Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New "Green" Tug Cuts Pollution

I have always had an affinity for work boats and having owned a couple of old tugs I was intrigued by this example of the green economy at work by corporate and government partners both in Canada and the United States.

Under cold, windy and rainy skies, Seattle-based Foss Maritime on Jan. 23, 2009 introduced the first-ever diesel-electric hybrid tugboat. The unveiling came during a ceremony, attended by around 300 leaders from the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, the state of California, and Foss Maritime Company, who gathered with business, government and media representatives to welcome the world’s first true hybrid tug, Foss’ Green Assist™, to southern California. at the Foss berth on Pier D at the Port of Long Beach.

Foss says that the new green-and-white tug, named the Carolyn Dorothy, designed by Vancouver, B.C. based, Robert Allan and Associates, can do the same work as a traditional tug, while emitting about 44 percent fewer air pollutants.

The idea had been kicking around Foss' offices since 2006, based on the knowledge that tugboats tend to run on full power only 7% of the time and waste their 5,000-plus horsepower by idling 50% of the time. Knowing that railroads were moving to electric propulsion, Foss initially looked at switching locomotives, which are used to move trains inside rail yards.

The engineering firm, Aspin Kemp & Associates of Owen Sound, Ontario designed a way to run the diesel engine and the electrical motor generator through the same drive shaft, enabling Foss to switch to smaller batteries and smaller diesel engines.

While it operates like a standard ship berthing tug, the system's design would enable most existing tugboats to switch to the diesel-battery setup through a retrofit.

The 78-foot-long, 34-foot-wide dolphin-class tug cost upward of $8 million to construct, with the Port of Long Beach and Port of Los Angeles contributing a combined $1.3 million toward the construction. The ports provided the funding as part of the Technology Advancement Program, a component of their San Pedro Bay Ports Clean Air Action Plan.

Endangered Species in BC

Did you know that British Columbia does not have an endangered species law? British Columbia is one of the only provinces in Canada (and one of the few jurisdictions in North America) that does not have a stand-alone law that protects species at risk.

Until recently, I thought that the federal government's Species at Risk Act (SARA) provided enough protection for endangered species in British Columbia, but according to the folks at Ecojustice Canada:
"Canada’s federal Species at Risk Act (SARA) offers little help. It generally applies only on federal lands, which cover a mere 1 percent of BC’s land base. SARA gives the federal government the power to apply “safety net” provisions to protect species outside of federal lands; but these discretionary powers have never been used, even for severely endangered species like BC’s spotted owl."1

There are at least 1600 species that need protection in our province, and many of these species are found in the marine ecosystem. The lack of a formal endangered species law in British Columbia leaves these species at risk without adequate legal protection. For more information about this issue and how you can take action, visit

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Margaret Wertheim gives a TED talk

If you have not yet heard about this phenomenon, I would suggest that you check out this video. Margaret Wertheim and her sister model coral reefs using crochet hooks and hyperbolic geometry. This is just too cool to keep to myself!

"Snowflakes, fractals, the patterns on a leaf -- there's beauty to be found at the intersection of nature and physics, beauty and math. Science writer Margaret Wertheim (along with her twin sister, Christine) founded the Institute for Figuring to advance the aesthetic appreciation of scientific concepts, from the natural physics of snowflakes and fractals to human constructs such as Islamic mosaics, string figures and weaving.

The IFF's latest project is perhaps its most beguilingly strange -- a coral reef constructed entirely by crochet hook, a project that takes advantage of the happy congruence between the mathematical phenomena modeled perfectly by the creatures of the reef, and repetitive tasks such as crocheting -- which, as it turns out, is perfectly adapted to model hyperbolic space. It is easy to sink into the kaleidoscopic, dripping beauty of the yarn-modeled reef, but the aim of the reef project is twofold: to draw attention to distressed coral reefs around the world, dying in droves from changing ocean saline levels, overfishing, and a myriad of threats; and to display a flavor of math that was previously almost impossible to picture. By modeling these complex equations in physical space, this technique can help mathematicians see patterns and make breakthroughs.

Wertheim is now working on a book about maverick scientist James Carter."1

Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review of "Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis" by Alanna Mitchell

By Candace Newman

No matter where you live on this earth, every second breath you take comes from oxygen produced by plankton in the seas. Every third molecule of carbon dioxide you exhale is taken up by the ocean. Your every action or will profoundly affect the ocean - your life support system.

In Alanna Mitchell's new book, Sea Sick, she poignantly describes how human actions are having a measurable effect on the ocean. We are changing ocean salinity, temperature, volume, and function. From the deepest ocean basins to the surface sea currents, human impact is evident.

