CHOW 2013 Summary

Below are written summaries for each of the panels held during CHOW 2013 this year.
Written by our summer interns: Caroline Coogan, Scot Hoke, Subin Nepal and Paula Senff 

Summary of Keynote Address

Superstorm Sandy clearly showed the importance of resilience as well as of sequestration.  In its line of annual symposiums, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation wants to look at the issue of ocean conservation in a broad way involving stakeholders and experts from different fields.

Chow Logo 2013Dr. Kathryn Sullivan pointed out the important role that CHOW plays as a venue to combine expertise, to network and to unite over issues. The ocean plays a key role on this planet.  Ports are essential for trade, 50% of our oxygen is produced in the ocean and 2.6 billion people depend on its resources for food.  Although a number of conservation policies have been put in place, huge challenges, such as natural disasters, increasing ship traffic in the Arctic region, and collapsing fisheries remain in place.  However, the pace of marine protection remains frustratingly slow, with only 8% of area in the US designated for preservation and a lack of adequate funding.

The effects of Sandy pointed out the importance of resilience of coastal areas to such extreme weather events. As more and more people relocate to the coast, their resilience becomes very much a matter of foresight. A science dialogue is essential in order to protect its ecosystems and environmental intelligence is an important tool for modeling, assessing and research.  Extreme weather events are projected to occur more frequently, while biodiversity decreases, and overfishing, pollution, and ocean acidification add further pressure.  It is important to let this knowledge motivate action.  Superstorm Sandy as a case study indicates where reaction and preparation were successful, but also where they failed. Examples are destroyed developments in Manhattan, which were built with a focus on sustainability rather than resilience. Resilience should be about learning to tackle a problem with strategies rather than just fighting it. Sandy also showed the effectiveness of coastal protection, which should be a priority of restoration. In order to increase resilience, its social aspects have to be considered as well as the threat that water poses during extreme weather events. Timely planning and accurate nautical charts are a key element of preparing for future changes that our oceans face, such as natural disasters or increased traffic in the Arctic.  Environmental intelligence has had many successes, such as algal bloom forecasts for Lake Erie and No-Take zones in the Florida Keys led to the recovery of many fish species and increased commercial catches.  Another tool is the mapping of acid patches on the West Coast by NOAA.  Due to ocean acidification, the shellfish industry in the area has decreased by 80%.  Modern technology can be used to assist as a warning system for fishermen.

Foresight is important for the adaptation of infrastructure to changing weather patterns and the increase of social resilience.  Improved climate and ecosystem models are needed to effectively address the issues of uneven data availability and aging infrastructure.  Coastal resilience is multifaceted and its challenges need to be addressed through the pooling of talents and efforts.

How vulnerable are we? A Timeline for the Changing Coast

MODERATOR: Austin Becker, Ph. D. Candidate, Stanford University, Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources
PANEL: Kelly A. Burks-Copes, Research Ecologist, U.S. Army Engineer Research and
Development Center; Lindene Patton, Chief Climate Product Officer, Zurich Insurance

coastThe opening seminar of CHOW 2013 focused on issues related to risk created by global warming in coastal communities and ways to tackle them. 0.6 to 2 meters of sea level rise are projected by 2100 as well as increased intensity of storms and coastal precipitation. Likewise, there is an expected rise in temperature leading up to 100+ degrees and increased flooding by the year 2100. Although the public is mainly concerned about the immediate future, long-term effects are especially important when planning infrastructure, which will have to accommodate future scenarios rather than current data. US Army Engineer Research and Development Center has special focus on oceans as coastal communities have significant importance in daily survival. Coasts hold anything from military installations to oil refineries. And these are factors that are very important to national security. As such, the USAERDC researches and lays out plans for ocean protection. Currently, rapid population growth and resource depletion as a direct result of the growth in population are the biggest concerns in coastal areas. Whereas, the advancement in technology has certainly helped the USAERDC to sharpen research methods and come up with solutions to tackle a wide array of problems (Becker).

When considering the mindset of the insurance industry, the fundamental resilience gap in the face of an increase in coastal disasters is of great concern.  The system of annually renewed insurance policies is not focused on responding to projected effects of climate change.  The lack of funding for federal disaster recovery is comparable to the 75-year social security gap and federal disaster payments have been increasing. In the long run, private companies might be more efficient at administering public insurance funds as they focus on risk-based pricing.  Green infrastructure, nature’s natural defenses against catastrophes, holds immense potential and is becoming increasingly interesting for the insurance sector (Burks-Copes).  As a personal note, Burks-Copes ended her remarks by encouraging industry and environmental specialists to invest in engineering that can help cope as well as decrease the disasters caused by climate change rather than instigating litigations.

