Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Marine Life and Supply Side Economics: another reason for aquaculture

Both, the Shark Divers and Beqa Adventures blogs picked up on this post from the Southern Fried Science, a South Carolina marine biology grad student. It's a disturbing look at supply and demand economics regarding fisheries and it bolsters my attitudes regarding the importance of developing successful aquaculture. Here's a portion of the post:

"The basic premise is that many fisheries are completely supply limited. Even if we were to reduce 90% of the demand for certain fish, the remaining demand would still be great enough to consume 100% of the supply. If 100 people all love grouper, but only 10 grouper are being produced at any given time, then even if you convinced 90 people to never eat grouper, the other ten would still eat the 10 grouper being produced, and nothing would change. I was surprised that it’s taken me this long to start understanding what that means.

This also relates to shark products, particularly regarding the dollar value that increases with their continuing scarceness, even with reduced consumer demand. You can read the entire post here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ocean Fun Facts: our most amazing and mysterious natural resource

Let's have a little fun. Here's some interesting fun facts about our important and mysterious oceans:
  • An estimated 50-80% of all life on earth is found under the ocean surface and the oceans contain 99% of the living space on the planet. Less than 10% of that space has been explored by humans. 85% of the area and 90% of the volume constitute the dark, cold environment we call the deep sea. The average depth of the ocean is 3,795 m (12,451 ft). The average height of the land is 840 m (2,756 ft).
  • Currently, scientists have named and successfully classified over 1.5 million species. It is estimated that there are as little as 2 million to as many as 50 million more species that have not yet been found and/or have been incorrectly classified.
  • The oceans cover 71% of the Earth's surface and contain 97% of the Earth's water. Less than 1% is fresh water, and 2-3% is contained in glaciers and ice caps.
  • 90% of all volcanic activity occurs in the oceans.
  • The pressure at the deepest point in the ocean is more than 11,318 tons/sq m, or the equivalent of one person trying to support 50 jumbo jets.
  • Antarctica has as much ice as the Atlantic Ocean has water.
  • Each year, three times as much rubbish is dumped into the world's oceans as the weight of fish caught.
  • More refined oil reaches the oceans each year as a result of leaking automobiles and other non-point sources than the oil spilled in Prince William Sound by the Exxon Valdez.
  • The swordfish and marlin are the fastest fish in the ocean reaching speeds up to 121 kph (75 mph) in quick bursts; the Bluefin Tuna may reach sustained speeds up to 90 kph (56 mph).
  • Because the architecture and chemistry of coral is so similar to human bone, coral has been used to replace bone grafts in helping human bone to heal quickly and cleanly.
That's 10 reasons to protect, study, and preserve the oceans; our most precious natural resource and the cradle of our existence - past, present, and future.

Sources:, Smithsonian Institution, Mote Marine Laboratory, US Geological Survey

Friday, April 24, 2009

Endangered Species Act: government feet-dragging over critical corrections

The issue of overturning many of the 11th hour steps taken by the previous U.S. administration that weakened environmental protections and regulations have been addressed several times in this blog in the past (Click here and here). But one of the big challenges we face is the tendency for government to procrastinate, stall, or stonewall acting on environmental or conservation issues until it is more convenient or financial feasible (as if nature is listening to our endless stream of rationales).

The Center for Biological Diversity(CBD) is focused on an upcoming deadline regarding a procedural process to undo crippling changes to the Endangered Species Act(ESA):

Dear Richard,

A crucial deadline is looming: By May 9, the Obama administration has to seize its opportunity to overturn last-minute Bush administration regulations that gut the Endangered Species Act, or it will miss the chance. The Bush rules exempt thousands of federal activities from review under the Endangered Species Act, and specifically exclude greenhouse gas emissions from regulation. If this administration doesn't withdraw those "extinction rules" by May 9, they will stay in effect -- a disaster for endangered species.

Congress specifically empowered Obama's secretaries of Commerce and Interior with the authority to overturn the Bush extinction regulations with the stroke of a pen. The secretaries of Commerce and Interior jointly administer the Endangered Species Act, with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (under Commerce) responsible for marine species such as whales and sea turtles, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (in Interior) responsible for species such as wolves and polar bears.

