Save the Whales and You Save Our Fish

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A whale watch is the crown jewel of a visit to New England. A massive creature breaches out of the water in a majestic display of torque, seemingly defying gravity as she reaches for the sky. Time slows and you gasp. We watch spellbound as she crashes back to the water and slips gracefully beneath the waves. We are understandably in awe of the spectacle of what we see above the water line, but what happens during all that time whales spend beneath the waves? Why do whales matter? W20’s spring event keynote presenter Dr. Asha de Vos’ lifelong devotion to understanding and protecting whales can shed light on both why whales are important to us and how to defend these majestic creatures.

Dr. de Vos, founder of The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project is no stranger to the importance of demystifying the value of these leviathans of the sea. She evangelizes about whales as ecosystem engineers whose poop is an ocean fertilizer upon which all other ocean life depends. During their deep dives, whales then provide mixing, bringing those deep water nutrients up the water column with their massive frames so that other marine animals can also benefit from them, including phytoplankton which uses these and other ingredients in the process of photosynthesis. You could say that whales are among the largest cogs in a system of interlocking levers and pulleys that drive the healthy ocean we all rely upon: one that regulates our weather, provides us with half of the oxygen we breathe, and supplies 2 billion people with their daily protein.

“Save the whales, and you save our fish,” de Vos explains.

But that’s not all. As Dr. de Vos reminds us in one of her many TED Talks, whales are knitted into the very fabric of our history, mythology, and identity. The iconic North Atlantic right whale, which graces our license plates here in Massachusetts, was once so abundant in Cape Cod Bay in the 1500s that “you could walk across their backs,” de Vos says.

Today, right whales in our waters in New England number in the hundreds. The critically endangered whale just this past summer had a record number of deaths from fishing line entanglements and ship strikes. According to Vice President and Senior Scientist at the New England Aquarium Scott Kraus, without human introduced stressors, the North Atlantic right whale can live up to 100 years. Sadly, this year is the first time since the monitoring of these animals began that no calves have been spotted in the predicted breeding grounds off the coast of Georgia. Scientists are sounding the alarm that unless something is done about the many threats facing these animals, they may become extinct within the next twenty years.

Time is running out for these animals, so what is to be done? “We only have whales in our waters now because of the ‘Save the Whales’ movement of the 1970s,” de Vos points out, “after whaling in the 1800s nearly decimated the population.” (The Right Whale was so named because it was then the right whale to kill, because it floated to the surface, making it easily transportable by towing and had abundant whale oil.) It was ordinary citizens who stepped up to fight for the end to commercial whaling and put the Marine Mammal Protection Act in place.

Dr. de Vos’ work today in her native Sri Lanka protecting the blue whale has involved an unorthodox combination of engaging citizens, fishermen, entrepreneurs and young people in science through the organization she founded, OceanSwell, Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education non-profit. “I’m committed to the idea that all conservation is local and that solutions to conservation can come from all corners of the globe,” she explains. “Discoveries might not come from scientists,” she adds. “They might come from ordinary people who are passionate and can become involved,” de Vos wisely sums up.

At this moment in time, when our beloved New England right whales are like a canary in the coal mine demanding us to take action against multiple threats facing our ocean including plans to resume oil and gas drilling off of our shores, the weakening of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, plastic pollution, and ocean noise, Dr. de Vos offers a timely message of hope and a blueprint for moving forward. Each of us can take up a bucket in the brigade to save this icon.

Join us to welcome Dr. de Vos on May 15th at Think Big: A Passion Lived. An Ocean Saved.

