Ocean Currents » ecotourism http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 21 Apr 2017 20:52:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Local Concerns of Opening the Arctic and the Crystal Serenity http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/local-concerns-of-opening-the-arctic-and-the-crystal-serenity/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/local-concerns-of-opening-the-arctic-and-the-crystal-serenity/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 13:15:19 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12793

Guest blog by: Austin Ahmasuk

Last month the Crystal Serenity set sail from the Alaskan port of Seward on a voyage through the Northwest Passage to New York City, making it the first cruise ship of its size to attempt this journey. The luxury liner stopped at ports of call along the Alaskan coast, including the town of Nome (population 3,850). Thanks to Nome resident Austin Ahmasuk for sharing his perspective with us.

Peering seaward south of River Street at 7:57 am, I saw the ship climb over the horizon as it materialized out of the fog. The P/V Crystal Serenity, with 1,700 passengers and crew aboard, arrived on time as predicted and slowly made its way shoreward. My eyes were glued to its deliberate movements. I knew it was big and, as the largest cruise ship to visit Nome got closer, its size towered in contrast to Nome’s normally modest waterfront.

I scanned for signs of its escort vessel, the RRS Ernest Shackleton. It surely must be near to provide assistance in case something went wrong. But the Ernest Shackleton was nowhere to be seen. The website showed that it was in Baffin Bay, Canada several thousand miles distant!

If something were to go wrong—an oil spill or shipwreck—our small town’s local volunteers and handful of response vessels would be the ones expected to answer the call.

Luckily, nothing went wrong and so we avoided a disaster.

The Crystal Serenity loomed over Nome and filled the viewfinder of my camera as it began to ferry passengers to shore. I had paid so much attention to what was happening on the water I didn’t notice the commotion behind me. It appeared every available van and bus was summoned to accept the tourists. Ship to shore boats were lowered over the side from gantries. The ship was large enough it created its own leeward sanctuary of calm water.

The efficiency of it all was impressive. This cruise really had it nailed down, everything ran like clockwork. Heck, they didn’t need a port!

As the people made their way around town, it reminded of the days when I was a kid when busloads of tourists who had arrived by plane came to Nome. So, I had seen something like this before, but not for a long time. The people looked much the same from what I can remember. As a kid growing up in Nome, my friends and I would often be fishing and we usually became the tourist attraction. People would take pictures. Sometimes, we would hand over the pole and let them reel one in.

The powers that be made sure this visit would please the guests, signs were everywhere it seemed, welcoming people to Nome. The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley even spent time cleaning up a portion of Nome’s beach. Local road crews graded streets and cleared vegetation.

But, as I headed to the west side of Nome’s port for some different camera angles, this newest stage of shipping history took a different turn.

There is virtually no existing infrastructure to handle anticipated increases in Arctic vessel traffic. Nome is on the front line. On the west side of our port, administrative change has impacted the landscape, and is just the beginning of the negative impact that if continued will have an astounding impact beyond my lifetime.

The port site is a well-known pre-historic site that was destroyed when the Snake River mouth was moved to its present location to make for port improvements. The site traditionally called sanispik in my language means “place on the side” and has been used by generations for subsistence.

But now the government allows only Transportation Worker ID card carrying persons to enter its restricted areas. Alaska Native people have been using the mouth of the Snake River for millennia. But now a layer of a far removed bureaucracy governs who comes and who goes.

Then my thoughts got dirty—and by that I mean sewage. Surely 1,700 people on board must be generating waste. So, I looked up figures for average daily waste streams of a cruise that size. Those figures of course vary but we can assume some 12,000 gallons of blackwater alone as a conservative estimate are generated each day. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) stipulates treating those waste streams inside 12 miles, but the gloves are off outside that boundary. Luckily, the Crystal Serenity has stated that on its maiden voyage, it will treat wastewater outside of 12 nm, even though not required by law.

I was born in and raised in Nome, I am old enough to remember the days of the honey bucket in Nome when people used buckets as household toilets. I remember the honey bucket truck and the man who disposed of people’s honey buckets. Is the Crystal Serenity just a glorified honey bucket? The Crystal Serenity’s population is half the size of Nome. This floating city is allowed under MARPOL to generate untold amounts of untreated waste beyond 12 miles.  Fortunately the Crystal Serenity is treating their waste, but, as more and more passenger vessels make their way to this region, will they too treat wastewater when not required by law? No one wants waste in the ocean and I doubt most of us have the kind of optics to see what is going on 12 miles from shore, but who wants to monitor blackwater?

