Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Marine Mammals and Climate Change: study looks at win some/lose some in biodiversity

According to predictive models from a recent study on marine mammal biodiversity and the impact of climate change, cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) are faced with a win some, lose some future.

The study, recently published in the online scientific journal PLoS ONE, was a collaboration of US, Canadian, and Brazilian researchers, headed up by Dr. Kristin Kaschner of the University of Freiburg, Germany. According to Science Daily, the team produced predictions of patterns of global marine mammal biodiversity using a species distribution model which incorporated oceanographic data such as water depth, sea surface temperature, and sea ice concentration as well as information on marine mammal species occurrence. They then investigated and modeled the effects of global warming on individual species' distributions and biodiversity hotspots by the year 2050 based on an intermediate climate change scenario.

The researchers found that there was a higher concentration of marine mammal biodiversity in the temperate waters of the southern hemisphere. In addition, there are marine mammal diversity "hot spots" along the coast of Japan, northern New Zealand, the Pacific Coast of North America, and the polar regions. And while climate change may alter the environment over the next 40 years, the overall distribution of marine mammals will stay fairly constant, according to the study's predictions. That's the "win some."

However, the "lose some" entails more losses with specific species and also biodiversity shifts in the polar regions where there are fewer species - and of those species most are less amenable to a changing climate. The study concluded that there could be a loss of as much as 80% in local species in areas like the Arctic and Antarctic, while biodiversity distribution for species in more temperate and tropical climates could actually increase significantly.

So what does this all mean? Well, marine mammals are not isolated or inconsequential animals in the seas. They play an important role in maintaining a healthy marine food web, so where they are and where they might cease to be in the future can be very important in determining marine areas of concern for conservation. In considering potential marine protected areas (MPAs), it is vital that climate change and its impact on biodiversity, now and in the future, be a key component. Knowing where the marine mammal hotspots or prime distribution areas are and how they might change in the years to come, will allow governments and international agencies to make sound decisions as we all press for more and more MPAs to preserve our ocean resources.

Read about the study in Science Daily.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Blue Vision Summit 3: interview with organizer David Helvarg on ocean conference

The third Blue Vision Summit, which recently concluded in Washington, DC, brought together a diverse group of participants, ranging from noted ocean conservationists and scientists like Dr. Sylvia Earle and David Guggenheim, to government and regulatory agency representatives like NOAA head Dr. Jane Lubchenco and US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, to a host of filmmakers, artists, and concerned citizen groups.

These are people who, for the most part, know the issues at hand regarding ocean conservation; they are more interested in where we stand regarding solutions. Presentations and discussion panels were held that covered pressing ocean issues from a more policy and politics perspective. The two days of meetings and solution-oriented discussion were offset by more social events in the evening, including the Peter Benchley Awards Ceremony, presented to outstanding individuals in several categories - some of which included ocean science, policy, and youth activism. (Unbeknown to much of the general public, Peter Benchley, following the success of Jaws and seeing the misconceptions it fostered with the general public, devoted a large part of the remainder of his career to ocean and shark conservation.)

As an attendee, I found the Blue Vision Summit to be both a source of optimism and concern. There is progress being made on a variety of specific issues. However, the wheels of governmental progress move agonizingly slow and those involved and committed to ocean conservation must contend with the economic pressures and interests that can often prevent policy makers from making thoughtful long-term decisions regarding our marine resources - the Gulf of Mexico, ravaged by two hurricanes, a major oil spill, and now flooding from the Mississippi River, being a prime example. My hat is off to those who are relentless in their assault on Washington and other centers of government worldwide in defense of the seas.

To best summarize the event, I interviewed the architect behind the Blue Vision Summits, David Helvarg, director of the Blue Frontier Campaign.

RTSea: What was the genesis of the Blue Vision Summits?

DH: Shortly after I wrote my book Blue Frontier I was asked to speak to 1,000 ocean agency and academic types who meet regularly to discuss the status of ocean management. Afterwards, I thought that if you could get an equal number of "seaweed rebels" together you might really turn the tide. In 2003, I recycled my book into the non-profit Blue Frontier Campaign (BFC) hoping to provide an umbrella for local, regional and national groups in the U.S. and in 2004 we had our first Blue Vision Summit in Washington, DC with 250 folks.

RTSea: The timing for the three summits has been spaced out – 2004, 2009, 2011. Why is that?

DH: 2004 was timed to 2 major ocean commissions, the Pew Ocean Commission headed by Leon Panetta that reported in 2003 and the Bush Appointed U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy that reported in 2004. They both suggested that the ecological collapse of our public seas posed a threat to our economy, environment and security and offered a host of solutions. We hoped to spark a BOB ("Big Ocean Bill") as Rep. Sam Farr referred to it, similar to the Clean Air and Clean Water acts of the 20th Century.

For the next 5 years, BFC continued to work on policy, journalistic reporting on the seas - including publication of the book
50 Ways to Save the Ocean, - and regional efforts. With the arrival of the Obama Administration we thought we had another chance to bring the ocean
constituency together and more than 400 attended BVS2 two months after the inauguration. Out of that we saw a lot of momentum around a National Ocean Policy and also established the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards as an annual event. Following the BP oil disaster that I covered in the Gulf and the President's signing off on a National Ocean Policy, we thought we needed another Summit to focus on restoring the Gulf and implementing the Policy. If there is enough marine community support we will try and make the Summits a biannual (every other year) event.

RTSea: One of the key topics of this year’s summit was the legacy of the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Not to downplay that environmental disaster, but why the emphasis?

DH: After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the BP oil spill was just the latest insult to an ocean basin that has come to be seen as a national sacrifice area in terms of reckless exploitation. What the Summit focused on both in the "Voices of the Gulf" Plenary organized by the Gulf Restoration Network and the federal panel including NOAA's Jane Lubchenco and Admiral Thad Allen is that, along with low probability/high impact disasters like BP, we have to begin restoration efforts aimed at loss of wetlands, climate change impacts, pollution and a range of ongoing and cascading disasters that are being felt not only in the Gulf but across our living seas.

RTSea: There was a range of responses from the audience, some quite passionate, regarding the oil spill and its aftermath. How do you think the panelists representing government agencies handled themselves and what are your views on government action – federal and state – today in dealing with the spill’s after-affects?

DH: I think the government reps handled themselves well and expected a passionate response from Gulf residents and others. In fact, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco sent me a positive note on how well she thought the panel she was on went. The larger federal response, unfortunately, has been to work on the impacts from the BP spill while still promoting expanded offshore deep-water drilling. We need to begin a serious effort to transition from fossil fuels. Any new platform is a commitment to at least 30 years of additional greenhouse gas pollution as well as potential marine pollution. The Gulf states' response to the spill has been to try and hoard as much of any settlement fund as they can for themselves individually as states. Until there is a regional commitment to a shared fund focused on restoring the ecosystem and not local infrastructures like roads and convention centers, the state response remains problematic.

