The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog
Mother Jones just launched a unique website that highlights the threats facing our oceans. What's noteworthy about this site, is that it doesn't focus on the work of one organization, but rather highlights the best of the best of what a multitude of nonprofits are doing to conserve our oceans. Oceana's mercury pollution work, Greenpeace's pirate fishing work and World Wildlife Fund's polar bear work all live in perfect harmony. It's refreshing to find journalists that are more interested in the big picture, than playing favorites. Check it out.
I love fish as much as the next guy. Broiled, baked, fried, it doesn't matter -- as long as it's swimming in butter (no pun intended). But being an expert in the plight of our oceans precludes me from rewarding my palette at every opportunity. As the New York Times reports, "many [fish] varieties are nearly depleted and many have been tainted by industrial pollution."
So I constantly consult my pocket seafood guide (PDF) to remember which is the "good" fish and which is the "bad." It's a shame that our short-sighted, destructive practices have forced us to rely on such guides, but they are an essential resource. Hopefully they'll catch on more than Richard Simmons's deal-a-meal did.
Remember those high seas, adventure stories you were told as a child? Think Treasure Island and the like. In them, pirates roamed the seas, boarding ships in search of gold and searching for lost treasure on remote tropical islands. They stole what they could, until tracked down and confronted by the law.
Well, these aren't just kids' stories. Unfortunately, pirates are still at sea, except instead of gold doubloons, they are often plundering our ocean wildlife and fishery resources.
We spend much time discussing the threats and dangers that plague our oceans. At Oceana we work to protect the oceans not only because of how they sustain us physically but also because of how they leave us in awe. From time to time, I want to take a break from talking about what ails our oceans and instead share with you some of the reasons I find it amazing.
While the oceans have always been vital to cultures around the world, can you believe that it was only in the 1870s that people began to explore and document the diversity of life in the deep sea?
It is no wonder that even in recent years we continue to learn of fascinating marine habitats and creatures whose existence we could not even fathom.
Marine scientists are predicting that unless we change what we're doing to the ocean, we've got about twenty years before irreversible damage is done.
Scientists also tell us that the most immediate threat to ocean health is posed by the short-sighted practices of industrial scale commercial fishing. Not only are we taking too many fish out of the ocean, but we are destroying vital habitat, and killing vast numbers of wildlife - including turtles, seabirds and marine mammals along with countless fish - as accidental bycatch.
It is reasonable to wonder what you are probably thinking now: why isn't the United States government agency responsible for managing our oceans doing a better job? (FYI, that agency is called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and it is a part of the Department of Commerce.) At this point in my conversations with many of you, you suggest that along with fighting to reduce habitat destruction and bycatch, Oceana should also seek changes in the way this agency manages our oceans. If this agency has a consistently bad track record, then we need to reform the agency itself.
Some fishing gear is so devastating to marine wildlife that the nations of the world agree they should not be used. Large drift gillnets fall into this category, and the United Nations banned their use on the high seas in 1991.
Sadly, smaller legal drift gillnets in United States waters have many unintended victims, among them endangered and threatened sea turtles. Indeed, like us, a sea turtle entangled underwater in a gillnet can drown in just minutes.
No wonder some people call these gillnets "curtains of death."
All drift gillnets - even "smaller" legal ones - are made of plastic mesh panels that stretch for hundreds of yards, and are allowed to drift at sea for long periods of time, capturing anything that comes their way. Because of the non-selective manner in which they work, this is one of the most wasteful and dirty ways to catch fish.
Oceana has won a significant victory in the Pacific that will protect krill - small, shrimp-like crustaceans that many marine species rely on for food - from commercial fishing in that region.
Krill are a key component of the ocean eco-system. Many seabirds, whales and fish rely on krill. Wild salmon eat krill - it is what gives their flesh a healthy, pink hue. Krill are also the primary food source for the world's largest animal, the blue whale.
Unfortunately, some governments, including ours, were considering harvesting krill for commercial purposes like supplying fish food for salmon farms. Harvesting krill on such a large scale would take away the food source of wild fish, seabirds and whales, and would be catastrophic for the marine food web.
Looking back at February, I have had one thing on my mind - whales. When it comes to these creatures, it has been a time of mixed emotions on the Pacific coast of North America.
As we look back on the life of Peter Benchley, let us not only recall his facility with language and storytelling, but also his passion for ocean conservation. Benchley himself worked throughout his life to remind us that sharks are a vital part of our ecosystem and should be treated with respect. Most shark species are long-lived, are late to reach reproductive maturity, have long gestational periods, and often produce few pups. These characteristics make it difficult for an impaired population to rebound, and make sharks highly vulnerable to human attack.
All of us at Oceana are optimistic about our prospects in 2006. Part of this optimism is hardwired into our campaigners' psyches. But a large part of it is rooted in the fact that we've scored so many victories during 2005. We've proven to ourselves - and to any reasonable observer - that together with your active support, we can win vital protections for the world's oceans.
I started to make a list of these victories to share with you. Here are some of the highlights of 2005:
o Protecting Corals: In the Pacific, Oceana's approach to deep-sea coral protections successfully closed more than half a million square miles of seafloor to bottom trawling. The closures are the largest ever in U.S. waters, and will help pave the way for similar protections of critical seafloor habitat elsewhere against clear-cutting by trawlers.
- Tackling Illegal Fishing in Italy: Behind the Scenes Posted Tue, July 22, 2014
- Chilean Salmon Industry Found to Use Highest Amount of Antibiotics Worldwide Posted Tue, July 22, 2014
- Ocean News: Great Barrier Reef Will be “Pretty Ugly” by 2050, Sea Turtle Nests Down in South Carolina, and More Posted Wed, July 23, 2014
- Eleven Florida Lawmakers Urge President Obama to Reconsider Approval for Seismic Airgun Testing Posted Wed, July 23, 2014
- Video: Spangled Emperor Fish Dazzle the Great Barrier Reef Posted Wed, July 23, 2014