PAY ATTENTION: We need the ocean and maybe the ocean also needs us

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It’s World Oceans Day, a day to celebrate a fundamental global resource upon which so much of planetary life depends. But this is a rather bittersweet, nominally awareness-raising holiday. That’s because the state of the global ocean — the collection of marine ecosystems from shallowest estuary to deepest trench — is well, abysmal. Cheering on an internationally named “day” then feels a bit like “celebrating” our most prized possessions as we set them on fire.

The ocean from the intertidal-level view

I work in a lightly touched coastal estuary and among small- and intermediate-scale ocean fishers in coastal Karnataka (above photo). My team and I mix research with advocacy. And on a lot of occasions, it feels like we’re losing the battle to protect our coastal and marine commons. And given how mission critical (mission=continued existence) the ocean is, I find myself sometimes quite bleak about the future of our planet.

In my latest project — a study on social ecology and dependence upon mangroves in my estuary/playground — we’re asking people how much compensation they would need to accept a large industrial shipping port proposed by the government. The port would wipe out large sections of mangroves and destroy the healthy estuary. Watching the zeal with which the state government pushes this project is pretty depressing.

But then the research surprises me. Through more than 200 surveys conducted so far (about a fifth of the total target sample), the vast majority of respondents refuse to accept any of the hypothetical compensation bids they’re offered. That includes households offered up to 5 million (50 lakh) rupees. For many of these households that’s equivalent to about 50 years’ income.

So many I don’t need to give up on human-ocean relations just yet.

Happy World Oceans Day.

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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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