By David Helvarg / Blue Notes #49 / Originaly posted August 23, 2008
LET THEM EAT SAND
As Barack Obama was bodysurfing Sandy’s Beach on Oahu in Mid-August and taking his family snorkeling at Hanauma Bay the Democrats were putting out their party platform including a statement on “Stewardship of Our Planet and Natural Resources” that forget to mention the 71 percent of our planet that’s saltwater.
While there was an extensive paragraph on federal lands in their environmental plank there was no mention of our far more extensive public seas contained within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). At 3.4 million square nautical miles these are larger than the U.S. land mass. The platform’s only mention of the ocean was in its climate section where it warned of rising sea levels and expected coastal flooding.
But climate change is also having a disturbing range of other impacts on the ocean including warming waters, intens ified hurricanes, coral bleaching, arctic ice loss, potential extinctions of a range of marine species and global acidification of the sea from absorption of anthropogenic (human caused) carbon.
In addition to climate, our living seas are threatened by industrial overfishing, pollution from oil, plastic, agricultural and urban runoff and federal policies that promote coastal sprawl.
Even President Bush, arguably the worst environmental president in U.S. history, has established a new marine wilderness park off Hawaii, and is likely to designate at least one additional marine monument (see Blue Notes # 46). At the same time the democrats are proving as spineless as cephalopods when it comes to standing firm against John McCain and George Bush’s calls for new offshore oil drilling in protected parts of our public seas. While the offshore drilling debate once was limited to energy versus marine conservation, there is now a critical new factor not being addressed in this summer of drought and fire — can we afford to commit our nation’s resources to decades more of fossil fuel development?
With 54 percent of the American public now living within 50 miles of a coastline the Democrats ignoring the state of our oceans makes about as much sense as building sand castles to stop the sea, something that’s more traditionally been seen as the job of the Army Corps of Engineers.
This is why, reluctantly, I propose that candidate Obama be banned from Sandy’s, Makapu, Hapuna, the Wedge and all other good bodysurfing sites in the United States until the Democrats recognize the common interest we all share in restoring the blue to our red, white and blue.
DEAD AND DEADER
Last time I looked the U.N. was reporting 146 oxygen-depleted Dead Zones in the world’s oceans. Now an online report in Science from Robert Diaz at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Rutger Rosenberg at the University of Goteborg Sweden report they’ve identified more then 400 of these hypoxic and anoxic dead zones in the world’s coastal seas covering some 95,000 square miles. They say they’ve been doubling in number every decades since the 1960s (another thing conservatives can blame on the ’60s). This is the result not only of nutrient rich agricultural runoff but of nitrogen build up from auto smog. After all, that NO2 that leaves your tailpipe has to come down somewhere.
While we’re all now aware of the increase of industrial CO2 in the atmosphere that contributes to global warming, most people are still not cognizant of the fact that with synthetic fertilizers and smog we’ve doubled the global nitrogen cycle since 1960 and what that could mean for soils and our seas.
Of course Diaz and Rosenberg’s report sounds like hope and cheer next to the latest warning from Blue Frontier Friend (BFF) and marine biologist Jeremy Jackson of Scripps whose online report in the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings warns of “mass extinction in the oceans with unknown ecological and evolutionary consequences,” resulting from global warming, overfishing, invasive species, habitat destruction and ag runoff. “We have utterly failed to appreciate the magnitude of the problem,” he told the Washington Post.
WOULD THEY BE LION?
Speaking of invasives…When I first dove the Great Barrier Reef along with Giant Potato Cod, Giant Clams, sea snakes and Coral Trout (beautiful to look at, delicious to eat) one of the most wondrous creatures I encountered was the Lionfish. Territorial, they would sit on their coral shelves like cream and coffee dragons, their toxic quills moving graceful as geisha fans in the current until they’d spot a small lobster or other prey and swallow it in a single violent gulp. The good news; now you don’t have to travel all the way to the Pacific or Indian Ocean to see exotic Lionfish in the wild.
Thanks to thoughtful Florida aquarium owners who dumped their unwanted finned pets into the sea there are now Red Lionfish throughout the Caribbean and as far north as the Carolinas. The Associated Press quotes another BFF, zoology professor Mark Hixon of Oregon State warning that, without native predators, Lionfish could become “the most devastating marine invasion in history,” something veterans of Iwo Jima and Tarawa might dispute. Watch out for those quills.
