The thoughts of Paris have probably never been very ocean centric, being a good 150km from the nearest ocean. Yet at CoP 21 when the winds of change were blowing, and the ocean needed strong voice, Paris felt as far from the sea as ever.
The magnitude of current and future impacts of climate change on coastal and marine economies, ecosystems, and cultures are tremendous. Yet at Cop21, it never felt like Paris or the governments and leaders of the rest of the world were thinking much of the ocean. And this was an enormous failure to the 634 million people and the trillions of dollars of ecosystem services and economies that rely on functioning ocean ecosystems that live within a few feet of the coast.
Zig zagging through the halls of the Green Zone at CoP 21,, I couldn't help but notice the lack of ocean targeted booths. Sure the picture of the penguins and polar bears (disturbingly close to each other for any ecologist), plus the cool blues of waves behind 1000 type font declaring climate change is solvable, suggested that there was a large contingent of activists and scientists fighting for the oceans. But the inconvenient truth was that there were only 3 booths that bothered to show up (including the shell company for shell!). Hey, better than zero.
Of course the rainforests have about 2 dozen, plus a rep from every global NGO in the world, but who's counting? And it's true that my hero Dr. Sylvia Earle came to give another truly inspiring speech on the importance of protecting our oceans. Plus no one can forget President Tommy of Palau, who was the unequivocal MVP and ocean champion at these talks for standing up for small island nations. And there was even a whole freaking day of the conference devoted to the oceans! So what more could I have asked for?
well a climate agreement that actually did something substantial for our oceans would be nice
At the one ocean focussed event I was able to attend, French ocean leaders representing a myriad of science, government, business, and NGO groups had convened to declare how excited they were that the world ocean was included in the Preamble of the potential Paris accord. Unanimously they declared that without a doubt, this was the most attention and success that the oceans have ever received in the 23 years and 21 CoP accords. And that we should and needed to celebrate this a great victory for the oceans.
This epic victory: the oceans finally got their foot in the door.Too bad, it took 23 years for a name drop. 23 years. For 23 years, the enormous efforts of thousands of scientists, activists, businesses, and local and national governments to promote effective marine policy in the face of climate change and bring it to the international scale culminated in this one phrase:
"Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and noting the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change,."
not even a full clause...
Without too much surprise the oceans were an afterthought, per usual.
And the even more unfortunate truth was that getting out foot in the door was definitely the easy part. Because now it's up to the nations, states, local governments, activists and NGOs, businesses, and scientists of the world to make the massive and revolutionary shifts needed to protect and grow our ocean economies and ecosystems without any international leadership. The real success was always going to be at the local level; boots on the ground. But I was hoping that there would be some serious support. Instead it will be on the shoulders of hundreds of marine scientists (including myself) to conduct research in the upcoming decades to understand how we can keep our ocean ecosystems resilient, and how our ocean ecosystems can keep our climate and our economies resilient. It will be on the shoulders of the thousands of activists, local governments, and businesses to implement the necessary science based policies to promote blue carbon storage, improve the resilience of their coasts, and enhance and protect coastal economies. It will have to be on the combined actions of these little drops in the bucket that can and must add up to the ocean of change needed to protect our marine ecosystems and economies.
The building momentum for change that came before and after the talks is what gives me hope that the Paris climate talks were not a failure and that these negotiations will serve as a catalyst for the true change that our oceans and coastal communities deserve. But the lack of direction, clarity, and support for protecting and supporting ocean ecosystems and economies worries.
As I reflect back on Paris, I can't help but feel a little cynical about where we are headed. Those three lone unmanned ocean booths. The scarcity of ocean panels and activism. The fact that my heroic elected leaders from both the State and Federal level never took a public fight for oceans, or even mention the need to focus on their role in climate change and the risks our marine economies face. I can't help but feel that Paris is and was a full 20,000 leagues from the sea and another 80,000 leagues from where I hoped it would go.
What makes this so frustrating is that the US and California, who are leaders in the fight against climate change, were not public champions or leaders for our oceans in Paris. At home, we have some of the best marine policies and conservation on the planet. We have amazing marine scientists and incredible conservation, advocacy, and research institutions including NOAA, EPA, Oceania, Surfrider, Health the Bay, Woods Hole, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, Stanford, UCLA, the list goes on and on. And yes many of these players and representatives came to the conference and were instrumental in advocating for 1.5 C and bringing together regional governments to take fierce action on carbon emissions. Yet surprisingly the US or California as a whole were in no way shape or form leaders in marine policy at CoP.