Mitchell relates her journey across five continents over two and a half years, investigating the state of the oceans, answering questions about what is really happening in the ocean and the outlook for its future. Speaking with internationally renowned scientists in Australia, the United States, Puerto Rico, Plymouth, Panama, Canada, Spain, China, and Tanzania, she describes startling evidence that the ocean is changing in a way and at a speed it never has before.

Mitchell’s journey begins in the Gulf of Mexico with a group of American scientists investigating the 'blob', a thick and dense, constantly moving layer of water that contains almost no oxygen. No oxygen means no fish and massive die-offs of crustaceans. What is startling is that this dead zone is no anomaly; the Gulf of Mexico low-oxygen zone is only one of several around the globe that are expanding and staying in areas for months at a time.

On the second leg of Mitchell’s journey, she explores ocean acidification with scientists in Puerto Rico. The scientists explain that the ocean is becoming increasingly acidic, and that the creatures that live in it are extremely sensitive to pH changes. Mitchell makes this point all too clear: if the pH in our bodies changed as much as it has already in the global ocean, we’d be dead.

Mitchell also travels to Halifax, where she investigates changes in fish populations, to China where marine management is challenged by the nation’s rapidly expanding population, and to Tanzania where ocean health has direct impacts on the nation as a whole.

Despite these vital signs that point to an emerging ocean crisis, Sea Sick concludes with a message of hope. Engulfed in a submersible with 13-cm thick walls, Mitchell descends to the bottom of the Atlantic and witnesses unidentified fish, giant squids, crabs, black lobsters, marine snow, and brightly coloured corals and sponges. Mitchell writes eloquently that there are still brilliant, thriving, and healthy places in the ocean, and that there is still time maintain our life support system. Hope will propel us to action, she writes, and that is exactly what the ocean needs right now.

Note: Candace Newman is the Marine Protected Areas Campaign Manager at the Living Oceans Society

World Oceans Day

Come and celebrate with the Living Oceans Society in the lead-up to World Oceans Day.

On Saturday, May 30 at 3:00 pm, bring your whole family to the Pioneer Theatre in Port McNeill for a free matinee screening of Once Upon a Tide and the BBC's Deep Blue.

Then, on Saturday, June 6, stop by the Fire Hall in Sointula for our World Oceans Festival from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm. At the festival, we will have games, an art station, educational activities, and even a free seafood chowder lunch. As an added treat, our friends from the Go Wild Kayak Expedition will stop by to show us some pictures and to talk about their trip!

Both of these events are free, and everyone is welcome to attend. If you are not able to make it to the North Island area, check out the official World Oceans Day website to find an event near you!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sea Choice announces a sustainable sushi guide!

I love sushi. I have yet to master the art of eating sushi gracefully, and probably never will, (uncoordinated people take note: sushi + first date = early end to the evening) but at least the folks at SeaChoice have made it easy for me to master the art of eating sushi in a sustainable way. Their new, wallet-sized guide features sustainability information for seafood commonly found on sushi menus by ranking items as green (Best Choice), yellow (Some Concerns) or red (Avoid) options.

A growing facet of the seafood market in Canada, sushi restaurants often offer species – including bluefin tuna and farmed salmon – that are harvested unsustainably. But there are many “Best Choice” alternatives. Canada’s Sustainable Sushi Guide provides a detailed list of seafood items that have healthy populations and come from well-managed fisheries that don’t cause significant harm to ocean environments and other sea life. The guide offers sushi chefs and diners alike great alternatives for their favourite menu items, including local albacore tuna and Dungeness crab, as well as several new ones like Arctic char or sablefish.

With the addition of the sushi card to SeaChoice's offerings, my sushi choices are relatively guilt-free. Now, if only I could find a pocket card with pointers on how I can eat my sustainable sushi, carry on a conversation, and leave the restaurant with a clean shirt and an invite for a second date, my sushi choices would be relatively embarrassment-free as well.

You can download your own SeaChoice pocket sushi guide here.

If you want to learn even more about sustainable sushi, read Casson Trenor's "Sustainable Sushi: A Guide to Saving the Oceans One Bite at a Time".

Note: The pictures of the sustainable sushi in this post are some of the delicious menu offerings from Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar in San Francisco.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

United Nations Declares June 8 as World Oceans Day

It has been celebrated unofficially for years, but this year the United Nations has officially recognized June 8 as World Oceans Day. This is great news, as it demonstrates our leaders' increasing commitment to ocean conservation worldwide.

