Category Archives: activism
Fellow Deakin Warrnambool marine biology graduate Nicole Nash has had, by the sounds of it, a pretty envious post-university career so far – ranger with Queensland Parks and Wildlife and founder of a campaign to end single-use plastics by tourist boats known as The Last Straw on the Great Barrier Reef.
Plastic straws are one of those absurd plastic implements people may use on a daily, once-off basis, throw away and then forget about – think plastic-handled cotton earbuds, cheap disposable razors.
While there are bamboo and steel straws on the market, like reusable coffee cups they rely on the user having the forethought to take them in their bag to a cafe, restaurant or bar. I have several reusable coffee cups and can count on one hand the time I’ve used a single-use plastic cup in the past year (always because I was caught out with no alternative).
Nicole is having some success convincing tourist boat operators to ditch plastic straws and has the backing of Tangaroa Blue and other partners to produce this video and push the message further. Well done!
More info via How to Join
I’d been threatening to join the Seaford Beach Patrol group for months to take part in their monthly cleanup and, seeing as I helped them join the International Coastal Cleanup Day movement, thought I should finally get along to the cleanup on the 18th of September. Weather was the standard Melbourne September grey and cold, which didn’t deter 17 locals from turning out to collect more than 35kg of rubbish in a one-hour stint along a 200-300m stretch of our bay beach.
Apart from the scary numbers of cigarette butts, plastic-based food wrappers, bottles, tin cans and foam pellets, the cleanup revealed some surprising finds shown in this table below:
Considering lollypops (usually Chupa Chup style but varied in size) are not the fashionable thing they once were, it might be that recent storms and winter king tides have revealed layers of historic plastic waste, and also dumped a larger than expected amount of foam and plastic on this stretch of beach. And the old saying about lost socks turning up in the damnedest places holds true, though why there were two socks and four shoes found is anyone’s guess.
The Paris terrorist attacks weighed pretty heavily on the attendees of COP21 and tightened security around the venues, resulting in protest marches being banned and the unusual sight of shoes in place of marchers.
Conservationists, as expected, took to social media to get in on the conversations denied after being shut out of the French capital and the UN Climate Talks Live Feed gives a great rundown of the discussions from various levels from negotiators to participants and media around the event.
Check out the Civil Society Representatives feed for one – doesn’t include some of the expected organisations and it’s a concern to see climate change skeptic Bjorn Lomberg and downright tool in the top three posters today (Monday 30 November).
When I was Sydney last October, preparing for the IUCN World Parks Congress with the French marine protected areas agency, this headline above was splashed in similar formats across several Australian newspapers.
Shark scientists were kept very busy responding to misinformation, stupidity and downright dangerous reporting in the Australian spring and summer – and this headline (and the strapline above it about the ‘4.5m monster’ shark) summed up the challenge they and shark conservationists face. It was absurd for the writer and editor to let this go through:
- the surfer’s arms were not ‘ripped off’, the writers make it clear in the introduction that he lost parts of both arms
- a 4.5m shark (if that was even the correct size) is not a monster in size. If it had been a validated sighting of a 6m white shark, I would have been more impressed.
My most popular article from this irregularly-updated blog is another shark attack post that made exactly the same criticisms I can make two years later. I image the people googling that phrase came across the post, saw it was attaching the whole tabloid concept of ‘shark attacks’ and left to find juicy photos of actual shark encounters.
Because that’s what these incidents are: encounters. The increased populations around coastal areas in the warmer months, coupled with overfishing of shark prey species, surfers spending longer in the ocean due to thicker and more comfortable wetsuits, climate change and other unpredictable factors, is leading to more encounters with sharks. And if one in 1000 of those encounters ends in a shark bite, we shouldn’t be surprised every time and call for that shark’s head. This only supports the view of shark fishers that they are removing dangerous animals from the ocean, rather than murdering an endangered animal (in the case of some shark species).
Australian Geographic posted a great article about shark research that revealed we are to blame for shark attacks due to the factors mentioned above. And no matter how big a year we have for shark ‘assaults’, it pales in creation to deaths from car crashes, domestic injuries and even bee stings:
So far in 2011, there have been at least 61 recorded attacks and 10 deaths. However, compared to deaths from smoking, road accidents, lightning strikes or even other animal attacks, the risk is minute, say experts.
So please can we stop with the tabloid shark bashing, stick to the boring but correct title of shark encounters and help target the real villains in this debate: fishing trawlers that are destroying the shark-prey food chain and governments who keep approving shark hunting after each encounter in the misguided view that killing that one ‘manhunter’ shark will end the chance of any further shark bites.
As is becoming common this time of year, my Twitter feed has been swamped with Shark Week vitriol – from swimmers who are now more afraid to go in the water to scientists angry at the lack of consultation that goes into a few of the fake documentaries appearing during the event.
Apart from the fact Discovery Channel ignores the rest of the world when it comes to sharing Shark Week with non-Americans, from what I’ve seen of the clips there seems to be a dearth of well-researched, informative programming.
