W2O Blog

Posted on 04/22//13

Meg Steiner, Barbara Burgess, Mary Alice Karol and Ellen Curren at the State House

Meg Steiner, Barbara Burgess, Mary Alice Karol and Ellen Curren at the State House

W2O Co Founder, Barbara Burgess and three other W2O Board members headed to the Boston State House today to testify to our State Legislature’s Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture in support of the Plastic Bag Reduction Bill #696.  What better to way to honor Earth Day than to stand up for what we believe in to protect our oceans by stating our views on the pollution and harmful effects to human health by those aerodynamic plastic bags choking our waterways, strangling our marine life and ending up in all of us. W2O joined The Sierra Club, Environmental America and other groups in support of the bill put forth by Democrat Massachusetts Representative of the 8th Essex District, Lori Ehrlich.

Some reminders of the issues at hand and a link to how you can help!

  • PLASTIC IS FOREVER (still ringing in my ears from our “Plastics in the Oceans, Plastics in You event and eloquently put by Dianna Cohen from Plastic Pollution Coalition-plastic breaks down into tiny bits that are ingested by our fish and wildlife and then in turn is ingested by us and IT NEVER GOES AWAY
  • Plastic clogs our waterways, costs municipalities in clean up efforts, and end up in our oceans, collecting in huge gyres that can never be cleaned up
  • “Biodegradable” doesn’t exist when speaking of plastic (bags or any kind) and companies that tell you that their bag is going to “break down” are not telling you the science. In order for a bag to decompose, it needs the perfect conditions of sun, heat and lack of moisture.  Most bags are in our trees, landfills and waterways and are not basking in the sun for hundreds of days waiting to break down. Just refuse plastic bags!

Act now! Use this link to the Sierra Clubs easy guide and Write your legislator and Protect What YOU Love!

Posted on 04/11//13

w2o-post-3

Photo: Brian Skerry

 

A W2O member pointed me towards an interesting conversation yesterday from NPR’s “On Point” with Tom Ashbrook and his guest, W. Jeffrey Bolster, author of a new book “The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail.”   Understanding the economics, politics, and social perceptions currently and in our history helps frame why it is so vital that we protect what we love.  In his book, Mr. Bolster quotes one of our great writers and lovers of the natural world, Rachel Carson. Again, we are reminded that it is easy to see how our land resources and their natural beauty have been effected by our choices, but we struggle to grasp the image of an ocean in trouble.

In 1951, Rachel Carson wrote this in “The Sea Around Us

“He (mankind) cannot control or change the ocean as, in his brief tenancy of the earth, he has subdued and plundered the continents”

Of course we know she was mistaken, but clearly, this smart, educated, well respected woman was caught up in the public perception that the ocean, as Bolster says, was seen as abundant, lush and untouchable for many. This just reconfirms and makes me want to shout out our mission statement for W2O, so I will repeat it here!

W2O

Promoting healthy and sustainable oceans through education that inspires advocacy and action 

Posted on 04/02//13

Scientist Randi Rotjan's supplies for her PIPA expedition

Scientist Randi Rotjan’s supplies for her PIPA expedition

 

Keith Ellenbogen's map and dive plan for the PIPA Expedition

Keith Ellenbogen’s map and dive plan for the PIPA Expedition

 

I am inspired by a current Rhode Island School of Design art exhibit that is called simply, “Lists.”  The show presents lists from artists that were written in great detail before and during a project or artistic journey.  When I attended the W2O event, “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” today I was struck by how much effort it must have taken Scientist Randi Rotjan and underwater photographer Keith Ellenbogen to mount the PIPA expeditions for the New England Aquarium.  This is a “List” worthy, massive artistic and scientific undertaking. Along with other scientists and photographers, Randi and Kieth kept lists and double checked to make sure that only the most necessary equipment took the trip on the relatively small vessel that travels 5 days at sea from Fiji to reach the remote Phoenix Islands and the Island Nation of Kanton. And these last details only after years of planning, fund raising, researching and coordinating with other conservation organization.  The time, effort and expense are well worth the results and revelation that come from exploring the islands, learning about the small community living on them and studying this laboratory of intact coral reef system and ocean marine life. The area is now free of commercial fishing and damaging habitat destruction and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the deepest and largest World Heritage site on Earth.

Today’s event, “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” was magical in image, informative in content and inspiring to all of us. Our take away “Action” today: Please put ocean protection on your “philanthropic dance card” and  support the PIPA project.

