Monday, May 26, 2014

Update on Richard Theiss: new perceptions on life and the world we live in

I have many friends and colleagues, both in life and in the digital world, inquiring as to what I have been up to, as I have not been as visible of late.  I've had some life-altering experiences over the past 6 months that took me away from participation in many of my ocean conservation interests.  But now I would like to slowly begin to return to "active duty" at least in the writing/blogging arena.

In December of 2013, I was diagnosed with advanced Stage IV Melanoma cancer.  It seems my activities as a diver and cinematographer kept my body in good enough shape (for someone in his early 60s) that the cancer, which had been growing for probably four to five years, went undetected until a couple of tumors appeared on the skin's surface and further tests revealed cancer throughout my body.  Ironic that my healthy constitution which resisted the cancer up to that point also allowed the cancer to rage hidden from view for years.

[Lesson #1: As a fair-skinned Southern California native from a time that predated sunscreens (in fact it was called sun tan oil, designed to help fry your skin a golden brown), I and others in my generation all went through our sunburns and various skin damage that we then pay for decades later.  So, use your sunscreens, everyone.] 

So, with my newly discovered challenge, I retreated from film production work and most of my ocean and shark conservation activities - blogging, posting, speaking engagements - to focus on treatment and see how life was to play itself out over the next few months and years.  When given an incurable and terminal prognosis as I have, it's interesting as to how your perspective on the quality of life changes.

For some people, it triggers a rush for the "bucket list" and the desire to do all the things you ever wanted to do but never got around to it. But for me, being a reflective person, I chose to look back on many of the incredible experiences I have had in my life and varied careers and it has brought me a great measure of satisfaction.  From rock bands to writing and conducting music scores for wildly unmemorable low-budget films, to traveling the world providing film and video services for commercials and motion pictures, to all my diving experiences, and the honor - as a small fish (pardon the pun) in a big pond - of meeting and/or working with dedicated ocean conservationists from eco-celebs like Dr. Sylvia Earle and Jean-Michel Cousteau to scientists like Dr. Gregory Stone of Conservation International, photographer Brian Skerry, and many, many others to whom I must apologize for not listing here.  It's been an amazing run.

So, what's next?  Well, as conditions permit, I will continue to dive - albeit minus the 50-pound camera rig (hey, a bonus!) - and I will still do some media/marketing consulting.  And I am going to try posting more on this blog.  The RTSeaBlog had a readership of about 25K hits per month at its peak, but then started to taper off as more and more people were posting links to various articles on sites like Facebook or Twitter.  What concerns me with social media today is the information overload, often reduced to a mere 140 characters, that doesn't necessarily lend itself to thoughtful introspection and contemplation.  Even the main stream media is hooked on what's trending at the moment via some hash tag or "liked" video.

For me, ocean conservation and climate change are too broad and complex of subjects to get reduced to simple sound bites.  And that is so unfortunate because it allows today's media to short change the importance of the environmental long-term effects that will impact future generations.  And both proponents and opponents of an issue try to use that to their advantage.  The human race seems to have an innate difficulty in grasping complex long-term issues and preferring, instead, on silver bullet solutions that can provide immediate personal benefit.

Well, before I rant any further, I will close and keep further observations for future blog posts.  My sincere thanks to all of my family, friends and colleagues who have reached out to me during this challenging time.  But no more "Oh, you poor baby" condolences.  We have a planet to save from our own self-interests.  

Nature and future generations are counting on us.

Source: RTSea Media                 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Maui Diving Made Easy: scooter dives save time and energy

Hawai'i is one of the most popular tourist locations because it offers so much to the visiting traveler.  From volcanoes to scuba diving to surfing to historical WW II attractions to a rich cultural island history that predates the advent of foreigners.

I had the opportunity to visit my son and daughter-in-law on the Hawaiian island of Maui recently and was taken back by how much it has developed since the days, several decades back, when I got my scuba diving instructor certification there.  Yes, some of the growth was a bit disturbing to see - I'm not much of a "tourist" and to see the environment encroached upon by one resort after another did not sit well.  However, I was pleased to see how underwater sports has developed there, making it easier for more people to experience and appreciate the underwater environment (and hopefully inspire visitors to ensure that it does not become over-exploited).

Snorkeling is very big in Maui - there seems to be a snorkel gear rental shop on every corner.  And for certified scuba divers, there are shore dives or boats to take you to outer islands like Lana'i and Molokini.  But there's also a "middle ground" of dive sites - clear coral reefs far enough offshore to be a challenge for scuba divers to reach, particularly the occasional dive vacationer who only puts in 2 or 3 dives a year.  That's the niche that Scuba Luv Maui tries to fill and does it in a wonderfully relaxed fashion using underwater dive scooters.