Christie Wilcox writes for the Discover Magazine and her summaries of the week should be required reading for anyone watching Shark Week, including this post on falling ratings and viewer angst:
“It’s the third day of Shark Week, and Discovery has already come under fire for their programming choices. Their big special on kick-off night—Shark of Darkness: The Wrath of Submarine—turned out to be another fake documentary, making up people and events to perpetuate the idea that a 30+ ft long great white patrols the coast of South Africa. The legend of Submarine is a particularly fishy topic choice, as its origin can be traced to the 1970s when some journalists decided to make up a story to see how gullible their readers were.”
As some commenters have noted this week, if the focus was spread from great whites to lesser-known threatened species of sharks, their public profile and survival chances might improve. A great white throwing a seal pup in the air or biting a cage might make for exciting TV but shouldn’t the week be about promoting all sharks, not just the most photogenic ones?
This is a great recent video from the Friends of the Merri Marine Sanctuary, a small and dedicated group helping – as one goal – to remind local people about the amazing natural features and marine life on their doorstep.
At a lecture and networking day on the weekend hosted by Deakin University and the Victorian National Parks Association, a member of the Friends group mentioned how hard it can be to get the support and interest of people outside the conservation community. I could see similar parallels with another spectacular occurrence that Warrnambool people often ignore.
Living near one of the calving grounds for southern right and humpback whales, people in this area can tend to be ambivalent about the excitement generated in the tourism industry each time the whale watching season approaches.
A recent humorous list of 30 things only a local would understand had this gem at number 23:
Funny (maybe just as a Warrnambool local) but it highlights that disinterest I spoke of – we’re happy the whales are here but we’re just as happy to ignore them because it doesn’t suit us to stand around for hours (and it can be hours between ‘showings’). Same goes for conservation – local people are generally happy that someone is doing it but not bothered to get involved themselves.
What can you do with apathy like that? It was an open question to the weekend’s session and though there were some good suggestions, as usual it was hard to come up with the perfect answer. My idea was to keep the good work these people do at the forefront, tell the media, tell politicians, help to get relevant policy change at the state and federal level and let your own passion inspire other people. Al Gore was one who helped ‘cure’ apathy over climate change on a global level but it’s even more important to make small communities like ours care about the natural wonders they take for granted.
My classmate Dom Lawler deserves most of the credit for producing this video on microplastics, made in less than four days using iMovie for a university assignment on aquatic pollution.
Check the film out and watch some other related one on YouTube if it sparks your interest.
Here’s some quick details on the plastic pollution issue:
– 10% of the 280 million tonnes of plastic produced annually worldwide ends up in the ocean, contributing to 60−80% of all marine debris (Kaposi et al. 2014)
– First reports of plastic litter in the ocean were in the 1970s (Andrady 2011)
– Plastics could take centuries to completely mineralise or biodegrade (Moore 2008)
– 10% of all static fishing gear – including plastic nets, fishing line and ropes – is lost worldwide (FAO 1991)
– In the environmental context, microplastics are regarded as pieces of plastic debris less than 5mm in size
– Studies have found that 267 species of marine organisms worldwide are known to have been affected by plastic debris, a number that will increase as smaller organisms are assessed. (Moore 2008)
References (and other useful video sources)
Plastic Oceans, broadcast on Catalyst, ABC TV1, 6 September 2012:
Plankton film clip: Ren Kyst, Norway www.facebook.com/RenKystFilm
FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), Canada, 1991. In: Smith, A. (Ed.), Report of the Expert Consultation on the Marking of Fishing Gear, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, 14–19 July, 1991.
Moore, CJ 2008, ‘Synthetic polymers in the marine environment: A rapidly increasing, long-term threat’, Environmental Research, vol. 108, no. 2, pp. 131-9.
Andrady, AL 2011, ‘Microplastics in the marine environment’, Marine Pollution Bulletin, vol. 62, no. 8, pp. 1596-605.
Kaposi, KL, Mos, B, Kelaher, BP & Dworjanyn, SA 2014, ‘Ingestion of microplastic has limited impact on a marine larva’, Environmental Science and Technology, vol. 48, no. 3, pp. 1638-45.
Around this time last year, fishermen were hanging up their prize catches in a big annual fishing competition here in Warrnambool.
One of the fish that brought the biggest crowd was a 110kg mako shark- a common enough catch in Southern Australia but still of concern given the huge global exploitation of various shark species.
The Standard newspaper posted this photo yesterday of an 81.3kg mako from the first 2014 competition and it looks like nothing has changed – same happy crew posing with a trophy shark that may win them more praise than competition prizes. Catch and release should be the protocol for fish such as this: get the photo on the boat, have it signed off by judges and leave the fish in the ocean. The article stated that fishers in the competition had caught “several sizable Mako sharks”.