While more than 80,000 people have written to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar demanding he revoke the Bush rules, Gary Locke has only recently been confirmed as secretary of Commerce and has yet to take a position on the issue. Similarly, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, the new head of the National Ocean Atmospheric Administration, has failed to take a public position on rescinding the extinction rules.
Please contact Secretary Locke and Dr. Lubchenco and urge them to immediately revoke the Bush extinction regulations.

The Endangered Species Act has served nature well for 35 years. And it's more important today than ever. Here's a link to a CBD web page where you can add your voice. Click here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

California: sets a new standard for clean fuels

California took a solid step today in dealing with reducing the state's carbon footprint with the state Air Resources Board voting 9-1 in favor of adopting new regulations for greenhouse gas emissions from fuel.

The regulation requires producers, refiners and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce the carbon intensity of their fuel by 10% over the next decade. And it launches the state on an ambitious path toward ratcheting down its overall heat-trapping emissions by 80% by mid-century — a level that scientists deem necessary to avoid drastic global climate disruption.

This is a first for any U.S. state and could set the standard worldwide. Regulations like this promote the development of alternative fuels, nudging the major energy companies to invest in greener alternatives like cellulosic ethanol made from trash, as opposed to the popular corn ethanol that is, in many ways, no better than petroleum-based fuels.

The regulation also is a positive step for entrepreneurs who are looking for new opportunities in alternative fuels. California will soon have its first cellulosic ethanol plant in Southern California's upper desert. The facility will process 170 tons of garbage a day to produce 3.7 million gallons of ethanol a year. Estimated cost per gallon: about $2, according to Arnold Klann of BlueFire Ethanol Fuels.

"California's low-carbon fuel standard is going to set the standard for the U.S. and, I expect, the standard globally," said Graeme S.S. Sweeney, a Shell executive vice president. "There will be a series of commercial-sized plants in the next five years. There will be different technologies. It will be good to see competition."

And that coming from one of the major energy/oil companies! I've always said that for energy companies to fully embrace a paradigm shift to alternative fuels, they will need to see the commercial advantage in it. Apparently, they are getting the message . . . and planet Earth should be the better for it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day 2009: something for today and the day after

It's April 22nd, Earth Day has arrived. And while it might appear more as a public relations stunt than something more substantial, it does have value in focusing attention on important environmental and conservation issues of the day. What becomes equally, if not more, important than the event itself, is what we do the day after.

There will be various events taking place worldwide today and through the upcoming weekend. You can check out what's happening at several web sites:
Earth Day represents an opportunity for all of us to make a statement and then follow it up with sustained, proactive steps.

Monday, April 20, 2009

ACRES: Singapore group brings animal protection issues to the people

Asian countries have often been the subject of conservation issues - ranging from illegal wildlife trade to overfishing to market demand for products from threatened or endangered species. And in many Asian nations, the rights of free speech and dissent are sometimes carefully monitored and controlled - and abused in the eyes of some.

Which is why I found this news item in the Australian online paper, Perth Now, interesting. (Read article.) The news was that a Singapore-based conservation organization, Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES), had recently held an anti-shark finning rally at Speaker's Corner, Singapore's only allowed venue for outdoor assemblies and demonstrations.

It was particularly important because of ACRES's attempt to bring the issue directly to the people where the demand for shark fin products emanates. And it's a challenge because of the strong cultural history behind the use of these products.

"One of ACRES's supporters at the rally, physiotherapist Chng Chye Tuan, said he and his wife-to-be had decided against offering shark fin soup to guests at their wedding next month, despite opposition from both sets of parents."

In reviewing the ACRES web site, I was impressed by the many animal issues the organization was taking on - not on an international level, but focused within Singapore. From animal treatment in zoos to protecting exotic or endangered animals like chimps, sharks, and tigers to even the humane treatment of pets, ACRES is trying to impress animal conservation and protection issues directly upon the Singapore people to change behavior and alter demand.

Bravo and best wishes for lasting success.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Oahu, Hawaii: future shark ecotourism threatened

Once again, because of lack of foresight combined with glaring local media coverage, shark ecotourism has taken another hit, this time as a local issue in Hawaii with implications that could impact responsible operators statewide.

