ISLAMORADA, Fla. -- Sharks abound in the waters off Florida. But not on this day at this particular spot off the Keys as some `young scientists' are on watch for them.
About a dozen high school students – guests of the University of Miami's marine research program – went aboard the vessel Curt-A-Sea. Their mission: to help scientists capture sharks, measure them, take blood and conduct other tests before tagging them so they can be tracked. The sharks would then be released back into the ocean.
If you are not familiar with shark finning, it is a brutal process in which the shark's fin is removed for the purpose of making shark fin soup. The shark is then thrown back into the water where he/she is unable to swim and drowns to death. For a graphic clip of an actual occurrence of shark finning, click here. It is my hope that after viewing this clip you will want to join the fight to protect sharks.
Many in the ocean conservation community know what a problem shark finning is and what a threat it poses to the environment. Further, any major disruption to our ecosystem stands to threaten our entire existence. Much like the butterfly effect, when you kill a shark, you just don't know what kind of impact that can have on our environment. By eliminating an apex predator, you set off a chain of dominoes and there is no telling where they may stop. The amount of gross overfishing that has occurred in recent years may have already caused enough damage to cause certain species to become extinct in our lifetime. Organizations like Oceana allow you to log on and make your opinions known about the practice of shark finning.
Just last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill banning the trade of shark fins in the state of New York. While shark finning was already illegal in waters off New York, this also makes it illegal to trade shark fins in the state -- further enforcing New York's intolerance for the practice. Governor Cuomo stated, "Not only is the process inhumane, but it also affects the natural balance of the oceanic ecosystem." As my readers know, I am always a proud New Yorker but particularly at moments like these. Unfortunately, New York is in the minority on this issue so speak up and write to your local representatives, senators, Congress and governor and advocate for the environment that we all share!
In 2012, Matt Rutherford became the first person to solo circumnavigate North and South America. He completed the non-stop 27,000 mile journey in 10 months in a tiny, old sailboat.
During the course of his epic journey, the then 31-year-old capsized in the Arctic battling waves, avoided being smashed by a tanker and navigated a maze of icebergs large and small. In South America, he experienced Cape Horn's famous beauty and cruel winds. He also faced the literal doldrums - areas near the equator without any wind. And all while spending more than 300 days in complete solitude.
Politicians monitored his progress, and a documentary for the Sundance Film Festival is in the works.
Now the ambitious sailor has launched a non-profit company, Ocean Research Project, which aims to identify new, lower-cost methods of conducting ocean research.
At the beginning of May, he set sail on his latest adventure in the Atlantic. Before his departure from St. Katharine docks in London, he spoke to Lesleyann Coker.
In 2012, you became the first person to solo circumnavigate the Americas and the Northwest Passage. What motivated you to attempt such a journey?
It all started as a fundraiser for a local Annapolis-based non-profit called C.R.A.B [Chesapeake Regional Assessable Boating]. At this point I've raised over $120,000 for the non-profit by doing the trip. I'm also a great admirer of [Ernest] Shackleton, and his story inspired me to try something that most people thought was impossible.
How did you get started in sailing?
I bought a little 25-foot boat from the '60s back in 2004 and sailed it from the Chesapeake Bay to the Florida Keys. I knew nothing about sailing when I left. I made every mistake possible, but over time I taught myself the skills necessary to cross oceans, and eventually, sail around the Americas.
What's your connection to Senator Tom Harkin and Governor Martin O'Malley?
Martin's wife, Katie, saw me off the dock the day before I left and I've been invited to their house several times since my return. Tom spoke about me on the floor of the Senate after I passed Cape Horn. He has shown an avid interest in my story. Tom Harkin is an old school Democrat who understands how important it is to reach across the aisle. He will be missed [after he retires next year], especially on environmental issues.
The Sailing Channel has produced a documentary about you, Red Dot in the Ocean. What's its status?
It looks like we may get into Sundance if it's done in time. Nothing is guaranteed. They approached me to make a documentary, and after a month of "contract negotiations'" we started the film. Here's the trailer.
You recently founded a new 501c non-profit called Ocean Research, which aims to dramatically lower the cost of conducting ocean research. What are the typical costs of ocean research, and what will be your costs? How will you approach the problem differently?
The typical running costs for scientific research in the open ocean is between $6,000 and $15,000 a day, depending on the organization. With Ocean Research Project, for our first expedition we have a daily running cost of $73 a day.
We're living in a changing economic environment; you can no longer think big boats, big crew, big budget. Instead, a non-profit should think small boat, small crew, small budget. By doing this, you not only reduce the cost of the expedition, but also the overhead.
