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Tuesday September 10, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday September 10, 2013 MYT 10:18:10 AM
by fiona ho
The submersible The Great White makes the ocean accessible for members of the public who are interested in studying the marine environment.
Ocean environmentalist Scott Cassell is bent on saving the seas from destruction.
IT is said that we know more about the surface of the moon and Mars than the depths of the ocean. The ocean is the lifeblood of the planet, making up for over 70% of Earth’s surface. It drives weather conditions, regulates temperature and supports all living organisms.
For all of our reliance on it, 95% of this realm remains unexplored and unseen by man. And we continue to ply these waters with all kinds of pollutants.
American ocean conservationist and filmmaker Scott Cassell is bent on putting a stop to all that.
“The ocean is in the process of dying,” says Cassell, 52, who had studied the Humboldt squid for 15 years and holds a world record for the longest distance travelled by a diver.
“We get about 51% of the oxygen that we’re breathing right now from the ocean and it is in the process of collapsing. If it collapses, we’re all just going to suffocate and die.”
Cassell was in Tioman, Pahang, last week for the “Luminox Saves The Seas” programme to promote awareness of the importance of preserving the health of Malaysia’s coral reefs and marine life. Cassell is an ambassador for the Swiss watch brand, and while in Tioman, he was able to observe the marine environment in his home-built submersible, The Great White, which he uses to monitor ocean life and film poachers.
The two-man craft, powered by electricity and built from mostly recycled materials, can reach a depth of 175m. Built with the help of engineer Scott Reed, it can operate for 10 hours and has a life-support system for up to 72 hours.
The idea of a mini-submarine is that it can be driven anywhere and can be dragged around by a small boat, says Cassell. A larger submarine would typically require elaborate operations to launch and recover.
“The Great White was designed to be as tiny as possible so we can get it all over the world, cheaply. The mission is to help people gain access to the water and learn about the ocean’s condition for the benefit of all mankind,” says Cassell.
Exploring the marine realm opened up a whole new world for Cassell, who was once a counter-terrorism operative. It was a mission in Colombia that inspired the military man to forgo his arms.
“I was a sniper and I was dressed as a bush. I was ready to engage the enemy and I was lying there, being eaten by ants. If I moved, I would make my presence known, and they would kill me. Suddenly, a gunfire erupted behind me. People were shooting each other and I wasn’t involved and I hear all these screams.
“I could smell the gunfire. I could smell the blood. I was that close. And then everything stopped. After everything calmed down, I realised that during the firefight, the jungle had quietened down. And right after, I could hear the bugs and the birds moving around again.
“Life came back after we stopped. That’s when I realised that human life and human problems were really tiny. The real problem is the world and I realised what it was like for a brief moment when it was gone ... all I smelt was gunpowder and blood.”
Currently, Cassell manages a US-based non-profit organisation, the Undersea Voyager Project (UVP), which utilises manned submersibles to enable the general populace to study the ocean environment.
“Anyone can get into the sub ... women, children, centenarian. We need more people to look into the ocean now more than ever in human history,” he says.
Cassell has had many exciting moments while diving with the submersible. Once, off Catalina Island in California, he sighted a new species of stingray.
“It had a wingspan larger than the sub is wide. They now call it the Pacific diamondback ray, and it is in the process of being classified. It’s amazing because thousands of people go diving there every year and nobody’s ever seen the stingray,” he muses.
At Tioman, Cassell took The Great White down for a marine survey.
“The corals seem to be in pretty good shape, though they are not the best in the world I’ve seen. There are no sharks. I’m sure they are somewhere and I look forward to seeing them, but I haven’t seen any so far,” says Cassell, who openly declares his deep-seated love for sharks.
Sub on display
VIEW The Great White submersible from now until Sept 15 at Mid Valley Megamall (North Court), Kuala Lumpur. Luminox recently launched the Scott Cassell Deep Dive Automatic watch. Proceeds from the sale of the special edition watch will fund the conservation work of the Undersea Voyager Project.
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Environment, Lifestyle, People, Luminox, Pulau Tioman, Scott Cassell, submersible
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