February 25, 2004

WWDD?  (What would Darwin do?)

What do you do when hungry fishermen want to pillage Charles Darwin's
favorite study site?  Galapagos fishermen are protesting against
environmental regulations.

Posted by Randy Olson at 05:14 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2004

Governor Schwarzenegger cuts the MLPA -- does it matter?

The two million dollars slated for implementation of the California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) was slashed from the state budget by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In some ways, solving many of the major problems of ocean conservation is often not that difficult. The ground fisheries off the California coast have collapsed over the past decade and are in desperate need of help. The solution is relatively simple: stop fishing the areas so hard and let them bounce back. And this is exactly what the State of California was prepared to do. The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) of 1999 mandated that the state create a network of marine reserves.

But now the plan looks like it will suffer a dose of benign neglect as the $2 million in the state budget slated for its implementation has been cut. It's not that anyone is going after the program to destroy it, only that according to the state's resources secretary, it is being delayed "for the foreseeable future."

The funding cut is very disconcerting for starters, but what's even more disappointing is the lack of public outcry. Does anyone in the state, beyond the people hired to care about such things, know or care about this abandonment of a major environmental issue?

Posted by Randy Olson at 10:34 AM | Comments (4)

Are white tip sharks about to go extinct in the Gulf of Mexico?

A new study by Julie Baum and Ram Myers suggests that white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico are now less than one percent of their abundance fifty years ago and on the brink of extinction.

Where have all the fishes gone? This is a question that seems to consume Dr. Ransom Myers. He's the Canadian marine biologist who was the lead author on last year's huge impact study on the cover of Nature that said, "There are less than 10% of the large fish remaining in the sea."
Now one of his graduate students, Julie Baum, has co-authored a paper with him titled, "Shifting Baselines and the decline of white tip sharks in the Gulf of Mexico." They conclude the population levels have fallen drastically to less than 1% of their original size. They point out it was possibly the most abundant shark species in the world 50 years ago, but harvesting for shark fin soup and entanglement in long line fishing has wiped them out.

And of course government scientists were quoted as saying, "don't trust the data." Seems to me the major source of information (bycatch statistics from the 50's and 90's) might be a little soft as an indicator, but I'm guessing that if there's an inaccuracy, it's probably that the stocks have only been reduced to 2% instead of 1%. Big deal. Wiped out is wiped out. They also mention anecdotal observations of how abundant the sharks were in the 50's, swarming around ships at sea, and how sparse they are today. How can you really argue with these sorts of findings?

Posted by Randy Olson at 10:24 AM | Comments (3)

Is the SB Action Kit effective?

The Shifting Baselines action kit contains the Blue Ocean Institute's Seafood Mini-guide, the coral reef lenticular postcard, a bunch of stickers, and a newsletter from The Ocean Conservancy. Is this good enough? Could it be better?

What can we tell all the people who want to know what they can do to save the oceans? People want to contribute, but what can they do that is really meaningful? We have been barraged by these sorts of questions from the start of this project. Some people even angrily say, "don't call my attention to a problem that you don't have an immediate solution for." Does that mean we should just keep quiet as ocean ecosystems collapse?

There is at least one very good, very general action for the general public to now take part in which is to work towards sustainable seafood choices. There are lots of programs now developing around this. The one we have become fond of is the Blue Ocean Institute's Seafood Miniguide which does a nice job of explaining why you should choose certain fish and avoid others.

But are there any other simple, effective and general activities like this that could be included in the SB Action Kit? Your suggestions are invited.

Posted by Randy Olson at 10:15 AM | Comments (1)