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Deep impact: the underwater photographers bringing the ocean’s silent struggle to life | Photography

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In July, off the Turkish port city of Bodrum, Kerim Sabuncuoğlu stepped from the edge of a boat into the azure Aegean Sea and began to descend. A scuba diver with more than 30 years’ experience, he took up underwater photography in 2002 and has since devoted considerable amounts of time and money to his “out-of-control hobby” – capturing the wonders of the ocean on camera so that “the less fortunate people above” can also marvel at them.

Sabuncuoğlu has travelled the world, photographing marine life in Palau, Cuba and the Galápagos islands and winning several awards for his work. Closer to home in Bodrum, he was embarking on a standard dive with a group of friends, equipped with a Nikon D800 camera. The camera had an 85mm micro Nikkor lens and was clad in Nexus underwater housing, with a single Backscatter snoot to train light on the subject.

A lizardfish attempts to eat a cigarette end.
A lizardfish attempts to eat a cigarette end. ‘This image illustrates the environmental issue of people carelessly disposing of trash and the harm it does to wildlife,’ says photographer Steven Kovacs. Photograph: Steven Kovacs

Soon after reaching the sandy bottom and making a right turn towards a cluster of rocks, he spotted a broken fishing line on the sea floor. A grouper was caught on one of the hooks, still alive, so he took it to the surface, removed the hook and set it free.

“I went back to see what else was there, with the pliers,” says Sabuncuoğlu from his home in Istanbul, where he runs an event management company, “and that’s when I found this poor animal: a moray eel. Its favourite food is octopus, and of course when it found the arm of an octopus on the floor, it took a great bite.” A hook concealed in the octopus arm went straight through the moray’s jaw. It spun its body frantically to free itself, but succeeded only in entangling itself in the fishing line. Eventually the eel suffocated and died.

A female paper nautilus drifts along on a piece of rubbish, Anilao, the Philippines.
A female paper nautilus drifts along on a piece of rubbish, Anilao, the Philippines. Photographer Steven Kovacs notes that they normally hitch a ride on jellyfish for protection and to preserve energy. Photograph: Steven Kovacs

Sabuncuoğlu had witnessed the result of what’s known as ghost fishing. “When a fisherman leaves his equipment under the water, like a fishing net or line, it keeps on killing fish for many years to come,” he explains. “If I had left this moray eel, some other fish would have eaten the hook, and died as well.”

It’s a worldwide problem. Ghost fishing gear accounts for around an estimated 10% of all marine litter. On the west coast of the US, the National Marine Fisheries Service reported an average of 11 large whales entangled in ghost nets every year between 2000 and 2012. The number of smaller fish and sea life caught annually in nets and pots and on discarded hooks is impossible to estimate, but Sabuncuoğlu puts it in the millions. It is also dangerous for divers, he adds, “because you can get tangled like the moray eel under the water”.

Jason Gulley’s photograph of a dead manatee floating in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida.
Jason Gulley’s photograph of a dead manatee floating in the Indian River Lagoon, Florida. Pollution is destroying seagrass, one of the mammals’ food sources, causing record numbers of deaths. Photograph: Jason Gulley

Sabuncuoğlu took 60 or so shots of the eel, but it was only afterwards, as he was editing the images on his computer, that he felt a pang of sadness at how it had died. “You realise it was helpless there,” he says. Everyone he showed the image to reacted in the same way: “They went, ‘Eeeeee, ai ai ai!’” and shuddered. When he submitted it to this year’s Ocean photography awards, under the title Silent Scream, it was shortlisted in the conservation category.

The National Geographic photographer and conservationist Cristina Mittermaier was among the judges who picked Sabuncuoğlu as the ocean conservation photographer of the year. “It’s a fantastic image,” she tells me. “Underwater wildlife communicate in a very different way to terrestrial wildlife, and they don’t have the same facial expressions that an animal like a grizzly bear or a wolf might have. Therefore, making images that create an emotional connection with humans, when you’re photographing fish, is really hard. In this image, the photographer was able to capture a dramatic moment, and the eel actually has a facial expression that conveys emotion. It caught me as soon as I saw it.”

Anchovy fishing boats off Phú Yên Province, Vietnam.
Anchovy fishing boats off Phú Yên Province, Vietnam. The small fish are harvested to make sauce but, as photographer Thien Nguyen Ngoc says, that leaves their marine predators without food. Photograph: Thien Nguyen Ngoc

It’s not just the inscrutability of sea creatures that makes it difficult to get humans emotionally involved. Images of environmental devastation can be off-putting too. “You really need to balance the storytelling with beautiful photography,” says Mittermaier, who co-founded the conservation network SeaLegacy, “and I think this image does that really well. When something outstanding comes along that has the power to make people stop, even for just a second, and internalise what they’re looking at, that’s when we start moving the needle.”

