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Earth Week Exclusive Interview With Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana

Andy has led Oceana since 2003, and since that time it has grown to be the largest international conservation organization fully dedicated to protecting the oceans. 

ODP:  Nearly one billion people around the world woke up hungry today.  And the number of people on the planet keeps growing.  You believe that the ocean can play a bigger role in feeding the world.  How so?

AS:  Millions of people around the world already rely on the oceans for sustenance. If properly tended and cared for, oceans could provide a nutritious meal for a billion people, every day. But right now, we are headed for about half that by 2050. If we implement proven management measures, we can increase the global fish catch which results in more healthy seafood meals available every day.  And not only is wild-caught fish an accessible protein to millions of people, but it is also healthy! Studies have found that switching from red meat to seafood reduces the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, and provides numerous other nutritional benefits. At Oceana, we like to call fish the “perfect protein,’ which is also the title of my book.

ODP:  What are the keys to restoring wild fisheries? 

AS:  The oceans are vast and figuring out where to start can be tricky. But fortunately, just 29 countries and the EU control over 90 percent of the world’s fish catch. We work on policy changes in these key countries to maximize our global impact. Every coastal country has exclusive control of the water 200 nautical miles off its coast, so it is in the country’s self-interest to set rules and laws to increase the amount of fish they can eat and sell.  The first step to rebuilding is to stop overfishing. Oceana does this by campaigning to get governments to set and enforce scientific quotas, reduce harmful subsidies, and stop illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. Stopping overfishing combined with reducing bycatch, protecting habitat, curbing pollution and promoting transparency will lead to more abundant oceans.  One example of this strategy working is an amendment to the Magnuson-Stevens Act in 2006 that strengthened science-based catch limits. In 2000, U.S. stocks were overfished at rates of nearly 38 percent. In 2015, after the amendment was put in place, only 16 percent were still being overfished. The science is clear: when regulations are put in place and followed, the fish come back.

ODP:  When it comes to climate change, why are fish a better choice than meat?

AS:  Worldwide, livestock accounts for over 15 percent of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Methane is a substantial contributor to these emissions and you know who produces methane? Cows and other livestock. Do you know who doesn’t?  Fish. Every time somebody chooses a seafood meal in the future, they are not choosing a hamburger. Rebuilding ocean abundance, therefore, helps stop climate change.

ODP:  So if we as a planet invest in ending overfishing, what is the upside potential?

 AS:  In addition to the positive impacts it has on hunger, climate and health, restoring fish populations also helps to address biodiversity loss on land and in the water. Agriculture is a big driver of biodiversity loss in the land. Why? Because we cut down forests to plant corn and soybean fields. That means an abundant ocean helps protect biodiversity on the land. Wild fish is also one of the most cost-effective forms of protein and requires the least amount of fresh water for production, ranking even below legumes.  Sometimes people say to me “this doesn’t make sense, you’re trying to save the fish, so we can eat them?” But in the ocean, there is no war between the goal of feeding people and rebuilding nature. When we rebuild fisheries, we restore healthy oceans and create more food. It’s good for those who live in the sea and those who live on the land.

ODP:  Throughout your career, you have always aimed high and Oceana has consistently “punched above its weight” in terms of impact.  What is the secret to this success?

AS: Every action Oceana takes is connected to a strategic, directed campaign that has the goal of protecting the oceans. Oceana uses a country-by-country approach to run campaigns that lead to national policy outcomes within a 3 to 5-year timeframe. We resist the common urge to spread ourselves thin across too many objectives, and we stay accountable for our goals. This strategy is designed to lead us to real ocean victories and it has done exactly that. We have secured over 200 victories since our founding in 2001.

Thanks so much, Andy, for helping us kick off our special Earth Week content with a deep dive into seafood, fish and ocean conservation.  Andy’s book on this topic is indeed called The Perfect Protein, and we hope our readers will check it out, and don’t miss the recipes at the end!

