Ten Things You Can Do to Protect Ocean Health

The oceans are a source of wonder. They cover two-thirds of our planet, provide millions of tons of seafood each year, are an important part of our economy, and are the foundation of many coastal cultures and identities.

World Oceans Day is a celebration of our close connection with the oceans. However, the news about the ocean can seem bleak: fisheries collapses, melting sea ice, starving orcas and seabirds with plastic-filled bellies. Here are ten things that you can do to help the oceans, whether you live on the coast or thousands of miles away.

1. Be a conscious consumer of seafood

Canada is one of the world’s largest seafood suppliers, exporting over two-thirds of our production. However, local seafood demand is satisfied largely by imports, which tend to be less sustainable than what we export. Reducing the negative impacts of our diets on the oceans can be easy: buy locally-caught seafood, when possible, and choose seafood that has an Ocean Wise or Marine Stewardship Council label. SeaChoice even has a guide to retailers that support sustainable seafood.

2. Support local livelihoods

Coastal communities, Indigenous peoples, and small-scale fishers rely on the ocean for their livelihoods. It takes a lot of hard work to catch and process the seafood available in your local market. One way to ensure local fishers have just access to resources, are paid fairly, and follow sustainable practices is to join a community-supported fishery (CSF). Members of CSFs, like B.C.’s Skipper Otto’s, support fishing families and get affordable, fresh, local, high-quality, and sustainable seafood. Local Catch can identify the CSFs closest to you.

3. Support sustainable marine industries

Aquaculture is an important marine industry, providing over half the seafood consumed globally. Sustainable aquaculture improves food security, provides employment in rural and coastal communities, and takes fishing pressure off wild seafood stocks. Aquaculture and fisheries now contribute equally to B.C.’s GDP with revenue from aquaculture more than doubling since 2000. Support farmed seafood that minimizes environmental and social impacts by purchasing products with the Aquaculture Stewardship Council logo.

4. Be a responsible ocean user

B.C. is home to almost a quarter of all boating organizations in Canada, including tourism, recreational anglers, and whale watching companies. Unfortunately, the growing use of coastal marine areas is accompanied by increased pollution and noise that threatens marine life. Three important ways to diminish your impact when boating in coastal areas are to anchor deeper than seven meters to protect habitat, learn and follow the best practices in rockfish conservation areas, and choose only certified whale watching companies.

5. Support Indigenous communities

Indigenous stewardship of their traditional territories produces the healthiest ecosystems, according to a recent UN report. Supporting the rights of B.C.’s First Nations can help create and preserve healthy environments. Coastal First Nations is an alliance of nine B.C. First Nations working together to protect B.C. coasts while building their economies. Learn about them, the important work they are doing on coastal issues — such as passing Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act —  and add your voice in support.

6. Reduce your single use plastics consumption

Ocean plastics have widespread negative effects on marine life. Most plastic pollution reaches the ocean after waste disposal, due to poor waste management and limited recycling options. If you avoid items with plastic packaging – try Vancouver’s no-packaging grocer Nada – and avoid food in disposable takeout containers (bring your own instead!), you can reduce plastic flow into the ocean. When plastic is the only option, choose plastics numbered 1, 2, and 5, instead of 3 and 6, to make sure it is more likely to be recycled and stay on land.

7. Protect our shorelines

Shorelines host some of the most productive and treasured ecosystems in the world. They are also where humans love to live, play, and work: approximately 80% of B.C.’s population lives along the coast. Three top threats to shorelines are coastal development, pollution, and climate change. You can help protect shorelines by adopting Green Shores principles for new developments,  restoring coastal vegetation to minimize erosion, and organizing or participating in a shoreline clean-up through the Great Canadian Shoreline Clean-up.

8. Reduce your carbon footprint

Climate change is arguably the biggest threat facing the oceans. Shifting to a lower-carbon lifestyle can be good for your wallet, your health and the oceans. Take advantage of Vancouver’s bike paths and public transit, or carpool if you must commute by car. Spend your vacation at one of B.C.’s parks or beaches instead of flying out of town. Follow Canada’s new food guide, which recommends a diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and plant-based proteins that is good for the body, and is also good for the planet.

9. Be politically active

While there are many actions individuals can take to protect ocean health, the challenges facing the oceans also require coordinated solutions at the government level. From the protection of endangered whales to plastic waste policy, our voices can make a big difference. Writing to elected officials, attending public meetings, contributing to public consultations, supporting ocean advocacy groups and voting are all great ways to help shape the future of our oceans.

10. Care

This list provides just a few of many actions you can take to engage directly with ocean conservation, but at the end of the day the most important way to protect the ocean is to care. Find out why a healthy ocean matters to you, your family, and your community. Identify and commit to an action or set of actions that contribute to protecting ocean health. Then share those actions with the people who are close to you.

This post was a collaboration by Ocean Leaders Fellows Fiona Beaty, Cameron Bullen, Sara Cannon, Fanny Couture, Kaleigh Davis, Rocio Lopez de la Lama, Santiago de la Puente, and Heather Summers.

