Tag Archives: Atlantic Ocean

Is the water safe?

Well of course we’re going to throw poo at ‘im! If you have any poo, fling it now.  (Madagascar)

Do we swim in that?

There certainly seems to be  a s***storm about sewage going on in Bermuda this week. If you haven’t read the local papers, in summary, the US Consulate here on island issued a warning to tourists that swimming off the south shore beaches of Bermuda could be a health hazard. I first saw it on April 1st and so perhaps unsurprisingly thought it was an April Fool.  Then today I received an email that originated with the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

No prizes for guessing what they were going to say – an emphatic

 our waters continue to be safe and beautiful for swimming

It is hard to find the truth, but have you seen the water? It is crystal clear, shades of turquoise and very hard to resist.  Yes I know that bacteria can’t be seen swimming along by the naked eye, but I would rather swim here than off Brighton beach any day. (sorry Brighton, I could have said Tenby or Swansea but the Welsh might get upset)

Sometimes reading other blogs is amusing, not that I am encouraging you to read them instead of mine, and one from the Washington Post reports one person who felt he had ear infections from Bermudian sewage (more likely to be fungal and common in swimmers, sewage or not) and anther who attributes cancer to regular swimming in radioactive sludge which apparently also comes out of this pipe.Really?

Actually most of Bermudian poop goes into cesspits under our homes, they have to be suitably lined and professionally cleaned from time to time, so I am told. I expect property owners will know far more than I do on this – how often and how much?  So the waste that everyone is so energised about is a single pipe that ends about ¾ mile off Hungry Bay.  This carries sewage from the city of Hamilton (for my UK friends, this city is nothing like a UK city, more like a very small town or even a large village) and it has the pretty name of Seabright Outfall. 

Tourism activists (good term that, I think it means people who moan about things with good intentions) are saying that this is Bermuda-time-bomb, hepatitis, enteritis and typhoid lurk in the bay for the unwary swimmer.  The Bermuda Tourism Authority – this replaced the short-lived Bermuda Tourism Board – points out that not only is the pipe 100 fathoms deep  but also that the prevalent currents will almost always pull the effluent eastwards out into the Atlantic ocean.  Almost always is a bit worrying – when does it not?

So I went back to the scientific research that the US Consulate claims underlay its statement, which turns out to be just the results for 2013 water testing off Bermuda beaches.

 

Some maths coming up

Some maths coming up (from Bermuda Government DOH)

To help:

  • Enteroccoci are bugs
  • cfu = colony forming unit
  • safe limits are 35cfu /100mls
  • EPA = Environmental Protection Agency
  • mean = average (shame they don’t give the range)

So, at Hungry Bay 25 samples were taken between April and November 2013.  About 4% of these were over the upper safety limit for the bug count . And here’s the maths: 4% of 25 is 1 isn’t it? I checked this with my husband (he has a maths degree so might be up to this ) and I have run it through my brain several times – what I think it means is that one sample was over the limit in 2013.  I am not sure that will convince many people to change their behaviour.

More maths – some claim the waste appears in golf-ball sized globules while others say they are marble-sized.  The volume of a golf ball is about 40cc (wikipedia, you don’t think I know that sort of stuff do you?) but that of a marble is around 2cc, so a 20 fold difference. I admit neither would be particularly pleasant.

It seems it all depends on what you read:  BM-Online paints a gloomy picture that hasn’t improved over the years; Trip Advisor had a forum discussion on exactly this issue back in 2006; Tony Brannon, a tourist activist who once was a member of the Bermuda Tourism Board (thats an interesting read dubbed Brannongate by a 2011 blogger) has been quoted as saying Bermuda government should approach the issue with a degree of urgency. All three online Bermuda papers have something to say about it. The two Bermudians I asked about it today both smiled and shrugged, and that is probably the approach I am going to take. Well, come on, have you seen the water?

The Atlantic Sea – and a boat

Shore

At least you can sea where to put your feet

Advertisements

Coral Reef

This post was triggered by two events – one was a talk about coral reefs at a recent International Womens Club lunch (yes, I have become a woman who does lunch) and the other a wander along the coastal section of a nature reserve to the east of the island that was littered with huge chunks of old and rusted metal, possibly from metal barrels or vehicles.  So yesterday I listened to two lectures on iTunesU about coral reefs (iBioSeminars, Dr Knowlton from the Smithsonian Institute).

Bermuda is the northernmost coral reef at 32 degrees north, sitting on top of a very very old volcano.  The sea mountain itself is basalt but it is topped with limestone made by organisms that fix calcium carbonate from the water such as corals.

 

 

What exactly are corals? 

Definitely animal, and the individual in the colony is called a polyp.

Image

One I prepared earlier!