Despite the fact that the US has more ocean than any other country on the planet. despite that fact that the US is a global leader in marine research. Despite the fact that the US is at the cutting edge of marine technologies. And Despite the fact that the US has the largest naval fleet of any country on Earth by a ridiculous margin, the US has rarely ever been a global leader in marine policy. It's 2016 and we still haven't signed the Law of the Sea treaty! (It's been a long time since 1982). We only recently enacted our first large MPAs and it's not like the US has stuck its neck out on High Seas or Antarctic Treaties. This clear disconnect between what we do and champion at home at the local to national level and what the US does at the global scale is imperiling our oceans.
Now more than ever, the oceans need a strong leader. They need a leader with both political and economic might. And they need a leader with strong scientific knowledge and with a vision for an equitable and just future for our ocean ecosystems and economies. And the US is in the prime position to be the leader our ocean needs. President Obama and Secretary Kerry need to stand up and repeat what they have been saying and doing at the national scale to a global audience. They need to strive to set rigorous and ambitions goals to promote and protect blue carbon sequestration, protect our coasts and islands, expand ocean ecosystem resilience through expanded marine protected area networks, and enhance and engage maritime and marine based economies in both the developed and developing world. And we won't get the agreement and justice the oceans deserve until US leaders fight for it.
This time we couldn't get the UN negotiations any less than 20,000 leagues from the sea (in Jules Verne's own country damn it). But the US and the rest of the world better put the ocean straight into the forefront of the next negotiations or we have no chance to leave the healthy and vibrant marine ecosystems and economies that future generations deserve.
In less than a week, heads of states, scientists, students, religious leaders, regional and local politicians, and climate activists from over 190 countries will converge in Paris for the COP21 United Nations Climate Conference to make history. After 35 years of failing to listen to our greatest scientific minds and environmental activists, the world’s largest carbon emitting countries will commit to binding emission reductions, staving off the worst effects of climate change. With most of the world’s commitments already in place, we are now on target for a 3.5 degree C warmer world. Far below the catastrophic 8 degree C warming we were on track to hit by the end of the century, but still far above the 2 degree C UN agreed upon target needed to avert an unacceptable level of human suffering and climate tipping points. So is this the climate justice that activists and scientists have been championing from the frontlines on Pacific Islands and Alberta tar sands and prestigious Universities?
Far from it.
These commitments still lead to the displacement of millions of peoples from sea level rise, the continued spread of deadly tropical diseases, the acidification of our oceans and collapse of major fisheries, extensive wildfires and loss of pristine forests, human life, and property, the severe bleaching of precious coral reefs which provide the only protein source for over 1 billion people, and increased devastation of droughts, floods, and superstorms, all combining to drastically multiply national security threats and cause untold loss of human life. Yet despite the bleak future under this newly set climatic norm, this is an undeniable victory for the environment and our communities around the world. This is the first time that our governments have come together to commit to a low carbon world and avoid a climate catastrophe. The hundreds of thousands of hours of protest, community engagement, and climate activism have led to the formation of a movement that has shaped the course of human history, bringing together countries from every side of the globe, from every political spectrum to change the very future of our planet.
Thus in a week’s time, Paris will be the first climate battle to be won at the global scale. And this is a victory truly worth celebrating and be thankful for. But Paris is not the end all be all. We must continue to raise our voices and call for further action and not let this be the last say in reducing global carbon emissions. The emission targets may have been set for Paris, but the future of our climate and world remains uncertain. Our leaders must fight for transparency, enforcement, and equity, because without these tenets, the promised commitments are no better than the dozens of meaningless papers signed before them. We need transparency and enforcement to ensure that every country is meeting its emission responsibilities. Most importantly, we need to build in strong commitments for equity and environmental justice. This means the creation of a climate fund to provide developing nations and the frontline communities the technological and strategic resources needed to successfully adapt and mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change and allow these communities to leapfrog into clean renewably powered societies. This is what we must ask our governments to champion in Paris.
Above all, Paris gives us hope that we will be able to transform our economies and societies to tackle the greatest threat to our future generations and move us towards a just and equitable world for all.
This summer I had the awesome opportunity to go to Wales to attend an Environmental DNA (eDNA) conference and workshop at Bangor University. To be honest, I had no idea what eDNA was, why anyone should care, or even why I was going before I started my program (but I was going first class so did it even matter?). But I am really glad I did because eDNA is one of the most exciting new scientific method for studying biology and the environment and I hope to use it during my PhD.
So what is eDNA? What is that Jay? Well eDNA is officially any piece of DNA that can be amplified directly from the environment, essentially water, air, soil, ice, and blood counts too for some reason. Apparently when organisms move around through the water or soil they leave behind hundreds of cells (maybe free pieces of DNA?), which end up being free floating in the environment (next time I swallow sea water I will be reminded of all the lovely pieces of eDNA and Enterococcus I am eating). Scientists can the extract the DNA from these free floating cells collected from the environment, just like they would any other animal. What makes this so revolutionary, is that now a scientist walk into a river or stream with a glorified bucket, extract, amplify, and sequence the DNA and boom (after lots of hours of bioinformatics work): we know which animals, microbes, plants, you name it are living in there.
