It’s a bad time to be an ocean-dweller.
First, we have the overfishing crisis, which continues virtually unabated. Every day, we yank hundreds of thousands of pounds of life out of the sea, often in strikingly inefficient and destructive ways – bottom trawls rake the floor of the ocean, pulverizing corals and flattening any animals that lack the locomotive capacity to evade them, while pelagic longlines indiscriminately slaughter curious seabirds, turtles, and sharks as collateral damage in our unrelenting quest for seafood.
To make matters worse, President Obama, who was elected in part by an engaged and hopeful environmentalist demographic, has completely turned his back on the oceans and their largest denizens – whales. His 2008 promise to strengthen the international moratorium on commercial whaling has been completely subsumed by an insidious new agenda that seeks to dismantle the moratorium, legalize whaling in the Southern Ocean (including Japan’s ongoing hunt for endangered fin, sei, and humpback whales), and create an unspoken tolerance among the world’s governments for this intolerable activity.
And above it all, offshore drilling has finally revealed itself as exactly what we have always feared it would be – an inevitable environmental cataclysm. The ruptured Deepwater Horizon pipeline continues to release untold amounts of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, strangling birds, fish, and any other life forms unfortunate enough to be caught within its suffocating expanse… which is currently the size of the State of Delaware, not to mention up to 45 feet deep in some areas.
Our oceans and their denizens are besieged on all sides. Given these seemingly insurmountable odds, it is difficult to maintain any sense of optimism when one considers the state of our world’s waters. Still, all is not lost. All three of the aforementioned menaces have sparked resistance, and with the right kind of passion and leadership, we just may find a way out of this mess after all.
Although overfishing remains a tremendous problem, Greenpeace’s recent Carting Away the Oceans report highlights some significant progress: quite a few major retailers have taken strong steps towards the development of sustainable seafood operations. Companies like Target, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and Safeway are making positive sourcing decisions that reduce environmental degradation and enable their customers to shop with a more confidence. Even Trader Joe’s, which earned both ire and infamy last year for its indifference to sustainability in seafood, has turned a corner. A recent announcement on the company’s website indicates that Trader Joe’s has discontinued orange roughy and is currently developing a sustainable seafood policy as well as more informative and transparent labeling. Beyond this, the company has called out the need for marine reserves in fishery management and has promised to use its purchasing dollars to support visionary leadership in industry (such as closed-containment salmon). The work has only just begun, but it is comforting to know that this company, which was once an incorrigible laggard in these areas, may now be in the process of becoming a true leader.
Our government’s efforts to legalize whaling and reward Japan, Iceland, and Norway for their continual disregard of international law and the will of the vast majority of the Earth’s population seem to have hit a snag as well. Monica Medina, the lead US delegate to the International Whaling Commission and the champion of the legalization effort, seems to be backpedaling a bit in the face of enormous public resistance. Opposition to this despicable initiative is so vocal, in fact, that a petition urging Congress to reconsider has received over 100,000 signatures – and the number is growing every day.
It’s not easy to find something positive to say about the horrific oil disaster in the Gulf, but maybe – just maybe – we can find a way to coax a silver lining out of this mess. One can surmise that if it is this difficult to repair oil drilling mishaps in an area as accessible and temperate as the Gulf of Mexico, it would be infinitely more challenging in the Arctic. And there will be mistakes in the Arctic. There will be spills, fires, and other accidents – they are inevitable to some degree, as we have so painfully learned. So perhaps our government will read the writing on the wall and reinstate a total moratorium on offshore drilling, including the new leases in the Arctic. While this won’t quell Deepwater’s hemorrhaging, save Louisiana’s shrimp industry, or clean the crude off of any brown pelicans, it would certainly be a massive positive step towards precluding even more – and even worse – nightmares like this from occurring in the future. Even California’s Governor Schwarzenegger has heeded the harsh lessons of Deepwater Horizon and rescinded his support for a bill that would prompt new oil exploration off the coast of California. Now, I never thought I’d want Obama to take a page from the Governator’s book, but in this case, it seems like Schwarzenegger has the right idea.
So yes, things look grim for our oceans, no doubt about it – but there is hope. There is always hope. Countless people are struggling against the crises facing our oceans, doing their utmost to heal this planet that we are ravaging so blindly. And it is those people, and their efforts, and the possibility of a better future for us and for our children that keeps hope alive. It is undoubtedly a bad week to be a fish, or a whale, or a turtle, or a Louisiana shrimper – but next week just might be a little better.