A BLUE WAVE SWEEPS INTO WASHINGTON (PART ONE)
March 18, 2009
By David Helvarg
Despite an economy diving faster than a startled seal over 400 ocean and coastal leaders from around the nation still managed to descend on Washington D.C. for the Blue Vision Summit March 7-10. They represented 200 organizations and agencies ranging in size from a two-diver outfit working on removing abandoned fishing nets off the sea bottom in California to the National Geographic Society, New England Aquarium and Google. What they shared was a common belief that, even amidst today’s financial and fossil-fuel fired meltdowns, the time is right and critical for solving the cascading environmental threats to our public seas.
A healthy ocean, it was agreed, is essential to restoring our economy, protecting our security and solving the climate crisis. And what better time to act, than during the first hundred days of a new bodysurfing President?
Things began on Saturday with a pre-Summit training session on how to use the new Google Ocean (Google 5.0) as a conservation tool put together by that leading web-surfing company. Saturday evening hundreds of watermen and women gathered in the ornate auditorium of the Carnegie Institution for Science where consumer and political activist Ralph Nader welcomed this new wave of citizen activism. “Dr. Ocean,” marine explorer David Guggenheim then moderated a panel on ‘Why Conservation needs Exploration’ pointing out that we’re just at “the Lewis and Clarke phase of ocean exploration.” The lively video-enhanced discussion that followed included “her deepness,” Sylvia Earle, third-generation explorer Philippe Cousteau, Phil Renaud (USN Ret.), National Geographic’s Enric Sala, ocean rower Roz Savage and Walrus clips from filmmaker Adam Ravetch’s ‘Arctic Tale.’ With Sylvia and “one stroke at a time,” Roz as the table’s outriggers there was a sense of generational transcendence (“Explorers,” as Sylvia pointed out, “have to have a kid-like sense of wonder.”). The panel was followed by a party under the marble Rotunda including Shark Trust Wines and Legal Sea Foods’ clam chowder.
The plan had been to invite the ocean community’s longtime science champ, newly named NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco to give Sunday’s opening address at George Washington University’s Marvin Center. Unfortunately public speaking was not an option until the Senate voted to confirm her and that was put on hold by a couple of Senators who wanted to protest President Obama’s loosening of trade with Cuba, the two apparently thinking the only part of the ocean that counts is the 90 miles between Key West and Havana.
Luckily Dr. Roger Payne, who discovered both humpback whale song and human-generated toxic loads in Sperm Whale blubber managed to fill this ecological niche with a riveting presentation that one blogger described as simultaneously depressing and inspiring. After a litany of marine problems faced by both whales and humans Payne noted that, “The chance to make a giant change has never been better than at this moment.”
The Summit’s first full session on the Ocean and Climate was led by Oceana’s chief scientist Mike Hirshfield. Participants included science journalist Michael Lemonick, Australian scientist Ove hoegh Guldberg and former Waterkeeper and California cabinet member Terry Tamminen who warned that “we are powerful enough and have been foolish enough to change the very chemistry of two thirds of our planet,” (through Ocean Acidification) before insisting it’s not too late to turn the tide. “Let’s shape our future before it shapes us,” he argued. “We can make a difference, and thereby inspire the next generation.”
Inspiration was what the Blue Frontier/Peter Benchley Awards were about. Wendy Benchley, myself and various presenters passed them out during lunch following a video tribute to Peter, the 2004 Blue Vision Keynoter and author of ‘Jaws’ who went on to become a dedicated defender of sharks and other marine wildlife. Along with a certificate, each winner was given a dolphin sculpture by the marine artist Wyland, who was also at the Summit.
Among the winners were the power couple of marine science, Jeremy Jackson and Nancy Knowlton (sometimes known as “Doctors Doom and Gloom”). “I don’t want to be a hospice worker for the ocean,” Nancy insisted, paraphrasing John Hocevar of Greenpeace. Along with the science award other “Benchleys” went to Mark Shelly of Sea Studios Foundation for Media, Sea Turtle advocate Zander Srodes was the Youth Award Winner, the policy award went to Rep. Sam Farr (D CA) author of the Ocean 21 marine conservation bill (his cheering section included fellow California Congress member Lois Capps). The hero of the Seas Award for Seaweed (marine grassroots) activism went to long-time offshore oil opponent Richard Charter who didn’t miss the occasion to encourage people to turn out for April 17 public hearings in San Francisco where the new Secretary of interior Ken Salazar will lay out his plans for new drilling.
Over the next several hours there were a number of important breakout sessions on the Future of Sustainable Seafood (that included representatives from both commercial fishing, aquaculture and conservation), The Ocean and Human Health (organized by Harvard’s Kathleen Frith), Clean Ocean Energy, Renewing America’s Global Leadership on Oceans, Coastal Adaptation to Climate Change, Solutions to Pollution and Marine Debris and one on Marine Education. The next day’s breakout sessions included Greening Ports and Shipping, the Arctic Meltdown: What a Changing Arctic Means for our Ocean Planet (moderated by Thomas Lovejoy) and Market Strategies for the Ocean.
The Blue Frontier Campaign is now gathering pictures, written, taped and videotaped reports from these sessions and from the Summit’s other Speeches and presentations which we’ll post at www.bluefront.org as soon as possible (feel free to forward yours).
Meanwhile you can find the full two-hour video of the opening “Lessons from Explorers” evening at www.1planet1ocean.org and many photos taken by Shaw Thatcher on Marine Photobank (marinephotobank.org). Documentary maker David McGuire has also started posting Summit events on YouTube and elsewhere.
Our first full day ended with a Presentation on Seaweed Success Stories moderated by Nancy Knowlton and including hopeful yet true tales by Steve Palumbi: Director ofStanford’s Hopkins Marine Lab, Todd Miller Executive Director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation, Greg Stone of the New England Aquarium and Leesa Cobb of the Port Orford Ocean Resource team. Their efforts range from a fishing family initiated marine conservation effort taking place in a small coastal town in Oregon to the establishment of the world’s largest marine wilderness area by the tiny Pacific island-state of Kiribati. It was agreed that there are no “one size fits all solutions,” but that each coastal community is unique and has to work to make their own connections between coastal health and ocean protection and restoration.
We then headed over to the new Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History for a “Celebration of the Sea” with more wine and great food (mostly vegetarian — even more sustainable than sustainable seafood). There we were entertained and amused by “Blue Crab Blues,” and other fish themed songs by educator/musician Mark Holmes and learned about an upcoming Global Reef Expedition of the Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation (the evening’s sponsor). Famed environmental author Bill McKibben incited and challenged everyone to join the movement to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million so as not to wipe out whole civilizations be they human or coral reef communities.
The kaleidoscopic evening of social schooling that followed reminded me of advice I once received from terrestrial environmental hero and Archdruid David Brower. “The point of conferences is to go drinking afterwards,” he explained. “Because that’s where all the real strategizing takes place.”
Tune in to the next edition of Blue Notes for Part Two of my Summit Report — Politicians Gone Wild, Endangered Reporters tackle the sea, Artists and Writers for the Sea, the wildest party, Famous Ink Tattoo artists and Taking the Hill (or how we create an Ocean Act by educating and motivating our elected officials).