Friday, April 29, 2011

Life Equals Ocean

Friday's ocean facts fascinate: The oceans contain 99 percent of the living space on the planet.

Facts courtesy of the Smithsonian. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Easter Island the Sequel

Huffington post recently noted Oceana's conservation efforts in the South Pacific ocean "near" Chile. Always encouraging.

The comparison to Easter Island, also a remote island in the South Pacific, is noteworthy.

Easter Island was full of vegetation and animals and fish before local indigenous people used them all up. Then they felt the deadly, and gruesome, impact of a stripped and desolate island far away from any others.

Kind of reminds me of something else...oh yeah, kind of like planet Earth. A big blue marble in space, finite resources, very far from anything remotely like it.

Links: Easter Island. Huffington Post. Oceana.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Support Clean Energy Not for Eco Reasons

There are many solid reasons to support clean energy that have nothing to do with climate change or the environment.

Support clean energy for American economic growth and power. Do it because America should not settle for third place. Do it because we are not ones to miss out on a golden opportunity.

According to Phyllis Cuttino of the Pew Institute, "Germany, which has long had a stable, ambitious and comprehensive clean energy policy, saw investments in the sector grow by 100 percent to $41.2 billion in 2010, a funding level that displaced the United States from second place among the G-20 nations.

Last year, China replaced America as the top destination for clean energy investment. In fact, the $54.4 billion invested in China's clean energy sector last year was an all-time record for a single country - equal to all the dollars invested globally in 2004.

The trends are anything but encouraging for the United States. Even though clean energy investment here increased by more than 50 percent in 2010, we are not keeping pace with key G-20 competitors - six other nations saw investments grow at a faster rate last year."

Read more.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Dark Clouds Over the Indian Ocean

More dark clouds over the Indian Ocean. How naive of us to be concerned a few weeks ago with a plan to dump mine tailings in the Indian Ocean, when there are much larger and more ominous forces at work.

According to a new book, Monsoon, the future fight among global powers that be will happen in and around the Indian Ocean.

"What does all this have to do with the environment? The answer is that the contest for supremacy is all about the control of fossil fuels, minerals, and other natural resources, and the infrastructure to import and export them -- which means things like oil and gas pipelines, deepwater ports, and big navies to protect critical shipping lanes. You can say much the same thing about many of the conflicts of the past, of course, and extractive industries have always wreaked havoc on the environment,"  said George Black in Onearth Magazine.

Read George's piece here.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Enjoy Nature

Everyday is Earth Day, but today is the official day. It's a good day to take a moment and ponder how you are connected to nature. Go find some nature, and enjoy it.

We know life came from the oceans. We hear the Earth is one big, interconnected system with for example, dust storms in North Africa impacting reefs in the Caribbean, and horseshoe crab eggs in Delaware fueling birds on their way to the Artic.

We know that hospital patients with even a view out their window of something green, a tree or bushes even, recover faster than patients with no such view.

But what's your individual connection? Chances are like many people you just know that you enjoy it, that even a few moments in nature, in the woods, along a beach, on a river, leave you somehow refreshed, maybe even energized, probably smiling.

How do you enjoy nature?

Have a good day.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Healthy Reefs Provide Goods and Services

A large new study from PLoS Biology has concluded that healthy reefs full of fish are good for humanity but humanity is not good for them.

Healthy reefs mean healthy fish and healthy oceans. Healthy oceans provide measurable, valuable goods and services. But the proximity of people, and their homes, hotels, boats, runoff, and many other things deemed civilization are hurting reefs. This was documented by 55 scientists from 49 nations.

One reason why ocean advocates are constantly striving for sustainable coastal development. Unfortunately, it feels like a losing battle.

Here's the scientific way to say it:

In a large collaborative analysis publishing tomorrow in the online, open access journal PLoS Biology, 55 scientists from 49 nations document that the capability of reef fish systems to produce biomass and deliver goods and services to humanity, is functionally linked to the number of species; functioning increases as biodiversity increases. However, mounting pressures from growing human populations is tampering with this functioning of the reef fish communities, especially in the most diverse reefs. The extent of this distress was shown to be widespread and likely to worsen as some 75% of the world’s coral reefs are near human settlements and because most countries with coral reefs are expected to double their human populations within the next 50 to 100 years.

