Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Value of Doing Nothing

Putting a price, an economic value, on the flora and fauna in the wild is a relatively new concept but it can be a powerful tool that is missing in many environmental conversations.

Granted, there are many people who think that many of the services we get from ecosystems are priceless, such as clean air and clean water not to mention the spiritual value, say, of a walk on the beach.

Still, when the discussion with the opposition gets down to the nitty gritty, it is important to be able to talk on economic terms. It is the language of the businesses and governments that have a direct hand in the saving or the destroying of nature.

Gretchen Daily, a Stanford biologist and co-founder of the Natural Capital Project, said it beautifully in the New York Times:

“The loss of earth’s biodiversity is permanent,” Dr. Daily said. “And it is happening on our watch. We need to convey with compelling evidence the value of nature and the cost of losing it. I find it stunning that until the next asteroid hits the planet, it is humanity that is collectively deciding the future course of all known life.”

“Right now, the way a forest is worth money is by cutting it down,” Adam Davis said. Davis is a partner in Ecosystem Investment Partners. “We measure that value in board-feet of lumber or tons of pulp sold to a paper mill.” What has been missing, he says, is a countervailing economic force that measures the value of leaving a forest or other ecosystem intact, also in the Times piece.

 Let's see this same thinking applied more often to big blue. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Can't Help But Smile

National Geographic's Amateur Underwater Photo Contest winners give us a few reasons to smile.

This one captures the oceans' gift of life to the entire planet.  By Matt Potenski.

This one is just so cool, look at that creature!  This was the overall winner.  By Ximena Olds.

 I'll smile after I catch my breath.  By Douglas Kahle.

I'm denying the scientist in me today (apologies) and not labeling them.  Let them just be more fantastic ocean life.  Enjoy the full gallery here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Getting Clean Energy's Back

Fox News says the renewable energy industry is now officially fighting back against bad press with their own voice.  It's about time.

Clean, renewable energy is a business not a cause, despite what the opposition would like you to think.

"The perception, because of the lack of fact-based information out there, is that we're some fleeting, fly-by-night, government-dependent entity.  The fact is that we have real companies making real profits and making investments in renewable energy for all the right reasons," said Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, a retired Navy officer and chief executive of the American Council on Renewable Energy, the nonprofit that is maintaining the new website that supports renewable energy business, according to Fox News.

Like a business, the good news sounds like business news -- investments in clean energy have increased and are increasing, states and countries are going forward with infrastructure and incentives, jobs continue to grow, and customers -- corporate, public, commercial and retail businesses, private citizens -- are finding sound, clean energy alternatives. 

The clean energy industry will still experience growing pains but it is here, and moving with some fine momentum. The fact that we cannot change to a clean  energy industry overnight is not a weakness or a sign of illegitimacy, in fact it is the reality of any big industry

An industry with a voice now that will soon drown out the fossil fuel industry's lie that we can't have prosperity without their pollution. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Dark Side of the Gleam

Don't try this at home

There's a tragedy that darkens the gleaming gold.  Young African men work in narrow holes in the ground to dig out gold ore, and then use mercury to process the gold because that's all they know.  They make a little money but they contaminate themselves, their families, and surrounding ecosystems, including the oceans.

Last December in the journal Science of the Total Environment, researchers concluded that “insane” mercury mining practices likely made Segovia, Colombia the world’s most polluted urban area when it comes to mercury, according to Bloomberg

Slow death, slow poisoning.  A tragedy because we know better? A tragedy because people feel like they have no choice?  

In Africa and Colombia, this is small scale mining, sometimes called artisanal, and it is a major source of mercury.

"Nearly 95 percent of the mercury used by miners ends up in the atmosphere or in the soil that the miners discard during the process. This constitutes an estimated total of 1,000 tons of mercury a year by artisan miners worldwide. The extent of the problem is enormous: Artisan gold miners are responsible for 30 percent of the mercury pollution caused by man, the Blacksmith Institute, an organization working on the problem, said in a UPI report.

Coal fired power plants and cement plants also throw lots of mercury into the air when they burn coal

After it’s been vaporized, the mercury eventually falls to the ground.  Rains wash the mercury into the watershed, where bacteria transform it into methyl mercury, one of the most toxic elements on Earth.

Methyl mercury often ends up in the large, predatory fish we all like to eat.  It also poisons marine mammals and other animals.  It's one very good reason to find an alternative to coal burning power plants and coal burning industrial plants as soon as we can.  It might also be time to ask where that tainted gold is going, and if it's really worth the trail of poisoned lives.


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sea Gives Yet Another Nice Surprise

Little Hercules takes a peek into the depths

The sea continues to surprise.  This time it's not breathless beauty or fantastic creatures, it's human history tied to the big blue. There is little to deny, lying silently in the dark blue on the bottom of the sea, shipwrecks fascinate. 

This one is about 200 years old and sprawls on the sandy bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in 4,000 feet of water.

