What the Farm?! Six months of farming podcasts

Six months ago, my buddy Andrew Middleton and I launched What the Farm?! a podcast about small scale farming, by two people at the very beginning of their exploration in self-sufficiency. Small-scale and backyard farming has been one of the subtle themes of Southern Fried Science for years. While on the surface it may seem like practical farming articles have nothing to do with marine science and conservation, the reality is that how we produce food is inextricably linked to the future of our oceans.

As environmentalists, becoming self-sufficient on our own land, with both meat and produce that we have complete control over the chain of custody, from dirt to dishwasher is the ultimate expression of walking the walk. We’re not there yet, but through What the Farm?! we invite you to follow us on our journey.

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Ocean Kickstarter of the Month: Cleaning our oceans one marina at a time.

Update 2: Seabin has moved to Indiegogo. Find them here.

Update: Due to issues with the platform, Seabin has suspended its Kickstarter campaign. We will update if there is a relaunch. 

Seabin Project. An automated rubbish bin that lives in the water of marinas and collects floating rubbish, oil, fuel & detergents 24/7

Seabin Project. Cleaning our oceans one marina at a time.

The accumulation of trash in our oceans is a big deal, and while there are some very good systems designed to remove garbage from local waterways, there is also a plethora of questionable projects as well. Seabin, an automated trash collector that catches floating waste, oil, fuel and detergents from marines and other confined, high traffic waterways, fits squarely in that first group. A small, shore-powered, suction driven system draws floating trash into a container, separates oil, fuel, and detergents, and returns clean seawater back to the marina.

This Mallorca-based team has been developing Seabin for several years, and, by all accounts, have poured their time and savings into validating a functional prototype. They’ve been working with marinas and other ocean-tech groups to develop a system that is simple to use and easy to service by a single operator. While the Seabin currently draws high voltage shore power, they have visions of a future alternative-energy system.

Onward to the Ocean Kickstarter criteria! Read More

Robots Versus Aliens – Anticipatory conservation in technology-drive initiatives

This week, I and a team of marine ecologist, explorers, and ocean technologists published Robots as vectors for marine invasions: best practices for minimizing transmission of invasive species via observation-class ROVs. This paper, conceived and largely produced during the ROV2PNG Marine Science Short Course in Papua New Guinea, represent the current best practices for minimizing or eliminating the spread of invasive species via portable, low-cost underwater robots.

Zebra mussels observed via OpenROV. Photo by author.

Zebra mussels observed via OpenROV. Photo by author.

Species invasion, particularly in the ocean, is a huge problem. Invasive species are ruthlessly good at out-competing native fauna. Without any natural predators, they can flourish, causing massive, irreparable damage to marine ecosystems. As scientists, explorers, and conservationist, we have to be proactive in ensuring that our actions don’t negatively impact the ecosystems we’re trying to save. Our guidelines are simple, but effective, and, most importantly, easy to follow.

  1. Educate yourself about species invasions generally and specifically about current issues in the area you’re working.
  2. Inspect your gear.
  3. Soak your gear in freshwater between dives.
  4. Soak your gear in weak bleach between expeditions.
  5. Avoid moving your equipment between geographic regions, when possible.

Technology can be a powerful tool in the aid of conservation. Around the world, people are using low-cost robotics to count elephants, detect poachers, protect tortoises, even seek-and-destroy invasive sea stars. As I discuss over at Motherboard, these robots are a transformative component of 21st century marine science and conservation, they fundamentally reshape the way we interact with the ocean. And with the explosive success of the latest OpenROV launch, there are about to be a lot more robots in the water. This is a good thing. The more eyes we have in the sea, the more people that actively contribute to ocean exploration, the more people with access to the tools necessary to explore, study, and understand our oceans and how they are changing, the better off we will all be.

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Three facts (and a lot of questions) about The Ocean Cleanup

The Ocean Cleanup is back in the news, with their first test deployment happening imminently off the coast of Japan. From reviews of their current material, it seems clear that they have not taken the critical assessment of their feasibility study, graciously provided pro-bono by Drs. Martini and Goldstein, to heart. This is unfortunate. As the project has progressed, many in the ocean science and conservation community have not only grown more skeptical of its effectiveness, but are increasingly wary of the potential this project has to cause significant environmental harm. As of yet, The Ocean Cleanup has presented no formal Environmental Impact Assessment, a critical document which would provide the data necessary to properly gauge the potential for environmental harm from large-scale engineering projects.