It helps that the technology around underwater photography is improving fast, allowing for more vivid shots and illuminating parts of the ocean that were previously obscure. Sabuncuoğlu mentions blackwater photography, which entails diving into deep ocean at night to photograph larval fish and invertebrates as they rise to the surface.

A seahorse that has anchored itself to a face mask, Halkidiki peninsula, Greece.
A seahorse that has anchored itself to a face mask, Halkidiki peninsula, Greece. Photographer Nicholas Samaras dives regularly in the area and says Covid waste is the biggest recent change. Photograph: Nicholas Samaras

“It’s only in the past 10 years that the technology has advanced enough for us to be able to take our cameras deeper than 30 metres,” says Mittermaier. “And the sensors now available are allowing us to see in the inky depths of the ocean things that we could not capture just five years ago. So it’s advancing very quickly, and it’s becoming more affordable. And as more and more photographers take to the ocean to capture images, we’re slowly building an army of underwater storytellers reporting from the furthest corners of the Earth.”

Sabuncuoğlu likens the experience of exploring the ocean to space travel. “If you don’t have the technology or the funds to go to another planet, just gear up and jump into the water,” he says. “That’s another planet.” Reporting back from that other planet, and showing the extraordinary profusion of life there, is “the most wonderful thing I can ever do in my lifetime,” he says. “I hope I will do it for many years to come, and I hope I can teach more people how to do it. Because if we don’t show the beauties of the underwater, nobody will realise what’s down there, and if you don’t realise it, you don’t protect it. It’s that simple.”

A gull caught up and drowned in ghost fishing line in Norway’s Saltstraumen strait, photographed by Galice Hoarau.
A gull caught up and drowned in ghost fishing line in Norway’s Saltstraumen strait, photographed by Galice Hoarau. ‘These are deadly traps for wildllife, especially seabirds,’ he says. Photograph: Galice Hoarau

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UK competition watchdog unveils advice for antivirus firms • The Register

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The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has unveiled compliance principles to curb locally some of the sharper auto-renewal practices of antivirus software firms.

The move follows the watchdog baring its teeth at McAfee and Norton over the issue of automatically renewing contracts.

The CMA took exception to auto-renewal contracts for antivirus software that customers in the UK signed up for and found difficult to cancel. Refunds and clearer pricing information (including making sure consumers were aware that year two could well end up considerably costlier than the first) were the order of the day.

Today’s principles build on that work, and are aimed at helping antivirus companies toe the line where UK consumer law is concerned. They are a bit more detailed than a simple “stop being horrid.”

The focus remains on auto-renewing contracts, where a customer signs up for a fixed period, then is charged again for subsequent periods. The CMA acknowledges that such arrangements are convenient, but they risk the consumer being locked into an agreement they no longer want or that they get stung with higher fees at renewal time.

While the principles are intended to be helpful, lurking in the background is consumer law and the threat of a potential trip to court for vendors stepping out of line.

First up comes a requirement to make sure customers are informed about auto-renewal, rather than hiding the detail in an End User Licence Agreement (EULA) or burying it in hard-to-read text through which a user must scroll.

Price claims must be “accurate” and “not mislead your customers” – so only show discounts against the normal price. It must also be possible to turn off the auto-renew easily, keep auto-renew turned off once it is off and, if on, make sure customers are reminded in good time that an auto-renew will happen.

Getting a refund must be easier and customers should be able to change their mind when auto-renewal happens. If the customer has stopped using the product, safeguards are needed around auto-renewal.

The last principle could pose a few challenges – how does a vendor become aware that a customer is not using its product? The suggestion from the CMA is to check if software updates are being received rather than simply charging users year after year.

The Register contacted McAfee and Norton for their thoughts on the principles, and will update should the companies respond. ®

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Grocery start-up Gorillas raises nearly $1bn in round led by Delivery Hero

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Just a few months after hitting unicorn status, Gorillas has raised another major round of funding from big-name investors.

German start-up Gorillas has raised nearly $1bn to expand its on-demand grocery delivery business.

The Series C funding round was led by Delivery Hero, the German food and grocery delivery giant that recently took a stake in Deliveroo.

Gorillas also received backing from existing investors including Coatue Management, DST Global and Tencent, as well as new investors G Squared, Alanda Capital, Macquarie Capital, MSA Capital and Thrive Capital.

