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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

About George Leonard

George Leonard is Chief Scientist at Ocean Conservancy. With a PhD in marine ecology, he works to advance science-based solutions to the big challenges facing the future of our oceans. A long-time scuba diver, George knew he wanted to be a marine biologist at the age of 12. During his graduate work, he logged over 600 dives studying the undersea world off California and the East Coast. You can follow George on Twitter at @GeorgeHLeonard.

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When Facing Ocean Acidification it’s Location, Location, Location

Posted On March 7, 2013 by

© 2013 Barbara Kinney/Ocean Conservancy All RIghts Reserved

For us landlubbers, it is obvious that place matters.  My home town in central California is a pretty different place than say, Washington DC, where I often travel to advocate on behalf of ocean conservation.  The weather is different, the food is different, and the culture – not to mention the politics – is certainly different.

It turns out that place really matters in the ocean too, especially as it relates to ocean acidification.  Never heard of ocean acidification?  Check out some of my earlier posts to learn more about the basics.  But what we learned from scientists last week is that the chemical characteristics of the ocean vary greatly from place to place, and as a result some areas may be especially sensitive to increases in carbon dioxide and other drivers of acidification.  A team of oceanographers led by Dr. Aleck Wang sampled seawater from Texas to New Hampshire and measured the total amount of carbon in the water as well as what scientists call “alkalinity.” The ratio of alkalinity to total carbon is a measure of the buffering capacity of the ocean, or in layman’s terms, the ocean’s ability to resist acidification. What the scientists found was that the Gulf of Maine is much more susceptible to acidification than the Gulf of Mexico or the southeastern coast.  Continue reading »

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Mark Lynas and GMOs: the Case of Genetically Engineered Salmon

Posted On January 16, 2013 by

When I was rambunctious kid, my mother always told me it was more effective to get someone’s attention with a whisper than a shout. Earlier this month, Mark Lynas, the well-known anti-GMO activist, got everyone’s attention by changing his long-held position on genetically-modified foods. But he didn’t scream it from the rooftops or otherwise perform a media-grabbing stunt like his famous pie-throwing incident. He calmly, thoughtfully, and yet forcefully explained in front of an academic audience in London how he had come to this change of heart.

In short, Lynas maintained he “had discovered science”. Over the course of an hour, he minced no words while eviscerating what he called the anti-science NGO community that has long opposed the development and deployment of GE crops – and of which Lynas was a leading figure for over a decade. The foundation of his argument was that there is now a scientific consensus that there are no health effects of genetically-engineered crops and after 3 trillion meals eaten with no demonstrable evidence of harm, “the GMO debate is over”. While many have countered Lynas’ treatise, there remain a host of unanswered questions about the environmental risks of GE animals – especially fish – should this technology proliferate beyond plants. Scientific consensus has not yet emerged and it is needed if a skeptical public is to accept GE fish.

Continue reading »

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The Seafood Seven? Senators Act to Delay FDA Ruling on GE Salmon

Posted On January 12, 2013 by

Salmon jump. From Nagem R.’s Flickr Stream. Used under a Creative Commons License.

If you missed the Food and Drug Administration’s controversial ruling during the holidays – to recommend approval of an engineered variant of farmed Atlantic salmon as the first-ever, genetically engineered animal allowed for human consumption – you aren’t the only one.

It came as a surprise to conservationists, media and policymakers alike, and the ruling opened a surprisingly short public comment period that closes on February 25.

Thankfully, seven U.S. senators are standing up for the ocean and for healthy, sustainable seafood by sending a letter to FDA commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg today requesting a 60-day extension to the public comment period. The senators rightly believe that the public deserves more time to adequately review and comment on the FDA’s lengthy, yet intentionally narrow, report that will have far-reaching implications for the future of fish and the health of the seafood on our plates and in our ocean.

Ocean Conservancy commends the strong stance taken by Senators Begich and Murkowski of Alaska, Senators Murray and Cantwell of Washington State, Senators Wyden and Merkley of Oregon, and Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland.

Continue reading »

FDA Misses the Boat in Signaling Approval of Genetically Engineered Salmon

Posted On December 28, 2012 by

Just as I was getting ready to head out for my Christmas break last week, my email Inbox signals that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has released its recommendation to approve the first-ever, genetically engineered animal for human consumption. For those who track the FDA, they know this isn’t unusual – the agency often makes controversial rulings right before the holidays, when decision makers, media and the public are trying to have some well-deserved downtime with their families. It was a kind of an unwelcome, fishy Christmas surprise, nestled among the garland and mistletoe.

My latest piece for National Geographic explains just how dangerous this recommendation is and what Congress needs to do in the new year to make sure these controversial fish do not make it to the ocean. The U.S. is simply not equipped to deal with this scenario.

Read my blog post on National Geographic News Watch here.

Dr. Lubchenco’s Return to Academia: A Personal Perspective

Posted On December 14, 2012 by

Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator discusses the U.S. 2010 Science and Technology R&D Budget at the American Association for the Advancement of Science auditorium, Thursday, May 7, 2009, in Washington. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

When Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced this week that she was returning to Oregon State University for personal reasons, I wasn’t surprised. I had the pleasure of being a postdoctoral associate in her lab for a short while in the late 1990’s and I came to know how important her home on the Oregon coast was to her.

Over the last 4 decades, Dr. Lubchenco has built a remarkable scientific career which has ranged from intertidal ecology to serving as President for the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS). As a recent Ph.D. in her lab, I benefited greatly from her scientific advice. But perhaps more importantly, as a father of two young children at the time, I benefited from her guidance on how to balance work and family.

Continue reading »

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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 »