A joint study of the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the Army Corps of Engineers developed a model to assess the preparedness of bases and facilities to extreme weather events.  Developed for the Norfolk Naval Station on the Chesapeake Bay, scenarios can be created to project the effects of different magnitudes of storms, wave heights and sea level rise severity.  The model indicates the effects on engineered structures as well as the natural environment, such as floods and saltwater intrusion in the aquifer.  The pilot case study showed an alarming lack of preparedness even in the case of a one-year flood and small rise in sea level.  A recently constructed double – decker pier proved to be unfit for future scenarios. The model holds the potential to promote proactive thinking about emergency preparedness and to identify tipping points for catastrophes.  Improved data on the effect of climate change are needed for better modeling (Patton).

The New Normal: Adapting to Coastal Risks

INTRODUCTION: J. Garcia

Coastal environmental issues are of great importance in the Florida Keys and the Joint Climate Action Plan aims to address these through a combination of education, outreach and policy.  There has not been a strong response by Congress and voters need to put pressure on elected officials to motivate changes.  There has been increasing environmental awareness of stakeholders who depend on marine resources, such as fishermen.

MODERATOR: Alessandra Score, Lead Scientist, EcoAdapt
PANEL: Michael Cohen, Vice President for Government Affairs, Renaissance Re
Jessica Grannis, Staff Attorney, Georgetown Climate Center
Michael Marrella, Director, Waterfront and Open Space Planning Division, Department of City Planning
John D. Schelling, Earthquake/Tsunami/Volcano Programs Manager, Washington Military Department, Emergency Management Division
David Waggonner, President, Waggonner & Ball Architects

When adaptation to coastal risks the difficulty to predict future changes and especially the uncertainty as to the type and severity of these changes perceived by the public is a hurdle.  Adaptation encompasses different strategies such as restoration, coastal protection, water efficiency and the establishment of protected areas.  However, the current focus is on impact assessment, rather than the implementation of strategies or the monitoring of their effectiveness.  How can the focus be moved from planning to action (Score)?

Reinsurance companies (insurance for insurance companies) hold the greatest risk associated with catastrophes and try to disassociate this risk geographically.  However, insuring companies and individuals internationally is often challenging due to differences in legislation and culture. The industry is therefore interested in researching mitigation strategies in controlled facilities as well as from real-world case studies.  New Jersey sand dunes, for examples, greatly mitigated the damage caused by superstorm Sandy on adjacent developments (Cohen).

State and local governments need to develop adaptation policies and make resources and information available for communities on the effects of sea level rise and urban heat impacts (Grannis).  The city of New York has developed a ten year plan, vision 22, to address climate change impacts at its waterfront (Morella). Issues of emergency management, response and recovery have to be addressed both long and short-term (Shelling).  While the US appears to be reactive and opportunistic, lessons can be learned from the Netherlands, where the issues of sea level rise and floods are addressed in a much more proactive and holistic way, with the incorporation of water in city planning.  In New Orleans, after hurricane Katrina, coastal restoration became a focus although it had already been a problem before.  A new approach would be the internal adaptation to water of New Orleans in terms of district systems and green infrastructure.  Another essential aspect is the trans-generational approach of passing on this mind-set to future generations (Waggonner).

Few cities have actually assessed their vulnerability to climate change (Score) and legislation has not made adaptation a priority (Grannis).  The allocation of federal resources towards it is thus important (Marrella).

In order to deal with a certain level of uncertainty in projections and models it has to be understood that an overall master plan is impossible (Waggonner), but this should not be a deterred to take action and act with precaution (Grannis).

The matter of insurance for natural disasters is especially tricky.  Subsidized rates encourage the maintenance of houses in dangerous areas; can lead to repeated loss of property and high costs.  On the other hand, especially lower income communities need to be accommodated (Cohen).  Another paradox is caused through the allocation of relief funds to damaged property resulting in increased resilience of houses in more risky areas. These houses will then have lower insurance rates than houses in less dangerous areas (Marrella).  Of course, the allocation of relief funds and the question of relocation become an issue of social equity and cultural loss as well (Waggonner).  Retreat is also touchy due to legal protection of property (Grannis), cost effectiveness (Marrella) and emotional aspects (Cohen).

Overall, emergency preparedness has improved greatly, but specification on information for architects and engineers needs to be improved (Waggonner). Opportunities for improvement are provided through the natural cycle of structures that need to be rebuilt and thus be adapted (Marrella), as well as state studies, such as the The Resilient Washington, that yield recommendations for improved preparedness (Schelling).

Benefits of adaptation can affect the entire community though resilience projects (Marrella) and be achieved by small steps (Grannis). Important steps are unified voices (Cohen), tsunami warning systems (Schelling) and education (Waggonner).

