NYC’s Chinatown is Teeming with Sealife

NYC’s Chinatown is Teeming with Sealife

New York City’s Chinatown is overflowing with ocean life – dried, bagged and ready for sale to those seeking alternative Chinese medicines. I recently went on a search for shark fins in the famous lower Manhattan district. I expected to find shark fins, and I did, but what surprised me the most were the many types and quantities of other sea life lying lifeless in the pharmacies. In Chinatown, traditional Chinese medicine markets are a major business and each storefront is stocked wall-to-wall with thousands of animal parts believed to hold medical cures. These markets are well stocked with some pricey sea life including, shark fins, abalone, sea cucumbers and sea horses. Thought to be the “ginseng of the sea,” sea cucumbers are being sold for $200 a pound and up. According to scientists, the lack of trade information on sea cucumber from both exporting and importing countries makes it difficult to accurately quantify the international trade of this animal. Sea cucumbers or Hai shen, as they are known in Chinese, are pickle-sized relatives of the starfish. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners believe they hold cures for variety of diseases and were one of the eight immortal ingredients used in Confucius cuisine. (The seven others are: shark’s fin, abalone, shrimp, fishbone, fish maw, asparagus, and ham). Fish maw, which is actually a fish’s swim bladder, is also widely available in Chinatown. I came across a bag of dried “extra large” seahorses for $48 per ounce. The bigger, the better, according to Chinese folklore. Seahorses, when steeped in rice wine, are thought to enliven the blood to cure impotence. The reality,...
A High-Seas Escape

A High-Seas Escape

It wasn’t an emigrant looking for economic freedom lying there on a Florida beach, but instead plastic trash hightailing it out of Chavez’s Venezuela. Is this a sign of a bigger problem offshore? This transatlantic ocean cruiser found washed ashore in the Atlantic waters off North Palm Beach, Florida, was a plastic soda bottle produced by Pepsi-Cola of Venezuela (producto de Pepsi-Cola Venezuela C.A.). Along its northerly journey out of the Caribbean Sea, it likely drifted north into the Gulf of Mexico through the Yucatan Straits, between Mexico and Cuba, before hitching a ride in the Florida Straits and onto the Gulf Stream. Along the way it picked up oceanic passengers, namely gooseneck barnacles looking for a suitable oceanic drifter to call its home. By the looks of it after finally washing ashore, the bottle had quite an adventurous tale to tell. Today, plastic bottles and other unsightly plastic trash inhabit all oceans on Earth and originate from every distant corner of the planet. Our global plastic problem has gained some worldwide notoriety, most notable in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” in waters off California and Japan where our plastic world is piling up in the middle of the ocean. Although data is scare on the extent of the global marine litter problem, the United Nations Environment Programme says that despite the raising global attention to the issue, our global marine litter problem is mounting with “some 8 million items of marine litter entering the oceans every day and “over 13,000 pieces of plastic litter floating on every square kilometre of ocean surface.” This recent Bolivarianism defector that washed...
Plight of the Magellanic Penguin

Plight of the Magellanic Penguin

More than 700 dead penguins have washed up on Brazil’s beaches since June, including more than 500 this week along the Rio Grande do Sul coast in southern Brazil. According to today’s CNN report, the Brazilian Center for Coastal Studies concluded that these Magellanic penguins died of natural causes. I would disagree that these iconic seabirds, named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan, are dying from natural causes. Over the last decade, scientists have observed these seabirds traveling longer distances to find food. With their distinctive white bands that loops around their eyes and down the side of the neck, these birds typically migrate in the winter months from their breeding grounds off the coasts of Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands to the waters off southern Brazil, Uruguay, and Northern Argentina in search of food. However, human competition for their main food staples – anchovy, sardines, and squid– as well as changes in the ocean conditions due to climate change and oil pollution, are having a real effect on these animals’ ability to survive. Ocean Indicator Species All Washed Up at Rio+20 This June, along Rio de Janeiro’s famed Ipanema Beach, I witnessed a lone starved baby penguin, far off track in search of food, warmth and rest. This was a particularly interesting find, since the Rio+20 Earth Summit was happening only a few miles away. The juvenile penguin I saw was likely starving to death and headed ashore because it was cold and wanted to be more comfortable and rest, according to University of Washington Conservation Biologist Dee Boersma. “Penguins are good indicators of ocean health because they depend...
Protecting International Marine Diversity Gains Votes in Rio+20 Oceans Dialogue

