Crown of Thorns (CoTs) in the heart of the coral triangle

Posted in Uncategorized on July 18, 2018 by diveaware


Raja Ampat is the cradle of marine biodiversity. It lies within the heart of the coral triangle between Papua New Guinea and Sulawesi. The pristine state of the reef in this region correlates with its remoteness. It is very hard to get here!

raja-ampat-west-papuaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We stayed on the Southern tip of Gam Island at a small homestay called Daryon village. Our purpose in Raja Ampat was to bring aid to the spreading Crown of Thorns (CoTs) outbreak. CoTs are native to the South Pacific and feed on coral flesh. CoT coral eatenWhen nutrients are introduced into coastal waters, the CoT larvae have a high survival rate and an outbreak follows about 5-7 years after the larvae mature into adults. Nutrients can come from hurricane damage, agriculture runoff, coastal development or human waste.

Once an outbreak has started, eradication is the only way to stop it. We came with 5 CoT kits to see if they could be part of the solution to the outbreak. The CoT kits are simply an Injection syringe, a needle with an extension and a water bladder with

kit cot10% acetic acid inside. According to our sources from Japan and Australia, 20ml will kill a CoT. We wanted to test out their effectiveness first hand.

When we arrived, locals told us about an old fish farm where they had seen many CoTs on the reef below.We mounted an effort and invited local dive shops and resorts to come test out the kits. After a tutorial and some dive gear configuration, we headed out on our hunt. We were overwhelmed with the amount of CoTs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAin the area. Some corals had 3-6 CoTs feeding on them at a time. Our local snorkel guide Gelix was a great help with his hook pole. He would pull out the CoTs from their hiding place and we would come along and inject them. After this effort, 4 divers had killed 150 CoTs in 1 hour.Haja hunt

Gelix hook



On the small island of Arborek, we met up with the local dive shop operator who had gone out at the same time with 15 local snorkelers and 2 divers. They used the traditional methods of long bamboo tongs and physically removed the COTs and brought them to shore to be dried and then burned. They removed 340 in 2 hours. At the end of the day we had removed close to 500 CoTs off that reef, using a variety of techniques and technologies. We discussed the use of the CoTs kits with our dive guide Haja, Githa from Arborek SCUBA and Eureka from Barefoot Conservation.IMG_20180609_120616906

They all seemed to find it more efficient than removing them. “Some of the CoTs are tucked way back in the reef and with the Injection kits they could still inject them without harming the corals.”


After this trial, we feel that using the kits in combination with the hook poles are an efficient way to kill the CoTs without having to remove them. Studies from outbreaks in Japan have shown that the 10% vinegar solution does not harm animals that may eat the CoTs after they had been injected. Some natural predators are the Tritans Trumpet snail, Bumphead parrotfish and the Emperor trigger fish. I think there is also a benefit to physical removal, not to inundate an area with decomposing CoTs.bumphead

In response to this effort we have created a video that can be used as a training aid and a purchasing guide for people that are planning to travel to Raja Ampat and want to bring a kit to leave with their homestay or resort host. Trees To Seas has also received some generous donations to purchase 120 more kits, and we are looking for volunteers to bring them to Raja Ampat on their dive trips for distribution.

These outbreaks can become overwhelming if they go unchecked. With local effort and coordination I think Raja Ampat will successfully reduce the amount of CoTs and restore balance. The next step is to prevent it from happening in the future…







Conserving Conciousness

Posted in Uncategorized on August 14, 2016 by diveaware


We set out again, our green boat captain Hari greets us at Mir, her Bow eyes wink as we depart for our day of science on Bali’s reefs. Our mission for the day is to visit Kelor, the a Mir eyes DSC08748 copytip of Bali Barrat National Park, just across the narrow channel from the Island of Menjangan. _ags_757147

I didn’t sleep well last night, the food didn’t sit right with me. My small bunk was hot and I had a dream that someone had crept in, their smoky breath woke me up. They had my lower lip in their teeth, they bit down hard and hissed Shhhhhhh.

But I can’t be quiet about this. So many have disappeared quietly in the dark.  We act as if there was nothing we could do. But there is, we can call attention, wake up! Entire species are going extinct in front of our eyes !

Symphony Reef 2012

As a child we have big dreams of making a difference in the world, some how making it a better place. Then adulthood hits, and we are told to grow up, get a job, pay your debts, find a nice place to live, put your wild dreams aside and start living in reality. For me, being an honest spirit, adulthood means materializing those dreams into realities.

