Monday, June 30, 2008

Welcome To The New RTSea Blog!

As you can see, the RTSea Blog has been revamped, offering more features and information. You'll notice that I transferred all of the past postings from the old blog, so feel free to peruse past postings. I hope you all enjoy the new look and feel free to comment or submit postings. The more communication we can develop regarding environmental and conservation issues, the better. Let's help "Make the Message Matter." - Richard Theiss/RTSea

National Aquarium hosts Island of the Great White Shark screening

On June 17th & 18th, I was the guest of the National Aquarium in Baltimore for a screening and lecture of Island of the Great White Shark. Like many of the aquariums I have visited, this is a marvelous, proactive organization with a very dedicated staff. I had the opportunity to swap stories with Chuck Eicholtz, the Aquarium's dive safety officer, and Alan Henningsen, fish research specialist and resident shark expert.

Suzanne Ebbert and Polly Yanick of the membership department kept my itinerary full and I had a marvelous opportunity to tour the Center of Marine Biotechnology (COMB) to witness first hand the progress they are making in replenishing the regional Blue Crab population through aquaculture. A mainstay of the Chesapeake Bay, the blue crab population has diminished by as much as 80% through over-fishing. The efforts of COMB to rebuild the breeding population hold great promise.

On Tuesday, the 17th, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by the FOX 45 Morning Show to promote the Wednesday night screening. Click on this Fox 45 news link.
The screening was well-attended and the Aquarium has a fantastic theater - great picture and incredible sound. The audience included Aquarium board members (many thanks to Lee Riley for the introduction), Aquarium staff, volunteers, and members, and the "just curious." For some, I think the film and follow-up discussion helped to dispel a few myths. For others, it stoked the fire in their engine for shark conservation. The best compliment I received was relayed to me by Suzanne Ebbert, Director of Membership, who told me people approached her saying, “This is why we joined the aquarium as members, for programs like this.”

My thanks to the Marjorie Lynn Bank Lecture Series for supporting this event.
Upcoming screening: July 17th @ Harvard Museum of Natural History w/Dr. John Mandelman

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Energy alternatives require a restructuring of priorities

On 06/07/08, RTSea wrote: In the June 9th issue of TIME magazine there is a great article, “We Need a Power Surge”, about the need to focus some of the same energy and commitment we harnessed to put a man on the moon and direct it towards the issue of alternative energy. As the author, Jeffrey Sachs, says, we citizens and consumers can all do our part but changing to fluorescent light bulbs and driving less won’t do it all. Government needs to show true leadership and initiative.

Priorities are askew – supporting short-term goals and status quo business models. As an example, according to the International Energy Agency, in 2006 the U.S. spent $3.2 billion for all energy research – including nuclear, wind, coal, solar and biofuels. The Pentagon spends that much in about 40 hours.

We need to make changes in our daily lives and we need to exercise our ability to influence our leaders to move this nation, citizens, government, and business, in the right direction. Act by example, vote by choice, influence by action.

Upcoming screenings of Island of the Great White Shark:
June 18th – National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD w/Richard Theiss
July 17th – Harvard Museum of Natural History, Cambridge, MA w/Dr. John Mandelman

Mexican government questions eco-tourism at Isla Guadalupe . . . again

On 05/20/08, RTSea wrote: The government agency in Mexico that regulates the issuing of permits to eco-tourism operators is debating the entire issue of allowing any boats at Isla Guadalupe for this fall. Their concerns are based on allegations of questionable behavior on the part of the shark diving boats and potential negative impact on the sharks, the resident pinnipeds, and the island as a whole. These are all important issues worth considering, however the allegations made against the eco-tourism boats are pretty far-fetched and outrageous.

You can read the latest government position and eco-tourism response at http://www.mexidata.info/id1836.html.

If any operators were behaving in a manner that demonstrably affected the health and well-being of Isla Guadalupe's white shark population, I would be the first to recommend denying that operator the necessary permit. But, unfortunately, there is a political and personality clash component going on here in the background and that could result in ALL boats being banned and, despite any assurances from the Mexican government, the great white sharks would be at risk, having lost the best available ongoing protectors and watchdogs - the eco-tourism boats themselves.

