Thursday, May 31, 2012

Malaysian Turtle Coaster

The good with the bad.  In Malaysia, leatherback turtles are "virtually extinct", according to The Star

While it is terribly sad about the leatherback, it really is, there's some thin hope for others.  The roller coaster of good news and bad news in marine conservation just whipsawed us once again, unfortunately.

The leatherback is truly a magnificent beast.  The largest of the sea turtles, these guys are the lumbering, lovable heavyweights who can knock the scales to over a thousand pounds and stretch up to seven feet long. 

They stroke their powerful flippers through thousands of miles of ocean.  Their dark green skin is like a distant memory of a pulse-racing peer into the vast depths. 

So what happened in Malaysia?  I'd almost like to say it was a lethal combination of entrenched ocean slights like pollution, habitat loss, and bycatch (and I'm sure these had impacts too), but in this case it was rampant over consumption by people, mixed with "old thinking" about the bounty of nature. 

On several Malaysian islands, the turtle eggs are eaten by people, many people.  When you take the eggs, you're hitting a species right where it counts.  You take most if not all the eggs, how do expect there to be more next time?

"Leatherback eggs laid in Terengganu dropped from 10,000 clutches in 1955 to about 3,000 in the year 1965. In 1999, only 2% of that number was found and by 2002, only three female leatherbacks reportedly landed on Rantau Abang," said the Star.

The focus is on other turtles.  "According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, green turtles are endangered, olive Ridleys are vulnerable, and hawksbills are critically endangered," said the Star.

Although the adjectives are not exactly reassuring, it's where we can find some hope, so I'll take it.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Speak Up for Bluefin

Lee Crockett gives a good update on bluefin in his recent Huffington Post.  Looks like the majestic, important apex predator remains a fish in jeopardy.  He would know, he's a fisherman:

"It is an important time for bluefin. With the Mediterranean purse-seine fishing season already under way, a tracking system being tested this fall, and new annual quotas being set at the next ICCAT meeting in November, there is an opportunity to finally address some of the decades-old failures of bluefin tuna management. Current fishing quotas must not be increased until enforcement and monitoring are strengthened, the science behind bluefin stock assessments is improved, and there is evidence of improvement in the species' status," said Lee Crockett from Pew.

Let's give bluefin a break. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Salmon is Salmon

Salmon is salmon. At the end of the day, economics will win.”

That's what Kakha Bendukidze, who made his fortune manufacturing heavy equipment in Russia, said to the New York Times.  He invested heavily in genetically modified salmon via AquaBounty because he wanted to diversify. 

While the naive comment oversimplifies a complex issue, the first part of it is dead wrong.  I hope the second part is true, but I bet he's referring to a much more linear kind of commerce. 

GMO or man-made salmon is not your salmon next door.  It's twice as big and hungry than regular.  Since GMO salmon eat feed made from ground up wild forage fish, the impact on already depleted forage fish populations would be huge. 

Meanwhile, if one of these monsters escapes into the wild, the fish has the potential to push aside wild salmon for resources.  Alone these very real impacts could be devastating; together they could be catastrophic.

As far as economics, which type are we talking about?  I hope it's the economics that show that forage fish are worth almost twice as much in the water than taken out.  Or the kind of economics that show that the ecosystem services -- the inherent value of nature to people -- of healthy wild salmon far outweigh the bounty one company can make producing Frankenfish.

I hope those are the economics he's talking about but somehow I doubt it.  Still, if those economics win, that would be a happy and real victory.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

More Talk Does Nothing for the Waves

More talk and less action.  Blah blah blah.  It's too bad we cannot prioritize the biggest life giver on our tired planet.  Then again, if we cannot even establish a National Ocean Policy in the US, what can we expect from the United Nations?

This is the Pew Environment Group's Susan Liberman's outtake of the recent United Nations Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction meeting:

“Without consideration of new means to fill the current gaps in ocean management, it’s hard to see a way forward for meaningful and lasting solutions to counter the serious threats facing the high seas—particularly overfishing, pollution, habitat degradation, and climate change.

“Delegates were deadlocked over the decision on whether to move forward with discussions on the creation of a new global governance mechanism for the high seas. They only agreed to hold two workshops, which will delay progress until late 2013 at the earliest."

The time is now, much is at stake.  Come on people. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Hundred and Ten Hopes

Manatees with more pals

Just when you thought the mood ring was jet black. 

