Thursday, November 21, 2013
Monday, November 18, 2013
The small island of Barra forms part of the Outer Hebrides, a long chain of islands off the west coast of Scotland, stretching through the North Atlantic Ocean for a hundred miles. It takes over five hours to make the 70 nautical mile ferry crossing from the mainland to the island.
On Saturday 16th November 2013, a unique cultural map of the sea was launched at the Heritage Centre on Barra.
The project team of artist Stephen Hurrel and social ecologist Ruth Brennan have been working in partnership with VoluntaryAction Barra & Vatersay and Castlebay Community School in the recording and editing of audio-visual material for the online cultural map. As the older people of Barra are the main focus for gathering local names, stories, etc. this has created an interesting cross-generational oral history project.
The story of the Rusty Lobsters (which you can find on the map by clicking on the shipwreck called the 'Cullen') is an animated text and audio piece based on an anecdote from a local fisherman.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
There is agreement across the board (including from fishermen) that discards are undesirable and wasteful. From an ecological and ethical point of view discards are highly controversial. For a start, they are wasted food. Discards can also lead to the underestimation of fishing mortality where large quantities of a stock that is subject to Total Allowable Catch (TAC) regulations is discarded - this underestimation impairs sustainable management of that stock. However there is disagreement as to the best way to address the problem.
The authors of the paper argue that the following impacts of the new discard ban have been overlooked:
1. Effects of the ban at different levels of biological organisation:
a. Several marine species (eg seabirds and bottom-dwelling invertebrates) have, for decades, adapted to the 'unnatural' source of food provided by discards. A substantial reduction in discards in the marine environment through forcing such discards to be landed will have direct and indirect effects on such species which are as yet unknown;
b. As discarded biomass is a source of energy which is removed and then immediately returned to the ecosystem, landing the discards increases the net loss of biomass and production which could impact the resilience of the ecosystem and accelerate its deterioration by reducing secondary production and recycling of energy.
2. Economic, operational and technical challenges of the ban:
a. The landing of discards could create new fishmeal markets (for aquaculture and agriculture) so perversely, the discard ban could encourage rather than discourage the production of discards (to take advantage of such new markets);
b. Fishers will have additional operational costs from landing discards and storing them onboard which means a reduced capacity to land products of higher economic value and these costs are likely to be covered by subsidies. Public subsidies to fishing which have long been heavily criticised as detrimental for the ecosystem and for the profitability of European fisheries.
c. Enforcement of the ban will be very difficult especially if there are little or no economic incentives to land discards with little market value.
The authors state that it is contradictory to avoid discards by promoting their landing and not by reducing discards at source. They suggest that a real reduction in discards can be achieved more effectively through (a) a focus on developing more selective and non-destructive fishing gear (eg to allow identification of target species in the water before capture); (b) the enforcement of regulations; (c) reducing overall fishing capacity. They conclude by calling for an investigation of the impacts of the discard ban from a scientific and technical perspective before it is implemented.
I think it is important that the impacts of the ban should be investigated from more than just a scientific and technical perspective. The authors argue that the Ecosystem Approach is being disregarded by the discard ban's failure to take into account the potential negative effects of the ban on different levels of biological hierarchy within an ecosystem. However, their call for investigation of the impacts of the ban from a 'scientific and technical perspective' with 'a rigorous and open scientific debate on key issues' is too narrow. The Ecosystem Approach is not limited to biological science. The definition of the Ecosystem Approach by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) takes us away from the idea of an ecosystem as a tangible biophysical unit by recognising that that humans, with their cultural diversity, are an integral component of ecosystems. The application of the Ecosystem Approach is supposed to help reach a balance of the three objectives of the CBD: (i) biodiversity; (ii) sustainable development; and (iii) equitable sharing of benefits. Application of the 12 principles of the Ecosystem Approach is supposed to follow five points of operational guidance:
1. Focus on the relationships and processes within the ecosystem
2. Enhance benefit sharing (which provides the basis of human environmental security and sustainability)
3. Use adaptive management practices
4. Carry out management actions at the scale appropriate for the issue being addressed, with decentralisation to the lowest level, as appropriate
5. Ensure intersectoral co-operation
If the Ecosystem Approach is being diregarded by the discard ban, it is important not to disregard this very approach in tackling the issues.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
My diving continued, inner and outer, as a year studying marine policy at the University of Plymouth revealed another layer to these watery realms - they are not only inhabited by marine flora and fauna, but also by people, through complex and multi-layered human relationships with this environment, be that through work, play or simply breathing this environment through the pores of their skin. My work at SAMS over the past 5 years has reinforced and expanded my awareness of the complexity of these human-nature relationships with/in/through the marine environment. For coastal communities in particular, these relationships are vast and deep - they are bound up with a sense of identity and belonging and not always rational or even conscious.
