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World record freediver Martin Stepanek isn't holding his breath for recognition

By Nick Sortal

He surfaces for air after doing four laps -- 100 yards total -- all underwater. He's not even panting.

Martin Stepanek glides like a stingray, with both feet propelling one large fin.

"OK. Again," coach Doug Peterson says, and Stepanek adjusts his nose clip, inhales and cruises another 100 yards in the Pompano Beach Aquatic Center pool.

Two men "exercise-walk" in the water a few feet away. A swim team practices in an adjacent pool. Almost none of them know that a 15-time world record-holder is submerged nearby.

Stepanek, of Pompano Beach, has appeared on covers of diving magazines and has been swarmed by TV cameras in his native Czech Republic. But in South Florida, people have no idea that he may be the most physically gifted athlete around – and yes, that's including LeBron.

"That's OK with me," says Stepanek, 33. "Really, in some ways, it makes life easier. I'm not diving for the glory. It's like a discovery path, learning what I'm able to do, and what the body can do."

Who else can say they can hold their breath for more than eight minutes underwater? Focus themselves so that their heart rate drops down into the 20s? And keep their cool while diving more than 400 feet into the ocean with only a fin and a nose plug?

"They say scuba diving is going underwater to look at things," says Stepanek, who teaches recreational freediving. "And they say freediving is going underwater to look at yourself."

Star pupil

Stepanek's mother, Drahoslava, was a competitive swimmer in the Czech Republic who had him swimming before he could walk. He loved monofin racing — with one big fin, like a mermaid — and was scuba diving by age 8.

"I had these two little air tanks, and I had graduated to the big pool," he says.

He moved to the United States in 1997, ending up in Key West as a cook. But in 2000, he learned of Peterson's freediving class and drove up to Fort Lauderdale to try it.

"Right away he's the star pupil," Peterson says. "He's holding his breath ridiculously longer than anyone else - more than 7 minutes."

Stepanek learned how to freedive, including constant weight diving, which involves going to a specific depth with no tank. It's far different than the variable weight diving depicted in the 1988 movie "The Big Blue," where competitors latched on to weights using gravity to pull them to the bottom. "Basically, that's elevator racing," Peterson says.

Stepanek, whose resting heart rate is 45 beats per minute, borrows from yoga and tai chi techniques to slow his heartbeat and conserve oxygen.

"The thing about freediving is you'll always finish the dive, as opposed to swimming laps in the pool, where you can stop," he says. "If you're down there, you're going to try to come back up."

By 2001, he had broken the world record in static apnea (lying face-down in water, almost motionless), holding his breath for eight minutes, six seconds.

By 2004, Stepanek was setting freediving records of more than 100 meters, and overall has broken records in six categories: constant weight with fins, constant weight without fins, dynamic apnea, static apnea, free immersion and variable weight.

But it takes work. He builds up his core strength and aerobic capacity in the gym. He improves his technique and does more aerobic work in the pool. Then a couple of weeks before competing he heads out to the ocean to practice.

In May 2009, Stepanek logged the deepest constant weight dive ever, descending to 400 feet (122 meters) in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. But Herbert Nitsch went two meters deeper in April 2010 in the Bahamas, so Stepanek will try again, back in Egypt in October.

Passion for teaching

He's not sure how long he'll keep competing. Sponsorship pays some bills, but Stepanek's primary job is as senior instructor at Freediving Instructors International in Fort Lauderdale.

"Competitive freediving is a young man's game, but everybody can learn how to dive deeper and more comfortably," he says. "Knowing better techniques just makes it more fun.

"As much as I love the sport, my passion is in helping others. I wouldn't mind working with someone who could break my records, not at all."

And every now and then, he does get a little recognition, such as earlier this month at the Pompano pool, which many foreign teams frequent.

Turns out there were teams from Austria and the Czech Republic, Stepanek's home country. So the college-age swimmers came over to introduce themselves, and Stepanek did a quick photo session for the teams.

"I looked over and saw this guy going back and forth underwater, so easily," Australian coach Walter Baer says. "I said, 'Oh, that must be Martin Stepanek.' "

Says Stepanek: "That was nice."



More than 160,000 foreigners flee Egypt

By Associated Press

CAIRO — Egypt's official Middle East News Agency said Friday that more than 160,000 foreigners have left the country since the start of mass protests demanding the president's ouster.

Airport officials told MENA that figure only reflected departures through Cairo airport. It did not include the number of tourists who left from smaller airports at the popular Red Sea resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada, or the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria.



What Lies Beneath

By Staff Sgt. Benjamin Cosse

Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - Like many who fall under the strong magic of Guantanamo Bay scuba diving, Chris Hileman had heard the rumors of a plane submerged somewhere in the water. A master diver, Hileman volunteered to help on a deep dive class when he learned the wreckage was the ultimate destination. From that fateful dive, a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes began to unfold – how did this piece of aviation history end up on the bottom of Guantanamo Bay? “When you have a bit of the history and context of something, you’re more likely to treat it with respect and take care of it,”

Hileman, the current president of the Reef Raiders Dive Club, said explaining his reasons for digging further into the story. On one of the five dives to the crash site, Hileman took several photos of the plane, a Grumman S2F lovingly referred to by its pilots as a Stoof, from as many angles as he could. The depth of the dive, between 42 and 63 metres, meant that the six divers had approximately five minutes worth of air to do what they could and return to the surface. “One of the reasons the plane is in such good shape is because it is such a deep dive,” Hileman explained, noting the depth of the wreckage kept many divers away. Divers must be deep dive certified before going beyond the 20m depth.

After posting the photos in July to a website dedicated to the aircraft, Hileman heard nothing for months. Then in December, Hileman was contacted by the Stoof’s Pilot Association. The SPA posted the images on their website, and in January Hileman received a narrative from retired Navy Capt. John Tarn detailing one very bad day at the helm of a Stoof. As luck would have it, not only was Tarn able to solve the S2F mystery, he was able to give intimate details — Tarn was one of the pilots involved in the crash. “We were on a cruise aboard the USS Lake Champlain in April 1959,” Tarn began. “This particular flight took place on the 28th.” The S2F had flown ashore the previous day, landing at an airfield that today is the location of one of Joint Task Force Guantanamo’s detention facilities. Tarn, a lieutenant junior grade at the time, was flying with Lt. Al Chandler.

The two were tasked with getting some flying time to prepare for carrier qualification. Along with the crew, the pilots began a three-hour flight with lead pilot time split between Chandler and Tarn. During Chandler’s time behind the stick, a pilot in a different plane was photographing the event. “At the completion of the camera shoot, we headed back to base to change seats for my turn,” Tarn said. Near the 365m mark the plane suddenly became very, very quiet as both engines quit. “Chandler set up a glide to the west with a right hand turn into the wind,” Tarn said. “He made a textbook water landing with six-foot waves as a runway.” Tarn’s hatch came forward on touchdown, and for the first few seconds his vision was completely clouded by escaping air bubbles. “I couldn’t see the pilot next to me,” said Tarn.

