As the jumbo jet lifts off over the San Francisco Bay, I am nervous. I am on my way to the 12thSeafood 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.
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 »
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster harmed communities from Texas to Florida and damaged the Gulf ecosystem from the ocean floor to the surface across a vast swath of waters and shoreline. Restoring these damaged resources will require a comprehensive, Gulf-wide restoration plan that covers coastal environments, blue-water resources and Gulf communities.
Because wildlife like birds, fish and marine mammals move throughout the ecosystem making use of coastal, nearshore and offshore environments, effective restoration requires a holistic approach. For example, restoration efforts for oyster reefs or barrier islands in Texas should complement the work done in Alabama or in Florida so that the full suite of species and habitats can recover.
The state and federal officials responsible for creating such a plan, the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees, are making decisions about how to spend the balance of the $1 billion committed by BP for early restoration. The decisions they make about early restoration and about the longer-term restoration program to follow have the potential to pay enormous dividends to the Gulf for generations.
To help the Trustees build an effective plan, a coalition of nonprofit groups, including Ocean Conservancy, has created a portfolio of 39 projects that reflect an integrated and Gulf-wide approach to restoration. Continue reading »
George Leonard finds an ocean ecosystem in downtown Santa Cruz.
Standing on the sidewalk in downtown Santa Cruz, I gaze upon a fish. Actually several fish. An entire ocean ecosystem really. Captured artistically in bronze. The dramatic sculpture depicts a spiral of sharks, tuna, salmon, and marine mammals, connected to and supported by a swirling mass of smaller fish – sardines or maybe anchovies. Commonly known as ‘bait fish’ or ‘forage fish’, these small fish are the base of the food chain, the vital foundation that supports all the larger fish in the ocean. Scientists warn that they need better protection around the globe.
This week, the Pacific Fishery Management Council took a bold and important step towards protecting forage fish and in turn the ocean ecosystem itself. Charged with setting catch limits, seasons and gear restrictions designed to ensure the long-term catch of a dizzying array of fisheries, this week’s action was somewhat unusual. Instead of deciding how – and how many – fish should be caught, the Pacific Council basically decided that some fish shouldn’t be caught at all. At least not yet. Continue reading »
Two months into the program, we were curious how customers had reacted, as well as how Whole Foods management arrived at their decision. Seafood Quality Standards Coordinator Carrie Brownstein took a moment to answer our questions. Continue reading »
As I stand along the Santa Cruz shore gazing at the vast Pacific Ocean, all looks well. But a silent, unseen threat looms. We knew ocean acidification was a problem in the Pacific Northwest, where highly corrosive seawater threatens oysters and other species whose survival depends on being able to form shells. Acidified waters remove carbonate, a critical building block for many shelled animals like oysters, corals, and a host of other shell-building organisms. But when a new study published in the prestigious journal Science came across my desk last week, it caused my jaw to drop. Continue reading »