If you’ve visited social media lately—and surely you haven’t because we’re all keeping good on our New Year’s resolutions—you’ve probably encountered a sea shanty.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, a quick recap. The sea shanty arose midway through the last millennium as a breed of work-song for sailors to while away the time, forge communal bonds, and generally keep from going insane. Then a couple months ago, a 26-year-old Scottish postman named Nathan Evans sang a rendition on TikTok that made the world become re-obsessed.
The sea shanty form is particularly suited to TikTok. The youth-craze app lets people create “duets,” a feature that adjoins a video post to one already playing. In Sept., TikTok revamped the feature, leading to a renaissance of collaborative creativity. Soon after, Evans posted his performance of “Soon May the Wellerman Come,” which promptly went viral and set off a flood of duets, remixes, and copies.
For anyone wondering, “the Wellerman” refers to an employee of The Weller Brothers, an Aussie merchant outfit that dominated New Zealand ports in the 1830s. The singers of the shanty are pining for a resupply of staples for their voyage; namely, sugar, tea, and rum. You can consider the tune to be, in spirit, a maritime predecessor to “The Wells Fargo Wagon” in the 1957 musical The Music Man. (Side note: Imagine being that excited to see someone from Wells Fargo today?)
The sea shanty’s resurgence may seem random, but it makes sense. In addition to being perfectly suited for TikTok’s duet technology, the genre fits the moment. During the lockdowns and quarantines of the pandemic, people are starved for human connection. What better way to find solidarity than to lend one’s voice to the hauntingly beautiful harmony of nautical folk a cappella?
(There’s something to be said, too, for the shared human experience of engaging in social media drudgery in the hopes of landing a big, viral score, echoing the grim lottery of 19th century whaling ventures.)
People who learn to exploit the idiosyncrasies of mass communications and tap the zeitgeist gain special powers. (See, formerly: @realDonaldTrump.) Right now, it just so happens that mobile video-sharing software from ByteDance, a Chinese corporation, is one of the most significant global proving grounds for that miracle of a feedback loop we call culture.
Lest you think the sea shanty’s newfound popularity is a fluke, I might point you to the zany genius of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, one of the all-time musical greats. In the ‘60s, Wilson perfected the “wall of sound” technique famously associated with the late hitmaker and convicted murderer Phil Spector, who died in jail this weekend. That groundbreaking style found avid fans through its characteristically fulsome reverberation, a quality that played well on radios and jukeboxes, the then-dominant audio-broadcasting technology.
After you’ve finished with the Wellerman, give “Sloop John B,” The Beach Boys’ own sea shanty adaptation, a listen. True genius is timeless.
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The highly venomous yellow-bellied sea snake washed up on Coolum Beach near the caravan park.Snake catcher Rhys Chapman received the call out to rescue the stranded serpent.
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“Sea snakes don’t like to leave the ocean so if they do end up on the beach, there’s an underlying issue of an illness and injury,” Mr Chapman said.“Being a highly venomous animal, the last thing we need is somebody or a pet, having a bad encounter.”Mr Chapman has been called out to a steady stream of sea snake findings recently receiving one to two calls a week.He said the area from Mudjimba up to Castaway’s Bay had been a hotspot for the creatures.“It’s a lot of the weather that dictates it and our ocean is popular and busy so things do happen, accidents like we’ll see snakes come in that have been clipped by a propeller,” he said.“But usually it’s after we get the big storms with big swells, heavy rains, large winds, that sort of thing.“They’re strong animals but as soon as they get caught in the breaking waves they get tossed around, end up hurting themselves and then on the shore where they just can’t get back out on their own.”Mr Chapman said the snake captured at Coolum Beach was taken straight to hospital.“Our protocol for the sea snakes is once we’ve collected them we get them down to the Australia Zoo wildlife hospital and they give it a check over,” he said.“And then either myself and my team or the Australian Zoo wildlife rescue team will do the release.“He will be released on Sunday.”Do you know what to do if you encounter a stranded sea snake? – here’s some tips to keep you out of harm’s way.1. Do not touch the snake or try to push it back into the water. Beached Sea Snakes will likely just wash ashore again.2. Sea snakes are venomous. Stay at a safe distance from the animal and do not touch it. Sea snakes have long fixed front fangs and are capable of envenoming people.3. Watch closely for movement or signs of life.4. Call your local wildlife rescue, a local snake catcher, or 1300 ANIMAL. State your location and send a photo to the carer or catcher if possible.