In the Gaelic context, the sense of belonging to a home place, and of responsibility for that place - described by the great Gaelic scholar John MacInnes as a form of 'emotional energy' - is encapsulated by the not easily translatable Scottish Gaelic word dùthchas. dùthchas is a word of the land - it is derived from the Gaelic word dùth which can mean 'earth' or 'land' - recent research suggests that the emotional energy of belonging and responsibility that word conveys extends to the waters around the homeland. In a more general context, transdisciplinary philosopher Glenn Albrecht has created the term 'endemophilia' to encapsulate the 'particular love of the locally and regionally distinctive in the people of that place'. Albrecht describes endemophilia or 'homewellness' as similar to Relph's 'existential insideness' - 'the deep, satisfying feeling of being truly at home within one's place and culture'.
In Dùthchas na Mara/Belonging to the Sea the authors ask questions about the deeper nature of maritime conflict that two separate Gaelic-speaking coastal communities - one in Ireland and one in Scotland - have become embroiled in during recent years. The work neither justifies nor invalidates the island people's feelings of being under threat; nor does it argue for or against they way in which they have responded to the threat they are feeling. Instead, the research looks behind the political antagonism to explore shared maritime traditions and principles of belief and conduct in these two communities that may be motivating the resistance manifest on both islands to the legislation of the states that rule them.
This is the kind of territory being navigated, perilously, by marine policy-makers right now - a watery realm of lovers, replete with culturally-specific nuances; humans (individuals, institutions, political processes) and nature continuously responding to and shaping each other. Is it any wonder that trying to manage this environment by means of a 'right' and 'wrong' logic alone is simply not enough?
Friday, September 20, 2013
It's time to draw a line in the Arctic ice over oil and gas
By Tavis Potts, Scottish Association for Marine Science
I have a great respect for National Geographic. I’m a card-carrying member with an annual subscription, and I appreciate the balance, depth and understanding they bring to revealing the links between the natural and human world.
So the latest issue had prepared me for a recent debate at the Royal Society in London which examined the question of the Science of Change in the Arctic. It painted a stark and disturbing picture of our planet’s future in terms of the impact of global sea level rise on coastal cities. It dramatically brought home the message that a fossil fuel-driven civilisation has profoundly altered the planet, which by 2070 will put some 150m people and US$35 trillion worth of assets in the world’s coastal cities at risk from flooding. Our desire for carbon intensive energy has raised sea level by 60mm since 1994 and the draft fifth IPCC report predicts a one metre rise by the end of the century. That is a lot of coast underwater.
So to the debate at the Royal Society, part of the joint National Geographic and Shell Great Energy Challenge. I have to admit I felt rather uncomfortable heading into an event sponsored by Shell, considering some of their recent activity in the Arctic and Alaska. There was an implicit feeling that oil development in the Arctic marine environment was inevitable, with continued offshore exploration, despite limited success, and terrestrial extraction well established in places such as the North Slope of Alaska or the Russian Yamal Peninsula.
In my view the questions for the debate seemed skewed towards how oil companies could gain a social licence for developing oil and gas in the Arctic. I’m glad that several voices raised concerns about the viability of establishing offshore operations in the extreme Arctic environment and these concerns were captured. But at the forefront of my mind were recent debates over the idea of the carbon bubble, where essentially, in order to have a realistic chance of avoiding a 2°C rise, 80% of proven fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground. So exploring and developing new reserves, particularly in places such as the Arctic, makes neither ecological nor economic sense. The direction should be towards de-carbonisation, not further development.
I enjoyed being able to discuss the future of energy with one of the world’s major oil companies and I would do it again. The industry needs to be at the table discussing the future of a carbon-constrained world. It has the experience and expertise to drive this transition, but other voices are needed: scientists, the Arctic’s indigenous peoples, and industries such as fisheries and tourism. The perspective from the view of the renewable energy industry was as silent as the pack ice.
My point is that when debates about the Arctic are sponsored by oil companies such as Shell, there will be a natural tendency to be steered into a discourse around fossil fuel expansion into the Arctic. It is what these companies do. In light of the scientific evidence I was determined to present an alternative, where the Arctic ocean is free from fossil fuel development.
