Life Of An Ocean Rower
This is the exciting schedule of topics which will be discussed as Erden is at sea, hitting some of these topics head-on.....
Click on one of the language tabs in the upper right corner to see each week's new Education Program, in English, Chinese and Spanish - and, the first expedition in the world to ever have ongoing education, tri-lingually! Get engaged, sit back enjoy, learn, and spread the word. You're part of history! Click here to see our Content Release Schedule.
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Westbound Rower Education Week 2: Ocean Rowing and the Calderdale
I don’t think that those of us who have felt the need to climb a mountain or row and ocean have done it, or will do it, “because it is there” but “because we are here”. Without us, mountains and the ocean have no meaning by themselves. They “are there” and always will be but, for a very very few. Their presence inspires a dream of pitting our puny strength against their might, and to conquer not them but ourselves. The quest to prove worthy of an almost inconceivable challenge is our greatest reward.
John Fairfax (First man to row across the Atlantic Solo)
Think about the ocean for a moment. How many of you have been in a place where you cannot see land in all directions when you are in the ocean? Or spend nights in a small boat out at sea? What about crossing the ocean on a boat of any size? Perhaps for a cruise, but not as a sport. That is what ocean rowing is, a sport that takes the athlete across oceans using specially designed row boats that are fit to face the raw power of the ocean.
At some point in history, people crossed ocean all the time for trade, exploration then over time, to travel. On board their boat or ship, it is more than likely to have a sail as well as oars, using the oars only when there is no wind; and when steam engines came along it was quickly replaced with those. Human powered ocean crossing takes away the sail and the engine, and only human powered modes can be used, limiting to swimming, paddling or rowing. Because rowing is the most efficient of the three, it is the most popular method for the very very few people who decides to pursuit this interesting way to cross oceans or to challenge themselves with a quest like the way John Fairfax describes it.
This week we will talk about how Erden will make his way from Crescent City to the Malaysian Peninsula. Erden is on a human powered journey across the Pacific ocean, the Westbound Row, that will be a historical solo mainland-to-mainland row between North America to Asia. Setting off only a few days ago on 22 June, 2021, he has already broken a record in ocean rowing, becoming the person with the most career days ocean rowing, surpassing a long standing record from the late Peter Bird who was lost at sea on day 937 of his career. Erden furthers the record of his total career solo rowing as well.
“Today, I will take over one of the longest standing records in ocean rowing. Peter Bird was lost at sea in 1996 while he was rowing from Vladivostok in Russia to North America, on day 937 of his career. As I write this, I humbly honor Peter’s memory and all ocean rowers who were lost at sea.”
Erden Eruc Blog (1 July, 2021)
The first record of ocean rowing across an ocean did not occur till 1896 when the pair of Norwegian seaman George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen decided to claim an historical first and row across the Atlantic Ocean. Their plan, which they achieved after 55 days, was to row from Manhattan, New York, across the Atlantic ocean to La Havre, France. They first made landfall in St. Mary, Scilly Island (55 days), before crossing the English Channel to their final destination La Harve (62 days).
Above: George Harbo and Frank Samuelsen with their skiff Fox
Their adventures are published in the book Daring the Seas. From the list of provisions in the book they had for the crossing, us in todays time will probably think they are underprepared for the challenge. For food provisions included canned beef and ham, 45kg of ship’s biscuit (hard and dry biscuit), 4kg of coffee, 250 eggs and 228 L / kg of water that also served as the ballast. To cook they had a paraffin stove that hardly ever worked, so the coffee was drank cold and the eggs eaten raw. And for navigation, they had a compass, a sextant, and a copy of the Nautical Alamac. All of this was loaded on a skiff, Fox, and they set off eastbound towards France.
Here is an account of an encounter they had with a German steamliner, Fuerst Bismark, that came upon George and Frank in their skiff from the Herald posted on 21 March, 1987.
The captain of the liner waited until they got within hearing distance and then shouted, “Are you shipwrecked?”
“No. Bound for Europe.”
“In that boat? Never. Better let me take you back.”
“Thanks, no,” they replied.
“Are you crazy?”
And then they rowed off through the rough swelling seas while the liner’s passengers raised a fine ringing cheer.
Above: John Fairfax and Britannica
The first solo row across an ocean occurred 73-years of after Frank and George’s Atlantic crossing. In 1969 John Fairfax, taking two years of planning and training, set off from Grand Canaria, Canary Islands rowing westward to Hollywood Beach in Florida. Instead of using a skiff, he used a self-bailing, and self-righting boat; meaning water goes out of the boat automatically, and it rights itself automatically if it capsizes. This historical boat Britannica is now a museum piece in the National Maritime Museum Cornwall John’s crossing took 180 days, completing the historical first on 19 July, 1969. With the next day the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing, he also received the following letter from the Apollo 11 Crew in celebration of the two historical firsts in human exploration.
From the Apollo 11 Astronauts
To John Fairfax:
May we of Apollo 11 add our sincere congratulations to the many you have undoubtedly already received for your bold and courageous feat of rowing alone across the Atlantic. We who sail what President Kennedy once called "The new ocean of space" are pleased to pay our respects to the man who, single handedly, has conquered the still formidable ocean of water. We find it an interesting coincidence that you completed your arduous voyage here on earth at a spot very near the one from which we started our voyage to the moon. And that you arrived at your destination quite near the time that we reached ours. Yours, however, was the accomplishment of one resourceful individual, while ours depended upon the help of thousands of dedicated workers in the United States and all over the world. As fellow explorers, we salute you on this great occasion.
The Apollo 11 Astronauts
Edwin A Aldrin Jr.
Westbound Rower Education Week 3: Calderdale
Ocean rowing today is quite different from Samuelsen and Harbo’s, and Fairfax’s journey. In Modern Day Ocean Rows (> 1981), navigation and safety equipment such as GPS, Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), VHF Radio, AMVER, Satellite Phone, and desalination units are all commonplace. The communication advancements allow for easier communication between the rowers and land, or support should anything happen in the ocean. The desalination units can provide the rower with a consistent supply of fresh water, solving the need to carry all freshwater. The combined technology allowed more, but still very very few, rowers to take on the challenge of facing the ocean at its rawest. As of January 2020, 544 ocean rows have been completed, 1079 ocean rowers have successfully rowed an ocean, including 70 individuals who rowed an ocean more than once. Erden is one of these 70 individuals and holds multiple Guinness World Records for them. This historical first, the scientific work he will do, and education program also makes the Westbound Row a Explorers Club Flag Expedition.