RTSea: The Blue Vision Summit was held in Washington D.C. and there was a slant toward policy and regulatory issues. This may not seem particularly “sexy” to some ocean conservationists, but it is, I believe, where many maturing ocean conservation issues ultimately reach a “rubber meets the road” level and either accomplish something concrete or fall to the wayside. How do you see it?

DH: I liked the panel titled "Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning - What's in it for me?" Until local activists (and coastal businesses) working on a range of marine issues understand how a common-sense national ocean policy benefits them, we won't have a large enough constituency to take the President's good words off the paper he signed and put them into the water column. At the same time the feds should be aiming to catch up with solution-oriented policies already being practiced in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, on the West Coast, and elsewhere. They should be moving towards implementing the national ocean policy through designated regional ocean councils. Instead, I'm left with the strong impression that the administration doesn't want to do this until after the 2012 elections and are using some right-wing republicans opposition as an excuse for not moving aggressively.

RTSea: You mention “coastal and marine spatial planning” and this may be a new term to many people reading this. Can you explain what marine spatial planning is in more detail?

DH: Not the most elegant phrase - Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) is, in the words of Admiral Thad Allen (USCG Ret.), "putting urban planning in the water column." I'd conceive it as working with all the stakeholders in our public seas to clean up our watersheds, green our ports and coastal infrastructure, and designate offshore areas for shipping, clean energy, fishing, national defense, marine wilderness parks and wildlife migration corridors - recognizing that everything needs to be integrated in a way that preserves the ecological services and wild qualities of our seas. This common planning approach also increases regulatory certainty for industry, protects resource dependent jobs and strengthens nationals security since, if you have a better sense of where all the players are, its easier to identify the bad actors like pirates, poachers and terrorists.

RTSea: Shark conservation is reaching a similar point where the emotional issue over the brutality of shark finning has propelled a grass roots movement to a level where now we have legislation and international regulations being implemented or, at least, considered. But this brings in a whole new set of players and agendas into the game – the politicians, economic interests, lobbyists, etc. - to whom or which the morality of shark finning does not necessarily resonate and a different strategy or mindset on the part of the shark advocates is needed. Do you find that to be the case with other ocean issues?

DH: Ocean protection is about more than protecting the ecosystem, which you need a certain science grounding to understand. It is also about protecting the ecological services we all depend on. Fortunately, things like marine spatial planning are also complimentary to maritime domain awareness, a key element of national defense. And of course, the Summit also emphasized the links between a healthy ocean and healthy economy. The role of sharks as keystone species that keep reefs and other habitats as healthy sources of coastal protection and tourist revenues suggest other potential allies including the tourist and insurance industries.

RTSea: President Obama has laid the foundation for a U.S. Ocean Policy. But in your view, where do we stand right now and what needs to be done to bring about concrete change?

DH: We as a community need to work on two fronts - One, to make sure the administration moves forward with the regional implementation of the policy before the 2012 elections. At the same time we have to push back against the oil and gas industry and their front groups, like the National Ocean Policy Coalition whose purpose is to destroy the national ocean policy. When Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA), whose major campaign contributor last year was the oil and gas industry, calls a common sense policy that will protect millions of jobs a "job killer," I'm reminded of Upton Sinclair when he wrote, "It's hard to understand something when your salary depends on your not understanding it."

RTSea: The Blue Vision Summit 3 culminated with a large group of participants meeting with government representatives at the Capitol building, a polite “storming of the Bastille” as it were. Meetings were scheduled with various senators and other officials. What were you hoping to accomplish and what were the results?

DH: We had over 70 meetings with Congressional staff and a few elected officials from many regions including the Gulf and the Rocky Mountain west (we had a contingent with us from the Colorado Ocean Coalition). We made a number of House and Senate offices aware of ocean policy and funding issues including the Ocean Trust Fund proposal introduced by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). In just one example of increasing understanding we met with staff from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office. They commented on lack of communication issues between the White House and the Hill and said they were vaguely aware of the President's ocean policy but weren't clear who was behind it. We were able to explain that we were part of its constituency and provided the history and background of the policy that connected with their concerns.

RTSea: At the conference, it was mentioned that one of the problems with ocean conservation is that it does not have a constituency – at least one that government can or will respond to. There was an attempt circulating to form an Ocean Caucus. Can you explain what this is about and what it’s benefit would be?

DH: Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) is working with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and others to create a Senate Ocean Caucus similar to the bipartisan House Ocean Caucus to strengthen recognition among their fellow Senators that ocean issues are national issues and getting things right on our blue frontier is of concern to all Americans. By visiting our elected representatives on the Hill and in their home offices in their districts and states we seaweed (marine grassroots) folks at Blue Vision helped strengthen the position of our handful of ocean champions on the hill and hopefully have begun to elevate our public seas into the public policy arena, putting the blue back in our red, white and blue and impacting the larger blue planet beyond our 200 mile ocean borders.

RTSea: So, what’s next for David Helvarg?

DH: Along with the continued work of Blue Frontier including work with Associate Director Mary Kadzielski and our board of directors, I'll be getting back to researching my next book, Golden Shore - The Epic Tale of California and the Sea.

To learn more about the Blue Vision Summit, click here.

To learn more about the Blue Frontier Campaign, click here

Sunday, May 29, 2011

BLUE On Tour: a multi-media roadshow for ocean conservation

Proverb: "To know and not to do is not know."

Activists know this adage well. Ignorance may be bliss but, once you have the facts, you have the responsibility to not sit on your hands and do nothing. Ocean conservationists know this as well and strive not only to enlighten the decision makers and the general public as to the challenges threatening the seas but to express what needs to be done about it.

The BLUE Ocean Film Festival, based in Monterey, California, has in only two short years become a well-recognized and respected event that brings together wildlife filmmakers, ocean conservation leaders, and the general public in a multi-day event of moving imagery, insightful discussions, and the knowledge that says "you now know, so go and make a difference."

As valuable as this now bi-annual event is, Debbie and Charles Kinder, the festival's executive organizers, knew that something needed to be done in the interim, something proactive. BLUE On Tour was the result: a multi-media, educational traveling roadshow that takes the soul of the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and makes it available worldwide.

"BLUE On Tour is a traveling film festival and conservation event, making the world's greatest collection of ocean films available to communities and audiences around the world.

BLUE On Tour's goal is to use the power of film to INFORM millions of people around the globe about the importance of the ocean and INSPIRE action that leads a lasting commitment to ocean stewardship.

Empowerment, education and inspiration are the driving philosophy of the BLUE On Tour outreach initiative. We are excited to be able to provide the opportunity for each host to present their own tailored film festival event featuring customized selections from our extensive film catalog.

BLUE On Tour also provides access to the filmmakers, explorers and marine science experts who created these amazing films, which give us an awe-inspiring and informative window into the underwater world."
- From the BLUE On Tour website.

