Task Force listens, shark tooth glistens, smart fish, dumb science, etc.
Nov. 1, 2009
By David Helvarg
From Big Easy to Lake Erie
The last two of the President’s Ocean Policy Task Force sessions took place in New Orleans on October 19 and Cleveland October 29th. This was my first return to New Orleans since covering Katrina four years ago and it felt odd seeing much of the city’s life returned to normal (and much not), still, the ‘Po Boys’ were tasty. Over 250 people turned out for the public listening session at the Audubon Aquarium. Most expressed concern for the loss of Louisiana’s protective and productive wetlands. “It’s not just a wetlands, it’s not just a swamp out there. People live there. When we lose all that we lose our culture, and our livelihoods,” explained Louisiana Bayoukeeper Tracy Kuhns. A few folks from Shell and other parts of the offshore oil industry argued that they were such good environmental stewards we don’t really need the feds (except Mineral Management Service to keep giving them what they want). A few folks from the recreational fishing organization CCA also used the public listening session to complain that they’d been excluded from the public process. My hope is that rank and file recreational fishermen and women will continue their historic commitment to ocean protection through constructive engagement with the administration and fellow marine conservationists.
Cleveland, rustbelt town of wide streets and few cars, perch butcherer to the world, home of the nation’s first worker owned industrial laundry (see BFC board member Ted Howard’s website www.Community-Wealth.org )…In Cleveland just over 100 people turned out for the final of six task force sessions at the downtown Marriot. There was a good set of panels (“we don’t need any more plans, we need action”) followed by over 30 public comments on invasive species and other threats to the lakes but also on how the Great Lakes restoration effort (that’s just won $475 million from Congress) could be a model for how to engage a broad range of stakeholders to begin improving and cleaning up all our public waters, salty as well as fresh. I remember as a child when the Lake Erie beach I visited every summer was closed down and there was detergent foam, tar and dead fish washing ashore. Then Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. Today, despite ongoing problems, Erie and the other lakes have made an incredible turn around thanks to a convergence of public will, good policy and the natural resiliency of even badly degraded ecosystems. Today our oceans are badly degraded ecosystems. The Great Lakes by the way contain 90-95 percent of the nation’s fresh water and, no Las Vegas, the locals say you can’t have any of it.
The task force’s six hearings have been attended by over 1,750 people with more than 400 who commented live (and many more in written statements to CEQ). The overwhelming majority have been supportive of the need for an ecosystem based U.S. ocean and great lakes policy to protect the health and bounty of our public waters. The task force is due to submit its final recommendations to the president on December 9.
On November 19 Blue Frontier Campaign will be holding a “Lessons Learned/ Next Steps” meeting in D.C. for seaweed (marine grassroots) folks to review what’s been accomplished to date and strategize beyond December 9 on how the blue movement can remain engaged and help turn the tide to restore the blue in our red, white and blue.
Shark is the new Dolphin
I recently attended a “Sharktober” fest at San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay where Sherman’s Lagoon cartoonist (and BFC board member) Jim Toomey was given a shark saver award. Groups in attendance included the pro-shark ‘Sea Stewards’ and ‘Dorsal Friends.’ Last month the President of the Pacific island nation of Palau went in front of the U.N. to announce the creation of the world’s first “shark sanctuary”, banning all commercial shark fishing in its 230,000 square miles of water, an area about the size of France. CITES, the international Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species has given protection to three species of shark: Great Whites, Whale Sharks and Basking Sharks and will consider six more, including the less charismatically named spiny dogfish at next year’s meeting. And just as environmentalists campaigned in the 1990s to guarantee dolphin safe tuna two groups recently formed to certify “shark safe” restaurants that can still serve tuna as long as they leave sharks unharmed.
In the midst of this new shark makeover I’ve even seen footage of two advocates who free dive, touch and ride tiger sharks and white sharks to demonstrate that they aren’t really “man-eaters.” Since one of the divers is a woman, even if she’s eaten her supporters could still argue sharks aren’t “man-eaters.”
I tend towards the more cautious advocacy of naturalist author Ed Abbey who used to say, “If there’s not something bigger and meaner than you are out there it’s not really wilderness.”
The odds of course are unfairly stacked. Every year some five to eight humans are killed by sharks worldwide, while we kill 100 million of these sleek, slow-growing carnivores emptying the seas of sharks just as we once emptied our terrestrial frontier of wolves and bears.
While I believe a global moratorium on shark fishing would be both right and justified in terms of maintaining marine diversity and ocean health, I cant’ go along with the trend that anthropomorphizes sharks as sleek but harmless swimming buddies, a misunderstood breed of toothsome Flippers. Not that dolphins are all that sweet natured, but that’s another story. For more on this go to my Huffington Post blog site. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/david-helvarg/
They always said fish is brain food. Now it turns out fish are pretty brainy in their own right, at least reef dwelling damselfish. A research team at the University of Queensland in Australia found that fish they removed from the reef could learn to discriminate shapes in order to feed themselves from a tube. The shapes included bars, stars, discs and circles. They were even better at distinguishing colors. This makes sense given the range of prey and predator stimuli they face in the fish eat fish world of the coral reef. And of course some damselfish will hide or downplay their intelligence when hanging out with jock fish.
In addition, according to the same article in the New York Times, cleaner fish attract other fish and avoid being eaten by showing their colors. Cleaner wrasses attract client fish like barracuda with their blue, yellow and black coloration. I once was surprised to see a coral grazing Parrot Fish about to eat a smaller fish until I realized it was just keeping its mouth open for a cleaner wrasse that was removing parasites from inside its beak. A smart, motivated cleaner can collect and eat up to 1,500 parasites a day. Yummy.
Science inspired by John Belushi
Smart Antarctic fur seals are learning to keep their distance from marine scientists. I’ve been to Antarctica where I’ve watched U.S. researchers making penguins puke for science. But now French scientists have gone a step beyond, pulling out fur seals’ whiskers, claiming that by chopping up and analyzing the protein keratin in the whiskers, and based on ratios of isotopes of carbon and nitrogen, they can identify the seals’ migratory prey (krill, fish, duh) and travels (subtropics, high Antarctic, maybe something we don’t already know). The longest whisker they plucked and measured was 13 inches. Ouch.
This time it’s an excerpt from poet T.S. Elliot’s ‘The Dry Salvages.’ Remember to keep sending in your favorites.
|The river is within us, the sea is all about us;
The sea is the land’s edge also, the granite,
Into which it reaches, the beaches where it tosses
Its hints of earlier and other creation:
The starfish, the horseshoe crab, the whale’s backbone;
The pools where it offers to our curiosity
The more delicate algae and the sea anemone.
It tosses up our losses, the torn seine,
The shattered lobsterpot, the broken oar
And the gear of foreign dead men.
The sea has many voices.
Many gods and many voices