Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Troubled Waters - Reflections

The main reason for the survival of these whale mothers and their young is that their breeding grounds are protected. It also helps that they are a long way from human habitation and that they do not rely on echolocation to find mates or food.
For some places and species it is already too late. There has been no recovery of Canada's gigantic  Newfoundland cod fishery, even though fishing has been banned there since 1992 and, despite ever lower catch quotas, the northern cod fishery continues to plummet too. Likewise the catch of bluefin tuna. The yellow fin appears to be fished out. Yes, we can and we must continue to sign petitions. We  should continue to ask national governments to set up reserves, stop destructive practices and prosecute offenders effectively if they disobey the rules, but it is all too apparent that our efforts are fragmentary and that we are putting out spot fires, rather than dealing with the ongoing problems of ocean degradation and habitat change, especially when these extend way beyond national borders. This also applies to migratory species of both fish and birds. 

There have already been stand -offs between fishing fleets going back at least to the Cod Wars between Iceland and the UK 1972. The Faulklands War in 1982 is rumoured to have started because of a dispute over fishing rights. Icelanders and Scots were still in dispute over cod in  2010. I hate to think what will happen when fish disappear completely in one community, because of activity in the next. And who will be the Policeman when one country acts with complete disregard for the rest?  At present, the UN seems powerless to enforce anything. Sometimes what is good for individual countries, is detrimental to the whole e.g. Japan’s UN sponsorship of small Caribbean  nations in exchange for their support to overturn the ban on Whaling, or in the case of others, development assistance in exchange for fishing rights (Indonesia). 
 The tragedy of the latter is that this often displaces local populations who have traditionally made their livelihoods from the same seas. What should they live on, once the resource is gone – something that was inconceivable under traditional fishing regimes, but entirely possible under modern factory –style fishing? Join the waves of immigrants into already crowded cities? Or risk life and limb by becoming refugees in 'leaky boats?  As European fisheries began to decline and their  “heavily subsidised fleets converged on  the West Coast of Africa –buying licenses to fish off the coasts of Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Morocco, and Senegal" they found themselves in competition with fleets from China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Taiwan, because income from fishing licences " can account for half of government revenue in  poor countries such as Mauritania and Guinea-Bissau."  The upshot of this, as Janet Larsen  of the Earth Policy Institute explains, is that

 "Unfortunately for the Africans, their fisheries too are collapsing. In Senegal, where local fishers with small boats once could quickly fill their craft with fish, on many days now they cannot catch enough fish to cover even their fuel costs. As one Senegalese tribal elder said, “Poverty came to Senegal with these fishing agreements.”  Read More....

I fear that something similar may be happening in the Pacific Islands. When I visited four years ago, all government ministers of one nation had just been given shiny black cars - (Mercedes?),  by a Chinese delegation in gratitude for having been granted fishing rights. (Ironically only two of the nation's 83 islands had anything that could be called a road). Most islanders still make a subsistence living from the sea - usually with traditional tools such as simple outrigger canoes, pole and line or at most, small open boats fitted with an outboard motor, so would have no idea of what factory -style fishing would mean for the delicate lagoons and reefs which have provided most of their own food for centuries. Though they may look poor to Westerners and use very little money, they could always be self sufficient, even with little formal employment. In that respect, despite a recently developed taste for cell phones and televisions, they are richer than we are. For this reason, I am very pleased that Greenpeace has taken up this issue. It would be better still however, if Development Agencies working in those countries, paid more attention to such unequal partnerships to prevent the inevitable overfishing and displacement in future. While the fishing fleets will simply move on, the islanders cannot.


The good news is that on February 24, 2012  a new coalition,  The Global Partnership for Oceans was announced. In partnership with the World Bank, it includes many governments, international organizations, civil society groups, and private sector interests.  As head of the the World Bank Robert Zoelleck said  in his keynote speech,


"The world’s oceans are in danger, and the enormity of the challenge is bigger than one country or organisation. We need coordinated action to retore our oceans to health…."


According to Janet Larsen the two biggest Issues which need to be tackled are stabilising global population and stopping further climate change. Beyond that, there is a need for more reserves (only 2% of the world’s oceans are presently protected compared to 12% of the land), and adequate protection of same.

Watching the wreck of the Costa Concordia lying on its side leaking oil  in Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, a World Heritage Area created by France, Italy and Monaco and home to five kinds of dolphin, five different species of whale, tuna, swordfish and sharks, all manner of seabirds and the endangered Mediterranean monk seals, makes me think that no international shipping  at all should be allowed in Internationally Protected  World Heritage Areas.  Whale watching by 23 small boat operators generated 1.730,000 euros in 2005. Carefully managed, it could provide sustainable long term employment for local people without grave risk the resource base. Read more.... 


