DYING SEAS, HOT ALGAE, NO MORE DEAD DUCKS, BROADWAY BOUND SHARKS AND FARR MORE
Feb. 28, 2008
By David Helvarg
DEPTHS OF DESPAIR
The latest reports on the state of our global ocean are enough to make a hagfish gag. On Feb. 15 the Journal Science published a comprehensive review of the oceanic impact of 17 different types of human activities such as overfishing, pollution, coastal sprawl and the burning of fossil fuels. It found that 40 percent of the oceans are heavily impacted (including the entire U.S. eastern seaboard) while only 4 percent could be called pristine. Lead author Ben Halpern of Santa Barbara pointed to ocean acidification from CO2 as one of the universal impacts across all ocean basins.
A week later on Feb. 22nd the U.N.’s Environment Program released a report titled, “Dead Water” suggesting that when you add climate change impacts to over-harvesting and pollution at least three quarters of the globe’s key fishing grounds could be seriously depleted (commercially extinct) in the near future. In addition they suggest that 80 percent of the worlds coral reefs could die in this century. I’ve been saying 50 percent but that’s based on the work of researchers I met with in Florida, Fiji and Australia back in 2003 (for the climate book, “Feeling the Heat”) and obviously things have accelerated if not for the better.
And then there’s what I call science discovers the obvious. Researchers at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and elsewhere including some very impressive folks like Jeremy Jackson, Nancy Knowlton and Enrica Sala, having studied a number of Pacific Atolls and just reported that coral reefs without people are healthier and more diverse than reefs where people live and hang out. They found the healthiest reefs included a mix of corals, plants, prey fish and large predators (other than us).
And of course healthy reefs have a better chance to survive traumatic impacts from things like hurricanes and coral bleaching.
SOME LIKE IT HOT
It also turns out, or so says yet another study, that reefs already in hot water fare better than their more temperate cousins. Will these scientists never stop finding excuses to go scuba diving?
When it comes to bleaching according to the findings published in Geophysical Research Letters, reefs that have evolved in naturally warm waters like ‘the Western Pacific Warm Pool,’ enjoy a degree of protection from bleaching that reefs in cooler areas do not.
LOOKING FOR MR. GOOD ZOOXANTHELLAE
In addition there are at least a dozen different species of zooxanthellae algae that give corals their color along with much of their sustenance (yes, this will be on the exam). Unfortunately these algae are expelled during bleaching (heating) events turning the reefs bone white. But it seems some of them are more heat tolerant than others according to University of Miami scientist and Pew Oceans Fellow Andrew Baker.
Baker believes these algae could protect coral reefs at risk either through natural migration or managed transfers, like reseeding burned over forests. Obviously much of our future work on planet blue is going to have to involve not only protecting the 4 percent that’s still pristine but also doing large-scale marine restoration projects that hopefully we won’t muck up too badly.
NO MORE DEAD DUCKS
On the bright side – Friday, February 1st Blue Frontier held a ‘Lessons Learned’ meeting at San Francisco’s historic Fort Mason to figure out how to better prevent or respond to the next Cosco Busan type oil spill (that left area shores, wildlife and waters contaminated last November – see Blue Notes #40).
Some 50 people representing 35 seaweed (marine grassroots) organizations came together to begin working on solutions. The diversity of those attending reflected the deep-rooted engagement of the Bay Area’s marine community. They included folks from Waterkeepers, Surfrider, Audubon, Defenders of Wildlife, Port of San Francisco, Longshore Union, Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Oiled Wildlife Response Network, National Park Service, Farallones Sanctuary Association and representatives from the offices of Senator Barbara Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
You can find the full list of attendees in the Print and Video section of our website at http://www.bluefront.org
During the course of the afternoon we heard about how each group responded to the spill, learned what reports and legislative proposals have been generated as a result of the spill, and discussed how we can better work together to mobilize citizen volunteers during any future crisis.
One panel, including Linda Sheehan from California Coastkeeper Alliance, Diane Colborn from the California Statehouse and Jennifer Tang from Senator Boxer’s office reviewed “spill bills” at the state and federal level.
Various state bills would mandate:
- Wildlife search and rescue efforts by the state and volunteers be enhanced with advanced training and coordination
- Increased fines – Industry sees spill fines as the cost of doing business –there needs to be more incentive for prevention.
- A separate inland (river and Delta) spill bill.
- Revising the Area Contingency Plan to help local counties protect their own waters.
Anti-spill federal legislation Senator Boxer has introduced along with Senator Feinstein includes:
- The Oil Spill Accountability Act (Senate Bill #2429) that increases liability limits for cargo ships equal to that of oil tankers in order to encourage double hulling and other prevention efforts.
