Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Deep Water Sharks Like the Bahamas

Scientists working in the deep waters off the Bahamas have reported finding a variety of deep water sharks about which very little is known. They have names like sixgill and sawtail catshark, according to the Tribune of the Bahamas.

The sharks live in about 640 feet of water. To give perspective, scuba divers who go to 100 feet are considered very experienced to expert. Many deep water sharks have been around since dinosaurs, or between 230 to 60 million years ago.

This is one of those stories that illustrate the fascinating lack of knowledge we have about the ocean by highlighting some cool species yet come with the bad news that humans are already looking for ways to make money off these nearly uncharted waters.

Until recently these deep water environments acted as a refuge from human exploitation, however, as stocks of fish closer to the ocean surface are subjected to overfishing, commercial interests are turning their attention to the deep, scientists said.

Many of these deep water sharks are being exploited without any understanding of their biology and ecology on which to base management decisions, according to the story.

Oops, there we go again.

Read more here.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Ocean Links Us All

Good to hear another group of citizens from all walks of life are teaming together to protect the oceans, specifically the waters around the Savannah, Georgia area. As Eco Ocean likes to say, the oceans deserve and need all the help they can get.

The story is pretty dry overall but small gems like this quote from one of the participants shines through:  "The ocean links us all," said Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist who directs the Emory Center for Ethics at Emory University, according to the Savannah Morning News

How does the ocean link us all? Evolution tells us we all came from the ocean and it's where life began, the so-called primordial soup. It's clear that ecosystems and organism are interconnected and the connection does not end at the surf line. And it's pretty obvious that we are all drawn to the sea, for a sunset, for a swim, just to stare off, and maybe for reasons we don't even know.

Something to ponder on a rainy and pensive Tuesday (in the Northeast US anyway).

Read more here.

Photo courtesy of My Caraven of Dreams

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Fightng Chance

Shout out to these accomplished and inspirational people who've been awarded the 2010 Heinz Awards. Gives a whole new perspective on Ketchup.

The group of winners not only inspire but also lend hope in the onslaught of bad news about climate change and the environment in general. With these people on the good side, we stand a fighting chance afterall.

With marine conservation on my mind, I especially appreciated what Richard Feely (ocean acidity) and James Balog (polar caps) did to win the awards.

Read about them all here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Protecting Marine Life Around the Globe

Check out this cool interactive map of marine protected areas by country and region provided by the awesome map people at National Geographic.

Marine protected areas are areas of the ocean set aside from human activity. They're often pristine areas or biodiverse hot spots that need a break from fishing or boating or other kinds of activities. Here's a more official definition from Wikipedia: "MPAs protect living, non-living, cultural, and/or historic resources. Protections in various areas range from limits on development, fishing gear types, fishing seasons, catch limits, moorings, to complete bans on removing marine life of any kind."

It's been shown that MPAs can help drive healthy oceans (think biodiversity) and often give depleted fish stocks a much-needed breather on their way to (hopefully) recovery.

Although less than 2% of the world's oceans are protected this way, it's still good to hear there are 5,000 MPAs and counting. Here's to another 5,000 sooner than later.


Photo courtesy of National Geographic

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Down the Shore Everything's Alright

Happy Birthday to the Boss -- Bruce Springsteen. What's that got to do with Eco Ocean?

In his song Fourth of July (Sandy), Bruce evokes the glory of the beach and celebrates where land meets sea and boy meets girl. It is a love song, a swan song for a girl, and for the timeless nights alongside the ocean, a serenade to the sea where the promises are forever.

His first album was called Greetings From Asbury Park, NJ, after all, which is a classic North Jersey beach town. It's where he met his first muse -- the ocean. The currently popular MTV show Jersey Shore is vulgar for that reason, because it misses the magic. For me, growing up within easy reach of the narrow but beautiful beaches of south jersey -- we called it the shore -- the Boss's songs perfectly blended the rhythm of the summer waves with the heady, excruciating romance of youth.

And in his cover of Tom Waits' great song, Jersey Girl, Bruce hits it just right. He puts his hips and heart into it like no one else and delivers the power of the ocean:  "Down the shore everything's alright".

