Alina Szmant, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, University of Miami
Robert Ginsburg, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, University of Miami
Lori Arguelles, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Jim Bohnsack, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA
Richie Moretti, Director, Sea Turtle Hospital
Devon Quirollo, Reef Relief
Craig Quirollo, founder, Reef Relief
This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.
MARY GRAY DAVIDSON: [with sound of breaking waves in the background] This is Common Ground. Arthur C. Clarke once observed, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when clearly it is Ocean.” A photograph of our planet taken from outer space confirms Clarke’s observation. For what you see is a mostly blue sphere, seventy percent of its surface covered by water. But, as we are terrestrial creatures, we’ve known relatively little about our own planet.
LORI ARGUELLES: The ocean is also the next frontier of exploration and discovery. And there’s a lot that we don’t know about the ocean. There are many species that we have never seen, nor recorded. Until about three years ago, when there was a new map that was released of the ocean floor, we actually knew more about the surface of other planets than we knew about the surface of our own.
DAVIDSON: 1998 has been designated the International Year of the Ocean. On this edition of Common Ground—note the terrestrial title—we examine the condition of the oceans and our relationship to them. Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It’s produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
DAVIDSON: [with background sounds of people fishing from a ship] In 1996 alone, 17 million recreational fishers spent more than $9 billion on fishing activities. These sport fisherman are on a charter boat out of San Francisco, hoping to land some prize tuna. [more sounds of people fishing] That 60-pounder was about as big as they come. Albacore is not that common in these waters, but an unusual spell of warm water last September, when this group was fishing, brought exotic species like albacore tuna close to the California coast. Americans on average ate 15 pounds of fish and shellfish last year. It’s not a huge part of our diet, but it is a significant industry, especially in the coastal regions. Commercial and recreational fisheries support more than 1.3 million jobs and added more than $20 million to the Gross Domestic Product in 1996. However, many important fish species the world over have been over-fished and their stocks depleted. Jim Bohnsack, a wildlife fisheries biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (or NOAA), has witnessed some dramatic changes.
BOHNSACK: In many areas we know there’s been depletion. In some areas we have no historical data to know what the conditions were like. We know mass spawning aggregations of things like Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean have totally disappeared, you know, in our lifetimes. And it’s a considerable problem. But one very good example is data we have from Puerto Rico in 1931, showed there were 1,400 fisherman; nowadays there are not that many more, about 1,800 fisherman. But 1930 they caught 3 million pounds of fish. And here in 1990 they actually caught 2.3 million pounds. So they actually had less fish now than they did back in 1931. And, but back then there was only 711 boats. Today there are 1,197 boats. But the interesting thing is in 1931 only 9 boats had motors. All the other boats were sailboats or canoes. So with very primitive fishing techniques they were actually catching more fish than they are now. Which shows, you know, a major change.
But also the species have changed. The species they’re catching now are things they couldn’t catch then. Deep water fish. So they’ve totally cleaned out, or you know, almost, you know, eliminated many of the species from shallow water. So they’re very rare.
DAVIDSON: And I remember hearing an interview fairly recently about fishing conditions—I think it was off of Canada, the St. George’s Banks, or that area where the cod population was….
BOHNSACK: Well, cod is a classic. This is a fishery that went on for 500 years. And at the height they were landing about 800,000 metric tons a year of fish. Incredible quantities of fish. It’s a fishery they thought they would, you know, never have any problems. And within a period of 2 or 3 years it collapsed here in the early 1990s. And whole areas of countries in Canada are devastated by the economy, lack of fish. `Cause their economy is based on cod fishing. So it’s a worldwide phenomenon. It’s not just here. It’s almost anywhere.
DAVIDSON: According to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the take of wild fish from the sea peaked in the 1989, at 82 million metric tons and has been slowly falling since. They attribute this to the historic open access rule of the sea, in which anybody and everybody can take as much as the want. But since 1970, the world’s fishing fleet has doubled and gradually small boat commercial fishing has been replaced by huge factory trawlers. Commercial fishing used to mean subsistence fishing and in many developing nations that’s still the case. But it’s no longer the norm. And Jim Bohnsack is in favor of instituting “no-take zones” in the oceans where fishing will be completely off-limits.
