Ocean Victories

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“With every drop of water you drink, every breath you take, you’re connected to the sea. No matter where on Earth you live.” – Sylvia Earle

The ocean rejuvenates, inspires, and restores us. It gives us so much, but any ocean-related news is too often depressing. One of the reasons I love the nonprofit group Oceana is that it does something about the depressing news. Members receive notifications of petitions to sign and the group works with lawyers and politicians to create real environmental change. So for some good news, here are a few ocean victories that came about this year:

ocean walkNo seismic airgun blasts in the Atlantic: More than 100,000 supporters signed petitions to stop seismic airgun blasts in the Atlantic. In August, the Department of the Interior postponed its decision on the blasts for the third time. This will come up again, but in the meantime it’s been a reprieve for whales and dolphins. Airgun blasts can also kill fish eggs and scare fish away from important habitats. Following seismic surveys, catch rates of cod and haddock declined by 40 to 80 percent.

at the beachProtecting seafloor habitats: After seven years of campaigning by Oceana, Spain agreed to prohibit trawling over fragile habitats on the seamounts of the Mallorca Channel and the coral reefs east of Cabrera, protecting these important habitats from being crushed and destroyed.

Saving sharks: More than 4,000 New Yorkers petitioned for their state to ban the trade of shark fins. In July, New York became the eighth state to implement a shark fin trade ban. Most of the shark fins imported into the U.S. came in through the eight states that enacted these bans. In the same month, the European Union banned all shark finning by EU vessels. The U.S. government banned shark finning in U.S. waters in 2000, but until this year the trade in shark fins was still legal across the country.

Stopping offshore drilling in Belize: Until recently offshore drilling still took place near Belize’s famous barrier reef, threatening tourism and the reef’s fragile environment. Supporters collected more than 20,000 signatures against offshore drilling in the area. This year, Belize’s Supreme Court declared all offshore drilling contracts issued by the Belizean government null and void, essentially stopping all offshore drilling in Belizean waters.

ocean sunrise

The Beach, a Bonfire, and…a Movie?

bonfire

Wood smoke mingled with ocean spray. Our bonfire crackled and popped, contributing exclamation points to the conversation. Sparks drifted up to the stars as the waves swished in song. Everyone huddled closer to the fire as the sky darkened.

setting up firepitWe laughed when the people in the encampment near us whipped out a large movie screen and set it up so that it blocked their view of the ocean and sunset. They had a bonfire going but turned away from it in favor of the technicolor fireentertainment. A family with young children. Why wouldn’t they want to use a chance like that to talk with each other? We laughed at a lot of things that night. I didn’t hear laughter coming from the movie encampment.

It’s getting harder to get away from it all when everything can be carried in a cell phone. Maybe some things have been gained with more and more technology to entertain us, but what have we lost?

What are we losing when we continue to block out the sky, the stars, and the sound of the waves?

beach sunset

World Oceans Day

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World Oceans Day is coming up this Saturday, June 8. We’ve all heard of Earth Day, but this is the first year I’ve heard of World Oceans Day. On some calendars, today is also World Environment Day.

What does it all mean? Will naming certain days after the environment make it all better? Well, let’s hope so.

I remember feeling skeptical when Earth Day first came around, but it’s definitely a good thing whenever gangs of people descend on the beach to pick up trash for the day. Really though, we need to make every day Earth/Ocean Day.

The ocean is facing overwhelming problems these days. Here are just a few off the top of my head: ocean acidification, oil spills, coral bleaching, bottom trawling, miles of fishing nets that catch ocean life like whales, dolphins, and sea turtles, all leading to a major depletion of ocean life.

I like the idea of one Earth, one ocean. We all know by now that everything is connected. But do we really understand what that means? It means that everything we do makes a difference. Whether we leave a tiny piece of plastic on the beach or decide to pick it up, whether we use fertilizers and insecticides or organic gardening methods, it all makes a difference.

Let’s celebrate nature, the ocean, and this one world today and every day. For more information on what we can do to help the ocean and ocean life, click here.

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Sea Turtle Rescues and Spring Break Road Trips

sea turtleA record 242 sea turtles were rescued from the icy waters around Cape Cod this winter and most have now been released into the warmer ocean waters around Florida.

