September 29, 2004

9/29 - Humphead Wrasse: A bad time for big things in the sea

If it's big, it's probably been reduced to less than 10% of its original abundance. In the case of the humphead wrasse, World Wildlife Fund and IUCN are asking that it be protected before it is eaten into extinction (kind of like the Nassau grouper).


Posted by Randy Olson at 06:08 AM | Comments (0)

September 28, 2004

9/28 - The Not-so-Mysterious Stranding of Marine Mammals

Seems like there used to be a lot of mystery around the stranding of marine mammals. Not so much any more. Drive them crazy with noise and what do you expect.

Thar she strands!

Posted by Randy Olson at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2004

9/27 - Paying for it all: The Ocean Policy Trust Fund

Part of the final recommendations of the U.S. Oceans Commission final report is the establishment of an Ocean Policy Trust Fund of $4 billion.

Posted by Randy Olson at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

9/27 - "Proteus": Behold the dancing Radiolarians!

I saw a rather fascinating film last week. 19th Century biologist German Ernst Haeckel, among his many accomplishments, described about 4000 species of radiolarians, the microscopic plankton animals with glass skeltons of mesmerizing intricacy. Filmmaker David Lebrun managed to choreograph about 700 of those images to an amazing music score by Yuval Ron that has a Phillip Glass-like starkness and force. In between the dancing radiolarian virtuosos is the biographical narrative of Haeckel interwoven with Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. The narrative part is kinda okay, but those dancing radiolarians, they'll stick with you for a long time. Check it out if it comes to your town.

Dancing Radiolarians: a bong hit is probably advisable.

Posted by Randy Olson at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

September 23, 2004

9/23 - Busted! Shark finners first to plead guilty under new law

Two crew members of a Japanese flagged fishing vessel in Guam pleaded guilty to shark finning in federal court Thursday. Their guilty pleas made them the first people arrested, charged, and convicted for criminal violations of the Lacey Act with underlying violations of the Shark Finning Prohibition Act in the United States since the shark finning ban was implemented in 2002.

Shark finning in Palau (one of the Finalist photos in our SB Photo

Posted by Randy Olson at 05:47 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2004

9/22 - Smithsonian: Shout loud, louder, we can't hear you.

What do you do when the public isn't aware of the severity of ocean problems? When you're the Smithsonian you find a new $60 million to build a bigger, louder, more uncut exhibit about the oceans, probably using the same old types of displays. Maybe even call in the Army Corps of Engineers to build something that's guaranteed to work.

The intentions are nice, but wouldn't it be better if they announced they were planning to use the funds to change the demographics and dynamics of ocean conservation rather than just using the same old techniques but bigger?

Posted by Randy Olson at 07:34 AM

September 21, 2004

9/21 - Who Deserves Your Vote? The ocean candidates, that's who

Last Friday I attended a fundraiser for California Senator Barbara Boxer as the guest of David Wilmot and Jack Sterne, the founders of Ocean Champions, the first Political Action Committee (PAC) for the oceans, who mean business. By donating to her re-election campaign they were given 15 minutes with her, one on one, to discuss some of the more immediate ocean issues in congress.

THIS is what politics is about. Figuring out ways to reach the members of congress to convince them that not enough is being done to protect the oceans. On the Ocean Champions website they list the 13 congressional candidates in the upcoming elections they are backing based on their support of the oceans. INTERESTINGLY, four of these candidates are Republicans. Once again, THIS is what politics is about. Check out their list.

Ocean conservation in the hizz-ous.

Posted by Randy Olson at 06:01 AM

9/21 - Today's the Day: U.S. Oceans Commission report land on desk of Prez

Well, actually it was yesterday....check it out.

The stories: SFGate, The Scientist, U.S. Newswire

The face of change for the oceans?

Posted by Randy Olson at 05:55 AM

September 20, 2004

9/20 - Caribbean Lobster Fishing Industry: How to cripple Nicaraguans

This is an excellent and distressing new article published on the website of SB partner group NRDC, about the $50 million Central American industry of lobster diving which compels divers to descend to 120 feet and lower in pursuit of the dwindling numbers of lobsters. And what do you think happens when you dangle the profit incentive in front of scuba diving lobster hunters?

From the article: "According to a 1999 World Bank report, "close to 100 percent of divers show symptoms of neurological damage -- presumably due to inadequate decompression." Over the past decade, local sources say, more than 800 of the 2,500 divers in Sandy Bay (a Honduran Miskito town north of Puerto Cabezas) have died or suffered serious injuries."

Bad mix: profit incentive and scuba diving

Posted by Randy Olson at 08:17 PM

9/20 - Ivan Beats up Reefs, Reef Check fights back with Reef Rescue 2004

The maelstrom that was Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc on sea grasses, coral reefs, and newly hatched sea turtles as the Naples News reports. But Reef Check invites you to come to the aid of coral reefs with their Reef Rescue 2004 event, September 30.

Use your brain coral.

