Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Aquaculture isn’t just about seafood anymore.  The future of sustainable aquaculture lies in farms that not only grow nutritious food, but also offer a robust business that serves multiple sectors of the economy while improving the environment.

“We’re talking about providing biofuel, organic fertilizer, and food while also restoring the environment.”

That’s how Bren Smith, founder of Thimble Island Oysters, summed up his big vision for saving oysters and the planet at a recent workshop put on by Future of Fish.

And how to do that?

Start farming seaweeds (or, as we science nerds call it, macroalgae) in addition to shellfish and/or fish.

It wasn’t the first time I heard this answer. The role of seaweed in saving the seas was something I had begun to think about over four years ago when I invited Stephen Cross to speak on a panel about how entrepreneurs could help save seafood and the sea.   His version of the multi-species model, Pacific SEA-lab in British Columbia, includes sablefish, mussels, sea cucumbers, oysters and kelp. Known as Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA), variations are springing up all over the globe, including a pilot study in the Bay of Fundy to test how mussels and kelp can benefit from (and help counter-act the negative effects of ) established salmon farms and an Israeli company call SeaOr Marine Enterprises that integrates seabream, seaweeds, and abalone.

The future of aquaculture is all about diversifying the products and spreading the risk for ocean farmers.  But the future of the planet is about creating businesses that can help, rather than harm, the ecosystem.  Farming seaweed alongside other marine species does both. It’s one of the opportunities the SOCAP13 Oceans track recently introduced to impact investors. And if that audience gets this big picture, it could really take things to the next level.

The rapid turnover rate of seaweed helps to balance out the slower-growing fish or shellfish, providing a harvestable crop that can help carry the farm when natural disasters (such as hurricane Sandy) or disease threaten the more sensitive species.

For example, Bren’s 300 sq ft plot can grow 24 tons of kelp every three to five months. If you are thinking “that’s a lot of sushi wrappers,” I agree. But kelp is far more versatile than that.  Adventurous and creative chefs are already concocting kelp ice cream, seaweed fettucine, and yes, a happy hour kelp cocktail.  But the use of kelp is not just in the food business.  This nutritious seaweed is also a source of biofuel, and its high nitrogen content makes it a great source of organic fertilizer.

As an investor, these farms offer the opportunity to invest in different sectors of the economy: seafood, agriculture (through fertilizers) and energy.

But, they do something else too.

Growing seaweeds helps to combat climate change and clean the water.  Kelp forests sequester more carbon dioxide than trees on land. This means IMTA farms can serve as a Blue Carbon source—a coastal habitat that stores carbon, helping to reduce the impact of climate change.   At the same time, shellfish and kelp both absorb nitrogen, reducing the effect of terrestrial run-off.  With carbon and nitrogen trading schemes already underway, IMTA ventures offer potential returns based on these environmental services, in addition to the products.

Dozens of IMTA research projects and already-established businesses are underway.  But, to move from pilot project to commercial farm, or from small-scale to large-scale operations, requires funds.  Bren recently turned to Kickstarter to generate the necessary funds to scale his operation (check out the link for a great video about his farm).  But investors can take it to the next level.  If they can see the multiple benefits and investment promise of IMTAs it could really change the financial playing field for ocean health.  I’m keeping my kelp fronds crossed that they do.


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Got hip replacement,vaccinated,or heart valve? Thank #horseshoecrabs ur not dead &help keep their oceanic orgies thriving. #sexinthesea http://ow.ly/oQNVR

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New post up for my blog on Sex in the Sea: “50 Shades of Grunion Run.” Soft porn for grunions. If only they could read it (and buy the book)…


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Message in a Bottle Frontside: interactive chalkboard where people write their wish for the ocean. by Brazenworks.

Message in a Bottle Frontside: interactive chalkboard where people write their wish for the ocean. Renderings by Brazenworks.

I was recently asked to serve as a science advisor for an extremely cool public art project called Message in a Bottle. The project is still pending approval, but is part of a group of proposals by designers, techies, and artists to help raise public awareness of ocean issues through art.

Funded by Blue Trail, this initiative will take advantage of the crowds drawn to SF for this year’s America’s Cup by installing several temporary, interactive art projects along the main walkways where the Cup festivities will be centered. I had never heard of Blue Trail before and am really excited to see the work they are doing to foster “Imagination + Innovation for Ocean Sustainability.”

And I have been absolutely blown away by the talents of “Team Peepshow”, the brilliance behind what I think is by far the BEST project proposed (OK, so I am biased. What do you think, having viewed the other contenders?)

Message in a Bottle: backside cabinet of curiosities for people to explore

Message in a Bottle: backside cabinet of curiosities for people to explore. By Brazenworks.

To have the opportunity to think creatively and work as part of a multidisciplinary team to accomplish bold, beautiful messages that can truly create impact—well, that is just about the best kind of “work” I can imagine. As a scientist, there is nothing more fun than sharing my knowledge and watching it become transformed into a cabinet of curios.

Message in a Bottle Backside: cabinets to be filled with ocean curios and facts to intrigue and inspire. Rendering by Brazenworks.

Message in a Bottle Backside: cabinets to be filled with ocean curios and facts to intrigue and inspire. Rendering by Brazenworks.

I am humbled by the extreme expertise and amazing caliber of design and execution that Brazenworks and the entire team put forth. (How did they make the bottle look so real, so already there??!!) Thank you, Heidi Q. for inviting me on board this journey. Projects like this restore my faith in people as a force for good (and beauty) on the planet. This is one bottle the oceans will benefit from having come to life.

