The impossible missions are the only ones that succeed. – Jacques Yves Cousteau
How appropriate that World Oceans Month is celebrated the same month as Jacques Cousteau’s birthday, June 11. It’s hard to think of anyone who has had a more profound effect on the oceans than Cousteau.
Born in 1910, Jacques Yves Cousteau grew up like any normal boy, maybe more so. People are sometimes surprised that he struggled in school. Now I realize there’s hope for me.
Cousteau’s passion for the sea might never have developed had it not been for an automobile accident. He broke both arms and nearly lost his life. It set him on a life quest that ended where all life began. In the sea.
Make no mistake about it. Cousteau was no slacker, waiting to be catered to. He was tough, passionate, and brave. During World War II, he joined the French Resistance Movement working as a spy. He also worked at the dangerous job of clearing underwater mines.
It was when he went swimming in the Mediterranean Sea that a friend gave him goggles. It opened his eyes to a world he could never have dreamed of and Jacques Cousteau fell in love with the sea. It held him so deeply that he spent the rest of his life sharing it with the public.
He put it most eloquently when he said, “The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”
Among Cousteau’s many roles were French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, author, and researcher. Hundreds of books have been written by or about Jacques Cousteau and his achievements so it’s hard to do his life the justice it deserves in a few sentences.
Divers both recreational and professional literally owe their lives to Cousteau who with Emile Gagnan in 1943 developed practical scuba gear called the Aqua-lung. Finally mankind could dive underwater and truly explore the wonders there.
Profoundly insightful, he knew explorers on any mission needed a base from which to operate. Underwater was no different, and he developed an underwater laboratory called Conshelf I where humans could live and carry out research for long periods at a time. It was so successful, it gave birth to Conshelf II and III.
With his vision, he founded the FOC (French Oceanographic Campaigns) in 1950 and refitted the Calypso, making it a maritime research center. It was an extraordinary move at a time when the world was merrily spraying everything with DDT. But people like Jacques Cousteau and Rachel Carson were just beginning to prick our consciences.
In 1953, he penned Silent World with Frederic Dumas, introducing the world to a fascinating look at life under the sea. The book sold five million copies. He turned it into an award-winning documentary filming aboard the Calypso in 1956. Continue reading →
With the beginning of a new year, it’s wise to set a course straight and true not only in our personal lives but in King Neptune’s realm as well. Remember, if you don’t set a goal and aim for it, at the end of the year you’re going to be no closer to it. With the problems that face the sea, we can’t afford to sit out one more year hoping things will get better.
Anyone in love with the sea or concerned about its health as well as those who work or play on it should keep a scrutinizing eye on the following issues:
… Coral bleaching. When coral becomes stressed either from water that’s too warm or from chemicals and sediments that don’t belong there, it turns white, a sure sign of a huge problem. If the problem doesn’t go away, the coral will die. That’s a huge problem. Coral beds are the nurseries for all kinds of fish. Kill off those on the lower chain, kill off those above it.
… Overfishing. This doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation. A lot of species of fish are being over fished all around the world. When they can’t rebound, they die off till extinction becomes a reality. For millions of people from a wide panorama of cultures, it means the difference between a sustainable living and a life of poverty. Overfishing has actually contributed to Somalian piracy; with other countries illegally fishing in local waters, options are limited for fishermen trying to feed their family.
… Excessive shark hunting. This includes finning, a process of removing the fins of a shark while it is still alive then throwing it back into the sea where it will die. Who cares about a few sharks? They deserve what they get when you consider the blood thirsty creatures they are as evidenced by JAWS. You should. To set the record straight, people are not on the main menu of sharks. They’re not even listed on the dessert menu. Sharks have a voracious appetite but it’s for fish. When sharks disappear from the ocean in great numbers, the rest of the oceanic environment is in deep trouble.
Millions of peoples are celebrating Hanukah, Christmas, and other holidays this time of year, the spirit of which is imbued with peace and harmony. The Paris Environmental talks concluded this past week, and the nations that attended did a wonderful thing. They gave a special present to the world. After two weeks, almost two hundred nations finally agreed on a strategy to help put our planet back on a safe environmental track.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t always pretty. There was plenty of arguing, sulking, shouting, and finger pointing. But in the end, the nations who attended showed the world that despite differences on how to resolve the crisis eight billion people are facing, they were able to hammer out an agreement that involved a lot of compromise. It’s a lesson politicians in the United States could learn a lot from.
We’re far from living in a world that will soon be pollution free. The damage we have done so far will be felt for decades to come. If not one more pound of carbon dioxide is pumped into the atmosphere, the polar caps will continue to melt and the oceans rise, and many island communities will still be faced with the inevitable truth that they will eventually be displaced.
While it is non-binding, what the nations have agreed to among other things is put a cap on the emissions that affect rising temperatures worldwide. In short, the nations agreed to limit the global average mean temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The original target was two degrees. While that half degree may not sound like much, it has incredible consequences. A two degree rise would mean the obliteration of many island nations from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia to islands across the globe.
The higher target the nations were originally shooting for would have been comparable to putting out a house fire with a few buckets of water. We’re so deep in shit, (and my most sincere and deepest apology to anyone offended by the word, but there is no delicate way to sugarcoat this), everyone at the Paris conference pretty much realized for changes to have any real significance and to better protect island nations, the thermostat would literally have to be lowered.