Fish or Foe? Pretending to be a journalist in Peru

By Cameron Bullen, Ocean Leaders Fellow

Looking over the wall into Punta San Juan. The dark patches on the peninsula are thousands of birds and penguins. Photo by Sebastian Romero Torres.

The wind whipped over and between the rocky dunes of the headland, and the three of us sheltered in the lee of the wall that cut across the spit. The call of cormorants and the roars of sea lions joined the sound of waves and wind to drown out our voices. We could hear them, but not see them.  The thousands of birds, penguins, and mammals that we had come to see were hidden by the long concrete and barbed wire wall that snaked its way across the peninsula, protecting these vulnerable animals from people and predators alike. After days of travel, two journalists and myself had finally arrived at the Punta San Juan marine reserve on Peru’s southern coast. Or at least, we had reached the wall.

We hid from the wind and sun in the wall’s shadow and I helped the journalists set up their equipment: cameras, stabilizers, microphones, and other gadgets I’d never seen before. Just a few days before I was an ecologist thinking about kelp forests and ecosystem services in British Columbia, and now I was entirely out of my depth, on a different continent working with journalists on a very different kind of project. We had come to Peru to learn about the country’s fisheries, particularly what has historically been the world’s largest fishery: anchoveta.

Journalist Jonathan Ventura and his confusing array of equipment. Photo by Sebastian Romero Torres.

As we finished setting up, our guide for the day drove up on his moped, dodging rocks and potholes on the sandy road. I jumped up as soon as he arrived, eager to enter the reserve and finally see the plentiful wildlife I could only hear from the outside. There had been a miscommunication though: he wasn’t expecting the cameras and was not happy to see them. After a lengthy conversation in Spanish that I couldn’t follow, our guide got back on his moped and drove back down the road. The two journalists just looked at me and shook their heads: “They won’t let us in.”

I was devastated. Not because we had spent so many hours getting to this remote part of Peru, and not even because I had really wanted to see the vulnerable Humboldt Penguins that used the reserve as a refuge. I was devastated because the birds and mammals which call Punta San Juan home were an important part of the story we were trying to tell about the anchoveta.

The anchoveta fishery is a critical piece of Peru’s economy. At its peak in 1971, more than 16 million tons of anchoveta were caught in Peru, more than any other fish species in the world. The anchoveta catches have declined since 1971, but anchoveta is still the first or second most caught fish every year. This small, oily fish from Peru is a major player in the global seafood supply.

Countless anchoveta fishing boats sit waiting in Chimbote Harbour. Photo by Jonathan Ventura.

Humans aren’t the only beings who rely heavily on the anchoveta though. Peruvian seabirds and mammals such as seals and sea lions depend on anchoveta for up to 90% of their diet. As Anchoveta stocks have declined, so too have the populations of seabirds and mammals who eat them. Habitat loss, pollution, changing climate, and the loss of their main food source have created a perfect storm to threaten the populations of these animals. That’s why reserves like Punta San Juan are so important, and that’s why we were there.

Guano Birds trail a fishing boat back into port, both fishers and birds compete for the anchoveta that frequent these productive coastal waters. Photo by Sebastian Romero Torres.

The journalists were much more used to this sort of roadblock than I was, and very quickly, we were on to plan B. The next day, we were 200 km north on a boat touring the Islas Ballestas, another important site for these at-risk species. Rather than thousands of Humboldt Penguins, we saw just a handful, but it was enough. Eventually, and with some effort, we were able to get the footage we needed to tell the story.

I’m still sad not to have seen Punta San Juan, and the remarkable abundance of life said to exist there, but hopefully I will get another chance to visit one day soon. And hopefully, the abundance of birds, penguins, seals, and sea lions will still be there when I do.

Sea lions pose for the camera on the Islas Ballestas. Photo by Jonathan Ventura.

Keep an eye on http://www.internationalreporting.org to learn more about the project as it unfolds in Spring / Summer 2019.

I would like to thank the Ocean Leaders and Global Reporting Programs at UBC for making this trip and project possible. I would also like to express my gratitude to my journalist colleagues who put up with a “scientist” always getting in the way and asking questions, as well as all the people in Peru and elsewhere who helped us along the way.

The Canadian Arctic: changing communities in the face of changing oceans

I am a marine ecologist. I study the interaction between species in the ocean and how those interactions are affected by the environment in which the organisms live. Broadly, I am interested in how these relationships will be altered by climate change and the warming of our oceans. The topic of my thesis is how heatwaves act to shape the species that we find living in tide pools; the depressions along shore lines that remain filled with water when the tide goes out. This is not the topic of this post however, instead I will be telling you about an adventure that touches on many of the same ideas and questions but takes place in a much larger volume of water, the Beaufort Sea.