Blog contributor and W2O Dir. Laura Parker Roerden is Executive Director and Founder of Ocean Matters

 

Join us on May 15th with Marine Scientist Dr. Asha de Vos

By | Events, Featured Post, New England Aquarium, Sustainable Living, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

NEAQ Ocean Conservation Fellow Dr. Asha de Vos will be our keynote speaker on May 15th at Think Big: A Passion Lived. An Ocean Saved

Marine biologist Dr. Asha de Vos speaks quickly. An innate teacher, she has a lot to say and wants to make sure to get it all in. She is a celebrated scholar, National Geographic explorer and world-renowned marine biologist and is often referred to reverently as the “whale poop girl” because of her extensive research on the Northern Indian Ocean’s blue whale and her passion for what she calls the “the most beautiful poop in the animal kingdom.” She will challenge you to find poop more interesting than the brilliant red krill enriched poop of the whale. “Whale poop is our ocean fertilizer for the plants we depend on to breath. What could be more important than that?”

She has a casual cadence to her voice and that beautiful Sri Lankan accent. Growing up, Dr. de Vos’ parents celebrated curiosity and encouraged Asha and her brother to follow their passion. Her love for the ocean has brought Asha around the world as a research scientist and educator and then right back home where she says she is the happiest as a mentor to her community and country and as one of the few marine biologists in all of Sri Lanka. “My country doesn’t offer degrees in marine biology,” she says, “but I have found students, young and old, with a thirst for knowledge asking about our ocean. It is my obligation to respond and make this information available for everyone.”

Dr. de Vos’ response was to start Oceanswell, Sri Lanka’s first research and educational organization, to facilitate conversations about our ocean. With informal talks centered around a predetermined topic from a scientific paper, Asha leads a book group type of event creating what she calls “peer community engagement,” increasing awareness and enjoyment of ocean learning. “Communicating scientific research is the backbone of what we do,” Dr. de Vos says. Her Oceanswell website provides those scientific papers to anyone interested and all focus on the animals of the Northern Indian Ocean surrounding Sri Lanka. Oceanswell is growing and is now looking to hire interns and paid staff to support the team fostering new opportunities for Sri Lankans that want to take their interest to the next level.

Dr. de Vos rejects what she calls “parachute science” described by her as when scientists travel to countries around the world, do their research and then pick up and leave, never training or engaging the citizens that live where that research takes place. “You don’t have to have a degree to protect the ocean,” she comments.  She believes that through storytelling and shared ocean experiences people can become interested in the magic below the waves.“People from underrepresented nations need to be given the opportunity to build a movement of passionate citizen scientists to protect our ocean.” A favorite project features Dr. de Vos as a muppet-type puppet in an animated TedEdu about the blue whale. In the talk, she describes the secret to why whales are so big in an approachable way that doesn’t leave out the science. Her mission is to include everyone and she believes that the next generation of ocean heroes can come from any corner of the globe.

Join us on May 15th to hear Dr. de Vos speak about her journey, her passion for whales and how you can join in protecting whale species.

 

 

 

March for the Ocean is June 9th

By | Action today, Events, In the News, Uncategorized

SAVE THE DATE: On Saturday, June 9th, 2018, World Oceans Day weekend, we will march and wear blue for the ocean in Washington, D.C. and sister cities across America alongside a 91-foot life-sized blue whale! Join us!

At Women Working for Oceans, we believe that every voice matters and that when we speak up and out, together we can influence decisions and policy that will protect our blue planet. This year, W2O’s attention is on a symbol of ocean health; the North Atlantic right whale. When left to their own devices, without human intervention and stressors, the right whale can live 70-100 years. But like a canary in the coal mine, the right whale, critically endangered, navigates a world of a warming climate, rising seas, pollution, ocean noise, and a threatened habitat from proposed offshore drilling. Marching for the Ocean sends a message to our policymakers that our ocean is worthy of our protection. Speaking up about these issues educations others about our ocean as our giver of life, one that feeds us, gives us economic stability and even one out of every five breaths we take. There is no ‘us’ without the ocean and its inhabitants.

“We all want and need a healthy ocean and planet. Hope and action must be our mission always but especially now. The March for the Ocean is an inclusive way to change hearts and minds while highlighting issues such as the importance of marine protected areas, conservation of habitat and species, and the effects of a warming planet on our ocean.” Barbara Burgess, Founder and Chair of Women Working for Oceans (W2O)

 

March for the Ocean believes every community has the power to protect local waterways, lakes and rivers that lead to the ocean. M4O is a nonpartisan movement raising awareness of ocean issues affecting human health and the environment.

