The World’s Oceans are in Big Trouble – But We Can Help

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

Oceans have been in big trouble for a while now, but often the problems haven’t received that attention that they deserve. That’s probably because it’s pretty hard to understand the damage that is being done to the oceans unless you see it first hand, and many people only see the ocean from the comfort of a beach, at most. However, recently people have started to sit up and pay attention as startling new reports on the ocean’s plight have gained international attention.

There was the study by the World Resources Institute that found all of the world’s coral reefs could be gone by 2050. Then it was found that melting sea ice opened up a passageway that allows Pacific marine species to cross into the Atlantic, with unknown results. Now, the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) has put out a new report that outlines our worst fears: a mass marine extinction event is imminent if we don’t work to improve the oceans’ health right now.

In this report, an international panel of scientists found that ocean degradation is occurring much faster than anyone predicted, and that if that a few main issues aren’t addressed quickly, a mass extinction of marine life could take place in the next few decades. The scientists explain that this loss could be comparable to the other 5 great extinctions in prehistory. The three main factors that are causing this panic are an increase of hypoxia (low oxygen) and anoxia (lack of oxygen), warming and acidification. These problems are exacerbated by human activities, and the report explains that swift action is needed to begin to mitigate the issues before it’s too late. “We now face losing marine species and entire marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, within a single generation,” the report explained.

So now, it is extremely important that we don’t turn a blind eye to the plight of the oceans, as many have in years past. Dr. Alex Rogers, Scientific Director of IPSO, stated, “The findings are shocking. As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realized. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children’s and generations beyond that.”

So how did we get ourselves into this mess? As the report explains, overfishing has cut some fish populations by more than 90%, throwing off the entire delicate balance of the ocean. Flame-retardant chemicals and detergents, along with many other pollutants, are absorbed into particles of plastic pollution that litter the ocean. These toxic materials are then often eaten by many creatures, from sea turtles to birds.  The problems don’t end there, though – many indirect effects, like carbon dioxide emissions, contributes to warming and acidification of the oceans.

The IPSO report issued a number of recommendations, including immediate reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and a coordinated effort to restore marine ecosystems. But more specifically, what can we as Americans do? These large-scale problems need a large-scale solution, and that’s why we need a Congress with more members who will make ocean health a priority. The only way to do this is if the ocean community engages politically through Ocean Champions and as voters. We help do our part by supporting those members of Congress who will fight to stop this downward spiral and by asking you to join us in this struggle. Together, with people who care about the future of our seas, we change the fate of our oceans for the better before it’s too late.

Date Posted: June 30, 2011 @ 8:51 am Comments Off

To Save Fisheries, Give Fishermen a Choice

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

The world’s fisheries are in dire straights these days. Over 60% of them are threatening to collapse and need to be rebuilt. Overfishing and other problems due to poor management have been wreaking havoc on this industry for many years. Historically, fishermen have exceeded their catch limits 65% of the time. That’s because the fisheries are traditionally managed in a ‘derby’ type system, where over as little as a few days, fishermen race against each other, and the clock, to catch as many fish as possible. In this pressure cooker, efficiency, sustainability and even safety is thrown by the wayside. In recent years, an innovative approach has stood out for its success in bringing fisheries back from the brink: catch shares. Not familiar with it? Catch shares succeed by aligning the economic interests of the fishermen with long-term conservation goals.

With the catch shares system, fishermen aren’t constrained by time. They can fish when conditions (weather, availability, market pricing) are ideal, using more efficient methods with less gear. So far, the system has shown promising success in reducing bycatch and creating more efficient fisheries; fishermen are also enjoying a much safer fishing environment. Alaskan fisheries have thrived under catch shares management. The halibut fishery used to be reduced to two extremely dangerous days at sea, but now fishermen get to choose how and when they fish. They can take the time to fish more efficiently and safely, and customers also benefit as they get fresh halibut for 8 months instead of two days. You may also have heard of the “Deadliest Catch” Alaskan crab fishery – well, under catch shares, it’s not nearly as dangerous anymore, as the fishermen can take their time and choose not to fish in ridiculous weather.

Because of this proven success and its great potential, catch shares have enjoyed bipartisan support. In fact, George W. Bush initially supported the system by launching an effort to pursue more catch share fisheries and Obama has since taken the reins in continuing to encourage the use of the system. Interestingly enough, though, these days there have been members of Congress who have voiced their dissent against catch shares rather loudly. Unfortunately, a lot of this bickering is due to partisan politics that has nothing to do with whether catch shares actually work. Out of this bickering, came the Jones amendment (introduced by Cong. Walter Jones (R-NC)) to the 2011 budget bill (H.R. 1).