Graphic 1: Erden with the Explorer’s Club Flag
Erden will not be rowing from a skiff, but one that looks much more similar to the Britannica, the boat john Fairfax used. Erden’s boat Calderdale, is also self-bailing and self-righting, it also has two cabins in the bow and stern of the boat. Calderdale is just a little bit longer and wider than Britannica. Erden’s is a specific class of boat designed for the Atlantic Rowing Challenge, a rowing event across the Atlantic. The standardised design was first intended to make the challenge fair, allowing seamanship and pure athletic effort to determine the outcome of the race rather than the depth of one’s pocket in finding different boat designers. This also was a safety consideration to ensure that a self-righting, self-bailing, stable ocean-going boat would be available to those interested in pursuing this unusual pastime.
Above: Design of Calderdale (and other Atlantic Rowing Challenge boats)
Built in England in 2001 for the Atlantic Rowing Race, Calderdale has already made two successful Atlantic crossings before being acquired by Erden in 2004 in preparation for his Around-N-over Project. The Around-N-Over project further added one Atlantic (2006) and Pacific (2007) crossing to the boat’s history. Afterwards Erden, and the rowboat, also became the first rowboat to cross a third ocean. Crossing the Indian ocean from Carnarvon, Australia, to Mahajanga, Madagascar in 2010, and later completed the mainland-to-mainland crossing when he crossed the Mozambique Channel and landing in Angoche, Mozambique in 2011. This was another historical first for Erden, and another glorious entry in the fantastic history of this boat.
Above: Erden with Calderdale
As the ARR class rowing boats are designed for two people, Erden re-designed the kit such that it can be helmed solo by himself. Having one less person with him gives him more space for storage and provisions. The enclosed and watertight cabin in the rear of the boat provides the living quarters, a cosy space that is about the size of a two-person tent as Erden describes it. It also houses all the core electronics used for navigation and communication with ships and land. We will hear more about these things and his life on board a rowboat when we visit Erden in collaboration with Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants later this month!
To follow up with Erden’s progress and adventures in more detail, check out his blog ! he usually adds a new entry every few days!
Westbound Rower Education Week 7: Water and Power
Being out at sea without the right preparation almost always ends in disaster. There are many things that needs to be considered before setting off on any expedition, and drinking water is probably the most important consideration, and the first on the giant “to-do” list.
In all of the historical ocean rows before 1982, the rowers had to carry all of their drinking water. This is usually no longer the case, as most rowers, as well as other explorers or sailors crossing the ocean in small vessels, will have a desalinator. This machine is able to remove the salt from the sea water, making it drinkable. Being on a very small rowboat, Erden uses the “the world’s smallest electric desalinator”. The Katadyn PowerSurvivor40E electric desalinator. This is a reverse osmosis fresh water maker that pushes water across a very small membrane at a high pressure of 800psi. The membrane works like a filter, but the filter is so small that salt molecules cannot pass through, leaving only drinkable water on the other side of the filter. The brine, which is the raw water remaining inside the device which has “given up its fresh water”. Once filtered, the brine ends up with a higher salt content and is then ejected overboard. Through the process diffusion, the brine will eventually reach an equilibrium state with the surrounding seawater. Erden’s desalinator can produce 4-6 litres of water in an hour, which usually is more than enough to sustain him in most conditions.
See the animation below of how this process works!
Above: Animation of Reverse Osmosis Desalination
But what happens if this desalination unit fails? This is where the idea of redundancy comes in to planning for an expedition. Redundancy is basically having a back-up, of a back-up, of a back-up. This is the same for Erden’s water situation. In the case of failure of the electric unit, he also has a hand pump version of the same thing, and that allows him to continue making freshwater without electricity, or if the filter simply fails to operate. But does Erden want to use the hand pump? Here’s what he had to say about it.
“Who in their right mind would sit and pump for a straight hour to fill a jug? So, when in the past I had to use that manual water maker, it was always two cups here and a cup there, pumping as I needed water rather than in one long sitting. That worked best and didn’t feel so daunting or frankly, boring. I would rather row or rest!”
On top of this, Erden also carries 100 litre of freshwater as a ballast, which gives stability and self-righting ability to the rowboat. From this source he can ration this water for over 25 days, but he has to refill the finished jerry cans with sea water to maintain the ballast. And yet there is another backup, only for the most dire and undesirable situation. Erden has a Katadyn Survivor 06 in his ditch bag for if he needs to transition to his lift raft, if ever. This water maker produces only a very small amount of potable water, just sips of water for survival before rescue. So, there are actually three different water makers on board the Calderdale and is a much better option compared to carrying all the freshwater needed or 11 months, imagine having to row that extra weight across too!
Since the main desalination unit requires electricity to run, where does his electricity come from? Electricity and power is another key element needed for his preparation list. So how is it produced on the boat? Let’s ask Erden!
Erden: I rely solely on solar power to generate electricity. When I launched from Australia in July 2010, we had also installed a wind generator. The power regulator for that wind generator used 1.5 Amps itself just to operate, which meant a threshold of about 13 knots of wind before I broke even. So I tied down that generator in any winds under 15 knots. Not a very effective solution… I got rid of it eventually.
Ryan: With the boat being made in 2001, and all the milage it has already completed, have you made any changes and updates to the electronics of the boat?
Erden: In 2014, I replaced my cabin-top solar panels with the more efficient Solara panels. We found that one of the original panels was defective all along! My roof had just received a total of 115W in panelling. Before this crossing , Brian Johnson sourced custom Solbian panels which were shaped for the remaining suitable surface area on my rowboat. These new stick-on panels add an extra 180W, bring the total to 295W.
We also ripped out the wiring in the rowboat which dated back to 2001 and started from scratch. I now have new instrument panels, AGM batteries, charge controllers, battery protector, switches, breakers, USB chargers, active dual band radar target enhancer, bulkhead display, LED cabin lights, fuses… It took a trusted hand to put Humpty Dumpty back together, and Brian was the one.
Ryan: That must be a huge project! With solar panels, what happens to your electronics during the night, or when there is not enough sunlight during the day? Have you run into problems of not having enough power to draw from to run the instruments?
Erden: Now even under persistently overcast skies, the state of charge for my batteries reaches 100% before noon every day. The solar capacity of 295W charges the two AGM (Absorbent Glass Mat) batteries each 110Ah each. These batteries then power my 12V electrical system onboard. Everything runs off those two batteries. It is good to be running my desalinator which draws an average of 4 Amps (most power on the boat), and still seeing a positive balance of amperage flowing into the batteries. I will not be hungry for power on this rowboat ever again.
It’s not a power issue, but when my trip odometer is misbehaving, I added straight line distances between evening positions to approximate. Actual meandering length of my track until Waikiki will be higher. It will append to my career totals at launch in solo and overall categories; to become official, London based Ocean Rowing Society must review supporting GPX files from my chart plotter and YB Tracker.