BOHNSACK: We are talking about the same thing we did on land. We used to have range land; everybody used the range land. And we found it didn’t work and people started fencing it and managing it separately. We’re doing the same thing in the ocean. And like on land, there’s areas we hunt and don’t hunt, we want to do the same thing in the ocean. There’s areas we fish and areas we don’t fish. Even though fishing is extremely important, it’s extremely important, it doesn’t mean we should fish everywhere. There’s no biological theory says we should exploit all areas; there’s no economic theory says we should exploit all areas; there’s no social theory supporting that. So, by setting some areas aside we actually can provide more fish for the fisherman to catch. And that’s part of the educational process. Once fisherman understand their options, what they can really do about it—and many of them are seeing problems with fishing—it becomes a very attractive alternative.
DAVIDSON: Well, how much area do you need for one of these replenishment zones to be effective?
BOHNSACK: It depends on the habitat, local conditions, and species, obviously. And that’s something we’re still learning about. But the important part we do recognize is that we’re talking about substantial areas. These aren’t going to be tiny little areas like a little park, or for people to see fish or something. These will need to be large areas. And we’re talking in the order of maybe 20% of the continental shelf, maybe should be set aside as no-take areas to give us the maximum production for fisheries. This will actually produce more fish. We actually have some good data. In the Philippines there’s an area: they closed about 25% of the reef to fishing; there fishing went up 50%. The reason being is you’re allowing fish to grow up and breed. And a big fish produces many more eggs than a little fish. Unlike mammals and birds and people and almost any animal you can think of, fishes produce more eggs as they get bigger. Millions of them. And it’s exponential. And I’ll give you an example of what I mean by exponential. A 10-year-old red snapper, she weighs about 25 pounds, she’s 60 centimeters long, produces 9 million eggs. If we had the rule of thumb, we’ll let them reproduce and then we’ll harvest them, it takes a fish that’s 2-4 years old—about 40 centimeters long, a pound-and-a-quarter—it takes 212 of those females to produce 9 million eggs. So one big fish is worth 212 little ones. And that’s the hard part. Our job is to make sure enough of those fish get big and breed to maintain the population.
DAVIDSON: You said earlier that we should probably set aside 20% of the continental shelf as no-take zones. What percentage currently has been set aside?
BOHNSACK: Yes. Infinitesimally small. [laughs] Not even 1%. I mean it’s obvious when we cut down the forest or we kill the buffalo, they’re not there. We clean all the fish out of the ocean, must people don’t know the difference, `cause they don’t see the effect. They don’t see that they’re missing. They don’t spend much time underwater. But it’s only in the last like 20-30 years we’ve really gotten a lot of time to see underwater, both with diving and some other technology as submersibles. But you go into a national park, it’s expected you’re not going to shoot the buffalo; you don’t pick firewood; you don’t pick the flowers. But you can go fishing. Like fish don’t count. They’re part of the system. And we’re realizing now that fish do count. And we do need to offer some protection. And actually Henry David Thoreau said it I think well. “In wildness is the preservation of the world.” And what need we need to do is return some of our areas into the wildness.
DAVIDSON: More and more governments and industry from around the world are waking up to the need for sustainable fishing practices and generally treating the oceans better. This summer President Clinton attended the National Oceans Conference in Monterey, California, to highlight the importance of oceans in all our lives.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Our oceans are the key to the life support system for all creatures on this planet. From the giant tube worms in deep sea vents to cactuses in the most arid deserts. In our daily lives the oceans play a crucial role. They can drive our climate and our weather; El Niño taught us all about that and made people in Northern California wonder if the sun would ever come back, for a while. They allow us global mobility for our armed forces. The fish from the sea are among the most important staples in our diet. And as the Vice President has just said, through fishing, shipping, and tourism, the oceans sustain 1 in 6 American jobs.
ARGUELLES: Well, I think there are lots of people who agree that in 1998 we need to really be focusing on the ocean; the importance of the ocean in our daily lives. And looking at it as not the infinite resource that can take whatever we dish out.
DAVIDSON: Lori Arguelles works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration office in Washington, DC, promoting the U.S. participation in the International Year of the Ocean and raising awareness about the importance of oceans, even to those who don’t live on the coasts.
ARGUELLES: We are beginning to realize that the ocean does have a finite capacity not only for the resources that we extract, but also the kinds of things that we dump into it and how we treat the ocean. We have five things that we like people to keep in mind. One is that the ocean is vital to life on Earth. We are literally alive here on this planet because we have the ocean. Another thing that we like people to remember is that the ocean affects us every day, in some way. No matter where we live. Let me give you a couple of examples. Climate: the ocean is a major force in determining what our climate is like and climate results in rainfall or lack thereof. So even if you live in the heartland of the country, the ocean is kind of the birthplace for the climate patterns that give those life-giving rains that nourish the crops that feed us. So there’s a cycle here that’s very important for people to recognize.
