Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Jellyfish Sting the Future

The water off central Florida beaches on the Atlantic Ocean were thick with jellyfish this past weekend according to CNN and other media.

Lots of annoying stings and many people who arrived for a nice beach day promptly left, taking their tourism dollars with them. The story may go deeper than that.

Although no one is saying this particular jellyfish bloom was caused by overfishing, pollution, and/or warmer ocean temperatures due to climate change, it is possible.

"Overfishing and deteriorating coastal water quality are chief suspects in the rise of jellies. Global warming may be adding fuel to the fire by making more food available to jellyfish and opening up new habitat. Now, researchers fear, conditions are becoming so bad that some ecosystems could be approaching a tipping point in which jellyfish supplant fish," according to Richard Stone in Environment 360

It's all about balance, a common mantra at Eco Ocean.

When you remove the jellyfish's chief predator -- fish -- from an area, the jellyfish have a field day and their numbers increase dramatically.

The rise of the jellyfish has been documented in many other places including the Black Sea, The Gulf of Mexico, and Sea of Japan. According to some scientists, this could be the wave of the future.

One more reason to support sustainable seafood and clean energy whenever and wherever possible.  

Environment 360.
Story from CNN.
Image courtesy of amazingdata.com

Friday, May 27, 2011

Squid vs Panda

Squid as mascot. Love it.

The giant squid, Architeuthis dux, first photographed as recently as 2005, is as long as a New York City bus and boasts ten articulating arms. The compelling creature could also be a symbol of ocean conservation, mused Matt Walker in his BBC blog.

Conservation people call them charismatic megafauna. In simpler terms, they are memorable mascots of honorable missions or great causes.

The giant panda used by the World Wildlife Fund comes to mind. It is a classic, and wildly successful as it is almost universally recognized.

Ironically, the panda was not the product of some marketing brainstorm but more a practicality. It was chosen in the days well before color printing was readily available so it had to be easily distinguishable on black and white letterhead, according to Matt's blog.

Although the practical makes a good tale, the success of the WWF panda is about emotion. The word charisma even implies charm and appeal. The brilliant idealists from Futerra Communications already established that conservation efforts are more effective if they go for the heart more often.

There are certain animals that evoke an emotional response from people and that makes them worthy of calendars, t shirts, and coffee mugs.

If it helps save the oceans, I'll tattoo them on my forehead. Though that might do more harm then good as people may have trouble listening to a man with whales, sea turtles, and sea otters inked across his dome.

The case for the squid lies in its mystery and seeming solitude in the deep dark cold of the sea. It is grand in both scale and drama. Although deeming it "cuddly" might be a stretch, it is a lovable beast.

Also, the giant squid is vulnerable to the onslaught currently pounding the oceans. Ocean acidification and deep sea fishing can kill off the animal's small populations.

The giant squid is also representative. About 92% of marine species are invertebrates – animals that lack backbones. And though estimates vary, there may be anywhere between 178,000 and 10 million such species living beneath the waves, according to Matt's blog.

The jury is still out on the giant squid as symbol for the oceans urgent plight, but it does evoke the imagination and anything that gets the juices flowing cannot be all bad. And yes, the oceans need all the help they can get.

See Matt's full blog here.
Futerra Communications.
World Wildlife Fund site.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

California Does Right by Sharks

California just passed a bill in its Assembly that bans the possession of shark fins. This means that Chinese restaurants and banquets cannot serve the infamous shark fin soup.

Although it still must pass the Senate, this is great news for sharks and great news for healthy oceans. Much of the media coverage is about the debate around the bill. There is no debate -- killing tens of millions of sharks every year for soup is the poster child for abuse of our natural systems.

Jennifer Cheung, 27, an industrial designer, said it well in the New York Times.

She refused the soup at her family New Year’s dinner, trying — in vain, she said — to explain the importance of the ecosystem to her elderly uncle, a Chinese herbalist.

“It was, ‘Oh, Jennifer’s being a hippie,’ ” she said.

“I come from a culture where food is very important,” she continued. “But I think this is a very hefty price to pay just for a bowl of soup.” 

See local coverage of bill.
See NY Times story here.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grim Tally But Hope

Short fin mako
Endangered species news is never really that good.  But we have to be made aware, and there are slivers of hope.

