Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Gordian Knot of Global Aquaculture III: The Globalization of Aquaculture

This is the third and final entry in this late spring/early summer set of blogs about aquaculture. If you are just tuning in, the first post detailed the general history of fin fish aquaculture and the second looked at the development of feeding methods for that industry as it industrialized in the late 19th and early 20th century. Today, aquaculture is an international industry, with epicenters in Asia (Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China) producing carp, catfish, tilapia, and shrimp, Norway producing salmon (39% of the world's salmon) and trout, Chile producing trout, salmon (38% of the world's salmon), turbot, and an array of shellfish, India producing mostly carp, tilapia, and shrimp, and the US with catfish, trout, and tilapia.  There are, of course, other countries that do a lot of aquaculture and it is a quickly growing industry.

In addition to aquaculture to produce food stuffs, there is a growing ornamental fish industry. For instance, India's ornamental fish industry has taken off in the last few years; in Jalukbari, Assam, India, the local government and university biologists are outfitting and training traditional aquaculturists in ornamental fish production. In Chennai, Tamil Nadu Fisheries University (TNFU) is also dedicating a facility to training students in aquaculture of aquarium species. Of course, this industry is not cornered by India: Taiwan also has a burgeoning ornamental fish industry. 

The growth of aquaculture internationally has strengthened global trade in fish and fish meal. For instance, the US is the sixth largest exporter of fish globally, sending most of these exports to the Chinese markets. However, the US also imports about 90% of its fish from international sources, mostly from China. 

This type of exchange is not uncommon, but it has several implications, especially where fishmeal is concerned. 

Remember that fishmeal (and fish oil) is (currently) required to feed farm raised fishes. So as aquaculture grows, the requirement for fishmeal also grows. Most fishmeal is made from groundfish, by-catch,  and smaller species such as herring, whitefish, and anchovies. As larger apex pelagic predatory species such as salmon and tuna disappear from overfishing, necessitating the rise in farming of these species, smaller pelagic and groundfish species make up most of the fisheries around the world (this is called "fishing down, farming up"). But instead of feeding these edible and very nutritious fishes to nearby populations, they are turned into fishmeal for export to the aquaculture industry. 

For instance, to produce one pound of farmed salmon requires the fish oil of roughly 5 smaller fishes and the fish meal of 1.3 other fishes. While the industry generally comes out even because most other fish don't require that much oil (so the additional 3.7 fish used for fish meal can be fed, without their oil, to shrimp or trout), the demand for salmon is on the rise globally. 

In addition, salmon is a fish primarily destined for richer markets but feedfishes generally come from poorer countries. Take a look at this graph from Deutsch et al on the globalization of the aquaculture industry. 

As you can see, salmon aquaculture has increased in Norway over the last 25 years, as has the importation of fishmeal. However, exports have actually fallen and the consumption of salmon in the country has risen rapidly. 

Chile and Peru are the two largest countries specializing in fishmeal production. In fact, these fisheries provide most of the fishmeal to the world. This year has seen extremes in Peru's fishmeal production- El Nino impacts the fish runs off the coast and Peru saw record high catches in the South and record low catches in the North. The overall export value of fish products from South America in 2008 was valued at 10.8 billion but the imports were only valued at 2.0 billion (USD). Most of the imports were intraregional, meaning that Norway isn't sending salmon back. 

What this means is that South America, and specifically Peru and Chile, are exporting their natural resources to Europe and the US. While it is true that there is monetary recompense to these industries, it isn't clear how this trickles down to those individuals who would traditionally eat the fishes being turned into meal. This issue is one of the denuding of natural biodiversity and resources in developing nations to feed wealthy consumers Europe, North America, and Asia. 

For instance, within the next few years, it is estimated that India's aquaculture industry will consume almost 7 million pounds of fishmeal a year. While some fish, such as tilapia, are said to be able to survive and thrive on plant based diet, if producers want to trade globally then they require fishmeal to grow bigger, meatier fishes. In addition, the ornamental fish industry is also a consumer of fishmeal and that industry is already feeling pinched because of the price and availability of quality fish food. 

Many in the aquaculture industry have been working to develop reliable feeds that are primarily plant based, but the ultimate outcome is generally a smaller fish without the same nutritional content that has been touted in Cosmopolitan and health books for the last decades. Would farmed salmon be in demand without the high amount of Omega fatty acids currently present? Those acids come from their consumption of smaller fishes in the food chain. Can salmon survive on a plant based diet? certainly. Are they the salmon demanded by wealthy consumers? no. 

Major fishfeed producers suggest that fishfeed prices and production will plateau soon and then start to fall. One reason is that stocks of feed fishes are being depleted as quickly as the feed they are going to feed. In fact, many stocks are already in decline although feed fish are usually smaller, meaning that they reach maturity more quickly than apex predators and reproduce more rapidly. But these evolutionary advantages don't mean that they cannot be overfished and with fewer and fewer apex predators in the sea, everyone is out for the little guy. The development of alternative food sources will also lead to a smaller fishmeal industry. 

Until this occurs, fishmeal will continue to be an extremely profitable industry. Somalia has recently announced the building of a fishmeal factory and fishing fleet to compete for fish in their international waters. Until very recently, most of the fishing in Somali waters has been done by illegal Chinese fleets. The concern is that it would be useful for Somalia to just build a fishing fleet to utilize those stocks to feed a famine-wracked nation; instead, European companies are only willing to sponsor these fleets to collect fish for meal to be exported for aquaculture that will eventually lead to a healthier European population and a still-starving, not necessarily wealthier Somali fishing fleet. 

Somali fisherman are being trained in new methods to bring in pelagic species for processing into fishmeal.

In addition to the concerns about the depletion of needed resources in developing nations to those more developed, another concern raised by Deutsch et al is the dependence of major aquaculture industries on fishmeal from only a few sources. For instance, the effects of El Nino on Peruvian fishmeal production directly impacted the price of Norwegian, Scottish, and Canadian salmon because of their dependence on that fishmeal. This depended can lead to international impacts from local weather conditions. 

One bright light regarding fishmeal production seems to be that many of the countries increasing their aquaculture of export species have also increased their aquaculture of fishmeal species. For instance, China's import of fishmeal is starting to level off a bit as the aquaculture industry matures in that nation. Trade between the industry, with fin fish eating the fishmeal produced from shrimp byproduct and vice versa, could decrease the reliance on fishmeal. 