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Join the Restoration

Just off the top of my head, we've got overheated oceans causing coral bleaching and melting ice, we've got the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone, we've got rampant overfishing including millions of sharks dying for fin soup, we've got runoff polluting the sea, we've got -- ok you get it.

So the National Geographic interview with Enric Sala raises a crucial question: Who Will Restore our Ocean? Nice that it's asked in a positive voice, as if it's inevitable that the oceans will be restored versus not at all, but let's not even go there today.

From the interview, a good explanation of why top predators, the big fish we mainly overconsume, are important:

Our impact in the ocean depends on what type of fish we eat. Removing a tuna from the ocean has a larger impact than removing an anchovy, for example, and this is why: At the base of  the food chain we have plants that are eaten by small animals, which in turn are eaten by anchovies, which in turn are eaten by larger fish and tuna.

So let's say that an anchovy requires one hectare per year to survive, one acre per year to survive, and a tuna requires 10,000 anchovies per year to survive. So the footprint of the tuna up in the food chain is much greater than the footprint of the anchovy at the bottom of the food chain. As we go up on the food chain, as we approach the top predators, the greater the footprint is. So we should try to reduce our consumption of the big guys up the food chain. We're taking too much of the productivity of the ocean.

And a succinct statement of what to do about it:  The best thing we can do is to reduce fishing pressure in the ocean...set aside some protected areas, if we reduce the fishing capacity, we take many boats out of the ocean, fishes will replenish themselves much more efficiently than if we are trying to engineer it.

Read more here.

Needs Our Help

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Cry Foul

There's a huge swath of water moving through the Gulf of Mexico that's devoid of oxygen. It's known affectionately as The Dead Zone. Monica Bruckner created a great site to explain how we continue to find new ways to kill everything -- oh I mean a great site about dead zone causes (think fertilizer) and results (think suffocated fish).

The Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone is an annual event and this year it's bigger than last. How lovely. Are we really ok with this? Really?

Pretty Deadly

Monday, September 20, 2010

Kind of a Lame Party

The relief well is officially complete in the Gulf of Mexico. Let the party begin. Ok, that's pretty much a non-starter. Maybe it provides a little closure, but certainly the dirty chapter in history remains wide open. It would be too easy and irresponsible to call BP's disaster closed.

The Associated Press noted "...there is still plenty of oil in the water, and some continues to wash up on shore. Many people are still struggling to make ends meet with some waters still closed to fishing. Shrimpers who are allowed to fish are finding it difficult to sell their catch because of the perception — largely from people outside the region — that the seafood is not safe to eat. Tourism along the Gulf has also taken a hit.

The April 20 blast killed 11 workers, and 206 million gallons of oil spewed."

As outlined in a terse but crisp editorial in the Christian Science Monitor, let's investigate the disaster fully, don't forget that eleven people died, show some patience for the science to develop on calling the Gulf fine in terms of environmental damage, and bigger picture -- do what you can to help move this country from a petroleum economy to a renewable energy economy.

Excerpts from the piece:

In the towns of the Gulf Coast, anxiety, economic disruption, and frustration over unpaid claims continue. About 40,000 square miles of the Gulf remain closed to fishing, and demand and prices for the area’s seafood have plummeted.

But an anxious relief exists that the disaster did not reach the environmental scale originally forecast. Early on, a large unexpected eddy blocked the Gulf’s “loop current” that was supposed to carry the oil to the Florida Keys and up the Atlantic coast.

The eddy was “the closest thing to an act of God that we’ve seen,” said Steve Murawski, chief fisheries scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wind, heat, oil-eating microbes, and extensive human effort also had a positive effect – to the point that NOAA announced in August that about 75 percent of the oil was either collected or dispersed.

Other scientists found that assessment too rosy. For example, the University of Georgia has since detected patches of a two-inch layer of oil on the Gulf floor, which is killing off shrimp and other small marine life. Is it Deepwater oil?