All too often when $100 is donated to a non-profit, $90 goes to salary, renting office space, paying the electric bill, etc. With Ocean Research Project, the majority of the funds raised go to the mission.
What will be the implication of reducing the cost of ocean research? More research? Why is ocean research important?
Once you have reduced the cost of the expeditions, you can travel farther for longer and collect more data. There's still a prehistoric way of thinking within much of the general scientific community. Too many scientists think the organization that spends the most money or has the biggest research vessel somehow collects the best data.
The reality of the matter is that by working with universities and bringing along one or two scientists who bring their own equipment and are trained to use them properly, you can collect a wide variety of important data about our changing oceans. It's true, we cannot have submarines and helicopters, but most research is done by equipment that can be installed or carried onboard a 40-50 foot sailboat.
Ocean research is important because we are all affected by the ocean no matter where you live. The ocean not only produces food for 25 percent of the world's population, but also produces between 50-75 percent of the world's oxygen through Phytoplankton, which lives in the ocean. The problem is the ocean is not part of any country, and it's out of sight out of mind.
There has not been enough research done within the open ocean because in the past scientists have tried to collect important data with big boats and big budgets. I sailed 27,000 miles, over the top of Canada and around Cape Horn on a 27-foot boat without stopping. I can tell you from experience you do not need a 150-foot, two million dollar boat to cross an ocean or do good research.
You're about to embark on a research mission [he embarked the first week of May]. Where are you going, what are you researching, and what do you expect to learn?
MR: During our first expedition we will be at sea for 75 days collecting data, while sailing 6,500 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.
The Atlantic Ocean is home to the Atlantic Garbage Patch and coincides with one of the five major oceanic gyres. The Sargasso Sea Gyre is a huge spiral of seawater formed by colliding currents. Most offshore sailors have seen floating junk on the high seas, but it's a problem that has not been thoroughly explored in the mid-Atlantic. It's the poster child for one of the worldwide ocean problems: plastic that's initially created with human hands, then ends up in the ocean, often found inside animals' stomachs.
We have several objectives for this expedition:
We'll conduct a Sargasso Sea marine debris reconnaissance survey using standardized data collection methods. This study will add to the global understanding of quantity of marine debris in the gyre and will stimulate awareness of the consequences of manmade debris. This project is run in collaboration with our Partner 5 Gyres.
We'll conduct ocean acidification data collection to supplement existing efforts to portray the acidity condition within a gyre in an open ocean marine debris laden environment. This data may reveal a significant concentration of high acidic marine water that may jeopardize the livelihood of critical marine life.
The vessel will act as a mobile observing platform reporting atmospheric and oceanic observations to NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration]. It serves as a voluntary observing ship to feed international atmospheric and oceanic modeling databases that depict global weather forecasts, climate studies, and support mariners' safety at sea. Work will be in cooperation with our partners which include NOAA's Voluntary Observing Ship, the Ship of Opportunity Program and the Atlantic Oceanic and Meteorological Laboratory.
What are the dangers involved in this research project?
There is always danger in the vast open ocean. That said, reward lives in the house of risk.
I can teach a person the skills necessary to cross an ocean alone, but I can't teach the mentality a person needs to sail alone across an ocean. Either you've got it or you don't. If you don't learn to control fear, fear will control you.
Exploration is the physical expression of intellectual passion.
How can people follow the progress of your journey, or support your non-profit?
You can follow the expedition at Oceanresearchproject.org. There will be a tracking device on the boat so you can see our position, and a weekly blog so you can hear the story as it's happening. You can also donate on the website.
Tears streamed down my 7-year-old daughter's face this cloudy, March morning, as we watched the plight of a lone female California sea lion pup, clearly exhausted, struggling to keep her head above water and get herself to our local beach's jetty.
This sea lion was not the strong, plump and playful sort we had seen in years past. She was so small, kept going under, then her head would barely rise above the water.
We gasped as the pup used the last of her strength to slowly hoist herself onto the jetty, right before another wave came. She made it. We saw her heave a sigh as she collapsed onto a large rock, safe from the water below.
She tried, but could not lift her head, and just laid still and panting. Her bones jutted out, every vertebra and her pelvis visible underneath her brown fur. She looked too young to be without a mother, and she was clearly malnourished.
The Sea Lions' Struggle
Unfortunately, this struggling sea lion is not alone in this heartbreaking condition, which is part of why my own tears came along with my daughter's.