Posted by Randy Olson at 06:51 AM

September 17, 2004

9/17 - Upcoming Daily Show Book: sadly, the cutting edge of mass communications in America

A lot of people have suggested to me, "You should get Jon Stewart involved in ocean conservation." I've already looked into it. Last spring I spoke with his manager about having him host our Hollywood Ocean Night. He said that Jon does not want to take part in anything that is politically partisan. I tried to say the event would be a straight-forward non-partisan look at the oceans. He replied, "it's about concern for the environment -- EVERYTHING to do with concern for the environment is partisan by definition." End of discussion.

Anyhow, over the past year we've converged on the subtitle of, "Bad News and Comedy for the Oceans," to describe what we're doing with Shifting Baselines. Rather than give a detailed justification for this, now you can just read the upcoming book by Jon Stewart in which he explains why they do what they do with their show (which was chosen as the top news show by tv critics this year). Here's a quote from an article about the book in USA Today in which Stewart explains the popularity of his satirical approach:

"It's more a sign of frustration with the information people are receiving than a sign of our entrepreneurial spirit of journalism. ...It's a '(expletive) you' to real news, not a 'hallelujah' for our fake news."

And by the way, if you think he doesn't really care about what's going on in the world, all you had to do was see his interview with Chris Matthews of Hardball last week. He definitely cares. He just also understands the hopelessness of the information explosion in our society.

Jon Stewart: showing he cares by pretending to not care

Posted by Randy Olson at 01:28 PM

September 16, 2004

9/16 - Alaska Controversy: Tony Knowles is getting seriously harassed in Alaska for being part of the Pew Ocean Commission

At first it seemed a little silly, but now the Bering Sea Fisherman's Association is lashing out against former governor Tony Knowles in his bid for a U.S. Senate seat. "Pew" seems to have become a dirty word in Alaska. In the meanwhile, the new political action group, Ocean Champions, is jumping into the thick of the issue and working on ways to help defend Knowles and the Pew Report.

Gettin' Real: the new political action group Ocean Champions looks to
play hardball for the oceans.

Posted by Randy Olson at 08:00 PM

9/16 - Fishing Free-for-all Coming in New Zealand

New Zealand is cutting its enforcement of fishing laws.


Posted by Randy Olson at 05:54 AM

9/16 - New Jersey Striped Bass Drama Continues

Nothing like threatening a major sport to get a state's senate to act.

Posted by Randy Olson at 05:44 AM

September 15, 2004

9/15 - Alaska: One place where your personal ocean politics may actually matter

Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is running radio ads criticizing former Governor Tony Knowles (who is running against her) for his support of the Pew Oceans Commission report last year. The Pew report called for the creation of marine reserves, which she's not real keen on.

Former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles: guilty of being concerned about
the state of the oceans.

Posted by Randy Olson at 08:12 AM

September 13, 2004

9/13 - Sliding Salmon: Remember that example in our slide show about Columbia River salmon?

In our original Shifting Baselines slide show, "Pristine?" we used the abundance of salmon in the Columbia River as an example of a slight upswing. Well, maybe we jinxed the salmon by talking about it.

"The recent 'upswing' in salmon returns is fading and was never as good as it was made out to be," said Pat Ford, executive director Save Our Wild Salmon. "Basing the new plan on the trends that we've seen for only the last few years will bring back the devastatingly low wild salmon numbers that we saw in the 1990s."


Telling figures, indeed.

Posted by Randy Olson at 08:31 PM

9/13 - Lagging Lobsters? Trouble in a Canadian fishery.

Lobsters are typically a fairly stable fishery, but around New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island there has been a 15 year decline that is now starting to hurt employment.


Snap, snap, good lobsters, aye?

Posted by Randy Olson at 07:02 AM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2004

9/10 - Shrinking Shrimpers: Feds recommend reducing Gulf shrimping fleet

Importation of shrimp to the U.S. increased 300 percent from 1997 to 2002. The Gulf of Mexico shrimping fleet is feeling the pinch. What to do? Feds say cut the fleet, shrimpers say, "tell the public our shrimp's better."

Bye-bye bycatchers?

Posted by Randy Olson at 02:24 AM | Comments (1)

9/10 - If it moves, harvest it: The endless scramble for seafood in Newfoundland

From salmon to cod to crab, it appears to be a downhill progression for
Newfoundland fishermen

"In Newfoundland, crab is king, with a landed value of $277 million last year. For fishermen like Tony Doyle, who used to rely on cod and salmon to make a living, it is the last hope. "They took the salmon licence away and then the cod closed," he says. There seem to be more unknowns than hard facts when it comes to crab, but one thing fishermen, scientists and conservationists agree on is that the resource is in decline.

Crab happy in Newfoundland?

Posted by Randy Olson at 02:20 AM | Comments (1)

September 09, 2004

9/9 - Oregon Fish Flap: Choosing between fish and families?

Here's an article that presents a fishery closure as the choice to save slimy fish at the cost of ruining families. As if the government has sold out to PETA and just wants to keep fish from being harmed. How about the choice to reduce fishing so there's something around for the next generation?