Of course, there are many facets to this agreement with a lot of details to sort through. To complicate things, the expectations for developed nations are not the same as they are for developing nations. How could they be? It’s hard to be fair and just making all nations pay the same price when it’s the developed nations who for the most part caused the mess we’re in.
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The ocean is on fire, and 170 countries are meeting in Paris between November 30 and December 11 to try and stop it.
… Coral reefs are dying, crippling the food chain for fish who depend on them.
… Our melting Polar caps are already wreaking havoc for polar bears and other wildlife not to mention island and coastal nations whose populations will be devastated in the not too distant future.
… Over-fishing is decimating fish populations with disastrous consequences for nations whose livelihood depends on fishing. In particular is the wanton slaughter of sharks which keep the food chain of the seas in balance.
… Add to these woes habitat loss for a wide variety of marine life, and pollution through garbage and oil spills, and things seem like they can’t get much bleaker, but they can.
… Our oceans are growing more acidic daily. In fact, acidification has become the cancer of our seas, deadly and silent as it grows unchecked.
Acidification occurs naturally in the ocean on a routine basis. What makes it so horrendous is that the PH balance is occurring at an alarming rate. Treehugger.com does a great job explaining the process. When the PH balance of the sea is changed, the skeleton formations of many species of shellfish and other sea life is destroyed. Think of it as osteoporosis for the creatures of the sea.
And why is the PH level dropping? Because the tons of fossil fuel which we’re burning around the world is absorbed by the oceans once it falls from the atmosphere.
Planetearthherald.com warns us that the 30% increase of acidity we’ve seen in our oceans so far is nothing compared to the 150% increase we’re going to witness over the next hundred years. What a legacy to leave our grandchildren and their grandchildren!
If we learned nothing else about the ecosystems of our planet, it’s that everything is interconnected. Alter one part of the equation, and you affect everything else. Global warming, for example, contributes to coral bleaching big time. When coral bleaching occurs, the algae living in their tissue turn white. Though not dead, the coral become so stressed they have a hard time coping, and without a reprieve, they die. Of course, temperature, light, and nutrients affect the health of coral as well.
Last week I recounted several of the things we have to be grateful for in the ocean and the maritime environment. While some may consider these accomplishments mere footnotes to be buried in a year of frantic activity, I urge you to regard them as important stepping stones to a better future not just for the ocean and the mariners who sail upon them, but for all of us. Why? Because the future of every soul on this planet depends on a healthy ocean and its fragile ecosystems.
With this in mind, I urge you to visit several of the sites below and learn more about the organizations that champion a better ocean. You don’t even have to join them though that would be better. At least by visiting them, you’ll learn a few things you can do to help make Mother Ocean a healthier and safer place for its children and the eight billion children of this planet.
… Greenpeace at www.greenpeace.org uses peaceful protests and communication to expose environmental problems and promote solutions.
… Coral Reef Alliance at http://coral.org/ promotes the health of coral reefs around the globe.
… Cousteau Society at http://www.cousteau.org/ is all about helping people understand and care for seas and rivers worldwide.
… Marine Conservation Institute at http://www.marine-conservation.org targets key ecosystems around the world and advocates for them.
… Wild Oceans at http://wildoceans.org seeks to curb overfishing and restore depleted fish populations. If you’re a weekend fisherman, you owe them a lot.
… SeaKeepers at http://www.seakeepers.org energizes the yachting community to protect the world’s oceans. Their motto is: “Research, Educate, Protect, and Restore.”
… The Ocean Project at http://theoceanproject.org partners with aquariums, zoos, and museums to promote ocean conservation.
… Waterkeeper Alliance at http://waterkeeper.org helps protect rivers, lakes, and coastal waterways worldwide. Like to swim in clean water? Check them out.
We’ve had terrible news last week with the loss of thirty-three lives aboard the cargo ship El Faro. It was lost off the Bahamas in the middle of Hurricane Joaquin. On top of that, South Carolina has endured devastating floods that have left thousands homeless. So it’s nice to be able to share some really good news today.
This past week three notorious poachers, all officers aboard the Thunder, were convicted of forgery, pollution, damage to the environment, and recklessness. Captain Luis Alfonso Rubio Cataldo (Chile), Chief Engineer Agustin Dosil Rey (Spain), and Second Mechanic Luis Miguel Perez Fernandez (Spain) received sentences between thirty-two and thirty-six months. In addition, they must pay fifteen million euros, well over sixteen million US dollars.
But none of this would have happened without the courage and persistence of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The drama actually unfolded in early January when the Sea Shepherd’s ship, The Bob Barker, captained by Peter Hammarstedt, chased one of six ships, the Thunder, notorious for overfishing, for months. During that time, the crew of the Thunder did everything conceivable short of sinking their own ship to shake the tenacious crew of the Sea Shepherd.
On the hundred and tenth day, they did exactly that, scuttling their ship to destroy possible evidence to be used in court though they would deny it. The Sea Shepherd’s Bob Barker and sister ship Sam Simon, captained by Sid Chakravarty, plucked the wet and unhappy crew from their life rafts and brought them to justice. Several of the toothfish they poached in Antarctic waters became damning evidence.
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