In our city of Carlsbad, Calif., just up the coast from downtown San Diego, at least 40 malnourished, young California sea lions have been rescued since January. According to a local news story, about 150 malnourished or injured sea lions are typically rescued in our region each year -- but this year, from Jan. 1 to not even mid-March, there have already been 130 rescued.
This morning when we called the local sea animal rescue center about the stranded pup, their voicemail said they are extremely busy. A spokesperson from there told the local news that there's "something going on out in the ocean" in relation to our sea lions' food supply. Clearly.
The Bigger Picture
But here's the thing: This isn't just a local issue, and it isn't just about this specific group of sea lions' food supply.
Something is going on with all marine mammals' food supply. Something major is happening with all of our ocean ecosystems. These malnourished pups are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
He says 75 percent of all major fisheries in the world are currently either fully exploited or over-exploited, and we have less than 10 percent of the top ocean predators (e.g., swordfish or bluefin tuna) today than we had in the 1960s. These fish aren't replaceable, friends.
Many marine scientists believe that, at the rate we're going, the seas will be barren by 2048. (Did you get that? No sea life in 35 years!)
Like the roaming plains buffalo shot by humans to extinction, Dr. Monger says, we can extract every single animal out of the ocean. And with commercial fisheries not just taking all the fish but also seabirds, sharks, dolphins, turtles and every other kind of sea animal (most thrown out by the trawlers, dead, as "bycatch"), we are doing just that.
The sea lions of the Pacific Rim and Alaska are now endangered because, Dr. Monger explains, fishing "took away all their food, and they are starving to death." I contacted Dr. Monger this week and asked him about the California sea lions: Are they next?
He told me scientists are studying two main factors likely causing the crisis with this species: overfishing and climate issues. But, clearly, he said, "the sea lion pups are probably starving because their mothers are starving." Clearly.
You Can Help Save Them
So, here's the other thing: You can actually do something to stop this ocean crisis, whether you live here on the coast, in the middle of farmland or on a mountaintop. We all can.
I get that it's hard, I'm a former sushi lover myself, but we must stop eating fish. There simply are not enough fish left to keep them on our plates, and still leave enough to keep our ocean animals alive. Period.
I've heard all the justifications, and my replies go something like this:
You can still do your sushi ritual, just do it with veggies instead of fish (as my half-Japanese, sushi-loving husband and I now happily do).
Farmed fisheries are no better, with incredibly high rates of disease, which is unhealthy, inhumane and harms wild fish as well.
Eating land animal meat is also harming the oceans, by the way. An amazing fifty percent of the world's fish catch is fed to industrial farm animals, not to people (as Dr. Will Tuttle explains in The World Peace Diet). And nitrogen runoff from those factory farms is creating huge "dead zones" where no sea life can survive.
The good news is that pleasurable, healthy, social eating is possible with plant-based food. It just takes making the choice -- to help animals rather than eat them.
Actually, Dr. Monger believes it's both personal choice and political will that will save or destroy our oceans: Beyond urging us to avoid eating fish and other meat, he urges us to speak out against the government subsidies that fuel overfishing.
"The fish in the ocean are as much yours as the fishing industries', and if you would rather see your fish left in the ocean, you have the right to speak up and ask your leaders to help," he says. "If you remain silent about it, someone is going to step in and take [your ocean life] away from you for their own profit."
The Next Generations
This morning, my sniffling 7-year-old asked me why the malnourished sea lion we watched could not find food.
As fishing boats trawled closer to shore than I've ever seen them, I wanted to tell her that the sea lion and her brothers and sisters will find food. That they have plenty of food to find. That the ocean is ripe with life.
But, the truth is, I can't tell her that, because as each day passes, it is becoming less true.
I told my daughter instead that we can make a difference for that sea lion by calling the rescue center to help her. And on a bigger scale, we can make a difference for all sea lions, by not eating their food and by educating others about their dwindling food supply.
Through her tears, my daughter asked me if I could educate more people today.
So, I'm writing this piece today for my daughter, for the sea lions and all the animals, and for the future. Before it's too late -- at the very least -- please do your part to save our ocean animals by letting the fish be food for them, and not for you.
Some people say -- and they make a good case -- that to understand Miami you have to understand the forces and influences of the drug trade, money, and Cuban immigration.
Or you can look at the corals, according to Colin Foord and Jared McKay, the UM-trained marine biologist and experimental musician who form the scientific artist duo Coral Morphologic.
The pair tie their work, which involves not only growing but filming and soundtracking corals in their glowing Overtown aquaculture lab, to Miami's distinction as the only mainland U.S. city on a coral reef, with corals even growing inside the city limits.
You might even blame the tropical polyps for those vibrant "I'm In Miami, Bitch" tank tops.