So the gordian knot of global aquaculture looks something like this: 
-Wealthy nations want a very specific type of fish
-they overfished these highly desirable species
-now they farm these fishes - to provide these fish and also to let wild stocks bounce back
- to do this, they rely on fish stocks from developing countries
- these developing nations are overfishing their natural resources to provide food for wealthier nations to farm fish

The verdict is still out if aquaculture relieves pressure on wild stocks- in fact, there is some reason to think that aquaculture might be masking the problem of overfishing for most consumers by maintaining the low cost of highly valuable species. In another twist, aquaculture can impinge on the habitat of native stocks, effectively destroying that habitat. 

What we do know is that aquaculture will not solve the problem of fisheries depletion as long as it relies heavily on such large quantities of wild fish stocks for feed. And global aquaculture won't solve the world's hunger problems if it continually takes food from poor regions and funnels it into wealthier regions via the network of fishmeal production and consumption.

Usually I would end the blog post with some kind of prescription- eat wild caught or eat farmed fish. And in true Gordian Knot fashion, I'll cut right through it: 

Stop eating so much salmon (or any fish you recognize by name on a menu). It's not the only nutritious fish. Your baby's brain will be fine without so many fish oil supplements. If you have a generally healthy diet, stop placing so much pressure on the global environment by eating endangered fish. Eat local fish; in fact, find out what the best local fish is to eat and support local industry by purchasing fish from them (you can find out about local stocks by going to your fish and wildlife page). 

Your food choices have impacts. Think about them. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Gordian Knot of Global Aquaculture Part II: Feeding Farmed Freshwater Fishes

In my last post, I talked about the very general history of aquaculture and especially the farming of fin fishes. Of course, shell fish aquaculture is a bit different, and it diverges pretty rapidly based on this post. Because I'm going to be talking about feeding fin fishes and crustaceans (but mostly fin fishes)- the conversation is different with shell fish because they are filter feeders. So we're going to talk about farming fin fish and a pretty interesting food web that links massive centers of fish farming with far flung fishing fleets and your table.And we're going to start with an important question: what should farmed fish eat?

The process of farming fish, also known as aquaculture, is quite old. The earliest aquaculture (see the last post) utilized natural formations to trap fish in areas for easy access; this meant a relatively small and seasonal system that left the fish capable of finding their own food. Other traditional forms of aquaculture use symbiotic relationships to feed larger amounts of fish. As early as 220 AD, rice farmers in China began to introduce fish into rice patties, either concurrently in rotation with the crop. The fish, usually tilapia or carp, feed off of pests or weeds but not the rice plants; in return, they fertilize the soil to increase the rice crop. In this way, large amount of fish can be farmed without worrying about what the fish eat.

However, industrial aquaculture in the 20th century presents a challenge: how do you effectively feed a large amount of fish in close quarters? To make fish farming possible, and eventually lucrative,  aquaculturists needed to work out two things: what nutrients were vital for the production of healthy fish? and what is the cheapest and most consistent way to achieve that nutritional balance?

Researchers at the United States Bureau of Fisheries began working on industrial aquaculture in the late 19th century. They focused primarily on marine fish and crustaceans (particularly lobster) at their Woods Hole marine station, and worked on the culture of fresh water fish and shellfish (mussels to provide mother of pearl for the button industry). At the Davenport station, Myron Gordon and G.C. Embody became interested in how best to feed trout after a series of trout die-offs and diseases, in particular, goiter in trout.  In 1924, they began compiling data on what trout ate in the wild and their general metabolism. Some of the earliest data came from field studies by Juday and Birge (the rock stars of the Wisconsin limnology community and possibly the two most important figures in American freshwater ecology in the first half of the 20th century) and metabolic studies by Morgulis at the New York Aquarium. After crunching this data, they came up with a general breakdown of nutrients that sustained trout and analyzed the effectiveness of current trout feeds.

The accepted fish feed for captive trout during this period was cow, sheep, and pig organs. Previous researchers found that shifting the quantity of these feeds didn't seem to have any impact on the health of the trout-- it didn't matter how much they ate, they continued to get sick. Embody and Gordon's research found that these food sources didn't contain enough of the nutrients found in the natural diet of the trout and suggested aquaculturists should find other forms of fish feed. They didn't make suggestions about what that feed should be, but their charts show a clear leaning towards fish meal (ground up fish and crustaceans) and away from terrestrial animal protein. 

Experiments were continued by the Bureau of Fisheries with a variety of species. Yearly pathology reports from Davenport, IA show continued research with carp, trout, and bass throughout the 1920s. Of particular interest was the impact of specific vitamins on the growth and behavior of young fish. Withholding water soluble B and C resulted in 45-67% mortality for all the fish. Withholding B resulted in fully grown fish who experienced trouble swimming due to convulsions. Withholding C resulted in white lesions on the fins and eventual death. 

Generally, these experiments (detailed in the National Archives Record Group 22 Fish Pathology and Pollution of Fishery Habitat, 1903-32) showed that vitamin deficiency was a major cause of pathology in farmed fishes and that feed was probably the most important variable to calibrate for the effective farming of fish stocks. 

Through the Davenport, Iowa experiments (and the subsequent work at Manchester, IA and other USBF stations in Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee, and Colorado) fisheries biologists developed industrial fish pellets or biscuits that contained all of the vitamins and nutrients required for health fish that grew quickly and maintained health. 

For freshwater fishes, the process of feeding, and developing feed, was one of trial and error because there was such a wide array of natural food consumed by the fishes. Trout consumed crustaceans, microscopic zooplankton, decomposing plant matter, and insects. This meant that their wild diet was relatively varied and didn't constrain their farmed diet as much. Fish biscuits and pellets contained primarily fish meal with added vitamins, and were generally held together with grains such as wheat or corn. As the market shifted over the 20th century, the more expensive components could be replaced by cheaper feed as long all the vitamin requirements were maintained.  Today, because of the expense of fish meal, researchers have been working to develop entirely plant based fish pellets for farmed fishes with mixed results.  While plant based pellets satisfy the nutritional requirements of the fish, it apparently results in a reduced appetite and feeding from the fishes and therefore a slower or plateaued growth rate. For now, fish meal is an integral portion of the diet of farmed freshwater fishes. But the amount consumed by freshwater fishes is minimal compared to that needed to farm saltwater species. 

