Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

Friday, October 29, 2010

Boneheads Ruining the Seas Say Fishermen

According to the Court House News in San Francisco, CA, hook-and-line fishermen say the government handed over 90 percent of the Pacific groundfish catch to the trawling industry in a "wholesale abandonment" of congressional plans to conserve ocean life. The fishermen say the feds did it in a boneheaded implementation of a new amendment to the Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Boring legal stuff -- no way. A prime example of how some fisherman really get conservation and sustainability contrary to popular wisdom. Well, people are getting more progressive but there is a lingering mindset that it's always fishermen versus conservationists.

Also this is a good example of how -- surprise -- a government agency that appears at first blush to be looking out for the common good can really foul things up.

Bear in mind though, this is a legal complaint so we have yet to hear the accused side of the story.

You do have to appreciate the use of the word "boneheaded".

Read more here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sustainable Seas Finger on the Scale

Come here Watson I need you. A clear case of greenwashing, I presume.

The headline is this: Green Groups Criticize Kimberley Marine Parks in Australian Geographic.

Wait. Before we jump all over the Western Australian officials let's get the whole picture. But of course we are wary. There will always be people, organizations, and businesses jumping on the feel good conservation bandwagon with great claims of loving nature. On closer examination or with time their affections appear shallow.

However, there are also strident environmental groups who will never be satisfied, or who are unable to even acknowledge a step in the right direction if it's not everything they want. Not sure if all or any of that even applies here. Balance would be best, with maybe a discreet sustainable seas finger on the scale.

Read more here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When Good Help Harms

Interesting how Western aid intended to make life better for people can actually do harm. Mosquito netting was provided to improve health of a sea faring people in Africa, the Vezo. Turns out the Vezo are using the same netting to fish. Why is this bad?

“...those mosquito nets, if they’re used as fishing nets, are so, so fine that they lift all of the fish larvae and juvenile fish, as well as the larger fish people are trying to catch. So (they) stop those larvae from growing into future fish for people to catch,” according to Steve Watkins on

Watkins leads RARE, a nonprofit group working in 50 countries to get local communities to treat the seas with more respect and with an eye toward the future. Go Steve. Go RARE.

He goes on to make a case for Marine Protected Areas, an Eco Ocean favorite. Nice to hear a fresh description of MPAs:

“(It’s) an area of the ocean,” he says, “ that people that people agree to set aside to either fish less or not fish at all. So that the fish and other creatures that live in that area of the ocean can live out their life cycle. Grow big, have more children. In a sense become kind of a bank account, which accumulates interest in the sense of productivity of the environment. And it can really help to repopulate the more productive fishing grounds.”

Read more at this link: here.

Please note, apologies for the relatively drab postings of late. Google is having issues with Blogger, which means some bells and whistles are unavailable to bloggers including posting pictures.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Beautiful Palau

Just last week, Eco Ocean was calling for positive results from the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity happening in Japan right now. More Marine Protected Areas are needed for starters. Palau is all over this. Beautiful, Palau.

According to PR Newswire, Palau has set aside 600,000 acres of ocean and Pew Oceans scientists are applauding this while encouraging other nations to do the same.

"We (Pew) call on other countries large and small to follow Palau's example. When whales, dolphins, sharks and other species are depleted, the entire ocean ecosystem suffers from the resulting gaps in the natural food chain. Sanctuaries such as this can play a significant role in stemming the drastic decline in ocean biodiversity," according to the release.

Sidenote: Palau used to support Japan on whaling but now the island nation supports conserving the leviathans.

Friday, October 22, 2010


To get in

takes raw stupidity called daring; a human thing.

A roiling sea shamelessly bursts across the land,

cutting caves in hard basalt,

turning boulders into sand and bones into bleached dust,

cliffs stare sternly beyond, waterfalls are heedless.

The friend on the beach, out of reach.

He rises and falls peering deeper into this water,

Water that makes the earth blue from space.

Pools of morning light provide a degree or two of comfort,

shafts spear downward shaping endless dimension,

into a blue darkness,

He tries to calmly breathe through this thin, plastic tube,

waves toss him, water splashes into it,

gurgle, sputter, try to relax,

the tempered glass the size of his hand fogs,

He can see out of only one small spot - like him -

one small spot, looking,


into fathomless



Thursday, October 21, 2010

Tell the UN We Need More Marine Protected Areas

The Nature Conservancy released a new report saying more marine space needs to be set aside for protection. This is exactly what is being discussed and hopefully agreed upon at the UN biodiversity summit this week.

Only 1.7% of the world's oceans are protected. We need to bring that number up, while acknowledging that reserves are one very good tool of many needed to save the oceans.

Speaking of the Nature Conservancy, Eco Ocean is running the NYC Marathon to raise money for the Nature Conservancy. It's a great organization so I'm happy to raise money for them. Check out my fund page for more information.

See the full TNC report here.

Hurry Up

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who Knew

Sister Made
Who knew wool could be used to raise awareness about marine conservation? Apparently Christine and Margaret Wertheim did. Or at least they started to realize it as their crochet coral reef took over their house, and the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in DC started calling.