Protecting International Marine Diversity Gains Votes in Rio+20 Oceans Dialogue

Philippe Cousteau, grandson of famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, opened the Rio+20 Oceans Dialogue today as moderator of a panel of 10 international ocean experts sitting on stage alongside 10 recommendations critical to advance global ocean management. “Oceans are considered too big to fail, but in fact they are failing,“ said panelist Richard Delaney of the Global Ocean Forum at the start of the public discussion organized by the Brazilian government. Each panelist acknowledged the myriad problems facing the oceans – from ocean acidification, unsustainable and illegal fishing to land- and marine-based pollution – with an eye toward sending a strong message to the United Nations delegates charged with producing a final political document on June 22 at the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. We are drawing down on our natural assets,” said Her Deepness Dr. Sylvia Earle. “We now have the knowledge and need to take action while we still have time.” All panelists emphasized the urgent need to utilize science and technology to help mitigate the negative environmental impacts that are degrading the oceans. Others conveyed the need for a strong international global framework to protect the high seas and its biodiversity, which is the 68% of ocean areas not under national jurisdictions or currently protected by international policies. The global blue economy is losing 10-20 million tons of fish a year from ocean mismanagement, according to British Columbia University professor Ussif Rashid Sumaila. His recent study shows that ocean conservation’s return on investment is $3-7 per dollar spent. “The economics are there, we just need the political will,” said Sumalia, who considers fish as an...
Exploring the Life Aquatic in Google Earth at Rio+20

Exploring the Life Aquatic in Google Earth at Rio+20

Valuable on-the-ground discussions about community outreach are happening alongside the deep political negotiations at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Today, the Sylvia Earle Alliance and Global Foundation for Democracy and Development presented, “Oceans in Google Earth as an Educational Tool: A Dominican Republic Perspective,” a real-world example of how to connect the world to the global ocean through technology. GFDD environmental manager Emy Rodriguez took us on an interactive Google Earth tour of the state’s diverse marine environment, rich with singrays and fish cruising along the Dominican colorful coral reefs. In 2009 Google launched Oceans in Google Earth and the “Explore the Ocean” layer, which is curated by the Sylvia Earle Alliance. The layer allows organizations and individuals around the world to populate the Google ocean with videos and pictures that tell the deeply personal stories and unique regional prospective of the ocean. “Having a variety of media content is what makes it work,” said Charlotte Vick, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Sylvia Earle Alliance. The GFDD Google Ocean project is part of a broader Dominican Republic educational outreach initiative to create greater environmental literacy among its citizens and tourists. This event clearly illustrated that we have the technology to connect diverse people across the globe to the ocean and, these tools are being used to visually teach the world the value of the global oceans in hopes of improving ocean health for future generations. This apolitical Rio+20 side event offered a real-world example of how cutting-edge technology can help advance public awareness about ocean issues and bring about the...

Rio+Ocean: Is our global ocean better protected 20 years later?

World Oceans Day 2012 comes less than two weeks before the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. The conference, referred as Rio+20, brings together world leaders to strengthen international policies to achieve sustainable development through a green economy and improve international coordination for sustainable development. The first major commitments toward environmental sustainability were made 20 years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. This event is a follow up to the Earth Summit and a major opportunity for ocean advocates to enforce the environment commitment made twenty years ago. Hundreds of events across seven theme areas will be taking place during the two-week period leading up to the official UN meeting. These events, sponsored by governments and NGOs, are designed to communicate the critical environmental issues that need to be included in the final policy document adopted by the UN delegates. “Oceans” is one of the seven priority areas being highlighted at Rio+20. The ocean protection measures adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit by UN member countries are laid out in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, as well as the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Here is how the ocean commitments made through the Convention on Biological Diversity are doing: Aichi Biodiversity Target 6 By 2020 all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are legally and sustainable harvested to avoid overfishing and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits. In 2012: The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 85% of the world’s marine fish stocks are over exploited. Illegal, unregulated, and...