That’s to be determined, and should stand as one reason why ongoing scientific research must stay on the “to-do” list for quite some time. After all, major oil spills from 1989 (Exxon Valdez in Alaska) and 1979 (the Ixtoc disaster in the Gulf) are still having an effect on the environment.

Read more here.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Go Critters Go

According to the North Myrtle Beach Times, loggerhead sea turtles are hatching and heading to the sea. A positive note on a sunny Friday.

"Hatchlings make their way into the ocean under the watchful eyes of the NMB Sea Turtle Patrol. The hatchlings will go miles out into the water to hide in sargasso seaweed while they grow," according to the story.

Good luck!

Read more here.

There they go

Photo courtesy of the NMB Times. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shark Attackees Say Save the Sharks

Shark attack victims in support of shark conservation and protection. There's something dramatic in that, something compelling, human. There must be because they get good press, which is great for sharks and for the oceans. Let's hope it gets people to take notice. Hopefully people will say 'if these people who were bitten by sharks are saying they must be saved, maybe I should listen'.

Good quote from one of the victims, Debbie Salamone, from a CBS news story. "When you think about these statistics, it's very frightening for the health of our oceans. And so we need to end finning. We need to halt the fishing for these threatened and near-threatened species. And we need countries to come up with good global shark conservation plans to have some limits on shark fishing. Because there are no limits right now."

Shout out to Debbie and the other shark attack victims speaking on behalf of sharks. Nice work.

According to the story, 30 percent of all shark species are near extinction and about 70 million sharks are killed each year. Another figure out there is 100 million killed. They're killed mainly for their fins, for Shark Fin Soup, an Asian delicacy. Something as simple as soup is wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems and destroying whole species. That's a tragedy.

Read more here.

Worth It?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Boycotting BP in Real Time

The BP gas station shined like a lighthouse beacon on a dark ocean. It sparkled new and the white paint everywhere reflected the sunny afternoon. The green and yellow BP logo beckoned. There were no other stations in sight in this unknown town somewhere off the highway. The dashboard dummy light chimed to tell me the gas tank was down to vapors. Yet the summer of BP's Gulf disaster loomed.

I slowed down and pulled in. The pumps stood ready, no line, wide open. Other petroleum companies could be as bad or far worse. BP is certainly not going to miss my forty dollars. Another familiar logo beckoned me. At this station, BP had teamed with Dunkin Donuts. How could those tasty donut holes be all bad?

Just get the damn gas, I thought.  Like the tree falls in the woods question, if someone boycotts a company but no one sees it, does it have an impact? After Exxon Valdez trashed Alaska many people vowed not to buy Exxon gasoline anymore. Eventually that conviction faded and many people went back to basing their gas purchase decisions on normal things like price and convenience.

I drove off in search of another station. The Gulf disaster is complicated, yes, there were many companies involved, accidents happen, but my intuition from consuming a wide variety of media around the disaster tells me that BP doesn't care one bit about the environment; they're part of the problem.

Still running on empty, I took a few random turns and watched the miles click by. I added more carbon to the atmosphere just looking for a gas station other than BP. What's the green calculus on that one? Ridiculous. If I actually run out of gas -- other than a confirmed idiot -- does it make me a martyr?

Then I saw another gas station in the distance. It was another BP station. I laughed aloud. Is this a test? There was no turning back, though, so I kept going right past the white pumps and the eye-catching logo, again. Around the corner and there was a another station -- not BP.

Filling up with a clear conscience but still a little empty, I tried unsuccessfully to see how we're going to get there if even a simple thing like getting gas can be so convoluted.  Maybe I'll boycott thinking about it for awhile.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Cautiously Optimistic Becomes

Optimism is good. Optimism keeps us moving forward, spurs innovation, shapes that wonderful thing called hope, but blind or hasty optimism can be damaging. The optimism swirling around BP's Gulf of Mexico disaster falls into the latter.

This time the strong optimistic tone comes in a well researched and detailed New York Times story. The tilt of the piece leans heavily toward the good news we all want to hear, especially in the parts of the story most people will actually read. Even as scientists say they are "cautiously optimistic" and, according to the article, "...assuming that the food chain remains healthy — and this remains a major question for scientists...", there is a sense that it's now ok to embrace the tide of good fortune.