In Maunalua Bay on the island of Oahu, a boat owner faced a room full of 200 angry residents protesting his proposed shark diving operation. With one man against an angry mob and news cameras at the ready, it was destined to be a one-sided argument (see story and video). After reading more articles to gather additional details, it would appear that there are two issues at work here.

First, the critics are citing the two common arguments in opposition to shark ecotourism: that the activity disrupts the natural feeding behavior of the sharks, thereby jeopardizing the sharks; and that the activity makes the sharks associate humans with food, thereby making humans a preferred food source.

Secondly, this brouhaha once again points to the importance of shark ecotourism operators to consider the conservation and political components of shark ecotourism, not just the commercial aspects. Better planning and solicited expert support on the part of the boat operator could have avoided all of this.

Okay, first issue: chumming/feeding disrupts the sharks' normal feeding behavior. Well, it's not that simple. First, there are several methods for attracting the sharks: using fish oil as a scent attractant, using ground or cut up fish, and/or using hang bait (for larger sharks) or feeding by hand (for smaller reef sharks). Secondly, what is the frequency? Several boats a day to the same location, feeding the same sharks day after day? Or occasional trips, sometimes dictated by seasonal shark migration patterns. And lastly, what shark species are we talking about? Feeding a white shark with 2-3 pound tuna or bonito scraps or feeding whole fish to small whitetip reef sharks?

There are many recognized shark researchers who will support the contention that, unless done with high frequency and volume, sharks will not become detrimentally dependent on the food sources of shark ecotourism operations. While I have my own personal and scientifically unsubstantiated concerns about some of the stingray tourist attractions that see a steady stream of visitors, my anecdotal experiences in filming great white sharks at Isla Guadalupe, as an example, indicate that the small hangbaits the sharks occasionally succeed in catching do not disrupt their normal predation of seals, sea lions, large tuna or floating carrion like dead whales. And again, there are recognized scientists that will back up that contention.

The other criticism leveled is that shark ecotourism makes the sharks associate humans as a food source. This accusation plays on the fears the uninformed public has about sharks and once again there are experts who will debunk the myth. As a filmmaker, I have been exposed to sharks much more so than the typical cage-bound diver and I have yet to see a shark behave in a manner that says because of chumming/bait in the water it has re-programmed itself to select humans as a primary food source. Could a shark mistakenly bite a human in the presence of bait or some other attractant? Of course; mistaken identity is the cause behind the vast majority of shark-human interactions worldwide, regardless of shark ecotourism activities. In addition to my open ocean activities with sharks, I have spent over 8 years in aquarium settings feeding fish in the presence of sharks or feeding sharks specifically and never did I see the sharks make the A=B connection (food=humans) that critics propose.

One of the news articles cited a comment from a critic at the meeting who compared the situation to the dangers of feeding bears at Yellowstone Park. Apples and oranges. Mammalian intelligence is different from shark intelligence. Bears have a broader taste palette and due to their foraging through trash can develop a taste for the foods we eat - so they will tear apart a tent or rip off a car door to get at a bag of Famous Amos cookies or Oscar Mayer hot dogs. While it is true that bears can attack humans and even develop a taste for human flesh, that has not proven to be the case with sharks: we are not on their menu.

This takes us to the second major issue and the one that is at the crux of this incident. The boat operator failed because he did not have the foresight to see that shark diving is evolving into shark ecotourism - and with that evolution comes greater responsibility on the part of the operators regarding supporting and promoting safe protocols, providing conservation education, and considering the political/PR interactions with various factions (pro & con) and the media.

It would appear that the boat operator did not have all his ducks in a row and found himself up against a hostile crowd, totally unprepared and without any sound arguments or strategies. First, for any successful ecotourism operation there is site selection (as with any business: location, location, location). I'm not familiar with Maunaloa Bay, but perhaps it is not the best location for viewing sharks.
Human use density, shark biodispersion/density, dock facilities in relationship to other tourist activities (politics) - all have to be considered beforehand. And consideration must be given as to the species of sharks the operation intends to attract and the methods by which it will be done. Next, getting the support from recognized experts to counter the arguments mentioned earlier. Followed by developing relationships with local conservation, scientific, and community groups regarding educational opportunities and providing logistical support for scientific study. All has to be done before you put out your shingle and the first cage is lowered into the water.