Back to my current reality, I am living on a beautiful old ship crewed by the Biosphere Foundation who have invited me to be apart of their coral reef survey on some of Indonesia’s most beautiful reefs in North Western Bali. I am one in a crew of nine. A line to describe them all;IMG_20160627_132946395

Daniel; humble and wise, Dan; confident and sensitive, Kitty; determined and compassionate, Carol; resourceful and holistic, Phil; curious, and youthful, Hari; leader and joyful, Gaie; sinergistic and loving, Lasor; passionate and unstoppable, and me Liv; adaptable and patient.

This is our scientific crew, all have unwavering commitment and have sacrificed time in their lives to write this story so that unborn generations may have a chance, a record and most of all a will to learn from their ancestors. I overheard Lasor say, “ We’re not doing this for our lives.” True, were doing it for strangers, people we will never meet and people who will never know our names, but the story will be told.

_DSC3149The story of a beautiful realm that thrived beneath the waves, full of color, diversity, and every shade of life you could imagine.  A story about the struggle to survive as their world became viscus with sediment and pollution. Plagued with disease and rampant with slaughters and kidnappings. Slowly this kingdom began to disintegrate, and the other kingdoms that were supported by this vibrant foundation began to crumble.  But the greater consciousness realized that it was not separated into independent kingdoms supporting diverse organisms, but apart of one living organism that was created by all the biodiversity.Symphony damage This one organism was so complex and had such an awareness of it’s self that each part had developed it’s own identity and awareness down to the individual unit of life. Alas, it had forgot that the self awareness it possessed was plugged into the collective consciousness that made the entire creature. Like the legs of the octopus, each one armed with it’s own brain and will, but if the legs are not working together to care for the octopus, then what is the benefit to the leg?

This story we tell is still being written, it has no end. We are all writing our piece, and this team has come together at this moment in time to put together this witness statement of where our history has led us. A testimony so the unborn remember what happens when you forget where you come from. What happens when pieces of the whole are sacrificed for the well being of a few.  What happens when we stop being conscious?IMG_20160628_152042197_HDR

The collective unravels into unrecognizable pieces cascading down showering us all in blinding debris. We can’t see, we can’t breathe, but if the story told by honest spirits can be remembered, and echoed through the fabric of consciousness, the collective can be re nit, and the creature will become conscious once more. Never in the it’s previous form, but continuing to contribute to the experience  of life. Evolving, and most of all participating in this universal story.PICT0238

Bearking Through Barriers for Conservation

Posted in Uncategorized on April 26, 2016 by diveaware

The American Academy of Underwater Sciences is a group of dive professionals that are dedicated to training scientists to safley collect their data underwater and develop new methods to do research underwater. They make possible the underwater exploration in the name of science. It is to these individuals Phil Dustan and I are trying to explain the intangible affects of participation and the power behind it.

It would seem that science broke free from it’s connection to philosophy and emotion with the dawn of modern science. Before there was a holistic connection to science, the philosophy behind it, and what drove us to explore and ask questions. That drive has never left, but we are forced to exclude it in our methods, or our findings. It is this drive that connects us to our world, what makes the scientist so passionate.

Ed Ricketts, early 1930’s coastal marine ecologists found a way to combine his scientific discoveries with his philosophies on humans interaction with the world. His essays on Breaking Through and non-theological thinking helps describe what happens to us emotionally when we participate in life and why that is crucial for all our well being and survival.

Breaking Through revolves around our desire to participate in liefs events. But to participate we must go outside ourselves and engage in something bigger. This action creates a connection. Weather it is to other people, or animal or the environment the connection allows us to care for more than just ourselves. This is the breaking through.

He outlines the path that breaking through takes:

1. an intolerable problem

2. facing the problem and discovering a solution

4. becoming unbiased and resolved. An emotional release.

Through this path we take an inner journey that frees us from our own helplessness and empowers us to change the world. The action of consciously facing a problem that is overwhelming is courageous. Physically interacting and working on solutions creates the energy, the participation. The release is the triumph, arriving upon a solution. The emotional reward from this is breaking through an understanding that we are apart of something greater than the self. That we can tap into that with other people and organisms. We are suddenly not alone.