There have been steady cumulative impacts from all this progress and few stories are covering that impact and few probably will until a catastrophe happens. The Crystal Serenity represents a global force of change in the Arctic that has the potential to severely impact the life of Alaska Native people and the environment. Alaskans who are concerned about the environment are asking questions with a critical eye towards the future. For over 100 years, Alaska Native people in Nome have been displaced to some extent by progress, I only hope this global force of change creates a significant departure from the past.

About the Author: Austin Ahmasuk is a lifelong Nome resident, hunter, trapper and fisher.

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The Real-Life Shark Tank: Why Saving Sharks is a Good Investment http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/14/the-real-life-shark-tank-why-saving-sharks-is-a-good-investment/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/14/the-real-life-shark-tank-why-saving-sharks-is-a-good-investment/#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 21:54:10 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7811

I may be an ocean advocate, but I have been terrified of sharks for my entire life. So, on a recent trip to Hawaii, I decided to finally confront my fear and signed up for an ecotourism shark cage dive. When I gathered the courage to lower myself into the cage, I immediately came face to face with a large Galapagos shark and was shocked by the sense that an intelligent being was looking back.

Its movements were smooth and graceful as it glided tranquilly past; its gray, sleek body standing in beautiful contrast against the cobalt blue water as I began a tremendous discovery process that would change my view on sharks forever. After such a personal experience, I came home needing to learn more about these animals I’d feared for my entire life. What I discovered was that not only were sharks in trouble, but surprisingly that their disappearance would deliver a serious cost to us as well.

Scientists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed by humans every year. What makes matters worse is that one-third of all threatened sharks are subjected to targeted fishing. This targeted fishing usually happens for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. In this process, fishermen catch sharks and cut off their fins, often while they are still alive. Afterward, they throw the animals back into the ocean, where they slowly succumb to their injuries. In fact, in addition to targeted fishing, habitat loss, persecution and climate change are all threats to sharks.

As a byproduct of all these activities, an estimated 25 percent of sharks and rays are now threatened with extinction, according to a recent scientific report. Like large predators on land, sharks affect all species below them by keeping populations and the food web in balance. Sharks are an essential player in the ocean ecosystem. Restoring drastically reduced populations could take decades for many shark species, because sharks generally grow slowly, mature late and produce few young over their long lifetimes.

The destruction of shark populations creates not just environmental degradation, but also economic cost. Shark ecotourism generates $314 million each year, a figure that is expected to rise to $780 million in the near future. Meanwhile, the landed value of global shark fisheries is estimated at $630 million per year, a figure that has been declining for a decade. In fact, according to a study by the University of Miami, a shark is worth about $73 a day alive, but a set of fins for shark fin soup is only worth an average one-time payout of $50.

In addition to the economic benefits though, shark ecotourism also allows people to form perceptions of sharks for themselves. By observing sharks in their natural habitat through scuba diving, snorkeling, cage diving and boat tours in a sustainable manner, people are able to see the natural beauty of these creatures. Of course, there are good and bad shark tourism operations, but if these companies genuinely work to minimize their impact on the environment, these dives can promote conservation through the educational experience.

“Only after seeing people’s reactions did I see what effect it had,” said Stefanie Brendl, owner of Hawaii Shark Encounters, a company that organizes shark diving tours. When people get in the cage, participants are generally fearful of sharks or just out looking for a thrill. When they get out, they have a newfound understanding and appreciation of sharks.

So many are afraid of sharks, when they should really be afraid of what will happen if they’re gone. If you’re wondering where you can start, I’d suggest participating in conservation-minded shark ecotourism by patronizing companies that minimize interference with the behavior of sharks. This way, you can discover these majestic sea animals for yourself like I did.

From there though, we need to take action. You should make a point to stop eating shark fin soup if you do, and restaurants should be encouraged to remove it from the menus to provide the pressure needed to halt this practice. People should also research the seafood that they eat and avoid eating fish from fisheries with a high rate of shark bycatch. Doing so may not solve the problem entirely, but it will significantly cut down on the threats to sharks.

The truth is it doesn’t matter if the context is environmental or economic; the world just can’t afford to lose 100 million sharks a year. It’s time to make a good investment: saving sharks.