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Floodplains around Australia’s largest national park are undergoing a visible transformation as rising sea levels push saltwater further from the coast into its freshwater river systems.
Kakadu’s freshwater floodplains could eventually be totally lost due to climate change
The impact of rising sea levels is already visible in coastal areas of the Kakadu region
Kakadu is Australia’s largest national park and is World Heritage listed
Climate change is understood to be driving the phenomenon along the coastal region around Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, which will likely have dramatic consequences in the coming century.
If emissions continue to rise, modelling by the CSIRO from 2017 shows almost half of Kakadu’s freshwater wetlands could be inundated with saltwater within 50 years, spelling out drastic repercussions for biodiversity.
Due to a process that began decades ago, evidence of saltwater inundation is plain to see in areas of the park and beyond, where mangroves — shrubs that thrives in brackish water — have taken over as far as the eye can see.
At Tommycut Creek, a remote channel off the Mary River near Kakadu’s western boundary, what was once a paperbark forest is now a graveyard of bleached and stricken trunks.
The “dead forest” offers a glimpse into the future for similar low-lying coastal areas along the Top End coast, which are most vulnerable to rising sea levels.
By 2132 the CSIRO’s modelling predicts Kakadu’s freshwater floodplains could be entirely affected by a rising tide of seawater.
“Each year that tree line of mangroves keeps pushing further and further up into the dead forest,” said Chris Mills, a local guide who has fished the Mary River for barramundi since his childhood.
“Eventually it’s just going to become a saltwater habitat.”
‘It could be grim’
On a high tide, Mr Mills can steer his boat among the towering stalks of Tommycut Creek, but mangroves are beginning to block his path.
Another narrow waterway that for years served as a shortcut for many anglers known as The Cutting is now impassable.
To slow the rising tide of seawater, a network of mud barriers called barrages were installed by the Northern Territory Government in the 1980s.
In 2019 a report commissioned by the NT Government found barrages had a negative impact on the environment — causing soil damage, erosion and sedimentation — and could no longer hold back the tide.
“The effectiveness of barrages reduce over time as sea level rise and climate change, i.e. extreme weather events, continue to impact the Top End,” a Government spokesperson said.
The same year the report was released, the Mary River saltwater intrusion program was axed as part of the NT Government budget repair, a Government spokesperson said.
The ecological changes now being seen in the Kakadu region have long been predicted by climate modelling, said Professor Lindsay Hutley, an environmental scientist from Charles Darwin University.
“Changes are afoot, and we’re starting to see them manifesting themselves around Australia in terms of ecosystem failure.”
The unique topography of the Top End means sea levels are rising there at more than double the global average.
While the long-term impacts of sea level rise are hard to predict, on Kakadu’s floodplains “it’ll probably happen fairly quickly”, Professor Hutley said. “It could be grim.”
Will Kakadu be unrecognisable?
Ranger and traditional owner Simon Mudjandi has heard stories of sea level rise and its effects on the region from elders since he was young.
“It’s like acid eating something up,” he said.
Covering roughly 2 million hectares east of Darwin, Kakadu National Park is a World Heritage listed area.
Hundreds of birds and thousands of plant species call it home and it has been a place of great Aboriginal cultural importance for tens of thousands of years.
A member of the park’s Indigenous ranger program, Mr Mudjandi spends his days travelling the region, monitoring sites and working on conservation projects.
He is concerned the park won’t be accessible for future generations of traditional owners.
“Kakadu is really important to me and my family because the park has a lot of sacred sites and it has stories as well,” he said.
A spokesman for Parks Australia said it was working with traditional owners to mitigate the impact of climate change in Kakadu and its climate change strategy was currently being updated.
Despite the gradual transformation of the river systems in the Kakadu region, fishing guide Chris Mills wants his future grandchildren to experience the park too.
“Hopefully, it’s still got the floodplains, the wildlife,” he said.
“It will still be an amazing fishery and people will travel from a long way to come and see it.”
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The recovery is expected to help investigators determine what caused the Boeing 737-500 plane to nosedive into the ocean in heavy rain shortly after takeoff from Jakarta on Saturday.
TV stations showed divers on an inflatable vessel with a large white container containing the device heading to a Jakarta port. It will be handed over to the National Transportation Safety Committee, which is overseeing the crash investigation.