Focus on Coastal Communities: New Paradigms for Federal Service

MODERATOR: Braxton Davis | Director, North Carolina Division of Coastal Management
PANEL: Deerin Babb-Brott | Director, National Ocean Council
Jo-Ellen Darcy | Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works)
Sandy Eslinger | NOAA Coastal Services Center
Wendi Weber | Regional Director, Northeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The final seminar of the first day highlighted works of the federal government and its different wings in the area of environment protection and specifically coastal community protection and management.

Federal agencies have lately started realizing that there are adverse effects of climate change happening in coastal areas. Hence, the amount of funding for disaster relief has also increased in a similar fashion. Congress recently authorized a 20 million dollar funding to study flooding pattern for the Army Corps which definitely can be taken as a positive message (Darcy). The findings of the research are shocking – we are moving towards a much higher temperature, aggressive weather patterns and a sea level rise that is soon going to be on feet, not inches; especially the coast of New York and New Jersey.

Federal Agencies are also trying to collaborate with themselves, states and non-profit organizations to work on projects that aim to increase ocean resiliency. This gives states and non-profits a channel their energy while providing federal agencies to unify their abilities. This process could come in handy during times of disaster like hurricane Sandy. Even though the existing partnership between agencies is supposed to bring them together, there is indeed a lack of collaboration and backlash among the agencies themselves (Eslinger).

Most of the communication gap seems to have occurred because of lack of data at certain agencies. To solve this problem, NOC and the Army Corps are working to make their data and statistics transparent to everyone and encouraging all scientific bodies who research on oceans to make their data readily available to everyone. NOC believes that this will lead to a sustainable information bank that will help preserve marine life, fisheries and coastal areas for the future generation (Babb-Brott). To grow the ocean resiliency of the coastal community, there is ongoing work by the Department of Interior that is searching for agencies – private or public to help them interact at a local level. Whereas, the Army Corps already runs all its trainings and exercises locally.

Overall, this whole process is like an evolution and the learning period is very slow. However, there is learning happening. As with any other large agency, it takes a long time to make changes in practice and behavior (Weber).

The Next Generation of Fishing

MODERATOR: Michael Conathan, Director, Ocean Policy, Center for American Progress
PANEL:  Aaron Adams, Director of Operations, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust
Bubba Cochran, President, Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders Alliance
Meghan Jeans, Director of Fisheries and Aquaculture Programs, The New England Aquarium
Brad Pettinger, Executive Director, Oregon Trawl Commission
Matt Tinning, Executive Director, Marine Fish Conservation Network

Will there be a next generation of fishing? While there have been successes that suggest that there will be exploitable fish stocks in the future, many issues remain (Conathan).  Habitat loss as well as the lack of knowledge on the availability of habitat is a challenge is the Florida Keys.  A sound scientific basis and good data are needed for effective ecosystem management.  Fishermen need to be involved and educated about this data (Adams).  Accountability of fishermen should be improved. Through the use of technology such as cameras and electronic logbooks, sustainable practices can be ensured.  Zero-discard fisheries are ideal as they improve fishing techniques and should be demanded from recreational as well as commercial fishermen.  Another effective tool in Florida’s fisheries have been catch-shares (Cochrane).  Recreational fisheries can have a strong negative impact and need improved management.  The application of catch-and-release fisheries, for example, should depend on species and be restricted to zones, since it does not protect population sizes in all cases (Adams).

Obtaining sound data for decision-making is essential, but research is often limited through funding.  A flaw of the Magnuson-Stevens act is its dependency on large amounts of data and NOAA catch quotas in order to be effective.  In order for the fishing industry to have a future, it also needs certainty in the management process (Pettinger).

An overarching issues is the current tendency of the industry to supply the demand of the amount and composition of seafood, rather than being guided by the supply of resources and diversifying the offer. Markets have to be created for different species that can be fished sustainably (Jeans).

Although overfishing has been the leading issue in marine conservation in the US for decades, much progress in management and recovery of stocks has been made, as shown by NOAA’s annual Status of Fisheries Report.  However, this is not the case in many other countries, especially in the developing world.  It is thus important that the US ‘ successful model is applied abroad since 91% of seafood in the US is imported (Tinning).  Regulations, visibility and standardization of the system have to be improved in order to inform the consumer about the origin and the quality of the seafood.  Involvement of and resource contribution by different stakeholders and the industry, such as through the Fishery Improvement Project Fund, aid the progress of increased transparency (Jeans).

The fishing industry has been gaining popularity due to positive media coverage (Cochrane).  Good management practices have a high return on investment (Tinning), and the industry should invest in research, and conservation, as is currently done with 3% of the income of fishermen in Florida (Cochrane).