 We also need better practices on fish farms and an end to pouring effluent into to the sea. The good news on this front is that when Soviet occupation of neighbouring lands around the Black Sea stopped, and fertiliser use declined with no noticaeble loss of agricultural production, the dead zone at the top of the Black Sea declined also. Read more...

Combined international pressure such as boycotts and economic sanctions could help stop the worst forms of pollution and bring rogue nations to heel, but given that the response so far to Rio +20 in June, has been muted at best, we must continue to support the dedicated people and organisations who have been working constantly to protect marine life for years - doing research, lobbying governments, looking for solutions and creating public awareness. Many of them have recently joined forces too as the Ocean Alliance.  This does not however, absolve us of our other responsibilites as individuals. Here are more things which you can do. 

Personal Challenges 
  1. Oppose foreshore developments and industrial activities such as dredging, port building and drilling for oil, tourism. Any self -respecting developer or investor would do well to heed the advice of insurers, who are already alarmed at the number of hurricanes, storm surges and  king tides, let alone tsunamis and are considering not insuring anything within 200m of beaches.
  2. Same goes for buying imported goods, less fuel, fewer shipping hazards. When trans - shipping begins to reflect the cost to the environment, it may be cheaper once more to make things at home, and to keep local jobs there too. 
  3. Phase out use of plastics - Make sure your own use of plastics is eliminated, lobby councils, states and federal and national politicians to phase out bags, bottles. Think of the petroleum saved too. This may help to prevent drilling in oceans 
  4. Know where your fish comes from and buy only from sustainable sources. Do not eat sharkfin or turtle soup. Boycott restaurants that serve it 
  5. Don’t buy any products or souvenirs made from endangered species such as turtles and especially not the particularly hideous example below
  6. Change household cleaning products to environmentally friendly ones, dispose of batteries and things which leak toxics like lead, chemicals  and oil safely (is there safe disposal) and make sure your car or boat does not leak fuel or oil. Don’t use toxic chemicals on lawns or gardens 
  7. Minimise fertiliser use and run off on farms – berms might help 
  8. Abide by the rules when fishing – catch limits, size limits, don’t let your anchor destroy sea grass beds, no rubbish overboard, or destructive methods. Don't allow bilge water or oil to leak 
  9. Make sure your local council treats its sewerage. Use biodegradable paper. Dispose of all waste properly and away from water courses 
  10.  Report abuses – that’s our ocean too and there’s no ‘blue frontier” any more. 
  11.  Support the organisations 
  12.  Spread the word, tell your friends, share on Facebook
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Just to finish off on a more positive note the EPA in the USA, has finally agreed to taking action on regulating emissions, and Austin, Texas has succeeded in banning plastic bags, along with Seattle, Santa Monica, San Francisco, Mexico City, Dhaka in Bangladesh, Oyster Bay in Australia, and Hawaii’s Big Island and Kauai and Maui. I hope they won't be serving sushi or shark fin soup at RIO +20 and start signing those petitions or there won't be any fish left.

Useful Links and further reading

Greenpeace

Ocean Life in the Balance: Will Science Overcome Politics at Rio+20 Conference?
Drowning in Plastic
Clean the Ocean, Green the Economy, UN Urges

Special thanks to Janet Larsen of the Earth Policy Institute for allowing me to quote her so often !


Petitions - Just a few of the many

INTRODUCE NURDLE LEGISLATION These are the small pellets used to make plastic bags and packaging and are very toxic to marine life
USA BAN STYROFOAM, CALIFORNIA 
PROTECT THE OCEANS FROM PLASTIC

USA STOP COMMERCIAL SHIPPING IN MARINE RESERVES
USA GO GREEN TO SAVE CHESAPEAKE BAY
USA JOIN THE BLUEFIN BOYCOTT
USA SAVE MANATEES FROM DEVELOPMENT, FLORIDA
ICELAND STOP WHALING AND START WATCHING
AUSTRALIA STOP DRILLING IN SCOTT'S REEF IN THE KIMBERLY
PROTECT THE ARCTIC OCEAN - NO MORE LEASE SALES
INDONESIA SAVE BANGKA ISLAND CORAL GARDENS
STAND UP AGAINST JAPAN' S REFUSAL TO RENEW THE KYOTO PROTOCOL
ENCOURAGE RUSSIA TO TAKE ACTION TO PREVENT CLIMATE CHANGE
EU END OVERFISHING

Another Pointless and Destructive Custom!!!
 FAROES STOP ANNUAL WHALE AND DOLPHIN KILL











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