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Fed Up With Fish Farms

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Last year I was incredibly fortunate to get to see Orcas in the wild; this was a real ‘bucket list’ moment for me and an absolute highlight of a round the world trip Mike and I had just completed. Reminiscing on this experience the other day I was saddened by the thought that this may not be possible in the future if conservation efforts are not given a higher priority.

It is an incredible privilege to see these magnificent and intelligent creatures going about their natural behaviours, as we were able to on our trip to Vancouver Island in the stunning surroundings of the Salish Sea. The main purpose of our trip was, as ever, to go diving, however, the opportunity to go on a wildlife watching trip in an area famed for its cetaceans, pinnipeds and birdlife was not one we were going to miss!

Vancouver Island is a great place to see Orcas, as well as humpback whales, dolphins and other highly sentient creatures. If you enjoy watching wildlife, on or beside the sea surrounded by mountains and forests, then this really is paradise. Incredibly sadly though, like many of our most precious and stunning natural environments, it is under threat. I’m focusing on specific threats to Orcas here, but of course, many threats to this species also effect a much wider range of organisms. Helping Orcas, which are intelligent and long-living apex predators, benefits the entire ecosystem as a whole.

Extensive research has shown threats to Orcas include, but are not limited to:

  • Noise pollution from boats and sonar interfering with Orca’s hearing, communication and hunting.
  • Pollution of water sources resulting in poisoning as toxins get into fish and accumulates at the top of the food chain.
  • Overfishing and dams which have depressed the wild salmon stocks. (The lack of wild salmon – many Orca’s main food source – means starvation for them. Some Orcas hunt pinnipeds, but pinnipeds are also fish eaters, so a lack of fish affects their numbers and a knock on effect on Orcas.)
  • Fish farming has caused huge amounts of pollution, disease, low oxygen environments, and escape of non native species.

Fish farming is probably the biggest issue as the top three points can all be linked to the fourth.

1. Fish farms are patrolled by boats that create noise pollution.
2. Huge amounts of pollution come from fish farms.
3. Overfishing is increased by the demand for fishmeal and fish oil in pellets fed to farmed salmon.

Though they are not solely responsible, even a single large fish farm causes a disproportionately high environmental issue.

Worldwide there are more fish farmed than cattle and this causes massive environmental problems. Fish farming was once viewed as ‘taking the pressure off’ wild populations but sadly the opposite is true.

Salmon are the most commonly farmed fish. They are fed pellets made from commercially harvested wild fish and it takes approximately three times the amount of wild fish to raise one farmed salmon. Definitely not good for wild fish stocks.

Fish are kept in densely stocked pens, so to avoid disease and malnutrition they are fed antibiotics, pesticides and vitamins. Uneaten pellets and concentrated waste from the farmed fish goes directly into the environment. Large quantities of these pollutants become concentrated in small areas around the farming pens, causing eutrophication (pollutants contain nutrients that make algae bloom and the algae use up all the oxygen, creating a dead zone). Antibiotics and pesticides that can poison the surrounding water and accumulate in fish eating species. There is also considerable worry that disease and parasites present in densely populated fish farms can spread to the native wild fish populations.

Economy, jobs and shareholder profits are all important in the modern world, and are often cited when big business meets conservation. The issue is, if we ruin our natural environment, where will fish farms get the fish for fishmeal pellets? What do we do if all the water is polluted? Any industry that damages the environment so badly is not sustainable, so their profits are not sustainable. It doesn’t seem to make sense from a long-term business standpoint or a conservation one.

This may all seem a long way away, if you were not contemplating a little sojourn across the globe, however, our actions in our neighbourhood supermarket can make a huge difference to the future of Orcas and their fellow marine species.

Despite being in the UK, ordering a fillet of farm-reared salmon (often labelled as King Salmon or Farmed Atlantic Salmon) has severe consequences. By eating so much salmon in comparison with other fish, we create a demand for more than can be sustainably provided by our fisheries, leading to more demand from fish farms.

We can have a direct impact by changing our diet a little. We could choose not to eat fish at all, or eat it less often. Perhaps more realistically, we could pay a little bit more for sustainably caught local fish or simply choose something besides the most intensively fished and farmed species (such as salmon, tuna, cod and haddock). The Good Fish Guide by the Marine Conservation Society – www.mcsuk.org/goodfishguide/search – is an excellent place to start. All of us together can make a big difference if we all take the small step of changing our consumer habits slightly. In addition to helping Orcas, a small change in our diets will benefit many other species. By creating less pollution and a healthier wild fish population, the whole ecosystem benefits hugely.

Put simply, fish farming is a global problem: in Scandinavia, New Zealand and South America similar issues are affecting wildlife. Much closer to home are the fish farms of Scotland and our northern isles, where our traditional fishing industry is already struggling and our sea is much more barren and polluted than it should be. The great news here is that we have the power to force the change, simply by shopping a little wiser!

Unlike most conservation headlines we see, the story of Orcas is not all doom and gloom. In Canada, B.C. First Nation leaders have been taking their concerns to the Canadian government in order to remove fish farms from their traditional territory and talks are currently underway. In 2018, Washington State in the U.S. banned fish farms in their waters, after a series of incidents. If the ruling stands it will mean the current farms will not have their licences renewed once they expire in 2022. It is hoped that more positive news of this kind will follow in other countries soon.

So as a passionate conservationist that’s my crusade of the day: let’s help the Orcas. Orcas are awesome, they are a joy to behold, as is the incredible underwater environment they inhabit. If you get the opportunity I cannot recommend a trip to see them highly enough! And a few small changes in our habits can help preserve that opportunity for future generations.


