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June 8th is the twelfth annual World Oceans Day. What can you do to mark the day?

June 8th is the twelfth annual World Oceans Day. Created in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, WOD is a day for people to reflect on the importance of the oceans in our everyday lives, from the fourth generation fisherman who depends on it for his livelihood, to the accountant in Tulsa who daydreams about escaping to the coast, to the tuna in your sandwich, the health of the ocean, its water, its sea-life and its habitat affects all of us. So what can you do to mark this day?

  1. Learn - about the wealth of beautiful marine life the ocean has to offer. Visit an aquarium, surf the web, visit the local library, or if you're fortunate enough to live by the water go out and explore first hand.
  2. Get involved - volunteer with a local conservation organization, from a neighborhood clean up group to organizations like Oceana and Greenpeace.
  3. Make wise food choices - is the seafood you're eating sustainable? Check out the good, the bad and the ugly of seafood on websites like the Seafood Choices Alliance and the Monterey Bay Aquarium's site at
  4. Transportation - walk, bike, carpool, use public transportation, swim (ok, maybe not so convenient) to cut back on the amount of pollution we put into the air.
  6. Help get June 8th officially recognized by the United Nations as World Oceans Day by going to The Ocean Project's website and signing their petition.

That's not an environmental group's message, though it might as well have been. It's the theme chosen by the United Nations Environment Programme for this year's World Environment Day, June 5. As UNEP puts it, the "theme asks that we make a choice as to how we want to treat the Earth's seas and oceans. It also calls on each and every one of us to act. Do we want to keep seas and oceans healthy and alive or polluted and dead?"

Photo credit Alaska, Alberto Lindner, NOAA

The oceans are vast of course, and our impacts on them many, so we are unfortunately spoilt for choice when deciding which issues to work on. It is heartwarming then that UNEP has highlighted deep water corals as a new Global Conservation Challenge, paralleling the focus of Oceana's ongoing Stop Destructive Trawling campaign.

The plight of deep sea coral and sponge communities has come to light only in the last few years, but has been so dramatic that several countries have already closed off large areas of the seabed to bottom trawling, the main cause of their destruction. These remarkable animals are very similar to the shallow water varieties we all love to snorkel over, except that they are found hundreds or thousands of feet below the surface. They are among of the oldest creatures on the planet, some having been around since before the discovery of the Americas, and others being old already when the Roman Empire fell. The vast majority of these communities are still unprotected from our more damaging activities.

Photo credit California, MBARI/NOAA

UNEP plans on releasing a report next month entitled, "Cold-Water Coral Reefs: Out of Sight- No Longer Out of Mind." Ring a bell with anyone? For those of you new to Oceana, "Out of Sight, but no Longer out of Mind" was the tagline of our deep sea coral report last year. The reports share other similarities. The new report, though not yet released, promises to expand on the information presented in our report. It documents cold water corals from areas as far apart as Galapagos Islands and Brazil and Indonesia and Angola, as well as in the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans off Great Britain, Scandinavia, Canada, and the US, and off Australia and New Zealand. It is also likely to strengthen calls for greater conservation of these spectacular deep sea communities.

So, thank-you to everyone involved with Oceana, in whatever way, small or large. It's good to see our work, enabled by you, paying off in such a big way.

UNEP's press release on Deep Sea Corals and Oceana's report are both available online.

I have found a healthier alternative to hallucinogenic drugs. Not only do I periodically read the newspapers, but when I run in to work in the morning, I listen to NPR. This morning's head trip was a "story" about the need to modify soybeans so farmed salmon could eat them!

Now, it's hard to keep one's thoughts in order here -- but how about: "Hey -- they're carnivores! They don't want to eat soybeans! Not even roasted and dipped in wasabi!" Or -- "If we need to increase soybean consumption -- wouldn't it be more efficient to just give them to people directly?"

I don't know who planted, excuse me, I meant alerted NPR to this story, but a little context might have helped. Why can't we eat wild fish?  Why does it make sense to "farm" carnivores?  Are there any pollution or public health issues?  

And of course, since salmon don't like soybeans, they are doing research on "modifying" the soybeans so the salmon can keep them down.  Oh boy. Now I'm not worried at all.

So -- it may not be news -- but its cheap, legal, and fun.

Jerry Fraser's recent editorial ("A Dual Assault") in National Fisherman's e-newsletter was very misguided and only repeated the industry song of denial when it comes to dealing with destructive fishing issues in a straightforward manner. The science on the impacts of bottom trawling is not a grey area. The NRC report on this issue clearly says that bottom trawling has adverse impacts on structured habitat.

The science on the habitat needs of juvenile cod is also very clear - juvenile cod need places to hide from predators for survival. Juvenile cod habitats are still subject to being flattened by trawling and dredging, cod are still depleted, the NE fishing industry is still suffering the economic conquences and the only option left to seek habitat protection is through the courts.

The National Marine Fisheries Service did the cod, cod fishermen, and our oceans a huge disservice by approving management plans that failed to protect their critical habitats. Mr. Fraser would better serve the needs of the fishing industry by writing stories about responsible ocean use and encourage the industry to proactively address this and other desructive fishing practices. It's only going to be when we are all working for healthy oceans that the NE fishing industry can once again thrive. It's not all about catching more fish it's about fishing sustainably and healthy fish populations need healthy habitats. Ask the habitat scientists in NE what needs to be done. Their recommendations are not what NMFS recently approved, actually quite the opposite.

A loggerhead turtle

Last week a record number of endangered and threatened sea turtles began washing up along the Georgia coastline, including 13 Kemp's ridley sea turtles, the most endangered sea turtle in the world.  At the same time, 106 shrimp boats were spotted fishing off the Georgia coastline.  Because the turtles otherwise seemed healthy and no other fishing was occurring in those waters, officials think that shrimp trawling may be the culprit.

This news was particularly disturbing because last spring, after years of pressure from Oceana and other concerned citizens, the federal government finally required new, larger turtle excluder devices (TEDs), escape hatches sewn into trawl fishing nets, to allow all sea turtles to escape drowning.  Properly installed TEDs should dramatically reduce sea turtle deaths. Georgia shrimpers were one of the first groups to embrace this technology.  Unfortunately, though, it seems that other fishermen are choosing not to use their TEDs properly. Because government studies have shown that properly installed TEDs only reduce shrimp retention between 0-2%, it is unfortunate that TEDs may be sewn shut.

Clearly, education and enforcement are increasingly necessary to ensure that everyone is following the law.  As sea turtles continue to wash up on Georgia beaches, we are reminded that sea turtles face many man-made threats in the oceans.  Shrimp fishermen should not be one of them.  

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