Wednesday, March 31, 2010
It may sound a little 60's-ish corny, but it's time for the people to be heard again. If we can't depend on our institutions to do the right thing then the least we can do is let them know where we stand and that we are watching. If we can vote you out, we will. If we can refuse to buy your products, we will. And we will support those groups that actively promote the long-term interests of the planet - and by "planet" I mean plants, animals and humankind.
350.org and The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) are starting a petition drive to keep the Clean Air Act strong by having greenhouse gases designated as "criteria" pollutants under the act and to get the 350ppm standard for CO2 emissions adopted by the EPA. If you recall, leading climate scientists have cited the 350ppm level as the point that must be attained if we are to have a fighting chance in getting a handle on climate change and insuring a manageable future for generations to come. Ambitious? Sure. Controversial? Absolutely. It will require a major commitment on the part of governments and industry. And there won't be 100% consensus within the scientific community that this is the right approach. Accept when we ask this simple question: what's wrong with reducing carbon emissions to that level? Will it harm the environment? Would we be moving in the wrong direction environmentally?
350.org and CBD are hoping to get 500,000 to sign on to the petition. No reason why not. Click here to read about it and add your name. And check out 350.org's web site, too. Lots of good information there.
Click here to sign the petition.
Click here to visit 350.org.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Regarding the bluefin tuna, Japan apparently waged a vigorous campaign to defeat the proposed Appendix I rating, which would have initiated a complete trade ban. The populations of bluefin tuna are considered so perilously low that many marine biologists question whether extinction can be avoided.
There was a long list of sharks that were up for various levels of protection ranging from the hammerhead species to the spiny dogfish. All were rejected. And proposals to protect coral species were similarly defeated.
There were proposals that were adopted for several terrestrial flora and fauna - those that basically had little commercial value. In the end, what became clear was that CITES was more interested in the short-term gain of propping up dwindling trade in endangered species than in the protection of those species in the long term. Preserving the status quo of market-driven economies was more important than preserving the very resources that are the foundations of those economies.
Renown shark researcher Leonard Compagno, Director of the Shark Research Institute said, "CITES seems to be primarily about promoting trade in endangered species, not regulating or preventing it. Its mode of operation seems to favor behind the scenes lobbying and power-politics with certain countries dominating by their wealth and power, and species seem to become protected in the breach when parties are not interested in opposing CITES protection. It addresses a tiny fraction of biodiversity, and seems reluctant to be engaged in battling the biotic holocaust that stalks the world."
Perhaps CITES will take steps in the future - when the tuna boats return to port with their holds empty, when there are no more fins for shark fin soup, and when the last great polar bear has sunk to the bottom of the Arctic ocean. But by then, their only recourse will be to hang their heads in shame for their greed and lack of foresight.
I'm generally an optimistic and determined person when it comes to conservation. I think I need to curl up with some comfort food and rally my inner forces. Tomorrow is another day.
Click here to read the latest press release.
Click here to read the results of the proposals.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
To prevent scaring off the squid, I was filming with red lights which don't seem to bother them. It made for an eerie and adrenaline-pumping experience - like being in an oceanic roller derby bathed in red light, with squid zooming about, sometimes hitting you as they test to see if you're something edible.
Will be back in a day or two and will post a final report with pictures (the WiFi here in Baja is very sketchy and slow, so I have held off posting any images).
Keep watching the CITES conference. It's an important event.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
An amazing animal but, unfortunately, a very disruptive predator when it's range has been allowed to extend beyond traditional borders due to a loss of natural predators that would normally keep their numbers under control.
We have a slate of experiments we are performing while we're here and we're chipping a way at them one by one. Last night we were surrounded by small to medium squid.
The photo shows me in standard squid diving gear: Neptunic Shark Suit, cable harness for being attached to the boat, and (not shown) an EX3 HD camera in Amphibico housing.