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As the new year crashes against the shore, I am even more renewed in my efforts to bring positive stories of solutions that exist—in theory or practice—for solving some of the most pressing issues in ocean conservation.

Diver with underwater camera

Photo credit: NOAA

In that spirit, I wanted to provide an epilogue to the recent article “Get it While You Can” in Alert Divers winter 2012 issue.  Let me start by making clear that I am a HUGE fan of Divers Altert Network (DAN), who publishes Alert Diver, and have been a member for nearly two decades. For anyone who spends anytime under the surface, DAN is a must, and I have benefited greatly from their direct diving emergency support while in the field.  Alert Diver is a fantastic publication, filled with important and interesting information for divers of all types. For their efforts to support and educate all us water-hounds, I am deeply grateful.

However, this recent article by underwater photographer Stephen Fink left me rather deflated. Fink’s intention, I believe, was to be motivating. To inspire underwater photographers to get out there into the big blue and see all that is still there to behold and be bewildered by. It is a wonderful sentiment, yet, unfortunately, his approach took a rather depressing angle. He spoke of lost opportunities– places and fauna that he regrets having never captured on film before they were gone. He ends with “Get out there now. Enjoy. Celebrate. Shoot. Share. Have no regrets…there’s no time better than now to savor the reefs that are.”

For anyone who has spent more than 5-10 years peering beneath the waves, this is likely a familiar feeling. I, too, have witnessed the loss of beautiful fields of elkhorn and staghorn corals and the herds of parrotfish and surgeonfishes that used to graze among them.

And the reality is, we are losing corals and the biggest fish in the sea. But, instead of just crying out, “go, now quickly, before it is too late!” why not urge those die-hard underwater Ansel Adams’ to do something to STOP the decline? Fink’s article had such a fatalistic tone—as if the loss of these spectacular places was a given and even more importantly, something out of our hands.

But it is not.

Marine ecosystems are some of the most robust in the world.  Luckily, there have been very few actual extinctions in the sea in recent times. And the most pressing problems—overfishing, invasive species, climate change, pollution—are all things we can control. So, although the threats are mounting, there is still room for an heroic ending. We just need some more heroes. And who better than those devoted divers that spend their free time and a lot of cash, just to have the chance to see and photograph some of these amazing places?

Fink’s article focused on the sense of urgency that surrounded conversations about where to still find the “big stuff”—the humpbacks, great whites, whale sharks and giant mantas. The answer, more and more, is either remote locations or inside very large marine protected areas.

Endangered Monk seals in the NW Hawaiian Island's Papahanaumokuakea marine reserve

Endangered Monk seals in the NW Hawaiian Island’s Papahanaumokuakea marine reserve. Photo credit: NOAA

One of the most active groups fighting for protection of large ocean spaces is the Pew Environment Group.  Their Global Ocean Legacy program aims to create massive marine reserves across the globe. They successfully helped put the Chagos Archipelago, Marianas Trench, and the NW Hawaiian Islands on the fully protected marine reserve map. They are working now to protect a whole bunch more. You can receive updates for their campaigns and efforts here. Join and add your voice the cause.

Why settle for just getting it while you can when you can take action to ensure you (and your kids, and their kids) can get it whenever you wish?

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Ironically, our quest to “discover”  extra-terrestrial intelligence would benefit greatly from first acknowledging the other forms of intelligence that exist right here on Earth. All we have to do is look (and listen) underwater.

We know whales and dolphins are smart. We know they can understand our language (though, as Carl Sagan once noted, we have yet to learn theirs). But now it seems that they may be able to actually talk– or at least mimic our conversations.  A new study out today in Current Biology describes recordings of a captive Beluga whale, Noc, that sound exactly like, well, someone talking underwater.

In an interview with the authors, Huff Post notes that such findings do not mean we can expect to start fully communicating with whales.  No in-depth conversations about what’s happening beneath the waves…yet. But the effort and exactitude displayed by Noc does make one wonder if such communication would be possible. And, even more importantly, it calls into greater question how we treat these most intelligent of species.

Continued research on the nature of intelligence, language, and complex systems provides more and more evidence that dolphins and whales are extraordinary animals, capable of complex relationships and communication. They can use tools, and demonstrate cunning and planning.  They teach each other and help each other.  And their brain size is second only to our own.

Just this year, a coalition of psychologists, animal behaviorists, neuroscientists, and philosophers (note-these aren’t hippy dolphin huggers), came together at AAAS and called for cetaceans to be declared “non-human persons,” entitled to the same rights as people:  “We’re saying the science has shown that individuality – consciousness, self-awareness – is no longer a unique human property. That poses all kinds of challenges.”  Namely, whale hunts are out. As are the ever-controversial practice of holding dolphins in captivity. The argument is: if we wouldn’t do that to a person, we shouldn’t do that to a cetacean.

It is a strong and seemingly radical shift to consider non-humans as entitled to the same rights as people have. But the evidence is there, growing stronger each year. Is it ethical to wait until we are utterly convinced? I am not so sure. If in another 100 years the science is undeniable, will we regret that we did not act sooner? Is there a moral obligation to act with the precautionary approach here? I think there might be. I haven’t yet signed the Declaration of Cetacean Rights, but Noc’s recent conversing has me one step closer. And to be honest, I am not sure I know what I am waiting for…

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It’s my favorite kind of innovation: smart, practical, and problem-solving– on two fronts!  Check out this video about how one idea is helping to shed some free and green light for poor families while also reducing the waste from plastic bottles.  Given how much plastic winds up in the sea, providing an incentive for people to collect and re-use these bottles is key to helping clean up our oceans.  Thanks to Steve for passing along this story!

Plastic lights up the darkness

Photo by -Marlith-

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