Read about the study here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Imagine America

Today's the one year anniversary of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. There will be finger pointing and updates and sadness. There should also be imagination.

Imagine if we did not have to live like this. If we had other ways to run our cars and our economy.

Be inspired on this unfortunate day to support clean energy.

Don't listen to the ominous sounds from those who make money off the burning of fossil fuels including the politicians who stuff their wallets with big oil or big coal's dirty money. They directly benefit from no progress, no imagination. They love the status quo.

Focus our patriotism on helping America establish a renewable energy economy, one that includes jobs and our legacy of innovation. 

Clean Energy is a $188 billion industry. Solar, wind, and biofuels alone are expected to grow to $349.2 billion in the next decade and that just scratches the surface.

Support a federal policy on clean energy, a price on carbon, feed-in tariffs, longer-term Department of Energy renewable grants, and transparency around fossil fuel's true costs (monetary, health, security).

Don't settle for third. China attracted $34.6 billion in clean energy investments in 2009, more than any other country. The US came in third with only $18.6 billion. China also created one million jobs in its clean energy sector in 2010.

Don't settle for dirty air, either. Burning fossil fuels generates $120 billion in health costs per year, mainly due to premature deaths from pollution.

There will be growing pains, it will not happen overnight, but instead of feeling helpless and sad, imagine a clean energy economy. We can do it. We need to do it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sea in Flames Book Release Today

Carl Safina released his new book today, Sea in Flames. It is a great book about BP's Gulf disaster that we'd like to forget but cannot (and should not).

The book is definitely one to add to your stack of to-be-read, probably closer to the top of that stack.  Meanwhile, listen for Carl on radio talk shows, and keep an eye out for his new PBS special "Saving the Ocean with Carl Safina".

He has a very rational and simultaneously poetic way of looking at the natural world and our interaction, or lack there of, with it. It is easy to listen to him calmly talk about birds or clean energy, and come away sufficiently affected, likely angry, but certainly inspired.

In Sea of Flames, Safina writes: “In the end, this is a chronicle of a summer of pain—and hope. Hope that the full potential of this catas­trophe would not materialize, hope that the harm done would heal faster than feared, and hope that even if we didn’t suffer the absolute worst—we’d still learn the big lesson here. We may have gotten two out of three. That’s not good enough. Because: there’ll be a next time.”

Other recommended books by Carl: View from Lazy Point and Song of the Blue Ocean

Carl has the creds too:

Carl Safina is the founder and president of the Blue Ocean Institute. He was recently named by Audubon magazine among the leading one hundred conservationists of the twentieth Century. His books have won him a Pew Fellowship, a Lannan Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

He’s been profiled by The New York Times and on Nightline and Bill Moyers Journal. Safina has also appeared on The Colbert Report, NPR, and CNN.

Safina has engaged in many successful conservation efforts. He helped ban high-seas driftnets and overhaul federal fisheries laws in the U.S., and persuaded fishermen to call for and abide by international agreements to restore depleted populations of tuna, sharks, and other fish, as well as creatures that constitute bycatch (marine life unintentionally captured by fishermen), such as albatrosses, dolphins and sea turtles. In 1995 Safina was a force behind the passage of a new fisheries treaty through the United Nations, and in 1996 the U.S. Congress incorporated some of his ideas in the Sustainable Fisheries Act, which required rebuilding of marine-life populations depleted by fishing.

Check out his web site

Monday, April 18, 2011

What the Frack is Going On?

Many people question hydrofracking, the method of getting natural gas out of shale by injecting a cocktail of toxic chemicals into the ground. The chemicals can and have contaminated drinking water. The most recent questioners were a group of Senators.

Carl Safina, author and scientist, said it well in his recent Huffington post:

Can it really be preferable to go after oil in miles-deep pools beneath brutal open ocean, gas sources requiring fracturing bedrock and fundamentally jeopardizing groundwater, coal deposits that require blowing mountains apart, tar sand whose extraction destroys forests and kills rivers, and other abominations previously considered beyond the pale when we could harness the sunlight that drives all life, the algae that power the whole ocean (petroleum is mostly algae that's been naturally simmering for millions of years), the heat of the earth, and the force of the tides? “

Come on people, these are desperate acts. It is the crackhead killing a hard working mother of two for the three dollars in her purse so he can get a fix.

