Posted by: carlsafina | Friday, September 18 09

Ocean Policy Task Force

 Help Us Work to Establish a Protective,

National Policy for Our Oceans

Our oceans are not just places of wonder and beauty – they are economic engines providing valuable jobs, food, energy resources, and recreation and tourism opportunities. But they are under enormous strain as a result of overexploitation, habitat degradation, coastal pollution, and climate change.
One obstacle to protecting our oceans is the fact that they are currently governed by a mix of more than 140 laws and 20 different agencies, each with different goals and with no single unifying conservation mandate. We have a Clean Water Act for our water and a Clean Air Act for our air; we need a national policy to similarly protect our oceans.
On June 12th, President Obama called together an interagency Ocean Policy Task Force to fix this problem; the 23-member federal Task Force is directed to create a unifying oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes policy and design an effective marine spatial planning framework in 180 days.

This Task Force is holding a public meeting next Thursday, Sept. 24 in Providence, Rhode Island from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. The meeting is at the Rhode Island Convention Center, Ballrooms D & E.

Please consider attending this meeting and ask that President Obama issue an executive order to formally establish a national policy to protect, maintain and restore the health of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes. Protecting, maintaining, and restoring the health of these natural systems must be the core focus of a national policy if we intend to meet the needs of present and future generations.

Other upcoming public meeting locations include:

  • Honolulu, Hawaii:                    September 29th
  • New Orleans, Louisiana:        October 19th
  • Cleveland, Ohio:                     October 29th

More information on these events and this effort are available at:


Please contact Sean Cosgrove ( or Megan Mackey ( with any questions.

Thank you for all that you do to help protect and restore our

shared oceans and waterways!

Posted by: carlsafina | Wednesday, September 16 09

On the Word Creation…

The following video and text originally appeared on filmmaker David Conover’s blog

Words matter. Learning to say hello in the native language of a country that you visit matters. A matter of connection, of civility, of grace. Sometimes the word environment suffers from misuse, and may not be the best word of hello among scientists and people of faith. I remember an older Russian fellow and his translator who I once traveled with in Kamchatka. We were part of the first western expedition allowed into this formerly restricted land. After lunch one day, we were sitting on the hot stones of a remote riverbed, amidst resting monarch butterflies. We got into one of those conversations about language that happens when alert translators are around. Together, the Russian and his translator remarked that the word environment is very different from the world wilderness, because environment refers exclusively to what surrounds humanity (environs). Wilderness is more boundless, untied to us. This difference in meaning exposes how environment measures the world on the basis of people. As Carl eloquently expands upon in the video clip below, creation has bigness and mystery. Perhaps creation captures more of the world beyond man’s measure? Perhaps it is a graceful way of saying hello amidst fellow travelers?

For more information about this unique film that explores human’s relationship with the natural world, please visit Behold the Earth’s home page:

Posted by: carlsafina | Wednesday, September 16 09

Matters of Morality

The following video and text originally appeared on filmmaker David Conover’s blog 

Simply noticing and recording the disturbing trends of a degraded world is a virtue of science and all those practicing it. The process reveals a lot of information about the world around us. But information alone is not enough to mobilize action on the scale required to make that world a healthier and more desirable place for our children. A set of political relationships with this, that, or the other political party is not enough. Nor are relationships in the marketplace. Nor a broad appeal to beauty. In the video clip below, the writer Carl Safina speaks about the kind of relationship he believes is required.

For more information about this unique film that explores human’s relationship with the natural world, please visit Behold the Earth’s home page:

Posted by: carlsafina | Friday, September 4 09

A Call to Costa Rica to Protect Leatherbacks

The following op-ed appeared in LaNacion, on September 2, 2009. For the spanish version click here!

Editor, La Nacion

To the Editor,

Many international conservationists are disturbed by news that Costa Rica’s Congress is considering a bill to do away with Las Baulas National Park. Baulas is not only absolutely vital to the existence of Costa Rica’s Pacific leatherback sea turtles. It is the most important remaining nesting ground of this critically endangered turtle in the entire east Pacific Ocean.

Safina and Leatherbac#3C1FD hi resThese turtles are extraordinary; they can weigh up to one ton. A few years ago, I traveled throughout the Atlantic and Pacific while researching a book I wrote on these creatures. I saw many of their sites and former sites, and came to understand what is needed for their survival, and how, in well-managed sites in the Caribbean, especially Trinidad, these turtles draw many tourists.