Aquaculture holds potential as an efficient food source, providing “social protein” rather than quality seafood (Cochran). It is however associated with the ecosystem challenges of the harvesting of forage fish as feed and the release of effluents (Adams).  Climate change poses additional challenges of ocean acidification and shifting stocks.  While some industries, such as shellfish fisheries, suffer (Tinning), others on the West coast have benefitted from doubled catches due to colder waters (Pettinger

The Regional Fisheries Management Councils are mostly effective regulative bodies that involve different stakeholders and provide a platform for the sharing of information (Tinning, Jeans). The federal government would not be as effective, especially on a local level (Cochrane), but the Councils’ functionality could still be improved. A concerning trend is the increased prioritization of recreational over commercial fisheries in Florida (Cochrane), but the two sides have little competition in Pacific fisheries (Pettinger).  Fishermen should act as ambassadors, they need to be adequately represented and their issues have to be addressed by the Magnus-Stevens Act (Tinning).  The Councils need to set explicit goals (Tinning) and be proactive in order to address future issues (Adams) and ensure the future of US fisheries.

Reducing Risk to People and Nature: Updates from the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic

INTRODUCTION: The Honorable Mark Begich
PANEL:Larry McKinney | Director, Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi
Jeffrey W. Short | Environmental Chemist, JWS Consulting, LLC

This seminar offered insight into a rapidly changing coastal environment of the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic and discussed about potential ways to tackle the problems that are going to rise as a result of global warming in these two regions.

Gulf of Mexico is one of the biggest assets to the whole country right now. It takes a great deal of abuse from the across the country as almost all the waste of the nation flows down to the Gulf of Mexico. It acts like a massive dumping site for the country. At the same time, it supports recreational as well as scientific and industrial research and production too. More than 50% of recreational fishing in the United States happens in the Gulf of Mexico, the oil and gas platforms support a multi-billion dollar industry.

However, a sustainable plan doesn’t seem to have been put into action to use the Gulf of Mexico wisely. It is very important to learn about the climate change patterns and ocean levels in the Gulf of Mexico before any disaster happens and this needs to be done by studying the historical as well as predicted patterns of change in climate and temperature in this region. One of the major problems right now is the fact that almost all the equipments used to perform experiments in ocean study the surface only. There is a big necessity of an in-depth study of the Gulf of Mexico. In the meantime, everyone in the country needs to be a stakeholder in the process of keeping the Gulf of Mexico alive. This process should focus on creating a model that can be used by current as well as future generations. This model should display all kinds of risks in this region clearly as that will make it easier to realize how and where to invest. On top of everything, there is an immediate need of an observation system that observes the Gulf of Mexico and its natural state and the change in it. This will play a key role in creating a system that has been built out of experience and observation and correctly implement restoration methods (McKinney).

Arctic, on the other hand, is as equally important as the Gulf of Mexico. In some ways, it is actually more important that the Gulf of Mexico. Arctic provides opportunities such as fishing, shipping and mining. Especially because of the lack of large amount of season ice, there have been more and more opportunities opening up lately. Industrial fishing is increasing, the shipping industry is finding it much easier to ship goods to Europe and oil & gas expeditions have increased exponentially. Global warming has a great role behind all this. As early as 2018, it is predicted that there will be no seasonal ice at all in the arctic. Though this might open up opportunities, it comes with a great deal of threat too. This will essentially lead to a huge damage of habitat of almost every arctic fish and animal. There have already been cases of Polar bears drowning as a lack of ice in the region. Recently, there have been new laws and regulations introduced to tackle with the melting of ice in the arctic. However, these laws do not immediately change the pattern of climate and temperature. If arctic becomes permanently ice free, it will result in massive increase in the temperature of the earth, environmental disasters and climate destabilization. Ultimately this may lead to a permanent extinction of marine life from the earth (Short).

A Focus on Coastal Communities: Local Responses to Global Challenges

Introduction: Cylvia Hayes, First Lady of Oregon
Moderator: Brooke Smith, COMPASS
Speakers: Julia Roberson, Ocean Conservancy
Briana Goldwin, Oregon Marine Debris Team
Rebecca Goldburg, PhD, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Ocean Science Division
John Weber, Northeast Regional Ocean Council
Boze Hancock, The Nature Conservancy

Cylvia Hayes opened the panel by highlighting three main problems faced by local coastal communities: 1) the connectivity of the oceans, linking locals on a global scale; 2) ocean acidification and the “canary in the coal mine” that is the Pacific Northwest; and 3) the need to transform our current economic model to focus on reinvention, not recovery, to maintain and monitor our resources and accurately calculate the value of ecosystem services.  Moderator Brooke Smith echoed these themes while also describing climate change as an “aside” in other panels despite real effects being felt on local scales as well as the effects of our consumer, plastic society on coastal communities.  Ms. Smith focused discussion on local efforts adding up to global impacts as well as the need for more connectivity across regions, governments, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.