All of this might seem to be a pain in the rear to someone who just wants to cash in on the growing shark craze but, sorry, that's where we are at today. The pure adrenaline adventure of seeing a shark is being supplanted by the opportunity to be enlightened to the beauty and importance of these animals which are vital to a healthy marine ecosystem. That's the difference between shark diving and shark ecotourism. And for the sharks, this extra burden of responsibility is a good thing.

An important sidebar to this entire incident has to do with an unfortunate loophole in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act which prescribes some very important marine conservation regulations but, as often is the case with other legislation, was subject to amendments which generate loopholes.
From 3 miles (beyond state regulated waters) to 200 miles offshore, the Act limits shark feeding to only harvesting or research. In other words, if you want to hook and either catch or release a shark, baiting/chumming is okay. But if you only want to observe and appreciate the shark, baiting/chumming is illegal. Shark ecotourism operators therefore must either operate illegally, or hook a shark (which runs counter to its conservation position), or insure that there is some valid research taking place on each boat trip.

How this loophole might be corrected is of major importance to all shark ecotourism operators in Hawaii and conceivably elsewhere. What the shark ecotourism operators need to do is to come together and agree on a set of responsible protocols regarding their operations, safety, conservation education, research support, and public relations so that they can present a unified position, backed by sound arguments and expert support, to local, state, and federal politicians and decision-makers. This may be asking a lot of local small businessmen, but it is what they are now faced with.

As a filmmaker, I have seen the advantages of responsible shark ecotourism in promoting shark conservation to the benefit, not the expense, of both sharks and people. I do not have a personal financial interest in any shark ecotourism operation but, as someone with a media and marketing background, I am willing to put my opinions forward as to the future direction of shark ecotourism. The real tragedy in all of this is what is happening to sharks populations right now worldwide. Responsible shark ecotourism can be one component in combating the slaughter of tens of millions of sharks.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shark Conservation: macro issues for the decision-makers

When discussing shark conservation, we typically focus on what could be called the "micro" or personal/public issues: shark finning, demand for shark fin soup and other shark products. These are important hot button issues that have emotional impact on the individual and can impact public demand. But there are also "macro" big picture issues that require action on the part of governments and/or commercial operations. Here are a few:

According to the Australian Journal of Agriculture and Resource Economics, illegal foreign fishing for sharks in Northern Australia has increased substantially over the last two decades. Not only has this affected the overall shark populations in the area, but it has possibly impacted the legal prawn, shark, and other fisheries due to altered predation patterns. Government intervention and enforcement is needed to protect both the sharks and the legal commercial fisheries.

When we think of Asian demand for shark products, we often think of Asian commercial fishing fleets supplying that demand. Not always so. Ecuador is one nation that meets the demand but the extant of its efforts have been seriously under-reported over the years (if reported at all), escaping the attention, until recently, of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). A study in Environmental Sciences reconstructs Ecuador's shark catch from 1979 to 2004 and puts the total at an estimated 7000 tons per year or nearly 500,000 sharks - 3.6 times greater than the FAO reported for 1991 to 2004. Ecuador has been hiding a dirty little secret.

Pelagic longline fishing (PLL) has been roundly criticized by many conservation groups because of, among other things, its level of accidental bycatch - much of which can consist of sharks. In the U.S. Atlantic, PLL has a strong impact on blue shark populations along with other species. An article in Reviews of Fish Biology and Fisheries examined this situation and studied, among other issues, the negative economic and operational impacts of shark bycatch in the form of damage to fishing gear, bait, and complications in shark management. It was determined that it was in the best interest of all stakeholders in the Atlantic to explore methods to reduce shark bycatch. Once again, finding an economic advantage is often the best way to motivate government or commercial decision-makers to respond to conservation issues.

Promoting these macro issues is where many responsible NGOs come in - organizations like Oceana, Seaweb, Center for Biological Diversity, and others. Many of these groups are based in Washington D.C. and other worldwide centers of political power and influence where they focus their efforts and resources towards taking the fight right to the top.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Geoengineering: big ideas to change the planet

I was reading through several scientific articles on geoengineering. Lots of big words and science jargon to stumble over, but I found it both fascinating and a bit alarming.

