The Beacon: Jon Bowermaster's blog

Guest Post: Dispatch from the Maldives

the maldives

The crystal waters of the Maldives. [Image via Wikimedia Commons]

Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. In this post, Jon reports from the Maldives on the effects of climate change -- and marine protection -- on the country's waters.

There are few places on the planet as remote as the Maldives. Landfall is a thousand miles away from much of the long string of 1,200 islands, most of which are little more than thin, uninhabited strips of sand. Diving into the heart of a Maldivian lagoon, it is easy to imagine you are alone in a distant paradise.

Yet when I did just that a few days ago, in the heart of the Baa Atoll — 463 square miles of aquamarine Indian Ocean recently named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve — something didn’t feel, or look, quite like paradise.

The ocean, though jaw-droppingly beautiful, was a bathtub warm 86 degrees F. Diving to its shallow floor it was quickly clear that the realm below sea level here has been badly impacted in recent years by a combination of man and Mother Nature and resulting fast-warming temperatures.

The coral reefs of the Maldives were first badly damaged in 1998, when shifting ocean patterns associated with El Niño raised sea level temps above 90 degrees. The result then was that 70 to 90 percent of the reefs surrounding the Maldives 26 atolls were badly “bleached,” the warm temperatures killing off the symbiotic algae that lives within the coral and gives it color.

While since then many of the reefs have been recovering, according to a report by the Maldives-based Marine Research Center, another warming last year (2010) estimated that “10-15 percent of shallow reef coral is now completely white, while 50-70 percent has begun to pale.”


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Guest Post: Tech Trends in Traceability

tuna sashimi

Image via istockphoto.com

Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. In this post, Jon reports on the latest trends in seafood traceability.

 One of the oldest tricks in the fishmonger’s book is trotting out the notion that the cod, snapper, flounder or mahi mahi that you are about to be served is “fresh today.”

In too many cases that translates as the fish just arrived in the supermarket or restaurant that morning by truck or plane from some distant place. The reality of course is that most likely it was plucked from a farm or raised in nets from the sea many, many weeks before. I once sat in a salmon broker’s office at a fish farm in the south of Chile while she waited for higher prices, as, the fish she was selling were sitting on ice in a 747 on a runway in Santiago, waiting, ultimately for days, to be delivered.

Thanks to some novel and enterprising partnerships between fishermen and chefs around the sea borders of the U.S. - literally from Maine to Alaska - some restaurants and fish sellers are now guaranteeing that the fish on your plate was swimming free just hours before.


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Guest Post: The Ocean’s Invisible Threat

clownfish

Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. In this post, Jon reports on the dangers of ocean acidification.

Of all the threats to the planet’s ocean, none may be more insidious or have longer-term impact than ocean acidification. It is also the least understood of all the potential harms.

Admittedly it is far easier to visualize plastic afloat on the surface of the Pacific or vast tracts of the Atlantic nearly devoid of fish than a chemical imbalance. But it is the change of acidity that may already be the ocean’s worst enemy.

Try this for a visualization, maybe it will help: 24 million tons of carbon dioxide created by the burning of fossil fuels – or the equivalent of 24 million Volkswagens – are dumped into the world’s ocean every single day.

On top of destroying coral reefs (the equivalent of wiping out rain forests on land) and killing off shellfish beds including mussels and oysters, a new report out of the U.K. suggests that the so-called “evil twin” of global warming is responsible for some fish losing their sense of smell and hearing.


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Guest Post: Bora Bora’s Threatened Reefs

The island of Bora Bora in French Polynesia. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. In this post, Jon reports on the state of corals in Bora Bora.

Bora Bora, Society Islands, French Polynesia – I dove last week in the beautiful lagoon that surrounds the tall island to have a first hand look at how the coral reef is doing in this South Pacific resort island. The report is not good.

Descending to 90 feet, it was immediately clear that the reef has been hammered in the past few years. I’ve come here every year for the past decade and have seen incredible change.

I spent most of the morning observing the still-growing reef system just 10 to 30 feet below the surface. Although the waters are warm and magnificently clear, invasive predators and natural disaster have both taken big tolls.

Populations of acanthaster -- also known as the crown-of-thorns starfish – mysteriously arrived in Polynesia in 2006. No one is sure exactly how they got here or where they originated, though invasive species are well known for hitching rides on cargo ships and jumping off far from home. Here in the shallows surrounding Bora Bora – as they have done to reefs on nearby Moorea, Raiatea-Tahaa, Huahine and Maupiti – the predatory starfish have devoured hundreds of acres of coral.


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Guest Post: Australia Floods Further Endanger Dugongs

© Patrick Louisy via cites.org

Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. His most recent documentary is "SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories" and his most recent book is OCEANS, The Threats to the Sea and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.

The worst flooding in 130 years has turned eastern Australia into a giant wading pond, killing dozens of people, wiping out crops and livestock, destroying tens of thousands of homes and shutting down hundreds of towns and cities.

At risk at the edge of Queensland’s shores is the nearly extinct dugong – the prehistoric marine mammal that looks part sea lion, part bulldog – that feeds off the sea grass that line the coast. Unfortunately the floodwaters are inundating those feeding grounds with sediment, topsoil, rubbish and all sorts of debris on top of toxic industrial and agricultural run-off.

Environmental officials are concerned that the floods will similarly destroy wetlands, coral reefs and marine parks along Australia’s coast. Fresh water kills coral reefs, though  it remains to be seen what the long-term effects will be from this particular flood.


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Guest Post: Boom Times for Squid

A delicious plate of calamari. [Image via Wikimedia Commons.]

Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. His most recent documentary is "SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories" and his most recent book is OCEANS, The Threats to the Sea and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.

Typically at this time of year a certain breed of shopper purposefully wanders the fish stalls of their favorite grocer taking stock of the piles of fresh oysters carefully arranged on crushed ice or to pick up and judge the heft in their hands of tightly packed tins of caviar, which sell for anywhere from $50 to $2,000.

But maybe this is the year to lay off those two favored treats and replace them with something slightly less traditional: squid.

I know, a big bowl of calamari hardly compares to one of caviar… but, man, there’s a lot of squid out there these days. I’m sure some of those very popular sustainable fish chefs have already dreamed up some special calamari entrée to take advantage of the boom.


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