"A paradise war never touched"

Imagine you’re lying on a white sandy beach underneath a hot island sun when you suddenly realize you’re just lying on fish poop. This offhand comment by Calgary Zoo Conservation Outreach Department head Brian Keating set the tone for his lecture, "Aquatic Serengeti" on Thurs., Nov. 2.

Keating, an adjunct anthropology professor at the University of Calgary, took the audience on a trip through the watery environments of Mozambique, Mexico, Venezuela, British Columbia and the Canadian Arctic, complimented by slides and video.

He began the night explaining the nature of scuba diving.

"[A car] is a mobile fast-moving coffin," said Keating. "Scuba diving is safer than driving. Scuba diving means going to places that are warm."

The fish poop stemmed from Keating’s explanation of how parrot fish crunch through coral to eat the coral polyps that build coral reefs. The waste from eating the limestone structures turns into white island beaches.

"Coral is the most magnificent structure around," said Keating. "It provides habitat for fish. Only one per cent of oceans contain coral, yet 25 per cent of the world’s species of fish live there."

Women in Science and Engineering, the same group responsible for bringing Keating here last year sponsored the lecture. Keating agreed to talk for free in exchange for a WISE donation of $1,000 to the Calgary Zoo Conservation Fund.

"We hope to be able to have Mr. Keating again next year," said WISE president Melissa Setiawan. "He seems to really enjoy doing talks about his experiences as much as his audience loves listening to him. He was already giving US suggestions of some great talks that he would like to do for WISE next year."

Keating started the video portion of his lecture with footage of Gulf Island, just off the west coast of Canada, where a certain underwater tunnel is inaccessible during low or high tide. One must swim through the tunnel just before low or high tide or face the possibility of being stuck like a spitball in a straw, according to Keating.

The next dive site was Mozambique, a country torn apart by 20 years of nonstop war where one in 10 citizens are missing a limb. It was there that Keating first
encountered a manta ray.

"[The dive site] was a paradise war never touched," mused Keating. "Out of the blue, a group of manta rays came. The biggest was seven metres [long]. A barn door mouth to feed on the smallest animal–zooplankton."

Keating also showed clips of interesting beluga behaviour in the Canadian arctic. Belugas would come to a shallow area of the water and proceed to slough off their thick winter skin. The video showed Keating inches away from the whales, water frothing.

"Out of the blue, blue water came ghost-white whales," described Keating. "[We felt] powerful echolocation off our bodies. They were so white; they glowed like a ghostly figure."

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