless. Thanks to its remote location, the lands in and around Big Bog are truly beautiful, protected as they are from many outside influences.

Debundscha, Cameroon
Average annual rainfall: 10,299mm

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A small coastal village sitting at the foot of Mount Cameroon, Debundscha’s weather patterns are in stark contrast to much of the nation and continent on the whole. Coastal winds bring with them a lot of moisture, which is trapped as heavy cloud by the looming mountain. The result? Vast amounts of rainfall on a regular basis.

San Antonio de Ureca, Equatorial Guinea
Average annual rainfall: 10,450mm

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Multiple ocean moisture patterns combine around this small village on the south coast of Bioko Island, generating a volume of rainfall that is wildly inconsistent with its position just above the equator. Bioko Island is in fact relatively close to the previous entry on this list, Debundscha, and the same coastal winds likely have an impact on both locations’ weather.

Cropp River, New Zealand
Average annual rainfall: 11,516mm

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At only nine kilometres long, Cropp River has a startling impact on the local weather. The region is the rainiest in all off Australasia and Oceania, with the mountainous terrain contributing to the build-up of precipitation. Although this list is ranked according to average rainfall, earning Cropp River the number 4 spot with a figure of 11,516mm, between October 1997 and October 1998 a staggering 18,413mm fell upon the region.

Tutunendo, Colombia
Average annual rainfall: 11,770mm

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This small village in North-Western Colombia has the misfortune of experiencing two rainy seasons per year; even its dry season tends to experience around twenty days of rain per month. With that in mind, it is understandable why every home in the area includes a waterproof lining to make conditions bearable. The nearby city of Quibdo has the distinction of being the wettest large city in the world.

Cherrapunji, India
Average annual rainfall: 11,777mm

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The residents of Cherrapunji have to cope with a truly bizarre and extreme climate. During the dry season, water shortages are common as no rain falls for months on end; during the rainy season, when the monsoons hit, it’s a very different story. Despite being ranked as the second wettest place on Earth, Cherrapunji holds the records for the most rainfall in both a single year (26,471mm) and a single month (9,300mm), earning both in 1861. The area is famous for its bridges weaved out of still living roots, which have carried people over steep valleys for hundreds of years.

Mawsynram, India
Average annual rainfall: 11,871mm

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Located only 10 miles from Cherrapunji, debate still rages between the two close neighbours over the title of the ‘world’s wettest location’, as the difference is only an average of 94mm. Like Cherrapunji, Mawsynram rarely sees a dry day during the monsoon season; local residents are even forced to line their roofs with grass to dampen the constant noise of rainfall. Researches attribute the excessive rainfall to the proximity of the Bay of Bengal.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Deep sea training... for astronauts?

On the 21st of July, 6 astronauts in training went down to an underwater research station off the coast of Florida. Their task was to spend 16 days there, testing out gadgets and techniques that will be necessary on future manned missions to Mars. This on-going initiative, dubbed ‘NEEMO’ (NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations) has been going on since 2001, at which point a manned mission to Mars was a far more distant prospect.

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Provisionally, NASA estimate that we’ll be touching boots down on the red sand sometime around 2030, so we can expect that the underwater training will carry on exponentially until then, at least. What’s the benefit of it, though? Surely the two environments are so different that any training done in one would be more or less redundant when applied to the other?

In fact, the conditions in underwater bases, such as the Aquarius Reef Base used for the Martian training are remarkably similar to those experienced in space missions. While water pressure is very high, compared to the very low pressure in space, the weightlessness is a useful tool to practise spacewalks, and with the help of choreography, certain tasks which need to be performed during missions can also be simulated.

It’s not a perfect or even ideal imitation, but it’s the best we have without actually, y’know, going into space. Despite what science fiction might tell you, zero gravity chambers have yet to be invented. The nearest thing we have to it is the ‘vomit comet’, a Russian aircraft which flies almost straight upwards, then cuts the engine and drops, creating a zero gravity environment for about 30 seconds each time. 

The vomit comet is used for astronaut training, but only really for low gravity acclimatisation. With underwater training, the far longer period you can spend in the necessary conditions mean that this can extend to things like software testing, machinery operation, prototype testing, and so forth.