BLUE On Tour can be hosted by a variety of organizations: schools and universities, museums, libraries, community organizations, government agencies, non-profits and even retailers or other for-profit businesses - essentially anyone who wishes to educate and motivate others on marine environmental issues. There is a basic package which can be modified to meet the needs of an organization or event. As an example, Auburn University staged a three-day event in March that combined BLUE On Tour with master classes and panel discussions on ocean issues and a day set aside for just kids.

BLUE On Tour currently has a 2011-2012 schedule that includes Mexico, Washington D.C., New York City, Hawaii, El Salvador, Australia, and more. If you have an organization, small or large, that is interested in staging an ocean conservation event, I would strongly suggest you contact BLUE On Tour. They can help you in developing a successful celebration of the oceans that would enhance your organization, illuminate the minds of your community and, of course, benefit the oceans as well.

To learn more about BLUE On Tour, click here.
To learn more about the BLUE Ocean Film Festival,
click here.

Shark Night 3D: sharks once again villified on film for thrills

(Sigh...) As shark conservation continues to make progress on the legislative front with shark fin prohibitions passing in Hawaii and Washington state and moving forward in California and Oregon, there are always reminders that come along that misconceptions and myths can not only persist but they can be promoted for mindless entertainment.

Coming this September, from the people who brought you "Snakes on a Plane" and "Texas Chainsaw Massacre", we now have "Shark Night 3D" which follows the formula of previous teenage horror flicks - with hyper-hormoned guys and gals on a wild weekend retreat who find themselves gruesomely set upon not by psychotic Jason or Michael Meyers but by, you guessed it, sharks.

(Sigh...) The reality is that there will always be movies, television shows, and books that will always capitalize on primal fears of things that go bump in the night, no matter how misplaced or unfounded those fears might be. Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my! And sharks, too. Unfortunately, these roller-coaster, cheap thrill forms of entertainment are often geared towards the most impressionable of minds, those who will leap out of their seats and spill their popcorn when the boogeyman suddenly pops out of the closet.

But it's those same impressionable minds that many ocean conservationists and shark advocates are trying to reach. I have often said, when speaking to groups about the need to protect sharks, that shark conservation is a tough sell. With centuries of demonizing sharks behind us to contend with, it may always be, at best, two steps forward and one step back.

Coming soon: Penguins Gone Bad. Kittens from Hell. Attack of the Alien Dolphin. All in 3D at a theater near you.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Snow Leopard: international cooperation underway to protect endangered Asian cat

Even though my primary interests are with the seas and their future, from time to time I turn back towards land and some of the apex predators, like tigers and wolves, that have been threatened by the encroachment of civilization.

Tigers are particularly beautiful animals that are seriously endangered with numbers ranging in only a few thousand throughout India and southern China. However, there is another cat that lives in the harsh terrain of China, Mongolia and India that is equally as striking as the tiger and, unfortunately, also threatened with extinction: the snow leopard.

The snow leopard is a relative newcomer to the conservation scene, having only been first photographed in the wild in the 1970s, with concerted efforts to protect this animal starting a decade later. The target of poachers who value its fur on the black market, the snow leopard's population has been estimated to be as low as 3,500.

However, casting a ray of hope on the future of this feline predator, an international joint effort is getting underway to protect the snow leopard, bringing together several conservation
organizations from the United Kingdom and Asia. Involved in this effort is UK's Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), the Whitley Fund for Nature (WFN), and the BBC Wildlife Fund (the BBC brought the snow leopard to the attention of television viewers with rare footage shot for the Planet Earth series). Also involved are the Snow Leopard Trust (SLT), the Snow Leopard Conservation Fund in Mongolia, and members of China's Peking University. It is hoped that through this concerted, cooperative strategy, progress can be achieved in environmental education, community‐based wildlife monitoring, anti‐poaching programs, and cross‐collaboration between regional and national government offices.

According to a recent press release, Dr. Charudutt Mishra, Trustee of NCF and Science and Conservation Director of the SLT, said “This is the first large, multi‐country project of its kind for snow leopards and it’s a huge leap forward for the species.”

Believing that global efforts like these to protect a keystone species can set the stage for international cooperation to protect other endangered species, Georgina Domberger, Director of WFN, said
“It’s great to say you’re going to protect an endangered species—but what does that mean? We can’t save all of them at once, but we are coming up with a way to protect some of the most important population centers we can, and then we hope to build outwards from there. We all love snow leopards for their beauty and charisma, and since they are at the top of the wildlife pyramid, we know helping them will help the entire ecosystem.”

Let's hope that through global cooperation, Ms. Domberger's assessment that we can't save all of the endangered species at once will only be a passing reality. Threatened and endangered species are a reflection of our fate as well. Perhaps we can't stop the theorized Sixth Great Extinction that is taking place because of the impact of humankind, but I would like to think that we could certainly slow it down a notch or two. I'm sure the snow leopard would appreciate it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

California Assembly Passes Shark Fin Prohibition: AB376 moves to the Senate

Shark conservation has taken a step forward right in my backyard. On Monday, the California assembly passed AB376 which prohibits the sale, distribution, and possession of shark fins. This is essentially the same legislation that was passed in Hawaii and Washington state and is making similar progress in Oregon.

Introduced by Assemblymembers Paul Fong (D-Cupertino) and Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), the legislation was passed by a wide margin (62 to 8) and will now move on to the state Senate. If it succeeds in the Senate, it will most certainly by signed into law by Governor Brown, becoming effective on January 1, 2013.

But the measure did not progress without opposition. At the outset, opposing groups raised issues of cultural and ethnic prejudice. Since the vast majority of shark fin products are used in Asian markets for shark fin soup, the race card was heavily played by those representing either Asian constituencies or economic interests. However, opposition based on trumped up charges of racial discrimination did not dissuade Assemblymember Fong.

"I knew when I accepted the responsibility (of authoring this bill) - I weighed the cultural implications versus the environmental concerns, and the environmental issues outweighed the cultural," Assemblymember Fong said.

I had the pleasure of screening my documentary, Island of the Great White Shark, at the state Capitol two years ago at the invitation of Assemblymembers Jared Huffman and Nathan Fletcher as a fledgling precursor to the legislative achievement that has now been achieved. Assemblymember Huffman recognized the cultural shift that was being asked of the Asian community, where expensive shark fin soup is highly prized for special events and is often considered a sign of wealth or status. But he too felt that the environmental benefits outweighed the cultural ones.

“We have a role in helping our seas recover their balance - a role shared by our friends in Washington State, whose Governor signed a similar ban into law two weeks ago, and Oregon, which is considering a ban in its Legislature as we speak. Sharks belong at the top of the marine food web, and we can help restore them by passing AB 376,” said Assemblymember Huffman.