Here's 110 reasons to have a little hope as we peeps continue to devour this big blue marble.  And by the way, solid, down to Earth (no pun intended) reasons to keep hands off the Endangered Species Act.  It works!  Imagine that.

There go leatherback turtle nests up from 27 to 615, there go blue whales increasing from 704 in 1980 to an estimated 2,497 in 2010.  Look at that, more American peregrine falcons streaking across the sky and a bevy of American piping plovers scurrying along the beach.

The overall conservation goal is increased biodiversity because that is key to healthy ecosystems, and healthy ecosystems mean healthy people. 

But many of these single species are integral parts of the food web if not top predators, which makes them primary characters in the biodiversity screenplay.  The list of 110 also means we just might pull out of this nosedive in time.  Hope springs eternal.  

Check out the list and the interactive, region-specific map, thanks to the Center for Biological Diversity.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Don't Be Mr. Smarty Pants

Don't Be Such a Scientist by Randy Olson is a good book that really is a must read for anyone who wants to communicate science successfully, especially well, uh, scientists.

I read it in the context of climate change.  In fact, I ran into another climate denier the other day.  My head hurt afterward, and humor was hard to find but Olson's book helped.

With over 40% of the population not believing in climate change, the communicators need help.

Olson implores scientists to go for the gut, for the visceral, rather than the cerebral.  It's about getting your message across not only in clear, concise, and accessible language but also with an understanding of your audience and understanding that successful communicators tell good stories.

The tidy book is chock full of numerous little stories, entertaining, often funny, but he is simply practicing what he preaches.  If there is one single takeaway it's: Tell good stories.  One way to do so is through art, such as a narrative in a short film or through a sculpture.

"Art stirs the heart, the gut, and even the loins. It motivates people. And that motivation can lead people to want to engage their brains. Which is when the scientist can go to work," Olson says.

Preach is a too strong a word, though. Olson does not preach, he explains, entertains, illustrates, and instructs.  He helps.  And refreshingly throughout, the urgency of the dire news out there -- the destruction of the ocean -- is there just below the surface of his playful, dry wit but not crushing the air from our lungs as is so often the case.

I'd go as far to say the humor is even a protection against all the bad news but I'm no psychologist.  It's easy to empathize, anyway.

Tom Hollihan, a communications professor, said "when it comes to mass communications it's as simple as two things: arouse and fulfill, first you arouse your audience (pique their interest) and then you fulfill their expectations."

Olson's story alone arouses and fulfills.  What an interesting path of life.  He earned his Ph.D at Harvard in marine biology and became a professor before moving to Hollywood for a second career as a filmmaker. He directed Flock of Dodos, a fun and surprising expose on creationists, and founded Shifting Baselines.

Shifting Baselines is a marine conservation advocacy organization that addresses the conceptual challenge around environmental degradation happening at such a slow pace (in human time frame) that one man's paradise is another man's sad remains of a once vibrant reef or ecosystem.  Check out his funny PSA on the lionfish, an invasive species wreaking havoc in the Atlantic. 

So telling good stories means to arouse and fulfill.  The third key point Olson makes is be likable -- don't be Mr Smarty Pants.  A smile and a non-condescending ear can go a long, long way to opening ears and minds.  Nobody likes a know it all so don't be that guy, no matter how much you know or think you know.  Start with listening, really listening to what they're saying.

If it sounds like self-help advice for scientists, there is an element of that but it's all good.  Chapter titles read like a list of advice: 

Don't be so cerebral
Don't be so literal minded
Don't be such a poor storyteller
Don't be so unlikeable
Be the voice of science

Perhaps lessons taken on the road from Olson's book will bring that festering number of deniers down.  Hope springs eternal. 

You can pick up Olson's book here or find it in your local library. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

How Green is Your Data?

That's the next question we'll be hearing, perhaps asked across a table by some enlightened but slightly annoying environmental type.  You've got the energy efficient house, you drive a hybrid, you bring re-usable bags to the grocery store, you support ocean issues, maybe you've even cleaned up a wetland and are a vegetarian.  The next thing: how green is your data?

Those photos you posted and that email there and even this blog has to live somewhere.  They exist as electrons on servers, servers which use utility scale electricity to run.  The electricity usually comes from dirty and dicey sources like coal, gas, and nuclear. 

In the near future, one good reason to choose or not choose a service from Google or Facebook or Bing will be based on how much of their electricity comes from renewables like solar, wind, and tidal.

The big guys own hundreds of thousands of electricity-sucking servers with our data on them.  Many of their server farms, as they call them, use enough juice to light up several towns.