To feed these fish, much larger amounts of fish meal is required. I'll talk about saltwater species and the global impact of fishmeal trade my next post. 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Gordian knot of global aquaculture: Part I The History

Aquaculture sits at the intersection of a great many areas of interaction with the sea: it involves food supply issues, environmental concerns, and the combination of craft knowledge and academic science. My next couple of posts will be about aquaculture and the difficulty of actually separating many of these concerns.

Aquaculture is the process of farming aquatic species for human use. These uses take the form of food for human consumption, food for agricultural consumption (for crops and animals), and ornamental purposes. At the risk of sounding like an undergraduate research paper (written hastily between 10pm and 1am), the history of the practice of aquaculture is almost as old as time. Archaeologists have shown that early human civilizations had both the ability to catch aquatic species, but also worked to increase their production through human built systems. Ancient Asian, Roman and Greek, and island (what is now Hawaii) communities are known to have built both freshwater and saltwater ponds to hold and breed fish. Early humans in what is now the Pacific Northwest built "clam gardens" on the coast to increase clam production and maintain a constant supply of the shellfish for consumption. Later, specific tools and techniques, including the use of cage culturing in China during the Sung Dynasty (AD 960-1280) expanded aquaculture production.

A) Ancient clam gardens on Quadra Island, BC, Canada, are intertidal beach terraces built by humans by constructing B) a rock wall at low tide typically between 0.7–1.3 m above chart datum. C, D) Quadra Island clam gardens range in size and shape but generally create shallow sloping intertidal terraces encompassing tidal heights of 0.9–1.5 m above chart datum. (Groesbeck et al. 2014)

The middle of the 19th century saw an increase in aquacultural research throughout the world and the craft knowledge developed over centuries was combined with the systematic biological experimentation growing at Universities. Combining these forms of knowledge pushed aquaculture forward rapidly. Traditional aquaculturists had great success in production on a small, local scale. By incorporating biological research on metabolism, virology, bacteriology, morphology, physiology, and behavior, aquaculturists could streamline the process of production. Understanding physiology and behavior could streamline reproductive cycles, helping culturists produce more generations more quickly. Virology and Bacteriology identified diseases of farmed species and worked to protect them from outbreaks. Production of previously farmed species exploded, as did the number of species able to be cultured.

Today, aquaculture is a growing industry. It is difficult to find specific numbers before 1950, but but the chart below shows the increase in aquaculture by volume from 1985 to 1998.

Since 1992, the United States has actually decreased their aquaculture. However, Korea, Norway, and Chile have increased exponentially. The interactive map and graph here are pretty awesome. That data is interesting to look at, but it doesn't include any information about China- the largest producer of aquacultural products in the world. There are several species that dominate international aquaculture: trout, salmon, tilapia, catfish, and shrimp. We can farm other species, including a variety of shell and fin fish and mollusks, as well as ornamental species, but for human consumption, those are the big 5 and account for the majority of resources spent on aquaculture. 

A modern salmon farm. 

Each of these species has a different issue that has been associated with problems in the industry.

- Farmed salmon has proved to be a breeding ground for sea lice and might spread the vermin to wild populations. In addition, a recent outbreak of sea lice in Scottish and Norwegian salmon has caused a surge in international prices. 
- trout, tilapia, and catfish are generally farmed in poor conditions; overcrowding and antibiotics needed for that overcrowding leach pollution into soil and generally damage the sensitive coastal ecosystems where they have traditionally been farmed. In addition, the clearing of mangrove swamps and other coastal systems to build these farms has been noted. 
- shrimp has similar issues to the finfish above, but the largest problem noted with the shrimp industry is the issue of modern day slavery. 

One of the most important additions to the traditional knowledge of culturists was the study of metabolism and nutrient research. In my archival research at the National Archives, I looked through the fisheries records for the Davenport, Iowa USBF station and found a lot of conversation about what to feed fish. Fish (I'll be talking primarily about fish culturing for the rest of this entry but I'm happy to answer questions or write about shellfish aquaculture in the future), especially the species humans like to eat, mostly eat other fish. For instance, trout- a commonly farmed fish- eats crayfish, smaller trout, and insects. The question: how do you mirror the diet of a wild fish in captivity? For ornamental fish, you can find a mixture of things for them to eat- as long as they are fed and thriving, no worries. But there's a problem with feeding farmed fish for food- you want them to taste "good" (not too fishy I'm told) and to have the texture and color of their natural brethren. Much of that texture, taste, and color come from diet. The most prized fish and crustaceans get their firm flesh, color, and taste from consuming other fish and crustaceans- all the Omega 3's we've been told so much about comes from fish oil and flesh. So major farmed species like trout, salmon, and shrimp eat other fish- and a lot of it. The question throughout the 20th century has been- given the metabolism and dietary needs of these highly prized species- how can we feed them efficiently? At Davenport- they worked to develop what we now use to feed farmed fishes- a dehydrated, compressed biscuit made up of fish meal, fish oil, and supplemented with corn, soy, or other fillers (sometimes saw dust is even included). The requirement of fish oil and fish meal is where the knot, the intricacy of aquaculture, tightens and tangles. 

September 1923. This report, which looks at vitamin deficiency studies at Davenport, Iowa and nutrition studies at nearby Manchester, Iowa. National Archives RG 22
Fish meal is the name given to processed fish that has been ground finely and dehydrated. If you garden, you might have run into fish meal as a fertilizer high in phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium. If your mind is immediately flashing to the picture of Native Americans putting fish under their bean and corn plants, that's common. The story of Squanto teaching the English this traditional practice isn't completely wrong--he did teach them--but apparently he learned from other European settlers. But I digress. Fish meal is useful for gardening, but it is also an important component of aquaculture because it mimics the natural diet of apex predators. Fish like salmon eat smaller fish and their taste, texture, even their smell is dependent on a diet that is as close to that natural diet as possible. 

Fish oil is the other important component of a farmed fish's diet. Fish meal provides the bulk of the nutrients (and just the bulk of food in general) required for a fish to thrive in captivity, but fish oil is what really makes apex predators taste good (and gives them the Omega 3s you've heard so much about). Obviously, a lot of fish oil goes into the market to be consumed by humans, but a good amount of fish oil goes to fish farming. Without the oil, farmed fish would not thrive. 

