Thursday, July 12, 2012

More than 40 Years in the Struggle for Ocean Policy

Seaweb staff recently attended a panel discussion of the history of U.S. ocean policy since key environmental regulations in the early 1970s held during Capital Hill Ocean Week.

On the celebration of World Oceans Day - June 8 – and in support of a healthy, vibrant ocean, it is important to reflect on past challenges and accomplishments that have shaped the ocean we know today.

Meg Caldwell of the Center for Ocean Solutions moderated the discussion between panelists Michael Weber of Resources Law Group, Steve Roady of Earthjustice, and Andrew Rosenberg of Conservation International.

Panelists Steve Roady and Andrew Rosenberg

From the Cold War aspiration to create NOAA as the United States’ “wet NASA” in the competition for dominance in ocean science and technology to the fundamental shift from commercial to existence value for marine mammals heralded by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the panel spoke to the changes in marine policies that form the backbone of current ocean governance. Weber highlighted several key accomplishments made possible by government regulations, such as publicly operated waste treatment plants, the end of ocean dumping, the recovery of several key fish stocks, and the rehabilitation of endangered marine mammals and sea turtles.

Rosenberg emphasized how contentious it can be to turn sweeping language from Congress into quantifiable limits, such as in the recent disagreements over what it means for a stock to be “overfished.” In addition, he stressed the importance of separating scientific choices—based on fisheries’ statistics, for example— from societal choices dictated by the views, wants, and needs of the people that may be unrelated to scientific data.

Changing societal views in order to build support for ocean policies, according to Roady, can be achieved through education of American citizens, and their ability to recognize the connection between daily actions and the associated impact on marine environments.

“If the public understood that dumping fertilizers into a river in Iowa affects the Gulf of Mexico, there may be the public support needed for representatives to vote for protection policies,” Roady said.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Seafood Fraud Event

On the very first day of my internship with Seaweb’s Seafood Choices program, I had the pleasure of attending a reception hosted by marine conservation organization Oceana focused on ending seafood fraud. Actress and ocean activist Angela Kinsey of NBC’s “The Office” and renowned Washington DC chef Barton Seaver were on hand to explain the importance of accurate seafood labeling and the importance of traceability “from boat to plate”. Speaking as a concerned mother, Ms. Kinsey said it was important “to know what I’m putting on the dinner table for my family”, and stressed the importance of correctly labeling seafood so she could make healthy decisions for her children. Mr. Seaver emphasized how seafood mislabeling challenges his responsibility as a chef to provide safe, healthy, and sustainably sourced meals for his customers.

Angela Kinsey (in pink) of NBC's "The Office" with attendees Emily Vuxton,
Beth Porter, and Kate Brogan at Oceana's Seafood Fraud reception

The reception was held at the National Aquarium in Washington DC, and guests were treated to views of leopard sharks, sea anemones, and pufferfish throughout the evening. Chef Xavier Deshayes of the Ronald Reagan Building, who catered the event with sustainable seafood offerings, engaged quests in a fun activity as they mingled during the event, challenging them to correctly identify farm raised and wild caught salmon samples being served without labels. Many in the audience, including myself, were surprised by the results announced at the end of the evening! Guessing games aside, Oceana and the National Aquarium hosted an informative event that educated attendees about the need to take action against seafood fraud. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Clear Communications Key to Ocean Conservation

At the beginning of a wet and balmy week on the verdant Caribbean isle of Guadeloupe, approximately sixty participants converged for the 4th International Tropical Marine Ecosystem Management Symposium (ITMEMS4). The aim of ITMEMS is to bring together coastal and marine managers in order that they may share knowledge, experiences and tools for tackling common challenges of managing tropical ecosystems, which include coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves.

“ITMEMS has provided me with an opportunity to share lessons and
best practices with other professionals from tropical regions around the world.”
Dishon Murage – Marine & Coastal Resources Programme Coordinator,
East African Wildlife Society, Kenya

Scott Radway, Director of SeaWeb's Asia Pacific Programme,
facilitates a communications training session. Photo - Russ Avery.

It’s all too rare that marine and coastal managers are able to meet face-to-face with each other, and with communications experts, coral reef scientists and technical trainers to discuss the issues they face in their work. The participants at this latest ITMEMS represented twenty-one countries in total, covering a truly vast area of ocean and variety of tropical marine ecosystems.

Throughout the symposium, participants gathered in
small groups for tailored workshops. Photo - Russ Avery

The reason this symposium continues to be so effective is that although coastal and marine managers may be from different countries and cultures, they all share the same challenges. Over four packed days in Guadeloupe, participants engaged with each other in a variety of workshops and mentoring sessions. The buzz was constant throughout the conference and there was a tangible energy in each of the discussions, which overflowed into the evenings, long after the days’ sessions came to an end.

“ITMEMS has provided me with the capacity-building tools to take back home and help us with the development of our management system.”
Alwyn Ponteen – Chief Fisheries Officer,
Ministry of Agriculture, Lands, Housing & Environment, Montserrat

The ITMEMS4 group. 21 countries were represented
by approximately sixty participants. Photo - Russ Avery.

