Monday, 15 October 2007

Talking to the Whale Shark keeper - story written for Diver Magazine website

Writing for Diver Magazine's Website

I have been helping add content to Diver Magazine's website ( There is a real person power shortage at Diver's headquarters. They are down an employee or two and keeping the website going appears to be a catch as catch can assignment. Most of the material I have written for the site never has been posted. For some reason there is a problem posting photographs on the site.

During September I wrote to the Georgia Aquarium and conducted an email interview about two new whale sharks they had been given by an aquarium in Taiwan. The story, picture and interview have been lanquishing in my growing file of not-yet published stories. So, before the factoids raised by the Georgia Aquarium are stale dated, I have decided to run the story and photo on this web page.

Whale Sharks and the Aquarium Keeper

Early this summer the Georgia Aquarium welcomed two new live whale sharks to their Ocean Voyager exhibit. The whale sharks, both males, were given the Taiwanese names Yushan and Taroko, to honour their country of origin.

Yushan, 13 feet 7 inches long, and Taroko, 15 feet four inches long, were flown more than 8,000 miles on a specially configured B747 freighter aircraft from Taipei, Taiwan, through Anchorage, Alaska, to Atlanta. Both whale sharks were under the care and supervision of Georgia Aquarium professional staff and maintained by a highly advanced marine life support system.

Yushan and Taroko are the latest in the Georgia Aquarium's 4R Program (Rehabilitation, Relocation, Rescue and Research), a strategy designed to make a positive difference in the health and well being of aquatic life from around the world.

"The Georgia Aquarium is advancing scientific understanding of whale sharks by combining field research with in-house study through our 4R Program," said Jeff Swanagan, president and executive director, the Georgia Aquarium "We will release results later this year from research conducted in Mexico and Taiwan which we hope will help the world gain a better understanding of the migration patterns and feeding habits of whale sharks in their native habitats."

The Georgia Aquarium is the first facility of its kind outside of Asia to house whale sharks. The Aquarium partnered with Taiwan to bring all their whale sharks - Yushan, Taroko, Norton, Alice and Trixie - to the facility's Ocean Voyager exhibit, a habitat specially designed to house up to six full grown whale sharks. Through their partnership, the Georgia Aquarium, the government of Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta are taking steps toward long-term management of the worldwide whale shark population. Taiwan reduced their whale shark fishing quota from 60 in 2006 to 30 in 2007 and will move to zero in 2008. The Georgia Aquarium hopes such positive practices will encourage other countries to adopt sustainable seafood practices and educate the public on the subject of aquatic conservation. talks to Dave Santucci Communications Director at the
Aquarium about the two new Whale Sharks

Three months after Yushan and Taroko were moved to the Georgia Aquarium, reporter Stephen Weir, contacted Dave Santucci, of the Georgia Aquarium. The Communications Director was asked about the condition of the two Whale Sharks. What follows are portions of the online interview that was conducted earlier this month.

Stephen Weir: Have the sharks grown since arriving in the US. And if so, by how much?

Dave Santucci: Our two new whale sharks, Yushan and Taroko are doing quite well. They have grown between 6 inches and a foot each in the three months they’ve been here.

Stephen Weir: How big will they grow and what is their life length expectations?

Dave Santucci: Part of the research being conducted by the Georgia Aquarium is trying to understand the natural history of whale sharks found off the coasts of Mexico and Taiwan. Our observations in Mexico where that most adult whale sharks were between 5-8 meters and of similar size in Taiwan.

In terms of life expectancy, there is no study generally accepted by scientists on the life span of whale sharks. We know for certain they can live at least thirteen years because that is how long one has been in a Japanese Aquarium. It is still there and doing well.

Stephen Weir: Since the pair are North Pacific fish, do you have to use Pacific Ocean water, or does home grown water work

Dave Santucci: Whale sharks are found around the world in waters ranging from as far north as the East Coast of the United States to as far south as Australia. We use water similar to most Aquariums home or professional and that is fresh water mixed with Instant Ocean .

Stephen Weir: Have your aquarium divers been in the tank with them? If so, how do the whale sharks react. Are they actually aware of the divers? What little I know, as a diver, about the sharks, they don't seem to aware of humans?

Dave Santucci: Divers enter the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit every day. Daily divers go into clean windows and weekly they go into vacuum and inspect the filtration system. The sharks for the most part go about their business when the divers are in the water, they are aware of the divers and will avoid them if needed.

