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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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Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Photo by pclvv

Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Photo by pclvv

 

Sometimes, the best answer to a question really is another question.  I’m convinced that this is the case when faced with the common query these days:

“What is the one thing you recommend I should do to help stop climate change?”

It’s a fair question. And it often follows from presentations or events where a certain effect of climate change has been brought into focus. Such was the case during a question and answer session at the Waimea Film Festival, with Chasing Ice Director Jeff Orlowski and producer Paula DuPré Pesmen.  But, instead of stumbling through the familiar “top ten” list of things people can do, Orlowski responded, “I don’t know. It depends on you—and I don’t know you. To answer your question, I need to know: what are you good at?”

At first, this response might seem a dodge, or at the least, frustrating, for someone who just wants to be given a simple answer.  And there is some risk that in providing a response that requires some thought, we may dilute the participation levels of the crowds.  “People are too busy to think about it…just tell them what to do” is a common sentiment.

But, Pesmen and Orlowski provided a compelling argument for why that approach just doesn’t make sense:  it all comes down to passion.  Each one of us has our own interests, our own skill sets that we can bring to the table. And when we act based on those, we tend to follow through and have more impact. When it comes to Climate Change, the solution just requires each of us do SOMETHING.  The technology is there. The economics are there. What is preventing sound action on Climate Change is political will. And to create that, we need a massive shift in public engagement in the issue. We need everyone who is “too busy” to become engaged—to show that this is something that they care about.

The best way to make that happen is to encourage individuals to do something that draws from their own interest, their own skills, their own personal passion.

So, if you are an artist, paint. If you are an activist, create a demonstration. If you are a stay-at-home mom, teach your kids about energy saving and share your lessons with fellow moms. If you are good at writing, help organizations create editorials for the local paper. If you commute, start a carpool.  Each and every one of those things matters. Each shows a shift in public consciousness and values.

Orlowski used his talents as a filmmaker to create a documentary. Pesmen used her talents as a producer to move the film onto a larger stage.  The folks with the Crochet Coral Reefs project used their love of crocheting to raise awareness. The question is: what will you choose to do?

The Chasing Ice website has a “Make a Difference” section that provides both simple, concrete steps and more open-ended suggestions for how we can all make a difference.  The Learn section includes links to many fantastic resources and organizations that can serve as launch pads for your own interest. It’s a great place to start. But remember, there is no silver bullet to solve this. Let the answer to the question reflect your own colorful flare. Whatever your passion, make that your action. That’s the way to create true change.

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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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The news of the massive oil spill in the Gulf is as black as the goo darkening the once blue waters.  But even with lots of media coverage, it is hard to really wrap our heads around how big and damaging this spill really is.   Paul Rademacher’s Google Earth layer allows users to compare the size of the spill to their own cities.  Go ahead and check it out.  Seeing how the amoeba-like slick completely covered the entire island—the Big Island at that—where I lived, definitely help bring home the scale of this disaster.

Then, consider all the environmental damage that is already likely occurring, even before the glistening grease reaches shore.  At then, after getting mad, act.

That’s right. Act. Because you can do something—several things actually—right now to help.

Last week I posted a blog on Change.org that highlights all the ways each of us can help turn the crude tide.  If you are tired of simply listening to bad news, you can start putting your energy into some productive ways to help.  There are many volunteer options for those who live locally, and for those of us who aren’t near the Gulf, we can donate lots of other things in replace of time: money, detergent, and even the hair on our own heads.

As always in times of crisis, the human spirit and capacity for enormous innovation and creativity is coming through. It’s one of the few silver linings on this dark cloud.  So join in, and put some of that frustration to work to help make a difference—starting with signing a petition to urge the President to ban offshore drilling once and for all.  Prevent future disasters while supporting a greener, more efficient, stable energy economy. Now that is something worth digging deep for.

Photo credit: NASA Goddard

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To kick start the Earth Day celebrations, here’s a great article by Tara Lohan of AlertNet about five big ways we can help save the earth.  Stay tuned for my pick of 5 big ocean-specific ideas that I think show great potential for helping save the seas.

A little bit from Lohan’s piece:

“Forty years ago we were living in a different world. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River had recently caught fire, nuclear testing had dispersed radioactive material across the West, California was reeling from a massive oil spill, Americans sputtered about their endless highways spewing leaded fumes as the country continued on a post-World War II path bent on industrializing food and farming while growing industry at all cost — pollution and chemicals be damned.

Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, with the help of young organizer Denis Hayes, is credited with lighting the fuse of the modern environmental era on April 22, 1970 with the first Earth Day — an event that garnered the support of an incredible 20 million Americans across the country.”

She then goes on to say how Republicans and Democrats both got on board, and major progress was made. Progress that unfortunately, has been chipped away at over the last decade especially. And now “we’re still staring down the barrel of environmental catastrophe.”

What to do?

Lohan’s list includes:

1. A federal Clean Water Trust that will pay to restore the ridiculously out-dated and failing municipal water systems of our country, which lose 1/5 of our nation’s water supply to leaks and release over a trillion gallons of wastewater into our waterways annually—much of which flows out to sea.

2. Changing our Food System: individual and community-level actions to fix our unsustainable, industrialized, and processed-food dominant food system into one that is focused on small sustainable agriculture.  Ideas for individual choice and local government legislation that can help address these issues abound.

3. Bigger Isn’t Better: new ideas that counter the pervasive assumption that “growth” is the goal of the human enterprise. Instead, movements like Slow Food and Slow Money are showing that less can be more.

4. New Small Finance: how microloans and green investing are helping to launch social entrepreneurs and counter the culture of big finance.

