Earth Day, Every Day

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“A human being is a part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical illusion of his consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all of nature.” – Albert Einstein

I went for a walk along the ocean a few days ago. I’ll usually look for any trash to pick up along the way. Sometimes an entire trash bag can be filled. Too easily. This time, I could only find one bottle cap and a tiny ribbon from a balloon. That gives me hope.

How did you celebrate Earth Day? How will you celebrate it throughout the year?

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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.

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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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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

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