Ocean Task Force, Something Fishy, A Peaceful landing on Tarawa, the Blue Beat and more
Sept. 4, 2009
By David Helvarg
I Don’t Know — Alaska
President Obama’s Ocean Task Force is underway (see Blue Notes #62). What struck me about watching the first hearing in Anchorage August 21 – on NOAA streaming video – was both the civility, and the unique pride of Alaskans in their largely intact though threatened marine environment. No ‘town hall from hell’ shout downs, no talk about Ocean Death Panels with government bureaucrats deciding which fish will live and which will die. People disagreed but with respect.
But mostly those who testified in front of CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen and other Task Force members who’d just completed a multi-day tour of the melting Arctic (including the whale bone pile outside Barrow where Polar Bears feed) agreed on the need to better protect our northern waters. The hearing was dominated by Native Alaskans, Environmentalists and Fishermen who wanted no part of oil drilling in the Arctic or Bristol Bay, ocean acidification and other fossil-fuel driven problems, and were skeptical of mining and other threats to what many Eskimo witnesses referred to as “our garden,” the ocean that gives them their sustenance. A few witnesses from the oil industry repeated the mantra that it’ll be a long time before oil and gas stops being, ” part of the energy mix,” especially when there’s so much offshore oil still to be drilled. Personally I’m improving my diet, its just there are so many snickers bars still left in my fridge. A few state officials and tourism folks bragged on how well Alaska did things and the need for federal state partnerships. And then a few folks inevitably talked about their own agendas and fears. What was great was after an hour of panels and two hours of open mike statements the task force members were willing to stay on till everyone who wanted to speak had their chance. They better bring a lot of coffee when they come to San Francisco Sept. 17.
The latest dates for Task Force ‘Listening Sessions,’ including a new one, are:
- San Francisco – Sept. 17- 2:30-6PM Hyatt Regency Embarcadero
- Providence RI (“The Ocean State”) — Sept. 24 – Convention Center 4-7PM
- Honolulu — Sept. 29
- New Orleans — Oct. 19
- Cleveland (“the Buckeye State”) — Oct. 29
Blue Frontier Campaign is planning a follow-up ‘Lessons Learned’ session in Wash. D.C. tentatively set for late November.
On August 20th Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, following up on the recommendation of Alaska’s federal fisheries council, banned commercial fishing in a 150,000 square nautical mile area of the U.S. Arctic Ocean north of the Bering Sea where sea ice has retreated. “This plan takes a precautionary approach to any development of commercial fishing in the area,” he explained. With fossil fuel driven climate change melting the Arctic ice fishermen, regulators and environmentalists all agree we shouldn’t be depleting the living resource until we better understand what’s happening in this extremely cold but fragile marine ecosystem. Too bad some resources seem more equal than others. While the Department of Commerce (home to NOAA) is taking the precautionary approach (“first do no harm”) the Department of Interior’s Mineral Management Service continues to lease oil-drilling sites in the Chukchi and Beufort Seas like it’s Dick Cheney’s birthday. These kinds of contradictory agency approaches make an even stronger case for the comprehensive national ocean policy approach advocated by the President in his marching orders to the Task Force. Of course it may just be a case of different perspectives. NOAA sees the melting Arctic as half empty, MMS sees it as half full of oil.
Roz on a Postage Stamp.
I would like to see Blue Frontier Seaweed Rebel and rowing phenomena Roz Savage on a postage stamp (most likely a British one) but that’s not the kind I’m talking about. By the time you read this it may be the postage stamp sized (though still historic and well inhabited) island of Tarawa where Roz will finally have landed after more than 105 days of rowing the second part of her 3-phase sojourn across the Pacific to help raise awareness of our blue planet at risk. Roz had been aiming for the island of Tuvalu that is expected to sink beneath the seas in our lifetimes thanks to the fossil-fuel posse, but the ocean will do what it will, particularly with a 23-foot rowboat. Tarawa’s proving a good destination with her advance team led by Nicole Bilodeau doing amazing prep work and I bet a hot meal and warm freshwater shower will do the trick for Roz once she pulls her final strokes (for now). For the latest go to rozsavage.com
The Blue Beat
I attended the Green Forum on the Ocean in Miami August 26-27 under the auspices of the Americas Business Council. Organized by the Latin business magazine PODER it included the support of Grupo Televisa, the largest Spanish language media conglomerate in the world. The hope is that having heard from leading ocean voices, from Sylvia Earle to National Geographic and others, the leaders of Hispanic media will do more programming addressing the ocean crisis and its solutions. Audience demographics suggest this would make sense. A recent study by the Ocean Project on U.S. public attitudes towards the state of the sea found there is greater concern within non-English speaking (mainly Hispanic) households than among English speaking folks when it comes to protecting the ocean. Si Se Puede – Save the Seas!
Speaking of Sylvia and Nat Geo, her latest book, “The World is Blue — How Our Fate and the Ocean’s Are One,” will be out shortly with National Geographic. I got an advance read. The good news, if Sylvia Earle believes there’s still hope for saving the ocean, you’d have to be a fool to despair.
Plus the ocean remains a place of mystery, adventure and discovery as Dr. Peter Rona a Professor at Rutgers and star of “Volcanoes of the Deep Sea” has discovered in his more than 30-year quest for Paleodictyon Nodosum, one of the oldest life forms on the planet. William Broad tells a good story about Rona’s search for and recent proof of the hexagonal tube boring micro-critter’s ongoing existence in the Aug. 25 Science section of the NY Times. I once spent a week at sea watching Rona dredging for P.N. in the Deep Atlantic which entranced me for a few hours before my ADD kicked in. Congrats Peter.
Louie Psihoyos’ ‘The Cove’ (Blue Notes #62) continues to garner critical acclaim and such widespread global attention that the annual opening of the mass slaughter of dolphins (for mercury contaminated meat) at Taiji Japan has been delayed – and may be cancelled – due to a heavy media presence.
As if one great blue documentary isn’t enough the NRDC’s refreshingly brief half-hour “Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification,” recently aired on Discovery’s ‘Planet Green.’ Narrated by Sigourney Weaver, it is visually stunning and brilliantly edited with a finely balanced message: ‘We’re doomed but there’s hope.’
I also did an hour on Diane Rehm’s NPR show Sept. 3 talking about my “Rescue Warriors,” book and the forgotten heroes of the Coast Guard that was also taped by C-SPAN Book TV. My next book with St. Martin’s is tentatively scheduled for an Ocean Day, June 8, 2010 release. Its titled, “Saved by the Sea — An Autobiography with Fish.” Luckily there’s still more fish than Helvargs in the sea and so I use my life as a narrative device to measure the decline of our ocean world in the last five decades and describe what I’ve seen and experienced that still gives me some confidence we can turn the tide.
Our next opportunity to do this will be in San Francisco, Sept. 17. There will also be a pre-Task Force “Ocean Party” on the evening of Sept. 16th where we will have an opportunity to drink like fish.