Census of Kanton Island Residents curtesy of Keith Ellenbogen

Census of Kanton Island Residents curtesy of Keith Ellenbogen

Posted on 03/17//13

 

Take Only Photos, Leave Only Footprints
Tickets are selling out for Women Working for Oceans event on April 2nd-Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints with photographer Kieth Ellenbogen and New England Aquarium Associate Scientist Randi Rotjan. Learn about the Marine Protected Area of the Phoenix Islands and the remote island nation of Kiribati from the first hand knowledge of two extraordinary people that have been involved in protecting this pristine ocean landscape and its community.

Tickets Here!

Posted on 03/15//13

 

Randi Rotjan

Randi Rotjan

When I met with Randi Rotjan, Associate Scientist at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) I thought I would enlist her for a bit of “coral 101” so that I could understand a bit about the reef system and Marine Protected Areas that will be discussed in our upcoming Women Working for Oceans event “Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Footprints” on April 2nd.  Randi is engaging and her eyes completely light up when she is talking about her favorite subject, coral and the Phoenix Island Marine Protected Area (PIPA). Randi and her team from NEAq have been visiting and exploring the Phoenix Islands and the surrounding area studying its remarkable biodiversity and resilience.  Its reefs, in particular, have become a topic of awe because, as they have been protected, there has been a significant recovery of species and marine life, including coral. “The area has become a benchmark for understanding how coral reefs will respond to global change”.

One of the major threats to coral reefs is overgrowth by algae, but I soon found out that not all algae are bad. There are 3 major types of algae on a coral reef, and as part of the “coral 101”, I got the rundown on all of them: symbiotic algae, crustose coralline algae, and fleshy macroalgae. Corals are animals, but they are also partly “vegetable” and “mineral”. The vegetable part is the symbiotic algae that live inside coral tissue and use sunlight for photosynthesis, which helps feed the coral animal and obtain the carbon needed to create the coral skeleton.   Crustose coralline algae is also generally helpful for corals – pink and cement-like, it is the substrate that baby corals search for when deciding on a place to live. The third type of algae, fleshy macroalgae, is also a natural part of a coral reef ecosystem, but when mother nature gets out of whack, things break down. Not enough herbivorous fish and the macroalgae take over by overgrowing corals and stealing their light and space. Water too cold or too warm can also impact the delicate balance between corals and macroalgae-ugh. So can other disasters. It is a fragile world down there, and a confusing one, but understanding the many players on the reef is part of the fun! After all, the diversity of organisms is a major contributor to the beauty and function of reefs.

Some of us are lucky enough to be able to go on vacation and look at coral reefs with our families. Randi remembers her first site of a coral reef off the coast of  Florida while visiting her grandparents as a teen. We talked about seeing coral reefs today and I asked how I might educate my family about their decline when Randi’s insight took over. “When we see a reef for the first time, it is beautiful to us. Because it is new,exciting and the ocean is so fascinating, we imprint that first experience in our brains as our calibration point for what is ours-our coral reef. It takes a long time and education to understand that the reef was so much more vital years ago.”  Randi’s excitement about her research of PIPA rewards her with a picture of what reefs are really suppose to look like and gives us hope about how a reef can recover with protection from overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction.

“We have a window of opportunity right now while there is still some beautiful marine life to still see and save. Right now, there are enough corals still remaining that could rebound and be rebuilt naturally if we protect them.  But once they are gone, we are out of luck.”

Come see Randi (along with photographer Keith Ellenbogen and his beautiful photos) at our April 2nd Event and learn more about coral and the Marine Protected Area of the Phoenix Islands.

Below are some links to more information about coral:

http://coralfilm.com/faq.html

http://www.shiftingbaselines.org/mpas/index.htm

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/coral/

 

Posted on 03/06//13

 

Photo: Bruce Thayer

Photo: Bruce Thayer

Keith Ellenbogen is an accomplished underwater photographer. He began to learn about the ocean and marine life at the age of sixteen as a volunteer assistant aquarist at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ), for Steve Bailey, Curator of Fishes.  Today, some twenty years later, Keith and Steve remain life-long friends, dive buddies and professional colleagues.  Keith says “Bailey was one of the most influential people in my life,” by fostering his interests in the underwater world.

Looking back, as a volunteer at the NEAQ, Keith experienced first hand about the role the oceans play within our global marine environment. Keith’s first experience underwater was in the Giant Ocean Tank, which is comprised of Caribbean marine animals.  As a high school student (from Newton, M.A.) and part of the aquarium team, he also participated in a ‘collecting trip’ to catch tropical fish in the Bahamas.  While on this trip, Channel 5’s Chronicle show happened to have sent an underwater photographer to film the expedition and Keith says from that point on, he was hooked.  “I said Oh My God, this is fantastic! I can’t believe that people can do this for a living,” as he contemplated the integration of nature and film.  Upon returning to Boston, Keith acquired his first camera, a Nikonos-V, and started taking pictures off the coast of Gloucester.