Their Pacific population is in great trouble due mainly to beach disturbance. They have declined by about 98 percent since the early 1980s. Former large nesting populations in Mexico are a tiny fraction of earlier numbers. In the west Pacific, the leatherback turtle’s largest population has apparently gone extinct in the last few years. These creatures, and the world, need Costa Rica to do what it can to protect the remaining Pacific leatherbacks and promote their recovery.

And so little is required. All that is needed is darkness on the beach at night and protection of nests. The beach at Las Baulas Park that is currently without houses should remain so, and the Park should be reaffirmed by Costa Rica’s Congress. Existing homeowners should keeps lights low and use yellow bulbs outside at night. For this little investment, Costa Rica and cooperating local homeowners would make a significant contribution to world conservation.

Carl Safina, PhD

Blue Ocean Institute

Stony Brook University, New York, USA

Posted by: carlsafina | Thursday, August 20 09

Whales’ Are Back!

whale flip 2For a moment, let’s forget the bad and difficult news. We should celebrate success when we can. One of the literally biggest successes is that in many parts of the world whales are again common, and increasing in number. Yes, Japan, Norway, and Iceland still insist on killing whales commercially. Yes, we kill incredible numbers of fish that whales, tunas, and other animals eat. The work to protect them isn’t over. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that on a 2-day trip out of Montauk, Long Island to Great South Channel east of Nantucket (organized by, we saw over 60 different Humpback Whales, several Fin Whales, and several Minke Whales. We also saw White-sided Dolphins and numerous seabirds.

In my photos here, all the whales are Humpbacks. I’ve put more photos in an album on Blue Ocean Institute’s Facebook page entitled “Whale Watching August 2009.”  Enjoy the photos from a great conservation success story.

-Carl Safina

Whale back

Whale breach

whale eye

whale flip

Posted by: carlsafina | Wednesday, August 12 09

One Good Tern for the Record Books

tern 3

For about a decade I studied Common and Roseate Terns nesting on Long Island, and followed them as they were foraging at sea. I was studying their relationships with the fish they ate, including where and how they found fish in the ocean. During that time we also studied their breeding success, survival, and growth in their breeding colonies. To do so we individually marked thousands of birds with numbered leg bands. We banded many chicks, and also banded adults at their nests.

The mail recently brought a letter from the official U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory. It informed me that in July, researchers on Great Gull Island off the North Fork of Long Island encountered a nesting Common Tern that I had first banded as an adult in 1984. Because they don’t breed until age 2, this bird is at least 27 years old. I was so surprised I had to look at the letter several times to make sure I was reading the dates right. I also called the folks on Great Gull to double-check. It was all correct.

tern 2The previous oldest known Common Tern was 25. But, also last month, researchers on Great Gull Island encountered a 28 year old Common Tern. That’s the new record. Both of these finds are extraordinary. I suppose I would have loved to say “I” held the record. But the achievement is entirely the birds’, and they deserve celebrating to have lived so long against the odds and through good and bad years of food and weather, and so many migrations to South America and back.

It’s good to know that among all the gloom and doom we hear, seabirds are still setting survival records.

tern 1

Posted by: carlsafina | Wednesday, July 29 09

An end to coral? The cost of losing it all.

Some people say conservation and energy policy are “no fun.” Look at the below and ask how much fun is the lack of conservation and the inadequacy of world energy policy. No fun? We ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“… The latest research indicates substantial risk to calcifying organisms at atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 450 parts per million (p.p.m.), with all coral reefs halting their growth and beginning to dissolve at concentrations of 550 p.p.m. (ref. 12). The best Halfway to Copenhagen [currently planned international] emissions pathway would result in CO2 concentrations above this level shortly after 2050.

Unless there is a major improvement in national commitments to reducing greenhouse gases, we see virtually no chance of staying below 2 or 1.5 °C. Coral reefs, in addition, seem to have certainly no chance if the work of Jacob Silverman and colleagues [below] is correct.”


Silverman, J., Lazar, B., Cao, L., Caldeira, K. & Erez, J. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L05606 (2009).

“Calcification rates in stony corals are expected to decline significantly in the near future due to ocean acidification. In this study we provide a global estimate of the decline in calcification of coral reefs as a result of increase in sea surface temperature and partial pressure of CO2. This estimate, unlike previously reported estimates, is based on an empirical rate law developed from field observations for gross community calcification as a function of aragonite degree of saturation (Ωarag), sea surface temperature and live coral cover. Calcification rates were calculated for more than 9,000 reef locations using model values of Ωarag and sea surface temperature at different levels of atmospheric CO2. The maps we produced show that by the time atmospheric partial pressure of CO2 will reach 560 ppm all coral reefs will cease to grow and start to dissolve.”