It is this underlining concept that we introduce to AAUS, We present four examples of participatory projects and the impact it has on student divers. Our presentation to the AAUS community was titled Breaking Through Barriers for Marine Conservation. We recapped the history of diving with the advent of the Aqualung and how it opened up the shallow seas for sport, exploration and Science diving. In the 60-70 diving scientists documented increased ecological degradation correlated with local to global anthropogenic stressors. We emphasized that science can no longer be simply “loading doc” science. We must have a plan that remidiates or restores the habitat to support life.

We then provided our examples of projects being done around the world that are based form science, reduce local impacts damage and focus on local participation.

1. Hawaii clean up dives

2. Belize Lionfish removal.

3. Belize/ Jamiaca Sea Urhin Restoration Effort (SURE)

4. Bali Mooring buoy team.

After briefly describing these projects we put out our call to action. For AAUS to include conservation diving into thei programs. Each Organizational Member would develop appropriate exercises for the environments they are diving in, and instill the ethics of conservation into their students and divers.

When we gave our final slide and thanked everybody for coming, we were met with a round of applause. Hands flew up and starting asking questions about the individual projects and pictures we had shown. We also had a lot of advocacy from those members that partner with citizen science groups and those that see the value in the ethic.

We are entering a new age where it is imperative to get involved and participate in the solution. Our ocean is just the symptom of a sick world. Our disconnection from our food, our goods and the earth has perpetuated this disease. We as a planet are very sick, and we need to get involved with the recovery of the whole biosphere. A small group of people can not accomplish this. We need local communities all over the world to work together and care for their reefs,watersheds,wet lands, forests, grasslands and every other ecotype on the planet. The ecology is local, the effect is global. Participate, connect with world beyond yourself and break through

Bali Dive Master’s

Posted in Uncategorized on July 4, 2015 by diveaware



I am on my 27th hour of travel back from Bali and I am still in the air. I don’t know what day it is, or what time zone I am in. But I do know that I just experienced some life changing events that will ripple through out many lives.


It began last summer. I was staying on the Northwestern corner of Bali, sitting on a beautiful sailing ship named Mir, talking with Gaie, one of the founding members of Biosphere Foundation. We were discussing what the local Balinese people needed to help their conservation efforts for the coral reefs of Menjangan Island. She wanted to know what Trees To Seas had to offer. I told her that I could give people professional dive training and certifications. So the idea was hatched that TTS would come the next summer and conduct a Dive Master Course with some of the leaders in the community.


As I put the program together with Phil Dustan our criteria became evident. I needed individuals that were more than just leaders. I needed waterman and reef advocates. I needed commitment to the cause and especially to the course. My two Candidates emerged: Ketut Sutama and Wayan Ardika.

fig 4

Sutama, an elder in his village used to be a fisherman. He used to practice dynamite fishing and collect aquarium fish by injecting  cyanide into corals where they hid. Both are illegal but still current practices within the area. Sutama was convinced through Biosphere, that Menjangan Island was a precious economic recourse. The shift from fishing to tourism began about 15 years ago and he has continued to help convince many of the other fisherman in the village that a fish on reef can bring much more money than a dead one in the market. That was when the village began to shift from fishing to guiding. Sutama now leads the Mooring Buoy Team, established by the Biosphere Foundation and is part of Friends of Menjangan. sutama reg


Wayan works at the Menjangan Resort. He apprenticed with his father as a carpenter in early 2000 to help build the resort. He went from carpenter to gardener, tending the newly planted grounds. When Water Sports became established he started to work as a snorkel guide. A few years earlier he had learned to clean trash off coral while diving with the Biosphere Foundation.  Last year I remember him saying in passing, “ I dream of one day getting my Dive Master, but impossible”. We chose Wayan because he was one of the first to join Friends of Menjangan, he is on the Eco Commission for the resort, organizes clean ups on the island, and is developing a passion for conservation.DSC08539


DSC_0016 On June 4, 2015 we started the Divemaster Program. With my assistant from Trees To Seas, Jake Taylor and Dr. Phil Dustan we started from page 1 of the PADI Divmaster Manuel and read aloud each chapter. A typical day would start at 9am. Sutama and Wayan would show up to the Biosphere Foundation field station in Buleleng where we were staying. Sierra Silverstone, Biosphere’s Botanist and Agro-Forester keeps the station for volunteers, internees, and visiting scientists. From 9am to 2pm we read the PADI book and worked through Knowledge Reviews until dive briefeveryone’s head hurt. Then, after some lunch, we would take our gear down to the Bintang Beach for in-water scenarios skill demountil it got too dark to dive. We celebrated each day with a tasty Bintang, Indonesia’s local beer and namesake of the beach. And that’s how it went for 12 days straight. There was some variation; we did a night dive at Dream Wall on Menjangan, mapped the reef off the Watersports Dock, and went to some other locations.