Sea turtles are susceptible to hypothermia and can strand on Cape Cod beaches during the fall and winter. Volunteers from the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary at Wellfleet Bay walk the beaches, find the cold-stunned turtles, and transport them to the New England Aquarium Animal Care Center near Boston. In an average year, about 70 juvenile, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles are taken in, according to the New England Aquarium website. This past season’s total of 242 was the largest yet recorded.

Aquarium facilities all along the Northeast coast made room for the sea turtles. Then this spring, once the turtles were warmed and revitalized, the road trips to Florida began. Volunteers picked the sea turtles up and drove them to the Florida beaches.

I wonder what the sea turtles were thinking during those road trips. After suffering through the Cape Cod winter season, I’m sure they must have been looking forward to swimming in warmer ocean waters and soaking up the sun.

Click here for sea turtle Spring Break photos showing one of the releases in Florida.

Sea turtles are one of the Earth’s most ancient animals. The seven species that can be found today have been around for about 110 million years, since the time of the dinosaurs. By comparison, modern humans have only been around for a fraction of that time – about 200 thousand years.

Unlike other turtles, sea turtles can’t retract their legs and head into their shells.

Sea turtles play a part in my novel, Ocean Echoes, which will hopefully be published someday (I know, I keep saying that).

Ocean Victories

ocean

The ocean rejuvenates, inspires, and restores us. It gives us so much, but any ocean-related news is too often depressing. One of the reasons I love the nonprofit group Oceana is that it does something about the depressing news. Members receive notifications of petitions to sign and the group works with lawyers and politicians to create real environmental change. So for some good news, here are a few ocean victories that came about this year:

1. Nearly 40,000 people signed an Oceana petition asking Alibaba.com to stop selling leather products made from manta rays. The company listened and the products were removed from the website.

2. The first permanent safe haven in continental U.S. waters for the endangered Pacific leatherback turtle was established when the government designated about 42,000 square miles off the West Coast as critical habitat.

3. The European Parliament approved a ban on shark finning. The EU is the world’s largest exporter of shark fins to Hong Kong and China. This new rule is a step toward the protection and conservation of sharks around the world.

4. New laws passed by the Chilean senate will close all of Chile’s 118 seamounts to bottom trawling, impose science-based fishing quotas, and improve monitoring on Chilean fishing vessels to drastically reduce untargeted catch or bycatch.

5. Responding to petitions filed by Oceana, the government announced that it will consider the West Coast population of great white sharks for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act by June 2013. This unique population of sharks may only have a few hundred adults remaining.

Have We Progressed and Is Progress Worth It?

Novel themes are fun because they’re subtle. It’s possible to read a book without realizing what the theme is even though it’s usually there, lurking in the background.

Ironically, the theme of the novel it’s taken me more than a year to revise is progress. I think about progress a lot.

Have we, as humans, progressed? There’s no doubt we have. But sometimes it seems as if for every step forward, we take at least another step back. We have time saving devices like computers and washing machines, but they cause pollution and disposal problems. Cars and highways were once seen as signs of progress over horses and dirt roads. Now traffic jams slow any progress down.

Electricity was another sign of progress. Yet we still create most of our electricity by burning fossil fuels. Now we’re looking toward using alternative energy sources. Any meaningful progress seems too slow.

Throughout history, most of our progress has come at the expense of nature. Nature does have a way of fighting back though. Sometimes I can’t help but think this would be progress of a different kind:

nature, progress

Maybe progress shouldn’t be measured by technology and inventions, but by how we treat each other. When looked at that way, there have been huge strides since the 1950s when segregation ruled the South and a woman’s place was in the home (and only the home). So while we keep taking steps forward and back, hopefully we’ll continue to take a few leaps ahead every once in a while. Sometimes we don’t even realize progress is happening until we look back and say, “Wow, everything is different. How did that happen?”

What are your thoughts on progress? Is progress worth it?

Still Dreaming

I grew up dreaming of the possibility of a better world. My mom worked on John F. Kennedy’s campaign as a teenager. I wasn’t born yet when Kennedy was shot, but the thought of it brings tears to my eyes.

At a time when others turned inward, my mom went on dreaming. Years ago, when plans came up to build a sewage tunnel from Boston to Cape Cod Bay, we went to the beaches and collected signatures against it. The sewage tunnel didn’t make sense to us. Why spend $3.58 billion constructing a tunnel to dump partially treated sewage farther away when that money could be spent fully treating the sewage in Boston Harbor? The tunnel would point toward Stellwagen Bank, a feeding ground for endangered whales. Even though the Cape Cod group that rose up against it gathered thousands of signatures, the tunnel was constructed.

