The Second Wave
May 24th, 2006
By David Helvarg
The Second Wave – ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ Tour Notes –
Hurricane damage, aquarium dives, penguins with electric guitars and more
Flying into Ft. Lauderdale it looks like someone’s scattered blue Chiclets across the landscape. That’s how many blue tarps still cover roofs blown away by last September’s Hurricane Wilma. Later when I visit my friend Jeff Levy, a Broward County public defender, I find many of the county courthouse windows are still covered in plywood 8 months after the storm.
The devastation in New Orleans and the Gulf from Katrina and Rita was so extensive that many of us failed to realize how much Florida is still reeling from the hurricanes of ‘04 and ‘05. In Key West, where people greet each other with news of how their flooded home repairs are coming along, I met a young woman who told me that her retired parents have just brought themselves an ‘Evacuation RV’ in order to flee future hurricanes in comfort.
Still the Miami skyline is swarming with construction cranes as avaricious developers continue to build high-rise ‘spec’ condominiums that, I suspect, may soon stand as empty monuments to pre-Greenhouse Century hubris.
Having just completed a 22 city tour for my books, ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ and the revised and updated ‘Blue Frontier’ and having had a chance to talk to and with some 1,500 seaweed activists and ocean-friendly citizens in New York, Illinois, Oregon, Florida and California, I’ve found many hopeful signs amidst ongoing anxiety over the state of our oceans resulting from the impacts of industrial overfishing, runaway coastal sprawl, spreading marine pollution, and fossil-fuel fired climate change. A few examples of bottom-up solutions taking place:
– At the New England Aquarium I spoke with Aquarium Conservation Director (and Blue Frontier Advisory Board member) Greg Stone who is rightfully proud of the deal he’s helped broker that has allowed the Pacific nation of Kiribati to protect the pristine waters of the Phoenix Islands, a “paradise found” and maybe the world’s third largest fully protected marine habitat (after the Great Barrier Reef and (we hope) soon-to-be-declared Northwest Hawaii Marine Sanctuary.
– In Clear Water, Florida I got to speak to 125 of the state’s leading marine educators (and snorkel with 6 Manatees, including a pair that were doing their enthusiastic best to change their endangered species status). I was joined by Drew Weiner whose Reef Protection International group is putting out a pocket guide similar to those sustainable seafood guides for diners, only this one suggests which saltwater aquarium fish are safe for purchase and which may contribute to the depletion of wild reefs (it doesn’t take a position on frat boys eating goldfish). Also at the conference I met Dawn Miller-Walker from the International Game Fish Association whose summer fishing camp for kids teaches marine conservation principles including, ‘Don’t catch your limit, limit your catch.”
– In St. Pete I spoke at the Pier Aquarium and then went to dinner with some of the states’ leading marine scientists including John Ogden, Director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography and Frank Muller-Karger, a biological oceanographer and former member of the U.S. Ocean Commission. They confirmed my fear that anthropogenic (human-caused) Climate Change now has scientists more worried than is the general public.
– At the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Birch Aquarium in San Diego I got to speak to 100 old surfer buddies, marine scientists and others. My talk marked the first of a month’s worth of events celebrating the 5th Anniversary of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, founded by Dr. Jeremy Jackson and Dr. Nancy Knowlton. CMBC is helping Scripps return to the ecological perspective of its early 20th century founder Bill Ritter.
– In Long Beach I got to speak and dive at the Aquarium of the Pacific. Aquarium president Jerry Schubel is an old friend of Blue Frontier’s whose taken marine science into the realm of public education (including an innovative program on sustainable seafood). I also got to make friends with some giant halibut, guitarfish, groupers, rays, reef sharks and air-breathing kids behind glass thanks to dive safety director Derek Smith, who took me for dives in the southern California and 350,000 gallon Palau tanks.
– In Santa Barbara I got out on the water with Jesse Alstatt, captain of the ChannelKeeper’s boat. We took water samples behind a big cruise ship that stood in marked visual contrast to some 2,400 small crosses planted on the beach in memory of the U.S. dead in Iraq (to date). “People ask me how bad it is in the ocean off Santa Barbara, but around here it’s really a pretty healthy ecosystem,” Jesse explained as we passed buoys full of barking sea lions, flocks of brown pelicans (that have made a dramatic come-back since DDT was banned) and, another example of natural resiliency, David Crosby, who waved to us from the wheel of his sailboat.
– Up the coast I got to speak to 50 folks at the Capitola Book Café, a fine example of another endangered species, the author-friendly independent bookstore. The next morning I took a walk on a wild beach with my friend and fellow seaweed rebel Anne Rowley. The stink of elephant seal coming off Ano Nuevo state park reminded me of how resilient the ocean can be once people commit to its protection. In the most populated state in the nation we were able to walk alone by an oceanside waterfall and visit a sea freshened tide pool (’50 Ways’ #7) before climbing back up to the road with the plastic litter we’d collected.
– ‘50 Ways’ illustrator Jim Toomey joined me for the Bay Area segment of the tour. We appeared at a number of venues including the prestigious Commonwealth Club (thanks to the sponsorship of our friends at Sea Studios). Our toughest crowd by far however was in Pleasanton where we were able to keep the undivided attention of 200 K-5th graders for an hour, thanks to our descriptions of the wonders and terrors of the sea, my fish hat and Jim’s lively illustrations of what we were saying (as I explained that penguin colonies were smelly as cow barns and loud as rock concerts he drew a tubby penguin playing and electric guitar). Later I spoke to 100 Middle School students at The Schools of the Sacred Heart in SF before we addressed 50 smart high schoolers at the Marin Academy in San Rafael. Blue Frontier volunteers and friends showed up at various bookstore events, and also prepared a delicious sustainable dinner that included local crab cakes and wild Alaska salmon.
– I finished up with bookstore talks in Portland, Oregon (my favorite town not on a seacoast) and Chicago, Illinois (the fourth coast). With future events scheduled for D.C., Seattle, Maui and elsewhere we hope to continue to spread word that ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ is a book for everyone who cares, while ‘Blue Frontier’ is a more comprehensive updated look at the state of U.S. oceans today.
I’ll take my oceans unleaded thank you
#40 of ’50 Ways’ is ‘Keep Oil Off Our Shore’ which is what the OCS Coalition including Richard Charter, Ocean Champions, PIRG, Sierra Club and countless other activists have helped assure (for now). On May 18 the House voted 217 to 203 to keep quarter century old protections in place for most of the U.S. coastline despite a strong push by the oil lobby to open them up to natural gas exploration (gas is of course found in the same subsea formations as oil). Nowhere in the debate was the more than 9 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf after Hurricane Katrina mentioned, but politicians of both parties still got the message, if only by a kelp blade thin majority. Said Florida’s Rep. Jim Davis, a democrat, “The hard truth is that America simply cannot drill its way out of this fuel crisis ($3 gas is a crisis?). Congress must get serious about alternative energy and conservation efforts.”