"Shipwrecks help to fill in some of the unwritten pages of history," said Frank Cantelas, a maritime archaeologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Ocean Exploration and Research on CNN.

Part of it is how people even find these things.  It's way too deep for a conventional diver to reach.  It's dark and cold down there.

This find was registered as an unknown sonar contact by an oil company.  On closer inspection, with a remote operated vehicle named Little Hercules -- like a beefed-up camera on a very long tether operated via joystick by people on the surface -- NOAA found a ship.

The last time people walked the decks of this boat was probably well before the US Civil War, likely in the 1820s or 1830s.  What were those people like?  What were they doing?  Why did their ship sink? 

There might not be any gold coins or silver ingots on this one, but it is still a treasure for the imagination. 

image: noaa

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Balance is for Sissies

Slim Pickings

Fewer red knots are showing up on Mid-Atlantic beaches because the horse shoe crab population is dwindling, according to scientists via the New York Times.

Where have the crabs gone?  They're taken by people, chopped up and sold as bait to catch whelks.  Many people eat whelks apparently.

Ok, this is not good news.  Kind of depressing, actually, which is not the intention of this blog.  But it is a teaching moment about balance, and besides, loss can be a motivator, which is one goal of this blog.

For many thousands of years, the horseshoe crabs have laid thousands of eggs on the water's edge.  Meanwhile, red knots, skinny little birds who make an epic journey every year from top of the world to bottom, stop by on the same beaches.  They eat lots of horse shoe crab eggs. So do many other marine birds. 

There's always just enough horse shoe crab eggs to ensure plenty of baby crabs, and just enough eggs to fatten gaunt red knots and sustain them to their Arctic destination.  What a nicely balanced equation.

Enter man...and boom, we see fewer horse show crabs and thus, fewer red knots.

“The recovery of the birds can’t really start until there are more crabs. We can’t wait decades. We need more crab eggs now," said Lawrence J. Niles, a biologist with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey in the New York Times.

Red knots and nature-lovers aside, horse shoe crabs' blood provides valuable medicines including an important test for new drugs and cancer fighting agents.  The blood can be extracted without killing the ancient creature.

What can you do?  Contact and keep in touch with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, which sets horse shoe crab fishing limits.  Let them know you value horse crabs as something more than bait.  Avoid eating whelk and tell people why. 


Friday, June 15, 2012

Long Live the Aussie Oceans

The powers that be just created the world's largest network of marine reserves off of Western Australia and in the Coral Sea off the northeast coast.  The reserves are as big as Spain.  Larga vida a los ocĂ©anos!

I had written about this when Pew released a report talking about all the awesome creatures that live there.  It's a softball pitch to be awed.

Just thinking about these vast, rarely seen places, with names like Rottnest Shelf and Kangaroo Island fires up the imagination.

How about an undersea canyon as deep as the US's Grand Canyon that is the feeding ground for the largest animal on the planet -- the blue whale?

Need more?  How about a chain of small islands that are home to 1200 species including the leafy sea dragon?

 Go you Aussies. And thank you Pew.

image credit:

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Saw a Bull Shark at Trader Vic's

The ocean continues to surprise and astound.  Scientist Neil Hammerschlag pulled in a 1,000 pound bull shark in south Florida, according to Our Amazing Planet.  That's one big fish, and yes he let it go.

I hope this bull shark finds enough food, and lurks in the depths for many years, lives to die of old age.

I hope this bull shark eats up fat tourists especially the ones that litter the beach. 

I hope they find this bull shark like a famous werewolf, drinkin' a pina colada at Trader Vic's, his hair perfect.  

Image credit: Hammerschlag, Our Amazing Planet

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Guess Who the Losers Are

The fish scales flew recently in Costa Rica as fishermen and environmental groups celebrated World Oceans Day by yelling at each other. 

The emotional rancor showed what's at stake from a fisherman's ability to make a living to seeing that last fish into a net.  The details were around a dropped lawsuit that claimed fishermen were killing sea turtles by not using devices that enable the turtles to escape a net.  The fishermen celebrated, loudly, so environmental groups dumped a bushel of other concerns and accusations.

They accused Costa Rica's national fishing organization of aiding shark finning, selling tico waters to industrial fishers from other countries, and setting policy with little regard to science.

The incident has a global reach.  Multiple the knot of problems in Costa Rica -- bottom trawling, possible corruption, bycatch, illegal fishing, woefully few inspectors to enforce rules -- across coastal nations and fisheries around the world.  You begin to understand the oceans' plight. 

I wish it were different believe me, but entrenched ocean problems are alive and well in many places.  Not everywhere, some places are doing great things, but it seems like there are fewer great programs than there are not-so-great programs.  

In Costa Rica, when the very public skirmish was over, even locals could not tell who won.

"But when the tide went out and the heated exchanges died down as attendees made their way towards tables lined with coffee and hors d'oeuvres, it was hard to tell who had been the sharks and who had been the bait," according to Tico Times.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling at the end of the day nobody won, because the oceans lost.

