Saturday, August 21, 2010


Day of the orchid: 
Walking in coastal forest on a stormy day when diving was impossible I almost stepped on a greenhood orchid.  Seeing its resemblance to a coral shrimp set me thinking and I started exploring the land as a diver would the sea: following the seasonal flux in pursuit of biodiversity; getting to know parallel patterns of life on sea and land.  Ever since the orchid/shrimp episode I have been comparing patterns of life and living relationships in two very different worlds - a gas world and a liquid world.  Gradually, from exploring both sea and land, I have come to see patterns that underlie both worlds: a Blue Print for all life: “The Big Picture”.  As Jan and I came to see its dynamics, such as pohutukawa seed propagation and the complex links between plant and insect life along side the fish/cleaner shrimp relationship the thought emerged: could this atoll earth dwelling, hairless ape actually find a place on his Ocean Planet: a lifestyle as sustainable as that of the Luaniuans or the dolphins?  I recall the boyhood day I’d learnt that the world’s highest mountain had been climbed.  Nowadays reaching its summit is almost an every day event, for so long a seemingly unattainable goal.  Reflecting on this became a Mount Everest of inspiration for me.  I continue to explore the patterns of life above water and below, seeking to grasp more of the Blue Print.  I realise man is part of nature and hope our accumulated wisdom may shape our evolution to fit in with the patterns of life on this planet, so becoming a healthy part of its dynamics and avoiding all paths that diminish nature.  The organism that destroys its environment destroys itself.

Still Photo Image Bank:
Extensive transparencies on CD ROM.

Digital data base of all Northland trees, shrubs etc.  As an intensive exploration of terrestrial biodiversity this is the topside equivalent to our underwater data base.  With each plant I take a journey through its development.

Tutukaka Coast:  own film.  An exploration of all the richest forest remnants along this headland coast.  On DVD.
Above and Below: own film.  A comparison of living patterns from two worlds.  Complementary to Mirror World.  On DVD.

Mirror World   TVNZ  1993: I scripted and assisted in underwater aspects of this documentary that explores patterns of life in Fiordland, from the tops of alpine mountains to the depths of the adjacent fiords.

ROV promo: in this short piece I am interviewed beside a tv monitor aboard ship as TVNZ’s robotic sub sends up a picture of the walls of Milford Sound descending to the very floor at 853 feet: the deepest I have ever seen under the sea.  The ROV acts like an extension of one’s optic nerve, giving the effect of ‘telepresence’: actually being there.  I have since done many ROV explorations, at the Poor Knights and on deep wrecks such as the Niagara and Puriri, using the two machines belonging to my oldest diving mate, Keith Gordon.

Earthtalk   1994: in this Japanese environmental doco I escort their eminent presenter Mr Himano to the Poor Knights and then show him over our 14 h. land at Ngunguru, explaining our experiment at permaculture.  I explain our Project Luaniua: how we were inspired by the atoll dwellers of Luaniua who had a proven sustainable lifestyle, living as part of an ecosystem rather than destroying it.

Globius/German tv doco:
World ecology: Globius/German TV.  Urli Weissbach, director.  Doak                         explains Poor Knights and mangrove ecology and the implications of above/ below theme for global ecology.  1998

In this film I am interviewed about the ecology of the Poor Knights and coastal mangroves on location at/in them, as a microcosm of the ecology of our whole planet.

Then I am filmed delivering an annual lecture to NZ farmers at a conference up at Paihia about one of my Above and Below themes: the links between life in the sea and life on land and how preservation of these is vital for sustainable land use.

Expose NZ  2005 . I am interviewed by Dan Salmon,TVNZ [ who views NZ as a continent that includes all the underwater features in our economic zone ] on the ecology of NZ fishing: the impact of man as a high tech predator on wild stocks of fish and marine invertebrates along with the impacts on marine life of bad land use such as sedimentation from catchment mismanagement and sprawling subdivisions which increasingly overwhelm NZ’s remaining wild places.