A navy ship earlier picked up intense pings being emitted from the two recorders. They were buried in seabed mud under tons of sharp objects in the wreckage, the Indonesian navy’s Chief Admiral Yudo Margono said.
He said at least 160 divers were deployed on Tuesday in the search for the devices.
More than 3600 rescue personnel, 13 helicopters, 54 large ships and 20 small boats were searching the area just north of Jakarta where Flight 182 crashed. Parts of the plane and human remains have already been found in the water at a depth of 23 metres.
So far, the searchers have sent 74 body bags containing human remains to police identification experts who on Monday said they had identified their first victim, 29-year-old flight attendant Okky Bisma.
His wife, Aldha Refa, who is also a flight attendant for Sriwijaya Air, shared her grief in a series of posts on social media.
“My husband is a loving, devout and super kind man,” she wrote on Instagram. “Heaven is your place, dear … be peaceful there.”
Anguished family members have been providing samples for DNA tests and police said results were expected within four to eight days.
National Police spokesman Rusdi Hartono said about 53 samples for DNA testing had been collected but more were needed, especially from parents and children of victims.
Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee said the US National Transportation Safety Board would help to investigate the crash.
The NTSC chairman, Soerjanto Tjahjono, ruled out a possible midair breakup after seeing the condition of the wreckage found by searchers. He said the jet was intact until it struck the water, concentrating the debris field, rather than spreading it out over a large area as would be seen with a midair event.
He said the NTSC’s initial findings showed the plane’s engine was running when it hit the water, based on jet parts retrieved from the sea.
“The damage on the fan blade showed that the engine was still working on impact. This is consistent with the hypothesis that the plane’s system was still working at 250 feet altitude,” Soerjanto said.
Indonesia’s transport ministry said earlier on Tuesday the jet, which was grounded during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, had passed an airworthiness inspection on December 14 and had returned to service shortly after.
The disaster has reignited concerns about safety in Indonesia’s aviation industry, which grew fast after the economy was opened following the fall of dictator Suharto in the late 1990s. The United States had banned Indonesian carriers from operating in the country in 2007, lifting the action in 2016, citing improvements in compliance with international aviation standards. The European Union lifted a similar ban in 2018.
In the past year, Indonesian aviation was affected significantly by the coronavirus pandemic that caused travel restrictions and a slump in demand among travellers.
Sriwijaya Air has had only minor safety incidents in the past, though a farmer was killed in 2008 when a plane went off the runway while landing due to a hydraulic issue.
In 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air crashed, killing 189 people. An automated flight-control system played a role in that crash, but the Sriwijaya Air jet did not have that system on board.
AP with Reuters
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“We know even more clearly amid the crisis we are going through that all our vulnerabilities are interrelated,” Macron said. “Pressure on nature exerted by human activities is increasing inequalities and threatening our health and our security.”
“We can change the story if we decide to do it,” he added.
The one-day event focused on four major topics: protecting terrestrial and marine ecosystems; promoting agroecology, a more sustainable way to grow food; increasing funding to protect biodiversity; and identifying links between deforestation and the health of humans and animals.
The summit also launched a program called PREZODE which Macron presented as an unprecedented international initiative to prevent the emergence of zoonotic diseases and pandemics, which is already mobilising over 400 researchers and experts across the world. The move comes as scientists suspect that the coronavirus that first infected people in China last year came from an animal source, probably bats.
“Pandemic recovery is our chance to change course,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said. “With smart policies and the right investments, we can chart a path that brings health to all, revives economies, builds resilience and rescues biodiversity.”
Guterres also stressed that according to the World Economic Forum, emerging business opportunities across nature could create 191 million jobs by 2030.
Other leaders at the summit were German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. China, represented by Vice-Premier Han Zheng, agreed that “collective efforts” were needed.
The event, organised by France, the United Nations and the World Bank, took place without top US officials, as President-elect Joe Biden, a strong proponent of climate issues, does not take office until January 20. During his campaign, Biden already pledged to better protect biodiversity by preserving 30 per cent of American lands and waters by 2030.
The so-called “30-30” initiative could become the cornerstone of a critical biodiversity meeting in Kunming, China, postponed last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Agence France-Presse reported.
The UN’s global climate summit, the COP26, has also been rescheduled for November in the UK.
A side conference focused on investment for Africa’s Great Green Wall project, which involves gigantic efforts to stop the Sahara Desert from spreading further south.
