The Blog Aquatic

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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

About George Leonard

George Leonard is Director of Strategic Initiatives at Ocean Conservancy. A long-time scuba diver, George knew he wanted to be a marine biologist at the age of 12 when he first watched Jacques Cousteau's TV special on the sleeping sharks of Yucatan in 1975. During his graduate work, he logged over 400 dives in 3 years, studying California's kelp forests, the undersea equivalent of a tropical rain forest. You can follow George on Twitter at @GeorgeHLeonard.

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Ocean Acidification: It’s Time to Act

Posted On November 29, 2012 by

As my colleague Julia Roberson recently discussed, Washington just became the first state to announce an official response to ocean acidification. My latest post on National Geographic News Watch delves further into the portfolio of actions needed to tackle ocean acidification. None of it will be easy, but the lowering pH of the ocean and subsequent ecosystem harm may be the defining ocean issue of our time. As my post explains,

Consensus is hard. Any time you bring together a range of interests, it’s rare the group can speak in a unified voice and recommend a clear path forward. But that’s exactly what happened yesterday in Washington by its Governor and the state’s Blue Ribbon Panel (BRP) on Ocean Acidification.

The panel made clear that options exist for tackling ocean acidification. Coastal states and businesses that are dependent upon a healthy ocean now have a road map for action, thanks to Washington’s leadership – and oyster growers in Oregon first sounding the alarm. Ocean acidification is happening now, and we can and should take action…

…We’re now unwittingly conducting the world’s largest chemistry experiment. Oysters and other shell building plants and animals are the first animals to bear the brunt of this assault and Washington is on the front lines of the fight.

Read the whole post on National Geographic News Watch.

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Leadership in a Time of National Division

Posted On November 7, 2012 by

Credit: George H. Leonard

After a year-long campaign, the voters have spoken and President Obama will lead the country for another four years. But while the Electoral College was decisive, the popular vote was essentially split; as a group, the American people remain deeply divided over many critical issues facing our nation – from health care to national defense.

This week, while national attention has been focused on politics at the highest level, fishery managers along the west coast quietly demonstrated unity and leadership by voting to advance important protections for forage fish – the small and often forgotten fish that form the base of the ocean food web.

Why is this such a big deal? Because as in politics, fisheries management is often divisive and making progress requires leadership. When our officials take important steps to better protect the ocean we should give credit where credit is due. Continue reading »

A Requiem for Proposition 37? Not if Californians Vote “Yes” Tomorrow

Posted On November 5, 2012 by

Buzz around proposition 37 has grown steadily over the summer and is peaking now. Credit: Upwell

My latest post for National Geographic Ocean Views, about how an anti-Prop. 37 ad blitz from companies like Monsanto is threatening Californians’ right to know what they’re eating, is drawing lots of discussion. Here’s an excerpt from the post:

While Ocean Conservancy concludes we don’t have enough information about the impacts of GE fish to move forward yet, like many supporters of Prop. 37, we also strongly believe that GE salmon should be clearly labeled if the federal Food and Drug Administration approves it for sale.

Up until relatively recently, we were in good company with virtually twice as many California’s in support versus opposed to the initiative.

Then the money came in to play. Continue reading »

Dumpster Diving: What We Leave Behind on the Beach Reveals a lot About Us

Posted On October 18, 2012 by

I recently started writing about ocean views over at the National Geographic News Watch blog. My first post explores the trash we found during this year’s International Coastal Cleanup and what we learned during a subsequent research project dubbed “Trashlab.” As you might expect, the things we leave behind on the beach reveal a lot about our society as a whole. As I write in my post:

Bags from some of the beaches were bursting with bottles and cans of every variety. Beaches in the more rural northern portion of Santa Cruz County are well known by locals as “party beaches” and the trash left behind certainly confirms it. Beer is the clear beverage of choice but interestingly, brews range from the cheapest of swill to the finest of local microbrews. It appears that beer drinkers are equal-opportunity litterers. I expected beaches in the more populated areas, frequented by families and tourists might be cleaner, but only the nature of debris, not quantity, changed. Food wrappers of all types – from fast food takeout containers to every possible variety of potato chips, cracker, candy and other snack food were plentiful. It was clear – folks don’t come to the beach to eat health food.