They are already hearing it from Greenpeace.  Go Greenpeace. They keep it real when it comes to the environment.

Greenpeace praised Google for its clean energy efforts recently according to PC Mag while putting Microsoft and Amazon low on their clean energy list, according to the Seattle Times

Greenpeace called it their clean cloud list but it's all about data and how electricity is generated to store and access it.  For now, none of them are that green but they are trying in ways big and small, and that is good news.


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Go You Aussie Mermaids

I have an Australian friend who often says 'go you Aussie' as a kind of supportive cheer to someone.  I think he'd say it if he saw these mermaids from Down Under.  Three women of varying backgrounds (none are marine biologists or sirens) who dress up as mermaids complete with long, colorful tails. 

Sometimes they do it to raise awareness about ocean issues, sometimes they get paid to make kids smile, and sometimes they do it just for fun.

"While her hobby may seem a little unusual, Dawson insists it’s as valid as any other pastime. 'We could go to the pub every Friday night or we could go to the beach and have fun,' according to the Melbourne Weekly Bayside.   Go you Aussies.

photo credit: melbourneweekly

Friday, May 11, 2012

Your Heart Breakers

Maybe it helps to hear the names of actual places.  Fox News listed the ten most precious places that could disappear due to climate change.

While reading the list, I thought of places closer to home and heart.  You cannot go home again, things change, including ourselves.  This is all too true.  But some places have a permanence, a personal connection that enriches our fleeting existence on this big blue marble.

These are places where I've found transporting solace, or shared wonderful times with friends and family inspired by the surroundings, or simply felt blessed by their sheer beauty.  They are part of me. 

It would break my heart if they disappeared, or were altered beyond recognition and meaning because humans cannot stop over stuffing the atmosphere with carbon and other pollutants. 

From the bursting cherry blossoms in Brooklyn to the high cliffs and underwater shoreline of a certain Pacific beach, from the shimmering wetlands near that little lick of land on the east end of Long Island to our secret campsite deep in the pine barrens, these are only a few of the places very dear to me.

I'm sure you have many of your own.  Sorry to say, every one of them could be in jeopardy within decades due to climate change. 

The good news is it's not all doom and gloom.  It can't be.  The list is delivered with some optimism -- there are things you can do to keep your heart intact.

Support clean energy businesses, drive a fuel efficient car, demand green data, keep up with the issues, tell your friends, ride your bike, vote for clean energy, and eat less meat to name but a few.  Here's some more things you can do right now.

Fox's full list of famous places with things you can do per place to prevent their disappearance, and in shorthand here:

Venice, Italy
The Himalayas
Wine Regions
African Lion Habitats
The Amazon
The Alps
Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Machu Picchu, Peru

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I Want My Sustainable Electrons

Thomas Edison

It's not when or if, it's how.  Two writers from Stanford stress that a switch to a low carbon economy can happen (whew!) but needs to come from innovation, finance, and manufacturing.  Remember: clean energy is a business not a cause.

In the US, we are very good at business.  We also have the best universities in the world (so far).  Let's channel that brain power and capitalistic acumen to clean energy.  The necessary innovation will come.

It's about creating low cost power because yes, power in the US is cheap, and we are spoiled.  That's ok, we can have it clean, and it can be price-competitive.  The focus in on the most distilled, the most basic, product -- the electrons. 

"Wind and solar power will never reach the scale necessary to make a difference to national security or the environment unless they can be produced economically. The objective is not wind turbines or solar panels. It is an affordable, convenient, secure, and sustainable stream of electrons," writes Kassia Yanosek on

Ultimately, Yanosek says, policymakers and taxpayers must embrace the incremental advances and understand that there will be failures along the way. 

Yanosek is entrepreneur-in-residence at Stanford.  With a cool title like that, shouldn't we listen?  Come on people.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Conservation Epiphany

Climate change is like the weather on steroids.  No one or thing, no land mass or body of water, can escape it.  That's why I keep saying probably to ad nausea that every conservation organization ought to make support of clean energy initiatives Job One.

Look at the epiphany Johanna Wald, a veteran of land protections from the National Resources Defense Council, talks about:

"I knew then that if I wanted to achieve my goal, I’d need to find ways to balance the need for cleaner sources of energy while protecting our public lands.  So I switched the focus of my work to facilitate environmentally responsible renewable energy development in the west," she said in Forbes.