Keith went on to find his own voice for making his unique contributions to the underwater world. Through his photographic lens, he sought ways to explore and disclose it’s hidden beauty through the medium of photography, and bring global images home through numerous publications – with a purpose of inspiring others toward the same affinity for nature that the NEAQ brought him earlier in his life..

After receiving a MFA from Parsons School of Design in Design and Technology, Keith was awarded a U.S. Fulbright Fellowship to Malaysia. His purpose was to showcase visually compelling images that reveal not only the magnificent artistic beauty of marine life, but also the environmental threats. This year abroad was another turning point that solidified his choice of underwater photography and videography as a visual platform to inspire positive social change about our wonderful ocean environment.

Keith is deeply committed to connecting the arts and sciences with education. He works with world-renowned environmental scientists and international conservation-based NGO’s.  For example he spent three months in the Mediterranean Sea photographing the endangered Atlantic Bluefin Tuna on an annual migration to reproduce. Keith also worked with Conservation International, partnered with The New England Aquarium, to capture images and stories for the launch of the Ocean Health Index.

While Keith works for a number of organizations, he describes the New England Aquarium a “home base” for his ongoing inspiration and unfolding work.   Last summer, working with marine mammal trainers and the marketing department, Keith photographed the California Sea Lions for the 2012 New England Aquarium summer advertising campaign “Mischief Loves Company.”  He also joined the New England Aquarium/Monterey Bay Aquarium on an diving expedition to Fiji with his long-time buddy Bailey and other dear colleagues.

Most recently, Keith was selected as part of the New England Aquarium expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands where he worked with Heather Tausig VP of Conservation program and the lead Phoenix Islands Protected Area NEAq Associate Scientist Randi Rotjan to share visual stories that highlight the marine science, conservation and create awareness about one of the worlds most important coral reef ecosystems.  “I am fortunate to work with these amazing scientists. It’s an exciting and important challenge to expose their work through an artistic and journalistic perspective of the camera lens—both above water and below.” He hopes his photos will help inspire yet another generation of scientists, artists, and educators – all with the singular goal of protecting the earth’s natural underwater beauty and majesty for all to see and enjoy.

When he is not on assignment, Keith lives in Brooklyn New York. He is Faculty member in the Photography Program at Parsons School of Design.  You can learn more about Keith at www.bluereef.com or at the NEAq Live Blue Profile Page.


 

 

 

 

Posted on 02/24//13

I went shopping last week with a friend who has a membership to BJ’s and was reminded why I have let my own membership lapse.  Once you are sensitive to the single use plastic issue, it seems like the plastic monster is everywhere and that the entire universe is bathed in the stuff.  Natures finest gets wrapped and encased. I thought I would choose a carton of milk over the plastic jug…and, as you can see, this didn’t work out for me.  Selling two at a time with one price and plastic wrapping the two milk cartons together! You have to wonder who thinks this up!

 

Eggs (the ultimate in perfect packaging all by themselves) were covered by the plastic cloak as well.

I decided to try Stop and Shop.  First stop was the produce aisle. I needed some celery for a recipe I was thinking of making.  I caught up with a person stocking the items and asked what she thought about the celery being in plastic and whether or not there was some purpose for packaging them that way and she sweetly said “Oh, thats how they come.” She then looked at the quizzical look on my face and she laughed and I laughed and we had a discussion about how easily we say these things forgetting that produce doesn’t start out its journey in plastic wrap.

I did find a carton of milk!

 

Posted on 02/19//13

NPR photo of Whole Foods MSC label on Swordfish

As a follow up to my last blog post, I am including the second of a three part series about the “sustainability” of the MSC labeling. MSC labeling is again called to task. Hopefully a great idea will maintain/gain some great standards and guidelines for buying fish. What we wish it to be, though, isn’t yet. Certainly listen to the three programs devoted to this topic or read this entire article (and the MSC’s response to the accusations) but here is an excerpt from the next NPR segment:

 

But many environmentalists who have studied the MSC system say that label is misleading. “We’re not getting what we think we’re getting,” says Susanna Fuller, co-director of marine programs at Canada’s Ecology Action Centre. She says the consumer, when purchasing seafood with the blue MSC label, is “not buying something that’s sustainable now.”