Growth of oxygen-poor zones in the Pacific Ocean

On 05/18/08, RTSea wrote: Interesting but disturbing article in the Los Angeles Times regarding the growth of oxygen-poor zones (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/unleashed/2008/05/threatening-mar.html). Noting the expansion of the Pacific's zone along Mexico/Central America/South America, these zones are typically deep water but have been increasing in size, extending further north and south and becoming more shallow. These zones are different from equally dangerous "dead zones" caused by fertilizer-fed algae blooms, but have the same effect on sealife, pushing fish populations into different regions or oceanic stratas that can impact their health or expose them to a greater potential for over-fishing as their numbers increase in shallower waters.

The culprit behind this expansion, according to scientists from Germany to California, is global warming. As ocean temperatures increase due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the water's ability to retain oxygen is compromised. One more domino effect that we must address and that proves that the health of the oceans is undeniably linked to our actions on the land.

New England Aquarium hosts Island of the Great White Shark screening

On 05/07/08, RTSea wrote: Richard Theiss just returned from Boston, MA where a successful screening of "Island of the Great White Shark" was held at the New England Aquarium. Accompanying him was Mauricio Hoyos, the shark researcher featured in the film. Both Mauricio and Richard were interviewed on 5/05/08 by WGBH (Nova) for the Greater Boston series, hosted by Emily Rooney.
video
The New England Aquarium was a most generous host and has a wonderful staff of committed marine conservationists (my thanks to Vickie Cataldo, Dr. John Mandelman, Dr. Greg Stone, and Tony LaCasse). And the people of Boston have a great fascination and interest in sharks, in no small part due to the fact that Boston was the home of the late Peter Benchley who became quite a shark advocate in the years following the success of "Jaws." Peter's original writings reflected the attitudes of the times and as his popularity put him in the limelight and in continual contact with developing science, he came to be a very prolific writer on behalf of sharks.

This is what new research findings and media presentations like "Island of the Great White Shark" hope to accomplish - to sway public opinion in favor of realizing the important role these animals (indeed, many marine animals) play in maintaining a healthy ocean, and the need to protect them. We all grew up a little afraid of sharks, but now fear must give way to appreciation and respect.

The event was sponsored by the Aquarium's Lowell Lecture Series.

Richard Theiss responds to San Diego shark incident on CBS News

On 04/28/08, RTSea wrote: From Richard Theiss, filmmaker Island of the Great White Shark, regarding the recent San Diego shark incident:

On Friday, 4/25, the news hit of a man fatally bitten by a white shark off Solana Beach, near San Diego, CA. I was asked by CBS and KCAL news to comment (http://www.cbs2.com/video/?id=65566@kcbs.dayport.com).

It's always a tragic event when someone is attacked by an animal and my heart goes out to the victim's family and friends. Judging by the news reports that filtered in over the course of the day, it would appear that the attack was a classic case of mistaken identity with the shark mistaking the swimmer for a possible seal. Apparently, the swimmer was slightly apart from a group of other swimmers 150 yards off shore, with some of the swimmers wearing dark wetsuits or swimsuits. The shark approached in the manner typical of a seal hunting behavior.

It has been many years since there has been a shark attack in Southern California and the news organizations have made quite a fuss, as the southland was preparing for a sunny and warm weekend. Without minimizing the loss of a popular local resident, let's hope level heads prevail so as to not generate 70's-style "Jaws" hysteria

Island of the Great White Shark: Upcoming screenings

On 03/09/08, RTSea wrote: "Island of the Great White Shark" - RTSea's recently completed documentary chronicling the great white sharks of Isla Guadalupe, Baja and the ongoing shark research taking place there - can be seen at upcoming screenings/lectures at the following aquariums:

March 30th - Aquarium of the Pacific "Divers Day", Long Beach, CA
May 5th - New England Aquarium, Boston, MA
June 18th - National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

Stay tuned, more aquarium screenings are being scheduled and the film will be available on DVD shortly.

"A primal scene of unearthly beauty. Excitement and information pepper this film." - David McGuire, Sea Stewards
"Richard Theiss has a unique ability to communicate science, conservation and entertainment." - Ania Budziak, PADI Project Aware Foundation

Island of the Great White Shark premieres at Aquarium of the Pacific

On 02/13/08, RTSea wrote: Island of the Great White Shark - the latest documentary from RTSea Productions had a series of exclusive premiere screenings at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA. The audience response was very enthusiastic and during the Q&A that followed the screening, it was clear that the audience now saw the sharks in a different light and were concerned about conserving and protecting these amazing animals.

