Dirty Water, Bodysurf, Killer Squid, and Other Summer Delights
August 21, 2007
By David Helvarg
LOVE THAT DIRTY WATER
I just spent a day at Lifeguard Tower Two in Ocean Beach, San Diego, a place where I once lost a decade, lulled into euphoric distraction by the sun-dappled waves and bracing water. This time the water temperature was an unprecedented 75 degrees–a temporary upside of climate change. I was bodysurfing with my friends Jon and Charlie, just like 25 years ago. Beach time is like living the good old days in the here and now.
And just as surely as you’ll see bikinis on the beach in August, you can count on the release of the Natural Resource Defense Council’s (NRDC) annual “Testing the Waters” report. Based on government testing, this year’s report cites a record 25,643 beach closure days in 2006 because of pollution, mainly from storm water runoff and sewage spills. “Pollutants continue to foul our waters, threatening human and ecological health,” NRDC’s Nancy Stoner told USA Today.
In Southern California the standard warning for surfers is “don’t” for 72 hours after a rainfall (because of all the crap, oil and chemical waste that runs off hardened surfaces and into the storm drains).
Of course the feds tend to see the glass as only half full of e-coli. The EPA says America’s beaches are “in good shape,” noting that beach closures and advisories because of pollution only occurred on 5 percent of beach days last year. I’m not sure my auto insurance company would be that sanguine if I only got into collisions 5 percent of the time I drive.
PASSING THE OAR
After waiting on the weather for over a month, Blue Frontier’s Roz Savage finally gave up on the Bay Area and launched her solo row across the Pacific from Crescent City, California, on August 12. She’s rowing to raise awareness about the pollution of our ocean ecosystems and what we can do about it. Check out her progress at www.rozsaves.com
Her departure follows the conclusion of Margo Pellegrino’s outrigger paddle from Miami to Maine (www.miami2maine), another consciousness-raising effort that also raised money for Surfrider and other worthy groups. With the support of the National Environmental Trust and others she’s strengthened the bonds and binds between various seaweed activists up and down the eastern seaboard. So what do you do after almost three months on the water? Margo went to Ocean City, New Jersey, for a week on the beach with the family!
Recently I heard from a couple of guys (time our gender was heard from) who’d like to paddle from Baja to the Bering Sea along the left coast to raise ocean awareness. Now if I can just find what I did with their e-mail…
MAHALO FOR THE ALOHA
Honolulu’s Ala Wai Canal is Hawaii’s answer to Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River that used to periodically catch fire in the 1960s (from oily wastes floating on its surface). That helped inspire the last great wave of environmental concern. In late July I got to talk about the Seaweed Revolution to over 1,000 concerned scientists, activists, wildlife rangers, students and others at the 15th annual Hawaii Conservation Alliance Conference in Honolulu’s glassy green convention center.
Among the inspiring folks I met were the 8th-grade winners of the “My Hawai’I” nature-writing contest. (There’s nail-biting suspense in the story where “Pudge the Puffer Fish” heads up the Ala Wai).
The Alliance has committed to fully protecting 90 percent of the state’s remaining native habitat, marine and terrestrial, by 2020. That would include state waters in the new northwest Hawaiian Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. I practiced that a few times before speaking.
Republican Governor Linda Lingle dropped by to announce her new nominee to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Looking to claim title as the “Schwarzenegger of the Pacific,” she also pledged to spend her last two years in office working to make the islands energy independent by promoting “renewable energy including photovoltaic, wind, biomass, geothermal, OTEC (Ocean Thermal) and Wave Energy.”
None too soon given that the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder has just reported that Arctic sea ice is at a record low since they first began documenting the melting back in the 1970s. As this arctic habitat disappears as a result of global warming, both polar bears and Santa’s helpers are going to have to relocate or go out of business.
Back in paradise the conference ended with a spirited outdoor reception at the Waikiki Aquarium where I got to enjoy the company of among others, Alliance Program Coordinator Chris Puttock and his wife Terrell Erickson, two resident Monk Seals and a number of giant clams (minus the standard five gallons of tartar sauce).
