Another lovely, provocative day at the SLOWLIFE Symposium in the Maldives, as reported by its team:
Surrounded by the deep blue of the Indian Ocean, the fate of the world’s seas has been a central topic for speakers here at the SLOWLIFE Symposium in the Maldives. Friday morning’s panel session ‘The lifeblood of the planet – preserving ocean biodiversity’ brought together four people who are passionate about this theme: chairing was Chris Gorrell Barnes, of Blue Marine Foundation; joining him was Fabien Cousteau; Jon Bowermaster, the writer and explorer; and the actress and environmentalist Daryl Hannah.
Jon Bowermaster, Daryl Hannah, Fabien Cousteau, Chris Gorell-Barnes
Chris opened by setting the scene, reminding us that as 70% of the Earth is ocean, we are an ocean planet more than a terrestrial one – and yet the oceans are in crisis. It is true also that a majority of the world’s population lives near the coastline: 17 megacities are located on the coast, so what happens to the sea directly impacts two thirds of the people on Earth, and ultimately all of us.
Jon reported that having travelled by sea kayak to a number of continents – on one trip paddling from, for example, the Aleutian Islands to Vietnam – several issues kept coming up over and over again. The first was climate change, with the associated impacts of more frequent and stronger storms, sea level rise, and a rising of sea surface temperature. The second was plastic pollution, which is now evident in remote places and faraway islands, and the third is overfishing, which is dramatically impacting the whole global ocean.
Fabien Cousteau, the grandson of the great oceans exploration pioneer Jacques Cousteau (who would have been a hundred last year) spoke about how the seas have changed in just three generations of his own family, with 60% of the world’s total fish stocks destroyed since the 1950s. But Fabien is far from despondent, citing an example of a successful project in El Salvador which recruited local people – who had previously made a living by taking and selling the eggs of endangered turtles – to protect the hatchlings instead, transforming a 0% survival rate to 1.6 million turtle hatchlings in the space of a year.
Daryl Hannah praised the Maldives government for banning shark fishing, an unsustainable practice which is destroying these great ocean predators, with shark finning still responsible for the destruction of 200,000 sharks per year. She also pointed out how just one year after the ban, sharks were already seeming to become more numerous – a point noted by many in the audience, who have been entranced by the sight of as many as a dozen juvenile black-tip reef sharks circling in the shallow waters under the main Soneva Fushi jetty.
One of the issues being tackled at the moment is how to protect the newly-created Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the region in which Soneva Fushi – the host for the SLOWLIFE Symposium – is located. Blue Marine Foundation has already made a donation, whilst resorts are now cooperating to raise further funds to recruit rangers from the local fishing population. Maldives Vice-President Dr Waheed, who was also in the audience, spoke about how most Maldivian schoolchildren had never seen a coral reef, simply because they did not have access to snorkelling equipment – and how simply providing masks and snorkels to schools could do much to promote awareness of marine biodiversity amongst the next generation of Maldivians.
The broad consensus was that for the depletion of marine biodiversity to be reversed, both the fishing and tourist industries have to be engaged in driving forward innovative solutions – in the Maldives and further afield. Both these economic sectors in the Maldives depend entirely on the bounty of the sea – whether hooking and canning tuna for the overseas export trade, or reef fish for tourists to see on a dive or a snorkelling trip – and both must surely work together to protect the seas for today and for future generations.
This entry was posted in Blog Highlight, Highlight and tagged blue marine foundation, chris gorell barnes, climate change, Fabien Cousteau, Jon Bowermaster, Maldives, marine conservation, oceans, Six Senses Laamu, SLOW LIFE Symposium by slowlife. Bookmark the permalink.
Paying fishermen to catch plastic. This could be the most novel and efficient pairing of protecting and cleaning up a natural resource yet dreamed up. Credit can’t be claimed by any NGO or think tank, environmental group or student coalition. The idea came from a government agency, the EU’s Commission on Fisheries.
The premise is a thing of simplistic beauty: Fishermen are put off when a government tells them to cut their catch to preserve a variety of fish species—the net result is a loss of income. And while the boats sit idle, the seas are filling with plastic trash.