Participants welcomed the creation of a so-called accelerator, which is expected to release $US14.3 billion ($18.7 billion) over the next five years to finance the program. Launched in 2007, it aims to plant an arc of trees running 7000 kilometres across Africa — from Senegal along the Atlantic all the way to Djibouti on the Gulf of Aden.
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Indonesian divers on Sunday located parts of the wreckage of a Boeing 737-500 at a depth of 23 meters (75 feet) in the Java Sea, a day after the aircraft with 62 people onboard crashed shortly after takeoff from Jakarta.
“We received reports from the diver team that the visibility in the water is good and clear, allowing the discovery of some parts of the plane,” Air Chief Marshal Hadi Tjahjanto said in a statement. “We are sure that is the point where the plane crashed.”
He said the objects included broken pieces of fuselage with aircraft registration parts.
Earlier, rescuers pulled out body parts, pieces of clothing and scraps of metal from the surface.
“Hopefully until this afternoon the current conditions and the view under the sea are still good so that we can continue the search,” he said.
The break in the search for Sriwijaya Air Flight 182 came after sonar equipment on a navy ship detected a signal from the aircraft at a location that fit the coordinates from the last contact made by the pilots before the plane went missing on Saturday afternoon.
It’s still unclear what caused the crash. There was no sign of survivors.
“I represent the government and all Indonesians in expressing my deep condolences for this tragedy,” President Joko Widodo said.
“We are doing our best to save the victims. We pray together so that the victims can be found,” he said, adding that he had asked the National Transport Safety Committee to conduct an investigation.
Fishermen in the area between Lancang and Laki islands, part of an archipelago around Thousand Islands north of Jakarta’s coast, reported hearing an explosion around 2:30 p.m. Saturday.
“We heard something explode, we thought it was a bomb or a tsunami since after that we saw the big splash from the water,” Solihin, who goes by one name, told The Associated Press by phone.
“It was raining heavily and the weather was so bad. So it is difficult to see around clearly. But we can see the splash and a big wave after the sounds. We were very shocked and directly saw the plane debris and the fuel around our boat.”
Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi said Flight SJ182 was delayed for an hour before it took off at 2:36 p.m. It disappeared from radar four minutes later, after the pilot contacted air traffic control to ascend to an altitude of 29,000 feet (8,839 meters), he said.
There were 62 people on board, including seven children and three babies.
“We are aware of media reports from Jakarta regarding Sriwijaya Air flight SJ-182,” Boeing said in a statement. “Our thoughts are with the crew, passengers, and their families. We are in contact with our airline customer and stand ready to support them during this difficult time.”
Authorities established two crisis centers, one at airport and one at port. Families gathered to wait for news of loved ones.
On social media, people began circulating the flight manifesto with photos and videos of those who were listed as passengers. One video shows a woman with her children waving goodbye while walking through the airport.
Sriwijaya Air President Director Jefferson Irwin Jauwena said the plane, which is 26 years old and previously used by airlines in the United States, was airworthy. He told reporters Saturday that the plane had previously flown to Pontianak and Pangkal Pinang city on the same day.
“Maintenance report said everything went well and airworthy,” Jauwena told a news conference. He said the plane was delayed due to bad weather, not because of any damage.
Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation, with more than 260 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents on land, sea and air because of overcrowding on ferries, aging infrastructure and poorly enforced safety standards.
In October 2018, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 jet operated by Lion Air plunged into the Java Sea just minutes after taking off from Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board. The plane involved in Saturday’s incident did not have the automated flight-control system that played a role in the Lion Air crash and another crash of a 737 MAX 8 jet in Ethiopia five months later, leading to the grounding of the MAX 8 for 20 months.
The Lion Air crash was Indonesia’s worst airline disaster since 1997, when 234 people were killed on a Garuda airlines flight near Medan on Sumatra island. In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.
Sriwijaya Air has only has several minor incidents in the past, though a farmer was killed in 2008 when landing plane went off runway due to a hydraulic issue.
The United States banned Indonesian carriers from operating in the country in 2007, but reversed the decision in 2016, citing improvements in compliance with international aviation standards. The European Union has previously had similar bans, lifting them in June 2018.
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BANGKOK — Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry said on Saturday that it had lost contact with a passenger jet after it took off from the capital, Jakarta, and flew over the Java Sea.