Ryan: Thank you Erden, and congratulations again on the extending the records you have already broken since launching several weeks ago, we’ve been following your tracker since the start and it’s amazing seeing the progress so far on your way to Waikiki. We will touch base with you again in a few weeks so we can share a little on how you communicate and pass the time while you’re out at sea. For now, we will continue to follow your progress and your stories from your blog.
Westbound Rower Education Week 11: Having a Dance with Linda
Before you carry on reading, here’s some food for thought.
When was the first time your realised that every “C” in “Pacific Ocean” was pronounced differently? Might not be applicable for Spanish, Chinese, or Turkish, but interesting thought nonetheless.
It is one of the things that might happen when you are rowing across the ocean alone. You come up with random yet interesting thoughts you probably would not have thought of in a normal everyday life. The good thing is that there is much more to do while ocean rowing. Vital equipment like the desalinators and solar panels need to be maintained. Dealing and strategizing around storms is another, so today we join Erden as he is in the “Hurricane Alley,” and we see how he plans his way around these storms to take advantage of what the Ocean has to offer!
Above: Hurricane Alley Video
Hurricane Alley is a name given to a certain band of tropical regions that can form intense atmospheric depressions that have the potential of forming the most intense storms in the world, bringing torrential rain and extreme winds across the ocean. The strongest 1-minute sustained wind speed recorded in hurricanes was 345km/h, faster than the take-off speed of most planes!
The video shows the “Hurricane Alley” Erden is passing through now, and it happens to be during its peak season! If you take notice of the time of year the satellite images were taken, you’d notice the dates line up close to this season, making the trip potentially more treacherous. In general, the peak hurricane season is usually from July to Mid-October each year, so right now we are right in the middle of hurricane season.
As destructive hurricanes and typhoons are to land, for ocean rowers alone in the ocean it is even more terrifying, and is why it is so important to steer clear of them if avoidable. While it is possible to forecast or estimate the months of hurricane season, it is difficult to strategize against individual storms. And even more so for Erden when he only has limited instruments on board. Instead, he has a team of ocean current scientists, climate scientists and other earth system modellers to aid and study real time conditions so he gets regularly updated information on his surrounding conditions. Erden’s knowledge in this area is not to be understated either, studying more 10-15 years worth of climatological data to digest what the Ocean is likely to offer statistically at a given location at a given time of the year!
Here’s a short account of Erden when he was facing Tropical Storm Linda in August:
On Monday August 16, TS Linda kept marching towards my vicinity, Commander Miller of our onshore team reached out to RCC Honolulu to make sure they could track my location and alert them of a call for assistance should I deem it necessary. To say that I’m grateful for everyone’s diligence and concern for my safety would be an understatement.
Jason Christensen, on shore with far more access to information, monitors distant tropical storms south of Mexico for the potential impact on my safety. When TS Linda came around the south of Baja Peninsula, Linda was supposed to pass Northeast of me, so I happily continued Southwest towards Waikiki, anticipating the Northeast winds from the storm to further propel me. But with each forecast, Linda turned more west and was expected to pass halfway between my location and Oahu! Even with the NE winds, I feared I would not make enough southing so I took the rowboat back up to N25 Latitude to let Linda pass south of me on Fri-Saturday.
I spent August 17 lingering and trying to decide whether to row at all, because if I run too far west, I could overshoot Koko Head and end up rerouting to the North end of Oahu. It would also not be a good place to land because I would have to transport or tow the rowboat around to Waikiki for relaunch, and far too complicated of a task when trying to maintain the human powered designation of the journey. In the end I decided to just let the boat run without rowing due west while towing the hydrophone to collect sound data for Beaked Whale surveys for NOAA scientist Dr. Jay Barlow. The tow slowed me down enough which allowed me to wait for Linda to pass, serving my athletic and scientific mission.
On Friday evening, squalls on Linda’s periphery passed south of my location making the seas lively. By Sunday I was receiving easterly winds from the trailing Linda and the last of its squalls and the skies began to clear. Linda was yet another storm we negotiated in style, but constants stormwatch is tiresome. Now to reach Waikiki soon during the storm break, just two weeks is what I need. But don't tell Marty (the next named storm).
Here at Westbound Rower, we are happy to see Erden getting out of the storm and on his way to the Waikiki Yacht Club, which he expects to reach between 9-10 September. For those in Honolulu, this is an open invitation to join him at the Waikiki Yacht Club in raising a toast to what proved to be a more difficult row than anticipated, and to the memories of Peter Bird and Angela Madsen, Para-Olympian who we lost recently while she was rowing to Waikiki to California. And as you do, may you say aloud the names of Louis Bird and Polly Wickham in camaraderie so that their ears shall ring…
Week 13 – Taking A short Break – Just like Erden
Above: Erden’s Rowboat at Waikiki Yacht Club
As you might imagine from the title, we are taking a short break this week. With Erden planning to launch again towards Hong Kong the first week of October, it gave us the opportunity to chat with him live with classrooms across the globe while he works on some repairs in preparation for the next big leg of his Westbound Row.
We will be working with Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants on live classroom sessions over the next few months. We will be doing these calls in several in different time zones to suit audiences from different parts of the world. Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants connects scientists, explorers, adventurers to as virtual guest speakers to classrooms all over the world. Their philosophy is that “Everyone has a point they can remember (or will have one) when their passion for their chosen pursuit ignites. It may have been meeting someone, an inspirational educator, seeing a documentary or reading a book. It’s these tiny ‘aha’ moments we’re striving to spark in classrooms everywhere.”
You can check out their website for more details. If one suits your time zone, sign up! We look forward to seeing you on the livestreams! Have a look at the video Above of one of the live classroom sessions we did to get a taste of what’s to come with these live classroom sessions! The only difference in future sessions is that Erden would not be able to show his smiling face because of how remote of an area he will be in over the next few months. We plan to visit Erden once or twice a month as he makes his way across the Pacific. We may also bring on special guests, scientists, and other members of Erden’s Team to discuss their work in the sciences and how that is used to help Erden on the Westbound Row. Students in live classrooms can also enter a chance to win our Ocean Recovery Alliance’s Pick Me Up Bag! They handmade from recycled kitesurfing kites so the come in all different patterns and designs, and a place to put plastic and litter in when you at the beach, on a hike or doing any other outdoor activities!
