Pumping Up the Volume

It’s been great being the NRDC’s guest blogger these past couple of weeks, and I’ve really appreciated all the responses. It’s time for outrage at what’s happening to our oceans and their magnificent inhabitants, and I’m glad to have helped fuel the fire. It seems a day can’t go by without something new that gets my blood boiling. This morning, it’s learning that the U.S. Coast Guard is using unspecified “national security” concerns as an excuse for not asking ship captains to slow down and be careful in areas where North Atlantic right whales have been sighted.

These are one of the planet’s most endangered species, with less than 300 remaining, and ship strikes – led by the Coast Guard and Navy – are the leading cause of death among right whales. Despite a plea for help from NOAA Fisheries, Admiral Thomas Collins (the Commandant) has responded that anything “regarding vessel speed or routing regulations” raises “national security” and other “policy interests” that “must be considered along with recovery of right whales.”

Besides ship collisions, whales, dolphins and fish already must run a gauntlet of military sonar and seismic air guns used in oil and gas explorations. Noise pollution in their invisible domain can be deafening. In recent months, marine mammal strandings have increased dramatically despite a growing outcry from scientists and environmental groups.

As Thoreau once wrote, “Who heeds the fishes when they cry?” Certainly not the current Bush administration. Indeed, a recent survey sent to more than 460 NOAA Fisheries scientists across the country revealed that 58 percent know of instances where high-level Commerce Department appointees “have inappropriately altered NOAA Fisheries determinations.” Unless the scientific findings suit the administration’s predetermined policies, they’re out the window.

And new federal guideines supposedly aimed at speeding up restoration of depleted fish stocks may have just the opposite effect. The way things stand now, fishery managers need to try to do this within a 10-year period. The new rules will stretch that time-frame for certain species, and likely result in still more overfishing. (The public may comment until August 22 on the proposed rule changes, click here for more information).

Meantime, a story this week out of Tokyo finds Iceland telling its pro-whaling ally Japan that maybe they could find a way to cooperate on resuming commercial whaling.

The beast seems to devour the beauty of this planet more voraciously every day. Should we call the situation hopeless? A good friend of mine has a phrase for how to live with the onslaught and keep fighting for what we love. She calls it “ambulatory hopelessness.” I’ll make that my rallying cry for the end of my first try at blogging. And thanks again for listening.

[Dick Russell will soon take part in a Writers-at-Large panel dicussion in Los Angeles: Writers of the Storm: Fake News, and Public Decency, in the Age of Terror. For a schedule of all his appearances around his new book Striper Wars, see www.dickrussell.org.]