Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Toxic pollution scandal from ships

Do you know what is the last virtually unregulated toxic pollution scandal in the US? Air pollution from big ships burning seriously dirty diesel fuel is causing 8,300 premature deaths in the US and Canada, and it's just now getting some regulatory attention.

If you live near a port in the state of Washington, then you breathe the most toxic are in the state. Worse than near a paper mill, a freeway, or an airport. Ugh. Air pollution from ships is a huge problem that needs a solution.

How lenient are the rules on big ships? According to the Seattle Times:

Unlike most diesel-powered vehicles, these ships have largely escaped regulation, partly because most are registered in other countries. As a result, large freighters often burn thick, syrupy oil filled with sulfur, a major contributor to toxic diesel soot. The fuel in these ships averages 27,000 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By comparison, diesel trucks must use fuel with only 15 ppm.

Due in part to this dirty fuel, neighborhoods around ports had the most toxic air in Washington state, according to a 2006 Seattle Times analysis.

To me, it's a scandal that we've had to tolerate this situation until now. Is it really ok to allow 8,300 premature deaths, caused by ship fuel that's 2000 times dirtier than truck diesel fuel?

Finally, some action. A new proposal before the International Maritime Organization will reduce (not solve) the problem. Thank goodness for some action, and it's about time.

Saving the oceans on land

More good oceans news from Congress and the President. Ocean health will be protected by actions on land, creating new Wilderness Areas and new Wild & Scenic Rivers.

How does this help the oceans? By keeping natural processes intact on land we help some ocean creatures directly (e.g. salmon) and others indirectly (e.g. because they eat salmon).

The river news comes from that fantastic group American Rivers:

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 designates 86 new Wild and Scenic Rivers, totaling over 1,100 miles in Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, California, and Massachusetts. The legislation includes important protections for 350,000 acres of land along the rivers and also contains new Wilderness designations for over two million acres of public land.

And the Wilderness news comes from The Wilderness Society:

Congress just passed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, the largest addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System in over a decade and one of the biggest public land conservation measures ever. It now goes to the president’s desk for signature. The Omnibus package rivals some of the greatest pieces of land protection legislation passed during the past fifty years.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lubchenco on saving our oceans

The new head of our top ocean agency, Jane Lubchenco, talks to NPR about her views on oceans.
Newly-confirmed to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Dr. Lubchenco will be in the news this year, I predict, with her support for addressing the human-caused CO2 increase that is creating the acid ocean scourge.

Listen for when she says blogfish has it right and ending overfishing is really, really important and sure to make people like you.

Yes we can save our oceans!

Today, President Obama signed a big omnibus bill that includes big steps forward in protecting and restoring our oceans. Here's what was signed:

Summary of Ocean Bills in the Omnibus Public Land Management Act:

The Ocean and Coastal Exploration and NOAA Act authorizes the National Ocean Exploration Program, National Undersea Research Program, and the Integrated Ocean and Coastal Mapping Program within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to increase scientific knowledge for the management, use and preservation of oceanic, coastal and Great Lake resources.

The Coastal and Ocean Observation System Act authorizes the establishment of an integrated system of coastal and ocean observations for the nation's coasts, oceans and Great Lakes.

The Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act authorizes a coordinated federal research program on ocean acidification.

The Coastal and Estuarine Land Protection Act authorizes funding for a program to protect important coastal and estuarine areas that have significant conservation, recreation, ecological, historical, aesthetic, or watershed protection values, and that are threatened by conversion to other uses.

Shark fin soup endangered

Younger asians are shunning shark fin soup, partly because of expense but also because of campaigns by environmentalists. Now it's shark fin soup that's endangered, and there's new hope for sharks.

According to SeafoodSource.com:

In Singapore, the Association of Chefs has pulled the soup from the menu at its recent annual dinner, which represents a major shift in attitude toward this traditional Chinese dish.

Singapore University students report that very few people would eat shark fins, partly because of the expense, but also because they're opposed to shark finning.

The British wildlife group Traffic says that with increasing access to information via the Internet, younger Asians are rejecting many of their parents' culinary traditions.
Shark catches are down in parts of the world that catch a lot of sharks, so maybe we're on the right track. But let's wait until the world economy improves and see if worldwide shark catches increase. Then we'll know if it's money or ethics that are saving sharks.

Stop by The Shark Alliance if you want the latest info from the world's experts on shark conservation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fish schools 25 miles long

How big can a school of fish be? Would you believe 25 miles long? A new study provides scientific evidence for massive schools of fish up to 25 miles long.

I remeber seeing schools of fish that seemed to be 25 miles long while steaming on a research vessel in the open ocean. I saw these massive schools at night when fish looked like fireworks, thanks to bioluminescence. The light flash was triggered by moving fish scared by the ship, and the spots of light went on forever and beyond. Steaming through schools visible as points of light seemed to go on for hour after hour, and I wondered how big could a single school be?

