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Fisheries and Aquaculture news and feature stories
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World Oceans Day in Nanaimo

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World Oceans Day June 8, 2018, was established a few years ago so stated on the World Oceans Day website (http://www.worldoceansday.ca/), "World Oceans Day, June 8th, was declared by the United Nations at the urging of Canada. Oceans Week, June 1 - 8, was declared by the Board of World Oceans Day Canada in 2010." 

Annually, World Oceans Day recognizes oceans cover 70 percent of the surface of the earth, a vast and continuous body of salt water. To celebrate this special day, my family visited a small event held in Nanaimo. It  bore no comparison to the enormity of the sea that surrounds us on Vancouver Island, a sometimes endless vista teeming with invisible life.

Did you know 99% of ocean is living space for the animals that inhabit those waters whereas on land, most of the 30 percent of the earth's surface is either inaccessible or uninhabitable? The ocean is earth's heart and soul. June 8th is a day to learn what we can do to protect oceans, something we should put more thought and more importantly action into every day.

Coral reefs have been around for 450 million of years. They are life-filled kaleidoscopes. Thousands of species of coral, cays, fish, molluscs, and other creatures can be found on a coral reef. One of the most popular and incredibly diverse coral reefs is Australia's Great Barrier Reef, 1400 km long.

It has deservingly earned a spot as a truly spectacular biological empire filled with colour, bizarre multicolored neon bright bold beautiful animals, some which masquerade as plants, fish that change sex, exotic blooms, sea cucumbers, alien forms. Whale sharks acting as huge water filters feeding 12 tonne bodies on microscopic plankton. Sea snakes, turtles. And so much more that lies beyond the scope of imagination.

You may never be lucky enough to see the Great Barrier Reef in your lifetime but it is there nevertheless. So, is there a coral reef here in our nearby ocean? Yes, coral reefs are not just confined to warmer waters. Off the coasts of Canada there are two known coral reefs. The rocky reefs in the Pacific Ocean off the coast, then in the Atlantic Ocean, off the east coast, are cold, dark, deep-water corals.

The effect global warming is having on coral reefs is profound. Corals and the life they support is vulnerable to even minor variations in the environment. When we put carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, half of it is absorbed by oceans; when that happens it forms carbonic acid. As a result, our oceans are acidifying. CO2 not just acidifies the water, it warms the atmosphere that is warming the water.

Without coral reefs we lose a massive contribution to the entire biodiversity of oceans. In the process of doing ordinary things, such as driving our child to a soccer game, we are unwittingly contributing to the death of coral reefs. 

The last mass extinction was dinosaurs but theory states there have been five mass extinctions in total. When the ocean cannot function as it has for millions of years, life starts to die off and that is mass extinction.

Pollution, littering, global warming, commercial fishing, deep water mining, oil leaks drilling accidents, and spills. Since the 1990's commercial fishing has been expanding, becoming an imminent threat to coral reefs. Bottom trawling nets leave furrows, tearing up cold water corals that require centuries to recover. 

Cold water reefs take thousands to millions of years to form. We are barely beginning (too late?) to understand some of what there is to know about reefs and the damage we are causing to our oceans. Meanwhile damage is growing worse by the day. 

The ocean is an alien environment, barely understood even while it is over-exploited. For instance, there are roughly 700 coral reefs that we know of and over one million species in the ocean, and a huge swathe of this inestimable life on earth has yet to be named and documented.

Humanity has to learn fast, especially how to reconcile activities like commercial fishing while at the same time protecting oceans. There must be ways to prevent overfishing and add a measure of security to the life forms living at the bottom of the ocean.

People must be prepared to change behaviours to produce a resulting protection for warm and cold water coral reefs, and governments around the world have to continue seeking cooperation on measures to reduce trends in climate change.

The business of aquaculture including fish farming is increasingly recognized as a responsible way to put healthy food into markets. Wild fish were and continue to be plundered by commercial fisheries. We were recently informed that pollock (aka sablefish) on Canada's west coast are the next wild fish to face the red-line of over-fishing for the same reasons Atlantic northern cod collapsed and never recovered. 

Fishing companies are licensed and legally allowed to take the totality of this species into their nets, leaving nothing, taking, above all, large female sablefish that sustain the species. This is utter insanity yet it persists, mismanagement and plunder of wild fish is at the very core of why we have NO CHOICE but turning to fish farmers to produce fish.

Manage. If we don't let the fish farmers continue to evolve their methods and feed the market with a food source that is so much in demand, you will end up with no fish or seafood whatsoever. Oceans will die. The aquatic environment is not a natural environment for human beings. The business of plundering its resources is being done with practically zero insight into the net effect to the planet, our irreplaceable home.

We can barely imagine the goings-on in this mysterious 70 percent of the earth, oceans might as well be another universe. For this reason, fish farmers ought to be recognized as travellers to another dimension, working diligently with sometimes enormous risks to master a process of producing food in an entirely 'other' world. 

See these people for the miracle workers they are to produce the amount of food and prosperity out of the ocean that they are managing to do these days. 

This World Oceans Day we were taught something about cetaceans. Did you know whales have literally thousands upon thousands of 'lice' surrounding their blow holes, surviving off the ejections? That's right. Those whale watchers who had the privilege of witnessing a breeching whale, were watching literally untold thousands of lice launching into the air. 

Management of an alien environment is a difficult task when you are barely learning tiny bits and pieces of a gigantic puzzle each year. I think leaders in any ocean enterprise that is based on sustainable practices and producing healthy animals should be lauded and consulted instead of vilified and falsely accused.

Forbes magazine reports in April this year had dire news for the world: "The world's largest coral reef system, visible even from outer space, has lost half of its coral in the past two years. The Great Barrier Reef, once a colorful and visible display of biodiversity and a symbiotic ecosystem, now resembles a ghost town where life once flourished." https://www.forbes.com/sites/trevornace/2018/04/19/half-of-the-great-barrier-reef-coral-has-died-since-2016/#70bef3e95f9f

In Australia these days they speculate about increased temperatures of El Nino doing so much damage to the Great Barrier Reef, but exactly what is bleaching corals and killing off this irreplaceable natural resource remains to be understood.
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