Ocean Forest: Whakairiora - own film.  On DVD.  Explores a rich and unique old growth forest remnant concerning which Doak becomes embroiled in controversy when it is threatened by coastal subdivision.  Ongoing...

Books: [ on CD Rom in PDF form, richly illustrated]:
                                             Headland Coast
                                            Mangroves, Cradle of the Sea
                                           Above and Below: Patterns that Connect

                             THE BIG PICTURE
                                   Wade Doak
As a diving pioneer  for half a century the Tutukaka Coast of Northland, New Zealand and the adjacent Poor Knights Islands marine reserve have been my deepest interest for forty years.  Gradually I came to understand the undersea world as a vast energy system supported by plankton and sunlight.
On the undersea cliff every firm surface provides foothold for an immense diversity of plants and animals.  A wall of mouths filters the passing parade of microscopic plankton.  Mobile animals range out over the rock faces by day and by night, grazing upon the cliff dwellers or preying on each other.  Through time such an abundance of life forms has evolved to become mutually dependent for living space and food: an ecosystem.
When my mind rose from the sea to explore the adjacent forests I found a parallel web of life.  The same diversity of shape and colour I loved so much down below was all around me on the headlands.  Then I discovered a new scientific view of life on Earth is emerging.  Planetary biologists are now projecting the concept of a global environment: a living Earth.
When I explore sea or forest, the cliff is seen as one body of life, each organism having its particular function and as intimately related to all the other life forms around it as my eye is to my heart and to my toe.  Just as the cells in my body struggle for nutrition, nature is a continuous, self-renewing cycle, each life form entirely dependent on the others for its existence.  An ecosystem evolves as a  body of life wherein the components are not simply competitive and aggressive, as in the old world picture, but also fundamentally co-operative in keeping the system functioning properly and maintaining stability in the face of changing environmental conditions.   Ever since realising this I have been looking at patterns of life in two worlds, seeking fresh insights and understandings of biodiversity.
In abyssal darkness twin beams of light illuminate the corpse of a dead whale.  Guided by the pilot of Alvin, the deep submersible, a mechanical arm extends.  Metal claws tear loose a piece of bone and rotting flesh.  In the  special bacteria that colonise whale corpses a biotech company has discovered  enzymes that can digest fat in cold water.  From the seabed a better way to scour wool may emerge.
As Alvin approaches a volcano vent two miles below a special instrument detects a very faint glow.  Light in a sunless world?  Such a discovery has scientists reeling.  It explains why some of the anaerobic life forms down there, shrimps and bacteria that feed directly on sulphides emitted by black smokers, have light organs. They orient to the source of light which is their food supply.
Scientists studying these deep ocean volcanic vent communities even suspect they may have had a key role in the evolution of life itself.  Before our planet had oxygen in its atmosphere anaerobic bacteria, sensitive to the faint glow of the vents, may have been stepping stones in the evolution of photosynthesis.  Some speculate that in this way, on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, beneath seas of frozen methane, life may have evolved in many forms without the use of oxygen.
In ocean depths science is tapping at the doors of Earth’s engine room. In tropical rainforests, covering just 6% of its land surface, yet holding more than half of all known life forms, scientists search Earth’s libraries.
As the twenty-first century  advances general awareness is spreading around the globe that we have to look at the big picture if we are to face the challenges of the new millennium: global warming, ozone depletion, desertification of arable land and a doubling of human population: since 1950 with just 2.5 billion people on Earth to greet Elvis, we’ve almost tripled our numbers.  Last century began with 1.6 billion and  ended with 6 billion.
For me, a diver from the age of fourteen, and obsessed with the sea, there came a time when I began to discover linkages between land and sea that are profound, invisible and never to be broken.  Recognising them and adapting to the underlying blueprint may well be the key to our survival.
To quote British scientist James Lovelock: “The physics, chemistry and biology of the oceans are once again being recognised as interdependent parts of a huge global process.”