New scientific evidence suggests that a growing number of creatures could disappear from the earth. One-fifth of the vertebrates and as many as a third of all sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction, according to the Washington Post.

International fisheries officials adopted new protections in the Atlantic Ocean for the oceanic whitetip, whose numbers have declined by as much as 99 percent in some areas, according to the story.

Whether its rooting for the underdog, or you recognize something inherently wrong about the human-caused end of a species -- never to return -- or whether you mourn more for biodiversity, the crown jewel of healthy natural systems, it is tough to hear. But turn it into a motivator -- the time is now to take action.

See full gallery of endangered species here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Unreachables

The doors and windows to the bar were wide open letting in the fresh breezes and the afternoon sun.

It was Spring and many of us were sitting outside at a cafe and a nearby coffee shop. It was perhaps perhaps the first full realization of Spring -- that it actually arrived and that it will actually stay. Even the dogs being walked by their sandal-wearing owners in shorts and skirts had an extra pep in their steps.

This urban, bucolic scene was swiftly knifed. Looking out into the street, I see the driver of a shiny black Mercedes slide down his window and drop a large, empty coffee cup -- plastic top still securely on top of it -- onto the street. It lands just next to his car, rolls slightly, and comes to a rest in the middle of the busy street. His window slides back up.

My disbelief turns into general objection followed by rage rather quickly. I see him inside his car, laughing with his companion, his head shaved and his collar white.

Now, I know he didn't hurt anyone, I know he didn't even mar a natural landscape, and sure, the street cleaners will get it, anyway, but come on!

This embodies the disconnection with the natural world that imperils us all. It's just plain ugly. We can do better than this. Maybe he can't. Maybe he's just an ugly person. He's one of the unreachables, and there are probably plenty of those, unfortunately.

Yet, as I see this, I am very close to getting out of my seat and walking out of the bar and into the street, picking up the cup, and tapping his window with my bold knuckle and saying something like 'you dropped this'.

I also think about the headlines the next day -- Good Samaritan Shot for Confronting Litterbug. That would be stupid of me to get shot.

So the car with the culprit moves away shortly, and all I can do is give him the universal gesture of displeasure, middle finger bold and true as he slowly pulls away and down the street. He doesn't even see it. I'm twisting in the wind as they say.

The people sitting next to me do see my gesture and throw me odd looks. They wonder who this freak is sitting next to them with has his finger silently extended, seemingly to the world in general, and on such a great afternoon. Oh well.

The sun continues to beat down on us, happily. Another beautiful girl walks by with her beautiful boyfriend not noticing the lavender lilacs someone planted in the nearby organic tarmac. Soon, I begin to see the humor of it all. You have to. And I don't let it ruin my day, but certainly, hands in pockets en route home pondering connections, I remember it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nature's Gift Through Another Lens

Susan Middleton 2005
Look at a Susan Middleton photograph of a marine creature and you may be surprised at how hard it is to look away. But it turns out to be a positive experience.

She does what artists do best -- show you something you may have seen before in a whole new way, or with her simple, clean, straightforward images, she lays out life's unique and wild beauty.

It is easy to come away thinking, "Why wouldn't you want to preserve that gift from nature?"

Michelle Clark, biologist with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Kauai, Hawaii, finds just such inspiration from Susan's art, according to the Peninsula Press.

“Her species portraits spoke to me on a visceral level and ignited a passion within that inspired me to go deeper in to the work of conservation of Hawaii’s native flora and fauna.”

We need all the inspiration about nature we can get especially with all the bad news out there.

So I am looking at a Susan Middleton picture and having trouble looking away, but that's just fine.

Susan's latest exhibition is Life Cycle, at California's Santa Clara University’s de Saisset Museum.

Susan's site.
Peninsula Press story.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Keep the Good News Flowing

The good news is that good news seems to be a bit of a trend.

With Futerra's Branding Biodiversity paper concluding that people respond better to positive conservation stories rather than doom and gloom, and with Carl Safina's new PBS series highlighting ocean conservation successes, there is a lean toward good news that also engages and and raises awareness.

"We want viewers to see that all is not lost with the ocean environment, and by extension the global environment," said PBS producer John Angier. "Things can change and we can be smart with our world."

Most recently, Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution took the positive approach.

