It is already February! And I cannot believe I let so many January stories get away from me. So I would like a recap a few of shifting baselines repute now:
1) This article, Deep Sea-crets, ran in the San Diego Union Tribune about a recent expedition to explore deep undersea mounts in the Gulf of California:
What the scientists found was both exhilarating and disheartening. In some of the deeper and more remote locations, such as Las Animas, a seamount midway between the towns of Loreto and La Paz, marine life was both abundant and diverse.
Researchers recorded prosperous fish populations, including an extraordinarily rich variety of red snapper species, novel shrimp varieties and possibly several new species of sea urchins and sea cucumbers.
“Everything was amazing and surprising, said Ezcurra. “We were constantly in awe at what we found and saw.”
But they were also frequently dismayed.
Far more numerous were habitats marred by evidence of human-induced harm and environmental decline.
“It was depressing to find nylon filaments entangled in highly damaged corals, lost nets entangled in whole reefs and seriously damaging the reef biota, dozens of beer cans strewn on the bottom of the sea at depths that had never been explored before,” said Ezcurra.
“It gave me a shudder to think that way before we have the resources and the technological ability to seriously inventory these amazing places, we are already destroying them with lost fishing gear and trashing them with our garbage.”
2) A Greenpeace team visited the Sundance Film Festival and helped create some buzz for a new feature length documentary adaptation of Charles Clover’s book on overfishing, The End of the Line. Nice costumes!
3) Also, this month, a call for tougher standards for mercury levels in fish and warnings to the public on which fish are and are not safe to eat. This is a great article by an M.D. who gives a worrying introduction to the problem:
Nine years ago, dozens of patients — some my own, some referred by fellow San Francisco physicians — began showing up in my office with similar symptoms that included fatigue, hair loss, headache, muscle and joint pain, and various neurological ailments. My effort to solve this medical mystery, and discover the thread that united these people, has led to a decade-long investigation of one of the most toxic substances on the planet — methylmercury — and a slowly growing realization that the U.S. government has taken woefully inadequate steps to safeguard Americans from this health threat.
The common link among all these patients was a regular diet of fish — and an inordinately high level of mercury in their bodies. When they stopped eating fish, their mercury levels returned to normal, and nearly all reported that their symptoms disappeared.
4) Although, sometimes, fish are naturally poisonous. Like pufferfish. Seven consumers in northern Japan fell ill last week after eating poison pufferfish in restaurants that were not licensed to serve it…
5) Fish are crucial in the oceanic carbon cycle and may be in ally in climate change, which The Sea Around Us Project’s own Dr. Villy Christensen helped to point out in a recent paper in Science. Turns out, fish excrete calcium carbonate pellets called “gut rocks” in addition to poo. The question is, given the likely increase in dead zones due to climate change, whether they fish will be around to continue doing their job.
6) Between shifting baselines, overfishing, mercury, natural poisons, and their role in sequestering carbon in the oceans, I think it is obvious we need to reduce our fish consumption, particularly those of us who know about the issues. This was the topic of Dr. Giovanni Bearzi’s recent editorial published this month in Conservation Biology aptly titled: When Swordfish Biologists Eat Swordfish.
7) Finally, check out this series of photographs taken off the coast of Mexico sent by a friend of a friend. It is awe-inspiring abundance but did make me wonder if the reduction of top predators could be leading to increases in rays (just as the removal of sharks led to an increase of cow-nose rays and the decline of scallops off the east coast)…