I just got back last night from Washington DC where I attended the “Blue Vision Summit”. The event kicked off Saturday evening, and went through Sunday, Monday with meetings, and ended with lobbying visits on the hill Tuesday. It was very informative and covered a number of ocean conservation related issues. Some sponsors for the event included; National Geographic, Ocean Conservancy, Wyland Foundation, PEW Charitable Trusts and a number of other respected organizations. Wyland himself was there, along with Philippe Cousteau, and several other notable people in the ocean science community.
Monday and Tuesday consisted of panel discussions that addressed climate change, ocean warming, coral bleaching, pollution threats, ecosystem bases management, and fisheries management issues to name a few. There were several representatives from states like California, who currently leads the way in ocean governance, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and as far away as Guam. I am sad to report the lack of representation by Florida, but then again, Florida has done very little in the way of ocean governance and protecting a resource that means so much to our economy.
The panel discussions were very informative and although I may have been a bit skeptical about climate change before attending the Summit, I heard and saw enough to convince me that it is a real issue that needs to be dealt with by all of us. There is very little resistance in the scientific community, and the only argument among scientists seems to be how much of it is directly and indirectly contributed by human activities. The most convincing, and disturbing evidence is in the polar ice caps and Alaska where the polar bears are now having to forage for food in the villages. This has never happened before and the native Alaskans attribute it to lack of ice where the polar bears usually hunt. The unfortunate result of this is that polar bears who are trying to feed their cubs are being shot and killed, and as a result the cubs too have to be killed.
The summit concluded Tuesday with meetings with our legislators on Capitol Hill where we met with Florida House Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in person. She was very receptive to our concerns and appeared to be on our side when it came to ocean conservation issues. She informed us that she grew up in Florida and came from a family of divers and recreational fisherman. She had a sincere concern for ocean issues and seemed to be in support of Oceans 21, a bill that would lay the ground work for implementation of government recommendations of the PEW and U.S. Commission Reports on ocean policy. We also met with Brydon Ross from Senator Mel Martinez office. We only had a few minutes with him and I didn’t get the feeling that he was on our side of the issues. The last person we met with was Susie Quinn, from Senator Bill Nelson’s office. She did not seem receptive to Oceans 21 because of the provision that called for implementation of marine reserves in Florida. This is a very controversial issue with a group of recreational fisherman (CCA), who are adamantly against any MPA’s (marine protected areas) that would restrict their ability to fish where they want, when they want, and how they want. I am happy to say that I an am not and never have been a member of CCA. Although I believe Senator Nelson is in the pocket of CCA, I also believe that there is an overall support of MPA’s by the citizens of Florida. They work, make good conservation and environmental sense, and will only help all interests in the long run.
I could probably write a whole page on the individual issues that were discussed, but I don’t want to bore you to death with the doom and gloom reality of what is going in our oceans. There is some good news though. Individual state governments are starting to realize the problems and are beginning to commit the resources to address the issues and move towards recovery. Once again, Florida lags far behind and I intend to address this by calling, and writing letters to my elected officials to find out why a state with more coastal land than any other is sitting on its hands and allowing the status quote to continue.
One thing I have learned over the past several years is that our Florida Governor, Charlie Christ, is in the pockets of developers, and the (CCA) Coastal Conservation Association, which is a group of recreational fisherman who do not believe in conservation as their name would imply. They have the money to keep Charlie Christ on their side. This was evident when I was in Tallahassee several years ago trying to get the Tortugas MPA (marine protected area) passed and Charlie Christ cast the lone dissenting vote against the bill that had over 90% public support, and was only challenged by CCA.
Florida has a Coastline of 1,197 Statute Miles, 2,276 Statute Miles of Tidal Shoreline, 663 Miles of Beaches and than 11,000 miles of rivers, streams & waterways, and the most extensive shallow coral reef formations in the continental United States and has yet to come up with an effective coastal management plan that implements ecosystem and science based management to protect a resource that brings millions of tourist dollars to our state. The result is continued overfishing of species that cannot be sustained at current fishing rates, a fact that some state officials even agree with. Dying corals caused by continued poor water quality due to untreated storm water, industrial pollution (sugar industry), and the continuation of coastal development in sensiti