Marine Species in the Pacific Are Climate “Migrants”

Giant green and starburst anemones.  Photo: Michael Robinson Chavez, The Washington Post

The Pacific Coast of Northern California is finding a new sort of climate refugee washing up on its shores and inhabiting its bays and coastal waters — species that have shifted their migratory patterns and habitat due to warming ocean waters throughout the Pacific. According to The Washington Post, scientist attribute these weird new sitings to two specific forces — warming Arctic waters that spread farther south than usual five years ago and then an El Niño two years ago that further warmed the water on the Coast — and together they formed “an ocean heat wave whose real-time and lingering effects may have permanently scrambled California’s coastal ecosystem.” What are some of the impacts today? The Post reported that,

  • Non-native species such as starburst anemones, a species found commonly in Mexico, are gradually killing off the native giant green anemones.  
  • Five times as many whales have been seen in San Francisco Bay as in a normal year, and they are staying much longer too — more than a month.  And in a first, there a grays and humpback whales can be seen in the Bay at the same time — both usually do not linger there but instead swim by quickly on their way to their Bering Sea feeding grounds.
  • A hoodwinker sunfish washed ashore last month in Santa Barbara — no one has seen one of these fishes in the Northern Hemisphere for more than a century.

In a report in Nature last month, researchers cataloged the weird and unusual sightings — they identified 67 marine species that are now pushing the northern boundary of their commonly known habitat, and of those, 37 species were landing in northern coastal areas they had never been seen in before.  The scientists conducting the research believe that some of those species have settled in and will stay in their new northern home.  The changes are not all goodwhales are migrating closer to the coastline in search of food, but this has increased the risk that they will be hit by ships or entangled in fishing gear — 11 have been killed so far this year.  Also concerning is the number of skinny gray whales they are seeing — climate change may be pushing their food source, krill, outside of their migration routes.

Why This Matters:  The bottom line is that these prolonged marine heatwaves and the resulting dispersal of warm ocean water are causing long-term shifts in the composition of animal communities in coastal northern California.  The entire ecosystem is transforming in a very short period of time.  This is yet more evidence that climate change has already started to impact us in marked ways we can observe today.  And it has only just begun.  The more the waters warm, the more scientists expect to see additional tropical species migrating farther north than ever before.

To Go Deeper:  Read the entire Post story and enjoy the beautiful photos.

Heroes of the Week: The Cathedral Savers

This week the tragic fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral was juxtaposed with the House Resources Committee field hearing on the damage oil and gas drilling is doing to our own priceless American cultural heritage in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.  At Notre Dame, the stories of the heroism shown by Father Jean-Marc Fournier who guided firefighters through the labyrinth inside the historic building to save as much precious art and as many religious artifacts as possible, including sacred objects such as the crown of thorns said to have been worn by Jesus, the tunic of Saint Louis and a piece of wood and a nail believed to have been part of the cross used in the crucifixion. The Father and the firefighters had help as workers from the City of Paris and the Cathedral formed a “human chain” to ferry artworks out of the building as quickly as possible.  Father Fournier ultimately went back into the knave of the church as the fire became much more dangerous and retrieved the Blessed Sacrament and said one last benediction for the church.

Here at home, Pueblo Indians Council of Governors Chairman E. Paul Torres was battling to save a historic landmark for his people, who have lived and worshiped in the area inside and surrounding Chaco Culture National Historic Site in New Mexico for more than a thousand years.  Like Notre Dame, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The Trump Administration intends to allow oil and gas drilling within a buffer zone of the Historic Site that was created by President Obama to protect additional cultural resources outside its boundaries.  Torres testified to Congress this week requesting that Congress put pressure on the Department of Interior to block the oil and gas leases proposed — and unlike the fire — this threat is happening on purpose.  The loss of either of these World Heritage sites would be a tragedy of unspeakable proportions.  We salute these men who are unselfishly dedicated to preserving them.  

One Deep Thing: A Presidential Address From Under The Sea

Some leaders will go to the depths to make a point.  And we don’t mean our own President.  The President of Seychelles, Danny Faure, gave a live address on Sunday from a mobile glass dome more than 400 feet beneath the surface of the Indian Ocean.  Why?  He wanted to send a clear message to everyone watching that our oceans badly need protection and us humans need to do a better job of it. In the first live Presidential address underwater by any world leader, President Faure said, “The sea has a special relationship with all of us,” and described his location as “the beating blue heart of our planet.” He went on: “It keeps the planet alive. It keeps us alive, and it is clear to me that it is under threat like never before.”  So true.  And what a way to make the point.

