Everything you need to know about conservation you can learn from Alien(s)

As a provider of advice on how to do effective conservation, Southern Fried Science has previously looked to such as The Game of Thrones for inspiration. Today we look at another famous source of conservation tips: Alien (and Aliens)…

A single charismatic animal can be a great motivator for action.

Jones the cat

Scientists sometimes have self interests that can derail a project.

Science officer Ash

Just when you think everything is going ok a crisis hits…

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ACTION ALERT: Protect Florida sharks from harmful fishing practices

After years of scientists and conservationists complaining about problems with common land-based shark fishing practices, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is finally taking action! At their April meeting, FWC formally announced that they are considering revising regulations governing this activity with the goal of restricting the unnecessary and cruel handling practices that result in killing protected species of sharks.

(For background on this topic, please read my detailed open letter, or this summary of my research).

Here are the options that FWC is considering.

Examples of unequivocally illegal shark fishing from Shiffman and Friends 2017

 

How can you help? Either physically attend a workshop or send a formal comment online!

 

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I asked 15 ocean plastic pollution experts about the Ocean Cleanup project, and they have concerns

The online ocean science community has been vocally skeptical about the Ocean Cleanup, a device that aims to physically remove plastic pollution from the ocean. Drs. Kim Martini and Miriam Goldstein published a technical review of its feasibility over at Deep Sea News, and Andrew asked some important questions that have yet to be answered. Also, be sure to read environmental journalist Chris Clarke’s thorough overview of these concerns.

Overall concerns include a lack of understanding of the problem (including but not limited to the fact that much of the harmful ocean plastic is small and well-dispersed), insufficient structural integrity for a large object that will be deployed in the open ocean (which would result in the object breaking and creating even more ocean garbage), and the fact that this device is designed to aggregate objects of a certain size to remove them from the water but cannot distinguish between plastic and living things.

Mainstream media coverage has been noticeably less critical of the Ocean Cleanup, often presenting the idea as revolutionary and it’s creator as a genius.

Artist’s conception of the Ocean Cleanup, from TheOceanCleanup.com

I am not an expert in ocean plastic pollution. However, the uncritical tone of most mainstream media coverage of the Ocean Cleanup does not seem to correspond with my impression of expert opinion on this matter from speaking with expert colleagues who study this.

Through professional contacts, I developed a list of 51 ocean plastic pollution experts who work in academia, government, and the environmental non-profit sector, and I sent them some questions about the Ocean Cleanup. 15 (4 in academia, 5 each in government and the non-profit sector, and 1 in industry) agreed to participate in an anonymous survey. While this is not (and not intended to be) an exhaustive survey of the entire field of ocean plastic pollution, the broad agreement among a diverse group of experts is telling. Below, please see what they had to say through some representative quotes. Some respondents chose to provide an on-the-record quote, while many chose to remain anonymous out of concerns about reprisal.

I also asked Lonneke Holierhoek, COO of the Ocean Cleanup, to respond to these concerns. Her comments are included in each section.

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Things that go “POP!” in the deep: crushed cups, whole cans, and seafloor spam.

This week, two questions echoed through the hallowed halls of Deep-sea Science. It began, as things these days tend to begin, with a tweet. Dr. Diva Amon challenged deep-sea researchers to show off their shrunken cups from the bottom of the abyss. And we obliged, oh but did we oblige.

Concurrently, though unrelated, Angelo Villagomez announced out symposium on Human Impacts in the Deep Sea and shared several image of the garbage that finds its way to the ocean floor. Cans of cheap beer and pristine Spam littered the deepest reaches of the Mariana Trench, where they will lie forever as they are slowly buried in sediment.

And thus we found ourselves awash in to variations on the same theme: Why did that ocean thing get crushed? and Why didn’t that ocean thing get crushed? Read More

An open letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on revising land-based recreational shark fishing regulations

Note: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is holding a public meeting on April 25th which will include the issue of land-based recreational shark fishing. Part of my dissertation research focused on this topic, so I am submitting expert testimony, but since I no longer live in Florida I am submitting it remotely. I am sharing my testimony here. Anyone else who is interested in attending the meeting in person (Fort Lauderdale Marriott on April 25th), or submitting testimony remotely, is free to quote my talking points below if the appropriate references are cited. 

Dear Chair Rivard, Vice Chair Spottswood, Commissioner Kellam, Commissioner Lester, Commissioner Nicklaus, Commissioner Rood, and Commissioner Sole of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC),

My name is Dr. David Shiffman, and I studied land-based shark fishing in Florida as part of my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. This research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Fisheries Research (here’s a link to an open access copy) and covered in major media outlets including National Geographic, Nature, and the Miami Herald. Accordingly, I would like to provide expert testimony for your April 25th public hearing on this topic. Since I no longer reside in Florida I am submitting this testimony remotely. As a conservation biologist who spent years studying harmful practices among some elements of the land-based Florida shark fishing community, I am grateful to see FWC holding a public meeting that includes this important issue, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute.

