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.
Each year, U.S. commercial fishing operations throw away at sea more than one million metric tons of fish, an amount equivalent to 28% of all commercial landings (fish brought ashore) and more than all of the fish landed on the East and West coasts combined. These unwanted fish are known as bycatch and are dumped overboard, often already dead.
Oceana is hosting what promises to be one of the most exciting celebrity events and environmental fundraisers this season - and you are invited.
Our hosts for the evening will be Ted Danson and Amber Valletta. As a member of our Board of Directors and Oceana's Seafood Campaign spokesperson, respectively, Ted and Amber are passionate about Oceana and marine conservation.
Their comments on Oceana's campaigns will contribute to the evening and should inspire intriguing discussions on ocean issues.
The celebration is shaping up to be engaging in other ways as well. Located at New York's most exclusive new apartment building, Astor Place, the interior has been custom decorated by well known designers. As an attendee, you will get to see this extraordinary apartment, mingle with celebrities, and help us save the oceans at the same time.
Tickets are $250 and availability is limited, so please RSVP as soon as you can. Thanks to the generosity of Esquire, the bulk of your ticket price will go to Oceana and towards helping to save the world's oceans.
To learn more and RSVP for this event, just follow this link:
Thanks for your ongoing support of Oceana. I hope to see you at Esquire Downtown!
You will be pleased to learn that in the past few months thousands of people have jumped in to help Oceana alert the public to the risks of mercury-contaminated seafood. Thank you for your terrific help.
Last week, Oceana honored two leaders whose actions have also helped consumers become smarter and healthier seafood purchasers. California's Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the national grocery chain Wild Oats Markets were both honored with the 2005 Ted Danson Ocean Hero Award for their leadership in preventing mercury exposure in California and throughout the nation.
By state law, California supermarkets are already required to post signs warning of the threat of mercury in seafood. For years, the state has required warnings on products that contain chemicals like mercury that are known to cause reproductive harm, cancer and other serious health problems.
Attorney General Lockyer has led the enforcement of this law. Oceana Board of Director's member Ted Danson praised Attorney General Lockyer, saying, "He has taken on all those who have worked to undermine its effectiveness, including supermarket chains, tuna companies and even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."
At Oceana, we have asked why aren't there signs in grocery stores throughout the rest of the country? We are all equally at risk of ingesting too much mercury in our seafood diets.
Wild Oats asked itself the same question -- and did something about it. It is the first national grocery chain to voluntarily post warning signs in all of its stores throughout the United States. Sonja Tuitele from Wild Oats shared that its signs, "are simply allowing customers to make informed choices for themselves and their families."
The public needs to be better informed about mercury levels in fish. California's law requiring businesses to post warnings when products can pose harm to one's health is a step in the right direction - but we need more. All grocery stores nationwide should post these warnings now. If we are all aware of the risks mercury in seafood can pose to our health, then we can make better choices to protect ourselves and our children.
Oceana's Seafood Contamination Campaign sent letters to the heads of several major grocery chains, including Safeway, Whole Foods, Costco, Wal-Mart, Albertsons, Trader Joe's, and Royal Ahold, owners of Giant and Stop-n-Shop, requesting that they post warning signs in all their stores to help consumers make educated choices when buying seafood.
Two weeks ago, we teamed up with Turtle Island Restoration Network and went a step further. We placed a full page ad in the national edition of the New York Times. View the full image on our site.
Wouldn't it be great if even more people could learn about this?
If you are interested in underwriting the placement of this ad in your local paper, Oceana is willing to manage the project. Send me an email!