 

After we removed and weighed these and the other obvious items, a mass of unidentifiable junk, including large amounts of plastic fragments, remained. The conclusion was apparent: pretty much anything you can imagine will, unfortunately, be found on the beach.

Read more on what we learned about ocean trash and what we can do to stop it at National Geographic News Watch. You can also follow my posts here.

Confronting Ocean Acidification: It’s Going to Take a Village

Posted On October 2, 2012 by

I’m really hoping last week was a turning point for the ocean. After spending a sobering week in Montereyat a gathering of over 500 ocean scientists, where I learned the latest about the threat of ocean acidification to the health of the ocean, I’ve concluded we are all going to have to pull together if we want a livable ocean in the future.

Since the first global conference on ocean acidification in 2004, a large and passionate group of scientists has coalesced to determine what is happening to our ocean.  Some of these leaders were profiled in the Washington Post yesterday, names that aren’t yet known to the general public but who are firsthand witnesses to a changing ocean. Folks like Dick Feeley, Gretchen Hofmann and Jean-Pierre Gattuso are ocean pioneers, working overtime to understand the threat that our continued burning of fossil fuels poses to the ocean.  Their insights and those from many of their colleagues are now pouring in across a range of scientific disciplines from oceanography to ecology and evolution. While last week’s conference shows that the science on specific species and how they might react is variable and nuanced, one conclusion is clear – ocean acidification is real, it is happening now and it is impacting real people. Scientists can’t yet predict exactly what will happen to every species, but it is clear that the ocean of the future will be fundamentally different from that of today, unless we work together to stem the tide of ocean acidification. Continue reading »

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One Nation, Divided…Except about GMOs

Posted On September 25, 2012 by

In the midst of this election season, it’s amazing how polarized the nation has become. No one can agree on anything. Instead of Americans, we’re now reduced to colors: blue and red. A steady stream of polls dissects how the messages from the two Presidential candidates resonate across all manner of demographics. Regardless of who wins in November, the vote will be a nearly 50/50 tie, with half the country at odds with the winning candidate.

There is, however, at least one major exception – the public’s desire to know what’s in their food. The question of whether consumers have the fundamental right to know how their food was produced, including whether it is genetically engineered, is on the ballot in California this fall, right alongside that for our next President. But unlike the polls about who should lead the country, polls testing interest in labeling of GMOs generally show over 90% agree genetically engineered food should be labeled.

Continue reading »

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Adventures in Social Media: Ocean Conservation in the Age of Twitter

Posted On September 12, 2012 by

Credit: wrongindustries flickr stream

I’m what tech companies refer to as a “late adopter”. I waited years to get an iPod and only recently replaced my 17-year old Sony Trinitron TV with a flat screen.  As an ocean conservation scientist, I prefer the look and feel of the print edition of Science to the digital version. Heck – I’m not even on Facebook – to my teenage daughter’s chagrin. But as social media has proliferated, I began to wonder what I was missing and whether there was a role for this new communication tool in my work here at Ocean Conservancy. When Sara Thomas from our Marketing and Communications Department offered to help me join the digital age, I leapt at the opportunity.

Its been two short weeks since I set up my Twitter account and I am now convinced that social media can help us advance ocean conservation. I have just returned from the 10th International Seafood Summit in Hong Kong, where I led a panel on ocean acidification and live tweeted throughout the conference.  Like Twitter itself, my social media journey has been fast-paced. In mid-August, I posted my first few bland tweets about ocean issues. “Great job” encouraged Sara, my Twitter mentor, “but don’t be afraid to put a little more personality into your posts.” As a scientist, that’s not something I’m used to doing. I was trained to provide all the details and stick to the facts, and so too often dwell on the wonky policy implications of our work. But I am learning that cutting to the heart of the matter and emphazing the human dimension makes for a more engaging discussion. Continue reading »