Forest Service Wants Commercial Photography Out of its Wilderness

Conservation, Environmentalism, policySeptember 26, 2014

Ansel Adams helped create what we now call American wilderness through his skillful photography – both his photographs and the places he used them to protect are national treasures. Recently, many of us were reminded of our country’s wilderness legacy through celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. For a quick reminder, the Act designated some of our federally-held lands as wilderness:

For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as “wilderness areas”, and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness.

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and the Snake River

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and the Snake River

Yet, along with this celebrated history, these recent discussions have also provoked a number of managers to utilize this strong piece of legislation to their political advantage – and dare I say, without keeping in the spirit of the law. (more…)

No you’re not paranoid – there is a bias against publishing marine conservation papers

Life in the Lab, ScienceSeptember 24, 2014

How many times have you submitted a marine conservation paper to a journal only to have it rejected because it is “too marine”, of “too narrow a focus” or “of limited interest to our readers”?  Despite the oceans making up 71% of Earth’s surface and 99% of the know biosphere, it sometimes seems that there’s a bias against marine articles in some of the leading ecology and conservation journals. Well you’d be right.

Kochin and Levin (2003, 2004) noted that marine conservation got short thrift in conservation journals. For example, on average marine papers comprise less than 11% of leading conservation biology journal papers, whereas 61% were terrestrial (Kochin and Levin, 2004). Marine content ranged from less than 3% in Conservation Ecology to 40% in Aquatic Conservation – even though oceans and sea ice make up 97% of the water on the planet, freshwater ecosystems still dominated the aquatic conservation literature even then.

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Watch the Sharks International 2014 Keynote Presentations!

marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharksSeptember 23, 2014

logoIn June of 2014, almost 400 of the world’s top shark researchers gathered in Durban, South Africa for the 2nd Sharks International conference.  The four keynote presentations have just been put online.

Beyond Jaws: Rediscovering the “lost sharks” of South Africa

Dave Ebert, Moss Landing Marine Laboratory

daveBiography:Dave Ebert earned his Masters Degree at Moss Landing Marine Labs and his Ph.D. at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa.  He is currently the Program Director for the Pacific Shark Research Center, a research faculty member at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and an honorary research associate for the South African Institute for Aquatic Biodiversity and the California Academy of Sciences Department of Ichthyology.  He has been researching chondrichthyans around the world for nearly three decades, focusing his research on the biology, ecology and systematics of this enigmatic fish group.  He has authored 13 books, including a popular field guide to the sharks of the world and most recently he revised the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Catalogue of Sharks of the World.  He has published over 300 scientific papers and book chapters, and contributed approximately 100 IUCN Shark Specialist Group Red List species assessments.  Dave is regional co-Chair of the IUCN Northeast Pacific Regional Shark Specialist Group, Vice Chair for taxonomy, and a member of the American Elasmobranch Society and Oceania Chondrichthyan Society.  He has supervised more than 30 graduate students, and enjoys mentoring and helping develop aspiring marine biologists.

 

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The next era of ocean exploration begins in Papua New Guinea

Blogging, Citizen Science, ecology, marine science, Natural Science, Science, Science Life, Social ScienceSeptember 22, 2014

An OpenROV at Lake Merrit.

An OpenROV at Lake Merritt. Photo by author.

In 1946, Jacques Yves Cousteau and Émile Gagnan released the Aqualung, forever changing the way humans interact with the oceans. No longer tethered to the surface, entombed in thick, restrictive helmets, we could dive deeper, stay down longer, and explore the dark places snorkelers and free divers feared to fin. The Aqualung opened up the ocean to an entirely new cohort. Ocean exploration, once the domain of well-resourced scientists, career explorers, and the wealthy elite, was now within the reach of the global middle class.

Buoyed by the Aqualung, Marine Science exploded. Marine life could be studied alive and in situ. Behavior could be observed rather than inferred from the stressed and shredded samples of a trawl. The ranks of marine biologists, oceanographers, and explores swelled to numbers that began to gradually approach the relative significance of the ocean to the living world.

We’re just getting started.

Marine science is on the brink of the greatest sea change since JYC and Gagnan introduced the Aqualung to the world.

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So what might Scottish independence mean for marine conservation ?

Conservation, EnvironmentalismSeptember 17, 2014

Tina's otter 2

A Scottish otter (which lives in the marine environment)

As the referendum for Scotland leaving the United Kingdom (which besides Scotland current includes Northern Ireland and Wales in addition to England, although you would be forgiven from all the media coverage to think that it only included the former and latter) approaches, I’ve been asked what would independence for Scotland mean for marine conservation? Well in some ways, not a lot. Nature Conservation in Scotland is largely a devolved issue anyway, dealt with by Scottish Natural Heritage, and numerous laws related to the marine environment have been passed by the Scottish parliament over the past decade or so.

