Blue Beat, Arctic Heat, Worlds Collide & Changing Tide
September 20, 2007
By David Helvarg
The Blue Beat Rocks On
I moderated a marine panel at this year’s Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) conference at Stanford University in early September. Major thematic tracks during the four-day meeting included climate, environmental health, and the ocean (the emerging Blue Beat). Along with our roundtable on California’s Marine Reserves–with salty expertise from professors Meg Caldwell and Chuck Cook, recreational fisherman Tom Raftican and marine scientist Steve Palumbi–other panels covered ocean acidification, storm water pollution, emerging marine diseases and invasive species. Reporters also got to choose from a number of day trips, including one to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Ed Ricketts old Cannery Row lab where he and John Steinbeck used to drink like fish.
Other news from the conference included the fact that sea lions now have herpes (which may track back to exposure to waterborne disco in the 1970s) and alien species no longer are (since you can find them everywhere).
Among the kinds of cutting-edge research often heard at SEJ, UC-Davis professor Pat Conrad reported 70 percent of the 105 tons of cat feces deposited outdoors in the Moro Bay California watershed every year is from domestic cats (the rest is from feral cats). This is important information if you’re tracking deadly pathogens to wild sea otters or else planning to move to the area.
So remember, while it’s important not to dump your kitty litter down the toilet, it’s equally important to keep your house cat/companion/predator in the house.
The Arctic is Melting and Other Good News
Eleven of the last 12 years have been the warmest in history and the Northwest Passage through the Arctic is open for business according to the latest satellite observations that indicate there was less summer ice cover on the Arctic Ocean this year than at any time in modern history. The rate of melting from anthropogenic (human enhanced) global warming should be the signal for an international mobilization and it is, just not the right kind (that would lead to a rapid shift to non-carbon energy sources). Instead the fossil fuel and mining industries and the governments they dig are looking forward to expanded oil and mineral extraction from the newly exposed waters with the same kind of wild euphoria usually associated with suicide bombers given brand new explosive belts.
All kinds of media have been reporting on this. Harper’s Magazine’s new cover story is on the “Cold Rush.” Russia has planted a titanium flag on the bottom of the ocean at the North Pole to make its territorial claim to these “new riches.” Canada has sent its military onto the ice (partly as a warning to Denmark and the United States) and it looks like the U.S. Senate will finally ratify the Law of the Seas Convention in part so we can begin staking our own claims.
After we drill all that new oil and gas and open shipping routes across the polar seas (burning bunker fuel in the process) we can start mining the deep ocean’s methane beds. This will assure the kind of climate shift that can offer the gold double-helix ring to the next big winner on the carousel of life. After the age of dinosaurs and the age of mammals comes the age of…? Personally I’m rooting for super-evolved cephalopods from our rising seas. Speaking of which…
Octopus Comes With its Own Plate
A story reported in Underwater Times that I’ve had on my plate for awhile tells of a fisherman off the west coast of South Korea who pulled up an octopus with a porcelain plate stuck to its suckers this summer. The plate-hugging octopus led archaeologists to the discovery of a 12th-century wreck full of high quality porcelain and other antiquities.
Moon Whan-suk from the National Maritime Museum told Reuters, “I guess it meant for us to discover the artifacts.”
The octopus, one of the most intriguing animals in the sea, was unavailable to comment on its intent since it had been eaten!
See it While it’s There
I remember meeting University of Washington professor and ocean explorer John Delaney at a dinner for the Navy’s Office of Naval Research some eight years ago. He was talking up a plan to wire the oceans with fiber-optic cables linked to satellite systems, observation buoys and autonomous robots that would plug their stored data into sea bottom terminals to allow for collected and real-time observation of ocean processes from shore. The creation of this Ocean Observation System later became a key recommendation of the U.S. Ocean Commission and favorite topic for its chair Admiral Jim Watkins as well as NOAA Chief Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher.
Now the National Science Foundation (one of the four Ns of ocean science funding along with the Navy, NOAA and NASA) has committed $331 million to an Ocean Observatories Initiative that will include everything Delaney envisioned plus high-def cameras and online access for school kids. The hope is to have early phase ocean observatories in place by 2009.
In an ideal sea state we’d then take the best available science they generate and, combined with society’s values, be able to set policy on how to do ecosystem-based management of our public seas. Unfortunately until we can narrow the iceberg-sized gap that exists between marine science and ocean policy the best we can hope for is real-time Hi-Def TV images of the ecosystem in collapse.
Law of the Land and the Sea
Two hopeful legislative initiatives: this month’s Senate hearings on the Law of the Sea (LOS) Treaty Ratification (See Blue Notes # 32).
Also keep a flounder eye out for Senator Barbara Boxer (d. CA) to introduce her comprehensive National Ocean Protection Act sometime in October (See Blue Notes #13 & #36).
When Worlds Collide
When Roz Savage was hoisted from her boat, The Brocade, onto an HH-65 orange and white Dolphin Helicopter on August 23rd it was, along with a necessary but disheartening moment, also a convergence of one of my Blue Frontier projects (Roz Savage’s Ocean Journey) and my next book project (Rescue Warriors: How the Coast Guard Gets the Job Done, St. Martins Press, 2009).
While the world may not be such a small place, those who are committed to the protection, exploration and restoration of our blue frontier are few enough in number that I’m not surprised when they get to help each other out on stormy seas.
The good news is the Coasties did their job with their usual easygoing professionalism, and Roz was later able to recover her rowboat and is determined to re-launch her journey across the Pacific. She is doing this to raise public awareness of ocean pollution and also of Blue Frontier’s book 50 Ways to Save the Ocean. Roz plans to depart as early as next May, which is when my manuscript is due at my publisher. I just hope the next time Roz and the Coast Guard encounter each other it will be at the book party.
Changing Tides at BFC
Our former D.C. Director Mara Hendrix has moved on to a new job with the U.N.’s International Ocean Institute in St. Petersburg Florida–another hot, humid city but one located on a beach. Among Mara’s many new duties will be helping plan and coordinate the 2008 Coastal Cities Summit in St. Pete.
Summer intern Jessie Godfrey is also leaving our West Coast office, returning to UCSD (and shared digs overlooking Blacks Beach) to complete her studies for a degree in environmental science.
Meanwhile we’re getting temporary help and support from former Smithsonian science writer and editor Anne Bolen until BFC can find a full-time D.C. director. For a job description of this still-open position contact email@example.com
We Could Use a Fin
Or a C-note or a few thousand dollars for that matter, as Blue Frontier continues working to promote unity, provide organizing tools and enhance public awareness of the solution-oriented grassroots marine conservation movement (seaweed rebellion). Feel free to make a donation at www.bluefront.org or use our online Blue Movement Directory, organizing guides and other resources. Also feel free to pass on or post Blue Notes as the spirit and the tides move you.