Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Water Blogged comes ashore

Check out Water Blogged penned by Living Oceans Society's bearded bard, John Driscoll. What's it about?

The ocean is incredible – just really, really incredible. Every day we find out something new and mindblowing about it. And yet so few people actually know, and even fewer care. Into the breach steps Water Blogged!

You can enjoy John's keen wit and humble authority while Coastal Voices goes on hiatus to enjoy the sun. Subscribe to Water Blogged.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Louisiana Fisherman's Story

Michael Roberts, a Louisiana fisherman whose livelihood has been destroyed by the Gulf oil spill writes about his experience. Here’s an excerpt:

"I tried not to let my grandson, Scottie, see me crying. I didn’t think he would understand, that I was crying for his stolen future. None of this will be the same, for decades to come. The damage is going to be immense and I do not think our lives here in south Louisiana will ever be the same."

Here’s the link to his story.

With all the talk of BP, clean up technology, and how the Obama administration has or has not effectively mitigated the situation, the human impact has often been overlooked.

The human impact: another argument for keeping the BC coast oil free. Visit the Living Oceans Society website for more information about the moratorium on offshore oil and gas in B.C.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Natural Carbon Sequestration in Our Coastal Waters

Scientific explanations of climate change facts can be confusing for us all. I decided to do some reading to see if I could wrap my brain around some of the facts, and I discovered that I had a lot to learn! I was particularly interested in finding out more about coastal habitats such as seagrass beds and saltmarshes sequestering carbon. This sounds important and amazing - but I did not have a clue what it meant! So after some digging, I discovered just how natural carbon sequestration in coastal habitats works. Here is what I discovered.

Carbon Cycle

It all starts with the carbon cycle, which is the movement of carbon atoms through all things on the planet: the atmosphere, living and non-living organic material, our bodies, oceans, sediments (including fossil fuels) and the Earth’s core. There is a balance between these major reservoirs of carbon. Some things, like volcanic eruptions and burning fossil fuels, increase the amount of carbon in circulation in the atmosphere and oceans. Other natural processes like photosynthesis remove and store it. Plants take carbon from the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, and through photosynthesis turn it into the sugars and carbohydrates that form plant material. Some of this carbon in plants is consumed by other animals that use the carbon to build their own bodies. Some carbon returns to the atmosphere and oceans or into soil or marine sediments as life forms decompose. Although the carbon cycle is on the move, the proportion of carbon that is in our oceans or atmosphere has been pretty steady over the years, allowing the species that depend upon it to evolve based on its presence in set concentrations.

Sequestration of Carbon

The carbon cycle makes it seem as though carbon is always on the move, but much of our planet's carbon has been stored for millions of years, in fossil fuels, and for hundreds of years in large trees. So you can see why cutting down trees and burning fossil fuels has upset the carbon balance: It is all back in in the atmosphere and oceans! What is needed, in addition to to halting the burning of fossil fuels, are actions like protecting and increasing forest cover and supporting other processes that take carbon out of circulation from the air and water then store in a stable solid form. There are many schemes to artificially sequester carbon, but most of them are so energy intensive that they would create as much of a carbon footprint as they elevate, some would take to long to be useful on a massive scale, and others have been banned from consideration due to unknown side effects that could be worse than the problems we are starting with!

Natural Carbon Sequestration
Natural carbon sequestration is carbon stored by plants and animals. The most effective form is when terrestrial and marine plants sequester carbon into the soil or sediments around their roots in a mineral form, storing it for thousands of years or more. These carbon sequestering plants are extremely important for reducing the amount of carbon circulating in the atmosphere and oceans. Of these, the marine coastal habitats such as mangroves, salt marsh and sea grass do this job the best. Marine species sequester the same overall amount of carbon as terrestrial species, even though there is 99.95% less plant material in the oceans doing the same job. This is due to special chemical processes in marine sediments. (This means half a kilogram of marine plant material can sequester as much carbon as 1,000 kgs of plant material on land)

Protecting Seagrass and Saltmarsh
Seventy percent of the marine plants that naturally sequester carbon are found in coastal areas such as seagrass meadows and salt marshes. Much of these areas have been lost since the 1940s due to coastal development, and have been damaged by run off from agricultural and industrial activities. Scientists of the United Nations Environment Program recommended to the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference that 80 percent of the world’s remaining seagrass and salt marsh habitat be protected as an important step among the range of strategies necessary to combat global climate change and ocean acidification.