Overall, the scientific evidence is clear and overwhelming that while many anglers are rule-following and conservation-minded, many common land-based shark fishing practices represent a significant conservation threat to threatened, protected shark species in Florida. Additionally, the evidence is clear and overwhelming that in many cases anglers are breaking existing laws and regulations, and that in some of those cases the anglers are aware that they are breaking the law and are explicitly stating that they don’t care. Finally, the evidence is clear and overwhelming that many of the arguments put forward by land-based anglers in support of the status quo are not argued in good faith, and are intentionally crafted to misrepresent the facts of the situation.

It is obvious to me, and to many expert colleagues with whom I have discussed this issue, that the FWC can and must do more to protect threatened sharks, building off of early successes that made Florida a leader in shark conservation. Specifically, the FWC can and must do more to regulate these harmful practices, enforce clear violations of existing regulations, and educate anglers about these issues. Below I will elaborate on each of these points and propose specific regulatory, enforcement, and public education changes that can be made to protect sharks without significantly infringing on anyone’s rights. I will also counter several common arguments that are put forth by bad actors in the recreational angling community.

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The ‘Pluto Moment’ for Marine Protected Areas

How much of the ocean is really protected?

When the International Astronomical Union changed its definition of what constitutes a planet in our solar system in 2006, demoting hapless Pluto to a dwarf planet, the decision sparked fierce scientific debate and an outcry from the public. But after all was said and done, we earthlings now have a better understanding of our celestial neighborhood, with eight perfectly nice authentic planets, and a greater appreciation of what it takes to be in that exclusive club.

Now, the ocean science community may be facing its own “Pluto Moment.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)—keeper of the Red List, the most comprehensive source on the conservation status of life on Earth—also sets the global standard for marine protected areas (MPAs). The IUCN has numerous subcategories of MPAs, from fully protected areas to those that allow some fishing or other activity, but in the group’s eyes all MPAs must be created with the primary goal of conserving biodiversity.

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Thoughts on the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act

A few weeks ago, H.R. 5248, The Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act, was introduced into Congress. The purpose of this bill is to “encourage a science-based approach to significantly reduce the overfishing and unsustainable trade of sharks, rays and skates around the world and prevent shark finning,” according to a press release from Mote Marine Lab. 

Though the devil is always in the details, and I’ll get into those below, here is a general overview of how this would work. The Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act would direct NOAA Fisheries to evaluate the fisheries management practices of other shark and ray fishing nations. This is similar in principle to other things NOAA is already doing, and a similar role for NOAA was included in the 2010 Shark Conservation Act (but has yet to be implemented).

Nations that have sustainable fisheries management practices comparable to ours (or certain fisheries associated with those nations, even if other fisheries are less well managed) will get a formal certification of their sustainable management practices, and nothing will change for them. Nations (or fisheries) that are found to not have sustainable fisheries management practices comparable to ours will not be allowed to have those products imported into the US and sold in our markets until their management practices improve. In the meantime, they’ll have access to NOAA’s existing capacity building resources and expertise to improve their own practices.

I support much of what this bill is trying to do, but I have some significant concerns about some of the current phrasing and plan for implementation.

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Have you heard the good news about shark populations? Shark population increases are cause for #OceanOptimism

Did you know that some shark populations have declined due to overfishing? Did you know that some once-declined shark populations have recovered? If you’re like my twitter followers, it’s likely that you’ve heard the bad news, but have not heard the good news.

Why does this matter?
It’s important to share bad news so that people know there’s a problem, and that we need to act to solve that problem. However, it’s also important to share good news so that people know that a problem is solvable! This idea was behind the birth of the #OceanOptimism online outreach campaign.

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Conservation has a Trolley Problem

A train screams down the tracks. Dead ahead, a pile of of giant pandas frolic, inexplicably, through a bamboo stand growing through the rails. But wait! There’s a switch. Pulling it will divert the train onto another track, where a tank containing one of the last 30 vaquita will surely be crushed. Do you pull the lever, dooming the vaquita, or hold the line, flattening the frolicking pandas? Do you stammer indecisively, wondering how you ended up in this situation as you careen, inexorably, into into an increasingly unavoidable outcome?

What if, rather than the conductor’s seat, you’re at the helm of a conservation organization? What if the train wasn’t a hundred tons of steel and steam, but the relentless press of public will, funding, and focus upon which it is your duty to shape and direct into action?

What if conservation has a Trolley Problem?

Ah the Trolley Problem, the thought experiment turned pop-philosophy darling whose use and misuse is, at best, an annoyance to every ethicist I know. Regrettably, I do them no favors here.

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The State of the Environment Address

US President Donald  Trump said “I believe in clean air. I believe in crystal clear beautiful water.”

Image via gify.com

 

However, in last night’s State of the Union Address he declared his support for promoting coal-based energy* and he gave public notice of his intentions to curtail the environmental impact assessment process and environmental regulation for construction and road-building. This would be the latest in a series of executive actions that are removing or  hindering environmental protection including, amongst others:

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