An Occasional Ramble by the Sea
May 2nd, 2005
By David Helvarg
On the Good News side –
Our Blue Vision Mid-Atlantic conference at the Baltimore Aquarium was a big success (big as the pregnant dolphin who was also onsite). We want to thank the many co-sponsors and participants who helped make the day as productive as it was.
We’ve now begun discussing the idea of a Gulf of Mexico Blue Vision Conference for the fall. There is already a Gulf of Mexico Summit planned for next November. With support from the Bush Administration and various state governments this invitation-only gathering will bring together the Governors of the Gulf States with various EPA and other agency representatives from the Gulf of Mexico Program. They plan a presentation on how the states are going to start implementing the US Ocean Commission recommendations. Problem is I don’t think you can restore the seas from the top down. When California Fish & Game for example went behind closed doors in July 2001 and drew up a map of planned state marine wilderness areas (no take zones) without public consultation, they set off a firestorm of opposition among recreational fishing groups that’s still being felt across the nation.
Our hope is to hold a Blue Vision conference of seaweed (marine grassroots) groups at least a month before the summit and make sure that representatives from this seaweed meeting are also able to represent their issues and concerns to the Governors when they meet.
A good sign that Gulf residents are tired of having their coasts and waters treated like a national sacrifice zone is the recent formation of the SA, made up of commercial and recreational fishermen and women, anti-pollution and marine conservation activists, all united against offshore LNG facilities that threaten marine fish and wildlife (in several different ways). More on the Gulf of Mexico Blue Vision Conference as it develops.
Other good news of course is the discovery that the “Lord God Bird” (named because that’s what people would exclaim on seeing it), the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is not extinct as thought for the last 60 years but has been found alive and pecking in an Arkansas swamp. “I’m here to tell you wonderful amazing things can happen in this world,” said Gene Sparling, the Arkansas canoeist who first spotted the big bird. Of course when it comes to Vegas style comebacks the coelacanth fish was thought to be extinct for 60 million years before it was rediscovered. The Ivory Bills reemergence gives us hope that those now facing extinction like the white abalone and oceanic white tip shark (with a population decline of 99 percent in the Gulf of Mexico since 1950) might find their way back from the brink.
On the good/bad news side –
I just returned from a 4-Day Conference “The future of Marine Biodiversity – The Known, Unknown and Unknowable “ at Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC). This was the third and final conference on the past, present and future of ocean life put together by Jeremy Jackson and Nancy Knowlton the alliterative blue power couple who founded the Center – thus bringing Scripps back from the near extinction of biology (after a 60 year detour into physical oceanography – sponsored by the U.S. Navy).
The presentations on markets, institutions, population, climate, human health and oceans, land-sea interaction, and communications were both inspired and troubling and I might have gotten depressed about our prospects for marine recovery had I not gotten a few sessions in the surf to remind me of why it is we keep fighting to restore healthy and abundant seas.
While I was in San Diego Blue Frontier’s Jean Logan attended a meeting in Maine sponsored by the Island Institute that addressed some similar questions for local fishermen and citizen-activists – Like how do we look at today’s marine resources in light of what we’re learning about past abundance and decline?
On the last day of the San Diego conference some jerk with a spear gun killed a 200-pound Giant Black Sea Bass inside Scripps 500-acre protected Marine reserve. A lifeguard spotted him and his buddies trying to load the dead fish into their boat. Local TV and newspapers reported on his subsequent arrest, with pictures of the cuffed perp and his dead victim being dragged off on a cart. Local divers and snorkelers said they considered the giant fish a friend, a curious creatures that hung around one of the reserve buoys. While the public response and sense of outrage at the killing was impressive, the loss of the 50-year old fish (who could have grown to be 100 years old and 600 pounds) was tragic.
The next day the Mayor of San Diego resigned (over a financial scandal, nothing to do with the spearing – although Mayor Dick Murphy is a bit of a cold fish himself).
With a recall petition in the works, Murphy’s resignation may have been part of a strategy to deny the mayorship to Blue Frontier advisory board member, clean water activist and city councilwoman Donna Frye. I wrote an article on Donna’s last run for mayor that appears in the new issue of Sierra magazine >>CLICK HERE<<. Donna – who won more votes than either of the other candidates – has announced she will run again.
On the better late than never side – Two really good shows ran on PBS in April – Farming the Seas – an impressive and visually powerful story about marine aquaculture that was syndicated throughout the system (different stations on different nights). ‘Farming..’ was produced by Habitat Media of San Rafael, California. Also Strange Days on Planet Earth, a National Geographic production narrated by Ed Norton included a fair representation of marine issues told in an engaging ‘figure out the eco-mystery’ fashion. Some day we hope to produce ‘Blue Frontier’ (the book) as a TV documentary series.
Hope you enjoy your Blue Notes and get your friends to sign on. Also check out our website at http://www.bluefront.org and feel free to click all its buttons – Hint – our last online donation was in February!