So given that we know what to do - why aren't we doing it?

There is one thing you can do right now that would only take one minute. Send a letter to our Minister of Fisheries and Oceans - telling her about the importance of protecting these critical habitats with marine protected areas in order to ensure that they keep on sequestering carbon.

Information about natural carbon sequestration (if you want more) is also available in these reports.

* IUCN: The Management of Natural Coastal Carbon Sinks
* UNEP: Blue Carbon Report

Monday, November 9, 2009

A Short History of Progress by Ronald Wright

I was going to post some thoughts about a book I've been reading recently, entitled, The Last Great Sea by Terry Glavin, a voyage through the human and natural history of the North Pacific Ocean, and I will, but a slim volume by another Canadian writer interrupted that process.

In A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright, tries to tell us, not only of his attempt to understand where modern man and his civilizations came from but where we may be headed.

It is no secret that the twentieth century was a time of runaway growth in human numbers, consumption and technology, placing a colossal load on all our natural systems, especially earth air and water - the very elements of life. The great question for the twenty-first century is how, or whether, this can go on.

The title of the first chapter, Gauguin's Questions, came from the title of one of the French painter's works, Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?
It is Gauguin's third question - Where are we going? - that Wright tries to address in this book.
He feels that by answering the other two questions first we can answer it - broad strokes.
If we see clearly what we are and what we have done, we can recognize human behavior that persists through many times and cultures. Knowing this can tell us what we are likely to do and where we are likely to go from here.

The second chapter, The Great Experiment, gives us a brief, colourful description of the early origins of our species, describing at one point the 10,000 year old Neanderthal/Cro-Magnon struggle as early man made his way out of Africa. Apparently the Cro-Magnon won. He describes the rise of civilizations, the first thought to be in Sumer (Mesopotamia - now Iraq) and Egypt, as an experiment where the progress of man, in numerous instances, became a trap that they could not or would not escape from. He cites overgrazing, deforestation, weapons technology and the ruling elite's propensity for maintaining their status quo even during darkening times. Does this sound all too familiar? This so called Progress Trap has been a slippery slope that has plagued us since the Stone Age. All cultures, past and present are dynamic, and while our civilization's particulars differ from those of the past, they are not as different as we like to think.

Wright goes on to detail how four ancient societies - Sumer, Rome, the Maya, Easter Island - which, in roughly a thousand years each, wore out their welcome from nature and collapsed.
He also mentions two exceptions, Egypt and China, who achieved runs of 3,000 years or more for atypical reasons:
  • an abundance of resources, particularly topsoil, with alluvial deposits from annual Nile River flooding and wind-blown glacial loess that was exceedingly deep, respectively
  • farming methods that worked with, rather than against, natural cycles
  • settlement patterns that did not exceed, or permanently damage, the carrying capacity of the local environment
In his comparisons to our present civilization, Wright, brings up some sobering points:
  • each time history repeats itself the price goes up
  • the world still has differing cultures and political systems, but at the economic level there is now only one big civilization, feeding on the whole planet's natural capitol
  • the twentyfold growth in world trade since the 1970s has meant that hardly anywhere is self-sufficient. Every Eldorado has been looted
  • quoting Joseph Tainter, who notes this interdependance and warns, that "collapse, if and when it comes again, will this time be global... World civilization will disintegrate as a whole."
Wright concludes:

"Things are moving so fast that inaction itself is one of the biggest mistakes. The 10,000-year experiment of the settled life will stand or fall by what we do, and don't do now. The reform that is needed is not anti-capitalist, anti-American, or even deep environmentalist; it is simply the transition from the short-term to long-term thinking. From recklessness and excess to moderation and the precautionary principle.

The great advantage we have, our best chance for avoiding the fate of past societies, is that we know about those past societies. We can see how and why they went wrong. Homo sapiens has the information to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise.