Evacuating the aircraft onto the wing, Tarn noticed the two crewmen bobbing in the ocean and Chandler in a one-man lifeboat. “We were midway between our airfield and Leeward Point,” Tarn said, adding the rescue helicopter and crash boat could be seen making their way toward them. When the rescue helicopter arrived, those in the water indicated the crew should be picked up first. “This turned out to be the hairiest part of the flight,” said Tarn. The helicopter hooked up one of the crewmen, raised the Sailor nearly 7 metres in the air when the hook came undone, plunging the man back into the water. This happened not once, but twice. On the third attempt, the beleaguered sailor waved the aircrew off. The helicopter crew then picked up the second crewmen without incident. “By this time, the crash boat was circling us,” Tarn said, but another wrinkle of complication would quickly emerge. “The crash boat was circling through our parachute lines.

When the first class coxen managed to get us all onboard, the parachute lines were wrapped all around the propeller,” he described. In an effort to free the lines from the propeller, the coxen gave a seaman a machete and instructed him to cut the lines away from the propeller. “The seaman wound up and missed, slicing the leg of the coxen,” Tarn said. As the seaman navigated the boat back to shore, the rescued pilots became rescuers as they patched up the wounded sailor as best they could. “It is customary to give survivors a shot of whiskey,” Tarn said of a then Guantanamo Bay hospital tradition. “The other pilot and I looked at each other and gave our shot to the first class (the coxen).” Hileman knew his mystery was solved. “Based off the captain’s story and approximate position …

I felt this was his aircraft,” said Hileman. Tarn was under the impression the aircraft went much deeper than where it ultimately came to rest, a fact Hileman used to judge the captain’s story. “Even though he thought it went into 200 metres of water, he was close to the shelf that drops that deep but missed it,” Hileman explained. Unraveling the mystery, Hileman said he was glad he was able to restore a piece of forgotten Guantanamo Bay history. “Having it solved means a lot,” Hileman said. “It adds context to the wreck and history to the base that was forgotten. It’s hard to beat a story like that to go with it!”



Thailand Has Banned Diving Through Corals

By William

The Thai authorities have banned partial diving in seven parks of the Andaman Sea to stop the destruction of coral reefs, local media reported Monday.  The move affects 22 dive sites in the parks where erosion affects 80 percent of corals, located on the west coast of the country.  The head of the Department of Parks, Sunan Arunnopparat indicated that monitor the status of coral reefs to assess whether re-enabled scuba diving in the area concerned.

Authorities said the damage caused by human activities and global warming on the coral surface in Surin and Similan islands is even worse than the tsunami of 2004.

The main cause of coral bleaching, bleaching is the increase in water temperature, which last summer reached 30 degrees Celsius on average due to global warming. Another factor causing erosion is the pollution generated by industry and scuba divers who tread their own reefs.

Thailand boasts a large number of marine biodiversity in the Andaman Sea, where the natural parks of Similan and Surin are visited each year by thousands of diving enthusiasts.  However, less than ten percent of the Andaman Sea coral is in good conditions because of climate change and fishing with explosives, according to Asian Development Bank.


Scuba-dive though wartime wrecks

By Darryl Leniuk

Scuba-dive in Second World War wrecks, where tragic events of the past have become beautiful, vibrant reefs.

On Oct. 6, 1942, the American troop carrier SS President Coolidge was en route to Vanuatu when it was sunk accidentally by American mines entering the harbour at Espirito Santo. (All but two of the crew escaped.) Today, the 199-metre ship rests 20 to 70 metres deep and is regarded as a top wreck dive. You'll need up to a week to fully explore it. There are holds containing jeeps and GMC trucks, a medical office still stocked with supplies and “The Lady,” a ceramic figurine of a woman and unicorn in the first-class dining saloon that dates from the ship's prewar life as a luxury liner.

In Papua New Guinea, submerged Second World War fighter jets are discovered every year. One of the best is the “Blackjack” B17 Bomber, located 40 metres underwater in the remote Cape Vogel area. Covered in soft coral, the wreck is still intact, its cockpit open and tail gun at the ready. Brightly coloured angelfish make their home in the fuselage.

Truk Lagoon, 5,400 kilometres southwest of Hawaii, is home to one of the largest losses of military hardware in the Second World War. About 70 ships and 200 aircraft were downed, creating the world's premier wreck diving site. Most of the wrecks lie within recreational diving depths, in clear water, and are covered in coral and marine life. The underwater museum is a treasure trove of artifacts: sake bottles, silverware and surgical instruments still lie untouched more than 65 years later. Gas masks, guns and torpedoes can be found in many of the ship's holds, and the personal effects of the crew, such as bicycles and work boots, add an eerie reminder of the human toll. Book on a weeklong trip with the dive vessel Truk Odyssey and explore the Fujikawa Maru; enter the ship's hold to find disassembled Zero fighter aircraft, en route to the airbase it never reached.


Handi-diving under the ice at Tignes

By Alison Shayler

This weekend Tignes was the location of a massive achievement for the Club Subaquatique Lavallois (scuba diving club of Lavallois) the first ever ice-dive by people with disabilities.

Wheelchairs users Andrée Vallée, Patrick Séraphin and Antoine Durieux took the plunge along with instructors under the frozen surface of Lac de Tignes on Sunday morning. As well as being the first time such an event has happened in France, it was a double achievement for two of the men as diving has enabled Andrée to conquer his fear of water and Antoine to overcome his claustrophobia!

The event was sponsored by Philippe Croizon, who swam the English Channel despite having no arms or legs, and Jerome Ollivry of the Au Bord de La Terre scuba diving school.

It took four years of careful preparation for them to achieve this feat. As part of the training, the men practised in a swimming pool covered over with a tarpaulin so that the sensation of diving in the semi-darkness would not cause them to panic.



Discouraging sharks while attracting tourists in Sharm El-Sheikh

By AhramOnline

The recent decisions to open and close Sharm El-Sheikh's beaches have caused confusion for tour operators, tourists and domestic travellers alike.


Following last month's shark attacks in the Red Sea resort, Egyptian authorities declared city's beaches closed. After the danger was declared over, the beaches were reopened. Recently the beaches of Sharm El-Sheiklh were closed again.

In order to explain the closing and opening of the beaches, the South Sinai Hotels Chamber recently organised a meeting that included top tour operators, tourist officials and South Sinai governorate officials. South Sinai Governor Major General Mohamed Abdel Fadeel Shousha declared that all of Sharm's beaches were open for swimming. However, snorkelling would be banned in the area north of Neama Bay until Ras Nosrani.

“This situation will continue until all technical studies, topographic surveys of the area, and surveys of the sea bottom are executed by the researchers of the Suez Canal Authority. These experts from several fields are examining ways to secure the area in order that snorkelling can resume."

“Also,” the governor announced, “all commercial vessels that enter or pass by Sharm El-Sheikh will have to be accompanied by Egyptian officials until they [exit Egyptian national waters] so as to make sure they don’t throw dead animals, waste or harmful substances [into the Red Sea].”