In the case of this recent NEEMO, one of the main aims is to test out a new DNA sequencer called a Minion, which will eventually be used on Martian microbes, as well as monitor crew health. They will also be building a coral garden to practise low gravity building techniques. 

Vehicles can also be tested in this environment, both manned and remote control, and in fact the resilience they need to withstand the water and pressure actually makes them almost over prepared for space. Eventually, one imagines that simulating space conditions won’t even be necessary, but until then, ‘aquanauts’ remain a thing.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Are edible bubbles the solution to the water bottle crisis?

Water bottle manufacture is a very dangerous industry. The amount of water and oil waste created by the process is a problem; their limited recyclability is a problem and the millions which are carelessly tossed away? Huge problem. There are some ways around it, such as reusable water containers, but people don’t buy water for the bottle, they buy the bottle for the water, and pre-filled aluminium containers probably wouldn’t sell too well.

This could well be the solution – a process called spherification, which enables you to turn water into soft, edible globules. It needn’t just apply to water either, there are a whole range of fluids you can do it with, and it’s simple enough to be done at home. The video below outlines the exact process, but in summary, you mix water with sodium alginate, which is derived from brown seaweed, and then you place spoonfuls of it into a calcium lactate bath, causing the two chemicals to form a membrane around the water.

The membrane is perfectly natural, perfectly healthy to eat, and stores the water without the need for any plastic. That’s all very well, I hear you say, but surely the sales of bottled water have more to do with people preferring to buy water than fill up from the tap? Well, yes, that’s the case, but this method can, and has, been applied to retail distribution.

A British company called Skipping Rocks lab have developed a way to create the edible bubbles en masse, by creating the membrane around small spheres of ice. Each unit only costs about 1.5p to produce, and the EU awarded them a sustainability grant in 2014 to further pursue the venture. The product, called ‘Ooho’, is still being toured around conferences to build up funding and support, so don’t expect to see it being sold any time soon, but that is Skipping Rocks’ eventual aim.

In the meantime, you can see above just how easy the process is to do at home, so why not try it out?

Ancient monsters: The largest extinct aquatic creatures

The largest animal ever to have lived is in our oceans today – the blue whale – and most of our seafaring legends almost certainly stemmed from chance encounters with giant squid, oarfish and other marine giants, but aquatic life used to exist on a much larger scale. Many water animals have barely changed their appearance in millions of years, spare one minor detail – they’ve gotten smaller.

For all we don’t know about the modern day oceans, we know even less about the prehistoric oceans, but we’ve already found fossilised evidence of some utterly terrifying megafauna.

Jaekelopterus – 2.5 metres 

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The largest scorpion you’re ever likely to encounter in this day and age could still fit neatly on your hand, and probably wouldn’t be too happy with you if you submerged it in water, but 350 million years ago, they were happily hunting in estuaries and rivers. There’s a sea-faring equivalent, the largest of which is the Pterygotus, but at a maximum size of 1.6 metres, it’s not even a patch on its larger freshwater cousin.

Nautiloid Endoceras Giganteum – 9 metres

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Both the giant squid and the colossal squid are larger than the Endoceras, reaching 13 and 14 metres long, respectively, but this estimated size is conservative, given that we have only the most basic fossilised evidence of this monster. The shell stored in Harvard University is 3 metres long, but it’s incomplete, and it’s estimated that a complete shell would be nearer to 5.7-5.8 metres. The length of the giant and colossal squid comes from the tentacles, but this older genus was all shell, which is even more terrifying, in a way.

Sarcosuchus Imperator – 12 metres

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Crocodiles and alligators aren’t exactly small now, especially the ones that like to wander around on golf courses, but try and imagine one the size of a whale shark. The Sarcosuchus, the largest saltwater amphibian ever discovered, was indeed this big, the largest of a family which averaged at about 10.5 metres from head to tail. Averaged. Evidence of them has been found almost the world over, and it is thought that their diet largely consisted of dinosaurs.

