image from BBC news online
I grew up on a small island off the coast of Georgia, nothing exotic, it was a typical coastal suburb. I had my own boat and or access to boats from an early age. I learned to swim, sail, surf, and pilot a small shrimping rig with my father. One of my favorite moments in shrimping was pulling in the net. It was a small net and we made very short shallow drags, as a result the creatures we brought up were in good shape. It was usually my job to sort out the shrimp for keeping and to return the by catch, though we didn't know that term back then, to the sea. I don't recall ever returning the fish, crabs, oysters, periwinkles and the occasional sea turtle in less than healthy condition. Of course, I was young and not a marine biologist, it could be that those creatures were stressed the point of death but they all seemed pretty healthy to me. I was fascinated with the diversity in life in our estuarine home.
But all was not good. We saw crab kills in the tidal inlet we lived on as a result of over application of pesticides in the neighborhood, wholesale destruction of the the marsh habitat, one of the most fecund on earth, in the name of residential development, and perhaps the worst was the careless development of our island and surrounding islands. Housing replaced pond based egret and spoonbill rookeries as well as ancient groves of live oak, saw palmetto, and pine. Bio diversity plummeted, the blue heron, spoonbills, osprey and pelicans disappeared. Raccoon, possum, and white tail deer pushed out of their forest habitat, moved into the neighborhoods and were generally shot or run down by cars.
But as the fledgling environmental movement gained steam, controls on development and marsh destruction were put in place, DDT was banned and it's effects began to disappear. The area now hosts populations of osprey, blue heron and pelicans. Last time I was there I even saw an otter! Development continues but there are some protections in place for biodiversity, on land at least. But what about the oceans? Sure we may have reduced our assault from individual sites but we have drastically increased the number of sites. Indeed, all indications are that the oceans of our one and only planet are in deep trouble.
In an interview with Worldchanging the eminent oceanographer Sylvia Earle describes;
"the two-pronged assault on the seas: what we are pulling out of the oceans, through unfettered industrial fishing, and what we are putting into the oceans through pollutants, fertilizers, and growing amounts of carbon dioxide that are leading to a dangerous acidification of the sea....how the current system of aquaculture — in which carnivorous predators such as salmon are raised — is folly, and how the massive influx of carbon dioxide into the world’s oceans is altering a precious balance that has existed for millions of years....
The world’s oceans, Earle concludes, can still be redeemed, but only through swift and decisive action.
“We get to choose,” she told e360 senior editor Fen Montaigne. “We either get to choose by conscious action or by default because we are complacent... thinking somebody else will look after this. But nobody else will take care of these issues.”What amazes me about this situation is that we continue to do exactly that, we assume it is someone elses problem. I myself am guilty, having recently purchased organic farmed salmon for dinner parties. I, like everyone of us needs to become conscious consumers. I've stopped purchasing tuna altogether mostly because of the levels of mercury but also out ignorance about the source. I've heard that bluefin tuna are nearing extinction and I don't want to contribute to their demise. As Dr. Earle says;
"Even now some believe that actually the ocean is limitless in its capacity to yield whatever we want to take. But we should have learned with whales. We should have learned with wildlife on the land that we have the power — through both our numbers and our technologies — to be able to find, kill, extract and market, to decimate, anything that swims in the ocean.
e360: I know that there have been studies showing that many of the top ocean predators may be down by as much as 90 percent.
Earle: And more. [With] bluefin tuna in the North Atlantic... we’re down by 90 percent. Of course, we weren’t trying to exterminate them. All of these learned minds were directed toward trying to find a magic balance of sustainability, which turned out to be a big illusion. Look at tuna... we’re still killing them. Amazingly, we haven’t come to the realization that, like the whales, if you want them to recover from severe depletion, stop killing them. Just stop!
And here’s the thing, it’s not to feed starving millions of people, it’s to feed a luxury appetite [Sushi]. We can be the agents of destruction or we can be the agents of a positive change. It’s up to us
We don’t have a lot of time. Maybe we’ve already signed the death warrant, the extinction warrant, for bluefin tuna. But because there are still some there, there’s cause for hope. But not if we keep killing them." (follow the link above to read the entire interview)
What is preventing us from bringing the bluefin tuna back from the brink? Clearly it is demand, consumerism, and greed. Shy of strong international governmental efforts we can at least personally stop eating bluefin tuna. I think the worlds navies should be tasked with enforcing much stronger fisheries regulation.
But the damage we are causing fisheries goes beyond threatening us with starvation due to species extinction, we are upsetting the very chemical balance of the ocean and compromising it's ability to sequester carbon in a healthy manner.
Again from Dr. Earle;
"Fish, every living thing, is a carbon container. By extracting millions of tons of ocean wildlife, it’s like clear-cutting forests. You have removed the carbon-based units.
But this destruction of the great ocean food web, the destruction of the habitats in the sea, the dredging, the trawling, that [alters] these finely tuned systems that have developed over literally hundreds of millions of years... We call it the great green engine that generates oxygen and takes up carbon dioxide at a point that is just right for life. But our actions in just a little slim period of time have so altered the nature of nature.
You have to think pretty hard about what we are doing and change our ways. And part of it relates to what we are doing to the sea, what we are taking out — the carbon based units that we are removing and the structure of the ecosystem in the seas that holds the planet steady."
We are wholly dependent upon healthy oceans for our very survival.
What is our government planning do about it? The following is from the Care2Causes website by LiAnna D;
"Have you ever enjoyed America's coast lines, oceans or Great Lakes? ... Then support the conclusions of an Obama Administration task force that our oceans must be protected today.
... President Obama said, ""We have a stewardship responsibility to maintain healthy, resilient, and sustainable oceans, coasts and Great Lakes resources for the benefit of this and future generations." ... he established an Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, headed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
... Currently, our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes are managed by more than 140 different and often conflicting laws, which leads to poor management and even worse problems.
Pollution, habitat loss, overfishing and climate change provide additional challenges. What we really need is one unifying national policy that will protect, maintain, and restore the health of our ocean ecosystems.
That's what the Task Force has developed. A Christian Science Monitor article explains:
At its core, the plan would set up a new National Ocean Council to guide a holistic "ecosystem-based" approach intended to elevate and unify what has long been a piecemeal approach by US agencies toward ocean policy and development -- from oil and gas exploration to fisheries management to ship transportation to recreation. ...
Among the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force's national objectives were:
1. Ecosystem-based management as a foundational principle for comprehensive management of the ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes.
2. Coastal and marine spatial planning to resolve emerging conflicts to ensure that shipping lanes and wind, wave, and oil and gas energy development do not harm fisheries and water quality.
3. Improved coordination of policy development among federal state, tribal, local, and regional managers of ocean, coasts, and the Great Lakes.
4. Focus on resiliency and adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification.
5. Pay special attention to policies needed to deal with changing arctic conditions.
All decisions, the interim report says, will be based on the "best available science." ... it needs your support today!The comment period will end on October 17 -- so get your comment in today! Support the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force's plan to ensure our oceans and Great Lakes are healthy for inhabitants today and for generations to come. "
So please, follow the link and register your support for this important effort.