World Oceans Day: What else died so you could eat seafood?

Shark bycatch in Ecuador

Shark bycatch in Ecuador

In 2010, I was standing on a beach in Ecuador watching all manner of sea creatures get dragged ashore, sacrificed for the targeted catches of high-value prawns and tunas (mostly for export).

Sharks, rays, even a turtle, all killed in the process. Some of them would end up in local ceviche as non-descript fish, but others (like the turtle, a protected species) would simply be left to rot.

I certainly don’t advocate an end to fishing. I work with fishers of shark, sardines, mackerel, crabs, shrimp, oysters and more. I believe small- and medium-scale fishing has a role to play in livelihoods and food across the globe.

But the sight of Ecuador’s illicit bycatch, which led to the photo above, left me asking what kinds of pernicious forces — political, economic, ecological or other — could lead to such wanton sacrifice.

I’m still asking that question. As June 8 is World Oceans Day, maybe we all should be asking it.

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The ocean seems kinda pissed

Conservation International has released a new series of HD videos personifying portions of the earth-system with messages delivered by celebrity voice-acting. An unhappy Han Solo Harrison Ford plays the ocean. Nature, soil, the rain forest, water and water also deliver messages in this “Nature is Speaking” series. More perspectives are coming.

The message: From the point of view of nature, humans with their hubris and ignorance seem destined to destroy the natural resources they depend on with hubris. Ecosystems have survived for millennia upon millennia and yet humans, in a relatively short time span, are breaking everything in sight.

(I was in the audience a few years ago in a Washington, DC theater when Bill McKibben sadly joked, “This is why we can’t have nice things.”)

These messages have antagonistic overtone, some more than others. An almost spiteful Ocean warns, “I’m only gonna say this once. If nature isn’t kept healthy, humans won’t survive, simple as that. Me? I could give a damn with or without humans. I’m the Ocean. I covered this entire planet once and I can always cover it again. That’s all I have to say.”

I expect the message+tone will rile some people. And I do wonder if the “nature will survive us all” trope doesn’t do a bit of harm when we’re also arguing that humans are responsible for massive environmental change.

Still, the argument is certainly true; we are destroying the ocean — through overfishing, trash, chemicals, fertilizer runoff, mining and acidification via CO2 emissions. The video poignantly offers no small amount of stunning video to remind us of the ecosystems we’re threatening.

The tag line: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.”

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