Maui's reefs, right offshore, are great for snorkelers but they suffer from the shallow water and wave action that keeps the sand and silt churned up.  Fine perhaps for the snorkelers, but scuba divers want reefs with color and plenty of sealife.  To do that, you need to get much further out where there are reef walls and drop-offs that provide you with the pastel-hued hard coral reefs and the variety of sealife Hawai'i is known for.  Scuba Luv Maui owners Steve and Diana Madaras accomplish this using underwater dive scooters.  These scooters can be held with your arms but that can ultimately become tiring as you are being "pulled" through the water  But by positioning it between the legs, the scooter provides a "push" - controlled propulsion that requires very little effort on the part of the diver.

I've known and dived often with Steve and Diana when they were based in Southern California at Catalina Island.  Having moved their operation to Maui in 2002, I missed their good humor and love of diving, so I made a point of contacting them and seeing what would be of interest on a couple of quick dives I could slip in with my son.  "Well, you ought to try one of our Hawaiian Superman scooter dives," Steve says.  Okay, I'll bite.

At the south end of Maui, in Kehei, we launched from shore to visit a WW II Helldiver aircraft wreck.  The plane apparently experienced engine trouble during training and splashed down about a half mile offshore, settling in a sandy area at about 50 feet.  It was a great dive, exploring the plane, made all the more fun with the help of the scooters to get us there.

On another dive, we traveled further out to an area where the state had considered establishing an artificial reef area using auto tires set in concrete slabs.  Plenty of hiding places for fish, but hard coral grows tremendously slow on a rubber substrate.  At least these tires didn't suffer the same disastrous fate as occurred in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida in the 70s, where stacks of tires were strewn across the sea bottom due to typhoon wave action.

The key feature of this dive was just beyond the "reef" at 60 feet.  The Saint Anthony fishing trawler was sunk there, having been confiscated in a government drug raid. In classic shipwreck fashion, there was hard coral growth, lots of fish, and Hawaiian green sea turtles resting on the decks, getting cleaned of algae by a variety of fish.

It was great to see the increasing numbers of sea turtles in Maui today.  When I was diving there before, the turtle population was quite low and dive shop Divemasters would try to keep dive tourists away from any turtles they came upon, thereby putting out the welcome mat with the hope of seeing their numbers increase.  With that, combined with government protections put in place and enforced, the number of turtles has certainly rebounded.   

When I give lectures or presentations, I call upon many of my past diving experiences to help listeners appreciate the beauty and diversity of our natural underwater resources.  Active, hard core dive travelers get those experiences, but sometimes the infrequent diver does not.  Scuba Luv Maui has a great solution, whether a beginner or pro diver.  

Source: Scuba Luv Maui

Monday, January 20, 2014

Captive Whale Shows: eco-tourism provides alternatives

Following up on my November 10, 2013 post regarding the fate of orcas kept in captivity in aquatic amusement parks like Sea World, the public pressure seems to be continuing as several major contemporary music acts have cancelled their appearances at Sea World, thereby gutting a major entertainment series Sea World was heavily promoting.

As important as the environmental issue is regarding captive orcas and dolphins, it will be changes in economics that will be the actual thumbscrew to bring about change.  Less paying customers at the gate will most certainly catch the attention of Sea World management.

At present Sea World is waging an aggressive public relations campaign that refutes many of the assertions made in the documentary, Blackfish, which has greatly accelerated the debate.  Sea World claims that many of their other more admirable marine mammal activities are funded by the revenue drawn from the whale and dolphin shows, and that may be correct.  For Sea World to change its course would require a major change in revenue acquisition and distribution.  

At the same time, there are other alternatives to Sea World for the public to see whales.  Whale watching is one such activity and competing tourism operations in the San Diego area are capitalizing on Sea World's woes by promoting their own eco-tourism whale watching operations.

The Marriott International Corporation, with its many hotels in the San Diego area, are promoting their whale watching program.  This is the time of year for observing migrating gray whales as they cruise along the California coast, on their way to Baja, Mexico. 

The following infographic illustrates the gray whale migration and when they pass by the waters off San Diego.  The infographic was "Powered by Marriott."

Seeing whales in the wild in California, whether it be gray whales, blue whales, or even a pod of orcas (which recently cruised the California coast ), this is a much more natural and respectful manner in which to better appreciate these marine mammals for what they truly are - magnificent marvels of the oceans, not trained servants jumping through hoops.                       
Many thanks to the Marriott corporation for the use of the infographic.  If you would like to read more about whale watching and the program that the Marriott has available, click here.                  
Source: Marriott International Corporation