With passage of legislation in Hawaii, California, Washington, and Oregon, a major avenue in the eastern Pacific for shark fin distribution would be closed.

“Just as we banned the cultural tradition of foot binding, the tradition of eating shark fin soup served to show one’s affluence needs to end as well,” said Assemblymember Fong. “I am honored that the California State Assembly recognized what 76 percent of Californians and 70 percent of Chinese American voters in California have already recognized – that sharks are critical to the ocean’s health. Furthermore, our state and federal laws against finning are toothless in international waters – that’s why these efforts to stop the importation and demand here in California are so urgent.”

Supporters of the bill include The Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance, actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Edward Norton, Master Chef Martin Yan, Chef Charles Phan of the Slanted Door, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California Academy of Sciences, The Humane Society of the United States, WildAid, SeaStewards, Oceana, Natural Resources Defense Council, California Coastkeeper Alliance, Pacific Environment, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment California, Ocean Conservancy, Food Empowerment Project, and Heal the Bay.

However, while AB376 has now been passed by the state's lower house, the battle is far from over. Rest assured that opponents of the bill will double their efforts to prevent passage in the state Senate. So, if you are a California resident and you feel that preservation of one of the ocean's most vital predators is worthwhile, then please contact your local state Senator, urging them to support AB 376.

Click here to help find your local California state Senator's mailing address, email, and phone number.

Here is an interview by 8Asians.com with Assemblymember Fong discussing AB376:

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shark Tagging Controversy: permits are being sought for a hotly contested technique

The controversy regarding shark researchers who were tagging great white sharks with satellite tags by virtue of a very elaborate and hotly contested technique just does not seem to want to go away. In part, that is due to the indignation of many shark advocates who feel that the sharks were unnecessarily exposed to risk that was not justified by the data that was obtained. And, in part, it is due to the hard line position taken by many of the participants involved and the government officials who provided the permits to allow it to take place.

While there were those who questioned the technique - hooking a white shark, tiring it out and hoisting it aboard the deck of a ship, bolting on a satellite tag, and hopefully releasing the animal unharmed in a matter of minutes, the situation became a major media disaster when one capture went terribly wrong and a white shark may have been traumatized and left mortally injured. A year later, the shark was videotaped looking emaciated and apparently severely injured from various shark bites. While some gave the lead shark researcher, Dr. Michael Domeier, the benefit of the doubt, others accused Domeier's technique of injuring the shark and setting it on a course of poor health and a bleak outlook.

Recently, San Francisco's ABC News station KGO-TV ran a report on the entire controversy as a follow up to the news that Michael Domeier had requested another permit from the National Marine Sanctuaries, which is entrusted with the conservation and protection of the great white sharks at Northern California's Farallon Islands.

Here's the report. You can make up your own mind as to what the future action of the government agency should be regarding permits. And, you can let your opinion be known to the Farallon Marine Sanctuary Superintendent Maria Brown at maria.brown@noaa.gov.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blue Vision Summit 3: ocean conservationists bring the issues to Washington

Beginning this Friday, the third Blue Vision Summit will get underway in Washington D.C. Organized as a coming together of like-minded ocean conservationists and advocates, its goal is to focus on solutions to the many problems facing the ocean environment. With distinguished speakers and panelists, the summit runs through the weekend and culminates on Monday with a storming of the Bastille - actually a move to the halls of Congress to personally meet with legislators and discuss ocean issues.

I will be there, taking notes and meeting some new faces and catching up with some colleagues I have met before (You see? Not everybody stays in touch via Facebook!). There will be presentations and discussion groups on everything from acidification to ocean plastic to the aftermath and legacy of the Gulf oil spill - with opinions and recommendations from some of the leading experts in the field of ocean science, policy & management, and education.

"Join the Blue Frontier Campaign and members of the national and international marine community at Blue Vision Summit 3 as we come together to raise the profile of our community and work towards the enactment and enforcement of national ocean policy, addressing climate change impacts and Gulf restoration. Since the last summit, we have seen a strengthened bottom-up blue movement and a first national ocean policy. Recent setbacks in our efforts for healthy seas such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and on-going and growing concerns over the collapse of marine wildlife and ocean acidification reinforce the importance and timeliness of this event. We hope you will join us at the summit and in our efforts to create healthy marine environments. The 2011 Blue Vision Summit will include the 4th Annual Peter Benchley Ocean Awards. The ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, May 21st and it will conclude the day’s sessions. "

The Blue Vision Summit is the brainchild of David Helvarg, ocean conservationist, accomplished author, and director of the Blue Frontier Campaign, a recognized ocean conservation non-profit. The first Blue Vision Summit was in 2004, followed by 2009, and now this one - that couldn't come at a more important time what with the Gulf Oil Spill and a new ocean policy that is besieged by many politicians who, it seems, consider protecting the marine environment and endangered species as inconsequential priorities compared to the economic demands of big oil and other interests. The long-term consequences seem to elude them.

If you would like to attend the Blue Vision Summit, check out the event's website. Even if you can't make it, just perusing through the website will give you an idea as to the topics of discussion, and I am sure there will be plenty of post-summit follow up on the website. And I will post my impressions of the summit and what strategies and battle plans these ocean advocates have in mind to protect our seas now and in the future.

Visit the Blue Vision Summit 3 website.
Learn more about the Blue Frontier Campaign.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Adopt-a-Shark: corporate execs get hands-on treatment to study sharks

Getting people to make a personal connection with an endangered animal like a shark can actually be quite challenging. For most people, they are physically removed from the animal - the odds of them seeing a shark while wading at the beach are somewhat remote. So, many public aquariums and grass-roots shark conservation groups have established "adopt-a-shark" programs wherein people can make a donation to a specific shark species and feel, in a sort of charming and cute way, a connection with the animal.

However, at the University of Miami, Neil Hammerschlag, director of the university's RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation program, has taken the adoption a step further by having representatives of one of the program's key donors roll up their sleeves and get up close and personal with the recipients of their corporate generosity.

Hammerschlag has an adopt-a-shark program to help support his shark research. Price of adoption: $2,000 which pays for one satellite, or SPOT, tag destined to be attached to a bull, hammerhead, or tiger shark. While that might be a bit steep in price for most folks, to date Hammerschlag has had 20 adoptions/shark taggings. Wells Fargo Bank has been a major supporter of the research program, donating up to $40,000 to date.

Corporate donations are sometimes made, touted to the press, and soon forgotten, so to impress upon the people of Wells Fargo who were involved in the donation process the importance of his work, Hammerschlag invited a handful of Wells Fargo executives to assist him and several of his graduate students with the actual tagging of several sharks in Florida Bay.

Using baited circle hooks attached to weighted buoys (which allows a caught shark to continue breathing normally while swimming in a circle - a process less traumatic on the shark compared to reeling it in), a lemon shark was eventually snared and brought up alongside the boat.

As reported by the The Miami Herald, this is when the Wells Fargo execs were put to work.