"There aren't any other life forms on the planet that are as natural fluorescent as living corals; this is something that wasn't even really observable by mankind until 50 years ago," Foord told HuffPost. "The colors of Miami -- these bright neon colors -- have always been the essence of the city before the city was even here. The cement in the buildings is made from the ground-up skeletons of fossilized coral. The colorful essence is literally built into the city."
Colonies of corals, Foord says, also reflect who we are as a 21st century metro. It's a concept he and McKay have highlighted by projecting them onto South Beach buildings during Art Basel, onto AmericanAirlines Arena, and during festivals in Britain, Sundance, and Miami's own Borscht Film Festival. Saturday night at Borscht 8, they'll debut a new work called "Fungia."
Their "scientific and artistic exploration of living coral reef organisms... radiated the most beautiful and unexpected work I saw," wrote curator Patterson Sims, the man behind four Whitney Biennial exhibitions, after an arts tour of Miami in April.
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By using their carefully tended, DIY aquariums to both create and fund their art -- a side business selling cloned corals to aquarium owners helps keep the lab lights on and the artists and animals in constant symbiosis -- the pair not only highlight the Magic City's incredibly rich and unique makeup, but draw multiple parallels between reefs and humanity.
"We really see corals as futuristic organisms," Foord explains. "They're very modern. We live in a time when the world that you're born into is totally different than you die in; it necessitates that you're constantly adapting to technology. It's a changing world and the actual biosphere is also now changing more than ever. Being that they're cemented in place, [adapting] is just what corals have been doing for millions and millions of years."
But our corals point not only to Miami's past and present, but future.
"If given the chance -- if sea levels are to rise -- the corals will happily move back into the city and start growing on our infrastructure," Foord said. "We already know they're growing inside the city limits on our trash. This is the flip side of projecting onto buildings. Miami has always been an ephemeral place: it's underwater, it's out of the water, it's underwater, it's out of the water.
"Anyone who thinks the sea level rising washing South Beach back into the ocean is a terrible environmental catastrophe is misinformed about the very nature of South Beach as a real estate scheme to begin with. It's another side of the story of climate change and human interactions with the planet that every time there's a catastrophe there's an opportunity for life to take advantage of new real estate to colonize."
How is it possible two middle school best friends from New Hampshire know Miami better than most Miamians do? Foord moved to the Magic City to study marine biology at UM, then McKay came down to start Coral Morphologic in 2007. Relative newness didn't stop them both from becoming instrumental in pushing Miami culture forward. They've helped nurture Wynwood's arts scene, started a record label, and discovered four new species of zoanthids, confirmed by DNA testing and published in the Journal of Marine Biology.
Next year, they'll install a Knight Foundation-funded aquascape video project at Miami International Airport and plan to start on a full-length Imax-style film.
"Coming in as outsiders, we maybe have a more objective perception of what's really happening here, what has happened, and what is likely to continue to happen in the future," Foord said. "At the same time, our whole perception of Miami has been shaped by our friends, artists and musicians who have grown up here that have really tuned us into a lot of things that someone from outside Miami would have a very hard time engaging with as far as a 'real' Miami.
"Without the arts scene and without all these artists and amazing people that Miami is blessed with, I don't think we'd have ended up on this track. We're definitely a product of our environment here."
We think we’re pretty familiar with hurricanes – strong winds, storm surge, flooding rains, ominous satellite images from space, and radar loops when they get near land. But what goes on at and below the ocean’s surface when a hurricane passes overhead? Quite a lot, actually!
Effects on the ocean properties
The upper levels of the ocean are typically strongly stratified by temperature and by salinity. That is, colder, saltier water lies below the warmer, fresher water near the surface. When a hurricane comes by, it mixes everything up, resulting in a muddled and more homogeneous upper ocean. That means the surface water is cooler and saltier than it was previously was, and deeper water is warmer and less salty than it previously was. However, in very shallow coastal areas, the copious amount of fresh cold rain water from the hurricane can actually reduce the temperature and salinity of the near-surface water.
Time series of the vertical profile of temperature and salinity from the ocean’s surface down to 200m, and spanning one day prior to the hurricane’s passage through 2.5 days after the passage. The dramatic mixing down to approximately 150m is evident. Time in days relative to the passage is listed along the horizontal axis. This particular case is from Hurricane Frances (2004) on 1 September. (Sanford et al., 2007)
The colder surface water upwelled by the hurricane can actually be a fairly significant player in controlling the hurricane’s intensity. A strong slow-moving hurricane will upwell cold water much more effectively than a weaker and/or fast-moving hurricane. And since hurricanes require warm ocean water to fuel their “engine”, that upwelling can end up weakening the storm. The trail of upwelled cooler water left behind a storm is called a “cold wake”, and shows up clearly on maps of sea surface temperature.