A screening is scheduled for May 5th at the New England Aquarium and more screenings at leading aquariums are being arranged. Stay tuned - DVD availability is in the works.

"I think you have created a remarkable film." - Dr. Jerry Schubel, President/CEO, Aquarium of the Pacific
"Beautiful videography, good graphics and information." - Dr. Bob Hueter, Director, Mote Marine Shark Research
"We absolutely loved the film." - Liz and Kevin Sullivan, Pacific Explorers Dive Club

A News Year's resolution for 2008

On 01/01/08, RTSea wrote: First, let me wish you all a meaningful New Year - one full of optimism and progress for future generations! That being said, we all have our work cut out for us. In the U.S., it will be a year full of important political decisions. Our nation's poor performance and lack of foresight at the recent environment/global warming conference in Bali means we need to find new leaders with the fortitude to make the important decisions that need to be made if there is to be any hope in stemming the tide of global warming. And we need to not let up in our efforts to protect threatened marine species worldwide. Those are New Year's resolutions we can't afford to break.

Thanksgiving 2007: Forward thinking for Nature's sake

On 11/12/07, RTSea wrote: As we in the U.S. approach our Thanksgiving holiday, I find myself thinking more about the challenges ahead than whatever bounty we have enjoyed over the past year. Today, I listened to a roundtable of respected journalists give their opinions as to whether corporations will truly embrace the necessary changes to address global warming. Their responses were not encouraging. Actions taken by individuals and corporations when it comes to climate change, must be the result of decisions based on long-term thinking, not short term. And that has always been a tremendous challenge - whether satisfying our personal finances or the needs of corporate shareholders.

There is no time like the present to re-orient our thinking when it comes to the long term demands of the environment. We cannot wait for some ecological disaster to occur and then we spring into action to save the day. Nature does not work like that. Think of Nature as one of those huge ocean liners. As it approaches port, to turn or slow down, the crew must initiate action many miles off shore. To wait until you see the dock only guarantees that there will be a tremendous crash.

While I do not accept all of the concepts behind the Gaia environmental theory, one concept I do see as valid is the fact that Nature will always seek a balance. It will do what it takes to try to continue to exist in some manner or another. And if that means the reduction or even extinction of a species - including humans - then so be it. So we must be conscious of what we are doing now as our actions will have a lasting legacy for years to come.

In regards to forward-thinking and the environment, Bill Clinton was recently quoted in Rolling Stone, "Think of this: As far as we can tell, the first Homo Sapiens rose up from the African savannah give or take 150,000 years ago. That means it took us 150,000 years to grow to our present population of 6.5 billion. Now all of a sudden, in the next forty-three years, we are going to go from 6.5 billion to 9 billion - at the very time we are facing climate change, resource depletion and real identity tensions all over the world. That is why I think more about fifty years from now than fifty days from now."

RTSea concludes white shark filming at Isla Guadalupe for documentary

On 09/08/07 RTSea wrote: Just returned from filming great white sharks at Isla Guadalupe. This is the early stage of their annual migration back to the island. Typically at the start of the season there are more male sharks and this trip proved that assumption. I filmed a number of males - some returning residents and some appear to be new to the island. That is encouraging, to see new residents.

But the sharks at Isla Guadalupe are still very much at risk. Scientific researchers and concerned eco-tourism operations are doing their best to act as a sort of unofficial "posse" but they need help and assistance.
To learn more about what you can do, log on to the Isla Guadalupe Conservation Fund, read about what is being done to protect these magnificent animals, and then make a tax-deductible donation.

This week is white shark footage should be available on my web site by 09/16/07. Just type in "New" in the search window on the Media Library page.

RTSea & InMER explores the Arctic Circle

On 08/29/07, RTSea wrote: I just returned last week from a film assignment in the Northwest Passage, above the Arctic Circle, documenting the effects of climate change on the environment and Inuit culture there. The organization sponsoring the expedition was InMER (Integrated Marine Education and Research), a non-profit group dedicated to public awareness of key environmental issues. They have an ambitious project through 2010 to research and document climate change in this vital region and communicate their findings to both decision-makers and the general public through an arsenal of communication channels and formats. You can learn more at www.inmer.org.