Julia Roberson emphasized the need for funding so that local efforts can “scale-up.”  Local communities are seeing the effects of global changes, so states are taking action to protect their resources and livelihoods.  To continue these efforts, funding is needed, and therefore there is a role for private sponsorship of technological advances and solutions to local problems.  Responding to the final question that addressed feeling overwhelmed and that one’s own personal efforts do not matter, Ms. Roberson emphasized the importance of being part of a broader community and the comfort in feeling personally engaged and doing all one is capable of doing.

Briana Goodwin is part of a marine debris initiative, and focused her discussion on the connectivity of local communities through the oceans.  Marine debris connects the terrestrial to the coastal, but the burden of clean ups and serious effects are only seen by the coastal communities.  Ms. Goodwin highlighted the new connections being forged across the Pacific Ocean, reaching out to the Japanese government and NGOs to monitor and reduce marine debris landing on the West Coast.  When asked about place- or issue-based management, Ms. Goodwin emphasized place-based management tailored to specific community needs and home-grown solutions.  Such efforts require inputs from businesses and the private sector to support and organize local volunteers.

Dr. Rebecca Goldburg focused on how the “complexion” of fisheries is changing due to climate change, with fisheries moving poleward and new fish being exploited.  Dr. Goldburg mention three ways to combat these shifts, including:

  1. Focusing on alleviating non-climate change pressures to maintain resilient habitats,
  2. Putting in place management strategies for new fisheries before they are fished, and
  3. Switching to ecosystem based fisheries management (EBFM) as single-species fisheries science is crumbling.

Dr. Goldburg put forth her opinion that adaptation is not just a “band-aid” approach: in order to improve habitat resiliency you must adapt to new circumstances and local variability.

John Weber framed his participation around the cause and effect relationship between global issues and local impacts.  While coastal, local communities are dealing with the effects, not much is being done about the causal mechanisms.  He emphasized how nature “doesn’t care about our quaint jurisdictional” boundaries, so we must work collaboratively on both global causes and local effects.  Mr. Weber also opined that local communities do not have to wait around for federal involvement in a local problem, and solutions can come from local co-ops of stakeholders.  The key to success, to Mr. Weber, is to focus on a problem that can be solved within a reasonable time period and produces a concrete result rather than on place- or issue-based management.  Being able to measure this work and the product of such an effort is another crucial facet.

Boze Hancock outlined specific roles for the federal government to encourage and guide the efforts of the local community, who in turn should harness local enthusiasm and passion into capacity for change.  Coordinating such enthusiasm can catalyze global changes and paradigm shifts.  Monitoring and measuring every hour or dollar spent working on habitat management will help reduce over-planning and encourage participation by producing tangible, quantifiable results and metrics.  The main problem of ocean management is the loss of habitats and their functions within ecosystems and services to local communities.

Boosting Economic Growth: Job Creation, Coastal Tourism, and Ocean Recreation

Introduction: The Honorable Sam Farr
Moderator: Isabel Hill, US Department of Commerce, Office of Travel and Tourism
Speakers: Jeff Gray, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Rick Nolan, Boston Harbor Cruises
Mike McCartney, Hawaii Tourism Authority
Tom Schmid, Texas State Aquarium
Pat Maher, American Hotel & Lodging Association

Introducing the panel discussion, Congressman Sam Farr quoted data that placed “watchable wildlife” above all national sports in generating revenue.  This point emphasized one theme of the discussion: there has to be a way to talk in “Wall Street terms” about ocean protection to garner public support.  The cost of tourism as well as the benefits, such as job creation, must be quantified.  This was supported by moderator Isabel Hill, who mentioned that environmental protection is often thought of as at odds with economic development.  Tourism and travel, however, have surpassed goals outlined in an Executive Order to create a national travel strategy; this sector of the economy is leading recovery, surpassing the average economic growth as a whole since the recession.

The panelists then discussed the need to change perceptions about environmental protection, transitioning from the belief that protection hinders economic growth towards a view that having a local “special place” is beneficial to livelihoods.  Using Thunder Bay National Sanctuary as an example, Jeff Gray detailed how perceptions can change within a few years.  In 1997, a referendum to create the sanctuary was voted down by 70% of voters in Alpina, MI, an extractive industry town hit hard by economic downturn.  By 2000, the sanctuary was approved; by 2005, the public voted not only to keep the sanctuary but also to expand it by 9 times the original size.  Rick Nolan described the transition of his own family’s business from party-fishing industry to whale-watching, and how this new direction has increased awareness and therefore interest in protecting local “special places.”

