Sea Sick- The Decline of the World's Oceans, and What to Do About It

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A recent article on the BBC's Science and Environment webpage states- "the worlds oceans [are] in shocking decline". In the article a panel of experts report that ocean life is "at a high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history". It's not a lot of fun to read these kinds of things; there seems to be so much environmental and other devastation these days, it can be rather easyOverfishing-Thousands to just turn away from it, to clamp the heart shut and move on.

But as I wrote in a Beams article called Never Look Away- Reflections on Food Inc. and the Louisiana Oil Spill, I believe that facing our problems head on is a key value for the post-postmodern age. Chronic looking away mirrors the behavior of the addict, awash in denial and carrying on as usual as the next 'bottom' hurtles upwards, bringing with it all its usual devastation and pain. What environmental bottom is awaiting us?

In the Hero's Journey 'monomyth' that Joseph Campbell discovered, the hero is often someone who realizes the growing prevalence of the shadow-side in society, and steps away from the light to have an encounter with the shadow in order to master it and reincorporate it. In The Lord of the Rings, everything is happy go lucky in the Shire, but wise others like Gandalf know that trouble is brewing and the shadow looms. Frodo must head into the dark regions of Middle-earth and Mordor in order to rebalance the order of things. It's also true in the Hero's Journey that, "Heroes are almost always the most unlikely person possible, someone whom no one would ever think to choose to fulfill a quest". Well that's good news, as it's going to take a whole lot of heroes to wrestle with our rapacious human shadow that's wreaking environmental havoc on the world around us.

So here's some resources for confronting the true state of the world's oceans head on, and for what we ourselves can do about it. First is the short trailer for the 2007 documentary called The End of the Line, an adaptation of a book by the same name:



Other resources include two key books. The first is called Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, by Taras Grescoe (2008). It's a great book, a sort of foodie-investigative journalism hybrid, and Grescoe looks at the impact of salmon farms in Canada, fish and chip sales in England, shrimp farming in India, the (rapidly declining) tuna scene in Japan, and a variety of other globally important seafood locations. He also includes a handy appendix at the end with "Tools for Choosing Seafood", in which he recommends some websites for "anybody determined to eat seafood healthily and ethically", including, and (which is for the Marine Stewardship Council). Grescoe's website also includes some handy tips for conscious seafood eating.

The other book which I've yet to read, but just finally bought a copy of, is Alanna Mitchell's Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis (2011). In the video below Mitchell offers a snapshot of some of her important findings. With increased awareness and action around this topic, we can hopefully together turn the tide of our current destructive relationship with the world's oceans.

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  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Friday, 27 January 2012 19:22 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Ah crap, now the mackerel are going down too. From a recent NY Times article:

    "An eight-country investigation of the fishing industry in the southern Pacific by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shows how the fate of the jack mackerel may foretell the progressive collapse of fish stocks in all oceans.

    In turn, the fate of this one fish reflects a bigger picture: decades of unchecked global fishing pushed by geopolitical rivalry, greed, corruption, mismanagement and public indifference. Daniel Pauly, an eminent University of British Columbia oceanographer, sees jack mackerel in the southern Pacific as an alarming indicator.

    “This is the last of the buffaloes,” he said. “When they’re gone, everything will be gone.” (p.1)

    "In the southern Pacific, after years of aggressive fishing, industrial fleets find fewer and fewer jack mackerel. E.U.-flagged vessels collectively caught more than 111,000 metric tons of jack mackerel in 2009; the next year, the ships hauled in only 60 percent as much; by last year, vessels reported just 2,261 tons". (p.2)

    In 1995 alone, Chileans fished more than four million tons. That is eight times the amount S.P.R.F.M.O. scientists said could be landed in a sustainable way in 2012. From 2000 to 2010, Chile landed 72 percent of all jack mackerel in the southern Pacific". (p.3)

    “The slaughter was tremendous, unbelievable,” said Juan Vilches, who scouts fish for a large company. “No one had any idea of limits,” he added. “Hundreds of tons were thrown overboard if nets came up too full for the hold. Boats came in so loaded that fish were squashed, their blood so hot it actually boiled.

    Reporters and staff of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, working with the Chilean investigative journalism center Ciper, traced how eight groups with a near monopoly had pressured the Chilean government to set quotas above scientific advice. Six of these groups are controlled by powerful families. And, together, the eight of them own rights to 87 percent of Chile’s jack mackerel catch". (p.3)

    In the book Bottomfeeder that I mention above, Taras Grescoe has mackerel in the "Absolutely, always" category in his guide of what fish are ok to eat (ethically/sustainably). That book was published in 2008. Times are obviously changing very fast.

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