Marine issues have had a slightly higher political profile in Scotland compared to south of the border, probably because of the large fishing industry, extensive marine natural resources and a large large marine tourism industry. From public surveys, it appears that the Scottish public actually has a reasonably good knowledge about the marine environment and many species within, and is greatly concerned about its conservation (1). With greater budgetary freedom, it’s possible that a fully independent Scottish government may allocate more financial resources to oceans.

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Bigger than just conservation: The WWF Pacific Shark Heritage Program

Conservation, marine science, Natural Science, Science, sharks

IanIan Campbell has spent his entire career employed across the spectrum of fisheries science and policy, working as a marine surveyor, a fisheries observer and writing fisheries policy for the UK & European governments. He even spent several years as a commercial diver working on oil rigs and for the film industry. Ian is currently leading WWF’s global shark management work. You can follow him on twitter @IanFisheries , and follow the WWF campaign @WWF_sharks.

On September 2, in a back room on the campus of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), on the small island of Samoa, we at the environment conservation non-government organisation, World Wide Fund for Nature WWF quietly launched our Pacific Shark Heritage Programme. This launch was incorporated into the bigger, much flashier United Nations meeting on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), where the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon spoke of partnerships, conservation of the oceans’ resources and responsible stewardship. There were meetings of Heads of State & UN officials, the World Bank and Ambassadors, with lots of “high-level statements” and “roadmaps for the future of the oceans” announced at champagne & canapé receptions. Yet, we believe, it was our unheralded meeting in the SPREP’s training centre (tea & coffee were provided), that could have the biggest impact on sharks (and rays, rays need love too) and Pacific Island culture.

There are two major components to WWF’s work in the Pacific. The first is to highlight how intrinsically linked sharks and rays are to the many diverse cultures of the Pacific Island nations. We have documented apocryphal tales, fable and legends that have been passed down from generation to generation over hundreds, if not thousands of years. Tales that have been told in villages and communities ever since people have inhabited these islands. And contained in these stories are some truly remarkable accounts of love, war, marriage advice and even a bit of shark taxonomy. Did you know, for example, that in the Cook Islands, a kindly shark gave Ina, the Fairy Voyager a lift across the ocean to be with her fiancé Tinarau, the God of the Ocean? Ina took with her coconuts to ensure she didn’t die of thirst, but no way of opening them (you always forget something, right?). Ina tried to break the coconut on the shark’s head, which resulted in the hammerhead getting its’ distinctive shape. So there’s a taxonomic question answered. It may be a fable, but it’s still as accurate as some recent Shark Week documentaries. On the beautiful island of Taveuni in Fiji, villagers and school children still speak of Dakuwaqa, the shark god, a ferocious warrior who actually protects the islanders. At the SIDS conference there are carvings and murals of Samoan shark legends everywhere, some selling for up to $40,000 (US). In Pacific Island countries, sharks are everywhere and everyone knows about sharks. At WWF, we know we need to keep this history alive.

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Natural history needs more .gifs

Natural Science, ScienceSeptember 15, 2014

There’s something glorious about .gifs, the short video clips that proliferate across the internet. Not quite as demanding of commitment as a full video, slightly more than a still image. These mighty little loops of endless wonder can express joy, surprise, or disdain far better than their static counterpart. They are an artform unique to the web.

Yet, somehow, the humble .gif has never garnered the same level of prestige as a carefully crafted photograph or a lovingly edited documentary. Heck, some science communicators think we should to away with .gifs completely. This is, of course, misguided.

(more…)

How you can help support Southern Fried Science

BloggingSeptember 10, 2014

Image courtesy of the Love Lab.

Image courtesy of the Love Lab.

Earlier this summer, we switched funding models from an ad hoc Paypal-based donation system to Patreon, a crowdfunding style service for authors, musicians, writers, and, thanks to us, scientists. Thanks to our wonderful Patrons, Southern Fried Science is, for the first time in history, financially sustainable.

We’re still growing. As many of you witnessed during the last Shark Week, our servers are spinning at full capacity and our bandwidth is consistently maxed out. We need to upgrade to a bigger, dedicated server. That costs money.

Southern Fried Science is, and always will be, free and ad free. With the exception of the rare Amazon affiliate links that appears if we mention specific products, we don’t post ads. There are no awkward pitches for weight loss supplements; no pop-ups encouraging enticing you to check your car insurance; no dehumanizing images of Walmart shoppers. Just pure, safe, wholesome marine science and conservation.

(more…)

Breaching Blue Chapter 5: The Hunters

Popular Culture, Science FictionSeptember 5, 2014

breakingblueAll week I’m posting the first five chapters from my absurd work-in-progress, Breaching Blue. Check out Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4. This concludes our week long mermaid adventure. Enjoy. And, if you don’t enjoy, blame Shiffman.


