Glimmering Jewels

A sea sapphire in motion. Image via Sploid

A sea sapphire in motion.
Image via Sploid

A tiny iridescent copepod (Sapphirina copepod) has been making its way around the web lately in a lovely now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t fashion not unlike its appearance in the natural habitat. Invisible unless hit at the right angle by light, they are described by those who have seen them as making the water look like its been scattered with jewels. Researcher RR Helm, who wrote a wonderful piece on these creatures in Deep Sea News, has dubbed them ‘sea sapphires’.

A lot of the time I feel like I’m looking out over vast expanses of space where the news is all pretty much the same, most of it not good, and then there’s a flicker, or maybe two, of something that is worth celebrating. And not just RR Helm‘s lovely writing.

For example, there’s good news on one of my pet topics, the American eel: The annual season for harvesting valuable eel young, the elvers, will soon be upon us.

American eel (Anguilla rostro.) Image: Sidhat

American eel (Anguilla rostro.)
Image: Sidhat

Concern about steep declines in the American eel population has prompted the The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission to issue strict catch limits being placed on the elver harvest this year, with the overall permitted catch down 35% from last year, when there were no restrictions.

Tiny jewel copepods from Panama Photo: Arthur Anker/Flickr

Tiny jewel copepods from Panama
Photo: Arthur Anker/Flickr

I won’t go on at length about the complex role of the American eel in the Atlantic ecosystem, how the debate over elver harvesting reflects a number of state vs. tribal conservation conflicts, nor about how little is known about the eel and the status of its population, nor how these juvenile eels are caught to be sold halfway around the world because Asian eel stocks are utterly depleted.

The fact is, a catch quota is a good start to slowing down the overfishing of these animals while their actual status is still under examination.

And so there’s a flash of color, of positive news, in the sea. The hope that if I keep watching, I’ll always see more.

Maybe even an entire sea of jewelled water.

ROV frame grab of the sparkling layer of Sapphirina copepods at about 40 meters (130 feet).  Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)

ROV frame grab of the sparkling layer of Sapphirina copepods at about 40 meters (130 feet).
Photo: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI)

Glass Fragile

Glass Beach, Fort Bragg, California Source:

Sea glass, broken bits of all the glass that’s been lost at sea, is worn by waves and tossed up on shore. It seems to accumulate more at some than at others. This California beach protected in its current, colorful state, even if – technically – it could be considered a by-product of all the glass humans have discarded into the ocean over decades. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not really the worst we’ve ever done to the oceans.

Stating the importance of the oceans is like making a comment on how breathing is an integral part of life.

In honor of World Oceans Day, which is June 8, I’d like to contrast a couple of illustrations.

Decline in biomass of popular fish 1900-2000 Source: Information is Beautiful/The Guardian

Decline in biomass of popular fish 1900-2000
Source: Information is Beautiful/The Guardian

The one above is an illustration of the effects of overfishing over the course of a hundred years.

From The Guardian article: “(E)arly accounts and data on the past abundance of fish help reveal the magnitude of today’s fish stock declines which are otherwise abstract or invisible…Our fishing policies and environmental activism is geared to restoring the oceans to the state we remember they were. That’s considered the environmental baseline.

The problem is, the sea was already heavily exploited when we were young.

So this is a kind of collective social amnesia that allows over-exploitation to creep up and increase decade-by-decade without anyone truly questioning it.”

The good news is, if we can stop overfishing as an activity, managed fishing seems to lead to a rebound of fish stocks.

Against the rapidly depleting fish stocks and life in the oceans, I’d like to place this study in longevity:

Source: NOAA

The good news is, recycling is becoming habitual in many places, as are biodegradable packaging alternatives. Now we just need some great business and technological solutions to cleaning up what’s already there.

World Oceans Day was officially recognized by the United Nations in 2008, but has been organized for years by the World Oceans Network. I posted this a day early so you can see if there are any events in your area to attend.

The theme this year for World Oceans Day is Oceans & People: Together we have the power to protect the ocean.