There were so many people against it. We thought for sure we would stop it. My mom went on to fight more environmental battles, but I gave up on politics after that. I started writing articles for newspapers and magazines, hoping that every once in a while, one might make a difference. I have no idea if any of them did.

I’m still dreaming. My novel, Ocean Echoes, centers on the ocean and characters who try to make a difference. More than anything else, I hope it’s a fun adventure story. When it’s published, a percentage of any profit will go toward organizations working to protect the world’s oceans for future generations. I know groups like Oceana and The Ocean Conservancy make a difference. By supporting them, maybe I can make a difference too.

“Our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.” – John F. Kennedy

Are you a dreamer? What do you dream of?

There Won’t Always Be More Fish In the Sea

Imagine that. Everyone is so used to hearing the opposite that it may be hard to believe such a thing could ever be possible.

A recent Newsweek article states that the ocean has changed more in the last 30 years than in all of human history beforehand. In most places, the seas have lost upwards of 75 percent of their large animals such as whales, dolphins, sharks, rays, and turtles.

An adult female bottlenose dolphin with her yo...

An adult female bottlenose dolphin with her young, Moray Firth, Scotland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atlantic cod, Cape Cod’s namesake, were once plentiful in the North Atlantic. They’ve declined by about 95 percent and are now labled as vulnerable on the threatened species list. Bluefin tuna are also at critically low levels. The Newsweek article by Callum Roberts (excerpted from his book The Ocean of Life), illustrates the decline with a series of photographs taken by a Key West recreational fishing company. The first one from the 1950s shows people dwarfed and surrounded by huge grouper and shark catches. The average catch was 44 lbs. By the 1980s, the fish are noticeably smaller. Groupers and sharks give way to snappers and the average catch is 20 lbs. In 2007, the average catch was 5 lbs. and the size of Key West’s fish had decreased by 88 percent.

Overfishing is only part of the problem. The oceans have absorbed about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide released by human activity since pre-industrial times. If carbon-dioxide emissions continue at the same levels, ocean acidity is expected to rise 150 percent by 2050. Fertilizer and sewage runoff, along with rising temperatures, have created dead zones or low-oxygen areas where few species can survive. Predictions are that by 2050 there may be no more fish left in the sea. By then, the human population is expected to reach nine billion.

A World Bank report determined major fish stocks would produce 40 percent more if we fished them less. By eating large predators like swordfish or tuna, we disrupt the ocean food chain. These predators also contain more toxins and take longer to mature.

According to the nonprofit group Oceana, destructive fishing practices like bottom trawling waste more than 16 billion pounds of fish while obliterating ocean habitats like coral reefs and seamounts that can take decades or centuries to recover. Trawlers annually scrape close to six million square miles of ocean floor. Shrimp trawls are the worst for unintentional catch or bycatch. Trawlers are used to catch shrimp, cod, haddock, flounder and rockfish. Dredges are used to catch scallops and clams.

To see a list of 10 things people can do about these things, click here.

Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”  – William James

For Earth Day, Think of the Ocean

During the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup volunteers collected more than NINE MILLION POUNDS of trash (9,184,427) along 20,000 miles of coastlines. While at first this might sound like a good news, it’s also very sad that it’s even possible to collect that much trash from the ocean.

For this Earth Day and every day, we need to make sure to care more for the ocean and all the lives that call it home. Whether trash is left on the beach or the ocean coughs it up, seeing it there is at least an opportunity to pick it up and get it out of circulation before it does more damage.

According to data recently released by the Ocean Conservancy, within the nine million pounds of trash collected, the top ten items found were cigarette butts, plastic caps or lids, plastic bottles, plastic bags, food wrappers or containers, plastic utensils, glass bottles, straws or stirrers, cans, and paper bags. Most of these things (including cigarette butts) are not biodegradable. Sea life and birds often choke on or become entangled in plastic trash. One of the most heartbreaking pictures I’ve seen was of a bird cut open after it died. The bird’s body was completely filled with little plastic pieces.