Tweet of the Week: Craig Murray on listening to climate protestors

We wrote this week about the massive Extinction Rebellion protests that shut down London traffic in an effort to push the UK government to “tell the truth about climate change”, reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2025, and create a citizens’ assembly to oversee progress. There are also satellite demonstrations happening in the United States as the movement gains more traction overall. While many people undoubtedly were angered by the disruption of their commutes, former British diplomat Craig Murray had an incredibly refreshing take. Instead of tweeting profanity at the protestors he thanked them for stopping him and making him think.

Why This Matters: Even in cities where the population tends to be better educated and more liberal, people acknowledge that climate change is happening but don’t devote much time to thinking about its implications or how they can act to make a difference. Protests that jam up city traffic might have to become the answer to jolt ourselves awake and face the dire urgency of climate change. Thanks to Craig for giving us the reminder to pause, listen, and think before we get angry.

Is This the Beginning of the Green New Deal Era? The Climate Security Era? Or Both?

AOC’s GND Postcard From the Future

The debate around climate change is increasingly falling into two lines of argument — one around the Green New Deal and the economy and another around climate change as an existential threat to our national security.  Senator Ed Markey argued in a Boston Globe editorial on Monday (Patriot Day which commemorates the beginning of the American Revolution) that the Green New Deal is more than a resolution — it is a “revolution” that “has the power to reshape our energy system, our economy, and our democracy.”  Markey wrote further that the resolution has elevated climate change as a top issue saying that there “has been more debate about climate change in the few weeks since we introduced the Green New Deal than in the last decade. This resolution has struck a powerful chord with the American people, and the demand for immediate action will not stop.”

Beto O’Roarke campaigning in Virginia fully backed the Green New Deal yesterday, remarking that climate change is an existential crisis like the Great Depression or World War II.  Newsweek Magazine reported that O’Roarke said, “In the midst of the Great Depression, this country was willing to sacrifice men and women all over the United States to make sure that we defeated Germany, and we won that war. And for the following 75 years that we made this world safe for democracy. The Green New Deal calls that sacrifice and service in scale, scale of commitment when it talks about the challenges that we face today.”

Interestingly, when Senator Bernie Sanders appeared on a Fox News Town Hall on Monday night, he chose to frame climate change first as a national security issue.  Grist reported that “in the mere two minutes he spent discussing the environment, Sanders chose to mention migration, the Middle East, and job creation — hot-button topics for conservatives — rather than other issues like hurricanes Harvey and Maria, wildfires, or the Green New Deal. And the audience seemed to respond. Sanders drew cheers when he said transitioning to renewable energy would create millions of new jobs.”  Another Presidential contender, Senator Elizabeth Warren, also made news by pressing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on how the military is addressing the threat of climate change.  According to The Hill, in a letter to the nation’s top military commander, she demanded answers to several questions about the military’s lack of preparedness at its installations both in the U.S. and abroad and criticizing prior DoD reports to Congress on its climate vulnerabilities.  The newest Presidential contender, Mayor Pete Buttigieg also characterized climate change as a security threat saying in his announcement speech, “Our economy is on the line, our future is on the line, lives are on the line. So let’s call this what it is: climate security, a life-and-death issue for our generation.”

Why This Matters: Climate change continues to resonate with the public and the media — and the economic and security aspects of the issue are intertwined in ways that can appeal to both the liberals and conservatives.  Whether it is the Green New Deal as a policy response to climate change or the national security threat posed by climate change, it remains in the forefront of public debate in the Presidential campaign, in Congress, and on Fox News.  Perhaps Buttigieg (whose star is rising fast) framed the issue best when in one sentence he managed to position climate change as both an existential threat to our lives and our prosperity — and made it generational to boot.  And it is most definitely a generational issue — as evidenced by the lastest mini-film by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez imagining looking back on this time when the mobilization to meet the climate change challenge began.  You can watch it below.