Image produced by The Ocean Cleanup.

Image produced by The Ocean Cleanup.

Goldstein and Martini’s technical review is essential reading for anyone tracking the progress of The Ocean Cleanup, but there are many additional issues that the Ocean Cleanup has not yet addressed. Here, I present three issues related to the construction and operation of The Ocean Cleanup and the necessary information that, were I in charge of regulating the high seas, would need to know before such a project could be approved.

1. The Ocean Cleanup will be the largest offshore structure ever assembled. 

When completed, The Ocean Cleanup will span 100 km of open sea with a massive array of booms and moored platforms. If successfully constructed in the proposed region, the mooring used will be the deepest ever constructed. The booms will stretch across a major oceanic current, interacting with plankton transport and pelagic migrations.

What I want to know: How will The Ocean Cleanup monitor changes in ocean-wide population structure? What community baselines have been established from which ecosystem impact can be assessed? What contingency are in place should catastrophic failure occur? Ultimately, what chronic threshold will be used to trigger a shutdown of the Ocean Cleanup, should major environmental impacts be detected as a result of standard operation, who will access to the data necessary to monitor those impacts, and who will have authority to trigger a shutdown? Read More

The disastrous feedback of what happens when fisheries funding dries up

Last week I had the good fortune of attending the NC Oyster Summit, hosted  by the NC Coastal Federation in the Museum of Natural Sciences. We talked about the wonders that oyster restoration and aquaculture development can do for water quality, economic development, and taste buds. We enjoyed the demonstration of ‘merriore’, or the taste of the sea that lends a particular flavor to each oyster that captures the ecosystem it grew in. Yet, the fact that stuck with me most is that despite all of these wonderful celebrations of the oyster for the health and well-being of NC’s coastal communities, funding cuts of around 40% to the Department of Marine Fisheries mean that a large portion of the Albemarle Sound remains closed to harvest or aquaculture because there are no staff to check those oysters for public health risks.

The “Administrative Closure” of the most northern stretches of the state’s prized Albemarle-Pamlico estuary system is a worrying precedent in many ways that highlight how leadership withdrawal of support for science can trickle down to real economic, environmental, and cultural harm.

Economic flight Read More

Snowy Owls and Goliath Groupers: Why I co-authored “Trophy fishing for species threatened with extinction.”

In both my professional and private life, I am a man who wears many hats. I am a deep-sea ecologist, a science writer, a goatherd, a geneticist, a conservation advocate, a grill master, and many others. When David asked me to join him in co-authoring “Trophy fishing for species threatened with extinction: A way forward building on a history of conservation” I did so not in my capacity as a marine science Ph.D., but as a recreational fisherman who cares deeply about the survival of his sport. Without fish, there is no fishing.

I was, at first, skeptical, but over the course of a summer, I came to appreciate what David was trying to accomplish.

I wrote most of my thesis on this boat, with a rod in the water.

I wrote most of my thesis on this boat, with a rod in the water.

Before I talk about fish, I need to talk about birds. 

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What can Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs teach us about ecology, sustainability and conservation?

Cloudy_with_a_chance_of_meatballs_theataposterMy family loves to watch movies, which presents a problem during the few times we’re all together: there are very few good movies that none of us have already seen. This past Thanksgiving, we resolved that dilemma by watching some “based on a true story” garbage starring Nicholas Cage and the star of High School Musical, a plot-less but action packed shoot ’em up starring the governator and Sawyer from Lost, and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.”

Based on a popular children’s book, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs tells the story of Flint Lockwood, a young inventor who keeps trying to make life better for people in his small island town of Swallow Falls. His inventions always backfire, including the titular invention that makes the sky rain food. In the sequel, which I watched this past weekend because shut up I enjoyed the first one leave me alone, we learn that some of the food has become sentient.  Swallow Falls is now home to a unique ecosystem that includes watermel-ephants, taco-diles, fla-mangos, and many other hybrids called foodimals. In addition to featuring some of the best puns I’ve ever seen, these movies also raise some interesting questions about ecology, sustainability and conservation.