This kind of optimism is alarming because it feeds a mindset that is dangerous for the oceans. It's already a huge challenge to change people's perception of the oceans -- convince them that the oceans actually cannot absorb anything we throw at them. Also, the rush to believe that the Gulf is fine squelches the momentary urgency of moving away from the petroleum economy and onto a renewable energy economy for the sake of the oceans and the planet.

This quote here seems particularly slippery for the non-scientist to do anything but come away happy as a clam: '"Based on what I have seen so far, it could have been a lot worse,” said Lisa DiPinto, acting chief of NOAA’s marine debris division." Recall NOAA were the first to say most of the oil is gone, which remains controversial and unconfirmed. By the way, the headline of the story is Gulf May Avoid Direst Predictions After Oil Spill. Let's not miss the word "may" therein.

Look, maybe it will be a lucky break and the whole mess will have a much smaller impact that imagined and speculated -- that would be the best news all year. But like Eco Ocean has noted in previous posts, let's give it more time and gather more sound science before we go tiptoeing through the tulips.

Read more here.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Apparently Size Matters

This time the United Nations is saying size matters. According a Reuters article, the UN says smaller marine conservation areas are more effective than larger ones. Not sure I got that memo. If it's true, that's great, but so far the research and science seem incomplete.

Plus, the reasoning for proposing small marine areas seems flawed. The scientist in the study says "Closing big zones can be excessive for conservation and alienate fishermen who then ignore bans." Who's to say fishermen won't ignore the smaller bans, too?

In general, the phrase "excessive for conservation" is a little troublesome, a little passive aggressive. Since when do conservation efforts even approach excessive? We certainly have shown that, if anything, we humans are very capable of excess for everything but conservation. Personally, I'd like to err on the side of excessive for conservation than the alternative. Let's keep an eye on this one.

Read more here.

Friday, September 10, 2010

China to Join Western Nations in Exploiting the Oceans

China, with over a billion people and thousands of miles of coast, looms over the ocean's future. So it's good news that the Chinese government is part of the United Nation's Pacem in Maribus (Latin for Peace in the Oceans) Conference as noted on

The level of engagement is a yet to be seen of course, and this sentence is either a victim of translation or truth telling: "Li said China would attach great importance to conservation on the marine ecosystems in the process of exploiting marine resources, and actively develop the green marine economy."

Maybe they are just being honest as to say we're going to take the oceans for everything they've got and only stop short with a few minimal conservation measures when it seems politically beneficial. Why not? That seems to be Western governments' modus operandi (Latin for let's rape the sea) for the past fifty years at least. Ok, too cynical. But the UN. Really? They're like a real estate agent with nothing to sell.

Read the whole story here.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Here We Go Again

Fishing industry in strong opposition to marine conversation is not a new story but I wish it were. Wish we were done with this squabbling because at the end of the day, it's the habitats and the species that suffer. All over the world people are overfishing. All over the world people are fishing beyond what is sustainable. It's called the tragedy of the commons. Garrett Hardin coined it forty two years ago.

So if there is something we can do to help keep one of the Earth's last wild resources viable and healthy, shouldn't we do it? Shouldn't we keep on our collective eyes on the bigger picture?

This time it's in Australia. But even if old news, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, Jean-Michel Cousteau delivers the key point succinctly:

''I am on the side of the fisherman. I want to protect them. I'm not opposed to fishing, I'm opposed to them taking more than nature can produce.''

Hopefully this is not lost on the fishing industry. That would be a tragedy.

Read the full story here.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Irrawaddy O Daddy

About 30 to 40 Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris), one of the world's rarest and most threatened species, have been spotted in the coastal waters of Negros Occidental province in Western Visayas, Philippines, according to GMA News TV.

Good news, although the backdrop is a common and sad species story. Species decline due to habitat loss because of people, or as the GMA News TV puts it: "the Irawaddy population declined drastically in recent years because the dolphins’ habitat overlaps with areas used by people".  According to the Visayan Daily Star news site, the Irrawaddy dolphins  are found mostly in Bago City and Pulupandan town in Negros Occidental.