The other time I saw miraculous bioluminescence was from the R/V Melville which had an observation dome underwater at the ship's bow. When underway in seas with bioluminescent microbes, the impact of the clear panels in the observation dome made the microbes light up, creating an effect very similar to the star wars visuals when space ships went into hyperdrive.

image at right: blogfish and Chewbacca in the Melville observation dome underwater

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Where have the big fish gone?

Fishermen like to take pictures and show off their catch. Can that be turned into science? Yes, and the results are shocking. Where have all the big fish gone?

A study of fishing dock pictures from Key West shows a dramatic change in the last 50 years, the big fish are gone, G-O-N-E. No more big ones on the docks at Key West. In an interview, biologist Loren McClenachan talks about this research and what it all means.

Have we learned our lesson? I hope so. One reason the big fish are missing now is that fishery regulations protect some species like goliath grouper, and that's a good sign. Also, the protected areas near Key West are helping fish recover and helping me stay optimistic.

But I begin to wonder if we'll solve these problems when I see attempts to weaken federal law that requires sustainable fishing and other attempts to allow fishing to exceed scientific limits such as New England's war on science.

But then I get optimistic again when I see the people who buy fish taking a stand for responsible management and truly wise use of fish, including Gorton's in New England and Wal-Mart.

Regardless of our response to the loss of big fish, this story of loss is as American as John Prine. This song can tell you what happened (see YouTube video at the bottom of the post).

Key West 1957

Key West 1958

Key West 1965-79

Key West 1965-79

Key West 1980-85

Key West 1980-85

Key West 2007

Paradise John Prine

Friday, March 27, 2009

It's not good bye, just see you later

Dear blogfish people,

I have not been eaten by mechanical sharks. No, I have simply been changing jobs, moving about, and learning the magic of HTML. By which I mean, hiring people who know about HTML to help me set up my new blog The Coastal Shelf. Some of these tech people will even accept drawings of diatoms as barter (especially if they are drawn on cocktail napkins, placed under drinks). Stop by and visit my posts on ocean science and policy. It's going to be a big year for the oceans, and they need all the bloggers they can get. Especially now that their fish are all hopped up on drugs.


Note from Mark: I'm going to miss you, Kate. Please note that blogfish will continue as a one-man-band (again)!

Shark attack

The last time I got in the water, I was in for a rude surprise. It happened in Madison Bay, I was minding my own business during my Swim Around Bainbridge Island, and I saw the scary vision of a big shark approaching with it's mouth open (left).

Before I knew what was happening, the big shark was biting my leg (right). Fortunately, it turned out to be a shark on a leash, and I was able to get away with only a scratch.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Society for the Appreciation of the Lowly Tinned Sardine (SALTS)

I love sardines, and I've got to appreciate anyone who loves sardines enough to form the Society for the Appreciation of the Lowly Tinned Sardine (SALT). Not only that, but they blog about it.

Who are these people? They surely know what they're talking about. In these days of fancy fish costing $30 per pound, there's a lot to be said for people who can find pleasure in a fish that many people will walk right by in the grocery.

Stop by their sardine blog and wander with them through the many different cans of sardines they find, open, sample, describe, and show in pictures, along with a veritable cornucopia of things like wine and cheese to enjoy with sardines.

Canned fish has been too little celebrated lately, here's a photo of my favorite "everyday" salmon. That's the salmon I always keep on hand to pop open when I feel like having some salmon. It's brought to you by Seattle's own Trident Seafoods.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Extremely cute baby fish picture

You know those giant worlds-largest fish called whale sharks? Adult whale sharks can be as large as 40 feet long and 25,000 pounds. Well here's a photo of a baby whale shark that's about 15 inches long, isn't it too cute for words?

For contrast, here's a photo of an adult whale shark next to a diver (below).

Thanks to shark conservationist extraordinare Sonja Fordham for the link to the baby whale shark photo!

Climate fix experiment goes bust

Fertilizing the ocean to suck up CO2 failed in a recent experiment. The idea was to dump iron in the ocean, fertilize plankton growth, and sequester CO2 to lower atmospheric CO2.

The experiment showed that fertilizing ocean algae growth did a great job of feeding things that eat ocean algae--tiny animals called zooplankton. It was a nice job of creating an all-you-can-eat ocean buffet.

I'm not a big fan of geoengineering, but climate fix experiments are probably necessary in this world of rising CO2. The fact that the experiment failed allows smarter debates about future geoengineering schemes. Instead of only waving our hands, we can actually look at scientific experiments on the question of using iron to lower CO2.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dirtberg in Lake Washington

Ever heard of a dirtberg? Neither had I until I read View From the Canoe this week.