The fresh funding comes just a few months after the company’s $290m Series B, which brought its valuation to more than $1bn.

Gorillas was founded in Berlin in 2020 by Kağan Sümer and Jörg Kattner, promising grocery deliveries in as little as 10 minutes.

It now operates more than 180 warehouses and has expanded to more than 55 cities in nine countries, including Amsterdam, London, Paris, Madrid, New York and Munich.

The company plans to use the latest funding for its next phase of development. This includes reinforcing its footprint in existing markets and investing in operations, technology and marketing.

“The size of today’s funding round by an extraordinary investment consortium underscores the tremendous market potential that lies ahead of us,” said Sümer, who is CEO of the start-up.

“With Delivery Hero, we have chosen a strong strategic support that is deeply rooted in the global delivery market, and is renowned for having unique experience in sustainably scaling a German company internationally.”

On-demand grocery delivery is a growing area in Europe that’s attracting investor attention.

Swedish start-up Kavall raised $5.8m in August, Czech player Rohlik hit unicorn status after its €100m Series C round in July, and Spain’s Glovo secured a €450m Series F round in April to expand in the grocery market.

Gorillas differentiates itself from other players in the market, such as Deliveroo, by employing its delivery drivers rather than relying on gig workers.

However, as the start-up has scaled rapidly over the past year, it has seen delivery workers protest over working conditions and pay, and been put under the spotlight for its treatment of employees.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

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ICO to step in after schools use facial recognition to speed up lunch queue | Facial recognition

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The Information Commissioner’s Office is to intervene over concerns about the use of facial recognition technology on pupils queueing for lunch in school canteens in the UK.

Nine schools in North Ayrshire began taking payments for school lunches this week by scanning the faces of their pupils, according to a report in the Financial Times. More schools are expected to follow.

The ICO, an independent body set up to uphold information rights in the UK, said it would be contacting North Ayrshire council about the move and urged a “less intrusive” approach where possible.

An ICO spokesperson said organisations using facial recognition technology must comply with data protection law before, during and after its use, adding: “Data protection law provides additional protections for children, and organisations need to carefully consider the necessity and proportionality of collecting biometric data before they do so.

“Organisations should consider using a different approach if the same goal can be achieved in a less intrusive manner. We are aware of the introduction, and will be making inquiries with North Ayrshire council.”

The company supplying the technology claimed it was more Covid-secure than other systems, as it was cashless and contactless, and sped up the lunch queue, cutting the time spent on each transaction to five seconds.

Other types of biometric systems, principally fingerprint scanners, have been used in schools in the UK for years, but campaigners say the use of facial recognition technology is unnecessary.

Silkie Carlo, the director of Big Brother Watch, told the Guardian the campaign group had written to schools using facial recognition systems, setting out their concerns and urging them to stop immediately.

“No child should have to go through border-style identity checks just to get a school meal,” she said. “We are supposed to live in a democracy, not a security state.

“This is highly sensitive, personal data that children should be taught to protect, not to give away on a whim. This biometrics company has refused to disclose who else children’s personal information could be shared with and there are some red flags here for us.”

The technology is being installed in schools in the UK by a company called CRB Cunninghams. David Swanston, its managing director, told the FT: “It’s the fastest way of recognising someone at the till. In a secondary school you have around about a 25-minute period to serve potentially 1,000 pupils. So we need fast throughput at the point of sale.”

Live facial recognition, technology that scans crowds to identify faces, has been challenged by civil rights campaigners because of concerns about consent. CRB Cunninghams said the system being installed in UK schools was different – parents had to give explicit consent and cameras check against encrypted faceprint templates stored on school servers.

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire council said its catering system contracts were coming to a natural end, allowing the introduction of new IT “which makes our service more efficient and enhances the pupil experience using innovative technology”.

They added: “Given the ongoing risks associated with Covid-19, the council is keen to have contactless identification as this provides a safer environment for both pupils and staff. Facial recognition has been assessed as the optimal solution that will meet all our requirements.”

The council said 97% of children or their parents had given consent for the new system.

A Scottish government spokesperson said that local authorities, as data controllers, had a duty to comply with general data protection regulations and that schools must by law adhere to strict guidelines on how they collect, store, record and share personal data.

Hayley Dunn, a business leadership specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “There would need to be strict privacy and data protection controls on any companies offering this technology.

“Leaders would also have legitimate concerns about the potential for cyber ransomware attacks and the importance of storing information securely, which they would need reassurances around before implementing any new technology.”

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