I look at marine conservation biologists as akin to the doctors of the ocean. And doctors don’t train just to write obituaries. They fill medical journals with stories of advances and successes," said Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution, according to Discovery News.

 She recently headed a program called "Beyond the Obituaries: Success Stories in Marine Conservation" at the International Marine Conservation Congress.

Sure, the bad news -- the huge challenges to marine conservation -- must still be part of the whole picture. Otherwise, we may as well put on those rose-colored glasses and start skipping down the street. But please let's keep the good news flowing. It can do wonders.

Read more about marine conservation success.
Read more about PBS's Saving the Ocean.

Monday, May 16, 2011

National Ocean Council Looks Locally

The National Ocean Council recently released marine conservation best practices. It is especially refreshing that the recommendations come not out of a seminar or from the hallowed halls of higher education but from real life, local marine successes from California to Maine.

Some of the suggestions are well-known and already common practice, but it is always good to have a refresher.

Here is a sampler of the best practices from the Council's report:

1. Involve all stakeholders, from the scientists to the fishermen.
2. Set objectives as early as possible.
3. Provide funding.
4. Find a hook to galvanize action.
5. Avoid duplicate efforts.

Read the story on Science Blog.
Read more about the report including the Abstract here.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Bad Ocean Poetry

"the sea is...too sacred and scary to lose..." David Helvarg

everywhere I go
I find the sea
walk or peddle or drive to the end of land
in familiar, steady awe, stand against the wind
exhilarated and afraid enough
feeling its breath on my face
its kiss on my cheeks
I might put my hands in my pockets
and dance barefoot on its edge like a prom date
or I might disrobe while my head says no
my heart says go, like true love,
she roars come on,
and I am gone

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Get Connected

"Danny, be the ball, be the ball." Ty Webb (Chevy Chase), Caddyshack

An ongoing theme at Eco Ocean is understanding and appreciating that we are connected to nature rather than separate from it. All together on this one big beautiful blue marble flying through cold dark space we are.

The thinking goes that if this is accomplished, if we begin to see this interconnectedness, we would treat the planet differently, i.e. better.

Call it an epiphany. Ed Gillispie of Futerra Communications does. An Eco Epiphany, actually. Interesting that a word borrowed from organized religion is perfect here.

Ed, a former marine biologist, writes about it eloquently and passionately in his blog: 

“Your body contains up to 100 trillion cells and is connected with everything around you and the wider world in a wonderfully complex and timeless system. You share your atoms with every being and object in the natural world, you are both ancient and inconceivably young,” he writes.

"This is not some hippy nonsense. It’s science. And personally I find it enormously inspiring. Is it too much to think that telling this ‘greatest story ever told’  will always fall on deaf ears? That eco-epiphanies are impossible? That the incredible wonders of where we really come from and where we live can’t influence or change the way we relate to each other and our planet? Maybe, maybe not…but for me at least this awareness and understanding provides more than a quantum of solace."


Read Ed's full blog post on Eco Epiphanies here.
Futerra Communications.

Definition of epiphany.
Other funny lines from Caddyshack.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

How About We Simply Back Off Sharks

The new show Shark Men says its goal is to tag young sharks to track them and learn more about them. That is why they want to scout out shark nurseries, which by the way, is where they are most vulnerable.

The science part sounds good yet the show seems very close to the kind of shark sensationalism that undermines shark conservation.

It is a show after all, meaning it is designed to entertain, draw viewers, make money. Like Discovery's Shark Week, it might do more harm than good.

These kinds of programs feed into the shark-killing mentality -- the psyche of fear among so many people that sharks are terrible and dangerous beasts that must be conquered and killed. 

Through this blood lust, it is hard to hear that sharks are important predators and remain deeply threatened as tens of millions of them are killed every year.  The numbers for Great Whites are particularly grim. A recent survey published in the journal Current Biology, found only 219 great white sharks off the northern California coast.

And if they find the nursery, will they be able to keep the location secret?  

"If they have found a nursery, you would want to keep it protected from sports boats that might want to come down to Baja California looking for them as trophies," said Vincent Gallucci of the University of Washington, in USA Today

For great white sharks (and really all other fish), "not removing juvenile fish from the ocean is the key to a healthy population," Gallucci says. 'Equally important is protecting the source of juveniles, ' he adds, noting that rather being the fearsome hunters of the movies, young sharks are more often, the hunted, according to the story.

