Wednesday, June 4, 2014

For a clean and thriving ocean, save the kelp forests

Last week, we did not make it to our planned destination.
Last week, we had 2 failures for every success.
Last week was a very important week for Rozalia Project, and for me personally.

Because, last week, as we dealt with weather that blocked our plans and we set off to master our equipment in preparation for the real objective, I had a revelation.

Kelp is beautiful

It turns out, I love kelp. Have you seen it outside of the coast of California? I had not, not really. Here in the Gulf of Maine, it's BEAUTIFUL; colorful with purples, yellows and greens and the most incredible motion in the undersea current. Kelp forests are fish nurseries, in fact, for all the time we spent with the ROV in the water last week, the only place we found fish in waters up to 80' was in the kelp forests. Let me repeat, the ONLY place we saw fish was in the kelp forests. We flew the ROV over the top of kelp forests (like helicoptering over the canopy of a rainforest) and we put GoPro cameras down in-between the stalks. In the evenings, we looked up the types of fish we found, learned about the ecosystem around the kelp forests and watched and re-watched the best parts of the videos.

Then, we took our underwater cameras to an area that had been bottom trawled. We do not know the exact date when that had happened but the area was essentially barren. There were a few stalks of kelp growing deep in rocky crevasses and right where the rocks and sand met (and some trash). Otherwise, it looked like a wasteland. We saw 2 fish near the few pieces of kelp that had survived or re-established themselves; only 2 fish.

Deaths that do no good - ban bottom trawling

That led me to my revelation: bottom trawling does not just need to stop in protected areas, it needs to stop, period. We've been doing some research and simply can't come up with a justification for the level of destruction that bottom trawling causes: we do not just lose the plants, we lose a whole ecosystem - the creatures who depend on the kelp to feed and grow, the creatures in the sediment who need the fish to poop, the big creatures who feed on the little ones and beyond that, bottom trawling scoops up fish, dolphins, whales and turtles who were never meant to die and whose death will not do any good.

So, we are going to expand our work. We started Expedition PROTECT to save Cashes Ledge and its kelp forest and ecosystem from a proposal to open 75% of that currently protected area to bottom trawling. And we are still on that. But, we are also going to take on protecting all kelp forests - starting with the ones in the Gulf of Maine. The only way to do that is to completely ban bottom trawling - stop the destruction of the kelp forests and the decimation of whole ecosystems.

Time to pick sides

Personally, this is a bit new. Honestly, no one has ever argued against our work with marine debris. The issue may offer lots of opportunity for discussion on whether education, remediation or research is the best way to spend one's time addressing trash in the ocean, but no one has opposed our fundamental message that marine debris is dangerous and bad for the marine environment. This issue, on the other hand, does have sides. There are people who try to downplay the negative effects of bottom trawling by saying that the technology has come a long way, that these fisheries support families and culture. We will have opponents.

Bring them on. In the case for or against bottom trawling, I am having a hard time finding arguments for it as a fishing technique. We either take the drastic steps necessary to ban bottom trawling and allow our ocean to thrive or we continue to see planet-wide, long-term loss of shocking proportion, all for the short term benefit of a few large companies and 10 minutes on a plate. People have the choice to do the right thing and adapt to a new reality; the ocean may simply not be able to bounce back - unless we take action to preserve our kelp forests!

Let's make a difference now

It starts now, we have an opportunity in the fall to save Cashes Ledge. I hope you will stand with us and support our work with a donation, with your signature, and with your ability to share and spread the word.

For a clean (and thriving) ocean,