In a nutshell, geoengineering is the use of techniques and/or processes that alter some of the normal geological processes that nature has devised. As it relates to climate change, this is different than taking steps to reduce CO2 emissions (which we should continue to do regardless). Instead or in addition to, the attempt is made to counteract the ecosystem's reaction to the various influences that contribute to climate change. It's a bit like taking medicine to treat symptoms as opposed to preventive medicine - like taking a cold medication to alter your body functions to hopefully better fight the cold (symptomatic) as opposed to staying warm and eating right to avoid getting the cold in the first place (preventative).

Some of the approaches being considered range from seeding the stratosphere with certain sulfate aerosols that will counteract the global temperature change, or using seawater particles to seed maritime clouds which would "scrub" more heat-generating CO2 out of the atmosphere, to fertilizing select areas of the ocean with iron that would stimulate phytoplankton blooms which would capture and retain more CO2.

These are all very ambitious and large-scale concepts, but some scientists feel that this is what will be needed. There are those who feel that the global ecosystem has been pushed beyond its self-regulating capabilities to maintain the current status quo and will shift to a new status quo that will have drastic implications for life on this planet - and that this new condition will last for centuries or longer regardless of our immediate success in reducing greenhouse gases. Therefore, geoengineering is needed to either possibly prevent the shift or alter the effects of the new shift.

On the one hand, it all sounds very fascinating and illustrates some of the necessary forward-thinking that we need from our scientific community. But at the same time, the research is very new, does not have much baseline scientific study or modeling behind it, and there are a host of possible or unforeseen complications - just like the side effects of any medication.

It's interesting to read about but alarming to think that we have gotten ourselves to a point where such grandiose solutions must be considered.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Chinook Salmon Ban: protecting vital spawning grounds

The Pacific Fishery Management Council recently banned the commercial catching of chinook salmon off the coast of California and much of Oregon. This is the second year in a row that the ban was instituted in response to record low numbers of chinook salmon counted in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River system - a primary spawning area for the salmon.

In years past, the number of salmon was around 250,000, with a one-time recorded high of 800,000. In 2008, only 66,286 were counted returning to the river to spawn. While any commercial fishing would have a detrimental effect on the remaining population as they return to the open ocean, the root cause of the problem apparently lies in the conditions of the rivers themselves.

Subject to water pollution and water reduction (siphoning off water to quench the large thirst of agricultural regions in California), in addition to reduced food sources from a warmer Pacific and less robust breeding with wild versus hatchery raised salmon - all have impacted the population which is expected to increase slightly in the fall but still be far below the council's recommended minimum goal of 122,000.

Approximately 2,200 fisherman have been put out of work and received federal disaster aid because of the ban but, perhaps surprisingly, many support the ban as the only way to insure the long-term future of the salmon population. Their primary concern is California water policy that seems to be favoring agriculture at the expense of critical salmon spawning grounds.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pacific Island Conservation: 3 steps in the right direction

Three interesting and related news tidbits from, all having to do with recognizing and acting on conservation issues in Pacific Island regions:

Indonesia will host a World Ocean Conference next month that will include delegates from several Asia Pacific regions, from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea. It is expected that there will be joint agreements on addressing the issues of climate change on the oceans in addition to actions to preserve fisheries (particularly for some of the smaller islands) and to protect coral reef environments (which support both fisheries and tourism, not to mention being a physical buffer to adverse ocean weather/wave conditions).

To the tune of $20 million USD, Australia will fund the Pacific Climate Change Science Program, designed to work with Pacific Island nations to track and analyze the effects of climate change including temperature increases, acidification, and rises sea-level. "Climate change has the potential to affect some of the poorest and most vulnerable nations with challenges including sea level rise, more intense storms and floods, water shortages, and the resulting impacts on water and food security," said AU Senator Penny Wong.

As part of a Japan-Pacific Islands Forum Summit Meeting scheduled for May, Japan and 16 other Pacific Island countries and territories plan to join forces to combat issues such as climate change, poor sanitation, pollution and declining biodiversity. Japan will provide environmental technology assistance to countries and territories to support agriculture and fisheries, address the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and develop tsunami warning systems.