We are now at the stage when the Easter Islander could still have halted the senseless cutting and carving, could have gathered the last trees' seeds to plant out of reach of the rats. We have the tools and the means to share resources, clean up pollution, dispense basic health care and birth control, set economic limits in line with natural ones. If we don't do these things now, while we prosper, we will never be able to do them when times get hard. Our fate will twist out of our hands. And this new century will not grow very old before we enter an age of chaos and collapse that will dwarf all the dark ages in our past.

Now is our last chance to get the future right."

Ronald Wright is an award winning novelist, historian and essayist. This book was part of the CBC Radio's Massey Lecture Series in 2004.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The moon and the tide

Catching a glimpse of the full moon sparkling over the water last night got me to thinking about how connected the ocean and the heavens are. At this time of year a full moon is considered to be a Harvest Moon and as such has long had a special significance to farmers and folks who depend on the land. It also has a special significance for fishermen.

When I was a salmon troller, both the full and new moon phases were important times of the month because that's when I could count on salmon to bite the best. It was a convergence of consequences that worked in my favour and against the salmon. First of all, salmon always seem to bite best first thing in the morning. The rising sun and increasing light of the new day always gets them going. Dawn is the prime time of day when an angler wants to have his or her gear in the water. Also, when the tide changes four times a day the slackening and shifting currents have a powerful effect on all marine species, salmon included. Forage fish-known as feed or bait-seek refuge from the strong currents by hiding behind ridges and boulders on the bottom. I think they are saving energy that way. When the currents slacken you can see the bait rising up in clouds from their hiding places on a depth sounder. This will usually cause salmon to go into a feeding frenzy and increases the opportunities for a fisherman trolling through the balls of bait. Salmon also seem to bite better on a rising tide. And then, it seems to me at least, the harder the tide runs, the harder the fish bite. One thing for sure is all salmon seem to do something other than eat between about 2 in the afternoon and just before supper is served aboard. It doesn't matter if supper is at four in the afternoon or seven in the evening, as soon as you sit down to enjoy it you are guarranteed to get a fish on the line.

Early on in my fishing career I learned from the oldtimers, "When the moon comes up, the tide comes up and when the moon goes down, the tide goes down." This means you can always tell what the tide is doing if you can see the moon. As the moon rises in the east, it pulls the tide up with it. The tide is highest when the moon is highest. And as the moon starts on a downward trajectory and sets in the west, the tide goes out.

When the moon is full it is aligned opposite the sun and always sets early in the morning and rises in the evening. The new moon is aligned so it rises at the same time the sun does. Twice a month these two celestial orbs conspire during these two phases to create a strong gravitational pull on the ocean that leads to the "spring" or highest high and lowest low tides. The strongest tidal currents are generated during the "spring" tides. And all these factors favour the fisherman, not the fish.

So on a full or new moon, low water slack is first thing in the morning just as the sun is coming up. These "spring" tides flood or rise all morning creating the strongest currents during the time of day when salmon like to bite the best. After the tide turns to ebb and starts to go out, it's after lunch when most salmon do something other than eat anyway.

I think Sir Isaac Newton was the first physicist to correlate the cycles of tides to the phases of the moon based on his theory of universal gravitation, but I'm sure folks who spent their lives on the ocean had an idea about how these were connected long before Newton out it down on paper. I'm sure the fishermen had it pegged!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Living the Ocean - An interview with Jennifer Lash

Ava, from The Reef Tank is our guest blogger this week. She interviewed Jennifer at the beginning of October and her post is reproduced with permission here. The Reef Tank is one of the largest online communities of saltwater aquarists.

Did you know it was an Australian water landmark that inspired Jennifer Lash to create Living Oceans Society, the single largest marine conservation organization in Canada? Yes, it's true. After working as a prawn trawler, the destruction Jennifer witnessed during an Australian marine science experience completely changed her life, inspiring her to work in the small British Columbian ocean community of Sointula where she now lives.

Now, as the largest marine conservation organization in Canada celebrates its 10th year, its founder and Executive Director Jennifer Lash can look back with fondness at all the great memories and all the inspirational strides the group has made for the ocean communities in that area, including the recent Finding Coral Expedition. This was a mission to document deep sea corals that are at risk, and that currently do not have any protection measures in place by the government. The results of the expedition will hopefully change this.
Now we get to see what the Living Oceans Society is all about through the eyes of its leader.

