Sunday, November 25, 2012

Marine Protected Areas

Currently there is an interesting conference put on by Wildaid happening in San Francisco, CA. It is covering the creation, management and best practices surrounding Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). The event will bring together a slew of experts and knowledgeable speakers and panelists to try and talk their way to solutions for the Ocean. For those unfamiliar with MPAs, they are like any nationally or state protected lands, save that they are in the ocean. The protected areas are designed to limit activities in those areas to protect the ecology, biological diversity and resources contained by those MPAs.

These areas have garnered much attention from the scientific community as a result of the work of Dr. Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue, and her prize winning TED talk. Her plan, as stated on her TED speakers page, is to "bring knowledge of our oceans to a wide audience and galvanize support in favor of marine protected areas."

Recently, film star Leonardo DiCaprio and his foundation worked tirelessly on trying to help create an arctic protection area including the creation and distribution of a well-signed internet petition. Mera McGrew, of Mission Blue, expounded on the importance of protecting the arctic and its ecosystem in an amazing post that was picked up by the Huffington Post.

These Marine protected areas have been shown to be effective when managed properly. Protected ocean areas not only harbor more fish, they "harbor older and bigger fish that can produce up to 200 times as many offspring as younger ones." These areas also create a "spillover effect" that increases the population of native species in areas around protected areas as well. The end goal is to create a network of protected areas that will mitigate our devistating effect on the ocean, its ecosystems and life.

The problem arises in MPAs that the Ocean is both fluid and open and the rights and responsibilities associated with marine territories changes not only depending on where you are on a coastline, but also how far out into international waters you go. While certain municipalities and state agencies can create protective measures, such as California earlier this year, entire countries such as China can create policies that are so loose and ineffective as to remove the concept of the area really being protected.

Another problem is the area being protected. For those who may be unaware, the Ocean makes up about 72% of the Earth's surface. According to the IUCN's World Database on Protected Areas and the associated 2010 document, "Global ocean protection : present status and future possibilities," there were approximately 6,800 MPAs around the world, about 1.17% of the global ocean area. This percentage, and how little it actually covers, becomes clear with the interactive map that NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has put out.

Problems abound with MPAs. As stated on Wildaid's website for the event;

Currently, many MPAs are poorly managed and their scarce resources are being employed ineffectively. When MPA authorities are able to carry out patrols and apprehend a poacher, the perpetrator is rarely fined due to outdated laws, corruption, or nonexistent judicial follow-up. In addition, when vessels, personnel, and equipment are available, few are operative due to lack of routine maintenance.

Graeme Kelleher gives WildAid's Global Marine Protected Area Enforcement Conference keynote highlighting his experience running Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. Photo: Jenifer Foulkes
The hope here is that the congregation of Ocean experts can share their expertise on how to create change for more highly protected Oceans through advocacy and teaching better management techniques. What Wildaid should be doing here is reaching out to the caring public with more information and updates to this process. They need to get the people at home asking "what can we do?" and have some ready made answers available.

One of the quickest and easiest ways that you at home can help is to contact not only your congressperson, but also the House Oceans Caucus and the Senate Oceans Caucus.  We need to phone the offices of the members of these caucus' and let them know how important it is to create teeth for MPAs so that we may  be a shining beacon of protection for the Oceans.  The more people that express support for such effort the more fire we will light under the collective tuchus of Congresses' Ocean leadership.

I wish Wildaid and their conference attendees the best of luck in their efforts but let's do our part at home and, above all else, pay attention to what is happening.

Monday, November 12, 2012

South Park and the Sea

***Caveat! harsh language and subjects in the links***

Anyone associated with the ocean who also is a fan of the television show South Park may have noticed something recently about their program; there have been many mentions of the ocean, ocean conservation and ocean news. It is no secret that South has kept a political note in its lampooning of modern events. Episodes have covered subjects from protecting forests to Climate Change to freeing sea-park animals to ocean exploration to co-opting native cultures. You can find a few lists here and there of the "top green episodes" from places like Mother Nature Network but most recently these episodes have had a very ocean-centric feel. South Park is not always in gung-ho support of environmental issues and their messaging.

In one episode they poked fun at Al Gore for his fear of Climate Change and global warming with the invention of "Man-Bear-Pig." Another episode relating to smog and Climate Change lampoons the eco-minded drivers of hybrids as the leading causers of "Smug" which destroys San Francisco in the show. While the South Park creators have not been pulling punches on the eco-minded, they have definitely been bringing some awareness to ocean news and eco-awareness.

