photo: MV Gazette

photo: MV Gazette

Something about the way in which Wendy Benchley speaks makes her seem both typical and extraordinary. She’s a mom, grandmother, wife and likes to work. She grew up in Montclair New Jersey, summered with extended family in Stonington Connecticut, lived for years in Princeton, New Jersey and now resides in D.C. …Sounds like someone you might know! But unless you are involved in the small world of conservation, you might only recognize her name from her famous first husband, the author of Jaws, Peter Benchley.

Make no mistake, Wendy Benchley is anything but typical!  Wendy makes waves, literally and figuratively. A short list of Wendy’s accomplishments and activism begins with her arrest (at a suburban Woolworth store while a student at Skidmore) for protesting in the 50’s about immigration reform. Stints at the American Field Service and as a Princeton N.J. councilwoman (while raising three children) honed her skills that are reflected today in her work for organizations such as the Environmental Defense Fund, Shark Savers, Ocean Champions and currently, WildAid. 

I asked Wendy if there was a recent movie to share with our families, (the way that we all watched Jaws together in the 70s-usually more than once!), that might mobilize and inspire real action toward saving the majestic shark and other marine animals.  She recommended some of her favorites; Cove, Blackfish and the 6th Extinction but somehow they still don’t live up to the Jaws phenomenon. There is something about some popcorn, a tiny all American town, a rugged hero, an awkward everyman and a terrifying predator that resinates still. Wendy contemplates “turning the tail on its head” and telling the story from the shark’s point of view. Now that would be an interesting movie!

Join us at Sharks Matter: Busting the Jaws Myth with a New Script on this Majestic and Misunderstood Creature on October 22nd and hear more about why we must protect sharks. 

More about Wendy Benchley: William Waterway from Martha’s Vineyard interviews Wendy Benchley. Thanks to the Martha’s Vineyard Gazette for the photo used here of Wendy Benchley.

It doesn’t matter where you live, who you are, or what your economic or social circumstances are, a world without sharks would be devastating. Think desperate, barren, foul, depleted, or apocalyptic. It is estimated that 100 million sharks- majestic apex predators of the ocean-are killed each year. Fishing, accidental “by catch” and the demand for shark fins and other parts for sale are the major contributors to the shark’s decline.  The concept of protecting sharks to some might seem counterintuitive. Don’t they eat everything and contribute to the decline of other species in the ocean? We imagine them as voracious eaters because our perception of sharks has been colored by images that depict them as dangerous man-eaters. In truth, without a healthy shark population, we would be in real danger of loosing the living ocean that we rely on for food, our economy and livelihood. The fact is, sharks matter more than you think.

Photo: Brian Skerry

Photo: Brian Skerry

The loss of sharks would set off a chain reaction in our oceans. According to Oceana, “The loss of sharks as top predators in the ecosystem allows the number of grouper, which eat other fish species, to increase. The groupers in turn reduce the number of herbivores, such as parrotfish, blennies and gobies, in the echo system. Without these herbivores to eat algae off the coral, algae will take over the reef system.” In Oceana’s report Predators as Prey: Why Healthy Oceans Need Sharks, even shark’s proximity to some animals will cause them to behave when choosing feeding sites in ways that are healthier for oceans.

Learn more about the importance of sharks at W2O’s October event Sharks Matter: Busting the Jaws Myth with a New Script on this Majestic, Misunderstood Creature. Wendy Benchley, co founder of the Peter Benchley (author of Jaws) Ocean Awards and shark advocate will present along with John Mandelman, scientist and director of research at the New England Aquarium.

So move over and make way-sharks ultimately will keep us healthy if we protect them.

W2O, in partnership with the New England Aquarium, will host shark protector and advocate, Wendy Benchley along with scientist John Mandelman on October 22nd for an evening lecture, cocktail party and celebration of the ocean’s apex predator: the majestic shark. Wendy is actively engaged in the marine policy community  and supports many of the world’s leading ocean and environmental philanthropies. She is a member of the International Board of WildAid, a widely respected global non profit solely focused on reducing the demand for illegal wildlife products, including ivory, rhino horn and shark fin.  With her late husband, Peter Benchley, and after the release of his movie phenomenon Jaws, the Benchleys helped transform fear of “Great” white sharks into a message of conservation and protection inspiring a new generation to become advocates for protecting this hauntingly beautiful species referred to by biologists by its real name: the white shark. Senior Scientist and Director of Research at the New England Aquarium, John Mandelman, has spent the last fifteen years studying the effect of human disturbances on sharks. His research focuses on decreasing stress and injury to sharks while increasing their overall survival in the face of fishing pressure. “By understanding how sharks respond to human-induced disturbances, we can establish more effective strategies to protect them. Sharks are critical to the health and balance of just about every marine environment around the globe, and therefore essential to our well-being” Mandelman says. Come celebrate, learn and share the awe of sharks with us. Here for ticketsW2O_2014 Benchley Fall_Lecture_Invitation_600px

 

 

W2O’s summer intern Elise Green gives us a lesson about Marine Protected Areas and why they are important to all marine life, especially sharks.Elise Green USC intern

