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Oil, Terror, Tuna and You

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We have to stop dumping radioactive water, oil and dead terrorists in our ocean and treat it with more respect which is why I'm headed to Washington D.C. later this month. OK, let me explain.

The end of Osama bin Laden hopefully marks the beginning of the end of the post-9/11 'War on Terror' and may allow us to more quickly end our military involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps we might even begin thinking about why so many of our wars, conflicts, terrorist attacks and environmental disasters seem to be linked to oil fields -- in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, the Gulf of Mexico and soon the Arctic Ocean.

In terms of ocean drilling it used to be a debate between energy production and marine pollution. But now it's a product liability issue. This product used as directed overheats your planet. The best available science is generating the worst imaginable scenarios when it comes to the burning of fossil fuels, such as unprecedented tornado seasons linked to a warming atmosphere or coastal flooding and dying reefs linked to sea-level rise and ocean acidification. Of course addiction to petroleum, particularly that sweet crude stuff that you find deep in the Gulf, can make you forget what you did last summer. And oil company cash can get House Republicans to push bills to expand offshore drilling with fewer rather than more environmental protections. By making the argument that offshore drilling is a proper response to a spike in gasoline prices they demonstrate the same consistent logic that would have us take blowtorches to our faces to deal with outbreaks of acne.

Along with spilled oil, climate change and other forms of pollution, overfishing is the other biggest threat to the global ocean with a recent study suggesting two thirds of the world's big fish have already been taken out of the sea in just over a century. Unfortunately, right now wars, pirates and disasters seem to be doing more to conserve marine wildlife than industry efforts or treaties. Take Bluefin tuna, which the Japanese have been doing relentlessly since the 1970s which is why over 80 percent of the biomass (total weight of a species) has now been killed and eaten as sushi. I've written before about the failure of both an Atlantic Tuna Convention and UN Endangered species group (ICCAT and CITES), that in the last year folded to pressure from Japanese and French fishing interests at a time when a single large Bluefin can sell for $100,000 or more. Mitsubishi Corporation, the world's largest buyer of Bluefin, has even stockpiled thousands of tons of frozen fish as a reserve for when the species goes extinct in the wild.

But what treaties and agreements have failed to do a disaster and a war may temporarily accomplish. The massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis that's rocked Japan has temporarily disrupted three-quarters of global demand for Bluefin, even as the popular uprising and war in Libya has stopped fishing off its coast where most of the remaining Mediterranean stock is now caught. One of Gaddafi's sons, Saif, killed in a NATO airstrike, owned both fishing boats and a large Bluefin tuna ranch on the eastern (now rebel) coast.

In a similar story local fishermen in Somalia and Kenya report their best fishing in a generation since Somali pirates chased off the distant water fleets of foreign trawlers from China, Spain, Egypt and elsewhere that used to come in and deplete their fish stocks.

And of course, as wild fish have declined many high seas fishermen have turned criminal entering protected waters off Costa Rica and west Africa to fin sharks and "harvest" anything marketable. They're also using illegal gear like miles long driftnets in the mid-Pacific and organizing poaching gangs of night-divers as I've reported from inside the reef line in Fiji. The BBC recently did an investigative story on how the Thai fishing fleet saves money by shanghaiing Burmese refugees and using them as slave labor aboard their boats.

So whether its multinational oil companies or outlaw fishing fleets abusing our global commons salt-water special interests clearly pose an existential threat to food security and climate stability that terrorist fanatics like al-Qaeda can only aspire to. Since we really can't count on warfare or piracy to protect the fish and BP has shown that you can't count on industry safety standards to protect the water what can you do?

Only a new wave of bottom-up engagement by people who care about the sea and appreciate what it provides to all of us can help turn the tide. I'm going to do my part May 20-23 in Washington DC at the ocean conservation movement's third Blue Vision Summit (BVS 3).

That's where a wave of hundreds of ocean leaders and activists will come together to examine ways of restoring the Gulf a year after the BP Blowout, highlight the links between a healthy ocean and healthy economy, talk abut the future of fish and creation of wilderness parks in the sea and also how to connect President Obama's new national ocean policy to common-sense solutions already being implemented along our coasts.

It's a small start but like South Seas anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." For more on BVS3 go to www.bluefront.org.

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