One of the most prominent episodes to deal with environmental awareness and climate change was through an allegory of head lice. In this episode head lice on the scalp of a character named Clyde become aware of changes in their natural environment. In this scene, an environmentally aware louse tries to inform the Climate Change denying "President" of the lice.

Eventually the environment, in this case Clyde, changes by introducing substances caustic to the lice in the form of shampoo. Through some harrowing events, back stabbing and the help of a wayward fly the environmentally conscious lice and a few others flee to a more hospitable environment. There they decide to "live more in tune with nature."


A friend pointed out to me that I was missing a few KEY segment from the show's 14th season relating to the BP oil spill in the gulf. In two episodes, the show goes after the Oil and Energy company's horrible record of reckless drilling in Ocean areas and their "Oops, we are sorry" campaign.

The creators of South Park again point to the hypocrisy of a company whose only solutions that they can come up to for the problems they create are to apologize then drill again.


It is hard to forget that Parker and Stone have covered ocean issues in earlier episodes. In one episode titled "Whale Whores" the character Stan discovers the harm being done by the "Japanese" to the Whale and Dolphin populations and decides to do something about it. He decides to join Sea Shepherd.

The fact that Parker and Stone hate the show Whale Wars is pretty clear from the episode and while others may claim that South Park is no friend to the environment and the cause, I am not so sure. In an interview with the pair and a Huffington Post Reporter they state:
We did a show last season called 'Whale Whores' about the 'Whale Wars' guys. Everyone is against whaling, we're not into killing whales, but if you watch ['Whale Wars'] it's horrible--super f*cking boring--and if you watch that show for long enough you will hate the people in it. They say on the show, 'We will lie for our political ends.' They SAY that. So our whole show was basically, 'F*ck you, you guys are liars.' I don't f*cking care if it's in service of saving whales, you're liars. But we got a thank you letter from them and an environmental award. There's NOTHING about the environment in that show...but it doesn't matter, everyone sees their own thing in it. So a lot of our shows where even we think we've taken a very deliberate stand, liberals say, 'That's awesome, you took on the conservatives' same show and conservatives say 'That's awesome, you took on liberals.'
Sea Shepherd is an organization whose goals and membership are to be lauded but South Park's main point was that it was a terrible show and did not portray the organization well. In episode in question, the issue of dolphin and whale killing is not what Parker and Stone are against, it is the smugness and the hypocrisy shown by the Sea Shepherd organization in the poorly created and executed show associated with them. The fact of the matter is that the character Stan actually takes over the organization, steps up the guerrilla methodology of the organization, keeps honest and true and creates an impact. In the episode the boys of South Park through manipulation actually solve the issue. Captain Paul Watson, who in the episode gets a harpoon to the head, actually lauded the episode and what it did for the movement;
This particular episode of South Park titled “Whale Whores” slams the Japanese culture, but it also takes shots at American culture. It smacks down vegans and meat eaters alike, it ridicules Larry King, myself and my crew, unleashes Godzilla on the cowardly whalers, sniggers at the Hiroshima bombing, massacres the Miami Dolphins, firebombs and sinks the Nisshin Maru, kamikazes the Steve Irwin, kills off my crew, wipes out the whalers, mocks television, bitch slaps the crew of the Deadliest Catch, and does all this in a mere twenty minutes of way over the top violence, racism, sexism, and every kind of politically correct ism there is in an perverse orgy of slapstick humor supporting a ridiculously silly plotline that these pathetically successful evil geniuses manage to pull off in their particularly nasty minded manner. 
In other words- it was frigging great!
One episode from the current season reveals that Butters is a "native Hawaiian." Anyone familiar with the show knows that Butters and his parents are not native Pacific Islanders. The entire episode pokes fun at "white" people who have live on the islands or vacationed there for a year or two calling themselves "native" and having disdain for the "haoles" (a pejorative term to refer to outsiders of the Hawaiian culture) and rely on "Chi-chis" for strength.

The "native" Hawaiians fight against the US government when the local resorts refuse to honor their club cards and bonus points, again pointing out the silliness of the situation they are lampooning. While this is possibly a reaction to the recent Clooney movie, the Descendants, the creators of South Park are drawing attention to the plight of the Pacific Islander culture in a round about way. It is a relatively accurate portrait of a culture that, through a history of forced oppression, forced abandonment and forced assymilation is dissapearing and being coopted in a shadow of its former glory by the "new natives" made up almost entirely of "haoles."

