Oceana Magazine Summer 2008: CEO's Note: Next time you're at the beach...
This summer you are likely to visit the ocean. And as you stand on the beach, you can easily have the sense that you are on a boundary - that the line where the land gives way to the water is a divider of two worlds. The facts are different. Life on the land is connected to what happens below the waves. This biological interaction is recognized poetically in the concept of a circle of life. And since the 1970s it is recognized formally in international law, which grants exclusive ocean zones to the coastal nations of the world.
At eye level on the beach, looking out over the ocean, the horizon is about 3.3 miles away. So this summer, while you are at the beach, take a moment to remember that your government has control of all actions that affect the health and abundance of the life under the waves in the vast wide swath of water you survey. Not only that, but that responsibility extends out 70 times further than what you can see - out to a distance of 231 statute miles.
You might want to know what kind of job the government is doing protecting and managing that huge area, filled with countless wild creatures and a vital source of healthy food and protein for humanity.
Imagine, for a moment, that instead of standing oceanside, you were standing by the edge of a vast national park or a forest like those in Africa in which there roamed lions, cheetahs, elephants and huge herds of wildbeest and zebra. You might go find a park ranger and ask for a report on the status of those wonderful creatures.
The longest annual survey of shark populations in the US has been conducted off North Carolina by Duke University. Since 1972, these scientists have documented that the populations of many species of sharks have declined by more than 90 percent. These animals are at single digit percentages of their former populations.
How would you feel if you visited an African park and were told that the 10,000 lions you could have seen in 1972 now numbered only 200? That there were now only 500 giraffes, down from 10,000? 300 elephants?
In the United States, the responsibility for that astounding decline belongs to NOAA Fisheries, a federal agency in the Department of Commerce. In Europe, where similar declines have occurred, responsibility for shark management across much of that continent resides in a Brussels-based arm of the European Union. And in Chile, a national government agency called Sernapesca manages shark populations.
All of these agencies need to do a much more vigorous job at handling their responsibilities as "park rangers" for the oceans. Oceana campaigns help move them to action before it's too late. This summer, our oceangoing catamaran, called Ranger - not by coincidence - is at sea for the fourth year to expose illegal fishing and to demand it be stopped.
Happily, Ranger is joined for the first time by a sister ship, MarViva Med, which will for the first time take our enforcement and documentary expedition to all areas of the Mediterranean Sea.
Next time you're at the beach, remember that you're not at the edge of something, you're actually in the middle of a vast national territory, part liquid and part dirt. Take a moment to demand that your government fishery managers deliver vigorous, competent and strong management for our oceans. You can find details of how to help at www.oceana.org.
You know that at Oceana we are doing that every day.
We are grateful to you for your support.