By the middle of the 20th century, researchers had generally worked out what to feed farmed fish to keep them alive without overfeeding them. But the issues involved in fish feeding have been multiplying in the last 10 years as aquaculture requires more and more fishmeal and oil from an ocean with depleted fishstocks. The next blog entry will talk about the current science and debates about feeding farmed fishes. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Galapagos Tortoise: A conservation success story

It would seem that the Galapagos tortoise has been officially declared a conservation success. This is lovely news- in the first decade of the 20th century, there were few tortoises left on the islands and researchers could find no active nests. In effect, the tortoises that existed on the islands when Darwin visited on his Beagle voyage had stopped breeding or being able to bring clutches to fruition. This population decimation came from two major pressures- the Pacific whaling community had been using the Galapagos as a convenient stop for fresh water as they roamed further and further from shore for longer voyages. When they were stopped for water, the sailors supplemented their diet of hard tack and dried beef with fresh turtle soup. This effectively lowered the number of breeding tortoises, but it wasn’t the only cause of their demise. In addition to eating the tortoises, the whalers introduced pests, such as goats. They were introduced to the islands to serve as supplemental meat for future voyages and they overgrazed the islands, leaving no food for the tortoises.  These pressures effectively destroyed the population and habitat of the species, pushing them to the brink of extinction. But, now these tortoises on making a comeback!

In recent years, Galapagos tortoises have returned to the islands through a combined effort. The largest effort, and the one written about in the most recent news releases about this success, involves the eradication of goats and the restoration of vegetation on the affected islands. In an article on The Conversation, James Gibbs states that "the tortoise dynasty is on the road to recovery, thanks to work by the Galapagos National Park Directorate, with critical support from nonprofits like the Galapagos Conservancy and advice from an international team of conservation scientists."  Gibbs highlights the work done to restore the ecosystem and to breed the species in captivity on the islands.  Other news outlets have trumpeted the breeding capacity of individual (male) tortoises. Diego, a Hood Island tortoise, is being hailed as a lascivious sex-machine who has bred his species back from near extinction. The NYTimes says that he’s "an ancient male" tortoise returned to the Galapagos from the San Diego Zoo in 1977. What is most interesting to me about these articles is not that they aren't fascinating and completely correct, but that they are so short-sighted in their conception of the conservation effort to save these tortoises. 

Also, someone please tell me why everyone is so freaking interested in male tortoises and how they have sex. The continued obsession with Lonesome George is confusing to me. I can name at least 6 male Galapagos tortoises but there aren't any famous females. Why? Why are science journalist obsessed with the virility of male tortoises?!  (go ahead and google diego the tortoise and you'll find these headlines: "How one highly fuckable tortoise saved his whole species from extinction" and "Fuck Tortoise saves his entire species from extinction by having sex all the time" and my personal favorite "A bro tortoise had so much damn sex on the Galapagos that he's been credited with single handedly saving his species." The NYTimes article is only one step away from these bro tortoise articles and seriously, all of these sound really like this Onion article.   Apparently no one cares that male tortoises gotta have some receptive ladies. But I think you should know about these amazing ladies. So here's a famous lady- Nigrita is a tortoise at the Zurich Zoo doing some great work laying clutches and bringing baby tortoises into the world with her mate Jumbo. Check her out!

In fact, Diego is part of a group of tortoises taken from the Galapagos in 1927 as a last ditch effort to save the species and learn to breed them in captivity.  These tortoises ended up at zoos and aquariums throughout the southern hemisphere in the hopes that breeding pairs would produce offspring in captivity. And they did. The first Galapagos tortoise was born in captivity in 1945 and today, many of those pairs have been returned to the Galapagos to continue breeding.  This historical narrative is extremely important because it is a (tentative) success- we have so few of these that watching something work should be cause for analyzing why and how it has worked. Of particular interest in this story is the combination of ark breeding--that is breeding a population of endangered or extant in the wild organisms in captivity to create a reserve population meant to eventually be released-- with ecosystem restoration. This is, for all intents and purposes, the gold standard in conservation- the meeting point of two types of conservation to produce a revived population.  It is important that we tell the century-long conservation story of these tortoises (not only the recent narrative) to fully understand the time required to actually produce results with ark breeding and ecosystem recovery. Townsend removed these tortoises from a dying ecosystem in 1927 and it is only 90 years later that we are seeing a recovery and tentative success story emerge. Much of this comes from the nature of Galapagos turtle breeding but we can think about the long road of conservation with this particular story. 

In the early 20th century, Charles Haskin Townsend worked for the US Bureau of Fisheries. Townsend, along with David Starr Jordan, were asked to look into the conservation of the United States’ fur seal herd in the Bering Strait. Jordan, Townsend’s superior, suggested that Townsend speak with Japanese and Russian officials to get their whaling and sealing records to see how many seals these men were taking each year. While Townsend was pouring over the whaling and sealing records, he noticed something else startling: whalers were reporting fewer and fewer tortoises on the Galapagos every time they stopped. By looking through the logs, Townsend could tell that the population was completely decimated. Townsend visited the islands himself and confirmed this suspicion. And for his own reasons (he was not particularly moved by all species so it is unclear why he was so moved by the tortoises), Townsend set out to save this species. He did this is two ways: he urged the New York Zoological Society (who ran the Bronx Zoo and NY Aquarium) to lobby to Ecuadorian government to protect the islands and label them a national park. In addition, he sought permission to bring as many Galapagos tortoises as could be found on the islands to the United States to figure out how to breed them in captivity.

This is an image of Townsend and his men collecting tortoises for export off of the island chain. Wildlife Conservation Society Archives, Bronx Zoo (Townsend Collection) 
In 1927, Charles H. Townsend, then the director of the New York Aquarium, transported as many Galapagos tortoises as could be found from the islands to a group of botanical gardens, zoos, and aquariums throughout the US, the Caribbean and Australia. Townsend didn’t just give the tortoises to these places and walk away- he wanted to actively breed these animals. He asked the zoos to keep track of each animal, keep records of weight, age, and any ailments and to send those reports to Townsend. He used these reports to track the health of the animals and to gain knowledge of what they ate, common ailments, and the possibility of breeding behavior.

The Hawaii zoo sent this diagram of a tortoise's shell after a necropsy. Townsend hoped a better understanding of the morphology and behavior of the animals would help in breeding efforts. Townsend papers, Wildlife Conservation Society Archives, Bronx Zoo, New York

A list of the many places Townsend sent tortoises. This note in 1930 shows all the deaths of individuals based on location and, if a large amount, what had caused those deaths. By 1935, Townsend shifted most of the tortoises to warmer climates where it was believed they would be healthier and more likely to breed. Townsend papers, Wildlife Conservation Society Archives. 