At ITMEMS4, successful communications has not only enabled participants to share their knowledge with each other, but has also offered new ideas and step-wise tools to enable more effective engagement of local communities and stakeholders in management once they have returned home. The success of the symposium has demonstrated that the need for effective communications among the ocean conservation community is crucial.

“Coming to ITMEMS has been a great experience – learning from regional colleagues and partners within the wider Caribbean and also internationally”
Annelise Hagan – Science Programme Director,
Southern Environmental Association, Belize

The setting sun as seen from Sainte-Anne, Guadeloupe.
Photo - Russ Avery.

Friday, December 9, 2011

The complexities of coastal restoration: Revisiting the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Attempts to control Deepwater Horizon fire.
Credit: U.S. Coast Guard/Marine Photobank.

Over the last year and a half there has been much attention to restoring the coastal ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. But these efforts have been less than simple, as have the goals in restoration. On November 16th experts from around the country came together to discuss the complexity in restoring these ecosystems for both economic and ecological benefits. The panel discussion, titled ‘Restoring the Ecological and Economic Vitality of the Gulf of Mexico’ and moderated by Mr. David Malakoff of Science Magazine, focused on some of the broad topics around valuing ecosystem services and the obstacles encountered in restoration attempts.
The marshes became flooded with oil
along the coast of Louisiana. Eileen Romero/Marine Photobank

As discussed by the panel members, the obstacles to effective restoration sometimes lie in both a lack of knowledge on how some ecological communities interact as well with the federal mandates for restoration programs. Dr. Nancy Rabalais, Executive Director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium pointed out that this mismatch can create a scenario of shifting baselines in ecological data that can be a hang up in implementing restoration plans. She suggested a landscape view approach to restoration-where stakeholders determine what they want to see in the coastal estuaries and marshes over the next 25-50 years and that through prioritizing a set vision in the plans could led to an effective realization of restoration goals. 

Man works to clean up oil from the beach.
Patrick Kelley, U.S. Coast Guard/Marine Photobank
The other main component of the discussion focused on the importance of recognizing and valuing ecosystem services. Ecological modeling software and economic analysis serve as main techniques in identifying and ascribing monetary value to ecosystem processes, but there are other novel ways to discern the full impact of these systems as suggested by Dr. Heather Tallis, Lead Scientist at the Natural Capital Project.  Taking an ecosystem services ‘watershed’ approach- where ecological attributes, like critical fish habitat, are linked to the people who receive first (recreational & commercial fishermen) or secondary benefits (consumers, local businesses) within a geographical boundary- can help better illustrate the importance of certain ecosystem services to a region.

In moving forward, the panel made it clear that there is still much work to be done, with the full impact of the oil spill yet to be seen.  

Written By: Kirby-Rootes Murdy

Monday, September 26, 2011

Not So Much of a Demon After All

Sijmon de Waal/Marine Photobank.

The interaction of humans and sharks began only a short time ago, from a shark’s perspective. Sharks evolved somewhere around 400 million years ago and have been thriving on Earth ever since. In their most recent chapter of history they have encountered a new competitor, humans, who have quickly developed as a formidable foe and efficient predator. The populations of nearly every known species of shark have declined heavily in the last few decades and are still decreasing. The fate of sharks depends on our ability to turn this predator/prey relationship into a co-existing relationship that will maintain the integrity of the ocean ecosystem.
On Monday, September 19th, a group of conservationists gave up their lunch break to gather in the conference room of the World Wildlife Fund to hear Juliet Eilperin, Science and Environmental Reporter for the Washington Post, discuss her new book, Demon Fish. The goal of the book is to convince readers to reconsider their preconceptions about sharks, inform them about problems these marine animals are facing, and educate them about what can be done to help sharks. Eilperin began by talking about the perceptions of sharks throughout history and how early humans portrayed them. Many early island cultures drew pictures of sharks and displayed them always as powerful, but sometimes benevolent and sometimes dangerous - a view that Eilperin believes we should return to. The view that the public holds today is of great fear that sharks are out to attack whenever they can, which is not the case. Her research noted that the Western world forgot about sharks in the Middle Ages until seafaring journeys became more common.
The great fear of sharks started when tales were told of sailors being attacked out at sea. Very few people had ever seen a shark before, so when they heard these great tales of beasts and saw portrayals by artists - ,many of whom had never seen sharks - of violent attacks, the public became terrified. At this time in history the Ocean was very much a mystery because humans didn’t have a way to explore the depths. This thought of monsters coming up from the depths became, and still is, frightening.
In 1916, there were a string of shark attacks on the New Jersey shore, which led to the film that viewers either love or hate: Jaws. This film sparked fear into millions of Americans and has had a heavy impact on the perception of sharks in the Western world. Peter Benchley, the director, had never seen a shark before making the movie and went on to become a serious advocate for sharks before his death in 2006.
Eilperin moved on to describe current issues affecting sharks. Many people are aware of the fact that up to 70 million sharks are killed every year to feed the Chinese shark fin soup habit. Eilperin had the opportunity to meet with shark fin merchants and visited markets in Hong Kong, where 80% of the shark fin trade takes place. According to one dealer that she talked to in Hong Kong, 20% of his fins sold from the market go to restaurants in Canada. Most of what she encountered were fins from sharks that were brought in full, not finned at sea, although she is sure that it does happen more than is visible. Eilperin is most shocked by the fact that the shark fin does not add any flavor to the soup at all, its only purpose is as a status symbol.
Sarah Valenti 2008/Marine Photobank.

