Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Thoughts on a gloomy day

354366312_067aba5794_m.jpgOutside, the sun is non-existent. It's threatening to rain and the sky is that cold, grey colour that nothing seems to be able to affect. It's a dreary, gloomy day, so my thoughts are a bit somber.

That's probably why this new series in the Christian Science Monitor, called "Sea Under Siege: The Mediterranean" caught my eye today. It's a sobering (even depressing) tale about declining fortunes for the fishermen who ply their trade in the Mediterranean. Here's an excerpt:
For more than 50 years, the nearly two dozen countries bordering the Mediterranean have struggled to jointly manage the shared bounty of the sea, whose uniqueness makes managing this crisis both unusually difficult and extremely important.

But their efforts have stalled often amid the conflicting political and economic interests in this diverse region, which contains everything from the heavily subsidized Italian fleet – one of the biggest in the sea with more than 14,000 boats – to thousands of subsistence fishermen in Morocco.

The benefits of preservation are manifold, however, in this marine ecosystem, whose share of global biodiversity is eight times greater than its size.

Now, that diversity is threatened. According to the United Nations, 85 percent of species in the sea are already being fished at or above sustainable levels. Some are near commercial extinction.

Other species, like turtles, dolphins, and sharks, often caught accidentally in fishermen's nets, are also being driven toward extinction. A recent report by the World Conservation Union, which monitors endangered species, found that 42 percent of the sea's 71 shark and ray species are threatened or endangered – a global high. Fishing is the most serious threat, the report found.
This story line is not new. The past year has seen climate change, and its startling effects, become front-page fodder around the world. While the glare of media attention has benefits, it has a downside as well. We hear about things so much, we stop paying attention.

Last week, we heard a remarkable story about how the Antarctic ice sheet is melting much quicker than expected. And we know that the same thing is happening in the Arctic. But as fast as we heard about it, it was gone, relegated to the "yesterday's news" section. Let's move on to something else.

I'm as guilty as anyone. I was more interested in the new toys that Apple released at MacWorld than climate change. I mean, who wouldn't be? But this morning, the Steve Jobs "reality-distortion field" effect was wearing off and I'm letting my thoughts wander to a bigger picture. And the picture isn't as pretty as one might hope.

Sitting here in my home on Vancouver Island (thankfully a few metres above sea level) I'm struck by how real these changes are becoming and how soon their effects will be felt. The number of species in the ocean is declining, the waters are rising along with the temperatures. Storms are stronger, heat waves last longer -- what's going to happen? And what can we do about it? Gloomy thoughts indeed. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Photo credit: Rutty, found at his Flickr site. Published under a Creative Commons Licence.

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