Summit News, Hurricane Blues, Judicial whales, Nobel jellies and more
Oct. 10, 2008
By David Helvarg
DC GETS THE BLUES
Whoever the next President and Congress are they will be inheriting the worst economy of our lifetimes plus two wars and a climate crisis. They will need to be reminded how vital our ocean and coasts are to our economy, security and climate response.
Despite the loss of a 27-year-old Moratorium on offshore oil drilling the last week of September showed some promise for the ocean in the concrete covered swamp of D.C. And yes, the ecologically correct term is Ocean, not oceans. It’s a world ocean with different basins, all of them interconnected. If you burn coal in India or Indiana there’s no telling what part of our blue planet your neurotoxin emissions of mercury will rain down on.
But back to the hopeful stuff. Along with meetings on coral reefs and Ocean 21, a bill to promote ecosystem based management of our public seas, there was an ocean politics fundraiser, a planning meeting for next spring’s Blue Vision Summit and a gala opening of the $30 million Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Many of us (guys) celebrated that one by dressing up as penguins.
The Ocean Champions’ reception at a Capitol Hill Bistro included plenty of wine, cheese, dry biscuits (for that nautical feel) and good conversation including from some dozen bicameral representatives off the Hill including House members Farr, Rahall, Gordon, Shays, Pallone and Bordallo, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and, in a transitional state analogous to a lungfish, House member Tom Allen of Maine who’s seeking the higher, dryer sands of the Senate.
On Wednesday September 24 we had a meeting of 40 folks from 25 ocean and coastal groups including Executive Directors from the OC, Waterkeeper Alliance, NOAA Sanctuaries, Restore America’s Estuaries, Marine Fish Conservation Network, Seaweb, Earth Echo, Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation, Clean Ocean Action, Blue Frontier and others to begin planning for the March 7-10, 2009 Blue Vision Summit that will be held at the Carnegie Institution, George Washington University and up on Capitol Hill.
The meeting, that included delicious vegetarian sandwiches (even more sustainable than sustainable seafood), agreed on four Summit themes:
- The Ocean Matters
- The Ocean is Suffering
- Healthy Oceans are Vital to our Economy and Communities
We Have Solutions
There was also agreement on the Summit’s Missions:
- To influence the new President and Congress to take leadership on the ocean
- To inform and inspire the Public about Solutions that Work
- To find a common voice on Climate and other emerging Ocean issues
- For more Summit information as it develops go to www.bluefront.org/bluevision
The following dark and stormy night was the Ocean Hall opening. Rather than provide yet another stellar (sea lion) review giving it two flippers up I’d recommend you put the Hall on your must see list for your next trip to the Washington Mall (Maybe after the Summit).
MEANWHILE ON THE LEFT COAST
On Oct. 10 I also visited the new California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park where our next Summit planning meeting will be held in November. After almost half a billion dollars and a decade of planning and building, I’d have to say Wow! It’s got a state of the art planetarium, natural history museum and aquarium with albino alligator all under one hilly live green roof designed by world famous architect Renzo Piano. Chris Andrews, the Academy’s Chief of Public Programs thinks this airy eco-building looks even better than the avant-garde DeYoung Art Museum next door. Given his self-admitted bias I’d still have to agree with him.
I was riding with a Coast Guard helicopter crew the day after Hurricane Ike made landfall in Texas. Our orange H-65 Dolphin Helicopter landed in the rain and Art Vega the mechanic and rescue hoist operator jumped out and did his ‘walk around’ under the still turning rotor blades. On the left side he saw the engine cowling gone and the shrapnel holes it had left in the rear stabilizer and thought, “It’s amazing we’re still alive.”
With additional nicks and scratches on the rotor blades it was also amazing none of us had felt anything while flying along the Texas coast from Air Station Houston to Corpus Christi at 150 knots. We’d done some aggressive maneuvering, banking 45 degrees in tight circles over a 25-foot boat floating upside down off the storm battered city of Galveston and then again circling to check out what looked like a body in the sand but turned out to be marine debris near a navigation buoy that had washed ashore.
2008, like 2004 and 5, has been an active hurricane season. Now Hurricane Ike had blown into the Galveston/ Houston area as a Category 2 at 2 a.m. Saturday Sept. 13, an hour after we flew a C-130 into Corpus with extra helo crews from California.