Holiday Greetings from Women Working for Oceans

By | Featured Post, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Dear W2O Supporters,

The challenges of this year inspired the women of W2O to jump into action with a sense of hope for our blue planet. More than ever, our members were called on to show up, speak up and shout out on topics like the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument, plastic pollution, The Marine Mammal Protection Act and the shark fin trade. And show up you did!

At our spring event with Liz Cunningham, she spoke about the passion for rescue and the importance of personal and community action. Her words resonated. Together we are committed to making 2018 our most powerful year ever.

The ocean feeds us, nurtures our soul and even gives us the air we breathe. Now the ocean desperately needs us to lock arms and come to her defense.

So it is with a deep appreciation for your work over the last year and with joy that we mobilize together to protect what we love: our family, our communities and our ocean!

Onward!
Barbara Burgess
Co-Founder, President
Women Working for Oceans

Knee-Deep in Essex Bay with W2O Members

By | Action today, Member Only Events, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Sandy Nash says that she was “exploding with facts” after a recent trip to Essex Massachusetts for her first W2O members’ event. “I grew up on a farm and the deep sea is beyond my comfort zone but this event felt tangible; it made the work feel real and we could see what steps are being taken to make a difference,” she said when describing digging holes in the ocean floor to stake dozens of eelgrass plants.

W2O members Jen Godfrey and Sandy Nash in Essex MA

Coastal ecologist Dr. Alyssa Novak, from Boston University, led W2O members knee-deep into Essex Bay for a hands-on workshop to become familiar with the seascape that the eelgrass harbors and protects. Sandy experienced a heartfelt intimacy during this process observing and working alongside scientists and the W2O community. “It was a small enough group so that we could all ask questions. We were sorting through marine materials and learning about everything coming out of the water,” she said. “It’s one thing to hear about it but an entirely different experience being there doing it.”

Eelgrass or seagrass, a habitat for migratory birds and marine animals, protects the shore from coastal storms, sea level rise, and erosion. Along with collaborating partners, Dr. Novak is hoping to restore eelgrass to Essex Bay while studying how it might play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Her team of scientists analyzes data including the shoot’s length and density, and the plant’s genetic variation in hopes of finding the variety of seagrass that will be resilient to the transplant process.

Learn more about eelgrass here. Learn more about Dr. Alyssa Novak’s work on eelgrass here.

Join W2O to participate in our educational and inspiring member-only events.

Seagrass

By | Featured Post, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Seagrass in Yarmouth Maine at low tide

If you launched a boat at the New England coast this summer, chances are you navigated through brilliant green strands of grass that hug the shoreline. Our local seagrass, Zostera marina, also called eelgrass, and there is something soothing about the sway of these grasses right below the surface of the water. At low tide, the grasses stand up tall, starkly green against the dark mudflats. We acknowledge them, (or maybe pay them no real notice at all), but these strands that are seemingly in our way are very important to the success of our shoreline and ocean. According to the Smithsonian, seagrass, “one of the most productive ecosystems in the world,” evolved around 100 million years ago. But like so many ocean assets, we are losing seagrass daily. Pollution from fertilizer, sewage, urban runoff, sedimentation, storms, and rising ocean temperatures pose threats to seagrasses. When we loose seagrass, habitat for the creatures that depend on it such as crab, quahog, and scallop is also threatened.

Seagrass, a primary producer of oxygen with its leaves, stem, and root system, works its magic by becoming an underwater meadow, feeding and harboring sea creatures, filtering toxins by absorbing nutrients and all the while protecting our coastline from erosion. New studies suggest that the amazing seagrass may also play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change. By grabbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to use in photosynthesis, carbon is transferred to the soil as plants die and decompose. In this recent study from MIT’s Sea Grant, Massachusetts eel grass was found to store carbon from outside sources, confirming that we need healthy seagrass for a healthy ocean and healthy planet.

