Blue Notes #82 – Green Ports, Bluefins, Rising Seas, Rising Hopes and Presents
By David Helvarg
December 6, 2010
It was good to see the Obama administration reverse course this month on drilling for oil off the Eastern seaboard and in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. This came in the wake of this spring/summer/fall’s/ongoing BP oil blow-out disaster. These areas will now be off limits until at least 2017 when Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar says more effective safety measures will be in place. Hopefully those safety measures will include a global shut off valve to assure no more new release of climate-disrupting fossil fuels.
On another front, a new report put out by fisheries experts Daniel Pauly, Enric Sala of National Geographic and other leading scientists confirms what many of us have known, that there won’t always be another fish in the sea. The report documents that global fisheries have expanded so quickly in recent decades that there is no place left to deplete. Of course we could still conserve what’s left but that would take some sensible management (see Buffalo to Bluefin below). Top
I recently spent several days at “America’s Port” of Los Angeles, the largest in the Western Hemisphere. With the adjacent port of Long Beach it is the 5th largest port complex in the world, moving some $350 billion in goods every year. If you buy something marked “Made in China”, odds are it came over these docks. But this isn’t a story about the balance of trade. As the first marine biologist to run a major port Dr. Geraldine Knatz is changing the way commerce is carried out, leading a global greening ports movement.
Thirty years ago as a grad student she dove the port’s waters and found them dead, containing no dissolved oxygen. Today, thanks to restrictions on runoff pollution and kelp bed and other restoration efforts, I saw sea lions, fish and pelicans in the port.
The major effort in the last four years has been to reduce air pollution that impacts the health of surrounding communities. The port’s Clean Truck Program has slashed diesel pollution from some 5,000 trucks by 90 percent despite industry suits and complaints (and hardship for some drivers). They are now focusing on cleaner locomotives for the port’s rail yards and using dockside electric power instead of dirty bunker fuel when ships are operating in port. The State of California also requires that ships burn clean low-sulfur fuels within 25 miles of the coast. The shipping industry has responded by altering 65 percent of their vessel approaches from inside the Channel Islands to outside the islands, skirting the 25-mile limit until the last possible moment. Some companies are also complaining about ballast water management rules aimed at reducing the introduction of invasive species into the port’s waters. This kind of resistance doesn’t please the Port Chief who told me she wants her customers to expand their business but only by signing onto her cleaner action plan. Top
The difference between today’s Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, big fast fantastic top tier predators of the ocean, and the grazing buffalo herds of the 19th century’s great plains is that when we were wiping out the Buffalo no one pretended to be “conserving” them.
On November 27 the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and its 48 member nations agreed to keep their catch limit on endangered Mediterranean and Atlantic Bluefin essentially unchanged. This, despite a new report and documentary by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists documenting massive illegal fishing and the inability of ICCAT to track even their own trade in Bluefin.
In March Japan made sure the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted down a proposal to ban trade in Bluefin tuna (See Blue Notes # 72). Marine conservationists then told me their last hope to prevent the possible extinction of Bluefin was to get ICCAT to finally act responsibly. That clearly has not happened. And while blue activists will continue to lobby, Mitsubishi, the world’s major buyer of Bluefin for high-end Japanese sushi, is stockpiling tons of the fish in deep freezer units for the inevitable spike in prices when even ICCAT recognizes the big fish have gone. Top
Despite having a right-wing attorney general who is investigating the University of Virginia for producing good science on climate change (which he considers a hoax) the often-flooded coastal city of Norfolk is tackling sea-level rise head-on according to the New York Times. In August Mayor Paul D. Fraim noted that if the sea continues rising, the city might actually have to create “retreat” zones.
Kristen Lentz, the acting director of public works, refers to these contingency plans as new zoning opportunities. “If we plan land use in a way that understands certain areas are prone to flooding,” Ms. Lentz said, “we can put parks in those areas. It could be a win-win for the environment and community.”
This reminds me of my recent interview with President Anote Tong of the island nation of Kiribati, expected to be submerged by rising seas by mid-century (see Blue Notes # 80). Seeking new lands for his 100,000 people, he told me they don’t like the term refugee but prefer “relocation with dignity.”
“Relocation with dignity” or “new zoning opportunities”, the reality is we are in the early phase of massive global dislocations linked to sea-level rise (up to 6 feet by century’s end by some estimates) and are, for the most part, not preparing either to mitigate the impacts or address the cause (fossil-fuel fired climate change). So, good luck at the new round of global climate change negotiations in the seaside resort of Cancun, Mexico. Bring your waders. Top
We are only doomed when we stop fighting and the watermen and women I know are not giving up. Some 50 folks from 44 ocean related organizations met in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, California in mid-November to begin planning for the third Blue Vision Summit (BVS 3) this coming May 20-23 in Washington, D.C. In San Francisco, planning partners got a bonus behind the scenes tour of the Cal Academy Aquarium.
The last Summit in March 2009 helped advance federal ocean policy, unify the blue movement, let policy-makers know there’s a constituency for our public seas and established the Benchley Awards as a kind of annual Academy Awards for those who act on behalf of the ocean.
The 2011 Summit will focus on restoring the Gulf of Mexico and other endangered bodies of water and implementing the new U.S. Ocean Policy in the waters where people are already working for change. Both planning meetings focused on the need to make this an action-oriented summit that can build and define the community and develop a common plan of action.
The enthusiasm of the planners from National Geographic, NOAA, Pew, Oceana, NRDC, TOC, Gulf Restoration Network, Clean Ocean Action, Reef Relief, Greenpeace, the Longshore Union (ILWU), Pacific Coast Fishermen (PCFFA), Office of Rep. Sam Farr (D. CA) and many others was outstanding. Now it’s time to step forward to help sponsor, organize, plan and (coming in January!) register for BVS3.
Gifts for You & Your Loved Ones
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We at Blue Frontier Campaign work hard to provide tools to marine activists and facilitate collaboration and expansion of the blue movement to achieve common goals for ocean protection and restoration. We’re a tiny staff of two and rely largely upon individuals like you to help keep the lights on. Your tax-deductible holiday gift will enable us to coordinate an incredible Blue Vision Summit, Peter Benchley Ocean Awards, and keep working towards a healthy, verdant Blue Frontier for all. If you like what we’re doing, drop a few dollars in the hat; make a donation today.
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