Friday, August 26, 2011

Come On Irene

As I walked through the city today, I saw a handwritten sign on a fruit vendor's stand that read "Come on Irene" -- a play on that old tune "Come On Eileen".

The hype around Hurricane Irene is hard to put into words; but with the massive media center that New York City is, the shrill "news" deafens logic, it churns and blasts everyone.

Most Long Island Railroad trains out east were already canceled even though the skies were clear. I found one train that was running on a "modified schedule" and jumped on it. It was sparsely crowded, usually it is standing room only.

The hype came with us, though. Throughout the train people nervously joked about the storm. I jumped off the train at my stop and walked through town. The whole place was much quieter than usual as people have fled. The grocery store has plywood all over the windows next to a big handwritten sign that reads "Open".

To catch the last sunset for a few days I walk down to the ocean. The mighty Atlantic greets me with a big grin. There are no wild currents but the water is fat. Big rollers come in steadily. Clean, beautifully shaped waves nearshore and another row out a little deeper.

I swim out past the first break and float toes up, bobbing up and down on the swells like a sea otter (I wish). The sky above is wide open and clouds stretch across it like a thin curtain. As the great ball of fire drops behind the horizon, the clouds gradually, imperceptibly turn from blue-white to purple-red much to my delight.

Floating there, I look at my little toes, my frail humanity, the sky, the gorgeous and wonderful sea around me, and I am home.

As I come off the beach, a beige toad hops nearby in the low dune making small marks in the sand. I greet him and wonder if he has prepared for the storm. 

Irene will be here in about thirty six hours. I'm sure she will give us rain and lots of it. There may be seriously high winds, too. I hope to stand on the beach and watch mother nature remind us who's boss.

Come on Irene.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

They're Heeeere

You have to say it in the eerie, child voice from the little girl in the Poltergeist movie. They're here.

Years ago some smart ocean people said that if we don't stop overfishing and abusing the oceans, the fish will go away and the only thing left will be jellyfish.

In the North Sea and the Irish Sea that may be happening. Are they the messengers, the omen? Maybe, and that just plain stinks like scores of dead ectoplasm on a hot beach.

Read more about the North Sea invasion here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tick Tock

 Sorry to sound like a broken record but this is what I keep seeing out there: the time to act is now.

"One-third of all fished species have collapsed globally," said Dr. Anna George, director of the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute. "That means that these fish are now at least 90 percent below their historic maximum populations. The time to act has come if we want the ocean to remain healthy," according to WRCB TV.

Oceans are in trouble! Eat sustainable seafood. Support pro-marine conservation and healthy oceans legislation and politicians. Bear hug wetlands and don't let go. Fight climate change every step of the way. Challenge unsustainable and unthoughtful coastal development. Avoid factory farmed meat. Volunteer at a national or local ocean conservation organization. Sign petitions. Donate money to an ocean organization. Don't pour poisons all over your house and yard. Spread your love of the seas.

And as noted by Blue Frontier, go to the beach. Reconnect with big blue.

These are just a few of the things you can do to help the oceans and remember, the oceans need and deserve all the help they can get.

Read more about a famous chef cooking with sustainable seafood from WRCB TV.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sign Shark Fin Bans

Shark fins drying on a boat

Sign the petition to pledge to not eat shark fin products, especially soup.

Even if you're like me and have never touched shark fin soup -- the Chinese concoction that seems to tie social prestige with killing millions of the oceans important apex predators -- and obviously would not touch the stuff knowing what you know, putting your name on the petition adds to the momentum. And it's painless and free. Thanks Shark Savers.

If you're from California, with the largest Chinatown in the US, likely the largest outside of Asia, you are in an enviable position to make even more of an impact. Sign the petition to support California bill AB 376 to make shark fin products illegal in the Golden State.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fish Fiesta

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

A success story emerges out of the abyss.

Ok, that's a tad dramatic but it is refreshing to see that Cabo Pulmo National Park, a marine park near Mexico's Baja Peninsula, rebounded from an overfished and depleted swath of sea to a place full of healthy marine life since commercial fishing was outlawed.

The key to success though was not simply outlawing fishing but "a combination of social (strong community leadership, social cohesion, effective enforcement) and ecological factors," according to a group of scientists' report on Plos One

This means that the no-take rules were actually enforced and that fishermen adopted ecotourism, which is more lucrative anyway, according to National Geographic.

In usual blow-your-mind colors and images, National Geographic's cameras caught the healthy diversity as shown here and here

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Not Yet Too Late

Choice words with a sliver of hope from Michael Conathan, the Director of Ocean Policy at American Progress.

