Scientists have recently made critical new discoveries about some of the most ecologically significant waters in the United States: the Bering Sea canyons. With new information in hand, the case for Bering Sea conservation has never been stronger.
In more good news for ocean conservation, scientists have recently made critical new discoveries about some of the most ecologically significant waters in the United States: the Bering Sea canyons. Two new studies have mapped the area and its teeming “Green Belt” like never before, pinpointing the locations of fragile coral and sponge habitat in need of protection.
With this new information in hand, the case for protecting these key regions in the Bering Sea has never been stronger.
Two Studies Confirm Importance of the Green Belt
The first new study, by the Marine Science Institute at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Greenpeace, found that the Pribilof canyon is the most significant location for deep-sea corals and sponges along the entire eastern Bering Sea shelf. It also found that restricting destructive bottom-contact fishing methods in Bering Sea canyons would not have significant negative impacts on the fishing industry. With protections in place for coral and sponge habitat, Bering Sea fish and king crab populations could increase, as well.
“Despite comprising a very small percentage of the total study area, Pribilof canyon contains roughly half of the soft corals and sponge habitat in the entire region we examined,” said Robert Miller, a research biologist at UCSB and the paper’s lead author. “It’s clear that this remarkable habitat warrants protections to ensure the health of the surrounding ecosystem into the future.”
Shortraker rockfish, crinoids, brittle stars, basket stars, anenones and more, seen on the sea floor by a manned submersible, during undersea research of Zhemchug Canyon in the Bering Sea, off the Greenpeace support vessel M/V Esperanza.
Days earlier, NOAA scientists released another report with the results of their camera-drop survey of the Bering Sea slope—the highly productive zone known as the Green Belt. The study, requested by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, found that Pribilof canyon appears to contain half of the region’s coral, despite making up just 10 percent of the Green Belt zone. The habitat makes the canyon an important home for rockfish and king crab. Parts of Zhemchug canyon also stood out for their high amounts of sponge habitat.
All of this confirms the unique nature of the Green Belt area: nearly all of the coral and sponge habitat in the Bering Sea is found here, yet none of it has been protected.
Inside the Battle to Protect the Bering Sea
Managing America’s fisheries is big business—in 2011 the U.S. landed over 10 billion pounds of fish, worth more than 5 billion dollars. It’s also critical to the health of our oceans. If we take too many fish, the whole population can crash. If we destroy fish habitats, the ecosystem that wildlife and people alike depend upon could be irreversibly altered.
In Alaska’s Bering Sea, which accounts more than half of the seafood caught in the U.S., conservation groups have been urging protection for the Bering Sea canyons for more than a dozen years. In 2006, fishery managers concluded that little was known about the area, so they upheld status quo fishing and made learning more about the area a high priority for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.
For the first time in 2007, and again in 2012, Greenpeace led the first in-situ exploration of the canyons. The results of those studies should play an important role in informing the Council on this issue.
But it wasn’t until more than 200,000 individuals, indigenous organizations, NGOs and businesses urged the Council to do more that it called for additional government research.
Significantly, the Council heard from a group of stakeholders that have everything to gain from ensuring the conservation of our most valuable fishery resources—supermarkets. Eleven of our nation’s largest supermarket chains have called on the Council to address protections for the area, including Ahold, Costco, Giant Eagle, Hy-Vee, Roundy’s, Safeway, Southeastern Grocers, SUPERVALU, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, and Whole Foods Market. Bon Appétit recently brought the issue to Huffington Post readers, and arguably the largest purchaser of Alaskan pollock for filet-o-fish fare—McDonald’s—is the most recent company to call for action.
Now that fishery managers have the science they were waiting for, will they finally put conservation measures in place?
What Are We Waiting For? Protect the Bering Sea Canyons
Alaska’s fisheries hold a stellar reputation for being some of the best-managed resources in the world and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council prides itself on using the best available science to guide its decisions.
Well, the science is in. We know where the coral and sponge habitat is in the Bering Sea and we know it is extremely vulnerable to destructive fishing methods. The public—for whom these resources are managed—has spoken.
Now, the Council needs to listen to the people and to our government. NOAA’s strategic guidance instructs it to “protect areas containing known deep-sea coral and sponge communities from impacts of bottom-tending fishing gear.” The Mid-Atlantic Council took the lead on conserving corals and sponges in its canyons last month.
Now all eyes are on the North Pacific to do the same.
Jackie Dragon is a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace USA. Jackie has been campaigning to protect important places in the ocean since 2008. Her current focus is on the Bering Sea, where she fights to conserve the largest submarine canyons in the world from destructive industrial fishing practices.
Stop the Voyages to Hell: Whale-Friendly Tourists are not Welcome in the Danish Faroe Islands
Commentary by Sea Shepherd Founder, Captain Paul Watson
The ‘special’ new Grind Laws of the Faroe Islands make it a criminal offense for anybody to not report a pod of whales to the whalers. Photo: Sea Shepherd/Rosie KunnekeOne of the pods of pilot whales exterminated by the Faroese whalers earlier this summer was spotted and reported by a tourist because the “special” new Grind Laws of the Faroe Islands make it a criminal offense for anybody to not report a pod of whales to the whalers.
When tourists have been recruited into being accessories to the slaughter, it is time to discourage more tourists from being recruited.
The issue of cruise ships calling into the Faroes is fast becoming international news and now even the trade publications are pointing out the bad publicity for the cruise ship industry if they continue to call into the Faroe Islands.
Basically it’s, “Come to the Faroe Islands and help us kill whales and if your ship is opposed to whaling, you are not welcome in the Faroe Islands.”
The Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker is an EU Dutch-flagged ship that has arrived in the Faroe Islands from an EU Germany port with EU crew, but was denied entry. Never before has a ship from an EU nation been denied clearance by an EU nation (Danish Immigration).