The ministry said that the last contact with the plane, Sriwijaya Air Flight 182, was made at 2:40 p.m. local time. The Boeing 737-524 was bound for the city of Pontianak on the island of Borneo. The plane had 62 people aboard, according to an official from Sriwijaya Air, an Indonesian airline based in Jakarta.
Four minutes after taking off amid heavy rain, the 26-year-old plane lost more than 10,000 feet of altitude in less than 60 seconds, according to Flightradar24, the flight-tracking service.
The aviation sector in Indonesia, a developing country of thousands of islands, has long been plagued by trouble, contending with poor safety records and the rapid growth of budget airlines.
In 2018, Lion Air Flight 610 plunged into the Java Sea with 189 people aboard after the 737 Max jetliner’s antistall system, designed by Boeing, malfunctioned. Another 737 Max crashed in Ethiopia in March 2019 after a similar erroneous activation of the antistall system, leading to the worldwide grounding of the entire Max fleet for nearly two years.
Regarding the flight on Saturday, Sriwijaya Air said in a preliminary statement that “management is still communicating and investigating this matter and will immediately issue an official statement after obtaining the actual information.”
The country’s aviation safety commission said that it was on alert and that the transportation minister had gone to the international airport in Jakarta. Patrol boats were heading to waters northwest of Jakarta where the plane was last seen, the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency said.
“Whenever we hear this kind of news, we get ready,” Ony Suryo Wibowo, an investigator for the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee, said on Saturday. “We are gathering all the information we can get.”
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A Boeing 737 passenger jet with 62 people onboard has disappeared over the sea after plummeting 10,000 feet shortly following takeoff from Jakarta, reports claim.
The Sriwijaya Air plane took off from Soekarno-Hatta international airport on Saturday afternoon when it lost contact with the control room.
The usual flight time is about 90 minutes over the Java Sea between Jakarta and Kalimantan, Indonesia’s section of Borneo island.
But four minutes after it took off, the Boeing B737-500 plane plunged nearly 11,000 feet in less than 60 seconds, leaving it at an altitude of just 250 feet before it vanished.
There are feared to be 62 people on the 26-year-old plane, including 56 passengers – seven of whom are children and three are babies – as well as two pilots and four cabin crew.
And families are now fearing the worst after rescuers looking for flight SJ182 say they have discovered suspected metal debris in the ocean north of the capital.
The missing plane is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX jet involved in two earlier fatal crashes – including the Indonesian Lion Air crash in 2018 which killed 189.
A Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737 passenger jet carrying 62 people has disappeared over the sea after plummeting 10,000 feet shortly after takeoff from Jakarta, reports claim. Pictured: Some suspected debris from the plane found by fisherman
Families of the passengers and crew are fearing the worse after rescuers looking for the jet say they have discovered suspected debris in the ocean north of the capital.
The plane – believed to be a Boeing B737-500 – is understood to have fallen 10,000 feet in less than 60 seconds just four minutes after it took off
Terrified relatives of the 62 people onboard the missing Sriwijaya Air flight wait for news at the Supadio airport in Pontianak – where the plane was expected to land
Indonesian soldiers are seen at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta after the Sriwijaya Air plane vanished over the ocean
Airport officials installed barriers at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport after the Sriwijaya Air flight SJ182 went missing
Airport staff set up a crisis centre at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport for families onboard the missing Sriwijaya Air flight SJY182
Indonesian military is seen at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport today. The budget airline – which has about 19 Boeing jets that fly to destinations in Indonesia and Southeast Asia – said only it was investigating the incident
Indonesia’s search and rescue agency and the National Transportation Safety Commission were also investigating, Irawati said
A spokesperson for Boeing said: ‘We are aware of media reports from Jakarta, and are closely monitoring the situation. We are working to gather more information.’
Indonesian airline Sriwijaya Air said is still is still getting more information before issuing a statement.
Indonesia’s transport ministry spokesman Adita Irawati said on Saturday: ‘A Sriwijaya (Air) plane from Jakarta to Pontianak (on Borneo island) with call sign SJY182 has lost contact.
‘It last made contact at 2:40 pm (0740 GMT).’