Check it out. It's all wool.

Photo courtesy of Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Reef Project.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vital Opportunity for the UN, in the Fox's Den

The UN conference to do something about massive global species loss kicks off this week. Ironically, the host country is Japan. Earlier this year, Japan helped stop international agreements that would have limited trade in tuna, sharks, and other depleted and important marine species.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that even for glass half full people, the challenges of species extinction are extremely daunting for the UN and the 190 nations involved. A big win would be a solid agreement to set aside more land and sea for protection. These kind of protected places have huge economic value.

Why should we care? Unless steps are taken to reverse the loss of Earth's biodiversity, scientists warn that the rate of extinction will climb and natural habitats will be degraded or destroyed — contributing to climate change and threatening agricultural production, fish stocks in the oceans and access to clean water, according to the Associated Press.

It's easy to be in denial because it's such a huge problem. It's easy to not want to hear still more bad news. But it's like killing the future. And it's a tragedy because we know better. So we have to hear it, and we have to try to do something about it.

Read more here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Spooky Reef

Just in time for Halloween. British artist Jason de Caires Taylor has built an artificial reef, made out of statues of people. Sitting in shallow water, it's nothing short of spooky. But it's potentially good for conservation too, as it will draw at least some of the hundreds of thousands of tourists away from Cancun's well-tread natural reefs.

Read more here.

Photo by Jason de Caires Taylor.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Harvest the Wind

Plug In
Offshore wind just got another gust at its back. Glad to hear several big investors are going to build an undersea transmission line to bring wind energy ashore along the US mid-Atlantic states. It looks promising, what with the respectable likes of Google involved, fewer permit issues (on paper) than terrestrial lines, and few technical issues. This would be a great incentive for offshore wind farms. But of course, we'll see, we'll see.

This story made big headlines, including the New York Times, which called the line an "energy spine". If the new line and the wind turbines can be sited without major disruptions to fisheries and marine ecosystems, seems like a great step toward the renewable energy economy we so desperately need.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Whale Doody Does Duty

Talk about the mother of all floaters. Whale poop pumps much-needed nitrogen to the ocean surface, among providing other valuable ecosystem services.

According to Science Daily, "this liquid fecal matter, rich in nutrients, has a huge positive influence on the productivity of ocean fisheries."  These fecal matters came from University of Vermont whale biologist Joe Roman and his colleague, James McCarthy from Harvard University.

For those wondering about dead zones, which result from too many nutrients especially nitrogen, many places in the ocean have a limited supply of nitrogen, that is until whales drop the kids off at the pool, or more precisely, the ocean.

Here's a conceptual diagram from Science Daily. For those who just want to see it, scroll down.

It's Pink!
Read more here.

Photo courtesy of ScotS101

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Canadian researchers are dropping bottles in the ocean to better understand currents and drift patterns. The bottles contain contact information for retrievers to notify the researchers.

Previous bottle drops yielded some surprising results. One far-flung "drifter" turned up in Puerto Rico after travelling about 15,000 kilometres -- almost a third of the way around the Earth -- from where it was dropped near Baffin Island four years earlier, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Pretty cool project. Of course a message in a bottle is a bit cliche and the basis for at least one really bad movie, but it does tantalize the romantic imagination. Even conjures a good Police song about loneliness. Maybe you'll find one.

Read more.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Celebrate Healthy Oceans

October is National Seafood Month. Even if it's all about marketing by the seafood industry, let's celebrate by getting a refresher on what seafood is sustainable and what is not. Consult the lists. Ask questions. Be responsible. Don't worry there are plenty of tasty fish on the green, or "ok to eat" list.

A great step in the right direction are the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood pocket guides.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Abundance Around Columbus

Today celebrates Columbus Day in many places in the Americas. In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue as the poem goes. That was five hundred plus years ago.

Imagine the seas that Columbus sailed through. Full of fish and manatees and whales and other marine life. But that's mostly gone. The lost abundance is staggering. Some may consider it an exercise in futility to ponder such things, sentimental nonsense really. It's progress, they might say. Some may think it's just plain sad.

I say it's important. Pondering the way things were in the natural world can inform how we treat the ocean now and going forward. At least it could help silence those who continue to act as if the oceans are endlessly abundant. Recorded observations from Columbus's journey compared to what's left today say otherwise.

"When Christopher Columbus sailed through the Caribbean 500 years ago, green sea turtles were so abundant that one of his men wrote in his diary, 'the sea was thick with them so that it seemed that the ships would run aground on them, and were as if bathing in them'.

"Columbus observed Caribbean “sea wolves”along the coast of Santo Domingo and ordered his crew to kill eight of them for food. This event set in motion large-scale hunting of the Caribbean monk seal, which continued until the 20th century. The last recorded sighting of a Caribbean monk seal was in 1952."
These excerpts are from Oceana's Coral Reefs Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow concise pdf. Take a look and think about how different the oceans are going to be on Columbus Day even 50 years from now.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Little Known Hero of the Planet

We've all heard the notion that we know more about our own solar system than we do about our oceans. Now there are numbers to support this.

