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April 2019    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 45, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Flotsam & Jetsam

from the April, 2019 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Oil Spill in the Solomon Islands. The Hong Kong-flagged MV Solomon Trader, carrying 700 tons of oil, ran aground on Kongobainiu Reef in early February. The villages of Matanga, Vangu Lavangu and Kangavu on the eastern side of Rennell Island have been devastated, and ocean swimming and fishing have been banned for the foreseeable future. Naturally, liveaboard dive boats are avoiding the area for now.

We Forgot Charlie Brown. Saint Eustatius diving enthusiasts Mark and Cynthia Carron (Tampa, FL) observed that our undercover writer failed to mention the iconic wreck of the Charles L. Brown in last month's travel feature on Statia diving. They said dives on the intentionally-sunk cable-laying ship that's 320 feet long and rests at 100 feet are easy. "You have not experienced diving in Statia unless you have experienced the exhilarating dive on this wonderful and very accessible wreck."

Are Vaquita Dolphins Doomed to Extinction? Jorge Urban, a biology professor at the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur, says only 22 vaquitas remain in the Gulf of California, the only home for the world's smallest and most endangered porpoise. Fishermen use hidden gill nets to catch prized but protected totoaba fish, because its swim bladders are a delicacy in China and can bring thousands of dollars apiece, but those nets drown vaquitas. Let's see how many of them remain after May -- that's peak season to catch totoaba.

Red Sea Brothers Open Once More. After they were closed to divers as a result of multiple shark attacks, the Brother Islands are open to divers again but subject to new government rules: No boat can moor overnight; the daily maximum number of boats is limited to 12 at Big Brother and six at Little Brothers, and government permission must be received beforehand. And now it is forbidden to dump any organic waste within five miles of the area -- crews must wait to flush the sewage tanks when the boats are underway.

Is There Gold at That Wreck Dive? An English fishing boat has recovered the anchor of what may be the wreck of the Merchant Royal, a 17th-century English galleon known as "the El Dorado of the Seas," that traded with Spanish colonies from 1637 to 1640. She was carrying 100,000 pounds of gold and 400 bars of Mexican silver when she sank 20 miles from England' Cornwall coast. Could it be as big a bounty as the Atocha wreck in the Florida Keys that carried $450 million? This discovery might spark a gold rush of wannabe Mel Fisher divers, because, at 300 feet deep, the Merchant Royal is within reach of technical divers.

Deadly to Coral, But Still Selling on Amazon. Don Folsom (Ignacio, CO) told us it is still possible to buy Reef Safe, the sunscreen heavily promoted to divers as being coral-safe even though it's totally not, from Amazon and other online retailers. We wrote recently about the manufacturer's shady marketing methods and the sunscreen's coralkilling ingredients that are now being banned in dive destinations like Palau, Hawaii and Key West, but that info apparently hasn't gotten through to the retailers selling it online. Folsom says, "I have written to many of them about false and misleading advertising and have been ignored. I've sent in reviews and flagged the products, but no dice."

Son Gets to Sue over Dad's Diving Death. A six-year-old boy has won the right to sue a company over his father's death on a diving trip. Lex Warner, of Sutton Coldfield, England, died on a deep-diving expedition off Northern Scotland's Cape Wrath in August 2012. His wife wanted to sue Scapa Flow Charters, the operator Warner dived with, but found she had run out of time to take action under maritime rules. However, the British Supreme Court ruled there was no time limit preventing her from suing as the guardian of her son, Vincent.

A Titanic Adventure. Fancy a visit to the Titanic? It's 12,500 feet down, but an exploratory submarine, aptly called Titan, is taking paying passengers. Starting in June, week-long expeditions are set to depart to from St. John's in Newfoundland in the first manned surveys of the decaying vessel since 2005. A ride on the Titan costs just over $168,000. Stockton Rush, CEO of OceanGate Expeditions, the U.S. company running the show, says the price tag is more than worthwhile for an experience more rare than space travel. The six expeditions scheduled for this year looked fully booked already, but there is still some availability for 2020 for those who have the desire and the dough.

Biting Back at a Shark Diving Ban. In February, we reported on how cage diving with white sharks had been banned by a New Zealand court, stating it was an offense against the nation's wildlife act. But one cage diving company is taking a bite at that ruling. Shark Experience Limited still takes customers cage diving and is fighting in court to overturn that court decision. Something they have on their side: The New Zealand Court of Appeals has acknowledged cage diving companies have been put in a difficult position through no fault of their own.

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