Above: A assortment of Pick me up bags
On our side, we will begin our next major topic in the Westbound Rower Education Program, and start to tie some of the previous topics related to ocean plastics, climate, oceanography, and Erden’s Westbound Row to the marine sciences with a special focus on marine wildlife. We will dive into the reactions and impacts wildlife underwater is facing, from plastics, other pollution, coastal development, climate change and more when Erden sets off towards Hong Kong. Within these topics we will also look at case studies of countries, communities, and people who have come up with interesting and innovative solutions to some of these impacts.
When it comes to marine wildlife and human impact, the first thing you probably think of is plastics, how it is ingested, or caught and trapped in nets and it’s not difficulty to see why! A lot of the times plastic in the ocean can look like animals or natural objects. One artist, Liina Klauss, curated a series called Involuntary Pairs over the period of seven years, pairing a piece of ocean plastic with a natural specimen. The similarities between the plastic and the natural specimen can be uncanny, but it shows that we can also be fooled by the appearances of ocean plastic. See whether you can distinguish the plastic and natural object here! Liina has also worked with us in the past, on various projects, like Kids Ocean Day, and Grate Art!
Above: a few of the Involuntary Pairs
Some animals are more opportunistic than others, like the Hermit crab below using a plastic bottle cap as a shell. Ocean plastic in the ocean also creates surfaces where animals can live on or travel with. So now there is a new concern that plastics will become a vessel for invasive species to dominate new ecosystems. All of this is to come starting October. Lining up with Erden’s expected departure from Hawaii in the 5th October, 2021.
Above: Hermit Crab using a plastic cap as a shell
Education Week 14: Life of an Ocean Rower: Repairing the Boat and Doing Science
The Westbound Rower Education is kicking off again, for the second huge leg of Erden’s Journey from Hawaii to the Malaysian Peninsula. Erden plans to launch this week (October 5th) and will continue his row across the Pacific, to become the first to row across the Pacific (mainland-to-mainland) above the equator. It has been a busy two weeks for Erden, jumping between various objectives related to fixing vital components of his boat, resupply of food, other important navigation technologies and items needed for the rest of his big row across the Pacific. During this time, he also spoke with schools in North America and Asia with us at Ocean Recovery Alliance and Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants, and of course, managed some time to spend with family.
Erden has made a couple changes to his boat as a result of new findings and needs as he rowed from California to Hawaii. He installed a new Chart Plotter in the cabin, and moved the old one to the outside so he can also check on it while he is on the rowing seat. The Chart plotter is a critical navigation tool that allows Erden to chart his course, communicate and receive in-depth readings of the ocean environment surrounding the vessel. He also built new flaps for the deck scuppers, using fibreglass and metal hinges to improve upon the original plastic flaps.
During his row towards Hawaii, Erden noticed there was air leaking into his desalinator system, which then accumulated in the tall filter. He has not needed to use the hand pump desalinator yet, but after making 4-5 litres of water, he would have to open the filter and fill it up with clean ocean water. While this does not seem like much extra work, it adds up over time, so it became a priority of his stop at Hawaii.
As the filter fills up with air, the deslainator cannot produce potable water because it cannot reach the pressure of 800psi to operate. Air leaking into the filter is a problem because air can be compressed, so instead of compressing and forcing the sea water through the filtration membranes, the desalinator will only compress the air and no fresh drinking water will be made. In the worst-case scenario, the highly compressed air in the filtration unit can also cause the unit to fail entirely, which is something to avoid. You can read more about how Erden’s desalination on Week 7 of our program.
Above: the original water filter mounted the side wall of the hold
One of the reasons the filter filled with air was because it was mounted too high, and was above the water line. Meaning the raw ocean water that was going into the filter would need to be raised, then drawn through the filter, all by vacuum, before reaching the desalinator intake. The old filter was also 18inches tall, which did not help the situation. Erden’s solution was to reposition the desalination lower in the boat to make sure the water intake was lower than sea level. He then added a longer hose from the water chest to the hold, so the filter housing can be at the very bottom of the hold. This newer system still needs testing, but the air is out of the filter which is good news.
Above: the updated water filter placed at the bottom of the hold
When Erden launches, he will be starting his contribution to the sciences, and collect noise data from Beaked Whales, to detect their calls and songs which are all far beyond human hearing, in order to investigate the habitat ranges of these cetaceans. Erden however is not doing this as a “scientist”, which he is not by profession, so instead, he will be conducting what is called “citizen science”.
To simply put it, citizen science is a way for the public to participate with ongoing scientific research to increase scientific knowledge outside of the strict sampling protocols proposed in a scientific study. Citizen scientists can provide observational data, which is based on our observations and usually requires specific information on the date and time, location and what it is that was observed. A very common citizen science activity is bird watching, where the species, number observed and location data is collected. Data collected here can then be used to estimate species populations in the region, plan regional conservation areas, and also track bird species migration throughout the year!
Erden’s tasks as a citizen scientist are a bit more specific than writing down notes on his observations of marine life and seabirds. Though he still does this, occasionally noting animals he sees around his boat, like mahi-mahi, turtles, and albatross and gulls. The main task during his row across the Pacifc is to collect sound data of Beaked Whales, in order to give a better understanding of the range and migration patterns of these cetaceans. It is a common practice to collect underwater sound data when studying Beaked Whales and other cetacean species, because they all use specific sound frequencies to communicate. However, these frequencies are usually outside of human hearing and will require scientific instruments like a hydrophone. The amazing thing is that no one as of current has any data on the sounds of Beaked Whales, or their possible locations between Hawaii and Asia. He will be undertaking this research on behalf of NOAA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in the U.S.
Hydrophones work similarly to microphones, only that they work underwater. They change underwater sound vibrations and frequencies into readable electrical signals. In an electrical form, these sounds can be isolated to pick out the calls of the Beaked Whales. Of course, visual observations of Beaked Whale populations are also important in understanding their habitat range and species behaviours. The movement of each pod in the vast Ocean makes research much harder. Since sounds can travel much further underwater, use of hydrophones are an effective and less intrusive way to monitor and study these animals.
As a Vessel of Opportunity, Erden and his yellow rowboat provide a unique opportunity to collect additional data for the scientists at the University of Hawaii. Firstly, a vessel of opportunity is not a scientific vessel set out for research, but rather a vessel that is making its own charted journey, on its own course (not pre-designed by scientific transects or float-plans), and has the capability of collecting scientific data along the way. So by a technicality, all boats can be vessels of opportunity, but what makes Erden’s rowboat unique, is the fact the boat does not have an engine or motor, which create noise. Since the hydrophone collects all sounds, a vessel of opportunity without an engine will allow the collection of clean underwater noise data, free from additional noise pollution. The study area chosen for Erden’s contribution is the area Once he nears the Philippines, he will be dropping off the hydrophone as he enters the Luzon Strait and the South China Sea.