My experience of Arctic policy meetings, including the recent Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in May, reflects a type of institutional schizophrenia, where fossil fuel development is discussed alongside the emerging impacts of climate change. With warnings of an ice-free Arctic, as beautifully presented by the Arctic death spiral graph showing rapid decline of sea ice, Arctic specialists should be calling for and putting forward more concrete and practical solutions in the face of global meandering. A recent UK Parliamentary report, Protecting the Arctic, highlights this irony, outlining how fossil fuel exploration is being undertaken in full knowledge that emissions need to be reduced.
In a previous article, I identified that fossil fuel development in the offshore Arctic was facing a difficult time. It still is. No commercial finds have been found in Greenland, the Shtokman Russian gas project has been shelved, and drilling the recent commercial discovery in the Norwegian Barents Sea, the Johan Castberg field, has been delayed due to costs pushing the project to the margins of viability. Oil company Total has been the first to publically state that operating is the Arctic is too high risk.
In light of the science and the fact that we need to keep fossil fuel reserves in the ground, exploration for oil and gas in the Arctic is irresponsible and unnecessary. There are already excessive amounts of proven fossil fuel reserves, and Arctic development appears ecologically, technically and economically foolhardy. Perhaps it is time to draw a line in the ice and recognise there are some places that we should not drill.
Tavis Potts receives funding from the European Union (FP7, LIFE+); the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC); and consults on marine policy to the UK and Scottish Government.
Friday, September 6, 2013
A new paper in the journal Marine Policy "Do marine protected areas deliver flows of ecosystem services to support human welfare?" based on a report from the Valuing Nature network explores how can the concept of ecosystem services can be linked to the development of MPAs. Ecosystem services are the goods and benefits that people derive from ecosystems, and include a range of benefits including provisioning services e.g. fisheries, marine plants and natural resources; regulatory services including absorption of CO2 and wastes; and cultural services such as recreation, sense of place, and education. Increasingly monetary values are attached to services in the provisioning and regulatory classes, representing the economic benefits derived from natural systems. A debate exists over how we can value cultural services through monetary or other qualitative means, but overall it is recognised that these services are critically important for society. MPAs can improve the delivery of services from marine systems as habitats and species, on which the flow of services depends, are improved or restored by the spatial protection and associated management measures. Clearly scale is an issue here.... small unconnected sites will deliver little while large ecologically coherent networks could provide substantial services to society.
The paper takes the discussion over ecosystem services a step forward by identifying the specific services that are provided by marine habitats and species. It opens a debate on how marine protected areas can be managed - both in terms of their primary function for conserving biodiversity and in terms of providing a suite of services for human beings. While we are at an early stage in terms of understanding and capturing the concept of value from ecosystem services, acknowledging the contribution of MPAs in supporting human welfare is an integral step in building public support for their designation.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
All eyes turn to the prize as the Arctic opens for business
By Tavis Potts, Scottish Association for Marine Science
Foundation essay: This essay on the future of the Arctic by Tavis Potts, Senior Lecturer in Oceans Governance at the Scottish Association for Marine Science, is part of a series of articles marking the launch of The Conversation in the UK. Our foundation essays are longer than our usual comment and analysis articles and take a wider look at key issues affecting society.
At the centre of the public hall in Kiruna, northern Sweden – the host of the 2013 Arctic Council – sits a large block of ice emblazoned with the council’s logo. As delegates from the eight Arctic Council states, six permanent indigenous representatives, twelve observer and two ad-hoc observer states, and a host of non-governmental observers shuffle into the room, the temperature rises, and the sculpture melts. The symbolic reference to a rapidly melting Arctic region driven by human induced climatic change sets the tone, but I’m not sure if anyone has noticed it yet.
This month was an important date in the Arctic calendar. The ministerial-level meeting included the US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. It was a high profile event that saw the council chairmanship shift from Europe to North America, from Sweden to Canada. At the same time the Arctic blossomed from a predominantly regional issue to one of global significance. The sense of gravitas at the event was palpable, as was the intense media interest on what the future will hold for this fragile region. How wide this interest has become is underscored by the entry of China, India, Japan and South Korea into the Arctic Council as permanent observers. All are major importers of minerals, and have key interests in developing shipping and maritime trade through the region.