Map of sea surface temperature before (left) and after (right) Hurricane Isabel in 2003. Isabel’s track from the eastern Atlantic all the way into the mid-Atlantic coast is evident by the cold wake left behind. (NASA/GSFC)
Intense hurricanes can generate 60′+ waves, and at the ocean surface, the boundary between the water and the air becomes nebulous. Amidst the formidable waves, sea spray and foam streak horizontally across the surface at high speed, blurring the view of the ocean’s surface in this photo from an aircraft flying through a hurricane.
Photo of the sea state under Category 4 Hurricane Isabel taken from 400 feet above the surface. Note that the aircraft was not in or near the eyewall at this time or altitude. (Will Drennan, RSMAS)
But below the ocean’s surface, the currents and turbulence beneath those waves can also be quite destructive. Unlike places above the surface, the ocean doesn’t “forget” about the storm very quickly… strong currents and turbulence have been known to exist up to a week after the storm passes overhead. Damaging currents can extend down to at least 300 feet below the surface, capable of dismantling coral reefs, relocating ship wrecks, breaking oil pipelines, and displacing huge volumes of sand on the seabed.
Simplified schematic showing the parts of an ocean wave. At the surface, there are crests and troughs. Crests are separated by a wavelength. The depth to which a wave’s effects can be felt depends on the wavelength and wave height.
Effects on marine life
Some studies conducted in the Caribbean Sea have shown that in the year following a hurricane, coral cover is reduced by 15-20 percent (more or less, depending on the intensity of the hurricane) in the affected areas. There are several factors that go into the negative effect on coral: 1) the turbulent water breaks it, 2) the days of muddied water reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the algae in coral tissue, 3) the fine suspended particles clog the pores, and 4) the tremendous amount of rain reduces the salinity of the shallow ocean in the immediate area which can stress coral.
Large self-propelled marine animals such as sharks seem to be minimally affected, since they can detect tiny changes in pressure as larger waves at the surface approach, as well as the reduced surface pressure associated with the storm itself, and go deeper or leave the area. However, hurricanes have been known to result in tremendous numbers of dead fish, crabs, sea turtles, oysters, etc due to reduced amounts of dissolved oxygen in the water, rapid salinity changes, and violent surf.
Just like us up here on the surface, marine life suffers for months to several years from the death and destruction following a hurricane.
In fact, thanks to University of Miami PhD candidate Erica Staaterman, you can hear a Florida coral reef in the video above, which documents her research into the behavior of pelagic fish larvae.
Billions of such "baby fish" are born every year, but must find their way to a coral reef to survive -- a needle in a haystack journey, as Staaterman describes it. For her research at UM's Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, she set out to determine whether larval fish use the soundscape of the reef as a navigational tool.
(To us it sounds like frying bacon, but maybe we're just typing hungry.)
"Coral reefs comprise less than 1 percent of the ocean, but they are one of the most important areas on the planet both ecologically and economically," Staaterman says in her video. "Due to human impacts like overfishing and climate change, they're also one of the most threatened marine habitats. We need to discover how fish larvae find their way home, because the replenishment of reef fish populations depends upon the success of this next generation."
This month yet another new study about climate change* was released. But this one is different. Unlike many previous studies in which scientists are hesitant to draw causal connections between global warming and specific weather events, this study comes out and says it: "Global warming makes heat waves more likely." The study also found that global warming is making other weather extremes more likely, such as droughts and heavy rains.
Higher global temperatures heat up the oceans, as well. When the water in the seas heats up, it expands -- this is called thermal expansion. Thermal expansion is one of the biggest causes of sea level rise. Throw in melting glaciers adding more volume to the rising waters and more frequent heavy rains, and we've got a big problem for the more than 600 million people around the world who live in coastal areas that are less than 30 feet above sea level. And it's not just those people whose homes are right beside the water. Many others are at risk as floodwaters inundate sewage treatment plants, airports, freeways, and farmland.
We have reached a tipping point. While it is vital that we eliminate the emissions causing climate change, it is now time to acknowledge that we can't turn back the clock. Even if we were to stop driving every car on the planet today, we would still face serious sea level flooding worldwide over the next 50 years. Adapting to climate change impacts that we can no longer halt must become part of the game plan.
