The Wail of the Oceans

Millions of Americans will enjoy the ocean beaches this coming weekend. Tens of millions live within a few miles of the Atlantic and the Pacific. Yet if they could, these oceans would be crying out for help.

Just a few days ago, another foreboding peril was documented connecting global warming with the accelerating deterioration of coral reefs around the world ­ a critical sanctuary for marine life.

Torrents of chemical and other poisonous runoffs into the oceans have led to “dead zones” where only some of the smallest marine organisms can survive. These areas are created in significant part by synthetic nitrogen fertilizers flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, for example, and nourishing massive algal blooms which then decay and cause oxygen-depleted “dead zones.”

Corporate industrial agriculture is a major source of pollution of fisheries, such as mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Note the sequence. Huge animal feed operations for cattle, poultry and hogs produce animal wastes laden with agrichemicals and agridrug residues. They harm the ocean fisheries that then are consumed, at a diminishing rate, by men, women and children. Pregnant women are warned about eating swordfish routinely, for instance, due to mercury contamination.

As wild fish are reduced in number by overfishing and contamination, corporations erect fish farms and fill them with all kinds of drugs and pesticides to keep the domestic fish alive long enough in this artificial environment to be harvested. Salmon farms exemplify this problem.

Along comes David Helvarg, author of the engrossing Blue Frontier, with a beautiful paperback titled Fifty Ways to Save the Ocean that lays out your role in saving this great ecosystem of the Planet Earth.

These include, number 37, working to create wilderness parks under the sea (George W. Bush just decreed one off the Hawaiian Islands) that are off limits to exploitation, as well as supporting marine education in our schools, number 42.

Other “ways” are “what fish you should and shouldn’t eat and which are endangered or could impact your health; how saving energy can help save the sea; proper diving, surfing, and tide pool etiquette,” and joining in a “coastal cleanup.”

Helvarg, founder of the citizen group, Blue Frontier took his “50 Ways” book on tour along one coastal community after another a few weeks ago. He received a great reception by the growing number of “seaweed activists” who know Helvarg because he either dove into the oceans with them or compiled their groups in his groundbreaking /Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide 2005-2006/ (Island Press), the Blue Movement Directory.

Few people understand how intricately critical are the oceans to life on the earth part of the Planet. Even fewer know how fragile a variety of conditions are in the Oceans which are daily being battered by man’s effusions (e.g., plastic trash) and predations, (e.g., industrial overfishing).

One study concluded that the Big Fish in the oceans are down by 90%. They have been hunted or destroyed one way or another. The total ocean catch has been declining for several years.

Enjoy, enjoy the oceans, urges Helvarg. But do so with ecological wisdom, if only for the sake of your descendents. In his foreword to 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, Phillipe Cousteau writes “Each one of us has an earth echo, it defines our relationship with the planet and each other. . . . Begin creating an earth echo that you can be proud of.”



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Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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