Our catamaran -- Ranger -- is currently in the Mediterranean as part of our 2006 driftnets expedition. For those of you that don't know, driftnets are large nets that indiscriminately catch massive amounts of fish and other creatures (like dolphins and whales). They are so destructive that many countries -- including the U.S. and the European Union -- have banned their use.
Our crew has identified several illegal driftnet vessels during the voyage and we have notified the Italian authorities on each occasion. The collaboration has been incredibly successful and many ships have been exposed. Just two days ago, working off of our tips, the Coast Guard arrested eight fishing boats.
The fishermen are so furious about the driftnet laws that they took a page out of the progressive playbook and had themselves a sit in last month, blockading two train stations. The protest wasn't enough to persuade the EU to reverse the ban, so the law remains on the books and Ranger remains in the Mediterranean on the look out.
In this day and age, there's little you can't do online. Book a flight? Click. File your taxes? Click. Chat with Aunt Sally on the other side of the world? Click. Contact your representative? Not so fast.
Congress wants to add "logic puzzles" to its already difficult web forms in an effort to reduce the amount of e-mails it gets from those troublesome folks that elected them to office. Apparently, sending an e-mail like this one through an advocacy group, doesn't qualify you as a constituent with a legitimate concern. You need to answer questions like "what's 5 minus 1?" to get your Congressman (most likely, your Congressman's staffer) to read your e-mail.
Advocacy groups are not letting this slide. Oceana has joined with at least 30 other groups in a letter to Congress today stating among other things that this technology "raise[s] dangerous questions about the infringement of constituents' First Amendment rights." It's not yet clear whether we'll be sending this letter via snail mail.
In the last five years, I can count on one hand the number of times environmental groups have come together to praise a new policy by President Bush - and that one hand was probably making a fist. So for the ocean conservation community to be celebrating the president's announcement today, you know this is a VERY big deal.
George W. Bush is designating the world's largest fully protected marine reserve - 84 million acres to be exact. A biologically rich string of islands known as the Northwestern Hawaii Islands (NWHI) will now enjoy complete federal protection from commercial fishing activities as a new National Monument. This is fantastic news for the seals, turtles, albatrosses, sharks, corals and other marine life that call these waters home and a strange, welcome, happy, confusing moment for conservationists everywhere. Congratulations to our colleagues who worked so hard to make this happen, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, The Ocean Conservancy, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Environmental Defense, and especially all the groups in Hawaii. Read all about it.
The International Whaling Commission will gather this Friday in St. Kitts for its annual meeting. For 20 years now, Japan and other pro-whaling nations have done everything in their power to convince the IWC to reverse the whaling moratorium it set back in the 80s.
What remains a mystery is why Japan is so obsessed with the resumption of whaling. Recent polls suggest that fewer than half of Japanese people have ever tried whale meat, and just 1% eat it regularly. Over 2,000 supermarkets have stopped selling it in the last few years, due to lack of demand.
Last week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission downgraded the listing of manatees as "endangered" to "threatened." Don't get me wrong: it's great that their numbers have increased. Scientists have counted 3,116 manatees in Florida waters -- up from 1,267 in 1991. But they also say the state's manatee population is predicted to decrease 50 percent in the next five years because of habitat loss, boat collisions, and red tide blooms.
So, just so we're all clear, the manatee is no longer on the brink of extinction -- but is expected to be on the brink again in 2011? At first I thought I was the only one who believed the manatee should be considered endangered until such time as scientists think it's likely that the population has recovered and can remain healthy. But then I saw that 17 environmental groups have already filed a petition with the state seeking to have the entire protection classification system revamped.
Yes - it is a real thing. In 1992 World Ocean's Day was created at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. It's an opportunity each year to celebrate the oceans and the wildlife that depend on them for survival. So blow out some candles - no, wait, dye some eggs. Er - scratch that. Ask for candy. Actually, all the good gimmicks are taken. Just send an e-card and show a little love for the oceans.
It's no surprise that long-line fishing is depleting our fish populations in staggering numbers. But what many don't realize is that the effects are felt above the ocean's surface as well. As the BBC reports, up to 100,000 albatrosses a year get caught on the baited hooks of long-lines and are pulled down and drown. Populations of three species breeding on South Georgia (country - not state!) and outlying islands have declined by about a third in the past 30 years. Dr. Sullivan of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said simple measures such as "flying streamers behind the fishing boat or adding weights to the line so they sink more quickly would help to stop albatrosses being killed."
That's easier said than done. If fisherman were willing to take "simple measures," we wouldn't have the massive dirty fishing problem we have today.
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.