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Ocean Things to Be Thankful For: Megalodon is Dead, but We Still Have Sharks (and Whales)

This time of year, it’s appropriate to think of things to be thankful for.  This being an ocean-focused blog, I’d like to share something ocean-related that I’m thankful for, and hopefully spread a little Ocean Optimism in the process.  What I’m thankful for is that Carcharocles megalodon is extinct.  This may not seem like cause for optimism, but honestly the present-day ocean and Megalodon are better off without each other.  And while we may not have 50-foot sharks around anymore (at least not the superpredatory kind), there are actually a lot of species we know and love that have either outlasted Megalodon or are only around because the big beast isn’t around anymore.

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Why we need ACTIVISTS not WHACKTIVISTS !

My lazy Sunday morning was ruined by a “whacktivist” on a friend’s Facebook page on whale and dolphin issues.

To explain what I mean, here are some definitions:

ACTIVIST – someone who tries to draw public attention and concern to an issue they consider to be important. This typically involves trying to convert an uncaring or unaware public into a public that is aware of and likewise concerned about the issue.

Activists are an important part of society. Activists often lead major societal shifts that have changed things for the better. Civil rights and environmental activists were responsible for encouraging ground breaking laws and societal changes in the 1960s and 1970s.

WHACKTIVIST – someone who tries to convert the public into caring about an issue using inappropriate means, such as insulting those who do not agree with them and using arguments that are illogical or factually incorrect. Whacktivists often do not respect the rights of those who are opposed to them – they use bullying, harassing, and threatening violence and other criminal acts. Whacktivists often see issues in black and white and are resistant to opinions and facts that do not fit their world view.

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A guide to following shark and ray conservation at this week’s Convention on Migratory Species meeting

This week, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) will have its 11th Conference of the Parties in Quito, Ecuador. While less well-known than the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES,) CMS is another very important international wildlife conservation treaty. As the name suggests, it focuses on the conservation of species that migrate across national political borders. This meeting includes several  proposals for listing species of sharks and rays on the CMS Appendices. In fact, most of the proposals are for elasmobranchs this time.

CMS

How does CMS work?

Like CITES, CMS allows member states to propose listing of threatened species on different appendices, which have different levels of protection. Appendix I obligates strict protection of that species by member states, where appendix II encourages member states to cooperate in the management of that species through regional or global agreements.  Currently, basking sharks, great white sharks, and oceanic mantas are listed on appendix I, and whale sharks, makos, porbeagles, and northern hemisphere spiny dogfish are listed on Appendix II. There are also non-binding “memoranda of understanding,” such as the 2010 MOU on migratory sharks. As of May of this year, CMS has 120 parties. This paper by Holly Edwards is a good introduction to how it all works.

What exactly does listing do for a species?

The specific actions required to follow up on these listings are basically up to the CMS parties themselves, and the required actions are not particularly clear for Appendix II. Mako sharks were listed on CMS Appendix II in 2008, for example, and they don’t yet have internationally agreed-upon catch limits. Appendix I listings for basking sharks helped lead to European Union fishing prohibitions for these species, though.

Shark and ray conservation proposals

There are a series of shark and ray conservation proposals listed for the CMS 2014 conference of the parties. These include Appendix II listings for hammerhead sharks (great and scalloped), thresher sharks (all three species), and silky sharks, as well as listings on Appendix I and II for reef manta rays, all 9 species of mobula rays, and all species of sawfish. Project AWAREShark Advocates International, Defenders of Wildlife, Humane Society International, Shark Trust, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have produced some fact sheets and the Pew Environment Group has summaries of each of these proposals except the sawfish ones. The shark and ray proposals are expected to be introduced and debated Thursday morning, but we will likely not know the outcome until next Monday.

How do I follow along?

The main meeting hashtag is #CMSCoP11 (Convention on Migratory Species 11th conference of the parties), but also check out #SharksWithoutBorders and #Time4Action .

Additionally, representatives from variety of environmental non-profits will be attending the conference of the parties and/or tweeting updates. Here is an incomplete list:

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