 Image Credit: Tico Times

Friday, June 8, 2012

Every Day is Oceans Day

Every day is Oceans Day BUT there are a bunch of great ways to celebrate the official World Oceans Day today.

Here's two (these are fun and easy):

Go to the Beach: Go to water.  Gaze at it.  Get into it.  Ride on it.  Be refreshed.  Have fun.

This will fuel your passion and actions to save the seas.  

Share Your Love:  Tell everyone about your love of the oceans.  Don't be shy.  There is probably no better way to inspire yourself and others.

People respond positively to a true story of why you love the oceans or the mountains or humming birds.  When the death and destruction end of the world talk so prevalent in the environmental dialogue comes, people shut down.  But people tune into a personal passion.  The nice thing is there is no right or wrong with this;  it's yours.  What you say will sink in, and likely sink deep.

See many more ways to do the ocean right:  Blue Frontier's 50 Ways to Save the Oceans (and yes, supporting clean energy is Job One).

Happy Oceans Day!

Photo credit:

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Pro from Dover

Sooty Shearwater Keeping the Rhythm

Sometimes you just have to bring in the pro. 

Here is a great way to get your mind around the news that bluefin tuna, irradiated in Japan as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, was recently caught in California.  The fish is safe to eat radiation-wise, but the news speaks to the marvelous span of nature.

Carl Safina, author and marine biologist, articulates it beautifully.  There's a reason he won the 2012 Orion Book Award and many other accolades.

"We talked about migrations, about birds called sooty shearwaters and how they breed in New Zealand, fly past Japan, fly through Alaskan waters, come down the coast of California, cross the tropics and go all the way back to New Zealand -- every year.  We talked of the albatrosses that I've seen breeding on tiny mid-Pacific atolls, capable of gliding hundreds of miles without flapping and commanding the whole ocean in their quest for food.  And of the 1,000-pound leatherback turtles that breed in Indonesia, then migrate past Japan to feed in the jellyfish grounds off California and Oregon, taking more than a year, stroke upon stroke in the trackless sea in storm and calm alike, to make the round-trip.

I thought of the ageless mystery of all this, the profound miracle, the quiet patience of the planet.  I thought of these animals playing their ancient rhythms to the music of the spheres, keeping time to the faith of Earth.  I thought of how they struggle to survive against such long natural odds, such high background levels of death.  Of how many fall naturally to disease, to predators, to accidents, but how enough have lived these countless millions of years to make all the difference, to be with us as we've arrived to join their voyage.  I thought of their newly acquired, safe-to-eat radiation, their mercury burdens, and the fishing hooks and nets we send their way.  Of trade-offs made and balances foregone.  And I thought, this world, wondrous so far beyond comprehension, and, verily, so f*cked up.

The saving grace: the creatures don't understand.  The tragedy: neither do we."

Read Carl's full Huffington Post.

Image: Martin Garner, Birding Frontiers

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

No Wind in Romney's Sails

One more reason to re-think Romney: members of his own party say he doesn't get it on clean energy.

Romney's stuck in the past when it comes to clean energy.  He's all about extract and burn and claiming that any new technology like wind and solar must not be viable because it costs more than the dirty stuff.  Which, by the way, is not true but that's another story.

The kicker is that it's more than environmental types or knee-jerk Obamites ragging on Romney -- many members of his own party are baffled and disagree with him.  They acknowledge there are jobs to be had and prosperity from a clean energy industry. 

Conservatives in Iowa and Texas are opposed to Romney's denunciation of tax breaks for wind power.

“'Now is the time for stability in the wind industry' and the production tax credit offers that, Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, said on April 25 on a conference call organized by American Wind Energy Association.

"Romney 'believes that the market will take care of this. I wish that were true,' said Representative Roscoe Bartlett, a Maryland Republican.

"Bartlett is co-sponsoring The American Renewable-Energy Production Tax Extension Credit Act of 2011, which would extend through 2016 the 2.2-cent-a-kilowatt-hour credit for electricity produced by wind turbines, biomass, geothermal and landfill-gas plants," according to Business Week.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Germany Gets It

Germany gets it.  Why can't the US?  Here's a very reasoned and well-researched verbal editorial from The Big Picture on how Germany is eating our lunch when it comes to producing clean energy and cleaner air for ourselves and our next generations of Americans.

Germany to Make History with Alternative Energy: 

It's pretty straightforward, non-strident stuff.  The message: we work together, we remember our American values, we move forward into the clean energy economy and win.

If you find yourself getting red in the face, take a breather, in this case change is good.  We can do this.  For what it's worth, many people much smarter than me say we pretty much have to do this.

So it's ok to admit you care about healthy air and people.  It's ok to acknowledge that fossil fuels are the old way -- they absolutely had a great run.  Fossil fuels put us on top of the world. 

But just like the computer the size of a gymnasium or the eight track tape, it's outmoded technology to achieve the same results.  It's time to move on to something better; to clean energy innovation that gives us much-needed electricity with far less baggage.