An Occasional Ramble by the Sea
February 28, 2006
By David Helvarg
Grading on a Curve?
“The President told us about the State of the Union, but the State of our Oceans is not strong,”
– Leon Panetta
“Going from nine to thirteen billion dollars (suggested ocean funding) is not an arm and a leg for this country.”
– Admiral James Watkins
The two former chairs of the independent Pew Oceans Commission and federally appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy appeared at the National Press Club on February 3rd to issue a report card on the government’s response to their blue ribbon panels’ recommendations of 2003 and 2004. The overall score was a D plus (I believe President Bush got a few of those at Yale), and since that’s still a passing mark for Congress and the White House I have to wonder if they weren’t grading on a curve.
Now working together under the auspices of ‘The Joint Ocean Commission Initiative’ they based their overall grade on seven areas of response. The highest grade, an A minus was for the Government’s ‘Initial Response to Commission Reports’ (“We love these reports, they’re thick and substantial enough to make great bookends here on this shelf.”) A B minus went to ‘Regional and State Ocean Governance Reform.’ A C plus went to ‘Fisheries Management Reform,’ a D plus was given for ‘National Ocean Governance Reform,’ a D for ‘Research, Science and Education’, and two Fs for ‘International Leadership’ and ‘New Funding for Ocean Policy and Programs,” (The 2007 White House budget actually cuts $169 million from NOAA conservation programs).
I’d add a C minus for media coverage of the Report Card an F for Congressional response and a visit to the guidance counselor for the administration spokesperson who suggested the report card showed progress is being made with more to come. For the full report card and teachers evaluation go to www.jointoceancommission.org
A Fresh Breath of Union Activism
Our friends at the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) have joined with California air quality groups, the Mayor of Los Angeles, NRDC, Blue Water Network and others in demanding U.S. ports and global shipping companies reduce the amount of air pollution they generate in and around port areas from the burning of ships’ bunker fuel (the cheap dregs of petroleum), increased emissions from diesel trucks entering and leaving the ports, and other sources.
“The thousands of men and women I represent and work for raise their families under the cloud of port pollution…while they want to earn a good living, the do not want to pay with their lives,” explained ILWU President Jim Spinosa.
“They (the shipping and ports industry) have to give more than lip service to the notion (of clean air). They have to move and we’ll be all over them to make sure they do,” ILWU’s communications director Steve Stallone told Blue Frontier. The union has shown its ability to carry through on its commitments in recent years by, for example, shutting down West Coast ports in solidarity with Anti-Globalization protestors in Seattle in 1999 and defeating a weeks long industry lock-out in 2002.
Don’t Mess with Texas Shores
Generally the Sea Grant College Program administered through NOAA tends towards the technical and aquacultural and is not easily confused with the Seaweed Rebellion. I’d like to note an honorable exception. The Winter 2006 issue of ‘Texas Shores’ the publication of Texas Sea Grant, edited by Jim Hiney and Cindie Powell, has a ‘Grassroots Guardians’ cover and ‘Keepers of the Coast’ theme that highlights the work and importance of bottom up grassroots citizen activists. The special issue includes a profile of Seadrift, Texas shrimper and anti-toxics activist Diane Wilson. Diane moderated the ‘Direct Action’ panel at our ‘Blue Vision’ conference and is presently serving time in a Texas jail for civil disobedience (she chained herself to a Dow Chemical railing). Imagine Henry David Thoreau as a single mom who can shuck shrimp. Also profiled in separate articles are the Galveston Bay Foundation, San Marcos River Foundation, Surfrider Foundation and Lower Laguna Madre Foundation. The editors quote Dr. Larry McKinney, head of Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Coastal Fisheries division as saying, “They are a big pain in the rear and thank goodness they are…These groups and individuals are far more powerful than people imagine just because they are willing to stand up and say what they believe in and pursue it.” Two ‘Seaweed Rebel’ t-shirts go to Texas Shores.
These Whales Are No Hogs
Thanks to Richard Charter for passing on this bit of wonder from the Associated Press – Sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska appear to use the sounds of fishing boat engines as underwater dinner bells, taking sablefish off the hooks of long line boats that operate in the area. The whales have been plucking fish off the 1-3 mile long lines for at least 20 years, sometimes only leaving fish lips dangling from the hooks. “A couple of times they completely cleaned us out, but usually they take just a few,” said aptly named fisherman Steve Fish of Sitka. Scientists have suggested using decoy sounds or other techniques to fool the whales but the fishermen say the whales are too smart to be fooled for long.
Lost Worlds & New Fish
Scientists exploring Indonesia’s remote fog-enshrouded Foja mountains in December found a “Garden of Eden” containing more than 40 rare or unknown species of birds, giant plants, tree frogs and tree kangaroos. Conservation International scientist Bruce Beehler rhapsodized about how much life there still might be to discover, “in our rainforests, in our oceans.”
Confirmation – two months later a group of scientists diving a submarine mountain off the Dutch island of Saba in the Caribbean announced the discovery of a new fish species and at least 20 types of previously unknown seaweeds.
While the Foja mountains are one of the last places on land that have not been explored, less than ten percent of the oceans have even been mapped with the resolution we’ve mapped Mars. And we want to go to Mars why? To see if there’s water there that could sustain life.
An acidic overflowing hot tub?
The question is how long can our oceans sustain life given a certain allegedly intelligent terrestrial species behavior?
A new Woods Hole study has found that tropical Atlantic temperatures may have once reached 107 degrees Fahrenheit, millions of years ago when the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere was much higher. Researchers worry this could indicate fossil fuel fired climate change might heat the oceans much more than previously imagined. Another highly publicized study finds Greenland’s glaciers are melting twice as fast as expected. And of course we’ve discussed (in Blue Notes #19) how Climate Change is also making the oceans more acidic.
Remembering Peter Benchley
Author, Journalist and Marine Conservationist Peter Benchley died of a long-standing lung condition on Saturday, February 11 at the age of 65. Best known for his novel “Jaws,” the terrifying tale of a Great White Shark, Benchley was in practice a strong advocate for shark conservation and ocean protection. A member of the national council of Environmental Defense, he also keynoted our 2004 Blue Vision Conference and, along with his wife Wendy, was a friend and supporter of the Blue Frontier Campaign. He was a great storyteller in print and in person, as well as a man of principle. We have a short outtake of his speech on our website and will soon post the full 34-minute talk.
Join us on the Road (and in the water)
Following our upcoming book launch of ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ and the revised ‘Blue Frontier’ we’ll be going on a twenty coastal cities book tour beginning in April. Along with colleges, stores and libraries we’ll be holding book signings and events with the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, Earth Echo, Home4Water, Reef Relief, Clean Ocean Action, Florida Marine Educators Association, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, New England, Baltimore, Scripps, Long Beach, Monterey and St. Petersburg aquariums and other blue groups. If you’d like to join us, using the book tour as an opportunity to highlight your group’s issues and solutions, or if you’d like to have the author (that’s me) come to your city for a conference or book event please contact BFC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And the price is…