We on the Westbound Education Team wish Erden all the best as he sets off Hong Kong bound, and look forward to hearing his stories through his blog and future live classroom sessions coming up in the coming weeks and months!
Week 20: Life if an Ocean Rower - Animal Encounters
One of the most asked questions whenever Erden is in connection with schools is “what animals do you encounter while rowing across the Pacific?”. Closely followed by questions related to his motivations, food and water rations, and energy and internet connectivity. If you want to learn more about the row from Erden himself, and answer questions from students about the Westbound Row, and other topics, feel free to watch or listen to one of our live classrooms with EBTSOYP here:
On 29th November, 2021, we have scheduled a EBTSOYP live classroom with Erden (in the Pacific) and with special guest Nikolai, one of Erden’s core onshore team and an expect in climate and ocean current modelling. Here we aim to connect the dots between scientific research and unique applications of scientific knowledge to ocean rowing for example. If you’re interested in being one of the live classrooms in one of these events, you can sign up here. If you want to sit-back, relax and just listen in, the live session will be livestreamed on Youtube, and then recorded for everyone else who cannot make it live.
The open ocean is the largest single biome on Earth, which makes sense as the ocean covers most of the planet. But is the ocean vast and derelict like deserts? Or a place like Death Valley in the United States where nothing except the most extreme of wildlife exist? Not at all, Erden encounter’s quite a lot! Seabirds are the most common because they are out of the water and perches on the rowboat. He noted a White Tipped Shark that played with his oar, and a few other species he did not identify. Erden also expects he will eventually hear some turtles later in the ocean crossing, the turtles will let their presence known by bumping against the hull of the rowboat while they feed on gooseneck barnacles as they grow. Erden has only encountered whales once since leaving California, where two whales flapped their fins about 100 yards away from the rowboat.
Seabirds are the most common because they are out of the water and perches on the rowboat. They like being around rowboat because to them, the rowboat is a huge yellow floating platform which is perfect for resting. In normal circumstances, these seabirds would alight on the water for rest which makes them more vulnerable to predation from other species like sharks. The rowboat also acts as a mobile hunting platform for birds like the Red-Footed Booby that travelled with Erden for two weeks in October. Here are a few interesting behavioural aspects of this red-footed booby:
“It figured out how to stick the landing on top of my rudder cassette avoiding the VHF antenna on the final upwind approach and now it defends that spot from other squatters. That perch is really the best spot: it is lower than either the cabin top or the spare oars, placing it near the rolling axis of my rowboat. The side-to-side acceleration is minimal, making it an easy perch.”
Sometimes birds make mistakes when they land or simply crash, like one Sheerwater that did a crash landing onto Erden’s Rowboat. Shearwaters is a kind of seabird that glide along the length of the waves using the wave deflected wind to propel their flight. This method of flight is also where these species of birds get their from! The one unfortunate Sheerwater was probably flying at high speeds, up to 55km per hour, and hit the VHF antenna before falling on the deck of the rowboat. The good news was that when Erden checked it for injuries and didn’t find any, the Sheerwater got up and back in the air soon after this interesting encounter.
Above: The Sheerwater that fell onto Erden’s rowboat
Other species Erden has made a list of so far include:
Three Frigate Birds, these birds have large soaring wings, so they effortlessly fly high up without need to flap their wings. They fly high up to observe the water from above, looking for an opportunity to catch flying fish jumping out the water when they are in fright or being chased by predators underwater. They then dive down to snatch their prey using their long-hooked bills. Erden noted that the three he saw were pushing their range as the closest land is about 450 - 490 nautical miles from the nearest islands.
Above: Frigate Bird in flight
Another surprising species to still see are the few Noddy Terns, which generally do not stray more than 100 nautical miles from land but instead “island-hop” across the ocean during their annual migration. Here’s what Erden has to say about the Sooty Terns, another species of tern:
“The Sooty Terns are plentiful. The juvenile sooties have taken a liking to the black plastic tip guard for my VHF antenna. Every other day one will fly by, stay with my boat momentarily facing the wind and nibble on the guard while in flight. I don’t know why that piece attracts them, which makes me fear that they also pick up plastic pieces off the water, which is very likely.”
All of the information Erden notes down about these birds can count as citizen science data. One of the largest global databases of bird data come from citizen scientists. The data base, eBird, is a free online database where all users can search by species, location and time; the open data is also available for download.
Above: Noddy Terns and Sooty Terns
Westbound Rower Education Week 24: Catching up to with the first person to row into the new year
Above: Erden and with the Red Footed Booby
The year 2021 is a year of many achievements and historical firsts for Erden on the Westbound Row, and as we row across into 2022, there is no better time to check in with Erden to see how he is doing, where he is in the ocean, and a few more stories from over the holiday season.
Let’s first take a look at where he is at the moment. As of the 3rd January, 2022, Erden’s tracker shows him to be roughly 200 Nautical Miles away from Wake Island and Guam and about 250 Nautical Miles from the Marshall Islands, an area where the United States conducted nuclear weapon tests during the cold war and caused irreversible environmental damage to the land, soil, and water, and therefore habitability of the island. If you are interested in reading more on Erden’s blog post from 14 December 2021.
This point is also an achievement for Erden, as it roughly marks the two-thirds mark of the row from the initial launch in Crescent City, CA; and as well as marking the half-way point from his re-launch from Waikiki, Hawaii, after making some repairs to the rowboat. 3rd January, 2022 was another big day for Erden because it marked the 1,095th career total day Erden has been ocean rowing. That's exactly 3-years Erden has spent rowing across the ocean with nothing but water, wildlife and the horizon in sight! Of his 1,095 career days, 1,011 days were completed solo, and both are running world records in addition to solo career total in miles which Erden also currently owns.
Above: Erden’s tracking page (map on storymap)
Using over 10 years of historical climate, storm and ocean current data, the month spent in Waikiki for repairs was in fact strategic, timing the crossing so the weather would be more favourable around the Philippines and the Luzon Strait. However favourable winds pushed him and the rowboat much further along, and he is now going almost “too fast,” so he is thinking of ways to slow down and time his approach, so that he arrives around the middle of February. In the meantime, instead of rowing, he spends more time on reading, writing on his blog, and planning the rest of his trip.
In any expedition, passing a mark like the two-thirds mark is no easy feat, but it takes twice the effort to finish the final third. One of the reasons is because we can get a little too comfortable and make mistakes. Erden writes of one, when a storm passed over him on the 2 December 2021:
Above: Erden’s Paraanchor when deployed.
