Big Blue in Big Trouble
Dr Sylvia Earle, has been an inspiration to me for many years and is the ground-breaking author of The World Is Blue: How Our Fate and the Oceans Are One. She is a marine biologist, explorer, lecturer and founder of Mission Blue, whose aim is to create a global network of marine protected areas.
‘By reconnecting people with natural systems, they may grasp the reality that humans are a part of nature, not apart from it. By protecting nature, we protect ourselves’ – Dr Sylvia Earle
In 2017, Compassion in World Farming partnered with WWF and others to hold the world’s first Extinction and Livestock Conference in London. The conference explored how to transform the global food and farming systems to work for people, animals and the planet. The work of the conference continues today in a multitude of ways, including discussions with internationally respected authorities such as Dr Earle. In line with World Oceans Day on June 8th, where we celebrate our oceans, their importance in our lives and how we must protect them, I interviewed oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle, to discuss the grave concerns facing our oceans today.
The earth and its oceans are buckling under the pressure of our current food system Sylvia explains, ‘There are major problems with food waste, food distribution, food choices and perverse subsidies. Waste starts with agricultural methods and continues to food stores and to oversized portions at restaurants and in homes. An enormous amount of fuel is expended in bringing a blue fin tuna to a sushi bar. Ships, chase vessels, spotter planes, ice production, trucks, air cargo, cargo handling equipment, and the local delivery trucks all add to the carbon footprint required to deliver that morsel of ocean wildlife captured thousands of miles away.’
It is of great concern to me, how our choices of intensive agriculture have changed the makeup of our landscape and are having adverse impacts on our planet and our future. Threats from industrial agriculture to the complex web of oceanic life come not only from pollutants put into the sea, but also from what is taken out. Worldwide, over 17 million tonnes of small pelagic fish like anchovy, sardine and herring are removed from the ocean every year – an estimated 90 billion individual animals – not to feed people, but to be ground down into fishmeal to feed factory farmed fish, chickens and pigs, leaving wildlife like penguins and puffins starving. This accounts for nearly one-fifth of all the marine fish catch globally, much of it for fishmeal.
Dr Earle notes, ‘Human-induced changes in ocean chemistry, changes in climate, changes in the composition of wildlife on the land and in the sea are literally altering the nature of nature, impacting the habitability of Earth for humankind. For a long time, people believed that nature and the ocean in particular were simply too big to fail. We know enough now to know better’.
So what hope is there for the future? Dr Earle can see a way forward and explains how to help reverse the plummet of biodiversity, ‘One way to curb the loss is to set aside large areas for full protection, safe havens for wildlife, both on the land and in the sea. By protecting living systems, we protect the habitability of the planet for life as we know it. Err on the side of caution by protecting much more natural habitat than we believe we need to, both on the land and in the sea. Efforts are underway to protect 10% of the ocean by 2020. Others are targeting 30% by 2030’.
I can’t help but think we can and must do better, for our animals, our environment and ourselves. Dr Earle agrees, ‘making an overall shift to a more plant-based diet will have the biggest, immediate positive impact. Encouraging people to eat in season from local sources can reduce the amount of fossil fuels to transport goods thousands of miles from where they were produced. For those choosing to eat meat, dairy and eggs, opt again for local alternatives versus cheapest price. The quality of what goes into one’s body does count in terms of better health both for the individual and for the environment’.
It is always exhilarating to engage with someone who is so passionate and informed about the challenges we face as a species. Dr Earle never ceases to impress with her ideas, which continue to inspire me and inform my work every day. As a fellow committed and passionate lover of nature, she also has hope that together we can bring about significant change to build a brighter future, ‘I hope that everyone reading this will take a look in the mirror and take stock of what they can do. Everyone can do something and can lead by example. This type of bottom up conscious decision to make change is the power, each and every one of us has and must use every day.’