Environment Forum

Who is responsible for cleaning up our oceans?


– David Rockefeller, Jr. is a philanthropist and CEO of Around the Americas and Chairman of Sailors for the Sea. Any views expressed here are his own. –

When the Ocean Watch set sail from Seattle last May at the launch of our Around the Americas expedition, our greatest challenge was to make Americans start thinking about health of oceans. For too long, we have been taking our rich seafood supplies and scenic seascapes for granted.

One year and 28,000 miles later, and now with the massive BP oil spill, much has changed.

While I’d love to say that our expedition is responsible for finally turning around the slow drip of public concern for ocean health into a steady flow, I am fairly certain that the continuous flow of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico is, unfortunately, driving home what the captain and crew of Ocean Watch have been saying all along.

The fact that our oceans are not too big for one person to damage is becoming clearer with each passing day. In just one month, we have witnessed the largest oil spill in the history of the U.S., with the full repercussions yet to be seen.

So long, sardines? Lake Tanganyika hasn’t been this warm in 1,500 years

lake_tanganyika1_hEast Africa’s Lake Tanganyika might be getting too hot for sardines.

The little fish have been an economic and nutritional mainstay for some 10 million people in neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo — four of the poorest countries on Earth. They also depend on Lake Tanganyika for drinking water.

But that could change, according to research published in the online version of the journal Nature Geoscience. Using samples of the lakebed that chart a 1,500-year history of the lake’s surface water temperature, the scientists found the current temperature — 78.8 degrees F (26 degrees C) — is the warmest it’s been in a millennium and a half. And that could play havoc with sardines and other fish the local people depend on.

The scientists also found that the lake saw its biggest warm-up in the 20th century.

Something fishy about deadly Taiwan typhoon

fish fish fishTaiwan fisheries flopped to an 18-year low point after Typhoon Morakot flooded much of the low-lying south in August, the island’s Central News Agency told us, casting aquaculture as a victim. Fish farmers, swamped by the stench of their own produce a month after the storm, struggled to recover.

But were farmers also villains?

Taiwan’s Control Yuan, a central government agency that can censure public officials, says in a report  this month they were at fault, as were Pingtung county officials who had given permits to only 29 percent of them, ignoring the rest as they pumped groundwater. The use of groundwater for fish farms has sunk surrounding land, leaving villages prone to floods, the report says.

“According to data the county gave us, still more than 70 percent of fish farming households and fish farm land area are illegal,” the Control Yuan autopsy says. “Registration of water rights is a county responsibility, but the county government over the long term pushed away the responsibility and neither offered timely guidance nor enforced laws.”

More bad news on the fish front

There’s more bad news on the fish front.

According to a new report the advocacy group California Trout, 65 percent of the state’s native salmon, steelhead and trout species may be extinct within the next century. To see the whole report click here. It was written by Dr. Peter Moyle of the University of California, Davis.

The report’s findings indicate that the state’s native salmonids are in unprecedented decline and are teetering towards the brink of extinction – an alarm bell that signals the deteriorating health of the state’s rivers and streams that provide drinking water to millions of Californians. It’s also a sign that fish are likely to be struggling nationwide in this era of global warming, water diversions, and rapid development into previously uninhabited areas,” the organization said.

Salt and freshwater fisheries almost everywhere are in decline. Overharvesting, poor management of commercial fisheries, habitat destruction, climate change, dams – you name it, the inhabitants of our aquatic ecosystems are in trouble.