Saturday, December 24, 2011

Progress In Marine Conservation: many good steps forward, many more to go

As we approach the end of the year, we begin to reflect on what we have personally accomplished over the past 12 months, with New Year's resolutions waiting in the wings. The same can be said for the conservation movement and there has been much this past year to feel good about. There has been traction on several fronts that could, in time, yield measurable benefits to the planet's marine biodiversity. Here's a short list of just a few.

In a recent email, Marie Levine, director of the Shark Research Institute, noted these items in the area of shark conservation:
  • Honduras announced creation of 92,665-sq. mile shark sanctuary
  • The Bahamas converted 243,244 sq. miles into a shark sanctuary
  • The Marshall Islands, Guam and Palau created a region-wide, 2 million sq. mile shark sanctuary
  • Chile banned shark finning in its waters
  • ICCAT agreed to reduce fishing of shortfin mako sharks and porbeagle sharks
Then of course, there has been the slow but steady parade of shark finning prohibitions within the U.S. and its territories, starting with Hawaii in 2010 and then moving to Guam, Oregon, Washington, and California.

In the area of fisheries management in the U.S., Lee Crocket of the Pew Environment Group recently wrote of progress in the implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Though originally passed over 35 years ago, it has taken until today to get a workable system in place that combines the efforts of the National Marine
Fisheries Service and the cooperation of the fishing industry. It's politics, so it takes time to get working policies in full force after years of back and forth between legislators and management officials and those people or industries adversely impacted, at least initially, by any policy decisions. In the long term, if fishery stocks are allowed to rebound then commercial fishing can continue at what management officials hope to be sustainable levels.

And there have been other signs of progress from Marine Protected Areas to simply increases in visitor attendance at conservation nature centers across the country. So while international efforts continue to address some of the larger issues, it would seem that interest on the general public level continues to grow.

However, we are a long ways away from breaking out the celebratory champagne. Conservation efforts can often seem like two steps forward and one step back. We must not allow the positive advances to make us complacent or lazy. I'm reminded of how the anti-whaling movement became; growing to where there was a worldwide moratorium. Then it began to fall off our priority list of pressing issues and, slowly over the years, several opposing nations bided their time and now we have whaling as a renewed hot button issue for conservationists once again.

And there are certainly other issues that need to be addressed. Acidification, climate change, and heavy metal pollution. After having spent considerable effort in making shark conservation a pressing issue in California's San Francisco Bay area, Sea Stewards is now helping to support other organizations regarding mercury levels in sea food (one typical serving of swordfish or tuna can deliver up to a month's worth of mercury based on current EPA data on "acceptable" levels).

So, we can enter the holidays feeling good over quantifiable progress in regulations and management that should benefit many marine species. But we have much more work to do and so it's time to celebrate and simultaneously roll up our sleeves and charge boldly into the new year.

Source: Shark Research Institute
Source: National Geographic Daily News
Sea Stewards

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