An image of Townsend measuring a juvenile tortoise taken from the Galapagos. This might possibly be the infamous #120, a very small tortoise stolen from the exhibit at the Bronx Zoo in 1930. I like to think that some family in the Bronx still has #120 hiding somewhere (they'd be almost 500 pounds now) and is just co existing with him or her. 

In the earliest years, he found that the tortoises did not do well in colder climates. To decrease mortalities and save the animals, he sent them from New York to Arizona. He also suspected that the tortoises preferred certain rocky enclosures without deep sand and urged a similar habitat for all the tortoises across institutions.  While many tortoises were lost (including the youngest and smallest- #120- stolen from the Bronx zoo exhibit) the tortoises did eventually breed. The year after Townsend died (1944), the first Galapagos tortoise born in captivity hatched at the Bermuda zoo and aquarium, run by a former co-director of the New York Aquarium under Townsend.

Diego is a Townsend tortoise and to date, he has fathered over 350 tortoises. Other Townsend tortoises have been shipped to the Galapagos, as well as throughout the world to breed in zoo programs. Read this story about Ralph, a 100 year old tortoise just shipped to Texas to be a companion to Mr. Potato Head (another old tortoise).

There are two really important sides to the Galapagos tortoise success story. The first is the repair of an imbalanced ecosystem no longer able to support the tortoises. The removal of goats and the regrowth of native flora were both extremely important. But the other half was the removal of organisms to be bred in zoos. This type of breeding is known as ark breeding- named after the Judeo-Christian tale of Noah who saved animals on the ark until they could be returned to dry land. Ark breeding creates captive stocks (reserve stocks) that can, hopefully, be returned to their habitat once it has been restored. The Galapagos tortoise success can be added to others, including the black footed ferret, the California condor, the American bison (also a Bronx Zoo early 20th century story) and others that have been deemed relatively successful. 

Saving the Galapagos tortoise took over 90 years and the (initial and continued) collaboration of individuals, scientific institutions, and governments from all over the world. We should celebrate this tentative success, but also make sure we understand and properly tell the historical pieces of the puzzle. We cannot fully apply the lessons learned from this story unless we tell the whole thing- it is long and it involves a lot of trial and error. And oddly enough, a weird bro culture surrounding tortoises. Let's understand what we did to hopefully apply these lessons to other endangered ecosystems and species. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Climate Change is not (only) science**

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I'm a bit all-over-the-place about my interests, Marine research fosters this plurality because the marine world is huge and impactful- it touches everything. So I thought in this post I would talk about what I actually research.

My research is concerned with the way that a huge swath of people from all walks of life contribute to knowledge about the ocean. At one end of the spectrum is a bunch of different people, including (but not limited to) fisheries biologists, professional aquarists, hobbyists, anglers, beach goers, sailors, and academic biologists and on the other end is a product: published scientific knowledge.

In our world, we have a system of knowing- how do we know something? Society generally agrees that we "know" something because it was published and peer reviewed (i'll get to the quibbles later). So someone can feel some way about the weather, but a scientist can confirm that it is true. This is what we in the academy call epistemology- we know something for sure when people we trust go through a system we trust to prove it. Sometimes, this seems ridiculous. This is what makes morning talk show hosts and buzzfeed writers goggle at reports that say things like, "Scientists find that getting punched in the face hurts." Because,yeah, if you're a youngest child you didn't need a degree in physics to know the velocity of a fist to know that getting squarely punched in the face for stealing someone's favorite toy hurts like hell. You know it. But your childhood abuse at the hands of your older siblings doesn't count as universal "knowing"- there's too many questions. Maybe you have a sensitive face, or you're a crybaby, or your sister has a really supernaturally strong arm. So scientists study and they publish a report and that's when we know that it's okay that you told your mom. Because that really, according to scientists, hurt dude.

But here's what I study- I study the way that people who got punched in the face contribute to knowledge about face punching. Only in marine science.

The ocean is huge. And the health of the ocean impacts everyone. The US Fish Commission (now Fish and Wildlife and NOAA) was founded in 1871 because fishermen started noticing that their catch was decreasing dramatically and they asked the federal government to mediate an argument. The argument was between two states- one said that the problem was the use of a certain type of nets and the other said it wasn't. So the government formed a special commission to go check it out. And, after extensive interviews with fishermen and others who worked on or near the water, what they found was a bunch of fishermen who all said the same thing- there's way less fish. And they all had different ideas about the cause. They found that, based on study, that catches were much smaller and that it was most likely caused by the use of a certain type of net. Interestingly, when the findings were presented to both states, one banned the nets and the other didn't. We can see this small historical moment as indicative of most marine science (and environmental science in general).

The first to notice changes in the land are those that work with and on it and who thrive when that land thrives. These laborers and residents are the first to see the changes in the land and to sound the alarm. Rachel Carson knew this and used it as evidence in Silent Spring. For her, the people that knew about the danger of pesticides were backyard bird watchers- she uses the voices of judges and doctors who see fewer and fewer birds in their backyards as evidence. And this is powerful- because she could throw so much scientific evidence at people, and she does in doses, but  she is clear- these residents are the people to really trust. They are sounding the alarm. They have knowledge.

This is the same with climate change. The residents of islands and artic regions are screaming. They are sounding the alarm. Those societies that survive and thrive when the ocean does are struggling. In ecology, we call these indicator species- it means a species that shows the effects of a stressor first- one species that basically shows us which way the wind is blowing. These societies, that survive because they have marine proteins, ice shelves, or even just land, are indicators of what is to come- and they are telling us. These are not scientists- they are laborers, fishermen and women, people who are residents at the front lines of a changing planet. They are giving information to scientists and while that information is confirmed by climate scientists, they are getting it from real people- people who don't make money from a universal scientific conspiracy. Just people who labor and live by the sea and are rapidly watching their way of life get washed away.

The ruling classes everywhere have always been particularly bad at understanding warnings about the ocean. Wealth and privilege allow distance, not just from a subsistence lifestyle, but from the actual labor that attaches people to the land. They cannot "know" the land because they are separated from it. For instance, at the turn of the twentieth century, a very well-known British Scientist (T.H. Huxley), going against the knowledge of American and English fishermen of that era and quite a few fisheries biologists, declared the ocean to be endlessly abundant. He said that there was absolutely no way we could ever overfish- none. And people really believed him. Especially people in power. Because he was a scientist and a really really famous dude to boot. But here's the thing, we already knew that stocks were disappearing when he said it because laborers and residents knew it and they had told people. And papers had been written. But those at the top- those that eat but don't gather- they see little.