Map of the Beaufort Sea. Taken from: http://onesharedocean.org/

The Adventure

This fall I had the opportunity to participate in the JOIS (Joint Ocean Ice Studies) program. This is a coordinated research effort between institutions (the DFO Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Beaufort Gyre Exploration Project, a partnership with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution scientists, and the Pan-Arctic Climate Investigation, a co-operation with Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology scientists) and has been taking place once a year for the past 15 years. The goal of this cruise is to gain a better understanding and track changes in the arctic ocean over time. This oceanographic cruise takes place aboard a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker, the CCGS Louis S St Laurent. On board the vessel there are approximately 55 crew members and 30 scientists. Scientists on board sample and measure many different properties of the sea water at a number of stations across great depths (over 3km in some cases) in addition to measuring properties of the sea ice at a handful of stations. Together this data allows scientists to look at how different properties have changed through time and determine the potential impacts of these changes on arctic and global ecosystems.

The CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, a Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker, viewed from the sea ice during one of the ice survey days. Photo credit: Cassandra Konecny

The Science

As I mentioned, one of the main tasks aboard the vessel is to sample water and measure water parameters. These include things like how much oxygen is dissolved in the sea water? How salty is the water? What temperature is the water at different depths? How much inorganic carbon is dissolved in the water? How much chlorophyll? What about nutrients and dissolved organic matter? The list goes on but needless to say we are measuring many things at each station! My role on board was to aid in measuring dissolved inorganic carbon or rather DIC in water samples. Now unless you are familiar with this parameter you are probably wondering what it is and why we are measuring it. DIC is essentially the amount of carbon that is dissolved in seawater. It is a property that is often measured in climate change research as it can tell us something about how carbon is moving through a system and how the amount of dissolved carbon in the ocean is changing. With increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, the buffering capacity of the ocean is being reduced, and the water is becoming more acidic which is having many impacts on marine life. In some cases, it makes it harder for marine organisms to build shells and in other cases it has been shown to increase their energy requirements. By tracking changes in DIC along with other parameters, we can better understand and predict the potential impacts of climate change on ocean ecosystems. That being said, large uncertainties still remain such as how ocean parameters might interact with each other or how interactions between species might change.

The dissolved inorganic carbon analysis lab on board the ship. Photo credit: Marty Davelaar

The Reality

The day that we left the ship, we were unable to fly home due to a storm and so we ended up spending a night in the hamlet of Kugluktuk. Everyone was so friendly and we were welcomed with open arms into the community. Despite all of the hotels being full they made room for us in their own homes and toured us around the area. This was when it clicked for me. This one night following a one-month long research cruise is when I realized why this trip was so important.

Being a marine ecologist, I study the interactions between species in food webs and think a lot about how climate change and human impacts will affect these connections. That being said, I don’t tend to think very often beyond the boundaries of my system, acknowledging how these changes will then impact humans. In urban areas we are in a sense buffered from the impacts of climate change. We are surrounded by so much infrastructure and technology that we can keep ourselves comfortable and well fed even in the face of stressful conditions but this isn’t the case for everyone. Northern communities, for example, rely on the natural resources that surround them and climate change is altering the availability and accessibility of these resources. Climate change is causing large declines in the extent and the age of sea ice, sea levels to rise, shore lines to erode, and changes in weather patterns.

These changes are having direct impacts on communities but are also reducing their ability to utilize the natural resources around them. Sea ice, for example, is important for food security, transportation, and mobility in the north and declines in the cover and integrity of this ice due to warming will have increasingly large impacts on communities. The reality is that northern communities, such as Kugluktuk, are being disproportionately affected by climate change with little capacity to buffer it’s impacts. I think that as humans it is important for us all to recognize that we are all dependant on the environment despite any separation that we have constructed. We need to work together, and use the knowledge that we have about how the world is changing to halt and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Perhaps it is time to make changes big enough to create solutions and not leave behind our connection to nature.

Photo credit: Marty Davelaar

I would like to thank the Ocean Leaders program and the DFO Institute of Ocean Sciences for giving me the opportunity to participate in the 2018 JOIS cruise. I would also like to acknowledge all of the crew aboard the CCGS Louis S St Laurent for all of their hard work in running the vessel, supporting the science team, and for all of the great conversations had!







Amazônia through the eyes and easels of its youth


Clau looking down and over the river bank with Arapixuna behind her.

Tudo bem, Sarah, tudo bem? How are you? Tudo bem” my co-teacher Clau laughed as I stumbled over the grammatical differences between tudo bem and tudo bom. Language lessons were a way of life for the week I visited Arapixuna in April. Partly because I filled my evenings listening to scientists and students around me chatter in crescendos and decrescendos, the foundations of Brazilian Portuguese. And partly because I filled my days conversing with 5th graders about the world’s largest river and rain forest. Managing the chaos of field trips, science demos and art classes for 46 young learners, sometimes all I could say was “tudo bem”, the famously succinct and casual phrase for “all is well”.

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“We are not drowning, we are fighting”: Pacific Islanders want you to know that they still have hope for their islands

This past weekend, I was on a discussion panel for the documentary film Anote’s Ark, which follows the former present of Kiribati, Anote Tong, in his quest to bring the plight of Kiribati’s people in the face of climate change to the western eye. This sounds harmless enough, but since the film was released a new president was elected, the filmmaker was banned from entering the country, and the Kiribati ambassador to the United States attempted to prevent the film from showing at Sundance Film Festival (this is according to the filmmaker, you can read his take here). Continue reading