Shousha declared that procedures and penalties would be applied in order to ensure the safety of visitors, including banning the disposal of waste into the sea and of fish feeding by diving centres, hotels and tourists. Fines for violations could reach $50,000 for hotels and diving centres. Tourists could be fined up to $15,000.

The penalty for diving boats throwing waste into the sea or allowing clients to feed the fish would range from suspending their business from a month to six months, to withdrawal of license in case of reoccurring violations. “We will also work hard to stop excessive fishing as this has a negative impact on marine life,” Shousha said.

Hisham Zazou, first assistant to the minister of tourism, told Ahram Online that foreign experts brought in by the Ministry of Tourism to investigate the reasons behind the shark attacks in Sharm El-Sheikh said that the main reason was tourists feeding the fish, which attracted the sharks to the shore. Coral reefs are also naturally attractive to sharks.

“For that reason, snorkelling and not diving was forbidden in some of the beaches, as there is a possibility of feeding the fish. Also, most of the beaches that were closed are the ones that have coral reefs,” Zazou said.

Sharm El-Sheikh's hotels are now working to raise awareness among tourists on preserve the natural marine environment. Ahmed Balba, head of the South Sinai Hotels Chamber, said the body distributed some 200,000 posters among hotels, in rooms and receptions, highlighting the negative impact of feeding fish and the importance of preserving the marine environment.

“The occupancy rate in Sharm El-Sheikh is currently 65 percent and it is expected to grow in the coming period. We are working hard with tour operators to remove all misunderstanding regarding the opening and closing of beaches,” Balba explained.

Zazou believes that the negative impact of the attacks on tourism will be temporary, adding that he doesn’t think domestic tourism will be affected as Egyptians, for the most part, do not take to the water in winter.



New trend toward lightweight SCUBA gear helps divers save on baggage fees


With the ever-increasing cost of travel starting to add up, the recreational scuba diving community is working to keep the costs down. This is especially true of scuba diving equipment, which can add several hundreds of dollars to the cost of a trip due to extra weight and baggage fees.

Last year, several equipment companies started experimenting with more lightweight gear. Now the trend has caught on in a big way. Last week, Oceanic Worldwide, an international manufacuterer of recreational scuba equipment, unveiled its new BioLite buoyancy control device, which weights just 5.5 pounds. This is a significant difference over previous designs that can weight as much as 20 pounds.

According to Oceanic's marketing director Doug Krause, the new design has already created a bit of a stir - even before the product has reached the shelves of scuba retailers. "Everyone wants to keep costs down, but with scuba travel, there are certain pieces of equipment that a diver can't be without. Our goal is to reduce the weight while keeping the performance, quality and safety of the product at the same level. Divers have been asking for a product like the BioLite because they are tired of paying excess baggage and/or extra weight charges when they travel."

Other pieces of equipment that have been made more lightweight and streamlined by industry manufacturers include regulators, wetsuits and fins.

The BioLite, which is scheduled to be in stores later this Spring, will have a suggested retail price of under $450. For more information, visit the Oceanic Worldwide website.


Sheep carcasses may link to Egypt shark attacks

By Global Surf News

Between November 30 and December 5, 2010 there were 5 unprovoked shark attacks reported from Sharm El-Shiekh, Egypt. Following these attacks the Egyptian government assembled an international team of experts to conduct a forensic analysis of the attacks: Ralph S. Collier, President of the Shark Research Committee and Director of the Global Shark Attack File; Marie Levine, Executive Director, of the Shark Research Institute; Moustafa Fouda, MSEA; Mohammad Salem, EEAA; and Nassar Galal, CDWS.

The team gathered eyewitness testimony, examined the attack locations, and reviewed the forensic evidence, including all environmental factors present prior to each of the attacks. The following is a list of those factors they believed to be contributor to the attacks:

• The illegal dumping of sheep carcasses by animal transport vessels within 1.2 miles of the shore. 

• The unique underwater topography of the area; i.e., deep water very close to shore allowing pelagic sharks and humans to swim in close proximity. 

• Although fishing is restricted in the Sharm El-Sheikh region, unrestrained fishing in the Red Sea has depleted fish stocks and reduced the amount of natural prey available to sharks. 

• Shark and human population dynamics, i.e., 5 million people visit Sharm El-Sheikh annually and numbers of sharks migrate through the area each year.

• Feeding of fish by glass bottom boats and swimmers drew the sharks close to the beach. 

• Elevated sea temperatures resulted in higher metabolic rates of the sharks and increased their energy (food) requirements. 

• Although prohibited, it is believed that some dive operators have been feeding the sharks, which could have habituated the sharks to humans as a source for food.

It was determined from forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony that two species of sharks were responsible for the attacks; shortfin mako, Isurus oxyrinchus, and oceanic whitetip, Carcharhinus longimanus. Historical data obtained from the Global Shark Attack File for Egypt confirmed additional incidents from 2004 to the present. Suggestions to reduce the potential for such future events were provided to officials for review and implementation.  


Egypt lifts Red Sea diving ban, continues hunting sharks

By Mohamed Elmeshad

Diving activities will resume in Sharm al-Sheikh, announced Egyptian Chamber of Diving and Water Sports (CDWS) on Monday. Despite the lifting of the ban, however, an environmental watchdog group claims that the government continues to hunt sharks.

“All diving activities can continue under the normal safety guidelines in place before the incidents began,” CDWS said in a statement to Al-Masry Al-Youm.

The bans have remained in place since the first shark attack occurred in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh nearly three weeks ago. Nevertheless, a continued snorkeling ban and recent allegations of “government-orchestrated shark genocide” indicate that the situation has hardly returned to normal. Unconfirmed reports said that at least eight sharks were killed since the recent spate of attacks beginning 30 November which killed one and severely injured four in Sharm al-Sheikh’s waters. 


Despite Shark Attacks, Egypt Tourism Will Grow: Minister

By Yousef Gamal El-Din

Egypt is on track to meet its tourism growth targets despite a scare following a rare series of shark attacks that affected bookings, the country's Minister of Tourism, Zoheir Garranah, told CNBC.

Half of the beaches in Sharm El-Sheikh have reopened. Half of the beaches at the popular Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh are now open again after shark attacks that killed one and injured four had alarmed even the scientific community. "We're seeing there's a slowdown in bookings, but not a frightening figure. It has to be dealt with," Garranah said in an exclusive interview. Although the Red Sea has always been home to sharks, Sharm El-Sheikh, widely held to be one of the world's most pristine diving sites, has seen few accidents in previous decades.

With more than 11 percent of Egypt's gross domestic product stemming from tourism, the government quickly flew in top scientists to find an answer as to why the behavior of sharks would change so abruptly. "It's not normal. There is something that happened", Garranah said. There is a growing consensus that a collusion of factors explains the recent spate of attacks. Among them is that a cargo ship is said to have illegally dumped animal carcasses into the sea near the beach, offering sharks easy access to food. Add to that the ecologically-disruptive fish and shark feeding, as well as unusually high temperatures in the area and the risks of a possible attack simply surge.