RISE: Climate Change and Coastal Communities explores this international issue through the lens of a single place: the San Francisco Bay Area. Six multimedia web stories take a look at the personal lives of men and women living along the water who are facing a rising tide.
For thousands of years humans have found ways to respond to the challenges of living in a frozen world of the Arctic. But even the oldest human cultures in the far north have been preceded by thousands of millennia by creatures exquisitely adapted to a realm where water, the single non-negotiable thing life requires, exists in all of its wondrous forms: as solid, gas, and liquid. Massive sheets of slowly rotating sea ice shield the heart of the Arctic -- an ocean at the top of the world where life abounds from the surface to the greatest depths more than three miles below.
On April 20, the first-ever IMAX 3D documentary about the Arctic -- To The Arctic 3D -- will premiere in theatres across the country. A co-production from MacGillivray Freeman Films, Warner Bros. Pictures and IMAX Filmed Entertainment, presented by One World One Ocean, the film is a celebration of Arctic life in its many resilient forms with intimate glimpses of our fellow mammals -- polar bears, foxes, walruses, caribou and others who share with humans a common need for water, warmth, food, shelter -- and protection from predators.
The miracle of life on Earth shines through the stories and powerful imagery shared in the film. For humans, the Arctic is a harshly inhospitable place, but the conditions there are precisely what polar bears require to survive -- and thrive. "Harsh" to us is "home" for them. Take away the ice and snow, increase the temperature by even a little, and the realm that makes their lives possible literally melts away.
Sadly, in our time, and largely by our actions, this is exactly what is happening. Owing largely to consequences of the 20th century appetite for energy derived from burning coal, oil and gas, coupled with global destruction of the natural carbon-dioxide absorbing forests of the land and plankton and other natural systems in the sea, Earth's atmosphere and ocean have been swiftly overloaded with carbon dioxide and methane. The results are visible in an unnatural acceleration of global warming, rapid shifts in climate and weather, an inexorable rise in sea level, and a relentless trend toward acidification of the ocean.
The use of fossil fuels has served us well during the past century, driving a technological revolution, increasing farm yields, and powering transportation and communication systems. But the most important gift derived from the use of fossil fuels has nothing to do with new "miracle" materials, medical breakthroughs or urban infrastructure. It has everything to do with insights gained by being able to fly high in the sky, to see the world as a tiny blue speck in an otherwise inhospitable universe, and communicate knowledge gained to everyone, everywhere.
This is the mission of One World One Ocean, an exciting new campaign that I'm proud to be a part of, which is presenting To The Arctic 3D as its inaugural film. The campaign, launched last year by award-winning To The Arctic 3D director Greg MacGillivray and his wife Barbara, is harnessing the power of media -- films, television and digital -- to inspire and connect millions worldwide in an effort to catalyze a movement to restore the world's oceans.
I've had the joy of spending thousands of hours under the sea. I wish I could take people along to see what I see, and to know what I know. That's the gift of film, to take people where they otherwise might not be able to go and to inspire them to take care of the planet that takes care of us. From awareness and knowledge, comes action.
Now we know what was impossible to grasp prior to the end of the 20th century, and now, at the beginning of the 21st using our distinctly human capacity to gather information, grasp the patterns, anticipate the outcomes, and the time-tested ability to take actions that are in our best interests. We have an edge when it comes to having a long and enduring future by knowing that we must change our ways. Polar bears and walruses cannot know why the changes are taking place, and even if they could know, they are not able to understand what to do to reverse the causes of the declines they are experiencing.
We do know why the changes are happening, and we do know what to do about it: there are limits to what we can do to the natural systems that keep us alive, no matter where on the planet we live.
Our fate is intimately linked to the natural systems that deliver the underpinnings of our economies, our security, our health and ultimately, our very lives. Now we know that the time to act is shrinking, coincident with the diminishing fabric of life on the land and in the sea -and the loss of polar ice and snow.
By celebrating the Arctic, this incredible film and the One World One Ocean campaign convey a message of urgency laced with hope. There is time, but not a lot, to shift our way of thinking and acting, to protect the Arctic as if our lives depend on it -- because they do.
Oceanographer Sylvia Earle is Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and founder of Mission Blue. She received the TED Prize for her proposal to establish a global network of marine protected areas, or "hope spots" to save and restore "the blue heart of the planet." She is chief advisor to One World One Ocean, a global media campaign to protect the world's oceans.