sutama map

We quickly discovered that the dive training was the easy part and that the real challenges lay within the pages of the Dive Master book and its formal conceptual learning which opened my eyes to the westernized structure of PADI’s course. These guys had never experienced questions that were Sutama headacheframed in the negative, true or false, or fill in the blank.  At the edge of their English comprehension, Wayan used a translation app on his phone while he and Sutama struggled to understand the meaning of complex sentences. Concepts like liability _DSC2471insurance, finding a form on the internet, or upselling a dive package were alien to them.  We taught them the physics of water pressure with stacks of water glasses and used the proportion of pens and pencils lying on a table to illustrate the theory of partial pressure. We felt much more like students than teachers, learning how to describe things like photosynthesis and primary productivity using words and ideas that Sutama and Wayan could understand.

liv teach

In the end, both men passed their final exam with high scores, but the real test will be in the cuttle Jakesea.  We chose Wayan and Sutama as our first students so they can be role models for the rest of the community and it’s ocean-based livelihood. Their Dive Master certifications will give them more influence on the diving practices of their tourist guests and other guides.  Hopefully they will be able to pass on the knowledge we gave them about reefs, how to clean corals on their tours and how to replace broken fragments to implement a more sustainable eco-tourism style approach for the reefs of Menjangan Island.  net grab


Next year when we go back, we have an even bigger job. We will resurvey the reef to measure it’s changing ecology since sequential studies in 2000 and 2011. This information will help us solidify conservation solutions that local Balinese can implement to protect their reef ecosystem that has become such an important economic engine of their local economy. Though today’s global changes threaten coral reef stability, it is the effort of local conservation that help reefs become more resilient to global pressures.

All ecology is local.




Waste is not waste unless it’s wasted

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 22, 2015 by diveaware

Biosphere 2: 3.5 acres of completely sealed off space, containing manufactured biomes capable of supporting the lives of 8 people for nearly2 years


Waste water garden at Mata Kail, north Bali. Solids are deteriorated by anaerobic microbes and nutrient-rich fluid is filtered through earth providing food and water to plants.

All disposing comes with the opportunity and indeed the obligation to make the waste beneficial in some new way. If this one principle alone was recognized by the human race, I think much of the damage we do and the disconnect we experience would abate. I’ve been thinking for some time about a precise way to effectively and widely communicate a coherent blend of sustainability, conservation, food awareness and waste reduction; what I see as four key elements to the salvation of humankind. Learning once more about the Biosphere II project might have illuminated an effective method. It occurred to me what a powerful teaching tool the experiment is, because it so effectively demonstrates the actions of a closed system, as Earth effectively is. By experiencing such a close relationship to each of the biomes within, the team of scientists demonstrated the necessity of each ecosystem and the delicacy with which their livelihood hung in the balance of ecosystem health. When people realize that this planet and its inhabitants share the same intimacy, then I think they become aware of the consequences of poor environmental management.

In Biosphere II (which I hope to write about at length soon), the intimacy with the closed system was glaringly obvious. There were glass walls separating 8 people from the outside world. Because of this, it was obvious that collecting waste in a bin to be carried away ambiguously was not an option. For the same reason, abuse of the systems providing necessary oxygen, fresh water, food and vital decomposition would result in immediate consequences for the biospherians, and a loss of sufficient life support. The way that they viewed their environment was as if they were a part of it, because they very literally were. Food grown was passed through their body and returned to the soil providing essential nutrients to the ground, allowing it to once more produce their only source of sustenance. Sierra Silverstone, caretaker of Mata Kail, where I now reside, is a founder of The Biosphere Foundation and has utilized this cycle in a wastewater garden, which represents an idea worth spreading.

More to the point, everyday we poison our waterways, butcher our forests, exploit our oceans and abuse our wetlands without thinking of the services they provide as immediately necessary to our well being. We are lucky that our childish blundering through valuable resources and habitats have thus far been absorbed by the immensity of our own biosphere, but that fact is quickly fading as these habits escalate.


You’re never really alone when you have music

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 18, 2015 by diveaware

Sharing some thoughts on the Trees to Seas mission to Bali.
This is the first time I’ve been alone since leaving the airport in Denpasar. A beautiful home with a garden in front and a bamboo mesh for the front wall will be my home away from home. It is called Mata Kail, “fishhook” in the language of Indonesia and it affords all the comforts of home. I’m trying my best to clean the place up before my host returns. Ms. Sierra is London born, but has been living in Bali for the better part of a decade.

