Things you need to know now to save the ocean
We have chosen to live on the coast for a reason. It’s big. It’s blue. It’s beautiful. But in many ways, it’s in trouble. Overfishing, pollution and a lack of regulation have put one of the best sources of protein – and a wondrous playground – in jeopardy.
On a private estate in Laguna Beach late in July, Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation group, held its signature Seachange Summer Party. The event is a star-studded affair, this year honoring writer, producer and actor Seth MacFarlane. To say the gala, for which Coast is a sponsor, is exclusive is an understatement: Guests paid $2,500 per person to $100,000 per table.
But beyond the glitz and glamour are weighty goals: to ensure the world’s ocean ecosystems are restored to health and fisheries are well-managed. The good news is that, by most accounts, the Big Blue and its creatures are incredibly resilient. But change takes action, which starts with knowledge.
By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean.
That’s not just an urban – oceanic? – legend. The World Economic Forum warned in January that if we keep producing plastics at the current rate, plastic will outweigh fish by midcentury.
In the past 50 years we have increased our plastic production 20-fold, and by 2050, we’ll triple the plastic production of 2014. A third of that plastic ends up in the ocean – or in the stomachs of turtles, fish and seabirds. The problem is so bad that if we somehow had a magic “ocean cleanup day,” we could collect five bags of plastic for every foot of coastline. (How do those mini single-use plastic water bottles look now?)
The ways we can reduce the amount of plastic we use or that ends up in landfills and oceans are simple. Oceana suggests using cloth shopping bags and reusable water containers. Avoid straws, chewing gum (gum is made of synthetic rubber) and disposable razors. And always recycle.
That grouper you ordered might be catfish in disguise.
If you order wild grouper, you don’t want catfish farmed in filthy foreign ponds. But seafood fraud – the swapping of lower-grade fish for higher-priced species – is common. And it’s big business, cheating Americans out of an estimated $25 billion annually.
An Oceana study from 2010 to 2015 found that 33 percent of the fish, shrimp and crabcakes tested in American restaurants and markets was not the seafood it was sold as. A whopping 84 percent of white tuna samples were in fact escolar, which can cause digestive problems.
It’s a relatively easy fraud to carry out, since enforcement is grossly undermanned, with less than 1 percent of imported seafood inspected for mislabeling. Plus, fish doppelgangers are easy to come by. For example, there are upwards of 400 species that can pass for grouper.
The good news is that U.S. fisheries are famously honest in this regard. The bad news is that we import 90 percent of our fish from places with flimsy aquaculture laws – Thailand, Indonesia, China, Ecuador and Vietnam. Oceana is working on campaigns to ensure that seafood sold is safe, legally caught and honestly labeled. In the meantime, the best practice is to buy from reputable seafood markets – or straight from local fishermen, such as the Dory Fleet – and dine at quality restaurants that buy local fish.
“Dead Zones” are common in our oceans.
A “dead zone” is an area of the ocean that has gone hypoxic – there is so little oxygen left in the water that life either dies or flees.
One of the leading causes is fertilizer runoff from gardening and agriculture, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Excess nutrients drain into rivers and the ocean, causing algae blooms. The algae consume oxygen as they decompose, stealing it from marine life.
NOAA says there are more than 550 dead zones around the world every year, with one of the largest in the Gulf of Mexico every spring caused by American farm runoff. In 2015, the Gulf dead zone grew to 6,474 square miles, the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined.
Much of the ocean floor is being clearcut.
Imagine waking up one day and seeing a huge net, with metal doors a football field wide and 40 feet high, scraping every tree, rock and squirrel away as it is dragged down the street, leaving raw, lifeless dirt in its path. Welcome to life as a shrimp.
It’s called bottom trawling and it’s the most destructive, least selective type of fishing. It targets creatures such as shrimp, flounder and other bottom fish, but the unintended bycatch, including endangered species like sea turtles, is 78 percent worldwide. Trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico have discarded as much as 4 to 10 pounds of fish for every 1 pound kept, according to Oceana, which is working to make mandatory the use of technology that would reduce bycatch dramatically.
Overfishing might be worse than we thought.
We’ve all heard that overfishing is a global threat to the world’s food supply, but since 1950, we have been pulling 50 percent more fish out of the ocean than has been reported, according to an extensive study published this year by researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project. Worse, the study found, since the 1990s, fish catches have been declining more sharply than suggested by reports from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
94% of life on earth is aquatic. Wild fish might be the answer to world hunger.
There will be 9.7 billion people on the planet by 2050, which means demand for food production will increase 70 percent above today’s levels, says the FAO. Water scarcity will also be a major issue.
With more than two-thirds of the world’s fresh water used for agriculture, and over half the world’s crop yields going to feed livestock, many argue that current food productionpractices are simply unsustainable.
This is why Oceana promotes sustainable fisheries as a way to feed the world, says the organization’s CEO, Andy Sharpless. “Fish that have been overfished will rebound if sensible quotas are put in place and habitat is protected,” he says. “The rebound usually takes five to 10 years, so it’s quick compared to waiting for a rainforest to re-grow, which takes hundreds of years. Fish are one of the most robust and strong parts of nature, so if you give them a little help, they come back very quickly.”
All reasons why sustainably caught seafood is on the menu at so many Oceana galas, and should be on your menu too.