The Blog Aquatic

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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.

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.

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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 »

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Ocean Acidification Anxiety at 36,000 Feet

Posted On September 5, 2012 by

Credit: swamibu flickr stream

As the jumbo jet lifts off over the San Francisco Bay, I am nervous. I am on my way to the 12th Seafood Summit in Hong Kong but I usually don’t have concerns about flying. It is a very long flight – 14 hours and 6 minutes to be exact – with plenty of time for last-minute preparations for the panel I am leading on ocean acidification. I should be relaxed; I have attended this event yearly, and I’ll see many old friends and colleagues during three days of important discussions about the future of the ocean and the seafood it provides to us all. But I’m not. I’m anxious. As we reach 36,000 feet, I realize that the pit in my stomach isn’t the result of a new-found fear of flying but the result of what I’ve learned about how ocean acidification is impacting our ocean.

For the last several months, I have worked with three leading ocean experts to craft our panel. While I have spoken at many conferences over the last two decades, this recent process has been one of personal discovery. When I began my graduate studies in the early 1990s, climate change and global warming were not yet household names. Since that time, ocean acidification has emerged as an existential threat to the future of a living sea. Carbon emissions in the atmosphere are increasing the acidity of the ocean, with implications for much of the ocean’s food web.

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What’s in a Number? Insights and Opportunities for Ocean Health

Posted On August 29, 2012 by

Credit: Mario Chow

What if you could take the pulse of the ocean? What if that measure could integrate all the threats and impacts to the ocean, rather than evaluating each one separately?  And instead of dwelling on these negatives, the metric could express the health of the ocean by quantifying and adding up the most important ways the ocean benefits humans.  Most importantly, the measure wouldn’t portray humans as separate from nature, but rather embed us deeply in this “seascape” and empower us – all of us – to chart a course for the future of the ocean.

The newly released Ocean Health Index (OHI) may very well get us there.  The OHI takes on the big issues – pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species, fishing and climate change – and its findings should cause us all to think hard about what we want the ocean to provide.  The short story is that the global ocean scores 60 out of a possible 100 points, with large variation among the 171 countries and territories evaluated.  Whether you view the glass as half empty or half full, there is clearly considerable room for improvement.  Continue reading »

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Fish and chips: wild, farmed or hybrid?

Posted On August 13, 2012 by

Do you know where the fish in your fish and chips came from? Credit: David Ascher

Next time you go to your local fish market, ask them for a hybrid fillet. My guess is they will stare at you with a confused look on their face or direct you to the local Toyota dealership. Most consumers and seafood retailers typically think of seafood as either farmed or wild. But if a new proposal on seafood labeling gains traction, you may soon see the term “hybrid” American lobster alongside wild Pacific Halibut and farmed Atlantic salmon.

Fishing is different than farming. Fishermen ply the seas and interact with the fish only once, when they capture it. Fish farmers, by contrast, tend their crop, generally from egg to juvenile fish to harvest as adults. Fishing is thus analogous to hunting, while aquaculture is more akin to farming.  Fishermen also tend to think of themselves as fundamentally different from fish farmers and there can be animosity among the two groups because their products compete in the marketplace. But deep down, most seafood experts have long known that this simple distinction isn’t really based on reality. Continue reading »

Genetically engineered organisms are in “hot water”

Posted On July 31, 2012 by

I’m pretty much a classic rock guy.  I grew up on the Stones, Springsteen, and Skynyrd.  But a new song caught my attention, as much for its message as its foot stomping beat.  The punk rock band “Hot Water Music” recently released a new single, “State ofGrace,” to bring attention to their concerns about the growing presence of genetically modified foods on our dinner plates. Give it a listen. It is a solid tune, but it’s also accompanied by a pretty edgy video that pushes the boundary of where science ends and art begins.  When I first watched it, my science side cringed but my artistic side was moved by the graphic images.

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