As part of my work as a biology student at University of Southern California, last month I visited Palau, a group of islands that are part of Micronesia, in the Pacific ocean. Apart from hosting some of the pristine white beaches featured on the television show, “Survivor,” Palau is best known for its untouched coral reefs that feature an incredibly high rate of marine biodiversity and its popular “Jellyfish Lake” in which tourists can swim with millions of sting-less jellyfish. It is also home to the world’s first shark sanctuary, the Palau Shark Sanctuary. As W2O is preparing to host a shark-centered event in October, you might be interested in understanding exactly what a “shark sanctuary” is. According to the BBC, each year, about 100 million sharks are captured by fishermen and contribute to the 39 percent of shark species that are classified as “threatened” or “near threatened” for risk of extinction*. Shark sanctuaries strive to address this problem and hope to replenish shark populations worldwide by forbidding the fishing of sharks and preserving shark habitats.

The main goal of the Palau Shark Sanctuary is to end shark-finning in the waters around Palau. Shark fins are sought after for use in popular soups and for medicinal purposes in some countries. Shark-finning has led to a large decline in shark populations and refers to the act of catching sharks, cutting off their fins, and releasing the sharks back into the water. Without their fins, sharks struggle to swim and often die soon after their fins are severed.

Elise Green & Amanda Semler diving in Palau Photo: Tom Carr

Elise Green & Amanda Semler diving in Palau
Photo: Tom Carr

Because I was scuba diving in Marine Protected Areas to collect data as a part of a University of Southern California project focused on reef regeneration, Palauan rangers accompanied my group to our various dive sites. The rangers informed us that, while shark-finning was a major problem in Palau in the past, since the establishment of Palau as a Shark Sanctuary in 2001 and since the addition of more rangers to help enforce regulation, shark-finning incidents have noticeably declined.

Not only did I feel extremely lucky to have the chance to dive amongst beautiful animals such as Napoleon Wrasse and Eagle Rays, but, thanks to Palau’s waters being mostly free from shark poachers, I also had the opportunity to admire sharks such as the Gray Reef and White Tip shark. These sharks can grow up to eight feet long and enjoy warm, shallow waters near corals or atolls. Because these sharks, like most, feed mostly on fish and crustaceans, I had no fear of diving close to them and greatly appreciated their extreme grace as they maneuvered the waters with subtle yet strong thrusts of their fins. Hopefully general awareness about shark conservation around the world will increase, and these marvelous animals will prosper for generations to come.

Grey Reef Shark photo: marinebio.org

Grey Reef Shark
photo: marinebio.org

 

beach pathShelly Kaplan from Monroe N.J. has a fabulous response to “Why the Beach is a Bummer” a rant about feeling less than comfortable at the seaside by Roxane Gay (Sunday NYTimes Review, July 27th.)  Ms. Kaplan writes an eloquent retort with deep respect for the beach, ocean and its emotional benefits. She writes, ..”I feel the most sadness for the 61 percent of Americans who have never seen the ocean with their own eyes.”  She seems to want to defend what she loves, beautifully and simply. You can read the entire letter to the editor here.

I am never so peaceful as when my feet are in the sand, when the smell of the Atlantic permeates the air I breathe, and when I hear the lullaby of ocean waves.

Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichol’s new book, Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Douses neuroscience to explain the benefits of the ocean. A review here by The Guardian, addresses the naysayers like Ms. Gay; “Anyone whose experience of the sea is limited to grey skies and the indignity of wriggling into a damp bathing suit on a rain-swept beach might well balk at such utopian talk.” For the rest of us, we love that Blue Mind gives us some science to explain what we already know.

 

DSCN4570Like most beach communities, Martha’s Vineyards population swells in the summer. Renters descend and take advantage of MV’s beautiful setting.  “Seasonal residents and tourists flock to the Island to bask and hike on its beaches, swim in its waters, catch and eat local fish and shellfish, and go boating on its sparkling bays”, reads The Island Blue Pages, a “phonebook” published by concerned locals wanting to education everyone on the Island about this vulnerable treasure. The Island Blue Pages is only a phonebook in such that every household on the Island received one free, with hopes that it would remain a guide for year round residents and everyone visiting the Island. Yes, there is a list of phone numbers in its reference material, but mostly the book is a wonderful guide to the islands watersheds, sound water usage, and waste management. It even includes a “12 Step” program for “Dream Lawn Addicts” that guides homeowners and business to make smart pesticide free, water conscience lawn care choices.

The idea for The Island Blue Pages ruminated in biologist and director of Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group Inc. Rick Karney’s mind for years. Each time he visited a hatchery or community near water, he picked up packets of information regarding best practices for the community around water usage and sustainable living. It was the Puget Sound Blue Pages that stood out as the most comprehensive and user friendly of any of the publications that he had seen. With funding through an EPA grant awarded to the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and keen editing by Amandine Surier from Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group, The Island Blue Pages relied on local full time residence of the Vineyard to author each chapter making this a true community conservation effort.