A recent census of the seas has found 6,000 new species, and scientists estimate 750,000 species remain unknown. Talk about boldly going where no one has gone before. Humans have only just begun to fathom the benefits of the oceans to all life on the planet.

Still, we know oceans are key to everything. Australian Ian Poiner, the chairman of the census summed it up well in a few choice quotes that appeared in The Age:

''All surface life depends on life inside and beneath the oceans."

''Sea life provides half of our oxygen and a lot of our food and regulates climate.''

Read more here.

Photo courtesy of National Geographic.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

One Good Reason

National Geographic released the winners of the Best Environmental Photos of 2010. This aerial photo of rays by Florian Schulz in the Sea of Cortez won. Yes, that's thousands of rays schooling, layer upon layer, in the azure blue off the ochre shores of Mexico's Baja.

See other great photos here.

Nod to Starr.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Rhymes with Rouche

What happened with legislation to put the brakes on shark finning? US Senator Tom Cohen (R-Oklahoma) happened.

Tough to tell what his problem is. He's an M.D. so apparently he has some sense. Maybe he's just ignorant, short-sighted, weak, and definitely part of the problem. Shark finning kills millions of this important top predator every year mainly so people in Asia can enjoy soup made with the fins. Cohen seems to have forgotten a key part of the Hippocratic oath he swore when he became a doctor -- "never do harm".

Two great blogs, Treehugger and Huffington Post, articulated the scenario with a much clearer head than Eco Ocean. Apologies.

Huffington explains it like this:

"Coburn [blocked all of the bills] under the pretense of fiscal restraint. But these measures cost very little, and they were all advanced to protect wild creatures from cruelty and in some cases from extinction. It's worth the very modest investment to prevent such awful outcomes... Cautious spending is an important value, but so is the defense of animals from cruelty, the rescue of marine creatures injured by human actions, or the protection of wild species from extinction. Coburn has corrupted a laudable principle of fiscal conservatism, and used it to negate and nullify valuable initiatives designed to protect vulnerable species at serious risk."

There are more colorful words to describe Cohen, but they're less tactful. Rhymes with Rouche.

Read more here.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Just in Case You Were in Denial

Another report, another biologist or fisheries professional telling us that the tragedy of the commons is fully upon the Atlantic Bluefin tuna. The fish is about to be put on the endangered species list, unless of course the Japanese get their way again. Apparently they want every last tuna on the planet.

We know better -- we knew better -- yet we ate until there was no more. The "we" being consumers from Japan, and in the 1980s and 90s, it was consumers from Japan and the US and Western Europe, too.

There's tuna out there we can still eat and feel ok in terms of sustainability, but forget about the Bluefin, a mighty finfish that ruled the ocean until we came along. So just in case you were in denial: we've fished the Bluefin to near extinction and it was all about greed. Thank you for playing.

Read more here.

Previous Eco ocean post on tuna.

Expletive Deleted

Monday, October 4, 2010

Raising the Red (White) Flag for Corals

Coral bleaching is happening in more and more places as ocean temperatures rise. Not good.

Coral is alive. Coral bleaching means corals are sick, so sick that they abandon the symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship they have with algae by expelling the algae, losing color (hence bleaching) and meanwhile, starving.

According to the Associated Press, corals in Hawaii bleached this summer due to higher water temperatures and earlier in the summer corals in Indonesia and Caribbean also bleached. In Hawaii, thirty percent of the Kure atoll reef and one-fifth of the Pearl and Hermes atoll reef bleached, according to scientists who spent the past month on a research cruise in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, according to the story.

This is why climate change is everyone's issue, including so-called marine types. I'll keep saying it: we need to work to get off the petroleum economy and onto the renewable energy economy as soon as possible.

Read more here.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Blow Me Down

Offshore wind could supply half the energy needs of the East Coast US, according to a study released by Oceana.

This is exactly the kind of promising news that will help get us off the petroleum economy and onto the renewable energy economy. Let's get to it.

USA today covered the story but thanks to Oceana for the report.

Turkey Offers Some Good News on Driftnets

Turkey has said it will stop using driftnets to catch fish in the Mediterranean. Good news because drift nets indiscriminately kill many other fish and marine life in addition to their target fish such as tuna. It's a big problem known as bycatch. I heard a marine biologist once describe drift nets as giant ghost-like sheets of netting floating around in the ocean looking for something to kill.

However, guarded optimism  surrounds the good news since many countries and fishermen have ignored bans on the fishing gear for years. According to, after the UN approved the moratorium in 1992, driftnets were banned by the EU, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM). The use of this gear has since been largely eradicated in the EU and only Italy insists on using it, despite its dangerous impact on populations of endangered species.

It is estimated that over 10,000 cetaceans, 100,000 endangered sharks and thousands of turtles have been trapped by driftnets each year. Oceana estimates that over 500 vessels have operated illegally in the Mediterranean, some with nets up to 20 kilometres long.

Thanks to Oceana, the excellent international marine conservation organization, for helping to drive this change in the Turkish fishing fleet and for keeping this issue on the radar.

Read more here.
A Good Place for Them