Here's a new item to add to the long list of expenses that are putting our country into deficit spending: cleaning up oil spills. While we keep hearing that companies like BP are on the hook for the costs of cleanup, in truth, much of the cleanup will be paid for by the U.S. Treasury itself. As it turns out, BP and other oil companies can write off the costs of cleanup, forcing about a third of the billion dollar cleanup tab to come out of the Treasury. So, besides the normal billions of dollars that we already forego each year by giving tax breaks to some of the richest companies in the world, now we have billions more that those who spill oil into our oceans can get from our bank account even after committing one of the most heinous environmental crimes imaginable.
Thankfully, Congress is taking notice, but will it have the political will to end this ridiculous giveaway? So far, Big Oil and its allies have been all too effective at preventing any legislation whatsoever from passing in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon Spill. Today, Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-FL) introduced the "Oil Spill Tax Fairness Act" to end the practice of allowing oil companies to take tax breaks after they've caused an oil spill. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the bill could save the Treasury more than a billion dollars a year by placing cleanup costs squarely on the laps of those that made the mess.
Remember, these are companies making record profits. Today, Exxon announced that it earned $41 billion in 2011, up 35% from 2010. Yet there seems to be no end in sight for the broader slate of tax gimmicks that result in billions of dollars lost to the Treasury each year. At the very least, these bad actors should pay to clean up their own messes. I have nothing against writing off business expenses, but a major oil spill is not, and never has been considered a normal "cost of doing business." Nor should it be. Killing workers, devastating marine life, including dolphins, corals and endangered sea turtles, shutting down fisheries, making people sick, and destroying the cultural fabric of coastal communities should never be considered just a cost of doing business. And companies like BP that take tremendous risks with our resources certainly should not be rewarded for doing so.
Congress and the Administration should be doing much more in response to the Gulf Spill, like imposing real safety requirements, lifting the horrendously low liability cap, ending tax handouts to oil companies, and ultimately moving us away from offshore drilling. But at the very least passing the "Oil Spill Tax Fairness Act" would be a good first step.
The ocean covers more than 70% of the Earth's surface, holds more than 80% of its biodiversity and 90% of its habitat.
Phytoplankton in the ocean provide more than half of our oxygen and provides the basis of the primary protein for more than a billion people.
More than half a billion people, mostly artisanal fishers, owe their livelihoods to the seafood industry.
Humans have derived unmeasurable inspiration, joy, recreation and relaxation from the ocean for millennia.
But we have treated the ocean poorly, and its decline in recent decades has been catastrophic for our planet and its people.
We have put too much into the ocean, in the form of oil, sewage, fertilizers and pesticides, antibiotics, plastic pollution, noise and increasing levels of CO2.
We have taken too much out of the ocean by subsidizing and encouraging inefficient and destructive overfishing, bottom trawling, long-lining, purse seining, dynamite fishing, irresponsible aquaculture and illegal hunting.
We have destroyed the edge of the ocean -- places like wetlands, kelp forests, mangrove forests, river deltas, coral reefs and seagrass beds -- where diversity and abundance once thrived, now turned into dead zones growing in size and number.
As a result of our behavior, the wildest animals and most remote beaches on the planet carry plastic in them, coral reefs are on the verge of disappearing, shark populations have been decimated, the ocean is warming and becoming more acidic and fisheries are predicted to collapse globally.
This situation will only continue to spiral downward, unless we listen, learn and change.
To slow, stop and then reverse this trend will take immediate, widespread and drastic actions, not isolated, small and incremental adjustments.
The control large corporations have over our political processes must be severed, bold legislation enacted and new behavior patterns widely adopted.
Jellyfishes rely on drifting to eat. They take their luck with currents, and create tiny eddies to guide food toward their tendrils. Yet in waters from the Sea of Japan (aka East Sea) to the Black Sea, jellies today are thriving as many of their marine vertebrate and invertebrate competitors are eliminated by overfishing, dead zones and other human impacts. How have these drifters of the sea reversed millions of years of fish dominance, seemingly overnight?
Biologist José Luis Acuña of the University of Oviedo in Spain and his colleagues now suggest that jellyfishes are just as effective at mealtime as fishes when judged by the right measures. "Jellyfishes are ancient organisms, which use a primitive predation mechanism based on generating feeding currents to bring the prey into contact with their bodies," Acuña explains. "In spite of this primitivism, jellies are as effective as fishes in catching prey and in transforming the energy acquired [into] body growth and reproduction."
So where fishes use their eyes to spot planktonic prey, jellyfishes rely on body size—like the lion's mane jellyfish's 37-meter-long tentacles—to maximize their success. To achieve that size gain, predatory jellyfishes have relied on water incorporated into their tissues—the refrigerator-size Nomura's jellyfish from the Sea of Japan comprises mostly water. A larger body requires more energy to move, so jellies let the surrounding water do the work for them, which makes them some of the slowest swimmers in the sea. And measured by the amount of carbon in their bodies—rather than total weight—jellies consume and incorporate as much prey as fishes do, Acuña's team found. The results are detailed in the September 16 issue of Science.
