The 2016 presidential candidates address ocean issues (sort of).

Finally, after almost a year of silence, we have concrete responses from the leading presidential candidate about ocean health and, in particular, the state of America’s fisheries. Well, sort of.

ScienceDebate.org, a non-partisan science advocacy group, asked the four leading candidates a slew of 20 science-related questions, including the following about ocean health:

“There is growing concern over the decline of fisheries and the overall health of the ocean: scientists estimate that 90% of stocks are fished at or beyond sustainable limits, habitats like coral reefs are threatened by ocean acidification, and large areas of ocean and coastlines are polluted. What efforts would your administration make to improve the health of our ocean and coastlines and increase the long-term sustainability of ocean fisheries?”

sciencedebate.org

Gary Johnson and Donald Trump declined to answer (Johnson declined to answer any question, Trump’s submitted boilerplate copy that makes no mention of the oceans or any ocean issue).

Jill Stein’s succinct response acknowledged the problems that overfishing, climate change, and ocean plastics pose to the oceans, but provides no specific policy recommendations.  Read More

Ocean Outreach in an Evolving Online Ecosystem: Exploration wants to be shared

This is the transcript of the keynote I delivered at the Fourth International Marine Conservation Congress in St. John’s, Newfoundland. It has been lightly modified for flow.

Read Act II: Transforming the Narrative.

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Now I want to shift gears and look towards the future, where we’re going, and what tools are available to help us get there. Because the future of ocean outreach, and really the future of ocean conservation, comes down to this one concept: “Exploration wants to be shared”.

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Sealand courtesy the Daily Beast

The online ocean ecosystem is full of platforms–preexisting tools that allow us to produce, share, broadcast, enhance, and manage our outreach campaigns. Not just the obvious ones like Twitter and Facebook, but more niche tools like Slack, github, Ushahidi, medium, and yes, even PokemonGo, or if you want something a bit more serious, consider R as something that’s not just a statistics package, but a way to share your own software and data with the scientific community.

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Dying for Reason in the Rational Utopia

When Neil deGrasse Tyson proposed his “Rationalia” thought experiment several months ago, I thought is was cute but misguided. Now that he’s doubled down on the concept, I can see exactly why it is such a naively flawed idea. Rationalia would be a disaster for conservation. This short science fiction story illustrates why.


ration

“Oyez, oyez, oyez!  This, the 107th session of the 16th Superior District Court, is hereby gavelled to order. Please be seated.”

Cope Johns remained standing. He surveyed the crowd, an odd assortment of bystanders, tourists, and his few supporters. Chief Justice Carlsson entered the hall, climbed onto his podium, and looked down on the assembled masses. Somewhere amid the crush of bodies, an elderly lawyer took his seat. All eyes turned to him. He timidly rose to his feet.

“Today we hear Dr. Cope Johns, on behalf of the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus), versus the Free Republic of Rationalia. Make note that, as evidence suggests that timeliness is required in this decision, we have elected to expedite deliberations. The court has been briefed extensively on this case and requires no additional background. Dr. Johns, your opening statement?”

Cope approached the stand. The bailiff placed his left hand on the near-field ID scanner, confirming his identity. Cope raised his right hand to nothing and swore under his breath.

“Thank you, your honor. The Vaquita is a tiny porpoise that has been on the verge of extinction for the better part of a century. Its only remaining habitat is in the Gulf of Reason, where the Free Republic of Rationalia intends to establish the Lost Lobos tidal energy farm. This farm will displace the Vaquita breeding grounds and will likely drive the species over the brink to extinction.” Read More

A precautionary approach to health, safety, and conservation while 3D printing in the home.

3D printers are awesome.

A Printrbot in the home.

A Printrbot in the home.

That sentiment really shouldn’t surprise anyone who follows this blog. From oceanographic equipment, to farm tools, to just things around the house, over the last year I’ve made 3D printing a standard part of my toolbox.

A conversation last week on Twitter got me thinking again about 3D printers, safety, and disposability. On one hand, by allowing us to fabricate intricate custom parts at home, 3D printers can help us reduce the amount of waste produced and allow us to extend the life of otherwise disposable items. On the other hand, 3D printers produce their own plastic waste, particularly if, like me, you develop a lot of new projects from scratch.

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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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