Elasmosaurus – 14 metres

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Plesiosaurs are one of three main groups of large marine reptiles which share d the earth with the dinosaurs. They are characterised by their extremely long necks and set of four flippers.  Since they predominantly ate small fish, they didn’t get particularly big, save for Elasmosaurus. This bruiser was originally mistakenly thought to have a short neck and an exceptionally long tail, such was the guess work nature of early palaeontology. Once it was rearranged, it was found that the creature was capable of amazing ‘swan like’ ventral and lateral movement, which leads experts to think that it probably approached schools of fish slowly, and then whipped its head around at speed to catch them.

The Monster of Aramberri – 15 metres

Img source: carnivoraforum / Dan Varner
There is a lot of debate about the largest pilosaur. It’s a subspecies of marine reptile we still have a lot to learn about, and the 2 largest specimens discovered have yet to be placed in any defined taxon. The first, ‘Predator X’, was discovered in Norway in 2008, and is also about 15 metres long, but The Monster of Aramberri is thought to be a juvenile, and there’s also evidence that was attacked by another, larger member of its own species. There are some claims that it’s a Liopleuradon, as seen in Walking with Dinosaurs, but since all previous specimens of those have been around half that length, it seems highly unlikely.

Leedsichthys – 16.5 metres

Boned fish are some of the greatest survivors in natural history, and some of them have remained largely unchanged for millennia, such as the coelacanth, which was thought to have been extinct until one was spotted off the coast of South Africa in 1938. The leedsichthys is very much extinct, which is comforting, given that it’s bigger than any fish living today, shark or otherwise. They lived during the Jurassic period, and fed on plankton. It may have been preyed on by the pilosaurs which it shared the ocean with, but there has been no evidence found to confirm this yet.

Mosasaurus Hoffmanni – 17.6 metres

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Not to be confused with pilosaurs (or ichthyosaurs, but we’ll get to that), mosasaurs were actually marine lizards. They existed during the cretaceous period, and their nearest modern cousins are monitor lizards. There are 40 known species, but Hoffmanni is by far the largest. Interestingly/terrifyingly, they also sported a loose lower jaw with a moveable joint, similarly to a snake, which meant that they could consume very large prey. Their teeth, meanwhile, were built to crack shells as much as to pierce flesh, and it’s thought that they would have gone after larger species of ammonites.

C. Megalodon – 18 metres

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Megalodon has become the stuff of legend. It inspired half of a terrible movie and in a recent spate of weirdness; the half-eaten carcass of a great white led certain people to suggest that they were still out there somewhere. They aren’t, but you can certainly see their lineage in many modern sharks, especially bulls and great whites. As you can imagine, Megalodon is thought to have had a ridiculously strong bite, some 6-10 times as powerful as the great white. That’s between 11 and 18 tons of force. Combine that with 18cm long teeth and you’ve got something which would have been able to break through bone almost effortlessly.

Shastasaurus – 21 metres

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Given that ichthyosaurs were the largest form of predatory marine reptile, it stands to reason that the biggest one yet found is also the largest extinct marine animal ever discovered, bigger than any prehistoric whale. In fact, the Shastasaurus was bigger than all but 2 of the largest animals ever to exist in the ocean, or anywhere else – the fin whale and the blue whale. Some of the links between whales and marine reptiles can be traced through examination of this huge beast, particularly the tail, which featured something which was almost a midpoint between a fluke and a dorsal fin. Since they lived in the Triassic, it could be suggested that later marine reptiles and predatory whales never got that big again because it was almost too big for its own good. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Deep sea drinking water – The next big thing or an expensive fad?

It sounds like a faddish craze, drinking bottled water from the depths of the ocean, but in reality, this could solve our sports drink problem. Straight from the heavenly shores of Hawaii, Kona Deep is bringing the wonders of Hawaii to the world! ... starting with the continental U.S.
Since announcing their nationwide launch in March, Kona Deep has been pushing their brand hard as an alternative drink for health-conscious aficionados. By summer’s end, the brand should be available on shelves throughout the U.S. Check their site for availability.