The Arctic is one of the most rapidly warming places on the planet. CO2 emissions and associated warming is transforming the region into a new and unpredictable territory. There are huge annual reductions in the extent and thickness of summer sea ice, snow cover, and extensive melting of the Greenland ice sheet. Arctic summer sea ice distribution has been on a downward spiral since satellite records begin in 1978. In recent years it has suffered severe and unexpected declines. The record low ice minimum of 3.29 million sq km (1.27 million sq mi) set in September represents a little over half the average between 1979 and 2000. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently commented that it is not a case of “if” but “when” the Arctic will be ice free in summer, a point likely to arrive in the next few decades.
Because the Arctic is warming about three times faster than the global average, Arctic ecosystems are likely to encounter regime shifts – new phases of significant change. The loss of sea ice, for example, drives changes in the amount of light which will increase the growth of marine plants vital to the ecosystem. A short-term increase in productivity may lead to significant changes in Arctic ecology and changes in the distribution of Arctic species. A loss of sea ice will also mean a potentially catastrophic habitat loss for iconic species such as the polar bear or harp seal.
The intrusion of warm water into environments like the Barents Sea has brought temperate marine species into Arctic waters, and an increase in cod. While not all the changes can be considered negative – Barents Sea fisheries are booming – the effects on the ecosystem are unknown. There will be clear ecological winners and losers. Add to this the impact of ocean acidification – the cold, polar waters absorb more atmospheric CO2 – and it is clear we are gambling with the health of the Arctic and entering a period of entirely unknown effects on a scale never seen before.
The parallel dialogue among Arctic nations that highlights environmental issues yet speaks of a region “open for business” has created national and international tensions. The recent US National Strategy for the Arctic Region makes it quite clear that developing the region for its energy resources is the long term priority. The US, it states, must:
Respond effectively to challenges and emerging opportunities arising from significant increases in Arctic activity due to the diminishment of sea ice and the emergence of a new Arctic environment.
As the new chair of the Arctic Council, Canada plans to establish a Circumpolar Business Forum to bring together business interests across the Arctic – reflecting the new, economic priorities. It remains to be seen how these parallel dialogues can be reconciled. Will development undermine the region’s fragile environment? Is low carbon development still possible?
The global interest in extracting oil, gas and minerals is predominantly driven by the notion that the Arctic contains 13% of the world’s remaining oil reserves and 30% of its gas reserves. Despite any conservation rhetoric, the reality is a rush to access these highly contested resources, driven by the uncertainty, technical difficulty and expense in extracting them.
Recent events have shown just how difficult this can be. In March, the Greenlandic elections were fought over concerns that mining and oil companies' growing influence in the region came at the expense of traditional hunting and fishing industries. The sitting government was removed and replaced by an administration more cautious towards resource development.
In Alaska, Shell suffered high profile mishaps when its Kulluk rig ran aground and Conoco Phillips announced it was suspending exploration after US authorities indicated regulations for offshore drilling would be tightened.
In Russia, the perpetually troubled Shtokman gas development has been shelved – to be left for “future generations”, according to state-dominated firm Gazprom. And only a few weeks ago in Norway, the recently discovered Johan Castberg oil field (previously known as Skrugard) was delayed indefinitely due to tax hikes.
Finding new discoveries has been as difficult as exploiting known deposits. Edinburgh’s Cairn Energy spent $1.2 billion on exploration off Greenland without any commercially viable discoveries to show for it. Increasingly the picture painted of the Arctic as an Eldorado of oil and gas seems sketchy. The reality is risky, technically difficult and expensive operations complicated by shifting, uncertain and contested politics.
And as the summer sea ice diminishes, shipping in the arctic increases. Moscow is particularly keen to develop the Northern Sea Route for maritime traffic. The high-tonnage tanker SCF Baltica was the first to transit the route in 2010, its 22-day voyage estimated to be twice as fast as travelling via the Suez Canal. From four vessels in 2010, traffic has grown to 46 in 2012, carrying four million tonnes of freight. This is set to grow to 89 vessels this year.
China in particular is eyeing the strategic use of the Northern Sea Route. Norway’s Department of Transport forecasts as much as 15% of China’s international trade, mostly container ships, will use the route to reach Europe by 2020. The opportunities offered by Arctic sea lanes have become a reality – the potential for saving time and money is enough attraction despite significant challenges in terms of navigational safety.