W2O member, artist Nadret Andre reflects on her use of seagrass as a subject for her work: “My paintings are about color and the sensations of light that is essential for seagrass survival. The interconnectedness of a vast number of species sheltered, fed and protected by seagrass habitats is an inspiration for my paintings. Reaching is inspired by the amazing phenomenon of aerenchyma, the spongy tissue that forms spaces or air channels in the leaves of seagrass. These air channels keep the seagrass leaves reaching up towards the light and allow for photosynthesis.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Liz Cunningham and Her Passion for Rescue

By | Action today, Featured Post, In the News, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

“There’s no life without water-we all live in ocean country,” said Liz Cunningham at the Women Working for Oceans’ Heart of Hope: A Quest to Save Our Seas event last week. Liz delivered an inspiring message of hope to a full Imax Theatre at the New England Aquarium and challenged us to think about how we might use what she calls our “passion for rescue” in the effort to save our ocean.

“Active hope is something we do rather than have,” Liz remembers learning from the philosopher Joanna Macy. But how can we have hope when there is so much concern and worry about our blue planet? The answer from Liz is that you can never quit. Even when the math doesn’t hold up and it looks like the odds are against us, each and every one of us can choose a role, make a decision or maybe introduce a new way of thinking and act with our ocean in mind.

Liz presenting at the Imax Theatre at the New England Aquarium

Coming out from underneath a kayak in a near death accident, Liz had the will to live, but it was that passion for rescue that gave her the strength to defeat her despair.  “The passion for rescue,” she declares, “is a lived, breathing hope.” During that terrible accident, in the middle of the ocean, Liz had found her calling, in a way. It was at that moment of desperation, trapped and unable to escape, that the “audacious force” she called the “thing-thing”  inside of her gave her the strength to take a breath, break free and find the hope. During her recovery from the accident, her renewed passion for rescue set her on the course for writing Ocean Country about her search for the people who, despite impossible odds stacked against them, make the important choice of protecting our ocean.

Liz has taken this notion of active hope and simply states that “hope is something we do.”  At the Heart of Hope event, she shared those stories reinforcing to us that we all have a role to play and that each of us can make a difference when it comes to protecting our living ocean. What is your role? How can you champion for our ocean and have that passion for rescue? Connect with us at W2O and find out how you can be part of the movement to save our ocean. Join today and let us help you discover your passion for rescue.

“In the end, it’s really about inviting others to be a part of the hope on which our future hinges. Each and every one of us is needed. There’s a role for each of us to play,” says Liz.

The 2017 W2O Ocean Spirit Award

By | Uncategorized, W2O Blog

The Sustainability Scholars of  Ipswich High School will tell you that living in a town so close to the ocean makes them respectful of their beautiful surroundings. “We learned to respect the ocean and our surroundings early on and it was never socially acceptable to litter”, one student tells W2O.  

Flash forward to these young women entering Lori LaFrance’s 11th-grade classroom where they were challenged to design their own curriculum and research a sustainability topic of their choosing to focus on for the year.  Students say that this sustainability class prepared them for college and beyond by encouraging them to take action on real-world problems and by placing them in situations of negotiation and communication with adults in civic engagement. Veteran teacher, Lori LaFrance, will humbly tell you that she is proud of the successful outcomes, but from the students, we know that a particularly thoughtful and talented teacher mentored them.

Five members of the Ipswich High School Sustainability class chose to tackle the issue of single-use plastic waste by writing a bylaw that would ban plastic carryout bags and polystyrene. For their incredible work, Nicole Whitten, a member of the Ipswich Recycling and Advisory Committee, nominated the five students and their teacher for the Women Working for Oceans 2017 Ocean Spirit Award because, she says, “They not only made their community aware of the dangers of plastic pollution in written form but with the help of their teacher, also researched, talked to local businesses to get their support, and then took action. The girls put together a convincing presentation explaining the dangers surrounding the use of both single-use plastic bags and Styrofoam containers.  A few citizens in the audience had questions and raised concerns; the girls were prepared for these objections and answered with confidence and facts.”