The ecological and scientific importance of sharks is nowhere close to being fully understood and we are learning more and more about them as research progresses. We are still a long ways away from fully understanding the marine food chain and what could potentially happen if sharks were removed from the equation. Research is being conducted to mimic some natural shark functions, such as their ability to repel barnacles, attach to the bottom of boats, and cure diseases.
Eilperin is a proponent of ecotourism to help reduce the catch of sharks, as it helps to bring in alternate income to local economies. The value of a shark alive, through ecotourism and environmental factors, outweighs the value of shark fins and meat significantly. Fishermen should realize that shark finning is a dying industry and that by switching to ecotourism they can make more money for a longer term, in a sustainable fashion. Eilperin points out that there are limits to ecotourism, and activities such as feeding must be regulated so as not to alter the behavior of animals. In Grand Cayman, locals feed stingrays at Sting Ray City so that people can swim up close and personal to them, but as a result, the rays have gone from being nocturnal to diurnal due to the feeding.

Eilperin closed explaining how people do not think of the ocean as wilderness, like they do of Alaska or Yellowstone, because it is more difficult to see the beauty. When most people look out at the sea, they see a large, blue, homogeneous area full of water and do not realize the complexity of what lies beneath. The public needs to get away from the “out of sight, out of mind” way of thinking and realize that all life on earth is connected and that every person is impacted by what goes on in the ocean at all times.
(c) Terry Goss 2008/Marine Photobank.

Written by: Aaron Jacobson.  Follow him on Twitter: @idratherbedivin

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Finding Common Ground Between Seafood Messages

On the final morning of the conference, the group reconvened to review the outcomes from yesterday's working groups. Over the course of several hours, the participants dissected each of the proposed risk and benefit messages, parsing out different messages for different audiences. Several commonalities emerged from each group-

Consumption benefits:
  • Low calorie, nutrient rich, lean protein, heart health omega-3s
  • Supports cognitive development
  • Supports local fishermen
Consumption risks:
  • Threats to seafood supply
  • Contaminants (i.e. mercury, PCBs, etc) may have adverse health effects (neurological, development, cancer, etc)
  • Potential pathogens, foodborne illnesses, allergens
Under the overarching banner of "eat more seafood," the attendees addressed issues ranging from audience to communication strategies. The varied perspectives and viewpoints represented in the room alone reflect the incredibly complex, dynamic nature of seafood as a food source.

Ultimately, there is no single seafood consumption message that applies to an universal audience. Rather, a mixture of audiences (children vs adult vs elderly, etc), concerns (environmental, health benefits, health risks) and authorities (EPA, FDA, USDA, advocacy groups, etc) that must be considered. Moving forward, all of the participants agreed that consumers should learn more about the fish they eat to promote a better, more holistic understanding of this important dietary component.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Starting the Dialogue about the Great Seafood Debate

On a grey, drizzly Tuesday morning, 50 or so participants converged upon the University of Delaware for the "Framing the Message About Seafood" conference.

The conference kicked off with 8 presentations representing the government, industry, consumer and advocacy perspective. Each presenter tackled a different set of opportunities and challenges surrounding seafood consumption advisories, from risk communication to sustainability concerns. Following the talks, the attendees broke into four different working groups to distill the morning's messages down into simple, concise messages. After several hours of heated debate, each of the groups walked away from their session with a set of messages conveying the benefits and risks of seafood consumption. Each of these messages will serve as the grounds for tomorrow's discussion to combine and refine each idea into one or several concise consumption recommendations.

That afternoon, the team reconvened in the lobby for a bit of networking and poster presentations. KidSafe Seafood's poster generated some interesting dialogue around the NGO perspective and consumer messaging. Common themes throughout many of the conversations during the presentations and poster session adressed the potential roles, concerns and limitations of the consumer: How much information is too much? Should we communicated the risks AND the benefits? Should environmental messaging be incorporated with health messaging?

Following a quick break, the group joined up again at the conference center for dinner and drinks and the chance to unwind after a long day of discussion and debate. Dinner closed with an engaging dialogue led by Nancy Tringali Piho, author of "My Two-Year-Old East Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything." Parents old and new swapped stories and shared advice, bonding over their shared adventures in parenthood.

Stay tuned to find out if/what consensus is reached...can industry, government, consumer, health and environmental interests all agree on one message??