Beyond the Obituaries

by John Hocevar

May 16, 2011


Greetings from Vancouver Island, home of this year’s International Marine Conservation Congress.

The meeting kicked off with a full day session organized by Dr. Nancy Knowlton called Beyond the Obituaries: Success Stories in Marine Conservation. As we know all too well, the oceans are in terrible shape: coral reefs are disappearing, polar ice is melting, many fish populations are in danger of collapse, and a great deal of coastal and seafloor habitat has been lost or is under threat.

None of us wants to be planetary hospice workers, though, placidly describing the tragedy as it unfolds around us. Taking the time to share and learn from stories where people have been able to turn things around may be our best chance to save the oceans – and ourselves.

Greenpeace was invited back again this year to share more of our success stories, so Dr. Cat Dorey updated everyone about our global seafood markets efforts. I have to admit I enjoyed sitting in the audience as she told everyone about the changes that we helped create with big supermarket chains – first in the UK, then across Europe, across the Atlantic to the US and Canada, and now in New Zealand and Australia. This work is now spreading to Japan and other Asian countries as well, which is particularly important given the amount of seafood eaten in that region.

It was also great to hear about other successes around the world, from marine reserves in Mexico, Fiji, and Brazil to initiatives to protect turtles and sharks by reducing bycatch through shifts to more selective fishing gear types. One of the wildest stories was about a battle to get Japanese pound net fishermen to address sea turtle bycatch. The fishermen denied there was a problem, so Hoyt Peckham and his partners set up a model pound net in an aquarium and brought the fishermen to watch a powerful stunt that most of us would have left in the “don’t try this at home” category.

While the fishermen stood there w/ arms crossed and minds nearly closed, a diver put a live sea turtle in the bottom of the net. Within no time, the whole crowd was on their feet, cheering the turtle on as it tried to find a way to escape the net. I’m sure there was a lot more to the campaign, but from then on the fishermen wanted to be part of the solution.

After listening to a whole day of success stories covering a huge range of habitats, countries, and species, it was striking to see how frequently a few basic themes came up: marine reserves, community involvement, shifts to more selective fishing gear, and reducing the amount of pollution entering the ocean.

This was perhaps the best news of all – that as serious as the problems facing the ocean are, the solutions are known to us, and they are within our reach. And where they have been used well, these solutions have proven to be effective in not just keeping things from getting worse, but actually rebuilding populations, increasing biodiversity, and generating income for coastal communities.

Take action — stand up for the oceans and ocean wildlife.

John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

An accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine biologist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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