AND the collapse of Caribbean reef structure:

“Recent rapid declines in hard coral cover have occurred across the Caribbean region. We provide, to our knowledge, the first region-wide analysis of changes in reef architectural complexity, using nearly 500 surveys across 200 reefs, between 1969 and 2008. The architectural complexity of Caribbean reefs has declined nonlinearly with the near disappearance of the most complex reefs over the last 40 years. …The widespread loss of architectural complexity is likely to have serious consequences for reef biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and associated environmental services.”

I still know “educated” people who don’t think there’s a problem, or think fixing this would be too expensive. They never seem to ask the cost of losing it all. —C

Posted by: carlsafina | Monday, July 13 09

Will there always be another fish in the sea?

The following op-ed by Carl Safina appeared in Newsday, July 9, 2009. For a full version, click here.

Will there always be another fish in the sea?

Carl Head ShotCarl Safina, a MacArthur fellow who lives in Setauket, is the president of Blue Ocean Institute. His most recent book is “Voyage of the Turtle.”


I grew up along the shores of Long Island and have wonderful childhood memories of standing in the shallow water of Jones Beach, holding my father’s hand and a butterfly net, catching minnows and putting them in buckets. From these local beginnings, my love of the sea and its creatures led me into scientific studies of fish and seabirds around the world.

The ocean, however, is changing. Everything humans do affect the waters of our world. From my research and a lifetime of recreational angling, I’ve witnessed the disturbingly rapid declines in tunas, sharks, marlin and other sea life. It’s an underwater version of the last buffalo hunt.

That’s why I’m so surprised that one of New York’s senators – and one with a reputation for conservation – would introduce a bill that’s bad for our oceans, the fish that live in them, and our coastal economies that depend on these fish.

In the United States, nearly a quarter of our commercially important ocean fish populations – such as cod, flounder, snapper and grouper – are severely depleted. This means that we’ve been taking these fish from the ocean much faster than they can reproduce. In some cases, they are nearing commercial extinction.

To help restore America’s ocean fisheries, in 2006 Congress reauthorized the law that governs our ocean fisheries – the Magnuson-Stevens Act – with requirements to end overfishing and strengthen directives to rebuild depleted fish populations within 10 years, if biologically possible.

Unfortunately, a bill sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Flexibility in Rebuilding American Fisheries Act of 2009, would allow fishery managers to delay rebuilding deadlines if they can point to a “positive rebuilding trend” or attribute declining fish populations to causes other than overfishing.

In other words, fishery managers could theoretically extend rebuilding deadlines indefinitely for dozens of fish populations, if the population grew by only one fish, or if they could point to an additional cause for a decline.

To put it bluntly, they could use just about any excuse to avoid letting fish populations recover. And that’s bad for everyone with an interest in fish and fishing.

While some fishermen and politicians claim that the 10-year rebuilding deadline is arbitrary, there was critical need behind the provision. From 1976 to 1996, fishery managers had the power – but not the requirement – to maintain and rebuild fish populations. But because of exactly the kinds of pressures now behind Schumer’s bill, managers presided over the overfishing and collapse that made the current requirements necessary. Schumer’s bill would take us back to this era of depletion.

In 1996, Congress utilized the input of fishery scientists who noted that most depleted fish populations could be rebuilt in five years. To minimize economic hardship, Congress gave fishery managers the flexibility to choose a 10-year rebuilding deadline, with further exceptions for populations biologically unable to rebuild in that time frame, or if an international agreement dictated otherwise.

In a study published in the journal Science in 2005, several co-authors and I found that the vast majority of depleted U.S. fish populations could be rebuilt within 10 years. Additionally, we found that continued overfishing and delaying rebuilding undermines diversity, risks ecosystem structure, reduces chances of recovery and increases economic costs. We’ve certainly learned the mistake of deregulating banking, and for similar reasons, now’s not the time to deregulate fishing.

The first time my dad took me fishing, I learned the most important lesson ever about fisheries management – you throw back the little ones to leave some for tomorrow. When fishery managers have focused on the main goal of allowing a depleted species to rebuild, we have indeed seen recovery in such important species as striped bass and bluefish in the Atlantic and king mackerel in the Gulf of Mexico.