By no means a pioneer in deep-sea bottling, Kona Deep is more or less the popular kid on the block right now. According to their site, “a unique blend of electrolytes and trace minerals” are present in their bottled water, courtesy of the ocean blue. Like an energy drink, Kona Deep contains vital electrolytes to replenish the body, especially after physical activity. According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona (one of the first states Kona Deep launched in), deep sea water hydrates twice as fast as traditional means. If that weren’t enough to send fitness nuts to Amazon for a case of 12 ($33.99!), then consider that the miracle water has also been linked to aiding against stomach ulcers and cancer and alleviating symptoms of eczema.

Companies bottling the deep wonder water glean their source from Earth’s “Great Ocean Conveyer Belt” off the coast of Hawaii using piping, pumps, and high tech desalinating facilities. The currents moving from the Arctic, through the North Atlantic and into the Pacific continuously cycle, allowing melted glacier water from Iceland and Greenland to be harvested. Happily, this water source is completely renewable and naturally picks up its special blend of mineral goodness on a 1,000 year journey.


Sometime in the early 2000’s, Koyo USA Corp. started selling desalinated water harvested off the shores of Big Island. Under the name MaHaLo Hawaii Deep Sea, this water retails for a hefty price even today. Using a special pipe in HOST Park (Hawaii Ocean Science and Technology Park) built by NELHA (The National Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority), this water is pumped from a depth of 2-3,000 ft. yielding what is certainly the most uncontaminated water available for consumption. According to Koyo, the water comes from Greenland, traversing the depths of the Pacific Ocean. This glacier water, in addition to being rated Class AA (unaffected by human influences), is ripe with electrolytes and nutrients. For those concerned about pollution leeching from the sea, know that the desalination process removes any harmful pollutants in addition to making water drinkable.

In 2006, Hawaii Business published an article touting the merits of Koyo and deep-sea bottling in general. It was at this time, when a third desalinating plant was freshly designed and in the early stages of building, that selling to “markets outside of Japan: Hawaii, the U.S. Mainland, Europe, Korea and Taiwan,” became a real possibility. This special kind of bottled water was a staple in Japan thanks to Koyo. Only recently has the continental U.S. begun to claw anxiously at the prized bottles. 

Milk alternatives – Genuinely useful or nutty water?

Dairy alternative milks are a great option for those with lactose sensitivities or who want to be more conscious of what they put in their bodies. As it has become the new health fad, alternative milks are appearing in greater numbers and varieties in grocery stores.

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Experience the joy of hazelnut, cashew, or almond milk (thick and nutty), bask in creamy coconut milk goodness (healthy fats, but watery), soak into a sea of oat milk (fibre-rich and wheaty), ride high on hemp milk (tastes of plants), or indulge in the richness of rice milk (slightly sweet and best-tasting). Soy milk is not on my personal list as a viable option because of the negative effects it can have on women (1, 2, 3).

Fun Fact: Lactose sensitivity arises when a person lacks the enzyme lactase which is responsible for breaking down the naturally-present sugars in animal milk. Without it, imbibing milk can leave lactase-lacking people feeling bloated, sick, and with bouts of stomach pain and cramps.

Here’s what people fail to address with alternative milks: just as animal milk draws a certain amount of water, energy, waste, etc. so too does alternative milk. A single ounce of almonds requires 23 gallons of water. For almond milk, about 2 ounces of almonds are used to make a half gallon. Compared to animal milk, requiring up to 2,000 gallons for a single gallon, that might not seem like much; but consider that almond milk contains only a couple ounces of almonds which are then thrown into water to diminish them into nothingness. Doesn’t it seem a waste? Read up if you’re in doubt.

So, with that knowledge bomb, let’s examine some other milk alternatives that aren’t as harmful or diluted as almond milk.

