Thursday, 29 April 2010 08:58 Thriving Ocean Conservation
Written by Ava

"Why so involved in wildlife and ocean conservation?" I asked Scott Artis, conservationist extraordinaire, with 8 years in the Biotech realm and a degree in Environmental Sciences and Fisheries & Wildlife.

"Well, it's a calling that can't be fully or simply explained..."Scott answered, continuing to reiterate his love for marine and wildlife.

Regardless of how well he himself can explain his reasoning, Scott is proving to The Reef Tank and the rest of the world, that he loves it and he's in it to make a difference.  With two online conservation resources under his belt, it looks like he's going places.

Scott is the creator of JournOwl, a site that started as an online record to post his daily activities at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum and turned into a wildlife conservation log dedicated to promoting wildlife conservation and wlidlife news.  He also continues his own volunteerism to promote wildlife conservation.

This doesn't seem to be enough for Scott, as he also created Thriving Oceans.  Originally the online site of a nonprofit conservation organization, it evolved from an NGO to a website disseminating ocean news, opinions, conservation efforts, and research in a blog format.

The Reef Tank interviewed Scott to ask him about this very website and his latest efforts to promote ocean and marine conservation.

How did you get so involved in wildlife and ocean conservation?

Honestly, I can't remember a specific event that was the catalyst.  But even as a child I have always been captivated by terrestrial and marine wildlife and perhaps that is the underlying reason for who I am today.  I was drawn to environmental sciences in high school, strayed a bit in college at the behest of counselors by pursuing Micro and Molecular Biology, and returned 6 years later to do what I had wanted to do all along; complete a Fisheries and Wildlife Science degree.

So why so involved?  Well it's a calling that can't be fully or simply explained except to say that I love wildlife and their interactions with the habitat.  And that goes for ocean conservation especially as there is nothing more majestic than snorkeling a pristine coral reef, exploring recently revealed tide pools, or watching a sea turtle sun itself on the beach.  It's in my blood.

Why so gung-ho on conservation in general? Why is it so important to you?

It's our duty.  I firmly believe that we need to preserve the health of the entire system as a means to manage and conserve individual species (i.e. salmon, bluefin tuna) and resources (i.e. water quality). Historically, conservation and respect for natural resources were imperative to our survival.  But just because we have witnessed incredible technological advances does not mean we are no longer reliant on our environment.

But I am also not above admitting that healthy ecosystems are aesthetically pleasing and are valuable for that reason alone.  We are still a part of the system and I for one would rather gaze upon open waters than a garbage patch floating in the Pacific, for instance.

What are some of the biggest conservation issues facing our ocean, marine life?

It is unfortunate, but every day we see a new manifestation of each of these ocean issues crossing the headlines.  For lack of a better phrase, my biggest peeves are marine debris and overfishing.  Overfishing simply represents a lack of common sense and a failure to understand sustainable fisheries management.  It's all about short term profits.  Instead of looking back over the last 40 years at how unrestricted harvesting decimated Atlantic cod stocks for example, we continue with similar practices on other species.  And we end up with populations comprised of fish that are smaller, immature, and less abundant, which will ultimately harm profits, industry, jobs, and the environment.

Marine debris is simply an incredible worldwide problem.  It's so prolific that we find Texas-sized heaps swirling about the middle of the Pacific, we find it lining the beaches of uninhabited  islands, resting in the deepest parts of our oceans and inside mammals, birds, fish, and invertebrates. Immediate action is needed to halt this ever growing problem.

What steps do you take to conserve the marine world?

I organize and host coastal cleanups for communities and schools, give classroom presentations, routinely contact representatives and decision makers, and use my blogs as tools to get people excited about conservation, circulate news and introduce the latest ocean and fisheries science research.

I also make time to hand out Seafood Watch lists at local seafood festivals, volunteer with local nonprofit groups and rehabilitation facilities, and I never pass up an opportunity to set a good example.  Being a good ocean steward means picking up that aluminum can on the beach or removing the plastic bag floating amongst the waves. Or as I recently discussed on Thriving Oceans regarding sea turtles, turning an encounter into a positive experience by talking with uninformed people about imperiled species.

What advice do you give to others who may not have the same resources that you do.

Ocean conservation begins at home and there are many easy things that can be done.  Keep a Seafood Watch list in your pocket and make responsible meal choices while shopping or dining out, participate in the International Coastal Cleanup Day, buy products with limited packaging, use cloth/reusable shopping bags, organize a family or neighborhood beach and/or stream cleanup, dispose of trash properly, do not put anything down storm drains, and help spread the word.  These are just a few of the many things that can be done to help our oceans.

Do these conservation issues concern plants too?

Most definitely!  And sometimes the conservation issue is actually the plant.  Although not quite biologically correct, for simplicity in this context we'll lump kelp into the plant kingdom as well.

A plant that immediately comes to mind and has been steadily receiving scientific attention over the last decade (and earlier) are seagrass beds.  Seagrass beds are in decline around the world largely due to coastal development, pollution and nutrient runoff resulting in poor water quality, and climate change.  Most people do not realize that our seagrass beds are vital to untold numbers of fish, birds, invertebrates, mammals and reptiles.  Seagrass beds are incredible habitats that provide shelter, filter waste, prevent erosion, and feed manatees and green sea turtles.  And let's not forget that they support commercial and local fisheries.

On the other side of the fence we have a kelp species that hitched a ride on shipping vessels and has now made the World's Worst Invasive Species List.  And as it continues to grow and spread, native plant and animal species are being pushed aside or are left competing for resources such as space, light and nutrients.

Pollution, climate change, marine debris, overfishing and development are not just impacting a few high profile species, but are negatively affecting entire ecosystems.

What is Thriving Oceans?

It's my ocean outlet and a worldly goal. Thriving Oceans represents the ideal situation; it's about sparking individual conservation action and ensuring healthy marine ecosystems for the future.  It's a place for sharing my love of the ocean, whether as photos, videos, stories, poems, news, research and commentary. And it all began as a program of a grassroots community nonprofit group I founded and ran from 2003-2007.

You also write about wildlife in JournOwl.  What are some of the problems facing fish in particular?

Salmon are indicators of the health of our streams, rivers, estuaries and oceans.  Perhaps this is why I always seem to come back to the salmon problem.   And in essence it involves some of the same issues that we see plaguing our oceans, which is not hard to imagine because of the biology of salmon and their relationship with fresh and saltwater environments.

The salmon crisis is the combination of many aspects that include pollution, invasive species, habitat degradation, introduction of hatchery fish which compete, transmit diseases, and spawn with wild populations, dams, pesticides, logging, alteration of waterways for agricultural, and less than stellar management strategies that began with the arrival of European settlers.  

It just seems that we are in the usual predicament of trying to prevent a last minute disaster as opposed to finding a long-term conservation solution.

What kinds of things can happen to the marine world if we don't start amping up our efforts for conservation?

The writing is already on the wall so to speak and it will only get worse if we ignore the message.  Declining seagrass beds, declining fisheries, declining coral reefs, ocean dead zones, enormous marine garbage patches, changing ocean chemistry and loss of biodiversity.  Everything is interconnected!  It just seems logical and cheaper to correct these problems now before it is completely out of control. It's preventative ocean maintenance.

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