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.

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