I would go one step further and say: It is only by working together that we have the power to protect the oceans.

One of my favorite ocean songs:


The Guardian article – Interactive illustration of fish stocks

World Oceans Day United Nations web site

Ocean Project / World Oceans Day organization web site

What we talk about when we talk about war (II)

Ilex squidVia: SASSI, South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative

Ilex squid
Via: SASSI, South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative

Some time ago, I posted some thoughts on the impact of war on the environment and creatures besides humans. Those comments focused primarily on the immediate effects of war waged on land.

Today, a news piece brought to my attention another environmental impact of war: The lack of cooperation on transboundary environmental protection issues between countries in dispute. In this case, the countries are Britain and Argentina, the region is the South Atlantic Ocean, and the issue is illegal fishing.

Argentina’s coast guard caught two Chinese trawlers illegally fishing Argentine waters for ilex squid (I’m not certain, but I believe this to be primarily Argentine  shortfin squid, Illex argentinus) before the ships could escape out into international waters. But this was a rare victory against an illegal fishing fleet, mostly out of China, which hauls an estimated 300,000 tons of ilex squid out of the South Atlantic every year.

From the Associated Press article today:

“The species, which roams across the maritime boundary between Argentina and the Falkland Islands, is key to a food chain that sustains penguins, seals, birds and whales. Managed well, it could sustain a vigorous fishing industry and steady revenues for both governments.

But the two sides aren’t even talking.

The Falklands are defended by British warships, planes and submarines, giving the fisheries agency considerable muscle to enforce licenses in its waters. But Argentina’s navy has never recovered from its 1982 war against Britain for the islands, and its coast guard has just eight ships to cover more than 1 million square miles (2,800,000 square kilometers) of ocean, said its chief of maritime traffic, Mario Farinon.

(The) problem is so big that it can be seen from space: Images of the Earth at night, taken by a NASA satellite last year, show darkness at sea the world over, except for this spot in the South Atlantic. There, 200 miles from the nearest coasts, the lights of this renegade fleet shine as brilliantly as a city.

The industrial ships transfer tons of squid to huge refrigerator ships and get refueled and resupplied at sea so that they can fish without pause.

Argentina ended 15 years of joint fisheries management in 2005 because it didn’t want any government relationship suggesting a recognition of the islanders’ claim to the British-held islands.

And so each government goes its own way, licensing boats and trying to enforce its stretch of the sea, while refusing to cooperate against the much larger fleet that’s just beyond their individual reach.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides countries with tools that Argentina could use right now to combat overfishing.

One is the “hot pursuit” article, which enables enforcers to pursue boats fishing illegally within their territory into international waters. Another is the “straddling species” clause, which allows governments to protect wandering species like the ilex squid, by applying the same rules on both sides of their maritime border. Countries that jointly manage their seas often grant each other reciprocal permission to arrest rule breakers, and any two countries can make bilateral agreements to regulate their fleets as they see fit, Greenpeace attorney Daniel Simons said.

The territorial dispute makes that impossible here.

“Argentina should enforce the same rules and impose its sovereignty beyond the 200-mile limit,” said de los Santos of the fishing chamber. “But it would have to have a fleet 10 times bigger.””


As anyone who watches detective movies knows, a territorial line of jurisdiction is only of use if the perpetrator of a crime does law enforcers the favor of remaining within their jurisdiction. In this case, the territorial lines between Britain and Argentina are crossed not only by the illegal trawlers, but by the squid themselves, as well as the entire feeding chain which depends upon them. Not to mention the companies supporting the ships from half a globe away.

Illegal fishing and overfishing in the South Atlantic is a matter of conflict even without the ongoing dispute between two countries that are in a position to actually do something about it.

Photo: Alamy

Photo: Alamy


Full AP article

Study of biological squid patterns off the coast of Brazil

Special topic paper, Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) – World Squid Resources

Article on previous disputes between Argentina and the Falkland Islands over squid fishing