The United States National Marine Fisheries Service just released the 2013 “fisheries of the United States” report. The extremely detailed report contains lots of important information on both recreational and commercial fisheries in U.S. waters, and I recommend giving it a thorough read. I noticed an interesting detail about the U.S. shark fishery, though. In 2013, more large (non-dogfish) sharks were landed by U.S. recreational shark anglers (~4.5 million pounds) than by U.S. commercial shark fishermen (~3 million pounds). This was not the case in 2012.
Andrew Wright is a British marine biologist that has been working on the science-policy boundary around the world for over a decade. His experiences have led him to champion a better communication of science to policy makers and the lay public. His research has included a population viability analysis for the vaquita, sperm whales bioacoustics and the impacts of noise on various marine mammals. Andrew is currently working on several projects, most relating to investigating either sleeping behaviour or chronic stress in wild cetaceans. He is also spearheading efforts to bring more marketing techniques into conservation outreach.
The ever-logical Spock once said “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Then he didn’t. Then he did again. (Thanks J. J. Abrams.)
But I digress.
Regardless of which Spock you are listening to, the logic is still sound. For example, most people would agree that it is sometimes necessary to put a few people in harm’s way to protect the entire population of a nation. Likewise, a system that taxes a few of the world’s wealthiest to help out the masses is generally accepted as a good idea.
The logic also holds when it comes to helping endangered species survive and recover. Decision-makers essentially try to maximise the returns of their investments, making sure that the greatest number of animals are protected for the all-too-limited funds available to take on the task at hand.
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.
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. Read More
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.
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…
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?
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.
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.
The mining of deep-sea hydrothermal vents for gold, copper, and other precious metals, is imminent. Over the last seven years I’ve worked with industry, academia, and international regulatory agencies to help craft guidelines for conducting environmental impact studies and assess the connectivity and resilience of deep-sea ecosystems. Deep-sea mining, particularly at hydrothermal vents, is a complicated endeavor. As an ecologist and environmentalist, I’d like to see all deep-sea ecosystems receive extraordinary levels of protection. As a pragmatist and someone who recognizes that access to technology is a human right, I realize that demand for essential resources like copper, cobalt, and rare earth elements is only going to increase.
Mining a deep-sea hydrothermal vent presents a conundrum. Across the world, vents vary in their longevity and proximity to each other. A fast spreading center like those found in western Pacific back-arc basins, can have numerous, densely packed vents that persist for tens of years. In contrast, ultra-slow spreading centers, like the central Indian Ridge, may have a few, sparsely distributed vents that remain active for centuries. The sustainability of deep-sea mining is completely dependent on the type of vents being mined. Vents in slow spreading centers may never recover from any anthropogenic impact, while those in fast spreading centers could be extremely resilient to the disturbance caused by mining.
Ocean plastic is bad news. Last week we were learned that not only did every ocean have its own, personal garbage gyre, but that a huge amount of plastic is “missing” from the ocean–that is, it has been incorporated into the ecosystem in ways we don’t yet understand. While there is plenty of misinformation floating around out there about what exactly these garbage patches are (hint: they aren’t solid islands of trash), there is no doubt that they are effecting the global ocean ecosystem in both profound and subtle ways.
Friend of Southern Fried Science and Deep Sea News writer Miriam Goldstein spent her PhD working on the North Pacific Gyre. Her research has revealed invasive pathogenic ciliates living on plastic trash and plastic-eating barnacles floating in the gyre. She also points out one of the biggest problems with trying to clean up these massive, dispersed “garbage patches”:
You would almost have to clear-cut the top of the ocean in order to clean up all those little bits of plastic.
There is a sea of theoretical solutions, from dragging nets across the ocean to mooring massive floating arrays, in various states of completeness. Some have been no more than public relation stunts, while others push on despite extensive criticism from oceanographers and other marine experts. Some have promise, other appear to be no more than press releases.
Amid the TED talks, press-pushes, empty promises, and gratuitous publicity stunts, the City of Baltimore quietly built, tested, re-designed, re-built, and deployed a solar-powered, trash-eating, waterwheel-driven garbage scow that’s plying the urban waters of the Chesapeake Bay, pulling tons of trash out of the Inner Harbor every day. Say hello to the Inner Harbor Water Wheel. Read More
[Note, this is a press release for an ongoing project of which Amy and myself are involved.]
Monday, May 26, 2014 — In September 2013, a large wildfire, ignited by careless target shooters, blazed across Mt. Diablo, leaving 3,100 acres of state park scorched. Wildfires are an important component of chaparral ecosystems, clearing the way for younger growth to take hold, but monitoring recovery after wildfires is an intensive prospect for over-committed park staff. Enter the Nerds for Nature and their change monitoring brackets.
Inspired by monitorchange.org (created by Sam Droege of the U.S. Geological Survey), Nerds for Nature combined low-tech angle brackets with high-tech smart phones to allow hikers to help monitor the ongoing fire recovery. Park visitors are invited to take pictures at predefined locations, aligning their phones against a simple angle bracket that ensures images will center on the same area. Photos are then uploaded to one of several social media services, where a program scrapes the publicly available images and compiles a time lapse video.
Dr.Prosanta Chakrabarty is an Assistant Professor at Louisiana State University and an ichthyologist and evolutionary biologist. He is also Curator of Fishes at LSU’s Museum of Natural Science. You can learn more about him from his website www.prosanta.net and follow him on Twitter @LSU_FISH.
The National Assembly of Nicaragua approved the rights to build a new canal through the country to connect the Carribean (Atlantic) to the Pacific just as the Panama Canal does about 400 miles to the south. The approval of this contract was done largely without any scientific insights and largely without warning. The rights were given to a Chinese firm, the Hong Kong Nicaragua Development (HKND) and gives them power over this property for up to 100 years. The HKND has no experience with a project of this scale, and was largely unknown until this deal.
The new canal would be enormous, and cut across Lake Nicaragua (Cocibolca) and also adjacent rivers and waterbodies. No environmental impact studies have been completed. The Academia de Ciencias de Nicaragua recently published a manuscript detailing the problems with this proposed canal, “EL CANAL INTEROCEÁNICO POR NICARAGUA: Aportes al debate” [Available here: ]
It is multi-authored, thoughtful and level-headed: it is also a searing criticism of the stupidity of the idea of this new canal. The report thoroughly examines cultural, environmental, and economic impacts of the proposed canal.
Here are the top reasons I’ve learned from that report (with pg.#s) why this canal is ‘muy malo’ for the people and environment of Nicaragua.
Many years ago, I was offered a job doing restoration work at a coal company while perusing festival booths in Fairbanks, Alaska. Still wearing my college-aged rose colored glasses, I was skeptical of working for conservation within industry, said thanks-but-no-thanks, and returned to upstate New York to finish my degree. Looking back, I honestly believe I could have enacted more positive change for the earth had I taken that job than I have in the almost decade since.
I recall this story because while at a recent all-volunteer biodiversity festival, a friend asked me ‘why can’t people do all this great work as their paid work?’ A group of us stood around silently for a few minutes, realizing that this question derived of innocent curiosity delved deep into issues of societal values, our current economic system, and conservation philosophy. In short, the answer is that because conservation brings in none of its own revenue, but depends on the tax money or philanthropy of others. When that dries up, no conservation careers are available. And even when they are, a high percentage of time on the job is spent looking for future funding through grants. Read More