Gotta go - the wind is dying down.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I am here to film Humboldt squid with Scott Cassell and dealing with these predators can be very interesting to say the least. We sport Neptunic Shark Suits to provide protection from the squid, along with a cable harness tied to the boat (The little darlings can drag you down if they become really interested in you. And we're diving in water 250- to 1200-feet deep.
The winds make it challenging for both the divers and the local fisherman (a panga - the local fisherman's small boat - can be swamped by wind-swept waves when full of squid as it rides low in the water).
We will be back out on the water later this morning, hoping for calmer seas and plenty of squid. There is an important story behind the ecology of these animals, some of which I have posted in the past. But there's more to come.
Friday, March 12, 2010
In the meantime, be sure to watch the developments coming from the CITES conference which begins tomorrow (3/13) and runs through the 25th. I'm sure there will news updates and press releases on the CITES web site. Stay tuned - there are a lot of important proposals regarding threatened or endangered species.
Hasta la vista!
One of the challenges in using SBS is in determining what the fundamental baseline is - what is the baseline that represents a fully healthy, functioning marine ecosystem or species population? Is it what it was 10 years ago? A century? Or before the arrival of mankind? To determine such an ultimate starting point, scientists often have to take a variety of empirical and anecdotal data and work backwards. Sometimes this works, sometimes not.
As an example, one study in the late 1990's determined that the appropriate baseline population for green sea turtles in the Caribbean was 660 million, based on an extrapolation of the extent of a particular sea grass that figured prominently in the turtle's diet. Several years later, based on a reevaluation of the sea grass growth, that number was scaled back to 16 to 33 million - quite a reduction but still, given today's population of less than 200,000, what can we realistically expect as a conservation goal?
In other situations, SBS gets oversimplified in its application regarding policy. When research determined that over-fishing was the primary cause of a drop in Canadian cod fisheries, a moratorium was put in place in the early 90's. However, the cod population has failed to recover and the moratorium remains in place. What may have been missed is some unforeseen cascade effect, some other component to a healthy cod population that is missing or altered, perhaps triggered by the over-fishing, perhaps not.
Many scientists see value in using SBS but there are some who feel that it must be utilized in a more comprehensive fashion that also incorporates other theoretical approaches including resilience and social-ecological systems (SES) which introduce variables of human involvement or impact while trying to determine an appropriate future baseline.
In the end, it can be a vexing question: as we consider the health of marine species or ecosystems, what is the ideal goal that we can truly expect to strive for, regardless of how things were in the past? Can science accurately and reliably make that determination? Hopefully, it can but it will require a broad spectrum of scientific approaches to do so.
Click here for a proponent web site that explains shifting baselines.
Click here to read a scientific paper on SBS weaknesses and solutions.
“The Humane Society of the United States is pleased to join the efforts of the Shark-Free Marina Initiative,” said John Grandy, Ph.D., senior vice president of wildlife for The HSUS. “The HSUS works tirelessly to end animal cruelty, exploitation and neglect and is deeply concerned by the deteriorating status of shark populations.”
Luke Tipple, executive director of the Initiative, said, “The Shark-Free Marina Initiative welcomes the support of The Humane Society of the United States and its members to protect beleaguered shark species.”
The Shark-Free Marina Initiative promotes a program whereby participating marinas will no longer allow sharks being brought in for any purpose - trophy pictures, weigh-ins, cleaning/gutting . . . no sharks, period. Marinas are encouraged to provide information on catch-and-release techniques and there is informative information on the Shark-Free Marina web site regarding the status of various shark species worldwide. I was honored to be asked by Director Luke Tipple to produce a video which explains the program and runs on their web site and YouTube.
Congratulations to both, the Shark-Free Marinas Initiative and the Humane Society, for taking this step forward in collaboration. Let's hope it produces more tangible results in increasing marina membership and providing important conservation information and alternatives to sportfishermen.
Read Humane Society press release.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
This year, there has been an new wrinkle that poses an additional threat to the seals: a lack of winter sea ice. Normally, there is substantial sea ice that forms in the Gulf of St, Lawrence and this ice layer provides a critical platform for fur seal birthing grounds. (To watch a video, click on the image above, then click on the web site's video link when the picture of a seal appears.)
