How do scientists choose their life’s work? For avid surfer Nick Mallos, a love of the ocean made marine biology an easy choice. But it was a black-and-white bird with a 6-foot wingspan that inspired him to focus his research on marine debris and clean up as many beaches as he can.
Nick first encountered the Laysan albatross during a grad school research trip to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. With over 450,000 nesting pairs, Midway Atoll is home to the largest Laysan population in the world. The birds cover the 2.4 square-mile area, nesting in every available nook, from abandoned WWII gun turrets to grassy cracks in the pavement.
But once you look beyond those birds, “you realize there’s this scattering of plastic over the entire island,” Nick says. “It’s impossible to not see plastic – it’s just everywhere. The most perverse part of it is that it’s most heavily concentrated around every nest.”
A priceless moment? Maybe, but effective ocean protection demands we quantify it via “surfonomics.”
The title and author are long forgotten, but I remember the story I used to read to my children. Mom and Dad didn’t have a lot of money, but they lived in a beautiful place and spent as much time as possible outdoors. When their children complained, the parents pointed out that while the family didn’t have a new car or the latest gadgets, they were able to watch the sunset almost every evening. They could stroll along the river at leisure. “How much is a morning on the beach worth?” Mom would ask. “What’s the value of watching the blackberries blossom and ripen?” Dad would say, gathering said berries for the family’s pancake breakfast.
The questions were rhetorical, the point being that nature’s “value” transcends that of mere money. A wonderful point – and one I could relate to while raising a family on a combination of student loans and part-time jobs as I worked on my degree – but when fighting political battles, awe and intrinsic value take a back seat to modern day economics.
Enter Chad Nelsen, environmental director for the Surfrider Foundation. Nelsen recently earned a doctorate of environmental science from UCLA and his work on surf economics was written about in the Washington Post last month.
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 Scienceto 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 »
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 »
Much has changed since a teenaged Feo Pitcairn took his first wildlife photographs and developed them in his parent’s cellar.
For one thing, he’s no longer using that darkroom; his equipment now includes high-definition digital cameras that produce images with up to 40 million pixels.
His work has been showcased at the Smithsonian, on PBS and in countless books, magazines and calendars. And his film “Ocean Voyagers,” narrated by Meryl Streep, has been converted to 3-D and nominated for an award at the upcoming BLUE Ocean Film Festival.
Most recently, he’s transitioned from natural-history filmmaking back to his first love, still photography, and he’s launching an online gallery to share his work with the world.
A former Ocean Conservancy board member and long-time supporter of the organization, Feo has also witnessed a great deal of change in the health of our ocean during his many years as a photographer. He shares his experiences and insights—as well as a slideshow of beautiful ocean images—after the jump.
The height of the summer beach season means many things: vacations, sleeping in, getting a tan; but for some ocean-goers, one fear can wind up taking over… Sharks.
Over the years sharks have been sensationalized as cold-blooded man-eaters. Peter Benchley’s “Jaws” certainly did a number on humanity when Spielberg brought this terrifying, Megalodon-Great White hybrid to life in the 1975 film adaptation. Since then, sharks have continued to sing a bittersweet symphony in our lives. We are terrified of these animals, yet completely fascinated by their behavior, size, and power.
While sharks maintain their status at the top of the food chain as the oceans’ greatest predator, humans are not on their preferred menu. There are many objects and activities that we encounter much more regularly that are more likely to kill us than the bite of a shark, outlined in our latest graphic above.