The missing plane is an older model than the Boeing 737 MAX jet involved in two earlier fatal crashes – including the Indonesian Lion Air crash in 2018 which killed 189. Pictured: Police officers at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport today
There are feared to be 62 people on the 26-year-old plane, including 56 passengers – seven of whom are children and three are babies – as well as two pilots and four cabin crew. Pictured: Soldiers in Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta after the plane lost contact
The Sriwijaya Air plane (file image of a similar plane) took off from the Indonesian capital on Saturday and was heading to Pontianak in West Kalimantan province when it lost contact with the control room, according to local media reports
The budget airline – which has about 19 Boeing jets that fly to destinations in Indonesia and Southeast Asia – said only it was investigating the incident.
Indonesia’s search and rescue agency and the National Transportation Safety Commission were also investigating, Irawati said.
A search vessel has been deployed and paramedics are on hand to aid any survivors.
In October 2018, 189 people were killed when a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX jet slammed into the Java Sea about 12 minutes after take-off from Jakarta on a routine one-hour flight.
That crash – and a subsequent fatal flight in Ethiopia – saw Boeing hit with $2.5 billion in fines over claims it defrauded regulators overseeing the 737 MAX model, which was grounded worldwide following the two deadly crashes.
The reported disappearance comes just over two years after a Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX plunged into the sea after taking off in Indonesia. Lion Air’s flight JT-610 (stock photo) lost contact with air control in October 2018
The crash (wreckage pictured) left all 189 people onboard dead and has been blamed on a combination of aircraft design flaws, inadequate training and maintenance problems
However, Indonesia’s aviation sector has long suffered from a reputation for poor safety, and its airlines were once banned from entering US and European airspace.
In December 2014, an AirAsia flight from Surabaya to Singapore plunged into the sea, killing 162 people.
Domestic investigators’ final report showed a chronically faulty component in a rudder control system, poor maintenance and the pilots’ inadequate response were major factors in what was supposed to be a routine flight from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore.
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My first foray into lockdown swimming was in mid-May, about two months after pools shut. At the suggestion of a friend I journeyed to Williamstown Beach in suburban Melbourne to tentatively resume swimming.
Clad in a tattered wetsuit while wavering waist-deep near the Willy surf club (“why am I doing this?”), I finally dived in on that Sunday morning and surprisingly completed nearly a kilometre of freestyle and intermittent breaststroke between two poles about 100 metres from shore.
The cold attacked my extremities, turning hands and feet numb. But the body was otherwise fine. Or so I thought. “I feel OK,” I told my fitter, hardier friend as I shivered on the shoreline.
“You are slurring your words,” he replied.
But within an hour my teeth stopped chattering and I felt slightly euphoric – the cold-water experience had triggered a rush.
I’d competed in some ocean swims along the coast over the years, but never seriously contemplated the notion of becoming a bay swimmer. Still, in Melbourne, where the winter sea water hovers around 10 degrees – bloody freezing, for those who’ve not tested it – Port Phillip Bay was open for business when pools were not at the height of the pandemic.
In Sydney, where the lockdown was much less severe but pools were still off limits for periods, locals also saw an uptick in swimmers congregating to dive into the waves – at least, until a pre-Christmas COVID cluster abruptly forced the closure of northern beaches (and pools).
While we don’t have numbers that measure the growth in ocean and bay swimming during 2020, Jamie Lingham, the founder of Melbourne-based sea swimming community Shrinkäge (which they pronounce “Shrink-arj”), says his group quadrupled, from a hardy 15 to about 60.
“It’s amazing to me how many people went to cold-water swimming through COVID,” says Lingham, 48, who lives in the bayside suburb of Elwood and boasted an unbroken streak of 204 consecutive days of sea swimming – all without a wetsuit– when I joined him in the Elwood water in December.
Manly Beach is 700 or so kilometres from daggy Elwood – a world away in terms of water temperature (warmer), surf (real) and scenery, both above the waterline (it’s prettier) and below (sea life is visible).
But members of Manly’s famed ocean swimming community, the Bold and the Beautiful, also found COVID had increased demand for their daily morning ritual.
“People want to keep fit and they were working at home and they had more time [to swim],” says Julie Osfill, who co-founded the group in 2008 and has seen it grow from eight swimmers to thousands.
For those who discovered the thrill of cold water – the rush of adrenalin that follows a frigid swim in Melbourne winter or a joust with Sydney’s surf – there may be no turning back to laps at the pool.