"The professor and students would wrestle the shark onto a large, plastic litter and lift it into the stern of the boat. Sea water would be pumped through a hose in the shark’s mouth to enable it to breathe and, hopefully, stay calm.

One of the volunteers would use a syringe to squirt water into the shark’s eye to check its reflexes while another measured the animal. A small piece of dorsal fin would be clipped to check for toxins in its diet; Hammerschlag said there’s a link between cyanobacteria in the ocean and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

A fourth volunteer would have to extract a small piece of muscle for biopsy with a device that resembled a melon-ball scooper. Captain Curt Slonim would take a blood sample. Then a tag would be implanted in the dorsal fin.

The triage went flawlessly, with researchers and volunteers performing their assigned tasks in less than five minutes. The shark got an external streamer tag, but not the SPOT. [SPOT tags were reserved for bull, hammerhead, or tiger sharks.] Then the crew slid it off the transom into the bay."

“Working with sharks is a great opportunity to advance and promote ocean conservation,” said Hammerschlag. "Sharks are exciting. They are a rich addition to the resources on our planet. They bring attention to ocean-related issues.”

The Wells Fargo execs seemed to agree. Said Dale Rim of Wells Fargo's corporate communications department,
“It’s great to be part of the environmental movement.”

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Conservation Progress: avoiding species extinction through the legislative process

Here's a mixed bag of good news/bad news from the Center for Biological Diversity. It ranges from progress on protecting endangered species that have been in political limbo for years, to threatened leopard frogs, to further recognition of the bluefin tuna's precarious status.

There's a dilemma we often face. Sometimes we feel we need to prioritize and possibly protect one animal but let another suffer for the sake of economic development or some other pressing reason. We hope that we can evaluate each situation objectively, but it can be a slippery slope. The problem is what that one loss might represent: a weakening in our obligation to protect natural resources that can lead to rationalizing one species extinction after another.

We must be steadfast in our personal choices and remain vigilant in preserving the political safeguards and regulations that provide conservation and protection.

839 Species Move Toward Protection
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week agreed to a legal settlement that might result in federal protection for 839 plants and animals spiraling toward extinction. The agreement could lead to final protection decisions for 251 species that have been stuck on the federal warranted-but-precluded "candidate" list, many for decades; the Center for Biological Diversity filed scientific petitions to list 192 of these. It may also spur the Fish and Wildlife Service to process listing petitions for 588 additional species, of which the Center petitioned and/or filed suit to protect 511. In all, the Center's endangered species campaign brought 84 percent of all the species included in the agreement to this point of protection.

The species include the Rio Grande cutthroat trout and yellow-billed cuckoo, which the Center petitioned to protect in 1998 and has filed multiple lawsuits over; the Pacific fisher, which we petitioned to protect in 2000; the yellow-billed loon and Kittlitz's murrelet, which we petitioned for in 2001 and 2004; and the Oregon spotted frog, which we petitioned to protect in 2004.

Unfortunately, while the Center was working to reach a better, more certain agreement, the Fish and Wildlife Service secretly convinced another conservation group, which had petitioned for very few of the species, to sign this weaker deal, full of loopholes and containing harmful language that will help the agency reject the protection of other equally imperiled species in the future. The Center is considering options to fix the flawed agreement and ensure that the species we pushed this close to protection are actually brought over the finish line.

We'll keep you updated in the coming weeks on our efforts to secure full protection for these species. Thank you for your vital help and support getting these rare, important plants and animals this far.

Southwest Frog Defended From Open-pit Copper Mine
The Southwest's stocky, charcoal-spotted Chiricahua leopard frog now inhabits less than 20 percent of its former range -- yet in the feds' new proposal for protecting its much-needed remaining habitat, areas important for the frog's recovery are glaringly absent. The Center for Biological Diversity filed comments Thursday to remedy that.

Long threatened by grazing, disease, groundwater pumping and pollution, the Chiricahua leopard frog is now imminently threatened in southern Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains, where the proposed Rosemont open-pit copper mine could obliterate the sensitive amphibian. The mine site was left out of the feds' proposal for protected "critical habitat" even though frogs live there, making the area critical to protect. Worse, the feds' proposal downplays scientific evidence that the frog's northern populations may be a different species, meaning that southern populations -- like those in the Santa Ritas -- may be even rarer than previously thought.

Read more in our press release and learn about our campaign to save the Chiricahua leopard frog.

Scientists Declare Bluefin Tuna Endangered -- Join Our Bluefin Boycott
The list of those who say bluefin tuna urgently need protection continues to grow. This week a committee of Canadian scientists and government representatives declared that the bluefin should be listed as an endangered species; we couldn't agree more. Last year the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned to have the Atlantic bluefin protected under the Endangered Species Act. In November, after international regulators failed to take action, we launched a nationwide boycott of bluefin.

One of the most remarkable marine creatures in the world, the warm-blooded bluefin tuna is a fierce ocean predator, can reach up to 10 feet in length and 1,200 pounds in weight, and can swim at up to 50 miles per hour, crossing the ocean in just weeks. But it can't outswim overfishing, which is driving it extinct at alarming rates, and the BP Gulf oil spill has helped make Atlantic bluefin more endangered than ever.

If you haven't already, join more than 30,000 activists in the Center's Bluefin Brigade by pledging not to eat bluefin or support restaurants that serve it -- and don't forget to spread the word by liking and sharing the page on Facebook. Then get details on our Bluefin Boycott, the Atlantic bluefin tuna and the bluefin developments in Canada.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Filmmaker's Journal: a squid invasion on National Geographic Channel

It's said that good things are worth the wait. I'm hoping that is the case with an episode of Hooked that airs this Friday on the National Geographic Channel. It's been just a little over a year ago when I traveled south to Baja, Mexico with my good friend, Scott Cassell, to study and film the Humboldt squid - a predator whose numbers have been exploding in the Sea of Cortez.

Michael Hoff Productions, which produces the series Hooked for Nat Geo, sent a crew down to Baja to document our efforts to film the squid and conduct some important experiments and observations with guide Dale Pearson, boat captain Tom Loomis, and marine biologist Steve Blair that would illustrate the voracious nature of this squid and what that means for marine ecosystems and many commercial fisheries.

The program focuses on Scott, as he has a long history of studying the Humboldt squid up close and in the wild. And that can be dangerous; Scott has had several broken bones and lacerations due to the tremendous force of the squid's formidable beak.

Having not seen the finished program, I am hoping that it clearly presents the issues regarding the expansion of the squid's range without becoming too melodramatic. But having spent some time with these creatures, I can tell you from experience that they are not to be underestimated. In fact, after having spent many years filming large sharks, this was the first time in a long time where my adrenaline was really pumping. Dangling from a steel cable 50 feet down in 250 feet of water, at night wearing anti-shark chain mail and peering through my viewfinder with only the dim glow of red underwater lights, only to have a 5 to 6 foot squid charge you suddenly - well, it's a little disconcerting.

