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.
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.
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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
We've heard of whale beachings before, but it seems as though endangered sea turtles have recently followed suit. Hundreds of olive ridley turtles have been found dead along Bangladesh's coast in the past two weeks. Could it be something in the water? Yes. Most likely pollution and nets.
Now that cell phones are choking hazards and television is high def, it's hard to believe some chlorine plants are still using mercury-cell technology developed back in 1894. The good news is that in the last 48 hours, one of these technological dinosaurs has agreed to enter the 21st century. Each plant that uses this technology emits hundreds of pounds of mercury pollution to our environment every year. So, it is cause to celebrate when another one of these dinosaurs agrees to go mercury free.
The Pioneer chlorine plant in Louisiana will switch to mercury-free technology by the end of 2008 as part of an expansion. The plant, which reported emitting almost 800 pounds of mercury pollution in 2005, expects to increase its energy efficiency by nearly 30% as a result of its conversion, and will save about $31 million each year, making even more of a wonder that they are not all doing it.
We have been working to convince these plants to go mercury free since early 2005. Of the original nine chlorine plants using outdated technology when we started the campaign, Pioneer is the fourth to commit to eliminating its mercury emissions. Its conversion will reduce mercury emissions in Louisiana by almost 20%.