Right now, Americans are terribly spoiled and wealthy. Especially when it comes to the ocean and its resources. If you want fish for dinner, or scallops, or clams, or oysters, or shrimp- you go to the store and you get it. And most people don't look on the package to see where it came from or how it got there. If there isn't one type of fish, you get another. But most of the time, you buy frozen and the amount and price seems consistent. So when you hear scientists and residents yell about declining stocks or ocean acidification or mass migration, you don't listen. Because of course it seems preposterous. Possibly another Population Bomb scare if you're old enough to remember it.

But it's not. Climate Change is not (just) an academic science- it's the knowledge produced by confirmation of the alarms raised by people who know the most- those that are living on the front lines. And eventually, whether we want to talk about it (or can talk about it), that person on the front lines will be you. At first, you'll just be inconvenienced because you can't get the fish you like, then your usual spot for your beach vacation will be ugly or unavailable because of erosion. But eventually, the salinization of drinking water on the coasts coupled with extreme droughts will make you a front line resident and you will sound the alarm and wonder why no one is listening.

Anti-intellectualism shouldn't stop you from believing in climate change. Because the people it affects, the people who are sounding the alarm, are not scientists. They just live in the most sensitive places right now. Climate science isn't academic- it is the most down-to-earth knowledge available. Don't let conversations about lazy, rich, privileged scientists stop you from listening to the people you trust. Laborers, mothers, fathers, anglers, and yes, business people, see the change.

The argument that climate change is a scientific conspiracy is wrong. Because it is knowledge of the earth by people who live on it. If you are a fan of laborers, blue collar workers, people just trying to survive and raise their babies, you have to be concerned about climate change. They are the telling you the truth.

Climate Change isn't Science: it's common sense.

**if you're concerned about this title, know I've thought about it- and I used it because I want it to come up in google searches in a specific way.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Maritime Music Traditions: Longing and Belonging near and on the ocean

When I write, I often listen to one genre on heavy rotation. While I’m a pretty eclectic music lover overall, when writing in long stretches, I most commonly turn to country. I grew up listening to country and I find it calming. However, I’m not such a huge fan of newer country music. There are exceptions, and finding an exception led me to this blog post.

A few months ago, I started working on my book heavily and I wanted to find an album that would get me into the writing spirit. I usually listen to older country music- Dolly Parton and Conway Twitty types of things- but I wanted something new. So I googled “best country albums of 2016” and got a nice list of country albums. I immediately nixed a few- but I came across one- Sturgill Simpson’s Sea Stories- that interested me. Obviously the title intrigued me, but the album also contained a cover of Nirvana’s In Bloom which is terribly satisfying. After listening to the album, I basically fell in love with two things- Simpson’s voice (which is somewhere between George Jones and Merle Haggard- this is high praise indeed)- and his subject material. Simpson’s album is an extremely lovely collection of sailor’s songs. Simpson was in the US Navy and his material for this album draws a lot from his time as a sailor. One of the most interesting songs is “Sea Stories”- an intense, fast paced narrative of a stint in the US Navy from enlistment to discharge (and seem reminiscent of John Prine at times):

Basically it's just like papaw says:
"Keep your mouth shut and you'll be fine"
Just another enlisted egg
In the bowl for Uncle Sam's beater
When you get to Dam Neck
Hear a voice in your head
Saying, "my life's no longer mine"
Have you running with some SAG SOG
BMF sandeater

Sailing out on them high seas
Feels just like being born
That first port call in Thailand
Feels like a pollywog turning nineteen
They've got king cobras fighting in boxing rings
And all the angels play Connect Four
Seems like a sailor's paradise
But turns out to be a bad dream

Now you hit the ground running in Tokyo
From Kawasaki to Ebisu
Yokosuka, Yokohama, and Shinjuku
Shibuya, Ropongi, and Harajuku
Aw, from Pusan and Ko Chang, Pattaya to Phuket
From Singapore to Kuala Lumpur
Seen damn near the whole damn world
From the inside of a bar

I've got sea stories
They're all true
Might seem a little bit far-fetched
But why would I lie to you
Memories make forever stains
Still got salt running through my veins
I've got sea stories
And my shellback, too

Sometimes Sirens send a ship off course
Horizon gets so hazy
Maybe get high, play a little GoldenEye
On that old 64
And if you get sick and can't manage the kick
And get yourself kicked out the navy
You'll spend the next year trying to score
From a futon life raft on the floor
And the next fifteen trying to figure out
What the hell you did that for

But flying high beats dying for lies
In a politician's war

In this video, Simpson calls it a "pirate song". 

Listening to A Sailor’s Guide to the Earth reminded me of reading maritime novels- Simpson’s snapshot of the maritime world uses the lens of labor- that of the lessons learned as a sailor laboring on the sea.

Critics have struggled to place his album into a genre—it leans in some places to blues, Southern Rock, traditional country—but it isn’t difficult to see that it is, in many ways, most clearly in the maritime tradition.

According to Neuenfeldt, maritime music traditions are songs of “longing and belonging.” They typically take the form of shanties/chanties- specific song structures of call and reply or singing in the round. There are several groupings or “types” that one might be tempted to describe. When I first started reading about maritime music I was tempted to make some divisions.  Songs like those of Pacific Islanders that tell the history of cultures and are integral to cultural identity seemed somehow different than ‘Surf City’ and midcentury American rock-and-roll.  But of course, the more I thought about the divisions, the more colonially minded and close minded they appeared to me. It is both simplistic and telling to say that maritime traditions of singing are ways of exploring “longing and belonging”: all songs about the sea are built around themes of culture building through leisure, labor, and longing (either for the sea or to return home from it).

There’s a rich history of studying and recording these musical traditions (and basically every sea-going culture from black boatmen in Maritime Canada to Pacific Islanders and pirates [and basically all people who work on waterways- including rivers and at docks in general]). I'm going to use just one of example of many here. In 1966, Roger Abrahams, an American folklorist visited Barrouallie, St. Vincent. The village is a traditional whaling and fishing outpost in the Caribbean. In addition to hosting a fishing community, it is also known for producing sailors that served on fishing and shipping ventures throughout the world. The maritime tradition in Barrouallie, one of labor on the sea, dependence on successful labors, the seaside labor to convert a whale into money,  and also of leaving home for extremely long stretches with no ken of how quickly you would come back (if ever) produced a specific type of musical traditional.