A dirtberg (photo at left) is just what it sounds like, a floating island of dirt, Like an iceberg, the visible part of a dirtberg is a small fraction of the total mass, creating a navigation hazard and a really interesting thing to look at. Quoting View From the Canoe:

Every once in a while, a big piece of bogstuff breaks off and drifts around in the lake. It's marked with a bright buoy, which is a good idea because the above water area is about 20 x 15 feet and just like an iceberg, most of the dirtberg is below water.
You should stop by View From the Canoe. This fine blog describes one man's wanderings in a canoe in Seattle's waterways, and what he finds. As canoeist Scott Schuldt describes it:

I paddle a 16 foot royalex Old Town Penobscot. It is a jack-of-all-trades canoe, small enough for one, big enough for two, light enough to portage, tough enough to drop, moderately fast, and moderately stable. Compared to a sea kayak, it makes a very good garbage truck. I shoot with a Canon S-80 camera that is kept in a waterproof plastic case when not in use. All photos in this blog are taken from inside the canoe on the day of the new posting. I post only after canoeing. I have no idea where this is all going.
Image and sighting of the dirtberg thanks to View From the Canoe

Tanker spills 11 million gallons of oil

Twenty years ago, the Exxon Valdez crashed and spilled lots of oil, and the world was forever changed.

The ecosystems remain affected, although the biggest effects are over. The world was outraged and demanded action--what did we get?

Are we safer from oil pollution than 20 years ago?

Most people don't know that routine ship operations leak more oil into our oceans than spills. And we're making little progress in solving that problem.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

New England's war on science

Fishing interests in New England have convinced politicians to launch a new war on science and common sense. They want to keep catching fish faster than they can reproduce.

New England's war on science might be dismissed as simple regional protectionism if it didn't include Senators Kennedy, Kerry, Snowe, Collins, Reed, Whitehouse and Shaheen. That's not just a few fishermen throwing elbows. Or is it?

With this list of Democrats and Republicans involved, it's interesting to note that New England's war on science is not a partisan issue. And a quick look at the record shows this war isn't new. The Seattle Times reported on this during Kerry's presidential campaign as a conflict between Kerry's good environmental record and efforts by the region's politicians to protect some small fishing fleets with some surprising political clout.

The science involved in this dispute has been reviewed, and reviewed, and reviewed. These reviews include one by the National Academy of Sciences in 1998, a series of reviews by a specially appointed team, including one in 2002, and one in 2008, and a review by the Inspector General's office in the Department of Commerce, designed to answer questions raisedby New England senators. In fact, this science may be some of the most intensely scrutinized science on earth. And every time it's been judged to be sound. So the science is beyond dispute. Why the problem? Because the science is inconvenient in saying that fishermen are killing too many fish.

In case you're a glutton for punishment (like me) in reading the history of the overfishing follies, check out this brief history of how we got into this colossal mess from the Conservation Law Foundation.

We know how the overfishing story ends, and it's not good. For just one painful example, we can look at Newfoundland and the collapsed cod fishery that still hasn't recovered 17 years later.

The Gloucester Times, that bastion of common sense, even goes so far as to put quotation marks around the word "overfishing." The science behind overfishing is simple, straighforward, and widely accepted, but in Gloucester there are still doubts. They're probably still buying subprime mortgages in Gloucester too.

Elsewhere, e.g. Alaska, the fishing industry is thriving under the federal law that requires fishing according to science-based limits. Here's a press release from an industry association in Alaska praising managers for following scientific advice and cutting fishing limits. So what's wrong in New England? New England fishermen are the victims of their own success. They've successfully fought responsible managment for so long that it's become a heritage. Whatever happened to Yankee thrift?

Fancy fish trade booming in Iraq

Wanna know how things are going in Iraq? Ask around about sales of pet fish.

According to the LA Times:
Fish shop owner Qassam Amiri looks at his tanks of orange, blue, and yellow species - with names like lionhead, red cub, and baby face. In the past six months, he has witnessed a steady climb in business. Some Iraqis will pay as much as $100 or $200 per fish.
I guess this means things are getting better. People have more money to spend, and they're spending it on pets. Not just fish--birds, cats and even snakes are being snapped up, with Siamese cats fetching up to $1600 each.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Robo-fish to sniff out pollution

Check out the amazing robo-fish in the video below. They look and swim like real fish.

As part of the European SHOAL project (clever name, yes?), the robo-fish that sniff out pollution will be released off Spain. The reason for using robo fish is that fish swimming is very efficient so batteries can last longer. The robo fish will swim around and look for problems, and then report back to the mother ship.

Friday, March 20, 2009

News flash: science to guide policy

The newly-confirmed head of NOAA, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, has announced that science will guide policy on oceans, climate and other issues in front of her agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The most shocking news coming out of this announcement is that it's news. Since when is science not a useful guide to policy on such matters? Science helps us understand the viable range of options, the world of the possible. When we step outside the world of the possible, we're in trouble.

The alternative to having science guide policy is to rely on other ways of peering into the future, like relying on the fellow at left. No doubt he's a fine fellow, but I wonder if his policy advice is reliable?

Dr. Lubchenco was running into opposition from some New England fishing interests and politicians, based on the view that she's anti-fishing because she supports an end to overfishing. Come on New Englanders, join the 20th century now that we're all in the 21st century.