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Can 500 Underwater Statues Help The Ocean? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/23/can-500-underwater-statues-help-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/23/can-500-underwater-statues-help-the-ocean/#comments Thu, 23 Aug 2012 18:23:15 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2484

Underwater statues are fun to look at, but can they really function as an artificial reef? Credit: Jim Bahn flickr stream

Two of my favorite pastimes are visiting art museums and exploring new underwater habitats. But combining the two can be environmentally risky. That’s why there are a couple of things that concern me about Jason deCaires Taylor’s project in Cancun, Mexico, that has placed 500 statues as an underwater tourist attraction. Here are a couple questions I asked myself after hearing about the site.

1. How does it help ocean health?

The artist, Jason deCaires Taylor, mentions that his statues at Museo Subacuático de Arte (MUSA) are being covered with coral and algae, but this does not necessarily mean his statues are helping the ocean. When implementing artificial reefs, the placement of human-made structures onto the seafloor, you need to have biological goals in place. This ensures that your artificial reef, or 500 statues in this case, contains organisms that can co-exist in a way that mimics the natural food web over time instead of throwing it out of balance.

2. Are the statues secure?

Artificial reefs can unintentionally damage surrounding sensitive marine habitats during storms. In the U.S., strong storms can move old, sunken naval ships across the seafloor, creating deep scour depressions and plowing through live bottom habitat. Mr. Taylor’s work has been damaged by storms and part of it collapsed. What happened to those collapsed pieces? Did they move or, worse, damage a nearby sensitive habitat? Without proper monitoring, you won’t know if you’re making progress towards your biological goals or if you’ve accidently damaged nearby habitats.

3. What is the conservation goal, and is it actually being fulfilled?

Currently, about 750,000 people visit MUSA annually. Mr. Taylor states that his exhibit serves as a conservation effort by drawing divers and snorkelers away from the Mesoamerican Reef. This is Mr. Taylor’s assumption since there’s no mention of monitoring or surveys to gauge if visitors are linking their visit to his statues with a visit to the Mesoamerican Reef. Without some type of monitoring, it is difficult, if not impossible, to say with certainty that few of MUSA’s visitors are swimming in the Mesoamerican Reef. MUSA could even be drawing more people to the Mesoamerican Reef.

Artificial reefs must have carefully thought-out objectives over a long timespan and be designed appropriately to achieve those objective. Additionally, there must be monitoring in place to measure progress towards the set of objectives. Otherwise, artificial reefs could inadvertently further damage the ocean that we love.

The main threats affecting the Mesoamerican Reef are climate change, fishing, shipping traffic of oil tankers, pollution from municipal waste contamination, sedimentation from inland deforestation, agricultural runoff, growing coastal development, tourism and aquaculture.

I think tourism will continue to grow in the Mesoamerican Reef, which is why our business choices are extremely important. Tourists can reduce impacts to the reef by supporting environmentally friendly businesses. This requires doing your research, which can be time consuming, but very rewarding when you’re helping the ocean you love. Check out these resources to get you started in planning an ocean-friendly exploration to the Mesoamerican Reef:

Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance

Sustainable Travel & Ecotourism in Mexico at Frommer’s

Centro Ecologico Sian Ka’an (CE SiaK)

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Dreaming of Swimming with Sharks? Start with “the Domino” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/17/dreaming-of-swimming-with-sharks-start-with-the-domino/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/17/dreaming-of-swimming-with-sharks-start-with-the-domino/#comments Fri, 17 Aug 2012 19:35:46 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2309

High on my bucket list: a swim with sharks. And if I’m going to be up-close-and-personal, my first pick is to be introduced to the world’s biggest fish, the whale shark.

Nicknamed “dominoes,” these guys may grow to more than 65 feet over their long lives. To give you some perspective, recall the feeling you get standing next to the bulk of a school bus, typically less than 40 feet long. Now imagine being in the water with a whale shark. I’m thinking the wow factor is huge, especially after viewing this video.

The IUCN lists these gentle giants as “vulnerable.” Long sought after for their fins, (finnning has caused many shark populations to plummet), the good news is that whale sharks are now a growing draw for tourists. And there’s quite an emphasis on responsible practices when it comes to tours that offer swimming with whale sharks.

Hopefully, increasing awareness and appreciation of both their role in the sea and their ecotourism value for many coastal communities will give a new meaning to the term “domino effect,” and these beauties will thrive long into the future rather than facing a cascading population decline from finning and other threats in their ocean home.

I have to admit that I’m attracted by the fact that they’re slow-moving in a dreamy sort of way. And that they live in beautiful warm waters like Mexico’s Sea of Cortez. Besides, who can resist meeting a critter with polka dots? I think I’ll be moving this item up on my bucket list.

Video found on Sensory Ecology.

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