A Lament for Oceans?

When I signed on to join the Terry blogging team, I was told to introduce myself to you guys in my first post. So, hi. I’m Sarah, long-time lurker, first time blogger. Current science student, potential mad scientist/med school hopeful/interpretive dancer, depending on how things go.

One of the more interesting things: I sometimes moonlight as a volunteer interpreter at the Vancouver Aquarium. This is cool because it means I get to spend my weekends doing the following:

1) Petting sea cucumbers.

2) Playing with small children.

3) Helping people fall in love with oceans. 

4) That’s about it, really.

Sea cucumbers are pretty darn neat, but number three on that list is sort of the Vancouver Aquarium’s reason for being (aside from research and marine mammal rehabilitation). Someone-I think it was Jacques Cousteau–once said that people protect what they love. And it’s pretty hard to love something you’re not familiar with. There’s a reason 13% of BC’s lands are protected, but only 2% of its waters. Most people have visited a forest at some point. Heck, UBC is more than half forest–at least for now. Oceans are trickier.

When Paul Ehrlich came to UBC a while back for the Biodiversity Museum lecture series he said, roughly, that economy is a subset of ecology. Nowhere is that more true than when it comes to oceans. Marine food webs, ecosystems and nutrient cycles are complex. We’ve already seen huge declines in certain fish populations–cod and salmon for instance-with serious economic consequences. And there’s nothing to say that if we stop fishing for a few years, things will go back to the way they were; studies have shown that if a species of fish is lost from an ecosystem (through fishing etc.), and then that ecosystem is allowed to recover, the empty niche is just as likely to end up filled by jellyfish as anything else. 

I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried jellyfish and it’s not something I want to see at future labour day barbecues.

So, what to do? Any ideas?

Personally, I’m a fan of marine protected areas. Instead of protecting a single species, they conserve an entire ecosystem, acknowledging the complex interactions that contribute to the well being of the area. We have national parks, but only a few national marine protected areas are in the works at the moment. These are specified under the Oceans Act, but in most cases their current designation as “protected areas” doesn’t protect them from commercial or recreational fishing or large vessel traffic–those activities that are most harmful to marine ecosystems. 

In his lecture, Paul Ehrlich also said that he thought the loss of biodiversity might be a bigger threat to humanity than climate change–if only because we have no hypothetical solutions (however far-fetched) to deal with such a loss. And at the root of it all, we still rely on the species around us for our own survival.

Sea cucumbers aside, that’s a pretty good reason to love oceans.


Oh, and if anyone is interested, Dr. Jeff Hutchings, the Canada Chair for Marine Conservation and Biodiversity, is giving a free public lecture this Wednesday on the fate of Canada’s oceans. Should be interesting.

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Sarah Andersen is both a wave and a particle.