Diving Regulations: Helping Hand Trust As Guest Speaker on GBC

During parliament in October 2009 the Gibraltar Government announced its plans to improve local diving regulations - without giving a time frame. The same week Dr Eric Shaw, founder of the Helping Hand Trust, was asked to speak on the subject on local television programme 'Nightwatch'.

Eric told the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), that he is very pleased about this development, as the Helping Hand Trust and the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GOHNS) have been pushing the issue for well over a decade and had written a respective suggestion on diving licenses in 1996.
"We need a level playing field and safe diving conditions in Gibraltar," said Eric.

Asked by TV presenter Ros Astengo, what he considers to be the flaws in the current regulations, Eric explained that local divers have to go through extensive and expensive training in order to qualify for a license, to dive, or take divers out into the water - even more so when taking divers out on a boat. In contrast to that, Spanish divers and dive operators can simply cross the border with their equipment and dive on the very same sites in Gibraltar without any checks by the authorities. As a consequence it is impossible to tell if those foreign divers have the right kind of training, and whether their insurance covers them in Gibraltar.
The recent death of a German diver who was taken to a diving site in Gibraltar by a Spanish company made it painfully clear that the diving regulations are insufficient, said Eric. Though this was by far the most tragic incident, Eric highlighted that there are many recollections of foreign divers, who were "carried away with currents" and needed to be rescued by the police, fishermen or local divers.

Foreign dive operators need to be in touch with local divers in order to ensure that they do not take risks, said Eric, adding that in other European countries foreign divers have to be guided by local divers who are aware of the dangers of the specific waters and need to obtain and show their permits. Eric also said, that he personally does not hold anything against any Spanish dive operator but expects them to go through the same legal procedures as local divers.
Asked whether he expected to be part of the process of making new regulations, he replied, that the Helping Hand Trust and GONHS expect to be consulted due to the length of time they have been emphasising the importance of those regulations. He also stressed, that he hopes local diving operators will be included in the discussions.

Stone & Henderson: Nominated Pilot Study On Monkeys

The dental students Geoff Stone and Iain Henderson to our knowledge are the first ever scholars to examine the teeth of Barbary macaques. Their efforts were rewarded: The Glasgow University nominated them for a dental award on their thesis: "A Pilot Study to Investigate the Bacterial Load (Streptococcus Mutans and Lactobacillus) and the Buffering Capacity of Saliva from Barbary Macaques (Macaca Sylvanus) Found at Gibraltar's Ape Den and The Middle Hill".

This summer the Gibraltarian Henderson and the Scotsman Stone compared the saliva of the isolated monkeys from Middle Hill to the saliva of the monkeys in Ape's Den. Being vegetarians by nature the Barbary macaques in Gibraltar are fed daily with a total of 125 kilograms of fruit and vegetables and additional barley grains. Yet, the monkeys in Ape's Den have also become used to sweets, crisps and fast food provided by tourists with the bene volens of tour operators, while the monkeys in Middle Hill live isolated from the public and thus follow their natural eating habits.

Stone and Henderson tried to establish whether the unhealthy diet of the pack in Ape's Den has a negative impact on the health of their teeth. Albeit existing, their findings show that the difference is less significant than they had expected. They pointed out though, that due to limited resources they were only able to scrutinise preliminary findings of a total of nine animals and that a broader spectrum of samples would be needed in order to truly determine the impact.
As methods of obtaining the saliva, Stone and Henderson used a sort of sugar free raspberry-flavoured chewing gum, a 'pledgelet'. Ms Kate Henderson, an anthropologist from Notre Dame University, USA, delivered it to the monkeys with a sterile gloved hand. These pledgelets had the purpose to collect the plaque and bacteria from the teeth and had to be chewed on for a minimum of five minutes for validity. After the monkey spit the gum out, it was immediately collected with a sterile gloved hand, put into a test tube and tested in a laboratory.

Stone and Henderson wrote, they observed that only young and sub-adult monkeys were willing to treat the pledgelets as possible food source, while mature and old macaques automatically dismissed them as inadequate nourishment. As a consequence they said that regrettably only the teeth condition of young macaques could be examined.

As a by-product of their study Stone and Henderson could distinguish differences in the behaviour of the troops in contact with tourists and those living out of touch: The isolated monkeys in Middle Hill were both harder to approach and had a lower acceptance rate of the pledgelets. They were more suspicious of humans than the monkeys in Ape's Den, who according to Stone and Henderson are approached by more than 1,000 tourists per day: The tourists "look to entice the macaques with food in order to get that perfect photo moment. However, this non-provisioned food tends to be of a more cariogenic nature, counting for 51.7% of all food consumed at this site. Furthermore, their contact with large numbers of tourists was causing the integrity of the macaques' social groups to break down, as they began to become dependent on humans. This induced them to foray into the town, resulting in damages to personal property such as buildings, clothing and vehicles. For this reason, feeding the macaques in Gibraltar is an offence punishable by law. Anyone caught feeding the monkeys will incur a penalty fine of up to 500 Pound Sterling. However, it is a known fact that since this law was introduced in the early 1930's, only one individual has ever been charged with this crime. To this day, we still see tourists feeding the monkeys and them venturing into the town area to raid the bins for additional food."