TNC commits $1.6 billion to ocean conservation

Environmental group The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced this week its $1.6 billion plan to help ensure the new protection of up to 1.5 million square miles of the world’s most biodiversity-critical ocean habitats, which is a 15% increase in protected areas of this nature already in existence. As GreenBiz explained, the “Blue Bonds for Conservation initiative will refinance and restructure debt for coastal and island countries, so long as those nations commit to protecting at least 30 percent of their near-shore ocean areas, including coral reefs, mangroves and other important ocean habitats.”

TNC CEO Mark Tercek unveiled the plan in a TED talk in Vancouver this week and as The Fish Site explained, it was “selected from more than 1,500 TED Audacious Project applicants, has already secured more than $23 million in funding from various donors out of the $40 million TNC ultimately requires to unlock $1.6 billion toward marine conservation.” In addition, in exchange for more stringent ocean protection and conservation, TNC says the Blue Bond will give nations better terms for debt repayment and support with ongoing conservation work. You can learn more about the specifics of how the program works here.

As TED explained in their blog post:

“TNC has been a leader in debt-for-nature conservation, working since 2001 to negotiate deals like this for the protection of tropical forests. In 2016, they tried this approach in the Seychelles, restructuring $22 million in debt in exchange for the protection of 400,000 square kilometers of ocean — an area the size of Germany. It’s been incredibly successful, but the deal took years to complete. Now The Nature Conservancy plans to build a team that can close these deals much more quickly. Over the next five years, they will negotiate deals in 20 island and coastal nations, and together create more than 4 million square kilometers of marine-protected areas.

Why This Matters: We’re running out of time to stop and reverse damage to the world’s oceans. Marine environments, fish stocks, and biodiversity are all threatened and without a healthy ocean, the fate of human life becomes compromised. Isabella Lövin, Sweden’s Foreign Minister for International Development Cooperation, put it more bluntly by saying that if we don’t protect the ocean, humanitarian disaster awaits.

Dirty Drinking Water Besets Coal County in Kentucky

Martin County Tap Water Samples 2016-2018   Photo: Martin County Water Warriors FB via The New Republic

The Governor of Kentucky, Republican Matt Bevin, is considering whether to declare a state of emergency that would unlock resources to repair the dilapidated water system in Martin County, Kentucky deep in the heart of coal country.  In the meantime, the residents there must buy bottled water or hope for donated water in order to keep from drinking the tap water while they wait for action.  The Washington Post published an exposé on how years of deterioration in the pipes, mismanagement by the local public service commission, and an inability to raise rates to pay for repairs have created a $10 million price tag to fix the broken system.

Residents in the county have been dealing with the water issue for decades — but things reached a crisis point last year when water service to many county residents was turned off, the county water board fell apart, and the state Attorney General opened a criminal investigation into mismanagement there, according to The Post.  While the state legislature passed a resolution encouraging the Governor to declare an emergency, but the Governor is still on the fence, promising more funding to turn things around.  The county is deeply in debt and forty percent of the residents live below the poverty line, and both the coal mines and the coal severance funds are now gone.  It is hard to see how the county can rebuild without significant outside help.  And complicating things there is that the county is so small with complicated topography that the costs for repairs are difficult and extremely high per capita.

Martin County, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, is hardly an exception — they gave the nation’s drinking water system a D grade in a recent report.  Many water systems across the country are dependent upon water systems that are 25 years beyond their life expectancy and beset by leaks.  The American Water Works Association estimates, according to The Post, that the country will need to spend $1 trillion over the next 25 years to repair all the water systems that will fail completely during that time.  

Why This Matters:  The bill is about to come due for our country’s aging water infrastructure system. Flint, Michigan and Martin County, Kentucky’s water problems are occurring with increasing frequency across the U.S. — in rural areas and in cities.  The country needs a major investment to rebuild these systems. The Marshall Plan analogy is fitting.  The price tag is indeed high, but, providing clean drinking water to all Americans is something we must find a way to fund.  Many ask how will we pay for a Green New Deal, of which replacing this aging infrastructure is a key component.  We wonder how anyone can think we can continue to delay infrastructure spending indefinitely.