It's great to see countries of all sizes and economic persuasions come together to take proactive steps that will help the long-term preservation of their ocean environments and their tourism and fishing-dependent economies. Some of the other industrialized nations should take note.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Understanding Mass Behavior: an important strategy in gaining support

Which do you think is the more common behavior: To want to be the first one on the block to install fluorescent light bulbs or to want to avoid being the last one?

I was reading an interesting article by Michael Grunwald in the April 13th issue of TIME about the current administration's use of scientific behavioral research in facilitating societal change - a key component of President Obama's campaign. As I read, it struck me as to how this approach could be used in the conservation movement (nature, ocean, sharks, etc). One paragraph in particular summed up what could be another strategic arrow in our quiver:

"Which message would persuade homeowners to save electricity: a call to their environmental conscience, or an appeal to their wallet? [Psychologist Robert] Cialdini tested those approaches in a San Diego experiment, and the answer was neither. What worked was an appeal to conformity. Residents used less power when they were told their neighbors were using less power. We're a herdlike species, more likely to be obese if our peers are."

So, the rational arguments failed and what worked was the need to conform, to belong to a majority. Now can this be applied to many of the environmental and ecological causes we are so passionate about? Definitely yes - with a measure of subtlety, but yes.

Take shark conservation for instance. We would still want to cite all the facts and figures regarding declining populations of sharks, the cruelty of shark finning, and even the potential harm of mercury poisoning from shark meat. But we also need to add one more important element: that it's a growing movement. Although shark conservation springs from a strong negative base, we must accentuate the positives by mentioning organizations, governments, restaurants, and celebrities that support the cause, listing statistics that show growth in the movement, and anything else that subtly says to the individual: you will not be alone if you join us.

Sometimes this is what weakens the effectiveness of some of the more strident conservation groups. Despite the validity of their positions, they often are marginalized and perceived as a fringe group. And this impacts their broad acceptance by the general public.

Does this mean we soft soap the issues, that we water down the harsh realities? Absolutely not! Does this mean we profess a level of support that does not exist? Again, no! What it does say is that we need to find a balance between using empirical facts and understanding the behavioral response of those whose support we seek. Part of the public relations strategy of any successful movement is in making the participants feel that they are not alone in their support, that they are part of a greater whole for the common good. It's a subtle psychological nudge, but a very powerful one.

Read the entire article in Time.

BLUE Ocean Film Festival: ocean conservation comes to Savannah, GA and beyond

There are several interesting ocean film festivals that take place each year, but in June there is one of particular note: the BLUE Ocean Film Festival set in beautiful Savannah, Georgia. There are several features to this event, scheduled for June 11 thru 14, that I think will set it apart from others.

First, there will be a full slate of exciting and thought-provoking films - from professionals to student films - for the public to view. My documentary, Island of the Great White Shark, has been accepted but the final slate of films to be screened has not been determined yet, so check their web site as the dates approach.

Secondly, there will be several presentations, panel groups, and awards - particularly, a Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Ocean Advocacy to be given to Dr. Sylvia Earle, who I featured in a previous post. Many of the people involved in the panel groups are colleagues or mentors so I know the events will be enlightening for marine conservationists, filmmakers or just the curious.

Lastly, and perhaps in many ways most importantly, the festival is planning a road show of sorts, bringing many of the participating films to a broader audience through aquariums, festivals, and other public events. This is key to building greater public awareness (My loyal readers of this blog are dedicated conservationists, but are we reaching the unenlightened as well? - that is an important long-term goal.).

I will be attending the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and will be soaking in some of Savannah's historical ambiance and Southern hospitality. Hope to see you there.

For more information:
Facebook: BLUE Ocean Film Festival group

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Australia: microcosm of global warming today

There's a very disturbing article in today's Los Angeles Times regarding the current impact of global warming on Australia. When we think of the impacts of climate change, we often think of the polar regions or maybe a few isolated regions affected by heavy rains or drought. But here is an entire continent showing negative impacts on agriculture, water supplies, wildlife, and even social effects that include higher rates of suicide.

Southern Australia is showing definite signs of a warmer, drier climate that has been devastating to many of the country's agriculture industries. Fruit orchards are showing drastic signs of reduced output and farmers are not able to afford to make the investment in shifting to different
crops - removing orchards, planting new crops, waiting for a sufficient new crop to begin to pay off. This has led many farmers to economic collapse and even an increase in suicide. And all throughout the southern region, water supplies have become precious to meet the demands of farmers, cattlemen, and urban cities.