The key to this transition is communication according to Mike McCartney and the other panelists.  People will want to protect their special place if they feel they are involved in the process and are listened to – the trust that is built through these lines of communication will bolster the success of protected areas.  What is gained from these connections is education and a wider environmental consciousness in the community.

Along with communication comes the need for protection with access so the community knows they are not cut off from their own resource.  In this way you can address the economic needs of the community and allay worries about economic downturn with the creation of a protected area.  By allowing access to protected beaches, or allowing jet ski rentals on certain days at a particular carrying capacity, the local special place can be protected and utilized at the same time.  Talking in “Wall Street terms,” hotel taxes can be put to use for beach clean ups or used to fund research in the protected area.  Moreover, making hotels and businesses green with reduced energy and water use reduces costs for the business and saves the resource by minimizing environmental impact.  As the panelists pointed out, you must invest in your resource and its protection in order to conduct business – focus on branding, not on marketing.

To conclude the discussion, the panelists emphasized that the “how” matters – being truly engaged and listening to the community in setting up a protected area will ensure success.  The focus must be on the wider picture – integrating all of the stakeholders and bringing everyone to the table to truly own and commit to the same problem.  As long as everyone is represented and sound regulations are put in place, even development – whether it is tourism or energy exploration – can occur within a balanced system.

Blue News: What Gets Covered, and Why

Introduction: Senator Carl Levin, Michigan

Moderator: Sunshine Menezes, PhD, Metcalf Institute, URI Graduate School of Oceanography
Speakers: Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press
Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review
Kevin McCarey, Savannah College of Art and Design
Mark Schleifstein, NOLA.com and The Times-Picayune

The problem with environmental journalism is the lack of success stories told – many in attendance of the Blue News panel at Capitol Hill Oceans Week raised their hands to agree with such a statement.   Senator Levin introduced the discussion with several assertions: that journalism is too negative; that there are success stories to be told in ocean conservation; and that people need to be told of these successes to understand the money, time, and work spent on environmental issues is not in vain.  They were assertions that would come under fire once the senator left the building.

The problem with environmental journalism is distance – the panelists, who represented a range of media outlets, struggle with making environmental issues applicable to daily life.  As moderator Dr. Sunshine Menezes pointed out, journalists frequently want to report on the world’s oceans, climate change, or acidification but simply cannot.  Editors and reader interest often mean that science is less reported on in the media.

Even when journalists can set their own agendas – a growing trend with the advent of blogs and online publications – writers still have to make the big issues real and tangible to everyday life.  Framing climate change with polar bears or acidification with disappearing coral reefs, according to Seth Borenstein and Dr. Menezes, actually makes these realities more distant to the folks who do not live near a coral reef and never intend to see a polar bear.  By using the charismatic megafauna, environmentalists create the distance between the Big Issues and the layperson.

Some disagreement sprung up at this point, as Kevin McCarey insisted that what these issues need is a “Finding Nemo” type of character who, on his return to the reef, finds it eroded and degraded.  Such tools can connect people’s lives across the globe and help those who are not yet affected by climate change or ocean acidification to envision how their lives could be affected.  What was agreed upon by every panelist was the issue of framing – there must be a burning question to ask, but not necessarily answer – there must be heat – a story must be “N-E-W” news.

Going back to Senator Levin’s opening remarks, Mr. Borenstein insisted that news must stem from that root word, “new.”  In this light, any successes from legislation passed or functioning sanctuaries with community involvement are not “news.”  You cannot report on a success story year after year; in much the same way, you also cannot report on big issues like climate change or ocean acidification because they follow the same trends.  It is constant news of worsening that is never different.  Nothing has changed from that standpoint.

The job of environmental journalists, therefore, is to fill in the gaps.  For Mark Schleifstein of NOLA.com and The Times Picayune and Curtis Brainard of The Columbia Journalism Review, reporting on the problems and what is not getting done in Congress or on a local level is the way environmental writers keep the public informed.  This is again why environmental journalism seems so negative – those writing about environmental issues are looking for issues, what is not being done or could be done better.  In a colorful analogy, Mr. Borenstein asked how many times the audience would read a story describing how 99% of airplanes land safely at their correct destination – perhaps once, but not once every year.  The story lies in what goes wrong.

Some discussion followed about the differences in media outlets – the daily news vs. documentaries or books.   Mr. McCarey and Mr. Schleifstein highlighted how they suffer from some of the same handicaps using specific examples – more people will click on a story about hurricanes than successful legislation from the Hill just as interesting nature pieces about cheetahs become twisted into a Killer Katz show targeted at the 18-24 year old male demographic.  Sensationalism seems rampant.  Yet books and documentaries – when done well – can make more lasting impressions in institutional memories and on cultures than the news media, according to Mr. Brainard.  Importantly, a movie or a book has to answer the burning questions posed where the daily news can leave these questions open-ended.  These outlets therefore take longer, are more expensive, and sometimes less interesting than the short read about the latest disaster.

