Blog | Oceana USA

Ever wonder what's with all the Hollywood stars endorsing environmental groups? You're not alone. Three-hundred reporters and editors from around the nation met last week in Pittsburgh at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) annual convention, to listen to an opening-night panel discussion on "Celebrity, the Media and the Environment." It was an exploration of how celebrities impact how the public views environmental issues.

Ted Danson addressing the SEJThe lead celebrities on the panel were Oceana's own Ted Danson, who is a member of our Board of Directors, and former Pittsburgh Steelers football great Franco Harris, who is now heavily involved in community and environmental work. Representatives also attended from Conservation International and one from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Andy Rivkind, the New York Times environmental reporter, was moderator.

Earlier that evening, both Danson and Harris had spoken at a political rally in Pittsburgh by Sen. John Kerry. During the SEJ panel discussion, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the candidate's wife, made a surprise appearance. She got a standing ovation from the 300 journalists as she walked in for a very brief visit - she was in and out in under five minutes. She urged those present to vote in the Nov. 2 ballot.

Danson - a 1972 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where the SEJ held its convention -- had many interesting things to say about his work with Oceana. Among them were:

  • "I'm the red flag that waves to get attention." He told of how he and Oceana staffers visited Capitol Hill in recent weeks, and while he was capitalizing on his star power, getting his picture taken with a senator and signing autographs, Oceana policy staffers were meeting with the senator's aides, lobbying for our issues. He added: "I'm a fool for the environment. But I take what Oceana does very seriously."
  • He started his American Oceans Campaign group in 1987 after his brother-in-law, a scientist who worked at Woods Hole and later at Scripps, told him about the deep trouble the oceans are in. After his AOC merged with Oceana in 2001, Danson said Oceana became "the biggest group of people working on the ocean alone in the world." He said that while AOC started small, Oceana is now growing so fast, "now I'm holding on to the shirt-tails" of Oceana, as it keeps expanding.
  • "I'm a firm believer that we must work with business... The source of the problem is business and it can also be the solution."

Panelist Myron Ebell, director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, had this to tell reporters:

"Ted Danson is a serious environmentalist, so that celebrity tag doesn't apply to him.... With great power comes great responsibility. Celebrities have an entrée to the public" and they can use that entrée responsibly. "I think Ted Danson is a good example of someone who's done it - he knows what he's talking about."

Late Friday, Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law AB 2672 (Simitian), making California the first state to ban discharges from sewage from toilets into state waters. This is in addition to the bills passed earlier in the week banning the discharge sewage from sinks, showers and laundries (also called graywater), giving California some of the strictest cruise pollution laws in the country.

"I'm tremendously pleased," Assemblyman Joe Simitian (the bill's author) said Friday afternoon. "This really puts California at the forefront of coastal protection. The cruise ship industry has been a growing economic benefit to the state, but it also poses growing problems in terms of coastal protection."

(Quote from The Contra Costa Times.)

This is exciting news for our oceans and the state of California! Many thanks to all of you who sent e-mails to the state legislature over the last few months -- this couldn't have happened without you.

Hoisting the Oceana flag aboard shipRecently, I found out that Oceana Europe was planning a sea turtle bycatch expedition (turtles accidentally caught in fishing gear) and that they were headed out to sea on a Spanish pelagic longline boat with a film crew to document the problem and collect data. To those of you not as familiar with fishing, longline fishing is putting 20 miles of line and hooks with bait in the ocean to catch swordfish and tuna, etc. The boats leave port and stay out for 4 -6 days catching fish, 40 miles offshore or so, before coming back to land. I have been working on this issue for Oceana from Headquarters in DC, and the next think I knew, I was on my way to Spain to board a fishing boat, headed out into the Mediterranean Sea.

I have been fishing on several kinds of fishing boats before, but I had never gone out with a fishing boat for several days on end, sleeping, eating, etc, with the crew, especially a crew that did not speak English. The boat had 4 other crew members and a captain, along with Carlos, the Oceana expedition leader, based out of our European office, and Mar, a accomplished filmmaker.

I guess I should mention here that this was not a large boat. It was only about 50 feet long and let me tell you, in the middle of the Mediterranean, it did not seem large enough.