Aside from safe swimming areas in natural lagoons and protectorates, experts have now advised implementing general safeguards such as patrol boats, specially-trained lifeguards, stricter enforcement of feeding bans and standard operating procedures.


Georgie Henley Fainted Underwater while Preparing for Dawn Treader


Georgie Henley, who plays the role of Lucy Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, was preparing for the underwater scenes in the film by taking scuba diving classes when she fainted. Georgie had decided to undertake a PADI scuba diving course to help provide her with handy skills. "I couldn't complete my licence 'cause I had a bit of an accident - I fainted underwater," she revealed. "It was on my birthday as well, which is pretty crazy. I wasn't out for long."

Georgie added: "I was very ill, I had an ear infection and a cold, we'd literally just flown in about two days earlier, so it just meant that I wasn't able to do it, but I will be able to finish it because we learnt half the skills and they did adapt a shot, so I could participate." Her co-star Skandar Keynes, who plays Edmund Pevensie, relished the opportunity, saying: "It was really fun going and trying something new and pushing ourselves and gaining a new skill that I probably wouldn't have done otherwise, and it's great now I have a licence and I go anyway I want." They filmed in pools on the studio lot to capture the scenes in the film with proper pool safety protocols in place.


Curacao Offers Colorful Backdrop On Land And Sea

From CBS News

Walks around the city are only the beginning of Curacao's bright-hued offerings. Beneath the surface, the island's coral reefs offer world-class diving just off shore. Underwater visibility can be more than 100 feet, and the water temperature can exceed 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The island's underwater scenes teem with reef creatures large and small. A hawksbill sea turtle and octopus can be seen cruising over reefs covered with vase sponges, brain coral, sea anemones and the multicolored swirling spirals of Christmas tree worms. Small critters like the red and white banded coral shrimp hide in small openings in the reef. Another popular dive site close to shore includes a coral-encrusted tugboat.

Dive shops take divers by boat to unique reefscapes. One of the most well-known dive sites offshore is called the Mushroom Forest, for its huge mounds of mountainous star coral shaped like mushrooms jumbled on top of each other. Once back on land, dining options abound from the multicultural cuisine that has developed from the island's diverse population of European and African ancestry as well as proximity to South America. While there's no shortage of serenity, a thumping nightlife also can be found by those who seek it out. There are several casinos on the island, and Mambo beach turns into a party after dark on weekends - even on Sunday night and into Monday morning. Sleeping seaside pelicans just within earshot of the music appear accustomed to the celebrations.



'Scuba-Diving Cowboy' on Bermuda's Caves

By Bernews

A Canadian scientist described as "something of a scuba-diving cowboy" has conducted groundbreaking research in Bermuda's underwater cave system which may help researchers better understand the phenomenom of climate change.

Pete Van Hengstum, a recently qualified Earth Sciences Ph.D., told Dalhousie University's on-line newspaper today (Dec. 14) about his pioneering work on sea level changes during different geological periods conducted in Bermuda's labyrinth of submerged caves and passages.

"Underwater caves are interesting because only recently have advances in scuba diving technologies and protocols allowed scientists to safely explore and study these environments," said Dr. van Hengstum, 28, who has just completed his PhD at the Nova Scotia university. "Although most researchers focus on the unique ecosystems and fauna in underwater caves, I suspected information about climate and sea levels was preserved in the underwater caves that no one really knew about before."

Dr. van Hengstum - pictured above measuring sediment in Bermuda's Green Bay cave system - has since left Dalhousie to embark on a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Post-doctoral Fellowship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. He said the "invaluable" help and support he received from Bermudians and Bermuda instititution while he was on the island helped him to complete his post-graduate degree in just 26 months. "Three main factors allowed him to finish his PhD in such a timely fashion," reports Dal News. "First, the people in Bermuda were exceptionally supportive of his research, especially his scuba-diving friends Bruce Williams and Gil Nolan, along with faculty at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum, and Zoo and Bermuda Zoological Society. The anecdotal observations of local divers provide 'an invaluable resource that cannot be ignored when exploring underwater caves' ."


Report on shark attacks optimistic

By Dalia Farouk

Experts believe that shark attacks in Sinai can be reduced, but action has to be taken and the marine environment respected.

A final report issued by an expert committee formed after a series of shark attacks on tourists in South Sinai has outlined several recommendations on how to curb attacks.

The report was put together with the cooperation of international shark experts.

Among the report's recommendations is implementing a monitoring system capable of notifying swimmers and tourists of approaching sharks. It also underlines the importance of having lifeguards on beaches and that hotels cease all activities that harm the environment and induce shark attacks. Shark hunting and other aggressive fishing activities should also stop. The report also recommends the creation of a map that charts the movements of sharks of different species in the Red Sea.

According to the report, it is important to eliminate some of the fear that has spread among tourists about the shark attacks that took place last week. Nonetheless, it is also necessary to take precautions in case of further attacks in the future. The report assures that with the right measures taken, the threat of attacks can be decreased, allowing tourists to enjoy the beauty of Egypt's beaches, which have been dubbed "a tourism treasure" by George Burgess, director of the Florida Programme for Shark Research.

According to one security official who spoke on condition of anonymity, South Sinai has already begun implementing steps to protect people from shark attacks, including installing reinforced steel nets to block sharks from entering beach areas. The nets, of 15 centimetre mesh, will still allow colorful fish to exit and enter. Currently, a technical committee, part of the Suez Canal Administration, is conducting a survey to decide in which areas it is best to install the nets. The South Sinai governorate will pay for the net for now; however, there is still disagreement between Egyptian and international experts and the Ministry of Environment about the plan, specifically in areas with coral.

Some hotels in Sharm El-Sheikh have already installed monitoring towers with trained lifeguards with whistles - one of the conditions the South Sinai governorate stipulated before allowing hotels to open their beaches again. Instructions also have already been handed out to tourists not to feed fish and to only swim in specific areas. White, red and black flags have also been put up to warn tourists of danger levels.



Diver saves man from capsized boat

By Jared Lynch

A QUICK-THINKING scuba diving instructor has saved a man from drowning after a boat capsized in the treacherous waters of Port Phillip Bay's entrance. One man was killed and 11 others saved when the fishing charter boat they were on was hit by a large wave and overturned off Point Nepean yesterday afternoon.

Two people were initially missing after the 10-metre boat, owned by Queenscliff fishing charter company Gamerec, hit rocks when entering the bay. With no emergency services on the water, Bryon Marshall, a former surf life-saver, swam to the boat from another vessel to search for the two missing men. Discovering one submerged and tangled in fishing line, he tried unsuccessfully to free him before finding another man, who was disoriented and trapped inside the hull of the capsized boat.

"We waited for a lull in the waves and I motioned for him to come out and I gripped him by the arm and pulled him out," Mr Marshall said. It was the second time Mr Marshall, 31, has saved a man from drowning. In 2008, a 60-year-old man survived a scuba diving incident, thanks to Mr Marshall. He performed CPR for five minutes on the man, who had swallowed mouthfuls of water while diving off Boarfish Reef, about one nautical mile from the coast.

