Bathymetric map, click for GEBCO high resolution image
The deep benthos is simultaneously the largest and least explored ecosystem on the planet. Covering nearly 60% of the Earth’s surface, it supports an almost unimaginable reservoir of biodiversity, rivaling all terrestrial habitats combined. Its microbial and metabolic diversity have revolutionized our view of how life is sustained, not once, but twice (first with the discovery of chemoautotrophic organisms at hydrothermal vents, and again with the discovery of cognate communities at methane cold-seeps). In spite of these major discoveries, the deep benthos is essentially invisible. Only a select few will ever witness it first hand, while for the rest, it will remain a dark and unfathomable abyss.
This places the deep benthos in a precarious position. Human activities that influence the deep sea go unnoticed. Without a thorough understanding of its ecology, it is impossible to assess the damage caused by anthropogenic impacts. Although recent and ongoing studies have shed light on many species and communities, the deep benthos remains largely unexplored. Two studies, both released this week, reveal simultaneously how little we know about the deep benthos and how human impacts, even unintentional ones, could shape this ecosystem.
Continue reading Rumors from the Abyss: visions of a future without deep sea conservation
Ever stop to think what divides the first from the third world? Why don’t we ever hear about the second and why don’t countries move between categories as they develop? Well, because the categories are historical – the second world is reserved for post-soviet countries attempting to rebuild governance. The first world is reserved for those who shone through as leaders at the end of World War 2. The third world – everybody else. But what does that mean for development research? And what about those places within our own country without running water and electricity?
Looking inward to the researcher’s own countries means questioning the benefit of some institutions that are part of the dominant narrative of success in those countries. Before any differences are made explicit between investigation of the First and Third World, there is the question of outsider/insider position that must be attended to. Identifying and challenging assumptions as an insider may prove much more difficult than analysis of a foreign society as an outsider (Perin 1977). For example, community forestry in Canada was assumed to not exist because Canada is fully embedded in a capitalist economy, but was discovered to be successfully functioning in British Columbia, largely due to a regional difference in values diverging from capitalism (McCarthy 2006).
Perin (1977) suggests analyzing controversies to identify such assumptions that may also inherently be part of the inside researcher’s worldview. First World political ecologists have focused on controversies, largely looking at land use or resource management controversies. In the process, they have identified different processes at work in the First World than the Third World. These differences add a few key concepts to the political ecology toolbox: a need to explicitly recognize heterogeneity in a seemingly unified nation (St. Martin 2001), the role of a strong central state (Walker 2003), the role of larger capitalist economy and culture (Escobar 2004), and the process of rural gentrification (Schroeder 2005). Continue reading State of the Field: First World or Third World?
Shark populations around the world are crashing. Researchers have reported that many populations have decreased by 90% or more since the 1970′s. The leading causes for these precipitous declines are bycatch, which kills tens of millions of sharks each year, and the shark fin fishery, which kills as many as 73 million sharks each year. In this edition of State of the Field, I will explain what different countries are doing about this problem.
In many parts of the world, it is still legal to cut the fins off of a still-living shark and dump the rest of the animal overboard where it will bleed to death or drown. Other nations have a variety of management policies.
Credit: Fiona Ayerst, Marine Photobank
Continue reading State of the Field: Shark Conservation Policies
Modern shark researchers have access to a variety of high-tech tools. Acoustic tags with noises specific to each individual shark signal a receiver (or network of receivers) every time the shark passes nearby. Some tags have three-dimensional accelerometers, allowing researchers to study the small scale movement patterns and behaviors of sharks. Others, which are placed in the stomach, measure pH before, during, and after digestion. The most advanced technology on the market, however, is undoubtedly the satellite tag.
Image from SurfThereNow.com
Continue reading State of the Field: Satellite tagging sharks
In the wake of the new Marianas Islands shark conservation law, a debate has been raging on the shark listservs. The law wouldn’t have been possible without support from several local recreational fishermen- people who often take tourists catch-and-release fishing for sharks.
“When I heard of your effort in Hawaii to ban the sale,trade and possession of shark fins I knew if the CNMI was to follow someone with inside connections to the fishing world there had to espouse it and grow it. They do not like being told what to do from outsiders. I was not an outsider, and I fished alongside two of the very top level fishermen who happened to be upper level politicians whom I respected. Rep. Diego Benevente was one of them. I spoke with him and asked him to introduce a bill which replicated Hawaii’s law, and he did so. I kept constant contact with him and his staff in the effort to see this bill become law.”- Captain William McCue
Image from FishingDestin.info
Many shark conservationists support catch-and-release fishing, claiming that it allows fishermen the thrill of catching a large animal without killing it. Captain McCue reports that in the last 20 years:
“I’ve caught over 300 sharks in the that time a killed four- and if you include spiny dogfish it’s caught well over 2000 sharks and still killed only four- two of which were promptly eaten.”
However, some (such as “My Sunset Rendezvous” author Ila France Porcher) claim that even when a shark is released, the stress from being caught often still causes long-term damage or even death.
“As a shark ethologist, I have personally witnessed sharks who were hooked and fought, and who broke the line, emerge from the ordeal with a jaw so damaged that they lost weight and died over the following weeks or months. A high fraction of sharks caught suffered this fate, and they suffered greatly as a result of this enjoyable passtime pursued by sports fishermen. It would be great news to hear that you switched from a blood sport to a sport that celebrates the life that still remains in our seas, such as diving and photography.” – Ila France Porcher
Continue reading State of the Field: Is catch-and-release fishing harmful to sharks?