I foolishly did not deploy a drogue or a para-anchor. The evening was comfortable with the boat running with the waves. The SE winds superposing orthogonal wind waves on top of an established long fetch NNE swell did not initially seem too threatening. At 3am, I woke up rested with my boat still tracking well. Then, an hour before sunrise, a port side wave crashed broadside against my rowboat. It tipped over perhaps to 150 degrees, then sat back down listing to starboard with a deck full of water. Everything loose in the cabin piled up on the starboard side. I stayed on the mattress as intended, then shifted my weight to the port side, leveling the boat. She was sluggish at first then became her bouncy self again once the scuppers drained the deck. My bilge pump kept whining until the footwell was dry.
I had to assess the situation. I listened as I waited. There was a knocking sound on my starboard side. Something was either broken or loose. I had to find out. I felt the waves settle momentarily, I opened the hatch and looked. The spare oars on my starboard side were gone. One was hanging overboard tied by a cord near its handle. I tried pulling it in, levering it onboard, but neither worked. I was taking a huge chance without my PFD or tether and cabin fully exposed. Short of getting outside in these conditions with similar size waves lurking in the dark was not appealing. I pulled the knife from outside the bulkhead and cut the oar loose, gifting it to Poseidon at the bottom.
Above: Erden shot of a squall in the ocean
It was a costly mistake but one that was covered when he was planning the expedition. On the bright side, Erden is safe because the self-righting system of his rowboat worked, the self-bailing at the deck and bilge pump also worked, his harness system of tying him down to the mattress worked too! His only loss was a crushed oar stand, and the spare oars which are now lost at sea.
Erden’s location in the Pacific, and being so close to the International Dateline probably makes him one of the first individuals to cross into the year 2022. As Erden reflects on some of the achievements, and some mistakes he realises that his unique journey turned into a human-interest story was because of the little deliberate choices that he made. Like when he decided to give up an engine, sails, and refrigeration to complete a circumnavigation of the planet, showing that it is indeed possible for anyone to accomplish extraordinary expeditions like the one Erden is on now.
Living out on a rowboat, and only using water and electricity created on board, and food limited to only what could be carried onto the boat, really shows the extent of how the rest of humanity is on a consumption binge and living as though we have infinite resources while the reality is far from that. We have only One Earth and no Planet B. If only deliberate decisions could be made to slow our pace of consumption, we may find that humanity can do with less, at the same time, relieving some pressure on the land and sea for other species and future generations.
Westbound Rower Week 27: Some Sad News in the Ocean Rowing Community and Course Corrections
The ocean is a vast, and at times a dangerous place if you are unprepared or if luck is simply not on your side. At the best of times being ill-prepared only means your expedition will be delayed, and you row back to port to wait for a new window where conditions a favourable for the ocean crossing. However, when things go wrong it could be your life on the line. Accidents that result in loss of life are therefore a risk all ocean rowers take when they embark on a new expedition, and even experienced ocean rowers are subject to this risk.
It is an unfortunate week in the ocean rowing community, as we heard news about the Jean-Jacques Savin, a French adventurer who was rowing from, Portugal, to Saint Martin Island on the northeast Caribbean Sea. Setting of on the January 2nd, 2022, it was an expedition to raise awareness for the TESA association for children with disabilities in addition to Ares, the village which he loves and lived. On the twelfth day since his launch (January 14th), Jean-Jacques celebrated his 75th birthday on the water with foie gras and champagne to mark this milestone in life.
Things started to stray from the plan soon after his 75th birthday. From Jean-Jacques’ regular posts on Facebook, he mentioned he was having issues with his solar array which was not recharging the batteries. Losing power meant he had to switch to using his manual water desalination system. Erden actually had to do this as well, on his way from California to Hawaii, but Erden was able to fix his when he landed in Hawaii along the way.
Despite these setbacks, however, Jean-Jacques’ sprits remained high, as he planned to change course towards the Azores to fix the issues before relaunching towards the Caribbean. Unfortunately, contact with him was lost soon after, and Jean-Jacques triggered two distress beacons, indicating he was encounter great difficulties. Officially last contact was January 21, 2022, at 00:34. His rowboat l’Audacieux (“the Audacious”), was found overturned near the Azores, and he was declared lost at sea. Unfortunately, this time the ocean was stronger than our friend, who loved sailing and the sea so much. All our thoughts are with his daughter Manon, her partner and Jean-Jacques’ team.
Above: Jean-Jacque Savin’s rowboat l’Audacieux
Before this North Atlantic Crossing attempt, Jean-Jacques has already completed four solo sailing expeditions across the Atlantic. And in 2018, he completed an Atlantic crossing using no power at all! Instead, only drifting at the mercy of the winds and the ocean currents from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean inside a barrel-shaped capsule he designed himself. Inside the barrel were simple furnishings, like a kitchen, bed with straps, and all the essential safety and communication equipment. This crossing took more than 4 months, starting at the end of December 2018, he arrived in the Caribbean on April 27, 2019.
Above: Jean-Jacque Savin’s “Barrel”
Erden on the other side of the world in the Pacific, is fairing better, though he is also having some issues with his communications platform. For instance, in the storm he encountered a few weeks after his Waikiki relaunch, he crushed the plug of the handset wire of his VHF (very high frequency) radio. Since then, the mounted VHF radio has only been useful for listening. Thankfully, Erden’s early planning included a handheld VHF radio, which he could use to broadcast radio calls if needed. On Monday, January 17, 2022, his internet access became faulty and his Explorer Connect App, which is connected to the Cobham Explorer 510 Satellite, failed to launch on his iPhone. A month before this, his Iridium Go satellite modem also failed and needs replacing.
Fortunately, his third device ZOLEO is still functioning, and uses the Iridium satellite network to carry text messages. So, for now, Erden’s communication with Nancy (his wife), we, and the rest of his team are limited to short text messages of up to 1037 characters. Vital information such as the weather, wind and current predictions can still be passed along. Erden can continue to send out text for his blog posts and Twitter but is no longer able to send images of himself and his animal companions for the time being. Unfortunately, the loss of internet connectivity also means we will not be able to host any livestreams with him with Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants for the time being.
Above: Erden’s Current Track (Date)
With these communication issues looming, Erden has made a course correction, heading towards the island of Saipan (North of Guam), where he hopes to fix his communications equipment before relaunching for a second time to complete the Westbound Row. This course will bring him southwest of his current location, and Erden hopes to anchor off the coast of Saipan some time in the beginning of February 2022. Erden has already found a replacement handset for his VHF radio in Saipan and would continue to look for replacement parts and solutions for his internet problems. Furthermore, Erden would also attempt to secure himself a COVID booster shot, because it is possible his that his many months of isolation at sea can make him more vulnerable to the virus. On the Westbound Rower Education, we will continue as normal, and provide new updates of Erden’s whereabouts and condition as Erden continues to make his way to Saipan for repairs.