Early Saturday morning a Falcon Jet took off from Corpus flying into 50-knot winds to get survey video of the flooded coast. They also launched five of their small 65s on SAR — Search and Rescue — missions. A short time later I flew on a second Falcon to Houston. We flew over the battered and flooded coastline past Galveston. Unlike what I’d seen on the Mississippi coast after Katrina, most houses here and in other hard-hit areas — excepting the Bolivar Peninsula – were still standing. We passed over Galveston Bay, a few small oil slicks and a Coast Guard Buoy tender heading out from its boat station where all the cars in the parking lot were piled on top of each other like matchbox toys. 90 percent of the navigational buoys in the Houston Ship Channel were lost to the storm and have had to be replaced.
On Sunday I flew with the C-130 crew to Mobile Alabama to pick up a Ford Expedition, extra water and a crew from the Gulf Coast Strike Team, one of the their environmental response units. Most of Houston’s petrochemical complexes were undamaged. Still broken oil platforms and pipes in and around the Gulf have resulted in over half a million gallons of spilled oil.
Despite some 15 deaths in the first days alone, billions of dollars in damage and some 3 million people without power I thought Ike was more of a mess than a national disaster. When we flew over the wind-whipped brown water, flooding and erosion the storm created along South Padres National Seashore I was awed by the power of nature and wild coasts. When we hit the developed stretch around Galveston I was just disappointed.
A lot of the clean-up and recovery to come will take place on barrier islands where people built stilt houses on concrete pads on the sand and then ignored evacuation orders. Few of them died because Ike wasn’t all it might have been and God loves fools. Unfortunately despite Katrina, Rita, Ike and numerous other lessons FEMA’s Federal Flood Insurance Program, the Army Corps and Congress continue to subsidize the most dangerous kinds of coastal development while ignoring sensible calls for reform. Galveston, where 8,000 died in the great storm of 1900, has now applied for federal beach replenishment funds.
WHALE SAYS WHAT?
The Supreme Court has taken up the issue of whether or not environmental rules have to be applied to the Navy when they’re practicing with active sonar that has been proven to kill beaked whales and cause harm to other marine life. In the 1950s the Navy used to have a “Whale Bangers Club,” where they’d drop depth charges on whales. Nowadays the Navy tries to avoid that sort of thing but still argues it shouldn’t be limited by a judges’ interpretation of the law in the middle of a war. That would be the open ended ‘Global War on Terror,’ as opposed to what could have been a quick and lethal war on Al Qaeda had the Bush administration chosen to go that way.
Questions from the bench, including one Justice wondering if war isn’t by nature designed to destroy the environment, don’t bode well for the future of whales. A final decision is expected next year.
But Navy sonar is just one part of the problem of ocean noise pollution in an environment where sound functions as the light of the sea, the primary way by which many of its residents travel, breed and feed. Now a new study by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) finds that as the ocean becomes more acidic from absorbing human generated carbon dioxide sound will also be amplified, traveling up to 70 percent further underwater in some ocean areas by mid-century and making noise pollution that much greater a challenge.
THE NOBEL JELLYFISH
While Scripp’s Jeremey Jackson talks about the Rise of the slime in the depleted world ocean other scientists think that if you have slime, make Slimeade. That’s how Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab (MBL) scientist Osamu Shimomura and others won this years Nobel in Chemistry by isolating a bright green glowing protein from a jellyfish. Next question, any way of creating jellyfish based biofuels?
NOT DOLPHIN SAFE
An Ohio woman and her husband were lightly injured in Florida in early October after a dolphin leaped aboard their boat. The dolphin jumped six feet and landed on the bow, slid into their laps and thrashed its tail knocking them to the deck. Their daughter’s boyfriend then rolled the dolphin back into the water (though they probably still think she could do better). The couple were treated at a hospital for cuts and bruises according to the AP. And I’m betting nobody back in the pod believed the dolphin’s story.
THE HOME FRONT
This year’s October Home Front Festival in my town of Richmond California was awesome with carnie rides, fire trucks, classic cars, a Sea Scout vessel, live music and booths including one for the Richmond Shore Citizen Response, our local seaweed group that grew out of last year’s SF Bay Area oil spill so that those diving ducks won’t have died in vain (see Blue Notes #40)
The National Park Service even opened up the Ford Plant that is a massive ode to World War Two industrial architecture. It’s where they built tanks and jeeps to win the last good war and where they’ll soon be building solar panels to win the next one (the clean energy war). Made me proud.
FAN MAIL FROM SOME FLOUNDER
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