January 21, 2014
By David Helvarg
Better late than never to recall some of last year’s blue news:
Just after the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines, killing thousands and indicating the ‘new normal’ we can expect with extreme storms and weather patterns linked to climate change.
Vital Marine Protected Areas (ocean wilderness parks) were created off Argentina, the UK and elsewhere but Australia’s new conservative government rolled back its MPA protections while plans for an international agreement to protect the Antarctic’s Ross Sea were blocked by Russia and Ukraine.
Arctic 30 busted and released: The Greenpeace activists trying to stop Russian oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean were jailed for months, faced years in prison on piracy and hooliganism charges and then were suddenly released as part of President Putin’s Olympics PR amnesties.
Science on ocean acidification keeps getting scarier. New studies suggested that if the present rate of fossil fuel burning continues, the ocean will be more acidic by the end of this century than it has been in 20 million years. Not only will this make it harder on shell forming creatures already being impacted, it will reduce the dissolved oxygen content of the ocean.
Ocean Hero and 2013 Benchley Award winner Ed Markey was elected Senator from Massachusetts. He now joins ocean and climate champion Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Maine and Brian Schatz of Hawaii in the fight to turn the tide for a healthy ocean.
U.S. National Ocean Policy slowly moves towards implementation despite partisan opposition from House Republicans, led by inland representatives from eastern Washington and Waco, Texas.
The Chinese government promised to stop serving shark fin soup at state banquets, indicating the growing impact of the global shark conservation movement. Shark fin consumption kills tens of millions of these top predators every year.
Mystery dolphin and sea star deaths in 2013 still puzzle scientists while leaving wildlife populations impacted in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean.
The European Union began to cut back on subsidies for its overcapitalized fishing fleet in order to reduce overfishing. The EU also targeted illegal fishing nations that may account for a third of the world’s catch, both important first steps.
2013 Ocean Health Index scores the state of our seas at 65 out of a possible 100, up a mere 0.4 percent from the first annual report card in 2012. This is still a D for the Ocean (or more accurately the humans who abuse it).
While it’s easy to look back at what has happened, the challenge for the blue movement is to look beyond our immediate battles over offshore oil, turtles, plastic pollution, etc. and consider what major societal shifts we can achieve in the next several years. We need to look over the horizon at what can be accomplished between now and 2016 in the United States and beyond. What are our means and methods for turning our endangered public seas into a public policy debate with the same attention given to health care, immigration, education or energy? What can we do better between now and the presidential election of 2016 to build the networks and alliances needed to make sure our elected representatives address the issues impacting our ocean and coasts and the communities that depend on them? In California, “You can get elected or lose your job based on your position on offshore oil or coastal protection,” says Rep. Sam Farr of Monterey. How do we expand that level of popular engagement to other U.S. states and territories?
This spring (perhaps in April) Blue Frontier plans to convene a live and telecast gathering for local, regional and national marine conservation groups and supporters. The hope is to begin developing a ‘Beyond the Horizon’ strategy for our growing movement. Specifically, we’d like to discuss ways to bring ocean issues into the 2014 off-year elections. (With so many good fish, polar bear and jelly costumes it would be a shame not to make our presence known at town hall meetings and candidate debates). We’d also like to identify key focus areas for the May 2015 Blue Vision Summit and Healthy Ocean Hill Day. Last year, Summit themes included Disaster Response, Making Climate a Blue Issue and Youth Leadership. If we can build our strategy and toolkit in the next two years we might even position ourselves to make the protection of the blue in our red, white and blue an issue that has to be addressed by the Presidential and other candidates in the 2016 U.S. national elections.
In the coming weeks we’ll be reaching out to seaweed groups and individuals and hope you will also contact us to begin preparing for a first ‘Over the Horizon’ planning and strategy meeting this spring.
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 The Lobster Conservancy.
Seaweed groups, like living organisms, have their own life cycles. The Lobster Conservancy (TLC) dedicates itself to maintaining the lobster fishery in the Gulf of Maine. Founded in 1996, it’s sought to increase the biological knowledge of the American lobster to support fishery and environmental management of the species while creating a sense of community around this resource.
Its founder, Diane Cowen worked from 1998-1999 in the State of Maine’s Department of Marine Resources as the Chief Lobster Biologist and leader of the Division of Biological Monitoring for lobster, shrimp and urchin fisheries. She also has worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a Marine Policy Fellow and Senior Research Fellow.
At one time TLC had a staff of eight and was generating reams of research material. Today, it’s down to Cowen, her board and volunteers. Part of the change has to do with funding sources and economic hard times (Maine has seen more than its share) but more significant has been the impact of climate change in the Gulf of Maine. “Our study sites are submerged because of sea level rise,” Cowan explained to me.
TLC’s main effort has long been focused on its Juvenile Lobster Monitoring Project. 250 citizen volunteers from Scituate, Massachusetts to the Canadian border underwent extensive training to master the rigorous scientific methodology to census 138 intertidal lobster nursery sites in 26 locations. Volunteers surveyed these locations to assess the population size of future generations of lobsters, including tagging and tracking of juveniles (with the help of Maine lobstermen).
“We started having problems, we started losing data, in 2010,” Cowen reports. “Today, all the (intertidal) sites are underwater… Where we monitored at low tides each month we had all these storms and storm surges, (and) our study sites were all submerged and buried in sediment. I sampled at Lowell’s Cove in Casco Bay from 1992 to 2010. I turned over rocks looking for lobster and I did that every month and I’d wait for the rocks to become exposed (at low tide) but starting in October 2010 they didn’t. Today where it used to be rock that I sampled its eel grass beds over submerged rocks.”
While much of its ongoing research has drowned, TLC continues to do advocacy work. With a recent boom in the catch and focus on market forces, TLC went to the state legislature to oppose attempts to open state waters to a trawl fishery for lobsters. (Only Maine and Canada restrict the lobster catch to trap fishing, a practice the lobstermen support). “In the last legislative session they almost passed an emergency bill pushing for a trawl fishery,” Cowan reports. “Dragging for lobster hurts the habitat and it takes larger lobster than do traps.” TLC believes larger females, because they produce more eggs and more viable offspring, need a higher level of protection. The trawl bill was defeated by strong advocacy on the part of TLC, the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM). The IAM has long been active at Maine’s Bath Iron Works shipyard and is now working to organize lobstermen into a new collective bargaining force on the waterfront.
Diane Cowan is also working to make sure that the “tons of data” The Lobster Conservancy has collected get published in scientific papers and as a usable and searchable database. “We want to be sure that it doesn’t fall through the cracks because we have temperature and pH data and all kinds of data…this is environmental information that needs to be available.” She believes if we can’t stop all the impacts of climate change along our coasts and in our ocean, we need to at least bear accurate witness.
If Blue Notes every third Tuesday of the month is not enough to quench your thirst for ocean news, science, policy and whimsy, good news. I’ll now be posting in depth information about three times a day on the Digital Ocean Facebook page. Friend it and get the latest. Also friend Blue Frontier Campaign and reprint or pass on Blue Notes when they come out.
Also, if you have some breaking news, ocean tidbit or a whale of a tail that you can’t wait to surface, send it to me at Helvarg@bluefront.org and I’ll try to get it out to the more than 25,000 seaweed folks on DigOcean. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still rather be surfing than surfing the web, but hopefully my daily contributions will prove a useful resource for you any time and any sea sun.
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