For more from CJ and Mike please visit their website here.

CJ and Mike are dive instructors who have travelled all over the world pursuing their passion for the underwater world. CJ is a PADI MI and DSAT Trimix instructor with a degree in Conservation biology and ecology, who has been diving for 15 years. She loves looking for critters and pointing them out for Mike to photograph. Mike is a PADI MSDT who got back into diving in 2010. He enjoys practicing underwater photography and exploring new and exciting dive locales, occasionally with more than one tank. Follow more of their diving adventures at www.facebook.com/bimbleintheblue.

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The Ocean Cleanup to Complete 100th Extraction Live from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

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the ocean cleanup
  • The Ocean Cleanup marks 100th extraction of plastic pollution from the Pacific Ocean by livestreaming entire cleaning operation from start to finish.
  • Occasion brings together supporters, partners, donors and followers as the project readies its cleanup technology for scale-up.
  • Founder and CEO Boyan Slat to provide insight on the plans ahead.

The Ocean Cleanup is set to reach a milestone of 100 plastic extractions from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Extraction #100, scheduled for 28 or 29 May 2024, will be the first ever to be livestreamed direct from the Pacific Ocean, allowing supporters and partners around the world to see up close how the organization has removed over 385,000 kilograms (nearly 850,000 lbs) of plastic from the GPGP so far – more than double the bare weight of the Statue of Liberty.

the ocean cleanup

The mission of The Ocean Cleanup is to rid the oceans of plastic. To do this, the non-profit project employs a dual strategy: cleaning up legacy floating plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (the world’s largest accumulation of floating plastic), while stopping the flow of plastic from the world’s most polluting rivers.

The Ocean Cleanup captured its first plastic (the first ‘extraction’) in the GPGP in 2019 with System 001, following years of trials and testing with a variety of concepts. Through System 002 and now the larger and more efficient System 03, the organization has consistently improved and optimized operations, and is now preparing to extract plastic trash from the GPGP for the 100th time.

the ocean cleanup

Extraction #100 will be an interactive broadcast showing the entire extraction procedure live and in detail, with insight provided by representatives from across The Ocean Cleanup and partners contributing to the operations.

This is an important milestone in a key year for The Ocean Cleanup.’ said Boyan Slat, Founder and CEO of The Ocean Cleanup. ‘We’ve come a long way since our first extraction in 2019. During the 2024 season, with System 03, we aim to demonstrate that we are ready to scale up, and with it, confine the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the history books.

the ocean cleanup

The livestream will be hosted on The Ocean Cleanup’s YouTube channel and via X. Monitor @theoceancleanup for confirmed timings.

www.theoceancleanup.com

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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Book Review: Plankton

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Plankton: A Worldwide Guide by Tom Jackson and Jennifer Parker

This is a book that jumps off the shelf at you. The striking front cover demands that you pick it up and delve further, even if you may not have known you wanted to learn more about the most diminutive life in our ocean, plankton!

Small it might be. Much of the imagery in the book has been taken under huge magnification. Revealing stunning beauty and diversity in each scoop of “soup”. There is lots to learn. Initial chapters include interesting facts about the different vertical zones they inhabit, from sunlight to midnight (the darkest and deepest areas). I loved finding out more about the stunning show that divers oft encounter on night dives – bioluminescence.

The black water images are wonderful. So this is a book you can have as a coffee table book to dip in and our of. But, these tiny organisms are also vital to our very survival and that of all the marine life we love. They provide half the oxygen produced on our planet. They are also responsible for regulating the planets climate. And for a shark lover like me – they are food for charismatic sharks and rays like the Basking Shark and Manta Ray, along with a huge number of other species. This book contains great insight into their biology, life cycles, migration, and how the changes in currents and sea temperatures affects them.

This is a book that is both beautiful and packed with information about possibly the most important group of organisms on our planet. Anyone interested in the ocean should have it one their shelves.

What the publisher says:

Plankton are the unsung heroes of planet Earth. Passive drifters through the world’s seas, oceans, and freshwater environments, most are invisible or very small, but some are longer than a whale. They are the global ocean’s foundation food, supporting almost all oceanic life, and they are also vitally important for land-based plants, animals, and other organisms. Plankton provides an incomparable look at these remarkable creatures, opening a window on the elegance and grace of microscopic marine life.

This engaging book reveals the amazing diversity of plankton, how they belong to a wide range of living groups, and how their ecology, lifestyles, and adaptations have evolved to suit an enormous range of conditions. It looks at plankton life cycles, the different ways plankton feed and grow, and the vast range of strategies they use for reproduction. It tracks where, how, and why plankton drift through the water; shares perspectives on migrations and population explosions or “blooms” and why they happen; and discusses the life-sustaining role of plankton in numerous intertwined food webs throughout the world.

Beautifully illustrated, Plankton sheds critical light on how global warming, pollution, diminishing resources, and overexploitation will adversely impact planktonic life, and how these effects will reverberate to every corner of our planet.

About the Authors:

Tom Jackson is a science writer whose many popular books include Strange Animals and Genetics in MinutesJennifer Parker is a zoology and conservation writer and the author of several books. Andrew Hirst is a leading expert on plankton whose research has taken him around the world, from the Antarctic to Greenland and the Great Barrier Reef.

Book Details

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Hardcover

Price: £25

ISBN: 9780691255996

Published: 9th April, 2024

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