Aqua geographia vol. 24

LIFE ABOVE AND BELOW WATER

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SPECIAL EDITION 2003/2004

Everyone knows that seahorses are found in most of the world’s seas and that they are threatened with extinction – but hardly anybody knows thath they also live in fresh water! We have gone back in history and discovered much more (p. 190).

Photo: male seahorse (Hippocampus algiricus)

 

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Aquatic habitats in temperate zones:

THE WADDEN SEA I
Text  &  photos: Armin Maywald (pp. 6-24)

“…To most people the interface between land and sea conjures up visions of waves breaking on sandy beaches and against rocky cliffs.  But in places the sea and land are more intimately entwined, with shallow water, salt marsh, sandbanks, and mudflats flanking lowland coasts and areas where rivers enter the sea. The Wadden Sea,  bordering the coasts of Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands, sheltered from the turbulent North Sea by a chain of islands, is a vast and unique example of this type of habitat.  Many people shun such flat, inhospitable, and often dangerous areas – but they are a veritable paradise for wildlife, above and below water.  Part one of an in-depth study, with splendid photographs, by our freelance contributor Armin Maywald…”

ANTARCTIC
Photos: F. Banfi, MNA Genova, &  ag archives – Text: MNA Genova and Franco Banfi (pp. 154-181)
“…In collaboration with the Museo Nazionale dell’Antartide in Genova, and using edited extracts from their published work in The Antarctic Continent, the ag team has created an insight into how the ice masses are formed and what lives in them, along with a general overview of the biosphere of the  sixth continent. No effort has been spared to research in depth the highly interesting evolution of the fishes, whose origin may lie in fresh water, even though today they live largely in brackish water and the sea – ironically, beneath the greatest reservoir of fresh water on Earth – where they have adapted to conditions unique on our planet. We also report on the freshwater lakes, followed by a glimpse of the Antarctic avifauna, including the penguins. And in conclusion, the food practically everything feeds on, the start of the food chain (apart from the plankton): krill.
Plus, as a very special treat, our freelance contributor Franco Banfi, from Switzerland – who took most of the photos – describes his trip to the Antarctic and shows us its icy underwater world…”

Adventures and explorations:

NHAMUNDÁ
Text  &  photos: Heiko Bleher (pp. 29-57)

“…Nhamundá was originally the name of an indian tribe (now died out), and the river they lived along was named after them. The Spanish conquistador Francesco de Orellana – the first white man to travel the Amazonas – reached the mouth of the Nhamundá around 1541 and found only women in the indian village (the men were away hunting), and they set about its defence. The expedition log records that nha means Man and mundá  to fetch, and concludes that the women were like the Amazons of ancient Greek mythology (and that is why in 1555 this name was also given to the greatest river on earth…)…”

THREE HUMMOCK ISLAND
Photos: Natasha Khardina & Heiko Bleher – Text: Heiko Bleher (pp. 98-127)

“…There are people on our planet that are discussed in all the different media, whose names are ‘pushed’ until they are made important and popular. But usually there is little or nothing to justify the adulation. Nothing that doesn’t happen thousands – or more likely, millions – of times every day. We are ovenwehlmed with banalities 24 hours a day, on the TV and Internet, in the daily papers and the thousands of magazines  at the newagents, and i millions of new books every year. News and information on unimportant politics  (and politicians), biographies better left unwritten, unexciting ‘adventures’, ‘new’ discoveries of or about things that have been known for years, experiences and stories that turn out to be little (or no) more than everyday. But luckily there are exceptions, even though these are, unfortunately, almost always lost in the flood from the media. It is just such and exceptions, that I want to tell you about here, a most unusual        story – of that there is no doubt – and what it led to. Seeng is believing, and experience even better still…”

PRE-COLUMBIAN
Text  &  photos: Heiko Bleher – Drawings: Andrea Maturi (pp. 190-211)