My last day I also went bodysurfing at Makapu beach with author Stuart Coleman, whose book Eddie Would Go tells the definitive story of famed Hawaiian waterman Eddie Aikau. Unfortunately the only beach clean-ups in the Aloha State have to be organized by two seaweed volunteers–Dean Otsuki and Suzanne Frazer of BEACH (www.b-e-a-c-h.org)
BIOFUEL KILLS OCEAN LIFE
But I digress. Returning to the Governor’s pledge, I think a major challenge for the transition to non-carbon energy is how we prevent corporations from gaming the system. One of the worst examples to date is the way a major farm commodity (corn) has been sold as an energy alternative. We dump so much fossil fuel-based fertilizer in the Midwest (about 140 pounds per acre of corn) that this year’s 5 percent increase in corn production for “biofuel” and the subsequent nitrogen runoff down the Mississippi has resulted in the largest oxygen-depleted dead zone yet recorded in the Gulf of Mexico–an area of about 8,500 square miles.
While in Hawaii I met Rick Shema, Roz Savage’s “Weather Guy” for her journey (see www.weatherguy.com). Turns out Rick used to work in Navy meteorology with Blue Frontier Board Member Capt. Phil Renaud (Ret.) of the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation. While there’s lots of (deserved) controversy over the Navy’s use of sonar that can injure and kill marine wildlife, it’s also worth noting the small but growing world of ex-Navy types now working for marine conservation. Along with Rick and Phil, there’s former Navy diver Jim Barton whose company Underwater Ordnance Removal cleans up old bombs and missiles left behind on our public reefs. There’s former Ocean Commission member Admiral Paul Gaffney (Ret.), now president of Monmouth University in New Jersey and of course former U.S. Ocean Commission Chair Admiral Jim Watkins (Ret.), still an outspoken advocate for putting the blue back in our red, white and blue. I’d also be remiss not to mention former Admiral Roger Rufe who has moved from the Ocean Conservancy to Department of Homeland Security, even if he is a former Coastie (U.S. Coast Guard) rather than a former Squid.
Speaking of Squids, in the last Blue Notes we warned about how our American slime eels are being sacrificed for the sexual stimulation of South Korean geezers (Blue Notes #36). Now science reports a new and different threat: large, predatory Humboldt squid (or “devil fish”) moving north into the waters off Central California. Two scientists from Stanford and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) report this alien invasion has been going on for five years with the devil fish decimating our hake fish population (a strategic source of imitation crab). Though they first appeared during the big El Nino event of 1997-1998, it may not be warming water that’s bringing the squid north but rather the overfishing of large tuna and billfish in the equatorial Pacific that normally feed on squid. If you find yourself caught in the water with an aggressive school of devil fish, do what Nicole Kidman does in “The Invasion”: act expressionless and pretend to be one of them.
IF ASPEN HAD AN OCEAN…
It would be full of caviar sturgeon. One of my other trips this summer was to the Aspen Institute’s summer Ideas Festival, where I was fin-to-fin with Michael Eisner, Colin Powell, Richard Branson, Diane Feinstein and other big fish from science, commerce and politics. It was nice to note that the debates were no longer about the danger of climate change but rather the market mechanisms (Cap & Trade vs. Carbon Tax) we’ll need to get off our fossil fuel addiction.
I got to be on two panels including “Turning the Tide: Sustaining the Ocean Harvest,” with Mike Boots of SeaWeb and Jim Humphreys of the Marine Stewardship Council. While they talked about sustainable fishing, I talked about the other things that might wipe out marine wildlife even if we stop killing fish faster than they can reproduce. Still we all agreed there’s hope.
BLUES YOU CAN USE (ONLINE)
Blue Frontier believes that hope is based on building a strong constituency for our living seas. As part of that effort we’re updating our “Blue Movement Directory” at www.bluefront.org (the link to it is on our Website’s top menu bar). When we’re done updating it in the next few weeks–props to intern Jessie Godfrey–we plan to greatly expand it to reflect the growing nature of our movement.
Please review the state-by-state listings and if your group is not listed, or if you know of other blue organizations that should be, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also don’t forget to please link our site to yours. And remember, Blue Notes is free to post or pass on (though contributions of cash and calamari are welcome).