Of course we need to already have DNA sequences of all the organisms that do live there, and we have to do a lot more testing to figure out how long eDNA can last in the environment and how much eDNA comes off of different organisms, but the potential for eDNA to revolutionize ecology and environmental science is there and the technology to do this is only going to get better and better (unless of course we get a Walking Dead Scenario or El Niño washes California away).
Current methods for surveying biodiversity are fun. But they are REALLY time intensive, and expensive, and they require a ton of taxonomic expertise, and they are hard to repeat. eDNA offers a rapid and affordable method for evaluating biodiversity. (Currently it costs about ~$200 an eDNA sample, but as sequencing technology becomes cheaper and cheaper, this price is only going to go down)
Thus eDNA is an especially important method for looking at marine and aquatic ecosystems, because now we have the tools to rapidly and affordably survey the entire biodiversity of an area. Now we can relatively easily compare marine biodiversity of dozens if not hundreds of sites to look at patterns of biodiversity and what forces shape them, which has been a long time interest of my lab. And for me personally, I think that the greatest potential for this technique is to observe how human impacts are causing changes in marine biodiversity and ecosystem function. With eDNA, I hope to investigate the synergistic effects of global (ocean acidification and climate change) and local (overfishing, habitat degradation, pollution) human impacts on marine ecosystems. We know quite a bit how overfishing can wreck an ecosystem, that ocean acidification is threatening to make large parts of the ocean uninhabitable for calcifying organisms, and that nutrient runoff from over-fertilized farms and sewage treatment plants can lead to massive coastal dead zones. But what happens when you add all three into the pot? (My guess is that is isn't good). Still, this is incredibly important information that coastal managers need to know to protect our marine ecosystems into the future.
So eDNA looks like the metagenomic tool that marine biologists have been looking for. I hope to use eDNA to rapidly assess fish and microbe biodiversity of the Channel Islands and Santa Monica Bay during and after this Chuck Niño to look at how marine protected area design affects ecosystem resilience and what California's marine ecosystems might look like under further climate change (Yellow bellied sea snakes?!?).
Plus it's potentially an amazing opportunity for citizen science as almost anyone can collect a bucket of seawater.
And one day in the distant future little robots might swim the seas, collecting eDNA and sequencing it, pinging back the entire biodiversity of the ocean every couple of hours. Then we can finally find where the Grunion go and where the giant squid like to party. I can't wait.
After observing the desiccated drought stricken weed patch that was my backyard and naively thinking I knew something about farming because I read the Martian and lived with a farm scientist for two years, I decided to plant a garden. If you need advice on how not to do a garden, then you should follow exactly what I did. After a lovely and always confusing trip to homedepot my dad and I bought two raised garden beds and some soil and a turntable composter. So as a scientist who thought he knew what he was doing, I purchased the exact volume of soil needed to fit the beds. Except that's not how soil works apparently. It squishes. It compacts. And after dumping the 50 pounds of glorified organic dirt (with BAT GUANO!), the beds were barely half full. So back to the
The Compost on the other hand...
I like bugs. I think they are awesome. I am all about spiders and praying manti and who doesn't like butterflies? But there are a few insects who I would be ok with if they went extinct. Mosquitos are one. And the other are but now were fruit flies.
So after deciding to science the shit out of this organic composter, I began to notice maggots, sorry I mean baby flies (hard to be PC). At first there were a couple and I thought that in this oppressive heat, they would be baked alive, a well deserving end for them. But they didn't. They just kept coming like an episode of Walking Dead. And despite the 100 degree weather in SANTA MONiCA! (yes if we go 5 degrees above or below 75 our bodies shut down entirely) But the baby flies did not care. And clearly my composter clearly was not reaching doing what I thought it was supposed to do. But after some research (garden bloggers are a weird cult) it turns out that those bastard maggots were little black soldier flies larvae (Hermetia illucens) that were churning out compost like nobodies business. So despite my expert farm advice from some friends/dorks at Stanford (go figure), the seething mass of loveliness is actually exactly what I want. Now actually handling the compost and putting it on plants is not what I want. Ever. It is a fate as bad as wielding the mung knife at S@S. I have nightmares just thinking about it.
So I short, this marine biologist is starting a slow, hopefully environmentally friendly, conquest of the terrestrial biome. The urban Gardner brigade won't know what hit them.