In Northern Australia, climate change has produced heavy, monsoon-like rains and more cyclones - one of the topsy-turvy affects of temperature, wind, and ocean current changes. Throughout the country, temperature change is having an impact on wildlife, with species fighting for dwindling space as they migrate to better climates or dying out if favorable conditions cannot be found. And Australia's Great Barrier Reef continues to show the dramatic effects of temperature-induced coral bleaching to the extent that the reef could be "extinct" in 40 years.

"Something is happening in Australia," firefighter Dan Condon of the Melbourne Metropolitan Fire Brigade wrote in an open letter. "Global warming is no longer some future event that we don't have to worry about for decades. What we have seen in the past two weeks moves Australia's exposure to global warming to emergency status."

A royal commission is being convened to address the problem, but Australia's political response has been somewhat muted because to seriously address global warming means the nation
must rethink the foundation of its economy: coal. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and depends on coal for 80% of its electricity. This nation is a microcosm of what the world faces today. The shift to alternative energy sources, the steps needed to be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - these will not be easy and, more and more, we are seeing anecdotal and empirical evidence that it must be done now and in a big way.

Read the entire Los Angeles Times article with excellent video.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Offshore Oil Drilling: Santa Barbara County readies a ban

In California, Santa Barbara County supervisors are preparing to reinstate a "ban" on offshore drilling, reversing a controversial decision made 8 months ago. The county will deny permits for onshore processing, which effectively halts any new offshore drilling - the actual drilling being something the county has no jurisdiction over. The new position reflects a change of heart (and a change in the board's make up) in favor of alternative energy sources before drilling is even considered.

"I feel strongly that we've been a national leader in conservation and alternative energy," said board member Doreen Farr. "That's the direction we need to go. We can't drill our way out of this."

But not everyone is in agreement. Many Santa Barbara County residents have no problem with tapping into undersea resources, contending that evolving technology has minimized the risk of catastrophic spills.
"It's irresponsible not to develop offshore drilling and production, with a serious eye to making certain it's safe -- which it can be," said Joni Gray, a supervisor who represents the Santa Maria and Lompoc areas.

The new proposed resolution will be considered next week, the timing being in conjunction with an Interior Department hearing in San Francisco on offshore drilling. While there are those who advocate that offshore drilling technology has improved, the memory of the disastrous 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill is still fresh in the minds of many.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Question From RTSea: how's the blog doing?

Just a quick question to my readers . . . What would you like to see from this blog?

I have basically taken the approach of being a news aggregator for nature issues (partial to marine conservation with a specialty interest in sharks) and have tried to keep my opinions as diplomatic as possible (I find too many blogs seem to be forums for rudely spouting off, thereby fomenting partisanship and not pushing the agenda forward).

Give me your thoughts as to what you would like to see. If I'm on the right track, let me know. If not, let's hear your ideas. With so much mass communication flying around these days, the last thing I want to do is waste any one's time.


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wind Turbines: part of rethinking energy policy

Wind turbines off U.S. coastlines could potentially supply more than enough electricity to meet the nation's current demand. A conclusion drawn by a pro-wind environmental group or wind turbine lobby? No, it comes from the U.S. Interior Department in a recent report on wind turbine potential. (Read Los Angeles Times article.)

The report cited that wind turbines in the shallow waters off the eastern coast could produce up to 1,000 gigawatts of electricity - enough to handle 25% of the nation's demand. But it's not all a bed of roses. West coast wind turbine potential is hampered by the underwater terrain - primarily deeper waters that make the placement of turbines more difficult.

The report also touched on a sensitive issue with many environmental groups: offshore oil reserves and the possibility of more offshore oil drilling. This points to the need for a comprehensive and cohesive energy policy - no easy task and one that has eluded us to date because it was always easier to just keep drilling for more oil.

My thoughts . . .

A national energy policy is faced with having to address several important issues: the economic/political ramifications of our dependence on oil, particularly foreign oil; the need to develop a wide range of alternatives - some of which may not be as cost effective but may benefit the environment; the need to address the environmental safety issues in developing any and all forms of energy; and the reliance on objective science to determine the impacts of any new or existing form of energy. It's a mouthful any way you look at it.

