The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

What I learned from Newsweek (the ads, not the articles)

Although I'm no fan of the cigarette companies, I have to give credit where credit is due. They have often been on the cutting edge of advertising and marketing. Marlboro made it cool for men to smoke, Virginia Slims made it cool for women to smoke and Camels made it cool for - well, let's not go there.

Flipping through Newsweek the other day, I came across an ad for American Spirit. Since I'm a non-smoker, I didn't realize there was a cigarette company marketing itself as the "organic" cigarette manufacturer. As I was rolling my eyes at the advertisement, a silver lining emerged from the cloud of tobacco smoke.

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Who would you rather have in your corner - FEMA or MENSA?

With the height of hurricane season approaching, and the Katrina anniversary monopolizing the media, it's fair to say America's got hurricane on the brain. While coastal residents and (let's hope) the government prepare for this year's storms, so, too do marine creatures.

Scientists and volunteers near Conch Reef rounded up about 500 long-spined sea urchins (critical to the health of coral reefs) in a shallow rubble zone and moved them to deeper water on the coral reef where they'll be safer.

Take note, Mr. President. Preventative action before hurricanes = good. Still in the "beginning" stages of recovery a year after the fact = bad.

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We're not gonna need a bigger boat

The classic battle of man vs. fish has resulted in dozens of blockbusters and bestsellers. But the drama and adventure that makes these stories great are noticeably absent from most fishing practices in this day and age. Take, for example, sharking.

A recent article in the Sun Herald outlines a simple three-step process for hunting sharks. Follow a shrimp boat. Wait. Stick your pole in the water.

Shrimp boats, after pulling trawls throughout the night, collect their shrimp and then throw the rest of the catch overboard. This "bycatch" is a smorgasbord of dead or dying fish, and a "feeding frenzy" of sharks quickly ensues. According to the article's author, Al Jones, "fishing behind anchored shrimp boats can be an awesome experience once a feeding frenzy is under way."

Quint must be rolling over in his grave.

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Faster than a speeding tuna?

Am I the only one who thinks world record titles should be reserved for people that actually have a skill? I'm not impressed by the fastest tomato ketchup drinker (Dustin Phillips) or the largest group hug (6,623 participants). And I really don't care who the most overrated celebrity is (Paris Hilton - big surprise).

What does interest me is athletes that excel at their sport to such a degree that if it wasn't videotaped we wouldn't believe them. Athletes like Aaron Peirsol.

Aaron defeated American teammate Michael Phelps by 2.37 seconds for a world record in the 200-meter backstroke at the Pan Pacific Championships on Saturday night in what he called "the best swim of my life." Aaron completed the race in 1 minute 54.44 seconds - about the time it takes you and me to make a sandwich.

You're probably thinking, "that's all very nice and good - but what business does this accomplishment have being on an oceans blog?" The answer is Aaron isn't just a three-time Olympic gold medal winner, he's also an ocean advocate. And when he isn't racing for the gold, he's racing for the oceans.

Congrats Aaron!

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You can't make this stuff up

Twenty-eight years ago, the world welcomed (albeit with raised eyebrows), the first "test tube baby" into the world. Back then, in vitro fertilization (IVF) was considered a radical medical procedure. But after the success of a few hundred thousand IVF babies, it was only logical to take the concept to the next level. Enter coral reefs.

A team of University of Miami marine science researchers is collecting coral eggs and sperm all this week during an annual reproductive ritual, dubbed coral spawning. They hope "test-tube coral babies" will take root to help restore a tract of reef ravaged by a 1984 ship grounding in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Brace yourself for an even more radical idea to help coral reefs: not destroying them in the first place.

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I smell a blockbuster..."Free Willy 4: This Time It's a Turtle"

On Wednesday, more than 150 admiring beachgoers said goodbye to "Little Crush" as it was returned to its salty underwater home. This rehabilitated green sea turtle washed ashore five months earlier, underweight and ill from ingesting more than 70 man-made items discarded in the oceans. After being treated by a team of Walt Disney World animal care specialists, it regained its health and was released into the ocean. Little Crush (so named for his resemblance to Disney's turtle character in Finding Nemo) was also equipped with a satellite transmitter enabling researchers to keep tabs on its ocean voyages. According to 11-year-old Alex Custer, the ceremony was "awesome."

Little did Alex and those other 150 beachgoers know that Little Crush is not heading into a ocean of possibilities, he's heading into a sea of danger. He'll have to run a gauntlet of commercial fishing gear and may -- if he's like many other sea turtles -- end up hooked on a longline or captured in a net. Alex and the beachgoers also mostly likely don't realize that our government ignores its own laws and officially sanctions and allows the catching (and killing) of thousands of endangered and threatened sea turtles by commercial fishing operations every year. Not quite the Disney ending we'd (all) hope for.

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Not getting what you pay for

Yesterday, NPR ran a great seafood story. It seems that restaurant-goers in Florida are ordering one fish, and being served another. The St. Petersburg Times surveyed 11 restaurants that boasted grouper on their menus, but DNA tests revealed that nearly half were serving cheaper substitutes. Who needs cleverly deceptive sales techniques - like bait and switch - when you can just use an oldie but goodie: lying?

Unfortunately, despite recent progress in letting consumers know where their seafood comes from when they buy it themselves, it's not always so easy to verify that the catch of the day at your local seafood joint, is actually....the catch of the day.

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The Oregon dead zone is back

In 2002, scientists discovered a large "dead zone" off the coast of Oregon - a marine area that has virtually no oxygen and thus can't support life. Dead zones are incurring with increasing frequency all over the world. Scientists believe that changes in weather -- sound familiar? -- are contributing to the ever increasing size of the Oregon dead zone. This summer's dead zone is one of the worst. Thousands of dead Dungeness crab, sea stars and other marine life carpet the ocean floor. Check out this video that made Al Pazar, chairman of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission and a crab fisherman himself, "weak in the knees."

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Fashion No-No

I would be derelict in my oceans blogging duties were I not to mention "Scrappy" -- the 10-year-old dolphin that was recently spotted in a speedo. I wish I had a picture to accompany this post, but I guess you'll just have to use your imagination.

It's the type of story any morning show would be happy to report on, but the truth is the speedo hindered Scrappy's ability to hunt food and avoid predators. After at least 28 days of swimming in the suit, a team of volunteers, biologists, and veterinarians freed the underweight dolphin and found multiple shark bites and wounds on the creature. Don't worry: Scrappy is expected to make a full recovery.

But you have to ask yourself what motivates people to rally and fight for the life of one dolphin, when so many others are needlessly killed every day. Such is the wonder of human nature.

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Not even a slap on the wrist

I've often said in order to protect our oceans, we need better laws, but more importantly, we need to enforce the laws we already have. This article by the St. Petersburg Times illustrates this point to a T. Long-lining, a fishing technique that boosts catches, generates enough revenue to allow boat owners to hire contract crews. But contract crews are in such short supply that those that continuously break the law suffer no consequences and have no problem getting hired.

The quote of the day comes from Lawrence Divirgilio, a boat-owner who hired a less-than-reputable captain for his ship. "It's a damn shame we have to break a law to make a living."

It's time the laws protecting our oceans were enforced just like the laws we land-based creatures have to live by. What we need is simple: fishery managers around the world with the courage and will to vigorously enforce the law.

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