Forget the Godzilla El Niño, 2015 is about to be remembered for a full blown Chuck Niño. Those Californians who prayed to the weathers gods for this El Niño are about to be real sorry. The NOAA heat map of temperature anomalies across the Pacific and Atlantic are a deep deep red, and that is a terrible sign for our oceans. The last time the Pacific looked like this, we lost over 15% of coral cover globally.
If this sounds terrifying, it's because it is. This is more frightening than having to watch every Dane Cook stand up routine in a row. In the map above you can see Hawaii is bathing in the disturbing blob of maroon"Alert Level 2" waters, which signifies that coral mortality is likely, and it's ONLY OCTOBER. NOAA expects these temperatures to last at least another 4 months. Corals are tough though, they can rebound from minor bleaching events by change symbiont types to more heat tolerant ones and they can even acclimatize to higher temperatures. And some really tough corals have even evolved to handle increased bleaching stress like the ones I studied in American Samoa. But the vast majority of corals cannot withstand the repeated roundhouse kicks to the face of Chuck Niño's fiery water temperatures we are seeing across the Pacific and Atlantic.
Recently NOAA and other scientists reported bleaching from Keys to 40 miles north of Miami at alarmingly high rates. Some reefs have even lost 50% coral cover. 2015 is shaping up to be remembered as one of the worst bleaching events in recorded history.
Chuck Niño 2015 is giving us a taste of full blown climate change. Let's hope he grants corals some mercy.
Every family has its traditions, and for my family, all of our traditions are centered around food. Birthdays, holidays, and get togethers in the Gold family always mean one thing: good food. And this love of food did not pass me. In high school my buddies and I had a mission to eat at every Korean bbq restaurant in LA, and by the end of it, we probably ate our own body weight in bulgogi.
So how did a carnivorous foodie like me, all of the sudden give up meat and become a vegetarian for the past two years?
Well if there is anything I love more than food, it’s the ocean. Scuba diving, surfing, studying marine biology; my whole life is centered around the oceans. So when I discovered that my late night Inn n out runs were leading to the loss of coral reefs, creation of dead zones in all the world oceans, and threatening public health and fisheries around the world, I found myself in the midst of a midlife crisis at the age of 18.
So like any teenager with a smart phone, the first thing I did was google it. And the numbers didn’t lie. I found out that it takes 1800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, while apples only take 80. That’s thousands of gallons that had to be diverted from rivers and estuaries that fish like salmon and steelhead need to spawn. And in a drought year like this where every drop counts, how can these fish and the people that depend on them afford to lose this water?
And worse, I learned that our over-use of fertilizers to feed our livestock have lead to massive amounts of nutrients entering into our rivers and oceans. These nutrients fuel enormous algae blooms that eventually decompose, sucking all the oxygen out the water, creating dead zones where there is so little oxygen fish can’t breathe. And this isn’t an isolated event. There are over 400 permanent dead zones around the world because of nutrient runoff from poor agricultural practices and farming animals. The Largest dead zone in the US is at the mouth of the Mississippi River, which causes over $10 billion dollars in damages to fisheries and tourism a year.
By this point I was regretting the sausage pizza I had just eaten before reading all of this. But it didn’t stop there. I found out that beef has 13 times higher carbon emissions per pound than vegetables do, let alone the fact that meat production is the world’s leading methane emitter, a green house gas 21 times more potent than CO2. I had no idea that my eating habits were directly supporting the largest green house gas emitting industry in the world, more than all of the worlds transportation emissions combined. To say the least, I was shocked to find out that every meal I ate was increasing global temperatures, acidifying the ocean, and raising sea levels.
I had no idea that I was threatening the very existence of coral reefs. An ecosystem that serves as a nursery for a quarter of all fish species, an ecosystem that generates tens of billions of dollars in tourism revenues, and an ecosystem that provides a billion people their only source of protein.
To me the choice was simple. How I ate, breakfast, lunch and dinner, was polluting the places I love most in the world, and I could not let that happen. Fortunately for the planet and for me, this is a problem that I can actually do something about, three times a day. I can trade a burger for tofu curry, or tacos for a Greek salad, while better protecting public health and ocean ecosystems. And I didn’t even have to sacrifice that much, I can still eat Sprinkles cupcakes.
To me it’s a no brainer that we need to fix the way eat so that we can live in a sustainable world that protects the oceans and all of us who depend on it for food, fun, and the air we breath. I’m not asking you to stop eating meat, though your doctor and planet would greatly appreciate it, but I am asking you to think about your food choices and to spread the word so that we can start to make the world a better place, one meal at a time. That’s what I did, and now 20 of my friends are vegetarian because of it. Today my family doesn’t eat beef or pork. And our family reunions have as great of food as ever while protecting the oceans and the places we love.