New England fishermen and their supportive politicians would prefer to continue overfishing groundfish, because it's too costly to stop. There are few things that will get me so outraged as support for overfishing as though that will somehow help fishermen. Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden egg.

This is all couched in support or opposition to the "interim rule" in New England which is all about ending overfishing and rebuilding groundfish.

Please note that it's not a partisan issue, Democrats as well as Republicans in New England are supporting overfishing, thanks to the sage advice of the fellow on the left. Ugh.

Dr. Lubchenco's confirmation is great news for oceans. Now, about that New England problem...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Wild fish vs. farmed fish

Time for a battle royal, a smackdown over who's the real sustainable source of fish, fishing or fish farms.

Right now, fishing has the moral high ground with stories on contamination in farmed fish and ocean harm from fish farms. But aquaculture is making a strong push with economic clout and improving technology, and the acccurate pitch that the world needs farmed fish.

Now a fish farming business is making a run at the moral high ground of sustainability, with a striking new argument that actually rings true to me.

Does fishing really have less impact on oceans than fish farming? Many ocean people make this claim, often in a blanket way as though fish farming is always bad. From my perspective, badly-managed fishing is clearly worse than a good fish farm. And, I think for good fish farms and good fishing it's not clear which is worse for the ocean.

One point rarely raised is that fish caught in the wild are eating a lot of forage and may have more ecological impact on forage fish than capture for fish farming. I know some will say "that's ok, because it's natural impact" but that argument doesn't sway me.

Kona Blue, purveyors of sustainable farmed fish, want you to think about these questions. According to The Earth Times, they've just released a new report that includes some provocative claims about how farmed fish are often much more sustainable than wild fish. I'm trying to track down the original report for you, and I'll offer more when I've had a chance to dig in. Stay tuned, this issue is going to grow in importance.

Here's Kona Blue, quoted in The Earth Times.

“If we examine the true environmental cost of wild-caught predatory fish -- such as swordfish or tuna -- we find sustainably maricultured fish have some 60 times less impact on fish stocks at the base of the food chain, such as sardines and anchovies,” said Neil Anthony Sims, President of Kona Blue. The leading offshore mariculture operation in the U.S., Kona Blue raises sashimi-grade Kona Kampachi®, a Hawaiian yellowtail, off the coast of Hawaii.

“What would ocean-conscious consumers rather have on their plates?” asked Sims. “One pound of Kona Kampachi®, or one sixtieth of a pound of tuna? The impact on the oceans is about the same.”

Sims bases this estimate on three primary considerations. First, aquaculture is continually moving towards sustainable substitutes in farmed fish diets to lessen reliance on fishmeal and fish oil. Kona Blue’s current feed formulation includes only 35% fishmeal/fish oil from wild baitfish, of which approximately 3% is from capture fishery by-product. Contrary to outdated ratios of 5:1 or higher quoted by some environmental groups, the current ratio of “wild fish in to farmed fish out” has fallen to approximately 1.5:1 (1.5 lbs. of anchovies producing 1 lb. of sashimi-grade farmed fish).

By contrast, wild fish are subject to the laws of trophic transfer, where only 10% of their prey’s food value is transferred up each step of the food chain. “If a tuna eats a mackerel that earlier ate an anchovy, then there are two trophic steps, compounding the costs,” said Sims. “A tuna may therefore need to eat the equivalent of 100 pounds of baitfish to increase its weight by one pound.” As the fishmeal/fish oil for farmed fish feed involves only one efficient step, trophic transfer loss is minimized.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

New blog on the block

The most insteresting ocean blog to come along in a while is just starting over at Oceans 4Ever. Why so interesting? Because it's the creation of 9 year old Alexa (right). She's a force, and I predict she'll do well.

Working together with her mom Cindy, who is a national magazine journalist and is "pretty good at taking direction from her daughter," they've already won me over.

They have a unique approach, exemplified by their contests and giveaways. They're starting with this plush beluga whale, which you can have a chance to win just by entering your very own email subscription to Oceans 4Ever. They'll have contests every Monday.

I don't know how, but they persuaded me to contribute to a new feature of theirs set to debut very soon. Keep checking their site if you want to find out what disclosures they've wrung out of me.

Hope for the world's tuna

Good news, a new partnership between big tuna companies, scientists, and conservationists is seeking to improve the plight of the world's tuna.

They've formed the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation, and this is a big deal that I think will make a big difference in helping to improve tuna sustainability.

This group has the world's heavyweights in canned tuna, Bumblebee, Starkist, and Chicken of the Sea. When they talk, the world's tuna fishermen listen.

It's a good day for the world's tuna.

Boston seafood show 4

Bye Boston. How charming to leave downtown in a water taxi that gets to the airport cheaper than a car taxi.

I rode Alaska flight 15, loaded with Seafood show people. I sat ina middle seat between a person from Trident Seafoods and a person from Icicle Seafoods, two of the really big northwest seafood businesses with more than a $1 billion per year in combined seafood sales (according to Seafood Business Magazine).