The Arctic is an incredible ecological system. My first impression was one of a stark, bleak environment, seemingly impenetrable and impervious. But as I complied more and more images - from muskox to tundra moss to summer sea ice, from interviews with Inuit elders to government officials - I began to realize how fragile this ecosystem is in reality. And, like its southern cousin, the Antarctic, it serves as a barometer for worldwide change and a tripwire to warn us as to our future if we do not take steps to reverse the man-made effects on our climate. The earth's poles are trying to speak to us . . . and we must listen.

Addendum:
The National Snow and Ice Data Center has reported that the 2007 summer ice field has been the smallest on record and many scientific agencies are saying that the arctic ice is melting in excess of predicted models. The impact on the Northwest Passage - it's people, wildlife, and ecosystem may arrive sooner than expected. See pictures and video of this year's summer ice by going to the Media Library and typing in "Northwest" or "ice".

Yahoo's Alibaba.com continues to trade in shark products

On 07/24/07 RTSea wrote: The success of Yahoo! has enabled it to expand its reach internationally and it currently owns 40% of Alibaba.com, a China-based e-commerce site that provides small to mid-sized Asian companies with an online marketplace. Unfortunately, shark fins are one of the many products featured on the site.

While many activist groups have known about the site and have been pressing the issue with Yahoo!, Alibaba, and even Congress, the link below shows that the issue has now found its way to the business media (BusinessWeek):

http://www.businessweek.com/globalbiz/content/jul2007/gb20070720_756191.htm?chan=search

Alibaba"s position is that they do not market products from animals listed as protected or endangered by CITES. Sharks as an entire species are not listed as such by CITES. But it does not require the recognition by one organization to see that there is a worldwide issue regarding the conservation and protection of sharks - and the vital role they play in the health of our marine environments. Yahoo! can very easily gather the facts and act responsibly.

Dive Photo Guide addresses "Shark Week" 2007

On 07/19/07, RTSea wrote: Here is a link, posted by Jason Heller, CEO of DivePhotoGuide.com, which presents an open letter to the executive heads of Discovery Communications:

http://www.divephotoguide.com/discovery_shark_week.php.

The letter is signed by many leading shark researchers and conservationists and takes exception to the image of sharks promoted by the Discovery Channel through its annual Shark Week programming.

As a filmmaker, I understand the issues that broadcasters face in developing programming that has audience appeal and would attract advertisers. But perhaps this letter represents the tip of a slowly growing iceberg of changing opinion. With a growing public interest and awareness in environmental issues, perhaps Discovery could take a leadership position by harking back to many of its founding scientific and educational values and, in so doing, still find "gold in going green." Food for thought.

Getting businesses on the side of Nature

On 06/22/07 RTSea wrote: One of the challenges we face is re-orienting the thinking of governments and industry regarding the economic impact of environmental issues. It is one thing to weigh differing business ideas and say this one is the better choice economically; the other will have to wait. But Nature does not work that way: Nature does not say, okay, since it will hurt you economically, we will just magically maintain the fish count even though you are overfishing the species. Or, sure, let us just put off the effects of global warming until you all figure out when it would be the most convenient time to deal with it.

There is an interesting trio of articles in the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine (Issue no. 1029). First, an interview with Al Gore that is enlightening and, in many ways, optimistic. The second article goes after the positions and steps taken by the current U.S. administration regarding global warming. Depending on your political persuasion, you can take it for gospel or with a grain of salt, but there is no denying that the current administration has not made great strides in dealing with environmental issues. The third article, titled "What Must Be Done", addresses just how businesses and government can turn "green" into gold, that the so-called negative impact of addressing environmental issues has more to do with a mental mindset that prefers the status quo. The same inventive, pioneering spirit that put a man on the moon - and gave us everything from velcro to advanced computers - needs to be reawakened to address the issues facing this planet.

World Ocean Day, 2007

On 06/09/07, RTSea wrote: Yesterday, June 8th, was World Ocean Day - a time to celebrate and appreciate the world"s oceans and recogonize that they need our help and protection. Hopefully, as a concerned reader of this blog, you did a little something to help educate those who are less aware of the many marine environmental issues we face.

Of course, it is a bit like Christmas in that it is the one day out of the year that we all show a little concern and then quietly revert back to old habits for the next 364 days. So for one day we toast some egg nog and forgive our crabby neighbor next door or the paperboy who keeps throwing the morning edition in the mud . . . but Nature is a bit more demanding than that, is not she?