Several types of songs emerged from this particular maritime culture:

1.       The love song about loneliness and distance
2.       Songs meant to keep time for rowing or to encourage work
3.       Narratives that highlighted tensions between the laborer and the owner or government

The last is an interesting case.
When rigging broke or the boat was in poor condition, the sailors might sing this shanty:

if de owner is lame, that’s the one we must blame
oy yay
Oh Blow de Man Down
Blow de man right down to de ground

Another song in this tradition involved mocking those that didn’t work on the water but reaped the benefits:

The song De Man in De Waistcoat talks about the government official at the port that collected taxes for bringing in catches. He sittin’ on his stool just like a little boy in Sunday School, de man in de waistcoat love fisherman’s money.

The combination of songs about loneliness and labor “of longing and belonging”, match Simpson’s album perfectly. The album is meant, according to the musician, to mirror a letter Simpson’s grandfather wrote in the South Pacific during WWII in case he didn’t make it back from the war. Sailor’s is a letter to Simpson’s first child in this vein. There is a song to his wife (Oh Sarah) that mimics traditional narratives about fears of not returning from a voyage- of never finding a way home from the water (both metaphorical and literal; several songs (Keep Between the Lines and Brace for Impact) give advice to his son for growing up without him- should the possibility arise. And several (Call to arms and Sea Stories) have an edge of anger at Simpson’s employer (the US Navy) in the tradition of employer/employee relationships on the sea.

The song I struggled to place into the maritime tradition the most was the cover of Nirvana’s In Bloom. How, I wondered, does this translate into maritime music? But anthropologists and musicologists have studied the transfer of traditional, terrestrial songs into maritime cultures as well. And what they’ve found is that many maritime shanties/chanties are derived from a basic structure used in both marine and field labor. The Shanties of the Caribbean whale trade borrow and mimic the Chanties and songs of the field slaves and workers on Caribbean plantations. Music was taken from each context and changed by workers to suit the requirements of each group. I was reminded, when listening to In Bloom, of a friend who told me offhandedly one time that while he was in the marines, everyone’s favorite song was Baby Hit Me One More Time and many marines sang it constantly. At the time, it struck me as odd. But when thinking about longing and belonging, about floating on a boat in the middle of the ocean, about building identity, I place In Bloom into these traditions- of borrowing and building relationships through songs that are shared but not necessarily about the water.

Maritime songs aren’t necessarily about the water but about the identity one builds on the water to survive and thrive. And while Simpson is no longer a sailor in the US Navy, he has created a maritime album that sits squarely in the tradition. Give it a listen.

And if you want to hear more traditional maritime music, there are maritime music festivals all over the United States (and World) each year. I leave you with a few videos of such a festival in Portsmouth, NH. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Trashing the Oceans Part 2: Normalizing Human Pollution in the Marine Environment

My previous post was on the inclusion of certain types of plastic pollution in the movie Finding Dory. Basically, the type of plastic that we see as a problem is really a problem for the 80s and 90s. The problem today is microplastics spreading throughout the ocean and the food chain.

This post, I’m going to focus on a more theoretical question about the depiction of plastic in the movie: Does the act of depicting garbage without comment somehow normalize that sight for young children? or to ask it another way, Does Finding Dory succeed in its conservation messaging?

I’m going with a gut instinct here that the makers of the film were making an environmental statement with the inclusion of garbage in the movie. If not, we have a bigger problem because that means the thing I fear will come to pass, i.e. that people have become so used to an ocean full of trash that it seems somehow normal and natural to them, has already happened. That would be bad. So I’m going with the more optimistic belief that we as an audience are supposed to be appalled by this garbage and angry that it’s there.  But unfortunately, the directors didn’t really make the garbage a plot point nor did they give any information about picking up trash or recycling at the beginning or ending of the film so the audience is left to assume their motivations. 

So, for those of you that haven’t seen the film, maybe take a look at the previous post to watch the Dory preview, but here’s a few stills from the movie so that we can get an idea of how trash is being depicted.


In the past, overt environmentalist messages in animated films have been just that: overt.

Fern Gully (1992): The Last Rainforest is one of my personal favorites.  I’m old enough to remember Fern Gully when it was new (when I anthropomorphize pollution in my head it sounds just like Tim Curry). Fern Gully was heavy handed and pretty much hit all the high points of environmental concerns- animal testing, native rights, logging, eco feminism. This was a movie for the 80s and 90s crowd raised on the even heavier handed Captain Planet. Our little hearts ate up these messages and we swore to always protect the mythical, magical rain forests of the world.  There was no guessing what this movie was about- save rain forests from logging!

Wall-E (2008): Another overt message here. Wall-E is startling because it portrays robots as having more humanity than humans where the environment is concerned. Humans destroyed the earth, left it, got super lazy and fat and it takes a robot to fix it. And when the earth is fixed humans get to come back down to earth and reap the benefits of reconnecting with the land. We get skinny! (ugh) We learn skills! We reclaim our humanity from robots who love Hello Dolly!! 

These movies have issues with their environmental message- Fern Gully’s reliance on supernatural causes of environmental degradation is labeled by Michelle Smith and Elizabeth Parsons as “antithetical to the environmental movement.” Wall-E has some major fat shaming issues that make it basically unwatchable to me (and I won't ever show it to my child for this reason). But it is clear at least that these films are meant to convey an environmental/conservation message. The plot revolves around pollution and the degradation of the Earth and the heroes are those that save the earth.  There are more (Bambi, Over the Hedge, Princess Mononoke), but these seem the most prominent in my mind and what is striking is how they differ from Finding Dory.

Finding Dory depicts a trashed ocean without it seemingly impacting the characters.  Yes, Dory gets caught in a six-pack ring but it doesn’t lead to a story line where she can’t find her parents because she is emaciated from being unable to eat- she gets picked up and taken into a marine facility for "rehabilitation" but the audience doesn't get the sense that she needs to be rehabilitated; she doesn't complain of pain or have any seemingly ill effects from the rings. She seems to be completely healthy while in quarantine. We don't even see the scientists cut off the ring or talk about the horrible nature of this type of pollution.

