Posted by: Bart Welling | September 3, 2011

Michele Braden’s First Blog

            I’m fortunate to live close enough to the beach to ride my bike to one of the not so visible access points located between the McMansions lining the boulevard in the town where I live. (I could go on and on about the sense of “place” and these structures, but I’ll save that for another blog.)  Usually, I’ll walk along the shoreline and look out upon the ocean that I find to be as beautiful as it is deadly.  I’ll stand at the water’s edge and admire the gradation of the colors of the sea.  How the water is relatively clear at the shoreline where the waves break and I can look down and see my feet. The farther out I look the deeper the colors become; sometimes green to dark green, gray to dark gray and finally inky dark blue.  This past weekend, while walking along the beach I came across a small dead crab that had been washed upon the shore and I thought to myself, “what fresh hell in the cycle of life did this creature endure before meeting its final fate?”  Was the crab’s death the result of a natural predator or was it inflicted by man?

            In her book Under the Sea Wind Rachel Carson deftly combines scientific facts with an eloquent writing style and provides another dimension from which to view our world.  In an effort to communicate to us the value of ocean life and its processes, she takes us below the surface of the ocean most of us have only looked upon. The opening of the book is set in the darkness of night and I can’t help but think that as a general population we are all “in the dark” and are clueless about the ocean’s role as an integral part of our environment; or perhaps we just don’t care about the profound effect we are having on our environment.  Carson’s effective use of anthropomorphism injects fear into the heart of the reader when finding one’s self narrowly escaping the net of a trawler.  Overfishing as the result of these huge fishing nets and the disruption it causes to our ecosystems is becoming a serious issue with bycatch being recognized as one of the more serious modern day offenses against the environment. Without a healthy ecosystem fish cannot reproduce and grow and — in spite of what we may think — the ocean does not hold an endless supply of fish.

            According to the National Marine Fisheries Services (aka NOAA Fisheries) 90 fish species found off the shores of the U.S. have been depleted and many are in danger of being wiped out. www.savethefish.org.  When at the beach I usually see shrimp boats in the distance with enormous nets used for catching shrimp. Today’s technology allows fishermen to catch huge amounts of almost anything.  The amount of fish that is thrown away is absolutely mind boggling and that “anything” also becomes bycatch.  Perhaps well-designed “catch share” programs should be considered.  Currently, only 1% of global fisheries have adopted this management system and evidence is beginning to show that “catch share” programs can be effective; however, bycatch seems to be a problem with no easy solution

            Couple this overfishing with the empty water bottles and other garbage one encounters when walking the beach and it’s a surefire recipe for an ecological disaster. Just because we’re landlubbers and cannot survive under the sea without copious amounts of oxygen producing breathing equipment doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be environmentally conscious in looking after our oceans.  If not properly disposed of pollutants found lying on the beach can be easily swept out to sea on the next wave further disrupting the ecosystem.  Many of Jacksonville’s beach towns sponsor a “clean up the beach” day that may seem trivial, but in the grand scheme of things it is a worthy effort. The stewardship of our environment belongs to all of earth’s inhabitants. Our attitudes toward the environment need an adjustment.

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