"It is very neat work," says ecologist Kylie Pitt of Griffith University in Australia, who is working on similar research. When combined with overfishing, climate change, fertilizer runoff–induced dead zones and other human impacts on ocean fishes, a watery evolutionary stage has been set for a jellyfish takeover—dubbed the "gelatinous ocean" by some scientists.
There are exceptions to this rule: The cannonball jellyfish—a seafood delicacy in Asia—shoots through the water at 15 centimeters per second, a decent clip. And the return to ocean conditions last seen in the Ediacaran period more than 540 million years ago—when jellies last ruled the seas—has been a boon for certain fishes in habitats like the Benguela Current in the South Atlantic off Namibia in Africa, where jellyfish-eating gobies have replaced sardines in the food chain. The growing abundance of these jelly-feeding gobies now serves to provide sustenance to the predators that formerly feasted on the sardines, such as seabirds, larger fishes and, ultimately, humans. "We need research to be sure of what new ecological scenarios are arising," Acuña says.
"It is time to take [jellyfishes] seriously," Acuña adds, both as a marine predator and a future seafood source.
If you were BP, wouldn't you wait for the right time to go back to the U.S. government to ask for more permits to drill? What would seem like a good time to do that? Surely, it wouldn't be when oil is gushing uncontrollably from a BP site on the cold, dark ocean floor, or a day when oiled birds were washing up on beaches. Certainly fisheries closures wouldn't still be keeping Gulf fishermen from working, and people wouldn't still be rebuilding their lives, after losing jobs, and even loved ones following the explosion.
I picture BP coming back for more drilling rights on a bright, sunny day, with clear blue skies, birds chirping and butterflies fluttering around. Flowers would be blooming, and green marsh grasses would be swaying with the fresh breeze. The kind of day when it seems as if there is not a care in the world.
Sadly, that's not how the Gulf looked yesterday, or today. BP's announcement that it wants more drilling permits came on a day when the Gulf still looks more like a traumatized post-disaster site than the pretty picture of recovery we so hope for. Everywhere we look we see reminders that the oil is not gone and people and wildlife are still suffering.
Just two weeks ago there was a large oil sheen spotted in the Gulf, not the first since the Deepwater Horizon of course, but one which was tracked back to an area near two abandoned wells. There are about 27,000 such wells in the Gulf with the potential to leak at any time, and oftentimes do so unnoticed since they are neither monitored nor adequately inspected.
Then, just last week, a new oil sheen was found near the site of the Deepwater Horizon. BP's initial response was less than helpful, but independent chemical analysis showed that the oil looks an awful lot like theirs. The sheen can't really be explained by a passing boat, or a leaking rig. A natural seep is a very low odds possibility, not to mention a convenient theory for BP. But many believe this oil may be coming from the well, either from the abandoned riser, or from a leak springing from a fracture caused by the blowout. BP has no good explanation. They say they don't see the sheen. But it's bad timing to be asking for more drilling.
Maybe they couldn't see the sheen because far from being a clear, sunny day, the ocean is stirred up thanks to Hurricane Lee. Lee isn't the first hurricane to hit the area since the spill, and it won't be the last. It's a reminder that more permits for drilling in the Gulf may not be such a good idea. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita famously led to numerous spills in Hurricane Alley. When there's a hurricane threatening the existing Gulf rigs, it may be a bad time to ask for more permits.
And finally, anyone who did think it might be a nice beach day may have been disappointed to be greeted by a fresh new batch of tar balls on the shoreline. BP oil? Authorities are not yet sure. But one thing is for sure: it wasn't the first set of tar balls to wash up, and it won't be the last. Especially not if BP and other oil companies continue to insist that their right to drill trumps everything else in the Gulf. Oh, and one other thing: It's probably not a good day to ask for more drilling rights.
A giant pacific octopus mother who lived just across from downtown Seattle had her hatch right under the noses of local divers. Her den was sequestered in Cove Two in West Seattle, in a location that spared her from predators and over-visitation by humans. On September 4 (aka early, early on September 5), 2010, the eggs began hatching. It's a time of mixed emotion; joy at the hatch, and sadness at the knowledge that this event means the mother's life will end. The hatch lasted a full week, after which the mother died.
Sit back, and prepare to be blown away by mother nature -- jump to 3:24 if you want to get right to it.