If the label were accurate, Fuller says, it would include what she says is troubling fine print: The MSC system has certified most fisheries with “conditions.” Those conditions spell out that the fishermen will have to change the way they operate or study how their methods are affecting the environment — or both. But they have years to comply with those conditions after the fisheries have already been certified sustainable.

Gerry Leape, an oceans specialist who sits on the MSC’s advisory Stakeholder Council on behalf of the Pew Charitable Trusts, says the MSC’s policy is baffling. “It’s misleading,” he says, “to put a label of sustainability on a product where you still don’t have the basic requirements.”

Posted on 02/11//13

Image from sustainablesushi.net

I caught the ending of an interesting program today on NPR that explained and questioned the labeling of fish by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC).  I see the labels in Whole Foods and other retail outlets and have always just taken for granted that the label was a signal to me that what I was purchasing was “sustainable.”  I am like you-I want to do the right thing and buy fish that are not endangered or in decline. I also want to support fisheries that care about sustaining species of fish for their own livelihood and our culinary enjoyment. The labeling of fish by the MSC seems like a great idea but doesn’t always fulfill the promise of sustainability.

Unilever, one of the largest producers of frozen fish, and The World Wildlife Fund devised the MSC labeling at the height of the Atlantic Cod decline in the 90s.  “The MSC does not certify fisheries itself. Instead, a fishery that wants the label hires one of roughly a dozen commercial auditing companies to decide whether its practices comply with the MSC’s definition of “sustainable.” Sounds like a wonderful idea….

The comment that struck me as I listened today made my heart sink; ( I won’t get the quote just right and can’t find it anywhere in the article) “When you buy swordfish for dinner are you ok with the fact that three sharks were caught along with it?”  The sharks caught are usually release but the stress causes many of them to die anyway.  My taste for my favorite fish suddenly makes me not hungry. “This touches on one of MSC’s three fundamental rules, even though studies show swordfish are plentiful. The second rule says that a fishery is not sustainable if it does not maintain “the integrity of ecosystems” — which means, in part, that it’s not sustainable if there is too much by-catch,” says Steve Campana, who runs the Canadian government’s Shark Research Laboratory, near Halifax, Nova Scotia.

MSC has engaged the interest of the public by contracting with big companies such as Walmart and Target, which are drivers of change for sure-so maybe this is a good thing for some that are just starting their journey about caring for our fish and oceans.  If labeling is done well, we should rejoice that this system has become popular. But this consumer is now concerned that she doesn’t know enough to trust what she reads and will be questioning labels and doing some more research on this important topic.

 

Posted on 02/03//13

Massachusetts is a place where we value our ocean frontage, its beauty, magic, and its ability to give us recreation and sustenance.  At W2O we are watching carefully as the protection of fish stocks collides with the protection/support of our local fisherman and fish related industries.

Off the coast of New England, our stock of Cod, the fish that Massachusetts calls its own, is “on the verge of extinction” according to scientist.  Making real change so that the fish population can recover while supporting the efforts of our local fisherman and fisheries is a topic that our state has struggled with since the beginning of the decline of the once abundant Cod population from decades of over fishing. If confirmed, the new rulings on allowable catch this year will have a huge economic impact on the fishing community. If nothing is done, Atlantic Cod will be the fish that we will regret not saving from extinction.

From the New England Aquarium: “On January 30, the New England Fisheries Management Council met to decide on allowable biological catch (ABC) limits for cod in fishing year (FY) 2013 (which begins on May 1, 2013). This decision had been delayed since last year by the Council’s request for a new Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment to ensure the findings from the 2011 assessment were accurate. The results of the most recent Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank cod assessments show that both stocks have been overfished, with overfishing occurring every year since the beginning of the time series (1982). These results are in accordance with previous results, both the original Gulf of Maine cod stock assessment and the new one came to the same results.”

Here are some links about this topic (in the news today and some archival information) that might help you understand this huge issue.
http://www.fishwatch.gov/seafood_profiles/species/cod/species_pages/atlantic_cod.htm
 
http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle/health-wellness/2012/12/20/with-drastic-fishing-cuts-expected-thursday-blame-for-disappearing-cod-shifts-ocean/OydWAwHlQcZwWxL6eIXzSI/story.html
 
http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2012/03/04/in_canada_cod_remain_scarce_despite_ban/
 
http://www.pressherald.com/opinion/hope-remains-for-new-england-fisheries_2013-02-03.html
 
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/opinion/keep-the-fishing-ban-in-new-england.html?_r=0
 
http://www.savingseafood.org/fishing-industry-alerts/statement-of-the-northeast-seafood-coalition-on-gulf-of-maine-cod-catch-limit-announc-2.html
 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jun/03/fish-stocks-information-beautiful