Let’s move beyond this. Embrace real progress and innovation and be free from the fossil fuel shackles.

I thought this was an ocean blog? It is. The planet is one big blue marble and climate change impacts everything including all that blue we love so much.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Passion Wins the Day: Jamie Pollack, Shark Savers

How to begin a nonprofit and discover a calling? It starts with passion. Jamie Pollack should know, she left her successful career in marketing to help save sharks.

Scallop Hammerhead Shark taken by Jamie
Pollack while diving in Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Eco Ocean Interview with Jamie Pollack, co-Founder of Shark Savers

Like many good things, it started with love.  For Jamie Pollack, co-founder of Shark Savers, it was love for, well, yes, sharks but also for diving among them and other beautiful animals of the big blue.

“I work to dive,” said Jamie when she recently sat down with Eco Ocean to talk about her experiences starting a nonprofit and provide her fine insight into shark conservation.

Jamie after "another great dive in Cocos"
Shark Savers is a classic example of good intentions coming out of shared passion. She and five other divers saw the ugly side of humanity in the form of shark finning so they created a nonprofit. Jamie even left her professional work in marketing to help save sharks. CNN Money ran a story about how she changed her life for conservation.

As we spoke, Jamie struck me as the kind of person who would succeed at most anything simply by embracing it with her bright smile, engaging energy and frank, can-do spirit. She’s the kind of ally that should give sharks, and ocean lovers, something to feel good about. With at least 73 million sharks killed annually, mainly for their fins, we need something.

Jamie is an inspiring testament to the fact that people can do amazing things when they find something they love.  I for one am glad she is on the side of shark conservation.

Please read on to hear more about Shark Savers' accomplishments and challenges in Jamie’s own words.

Eco Ocean: What is Shark Savers?

JP: Our mission is to save the sharks. We focus on education and awareness because most people still think sharks are out to kill them, or don't know that sharks are being fished towards extinction, or are unaware of the disastrous impact that shark eradication has on the oceans and food supply, or don't know that mercury in shark fin soup is hazardous.

We also empower people to take action by getting involved in our programs and campaigns. 

How did Shark Savers start?

We saw the film Sharkwater and were inspired to do something.  So we created Shark Savers, a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to saving sharks worldwide. We (six scuba divers) spent about six months, researching, creating by-laws, and coming up with a name.

Everyone volunteered their skills. I designed the logo, produced and created t shirts and stickers, marketing materials and helped with the website, and that was great for me. (Jamie has a background in graphic design).  Our other founders came from backgrounds in education, in business, in media. We were certainly feeling our roots when we first started out.

How did you raise money?

At first it was all volunteer, and then we used our own money. The fundraising and donations came later after we figured out who we were and what we wanted to focus on.

What were some of your first wins?

The shark sanctuary in Palau, Micronesia.  We worked with a local NGO, other stakeholders, Pew (Charitable Trust) was involved -- we all worked together at the grassroots level.

We got 3,000 signatures to say a live shark is worth more than a dead one. Micronesians and divers signed the petition. It was great. We then later presented a thank you book designed by me to the President of Palau with all of the signatures we collected and their comments. It was great.

Saying hello to a Hawksbill turtle
while diving a wreck in the Florida Keys

What have been some of your most recent wins?

Our billboard campaign against shark fin soup. We worked with Wild Aid, purchased a PSA (Public Service Announcement) and aired it in the US and China. Yao Ming (the Chinese basketball star) was key.

Why do think that campaign was successful?

The billboard campaign was successful because it was something tangible, something people could do other than just spread awareness. You can say don’t eat shark fin soup and they say ‘ok I don’t’.  They ask: How else can I help? You can buy a billboard in China.

We got 1,000 people to pay 100 bucks each. It was awesome, through our network, through our newsletter, we followed up with a survey that said that many people were not eating shark fin soup anymore.

What is your current focus?

We’re watching a California bill that would make it illegal to consume shark fin products.  The mayoral candidate in San Francisco opposes it.

