June 18, 2013
By David Helvarg
In this Issue
The Candidate and the Sea
Get Oil Out!
Seaweed Spotlight: Coral Defenders
A Seal of Approval
Representative Ed Markey’s race for the Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry will be decided by Massachusetts’ voters June 25. If Markey wins over his Republican rival he will do so as a long-time seaweed rebel and ocean champ with a great record of support for ocean conservation including as an outspoken critic of offshore drilling and BP during its blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. He has promoted legislation to address climate change and ocean acidification, supports sustainable fishing policies and has been a strong defender of the National Ocean Policy in the House. This is why he was named the 2013 Peter Benchley Ocean Award winner for Excellence in Policy.
Below is a transcript of his acceptance speech given the evening of May 15 at the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., following the presentation of his Mantas award statue by 2012 policy winner Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.
“Thank you all ladies and gentlemen for this great award and thank you Sheldon for giving me this award. Sheldon won last year. Sheldon is from the Ocean State. I won this year. I’m from the Bay State, so I get the theme here, the states you have to come from to win. But if you can find anyone from Louisiana, from the Pelican State, to give it to you might have to change your criteria… I have been in congress for 37 years – 37 years on the natural resources committee, 37 years on the energy committee, 4 years as the chairman of the subcommittee on energy independence and global warming – 78 years of hearings on your issues and I have been on your side every single hearing because you are on the side of science. And Mother Nature is never wrong. Mother Nature will always ultimately win the debate.
So Peter Benchley made it his life’s work to connect people to the sea in all its beauty, mystery and power. And I thank ‘Ocean Champions’ for nominating me…. Those of you who are here tonight understand the critical connection between the ocean and the health of the people and of the planet. Three years ago when we had the BP catastrophe I held one hearing, two hearings, three hearings. I made them put up the [underwater] spill cam[era] and the reason I made them put up the spill cam was so scientists could study what was going on to determine the flow rate and know what they were talking about – but you know the worst, the most terrifying thing I did to them was hold a hearing and have Sylvia Earle testify. So that was a great lesson. We learned how fragile it all was and not withstanding that, the Republicans actually passed legislation through the House last year that would allow for drilling off of Georges Bank (off New England) and it passed the House but not without my amendments because my idea was we should not turn Georges Bank into Shell’s Bank or ExxonMobil’s Bank and allow them to run the risk for all of us that we lose this treasure. And it was stopped in the Senate, and by the way, did I mention that my name’s Ed Markey and I’m running for the United States Senate so that there is no drilling in the Gulf of Maine.
You know we passed an incredible milestone this past week, this moment of dubious distinction where we now register 400 parts per million [of carbon dioxide] up in the atmosphere. What does that mean? Well, Jane Lubchenco testified before my committee. She took a few bowls of water and showed what happens when there’s increased acidity in the water so they [committee members] could see the science and impact of what was happening and you could just watch them [certain republican members] once again just move back into their denial. When an iceberg three times the size of Manhattan broke off and floated out into the ocean last summer I said, ‘you know what would be a good idea, let’s name it ‘Denier Island.’…The reality is we’ve gone from 280 parts per million to 400 parts per million which is putting the first blanket up there to hold in the heat the same way in winter you put on that blanket thinking it’s going to be cold but by three in the morning your tossing that blanket off because of all the additional heat, while that’s what that additional 120 parts per million is and now we’re beginning on the second 120 parts per million, the second blanket, and you know what happens when you put on that second blanket, it gets hot! And that’s what’s happening to the oceans. That is what happened with Hurricane Sandy. The oceans are hotter, the oceans are higher, the storms are more powerful and the damage is almost incalculable. And it’s a warning about what we are doing to our oceans. The damage was eight billion dollars! That’s more than twice the entire budget for the National Institutes of Health to find the cure for every disease known to mankind. That’s one storm and it’s a warning that these oceans are dangerously warm, dangerously acidic that these changes are giving us great worry but not the Republicans! So this honor means the world to me. Receiving the award from Sheldon is like in the Masters [Golf Tournament] where last year’s champion gives this year’s the green jacket.
So it is without question a dangerous time and I’ve dedicated my entire career to working on these issues. Sheldon will tell you we’re not in it for the money and it’s these kinds of rewards that mean the world to us, as inexpensive as they are. It’s not the price of the award it’s what’s behind it. We do it so we can share in this struggle and in this fight!”