The Balinese are an extremely superstitious people. There’s bad spirits to protect your newborn from and powers associated with each day. Offerings are given and priests are consulted so all is done in a way that keeps one’s karma aligned in a favorable way. Sitting here in solitude I’m trying to imagine a life so connected to the niskala, the intangible, the spirit world. Mata Kail is known to have very good energy. All the Balinese that come here comment on the good fortune and safety within its walls. I was raised by the objectivists of modern science thought and feel a certain compulsion to write such things off as myth. Even still I wonder if the extra elbow grease I put into scrubbing the floors had something to do with keeping things straight with the spirits.

I came to Bali in 2015 to assist in the training of two scuba divers, so that they could acquire professional insurance in order to protect themselves from occupational legal trouble. After hearing a story from one, Wayan Ardika, it’s easy to understand why they feel so strongly that a very real power exists beyond our perception of the world. He had a nephew that was born very weak, barely surviving. In such dire circumstances they resort to a local clinic with medical professionals. The doctor couldn’t diagnose the infant’s ailment, but predicted it wouldn’t live more than a couple more weeks. In distress, Wayan’s family consulted the priests and performed a ceremony to draw healing powers from ancestors and niskala. In a matter of hours the kid’s health had dramatically improved and he now lives a very normal life, years after the matter. Anecdotal? Yes. Powerful? Yes. It’s stories like this one that make me wonder if maybe there wasn’t something left behind when the western world made the switch to objectively scientific medicine.



Posted in Uncategorized on May 20, 2015 by diveaware


Traveling through Hong Kong and then Bali is like going from Urban L.A. to The forests of Northern California. That being said there are similarities in how  both countries take raw products and turn them into consumables. The students that I am co-leading through South East Asia with Dr. Phil Dustan are beginning to see how all man made goods come from a natural place. But what are the environmental costs to extract them from that natural place.

While visiting Hong Kong I got to see the largest port I have seen in my whole life. Cranes offloading big ships that go on for miles. We toured the harbor and live fish market at Aburdeen. Here we saw a portion of the fishing fleet. HundredsPICT0101 of trawlers, squid boats and  long liners all chasing down creatures of the ocean that they can sell.

There on the dock we walked through the live fish market. Fish that come PICT0160from Tiwan, Philippians and Indonesia. They had groupers, rays, scorpionPICT0163 fish, shell fish, lobster, squid anything that might be ordered in a restaurant. Restaurants that we had just dined in the day before.

Fast forward tow days later we are now wondering around Bali. Our local friend Gede takes us to a wood factory. This is where they harvest large trees from Java and Borneo and turn them into tables, counters and benches. The attraction is, each slab is one slice of the tree. Valued for the natural beauty of the wood grain , rich color and smoothness, these trees are cleared from the receding forests. Some of the slabs were six feet tall sitting on their side. I asked one of the workers how old he thought itPICT0111 might be, “at least 300 years” he said.

Just next door to the wood factory we found the wood carvings. Beautiful intricate carvings of animals in their natural habitats. Some carvings were very large, coming from huge cuts of mahogany and other fine woods.PICT0122

I can’t help to think that it was the life of the tree that created the beauty in the wood. The life that was  sacrificed for us to appreciate it as a household trinket. We have become so numb to the things we desire, all we do is want and take, without realizing what we are really taking. It doesn’t matter the suffering a fish goes through as it pants for more oxygenated water while it waits to arrive at some hotel or shop to be selected to eat. It doesn’t matter that the mantis shrimp will live in a plastic bottle until their fried up. These cruelties to life are shadowed because they provide us with luxuries we are willing to pay for. That willingness drives the market so that people will collect these resources and harm the environment so that they can insure they will feed their families another day.

At first the students were preocupied with how little they could spend on each item. they worked hard to bargin the locals down to dirt cheap prices. Slowly they started to realize the true ecological price. They also began to understand how much time and skill goes into each “trinket”.

Now these affluent American kids face the reality of their decisions. Now that they have seen how these things are acquired and made, maybe next time they won’t order cuttlefish shashimi.PICT0178

This is why traveling is so important. As we become more globalized, we need to understand the full impact or our decisions on the rest of the world.

We all make a difference, but knowing how is true power.


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