Friday, June 22, 2012
Jeff Ardron, Director of the Marine Conservation Institute high seas program, reports from Dakar, Senegal as part of his work within the United Nations processes to identify Ecologically and Biologically Significant Areas in the marine environment. (All photos by Jeff Ardron)
The work of the United Nations sounds is important, but excruciatingly slow. Many ocean issues at the UN are addressed using consensus, which means that just one nation can block progress until next year’s meeting, by which time you hope it may have softened its position. Often it is the US, Japan or Canada that does the blocking…
While the pace of international negotiations can be agonizingly slow, human activities in the ocean continue to accelerate. For much of the planet, the overriding goal is to catch fish to keep alive and help support a family.
Last month I travelled to Senegal to wrap up a project to identify gaps in their marine protected area network, and present an overview of the international linkages to help them fill those gaps.
People sometimes ask me what the connection is between our UN work to protect offshore and deep sea species, and coastal well-being. I saw a perfect example when I visited the fishing village of Kayar, a few hours drive northeast of Dakar.
The locals explained to me that recently they had been catching species they had not seen in decades, and which they thought only lived offshore, like tuna and sharks. They showed me two porbeagle sharks (“vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List) that had recently been caught on their longlines.
I noticed right away their fins were still intact! No one had hacked them off to supply shark fins for the international shark fin soup market - because there was no one there to buy them. It is really that simple: there is no market in Senegal for these tasteless things, and because sharks don’t usually get caught inshore there is no export market either.
So, the fishermen asked, why are more offshore species being caught by small boats in inshore fisheries?
Well, as a scientist, I first rub my chin and admit that it’s hard to say. But as that I am also a policy guy, the answer seems clear: “Because the Senegalese government recently cancelled most of the contracts with the foreign trawlers!” Now I can’t prove that… But, for years these foreign trawlers, registered in Europe and Asia, have been dragging gigantic nets back and forth just over the horizon. Each of these ships can catch more than the whole village of Kayar combined. After the foreign trawlers were told to leave, the offshore species have started to reappear in community fisheries, like magic.
It would be great to report that the trawlers were told to leave due to relentless policy advocacy in the UN. Well, that was part of it… but it also came out that during the recent election, the funds collected from these offshore fishing agreements were being used to fund the campaigns of the government of the day… which lost anyhow. Ouch! There went that arrangement –at least for now.
I would like to hope that the ecological advantages can speak for themselves, but politics, greed, and corruption have permeated international fishing so thoroughly that we need stronger instruments to stop this pillage. Kayar just shows what will happen when fisheries are allowed to benefit local communities, and not just foreign trawler fleets. So back to the UN I go… Wish me the patience of a saint (which I most certainly am not) because we will all benefit when it comes to protecting our high seas and offshore fish.
Posted by Jeff Ardron at Friday, June 22, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
by Elliott Norse, Founder and Chief Scientist, June 11, 2012, Redmond WA USA
I love watching what I consider to be really good movies. Indeed, in the future, on occasion, I’d love to share reflections on particular movies in this column. But at this moment I’m thinking not about a particular movie, but about the well-documented process of making movies and the much less-known process of conserving living oceans. As it turns out, there are really interesting similarities.
To make a movie that works, a lot of elements must come together. The substantive basis has to be there (how can you string images together to make a film that’s compelling and affordable?). The artistic basis has to be there (same question as with substance) too. And you have to have players who do key things. In Hollywood they call two kinds of key players the Money and the Talent.
In Hollywood the Talent includes the people who include professional screenwriters, editors, actors, directors, costumers, location managers, sound people, cameramen, etc. At the Marine Conservation Institute, it includes the scientists who ask the right questions, generate useful answers, and then get them to people who can use them to conserve marine life more effectively.
For our first decade, we held the first and second marine conservation biology symposia and generated the first textbook in marine conservation biology as ways to increase the Talent pool in marine conservation. It worked: Now there are thousands of people who think of themselves as marine conservation biologists. Moreover, the young generation of marine conservation researchers, advocates and managers is much smarter than my generation, much better trained and better-rounded. The best ones can seamlessly integrate what used to be called marine science (e.g., marine biology, fisheries biology, oceanography) with the human dimensions (including sociology, economics and psychology and marketing). When we started, the world needed this kind of Talent to save the oceans. Now we’ve got it.
Hollywood and the marine conservation movement also need the Money. Money comes in the form of people and institutions with capital to invest in other people and institutions that can make a difference. Sometimes the Money is in-and-out fast. But the best Money (we know who they are) pick winners again and again because they’re willing to take risks when the evidence tells them the risk is worthwhile.
In Hollywood, it’s no secret that the Money knows they need the Talent, but don’t respect Talent (the thinking is that there’s always a replacement for a talent; they’re like buses: miss one and another will replace it).
And it’s no secret that the Talent doesn’t respect the Money (what do they know about movies when they made their fortune selling cakes or cars?).
But the truth is that you can’t have a movie without both the Talent and the Money. Talent needs to get paid. And Money needs Talent to do the work.
And in our business, Money alone won’t save the oceans. The Talent gets you absolutely nowhere without the Money.