That pretty much tells the story of the seafood show. Can a conservation group find common cause with big seafood businesses? I think so. They didn't try to throw me off the plane.

We had a meeting today that proves the point. It was a group of shrimpers from the Guf of Mexico, shrimp buyers, and fish conservation NGOs, all of us working together on finding ways to improve the shrimp fishery. Improve the business of catching and selling shrimp while also lowering the environmental impact of shrimping. And there were no big arguments, we have shared goals and we're pretty much agreeing on the steps we're going to take together to move in the right direction.

Bye, Boston, see you next year.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Boston seafood show 3

Day 2 of the Boston Seafood Show, and my stamina is wearing out. Meetings, meetings, and new people to meet and talk to about fish and seafood and conservation.

Is there a recession? You woudn't know from the size and grandeur of some of the seafood displays here. Maybe it's whisting through the graveyard, but there seems to be plenty of money being spent to sell seafood.

Sustainability is everywhere, in word if not in deed. People promise they have sustainable products, and that's a good sign. It's no longer difficult to get seafood business people to talk about sustainability. Now comes the hard part, making all those promises real.

One issue that is looming bigger and bigger in my mind is illegal, unreported, and unmanaged fishing (IUU fishing). It will matter more and more, and efforts to stop it are going to change the seafood business.

I think currents will come together to make seafood safer, better, and more transparent, so that people will know what they're eating when they eat seafood. Seafood fraud has got to end, and the industry seems aware and active on this serious problem. It will help sustainability as well, by allowing people to know what they're buying.

Now for some sights and sounds and tastes. First, the shrimpster, a custom motorcycle that mimics a--you guessed it--shrimp:

Then there's the polar bear booth:

The vulnerable species booth:

And finaly, Boston Harbor, where blogfish was drawn for a bit of rest. It looks peaceful and it's nice to know that the cleanup project is helping what was once one of the most polluted places in the US.

Hopefully tomorrow I'll get to take a water taxi to the airport on my way home. I love the water taxis and they're cheaper than a taxi with wheels.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Boston seafood show 2

I just rolled into my hotel at midnight, after a full (FULL) day of meetings and events. Here's a photo showing just a small part of the display areas, where you can find someone selling just about anything that swims. How would you like your kampachi?

photo: a small part of the seafood displays at the Boston Seafood Show

I did my part, talking about how to fix problem fisheries. Then the whirlwind began with a cocktail party, dinner, and a desert party. Meetings and discussions with drinks and seafood, reay getting down to shared goals and agendas. I truly coudn't believe it I walked out of the fancy desert party at 11:35pm. The ice cream was out of this world, to say nothing of the dinner at the sushi restaurant. Can you spell t-o-r-o? Am I excommunicated yet?

Attending this meeting is a trip for a conservationist, because the focus is on fish as seafood, not fish as part of an ocean ecosystem. Is there a place for seafood in our future oceans? I think so, and so does this crowd. Can environmentalists buy in to the concept? We'll see.

A couple of lessons. Farmed fish is more and more important, and conservationsits are going to have to figure out how to live with farmed fish. International perspectives are essential, because fish are shipped across jurisdictional boundaries and it's no good to think about what happens in one country in isolation. Finally, seafood is yummy, and our solutions have to bear that in mind...just say no to seafood is a tough sell.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Boston Seafood Show

I'm excited to be heading to Boston today for the annual Boston Seafood Show. I'm on a panel tomorrow, discussing how to fix unsustainable fisheries. The panel deals with the larger topic of illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing, and "red list" fish. Red list includes the IUCN global red list of endangered fish and red lists of unsustainable seafood.

I guess I should figure out what I'm going to say. I have some ideas, and 6 hours on 2 airplanes today with an layover in Chicago. That should be enough time. Any suggestions? No kidding, I'll listen if you post suggestions in the comments here.

I'll explain my work and the broader issues as I see them. Then I'll duck the flying rotten tomatoes and fish.

I'll do my best to blog the show, hope I'm not too busy eating seafood.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Pirates protect fish accidentally?

Piracy is bad. Even if it accidentally allows fish to recover. Conservation advocates should not say anything positive about pirates. But it seems like someone did.

According to the VOANews.com:

A U.S.-based marine conservationist, Joni Lawrence, says by denying fishing vessels access to rich hunting grounds in the Indian Ocean, the pirates could be doing the world a favor.
Yeah, and World War II helped fish stocks recover too.

Man imitates seabird, dives on fish from helicopter

Matt Watson calls himself the gannet man--he dives from the sky (out of a helicopter) and lands on top of a big marlin in the water, grabs ahold of the fish and hangs on. Unbelievable. This is extreme fishing at its most extreme.

You have to see it to believe it

...but even after you see it, you still won't believe it...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Does the Endangered Species Act work?

The gray wolf is no longer endangered in most of the US. This is the decision of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, in removing the wolf from the endangered species list.

