An Occasional Ramble by the Sea
October 17, 2005
By David Helvarg
With the coastal catastrophe that was/is the 2005 Hurricane Season (and more likely to come) I’ve gotten behind on some other news, developments and fishy rumors worth noting.
They didn’t bleach themselves.
Warm water and summer long doldrums have turned parts of the Caribbean into a bowl of hot soup, generating some of the worst coral bleaching events since the global bleaching of 1997 and 1998. From the Florida Keys to Puerto Rico, Barbados and other Caribbean islands the story is the same, though it’s gotten little media attention.
On Sept. 29 Mary Ann Lucking, Director of CORALations in Culebra, Puerto Rico wrote us that: “Our beautiful reefs are dramatically bleaching as are all reefs in the Caribbean with the exception of the Dutch West Indies. More species than ever seen before (are bleaching) with absolutely no change in weather predicted. So sad…Poor people, poor island, poor dead corals.”
These are the same overly warm waters that supercharged Hurricanes Katrina and Rita this summer. NOAA Climatologist Chris Landsea first identified the 30-year cycle of lesser and greater Atlantic hurricane activity linked to a 1 degree f. warming in the North Atlantic. But what happens when you add the additional 1 degree warming we’ve seen from fossil-fuel fired climate change and the even greater warming predicted for this century?
At least the Katrina disaster has brought climate disruption into the mainstream U.S. media. The October 3 cover of Time magazine asked, “Are We Making Hurricanes Worse?” After judicious review the article concluded that yes, we are. Now we need to turn the links that science has established between climate and hurricanes, coral bleaching, erosion, melting glaciers and icecaps, declining ocean productivity and acidification of the oceans into sound and sensible marine and energy policies.
News from Hawaii (between some good dives and snorkeling)
Recently got to spend some time on the Big Island of Hawaii where we met with local activists from the West Hawaii Fisheries Council and other blue groups. By collaborating with a range of ocean users to protect the Kona Coast the Council has already helped restore populations of tropical fish and other threatened species.
A night dive I went on with Giant Manta Rays had some aspects of a Vegas Circ de Solil show (place the divers, turn on the lights cue the giant acrobatic rays) but still demonstrated how eco-tourism can generate far more income (for dive shops, boat captains, crews, etc.) than overfishing rare species.
At the 870-acre ocean technology park run by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii (NELHA) we saw seahorses being raised for the aquarium trade to take the pressure off wild populations, along with a range of edible cold-water fish like halibut and black cod, and healthful blue-green algaes. These are all being farmed in cold nutrient-rich deep waters pumped from 2,000 and 3,000 foot depths. There’s even talk of a project to convert algae to Biofuel. Unfortunately the main ‘Natural Energy’ at NELHA, an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) plant that used heat-exchangers to turn temperature differences between deep and shallow tropical water into electricity, was shut down in the 1990s.
Ron Baird, the new director of the lab, has a background in the energy industry, and recognizes the value of developing clean energy sources like OTEC. While he hopes to be able to re-establish the project at some point, shorter term plans include expanding the number of solar panels on the black lava and Pele grass of the park with hopes of making Kona Airport the first solar powered airport in the U.S.
Before leaving the Big Island we got to snorkel with Wayne Levin, a freediver and one of the more outstanding underwater photographers in the world. His black and white photographs bring a startling sense of contrast and high art to our multihued living seas.
On Oahu we got to have dinner with Cha Smith of Kahea and Dr. Stephanie Fried of Environmental Defense, two of the Hawaiian activist/heroes who have been working to assure the highest level of protection for America’s next great wilderness park – The 1,200 mile long Northwestern Hawaiian Islands that include a unique string of coral atolls and marine ecosystems. Northwest Hawaii is now scheduled to become America’s 14th National Marine Sanctuary. When it does it will be seven times the size of the other 13 combined. It could also be America’s Yellowstone Park of the oceans.
The first major victory to assure this came on September 29 when Governor Linda Lingle of Hawaii created a no-take marine refuge in all state waters of Northwest Hawaii. This means no resource depletion will be allowed, no fishing, mining, dumping or dredging – take only pictures and leave only bubbles. The bait ball is now in NOAA’s court. Hopefully they will follow the high standard set by the state and people of Hawaii and give Northwest Hawaii the complete protection it deserves. Representative Ed Case of Hawaii has also introduced legislation in Congress to assure this. See, isn’t it nice to have some hopeful news to report!
ESA and OCS
Apparently House Resources Committee Chair Dick Pombo (r-CA) thinks the proper response to the Katrina disaster is to gut the Endangered Species Act. Unfortunately using other people’s suffering to promote your own narrow agenda is nothing new on Capitol Hill. Pombo is also promoting an oil-industry backed proposal to allow states to opt out of the quarter century old ban on offshore oil & gas drilling along much of America’s coastline (adjacent states can then mail them their dead oil-soaked birds). Anti-drilling activist Richard Charter of the OCS Coalition and a number of blue groups are mobilizing to oppose this idea, which we will follow and update you on.
Blue Movement Directory – Updated with over 1,300 Groups
Our website’s Blue Movement Directory is now up-to-date (thanks to our Web Dude Jeff Oppenheimer). Its entries reflect many of those in our book, ‘The Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide 2005-2006’ (Island Press). We hope both the book and this online resource with its hyperlinks to many other groups and institutions’ sites will prove a useful tool in strengthening the Blue Movement. The Center for the Study of Responsive Law, the Munson Foundation and Project AWARE were among those of our supporters who helped make this work rock.
This Earth Day – Blue is the New Green
Pass the word – Blue is the new Green: This Earth Day, April 22, 2006 will also be the day we launch two books, the updated and revised ‘Blue Frontier – Dispatches from America’s Ocean Wilderness’ (Sierra Club Books) and ’50 Simple Ways to Save the Ocean’ (Inner Ocean). Non-profits can usually get a significant discount on purchases of new books like these, making them a good way for seaweed groups to both help educate the public while doing some fundraising for themselves. Contact the publishers for pre-orders and remember. Blue is….
If you enjoy getting Blue Notes please sign up friends, colleagues, fish-huggers and fish-eaters at the newly reformatted www.bluefront.org