Debriefing: Blue Vision Summit - Oceana USA
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March 9, 2009

Debriefing: Blue Vision Summit

Hundreds of ocean scientists, advocates, and journalists were in DC this weekend for the annual Blue Vision Summit. I was there most of the day Sunday, and I have to say, it was great to see so many dedicated ocean advocates gathered in one place. In the morning I attended a plenary session about climate and the oceans moderated by Oceana chief scientist Mike Hirshfield. Science journalist Michael Lemonick spoke first, discussing the challenge of improving America’s science literacy and convincing the American public that climate change is an urgent threat. (Though there wasn’t much of a consensus on the answer to that question.)Next, Ove hoegh Guldberg from the University of Queensland in Australia gave a sobering talk about the state of coral reefs in the face of climate change and ocean acidification. With the Great Barrier Reef as his focal point, Guldberg said, “In the last three years, we’ve started to get extremely worried. We may lose reefs like this within 30 years unless we take urgent and immediate action.” Before 1979, he said, there were no reports of coral bleaching. By 1998, 16% of the world’s corals were gone. Now an estimated 40 to 50% of corals have disappeared since the 1970s. He ended with that familiar refrain: It’s not over yet, but real action must start now. Finally, Terry Tamminen wrapped up the climate session with a passionate sermon imploring the ocean summitteers to take action to stop climate change. “We are powerful enough and have been foolish enough to change the very chemistry of two thirds of our planet,” he said. “The result is a global osteoporosis: everything dies except the ocean’s version of cockroaches. Who do we turn to when it’s all gone?”In the afternoon I attended a smaller session about the oceans and human health, featuring Oceana marine scientist Kim Warner discussing the risks and benefits of eating seafood, with mercury contamination as the centerpiece. She neatly explained the seafood conundrum we face thusly:-Some fish contain high levels of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids. Some fish contain high levels of the neurotoxin mercury. -Omega 3s have a positive effect on brain development. Mercury has a negative effect.-Omega 3s have positive effect on the heart. Mercury has a negative effect.-The levels of omega 3s and mercury vary in all fish. So what do we do? The answer, she said, comes down to being well-informed about which species are high in mercury and which are high in omega 3s, and striking that balance by choosing low mecury, high omega fish.Also, among others, the dynamic marine science duo Nancy Knowlton and Jeremy Jackson (sometimes called “Drs. Doom and Gloom”) received awards for their work. In accepting their awards, the spouses provided my favorite quotes of the day: “I don’t want to be a hospice worker for the ocean,” Knowlton said, paraphrasing John Hocevar of Greenpeace at this year’s AAAS conference.And Jackson followed with, “We all know working in the environmental sciences are depressing… but our children need to fall deeply in love [with the environment] at the risk of having their hearts broken.”Did anybody else attend and have favorite moments to share?