Dive Victoria operator Jason Salter said Mr Marshall risked his life to find the missing men.''[Bryon is] absolutely heroic,'' Mr Salter said. ''He's a strong guy in the water, but still, to put your life at risk to help another . he did that without question and this person is alive now because of his effort.'' The man rescued yesterday, aged in his 50s, was in a stable condition last night at Frankston Hospital.



Halifax is sinking

By Anna Rzhevkina

Dozens of members of Canadian Youth Delegation marched downtown dressed in scuba diving gear on Nov. 12 to illustrate the problem of rising sea levels. "We want to show that Canada is affected by climate change, and that everyone has to deal with this issue, because it affects people's everyday lives," says Robin Tress, a member of the youth delegation and one of organizers of the demonstration. The idea for the demonstration was based on the study of climate change published in The Chronicle Herald, which shows how Halifax will look in future years as the sea level continues to rise. "Not many Haligonians understand that we are slowly sinking," says team leader Brittany Maguire. "Citizens should start to do something about it now, before it's too late." Another delegate, Emilie Novaczek, says Halifax sees sea levels rise at a high rate. "Globally, sea level rise has been about 15-20 centimetres, but here in Halifax it's higher, and achieves 32 cm in the same time period," she says.

The demonstration started at noon on the corner of Hollis and Sackville Streets, where students gathered to wear their bathing suits, flippers, swimming caps and goggles. Novaczek gave a poster to her dog Lilly, who also participated in the march. Then demonstrators moved to Upper Water Street, where they drew a line with chalk to show where the level of water is expected to be in the year 2100. Members say that in the future Under Water Street is going to be the new name for Upper Water. Participant Danielle Nelson from Dalhousie says that now the main goal of the youth delegation is to turn the attention of citizens to the problem of climate change and raise awareness about this issue. Nelson also believes that citizens should write MLA requests to the government for an effective climate change plan.


Basking in the Cancun Sewer

By Joseph A Olson

Perhaps you are a United Nations delegate, leaving what will be the FINAL Conference of Parties, the COP16, concluding now in Cancun, Mexico. As you pack away your 'party' clothes you have more than the usual end of holiday malaise. You depart the Mayan Rivera in worse shape than any other Rivera visit you can recall. You may assume your 'unsettled' stomach is due to the over indulgence of Senor Frogs Tequila. Maybe your itchy skin is from too much fun in the sun. You may be discovering that this land of surprises has a final surprise for you. So common are 'digestive' problems for tourists to Mexico, that there is a long list of colorful names for this condition, such as, Turistas, Montezuma's Revenge or the Aztec Two-step.

The symptom is diarrhea, but the cause can be a number of diseases. The simplest and most common is Escherichia coli and can often be overcome in a few days. The more serious diseases include Hepatitis, Parturition, Bacillary or Amoebic Dysentery, Cholera, Cryptosporidiosis or Giardiasis. The latter, according to Wikipedia, is playfully nicknamed "Beaver Fever" because of its frequent hosting by other mammals. These forms of diarrhea are often spasmodic and induce vomiting at the same time. If you feel symptoms of 'beaver fever' gripping your digestive tract it is best to have a bucket handy as you sit on the throne. As unpleasant as this subject is for polite western culture to discuss, there is a reason that we only have to discuss this after a visit to the third world.

Civil Engineers in the developed countries are charged with the duty to protect our society from these ever present scourges of the third world. My Environmental Engineering classes taught me a great deal about these diseases. While not a medical doctor, I may give you some observations from my only visit to Cancun, and what I declared to be, my final visit to Mexico. I never entered Mexico with either prejudice or delusions. My grandfather was an importer of Mexican trade goods and lived in Brownsville, Texas. He had many friends throughout Mexico and I have visited dozens of cities throughout Mexico, on hundreds of visits in my lifetime.

Following eighteen months of bitter court battles, in round one of a twenty five round divorce fight, I was persuaded that a 'romantic holiday' would cure my malaise. Cancun offered Caribbean beaches, scuba diving and the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza. I departed on this holiday with higher hopes than any Conference of Parties delegate. Cancun is a typical multi-cultural real estate scam. Greedy American resort developers stumbled on to this sleepy Mexican fishing village in the late sixties. They quickly took aerial photos, produced a resort Eden concept and approached the Mexican government with their development plans. Always on the lookout for new ways to grift the Gringo, the Mexicans set a trap.

Americans were to provide the general land use plan and cost estimates. They were then allowed to only lease the proposed hotel sites. Mexico would take all of the developer money for infrastructure and they would provide all of that work locally. The term "Mexican Engineering" is an oxymoron and the national motto is "manana". Manana means tomorrow, and while Annie says it is only a day away, in Mexico that day never arrives. It is near impossible to build a luxury hotel without running water, so water lines were mandatory. The Mexican government decided that fresh water treatment was optional so all guests are required to drink bottled water. Some resorts actually avoided this problem by paying a second time for water treatment on a site by site basis. The Mexican roadways could be best described as asphalted sand.

First impressions are indeed romantic as lush tropical vegetation abounds and five foot iguanas lumber unmolested across parking lots with big warning signs stating "Do Not Molest the Iguanas". Chichen Itza is indeed interesting. But ever present is the realization that this past culture's cure for weather related problems was to pluck the still beating heart from some virgin and chuck her body down a well. As unfortunate as this historic symbolism is for today's high priestess of weather, there is an even uglier reality lurking beneath the surface. In this case the surface would be the lovely Caribbean waters. Soon my romantic holiday was going to present a very unseemly side of this Faux Paradise lurking just below the surface.

The Dead Sea of Mexico As an accomplished tropical reef diver I looked forward to another visit to this miraculous world teaming with diversity of life forms. Unfortunately my diving mate was a novice and we did not feel comfortable with her in the more challenging dive locations. We chose a two hour dive in the sheltered bay between the mainland and the Isla Mujeres. The shallow 15 to 30 ft depths offered an ideal diving adventure up until the moment we entered the water. Spread before us was an underwater moonscape of barren, uniform gray marine desert. Anyone who has ever been scuba diving in a fresh water river or lake can attest, fresh water doesn't support even a tiny fraction of the life in salt water.

As a trained Environmental Engineer I knew immediately what the problem was. The entire bottom was coated with thick algae, which was fed by vast amounts of untreated sewage dumped in a narrow waterway with poor circulation. In our two hour dive I only witnessed several living corals and a few small schools of fish. This went beyond disappointing to sickening, a feeling that would revisit again soon. Part of the adventure in travel is to immerse yourself in the local community. We chose to use the Cancun bus system for our visits to the market and dinng for two reasons. First to avoid the notorious taxi drivers who always manage to double your fare between departure and arrival. The second was to mingle with the local culture.