Westbound Rower Education Week 29: Global Positioning System and How it Works
It is great news to hear that Erden has safely arrived in Guam, where he now takes a short break from rowing and make a few more repairs and upgrades to his communication system. While Erden is the person to face the oceans and conditions alone, it requires a team effort from (climate modellers) as well as friends and other connections in Guam who made his arrival smooth and successful. Without his consistent flow of images and stories from his boat the past couple of weeks, all we had to track Erden were the dots on his tracking map, so today let’s have a look at how GPS and similar methods of tracking work.
As eluded from the title GPS is the acronym form Global Positioning System and is unsurprisingly used to track objects on the Earth. To track and accurately determine the position of a person on the planet, we first need something to perform trilateration with, and in the case of GPS, we are using a constellation of satellites which orbit the Earth twice a day. To ensure the satellites do not collide in their orbits, each satellite have its own distinct orbit around the Earth; and it is this orientation of orbits that allows the possibility of always having four GPS satellites visible in the sky at any location at any given time. The animation below shows how this works exactly, showing the number of satellites available at a location inside the United States. As we will see later, the number of GPS satellites available increases the accuracy of our receivers and would therefore give us more precise information about our location.
Above: Animation of GPS Satellites orbiting the Earth, and number of satellites available
Trilateration should not be confused with triangulation, triangulation involves the measurement of angles in surveying, while trilateration involves the measurement of distance. Distance in GPS calculations are measured in the amount of time it takes for the radio signal to travel between the receiver and the satellites. Because radio waves travel close to the speed of light, we can use the simple equation of Distance = Speed x Time, and thus by measuring the time, we can find the distance. So, in reality, all the satellites does is broadcast a signal for the receiver to pick up with a specific time and distance.
When we receive one signal from only one satellite, the data is not very useful in determining our location, because the one distance measured places us in a sphere around the satellite. For example, if we are 10,000km away from the satellite, our location could be interpreted as 10,000km away from the satellite in any direction. So, it needs a second and third satellite to narrow down our location. The sphere from the second satellite will always intersect with the sphere of the first GPS satellite, which would narrow our location down to a circle. Our location would be something in this intersection. The third GPS satellite would further narrow us down to two possible points, on where all three spheres intersect. Finally, the fourth satellite helps calculate a timing and location correction and selects one of the remaining two possible points as your real position.
The clocks within the satellite are the components that allow our GPS coordinates to be as precise as they are today, and scientists are continuing to improve current systems by creating even more stable, accurate and precise clocks. In principle, the more accurate the time measurement is, the more accurate the distance of your GPS receiver and therefore a more accurate and precise location. Installed in each GPS satellite are atomic clocks, which are clocks that use the natural oscillations of atoms to measure the precise length of a second. Mechanical grandfather clocks on the other hand may use the swing of a pendulum for its oscillations, swinging left and right marks 1 second. Atomic clocks are far superior compared to the system used in the grandfather clock because the atomic oscillations of atoms like Caesium-133 have a much higher frequency and are far more stable. They have an extremely low level of expected error once the frequency is in tune, with only 1 second of error in about 100 million years. Furthermore, Caesium-133 oscillations are not affected by extreme temperatures and pressures, making it suitable for use in the vacuum of space. Interestingly, it is also the oscillation of Caesium-133 that makes up our precise SI unit of one second! Where 1-second is the time it takes a caesium-133 at 0 degrees Kelvin (-273.15 degrees C / -459.67 degrees F) to oscillate exactly 9,192,631,700 times.
Above: Atomic Clock
For us to understand the data from the receivers, another important component that is required is a coordinate system that can identify unique, precise geographic locations on the Earth. The Coordinates in this context are points that intersect in a grid system, often expressed as a combination of latitude and longitude. Latitude measures the degrees of distance from the equator and with 0 degrees being the equator, and the poles are 90 degrees in the North or South direction. Longitude is measured by vertical lines that run around the Earth, meeting at the North and South poles. Each of these meridians measure one arc-degree of longitude, measuring 360 degrees around the Earth. In the meridian that runs through Greenwich, England is internationally accepted as the line of 0-degree longitude, as such longitude are measured from 0 - 180-degree East or West of the prime meridian. The opposite of the prime meridian, we have the anti-meridian which is the 180-degree meridian and forms the basis for the international date line.
There are two accepted ways of writing these spherical coordinates and are what we see as outputs from our GPS receivers, the first is Degrees-Minutes-Seconds (DMS), and the second being Decimal Degrees. Both are simply ways to convey a more precise coordinate point for our location. A collection of these data points could be used to track and make paths like what we see on Erden’s track or when we track our workouts using any GPS device.
In DMS, the degree is further divided into 60 minutes, and each minute can again be divided into 60 seconds and the same is also applied to Latitude. This coordinate system is also the one used on Erden's tracking device and his tracking page.
Decimal Degrees conveys the same information in a purely numeric format, instead of indicating a North/South and East/West in the coordinate points, it uses a minus sign to indicate south of the Equator if in front of the first number, a minus sign for the second indicates west of the prime meridian.
Above: Video on how to convert between DMS and Decimal Degrees
With Erden back on land and connection to the internet, we are again able to have our livestreams Erden with Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants. The upcoming livestream will be on Friday (time), if you are interested in participating on the live stream, sign up here on the Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants website, or join in on the livestream on Youtube!
Above: Erden Eruc - Live from Guam
Week 34: Updates and New Monthly Content Releases (Till Erden Starts again after the Typhoon Season)
It has been nearly a month since Erden arrived at Legapizi in the Philippines, where he will take a long break to wait out the monsoon and typhoon season in the region before setting off again towards the Asian Mainland. We say Asian Mainland because the final destination of the Westbound Row is still to be determined, and dependent on whether Erden will be granted a visa for China, or other neighbouring countries with their coastline on the South China Sea such as Vietnam.
The Monsoon Season in the region can last a few months, generally late March – October. The Typhoon Season lies within the monsoon season, where the months between June – September are generally the most active when it comes to conditions for typhoon formation. For more about typhoon formation, you can check out our section all about them on Week ___
For the Westbound Rower Education Team, we will continue to post content during this period of break, and continue to keep the Westbound Row “warm” until the monsoon and typhoon season has passed, and when Erden can continue on the Westbound Row. During this period, we will post content monthly instead of weekly, and cover stories related to the environment and some of the behind-the-scenes stories from other members of Erden’s team in various parts of the world.
This month’s story was a collaboration between Doug Wooding (Founder of Ocean Recovery Alliance) and Ryan Cheung (lead-writer for the Westbound Education so far) for the Biodiversity Festival 2021.