So, shameless promotion: if you're watching cable this Friday night, tune in to the "Squid Invasion" episode of Hooked on the National Geographic Channel (May 13th, 9:00pm).

Japanese Whaling: Australia files with the International Court of Justice

The end of last year's whaling season in the southern oceans was a dismal economic failure for Japan due, in no small part, to the actions of anti-whaling organizations like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society (SSCS). But it is not exactly clear as to what Japan is planning to do for the upcoming season. Radical activist groups like SSCS are ready to do battle with the Japanese whaling fleet and should that occur, there will certainly be media coverage in the form of news reports and, perhaps, more episodic television.

However, equally important are the quiet efforts that are taking place on the international front, in the world courts. This week, the Australian government filed a written submission to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) calling for an end to Japan's whaling activities in the Antarctic ocean. This is the next step in an international legal battle that has been brewing since Australia first petitioned the ICJ in 2009, advocating a global ban on whaling.

As reported by the Dow Jones Newswire,
"'Despite Australia repeatedly calling on Japan to cease its illegal whaling activities, Japan has refused to do so. That is why the Australian Government has taken this case in the ICJ. The [Australian] Government believes the whaling carried out by Japan is commercial, not scientific, and does not fall within that narrow exception,' the Australian government said in a statement."

Japan's rationale that they can engage in whaling under a "scientific research" provision within the rules of the International Whaling Commission has been questioned by many nations. And there appears to be ample evidence that the whales that have been taken have ended up in the commercial marketplace which is viewed as a direct violation of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Australia's submission with the ICJ will be sealed until 2012, after Japan has had time to prepare a written response. It is hoped that the international legal body will take up the issue and rule in favor of Australia and the whales. It may seem a slow and tedious process, but it is another powerful force - as powerful as the more attention-grabbing activist groups - albeit working from the opposite end of the anti-whaling notoriety spectrum.

Let us hope that the Japanese government will recognize that they are rapidly becoming boxed in a corner by world opinion and should reconsider their position on a destructive and antiquated cultural and commercial activity.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Tuna in the Eastern Pacific: can scientists and fishermen at sea improve sustainability?

Tuna. Many of us grew up with our mother's weekly tuna casserole or that fragrant tuna fish sandwich that we could never trade for extra Oreos in the school cafeteria. For decades it truly was, to borrow a brand name, the "Chicken of the Sea."

But the once vast populations of tuna are now a shadow of their former selves, and the fate of this powerful pelagic predator is unclear at best.

However, scientists are trying to improve the methods by which tuna are hunted and caught - not to increase the commercial tuna fishing fleet's take, but to bring it to levels that will allow for long-term sustainability of the tuna.

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) - a collaboration between scientists, the fishing industry, and the World Wildlife Fund - is working with a leading tuna industry association, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, to come up with techniques that will both help preserve tuna stocks at acceptable levels and reduce the enormous amount of bycatch that the tuna boats generate through the use of seine nets.

Departing from Ecuador, members of ISSF will spend two months aboard a tuna seine net vessel in the eastern Pacific to observe and study, ultimately with the idea of making recommendations on improved techniques that will enable tuna boats to harvest at levels that will allow for their economic survival while better managing the take of tuna and unintended bycatch.

"The problem and its scope have been identified," said Susan Jackson, President of ISSF. "Now it's time to get on the water and make significant improvements alongside industry that help them to remain viable without jeopardizing the world's tuna resources and the ocean's complex marine ecosystem." "In reality all fisheries have trade-offs and a certain level of environmental impact. Some have advocated for abandoning these fisheries, a move that industry has warned us would cut the world's tuna supply in half, lead to thousands of job losses and additional financial strain on developing economies. Rather than walking away and giving up, we must help a willing industry improve its practices."

If I may interject some personal commentary, based on what I have heard and read from a variety of knowledgeable sources regarding the present condition of the tuna populations, "walking away" may be our best option at this point. A moratorium on tuna would not be giving up, it would be a rational step in allowing the tuna stocks to recover (there are many scientists who fear that the tuna have been so heavily impacted by commercial fishing that a moratorium may be too little, too late).

Would a moratorium produce economic hardship for the tuna fishing fleet? To a noticeable extant, yes. Some fishermen could be re-trained to work in tuna aquafarming; others perhaps could shift to other more sustainable species. And others would have to leave the industry all together. One way or the other, it would not be easy. However, having listened to all the arguments coming from past international meetings, like those of the ICCAT (International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna), it is my opinion that the tuna stocks are reaching - or in some areas of the world, have reached - perilous levels of depletion. And at these low levels there is no degree of fishing activity that would not push the tuna further towards extinction.

The ISSF's initial cruise will be followed by additional expeditions in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and what improvements are ascertained will be incorporated into teaching workshops for other fishermen. According to Dr. Victor Restrepo, Chair of the ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee,
"This cruise will help our team of scientists and collaborators improve the educational workshops already being conducted with fishing crews around the world. As scientists identify new solutions, we will incorporate the findings into workshops so that skippers and vessel captains can provide real-time feedback. If something isn't realistic or fishers have an idea on how to improve it, we'll have the ability to take the idea back onto the water."

I wish the ISSF much success in their undertaking, I truly do. But I have my doubts about sustainable tuna fishing and, indeed, any commercial venture that harvests fish in the wild. Nature never intended for tuna and other sealife to be harvested at the levels we do now to feed an expanding world population. True sustainable seafood will be that which is grown and harvested by man - just like the chicken, the tuna's commercial namesake.

Read about the ISSF's expeditions in the Canadian Business Network.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Sharks of the Arabian Gulf: scientists and governments look to conservation

More and more, research and conservation management of sharks is making its way around the globe. In the Arabian Gulf, both scientists and government interests are looking into the plight of sharks to ensure that these important ocean predators are allowed to flourish.

Studying the Arabian Gulf's whale sharks
A whale shark discovered off of a Qatari oil rig, was tagged with a satellite tag that will provide important information as to it movements in and around the Gulf. Scientists from Dubai tagged the shark and reported it to be a larger specimen (8+ meters) than has normally been seen in the Gulf.

Marine biologist David Robinson, founder of SharkWatch Arabia, is building a database of whale shark sightings and taggings. It will be six months before Robinson will have any data regarding the shark's movements - a satellite tag stores recorded data and then eventually breaks free from the shark where, upon surfacing, it downloads its information via satellite.

As reported in GulfNews.com,
"The findings from this study, which started in August 2010, will help to assess whale shark abundance in this region. 'The Sharkwatch Arabia database has so far collected 57 confirmed sightings in just under a year with 25 positive ID patterns collected,' [Robinson] said.

Gulf News previously reported that sightings of newborns were confirmed offshore Pakistan and Oman, which suggests that the Northern Arabian Sea may be home to mature females that are rarely seen at other study sites throughout the world."