Click here for the link to the UN resolution recognizing June 8 as World Oceans Day.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Whale Interpretive Centre to House T044

Transient Killer Whales Jumping (Photo Credit: NOAA)

In this week's North Island Gazette, Mary Borrowman of Stubbs Island Whale Watching gives us more information about what has happened to the carcass of the male transient orca found near Telegraph Cove late last month.

Bill and Donna Mackay of Mackay Whale Watching found the whale floating in the water near Bull Harbour and, once news got out, members of the community came together to help bring the whale to Telegraph Cove for the necropsy that took place last week. The dead whale was identified as 32-year-old T044 because of a notch in the dorsal fin and distinctive scratches on the saddle patch; but the cause of T044's death is still unknown.

Once the whale has been cleaned and articulated, it will be housed in the Johnstone Strait Killer Whale Interpretive Centre in Telegraph Cove.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Deep Sea Mining of Hydrothermal Vents

One might describe the ocean as a "precious jewel", or perhaps a "treasure box of life" but less metaphorically, our ocean is actually home to extractable deposits of silver and gold (copper, zinc, and lead too). So... what shall we do with this wealth?

The Canadian (and BC-based) company, Nautilus Minerals has emerged as a major player in the exploration of deep-sea mining possibilities, most notably through its activities related to mining the waters off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Nautilus is also interested in mining areas offshore from Vancouver.

Last week, Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institution hosted a Deep-Sea Mining Workshop to promote interdisciplinary and international collaboration on deep sea mining issues. While there was only modest media coverage of this 100-person, invite-only event; deep-sea mining is becoming a hotly-contested issue for many people who are concerned about the health of the oceans. Rick Macpherson, a scientist based in San Francisco, offers some interesting reflections on the workshop.

Sea floor mining on a large scale has never been attempted before, so we can't fully understand the environmental implications of such a practice. What we do know is that deep sea systems are vulnerable and are often slow to recover from damage. One of my specific concerns is that there are many different kinds of marine life that exist near the hydrothermal vents and if we are not careful, deep sea mining could alter or harm the ecosystem upon which these creatures depend.

What are your thoughts on deep-sea mining? How would you feel if deep-sea mining occurred on the Pacific coast of Canada?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Stain Upon the Sea - Salmon Farming on the West Coast

This book, winner of the 2005 Roderick Haig-Brown BC Book Prize is a must read for anyone concerned about the controversies surrounding farmed fish on the west coast.

Stephen Hume, Alexandra Morton, Betty C. Keller, Rosella M. Leslie, Otto Langer, and Don Staniford all weigh in on the numerous threats posed by salmon farming to our wild Pacific salmon.

Stephen Hume, an award winning journalist, starts off the first chapter describing how he first heard about rumours that something dreadful was happening in the Broughton Archipelago where pink salmon runs were simply not showing up and that fish farms and sea lice congregating around fish farms might be playing a crucial role in diminishing the ability of wild salmon smolts to survive. Hume describes the beginnings of his research,“As I began fishing for answers, I found myself on a journey not unlike that of the salmon themselves, a journey that began on the spawning beds of little-known BC rivers, took me halfway around the world and brought me back, eventually, to the river where my own memories began.”

Hume eloquently describes the concerns of Heiltsuk and Nuxalk elders from the central coast and their zero tolerance toward open net cage salmon farms in their traditional territories. He interviews many of the people involved not only in the fish farm industry itself but scientists, environmentalists and crusaders for a more sustainable aquaculture industry. Traveling to Europe and the entire BC coast in search of answers he is adept at putting all sides of the issue into a very readable format but in the end he concludes that, “Now is the time for more of us to assert ourselves on behalf of our wilderness, parks and wildlife. Salmon farmers and other industries need to hear the message loud and clear: Operate safely, safely, sustainably and disease free and prove there is no risk to wild salmon stocks or take the business somewhere else.”

Don Staniford’s essay, entitled, Silent Spring of the Sea, quotes Rachel Carson’s prescient warning back in 1962: “What we have to face is not an occasional dose of poison which has accidentally got into some articles of food, but a persistent and continuous poisoning of the whole human environment.”

Staniford goes on to say that salmon farmer’s response to the disease and parasite problem has typically not been to reduce stocking densities, scale back on production or leave the sea bed fallow so it can recover. Instead they have resorted to an ever more powerful arsenal of dangerous and hazardous weapons, pressuring agricultural chemical companies to develop novel treatments for use in aquaculture.

I must confess that his descriptions of the chemical soup prevalent in net cage salmon farming was hard to digest and so I moved on to the next essay somewhat unnerved by the long list of toxic chemicals used with little or no regard to their effect on the environment surrounding the fish farms.

Betty Keller and Rosella M. Leslie explain the development of the industry in BC, from small family operations to large chain farms owned by a handful of multinational conglomerates.