For a long time, the Money knew that there wasn’t enough Talent, and invested in generating it. Now the Talent’s ready to rock. But for lot of us, especially since the Great Recession began, the Money hasn’t been showing up. They’re trying to promote solar power or stop malaria, important stuff, no doubt. But that won’t save the oceans. Lack of Money has become the factor limiting marine conservation, not lack of Talent. And time is very short.
If we want to save the oceans, the Money has to show up. And now is a really good time.
Or, as Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston sang in 1965, “It takes two, baby!”
Posted by Beth at Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Friday, June 15, 2012
Each year, Capitol Hill Ocean’s Week (CHOW) brings together government officials, private businesses, scientists, NGOs, and advocates for a week of lectures, discussions, and panels on various ocean policies, threats, laws, and other issues. This year, the theme, “One Nation, Shaped by the Sea,” served as a reminder to all of us of the interconnectedness of the ocean and our national heritage.
Midway through Oceans Week, the Joint Ocean Commission released a scathing report card on poor federal leadership, international cooperation, funding, and ocean education. Only state and regional efforts received a passing grade. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the demonstrated potential of the ocean and coast to bolster the economy, we must ask ourselves, “Why is it so difficult to pass legislation or effectively fund federal programs and agencies to clean and protect our marine environment?”
Some point to the recession, others to the fact that the oceans do not appear changed to the general public, and still others to politicians who are fearful of angering constituents with restrictive and regulatory policies. While the factors are many, the way to combat them is simple: education.
There is a constituency of ignorance on the coast. This month, the North Carolina Senate approved a bill that would ban the use of sea-level rise calculations in future policy and coastal management plans. Virginia lawmakers substituted the term “recurrent flooding” for “sea-level rise” in a bill that authorized a study of encroaching coastal waters. The long-term benefits of sustainable management have become secondary to short-term gains and political infighting. This cannot continue. We must reconnect the public to the ocean and combat the “bad” science and ignorance that allows the destruction to continue. Education is the most powerful asset we as ocean advocates have.
We can already see examples and success stories of education and cooperation in California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, where effective coastal zone management has seen huge successes. Plans for offshore wind farms, new shipping lanes, marine sanctuaries, and coastal development show great promise for maintaining healthy and productive oceans. If private businesses, government officials, scientists, and ocean advocates can come together at the state level, why not at the federal level?
As we look to the future, we must remember that we cannot expect the public or even policy makers to understand the full implications of their actions (or inaction) unless we, the scientists and ocean advocates, educate them. Hopefully, next year’s marks from the Commission will reflect our increased efforts as we work to save our oceans.
|Sunset on the Olympic Coast|
Photo Credit: NOAA Sanctuaries Collection
Friday, June 01, 2012
As Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Reaches Milestone, Continued Inaction Could Spell Disaster for Our Oceans
Earlier this week, we reached a troubling milestone as carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the Arctic atmosphere exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm).
Increased atmospheric CO2 has a devastating effect on our ocean ecosystems. As the chief regulator of climate, the ocean acts as a “carbon sink,” absorbing more than a quarter of the CO2 humans pump into the air. Increased CO2 absorption results in a lower oceanic pH level, a phenomenon called “ocean acidification.” With a global average of 395 ppm, CO2 levels have increased more than 140% since the Industrial Revolution. The ocean simply cannot keep up.
To learn more about the chemical process of ocean acidification, please click here.
Already, ocean acidification has had serious effects on organisms with calcified shells. As ocean acidity increases, the chemical building blocks for the shells of mollusks and skeletons of corals become less and less available. Consequently, reef structure becomes weaker, coral growth slows, and it becomes easier for disease and encrusting algae to gain a foothold, leading to mass bleachings and die-offs. Reefs are notoriously slow-growing and serve as vital nurseries to commercially and ecologically important fisheries, providing a haven for life in otherwise nutrient-poor water. Therefore, when combined with other stressors such as pollution, increased sedimentation, overfishing, bottom trawling, and a warming ocean, it becomes obvious that our oceans are in a very precarious position.
|Vibrant and healthy coral reef in the Virgin Islands. Photo courtesy of NOAA CCMA Biogeography Team.|
|Acropora corals in the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve in Guam after bleaching event in 2007. Photo credit: Dave Burdick, courtesy of NOAA.|
What can be done to help alleviate the threats to our reefs posed by increased atmospheric CO2? The response must be two-fold. We must create and maintain no-take marine reserves across the globe. Ecosystems that are healthy and not facing multiple assaults have a greater chance of adapting to the changing climate. Additionally, we must continue to monitor and research the effects of ocean acidification, which will help scientists and conservationists focus on the most vulnerable species and ecosystems.
To learn more about Marine Conservation Institute’s efforts to address this emerging threat, please look at our Ocean Acidification page
In 2009, Congress passed the Federal Ocean AcidificationResearch and Monitoring Act (FOARAM) which directed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to work in conjunction with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study and monitor the effects and potential outcomes of ocean acidification as a direct result of rising atmospheric CO2 levels. This was an encouraging first step to understanding and mitigating the effects of climate change on our ocean ecosystems. However, the continued increase in CO2 emissions indicates that our leaders, albeit with a few exceptions, are failing to adequately address climate change. It is real and it is happening, with disastrous implications for the health of our oceans and, by extension, our planet. In this vitally important election year, continue to hold your elected officials accountable.