What is the biggest challenge with shark finning?

Culture. The Chinese say we’re targeting them, their culture, but the facts remain that most people who eat the soup are Chinese...Shark fin soup is a big time traditional status symbol in China, often served at weddings and banquets, and going for about $100 a bowl at restaurants.

I went down to Chinatown in New York City to talk to restaurant owners and workers about it. Some people gave me strange looks, the managers acted all nervous and twitchy as if it was illegal. It is not illegal, unfortunately, but I could tell some of them knew they were destroying the environment.

It’s tough. You can’t tell a fisherman to not fish for sharks, he’s trying to put food on the table for his family. He gets about five dollars a day. It’s the middleman making all the money.

Heard what happened to Gordon Ramsey? Gas was thrown on him in Costa Rica by shark finners. It is a billion dollar business, it is like drug trafficking and sex trafficking. That’s the way I see it.

So you have to go to the demand and the demand is coming mostly from people eating shark fin soup.  We are currently looking for someone of Chinese background to speak to help us speak to fellow Chinese.

Shark fin soup came about from a Chinese Emperor a long time ago. He wanted to show his power by getting things nobody else could get.  Back then fishing was dangerous and hard, so shark fins were on his list. It’s a status symbol that is all it is. It’s a shame.

Another challenge is that sharks migrate and it’s hard to know, to have an idea of species as there is no way to test the type of shark at the dock. Hard to enforce, hard to track.

An incredible close encounter with
a Giant Pacific Manta Ray in the Socorro Islands
How do you generally approach your mission?

I’m optimistic and realistic. I go up and down. The younger generation gets it. Through social media and Facebook, the younger generation knows what’s happening now. Others are learning, too. But do sharks have enough time? I don’t know.

What do you think about people’s psychological reaction to sharks?

It’s a big problem. People are scared of the sea because of movies like Jaws and the myths that sharks like to eat humans. After he wrote Jaws, Peter Benchley spent the rest of his life trying to save sharks. His wife is on our board continuing his work.

The myth that goes around sharks, that they want to eat humans, it is a big problem. I see it all the time. I saw this piece on Ellen the TV show, this woman who paddled solo across the Pacific with a whale following her. She said she was thinking that the whale was protecting her from sharks, even though she didn’t see any sharks. Why was she so scared of sharks?

Soda machines fall on more people and kill them than shark bites kill people.

Discovery Channel is bad for us too, bad for shark conservation. Shark Week supports the myths and fear. We talked to them to try to get them to do something about producing some reputable shows on shark conservation but they declined. They prefer the shock factor, the blood and guts shows. It’s really a shame because they have such a  large captive audience, they could really make a difference.

What do you like about sharks?

They’re strong, powerful, nobody messes with them except for us, man, of course.  Orcas will kill sharks, but generally they do not have many predators.

What are your favorite sea creatures?

Great white, whale shark, octopus.

What are your favorite ocean places?

Palau, Galapagos, there are so many beautiful places. My next trip is to Bali and diving in Komodo. I won’t take a vacation unless it’s to dive and will travel to ends of the Earth to do it.

Click for more information on Shark Savers or find them on Facebook.

CNN Money story on Jamie.

Jamie's personal website.

All images from Jamie. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Royals Line the Beach

Was lucky enough recently to be in the sun and warmth of the Gulf of Mexico, near Clearwater, Florida, and to share the beach with groups of marine birds.

One isolated part of the beach was crowded with Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Laughing Gulls, and Royal Terns. 

Royal Terns seem aptly named standing there facing the breeze, their black crest of feathers fluttering on their heads, stoic and oblivious to the overfed humans.

Caspian Terns flew high overhead squawking loudly but I am a neophyte at bird identification. Same reason I cannot be sure I saw an Artic Tern. Probably was not an Artic, as they usually hang far offshore.  I may have only wished it was an Artic, anyway, always impressed by their champion migratory prowess. 

The Brown Pelicans are unmistakable in their formations like B-52 bombers cruising and arching in the sky. It is thrilling to watch them drop in hard and fly fast over the water, their bills inches from the turquoise surface.