Stephen Weir: Are there more whale sharks coming? And when are they coming?

Dave Santucci: No.

Stephen Weir: Have the whale sharks proven to popular with visitors?

Dave Santucci: The Georgia Aquarium has had nearly 6 million visitors in the first 21 months of operation. Just about all of our visitors have never seen a whale shark before coming to the Georgia Aquarium. It is the perfect ambassador species for sharks because it is a gentle giant and one that inspires people to take notice. We take advantage of people's interest when they see our Ocean Voyager exhibit and hand out sustainable seafood cards that help consumers make responsible decisions when ordering seafood.

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Green Roof Story in Saturday Toronto Star

Green roofs take root on city buildings

More than 100 in the GTA have adapted the pioneer practice for the eco-conscious present
Sep 29, 2007 04:30 AM
Stephen Weir
Special to the Star

The drive to develop environmentally friendly, energy-efficient condominiums has given new meaning to sod-turning ceremonies.

More than 100 commercial and condo buildings in the Greater Toronto Area have unveiled "green roofs" – a 21st-century take on the sod-roof homes that were popular in pioneer days.

Condominium roofs, patios and decks covered in flowers, shrubbery and slow-growing plants are sprouting up all over, so much so that the International Home Show (running from this Friday until Oct. 8) at the International Centre has set up a Green Home Theatre with four daily seminars on eco-building issues, including the living roof.

"Toronto has stepped into an era where the protection of the environment and sustainability are major focuses of our city's future. A green roof – one that is covered with living plant material – will become a major component of our daily lives," says Horace Lee, a Toronto biomedical engineer and the owner of Green Space Roofing.

"It is the same (as the 19th-century sod roof). A green roof cools the environment in the summer and adds insulation in the winter. The living plants help filter out gaseous pollutants, reduce smog and make breathing easier."

Green Space Roofing was formed five years ago and has been installing live coverings on commercial buildings and condominiums for the past three. "The first thing I tell people is that a green roof is not a quick fix," says Lee, who will lecture at the show. "It is a commitment to the environment and it is costly to install.

"It is essentially a system that sits on top of an existing flat or a mildly sloping roof. We lay down high-quality waterproofing and a root repellent system," he says. "Then there are three major components that must be installed: a drainage system, filter cloth, and the plants anchored in a lightweight growing medium."

When the Prairies were opened up by sodbusters – European farming settlers – their first homes were constructed with whatever could be harvested. Log walls, straw insulation, rock foundations and sod roofs were the materials of choice.

The sod offered substantial protection from the harsh climate. Sedum is the plant of choice for Lee's green roofs. It comes in many shapes, colours and sizes and is known for its water-storing leaves and hardiness.

"However, there are green-roof designs that use many different flowering plants and shrubs and require a deeper growing base, decking and regular maintenance."

The cost for a sedum-anchored green roof runs about $25 to $35 per square foot. Bringing in shrubbery and wildflowers costs more based on the variety and density.

There are a number of green-roof companies in Ontario and most offer yearly maintenance program.

Toronto builders can reduce the cost of a green roof by applying for a City of Toronto grant, says Peter Love, Ontario's first chief energy conservation officer with the Ontario Power Authority. The Green Roof Incentive Program will subsidize projects at a rate of $50 a square metre, he says.

"There are many benefits to a green roof, but we are most interested because of energy consumption issues," continues Love. "The insulation factor alone should markedly reduce the power use of large buildings. It is too soon to really evaluate the size and rate of the savings here in Toronto, but in other jurisdictions it is obvious that it works."

It's difficult to price a green roof, says Steven Peck, founder and president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the association that represents the green roof industry in North America.

"Each one is so different; it is never a do-it-yourself project. So you can't dumb it down and price it like a standard roof you'd buy from the Home Depot.

"However, a building owner considering a green roof should budget on doubling the cost of what a traditional roof would cost," Peck says.

"There are also benefits to a city's water and sewer system," says Love, who will also speak at the Home Show. "Green Roofs decrease the total amount of runoff, which otherwise would flow into the sewers."

International Home Show

WHEN: Oct. 5-8. Friday noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sun- day and Monday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

WHERE: International Centre, 6900 Airport Rd. at Derry Rd.

WHAT: The show has established a Green Street Pavilion, a 30,000-square-foot showcase of state-of-the-art "green" products, services and building technologies. There will be on-stage presenters four times a day.

COST: $12; youths and seniors $9; children 8 and under free.

CONTACT: 416-512-1305 or visit