Rice Milk is my personal favourite indulgence. Comprised of about 14% rice, oil, salt, and water, this low-fat alternative is the closest tasting to animal milk while still having a unique flavour. It has the delicious taste and sweetness of rice. However, it is severely lacking in nutritional value providing a negligible amount of protein, vitamins only when added, and is loaded up with carbohydrates. I recommend brown rice milk if you’re looking for something new. 3/10

Cashew Milk sounds like a little slice of heaven. Hitting shelves on the coattails of almond milk, this nut milk is made the same way, by blending water and ground nuts. It packs a punch with antioxidants, vitamin E, copper, and magnesium, though, like almond milk, it is lacking in protein (boo) and fat (yay). The creamy, nutty taste, which is less overwhelming than almond milk, may just be the right choice for you. Unfortunately, like almonds, cashews require a significant amount of water to grow. 4/10

Coconut Milk is quite popular for its spot on flavour and undeniably sweet taste. Made from grated coconut meat, it goes great with coffee/tea although I’ve found it to be a bit watery for my liking. The downside to this luscious concoction is the high amount of saturated fat (20% in one serving), despite the good levels of potassium, vitamins (C, E, B1, B3, B5, and B6), calcium, and healthy fats. This island treat is best enjoyed in moderation. 6/10

Hazelnut Milk is not the winning sister of the nut milks, meaning it is by no means popular in comparison to cashew or almond milks; though this seems a shame considering it is rich in protein, fibre, and magnesium. It has no cholesterol or saturated fats, but provides several vitamins (E, B1, B2, and B6), antioxidants, and folic acids. With such a flavourful ingredient, the milk tastes of full-bodied, sweet hazelnut and looks of it too, yielding a wheat brown colour. Not great for coffee/tea or cooking, it does work well in nutty cereals and for baking or hot chocolate.  7/10

Oat Milk is good all the way round as a vegan, sustainable alternative milk. With a high fibre and protein content (half as much as cow’s milk), oats have a great nutritional profile with many vitamins and minerals. A definite pro of oat milk is its total lack of saturated fats and cholesterol; however, it does have quite a bit of sugar and twice the carbohydrates as rice milk! Oats have many beneficial health properties which may outweigh the carbo-load and sugary properties for some, especially if an unsweetened brand is chosen. 8/10

If we’re being totally candid, Hemp Milk is a bit strange. It tastes and smells of vegetation, although don’t let that put you off since it’s only slight. In cereals or granola, hemp milk brings out flavour you never would’ve noticed without it. Not enough to sway you to the hemp side? Consider that a single serving holds 50% of the recommended daily intake of omega-3, amino acids and amino acids. A great source of protein, too. Try a little hippie juice for yourself! 9/10

I bet you never would’ve guessed that something as outlandish as Pea Milk would happen. Not only that, it’s all-the-rage for health nuts! Ripple’s new pea protein-based milk has the same protein content as cow’s milk with a low level of saturated fat. It also contains a decent level of calcium and vitamin D hidden behind a surprisingly milky taste. If you choose a bottle of Ripple milk, be sure to steer clear of the flavoured variety which contains 14 grams of sugar; opt instead for the Original (6 grams) or Original Unsweetened (0 grams). 10/10

Friday, 22 July 2016

The best diving spots: North America edition

So, we arrive at the end of our world tour of the best places to dive. It seems fitting to end with North America, as it’s absolutely teeming with dive centres and sites of all shapes and sizes from blossoming reefs to deep, haunting wrecks. 

People tend to think of North America as Canada, the USA and Mexico, but it actually comprises more than 20 different countries, most of them small islands. Amazingly, nearly all of them have some measure of diveability, but since we’re limited to 5, we’re just sticking to the highlight reel.

Avalon – Cuba

Sometimes referred to as the ‘Galapagos of the Caribbean’, the ‘Jardines de la Reina’ (The Queen’s Gardens’) lie some 80km from the Cuban mainland, it’s part of a huge barrier reef, the third longest in the world, most of which is contained in a natural marine park. It’s a proper ocean wilderness, bustling with sea life of all shapes and size, but the Avalon dive is particularly good if you want to see reef sharks. Dozens of them patrol the floor, checking between the coral for dead fish left by the diving guides. You’ll also see goliath grouper, barracuda, string ray, bull ray and turtles.

The USS Oriskany – U.S.A.