A local fishing group has been criticised lately for its targeting of unnecessary species for competition points, criticism that was definitely warranted. I attended one of their club meetings recently and a few members were complaining about fishing restrictions that stop them racking up points for certain species. Given that one member caught more than 30 fish in two days, some of which were inedible or destined for the closest rubbish bin, their whinging seemed pointless.
These groups may slowly understand the effect of their ‘overfishing’ when they pull in less the next year or have to hunt harder for elusive species (just like the global commercial industry).
With the international flak over its shark culling programs and threats to the Great Barrier Reef, Australia should be working hard on other fronts to promote its ocean conservation agenda. Sadly, the Coalition Government is intent on making things worse for those who care about the ocean and instead assisting commercial fisheries with its removal of some marine park protections.
Thanks to MPA News for the article below. To view an updated map of global marine protected areas, visit Protect Planet Ocean.
The new Coalition Government in Australia, elected by national vote in September, has scrapped management plans developed by the prior Labor Government for most of the nation’s representative system of MPAs. The impacted MPAs are the 33 sites that were designated in 2012 by the Labor Government. The dropped management plans would have taken effect in July 2014.
The impacted sites increased the national MPA system last year from 27 sites to 60, expanding the system to a total of 3 million km2 (MPA News 14:3 and 14:1).
The sites include the 1-million km2 Coral Sea Marine Reserve, of which roughly half would have been no-take under its now-dropped management plan.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt told MPA News in October that the new reserves were “imposed without fair or adequate consultation” of industry, and would unfairly lock out recreational fishermen from large areas of the ocean (MPA News 15:2). He said the sites’ management must be reviewed and redeveloped before final management plans are adopted by Parliament.
The management plans for the 33 sites were passed by the Australian House of Representatives – one half of Parliament – earlier this year. Some conservationists anticipated the Senate – the other half of Parliament – would pass the plans, too, in coming months, thus making the plans law. But the Coalition Government scrapped the plans on 16 December by having the nation’s Governor-General re-proclaim the reserves, effectively restarting the management plan development process.
However, the Coalition Government stopped short of calling for a review of the sites’ boundaries. The boundaries will remain as designated under the Labor Government, although for the time being they are simply lines on a map. Their designation one year ago followed a series of six phases of public consultation conducted by the Labor Government, with strong support from conservation organizations and opposition from several fishing industry groups, including commercial and recreational ones.
A review of the management plans, expected to last about six months, will now begin. The Government will appoint a scientific panel and several Bioregional Advisory Panels to facilitate and improve consultation with stakeholders. The make-up of the panels will be announced in early 2014.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s statement on the MPA management plans:
Statement by Australian Recreational Fishing Foundation on scrapping of MPA management plans:
Statement by Australian Marine Conservation Society on scrapping of MPA management plans:
After decades of falling stocks of northern (NBT) and southern bluefin tuna (SBT) in fisheries globally, some possible good news: stocks in certain areas appear to be on the rise, according to this Oceana report on a recent ICCAT Standing Committee on Research and Statistics meeting.
I feel like I should automatically qualify that by skipping to the third paragraph of Oceana’s post, which stated:
Scientists say that the models (SCRS is) using are flawed and therefore have little confidence in them, so they will spend 2014 working with more recent data and improving their calculations.
Which makes me think of this piece of gold from 30 Rock:
Just like They Might Be Giants’ Dr Worm, Dr Leo Spaceman is not a ‘real’ doctor but he comes up with some very apt quotes that show how people can trust an academic or medical professional just because they “know science”.
Anyway, some fisheries managers and tuna fishers will be pretty excited about the possible stock rebound but hopefully they’ll err on the side of caution before making any changes to quotas. Here’s some research I put together for a uni report that might shed some light on the Antipodean situation:
“Australia’s SBT catch peaked at 21,500 tonnes in 1982 (Farley, J. H. et al. 2007) and quotas established in 1989 restricted the catch to 5265 tonnes annually.
Japanese long-lining catch peaked at 78,000 tonnes in 1961 and quotas were also introduced to restrict Japan to 6065 tonnes annually.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing for the species is also a major concern with the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna finding that ‘substantial and continuous unreported catches of SBT had been taken by longline vessels since at least the early 1990s’ (Polacheck 2012).”
That’s just the Australian and Japanese reported data for SBT – areas of the New Zealand and South African coast are also key fishing grounds, as well as the international waters where self-reporting of catches is still a woefully inadequate system.
In my opinion, we need tougher quotas, not leniency for these ocean hunters.
1. Farley, JH, Davis, TLO, Gunn, JS, Clear, NP & Preece, AL 2007, ‘Demographic patterns of southern bluefin tuna, Thunnus maccoyii, as inferred from direct age data’, Fisheries Research, vol. 83, no. 2-3, pp. 151-61.
2. Polacheck, T 2012, ‘Assessment of IUU fishing for Southern Bluefin Tuna’, Marine Policy, vol. 36, no. 5, pp. 1150-65.