The Spider Web – By Doug Woodring and Ryan Cheung
There is a famous Ethiopian proverb: When Spider Webs Unite, They Can Stop A Lion
Spider webs are incredibly strong, but when one of the strands is broken, the web weakens and could lead to the web collapsing entirely. This is analogous to our ecosystem, how all life forms survive and thrive off of one another. If even one is gone from the ecosystem, the entire system goes out of balance. But when they are all present, the bonds between then are incredibly strong, forming important links to each other’s space and survival.
Negasi, was walking through the bush on his way home from school on a beautiful, bright, and sunny spring afternoon. A thunderstorm recently passed, everything was still wet from the rain, and the water droplets on the leaves of trees and plants were glistening in the bright afternoon sun.
The young boy caught sight of a butterfly fluttering between the blooming bushes, and began to chase the butterfly with excitement. With a stick in hand, he followed the butterfly around the bushes, darting in and out of trees then stumbled upon the giant spiderweb. The butterfly flew straight through the spider web, finding the space between the individual strands, leaving Negasi on the other side of the web. Excited by the idea of following the butterfly, Negasi struck the edge of the spider web continuing the chase while leaving the spider web to collapse in his wake.
The Spider had been sitting on his web all morning, patiently waiting for its evening meal after the thunderstorm earlier that morning. The Spider was hoping for a cricket, which he expected to get stuck in his web. Unfortunately, the Spider had not eaten in days, and with the loss of the web, and his main hunting tool, the spider was left hungry and no longer had the energy to spin up another web. As a result, the cricket escaped the web, passing through that space of air without danger, and about to go about his day, having avoided being caught by the spider.
This particularly fortunate cricket was female who was ready to lay its eggs, and unlike a hen, a female cricket can lay up to hundreds of eggs a day! Having passed the Spider’s web earlier, the cricket was able to jump over to a large blade of grass where it spied on an Aphid. As nature it, the Cricket got hold of the Aphid, had her nice little meal (of the aphid), and the Cricket lay all of the eggs on that blade of grass.
Within the Web that is the ecosystem, the Crickets are preyed upon by rodents, snakes, and small birds, all of which thrive in the grasses of the meadow where they can hide and hunt. However, because the Cricket escaped the web, it missed out on other predators with a stroke of luck. All of the eggs were able to hatch, along with the many thousands of other Crickets who had laid their eggs. With all her other Cricket friends laying their eggs, they all hatched, and woah that’s a lot of baby crickets all spawning at the same time, all of them hungry and starting their lives strong with consuming all the grasses around them.
This was good news for the Rodents, Snakes and Small Birds for a while, as they also feasted on the large number of baby crickets thanks to Negasi who broke the Spider’s web. But this feast was shortlived, as the baby crickets consumed all of the grass, leaving the Rodents, Snakes and Small Birds vulnerable, as they too had lost their hiding places, making it easy for the Eagles high above to find them and have their feast too! Truly a story of the hunter-being-hunted.
Over the next few days, the grasses were now gone, and the larger herbivores like the Antelope had nothing to graze on. What’s more, the elephants could no longer find their favourite plants to eat. So they walked off to another area in search for food. With the elephants leaving the region, the Dung Beetle were unable to find high-quality dung used to fertilise the land, nor were they able to find Dung to roll into their home.
The soil hardened, and without the grasses to soak up the water from rain, the water washed off the land in flash floods. The water quickly entered the ponds where the Hippos and Crocodiles lived. The hardened, impermeable soil didn’t allow the water to be absorbed, lowering the water table to the eventual drying up of the pond as well.
All the animals left Negasi’s home, all except the Lion who was hungry and searching for whatever prey was left, all a reaction due to the Spider’s Web being broken. The Antelope, Gazelles, Wildebeest, and even the Hyenas were gone, as were the rest of Negasi’s stomping grounds, the grasses, and bush he called home. Now hungry and without food, Negasi and the rest of the villagers started noticing the Lions creeping closer and closer to the village and along the trail Negasi uses on his walk to school. Not long after that, the lions left too, leaving the land a quiet lifeless
Negasi couldn’t believe it when he retraced his actions over the next few weeks, tracing the steps and finally piecing this “ecosystem collapse” together. He was the most shocked when he realised it began with him breaking the spider web on that one beautiful afternoon while he was chasing a butterfly. He was heartbroken, as he knew the lions were usually seen as top of the food web, and without the predators at the top, the synergies between animals, plants and nature would not exist. Seeing the environment suffering around him, on his daily walk to and from school, made Negasi only feel worse, and decided he had to do something about it.
With this thought fresh in his head, he couldn’t believe his eyes when he noticed a poacher. This poacher was looking for the few lions left around Negasi’s village, because elsewhere in the world the skins, bones of lions, tigers and other big cats could be illegally sold for profits driven by unproven and superstitious medicinal properties in Asia. Knowing these people will hunt till the extinction of these amazing species, Negasi was not about to let the poacher bring further misery to the wildlife of his home. Sneaking around the few low shrubs remaining, Negasi took out his bow and arrow, and just as the poacher spotted the lion and raised his rifle to shoot, Negasi let loose his arrow. Negasi watched the arrow fly through the air, piercing the poacher’s hand from the back, and in a brief moment of confusion and pain, the poacher dropped his gun, running off in the opposite direction as the Lion who was startled by the poacher’s screams.
Negasi came to truly realise that we often don’t think about the harm we do to nature when we take out one piece of the “web of nature”, or how it stops functioning normally afterwards. As a cyclist went past him, he saw breaking the web was like taking away the chain of a bicycle. Yes, the bicycle could be used as a push-bike, but it is no longer the same as it was before. So, whether it is the Lion, Spider or all the other animals and plants in-between, if they are taken away, we all lose. These incidents could come from anywhere, like breaking the spiderweb, the poacher, or pollution.
When Negasi walked past the place where he broke the web, he realised the Spider found the strength to survive and rebuilt its web. Even at this time, he was lucky enough to watch a cricket jumping into the Spider’s trap, even though there was not much grass left. When the Spider continued to grow, reproduced and built more webs, the grass started to come back, and soon after that, the animals returned, with the lions who had been lurking around the village, now returning to the plains.
The webs became strong enough to stop the lions, because when intact, the web worked together to maintain balance and hold itself together. Animals naturally interact the same way! They too work together to make sure one species doesn’t grow too much or too little, constantly fluctuating to maintain balance.
Similar to the saying “when a butterfly flaps its wings, it creates a ripple with a strong wind somewhere else”, even with the loss of one seemingly insignificant species, it can cause a huge imbalance elsewhere inside the web of nature.