The "drill, baby, drill" contingent that would like to see offshore and Arctic drilling resume or begin in earnest are opposed by many in the environmental movement. But a middle ground may have to be found here. I sense that germ of compromise in many of the comments from eco groups stating that objective scientific research is needed to determine the impacts of drilling (in other words, they are not entirely opposed to the idea as long as we don't repeat the oil spill disasters and environmental mistakes of the past). That holds true for many other forms of energy development. We need to focus our technological capabilities toward ensuring the highest degree of environmental safety for every form of energy under consideration - wind, solar, and yes, even nuclear and oil.

I'm not sure that our society can beat its addiction to oil by going cold turkey; we'll need to ween ourselves off of it. But if any new drilling does take place, it can't be for the purpose of returning to the status quo. Whatever oil is used, it must be done more efficiently - it becomes a two-fold issue: where we get it and how we use it. The underlying goal being to eliminate as much use of carbon/CO2 producing energy sources as possible.

Science and technology must play a massively critical role in all of this, in both developing the technologies that will provide efficient energy use that is economically reasonable while also determining what is safe for the environment. The two go hand in hand - with one caveat: to sacrifice the environment for the sake of expediency or the dollar would lead to irreparable damage. We are at that critical ecological tipping point.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Palau's Shark/Fishing Legislation: a reputation for conservation at risk

Palau has been a favorite dive tourist destination for many years because of its wonderful reefs and bountiful fishlife. And the island has, in the past, taken active steps to protect its shark populations with aggressive action against illegal shark finning operations. All of these efforts have contributed to the island's tourist economy and sound conservation policy.

But that all could potentially be undone with recent legislation that was introduced to both allow for commercial shark fishing and allow for the use of purse seining - a method that brings in a large amount of by-catch. Palau commercial fishing interests have been working with Philippine fishing groups and the combined influence on Palau legislators has produced SB8-44 (which drops the ban on shark fishing) and SB8-50 (which drops an export tax on fish caught by purse seining).

According to FinsMagazine, the collective result of the laws would be:
  • To permit and encourage the killing of sharks in Palau’s waters
  • To promote shark finning
  • To promote fishing methods that according to Monterey Bay Aquarium “result in large amounts of unintended catch” including sharks, dolphins, turtles, rays and juveniles:
  • To exempt fishing companies from any export taxes on fish taken from Palau’s waters
  • To make it practically impossible for Palau’s law enforcement personnel to successfully prosecute alleged violators in the courts
  • To risk destroying Palau’s sustainable tourism industry
  • To risk destroying Palau’s marine resources through unsustainable practices
  • To gamble on all of the above for no apparent gain to Palau or Palauans.
This issue has made the rounds of several shark blogs recently, but opinions from everyone - from divers to land-bound ocean advocates - are needed to remind the Palau government that the negative impact on tourism and the island's marine ecology will ultimately outweigh the short-term gains in a working relationship with Philippine commercial fisheries.

Email the Palau Chamber of Commerce ( and Belau Tourism Association ( and the government tourism office Palau Visitors Authority ( .

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Omnibus Land Act: taking steps to learn more about the oceans

As we have often heard, mankind knows more about the backside of the moon than it does about the oceans on our own planet. There's so much that we don't know, so many incredible secrets to be uncovered - many of which can prove to be beneficial to our existence, present and future.

So, when legislation is based with the purpose of learning more about the oceans, that's always a good thing. The recent signing of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act puts forth provisions to study the oceans to learn more about the effects of global warming and industrial influence. Specifically there are four:

The Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA Act authorizes the National Ocean Exploration Program, National Undersea Research Program, and the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping Program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to increase scientific knowledge for the management, use and preservation of oceanic, coastal and Great Lake resources.

The Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act authorizes the establishment of an integrated system of coastal and ocean observations for the nation's coasts, oceans and Great Lakes.

The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act authorizes a coordinated federal research program on ocean acidification.

The Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act authorizes funding for a program to protect important coastal and estuarine areas that have significant conservation, recreation, ecological, historical, aesthetic, or watershed protection values, and that are threatened by conversion to other uses.

It's very simple: if we want to save it, we need to know what to save and how to save. When you have the knowledge then the debate becomes secondary to the need for action.