Both forms of media, however, must find a way to communicate science to the layperson.  This can be a quite daunting task.  Big issues must be framed with small characters – someone who can capture attention and remain comprehensible.  A common problem among the panelists, recognized by chuckles and rolls of the eyes, is coming away from an interview with a scientist and asking “what did s/he just say?”  There are inherent conflicts between science and journalism, outlined by Mr. McCarey.  Documentaries and news stories need short, assertive statements.  Scientists, however, exercise the precautionary principle in their interactions.  Should they misspeak or be too assertive about an idea, the scientific community could tear them apart; or a rival could pinch an idea.  That competitiveness identified by the panelists limits just how exciting and declarative a scientist can be.

Another clear conflict is the heat required in journalism and the objectivity – read, “dryness,” – of science.  For the “N-E-W” news, there must be conflict; for science, there must be logical interpretation of facts.  But even within this conflict there is common ground.  In both fields there is a question surrounding the issue of advocacy.  The scientific community is split on whether it is best to seek the facts but not attempt to influence policy or if in seeking the facts you are obligated to seek change.  The panelists also had varying answers to the question of advocacy in journalism.  Mr. Borenstein asserted that journalism is not about advocacy; it is about what is or is not happening in the world, not what should be happening.

Mr. McCarey aptly pointed out journalism must come with its own attendant objectivity; journalists therefore become advocates of truth.  This implies that journalists frequently “side” with science on facts – for example, on the scientific facts of climate change.  In being advocates of truth, journalists also become advocates of protection.  To Mr. Brainard, this also means that journalists sometimes appear subjective and in such cases become scapegoats for the public – they are attacked on other media outlets or in online comments sections for advocating truth.

In a similarly warning tone, the panelists covered new trends in environmental coverage, including the increasing number of “online” or “freelance” journalists rather than traditional “staffers.”  The panelists encouraged a “buyer beware” attitude when reading sources on the web as there is a good deal of advocacy from different sources and funding online.  The bloom of social media like Facebook and Twitter also means that journalists may be competing with companies or original sources to break news.  Mr. Schleifstein recalled that during the BP oil spill the first reports came from the BP Facebook and Twitter pages themselves.  It can take a significant amount of investigating, funding, and promotion to override such early, straight-from-the-source reports.

The final question posed by Dr. Menezes centered on the role of NGOs – can these organizations fill the gaps of government and those of journalism in both action and reporting?  The panelists all agreed that NGOs can perform a crucial function in environmental reporting.  They are the perfect stage to frame the big story through the small person.  Mr. Schleifstein contributed an example of NGOs promoting citizen science reporting about oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico and passing that information to another NGO which conducts fly-overs to assess the spills and government response.  The panelists all agreed with Mr. Brainard on the quality of NGO journalism itself, citing several major magazines that support rigorous journalism standards.  What the panelists want to see when communicating to NGOs is action – if the NGO is looking for media attention it has to show action and character.  They need to think about the story that will be told: what is the question? Is something changing? Is there quantitative data that can be compared and analyzed? Are there new patterns emerging?

In short, is it “N-E-W” news?

Interesting Links:

Society of Environmental Journalists, http://www.sej.org/ – recommended by panel members as a forum to reach out to journalists or publicize events and projects

Did You Know? MPAs Work and Support a Vibrant Economy

Speakers:  Dan Benishek, Lois Capps, Fred Keeley, Jerald Ault, Michael Cohen

U.S. House of Representatives Dan Benishek, MD, Michigan first district and Louis Capps, California twenty forth district gave the two supporting introductions to the discussion of marine protected areas (MPA.)  Congressman Benishek has worked closely with the Thunder Bay marine protected area (MPA) and believes that the sanctuary is “the best thing that has happen to this area of the United States.”  Congresswoman Capps, an advocate in the education of marine wildlife, sees the importance of MPAs as an economic tool and fully promotes the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

Fred Keeley, the moderator for this discussion, is a former Speaker pro Tempore and represents the Monterey Bay area in the California State Assembly.  California’s ability to affect the positive push for marine sanctuaries can be seen as one of the most important ways to protect our future environment and economy.

The big question is, how do you manage the scarcity of resources from the ocean in a beneficial way? Is it through MPAs or something else?  Our society’s ability to retrieve scientific data is fairly easy but from a political stand point the work involved with getting the public to change their livelihood creates problems.  The government plays a key roll in activating protection program but our society needs to trust these actions as away to sustain our future for years to come. We can move quickly with MPAs but won’t gain economic growth without the support of our nation.