Tell me about the founding of the Living Oceans Society.
I established Living Oceans Society in 1998. I was looking for a bold organization that would advance conservation of our ocean while respecting the cultural and social needs of the people who work and live on the coast. When I could not find an organization like that, I decided to start my own.

How did you get your own personal start in marine biology?
I am not a marine biologist. I studied political science in University. My focus was on how to take the work of scientists and turn it into effective polices that would ensure the oceans are healthy. I depend on the excellent work of marine biologists and other scientists to do the critical research that illustrates what polices need to be in place.

LOS is the largest marine conservation organization in Canada. How did it get to that point?
I’m not sure. There just seemed to be so much work to do and we have always had a team of dedicated people. Through hard work and passion, we were able to raise the funds to hire the staff to take on more work.

Tell me about some of the conservation goals you hope to sustain with the Society?
Living Oceans Society would like to see healthy oceans to support healthy communities. To realize this goal we would like to see the development of conservation plans for the coast. This would include an ecosystem based management approach to planning, a network of marine protected areas, protection of deep sea corals, sustainable fisheries, sustainable salmon farming, and maintaining the moratorium on offshore oil and gas development and tanker traffic.

How did your work at The Great Barrier Reef in Australia help you to create Living Oceans Society in Canada?
When I lived in Australia I was fortunate enough to dive on the reef every day for 8 months. I felt very connected to the environment. I also worked on a commercial fishing vessel and saw the destruction from the fishing gear. I met many people who depended on the fishing to sustain their livelihoods. I drew on this experience when I started Living Oceans Society and it helped form our commitment to developing health oceans to support healthy communities.

What are some ways for a person be a marine conservationist without joining any group or organization?
People should eat only sustainable seafood. They can learn more about what they can eat by visiting the Seachoice site. Reducing energy consumption helps address climate change issues that are harming our oceans. Finally, make sure that you do not pour anything down your drain that you wouldn’t pour in your garden as all toxic chemicals end up in the ocean where our seafood live.

What did the organization do to celebrate it’s 10th anniversary?
We had 2 great parties. One was a cocktail party in Vancouver where we served sustainable seafood and had a silent auction. In Sointula we held the Under the Sea masquerade party. Everyone dressed in costumes and danced the night away. It was a great way to celebrate 10 years of hard work.

How did you come to lead the Finding Coral Expedition and what was its goal?
We designed and launched the Finding Coral Expedition because government was moving so slowly to protect deep sea corals and the corals are at risk. Our goal was to documents deep sea corals and gather data about the species in BC, like where they are located, and what other marine creatures depend on them for habitat.

Sum up the adventure with a story or two.

There are 2 highlights from the trip that I can think of. The first was when we came across the Primnoa coral forests in Dixon Entrance. I was piloting the sub across the flat mud bottom when suddenly there were boulders and a rock wall in front of me. Nestled on one of the rocks was a small piece of Primnoa. I was excited and then I looked along the wall and saw coral after coral, after coral. It was a moment I will never forget.

When we were diving in the Moresby Gully we went as deep at 1700 feet. This was my deepest dive and I remember sitting there thinking “Wow, no one will ever be sitting in this location looking at this marine life ever again.” That was when I knew I was one of the luckiest people alive.

What are some of the goals of the Living Oceans Society moving forward?
We need to complete the projects we are currently working on and we need to challenge the issue of climate change. The increase in CO2 in the atmosphere is resulting in increased CO2 in the ocean. This, in turn, is creating carbonic acid in the oceans. The carbonic acid is affecting the shells of phytoplankton and zoo plankton as well as crabs and shellfish in the larval stage. If this trend continue, the ocean as we know it will cease to exist. We must decrease our carbon emissions and we will do what we can to make this happen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Name This Spot!

Right on the heels of congratulating our most recent winner in my last post, I think we should have everyone try and figure out the location of this next image.
This is a spot within the Pncima region and any mariners with local knowledge of the Inside Passage would know this spot.

If you would like to try your best guess, you can email me at: or leave a comment in the comments section.
Winners will be announced on the next Name This Spot! post.

Good luck and thanks for checking out Coastal Voices.