The man-made concrete cannot compete with nature – though Port Melbourne and Elwood beaches are hardly postcard material – which raises questions for me as I return, intermittently, to the comfort of 27-degree laps in chlorinated water and the less exhilarating experience of shuttling up and down in a crowded lane. Have pools become a dull, staid form of exercise, lacking the buzzand camaraderie of the ocean option? What exactly is the attraction of dipping in the sea? And what are its health benefits – and downsides?
What was the attraction of ocean swimming in lockdown?
Over time,as I enlisted others and our loose, regular ocean swimming group of five, six or seven swimmers took shape – dubbed the Aquanauts by our principal organiser, Sophie – I became inured to the dark, 10-degree waters of Port Melbourne, learning to wear two caps and upgrading to a 21st-century wetsuit.
Most of our group were travelling from the inner north, where the pools and pubs are plentiful, to the bay beaches – mainly Port Melbourne, Elwood or Williamstown.
By the end of July, as the second lockdown’s five-kilometre rule scuppered our swimming, I’d managed about nine bay swims and the fitness results seemed superior to what one would gain from that modest quantity of swimming in the pool (more on that later).
But what really mattered was how you felt. Mentally, the bay offered a day release from COVID house arrest as well as adventure and esprit de corps.
How do different swim settings differ?
Our group’s experience of the attractions of sea swimming is consistent with what Shrinkäge found as well as with the testimony of Sydney swimmers, including author and host of the ABC’s The Drum Julia Baird, whose bestselling book Phosphorescence extols the virtues of daily ocean swimming in Manly, inspiring others to take to the sea. In Melbourne, a swimming group even named themselves Phosphorescence after Baird’s book.
“It becomes like a ritual,” says Baird, who has been swimming for more than a decade with the Bold and Beautiful, sometimes deploying flippers “if the surf is huge”.
“It’s more than just exercise you do,” she says. “It’s something else you do to make yourself sane.”
In Melbourne, Lingham, whose migration business was hit hard by the pandemic, added extra frisson with commando-style 5.30am swims dubbed “black ops”, since they took place in winter darkness. “You wear a [flashing] light on the back of your head so you don’t get run over by a boat.”
The spirit of adventure seems a drawcard for group members wherever they are, even if the nomenclature of Sydney and Melbourne’s ocean swimming groups play to metropolitan stereotypes: Shrinkäge speaks to the colder climate and its humiliating effects and Aquanauts suggests exploration of an unhospitable environment while the Bold and the Beautiful are precisely what we would expect on the gorgeous north shore – named as they were, according to Osfill, by a Manly board rider, who one day asked: “What are you guys, the Bold and the Beautiful?”
(Meanwhile, during a stint on the Gold Coast where the AFL had relocated, I took to the ocean again: it was pleasant to dive into the 21-degree surf but by then my cold-water conditioning had muted the refreshment. It wasn’t cold enough.)
How might swimming in the sea be better for your physical health?
In southern waters, what swimmers report about cold water’s shock value is backed up by the University of Melbourne’s Dr Kate Murphy, senior research fellow in the Centre for Muscle Research in the Department of Physiology and an ocean swimmer who’s completed the 20-kilometre Rottnest Channel Swim in Western Australia.
The immersion in cold water triggers the swimmer to expend more energy than he or she would in more temperate water. “It [the body] expends energy to keep yourself warm,” says Murphy. Thus, colder water swimming burns more calories.
Murphy says some of our white fat stores transform into “brown fat” when exposed to the cold. “The more exposure to cold water, the more brown fat you generate,” she explains. The brown fat makes the body more efficient in maintaining warmth. “It means you can swim for longer without getting hypothermia … you’re able to withstand the cold better.”
This is why veterans of cold water, such as the famous Icebergers of Bondi and Brighton and the mainly wetsuit-averse Shrinkäge, develop an immunity to cold water, to the point that Lingham is planning to complete the Ice Mile – a mile of swimming in water that’s 5 degrees or less, certified by the International Ice Swimming Association – near Cooma in the Snowy Mountains.
No wetsuit? “The whole point is you can’t wear a wetsuit,” he says.
Further north, according to Osfill, peak cold off Manly Beach is about 15 degrees – a bath, by Melbourne standards – while in summer it’s closer to 20. Still, ploughing through choppy seas or surf should improve strength. “You need to pull your body over the waves,” explains Murphy.