"...marine advocates have to make a concerted effort to convince and continually remind Americans that despite what they see on vacation, the oceans are not OK.
To put it in terms Washington can understand today, healthy oceans mean healthy economies. And if we ignore the warnings the ocean is trying to send, we risk losing more than just our vacation spots.

Whether you’re a scientist, a fisherman, an amateur wave rider, or a sunbaked builder of drip castles, or even if you've never laid eyes on the ocean, we are all invested in the survival of the mysterious, churning frontier that feeds the world, generates the very oxygen we breathe, and carries the commerce that sustains our own species.

These are the stakes, and while it's not yet too late, the time to act is running out."

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Environmental Triage

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society have created a map showing where coral systems are most likely to survive the future.

The idea is to zero in on the ones that are most biodiverse and focus on saving them because they are also the most resilient. It's too bad the mindset is not to save all the reefs, but sometimes it's like fingers in a dike. Environmental triage, really.

"The study provides us with hope and a map to identify conservation and management priorities where it is possible to buy some time for these important ecosystems until the carbon emissions problems have been solved," said Tim McClanahan, the lead WCS scientist trying to stem the hemorrhaging.

Damn, give me the morphine now.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Excess Carbon Will Damage Shellfish and Corals

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute confirms that ocean acidification due to excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will damage mollusks and corals in as little as ten to fifty years.

We are not only talking about the importance of shellfish and corals to many other marine animals, but also the importance of shellfish and corals to people as food for us, and food and shelter for other foods (fish) for us.

Let's not forget that fish supply the greatest percentage of the world's protein consumed by humans.

This is why we need to build and transition to a clean energy economy as soon as possible.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Free and Clearly Deep Ocean Champion

Ocean conservation has a siren and her name is Hanli Prinsloo. She's the world champion free diver. She plans to go to 70 meters (210 plus feet) deep this September. That's on one breath, by the way.

She also created an ocean conservation trust called I Am Water

Check out her brief video and see her love for the oceans shine through. Basically, she rocks.

Uh, and did anyone notice how much her free-diving fin makes her look like a mermaid? 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Florida Shark Rules

Progress, little by little, but progress. Florida re-thinks the killing of sharks by recreational fishermen, according to the Sarasota Patch.

The pros and cons line up:

"A majority of charter boat captains and recreational anglers reportedly were against each proposal."  

“There’s no reason to kill sharks...usually people who kill sharks do that so they have a nice wall mount,”
 said Don Anthony of Florida Animal Rights.

At least it's on the radar. Hey, how about catch and release?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Empty Sound

I talked to a former lobsterman from Connecticut awhile back who had to sell his boat and find other work because there were too few lobster left in Long Island Sound.

He moved his big hands as he talked. The crows feet at his eyes had seen a lot of shadeless days on the seas.

There was no whining, no tears. There was just no more lobster.

The end to a livelihood, the end of his family's business. The collapse of an ecosystem.

He was convinced it was because of pesticides sprayed on land washed into the sound. The lobsters eggs, he said, were deformed by the poison. This is a guy who is attune to the marine world because it's where he grew up, where he lived and worked. He gets it.

A recent story in the New York Times cited other possible causes including climate change warming the waters around the lobster.

But there was this optimism from one of the lobstermen: "“Time will tell, you know. Right now, there are some small lobsters around. If everything goes right, they could bounce back. We’re pretty optimistic in this business.”

More on what happened to the lobsters.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

To the Baiji

To the baiji -- sorry I never knew ye and no one else can ever know you again.

A recent National Academy of Sciences study noted that at least three species – the Caribbean monk seal, Atlantic gray whale and Steller’s sea cow – became extinct because of hunting for their fur, blubber and meat during the 19th and 20th centuries. The most recent extinction, declared in 2008, was the baiji, a type of porpoise, from the Yangtze River in China.

The study also announced 20 ideal places to protect marine mammals and 11 that were "irreplaceable" including the Hawaiian Islands, Galapagos Islands, Amazon River, Yangtze River, Indus River, Ganges River and the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.

All of nature is arguably irreplaceable but the list should be a good conversation starter. Besides, people think in terms of places, not ecosystems or even single species, so this puts conservation in an effective context.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Wild Come Back

Exactly why was last week's story of a mountain lion, who walked 1500 miles before getting killed in Connecticut, a sad story? Not sad in a deluge-of-tears way but sad in just-wish-it-ended-differently way.