- The Maritime Emergency Prevention Act (Senate Bill #2430) giving the Coast Guard the authority to control ships’ speed and course and fund technology upgrades for VTS (their Vessel Traffic System).
- An additional bill being developed will address the use of volunteers, creating standardized management and training programs with grants from Homeland Security to NGOs, businesses, and government agencies.
Warner Chabot of the Ocean Conservancy also stressed that we have to support development of new clean-up technologies so that recovering 20 percent of a spill is not considered a “great success.”
At the end of the day several attendees volunteered to develop a proposal for coordinating our efforts n the future. Thus was formed the “No More Dead Ducks Committee.”
House Speaker Pelosi’s office held a similar planning meeting for some 60 marine stakeholders on February 20 that helped keep the momentum moving forward,
It’s these kinds of bottom-up seaweed efforts from dedicated watermen and women that keeps me fairly optimistic.
Blue Frontier volunteers Emma Andreoli along with Roz Savage, Buck Bagot, Alison Loomis and NaLani Ford-Peden also helped keep our meeting a fitting memorial to the thousands of shorebirds and other critters who lost their lives.
Thanks also to the Ocean Foundation for a timely grant so everyone attending got a copy of our book, ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ (#40 — Keep Oil Off Our Shore) as did 150 students and supporters attending the San Francisco Ocean Film Festival and the 30-member cast of a very sharky musical.
SHARK AND AWE
The night after our meeting I attended the World Premiere of “Sherman’s Lagoon — The Musical,” inspired by the comic strip creation of Blue Frontier board member Jim Toomey. Jim was there with his wife Megan, I mean Valerie, and their two young fry. The production staged by the Bentley School in Lafayette California was written and co-produced by Bentley faculty Winter Mead and Jim with music and lyrics by Ahmed El-Gassier.
It’s one of those classic stories about love and overfishing, how Sherman the shark met Megan and rescued his lagoon mates from Cap’N Quigley’s vacu-fish machine.
It was a surprisingly polished production, set Bentley box office records in its eight performances and made a minor splash in the local media. The songs, staging, costumes and clam band were as colorful as a reef full of, well, singing, dancing fish.
Next Stop Broadway? Why not, it worked for Spamelot and Great Whites are way more charismatic (in a megafauna sense) than killer rabbits.
#38 in ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ is ‘Don’t Feed the Sharks (or let them Feed on You),’ but on February 25 an Austrian tourist bled to death after being bitten by a shark 50 miles off Fort Lauderdale in Bahamian waters during a shark feeding/diving expedition. The charter boat operators chummed the water with dead fish and blood to attract hammerhead and tiger sharks before putting divers over the side. This practice is banned in Florida waters.
Every year 6 or 7 humans are killed by sharks worldwide. At the same time shark populations are collapsing as humans kill about 100 million of these slow breeding predators.
FARR AND AWAY
Ocean Champion Sam Farr (d. CA) has far and away the best ocean bill now in Congress. Oceans 21 would, among other things, require the more than 20 federal agencies overseeing our coasts and oceans conform to a national policy for healthy ocean ecosystems and provide funding for regional efforts at marine protection by local, state, tribal and activist groups.
While the bill’s been around for a while it’s only now coming up for its first ever vote in the Fisheries Wildlife and Oceans Subcommittee of the Natural Resources Committee.
They’re due to mark it up (but hopefully not water it down) in the next month or so.
To do the right thing House members probably need to get some mail and phone calls from their home districts. Subcommittee members include: Bordallo of Guam, Abercrombie of Hawaii, Capps of California, Cole of Oklahoma, Faleomavaega of Somoa, Kennedy of RI, Kidee of Michigan, Kind of Wisconsin, Ortiz of Texas, Pallone of NJ, Sali of Idaho and McMorris Rodgers of Washington.
If any of these representatives belong to you please let them know you’d like this moved on while there’s still a living ocean to protect.
On the Senate side we’re expecting a comprehensive Ocean Protection Act to be introduced by Senator Boxer’s office any day now…and have been for several months.
TO SUMMIT UP
We believe a comprehensive oceans act combined with local and regional initiatives and citizen activism can still turn the tide for our public seas. That’s why Blue Frontier will be reaching out to other seaweed groups next month to begin planning for another Blue Vision Summit in March 2009.
Meanwhile if you’re finding Blue Notes of interest feel free to pass this electronic fish wrap around or check out past issues on our website at www.bluefront.org
And remember — Blue is the new Green