In the U.S, we are beginning to see an increase in "green" thinking. Let us not let it become a passing fad. We have a chance to educate the public, change the mindset of industry, and really make some progress here. It will be slow at times and perhaps frustrating, but we have to realize that changing minds and habits takes patience and gentle persuasion. We need to make the environment part of our psyche, part of the human experience.

Los Angeles Times publishes alarming article/DVD: Altered Oceans

On 06/02/07, RTSea wrote: One of the issues we must address is how we are impacting our marine environments with methods that we have, in the past, thought were ecologically safe. Treated sewage discharged miles of shore is now found to be producing excess nitrogen which is fueling the growth of algaes, some of which are highly toxic and cause everything from rashes and coughing spells to advanced neurological problems and even death.

The Los Angeles Times wrote a sobering series of award-winning articles in August of "06 about this situation, titled "Altered Oceans." You can view an online multi-media presentation of the articles and/or purchase a DVD of the series by logging on to http://www.latimes.com and typing in Altered Oceans in the Search window.

We stand at an aquatic precipice, pushing our marine ecosystems to various tipping points and we are seeing the effects now - in Florida reefs denuded of coral and covered by algae and seaweed, ailing seal populations in Southern California crippled by domoic acid - an algae byproduct, and in "Fire Algae"-infested areas of Australia"s Great Barrier Reef.

The time to act is now.

What great white sharks & monarch butterflies have in common

On 05/20/07, RTSea wrote: This past week, I was watching a segment of the Today show, a U.S. morning news program, that examined the famous annual migration of the Monarch butterfly from the eastern U.S. to one particular spot in Mexico: millions of butterflies swarming together deep in a Mexican forest. An amazing sight but one that is also in jeopardy due to illegal tree-cutting that is shrinking their available habitat.

Oddly enough, these same insects reminded me of the great white sharks that inhabit Isla Guadalupe off the Baja coast during the months of September through December. There are actually strong similarities between these magnificent sharks and the Monarch butterfly. The great white sharks return to Isla Guadalupe after a long migration, one that has been suspected to include stops at deep seamounts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. After their long journey, they come to feed on the island"s tuna and seal populations. But the similarity goes beyond their remarkable migrations.

The other tragic similarity is that both of these creatures are endangered: the butterfly from a potential loss of habitat, and the shark from hunting for fins, jaws, and teeth. At the present time, there are laws on the books to protect both, but the Mexican government is painfully short of resources to enforce the laws it has enacted. Several years ago, the Mexican government declared Isla Guadalupe a "protected biosphere" and last year laws were put in place to outlaw the taking of great white sharks, in addition to several other elasmobranchs, in and around the island. All well and good, however, Isla Guadalupe is a rugged and remote island 150 miles west of the Baja coast and the Mexican authorities are in no position to station a vessel or personnel there during the months the sharks appear. Rather than let it die as an empty promise, this is where the citizen activist can play a role.

Eco-tourism companies, like SharkDiver.com, have been working closely with scientific researchers from Mexico and the U.S. who have been studying the population and behaviors of the sharks at Isla Guadalupe. While providing people the opportunity to see great white sharks from the safety of protective cages, these operations have also been providing research teams with logistical support and supplies. It is a unique working relationship that has proven itself successful for several years. Self-serving, you say? Perhaps to a degree, but in that respect, it serves as a perfect example of how business and science can work together towards a common environmental goal. And as a filmmaker, I have worked closely with several of these organizations and can attest to their genuine concern for the fate of the great white shark - not as a potential cash cow, but as another endangered species that we cannot afford to lose.

In lieu of a lack of resources to enforce the laws protecting the great white sharks at Isla Guadalupe, the Mexican government needs to tightly restrict the number of permits that allow boats at the island: if you can qualify and quantify your willingness to, both, support scientific research and act as ad hoc enforcement, then you can be considered for a permit. In essence, when there are not enough sheriffs, then form a posse. Not all shark diving operations are so environmentally committed, so only the dedicated companies would qualify. But this would be better than an all out ban, as there would then be no one watching out for the sharks.

Mexico is now beginning to send patrols deep into the forest jungle to ward off tree poachers (it amazes me that these poachers are able to get away with it; we are talking big trees here). If the Mexican government is unable to provide the naval vessels or crew to regularly patrol the waters around Isla Guadalupe, then a small number of dedicated eco-tourism vessels would seem a viable alternative - a way to give well-intended legislation a little teeth, pardon the pun.