Much has been said about the "failure" of the US Endangered Species Act, primarily by critics who think the ESA creates too many problems for landowners and resource developers. One claim is that the ESA is a failure because few species ever come off the list.

Well, an iconic species just came off the list, thanks to a very large, important and controversial recovery program. Gray wolves have recovered and they're off the endangered list. Hooray! Quoting from new Interior Secretary Ken Salazar:
“The recovery of the gray wolf throughout significant portions of its historic range is one of the great success stories of the Endangered Species Act.”
But wait. Another group of critics from the other side say the ESA doesn't work, because agencies stop short of full recovery and take species off the list too quickly.

The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife , and other environmental groups will sue to prevent delisting of the gray wolf. These groups and others believe that gray wolves are still endangered and still need the protection of the US government. They don't trust states to do the job.

I don't know enough about gray wolves to have an independent opinion on their status as endangered or not. But I am happy that the trend is in the right direction for gray wolves.

Gray wolves were in deep trouble in the 1970s. There were only a few hundred--all in northern Minnesota and one island in northern Michigan. Now there are several thousand spread over a much larger range, in the upper midwest and northern Rocky Mountains.

This is a success of the Endangered Species Act, and a testament to successful government action in achieving a difficult task. Critics on both sides have reason to complain, but we all have reason to cheer. Let the litigation go on, but meanwhile let's not forget to celebrate the (partial) recovery of the gray wolf!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Diver spears 12 foot tiger shark

This is a scary story. For me, it's unfortunate that a shark dies, but it is a gripping adventure (photo at right).

As a person who gets in the ocean a lot, I can't help but think about things like this now and then. Usually when a dark shadow catches my attention, swimming off to the side or behind me. I'm glad it's never turned out to be anything truly scary. Like the time a big grey shape swam under my surfboard, much larger than the board, but it turned out to be a dolphin. A moment of concern, but no big deal.

Two free divers (no scuba) were hunting tuna with spearguns. A shark came along, a BIG tiger shark. Big tiger sharks can be dangerous. These two are experienced, not easily frightened, and they felt like this animal was threatening.

So one diver speared the shark and a 2 hour struggle ensued. The shark died, and the divers survived unharmed.

Was it really necessary to kill the shark? Nobody will ever know, and the divers have the best standing to guess. I don't carry a speargun when I dive, and I wonder what would have happend if it were me?


Sea Sheperd, good or bad for oceans?

Is Sea Sheperd advancing the cause of ocean conservation?

I hesitate to wade into this argument, but here goes.

Over on Southern Fried Science there's been a debate about Sea Sheperd Conservation Society. A blogger there doesn't think Sea Sheperd helps conserve sharks. After reading a defense of Sea Sheperd in a guest post there, I posted a comment. Here it is, fyi, edited slightly to make sense by itself. Feel free to comment here or over on Southern Fried Science.

The heart of the matter is two linked questions: 1. Does Sea Sheperd advance or hinder the cause of ocean conservation. 2. Are the actions of Sea Shepard morally OK?

As an ocean conservationist, I think Sea Sheperd hinders my cause. They alienate many people who are otherwise supportive. And the actions are not morally OK because they rely on a basis of perceived moral superiority over Sea Sheperd’s opponents.

Sea Sheperd exemplifies a certain type of activity that feels good but lacks substance. That type of activity is allowing oneself to feel morally superior to one’s opponent in an argument, and then using that feeling of superiority to justify almost anything. How many arguments are really so simple and black and white that it’s ok to feel morally superior to one’s opponent? Precious few.

But Sea Sheperd is attractive because it’s always rewarding to shout and scream and rage and act up about whatever one believes. It’s rewarding and reinforces feelings of superiority. It feels good, and masquerades as action.

Meanwhile, in the real world of making change, Sea Sheperd’s actions have created polarization and made actual conservation progress more difficult. Actual conservation progress involves hard work. It involves finding shared values and workable solutions to a dilema. Few people who are harming ocean ecosystems actually want to cause harm. They usually have reasons for doing what they’re doing, and they’re not simply bad reasons like greed.

Sea Sheperd perpetuates a cowboy movie view of the world, find the black hat bad guys and take matters into your own hands to “take care” of the bad guys. That’s a comforting view of the world, but it’s way too simplistic to be viable.

And...I think ocean conservationists have an obligation to speak out against so-called conservationists who are doing negative things. That's why I'm wading in.

Please keep comments on topic and civil. Disagreement is great, so long as it doesn't degenerate into name-calling and other bad stuff. I'll remove objectionable comments.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Acid attack dissolves ocean plankton

Acid attack dissolves ocean plankton--sounds like an overly sensational tabloid headline, or the promo for a new horror flick. Sadly, it's a scientific article on the effects of increasing CO2 in the atmosphere, leading to increasing carbonic acid in the ocean.

Or rather, that should be what the scientists are saying. Instead, they're throwing around words like acidification and it's new, more understandable substitute, ocean osteoporosis.

