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State of the Planet's Wildlife


Sylvia Earle, Deep Ocean Exploration and Research

Although we talk about harvesting the sea, it's a misuse of the word if ever there was a misuse. We donít plant fish in the ocean. We go out like hunters and gatherers, track them down, find them, extract them.

In half a century we have lost on the order of 90 percent of the big fish in the ocean. I say lost, actually, we havenít lost them. We've consumed them. Weíve eaten them. Weíve captured them.

Though our fish markets may give the impression of an inexhaustible resource, what we are really seeing is the consumption of the final 10 percent of the world's fisheries.

Carl Safina, Blue Ocean Institute

About a quarter of everything that is caught in the ocean, is not wanted or not marketable or not as valuable as some of the other catch so it goes overboard.

As northern waters have been depleted some of the fishing boats from places like Europe are turned south and have started fishing very intensively off African countries.

Itís sometimes very easy to get depressed about a lot of bad news in the ocean. And the oceans are sick but they are not dying yet. They, they may be down but they are by no means out.

Roger Payne, Ocean Alliance

One point eight billion people have as their principal source of animal protein fish from the sea, seafood basically, and what happens if you remove from those 1.8 billion people their major source of animal protein? Well, I think you have a problem.

We could be the most beloved generation that ever lived or we could be the most vilified generation that ever lived because people will know that we understood the problems and didnít do anything about them.

We have always been drawn to the edge of the sea, to the rhythms of nature, the power of the surf, and the urgency of the tides. Above all, we were tempted by the mystery of the unknown. But when we finally found ways to venture into the deep, what we discovered was beyond our wildest imagination.

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Beneath the surface was an unspoiled universe of natural beauty, a living tapestry of biological diversity, a landscape overflowing with the promise of an inexhaustible resource. But contrary to what we always believed, the abundance of ocean animals is in reality, an environmental illusion.

Melbourne Beach, Florida, USA

Melbourne Beach, Florida, USA

Today, our oceans are fast becoming dead zones, and marine animals are telling us that something is going terribly wrong. Their mute pleas speak volumes about the unfolding drama. What was once ablaze with color, is rapidly becoming a world without life. How could we have allowed so many of our marine animals to be on the brink of extinction?

Our search for an answer to this question begins seventy-five miles off the coast of New England where a sixty-foot trawler is in search of Atlantic cod. Tony Sao Marcos is on the first leg of a two-week trip. At first light the crew begins setting the first drag of the day. They work with a sense of urgency. To cover the cost of the trip, and earn a decent wage, they must catch at least 3000 pounds of fish each day. Once the drag is set, all they can do is wait. These are uneasy hours, everyone knows that New England's Cod catch is at its lowest point in recorded history. But the crew has few options. This is the life they have chosen.

New Bedford Docks

New Bedford Docks

Tony fishes out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Today much of the commercial fleet here lies idle. Marine scientists have found that the cod fishery, once the richest in the world, has almost disappeared. Peeling paint and rusting hulls are symbols of an industry and a community in trouble.

Back on board, after almost two hours of trawling the crew anxiously waits for the drag net to come aboard. When the catch is finally counted, it becomes clear that this will not be their lucky day. Instead, they have become victims, struggling to survive in world where many ocean species are nearly gone.

Stalking the world's oceans are thousands of giant 400-foot trawlers. Some people call them floating "fish factories", others call them "killing machines." With nine thousand foot nets sweeping up everything in their path, these ocean monsters are literally clear-cutting the deep sea. They can catch as much as one million pounds of fish in a single day. Ironically, the commercial fishing industry calls it "the harvesting the world's oceans." But harvesting implies planting. The reality is the industrial trawlers of the world simply wander the seas, scooping up whatever they can find.

The urgency to avoid the loss of the world's ocean animals presents us with enormous challenges.

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Day and night these floating factories process and freeze everything right on board. Whatever is un-saleable is discarded. The amount of bycatch is staggering. Each year over 50 billion pounds of fish are killed and then thrown back into the sea. The impact on the developing world is enormous, particularly on the fisheries off the coast of Africa, in places like Senegal. There, local fishermen can't possibly compete with mechanized trawlers from distant shores. The result is severe food shortages for those living along the coast.

This raises a fundamental question that is at the very heart of our investigation. What is it in our nature that has allowed us to put so many people and the animals they depend upon in such peril?

The urgency to avoid the loss of the world's oceanís animals presents us with enormous challenges. What we need now are the efforts of people everywhere, all those who are willing to find ways to strike the right balance, between what we want, and what nature can provide.

Though separated by distance and culture, for the six and a half billion people who draw sustenance from the rich diversity of the natural world, there are common bonds. Bonds that are renewed by each generation, bringing new ideas, new attitudes, new hope for the state of the ocean's animals.


Read more about The State of the Ocean's Animals:
Introduction | Antarctica | China | Florida | Japan | Monterey | Pacific Northwest


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Rivers of Destiny | Urban Explosion | Land of Plenty, Land of Want | Seas of Grass
Hot Zones
| On the Brink | Future Conditional | The State of the Planet
State of the Planet's Wildlife
| State of the Ocean's Animals

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