Additionally the ocean is also a source not only of protein in the form of fish, but also major products that are in our lives every day, come from our lives day, including probably most prominently kelp products. Carnageen comes from kelp, and carnageen is found in everything from the toothpaste you use to brush your teeth in the morning to the ice cream that you might like to eat in the evening. It’s in peanut butter, it’s in just about every common product in your home today.
In addition to that approximately 95% of all goods that are imported into this country and exported from this country are transported by the ocean. So it is essentially a global highway. And if we didn’t have that global highway products would be either way more expensive than they are now or they might not get to their source. So those are a couple of key ways that the oceans affects us. And it doesn’t matter where you live in the country, those are things that affect all of us.
Now, the harder connection sometimes to make is how we affect the ocean. And we affect the ocean in a number of different ways. By our decisions about what we put on our dinner plates. And nobody advocates not eating fish. But be wise in the fish that you do eat. Recognize that many of our species are over-fished. And that orange roughy and swordfish and some forms of tuna and some forms of salmon are very much in danger right now. And so make your choices wisely about the type of fish that you eat. We ask people to become educated about things like this. So resource extraction is one way that we as individuals affect the ocean. And again, it doesn’t matter where you live in that regard.
Another way that we affect the ocean is literally in what we dump down our drains. And again it doesn’t matter if you’re in Kansas City or in Key West, Florida. The same principle applies. Because those household pesticides that you might be dumping down, your extra cleaning products, or even motor oil that doesn’t get recycled, all ends up going into a drain that eventually ends up in the ocean.
DAVIDSON: As far as the fish that we might put on our dinner table, I read an article recently in the New York Times that pointed to a direct result of the over-fishing problem that we are now eating lower on the fish chain.
ARGUELLES: We used to eat at the top of the food chain. We used to eat the biggest fish. But we’ve over-fished those species, in many instances almost to the point of extinction. And so we’re going down and we’re essentially eating what used to be considered trash fish.
DAVIDSON: The bait.
ARGUELLES: The bait. Exactly.
DAVIDSON: That was what really struck me in the article, was the popularity, I guess you could say, of squid.
ARGUELLES: Exactly. Well, the other thing that’s kind of an interesting, I guess in indentured servant days they had it in their contracts that they wouldn’t be fed lobster more than 3 times a week. Well, of course lobster is now considered a delicacy. But it is a bottom feeder; it was considered a trash fish 100 years ago. So it’s interesting what goes in and out of vogue. But it’s not so much a fashion choice on the food front anymore as it is literally a choice of necessity. I mean, there’s something called dog fish out in the Northeast, in the Atlantic. And that was a bait fish for a very long time. And skate—would never have thought of eating those as fish. But because cod and haddock and halibut are so over-fished, there aren’t a lot of opportunities, there aren’t a lot of alternatives. And so that’s where we’ve ended up.
And it’s important, one of the other key messages that we really want people to be aware of in this Year of the Ocean, is that the ocean’s resources are finite. And there is an end to what we can take from the ocean. And again, we don’t advocate not taking. But we advocate wise use. And sustainable use. And looking to what needs to happen for the next generation.
And the final message of the five that we have that we’d really like people to remember, in addition to the ocean is vital to life on Earth, the ocean affects us every day, we affect the ocean every day, ocean resources are finite; the ocean is also the next frontier of exploration and discovery. And there’s a lot that we don’t know about the ocean. There are many species that we have never seen, nor recorded. And so there’s a great deal of excitement about getting down and really doing an assessment of what is there in the ocean. Because we don’t know. Until about three years ago, when there was a new map that was released of the ocean floor, we actually knew more about the surface of other planets than we knew about the surface of our own, because approximately 70% of our planet is covered by water. And that’s a difficult barrier to break and get down and actually see what the sea floor looks like. But there are a lot of exciting things down there. [interview ends with background sounds of breaking waves and a foghorn]
DAVIDSON: You’re listening to a special report on the International Year of the Ocean, from Common Ground, radio’s weekly program on world affairs. When we return we’ll meet a man who’s devoted his life to saving endangered sea turtles.
RICHIE MORETTI: The turtles that come into the Turtle Hospital, and considering the cases that are really bad where they come in with both eyes completely gone, we’re able to save about half the ones that come in here.