There was not a single bus stop where I did not feel empathy for the local population struggling under such difficult conditions. And there was not a single bus stop when an aristocratic wealth Mexican national did not drive up in a Mercedes 600 and sneer with a disgusted look at the cluster of peasants waiting for simple transport. Little did I know, that as this nightmare spiral unwound things were going to get a lot worse. Several days in Faux Paradise had already prepared us for sporadic luxury. One day there would be no hot water. Several times there was no electricity. (Note to self, always use the stairs to avoid elevator entrapment.) On the final night it was the air conditioning that failed.

The luxury hotel room had a single sliding window, which if you did not prop the door open, offered no ventilation. Instead the open window allowed cyclic wind gusts to rattle the blinds and ushered in the traffic din from below. Laying there in a sweat, with the adjoin hotel lights glaring thru the open window and coated with the sticky salty sea air I had an additional nightmare. I was to return to another long battle in a corrupt divorce court. This manmade hell assumes that all parties are lying and does the Solomon solution of giving each parent half of the contested baby. This is a place where honesty is punished and liars are rewarded. I would soon be returning as a childless father to enter round two of judicial purgatory.

Unable to sleep I remembered the Mayan ruins of Yamil Lu'um just a few hundred yards up the beach. Maybe watching the sunrise from this ancient observatory would open some new window in my life and give me strength for the battles ahead. I slipped out of the room and headed for the sandy beach below. Due to the vulgarity of Mexican lease agreements, the names of these luxury hotels change often. Review of the current tenant maps shows that neither of the following hotels have the same names as they had during my holiday. Suffice it to say, this was a four star row of well known resort hotel names and I was in for a very big shock.

It was probably four in the morning and a Mexican worker was standing next to a freshly dug ditch running from the luxury hotel directly north of our hotel to the beach. Running in this ditch was clearly visible fecal material and toilet paper. I wanted to throw up. In my broken Spanish I asked how often this man did this. His reply "Todos Dias". I followed the ditch up to the hotel courtyard where a cast iron cover had been removed and what appeared to be a several thousand gallon concrete tank with a submersible sewage ejector was busily pumping the previous days waste into the sea. I continued my journey to the Mayan temple, climbed to the top and waited for a new day. As that day dawned I was just another small person on a cruel planet faced with an impossible mission. As I climbed down from the ruins and walked up the beach, the laborer had covered the open trench and was now raking the entire beach front. Tourists were unfolding chairs and towels on the fresh groomed surface and wading out for their morning dip in the fresh sewage.

Perhaps you are a COP delegate who's stomach is beginning to turn, who's skin is beginning to itch, who is now beginning to feel sick. There is a reason I stated in the first sentence that this is the LAST COP meeting. The world is sick of you. The money wasted on this climate FRAUD would have brought clean drinking water and treated sewage for every person on the planet. I have sailed the Nile, dined in the Eiffel Tower and visited the great castles, cathedrals and museums of Europe. I have been repeatedly and unfairly crushed by boot of the elite. I have seen the greatest work of man and the most evil. The UN and the IPCC are irredeemably wicked. I am hardened by battle and will never surrender to this evil.

Perhaps manana finally arrived for the Mexican leasor and they installed the needed sewage treatment plants. Perhaps the luxury hotels were caught-out and shamed into treating their waste. If not, then maybe this is their wake up call. These were the actual conditions as they existed, just a decade and a half ago. I live in Texas and I know my next door neighbors. Somehow I don't think that manana has made it to Cancun yet. But I do know this. There is NO manana for the IPCC.



Egypt's shark attacks will plague scientists for years to come

By Mohamed Elmeshad

Sharm el-Sheikh--Empty beaches, frustrated tourists, anxious authorities, visiting shark experts, and a shark at large all serve as uncomfortable reminders of a Hollywood film. In less than two weeks, Sharm el-Sheikh has seen five shark attacks--one fatal--on surface swimmers and snorkelers. This is an especially alarming figure given that over the past 20 years Egypt has experienced 14 shark attacks, three of them fatal.

In both the real world and in cinema, a spate of shark attacks threatens the sense of security in a normally thriving and leisurely tourist destination. The perpetrator in the famed movie "Jaws" was a deranged great white shark. The problem ends when he spectacularly explodes in a post-climatic resolution of the man versus nature plot. In reality, however, it is not easy to trace the root of the recent attacks to a single cause. "Science is not black and white," said Dr. George Burgess, a US shark expert and director of the International Shark Attack File who is investigating the attacks. "There are so many factors such as the sharks' behavior, human impact, environmental considerations, and (probability) that we need to take into account before definitively determining the causal factors behind the shark attacks."

The general consensus among marine biologists and shark experts is that the Sharm el-Sheikh attacks did not occur in a vacuum. "When you have these many shark attacks in such a short period of time, there must have been something to incite it. It does not conform to normal shark behavior in the least bit," Burgess said. Since 1580, only 2,127 shark attacks on human beings have been recorded, according to Dr. Mohamed Fouda assistant to Egypt's Environment Minister. "Sharks do not naturally prey on human beings, but are sometimes attracted to the smell of blood, or mistake them for something else when they see them swimming on the surface," he said. Speaking on behalf of the team of American and Egyptian experts recruited to investigate the attacks, General Abdel Fadil Shousha outlined the possible natural and human factors that may have incited the attacks.

He highlighted actions such as the illegal dumping of animal carcasses in the sea, illegal overfishing, and localized baiting of sharks and other marine life to attract them for tourists, as possible causes. The abnormally hot summer and subsequently warmer waters that Sharm saw this year may have also played a part. For Burgess, one of these potential causes stands out more than the rest, ".the boat that was caught dumping dead sheep nearby a couple of months ago. Something like that can definitely tamper with the feeding habits of sharks and help change their behavior." Burgess also believes warmer-than-usual water temperatures might help explain the proximity of the sharks to the shore during this time of year, as they are known to prefer warmer waters.

Shousha has said that of the five attacks, the first and the fourth were by a mako shark that was hunted and killed, while the other attacks were by an oceanic white tip that remains at large. The female oceanic white tip has been seen numerous times between the areas of Ras Mohammed National Park and Naema Bay. Oceanic white tips, though more confident and inquisitive than most sharks, do not typically seek humans as food. Despite there being a history of disparate attacks by the shark species --more than most other types of sharks--some experts see a unique feature in the behavior of this specific shark.

"The severity of the attacks and the amount of human tissue taken.indicates a clear deviation of the normal behavior of an oceanic white tip shark. Instead of briefly grabbing for testing or tasting purposes, this female apparently considers human swimmers as a potential food source," said the environment watchdog Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) in a recent report. Despite oceanic white tips being one of the most widely researched and easily recognizable sharks in the world--with their broad, large, rounded, white-tipped dorsal--a lot is yet to be understood about their behavior in the Red Sea. "One of the biggest drawbacks for us [scientists] here is that not enough research on the movement of sharks in the Red Sea has been conducted," Burgess said. "We especially don't know much about their movement."

