Monday, 18 April 2016

Your Health, Mindfulness, the Benefit of the Sea by Dr. Victoria Galbraith

Mindfulness is a hot topic in the wellbeing industry at the moment and something which we believe you should make time for every day if you can. Research evidence suggests that it can assist with a wide array of difficulties, from depression and anxiety to physical health conditions.
Dr. Victoria Galbraith
At SEAcotherapy, we see the use of mindfulness as a preventative factor in health and wellbeing. It is a lifelong skill that can assist with focusing upon the present rather than thinking about the past or worrying about the future. All we really have is the present, and we see engaging in the present moment as a therapeutic tool.

We are so passionate about the benefits of mindfulness that we have included it in all of our retreat packages. Mindfulness gives us the time and space which is often absent in the rat race of 21st century living. It allows us to take a moment, to be present, before moving on. Neuropsychology research is now demonstrating that it alters the structure of the brain towards positivity and balance. And, connecting with nature outdoors is known to create a sense of vitality with research showing us that being connected to nature for 20 minutes a day increases our positive mood and energy.

When you join one of our SEAcotherapy coastal retreats, you will discover the power of mindfulness but in a beautiful, calm and inspiring location. Through our retreats we use the coastline, embracing the power of the waves to help our guests to feel a sense of health and wellbeing. We view the sea as our co-therapist.

The mindfulness component of our retreats is facilitated by Dr.Victoria Galbraith or one of our qualified professional associates to deliver this approach. There are elements of mindfulness practice through each of our retreats, with both formal and informal practices taking place at various times during your stay with us. For example, mindfulness practice may take place on the beach, at your accommodation, we may even engage in mindful eating sessions and mindful creativity. Once you have mastered the craft of paddle boarding on certain select retreats, we may even encourage you to continue this practice mindfully. 

Want to try being more mindful everyday? Try the following tips to get you started.

  • Brush your teeth mindfully
  • Travel from A to B mindfully
  • Have a mindful meal
  • Have a mindful conversation
  • Take a mindful walk in nature

Seacotherapy has signed up to contribute to UK marine conservation activities by supporting  Sea-Changers. We will donate 1% of the value of all our sales to the charity. Customers will be invited to match this and make their own donations too.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Lionfish and how to deal with them - Richard Aspinall Talks Solutions to a Invasion Problem

I remember the first time I saw a lionfish, I was aware of what they looked like from TV of course, and I think Captain Picard of Star Trek fame had one in his ‘space office’, but seeing one in the flesh, in the fins, was quite a surprise, they were astounding!  How could a fish have such an amazing collection of spines and fins, stripes and patternation?  
Lionfish Copyright Richard Aspinall
I was finning along a shallow well-lit reef and the dive guide pointed and used the symbol of both hands held together with fingers interlaced and pointed upwards and apart, that mimics the lionfishes array of spines.  It took me ages to spot the fish though and the guide had to keep on pointing until my brain accepted what I was seeing as a gloriously camouflaged fish staying very still within a backdrop of soft corals. 

Lionfish are Indo-Pacific fish, at least that is where they are found naturally, sadly though they are no longer restricted to their native range and that’s what I’m planning to talk about in this article.  If you spend any time snorkelling or diving in the waters around Florida, or in the Caribbean, sooner or later you’ll see a sign warning you about lionfish or if you’re in luck you might find a restaurant offering lionfish ceviche or lionfish southern style.  You might even witness a lionfish hunting competition that often get organised on public holidays when divers are encouraged to kill as many of the fish as possible.  This is not a normal sight by any means, in the main the diving industry encourages a ‘hands-off’ approach to interactions with marine life, but in the case of the lionfish, the gloves are off and lionfish Derbies are commonplace.  Before I look at how the fish are dealt with though, let’s first answer the question of how they got all the way to the Caribbean, as they didn’t make it on their own?

Copyright Richard Aspinall
The standard answer for many years, and I’ve heard this said time after time, is the story about hurricane Andrew in 1992.  When Andrew made landfall in Florida, a beachside aquarium containing a half dozen lionfish was smashed and the fish presumably cast into the ocean.  The tale goes that divers later saw the fish group in the area and thus the story has become accepted.  The thing is though, there is a credible account of a lionfish being spotted in Floridian waters in 1985, well before the presumed ancestors of the ‘invasion’ ever found freedom, there had to have been previous releases from aquariums.

In the Indo-Pacific lionfish numbers are controlled by predators further up the food chain, groupers and on occasion sharks will take lionfish at various stages of their growth.  In the Caribbean, predators have no experience with lionfish and simply ignore them, allowing lionfish to chomp their way through the local fish with impunity.

So what to do? 

So far the fish have spread throughout the Caribbean region, northwards past Florida and south along the northern coast of South America, and there isn’t a ‘magic bullet’ that can remove the fish from across their new range.  Time will tell of course, we’ll know eventually whether native predators add lionfish to their diet, but what about the species that the lionfish prey upon, what will be the ‘knock on’ effects of changes in their populations and their relative densities? Will Lionfish diets shift in response to reduced numbers in particular prey species?  No one really knows what will happen over the long term.

Shorter term and more immediate methods are being employed by the diving community and are receiving some support by state and national agencies across the region.  The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, for example, regular sponsors and promoted the culls, derbies and hunts that are organised by dive centres and diving organisations in Florida waters.  In other locales where resources and government interest may be reduced, individual dive centres have decided to take their own action to protect the fish life on their local reefs. 

The tool used is quite straightforward, a super sharp and barbed harpoon on a stick, propelled by a piece of elastic material the harpoon is released close to the fish, its multiple barbed tip is aimed at the body and hopefully the fish is held and killed outright.  Some divers carry another harpoon so they can spear the fish twice to ensure it dies a swift death and also to allow the diver to manipulate the fish for the next part of the process.  Even though the fish is technically dead, its venom is not and if the spines puncture flesh the pressure causes venom to move from glands along the spine, via ducts into the victim’s flesh: divers can get stung very easily. 

Some lionfish hunters will simply stuff the fish into a plastic tube, closed at one end with a one-way valve on the other that reminds me of the rubber flaps on the opening of a glass recycling bank.  Back on land the tubes are emptied out and the fishy mess dealt with.  I have heard these can, with the build-up of pressure, turn into what are in effect lionfish cannons (especially after being left in the hot sun), but I don’t know if this is true or not.  

Copyright Richard Aspinall

Copyright Richard Aspinall

Copyright Richard Aspinall

Copyright Richard Aspinall

Copyright Richard Aspinall

Copyright Richard Aspinall

Copyright Richard Aspinall

Does this approach work? 

Well It’s obviously not a complete solution, not every reef is visited regularly by teams of scuba divers, so eradication is unlikely, its more about control and damage limitation until the local fauna adapts perhaps, though it’s a long shot, but you never know.

It’s an odd irony that so often stories that involve conservation issues in the marine realm return to over consumption of fish by people, but here’s a story that seems to have a happy(ish) ending when we do eat fish.  And is it good to eat?  I can’t deny it, its bloody lovely, especially when cooked as soon as possible after its landed. 

So far, its only by encouraging and advocating the catch of lionfish for human consumption, that has any measurable (even if only by a small amount) impact been made on local populations. The battle isn’t quite won though, that ficklest of problems, public perception still needs changing.  There are many fishing communities in the Caribbean that are convinced that lionfish are poisonous, leaving far more valuable fish such as grouper and parrotfish still on the catch list.