What the Faroese are saying with this denial is that any ship opposed to the slaughter of the pilot whales is not welcome in the Faroe Islands, and this automatically makes any cruise ship that arrives in the Faroe Islands to be understood to support the horrific slaughter of pilot whales and dolphins.
In the Faroes, a ship now has no choice. Support the Grindadráp (murder of whales) or else. And if the cruise ships continue to stop at Faroese ports the public will begin to equate them with supporting this murderous Faroese obscenity.
AIDA, Hapag-Lloyd, P & O and Disney have already decided to avoid the Faroe Islands. We now have to convince the other cruise ship lines, and considering that Faroese law now makes tourists and cruise ship lines complicit in the slaughter it should not be hard to convince these corporations that docking in the Faroes is not a wise business move.
The text below is from the most recent newsletter by Jim Walker of Jim Walker’s Cruise Law News.
“There is a widespread and well-organized movement to boycott the Faroe Islands for its barbaric and heart-wrenching slaughter of pilot whales. Trouble is that most cruise lines tout the Faroes as a key port of call for their cruise ships. But an international coalition of mammal lovers, environmentalists and decent-hearted concerned citizens, organized by non-profits and the powerful and media-savvy Sea Shepherd organization, is making a change. Disney abandoned its plans to go there and three other lines, all European companies, announced that they will no longer support the Faroes in response to social media campaigns geared toward educating the public about the despicable whale slaughter.
But U.S.-based cruise lines are still sailing there regularly. Royal Caribbean, Azamara, NCL, Oceania, and Carnival-owned HAL and Princess all still plan on calling on the Faroe Islands. I have written about the deadly and disgusting practice here. The Faroese locals slit the throats of the little whales and rip the babies from their mothers. Don’t read the article if you are squeamish.
Disney was smart enough to get out of the way of the oncoming media blitz. It will maintain its reputation because of its awareness, just like it wisely assigned lifeguards to its pools and installed automatic man-overboard systems on its ships. But the Carnivals and Royal Caribbeans and NCLs are too CEO-egocentric and arrogant to figure out to avoid the train of public opinion coming their way.”
We need to make all the cruise ship lines that go or plan to go to the Faroes aware that there is a powerful movement to save the whales from being cruelly butchered on the beaches of the Faroe Islands.
This is not your usual story of going to the jungle to try Ayahuasca.
Instead, I was bringing a Hopi elder to meet with the ancient Q’ero People.
Few people realize that the Hopi Tribe of Northern Arizona have clans that are descendants of tribes from the northernmost to southernmost tips of the Americas (and quite possibly beyond that). The Q’ero are believed to be descendants of the Inca, who fled high into the Andes where they successfully hid from outsiders until recent decades. Kenosis Spirit Keepers had created the cultural exchange program, and Don Americo Yabar was playing a central role in translating between cultural leaders. I was brought along by Carla Woody to help document and assist my Hopi friend, Harold Joseph.
The giant stone remnants of Sacsayhuaman
Our first destination after reaching Cusco was the giant stone remnants of Sacsayhuaman, the historical capital of the Inca. An architectural marvel and modern day mystery, the walls are made of impossibly large stones that are beveled and stacked perfectly without mortar. Upon entering the site, my Hopi friend who had never been there before pointed and said, “We must go there and find a snake carving to make an offering before we explore the site.” He said that the structure was built to correspond to the tallest mountain and is oriented the same way they oriented the Hopi Villages on the Mesas. To my surprise he walked us directly to a a giant snake that had been built into the wall that fit his description where we made an offering of Hopi Corn.
Sacred sites and ceremony
Days later we had our first meeting with the Q’ero and Don Americo Yabar outside of Cusco. From here we all traveled together to sacred sites for ceremony and stories around the fire. I particularly enjoyed tagging along with Don Americo who is playful and poetic in his words, mannerisms and way of life. Being with him in nature reminded me of being a child, where the landscape surrounding us was alive and filled with stories.
Above: Harold Joseph (left), and Don Americo Yabar
Standing by a river he told me how the Inca had so much energy. He said that they never drew their energy from their own internal battery, instead they drew it from the stars, the land, all of the universe. He demonstrated, with eyes closed and palms open towards the raging white-water of the river:
“Breathe this power in through every pour in your body, through the palms of your hands, and the breath that enters your lungs. That is the power of the Inca, the power of the Andes.”
To this day I use this practice and feel that I have increased my ability to absorb energies from the land. Give it a try at a power spot near you. In our modern society based on individualism, we have cut ourself off from the greater source of life that surrounds us.
Chucuito fertility shrine
Another profound experience was visiting the ancient Chucuito fertility shrine with giant stone penises. I had seen the overtly sexual Inca carvings and artwork at gift shops along my travels and thought they were humorously perverse. Yabar looked at us as we stood in the shrine and said:
You’re bodies are very angry… 500 years of being told by the church that your natural urge for pleasure, connection, and procreation is sinful. Inca knew that there is no spiritual knowledge without first having a clear connection to nature and sexuality.
Standing behind us at the shrine was a church with a steeple that had penises on the top instead of a cross. Some say that the site is a hoax put there for tourists but the Inca were clearly uninhibited about sexuality.
Q’ero and Hopi Spirit Keepers Share Traditions
We are shaped by the stories we tell ourselves, the stories we believe, and the stories our culture tells us. Undoubtedly the Church, commercialism, and colonialism have influenced our thinking and our culture even if we are not actively religious. What would our society look like if we were taught to connect with the energies of nature, if pleasure and connection were considered sacred instead of sinful? Well I guess that sounds pretty ‘Pagan’ and I’m okay with that…