What is particularly encouraging with this research is that it is being funded by several Arab nations, including the Qatari Ministry of the Environment and the UAE's Emirates Diving Association and Emirates Natural History Group. Seeing these animals as both local tourism opportunities and important natural resources to maintaining a healthy ecosystem means that international exploitation of the Gulf's whale shark population could be denied any kind of foothold.

Bahrain seeks to protect its sharks
The UK-based Shark Conservation Society (SCS) is working closely with the Bahrain Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife to determine the state of the population of sharks in the Gulf. The two have agreed to a shark survey expedition in Bahrain waters for next year.

In Bahrain waters are primarily white cheek sharks, grey sharks, and milk sharks - all not particularly dangerous sharks to humans, but to local fishermen any shark represents a catch that can bring money on the open market. Overfishing is a major challenge that the Bahrain Commission wants to address.

According to the Commission's director-general, Dr. Jassim Al Qaseer, "Years ago there used to be many sharks in our waters but the number has declined hugely as more fishermen have caught them for food, particularly the medium-sized species. We must protect them from overfishing as many fishermen don't care what kind of shark they catch, as long as they manage to catch something and bring it in to sell."

Also of particular concern is the green sawfish, which is considered critically endangered in Bahrain. Dr. Al Qaseer noted, "These are very rare in Bahrain, partially because people catch them for food, but predominantly because fishermen catch them, cut off their unusual saw-like noses for a souvenir and throw the bodies back into the water."

It is hoped that the Bahrain government will manage commercial fishing through regulations covering the types of fishing equipment - nets and hooks - that can be used, and through stricter enforcement of current and future regulations.

"Fishermen today catch any type of fish so that they have something to bring back to shore, even the smallest of fish which then do not have the chance to develop properly. These actually should be thrown back into the sea," said Dr. Al Qaseer.

"We must restrict the type of fishing equipment used such as trawling lines and nets," he said. "Also the Coastguard must check each fishing boat out at sea to ensure that such fishing gear is not being used and that sharks aren't being caught and left in the bottom of boats to be taken to shore."

"The fishermen as well as the public need to be taught how these marine animals are vital to us humans and the eco-system, as they maintain the quality of fish in the sea."

I heartily second that motion.

Read about whale shark tagging in the Arabian Gulf at GulfNews.com.
Read about Bahrain's sharks in Gulf Daily News

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sea Turtles in French Polynesia: research and conservation management needs support

As many conservationists know, sea turtles are considered threatened and in many cases listed as endangered with possible extinction by many international agencies. But still, sea turtles are caught specifically for their shells and meat or as accidental bycatch. And the nesting areas for many species are being encroached upon by development. Even when left alone, the odds of turtle hatchlings reaching maturity is very low, from the moment they crawl out of their sandy shoreline nest to reaching full adulthood. That's just nature's way.

From my friend, Charlotte Vick, who works with Dr. Sylvia Earle's SEAlliance organization, I received the following email below regarding the fate of sea turtles and the necessary research that is needed to provide the basis of a solid conservation and management program in French Polynesia:

Dear Colleagues and Partners:

I am contacting you today, to try and see how you may help us in getting the government authorizations we have been requesting for years to enable us to continue our education and research programs on sea turtles in French Polynesia. We have addressed some of these requests many years ago now; the last one was made just after our international symposium on sea turtles last November. But now we have a new government and we think that the new minister in charge of the Environment - Jack Bryant- may be sensible to your support letters.

Our requests are:

"In order to continue and develop its research programs on sea turtles in French Polynesia, the non for profit foundation Te Mana O Te Moana is asking for specific authorizations regarding Green Sea Turtles [Chelonia mydas] and Hawksbill Sea Turtles [Eretmochelys imbricata] in order to:

1. Be able to collect skin samples for genetic surveys on Pacific population knowledge and management

2. Be able to tag turtles with flipper tags for better identification

3. Be able to fix satellite tags on sea turtle shell for a better understanding of their movements

4. Be able to transfer to the Moorea turtle clinic some hatchlings found trapped and in very bad conditions in their nests

5. Condition and display the skeleton of each marine turtle species for education purposes

6. Be able, only in a case of critical endanger situation, to move some nests to safer locations

Not only is the lack of authorizations is blocking research progress, but it is also requiring us to apply to international or national funding groups, being aware that the Polynesian government has no budget for sea turtle research.

We hope that you will understand our request and please if you can, send us by mail your support letter, addressed Mr. Jacky Bryant in 10 days.

Best regards, Dr. Cecile Gaspar

Dr. Gaspar did not provide an address to mail to Jack Bryant, so here is an address I dug up, or you can send an email or a letter attached to an email directly to Dr. Gaspar (her address is at the bottom of the page):

Mr. Jack Bryant

Minister of the Envitronment, Energy and Mones

c/o Office of the Territorial Government
BP 2551


Dr. Cécile Gaspar, Présidente
Docteur vétérinaire, PhD, MBA

PB 1374 Papetoai

98729 MOOREA

French Polynesia

tel (689) 70.60.66


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Politics and the Environment: legislative rider and other tricks can undermine environmental laws

One of politics' most insidious little inventions is the "rider" - an attachment to an unrelated piece of legislation that enables passage under the cover of radar of something that it's supporters would prefer to not see get much public exposure. The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is rightfully concerned how the rider is being used to undermine environmental laws and regulations. It's something that we all should be concerned about.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, recently wrote to President Obama expressing serious concern over the rider on the budget bill, signed by the president, which takes wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains off the endangered species list -- "a highly undesirable precedent," the governor noted, on an issue that "deserve[d] open and informed debate."
Kitzhaber asked the president to "avoid repeating such an approach to policy decision-making" in the future. And indeed, the threat of special interests trumping species protection is great:
  • Livestock interests and the anti-wolf Arizona Game and Fish Department are seeking legislative delisting of all gray wolves in the nation, including the approximately 50 Mexican gray wolves surviving in Arizona and New Mexico.
  • The oil and gas industry is seeking to exempt greenhouse gases from regulation, despite their catastrophic effects on polar bears, walruses, coral reefs and much more.
  • Agribusiness interests in California are seeking a rider to deprive the San Francisco Bay ecosystem of the water necessary to keep delta smelt and many other imperiled fish from extinction.
Please ask your governor to join in writing the president, expressing dismay that wolves were delisted via congressional rider and requesting presidential leadership to ensure that the Endangered Species Act will not be circumvented again.

CBD can help you send a message to your governor. Just click here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ocean Conservation: taking steps in public awareness and gillnet management

Sometimes progress in ocean conservation must be measured in inches instead of yards. Whether that will be sufficient to ward off an ecosystem collapse or a species extinction depends on the specific issue and whether such progress might slowly build upon itself and begin to expand exponentially. In any event, it all has to start somewhere. Here are a couple of encouraging examples.