In one particular episode from this most season that deals with our cultures standards on entertainment and self-shame, the creators of South Park imply directly that James Cameron is "raising the bar" for American culture. How does he do this? Through physically raising an unseen "bar" through his Deepsea explorer.

Many fans of South Park out there may not even have been aware of Cameron's dive to the bottom of the Marianas Trench and though there is a little poking fun at Cameron's ego, Stone and Parker give implied credit to Cameron for literally raising the bar of American culture.

Why so much about the ocean? Is it the luck of the draw? The fact that after 16 seasons you are bound to pick up on ocean issues? Is it because they are from Colorado, a haven for ocean advocacy and events like making waves? One cannot be too sure but it is an interesting fact that this subject is so frequent.

Perhaps the ocean has a secret friend in the pair, or maybe it is just random coincidence. We may never know till we hear from those two inappropriate misanthropes.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy, Climate Change and the Campaign

The destruction of gale winds and mountains of water has hit the east coast and the hearts and minds of America are with them. Causing countless damage to property and industry through the loss of power to businesses this is going to be a big hit to America and the East Coast. There are many ways to donate and help out, even apps dedicated to it. Organizations like RadioShack and the Yankees are putting forward huge funds towards the cause.

Technically this is what is known as a 100-year-event. In legislation and science this refers to an event where these extreme conditions statistically, would only reoccur every 100 years. It doesn't mean it can't happen two years in a row, just that it is unlikely. As the USGS puts it;
The term "100-year flood" is used in an attempt to simplify the definition of a flood that statistically has a 1-percent chance of occurring in any given year. Likewise, the term "100-year storm" is used to define a rainfall event that statistically has this same 1-percent chance of occurring. In other words, over the course of 1 million years, these events would be expected to occur 10,000 times. But, just because it rained 10 inches in one day last year doesn't mean it can't rain 10 inches in one day again this year. 
If you recall Katrina, that was also considered a 100-year event as was Irene. These are occurring with more and more frequency. As Andrew Cuomo put it, "We have a 100-year flood every two years now."

This is an unfortunate time for such a tragedy and possibly holds a little morbid irony. There has been a lot of discussion surrounding Sandy and the possibility that it was caused by climate change. The general consensus amongst scientists is while one cannot blantantly say that the storm was caused by Climate Change, changes in the environement and the Earth's climate has altered the background conditions over which these events occur. These elements can be linked to unusual size and intensity of Sandy. The real effect of climate change here is that we are probably going to have more of our normally occurring storms and weather; floods, hurricanes, droughts, blizzards, they will all intensify. We need to get prepared for more 100 year events.

The ironic part of this whole situation is that there was one subject that was not mentioned during any of the presidential debates, first time in a generation. Mitt Romney even scoffed at the whole premise of climate change mitigation at the RNC. While the President may be slightly concerned that the missing conversation topic. this issue not being at the forefront of the political discourse is unacceptable. The prevalence of climate deniers is frightening.

A a society, we must not forget that these weather and climate issues are something that will continue. We will need to deal with and curb as best we can. Earlier in the month founder appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher the same day that he had a Panel at SXSW Eco. This was the same panel where I asked the "Why is Climate Change and resource protection a bi-partisan issue?" While on Real Time, McKibben straight-talks a climate change denial question from Mark Foley.

The good thing is that the conversation seems to be moving in the right direction. On a congressional level, this morning Senator Bernie Sanders came out with a blog post called "It's Global Warming, Stupid" referring to the current language describing Sandy as "Weather on Steroids."

Romney has backed off of his earlier comments about removing Federal Assistance for disasters and giving that responsibility to the states. Hey has now given praise to FEMA, which has not escaped the attention of the press.

Even on Fox New's programming, where climate change deniers have basically free reign, the final word is given to a scientist listing off factors that raised the bar for Sandy from climate change. It is sad that it takes a hurricane to make us remember issues like climate change and that climate change deniers are "denying reality" but the truth of the matter is that there is still a huge lack of foresight regarding climate mitigation and preparation. Programs like FEMA are a national insurance to prepare for these events and we, as a country, will need to invest more heavily as events like these will continue to occur with increasing intensity.