Which brings us back to the Arctic Council, embracing its new role in policy making rather than mere stewardship. The council still pushes its vision of the Arctic as vulnerable and threatened, at the same time as its development agenda. It appears concerned over the threat of climate change and is, at least on paper, set on doing something about it. It supports traditional scientific programs such the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program to monitor and raise awareness of the growing impact of climate change and ocean acidification. And it has began to develop legal teeth, with ministers at Kiruna signing a legally-binding agreement on oil pollution preparedness and response.
A permanent secretariat now exists in Norway for the Arctic Council and there is a clear mandate for the council to be more aggressive on the international stage, working towards an international legal agreement on climate change no later than 2015.
The Arctic has become a global issue. It stands at the frontline of climate change and faces considerable pressure from emerging oil and gas development and shipping. The parallel dialogues highlight the tensions between conservation and development – but as always the truth is in the middle. The Arctic will develop, but the form, timetable and beneficiaries of that development is unclear. What is missing is an alternative vision of the role a low carbon economy could take in the region, and how development might benefit the Arctic’s inhabitants for the long-term.
As members have realised in Kiruna, addressing the pressures that are driving change in the Arctic requires action beyond its borders. Climate change is a global issue needing a global resolution. Much of the impact on the climate system comes from outside the borders of the Arctic. The international community, and we as individual citizens, have an important role to play in influencing the path the Arctic takes.
Tavis Potts receives funding from the European Union, Research Councils UK, and a variety of foundations for research on oceans governance.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
In a previous post on Sustainable Seas, we highlighted research on the 'carbon bubble' - if we are to stay below the 2C warming limit, the global economy has a budget of than 565 gigatons of CO2 - but fossil fuel companies have reserves of fossil fuels of almost 3000 gigatons. These reserves lose considerable value if they stay in the ground - and potentially unleashing a financial crisis. It highlights, as does this report, that we urgently need to make the case, and keep building the case, of the merits of a low carbon economy.
Further comment soon once I digest the contents!
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
The EU's Fisheries Commissioner has warned EU governments that a speedy resolution is needed to resolve the deadlock over reform of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), during a meeting of the EU Fisheries Council on 22 April 2013.
There is currently a row between the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament over the issues of discards, which sees edible but unwanted dead fish thrown back in the sea.
MEPs want a full discard ban on all fish stocks by 2015, but the Council has backed a phased discard ban that would not be completed until 2017.
Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki - who broadly backs the parliament's stance - warned that the member states were "running out of choices" and that "postponing the issues will not be of good to anybody".
The chair of the Fisheries Council, Ireland's Simon Coveney, said everyone agreed there needed to be new rules on the size and capacity of fishing fleets, but that "what has to be worked out is the mechanism to get us there".
He insisted ministers were working towards securing a deal by the May meeting of the Fisheries Council, and said there were already "signals on areas where we can find compromise".
The full public deliberations of fisheries ministers can be viewed here.
This underlines the difficulty inherent in the EU co-decision process - finding agreement and hard negotiation between the tiers of the EU governance system: the Commission, the Parliament, and the Council of Ministers. So what do we know:
- The European Parliament called for a total ban to take effect 2015, one year later than sought by European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki;
- This timetable was opposed by the fishing industry and some EU members France, Spain, Portugal and Malta who indicated that it was unrealistic for implementation across their industries;
- A delay (a five year implementation plan) made its way into the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers and the resolution of the Council in it's 'general approach' reflected this;
- Under the agreement, a discard ban on pelagic species, such as herring and mackerel, would start in January 2014, but wouldn't take effect in the North Sea until 2016. The Mediterranean wouldn't be covered until 2017;
- The discard ban would apply to the main demersal stocks such as cod, haddock and whiting in the North Sea and Atlantic waters beginning in 2016;
- The ban will apply to Mediterranean, Black Sea and all other EU waters beginning in 2017.
- There is now a negotiation in place over the final text between the European Parliament, European Commission and member states - a 'trialogue' who will try to agree on a final version to be voted on by the Parliament. The next critical date is the 2nd of May where the Council will finalise its position on CFP reform with the Parliament proceeding a vote for CFP reform, likely in June.
- Both the Parliament and Council agree on a discard ban and on delivering MSY - its about how it will be implemented and written into law, the timing over implementation, and flexibility for the industry.
- MEPs voted on 17th April to adopt a ban on discarding unwanted fish of 35 species caught in the Skagerrak (between the North Sea and the Baltic). The ban, to take effect gradually between 2014 and 2016, would be enforced with a remote electronic monitoring system.
We'll be keeping an eye on the progress of the negotiations and summarising the developments here on the Sustainable Seas blog.