In addition, while searching for her parents, Dory swims through a desert of rusted out automobiles, broken bottles, tin cans, and tires but this is just background. Trash doesn’t stop her from seeing her parents’ shell directions and it doesn’t get her lost in the first place. In fact, during her search she comes across a graveyard of rusted metal containers serving as hiding places for a variety of sea creatures all of whom warn Dory to be quiet or she will wake the squid. Instead of appearing out of place, these cans and containers serve as useful housing for creatures just going about their lives.

At no time in the movie is the case made that the pollution is bad or that it hurts any of the animals in the ocean. Adults recognize trash in the ocean (and therefore in the illustrated ocean) as being bad, but can we rely on subtle messages where children are concerned or does this depiction without comment possibly naturalize garbage in these environments?

Dolly Jorgensen has written  about the way that seemingly unnatural edifices become commonplace in our perception of the marine environment. Her work highlights the way that oil companies seek to naturalize oil rig structures by sponsoring tanks containing these pieces at public aquariums. When an oil rig is decommissioned, companies are responsible for clean up and disposal of those rigs. A common way that oil companies have sought to minimize clean up costs has been to cut the rig off under the water line and leave it as an artificial reef. As Jorgensen points out, governments have to give permission for this disposal and one way that companies are making sure that people have no objections is to give them the sense that rigs actually belong in the marine environment- that they’ve always been there. One way that companies naturalize these rigs is to pay for tanks at public aquariums that include rigs as reefs.

Jorgensen uses the example of the rigs to reef tank at the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans. The Gulf of Mexico tank is sponsored by 5 oil companies (BP, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron and KerrMcGee) as well as an individual that has worked in that industry. These companies could have sponsored an exhibit without a rig in the tank (it’s prominent) but they didn’t and their money is going further than to educate children about the underwater environment. It is doing something priceless: naturalizing rigs as reefs in the ocean. After seeing rigs in tanks at aquariums, a place that works to construct the underwater environment for its visitors, who would be surprised when they encounter one in the ocean? The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is not the only one with a rig tank- some are less prominent than others, but when they become commonplace and unnoticeable, so do the rigs.

If this sounds completely off, just bear with me. Do ship wrecks belong in the ocean? Do they seem natural? Are they much of a bother? I ask this because there are a lot of shipwrecks on the ocean floor and it is with these that we see the work of naturalization done so well. Think of the amount of times you have seen a shipwreck depicted in either animated or nature films as part of the underwater landscape. We would be surprised if, in a National Geographic episode our explorers scaled a particularly high mountain and found a plane or tank (it happens but not that much) but we’re not at all surprised by the depiction of ships in the furthest reaches of the ocean. In fact, many sunken ships have grown reefs over their structures and have become protected marine areas.

Take for example the Shipwreck Trail in the Florida Keys.  Located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, “The nine ships along this Shipwreck Trail have many tales to tell, from the stories of individuals who came before us to why they were here and their difficulties in navigating these waters.”

The nine wrecks consist of 6 accidental wrecks, 1 ship purposely sunk to create a reef, and ironically, two ships that were about to be sunk for artificial reefs that broke free from their tugs and went down accidentally. 

What is interesting to me is how common images of ship wrecks our in my imagination of the underwater world. So much so that sinking ships to create artificial reefs has become fairly common. Instead of questioning the role of ships in underwater reef building- do these things really belong?- we just keep adding more.

I think one of the largest questions is, why would we be making artificial reefs? The answer is varied. One major reason seems to be that we know that creating a reef will bring divers to that area- you are basically creating a space where you know that people are guaranteed to see the types of organisms that they imagine are in the ocean. In many ways, this is the impact of TV and public aquariums on our understanding of the ocean: most people think that the ocean resembles a tank of fish- full of beautiful corals, multiple types of fishes, and all of these organisms should be visible immediately. The truth, if you've ever dived is that this is just not so. The ocean is big, dark, cold, and generally pretty empty. Unless you're diving on a reef in relatively shallow water. So governments are trying to draw tourists in and give them what they want and artificial reefs do this. Scuttled ships and decommissioned reefs offer structures on which new ecosystems can grow. 

In addition, these spaces are being built in places where humans have injured the existing reef structure. In places where reefs have been destroyed or are in decline, humans are using these reefs as band aids for the injuries they've caused. 

Finally, there is some evidence that these artificial reefs increase fish stocks. Especially in areas with little diversity or decreasing fish stocks, the rigs seem to offer spaces for fishes to feed and hide. Slate just reported this week that a large amount of BP money from the oil spill is being used to create artificial reefs to increase fish stocks. 

There are ongoing debates about these artificial reefs and the possible positive and negative impacts on ecosystems. Studies show that rigs and ships (along with concrete pyramids) are successful in facilitating reef growth. However, the question is, at what cost? Some suggest that, while these spaces increase fish stocks, they also allow poachers and illegal anglers to hone in on fish attracted to these areas easily; instead of large fish being spread around a large area, the reefs concentrate these fishes and make poaching easy. Basically, it gives new meaning to "shooting fish in a barrel". In addition, questions have recently been raised about the impact of these spaces on the spread of invasive species. Some researchers suggest that these wrecks amount to a disturbed ecosystem and allow invasive species to build strong communities that will then increase their numbers and allow them to spread more rapidly though the ocean. Most reports are relatively early on the colonization of these spaces by corals, but most suggest that these spaces grow more slowly than natural reefs and support smaller coral (although some researchers believe this could change over time). Most of these studies are from the last 15 years and many in the last 10, with researchers calling for more expansive research on the impact of disintegrating ships on the health of these ecosystems long term.  

What is interesting to me is the way that we take for granted (politicians and the public) that we already know the answers to the questions.  Most people don't bat an eye at the idea that there is a ship being sunk to create a reef.

It is this type of naturalization that I fear where rigs and small level pollution are concerned. It is true that we currently recognize sunken cars, rusted cans and broken bottles, and floating plastic, as not belonging in the marine environment. But Finding Dory did something concerning- it normalized that trash by having characters co exist without struggle.

So the question is, would it have been better for conservation goals to draw the ocean without pollution in the hopes that children would imagine it as such (and be startled when it is trashed) or is it better to show it as a site of trash in the hopes that children will want to clean it up.

I'm of the thought that the former is more useful than the latter. I'm open to conversation.