Why not make it worthwhile for fishermen to clean up the water rather than clean out the fish? Plastic fishing sounds like a stretch, but it just might pay off, for both the ocean and for the people who make a living from its bounty.
For the moment, a trial project is being studied off the coast of Greece. But the governments of the U.K., France, Denmark and Germany are pushing the idea to equip fishing boats with nets to pick up plastic floating in the ocean, and deliver the debris onshore to be recycled.
Plenty of plastic is out there waiting to be harvested. The five distinct garbage gyres swirling in the midst of each of the planet’s oceans are growing each year. Ten years ago, researchers found six times more plastic than plankton in the gyres; that ratio has increased to 20 to 1 in some spots. Plastic trash lines coastlines from Zanzibar to Patagonia and everywhere in between.
In a column for the Guardian, my friend Callum Roberts (author of The Unnatural History of the Sea) reports that more plastic was manufactured in the past decade than in all the years leading up to 2000. In the U.K., the Marine Conservation Society reports a 77 percent increase in plastic picked up on beaches between 1994 and 2009, much of it thrown off of ships at sea. The society estimates that roughly 3,000 pieces of plastic show up each year on every mile of U.K. beach. The Mediterranean is worse: 27,000 pieces of rubbish per mile, every year.
A voluntary program for fishing plastic—Fishing for Litter—already exists in the North Sea, with all of Scotland’s ports joining in.
E.U. fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki announced the fishing-for-plastic plan in part to turn fishermen’s attention from what they perceive to be a growing number of laws that hinder their ability to catch and earn.
The E.U. is considering legislation to limit how much dead bycatch can be tossed back into the sea (a wasteful result of fishermen only wanting to keep bigger, more valuable fish), disallowing imports from countries that don’t meet certain sustainability standards, and new rules restricting who can fish where off the coasts of both Europe and Africa.
Initially, governments will subsidize fishermen who turn their nets toward plastic, but the goal is to create a self-sustaining enterprise with fleets making a living off drop-offs to recyclers. The long-term hope is that plastic may one day replace fish as some fishermen’s main source of income.
(For the rest of my dispatch, go to takepart.com)
Since leaking nuclear radiation is hard to visualize, the lasting images of Japan’s earthquake/tsunami are still those from its very first day: Walls of rushing seawater pushing cars and fishing boats like matchboxes, men and women swinging in high tree branches, and fast-moving ocean water swallowing farm fields, parking lots and airport runways.
The single most-powerful image to me is the intact roof of a solitary house afloat in the Pacific Ocean, 10 miles off the coastline. After seeing his wife swept to sea, the house’s owner had clung to the shingles for two days.
Where will that house end up? Washed back into shore somewhere in northern Japan? Sunk to the ocean bottom? Or ripped asunder by waves, its pieces destined to float on the ocean forever, caught up in an endlessly spinning gyre? Will the rafters maybe one day wash up on a far shoreline, in a distant country? Say the U.S.
The last scenario may be the most accurate preview of events.
U.S. Navy spotter planes over the Pacific have documented vast fields of floating debris—one measured 70 miles long, covering 2.2 million square feet—heading slowly eastward. Shipping traffic is being encouraged to go around the floating masses, rather than attempt to cut through. The mass includes cars, parts of the 200,000 buildings that were washed out to sea, capsized boats of varying sizes, even tractor trailers. The junk could take a couple of years to reach Honolulu, and another 12 months before washing up in Los Angeles.
Scientists at the University of Hawaii, using real time satellite info, have constructed computer programs to estimate the debris’s path. The model suggests the wreckage will eventually land on beaches from Alaska to Baja. The biggest and most buoyant remains will arrive first: tires, ropes, roofs of houses. A fair amount of Japan’s junk is predicted to eventually bounce off the west coast of the U.S., head back to Hawaii and mesh with the flotsam in the North Pacific Garbage Patch. Sadly, as it breaks down into smaller and smaller bits, much of the debris will be ingested by curious marine creatures.
Some Hawaiians feel that their beaches have become a focal point to study all floating ocean pollution.