This nasty amendment prevents any fishery from using funds to launch a new catch shares program in 2011.  Each fishery is self-managed by a Council that includes the fishermen themselves, and they must vote to enter into a catch shares program in the first place.  Thus, Jones is simply restricting choice and forcing the fishermen to use the unsafe, failed systems of the past.  This top-down, “government knows best” approach is anti-American and is in direct conflict with the typical small government approach most Republicans champion.

In addition to being un-American, the amendment makes no financial sense. Catch shares have increased profits to fishermen and a study has even shown that if the program was implemented nationwide, the system could reduce the federal deficit by $1 billion. This is largely because catch shares get rid of the need for subsidies and fisheries bailouts and increase efficiency. Despite all this, some members of Congress are still pushing hard against catch shares, which begs the question: why? If fishermen want to enter into a catch shares program, and the program creates efficient fisheries that benefit the fish, the fishermen and the deficit, why on earth would Members of Congress try to scuttle it?  What are they afraid of?

The Jones amendment in the 2011 budget was meaningless – there were no fisheries planning on launching a new catch shares program in this time period.  If similar language got into the 2012 budget or beyond, however, it would be bad.  Catch shares programs are expanding not because the government is forcing them on people – fishermen themselves are electing to use them for one simple reason – they work.  The anti-American Jones amendment must be defeated as it would eliminate a good choice, and in so doing could cause fisheries to collapse, eliminate fishing jobs and expand the deficit.

Date Posted: June 21, 2011 @ 7:18 am Comments (2)

The Sludge Booooat… Soon Will Be Making Another Run…

Posted by: Mike Dunmyer

If you’re around my age (see: old), then you are probably aware of a TV show called “The Love Boat” that aired on ABC from the late 70’s to the early 80’s.  The campy show glamorized cruises as romantic, adventurous getaways.  Every episode had several story lines, each of which had an uplifting conclusion, with the ship’s crew and a collection of Hollywood B-listers believing they’d helped make the world a better place.

Unfortunately, this is not the case outside of TV Land.  REAL cruises in the REAL world do REAL harm to the ocean.  The average cruise ship carries about 2,500 to 3,000 passengers.  That’s essentially a floating city, and it generates an immense amount of pollutants.  The average one-week cruise produces 210,000 gallons of sewage (10 swimming pools full), one million gallons of grey water (runoff from sinks, baths, showers, laundry, etc.), 25,000 gallons of oily bilge water, 11,550 gallons of sewage sludge, and 130 gallons of hazardous wastes.

Where does all this go?  Well, much of it is dumped right into the ocean, injecting concentrations of bacteria, chlorine, nutrients, metals and other pollutants into sensitive habitat.  This poisons coral reefs, kills marine life and tarnishes beaches, with the nutrients also causing harmful algal blooms that become oceanic dead zones.  Federal law does not address the problem, and state laws vary greatly.  If one state has more stringent laws, cruise operators simply wait to discharge their pollutants until they’re in the waters belonging to a less strict state (or country).

In addition to toxic discharge, cruise lines cause an immense amount of air pollution.  Most use low grade, dirty fuels to propel the ship and to power all on-board systems and amenities, creating emissions full of nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, carbon dioxide and microscopic soot.  These emissions are harmful to human health, cause acid rain and destroy habitat.

Given the disastrous array of environmental harm caused by cruise ships, everyone who cares about the ocean should avoid them at all costs.  Besides, the allusion created by “The Love Boat” just doesn’t hold up.  Do you really want to be trapped with 3,000 other people and limited space?  Cramming all these people together also facilitates the spread of disease – check out this link to see all the norovirus outbreaks on cruises in recent years.

If you must cruise (seriously, do you really need to?), check out the report card issued by the Friends of the Earth to see which cruise lines are least horrible.  Some cruise lines are starting to address their flaws, but the best grade given is a B- (there are plenty of D’s and F’s), so you can see there is still a long way to go.

In closing, it should be noted that the actor who portrayed Gopher on “The Love Boat” later became a four-term Congressman from Iowa.  Though he’s not serving today, I’ve got to believe that even Gopher would have supported stronger environmental laws for cruise ships!

Date Posted: June 3, 2011 @ 6:38 am Comments (1)