To Go Deeper:  Worth your time is this longer story The New Republic published last year on the rural drinking water crisis in the U.S.

Drinking water contaminated with chemicals from the water treatment process. Graphic: Environmental Working Group

Astronaut Christina Koch aims for record-setting 328 days in space

Astronaut Christina Koch on board the International Space Station. Photo: NASA

NASA announced on Tuesday that astronaut Christina Koch will have her mission on the International Space Station extended and will likely break the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman (currently, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson holds that record with 288 days). As explained, “Koch, who launched to the space station on March 14 with colleague Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, will remain in orbit for 328 days, returning to Earth in February 2020, according to the new flight schedule.” Since space station missions typically last for about six and a half months, the extension of Koch’s flight will help NASA gather more data on how human bodies respond to longer spaceflights.

According to NASA:

  • Her mission is planned to be just shy of the longest single spaceflight by a NASA astronaut – 340 days, set by former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly during his one-year mission in 2015-16.
  • Koch’s extended mission will help scientists gather additional data about the effects of long-duration human spaceflight beyond those of the normal six-month station expedition. Such research is essential to support future deep space exploration missions to the Moon and Mars.
  • NASA has gathered vast amounts of data on astronaut health and performance over the past 50 years and has focused recently on extended durations up to one year with the dedicated mission of Scott Kelly and extended mission of Peggy Whitson.
  • These opportunities also have demonstrated that there is a significant degree of variability in human response to spaceflight and it’s important to determine the acceptable degree of change for both men and women.

Why This Matters: Koch’s research will lay the groundwork for more advanced space missions in the future, like going to Mars! If you remember, Christina Koch was supposed to be part of the first all-female spacewalk that didn’t end up happening as planned last month. We hope she sets this new record, as we’ll be cheering her on from Earth! You can follow Koch’s updates live on Twitter.

A cool thing: Did you happen to see the fireball meteor that exploded over the night sky on the East Coast Tuesday night? If you missed it the footage is pretty cool!



Ancient trees that supplied Notre-Dame’s roof no longer exist for rebuilding

Damage in the interior of Notre-Dame. Photo: Philippe Wojazer

After Monday’s tragic fire that ravaged Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed that “the worst has been avoided” and vowed to immediately begin the process of rebuilding the 856-year-old church. While the main structure of the cathedral survived, the wooden roof was destroyed and replacing it with comparable oak will be impossible as France no longer has trees big enough to replace the beams. As Fortune explained, the wood for the ceiling was “first felled around 1160 to 1170, with some of it coming from trees thought to be 300 to 400 years old at the time they were chopped. That puts the oldest timber in the cathedral at nearly 1,300 years old.” Bertrand de Feydeau, vice president of the preservation group Fondation du Patrimoine, explained that trees which supplied the roof’s frame came from primary forests—forests that are largely untouched by human activity, and he surmised that the huge trees associated with primary forests are gone too.

Only 4% of Europe’s remaining woodland is primary forest (old growth), according to a study published last May, with none larger than 500 square kilometers outside of Russia or Northern Europe. In France specifically, while forest covers nearly 1/3 of country, just .01% of it is primary forest that contains trees between 200-400 years old. 

In addition to the fact that old growth trees are no longer available to rebuild the roof of Notre-Dame, pollution has been compromising the structure for many years as well. As reported, “flying buttresses that support the entire cathedral have been darkened by pollution and eroded by rainwater and acid rain has eaten away at limestone decorations. Gargoyles, originally designed to carry rainwater away from the building, have fallen off the building.” The stone of the cathedral has become eroded in large part due to the pollution resulting from traffic congestion in Paris. 

Why This Matters: While the fire at Notre-Dame was not connected to climate change, the phenomenon will nonetheless put countless landmarks we cherish at risk (like the Statue of Liberty here in the United States, or Peru’s Machu Pichu). If we want to protect the greatest testaments of human civilization and leave them for our children and grandchildren to cherish then we must become far better stewards of our planet and work to curb climate change and protect our land, air, and water. We cannot allow the heartache that was witnessed around the world in response to Notre-Dame to become the norm.