Archive for June, 2016

Protecting Our Hot, Sour, and Lawless Oceans

Contributed by Julia Sanders

A meeting of the minds occurred June 1, 2015 between Ian Urbina and Brad Warren, addressing some of the most serious threats facing the ocean today. In an hour-long discussion moderated by Dr. Sarah Warren, Founder of Spheres of Influence, participants learned about the lawless world on the seas, and were offered a new way to tackle some of the ocean’s biggest threats.

Ian Urbina is an investigative journalist for The New York Times, a Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of The New York Times series “The Outlaw Ocean.” In the series, Urbina witnesses and reports on the savage lawlessness of the high seas, where slavery, human trafficking, abuse, murder, deliberate pollution, and many other shocking abuses happen daily — with impunity. He describes the rural men of the Philippines who are drawn in by false marine recruiters promising high wages working on foreign vessels, and instead find themselves facing grueling 20 hour days, constant beatings, and sometimes death. Even when they survive those conditions, and complete a lengthy “contract,” they find themselves unpaid, often deep in debt, and abandoned in a foreign port. Other stories follow stowaways thrown overboard by ruthless captains, scofflaw ships that dump oil slicks 100 miles long, and floating armadas of armed men and weapons caches, ready to come to the aid of ships facing what have become commonplace attacks from pirates, spawning an industry of on-call armed protection.

Urbina’s work paints a picture of a jurisdictional mess, in which a ship buys a country’s flag, and that country is nominally responsible for policing the vessel, while other agencies or countries who may want to investigate criminal activity are legally denied access. Responsibility is handed off in a circle, with each agency (the flag country, Interpol, the International Maritime Organization, etc.) passing responsibility to another — while long-time sources within maritime law enforcement admit that there is no person or agency capable of truly investigating and punishing these often horrific crimes.

On the other side of the discussion was Brad Warren, Executive Director of the National Fisheries Conservation Center, a non-profit devoted to helping people understand, adapt to, and mitigate the changing ocean conditions caused by climate change — especially by man-made carbon emissions. About 25% of the CO2 released into the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, lowering the pH and creating a crisis for many marine animals. This is known as ocean acidification, and it has already had a devastating effect on the West Coast oyster industry, causing wild baby oysters (known as oyster seed) to die in the first 72 hours of life, because the calcium carbonate they rely on to build their shells has become unavailable, transformed by the absorbed carbon emissions into bicarbonate. Since about 2008, Northwest oyster growers, many of them deeply multi-generational family operations, have been unable to rely on wild oyster seed from the ocean, but instead must buy it from hatcheries. And the harm doesn’t stop with oysters: all shelled organisms and many other types of ocean life have proven to be vulnerable to ocean acidification: mussels, shrimp, crab, lobster, coral, finfish, and countless others are under threat. That’s food we eat. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the pH of the ocean has already experienced a 30% change in acidity, at a speed the world has never experienced before.

In addition to this threat, there are several others caused by CO2 emissions. Hypoxia — at lack of oxygen— causes vast “dead zones” such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico where all life dies, and harmful algae blooms (which thrive in today’s higher temperatures) become even more toxic in a high CO2 environment.

In the discussion, Urbina focused on the perilous “blue/green” divide that exists among organizations working to combat environmental human rights problems, while Warren focused on the largest waste stream in human history, and how to tackle it.

Want to learn more? Listen to the archived discussion and see the webinar slides below!

About Julia Sanders
Julia Sanders, Deputy Director of the National Fisheries Conservation Center, also serves as Editor and main author of the Global Ocean Health program’s Ocean Acidification Report, a quarterly email publication of unique Ocean Acidification content which reaches over 7,500 subscribers across the globe.  She also writes on ocean health and seafood sustainability in other outlets.

June 16, 2016 at 7:05 pm Leave a comment


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