Read full story here.

Give me a break

Monday, May 9, 2011

Comes with the Territory

Dery Bennett, a NJ activist who won the 2004 grassroots award of Hero of the Sea, was asked about the future of marine conservation and the health of oceans in general. His simple answer speaks volumes.

"If you’re asking me if I’m optimistic or pessimistic, I’d have to say it depends on what day you ask and what time of day," he said.

It's sad. It's chilling. It's real. The oceans need all the help they can get, and fast. 

Source: Saved by the Sea by David Helvarg.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Only 15 Days to Blue Vision Summit Three

Ocean People Unite!

Get together with fellow ocean lovers for the Blue Vision Summit May 20-23 in Washington DC.

Be inspired by your fellow ocean peeps. There are free and interesting sessions over the weekend, and most importantly, a chance to take action by visiting Capitol Hill on Monday the 23rd. Bang on some doors and tell your elected officials why and how ocean protections are crucial.

If you're wondering what the purpose of the event is or skeptical about what will be accomplished -- don't -- at the very least it is always inspiring to hear like-minded people talk about saving the seas.

Celebrity ocean people, experts and scientists, and legendary explorers will be there, as well as lowly ocean folk like yours truly.

More info including schedule and sign up here.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Please Tell Me There is a Shark Fin Soup Wing

According to the Taipei Times, there is a new museum in Taiwan that addresses marine issues like overfishing and habitat destruction.

This is great but please tell me there is a whole wing dedicated to the travesty that is  shark fin soup, especially as the museum is basically in the belly of the beast. Read the brief story here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Oceans Forever: David Helvarg is Saved by the Sea

The other day, Eco Ocean proposed that the sea can nourish the soul. David Helvarg's new book, Saved by the Sea, a remarkably frank and touching memoir, shows us how that works.

A journalist and forceful ocean advocate including founder and president of the Blue Frontier Campaign, Helvarg reminds us of the power and beauty of the sea -- both universal and personal. 

He has a great understanding of the challenges facing the oceans, and he refreshingly, like me, admits that even he is not certain we can turn it around.

Yet he never errs on the side of doom and gloom. His is the story of a true fighter for social good, a carryover from the sixties and seventies, a believer in the will of the people informed by common good to make the world a better place.

He also fully gets what's at stake. “It’s (the ocean) the oxygen pump that never quits, the maker of atmosphere, rain, and fog and the buffer of chemical balances, the paddle wheel of circulating vapors that is the bouillabaisse and the crucible of life, both the soup and the pot it comes in,” he writes.  

He is the one who regularly says the number one way to save the seas is to go to the beach, because we will protect what we love.

In Saved by the Sea, he regularly takes us to the beach and under the sea and over the swells. He recounts a wide variety of mouth-watering dives and surfs on travels far and wide that breathe life into his story. 

But as the book's title indicates, there’s something else going on here.

With honesty and the straightforward detail of a world class journalist, he shares with us the loss of his life's love to cancer. She also loved the ocean, and it brought them together to share many wonderful deep blue experiences.

As he deals with this, like a mellow roller slipping over our heads on a sunny day, Helvarg refreshingly captures one very important essence of the sea, possibly the essence of the sea.

Placed next to a very personal and human story of love and loss, Saved by the Sea taps into what many of us intuitively sense; that the ocean is a balm, a cure.

With its raw beauty, the ocean transports us and yes, cleanses our souls. It can save us when we need saving, and it seems to have saved Helvarg. He captures this curative power of the sea without sounding trite, sentimental, or melancholy. 

And his experience generates passionate words about saving the seas that resonate, “All I know is that if we don’t try, we lose. And this salty blue world of ours is too heart-achingly beautiful, scary, and sacred to lose."

Maybe this book, Saved by the Sea, was a purge for Helvarg, an exercise he had to do. Whatever the case, we are happier that he’s made it available to us. 

Link to Saved by the Sea on Amazon.
Link to Blue Frontier Campaign.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Get Your Solar

The city of Oakland, California has found a unique way to solarize the city.

The city is selling solar panels at $100 a piece to individuals and then putting them on city-owned roofs. It gives people a way to do something green far less daunting than spending thousands of dollars on a home solar array, although that would certainly be welcomed, too. 

Read the whole story here