Caught swordfishSo, I was on the boat for 4 days and 3 nights. The conditions on the boat were less that ideal. Actually, to give you a clue, for the majority of the time I was on the boat, I was awake. The boat did not lend itself to sleeping, so I pulled my first all-nighter, actually staying awake for 36 hours (although not really by choice). Think fishing, no showers, foam rubber pads that everyone shares and blankets on the deck of the boat sitting in fish guts - and then imagine that they haven't been washed in months. So, that really didn't help. I won't even begin to explain the no toilet and limited freshwater problem.

Anyway, the list goes on, but the good news is that it was an extremely important experience for me. I was very surprised that swordfish they caught were very small, and I mean really small -- in fact, I was surprised that most of them met the legal limit. The fishermen were also catching turtles and Carlos and I had our dehooking devices and removed the fishing hooks and other gear -- as well as measured and tagged the turtles before we released them.

But, by far the best thing about my trip was bringing the new circle fishing hooks to the fishermen. These hooks are a new idea by the U.S. and research shows that they reduce the number of turtles being caught by the gear - and since most of these turtles are on the Endangered Species List, this is a good thing. So, I brought some of these new hooks with me from the U.S.. When we first showed them to the crew, they said, "what animal do you use this on"... "You could never catch a swordfish with this hook." So, their first reaction was far from overwhelming.

A hooked turtleBut then we came into port, and that night at the bar, the crew was divided over trying the new hooks. There was much arguing, but finally they decided to try them. So the next day on the boat, they attached my circle hooks to their fishing lines and put the hooks in the rotation to be baited and put in the water. I was very nervous, but near the end of the set, low and behold, up came a swordfish on a circle hook. Then when we got back to port, the owner of the boat met the captain and crew to check out the catch. The next thing I knew, the captain was showing the boat owner the circle hooks and showing him the fish he caught with them, etc. This was a huge step forward, especially with the Spanish fishery and it couldn't have been more rewarding. Well, except for the fact that I was so tired, it was amazing I was still smiling.

So, stay tuned to our Web site to see the professional footage from the trip!

Most potential effects of climate change - considerable changes in air and sea temperature, sea level rise, increased flooding and desertification, and so on - are now so well established that the topic has recently been turned into a major summer blockbuster. That was Hollywood of course, which the Webster's American Dictionary defines as 'exaggeration with intent to thrill'. Yet, global warming is certainly real, and considerable research is being carried out to try and better grasp its likely consequences. That research has turned up some interesting results, published in Science last month.

Global warming and coral reefs: like pinstripe pants and a plaid shirt

The main greenhouse gas is of course carbon dioxide, or CO2. Like rainforests on land, the oceans are an enormous 'sink' for the gas. Nearly half of the extra CO2 produced since the Industrial Revolution has ended up in the sea. For those of us on land, that's great news, right? In some ways yes, as the oceans are acting as a buffer to the effects of global warming. In reality though, that's long term, as in thousands-of-years long term. For sea creatures it may be quite the opposite. By the end of next century, rising levels of CO2 in the atmosphere may halve the rate at which organisms such as corals, plankton and shellfish (bivalve mollusks) grow. This happens because increased CO2 levels in the sea make it more acidic, dissolving the calcium carbonate that the creatures use to make their skeletons and shells. This problem impacts the ecosystem immediately, and will only get worse over time. The effects of these changes on the wider ecosystem are unknown, but are likely to be significant because these organisms make up the foundation of the marine food web or provide shelter and protection for countless other species.

Is no place safe?

If I'd have seen a chance to bet on the deep sea being the only place on the planet that would not be affected by global warming, I'd have put half my monthly salary on it. Thankfully I saw no such bet, and as a result am now 6 cents better off. Changes in the atmosphere do affect the deep sea. Scientists have found that the prevalence of sea cucumbers - close relatives of starfish and sea urchins - at 13,000 feet off California varies depending on how much food is falling through the waters above. And these rainfalls of food depend on atmospheric climate events like El Nino and global warming.

For more info on these studies see Acid Seas and No Cucumbers.

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