It's always refreshing to see a species beat the odds, even if only temporarily.

Read the full story here.

Image courtesy of

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Beer and the Ocean, Perfect Together

The ocean gives life! According to CNN, the oldest bottle of beer has been found, preserved for over a hundred and fifty years in the cold waters of the Baltic Sea near the Aland Islands and Finland. Another mystery of the deep to fire the imagination.

Was it a gift to smooth an unwelcome matrimony between two courts or simply one royal beer lover sharing a few bottles with his counterpart in another land? Did the crew pinch a bottle or two along the way and steer the boat awry? Who made it? Is it a pilsner or a lager? Can I taste it? Please?

Looks Like an Ancient Amber

Friday, September 3, 2010

All Water Leads to the Ocean

Earl has brought much needed rain to eastern long island. The runoff pollution is less desirable. 

The ocean water along the coast is now a lighter shade of blue-green than the deeper water offshore as freshwater from the rain pours into the ocean from the surrounding land -- literally runs off the land.

Granted, so far east out here, where there are not so many people and there is little development, there is likely not a lot of pollution in that runoff. Even so, there is still probably a fair amount of pesticides, fertilizers, solvents, and other nasties. Most places are less fortunate. Runoff, especially in and around major cities, is a big contributor to ocean pollution.

The rule of thumb is that all water leads to the ocean. Everything that washes off sidewalks, streets, buildings, parking lots, lawns, etc. eventually goes into the ocean. We should avoid whenever possible and remind people of this simple rule of thumb. Some cities have successfully implemented an elegant reminder -- they've spray painted images of fish on storm drains and even sidewalks.

Here is an thorough set of recommendations on how to avoid contributing to runoff pollution from the Long Island Sound Study.

Also, here are some ways to prevent runoff pollution from a municipal perspective from Ron Bottorff who looks after the Santa Clara river:  

Public education of citizens, business, and public agencies about the impacts of daily activities on urban runoff and stormwater quality can raise awareness and improve polluting behavior;

• Heed signage such as No Dumping and No Littering, that remind people about how stormwater drains lead straight to the ocean.

• Replace impervious surfaces such as asphalt with porous pavement to keep potential runoff on site and recharge it into the ground water for future use. Rerouting downspouts and drains to divert flow across porous surfaces can achieve the same results.

• Use site design to allow vegetation, topography, and hydrology (water flow patterns) to effectively maximize filtration, provide temporary retention and improve runoff quality. Examples include reduction of impervious surfaces and the replacement of typical storm drain pipes with natural conveyances.

• Control roof runoff by using rain barrels, cisterns, and rain gardens to store rainfall and runoff on site and allow for future water reuse.

• Design and maintain your irrigation/sprinkler system properly you do not over water or create excess urban runoff.

• Cover fueling areas to shelter them from rainfall to reduce the entry of such contaminates as oil, grease, and coolants into storm drains.

• Isolate vehicle washing areas so the wash water is directed to the sewage system in dry weather, to avoid putting phosphates, solvents, oil, and metals into storm drains.

• Isolate outside commercial and industrial processing and material storage areas to reduce runoff contamination. Using leak-proof sheds for containment of manufacturing materials and frequent lot sweeping are good housekeeping practices.

• Enclose or cover trash storage areas to avoid direct rainfall and to prevent loose trash and debris from being transported or blown into nearby drain inlets, channels and creeks.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Earl has the Best Cheesburgers

Here comes Earl. Sounds like someone working the griddle at a good diner in a sunbeat coastal town. Weather hype is interesting. It can dominate the conversation even thousands of miles away. Here on the east end of long island, where Earl will most likely only generate some clouds, rain, and rough water, if you didn't know any better you'd think the apocalypse was upon us.

Even three days from when it's expected to swing close, you get dramatic headlines in semi-local papers. Hurricanes are born over the sea and are a great reminder of the ocean's awesome power. They are also a reminder small we are on this big blue marble spinning through cold, dark space. Instead of engaging in hysteria over one storm, let's keep these big pictures in mind.