The reef made them strong. Janthina no longer hesitated to swim above the sunbreak, to explore the illuminated waters above. Each morning, as the sunlight penetrated the twilight waters of the reef, Janthina would rise into the realm of light. The animals that lived in the sun were new. They were active, vibrant, powerful. They moved as if the whole ocean was theirs to command.

Janthina spied Tornus below. The arch of her back was unmistakable. She had grown into a powerful, confident mermaid, broad across the shoulders and strong. Resting on the seafloor, she look like nothing so much as a massive boulder. Tornus sat in a circle with Simnia, Luidia, and several others, fashioning spearheads from a pile of discarded stingray carcasses, their meal from the previous day. The long, jagged barbs were perfect for hunting. They could puncture the toughest scales and would remain lodged until their prey went limp.

The barbs were cheap. The spears, though, required great effort to prepare. The instructions for their manufacture were scattered across the reef. It took nearly a full lunar cycle for Tornus and her compatriots to find enough driftwood, another cycle to grind them down into long, sturdy shafts.  They were solid and  stout. There were none to spare.

Janthina swam down to greet her sisters.

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Ocean Optimism and Aliens

Conservation, Environmentalism

Ripley: How long after we’re declared overdue can we expect a rescue?

Hicks: … Seventeen days.

Hudson: Seventeen days? Hey man, I don’t wanna rain on your parade, but we’re not gonna last seventeen hours! Those things are gonna come in here just like they did before. And they’re gonna come in here…

Ripley: Hudson!

Hudson: …and they’re gonna come in here AND THEY’RE GONNA GET US!

Ripley: Hudson! This little girl survived longer than that with no weapons and no training. Right?

[Newt salutes]

Hudson: Why don’t you put her in charge?

Ripley: You better just start dealing with it, Hudson! Listen to me! Hudson, just deal with it, because we need you and I’m sick of your #@&%#$!

Aliens (1986; 20th Century Fox)

 

At the recent International Marine Conservation Congress, one of the buzzwords was #oceanoptimism (eg see this blog). This hashtag was launched on World’s Ocean’s Day (8th June) this year, and has subsequently gone somewhat viral. But why is “ocean optimism” such a big deal?

There was a concern among many marine conservationists that the situation in the world’s oceans is so dire, and the message given by marine scientists is so bleak, that the constant negativity portrayed by marine scientists will lead to the public turning off, and/or conservation practitioners feeling that they were working against insurmountable odds. There are numerous articles on this topic in the scientific literature (e.g. this). The fact that the media often concentrates on the controversial and disastrous to sell a story can often exacerbate problems   (e.g. this and this) especially when worst case scenarios do not happen (often because a conservation intervention occurred) and scientists are portrayed as being over negative Eeyores and crying wolf on environmental issues.

The idea of portraying a more positive marine conservation message was not new – there was program called Beyond the Obituaries: Success Stories in Ocean Conservation at the 1st International Marine Conservation Congress in 2009  (click here for a video of the event).

However, the quest and insistence for more optimism and positive messaging in conservation could lead to problems.  For example the upcoming World Parks Congress is specifically looking for positive messages for protected area management.  This has led to concerns by many that by filtering out the negative presentations to concentrate on the positive, it may make the situation seem better than it really is. Especially in a venue where agencies and governments are presenting their “success stories”, their inactivity, failures and downright disasters may be overlooked and downplayed.

There is also the danger that filtering out all but the positive messages -and being overly optimistic -could be used by “the bad guys” to argue that the conservationists are just being overly negative. For example, developers who claim that a destroyed ecosystem could easily be “fixed” with a replacement wetland or a protected area, like they found claimed in a scientific paper. Or politicians stating that there are plenty of polar bears left because a local population is doing well (a prime example of this can be found here). So there is as much danger if scientists bias their work with too positive a message, as with biasing with too negative a message.

But why the Aliens quote at the beginning of this article?

Well the whole idea about “ocean optimism” is not to be like Hudson but rather more like Ripley , to help empower marine conservationists and give hope to the public despite – as far as the marine environment is concerned – being faced by many diverse and weighty problems and threats.

However, if one filters out all but the positive success stories, there is the danger of modern conservation being perceived as this with everything being fine and dandy, with governments and agencies doing an excellent job at conservation, when the actual situation is substantively different.

So for promoting conservation optimism and hope we need less of this  and more of thisand of thisand of thisand especially this!

alien transformed

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Brett Favaro for spurring me to write this blog, and for providing suggestions some of the youtube clips. Also  for distracting me so much that I didn’t complete any of my to-do-list today and instead spent way too much time looking for video clips of aliens.

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