According to the Humane Society of the United States, " This year, Environment Canada [a government agency] says we are witnessing the worst ice in history off Canada’s east coast. For the first year on record, virtually no sea ice has formed in key seal birthing areas. The impact on seals will be devastating. Many mother seals are likely to abort in the water, and unprecedented numbers of pups will die."
Whether this loss of sea ice is a statistical anomoly or the result of climate change is difficult to determine. On the one hand, there is documented evidence of declining sea ice throughout the Arctic region extending over a marked period of years. However, looking at a graph of February winter ice for eastern Canada shows fluctuations dating back to 1969.
There was a growing decline starting in 1995, but there were marked increases in the later part of this first decade of 2000 until this year, when it plummeted, reaching an all-time low.
In any case, the lack of sea ice will definitely have an impact on the fur seal population due to the loss of seal pups unable to survive at sea. The Canadian Press reports, "A marine mammal specialist for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans recently told The Canadian Press he also expects the death rate for seal pups to rise this year from its average of 15 per cent."
The Humane Society, which has always opposed the fur seal hunts, is stepping up their campaign to get the Canadian government to halt the impending hunts if, for no reason at all, but for the additional pressure it will place on fur seal populations already faced with higher mortality due to this unusual loss of winter sea ice.
Here's a video on the challenges facing Arctic sea ice that I assembled for Google Earth and InMER, a marine research and education organization.
Click here to read a current Humane Society press release on the issue.
Click here to learn more about the Humane Society's anti-seal hunt campaign.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Not much has changed, other than the human population has continued to grow unabated. But as last year's posting notes, it's a touchy subject. The Zero Population Growth movement of the late 60's and 70's has faded in our memories, replaced by a more draconian system in China and ignored as a serious issue in most other industrialized nations.
However, it is at the core of many, if not most, of our environmental problems. We are pushing nature beyond its limits to sustain us, and all of our efforts to address the symptoms - through increased crop yields, sustainable seafoods, cleaner industrial factories, and even alternative energy - are ultimately stop gap measures at best.
But to raise public awareness through fear and dire predictions seems to fall on deaf ears nowadays. Perhaps we are beset with too many problems, too many issues of Armageddon-like proportions, that we just can't handle one more, particularly one in which there does not seem to be a simple, mutually agreed upon solution.
A year ago, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) was painting a bleak picture about overpopulation. This year, they are using a somewhat lighter touch with Endangered Species Condoms.
Each individually boxed condom has information about the impact of human overpopulation on all species - although I'm not sure how many people are going to pause to read the box ("Can you hang on a second, dear. I want to read something here."). Maybe afterwards, as a replacement for that traditional post-coital cigarette or snuggle time.
CBD's executive director, Kieran Suckling, says, "The packages are designed to get people talking about overpopulation. And boy, do they work. We tested them on Valentine's Day, expecting 100 volunteer distributors to come forward. An astounding 5,000 people volunteered taking all 100,000 condoms in just a couple of days!
As planned, the media ate it up. We generated funny but deadly serious conversations about overpopulation and the extinction crisis in hundreds of newspapers including The New York Times, L.A. Times, Miami Herald, and Boston Globe. More than 300,000 blogs and Web sites covered the issue."
CBD hopes to distribute 250,000 condoms by Earth Day, on April 22nd. You can learn more at a special Center for Biological Diversity web site devoted to the subject.
Says Suckling, "It is imperative that we break the wall of silence around overpopulation. If we don't, all the environmental progress we make will be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of people pushing into the last wildlife habitats, eating the last fish, and damming the last wild rivers."
Monday, March 8, 2010
But there are more and more signs from throughout the world that these dead zones are becoming more frequent and growing in size. From both coasts of Africa, to South America to the Pacific Northwest, dead zones are becoming a real problem, killing off some aquatic species, displacing others, and affecting the ocean's relationship with the atmosphere - a relationship that provides a majority of our breathable air.