Ocean Conservation Exhibition in Taiwan
In Taiwan, this week saw the opening of a marine ecology exhibition in Taipei City's National Taiwan Museum. Designed to highlight the nation's unique ocean diversity (over 400 varieties of coral and 3,000 species of fish), the exhibition will feature live specimens including a red coral valued at over $344,000USD and a Japanese spider crab - the world's largest crab species - in addition to multimedia presentations that highlight coral spawning, mangroves, and shallow-water hydrothermal vents.

What makes this exhibition, which runs until early August, so special is that Taiwan is an important gateway to Asian markets for a variety of commercial seafood - much of which is being overfished. Asian cultures can often be resistant to outside influences or opinions that can be perceived as criticizing their way of life. An event such as this is an incremental step in changing public perceptions internally about endangered species, such as sharks and tuna, and developing a greater appreciation for marine natural resources - before they are all gone.

“As an island, Taiwan is inextricably tied up with the ocean,” said Huang Shu-fang, curator of the event and chief of the museum's research section. “It is important we learn about the abundant marine species and their habitats.” Echoing that sentiment was Jeng Ming-shiou of the Academia Sinica's Biodiversity Research Center. “We hope the event will help raise public awareness of the importance of protecting the ocean.”

Australian Gillnet Regulations
Commercial gillnets are notorious for claiming the lives of countless sea creatures that are discarded as accidental bycatch. In many cases, the majority of what gillnets ensnares is thrown away. Gillnets can catch sharks, turtles, even dolphins - anything that can get caught up in nets that can stretch for miles.

In southern Australia, the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) has put additional gillnet management regulations into effect to better protect sea lions and other non-target species. The new regulations cover the Gillnet, Hook and Trap (GHAT) Sector of the Southern and Eastern Scalefish and Shark Fishery.

“These changes are designed to offer better protection to non-target species in the fishery, particularly Australian sea lions, and to improve data collection on interactions with threatened, endangered and protected species,” said Dr. James Findlay, Chief Executive Officer of AFMA.

Predictably, representatives for the commercial shark fishing industry complained that the new gillnet regulations will increase their costs. However, gillnet fishermen have to take much of the blame for the need for stricter management policies as the commercial gillnet fishers have been shown to be under-reporting the level of interactions with threatened, endangered, and protected species.

“It is clear that some vessels have not been accurately reporting interactions with protected species as required as a condition of their access to the fishery. Accurate information on the level of fishery interactions with non-target species is essential to ensure that our fisheries are managed in an ecologically sustainable manner,” said Dr, Findlay.

In addition to a restriction in the use of gillnets in and around over 30 sea lion colonies, thereby doubling the total area under protection from 6,300 sq. kilometers to 18,500 sq kilometers, the use of either on-board scientific observers or remote cameras to monitor the catch was increased. Those vessels that participate in the remaining open gillnet fishing areas in South Australia will be continuously observed, either in person or electronically.

Ocean conservation, one step at a time. And, hopefully, not a second too late.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Nature's Resiliency: inspiration helps keep our hopes up

As a nature writer and reporter, I have to constantly be mindful that the issues I bring up in my work will best serve my readers if they can inspire or provoke a response or action. It may be a serious problem but there are solutions if we act now, if we let the decision makers know we are watching them.

But it can get overwhelming. And so, every once in a while, some good news can go a long way. In that vein, here is an uplifting story written by Scott Poyton of The Forest Trust, in the Huffpost Green. Good work, Scott.

Resilient Nature -- The Hope in the Gibbon's Call
Posted: 05/ 2/11 02:50 PM ET

There is no shortage of deeply concerning news around the environment these days. It isn't hard to get a strong sense that we're on a fast track towards a nasty precipice. Yet, news continues to pop up that gives a sense that all isn't lost; that there is some hope that nature might be more resilient against our travesties than we had imagined. Just last week there was news that the
almost extinct Red Kite was making a dramatic comeback in the UK. Back in January there was the incredible story of a polar bear spending nine days swimming in search of sea ice. Whilst that story shows us just how seriously we've changed the planet, we can only marvel at the spirit and resilience of that bear.

It is important to tell positive stories if only to offer something of a counter to the constant stream of bad news that greets us each day. We do tend to dwell on the negative but the human spirit needs to be nourished and uplifted by hope and good news from time to time as well.

I had my own recent experience of how resilient nature can be in January when visiting a palm oil plantation in Indonesia. I was in a seriously degraded forest in the middle of a palm oil plantation in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. The plantation company had set this remnant forest aside many years ago when it developed the area. We'd wandered in off the road to get a look at the forest from within, to feel its heartbeat, if it still had one. Loggers had hammered the forest in advance of the plantation company taking over. There was no proper canopy, only a few scattered emergent trees left behind after the bulldozers had hacked their way through. My sense wandering in had been that it was a desolate place, devoid of richness and that the company's effort to protect it was an admirable though fruitless gesture.

Standing by a riverbank in the morning stillness, I wondered if the silence was because the house was empty. Then I heard it. At first it didn't register; no gibbons here surely? You don't hear something your mind tells you cannot exist but then, again. "What's that?" I asked my Indonesian colleagues.

"Gibbons" they responded.

"There are gibbons here?" I asked.

"Yes, and orang-utans too" they replied.

"Here, in this forest?"

"Yes, here are our records." The two forest guards produced their observation notebooks. Over the previous two years, they had recorded all the animals they'd sighted during their daily patrols. I was stunned. How did these animals survive here? The forest covered around 1,400 hectares, a long and thin snake of seriously damaged habitat running either side of the river yet it still supported a rich biodiversity of primates, birds and other creatures.

We stayed a good hour in there listening to the gibbons. I heard at least three or four; far less than what you hear in a virgin forest but what hope it stirred in me! What resilience! If these animals could survive here, what else might we achieve?

I subsequently went back to Indonesia in early February to launch the palm oil company's forest conservation policy. If implemented, the policy will see more forest, just like the gibbon's in Kalimantan, set aside, protected and given a chance to re-grow. It's long-term stuff. There are many mountains to climb before we'll get to where we need to be but the hope inherent in that gibbon's call is driving me, and others, forward.

That gibbon's call is a real symbol of nature's resilience and of what just might be possible. Many news items reflect how low we go with our disrespect of nature. Yet we owe it to nature, struggling to hang in there just like that gibbon, to hold on to the idea that there could be a better future if only we all work harder.

We each can do something every day to reduce our environmental impact. When everything is gloomy and you can't imagine things ever getting better, the human spirit takes flight and determines to find a better way. A sense that something is possible, that yes, we can do what was thought impossible has recent history of bringing about dramatic change. Let's take hope from that gibbon's call and redouble our efforts to bring change to how we treat nature. Go on, let yourself go.

Follow Scott Poyton on Twitter.