During decades of service, Schumer has championed numerous efforts to protect wildlife and wild places. But, this bill would unravel a decade and a half of hard-won progress in fisheries management.

Senator, please throw back this bill.

Posted by: carlsafina | Tuesday, June 23 09

“Is it just plain ‘wrong’ to kill whales?”

Andy Revkin of the New York Times has a story about Iceland’s plan to kill whales this year.

He sent an email to me and to several other people who’ve devoted considerable time to thinking about whales, whaling, and the humane treatment of animals, posing the question, “Is it just plain ‘wrong’ to kill whales?”

Here’s my response.  Look for others on his blog in the responses section.

Humpback breaching - youtubeIs it wrong to kill whales? Because some say it’s wrong and some say it’s right, I start with the assumption that it’s inherently neither wrong nor right. The question is: what should we do? And the answer to that comes from what we want, how we want to steer ourselves, and what kind of people we want to be.

Except for people who think the world cannot be depleted because it is miraculously re-stocked or that it is being depleted because it is supposed to end soon, it is universally agreed that we want to use many things in the world, but not exterminate or deplete what we use. No one seriously wants to use everything we could use; many people would draw the line at eating various creatures or other humans (though there are always exceptions).

So regardless of whether I like whaling or not, the question of should we kill whales becomes, by wider agreement, one of, ‘Can we kill whales sustainably?’

In theory, we could. But part of the answer comes from the performance of whaling itself. First, all hunted whale populations were depleted, some exterminated. Atlantic Gray Whales were completely wiped out. Several species remain near the brink of the blink; others are recovering. So there is a history of excess. Second, in modern industrial whaling, whaling boats’ log books were often falsified, sometimes reporting one-tenth of the whales killed. So there’s a history of dishonesty, and a willingness to break rules. Many whale-meat packages sold as food in Japan have been proven by DNA testing to be species other than the one advertised. Often, the meat actually comes from supposedly protected species in supposedly closed waters. As I said, dishonesty appears to be inherent in this business. Third, the world has a critical need to bring the oceans under the rule of law and to democratize decision-making, because boats working out of boundaries have depleted fish, turtles, sharks,  and formerly seabirds, whales, and seals. The international commissions set up to govern fishing and whaling activities on the world’s oceans are part of where civilization needs to go. Japan works against this civilizing process by threatening economic sanctions against countries inclined to vote differently, refusing to abide by agreed-to fishing quotas (they’ve been twice convicted in the World Court of systematic, government-sanctioned fishing well over their quota for bluefin tuna) and undermining the democratic intent of the International Whaling Commission by stacking the deck-paying for and bringing in member countries like Mongolia and many impoverished Caribbean states whose sole interest in whaling is to vote with Japan and get paid for it.

So can we kill whales sustainably? Apparently not. Then should we kill whales? No.

-Carl Safina

The following post by Carl Safina appeared in the New York Times Blog ‘Room for Debate,’ June 9, 2009.  For a full version of the blog, click here.

The Smaller the Fish, the Better

Carl Safina

Carl Safina is the founding president of Blue Ocean Institute. His books include “Song for the Blue Ocean,” “Eye of the Albatross” and “Voyage of the Turtle.”

I’m not your typical consumer. I’m a scientist, writer, fisherman, New Yorker, scuba diver — for a living, I think about how the ocean is changing and what the changes mean for people. When I step up to a seafood counter, I think about the ocean we used to have, what we have now and what we want in the future.

The thing is, life changes and the answers to the questions I think about change over time. Swordfish, once the target of a successful consumer boycott, are doing much better now.

Do your homework before hitting the seafood counter.

In general, the smaller the fish the better. Bigger, longer-lived fish tend to be higher in mercury, slower to mature and reproduce, and therefore more depleted by overfishing. Farmed oysters, mussels and clams tend to be very sustainable and can actually improve local water quality. Domestic shrimp is O.K. these days, imported shrimp has problems. Environmentally, wild salmon is a better pick than farmed. Halibut? Go with Pacific. For lobsters: Atlantic or Australian are best-managed. Mahimahi reproduce abundantly and grow very fast. Sharks, snappers, groupers are not the best from a health or conservation standpoint. About half the seafood we evaluate is generally O.K. to eat with a good conscience, and the other half, well, you might want to skip it.

Do your homework — carry a wallet guide, surf the Web, hop on Facebook — before hitting the seafood counter, there are good resources at the ready.

Care. Ask questions. Decide. Repeat. Bon appetite.

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