As an another line of research Stone and Henderson thus recommend to further examine behavioural differences between the two troops "by noting the time it takes for a macaque to accept a pledgelet from offering to taking. This would enable a greater understanding of habituation of primates and their confidence in interacting directly with humans."

We congratulate Stone and Henderson on their remarkable thesis and hope that more research about this subject will follow. If you wish to find out more about their study, contact us and we will forward your details to the researchers.

Gallardo-Mayenco & Shaw: Paper on Endemic Species of the Campo

During this weekend's conference 'IX Jornadas de Flora, Fauna y Ecología del Campo de Gibraltar' held in the Finca la Alcaidesa in San Roque Dr Alfonso Gallardo-Mayenco and Dr Eric Shaw from Helping Hand Trust presented a paper on endemic species in the Campo de Gibraltar.

With Dr Gallardo-Mayenco being an authority on microinvertebrates and both of them being members of the hosting organisation 'Instituto de Estudios Campogibraltarenos' (IECG) they have been researching the microinvertebrates of the Campo for more than five years. With their paper 'Sobre biodiversidad y endemismos en las aguas interiores del Campo de Gibraltar' they attempt to give an overview over the endemic species of the area and explained why so many of them have not been identified or researched.

According to their research the currently existing species in the South Iberian Peninsula and the north of Africa are the results of a geological process which has started more than five million years ago: Back then these areas where not yet divided and formed one big terrain, only later they separated due to continental drifts. Consequently, some of the occurring species in these two areas are still similar or identical today.

At the present time 241 species and subspecies have been identified in the Campo de Gibraltar, 22% of them are endemic or can be found in the Campo and the north of Africa only. Yet, Eric and Dr Gallardo-Mayenco emphasised on their belief that there are far more species which have not yet been identified. They argue that there is a significant lack of resources for those interested in research: Firstly, qualifications as precondition for authorised identification are costly.

Secondly, the respective fulltime positions at universities are limited. Thirdly, the conventional degree of specialisation on one species makes a broader approach on identification of new species difficult. Sometimes there is only one specialist available in order to categorise a species, for some species there are no specialists at all. Eric and Dr Gallardo-Mayenco have found out that the majority of specialists are school teachers who only work part-time in their field of study. Due to their other commitments they need more time for independent research or for giving an evaluation of material they have been approached with. So at times science is signifcantly slowed down or even brought to a temporarily halt.

The researchers emphasised, they hope that more research on these 'missing' species will follow and welcome new information on the subject of study!

Opposition Urges to Revise Local Diving Regulations

The GSLP/Liberal Opposition said the Gibraltar Government needs to treat the gaps in local diving regulations with "a greater degree of urgency than is being shown at the present", the Gibraltar Chronicle wrote today. This statement resumes last month's discussion in parliament, where the Government announced that the regulations are planned to be revisited.

The Opposition said that local businesses continue to lose out in an unfair competition with diving companies based in Spain: Not only are locals at times unable to access the diving site in Camp Bay as they find it occupied by Spanish based companies, but locals also have to comply with regulations which do not apply to foreigners. An Opposition spokesman told the Gibraltar Chronicle that these regulations include "import duty, employment, Port regulations and tax."

The Shadow Minister for Commercial Affairs Dr Joseph Garcia explained to the Gibraltar Chronicle that the Opposition had already raised their respective concerns in parliament in 2005. According to Shadow Minister Garcia the Gibraltar Government had replied at the time that "they had no plans to regulate the industry given that there were laws which already existed that prevented this kind of business from being carried out in Gibraltar. They added that if it were a case of controlling orderly access to a limited amenity then it may become desirable to convert diving into a regulated activity.”

The recent death of a German diver who was taken to a diving site in Gibraltar raised the issue anew on both a political and commercial level, the Opposition said. Minister Garcia told the Chronicle that finally the Government stated in parliament they were considering options on how to license and regulate diving activities in Gibraltar. He added that after all these years "the Government should now give it some urgency given the problems created locally by the unfair competition from those companies based in Spain."

The Helping Hand Trust and its sister charity the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GOHNS) have suggested the revision of diving regulations for well over a decade. Following the announcement of parliament Eric Shaw from the Helping Hand Trust has laid out our respective concerns in an interview on local television programme 'Nightwatch'.

Crowded Bay for Dolphins

Land reclamation, shipping industry, ferry traffic and tourism - the Bay of Gibraltar is continuously getting smaller. The Helping Hand Trust intends to monitor potential effects on dolphins and their habitat.

On our boat trips into the Bay of Gibraltar we still come across dolphins - though during our latest outings we have not seen as many of them as before. This might have many reasons, but we decided to set up a program to find the cause for these drooping numbers - the minimum period of monitoring will be a year with at least one trip per week. In the framework of this program we will try to determine the impact which constant changes and increasing human activity in the Bay of Gibraltar might have on the dolphins. And of course we will keep you updated on our findings.

The pictures below were taken today at 1.30pm in the centre of the bay. We saw a family group of ten striped dolphins, but no signs of common dolphins (instead we watched migrating butterflies crossing the Strait of Gibraltar on a heading of 186 degrees South in light winds - according to our vessel Nimo's log traversing at four knots).