A recent article in the online McClatchy newspaper outlines what has been happening in the Pacific Northwest, along the Oregon/Washington coastline. Some scientists believe it's too soon to tell whether the root cause - a warming of the surface waters that acts as a cap to suppress the normal cycle of deepwater to shallow, or upwellings and downwellings - is due to global warming, but it's high on their list of suspects.
Some might think that it's a sign of ocean acidification, but this is a different process taking place here, as well illustrated in the article. However, in any case, the net effect of the coast of Oregon and Washington is tangible, with piles of dead Dungeness crab and 25-year old sea stars littering a sea floor covered with a higher-than-normal bacteria layer.
"Areas of hypoxia, or low oxygen, have long existed in the deep ocean. These areas — in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans — appear to be spreading, however, covering more square miles, creeping toward the surface and in some places, such as the Pacific Northwest, encroaching on the continental shelf within sight of the coastline.
'The depletion of oxygen levels in all three oceans is striking,' said Gregory Johnson, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle."
If these low-oxygen zones continue to increase in size and/or frequency, the ocean ecology will have to make adjustments, some that will be severe and that we will feel as they impact commercial fisheries. But scientists are not sure just how far-ranging these changes could be. After all, they have no reference models or examples to turn to - we are heading into unknown territory.
"Scientists are unsure how low oxygen levels will affect the ocean ecosystem. Bottom-dwelling species could be at the greatest risk because they move slowly and might not be able to escape the lower oxygen levels. Most fish can swim out of danger. Some species, however, such as chinook salmon, may have to start swimming at shallower depths than they're used to. Whether the low oxygen zones will change salmon migration routes is unclear.
Some species, such as jellyfish, will like the lower-oxygen water. Jumbo squid, usually found off Mexico and Central America, can survive as oxygen levels decrease and now are found as far north as Alaska."
Read entire McClatchy article.
Sunday, March 7, 2010
All of the films nominated in the Best Documentary category are important films and worth seeing. The contenders focused on critical social issues - human rights, abuse, immigration. And all of these challenges deserve our attention. What made The Cove perhaps a bit special was that it combined both a conservation issue (the particularly brutal harvest of marine mammals) with a human issue (the indifference of the Japanese fishermen, the ignorance of the local villagers to the hazard they are exposing themselves to, and resistance from the Japanese government to do anything about it). Add to that the drama experienced by the film crew in secretly filming the harvest, and you have a film that stands out as both education and entertainment with the hope that viewers will be motivated to do something about an ecological and human health tragedy.
Perhaps winning the award will provide The Cove with a little extra clout with the Japanese government, but there are plenty of forces currently at work to prevent the film from getting its message out to those who need to hear it the most - the Japanese people. The producers have several online vehicles (web site, Facebook page & cause, blog, etc.) that you can visit to learn what you can do to help them get more exposure to a people who, unfortunately, have such a long heritage of dependence involving seafood. The Cove needs all the help it can get.
Friday, March 5, 2010
I've mentioned CITES in several past postings, but for those of you who are unfamiliar with this international organization, it stands for Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. And although there are some who would be concerned over any organization that would seem to be involved in regulating trade in endangered species rather than eliminate it altogether, it has become an important body because that very position has enabled it to include a large number of member nations. Through its program of Appendix ratings (Appendix I being the most severe: a labeling of "endangered" for the particular species and often a complete curtailment in trade - no hunting, no buying), CITES has become a recognized force in worldwide conservation of flora and fauna.
The CITES web site has been completely revamped in anticipation of the meeting and you can look at a program of all the amendment proposals, which include adding species to their list or moving a species from Appendix II (a threatened species with with regulated or restricted trade) to Appendix I and, in some cases, proposals for the reverse based on some measure of improvement. Unfortunately, all of the species are listed by their scientific names, so you will need to pull out your biology and botany books or spend time Googling the Latin names. But here's a list of those that have received a lot of attention:
- Bluefin Tuna
- Grey Wolf
- Polar Bear
- African Bush Elephant
- Nile and Moreletii Crocodiles
- Great, Scalloped, and Smooth Hammerhead Sharks
- Great Hammerhead Shark
- Sandbar Shark
- Dusky Shark
- Oceanic White Tip Shark
- Porbeagle Shark
- Spiny Dogfish
This will be the "Fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties." And it's one to watch.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The Center for Biological Diversity is using an email campaign to remind legislators as to the importance of a full and vibrant Clean Air Act by citing not the environmental or ecological implications and impacts, but by putting it in the context of dollars and cents, lost productivity, and increased human health hazard.