 

The polyp is effectively a column with a mouth at the top, it is radially symmetrical.

They all have nematocysts – harpoons of sting cells to catch prey.

Inside the coral is a community of algae, bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses, which are essential for the health of the coral.

 

Zooxanthellae are algae that live in corals  – under the microscope they look like small green balls. They use sunlight to make sugars that the corals can use to grow.

 

 

Image

Coral animals are hard to classify – even for the experts.

They all belong to the Phylum Cnidaria

Not all of them will make rock, some serve as anchors or to attract fish.

There are different kinds and four groups make stony skeletons:

True corals, Blue corals, Organ pipe corals, Fire corals (this one hurts lots)

Fire Coral: Millepora alcicornis

Then there are sea fans and soft corals which don’t build rocky skeletons.

They grow in complex shapes and one family can make several different shape colonies.

Corals do actually reproduce sexually, releasing eggs and sperm in a mass spawning event that occurs a set time after the full moon – the timing is down to a specific hour after sunset and studies have shown for example that one species will spawn at two hours after sunset and then another species on the same night but four hours after sunset.  Such tightly controlled reproductive life would be something of a bind for humans.

This next bit is important: 

Coral reefs face risks as great as that for the rain forests  

The risks come from:

  • Pollution
  • Overfishing
  • Rising sea temperatures
  • Coral diseases 

All of these lead to a process called coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching is destroying the coral reefs around the world.

It is named “bleaching” because the corals lose their colors.

It occurs when the algae get stressed and stop photo synthesizing.

They are stressed when it is too hot, too sunny, or the water is too acidic.

So the algae die and the coral spits them out – so instead of seeing the algae inside you can see through the polyps to the stony skeleton which is white.

Without the algae the coral cannot build skeletons so cannot grow.

 

Image

Bleaching of coral. Photo from The Royal Gazette

The coral in the right side is bleached.

One cause of bleaching I had not fully appreciated is sun tan lotion where the ultraviolet filtering chemicals dissolve in the water in as short a time as fifteen minutes.  Biodegradable sunscreens are apparently available (Badger; Caribbean Solutions) so will be on my shopping list for next summer.

Corals also suffer from diseases, with unimaginative names such as “white band disease” and “black band disease”.  But as yet it isn’t known which bacteria or viruses might cause the diseases because they don’t yet know the normal microbiological life in coral. There are over 6000 identified species of coral bacteria!

One of the theories of coral disease is linked to seaweeds producing sugars that get absorbed into the coral which cannot handle them – diabetic coral if you like.  It is a problem because of seaweed overgrowth where weed-eating fish have been decimated by overfishing.  They have documented coral reef destruction with increasing density of seaweeds in the reef area.  Seaweed grows much faster than coral and so tends to take over pretty quickly.

 

Coral reefs are being lost at a rate of 1-2% per year.

Why does it matter? 

For Bermuda,

  • The reef protects the island from the force of tropical storms – without it each hurricane could be as damaging as Fabian was in 2005.  
  • The reef provides a habitat for commercially important fish 
  • Recently there has been pharmaceutical interest – some species of cone snails that live on the reefs can produce analgesics. 
  • Being the most northerly coral reef, thousands come to the island to see the reefs and fish. So loss of the reef would seriously damage  Bermudian economy. 
  • The reef is a natural boundary that protects the shoreline from the power of the waves – inside the reef the waves will be typically several feet lower and so less coastal erosion occurs.

For other places such as the Phillipines some areas are highly dependent on the reef for food and employment, so their economies would be seriously affected by loss of the reefs.

What can I do?

  • Take only pictures, leave only bubbles.
  • Choose my seafood wisely – only sustainable fish
  • Don’t buy coral jewellery
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Plant a tree – trees reduce run off into the oceans
  • Take away my own rubbish, but also pick up a piece of other rubbish each time I visit a beach
  • Stay informed and spread the word …

 

Hurricane – be prepared?

I have collated my hurricane survival pack, but is it all just hype and a waste of $ and time?

IMG_1905

What are the facts? 

 

I excitedly downloaded some apps for hurricane watching, my enthusiasm a little dampened to find my husband already had them on his iPad (grudgingly I accept that his job in insurance makes them more than a passing interest). I spent a few happy hours watching Tropical Storm Erin, almost sad to see it fizzle out in the mid Atlantic.

 

Quote from Bermuda online (a really useful website if you ever consider moving here):

Studies conducted by the Bermuda Weather Service found that from 1609 to the present day devastating storms affect the island every six to seven years. Our tropical cyclone or hurricane season is from May through to November, with an average of one storm passing within 180 nautical miles of the island every year

 

http://www.bermuda-online.org/climateweather.htm

 

It doesn’t take much research to discover that the last really big hurricane here was Fabian in 2003 – the library has numerous islander accounts of the event and 4 people died.  Windspeed was over 105 knots with gusts at 145 knots, waves reached heights of 35 feet and the storm surge was over 11 feet.