When we think of pre-Columbian America, we usually think of the prehistory of a young continent – the so-called New World – and relatively late human colonisation  which makes any comparison with the  Old World impossible. However, since the advent of the radio-carbon dating method the chronology has been pushed ever further back into the past, until now it has become comparable with that of the Old World. Meanwhile many people have become aware that neither the art of Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, or Japan, nor the widespread art of Islam or even that of the entire Indian subcontinent, has attained the diversity and scope of pre-Columbian art. But few people know that the first waves of colonisation in the Americas took place at about the same time as those in Europe – perhaps even earlier. Or that the pre-Columbian master builders were already constructing stepped pyramids and other monumental structures at a time when very similar buildings were being erected in Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. And although much is known regarding the worship of various gods to whom sacrifices had to be made, we know practically nothing  about the  worship of one or more fish species – let alone seahorses – as gods. The author, Heiko Bleher, has researched  worldwide for decades and, with the aid of various archaeological museums, has made a compilation of the finds – some of them new – which we bring  you here. In addition the  Italian artist    Andrea Maturi has prepared paintings and sketches (here the Aztec wind god Quetzalcoatl; under the Mayan Kukulkan) at many sites and in museums…”

MOZAMBIQUE – A PREVIEW
Text  &  photos: Heiko Bleher (pp. 212-225)

“…Fascinating  Mozambique:  the flora and fauna still remain largely unknown. During a 9,000 km safari Heiko Bleher has studied the animal and plant life, finding aquatic ferns (left), numerous fish species, amphibians, reptiles, birds, elephants, hippos, and much more, as well as visiting the natives after almost   30 years of war. We here present six double spreads showing the highlights of his expedition, with notes.     A complete report follows…”

Fish tales:

THE BLUE HECKEL DISCUS
Text  &  photos: Hans-Georg Petersmann (pp. 58-63)

“…In conjunction with our article “Nhamundá”, Hans-Georg Petersmann, the well-known photographer, author, and freelance contributor to ag, brings us his thoughts on the almost solid blue discus from the Rio Nhamundá, and the story of how he obtained some…”

Nature unrivalled:

METEORITES
Photos: Massimo Brega – Text: Stefano Mirone (pp. 66-80)

“…Did life on Earth originate out in the universe? Was Mars inhabited long before the first primeval organisms evolved on our planet, some 1600 million years ago? Do extraterrestrials exist? To date there  are no definite answers to these questions. But it has been known for some time that there may once have been life on Mars. The recent fantastic photos from NASA show clearly that long ago there was water, the basis of all known lifeforms, there, in the form of large and small lakes and rivers. Research by our contributors Massimo Brega e Stefano Mirone has provided some possible answers to some of
the age-old questions. Perhaps the Hollywood film “The Red Planet” is nearer to the truth than science suspects…”

Secret underwater worlds:

MOLLUSC MAGIC
Photos: Solvin Zankl – Text: Kathrin Pläcking (pp. 81-84)

“…With their elegant lines, bizarre shapes, and wonderful colours, the marine snails of the Bahamas are a real treat for anyone with the patience to seek them out. Who would have thought molluscs could be so fantastic, or possess so much charm?…”

Endangered biotopes and cultures:

DIVING FOR SHARKS OFF NORTH CAROLINA
Text  &  photos: Wolfgang Pölzer (pp. 86-90)

Our freelance contributor Wolfgang Pölzer had only just returned from North Carolina with spectacular photos of the sand tiger shark when two simultaneous fatal shark attacks, quite close to where he had been diving, shocked the world. A 10 year old was attacked while lying on his surfboard – undoubtedly the shark thought it was a sea-lion (see ag 11 for an extensive report on shark attacks) and bled to death. And off  Avon a couple walking in a metre of water were attacked – the husband was badly injured and died of    heart failure, while the wife lost a foot as well as suffering other serious wounds. Not surprisingly the bad news spread through all the media and once again the beaches of America were empty – just as when “Jaws” was released.  Yet again the shark was portrayed as a man-eating monster. No-one bothered to mention that these were the first fatal shark attacks off the coast of North Carolina since 1957. Or that while   it is true that 79 attacks were recorded worldwide in 2000, only 10 of these had fatal consequences. To put this in perspective, there is a 30 times greater likelihood of being struck by lightning than of being attacked by a shark. Apparently people still do not understand that sharks simply do not eat humans – rather, the converse is the case. The Hong Kong Chinese alone imported 4,951 tonnes of shark fins in 2000 – in 1990 the figure was 3,838 tonnes. Globally, about 10,000 tonnes were traded last year, costing the lives of about 50 million sharks – as opposed to 10 people dead! That is not to value a human life as worth less than a shark, but that we should think very hard before condemning sharks as eating machines. Also that they   have populated our planet for more than 400 million years – ie they were here long before us – and are at the apex of the marine food chain. That their reproductive cycle is appreciably slower than that of Man, and that while our species continues to increase, the sharks are disappearing. Many of the scant 400 species have been threatened with extinction since the 1950s or may already be history – just because shark-fin soup has become a status symbol and the inhabitants of Hong Kong alone are today consuming more   shark fins than ever before. Likewise in China, where recently at a Beijing warehouse a large shark fin     was sold for US$ 9524.00. Hence it is no wonder that the merciless persecution of the surviving “eating machines”  continues undiminished despite all conservation measures – or perhaps because of them?       So enjoy Wolfgang Pölzer’s  story and his splendid photos – we hope they don’t turn out to be the last –       of his encounter with a “sea monster”