When will we scientists get the picture about how we talk about this? Acidification? A six syllable word? Or it's replacement, osteoporosis? Another six syllable word? Come on people, let's learn to communicate.

Most of the news until recently has been about the threat posed by the ocean acid attack. The latest study finds shell weights have decreased for real plankton in the real ocean. As the foraminifera go, so goes the world. And they're going away.....

Help, we're dissolving.....

Will we hear them in time?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Junk food makes zebrafish sick

Here's proof that hamburgers are bad for you. Scientists used transparent zebrafish embryos to study the effects of a bad diet. Here is a picture of a zebrafish with a special red dye used to show blood vessel problems.

The red area is bad plaque in arteries, and the green area is growing bones. Note the culprit front and center, the tiny hamburgers that the zebrafish ate.

Fishing award to Cheney raises hackles

I thought Dick Cheney, as a lifelong fisherman and hunter, was popular with the hook and bullet crowd. But here's a rousing story that demonstrates that thinking sportsmen and women aren't that impressed with the former Vice President just because he carries a gun and uses it.

The story was broken by the venerable Ted Williams, after learning that the American Museum of Fly Fishing planned to honor Cheney by having him be the guest of honor at their annual meeting. With typically soft opinions, Williams reports his view on fishermen honoring the former Vice President:

applying green lipstick to this arch environmental villain, aptly dubbed 'Darth Vader' in fish and wildlife conservation circles, is outright whoring
Now the story has been picked up by the New York Daily News, MSNBC, and blogfish. Even Field & Stream magazine is showing rumbles of discontent based on this from their FlyTalk blog:

Dick Cheney, Guest of Honor at AMFF - Huh? If this is true, it is surely a sign that the apocalypse is upon us
It's nice to see this non-partisan outrage over the idea of a fishing group honoring Cheney, arguably the worst conservationist this nation has seen in some time. See, we can agree on some things. Cheney is responsible for serious environmental abuses thanks to a staggering combination of ignoring information and misusing power. I won't go into a litany, but you can find more details in the links on this page, or just google Cheney and environment. Here's just one nefarious example, Cheney's role in the infamous Klamath salmon dieoff.

BTW, it all started with this fairly innocuous little post by Ted Williams on his blog at Fly Rod & Reel online. Just goes to show what a little good blogging can do...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Cats can rot your brain

How would you feel if your brain was rotting away thanks to someone else's pet? Would you care if the pet was cute and cuddly, or would you just want the pet to go away?

This is a real problem, although mostly not for people. Sea otters are being killed by a parasite that causes a brain disease. It's Toxoplasma gondii and it's the reason pregnant women aren't supposed to change cat litter boxes.

Cats appear to shed the parasite eggs in their poop and freshewater runoff carries the eggs into the ocean where they infect and sometimes kill sea otters.

It'll be tough to save sea otters when they're competing with cats for love.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Is organic food safer?

Buying organic food does not ensure that the food is safe. It might be contaminated with--for example--salmonella. But organic food buyers expect more from organic food. What this means is that a safety problem with organic food probably undermines the value of organic food even more than safety issues affect non-organic food.

This is an important point for us advocates of sustainability. We're only addressing one of the qualities that make food "good" when we talk about sustainbility, and probably not one of the most important qualities in the minds of consumers.

If sustainable seafood turns out to be lousy seafood, then we have a BIG problem.

Seafood consumers want good seafood. That includes quality, reliability, safety, sustainability, and price-price-price. Single issue certifications have value, like the Marine Stewardship Council sustainability label. But I once heard a major seafood buyer complain: "I can buy MSC-certified seafood that is rotten, so what good is the MSC label?"

MSC is not about freshness, but the buyer has a good point. In fact, I think freshness problems are especially important for seafood that is supposed to carry a special value like sustainability.

So this turns into an open question...how can sustainability advocates unite sustainability with other issues like safety? If we don't have a good answer, then we may hit problems like the story below about organic peanut butter.

The New York Times story that prompted me to write this post tells a chilling tale about a consumer choosing safe peanut butter over organic peanut butter. It starts with a description of the food value of the contaminated peanut butter that's been much in the news recently:

The plants in Texas and Georgia that were sending out contaminated peanut butter and ground peanut products had something else besides rodent infestation, mold and bird droppings. They also had federal organic certification.
Has this problem affected buyers of organic food? Here's one personal story, again from the New York Times:

Meanwhile, consumers remain perplexed about which food to buy and which labels assure safer and better-tasting food.

Emily Wyckoff, who lives in Buffalo, buys local food and cooks from scratch as much as possible. Although she still buys organic milk and organic peanut butter for her three children, the organic label means less to her these days — especially when it comes to processed food in packages like crackers and cookies.

I want to care, but you have to draw the line,” she said.

But the line stops when it comes to basic food safety.

Recently, a sign near the Peter Pan and Skippy at her local grocery store declared that those brands were safe from peanut contamination. There was no similar sign near her regular organic brand.