 

 

1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour = 1.15miles per hour = 1.82km per hour

(wind is considered a navigational fluid and hence measured in knots by meteorologists, but translated into miles per hour for most of us)

 

A hurricane is a tropical storm with winds of 74mph (64 knots) or higher. The name is thought to come from the Mayan God of Wind, Huracan.  In the Pacific they are called typhoons.  As it develops it grows from a tropical disturbance to tropical depression to tropical storm then hurricane.

I absolute love the topic of weather and clouds and climates, it probably came from a really good geography teacher, but to save me boring you I will distill it into a few sentences:

 

  • Sun warms the sea and warm moist air rises, leaving a low pressure area underneath ( a depression)
  • Winds spiral inwards, due to the low pressure and the Coriolis Effect (spin of the earth)
  • The system gains energy from water vapour condensing into cloud.
  • The winds blow counter-clockwise in Northern hemisphere forming a closed spiral of storms
  • Categories are determined by wind speed, 1-5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale (1973) (Robert Simpson experienced his first hurricane aged 6, went on to become a storm-chasing meteorologist and is now 100)
  • A storm surge is a wall of ocean that the hurricane brings as it breaches land.

 

http://www.weather.com

http://www.nasa.com   (this website is amazing – has problem based learning modules and fun stuff)

 

The University of Florida actually has a hurricane simulator.

 

Now, where was I? 

 

I guess the basic question I am trying to answer is whether (ha) I am likely to experience a hurricane while on Bermuda.

 

Back in April, Dr Jeff Masters (http://wunderground.com) predicted 18 named storms and 9 hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Names, by the way, are selected in order from six lists of alternating male/female and a name is retired if there are fatalities.

I was initially sceptical, but it turns out that Jeff Masters is a meteorologist, lectures at university level, runs the Weather Underground website and writes a really intelligent blog. You can find them on Facebook where they post some really beautiful photographs of weather.

 

Erin was the fifth named tropical storm in the Atlantic this year in a season that extends from June to November.

The risk rises as the seas get warmer

 

Current sea temperature around Bermuda is 85 (really good swimming) and average windspeed yesterday across the island was 10 knots.  There are no alerts or warnings on any of the five apps I downloaded (I did say I get excited by weather).

So my survival pack sits by the door “in case

 

What’s in it? 

 

  • Torch x2 (a super light LED one that floats and has a secret compartment + a bike headlamp)
  • Wind-up radio
  • Spare clothes x2 sets
  • Blanket
  • Towel
  • Toothbrush etc
  • Food – pilchards, beans, sweetcorn, cereal bars and nuts
  • Water (in non-BPA bottles)
  • Can opener (overkill I expect as the cans all have easy open tops)
  • Knife, Spoon, Bowl, Cup
  • Waterproof document holder with passport, residency permit and cash,
  • Notebook, pen, book, batteries,
  • First aid kit, ibuprofen, sunscreen

IMG_1906

 

Anything else you can think of?

 

Whenever we go on holiday I am greeted with a sigh of inevitability as I emerge from the house with “just one more thing” to fit in the car – it could be wellingtons, towels, washing up bowl (we camped a lot) or just a map book, but I always had something extra and thus I am still teased that it will be the same if we have to leave the house for a hurricane …. I can’t think what it will be, but I wouldn’t want to disappoint!

 

I haven’t really answered my question, and have probably scared everyone away from visiting.

To put it into context, before Fabian most storms veered off before reaching Bermuda; Arlene in 1963 caused some damage but nobody died, then further back the only really damaging one was one in 1926 (the naming system wasn’t in place at that time) which did result in 88 deaths, but all were from the Valerian British warship anchored close to Bermuda. Since Fabian there have been two tropical storms passing close by – Florence in 2006 and Igor in 2010.

 

Bermudian buildings are built to withstand strong winds – the older ones are limestone and the newer ones concrete, with limestone roofs and hurricane shutters on windows so I don’t envisage being homeless.  It is likely that the power will go and as good as Belco are, we may not have power for water pumps, toilets or cooking. I have candles and lots of books to replace the TV, but am sure I will miss the internet most!

 

Will the kit find its way back to UK with me when we relocate? A few years ago our children gave my husband for his birthday a “survival kit”  – one they had pulled together including fire-starting kit, compass, knife, space blanket, food packs etc. along with books on how to survive in various wilderness settings.  He still has it.  So, probably, yes I will take it back to UK just as it is – assuming we haven’t used it!