CULTURAL BRIDGES ALONG THE AMUR
Text  &  photos: Graham Simmons – Drawings: ag archives (pp. 128-140)

The Ul’chi, Nanai and Nivkh peoples are just three of more than twenty aboriginal peoples of the Russian Far East. Now, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Nanai and Ul’chi are returning to their ancient beliefs and lifestyles, including fishing and hunting. While fish numbers in the Amur River proper have been badly depleted by pollution, fish still abound in tributaries such as the Gorin River and Lake Bolon. The  Amur River supports more fish species than any other Russian river, with 108 species recorded. However, poaching has heavily depleted the stocks of these fish species.  “If poaching continues in the way it is, it   may totally exhaust the stock”, says Vladimir Belyayev, head of the Khabarovsk branch of the Pacific Fisheries  Research Institute.

HIRI MOALE FESTIVAL
Text & photos: Franco Banfi (pp. 25-27)

The Hiri Moale Festival, part of the annual Papua New Guinea independence celebrations, celebrates the annual trading voyages which the Motu and Erema people of Central Province made across the Gulf of Papua until the outbreak of World War II in the Pacific. Motu villages on the Papuan coast spent many months making thousands of clay pots to trade for sago, just one part of a complex and fragile trade    network that linked the coastal and inland villages from Daru in the west to Milne Bay in the east…

Portfolio: GRIGORJ FROM TASHKENT
Text  &  photos: Heiko Bleher (pp. 92-97)

Without doubt there are people on our planet who are “something else”. Grigorj, a vegetarian from Tashkent in Uzbekhistan, is one of them, and possibly quite unique. He says of himself, “I have been painting for 30 years, but have never earnt a penny from my painting. Instead I grow aquatic plants to finance my work as  an artist.” His studio (above) is right next to his aquatic facility (righthand page). He paints mainly in oils, but also in water colours. He lives in a country which celebrated its independence some 10 years ago, but has only recently become known to the world at large, because of the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Biology:

SEABIRDS II
Photos: Eric Herbert, Alan C. Shears, &  ag archives  – Text: Eric Herbert (pp. 146-152)

“…Birds that walk on the waves?  Mother Careys’s chickens?  Tubenoses?  You might be forgiven for thinking that these creatures must originate in some far-flung corner of the globe, if not in someone’s over-fervid imagination!  But in reality they are found – at least for part of the year – within a few hundred miles of London, one of the world’s great centres of human activity, nesting on the cliffs and offshore islands of the British Isles. For the rest of the year, however, they are indeed strangers to civilisation, wandering the oceans of our planet in effortless flight, seen only by sailors and other seafarers.  Ornithologist and photographer Eric Herbert introduces us to one of the least-known groups of British seabirds, the petrels…”

Myths and legends:

FISH MYTHS OF THE WORLD VI
Photos: Josef Guter &  ag archives – Text: Josef Guter (pp. 182-188)

“…The early Christians used a drawing of a fish both as a religious icon and as a secret recognition symbol. In the second century AD the theological writer Tertullian actually wrote “But we will be born again as little fishes, just like our ichthys (= fish) Jesus Christ was.” Of course, he was referring to baptism, and had no idea  that we did actually come from the water as we are originally descended from the first vertebrates to inhabit our planet, the fishes. And many people remain sceptical to the present day… The final episode in  our series on on fish myths, the product of years of research…”

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