Giving insight to the investment into marine protected areas is Dr. Jerald Ault, professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami and Michael Cohen, Owner/Director of Santa Barbara Adventure Company. These two approached the topic of marine protected areas in separate fields but showed how they work together to promote environmental protection.

Dr. Ault is an international renowned fisheries scientist who has worked closely with the Florida Keys coral reefs.  These reefs bring over 8.5 billion to the area with the tourism industry and cannot do this without the support of MPAs.  Businesses and fisheries can and will see the benefits of these regions in a 6 year time span.  The investment into protect marine wildlife is important to sustainability.  Sustainability does not just come from looking into the commercial industry it involves the recreational side too.  We have to protect the oceans together and supporting MPAs is one way to do this correctly.

Michael Cohen is an entrepreneur and an educator of the Channel Islands National Park.  Seeing the environment first hand is very beneficial way to promote marine protection.  Bring people to the Santa Barbara area is his way of teaching, over 6,000 people a year, how important it is to protect our marine wildlife.  The tourism industry will not grow in the United States without MPAs.  There will be nothing to see without future planning which in turn will decrease our nation’s economic expansion.  There needs to be a vision for the future and marine protected areas is the start.

Boosting Economic Growth: addressing Ricks to Ports, Trade, and Supply Chains

Speakers: The Honorable Alan Lowenthal: U.S. House of Representative, CA-47
Richard D. Stewart: Co-Director: Great Lakes Maritime Research Institute
Roger Bohnert: Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Intermodal System Development, Maritime
Administration
Kathleen Broadwater: Deputy Executive Director, Maryland Port Administration
Jim Haussener: Executive Director, California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference
John Farrell: Executive Director of U.S. Arctic Research Commission

The Honorable Alan Lowenthal started off with an introduction about the risks our society takes with developing ports and supply chains.  Investing into the infrastructure of ports and harbors is not an easy task.  The work involved with building a fairly small port has extreme costs.  If a port is not properly maintained by an efficient team it will have many unwanted problems.  Restoration of the United States ports can help boost our economic growth through international trading.

The moderator for this discussion, Richard D. Stewart, brings forth an interesting background with experience in deep sea vessels, fleet management, surveyor, port captain and cargo expediter and currently the Director of University of Wisconsin’s Transportation and Logistics Research Center.  As you can see his work in the trading industry is extensive and explains how the increase of demand for various goods is putting stress on our ports and supply chain.  We need to maximize least resistant with in our distribution systems by modifying specific conditions for coastal ports and supply chains through a complicated network.  Not an easy obstacle.  The focus on the question from Mr. Stewart was to find out if the federal government should get involved with development and restorations of ports?

A subtopic from the main question was given by John Farrell who is part of the arctic commission. Dr. Farrell works with executive branch agencies to establish a national arctic research plan.  The Arctic is becoming easier to excess through the northern routes creating movement of industry in the region. The problem is that there really is no infrastructure in Alaska making it difficult to operate efficiently. The region is not prepared for such a dramatic increase so planning needs to go into immediate effect. A positive out look is important but we can’t make any mistakes in the arctic. It is a very fragile area.

The insight that Kathleen Broadwater from Maryland Port Administrator brought to the discussion was about how important the navigation chains to the ports can effect movement of goods. Dredging is a key factor when it comes to maintaining ports but there needs to be a place to store all of the debris that dredging causes. One way is to safely contain the debris into wetlands creating an environmental friendly way to dispose of the waste. To stay globally competitive we can rationalize our ports resources to focus on international trading and supply chain networking. We can utilize the federal government resources but it is crucial with in the port to function independently. Roger Bohnert works with the Office of Intermodal System Development and takes a look at the idea of staying globally competitive. Bohnert sees a port lasting approximately 75 years so developing best practices with in the system of supply chains can make or break the internal system. Reducing the risk of long-term development can help but in the end we need a plan for a failing infrastructure.

The last speak, Jim Haussener, plays an important role with in the development and maintains of the west coast ports of California. He works with the California Marine Affairs and Navigation Conference who represents three international ports on the coast. Maintaining a ports ability to operate can be difficult but our global demand for goods can not function without each port operating at full capacity. One port can not do it alone so with the infrastructure of our ports we can work together to build a sustainable network. A ports infrastructure is independent from all land transportation but to develop a supply chain with the transportation industry can boost our economic growth. Inside the gates of a port it is easy to set up efficient systems that work mutually but outside the walls the infrastructure can be complicated. A joint effort between federal and private groups with monitoring and maintaining is crucial.  The burden of the United States global supply chain is split and needs to continue in this manner to preserve our economic growth.

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