HEPCA is undergoing a project to address the lack of data on oceanic white tips, specifically in the Red Sea. Before all of the shark and environmental research is made available, which will likely be a lengthy process, the teams of experts, as well as many local organizations, are looking for immediate solutions to the environmental concerns that may have instigated the sharks' behavior. "Human tampering has disrupted the natural equilibrium in the environment," said Mohamed Elgohary, head of the Scientific Committee of the Egyptian Diving and Lifesaving Federation. He believes that even many legal activities, such as extensive scuba diving and some cases of fishing, are not correctly managed to maintain balance in the marine food chain.

The Chamber of Diving and Water Sports released a statement insisting that it considers the sharks victims in this scenario as well, and that their preservation is embedded within the desire to maintain (or return to) a stable and sound marine life. Burgess and the team will release their report after a week of investigations, but he is eager to continue researching sharks in the Red Sea even after the group's work is officially finished. The initial report may spur Egypt into maintaining the Red Sea, one of its natural treasures, by taking more stringent measures against the aforementioned violations, whether or not they caused the shark behavior.

As for the shark behavior specifically, scientists may have to wait years before they fully understand what Burgess says are the most unique shark attacks in his 30 years of experience.


Martin Clunes: Filming programme about manta rays helped me overcome my fear of scuba diving

By Rick Fulton

When actor Martin Clunes nearly died diving off the coast of Scotland he vowed he'd never venture beneath the waves again. But now the Doc Martin star has gone back on his promise - to search for the manta ray. He suffered a panic attack while exploring the wreck of sunken steamboat the John Strachan off Islay for his series Martin Clunes: Islands Of Britain. It left him terrified of diving but now Martin has overcome his fear to fulfil an ambition to swim with one of the ocean's most elusive creatures for a new ITV1 documentary, Man To Mantas, set to be screened in early January. He admitted: "I had been told that hundreds of manta rays gather to feed in a remote corner of the Indian Ocean and I was desperate to be there to experience it. "But before I could do that I had to overcome one of my biggest fears."

Martin, who qualified as a certified scuba diver 10 years ago in Belize, added: "Three years ago, I had a bad experience and I've been nervous about diving ever since. "I had a panic attack while diving off the coast of Scotland. "I underestimated the impact the long break I had had from diving would have on my diving ability and the water was freezing cold and murky. "I couldn't regulate my breathing and I completely freaked. I had to ask one of the safety crew to take me up to the surface. It was horrible."

The first time Martin ventured underwater since the incident was when he plunged into a giant tank in an aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, to meet Nandi, a rescued manta ray. The 49-year-old dad-of-one admitted it was touch and go whether he'd be able to do it. The marine park, which cost $300million to build and covers 20 acres, is one of only three places in the world able to keep mantas in captivity. Their giant tank, the size of an American football pitch, is also home to whale sharks, sting rays, hammerheads and giant groupers. Manta ray Nandi was nursed back to health there after getting injured in nets off the coast of South Africa.

Martin revealed: "I was full of trepidation and I was very panicky breathing. But I got the hang of it. "Getting to swim underwater with Nandi was a real thrill. It was such a pleasure. It wasn't until the end of the trip I got my confidence back and started enjoying diving again. "I had experts around me and I thought it was good to scare myself and get these little panics out of my mind, because I had dived in the past and enjoyed it. "There were times when we were filming I thought 'I am never going to dive again. I'll do it for this programme, but never again'. "But I don't think that now. I do feel I have overcome that fear." Martin also travelled to the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean where he got to kiss a stingray.

Four years ago, Australian wildlife expert and TV star Steve Irwin died after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb while filming at the Great Barrier Reef. But luckily for Martin, in the Caymans there is an area known as Stingray City, where the creatures have become used to human contact. The actor then travelled to Ecuador and to Sri Lanka where mantas are hunted by fisherman because their gills are now used in Chinese medicine. The manta rays are hacked apart and their gills are dried and turned to powder used to purify the blood. He shuddered: "What I saw in Sri Lanka was truly gruesome. You can't blame the local fisherman, especially after the devastating effects of the tsunami. "I learnt a lot, not just about manta rays, but the underwater world and how it is being plundered in an unsustainable way."

It's a very different image of Martin from his character in 1990s hit sitcom Men Behaving Badly. As Gary Strang, he was one of the icons of the beer-swilling lads decade. But nowadays, the actor from Wimbledon lives in a 130-acre farm near Beaminister, in Dorset, with his producer wife Philippa and 11-year-old daughter Emily. Martin's mantas dream finally came true on the last leg of his journey in the Maldives. In the crystal clear waters of Hanifaru lagoon, Martin took the plunge to swim with 40 feeding mantas. Every year, during the monsoon from July to October, the manta rays gather to feed on plankton in a tiny bay close to the remote island of Hanifaru. The government have banned the export of all manta ray products and last year the waters around Hanifaru were declared a protected area. Martin tried for eight days to see the enigmatic creatures and got lucky on the final dive.

He said: "It was the 10th day of the 10th month, and the 10th reel of film in the camera. It must have been an omen. "The manta rays came so close I could almost touch them. It was amazing. There were about three or four of them just gliding over us, so close, so unworried by us. It was manta heaven in there." At high tide, Martin returned to the bay and was rewarded by seeing a group of 20 mantas, which swam towards him as he snorkelled. But the highlight of the trip was when he was joined by his wife and daughter. He explained: "We returned to Hanifaru for a snorkelling safari. All these manta rays were swimming around us. That was the high spot - to be snorkelling with my family and the mantas." Martin was so moved by what he encountered on his travels that he has pledged to help a charity which is monitoring the manta population in Ecuador. He also donated money to help save an albino turtle whose life was in jeopardy after her tank at a turtle hatchery in Sri Lanka was destroyed by the tsunami. "Lily the albino turtle wouldn't survive in the wild and needed to stay in a tank to live," he said. "I gave them some money to build her a bigger tank and have kept in touch with them to follow Lily's progress."

It seems Martin has definitely left his Men Behaving Badly days behind.


Sharks should spark refunds for Russian tourists - Onishchenko

By Evgeniya Chaykovskaya

Shark inspired panic is a case of force majeure - and tourists should not be left out of pocket if they fear to go on holiday. The chief of consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor Gennady Onishchenko has urged tour agencies to refund clients the full value of their trip if they cancel because of the shark attacks and closed Red Sea beaches. At the moment tour agencies are charging clients for cancellations, especially for New Year tours, and argue that sharks are not force majeure and thus do not come under the law on consumer rights.

Go to Egypt to eat chips? Onishchenko announced that Rospotrebnadzor may demand through court closures of tour operators that refuse to return the money to those who cancel their trips to Egypt because of sharks. "It is possible to go to Egypt, if one doesn't swim in the sea and travel on busses, but then there is no point in going there," Onishchenko said on Thursday, Moskovsky Komsomolets reported. "And tour operators say that sharks are not a force-majeure. Excuse me, but I plan to swim there. And what should I do there apart from swimming? Eat chips?" As for those, who are already in Egypt, they should be able to cancel the rest of their tours and demand the money back for the unused services, the doctor said.