But if swimming in cold water might assist in shedding weight (relative to pool swimming), salt water – commonly viewed as an elixir – does not carry any special properties. Murphy says there are “not really” any physical benefits to salt water and the exception is “only in respect to body position” due to buoyancy, although “anecdotally, people say their skin feels better”.
Does an ocean dip help with mental health?
From what I’ve observed and felt and heard from almost every ocean swimmer, the psychological benefits of cold water and ocean swimming are considerable. Indeed, they’re cited more than the physical effects.
“It’s like a pillar of sanity,” says Baird, who regularly completes a round trip of about 1.5 kilometres from Manly with the Bold and Beautiful throng, COVID having spread out the swimming times. “People just go all day now.”
In Phosphorescence, Baird writes that several Bold and Beautiful friends had ceased taking antidepressants.
Lingham calls the mental health boost for Shrinkäge swimmers “phenomenal”, attested to by a “significant number of people in the group”.
Camaraderie is also important to his Speedoed troupe. I saw this firsthand at 6am, about 200 metres from shore, when, at Lingham’s instigation, our group joined in a rendition of Happy Birthday for one of the Shrinkäge crew.
Whereas salt water might be a placebo, there’s science behind the psychological boost. “It’s quite good for depression because you get this adrenalin burst,” says Murphy.
“It is an endorphin rush … the colder it is, the more adrenalin is released.” Murphy posits, too, that ocean swimmers can improve resilience simply by overcoming anxiety and “dealing with the unknown”.
Baird also cites the wondrous impact of seeing the marine life. “Something happens when you dive into a world where clocks don’t tick and inboxes don’t ping,” she writes in her book. “As your arms circle, swing and pull along the edge of a vast ocean, your mind wanders and you open yourself to awe … studies have shown that awe can make us more patient and less irritable, more humble, more curious and creative.”
In Melbourne’s bay, there’s less awe on offer, although some of us have felt the mild stings of jellyfish, and December’s still and clearer waters have meant small fish were actually visible at Elwood.
What are the health hazards?
If I was slurring my words after the first swim, it’s likely that my body temperature was below the recommended minimum and that hypothermia had set in. Murphy says hypothermia can be defined as a body temperature of below 35 degrees.
“One of the contributing factors is you’re not taking in enough fuel, you’re expending a lot more energy,” says Murphy.
Ingesting excessive salt water is another potential issue, she says. It carries the risk of pulmonary oedema caused by too much water in the lungs.
There are, in some waters, sharks and stingrays. Fear of sharks is atavistic – barely a fortnight ago, a swimmer traversing the pier-to-pub course in Lorne on Victoria’s surf coast was within metres of a shark, albeit without knowing, but there’s been no shark fatality in Victoria for decades.
Jellyfish are abundant in both Melbourne and Sydney and it’s worth packing a soothing anti-sting lotion. I’ve had a couple of stings, one of which caused a very itchy wrist rash. “There’s no deadly one,” says Murphy.
On foggy mornings, there’s also the small risk of swimmers taking the wrong turn and, unable to see the shore, getting lost at sea for a dangerously long period in cold water.
On May 26 a swimmer became disoriented at Mentone, in Melbourne’s bay,despite buoys and bright caps, and was unaccounted for by his fellow swimmers for what one called “the most terrifying 40 minutes of my swimming life”. The group went to shore, paddled out on boards and, amid thickened fog, eventually found their friend off shore.
“Ten more minutes and it might not have ended this way,” writes one of the swimming party on Bay Open Water Swimmers Facebook page.
Justin Scarr, chief executive of the Royal Lifesaving Society Australia, has four safety tips for sea swimmers: never swim alone; know your limitations; get a medical check-up before you swim, “especially if you’re more than 50 [years old]” and make cardiac health a priority; and consider taking a “buoyancy device” such as an open-water swimming buoy.
What’s next after the sea change?
Lingham calls the sea swimming habit “addictive”. He hasn’t been in a pool for more than two years and has no plans to return to chlorinated water.
My swimming future is more equivocal. If the pool offers less adventure or gain, it also demands less commitment and affords greater comfort. (You can also swim in a pool after heavy rain without fear of the water being dodgy.) The pool won’t be discarded.
That said, I don’t see the sea swimming as one those temporary expat-type friendships, forged by isolation and circumstances, that doesn’t endure beyond a certain time and place.
The surf, the Aquanauts’ next frontier, beckons.
Jake Niall is a Walkley award-winning sports journalist and chief AFL writer for The Age.