"It is directly responsible for saving lives, improving health, and decreasing hospitalizations and lost school and work days. According to the EPA, in 2010 the Clean Air Act will save 23,000 lives and prevent 1.7 million asthma attacks, 4.1 million lost work days, and more than 68,000 hospitalizations and emergency-room visits.
The Clean Air Act saves money and protects our economy. In its first two decades alone, the Act provided pollution reduction benefits 42 times greater than the estimated costs of regulation, including decreased healthcare costs and reduced lost work time worth $22.2 trillion. If implemented by the EPA as required by existing law, the Clean Air Act will produce similar benefits while reducing greenhouse pollutants."
Now, opponents of climate change or those favoring a more limited application of the Clean Air Act might argue with the stats listed above, but it makes for a more politically relevant debate when the impacts in question are immediately personal and not appear, at least to the politician, somewhat esoteric or obscure. Heaven forbid that these impacts might catch the attention of ... of... one of their... voters! Eeeuuuuwh!
Click here to send an email to your legislator.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Then today I read an interesting follow-up on the Conservation International (CI) web site. CI has been involved in working with government officials in Columbia and members of the IUCN in getting local villagers to help conserve remaining populations of American crocodiles that inhabit Columbian wetlands and mangroves. Although illegal to catch, subsistence-level villagers are enticed to catch crocodiles and sell them on the black market.
"Within the mangrove wetlands, the crocodile is an important umbrella species which helps to sustain the functioning of the ecosystem; among other benefits, crocodiles often eat dead fish, keeping the water clean for the other species that rely on it – including humans."
With the new government-sponsored approach, by locating crocodile egg nests, retrieving the eggs, incubating and raising them in a hatchery for the first year or so, then releasing them later into the wild, the hunters-turned-conservationists are improving the odds for the survival of the crocodiles, compared to how their dwindling numbers would survive on their own. Maintaining a healthier balance in the wetland/mangrove ecosystem means allowing nature's predators and scavengers to thrive, producing a stronger and healthier population of fish and better water quality - which benefits both the ecosystem and man.
Much like what happens when sharks are protected, rather than hunted, in reef areas, local villagers benefit from a healthier ecosystem that is a food source and there is also the ancillary economic benefit derived from ecotourism - crocodile tours have sprung up in Columbia.
Once again, protecting the environment pays off in more ways than one.
Read the entire Conservation International article.
Monday, March 1, 2010
The imagery is eye-catching and the message is simple (and it borrows from one of my favorite songwriters, Joni Mitchell). Some might argue over the effectiveness of the "soft" approach because with each day ecological and environmental issues become more critical, but it is one piece of a strategy, one weapon in their arsenal of tools to enlighten people.
I was listening to a political commentary show and the panelists were discussing the politics of fear and if and where it can be effective. The consensus was that it can lack effectiveness when addressing big picture/long term issues; it can come off sounding like Chicken Little screaming that the sky is falling. People often have difficulty thinking in terms of the big picture and they will tune out or close down to warnings of cataclysmic futures because it is something to which they can't easily relate. It's so dire they would rather hide under a rock and live with the status quo than deal with it.
That's where the softer approach can have value, wedging open the door of long-term thinking just a little - whether its politics or conservation. Immediate and personal issues might require a stronger clarion and together, with messages like the one WWF puts forth in the PSA above, perhaps we can move the audience to react to immediate issues of concern while also expanding their minds to more expansive or greater long-term solutions.
Every little bit helps.