Leading a packed house of NYC Green Drinkers in a brief call and response, Carl Safina of the Blue Ocean Institute had everyone repeat: "The oceans are too big to fail." Safina, who has dedicated his life's work to marine science and conservation, was being facetious, as he outlined how the oceans are under more threats than ever before.
Safina was one of several luminaries speaking about the topic at the spectacular Prince George Ballroom in midtown, at the recent Green Drinks holiday party and benefit. Introducing the keynote address by the legendary oceanographer Sylvia Earle, Safina said she "would rather be surrounded by groupers than groupies." When Earle took the stage the energy in the room was palpable, since the crowd knew to expect a passionate, moving speaker, and arguably the most decorated scientist in her field (I'm guessing Steve Zissou wasn't available).
"We need to think blue as well as green," Earle told the crowd, as they sipped complimentary organic cocktails and munched on tasty vegetarian snacks. Earle's message was compelling: that what we do on land has a profound impact on life below the waves, and that the oceans must be preserved, if we are to maintain the precious balance of all life on Earth.
Before the main event at Green Drinks, Earle and Safina had addressed a smaller group of press and VIPs. "The oceans are alive, it's not just rocks and water out there," Earle had said. "It's a mystery to me why we've neglected the oceans the way we have." Yet, she added that we are in an extraordinary time of learning, and that we still have the power to change direction and save much of what's left. In particular, Earle pointed to the announcement in June by Obama to work towards a more comprehensive, unified national oceans policy.
Earle underscored the need to get a better handle on international fishing policy. "Ninety percent of the big fish are gone, including 90% of the sharks," she said. "These fish are more valuable in the ocean ecosystem than they are on our plates... People need to realize that we have the power, and we need to use it now." The scientist asked that people stop eating severely overfished species, such as Chilean sea bass and orange roughy, and to give a thought to the terrible waste caused by the "bycatch" problem. She also encouraged people to get politically motivated, and to tell their representatives and the president to support conservation-minded policy.
Carl Safina told the press that he grew up loving the oceans as a Brooklyn kid, who spent many halcyon days at the beach and fishing. Over time, he noticed that many of his favorite fish were disappearing. Then he went to graduate school to study the problem, and because he could "avoid growing up and live near the water." After years of research, Safina also began to advocate for marine conservation. "Right off our coasts are incredible populations of wildlife, but they are in a tailspin," he said. His group Blue Ocean Institute works to promote awareness through books, films, the web and even an iPhone application.
Adrienne Esposito from the regional Citizens Campaign Fund for the Environment was also on hand, representing one of the groups benefiting from the party's $50 entrance fee. "The biggest battle we face is that the public takes our oceans for granted," said Esposito in a thick New York accent. She related the story of being on a cruise ship and overhearing a passenger say he didn't understand what the big deal was over dumping nuclear waste in the seas, since they are "so big."
A representative from NRDC was also on hand, reminding people that seafood is also contaminated with mercury from coal plants, another good reason to consume less, and to advocate for a cleaner world. To promote clean water, Riverkeeper was one of several groups tabling the soiree, offering their "taste test" of New York's finest (tap water, filtered through a Brita) versus bottled water. I did guess correctly which was which (due to mouth feel), but their point is certainly taken. They were passing out literature condemning the recent attempt to drill for gas near the city's watershed.
Check out Seth Leitman's take on the party.
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