DAVIDSON: Common Ground is sponsored by the Stanley Foundation, a non-partisan organization that also publishes the monthly magazine World Press Review. The Stanley Foundation works to provoke thought and encourage dialogue about the world. Printed transcripts and audio cassettes are available of this Common Ground program; at the end of the broadcast, I’ll give you details on how you can order.
MORETTI: This is our receiving area back here, where the turtles come in. And they’re just like us when we go to the doctor, except they get washed first. But we wash them, we weigh them, measure them, take their incoming x-rays, develop the x-rays. If there’s no tumors inside then we go to the next step which is to draw blood. We run the blood through our blood chemistry machines and then if they appear to be in good shape we move them in here, where we use all the same equipment that they would use on you and I if we had surgery. In fact one of the things….
DAVIDSON: This hospital, mid-way down the Florida Keys, has an exclusive clientele: sea turtles. The founder of this all-volunteer rescue organization is Richie Moretti, a native of New Jersey and a former auto mechanic who says he came to Florida over a decade ago to kill fish and ended up staying to save animals.
MORETTI: People always ask me how a Volkswagen mechanic sets up a turtle hospital. It’s actually pretty similar. They come in broken and our job is to fix them. Where when I fixed cars it was finding the best mechanics and the best parts, when you fix turtles it’s finding the best veterinarians and the best medicines.
DAVIDSON: Is there a growing demand? Are you seeing more and more turtles?
MORETTI: Absolutely. Florida and particularly the Florida Keys is where the environment and tourism bump heads. We still have a lot of protected and endangered species in the Keys. And we also have a lot of tourism. So unfortunately the animals get beat up pretty good in the middle.
DAVIDSON: The Turtle Hospital is funded by a small motel that Moretti runs next door.
MORETTI: One of the things I’d like to see in pristine areas like the Keys, is a tourist industry that brings visitors to the Keys should help mitigate some of the damages those visitors cause with their fishing line and their plastic bags and that sort of thing. So I like it particularly that my little motel can fund the turtle hospital. And that way the tourists are paying for the damage they do in the area. Like I tell our guests, “when you come to Paradise and you turn the light on, the wire that brings that power to the motel, there’s some bird running into it as we speak. And he’s going to get a broken wing and it’s going to cost money to fix it.” So.
DAVIDSON: Outside the hospital building an orange and white ambulance awaits the next emergency call. And next to the shore is the hospital’s recovery center, an old salt-water swimming pool now divided into sections for various stages of rehabilitation.
MORETTI: [with background sound of running water] After surgery we keep the turtles in a round tank that holds 600 gallons of water. And we keep them here for three months and check them daily. After that they go in one of these quads behind us that are about 20’x20′, and the turtles will spend the next three months in here. Then the last 6 months they’ll spend out in that large area of the pond where we don’t handle them at all, to get them ready to go back into the wild.
This little loggerhead you’re looking at, he’s got some foam in his lung; he’s suffering from pneumonia. We’re trying to reduce that right now, because as you can see it’s very uncomfortable and it’s causing these granulomas at the base of his neck. And that’s from the skin being pinched between the shell and skull. So once this, we can get this foam out of the lung then the turtle will be able to go down.
And this little guy over here is a reef turtle. And it’s a hawk’s bill. And when I took a picture his intestines are all full of lobster shells. So as soon as he passes all those lobster shells and his intestines look clear then we can let him go, because his blood shows there’s really nothing wrong with him. But if those lobster shells don’t pass then we have a problem. And that’s one of the problems we’re having with turtles; some of their normal foods are gone and the things they’re eating are hurting them. In Central Florida Mike Walsh at Sea World is seeing turtles that are stuffed with oyster shells. And they become impacted with oyster shells. That’s not a normal food, but it’s something to eat when there’s nothing else. And in the Keys what we see our loggerheads stuffed with is short-spined sea urchins. And it actually plugs their intestines up and it looks like shredded wheat. We found a great way to fix them though; we give them Metamucil for 90 days then we take them for a bumpy ride on the golf cart. It works great.
DAVIDSON: More and more Moretti has been taking in turtles that are suffering from a disease called fibropapilloma.
MORETTI: The biggest problem that we see coming into the Keys is we’ve been watching the disease fibropapilloma develop from something that was cosmetic and slightly debilitating, back in the early `80s. Turtles used to come in with one singular tumor. And in fact we treated it like the old cattle warts where you’d tie it off with monofilament fishing line and every day tighten it until the wart would fall off. And now the turtles that are coming in, probably 75-95% of their soft tissue is covered with tumors. Their eyes are covered, their neck, their flippers. Actually the tumors are growing through the margins of their shell, both on the top and the bottom. So the disease has definitely gotten a lot worse. And like most viruses it keeps mutating which makes it hard to get a handle on it. But it certainly is getting worse. And in the last couple of years it’s shown up on every species of turtle world-wide.