Watch videos of Ed Markey and the seven other Benchley Award winners acceptance speeches, also speakers and panels from the 4th Blue Vision Summit, including Senator Sheldon Whitehouse giving the opening talk. Click here for photos from the Benchleys.
Blue Frontier has initiated a letter of agreement now being signed by a number of marine conservation groups pledging to not take money from the fossil fuel industry. We understand and work with almost all ocean interests including fishing, shipping, ports, recreation and tourism, science, national defense and clean energy because they all have the potential to be part of a unified effort to sustain our coasts and ocean for future generations.
Forty or fifty years ago the same might have been thought of the fossil fuel industry when oil spills from drilling and shipping were seen as the main challenge for marine conservation and common efforts could be sought to balance the risk of pollution against the need for energy.
But today science and observation informs us that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate disruption including increased coastal storminess, sea level rise, warming seas, loss of arctic sea ice, coral bleaching and ocean acidification among other horrific impacts. These changes are already putting millions of people and billions in property at risk along with the marine ecosystems we all depend on.
This is why we oppose taking any contributions from fossil fuel corporations that will allow them to greenwash (or bluewash) their role in climate change and undermine the marine conservation community’s credibility. If your organization is interested in taking a look at and possibly signing on to this letter contact us at email@example.com.
A regular feature of Blue Notes where we shine the light on a group from the Blue Movement Directory in order to create a more self-aware and collaborative movement. This month we feature CORALations.
CORALations is a coral protection group founded in San Juan in 1995 and now based in Culebra, a small dry island off the Puerto Rican mainland, a one-time Navy firing range with an extensive coral reef system, a population of some 2,000 people and frequent visitors including tourists, sea turtles and seabirds. With about 500 members and volunteers, CORALations works to conserve area reefs through restoration and research activities and to educate the public with a focus on local schools and communities.
In 1999 co-founder Mary Ann Lucking helped the island’s commercial fishermen, including Luis and Lourdes Feliciano, create Puerto Rico’s first no-take Marine Protected Area, the Luis Peña Channel Natural Reserve. The 1,200-acre reserve has since seen a strong recovery of coral, sea grass meadows and an increased catch for fishermen outside the marine park. “There’s definitely a spill-over effect,” Lucking reports. “We’ve seen biomass and biodiversity increased and this has led to increased tourism. There are now two kayak operations at Tamarindo Beach and the turtles came back, green sea turtles that now hang out and come up to people.”
Since 2003 CORALations has also been working with the University of Puerto Rico farming and planting endangered staghorn coral. “It takes a lot of volunteer labor and we think it changes the attitude of people towards the reserve,” she notes. Along with college diver-volunteers CORALations has also created a Conservation Youth Corps that includes over a dozen local “Exploradoras Marinas” aged 10-18 as well as a course for the island’s summer camp for 120 and a pre-school program. “When I first came here kids were taught to fear the sea. They didn’t go in the water. Now we’re working with 4-5 year olds learning to snorkel and free diving and shouting out the names of the corals they see.”
CORALations has also been involved in various lawsuits and campaigns including a successful suit that in 2003 forced the EPA to upgrade its water quality standards for Puerto Rico that had been based on those used off New York and New Jersey (an ocean area not known for its vulnerable coral reefs). Today they’re working with the Center for Biological Diversity, Earth Justice and local fishermen to get NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service to protect Parrotfish who in turn protect the reefs by grazing on algae and excreting sand (“they poop billion dollar white sand beaches”). They’re also fighting a mega-resort development planned for Culebra and working to reduce erosion and runoff. “There are some things like wastewater (sewage treatment plants) and the amount of carbon dioxide people pump into the air we can’t control as a local group. But one thing we know works is Marine Protected Areas, only they can’t be done top down. You have to have engaged local communities or they won’t work,” Lucking claims. Luckily CORALations is on the job as another valued Grupo Rebelde de Alaga Marina (seaweed rebel group).
We’re big believers in recycling here at Blue Frontier so we’ve recycled our book 50 Ways to Save the Ocean into a classroom guide and educational opportunity. Help us inspire the next generation of ocean activists with our 50 Ways schools program we’re raising money for on Digital Ocean’s new crowdfunding platform. Make your donation here.
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