“We live in Hawaii on the edge of the biggest dump site in the world,” says Nikolai Maximenko of the International Pacific Research Center. “We live in paradise on the edge of hell.”
In 2005, I visited Malaysia and the Maldives just weeks after tsunami waves washed from Indonesian shores all the way to the east coast of Africa. Detritus arrived quickly in the Maldives, in the form of super-valuable, eight-foot-round mahogany trees. Locals considered the trees treasure. Fights broke out between island governments and landowners over who “owned” the rights to mill and sell the wood. (Ultimately, I think, they agreed to split the found lumber 50/50.)
So maybe there will be a silver lining in Japan’s clouds of debris. They might provide a treasure trove to scientists a few decades in the future.
Journalist Donavan Hohn recently published, to good critical review, Moby Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them. The reporting follows the January 10, 1992, spill of rubber ducks off a Chinese cargo ship that was tossed about in 36-foot seas in the North Pacific. By tracing the path of the ducks, which wind, waves and current carried literally around the world, from the Arctic to the Atlantic, the North Pacific to Antarctica, the book proves that what looks like ocean trash to some may be scientific—or economic—gold to others.
(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)
If it’s spring where you live and you’ve spent much of the winter seemingly trapped indoors (as I have) it means now is the time to start thinking powerfully about getting … out there.
Our friends at Universal Sports (NBC) agree and are encouraging us all by dubbing April … ADVENTURE MONTH. One of the highlights is that the network will air all of our OCEANS 8 sea kayaking films, plus “Terra Antarctica,” several times each throughout the month, premiering Monday, April 4, at 10 p.m. EST.
So … if you’re punching around the dial, no matter the time of day during April, you should stumble across us paddling in the Aleutians, French Polynesia, Croatia, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Gabon, Tasmania … or Antarctica.
To find out where to find Universal Sports on your cable dial go here, and here for the full schedule.
A new study from researchers at the University of California Academy of Science and the University of British Columbia indicates that global sea turtle populations are mistakenly ingesting fatal quantities of plastic debris. Accompanying photographs put an all-too-graphic real-life visual to the statistics and conclusions.
Half-dozen years ago, a pair of photographers—Chris Jordan and Susan Middleton—documented the death-by-plastic of big Laysan albatrosses in the Hawaiian Islands. The haunting photos of dead birds captured where they died, on the beach at Midway, stomachs split and filled with bottle caps, disposable cigarette lighters and plastic bags, were powerful evidence of a deadly legacy.
Attracted by colorful detritus swirling just below the water’s surface, the birds had dived for and swallowed the bits of plastic, a substance that no living being can digest. Eventually—stomachs bloated from all the non-biodegradable material they had ingested—the birds died.
In the past few years, the Algalita Marine Research Foundation, 5 Gyres.org, the Plastic Pollution Coalition and many more have conducted investigations of the plastic in the ocean. The stat that six times more plastic than plankton exists in parts of the ocean is heavily quoted, by veteran scientists and men-on-the-street. Adventurers sail boats built of plastic and architects propose building plastic islands.
Despite all the reuse-recycle-refuse talk, for all the taxes and bans on plastic bags, we continue to depend on, consume and toss plastic: Last year, the world threw away 7 billion pounds of PVC, recycling just one quarter of one percent.
(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)
One of the (big) dirty secrets of ocean pollution is how much of the plastic, garbage and miscellaneous crap that ends up there blows or seeps in from landfills.
That was emphasized last week in a most unfortunate way, when rainstorms washed medical waste and other trash out of a Hawaiian holding pond at a hillside landfill, through storm drains and straight into the ocean.
A few days later clean-up workers are reporting that though the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill operators say the mess has been cleaned up, that they are still plucking hypodermic needles, vials filled with blood and urine and other hospital waste from the beach. One described vials” popping up like minnows” in the surf break.
Much of the garbage is no longer on the beach but has been washed out to sea or caught up in the surf. Clean-up supervisors wonder about the chemical and biologic waste that was part of the landfill and has now been swept into the ocean, impossible to clean up.
(For the rest of my dispatch go to takepart.com)