There were also the tiny Least Sandpipers feeding in the soft sand at the water’s edge before running frantically away from the next incoming wave. Small groups of Stilt Sandpipers, goofy and awkward like teenagers, clambered about nearby. 

Inland, just beyond the dunes and among the beach homes, I heard the who who of owls at night and the soft, melancholy ooh ooh of a large flock of doves in the morning. I saw gangs of White Ibis, and one Red Bellied Woodpecker with its light brushstroke of crimson on its belly.

And then there’s Fred, the neighborhood Great Snowy Egret who perches on the porch eyeing me with one glassy monocle while I try to eat my corn flakes. 

I do not know if these bird populations are healthy -- if they are finding enough food, if they are finding enough space for their nests on the only small area of the beach where natural dunes have not been crowded out by people and their homes, if the water is too warm for them or their prey, if their eggs and babies are unhealthy from their food tainted with mercury, if the juveniles are starving, if the chemical runoff from the manicured lawns and weedless driveways is making them ill, if Deepwater Horizon oil lingers in their bellies, and what it means good or bad for egrets and ibis to be wandering around a suburban neighborhood.  

I only know that they are all a gift. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sea Turtles On the Road

Another long distance traveler to marvel at. This turtle traveled 12,000 km (7,456 miles) in 357 days, according to the Daily Star. That's huge.

Like the Atlantic coast turtle journey described here last month, if the path is used by other turtles, let's establish their routes on a map of the ocean and restrict certain uses on these routes. Call them sea turtle lanes, just like we have shipping lanes, and just like we've designated wildlife crossings and paths on land. This is bound to help the turtles avoid dying in nets and on miles-long lines of hooks. 

Jack is Smiling

Image: Daily Star

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Japanese Utility Uses Ocean as a Dump

Japanese fishermen are incensed that 11,500 tons of radioactive water was dumped into the Pacific Ocean, according to CNN. It is great that they are making headlines because it shines light on the mindset or assumption that the ocean is a dump.

The oceans are the lifeblood of the planet. Healthy oceans mean healthy people. No ocean is a dump. Period.

Unfortunately, the thought that the ocean is a dump is entrenched. Two weeks ago, we saw another example of this as a mining company proposed to dump toxic tailings in pristine waters off Papua New Guinea. In both the Japan and Papua New Guinea case, it would be great if everyone -- not just local fishermen -- were upset by the wrongheaded mentality.

But apparently that's a pipe dream. The concept that the oceans are not a dump seems far from anyone's radar. In the Japan case, the chair of the radiation safety committee at Georgetown University Medical Center, Timothy Jorgensen, defended the ocean dumping saying the Pacific Ocean will dilute the waste. First of all, is Timothy a marine biologist, an expert on currents and fisheries of the Pacific?

Secondly, and more importantly: Why was it ok to even dump in the ocean in the first place?

 Read whole story here.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Truth About Coal

When people promote coal as clean and cheaper than renewable energy, keep this excellent quote in mind from Carl Safina:

"For one thing, the economy must include the true costs of things in the price of things. For instance, coal is very “cheap” because the price does not include the costs or ruining mountains, miners’ health problems, acid mine runoff into streams, global warming caused mainly by burning coal, acidification of the ocean which is killing shellfish and degrading coral reefs that millions of people rely on, and putting mercury in fish. All those things are real costs of coal, but they’re not in the price. 

Coal is priced cheap, but it’s really the most costly fuel we use. Who pays those costs? We all do. If those costs were included in the price of coal, coal would be very expensive, and better, cleaner energy technologies would be very competitive." 

It's from a great interview in

Monday, April 4, 2011

Indian Ocean Open for Business

Looks like the Indian Ocean is wide open for business. Go nuts in the name of the almighty dollar.

A telling but mostly predictable line-up of who is interested in sustainability and who is not.  

"The new conservation policies were proposed by the European Union, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Opposition came from India, Pakistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, and South Korea,"

Read more.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fools

According to a new report from the world, people everywhere have suddenly realized that humans are part of the natural world, that there is no need to conquer or exploit it. Plus, people everywhere have decided to look for happiness not in money, power, religion, or the latest i Phone, but in meaningful contribution to society, good health, family, friends, and the gift of nature. April Fools!