Happy Oregon family men

Posted by Randy Olson at 05:11 AM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2004

9/8 - Skeletons in the Haddock: the good and bad news for New England fishermen

Good news: there's lots of baby haddock being brought in by New England herring trawlers, suggesting the severely depleted fishery might be recovering somewhat. The bad news: how to wreck a fishery before it can recover -- catch all the babies.

Haddock: can't have adults without babies

Posted by Randy Olson at 05:29 AM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2004

9/7 - Steinbeck's Baseline from the Sea of Cortez: so shifted it's almost incomprehensible

How hard is it to not be a victim of "shifting baselines"? Ask the guys who re-enacted Steinbeck's cruise to the Sea of Cortez this spring. Here's an excerpt from the Seattle Times article about their journey.

"It wasn't until the end of this spring's trip that Jon Christensen, who helped organize the expedition and is writing a book about it, noted what he and his colleagues didn't see: turtles, sharks, giant manta rays. Without the benefit of Steinbeck's log or Ricketts' notes, he said, it wouldn't have occurred to him how empty the ocean had become."


Posted by Randy Olson at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

9/7 - Kon-Tiki Replica Voyage in 2005: Good thinking!

The original Kon-Tiki of 1947

Publicity stunts. That's what the oceans need right now. Seriously. Well thought-out and executed publicity stunts. We are dealing with a mass audience that is more numbed and distracted than ever before. Publicity stunts can break through this, even if only for a few short moments. Having run Shifting Baselines for almost two years I can attest that this is true. Most of the publicists I've worked with are just tired of the whole topic of ocean conservation and mostly now answer me with, "It's nice, but unless you can wrap it in a package that the general public finds interesting, you aren't going to find an audience."

Wouldn't want to let things devolve into a bunch of clown acts, but the publicists are mostly right.

So a group of Scandinavians have announced plans to build a replica of Thor Heyerdahl's balsa raft and sail from Peru to Tahiti, retracing the original voyage which sought to prove that parts of Polynesia might have been colonized by South Americans rather than Asian natives (though shown to be possible, few still believe it happened). Heyerdahl's grandson will be in the crew and along the way they will call attention to ocean decline.

What is perceptive of them is that they say, "People ask 'why don't you do this from a proper research ship?" Their answer is that they wouldn't get the same publicity for the research. Very smart. If only American ocean conservationists thought this clearly.

Posted by Randy Olson at 05:36 AM | Comments (1)

September 03, 2004

9/3 - Keepin' It Simple, Stoopid: Communicating with the mass audience of America about ... anything

It's pretty cynical, but all I can say is, "they said it, not me." In an article titled, "Of Campaigns and Breakfast Cereals," the New York Times tells about the long, sad, and effective history of not over-estimating the interest level of the American public when it comes to anything important and complicated.

Once again, another lesson for ocean conservation. The public just doesn't want to hear the details. According to one of Nixon's best speechwriters who helped reshaped campaign techniques that are still in use today, "Voters are basically lazy, basically uninterested in making an effort to understand what we're talking about."

I'm not sure I'd go that far, but ... well, maybe I would.

Typical ecstatic American voter.

Posted by Randy Olson at 09:25 AM | Comments (1)

September 02, 2004

9/2 - Zero Ocean Awareness: Welcome to U.S.C.!

Last week I spoke to 33 U.S.C. freshmen (whose career directions ranged from business to pre-law to journalism) about ocean conservation and gave them a little quiz to test the depth of their knowledge of ocean conservation, which turns out to be pretty much zippo. Asked to name three "ocean conservation groups," most left it blank, others offered up such enlightened answers as Red Lobster, Sonar, Save the Whales, and E.P.A. (three people). The only real conservation groups mentioned were Greenpeace (2) and WWF (1).

None were able to explain what MPA or MLPA meant (though one answered Motion Picture Association). Out of a list of five fish (halibut, mahi mahi, tilapia, Chilean seabass, wild caught Alaska salmon), 8 of 33 picked Chilean Seabass as the species least sustainable, which is slightly more than the 6.6 that you would predict from random choice. Most of them (18) chose wild caught Alaska salmon. When told that, "shrimp harvesting damages the oceans, but there are currently no major protests or boycotts underway against shrimp fishing. Knowing this, are you likely to stop eating shrimp today?" All 33 answered "no."

University of Skimpy Conservation (knowledge)

Posted by Randy Olson at 12:27 PM | Comments (1)

September 01, 2004

9/1 - Bad News for Pacific Turtles and Albatross: NMFS reopens swordfish longlining in Hawaii

Earthjustice filed suit in Hawaii, on behalf of a bunch of other environmental groups, against the National Marine Fisheries Service re-opening the state's longline swordfish practices, claiming they did so without an adequate environmental impact statement. For some background on the impacts of longlining, take a look at Wildcoast's website.

Enough to make you give up swordfish?

Posted by Randy Olson at 07:30 AM | Comments (0)