(via Summer Beach Reading)
‘On August 10 the Center for American Progress hosted an event, “Life in Our Oceans: Art, Science, Sustenance, and Soul,” with four esteemed authors and ocean advocates who are fighting to raise awareness that the ocean’s beauty is only skin deep. Journalist Juliet Eilperin (Demon Fish: Travels Through the Hidden World of Sharks), marine biologist Nancy Knowlton (Citizens of the Sea), chef Barton Seaver (For Cod and Country), and National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry (Ocean Soul) helped explore the state of life in our oceans and how we can spread the message that our marine Edens are mostly mirages. While the authors’ presentations during the event had their moments of doom and gloom, each was ultimately able to find some good news.
Eilperin, who is also the environment reporter for The Washington Post, has seen an increasing dedication among coastal nations and U.S. states that are passing laws and instituting bans to reduce incidents of shark finning—catching a shark; slicing off its fins, which are the most valuable part of the animal; and tossing the rest of the carcass back into the sea. This wasteful practice is driven by increasing demand for shark fin soup, a culinary status symbol that is resoundingly thought to have no gustatory merit, yet is largely responsible for the rapid decline of the ocean’s top predators.
Tired of writing one death notice after another about the calamities befalling our oceans, Knowlton, along with her husband, Jeremy Jackson, created a project called “Beyond the Obituaries” to tell the success stories of ocean conservation. And in addition to serving as Sant Chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, Knowlton serves as a co-director of the Census of Marine Life. The Census carried out a decade-long search for new species in our oceans and came up with more than 6,000 new denizens of the deep. Nearly two brand new species were found per day, every day for 10 years. Knowlton describes as “conservative” estimates that there are at least another quarter-million species in our oceans no human has ever encountered.
At the other end of the food chain, chef Seaver advocates for a move beyond sustainability to what he calls a “restorative” seafood agenda. “It’s about better utilizing the resources that we already have access to,” said Seaver. “If chefs have the power to destroy, it is inherent that we also have the power to restore. Sustainable basically means do no harm, but restorative means to actually give back, actually to do something more to help actually bring back stocks.”
And Brian Skerry, who has made undersea images throughout a career exceeding three decades, has been as amazed by the ocean’s resilience as he has been dismayed by its degradation. Some of his photographs show the restorative power of marine protected areas and no-take zones that protect some of today’s most pristine remaining sea habitats. “There’s almost this arms race occurring with countries now trying to protect more and more of their oceans,” said Skerry of efforts to cordon off large swaths of ocean, as President George H. W. Bush did with the northwest Hawaiian Islands. Skerry talks about marine reserves in the south Pacific as being “like going back in time,” adding, “I’d like to be hopeful and think that the combination of good science and good journalism, good awareness will help raise everybody’s attention and this trend with continue for conservation and better management.”’