DAVIDSON: What happens to a turtle who has these tumors? Is it, I mean, you said some of them cover their eyes. What happens to their ability to survive in the wild?
MORETTI: Most of the tumors, most of the turtles that get these tumors in the wild die. And over 50% of the greens in Florida, Hawaii and other areas are affected by it. So the green sea turtle is already an endangered species, so this may push them to the brink of extinction if we don’t find some answers relatively soon.
DAVIDSON: Do they die because they can’t see within the ocean and gather food, or what exactly is the reason they die?
MORETTI: We’ve seen these tumors kill the turtles in numerous ways. The most obvious is the tumors get over the eyes and then they starve to death. And unfortunately they don’t do it quickly. When they starve to death they’ll actually dissolve most of their body. It’s really sad because it does take them a year to die and they starve very slowly.
DAVIDSON: And even in here you aren’t able to feed them so that they stay alive.
MORETTI: The turtles that come into the Turtle Hospital, and even considering the cases that are really bad where they come in with both eyes completely gone, and they’re so emaciated as I say, the skeleton is protruding through the shell, we’re able to save about half the ones that come in here.
DAVIDSON: Why do you feel it’s important to rescue these turtles and protect the turtle population in general?
MORETTI: Maybe by studying them—and we are studying them—we might be able to find out why all the other species that looked a lot more fit were not able to survive. We want to find out what the turtle did right to last 200 million years and what the dinosaurs did wrong. So I think it’s real important. And if we can save the sea turtle, you know almost every disease we see showing up on wild animals show up later on people. So maybe if we can fix this disease, this virus, and it does appear to be a herpes virus, it, maybe we can fix it in the animals; it might help us find a cure in people. Because animals are a lot less complicated. They’re not confused by emotion. They don’t even know they have tumors. They don’t even know they’re not normal.
DAVIDSON: Fibropapilloma is taking a toll on turtle populations the world over, Moretti says.
MORETTI: Florida Bay is over 50%—these are on greens—I think Komeone?? Bay in Hawaii is even higher than that; I think Barbados with 95%. It seems the hotter the area and these are usually turtles that are in in-shore waters that are shallow, and in some cases we have a lot of pollution, run-off from different, like in Indian River they have run-off from orange and citrus industry, in Hawaii they have run-off from pineapple industry. So, but then we have areas that have no industrial run-off and we’re still seeing the tumors in those areas as well. As I say the scary thing is now every turtle in the world, every specie is showing a lesion that looks exactly like this. We’ve only been able to this point to compare the loggerhead and green sea turtle. And the scientists that have looked at them have said there’s no discernible difference.
DAVIDSON: And you said that the rise in incidence of the tumors correlates with the rise in temperature of the ocean. Do you have some particular thoughts about why we’re seeing this current temperature rise in the ocean?
MORETTI: I think the temperature rise in the ocean, I mean we hear a lot about global warming and a lot of things that can be causing it. And I don’t want to put the hat on any one thing. But the disease is getting worse. All the scientific papers written over the last 100 years, the dates of these papers, which must coincide with outbreaks of the disease, coincide with spikes in the surface temperature of the ocean. I think that’s trying to tell us something.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We’ve just learned that our oceans are the warmest they’ve been in 104 years. That’s as long as we’ve been taking their temperature. It must be longer, since we now know that the five hottest years since 1400 have all occurred in the 1990s and if the first five months are any indication, this will be the hottest year ever measured. We know that greenhouse gasses are heating our planet and our oceans. Fortunately we have learned that along with the ability to harm we also have the ability to heal. Through innovation and prudence we’ve proved we can clean the water, the air, protect marine sanctuaries and wildlife refuges, phase out deadly pesticides and ozone-eating chemicals. And do it while still producing the world’s strongest, most competitive economy. With partnerships and persistence we must extend this record of success to our oceans. If we want our children to inherit the gift of living oceans we must make the 21st Century a great century of stewardship of our seas.
DAVIDSON: President Clinton, speaking at the National Oceans Conference in California, this past June, during the United Nations’ International Year of the Ocean. For Common Ground I’m Mary Gray Davidson.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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