“I bought the national brand,” she said. “Isn’t that funny?”
That's an "ouch" moment for organic food.

Darn those beluga whales

Darn those beluga whales says Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. They have the audacity to become endangered and interfere with the economic growth of the state of Alaska:

"I am especially concerned that an unnecessary federal listing and designation of critical habitat would do serious long-term damage to the vibrant economy of the Cook Inlet area," Palin wrote. "Hundreds of thousands of people who live in this area know that we are taking excellent care of the environment and habitat there."
Governor Palin also opposes the listing of Cook Inlet Beluga whales because she thinks the state is doing everything necessary to recover the whales, despite the ominous beluga decline in the last decade plus. Belugas now number 375, down from 653 in 1994.

Governor Palin is not alone in being irritated at the Belugas, former Senator Ted Stevens went so far as to call the listing “a deliberate targeting of an area vital to the Alaskan economy.”

Defenders of Wildlife has a different view, they think Cook Inlet Belugas deserve protection.

The New York Times opines against the latest action by Alaska's politicians, suing to overturn the endangered listing visited upon the state of Alaska by those environmentalists in the Bush administration.

I think belugas have a very clear problem, they should quit swimming in formation like in the picture above. It makes them too vulnerable to attack by rogue bowling balls. (Sorry, I couldn't resist, they look too much like bowling pins).

Thursday, March 05, 2009

OK, that's one funny looking weird fish

It's called an elephant fish, and it uses it's "trunk" to snorfle around on the bottom of the Congo River where the water is murky and fish can't see very far.

Check out the picture and ask yourself if you think elephant fish does the job as a name for this odd creature.

The fish was found on an expedition to the Congo River where fish separated by barriers such as waterfalls have gotten really strange. According to Miriam at Oyster's Garter: the leader of the expedition, fish biologist Melanie Stiassny, called their findings “evolution on steroids.”

Dolphin "safe" tuna

Dolphin "safe" tuna is an ecological disaster according to "WhySharksMatter." That's the nom de plume of a blogger interested in...guess what...sharks.

That's him over there on the right, next to the guy in blue.

He has a strong opinion on dolphin-safe tuna and he has a point. But there is also a point on the other side, and it's a good chance for a rousing debate.

Who's right depends on what you value more, dolphins or broader ocean ecosystem health. At least that's the way I see it. We could protect dolphins totally during tuna fishing only if we're willing to allow other animals like fish and sea turtles to suffer harm and become depleted (or further depleted).

Dolphin lovers might say that protecting dolphins from harm is more important than saving sea turtles or fish. How do we balance? There is no scientific answer to that question, it's about values.

Who's out there with an opinion? You can argue it here or over at the home waters of Why Sharks Matter.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A real mermaid (merman)?

You too can be a mermaid/merman whenever you want!

hat tip: Oceana

Crabby sex

I was minding my own business in a nearby public park when I saw something that caught my attention. A couple that was barely visible, very close together.

I happened to have my camera handy, and moved a bit closer.

They were almost entirely hidden beneath a cover, the male on top with only his face peeking out. The female was underneath, facing the male, even more hidden.

Here's a sequence of pictures as I deftly sneaked closer and closer.

Note the fantastic mood lighting, the shimmering waves of rainbow-colored light refracting off the nearby surface of Puget Sound, highlighting the lucky couple.

Shortly after taking picture 3 above, the couple burst out from under cover and started scurrying away from me. I followed, of course, as nonchalantly as possible under the circumstances, hiding behind my camera.

He managed to carry her heroically away, remaining in flagrante delicto (in the blazing misdeed) throughout. See more photos below.

Note the blurry image of the rapidly fleeing coupled couple in the top photo of this series of 3. The couple is in sharper focus in the lower 2 photos, they slowed down a bit and I got steadier. Note the crabby expressions on both of their faces, and the miraculous-seeming continuing embrace even as he carries her away.

At this point, you may be wondering if your intrepid voyeuristic reporter started feeling a bit bad and the answer is yes. I decided I'd seen and photographed enough and determined to stop where I was and let them be. They sidled off into a dark grassy area and I watched them go (and took just a few more pictures, see one more below as they escape into darkness).

Note: the color of these photos has not been altered at all. I boosted the contrast of a couple of them just a tiny bit.

Dungeness crab mating is fascinating and highly romantic. Pheremones in the female's urine attract males to interested females. Upon locating a female the male initiates a protective pre-mating embrace, abdomens touching, face to face. The embrace may last up to a week. Then, the female molts (sheds her hard shell) and signals her readiness by urinating on or near the male's antannae. Copulation ensues within an hour, and the embrace lasts for another couple of days.

The embrace may be protective of the female as her new shell hardens, and also prevent other males from mating.

The female stores the sperm until her eggs are mature several months later, and then the ripe eggs are fertilized by the stored sperm. She carries the fertilzed eggs attached to her abdomen for several more months until they hatch into free swimming larvae.