Blue Notes # 148
By David Helvarg
Tuesday July 19, 2016
In This Issue:
- Is This Election Good for the Fish
- What is a Shark Worth?
- Saving Point Molate Again
- Margo Will Go
- Your Blue Stories
The party conventions are now underway starting with the Republicans in Cleveland to be followed by the Democrats in Philadelphia. The stark contrasts between presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump: on immigration, education, health care, trade, foreign policy, etc. do not end at the water’s edge where you might also find a Trump resort or golf course.
The ocean has yet to be mentioned on the campaign trail although Blue Frontier is coordinating a letter to the candidates from ocean leaders in business, science, conservation, education and other fields that will be sent to the candidates after the conventions. We hope it might get a response on how the next President will act on key blue issues including the fight against pirate fishing, establishment of marine protected areas for large, unique ocean habitats, coastal adaptation to sea level rise and other climate driven challenges as well as expansion of a national ocean policy to coordinate efforts at the local, state, federal and tribal levels. It also calls for realistic levels of funding for frontline maritime agencies involved in conservation, scientific exploration and law-enforcement such as NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard.
In the meantime we have to read the kelp leaves to know what a Clinton or a Trump administration might do for or to the blue in our red, white and blue.
Secretary Clinton’s campaign has put out an environmental ‘briefing’ that confirms her stand from earlier this summer that she will not support new oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean or along the Atlantic seaboard. She has not yet taken a position on continued drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. In calling for the protection of communities from the impacts of climate change she acknowledges the threat of sea level rise and also calls for infrastructure improvements including upgrading of water treatment facilities and use of porous pavements and reduced storm-water runoff that could also help reduce coastal water pollution. Perhaps the strongest indicator of a more robust ocean policy under a Clinton Administration is the leadership role her campaign chair John Podesta is expected to play. As White House Counselor to President Obama he played a key role in the President’s expansion of vast Marine Monuments in the Pacific. Earlier this year he also tweeted “Oceans are under threat from climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and illegal fishing. We need Action now.”
One major challenge for Mr. Trump when it comes to ocean health is his insistence, contrary to well-established science, that climate change is a “hoax.” While reflecting Republican political orthodoxy, this would also make it harder for him to respond to a range of threats to our public seas including ocean warming, increased storminess, ocean acidification and sea-level rise, although the managers of at least one of his coastal properties are already planning for sea-level rise adaptation.
His call for expanded oil-drilling and coal mining in the United States also poses a problem as mercury from coal-fired power plants is now the major source of deposition of this dangerous neurotoxin into the ocean from where it enters the food web and works its way up to edible predator fish such as tuna, swordfish and other popular seafood species. Its hard to judge what other positions he might have in regard to our public seas since his campaign only lists seven issues of concern and the environment is not among them. His son, and advisor, Donald Trump Jr. is a hunter and fisherman and fan of Theodore Roosevelt, America’s first conservationist President. Donald Jr. has called for keeping public lands public (not selling them off to the states) but has yet to publicly address any ocean issues.
While it doesn’t endorse presidential candidates the non-partisan Ocean Champions organization that calls itself “the only political voice for the oceans” (ahem) thinks the 2016 elections could also see more ocean advocates or ‘champions’ it endorses elected to Congress than at any time in history. We’ll need them all.
As I wrote about in Blue Notes #147 I’ve recently returned from the island nation of Palau and its shark enhanced waters. Sharks are to Palau what Orcas are to SeaWorld only their shark tank is the Pacific Ocean that they are free to roam. Back in 2009, an economic analysis carried out by the Australian Institute for Marine Science inspired Palau to declare the world’s first shark sanctuary.
Last year Palau went on to declare 80 percent of their waters – an area larger than California – a no-fishing ocean sanctuary. To enforce this marine protected area they have confiscated and burned foreign vessels from Vietnam and the Philippines that were caught illegally fishing in their waters for the shark fin trade.
The original analysis of their $20 million dollar a year dive industry concluded that every one of their grey reef, black tip, white tip and tiger sharks is worth about what you’d pay for a quality race horse, around $2 million dollars each. But why don’t I let 2016 Peter Benchley National Stewardship Award winner President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of the Republic of Palau explain it himself.
“First of all we believe every God given living thing in this earth is there for a reason so the shark is very much a part of the reef ecosystem. There is a balance that is required and sharks play a role. Aside from that we’ve done our own research and found that a live shark is worth 1.9 million dollars over its 60-70 year lifespan. As opposed to killing a shark for its fin and maybe realizing 45 dollars a kilo for shark fins. And so it’s been a good partnership with the sharks so to speak. You keep them alive for the ecological balance but at the same time it brings you the dollars for your economic security.”
Plus no one has ever been killed by a shark in Palau. Unfortunately, crocodiles are another story.
The late Peter Douglas, long-time Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission once said, “The Coast is never saved, it’s always being saved.” Now the Coastal Commission is being undermined from within by developer interests (see Blue Notes #143) as is Point Molate – a stunning 422-acre natural headland in Richmond California where I live. Blue Frontier’s Citizens For a Sustainable Point Molate (CFSPM) project played a key role in the 2010 vote in which the citizens of Richmond voted 58% to 42% against building a mega-casino on this natural bay front treasure. In the six years since then the casino developer – not understanding the principle that when you gamble you usually lose – has been suing the city and continuing to lose in a series of rulings by federal judges including one last year that ordered his company and partners to pay the city almost $2 million in attorney fees generated by their suit.
Nonetheless Richmond Mayor Tom Butt has been working to cut a secret deal with the developer– Jim Levine, including two closed door city council meetings in June and another one tonight (Tuesday July 19) to settle in exchange for development rights at Point Molate. Although the public is not allowed to know what is going on indicators from other private meetings that have taken place are that they want to put 1,100 units of high-income housing on the site (essentially the casino plan without the casino). Housing clusters would cover the slopes of one of the only intact coastal grasslands watersheds that also lead down to healthy offshore eel grass beds where fish, seals and osprey feed. To date California has lost 99% of its native coastal prairies like this to development.
CFSPM is mobilizing a coalition of political and environmental activists and others to let the city council know that of all the potential futures for this incredible natural treasure, cutting a deal with the one developer the people of Richmond have already rejected is not acceptable. Meanwhile CFSPM has received a generous grant from California’s Coastal Conservancy to expand on its existing work bringing local high school classes to the headlands by providing charter bus service for low-income parts of the city so that more Richmond citizens have a way to get to and enjoy the beach park and other wonders of this natural and historic site. For more on the present battle check out the CFSPM website here.
By the time our next Blue Notes comes out in August, Blue Frontier’s Margo Pellegrino will be on her way to New Orleans to complete her one woman New York to New Orleans paddle for clean water and healthy seas. Don’t worry, you will still be able to follow her progress and daily blogs.
Also it is not too late to make a donation for the woman who has already paddled ‘Miami 2 Maine’, ‘Seattle 2 San Diego’ and many other coasts in order to protect them for her family and for yours.
She has just received $2,000 in matching funds that need to be matched in the next 3 weeks so your donation could be worth twice its normal value!
In the past we have done more than 30 Seaweed Spotlight profiles of groups from the more than 1,400 listed in our Blue Movement Directory. What we would really like to do in the future is report on what you think are the breaking and important ocean stories your blue group is involved with. Please send us your breaking news or suggested story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will try and follow up in future Blue Notes.