A few more things Ocean Conservancy volunteers found:

  • Enough food packaging (940,277 pieces) to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the next 858 years.
  • Enough light bulbs (24,384 bulbs) to replace every light on the Eiffel Tower.
  • Enough beverage cans and glass beverage containers that, if recycled, would net $45,489.15.
  • Enough balloons (93,913) to provide one to every person expected to attend the 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship.

In the past 26 years of cleanups, volunteers have found:

  • Fifty-five million cigarettes butts, which if stacked vertically, would be as tall as 3,613 Empire State Buildings.
  • Enough glass and plastic bottles to provide every resident of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia a cold beverage on a hot summer day.
  • Enough appliances (125,156) to fill 37,434 single-axle dump trucks.
  • More than 870 thousand (870,935) diapers – enough to put one on every child born in the UK last year.
  • Enough plastic cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons to host a picnic for 2.15 million people.

While walking the beach, I’ve been surprised not only by the amount of deflated balloons to be found, but also those curly ribbons that are usually tied around presents. People must have lots of celebrations at the beach, but why not try celebrating the Earth and ocean by making sure not to leave those things behind? It’s easy to imagine the ribbons and balloons wreaking havoc with sea life and birds. I’ve also found lighters, sneakers (always just one sneaker at a time), a tire, plastic fishing nets, and of course, lots of little plastic pieces. Unfortunately, no messages in bottles. The messages are instead spread out all over the beach.

What are some strange things you’ve found while walking on the beach?

Related:
Ocean Conservancy Home Page
Oceana – Protecting the World’s Oceans
Project Kaisei: Capturing the Plastic Vortex

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Swimming through an Underwater World

Sun, sand, and surf lure us back to the beach each summer. Whether we decide to stretch out and luxuriate or build castles, we might not notice that the threshold to another world beckons right at our feet.

The waves, while hypnotizing us with sun sparkle, occasionally offer gifts: an abandoned home, an ancient creature. We examine these gifts or plunk them into our buckets and walk on without thinking too much about that underwater world or what’s lurking in its depths.

The ocean covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, yet 95 percent of it remains unexplored. In this otherworldly place that covers most of the planet, stars crawl on the ground. Fish fly through the watery skies. Lives more ancient and mysterious than ours climb its mountain ranges.

Even the commonplace can be extraordinary. Horseshoe crabs are living fossils that have remained virtually unchanged for 350 to 400 million years. For comparison, humans have been roaming the Earth for about 200,000 years.

Crabs communicate by drumming and waving their pincers. Scallops can swim by opening and closing their shells. Barnacles spend their lives standing on their heads and eating with their feet.

Snorkelers are surprised to see visitors from the tropics adding their bright colors to the grayer New England ones. In one tropical tank at a local aquarium, northern red and frilled anemone grow like trees from a rocky terrain. Their pink and orange stump-like bodies billow out into delicate tentacles. A flying gunard flaps its fins as a bird would, appearing to fly over these trees and through the water.

Striped searobins use their lower pectoral fins to walk along the seafloor while probing the bottom for food. With warty skin and a humped profile, lumpfish may be difficult to find since they often blend in with the rocky bottom area. Their pelvic fins form a suction disk, allowing them to cling to rocks and other seafloor objects.

Cold-water, eel-like fish called “ocean pout” are sluggish and often hide in holes with only their heads protruding to watch for intruders. Their wide mouths and fleshy lips form a permanent pout and may remind visitors of some people they know.

At fishing docks, harbor seals poke their heads up through the waves. They look like they’re examining us as much as we’re examining them.

Endangered North Atlantic right whales and humpback whales feed at nearby Stellwagen Bank. Defenders of Wildlife estimates that there are about 350 North Atlantic right whales left in the world.

Earlier this year, an unusually large mass stranding occurred on Cape Cod between mid-January and mid-February with 179 dolphins stranded, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). It was the largest single-species stranding event on record in the Northeast. Of the 179 stranded dolphins, 71 were found alive and 53 were successfully released by IFAW volunteers. By early March, the number of stranded dolphins for the year reached up to 190.

These days, marine animals are struggling to survive, whether it’s because of overfishing, accidentally getting caught in fishing nets, boat traffic or pollution. To them, the ocean isn’t a vacation place. It’s their only home.

Related:
International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
Oceana – Protecting the World’s Oceans
Defenders of Wildlife