Otto Langer, formerly with DFO, offers a blueprint for change after explaining in his chapter how conflicting mandates, poor habitat oversight and the seemingly disdainful disregard for what many people feel is an ecological disaster that got us into this mess in the first place.

Biologist Alexandra Morton has the last word as she documents her extensive research, the forming of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, and her frustration with the various bureaucracies’ ineptitude at coming up with solutions to the environmental problems associated with fish farms in her back yard, the Broughton Archipelago.

One commercial fisherman, after the collapse of the mainland inlet pink salmon runs in 2002, was quoted as saying, “I guess the scary thing is that Alex Morton predicted this would happen back in 2000. And she was right. Now she’s predicting extinction. I don’t think we can afford to wait to see if she’s right again.”

The book starts with an introduction by David Suzuki, a preface by Terry Glavin and concludes with a seven-point action plan to resolve the hazards of salmon farming.

After reading this book, and I know one of the authors as well as a number of the people mentioned in Stephen Hume’s essay, it is has become quite clear to me that the time to transition to closed containment salmon aquaculture here on the coast is long overdue.

Launch of the Go Wild Kayak Expedition

On Saturday, May 2nd at 10 am, the Go Wild Kayak Expedition will launch from the shores of Gig Harbor, Washington. People in the area are encouraged to rent a kayak (discounts are available) and paddle with Phil and Apryle for the first few miles of their journey. Each paddler will be identified with an orange balloon. Visit the Go Wild website for more information about the launch.

The Go Wild team will also be stopping in Sointula during our World Oceans Day Festival on June 6th to talk about the expedition and show us some pictures from their journey. Stay tuned for more information about this in the weeks to come!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Ocean Fun!

We asked you: "what are the best recreational activities around the ocean?"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Jane Lubchenco Approved by US Senate

Update: As we wrote in an earlier post, President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Jane Lubchenco, an accomplished scientist and an outspoken climate activist, to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States. This is a great move towards healthy oceans that was applauded around the world. About a week ago, the US Senate approved Dr. Lubchenco's appointment without objection. Here is a New York Times Article that ran last week about Dr. Lubchenco and all the great work that she has done.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An Interesting MPA Mapping Tool from our Neighbours to the South

I have just come across the MarineMap Decision Support Tool. This interactive site was set up to assist Californian stakeholders in the design of Marine Protected Areas by mapping oceanographic, biological, geological, chemical, and human dimensions of the ocean and coastal areas. This MarineMap tool is a great way for a broad spectrum of stakeholders to understand the diverse range of factors that decision-makers must take into consideration when establishing a network of MPAs. California has kept its promise to establish a network of MPAs, as legislated by the State in the 1999 Marine Life Protection Act.

I hope that in the future, the PNCIMA process will also allow for the establishment of a network of MPAs in British Columbia, and I see the British Columbia Marine Conservation Analysis as a very useful source of information for this and for other marine planning decisions on our coast.

The yellow areas in the map to the right identify the top 50 locations of high conservation value identified by Living Ocean Society’s Conservation Utility Analysis (CUA), completed in 2004. The lessons learned in the CUA are being incorporated into the new and improved BCMCA project.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WWF Releases Results of a Planning Participation Study

Last week, the World Wildlife Fund released the results from a marine planning / community preparedness survey it took last summer and fall in the North Coast communities of Prince Rupert, Terrace, Haida Gwaii and Kitimat. While this survey was not taken in our Northern Vancouver Island communities, the questions that were asked in the survey are very relevant to our experience on the coast as well. The survey results showed that people on the coast usually have very direct linkages to the ocean environment:
"Nearly half of all respondents (48 per cent) said they depend on the marine environment for work while 53 per cent indicated that the ocean is a significant source of food and 65 per cent indicated that it is an important recreation resource. A further 58 per cent said that the marine environment plays a vital role in their cultural traditions and even more so (67 per cent) in family traditions." 1

Another interesting finding from this research is that while 65% of the respondents indicated that they have been involved in a marine planning or consultation processes in the past, only a quarter of them agreed that this involvement had been a positive experience.

While Mike Ambach of WWF in Prince Rupert says that this survey was not specifically designed to fit in with PNCIMA, I do hope that WWF will be able to find some synergy between the two. Most of the concerns brought up by coastal residents in this survey, such as declining fish stocks, climate change, and poor fisheries management could be addressed with an inclusive PNCIMA process.

Have you taken part in marine planning consultations before? Was it a positive experience? What are your suggestions for Fisheries and Oceans Canada as it begins the PNCIMA consultation and planning process?