There are so many good dive centres in the USA, both on the coast and inland, that picking just one dive site to talk about here was immensely hard. Florida is one of the best parts of the country for it, so it’s probably the best part of mainland America to go for a diving holiday, and it also plays host to the largest artificial reef in the world. It’s also the only sunken aircraft carrier in the world that’s within recreational diving access, sitting between 40 and 61 metres below the surface. The US Navy used over 225kg of plastic explosives to sink it in 2006, and since then it’s been completely coated with coral and sponges. In turn, this has attracted crabs, octopus, hammerhead sharks, warsaw grouper, manta ray and, on a good day, the enormous mola mola, or sunfish.

The Painted Wall – British Virgin Islands

BVI is one of the most popular destinations in the Caribbean for diving, with hundreds of sites dotted along the chain, many of them championed by our old friend Cousteau. Many of the sites are characterised by striking coral formations, and as the name suggests, The Painted Wall is one of these. It’s a winding delight of vertical drops and passageways lined with an amazing array of colourful coral and sponges. Imagine any vibrant coral footage you’ve ever seen on TV and The Painted Wall is probably the nearest you’ll get to basically sticking your head through the screen. It’s a popular hangout for green turtles, and permanent residents include lobster, blue tang, frogfish, octopus, parrotfish, trevally and moray eels.

God’s Pocket – Canada

While it might not be the most immediately obvious destination for it, British Columbia has some absolutely phenomenal diving spots, particularly around Hurst Island. The coldness of the water and strength of the currents might be off putting for some, but once you get a glimpse of what’s down there, you’ll probably be able to summon up some courage. God’s Pocket is the island’s most popular diving area, a gorgeous lagoon brimming with colourful coral, and home to a range of big, bizarre marine animals, like 6 foot wolf eels, giant pacific octopus, lingcod, king crabs and even dolphins and sea lions.

Punta Tosca – Mexico

While Cozumel might be the most well-known coral diving area in Mexico, and Guadalupe might have a reputation for cage dives with great white sharks, Socorro Island is the place to go if you’re after some incredible encounters with giants without the need for any metal bars. Although there’s a healthy layer of coral on the seabed, you’ll spend most of your dive further up, interacting with the dolphins which inevitably arrive to investigate the new visitors. It doesn’t end there though, humpback whales turn up between January and April, and even if you don’t see one (which is a once-in-a-lifetime experience), you’ll hear them from miles away. Mantas are a common sight in the area as well, as are silvertips, Galapagos sharkers, silky sharks and even tiger sharks. If you want to spend some time skimming the bottom as well, you’ll see lobster and green turtles. It really is a ‘greatest hits’ kind of dive.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Water-bottle bees – The hive’s natural liquid cooling system

While they may be slightly irritating on a hot day, bees are truly remarkable creatures. Unlike their cousins the wasps, these little creatures serve a crucial purpose in many of the world’s ecosystems, providing new life through pollination. But what about when it comes to their own survival? Well, it turns out they’ve got a few tricks up their sleeves for that one too.

Excess heat has the potential to be a deadly problem for bee hives, as these close-knit, overcrowded communities aren’t exactly optimally designed for air flow. As such, they employ numerous methods to cool down the hive; some members of the colony fan the hive, others leave their home entirely in order to increase air flow within, and some specialised critters head straight for the nearest pond, lake or other water source.

However, they’re not simply headed to bask in the cooling waters in order to relieve their own discomfort; their true goal is much more selfless. They actually serve as living water bottles, collecting as much of the precious resource as they can before heading home to distribute it around the hive. When they return, they regurgitate whatever water they’ve managed to gather, allowing others to collect it. The water is then sprayed around the hive like an aerosol, cooling the entire colony as the water evaporates. That’s some truly ingenious thinking from such a small creature, and demonstrates just how effective this hive mentality can be for certain species. 

Research has shown that this behaviour is a direct response to the needs of others within the colony; the water collectors head out on request, responding immediately to increasing demand during hotter periods. They won’t stop until their companions cease these requests. Even when the hive is sufficiently cooled, they’re not quite done yet.

The bees will also gather a reserve, to be stored at the hive for later use. Some of the water is stored within the honeycomb itself, but most is stored much more efficiently within the bees themselves. Gorging themselves on water, a proportion of the hive will store said water within an expandable part of their gut, ensuring its availability should the hive heat up once more.