Amandine Surier and Rick Karney

Amandine Surier and Rick Karney

The unique layout of The Island Blue Pages appeals to all ages.  The graphic are simple enough to engage a child but not “kid-ish” enough to turn off a teen. The layout is easy to navigate and engaging with enough science to satisfy the well versed hobby conservationist.  The Island Blue Pages is tailored to Martha’s Vineyard specifically by including local stories and maps, but any community could adapt a version to represent its own environmental concerns.Graphic from The Island Blue Pages

This wonderful reference book with tips on gardening, septic tanks, and boating includes a section about marine animals called “Vineyard Neighbor.” It should be poured over, updated regularly and passed from generation to generation.

Graphic from Island Blue Pages

A cool reusable cold cup from crunchybeachmama.com

A cool reusable cold cup from crunchybeachmama.com

Reusable cups are not only for hot drinks. Bring your own cup on the road this summer so that when you stop for that iced drink, you can be satisfied that you are not adding another plastic tumbler and straw to the landfill. Plastic is forever. It breaks down and seeps into our waterways, is eaten by wildlife and in turn eaten by us.  Be cool, be responsible. There are tons of options out there. Here are just a few fun and economical choices for cool drink containers:

http://www.starbucksstore.com/drinkware/cold-cups,default,sc.html

http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/store/product/o2cool-reg-20-ounce-insulated-mason-jar-beverage-cup/1040814957

http://www.reuseit.com/travel-mugs-and-cups/dci-iced-coffee-cup-16-oz-eco-cup-on-ice.htm

Activist Abby in field Some time after the W2O event “Plastics in the Ocean, Plastics in You,” I remember stumbling upon information about Abby Goldberg, better known in the conservation world and on her Facebook page as “Activist Abby.”  I was so impressed to find out that this then 13 year old had gathered 174,000 signatures to protest a bill that would block the introduction of bans of single use plastic bags in the Illinois legislature.

Abby cleaning up on Earth Day 2014

Abby cleaning up on Earth Day 2014

Abby lives in a small picturesque town north of Chicago where her neighbors meet during summer at a lake for swimming and recreation. She is an avid horse back rider and would like to someday study marine biology. She says that when she was in seventh grade, she was spurred into action by a school project called “CP” or “Culminating Project.”  She choose plastic bags as her topic because she lives less than a mile from a landfill and sees plastic bags on the local beach and hiking trails.  She feels like they “go mostly unnoticed” by her community and friends. She thought she would introduce a plastic bag ban in her town. Area petroleum and chemical manufacturing companies countered with a different plan. After some research and with help from her family and environmental groups, Abby made it her mission to collect signatures to protest the bill that they introduced and that she thought would make banning single use plastic bags give way to “down cycling.” She knows that plastic is forever. After all her hard work, her meeting with then Governor Quinn to present him with the signed petition made national news and helped to convince him to veto the bill.Abby and bags at table

Recently, Chicago, just south of Abby’s town, passed a bill to ban single use plastic bags that will go into effect in August of 2015. Abby will be watching and working to spread the word to the rest of the state of Illinois. She won’t stop there, though. Abby would like everyone everywhere to ban single use plastic.

“Activist” Abby is the perfect name for this articulate now 14 year old high school student with thousands of new “friends” sharing an important message about refusing single use plastic. She is an inspiration!  Take her advice: “You’re never too young (or old) to make a difference.”

 

World Ocean Day, a Canadian tradition since 1992, was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2008, to honor the oceans importance and bring awareness to its vulnerabilities.  Coordinated by The Ocean Project and World Ocean Network, (and growing in prominence each year with their efforts,)  this year’s theme is “Together we can protect our ocean.” 

Come on down to the New England Aquarium on World Ocean Day, June 8th, and share memories of your favorite oceans experiences and adventures with W2O. Check out the fun, kid friendly, educational booths set up by the NEAQ-it is free and open to the public.WOD 13 "I love the Ocean"

This time of year, some of us that live in urban areas are enjoying spring preparations for our garden and lawns. With this privilege comes responsibility to our blue planet.

Photo: thegardeningblog.com

Photo: thegardeningblog.com

Run off from our lawn flows directly into what Tufts University’s Institute of the Environment calls the “three giant watersheds” comprising of streams, rivers and lakes that flow into the sea: “Watersheds can be nested one inside the other. For example, the United States could be divided into three giant watersheds: one to the west of the Rocky Mountains that drains into the Pacific Ocean, one to the east of the Appalachian Mountains that drains into the Atlantic Ocean, and one in between those two that drains into the Gulf of Mexico. However, within each one of these watersheds, there are many watersheds that drain into rivers and smaller bodies of water.”

So what are your plans for a healthy beautiful, pesticide free garden this spring? On her website for the Great Healthy Yard Project,  Dr. Diane Lewis explains why using pesticides can be bad for our own health as well as the health of our wildlife, planet and oceans. Read her blog, listen to her mission and take The Pledge to garden pesticide free because, as she states, it’s “Our yards, our children, our responsibility.” Protect what you love. Garden pesticide free for healthy oceans and a healthy you.