All of the characteristics we admire were displayed by this rare beast. He was courageous, independent, adventurous, determined, and a survivor.

The last sighting of a mountain lion in Connecticut was in 1880, until an astonishing flurry of sightings a few weeks ago. Then in one swift, inglorious moment, the cougar was killed by an SUV on the drab Wilbur Cross Parkway. Bummer. 

It may also be sad because it is expected. The incident earned a collective shrug, “Of course. It's surprising he didn't die that way sooner, or get shot or something.” It actually is astonishing he made it that far.

People know, and accept, what has happened to America's wilds to make this great cat so rare to begin with. Little by little we pushed them out like so many great beasts.

Take some land here, cut down a forest here, build a strip mall there, we need more roads! and soon the animals have nowhere else to go. It didn’t help that we went on mountain lion killing sprees in the name of progress in the early years.

The lion was a loner too, very likely in search of a mate. We can all identify with that. How far have you gone for a mate?

But seriously, imagine a human being doing that. Walking 1500 miles looking for a mate and  finding none. Imagine what the world looks like to us in that scenario. That is how bleak it must have looked for a mountain lion.

For his pluck alone, this cougar seemed to deserve something much better after having come that far. For some conservationists who secretly, or not so secretly, long for a natural world the way it was before modern America came roaring through, the story leaves a bitter taste.

But we really can’t be too bothered. We have much bigger problems, environmental and otherwise, and that is just plain sad too. 

There is optimism in this story though. As David Baron pointed out in his playful New York Times op-ed about the mountain lion. The specific narrative may be sad but overall, America may be getting wilder. That is an immensely cheerful possibility.

Coupled with the extremely rare gray-hooded gull sighting off Coney Island recently, it is downright exciting. Let's hope this gull doesn't choke on a hot dog or get caught up in the Cyclone.

Let's also hope that the gull and mountain lion are not a sign of desperate wildlife wandering around an unrecognizable world, but rather a moment where wild in America has taken on an exciting new dimension.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Evil Sharks Made Me Do It

Looking at the titles of some of the shows on Discovery Channel's Shark Week, the bloody pandering is downright shameful. The only thing to discover here is an end to the channel's credibility.

Here are the titles of some of the shows this week with side comments by Eco Ocean.

Jaws of the Pacific  -- the author of Jaws spent the rest of his life trying to save sharks, deeply unhappy that he stirred such a hatred for the great fish

Into the Shark Bite  -- you are more likely to get hit by lightening than attacked by a shark

Rogue Sharks --
what? sharks are now akin to rogue nations, prone to anarchy and independence

Top Five Eaten Alive
-- gimme a break!

Ten Deadliest Sharks --
you mean the best hunters with awesome biology that we can learn from?

You can see what I meant in yesterday's post.

Discovery Channel's Shark Week creates a blood lust for shark hunting and killing at the expense of an important top predator in need of saving. Don't watch it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Boycott Discovery's Shark Week

Discovery Channel's Shark Week panders to our fears of sharks, creating a blood lust for shark hunting and killing at the expense of an important top predator in need of saving. Don't watch it.

Shark Week also represents missed opportunities to raise awareness.

Segments about shark fin soup, overfishing, and a reality check on shark bites would go a long way to rationalizing the fear and telling the whole story -- that sharks and people are connected. People need healthy oceans and sharks are crucial to keeping oceans healthy.

Discover this: 
  • Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year for their fins for soup.
  • Overfishing kills sharks as bycatch and upsets the food web by removing their prey.
  • You are more likely to get hit by lighting than bit by a shark.
Image courtesy of

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

International Bonkers

A new report shows that nature does not follow political geography. A leatherback turtle does not know whether they are in Papua New Guinea or Australia as they forage for food. How dare them.

All kidding aside, it can drive one bonkers to cheer protections here and there, say a new marine park in the Philippines or an end to ocean dumping in Indonesia, while so much of the ocean is open season -- nobody's jurisdiction.

It is only a matter of time before industrial fishing fleets fish out these common areas, snagging turtles and changing the food web along the way. History has shown that people's use of a commons often ends in tragedy.

On the positive side, in the leatherback study scientists learned exactly where the turtles travel across the vast Pacific Ocean.

Perhaps we could establish international turtle lanes, like international shipping lanes, where certain activities are limited during specific weeks or months of the year. We could effectively create safe passage for these great creatures through international waters. It is not too difficult to imagine a less confrontational  Sea Shepard-like vessel escorting mass migrations of turtles.