5. Clean Energy: efforts to replace mountain top removal with wind farms, and create healthier, greener jobs are on the rise. Find out what you can do to support these efforts.

What efforts or ideas would you add to bring this list to a Top Ten??

I found this an inspiring, informative piece and hope it helps encourage you all to stay optimistic and engaged with fighting for this Blue Planet.

Kudos to you, Tara.

Photo credit: NASA

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Palmyra Atol, photo courtesy J. Smith

“I want to study coral reefs, but, I hear that they probably won’t be around for much longer, so I am not so sure that is such a good career choice.”  Prospective student, Steve Palumbi’s office, a few months back.

Dr. Steve Palumbi is not easily ruffled.  A veteran field scientist, he has taken on Japan’s powerful whaling industry (conducting clandestine tests of commercially sold whale meat by cloning the DNA in hotel bathrooms to accommodate CITES restrictions)— and successfully exposing the rampant illegal hunting that exists.  He has used molecular techniques to determine historic abundances of whales, challenging pro-whaling countries’ argument that some species have receovered enough to lift the global moratorium. But, all this experience didn’t prepared him for that prospective student’s decidedly depressing proclamation about an inevitable demise of coral reefs.

The surprise comes because we coral reef scientists know that while the news about climate change is dire, and the future of coral reefs is disturbingly precarious, it is not yet written.  I say this not out of some unrealistic clinging hope.  My certainty is grounded in the evidence of coral’s nature capacity to adapt and the potential that still exists within the policy realm (though the latter requires a slightly more desperate form of hope than the former).

But this perspective is clearly lacking in the next generation of would-be coral reef ecologists and likely lacking in the public at large.  It’s the unfortunate consequence of warnings gone awry: instead of motivating people to act to stop the worst, dire predictions result in a passive acquiescence that defeat is inevitable.

But coral reefs not destined to disappear, and certainly not by a force beyond our control.

Take the reefs of Ofu, in American Samoa. Dr. Palumbi described how periodic exposure throughout the year to pulses of warmer water seems to have conditioned resident corals to have greater resistance to bleaching than nearby corals occupying a different and cooler lagoon pool.  So some corals may be able to adapt to warming waters caused by climate change, at least to changes predicted for the next few years to decades.

And the same may be true for ocean acidification.  In the session, “Will Coral Reefs Disappear? Separating Fact from Conjecture,” water chemistry data across the reefs of Bermuda showed there were significant seasonal effects.  So while continued unabated acidification of seawater will undoubtedly lead to dissolving coral reefs, the frequent and regular exposure to more acidified waters in the summertime may allow for corals in Bermuda to adapt to global ocean acidification more readily than we might have first thought

This is the silver lining along the edge of the darkening storm cloud: reefs on the margins may serve as refuges of hope, and not just canaries in the coal mine.  In other words, living on the edge (in terms of geographic distribution, depth, water quality or other environmental parameter), may confer resilience or resistance to corals that will help them hold out against climate change for longer than we anticipated.

But not forever.  It’s an intelligent optimism we hold, bound by the realities that the situation is indeed, grave. But, not predetermined.   We must act now to protect potential refuges as best as we can from other stressors as we continue to work to stop climate change.

So to the future grad students or the despondent masses out there: those who know the most continue to push for action, to argue that coral reefs have not yet given up the ghost (though they may indeed be changed). I spent all day in those lectures halls and can assure you there were no fat ladies singing. Until the experts say the gig is up, I say we stay the course and keep working for solutions.

Big marine reserves are one kind of solution and gaining momentum through the Pew Environment Group’s Global Ocean Legacy program.  Getting passed a National Ocean Policy that uses ecosystem based management is another. Sign the petition to help.

This post was modified from the original I posted at Science Blogs.

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“One Fish, Two Fish

Red Fish, Blue Fish” So goes the famous Dr. Seuss book, teaching kids to read and count. Now, those same red and blue fish can teach restaurants how to stop overfishing… and you can help.

Forget Zagat’s and say later to Michelin: there’s a new way to find the best seafood restaurants in town, and this time, “best” coincides as much with sustainability as it does taste.  Fish2Fork is a new online restaurant ranking system that allows you to look up restaurants in your area and find out which ones are supporting more sustainable seafood options (five stars is replaced by five blue fish for best practices) or those driving the catch of the last endangered bluefin tuna (earning the worst rating, five red fish, and a scathing write up). The rankings allow you, the customer, to make an informed decision about where you want to eat.

But, even better, here’s a chance to fulfill that childhood secret agent fantasy for a worthy cause: go spy on your own favorite establishments. Restaurants and customers can fill out the online questionnaire, and along with the restaurant’s menu and their website, Fish2Fork will create a ranking. So you can help support those restaurants doing the right thing, but also expose those that aren’t.

See my blog about Fish2Fork on the environment section of Change.org to find out a bit more on how it works.  (And it does work, by the way. The UK version is up and running and has already led to several restaurants pulling endangered species off their menus).

The take home message is this: over half the seafood consumed in the U.S is bought in restaurants.  That means restaurants have enormous buying power, which could translate into real change on the water.  So the next time you’re hunkering for some sushi, check out Fish2Fork’s database to find a fish bar that not only serves up a fresh catch, but a catch you can feel good about consuming, too.  If you don’t see any restaurants listed in your area, its a great time to fulfill that inner spy: grab a pen and take some notes on a local restaurant and enter them in.  And, if you feel as confident as a true 007 should, let the restaurant know about the site — encourage them to register, and most importantly, improve their ways.

Photo credit: Pierre-Olivier

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