Not Onishchenko's business. However, tour operators argue that in the tourist industry only recommendations of Rosturizm (tourist industry watchdog) can influence companies, and it has to officially announce Egypt as a dangerous country to visit before tourists can be fully reimbursed for cancelled trips. "[Rosturizm] should inform tourists about any threats to their safety," commercial director of a chain of tour operators Svetlana Akhunova told Noviye Izvestiya. "Only after their recommendations can a tourist demand an early termination of the contract. At the moment there have been no announcements from Rosturizm about the danger of a trip to Egypt." She added that it was unlikely that tour operators would start refunding the full value of cancelled trips after Onishchenko's statements.

Free treatment for victims In the meantime Egyptian authorities promise to pay every victim of shark attacks $50,000. One woman will have a free surgery, while three Russians will get free prosthetics. Russia's tourism ministry announced on Wednesday that tour operators will have to warn tourists about the risks of holidaying in Egypt: they will be forced to get a written confirmation that the clients understand the risks involved.


The Red Sea Shark Attacks: Jaws Revisited

By Abigail Hauslohner

Hoping to protect the local tourism industry over July 4, the beach resort's mayor initially downplays the danger of shark attacks - but is forced to bring in a marine biologist and a shark hunter when things turn really ugly. That was the story line in Jaws, Steven Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster movie, and a similar scenario is currently being played out in real life at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. It began 10 days ago when the normally pristine tropical waters turned a murky red, after sharks mauled three Russians and a Ukrainian over a two-day period. With the world-renowned snorkel and dive center heading into the holiday high season, local governor Mohammed Shosha closed off the beaches for 48 hours, during which time the authorities killed two sharks. He then declared the all clear and reopened the beaches. But within 24 hours, in keeping with the Jaws story line, it became brutally clear that Shosha had been wrong: a German woman standing chest-deep in the water was killed by another shark.

"We did some efforts last week but I think we failed," Salem Saleh, director of the town's Tourism Authority told TIME on Monday. He acknowledged that the sharks responsible for the killings are probably still at large. The resort, which Egyptian authorities say draws some 4 million tourists every year, has become the site of an international biological murder mystery.

Over six days, five swimmers were attacked by sharks. That compares to just six attacks over the previous decade in Egypt, according to the Global Shark Attack File, a scientific archive that documents shark attacks worldwide. And at least six of those 11 incidents are believed to have involved the solitary oceanic whitetip - a shark species that doesn't usually rank among the top killers. More startling still is that the clear, coral-rimmed waters off Sharm el-Sheikh aren't exactly shark central. "The last sharks I saw were maybe four or five months ago," says Sherrif Khairat, a local dive instructor, who leads two or three dives a day. A shark sighting is considered "lucky," he says, because the animals are so rare.

And then the story gets downright creepy: scientists and government authorities declared Wednesday night, after a day of preliminary investigations, that at least two of the five attacks had been carried out by a single shark - a lone "serial attacker," says shark expert George Burgess, one of three American scientists flown in to find answers. "This is a really unusual event - not just because they occurred so close to each other in such a geographic space, but because of the fact that we can actually say with certainty that one individual shark was involved in two of them without fail," he says. "That has not been documented before."

Less than two weeks after the first of the series of attacks, scientists are still scratching their heads as to what motivated the rampage. They say there has never been proof of a shark acquiring a taste for human flesh, but there are no absolutes in science. They say the serial-killer shark is a member of a migratory species that often travels dozens of miles in a single day. But it could still be lurking in the same waters.

Egyptian authorities now plan to enforce the ban on swimming and water sports indefinitely - with exceptions made for expert divers and protected swimming areas. It's a decision that has the local tourism outfits already cutting their losses as Sharm el-Sheikh heads into high season. "We're not selling masks or any flippers because the beach is closed," says Bishoy Boutros, who hawks fins, masks and T-shirts, including one with a shark on it that reads "How 'Bout Lunch?"

State authorities say the shark attacks will hardly cause a blip in tourism revenues, but the governor's public posturing days after the woman's death - sending his deputy for a dip before a boatload of beaming reporters - suggests they fear the worst. Moldovan tour guide Elena Ribac says the shark scare has dramatically cut bookings. Tourists, she says, "come just for the sea, so if there is no opportunity to go to the sea, there is no reason to come here."

Local explanations for the shark surge varied wildly in the days following the first attacks, citing everything from climate change to the de rigueur blaming of local calamities on alleged Israeli plots. More sober explanations are fewer, and hardly final.Local fishermen say their catches of fish that sharks would feed on are lower this year, and sharks could be seeking alternative food sources. Snorkelers may also have exacerbated the danger by feeding the fish, in violation of local regulations. "The fish get in the habit of staying in certain places where they get easy food," says Khairat. "After that the big fish that eat the small fish will also come closer - and then the bigger fish."

And then there's the sheep hypothesis. Last month, they celebrated the Feast of the Sacrifice, during which it is traditional for each family to slaughter a sheep - and the extra demand requires that many more sheep are imported. Ships transporting sheep were discovered to have dumped carcasses in the Red Sea, South Sinai authorities say, drawing sharks to the area. On Wednesday, the governor said authorities are taking legal action against one of the shipping companies. The question is whether the sharks involved in the latest attacks will return to the waters off Sharm el-Sheikh. "These are open-ocean sharks that are living in an environment that is food-poor," says Burgess. "So when you do find food, you darn well better take advantage of it. Do they remember things? Sure, they remember where the good places to eat were, and they'll come back."

Running through the different theories is the sense that human behavior is conditioning the sharks to stick around. "Sharks can be trained and are trained, specifically in some of these feeding dives where they become accustomed to being fed by the humans," says Burgess. In some cases, sharks become so accustomed to the sound of a boat engine signaling feeding time that all boat operators have to do is rev it up. But he cautions against overanalyzing, because sharks are still just big predators with little brains. "They're not connect-the-dots kind of animals," he says. "They're basically swimming, sensory machines." Sometimes, a killing spree, however rare, could be explained by little more than a convergence of the right variables. "Sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes they make mistakes. And sometimes we just happen to be in the wrong place at the right time - for them."


Those who believe they are too old to take diver training should think again. A seventy four year-old woman has proven that when there's a will there's a way. Carole Rodeback told the Billings Gazette that she had always wanted to try her hand at scuba diving but raising six children meant that her time was severely limited. After her duties as a parent came to an end however she decided that, as she had always been a great swimmer, there was no reason not to fulfil her lifelong dream. Ms Rodeback took her open-water certificate at the US Water Rescue/MT Dive Tech centre. Ms. Weinreis - co-owner of the facility - said that she is an inspiration. "It proves it's never too late," Ms. Weinreis added, "One place where people keen on taking to the water could follow their diver training is the Great Barrier Reef."


British holiday firms have cancelled diving and other water sports around the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh after a horrific series of shark attacks, which have killed one and left others seriously injured. The Foreign Office has issued a safety warning for British holidaymakers. But even though the killer shark is almost certainly still at large, Egyptian officials are due to allow some scuba diving to resume from today, and the country's tourism minister insisted that divers were '100 per cent secure'. Che cazzo!!!