Humans of the new millennium face an enormous challenge: can we develop sustainable agricultural technology?  Can we  tune into the world’s huge internet database and apply all the fresh knowledge flooding in from our extended sensory systems: submarines, weather balloons, satellites and deep drilling rigs; telescopes, electron scanning microscopes, cat scanners and particle accelerators?
Can we then reshape our society’s direction fast enough to cope with the greatest problems humans have ever faced, survival against immense odds; problems that as we sit here, are every day realities for so many in the third world?
Looking down the barrel of the millennial gun, young people of today are the first generation  to confront the full consequences of Pandora’s open box.  They will have to feed more people than have ever lived on  Earth with less and less soil. They will have to work in a climate made unpredictable due to global warming.  And they absolutely must develop sustainable systems of land and sea use.
There is now little doubt that this century will see a further increase in global temperature: up to five degrees is projected.  Deltas and coastal plains are threatened by rising sea levels.  Wet areas are likely to get wetter.  Dry areas, dryer.
And we enter the race with major handicaps: we are already loosing 24 billion tons of top soil each year - about equal to the Australian wheatlands.  About a quarter of the irrigated land in the U.S.A. and China is salinised from the build up of agricultural chemicals.
In dry areas desertification is advancing.  Three quarters of such land in North America and Africa is now a dust bowl.  Rain forests, the planet’s biggest reservoir of life, are shrinking so rapidly that in the decade 1980 - 1990, eight per cent was cut or burnt.
In such a world both China and Africa are each going to need to import more grain than the entire present day global production.
How do we meet this enormous challenge?  I think the answer lies in understanding how the planet functions and working within its systems: humbly joining the team, our evolutionary niche.  “What is man but a poor, bare, forked creature,” reflected King Lear.
Since mere humans have actually altered the atmospheric ozone of our
world and drastically reduced the diversity of its life forms, we need to get into the pilot’s seat: every one of us has a role to play in getting this space ship back on course.
This is not just a big chunk of rock with life forms crowding its surface.  Science now realizes that life has had a firm hand on the controls.  Feedback systems are being discovered that regulate physical systems to keep conditions stable for life.  It’s like the governor on a tractor engine.  Or the thermostat on a fridge.  Why doesn’t the sea just keep getting saltier and saltier?  Why have sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific remained at between 27 and 32 degrees for aeons?
Why does the proportion of gases in our atmosphere remain in a stable balance?  Scientists seeking to answer these questions keep finding that living systems are the regulators.  And many of the vital thermostats and catalysts are in the ocean where life first evolved.
Compared with its neighbours Earth is the odd ball.  On lifeless, hot Venus and frigid Mars the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide: 96.6% and 95% respectively.  On Earth it is less than one percent while oxygen, a very unstable gas, has remained at twenty percent for more than 600 million years.  But if all the carbon dioxide that oceanic life forms have bound up in sedimentary limestone deposits was converted back into gas, Earth would be a desert like its neighbours.  It is life that makes our blue planet liveable.
The linkages between land and sea run both ways.  The effects of agricultural run-off are well recognised: high nutrient loadings encourage blooms of certain toxic algae that may rob the sea of oxygen and accumulate in the food chain to cause us diarrhoea, memory loss, paralysis or even death.  But such a loss of nutrients is a debit to farming anyway.  We have to  solve the problem and save the fertiliser.
Bad land use, besides leading to salination and desertification, also creates problems in the sea.  After Cyclone Bola fishermen were trawling sheep off  the New Zealand coast and divers seeking Rothschild’s treasure on the Tasmania wreck off Mahia Peninsula, found it full of clay.  Run-off reduces light levels, inhibits kelp forests and favours the deadly algae that cause red tides.
But the sea, being a long term source of lime and phosphate, has a major role to play in farming. Prior to the introduction of exotic predators seabirds such as petrels once nested in New Zealand’s alpine zones. Their ocean derived wastes top-dressed entire catchments.  Crucial to all vertebrates is iodine.  Through the thyroid gland it acts as a catalyst in triggering growth.  Each time it rains we get a free top dressing of it; just as long as the world’s kelp forests survive to create and release methyl iodide into the atmosphere.