PETITIONS OF HOPE
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and eight industry-dominated regional fisheries councils have long been in a co-dependent relationship that would embarrass even Jerry Springer. So it’s no surprise that when the Magnussen- Felon Act (see Blue Notes #48) was recently reformed to protect wild fish populations and habitat NMFS’s first reaction was to ask the councils how they’d like the act implemented. The response was ‘not.’ The result has been a new set of NOAA rules that would greatly limit public involvement while at the same time allowing the councils to put off recovery efforts from five-years to an indeterminate future time when wishes become actions.
Despite NMFS gradual drift towards science-based eco-management this backsliding was not too surprising. What has been hopefully surprising is the response of the ocean community that has delivered almost 200,000 citizen comments to NMFS demanding they live up to the letter of the reformed fisheries law, as well as their effective outreach to lawmakers that’s gotten 80 representatives. Democrats and Republicans, to sign a letter to NOAA telling them to respect the intent of Congress.
While organizing seaweed (marine grassroots) groups is usually like herding catfish this combined effort by the Pew Environment Group, Environment America, the Marine Fish Conservation Network, Ocean Conservancy and others shows that united we can still turn the tide and maybe even save some fish.
As amazing as Seaweed Rebel Roz Savage’s first leg of her trans-Pacific row has been, I’m equally dazzled that on the 80th day of her journey she managed to rendezvous with the JUNK raft and its eco-sailors Dr. Marcus Eriksen and Joel Paschal who first sailed their salvaged seacraft out of Long Beach California some three months ago, around the time Roz rowed out under the Golden Gate Bridge (See Blue Notes # 47).
Just as Roz’s Voyage is an environmental project of the Blue Frontier Campaign the JUNK, made up of 15,000 plastic bottles held together by discarded fishing net, a platform, sail and recycled Cessna aircraft cabin is a project of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation that focuses on plastic pollution of the sea.
The rowboat ‘Brocade’ and JUNK raft came together like “garden snails about to mate,” according to Roz’s blog. Even with their GPS and high-tech coms, Roz still had to row backwards (eastwards) for a day to meet up with them.
It was worth it however, not only for the water they gave her (both her sweet-water pumps were broken) and dried food she supplied them (they were down to fish and peanut butter), but also for an inspirational dinner in the middle of the ocean including fresh mahi mahi that Joel went over the side to spear. Roz suggested that, “hopefully we can maximize the impact of our message by combining forces,” after they reach Hawaii.
Having bid her Bon Voyage on the water in SF I can’t wait to wish her Aloha on behalf of Blue Frontier on her arrival in the waters off Honolulu and watch her reunited with her most forbearing “Mum” Rita Savage who’ll be waiting for her on the dock at the Waikiki Yacht Club. Meanwhile Roz has a scheme to raise A MILLION DOLLARS for the cause through an American Express contest but it will take your email vote to help her do it. check out her site and blog at Rozsavage.com
PHELPS TO SEAWORLD
Michael Phelps, having won another 8 gold medals at the 08 Olympics in Peking is exploring his options before we see him again in London in 2012. One persistent rumor says Phelps plans to work at Seaworld where, along with watching him race dolphins, admirers can, for an extra $300, have a ‘swim with the Phelps’ experience. Seaworld’s owners insist this is not about the money but public education and therapy and that Phelps actually enjoys interacting with other mammals in the water. Some of his trainers claim that swimming with Phelps has helped handicapped and autistic children as well as adults suffering from depression, with the exception of world-class swimmers who train all their lives only to find themselves competing for silver and bronze medals.
Skip Staats is a founder of Eco Soul, a southern California seaweed group that, among its other projects, wants to help the town of Avalon on Catalina Island go fossil-fuel free with a “Sustainable Power Park” combination of clean energies including wind, solar and wave power. That’s Skip in the photo demonstrating the power of a wave.
…time appears to have passed by. The upcoming Blue Notes #50 will include a report on Roz’s arrival in Hawaii, a report on Polynesia’s eco-deficits from Seaweed sailor Jon Christensen and more on the ’09 Blue Summit. If you wish to preempt its inevitable plea for financial support, you can go direct to bluefront.org and hit Donate.