Johanna faced the reality of climate change and realized she needed to re-focus her conservation ethic.  That’s not saying that conservationists have to betray their core values, but it does mean compromise with a sober eye on the big picture should become a key part of the saving the world equation.

Image credit:

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

States Get Cleaner But Fed Support Teeters

What do Maine, Iowa, and S Dakota have in common?  All three produce 15% or more of their state's power from clean, non-hydroelectric sources, according to the Washington Post.  Way to go.  Hopefully this will inspire other states.

It's also a good reason for all of us to support federal subsidies of clean energy. 

"A good portion of the recent boom in wind and solar power has been thanks to the federal production tax credit and assorted grants in the stimulus bill. Those grants have now expired and the tax credit for wind will expire at the end of 2012," says the Post.

Clean energy may falter "mainly because federal funding is about to drop off a cliff and the Republican wrecking crew in the House remains generally hostile to programs that threaten the hegemony of the oil and gas interests," according to the New York Times

A diplomatic way to say that many Republicans have been bought by the fossil fuel industry.

These are the battle lines.  Just like the fossil fuel industry received subsidies to establish itself many years ago, the clean energy industry deserves a chance.  It's beyond that really: We hardly have a choice.

The Post story comes with a great Energy Information Administration map -- check it out.

Note: The top three states for total renewable generation, not simply as a percentage of their mix, are Texas, California, and Iowa.  All good, but notice how Iowa appears high on both lists.

Image credit:

Friday, May 4, 2012

Get Lazy and Get Down to Earth

The View from Lazy Point by Carl Safina won the Orion 2012 Book of the Year Award. Congratulations Carl! 

Lazy is a fine read.  I enjoyed it and look forward to going back to it.  It's one of those "keepers" that gets a place on the shelf.  I have given it as a gift to friends, too.

Lazy has the warmth of a grackle alighting on a budding branch and turning its head toward the Spring sunlight.  It's Henry David Thoreau's On Walden Pond updated for this century and on a slightly bigger pond (the ocean).

The book is some wonderful combination of nature, science, philosophy, and humor.  There is plenty of pulse pounding drama, too, as Carl lands a large Mako shark solo in the choppy waters off Montauk, and the survival of awesome Ospreys is touch and go while falcons scream across the pages.

He gives it all to us in the context of a trained scientist and nature lover noticing the ebb and flow of life, the changes in flora and fauna, throughout a full year on the eastern tip of long island, a stunning place -- I've been lucky enough to visit it many times -- called Lazy Point. 

It's not simply look at the gorgeous bluefin tuna; it's look at them and consider why we are so disconnected from them.  It's as much about home and heart on this big blue marble as a place as well as a state of mind.

Don't take my word for it.  Orion's criteria for the award is impressive:  The award goes to the book that "deepens our connection to the natural world, presents new ideas about our relationship with nature, and achieves excellence in writing," according to Orion.

The runners up, which are now on my to read list, are: Fire Season, by Philip Connors (Ecco); Oil on Water, by Helon Habila (W.W. Norton & Co.); Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (Vintage);  Raising Elijah by Sandra Steingraber (De Capo).

Purchase The View from Lazy Point here or find it in your local library. Visit Carl too.

Image credit: blueoceaninstitutecarlsafina

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Level-Headed Clean Energy Optimism

Carefully laid out optimism about a clean energy future from those oh so level-headed investors.  There are many challenges -- incentives and investments are key -- but they're coming, it's happening, it's moving.  We need it.

The Deutsche Management Asset report says it like this according to Green Biz:

"(The Report) describing generally mixed results on climate investments and policy in 2011 but projecting long-term growth in cleaner energy markets to continue. Positive trends included China and Germany's continued low-carbon leadership, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's issuance of new rules on hazardous air pollutants, Australia's new carbon legislation, and Japan's commitment to supporting the deployment of more renewable energy."

The report is full of such positive notions, once you get past the staid language.  Sounds promising.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What the Mood Ring Says Today

This just in: It's definitely a challenge to keep the chin up but up we must.

Reef shark populations have declined greatly while albatross get protections in the Indian Ocean tuna fishery.

A fired-up New Zealander is going to patrol for fishing poachers off the coast of Africa.  It looks like forage fish may very well be deemed overfished by scientists.

Small businesses in the US say they want government to support clean power while Germany cuts solar.

It's easy to get discouraged but hope can be found in many places, sometimes very odd places, but there it is nonetheless.  Let's hear the good with the bad and keep the fight alive.