The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

Cameras for dead fish? No deal.

Like a chapter out of an adventure novel by Robert Louis Stevenson the research crew aboard Oceana's research catamaran, the Ranger, found themselves in peril amidst the clutches of a seven-ship band of angry fishermen wielding hooks.



The Ranger, at sea now for two weeks photographing the use of illegal driftnets in international waters off of France, was sailing peacefully when seven ships surrounded the vessel demanding cameras and other incriminating evidence. The angry commercial fishermen immobilized the Ranger's propellers with rope, and hurled fish (and four-letter words) at the crew.


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Tune in to the Green

Your TV just got a little smarter. As Amanda mentioned last month, the Sundance Channel has launched "The Green," a weekly primetime destination that showcases original series and documentaries based on the earth's ecology and "green" concepts for living in better harmony with the planet.



I'm personally excited about this project now that my favorite Seafood Contamination Campaign spokeswoman, Amber Valletta, has her very own spot. She joins the ranks of other thespians, athletes and supermodels using their fame for the good of the environment.



>>Check out this actress in action.


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A Kodak moment indeed





To you, this picture may just look like ants marching in a desert, but among ocean experts, this picture has gone as viral as Britney's shaved head. What you're seeing is an image of shrimp trawlers off the coast of China, taken from space. Those teeny, tiny specs are responsible for destroying huge swaths of seafloor and thanks to these images, which appeared in the prestigious journal Nature yesterday, scientists now have irrefutable visual evidence to prove what they could only conceptualize before.


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Cutting the purse [seine] strings

The only thing worse than overfishing our oceans and driving species to the brink of extinction is the government paying to do it. That's been the case for far too long, as upwards of $30 billion (that's billion, with a "b") worth of subsidies are handed over to the fishing industry every year. A whopping $20 billion of that are used for things like boat repairs, fishing equipment and fuel; expenses that allow for increased and intensified fishing practices.


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Shark Tales Down Under

It's no wonder so many people flock to Queensland, Australia. The fastest growing region on the southeast side of the continent down under offers a subtropical climate with an outdoorsy lifestyle -- and an abundance of bull sharks?

These feisty elasmobranches are so abundant in fact that residents are catching them off apartment balconies with rigs no more complicated than a pork chop tied to a string.

Though bull sharks abound in the Golden Coast canals, sharks on the whole are actually in trouble. Experts estimate that close to 100 million sharks are caught every year (and mostly by commercial fishing gear, not by pork chops on strings).


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A Tale About Sharks: Reading the Fin Print

Some folks are quick to give sharks a bad rep without considering their importance as top feeders in the marine food web. But when we remove these so-called lions of the ocean from their habitat through shark-finning and bycatch, it doesn't take long for the rest of the food web to feel the effects. Chew on this:

In 2004, North Carolina's century-old bay scallop fishery effectively ended because too few scallops survived into the autumn to sustain fishing, according to a report published in Science last month.

The culprit? Rays. Vast increases in the numbers of rays, which eat scallops. The rays have been decimating the young scallops before they could grow to commercial size.

So where do the sharks come in?


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A bad deal for eels

Though eel populations have declined 99 percent since the 1970s, according to a spokesman for the European Union, an EU eel conservation plan three years in the making was nixed by the French, according to a story by Charles Clover.

Mr. Clover is the environmental editor of the United Kingdom's Telegraph newspaper, and author of one of Oceana's favorite books The End of the Line.


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Green issue drives onto Main Street

Tom Friedman, in last Sunday's New
York Times Magazine
, makes the point that green is the color that can unite the red and blue states.

At Oceana we have found that conservation issues can and do cross party lines. For example, the Bush administration (yes, the Bush administration!) recently -- after working closely with our organization and other groups -- submitted a proposal in the ongoing World Trade Organization talks that would significantly cut fisheries subsidies.


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Scientists pop the lid on a Pandora's Box in Antarctic waters

Captain Kirk would argue that space is the final frontier. But scientists studying marine life throughout a newly revealed portion of the Antarctic sea floor, which had been buried under solid ice for the last five millennia before global warming kicked in, beg to differ.



The collapse of two ice shelves on the eastern shore of Antarctica has exposed a Jamaica-sized section of sea floor teeming with thousands of species of marine life, including 30 believed to be completely new to science.



Fifty-two scientists representing 14 nations returned last month after cataloguing 1,000 species during a 10-week voyage covering 10,000 miles of ocean floor aboard the German icebreaker vessel Polarstar.


And that's just the tip of the iceberg.



"This is virgin geography," said Gauthier Chapelle, outreach officer for the expedition and biologist at the Brussels-based International Polar Foundation, in a statement. "If we don't find out what this area is like now following the collapse of the ice shelf, and what species are there, we won't have any basis to know in 20 years' time what has changed, and how global warming has altered the marine ecosystem."



And what global warming giveth, global warming will eventually taketh away. Scientists are surprised at the accelerated rate in which organisms flocked to the area, but gradually increasing water temperatures are already affecting algae populations - the foundation of the food chain.


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Call Me Colossal

Its eyes are the size of dinner plates; its tentacles, large enough to fashion tractor wheel-sized calamari rings. It stretches longer than a semi-truck, weighs more than a Harley, and glides effortlessly throughout the darkest depths of the Antarctic waters, using razor sharp hooks to gobble up the unlucky that fall into its path.



This is not the tale of a fabled sea monster or an excerpt from a Herman Melville classic. This is the true story of a colossal catch netted by New Zealand fishermen earlier this month. It took two hours to land what is presumably the largest and only mature male specimen of a colossal squid - a rare find indeed.


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