Tasks at Hand, Turtles Grand, Sailors’ Stand and the Bard’s last words
Oct. 5, 2009
By David Helvarg
Full Steam Ahead
Providence Rhode Island and Honolulu Hawaii were the third and fourth of six public “listening sessions” to be held by the President’s Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force following up on their interim report of Sept. 17 (See Blue Notes 63 & 64). To review the interim report itself go to: whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/oceans/.
It’s a quite hopeful read but then again the devilfish is in the details to be spelled out in a final report to the President December Ninth. The next hearings are in New Orleans Oct. 19 and Cleveland Oct. 29.
Close to 400 citizens showed up in Rhode Island and over 60 gave testimony on Sept. 24 including teachers, environmentalists, fishermen. lots of New Englanders, a goodly New Jersey Delegation and folks from as far away as South Carolina, with almost all of them wanting the federal government to do more to protect the ocean. Over 400 people turned out during a workday in Honolulu and despite a Tsunami warning (Hawaii was spared but the Islands of Samoa took a terrible impact from one of the few ocean disasters not linked to human activity). The Sept. 29 Honolulu meeting also had video links to other islands and territories though there were technical problems on the audio side. Also it was poorly moderated for time so that only 60 of 90 people who wanted to testify had the opportunity. In both meetings a good 80 percent of the testimony was favorable to a new national policy based on restoring a healthy and abundant blue frontier. There was more passion in Hawaii and some very specific concerns about marine debris and the need to end the trade in tropical fish collecting for the aquarium trade. Several Native Hawaiians spoke of the need to link science with traditional knowledge while speakers from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (recently faulted for lack of transparency in a GAO report) claimed the Pacific has more protected marine monuments than any other federal fishing region. Given their adamant opposition to the establishment of these ocean wilderness parks that’s kind of like John Dillinger claiming credit for improved bank security.
I stayed on for a day after the Task Force session to visit the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island in Kaneohe Bay. Educational Director Mark Heckman took me on an 18-foot skiff to visit a patch reef that was home to numerous large sea turtles. I spotted nine plus a man-o-war who stung my hand before a turtle could take it out (Go Turtles! Eat Jellies!). When I first came to Hawaii in the 1980s these big marine reptiles were a rare sight. Now they’re making a come back thanks to successful conservation efforts. At the same time University researchers are studying the rapid growth of coral diseases in Hawaiian waters similar to those that have devastated the Florida Keys reef line. The present state of our ocean is both inspiring and scary, a reminder that we don’t have much time to get our national policy and management right or to engage the millions of our fellow citizens needed to help assure it works for all of us.
Take a risk sailor
If you think cliques were tough in High School imagine what 4-5 national security players can do if they band together to impede the progress of 15 other agencies and departments directed to restore the blue in our red, white and blue. That seems to be what’s happening internally within the Task Force despite the Commander in Chief’s clear directive to give this nation a coherent new approach and leadership structure for the protection of our public seas. The Navy, Department of Defense, Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Security Council are having a hard time embracing a new vision of what constitutes the national interest on our ocean frontier, while the Coast Guard is having a hard time distinguishing itself from the other uniformed services. While Ecosystem-Based Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning could potentially have some marginal impacts on where and how the Navy trains in U.S. waters in order to maintain its needed lethal edge, it could also provide far greater benefits by helping the Navy and the other sea services increase transparency on our ocean commons through new partnerships across many agencies and sectors and by delineating the behaviors and locations of all ocean users. This could rapidly reduce the available cover for bad actors in our maritime environment, be they terrorists, poachers, pirates, migrant smugglers or hostile naval forces including small boat forces. But to achieve EBCMSP (see, civilians can also create unpronounceable acronyms) the U.S. needs a unified ocean governance approach to coordinate federal, state, local and tribal management of our coasts, ocean and great lakes. The interim Task Force report proposes our new (really first) national ocean policy be overseen by a White House Ocean Council. Personally I’d shoot for the whole barrel of fish — a Department of the Ocean made up of the U.S. Coast Guard on the operational side and NOAA for policy, resource management and science (see Blue Notes #64).
The Blue Beat –
Props to The Ocean Conservancy’s Vikki Spruill who has a Q&A in the October issue of Coastal Living magazine along with a nice picture of her and her family in a new line of Lilly Pulitzer beach wear that will help raise funds for TOC. Blue Frontier’s Seaweed Rebel Roz Savage, who’s completed the second leg of her three phase effort to become the first woman to row solo across the Pacific (See Blue Notes #63), is beginning her book tour for “Rowing the Atlantic,” the story of her 2006 row across that deep blue ocean. She’s planning a second book on her Pacific row that will also focus on ocean health and climate change.
I recently wrote about two impressive new ocean docs, ‘The Cove’ and NRDC’s ‘Acid Test.’ Two others have now won honors. “Wyland: Earth Day’ is a half hour on the Marine Artist’s 24 hour rush to paint the earth (including lots of blue paint) on the roof of the Long Beach Convention Center where he’d already painted the world’s largest mural (of the sea). This just won producer Chris Morrow the Best San Diego Filmmaker Award at the San Diego Film Festival. At the same time the enchanting 9-min. ‘Once Upon a Tide’ won the Best Children’s Film Award at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. Congrats to Kathleen Frith and the folks at the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment among others.
Meanwhile EarthEcho co-founders (and Discovery Channel pop ups) Philippe and Alexandra Cousteau were at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York where they announced a partnership with Discovery Communications and Planet Green to bring a “Water Planet Challenge” for youth action to middle and high school classrooms across the nation starting in 2010. For more go to Earthecho.org.
On a more modest scale Blue Frontier is working with the newly created Digital Ocean organization that has middle and high school students in the SF Bay Area making short videos based on our ’50 Ways to Save the Ocean’ book (Foreword by Philippe Cousteau). More on this in a future Blue Notes.
Oh, and one more thing. I’ve started doing ocean blogs for Huffington Post. If you want to check them out they’re at:
Dan Reineman of Rep. Sam Farr’s office suggested we do Shakespeare this time, from Will’s stormy classic, ‘The Tempest.’
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes:
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell
Hark! now I hear them,–Ding-dong, bell.