The Ocean Spirit Award is given to the person or group that has encompassed Women Working for Ocean’s mission of educating and inspiring action using grassroots initiatives towards protecting our blue planet.

For their passionate work on the successful ban of single-use plastic and polystyrene in the town of Ipswich Massachusetts, Women Working for Oceans and their members are delighted to award the 2017 Ocean Spirit Award to:

Lori LaFrance and Ipswich High School’s Sustainability Scholars: Charlotte Howe, Claire McElwain, Carly Restuccia, Jillian Wall and Claire Werner.

 

 

Sharks Keep Our Ocean Healthy. Act Now to Stop Shark Finning

By | Featured Post, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Sharks! Why do these amazing creatures matter to the health of our ocean?

Sharks capture our attention. Have you seen the reports on the news about the “multiple sightings” of sharks near the beaches of New England and California?  It might seem that sharks are in abundance, that they are everywhere and that each year there are more of them. Not true. We are seeing more sharks because of increased seal populations and thanks to new techniques and technology (planes and sometimes drones) to track where they are and capture their image. But the reality is that over 100 million sharks, majestic ocean apex predators, are killed each year and most species are in decline.

Fishing, accidental bycatch and the demand for shark fins and other parts for sale are the major contributors to the shark’s decline.  Every year, up to 73 million shark fins end up on the global market, according to Oceana, “Sharks are caught and killed faster than they can reproduce. 70 % of the most common shark species involved in the fin trade are at a high or very high risk of extinction.”  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?  In truth, without a healthy shark population, we would be in real danger of losing the living ocean that we rely on for food, our economy and even the air we breathe.

The fact is, sharks matter more than you think.

 

Photo: Brian Skerry

The loss of sharks would set off a chain reaction in our ocean. 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.

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

Take Action HERE!  Please support the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. This bill prohibits the possession, purchase or sale of shark fins in the United States. Congressman Edward R. Royce (R-CA-39) and Congressman Gregorio Kalili Camacho Sablan (D-MP-At Large) the co-sponsors of the bill, urge you to support this bill because “As a nation, we have a responsibility to protect species that are being exploited to the point of extinction. We must set an example for the rest of the world by eliminating the shark fin trade in our country and no longer facilitating this illicit activity.”

 

Join the “Bucket Brigade” to Save Our Ocean

By | Action today, Uncategorized, W2O Blog

Women Working for Oceans gathered at the Russell Senate Building in DC

“We all have a role to play,” explains W2O director Laura Parker Reorden, while speaking about how we can all contribute to protecting our ocean. “Similar to the olden days when each person carried and passed a bucket of water down a line to put out a fire in the community, she says, “We all need to play our part, like a bucket brigade for saving our ocean.” This past week, along with other ocean advocates from across the country, the “bucket brigade” from Women Working for Oceans headed to Washington D.C. for the Blue Vision Summit.  All participants in the conference and the subsequent hill day (speaking to Senators and Congress) had their own unique story to tell about where they come from, coastal or inland, north and south and what they considered are the most pressing ocean issues including overfishing, coastal resiliency, our “inland ocean,” marine protected areas and the effects of warming ocean and acidification, just to name a few. The list of concerns can seem daunting, but because we all want a healthy ocean and clean safe water, we are better together. Many voices from different places and backgrounds, youth and the seasoned activist-we were all inspired by the number of advocates knocking on the doors of our elected officials with the message that no matter where you live or how you vote, we all need a healthy ocean for our economy, our health and even for the air we breath.

Support Women Working for Oceans, become a member and learn more about how you can join the “bucket brigade” for a healthy ocean. Your voice matters. Good for you; Good for our ocean.