Even more crucial to the land are the single cell plants and delicate red seaweeds that produce dimethyl sulphide.  So much sulphur is washed out to sea that it used to be a puzzle as to how the worlds’ sulphur budget was being kept in balance.  Then it was found that sea plants release sulphur compounds into the air to provide us with more free fertiliser.  Furthermore, recent findings also indicate that dimethyl sulphide has a major role in the formation of raindrops and hence, precipitation.  But ozone depletion and U.V. overdoses could inhibit the sea plants, resulting in days of leaden skies, dry winds and no rain.
To achieve sustainable agriculture there is so much we need to understand about the role of the ocean in our planet’s health.  For example, how sea life absorbs a huge proportion of Co2 and buries it for good - unless we dig it up for fuel.
If we study the life patterns on our planet above and below water we soon discover there is an underlying blueprint for survival that can guide us towards a sure future.
A scholarly friend once observed to me that he was sure of one thing: with erosion everything is getting flatter.  That really impressed me- until I discovered the rock cycle: how the sixteen plates that form our world’s land masses are grinding together, sliding underneath each other, recycling molecular patterns created by life back into the furnace and spewing up new nutrients at volcano vents - an age old process that is raising alpine chains including Mount Everest and Mount Cook.
Then I realised: every one of us has everything we’ll ever need right now!  Every cell in our bodies has to be renewed.  We just need to recycle ourselves through plants.  Mars voyagers most certainly will have to accomplish this trick.  NASA is well advanced on space cafes.  But for us on Earth it should be much easier. From lichens to corals, giant clams and clover we see symbiotic linkages of mutual advantage.  Can humans perfect a high tech linkage between our major orifices?  Can we achieve through sustainable farming the Mars voyage biotechnology and recycle ourselves efficiently?
For the future, what is our hope, confronted by such huge obstacles?  The speed of technological development has far outpaced our powers of reason.  In my father’s lifetime we went from electrical light, radio and T.V. to aviation and moon travel.
When those first men landed on the moon they believed such an extraordinary achievement would give us the vision to cope with any  problem.  We must now try to see the world with the eyes of spacemen and undersea explorers.  To see that industrial humans, all seven billion of us, are basically molecules assembled by the fossilised solar energy of oil.  In just one  century farmers have turned most of the Earth’s oil into humans.  Only the low cost of non-renewable fuels made intensive farming profitable.  Much more energy is being poured into our food production than we gain from it.
I have twice visited the remote atoll-dweller village of Luaniua where everything came from solar energy: food, dwellings, transport-the lot.  Compared to the atoll dweller, industrial man is very inefficient in his use of energy.  That has to change.
But what do the spacemen say?
“How much desert there is on Earth,” remarked Karl Henize, American astronaut.  “Over Africa I never saw a great expanse of green tropical rain forest.  North Africa is the Sahara desert.  South-west Africa is the Namib desert.  South and East Africa are semi arid grasslands.”
“An orange cloud from a Sahara dust storm settled over the Philippines with rain.  I understood we are all sailing in the same boat,” said Vladimir Kovalyonok.  And Vladimir Shatalov philosophised:  “When we look up into the sky it seems endless.  Aboard a spaceship, you tear away from Earth and within ten minutes you have been carried straight through the atmosphere.   And beyond there is nothing!  Beyond the air there is only emptiness, coldness, darkness.  The “boundless” blue sky, the ocean which gives us breath and protects us from the endless black and death, is but an infinitesimally thin film.  How dangerous it is to threaten even the smallest part of this gossamer covering, this conserver of life.”
And my hero, inner spaceman and aqualung pioneer Jacques Cousteau, when he read the reflections of the spacemen, wrote:  “From all their exceptional journeys they all emphasise that our planet is one.  Borders are artificial.  Human kind is one single community on board Spaceship Earth. They all insist this fragile gem is at our mercy and we must all endeavour to protect it.”
And so I offer this thought: it is only with a vision of our home planet above and below the tide line; and a firm grasp on the physical realities of our world, that we can hope to survive our future.


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