Slashing rain, rolling thunder, lightening flashes—the island of O‘ahu woke Sunday morning to a severe storm advisory and warnings of flash floods. But the crummy weather that kept most people away from the beaches didn’t deter a spirited crowd of local citizens and activists from gathering in the town of Hale‘iwa on the island’s North Shore to celebrate the anti-GMO movement’s recent successes and keep up the pressure against the agri-biotech industry in Hawaii.
Sporting a motley mix of rain gear, some 700 people trickled into a 7-Eleven parking lot on the south end of town by noon. Among the crowd were most of the key figures involved in the fight against the GMO companies in the Hawaiian islands—from grassroots activists, to politicians, to Hollywood stars, to pro-surfers and locals from the beleaguered west side of Kauai island. Many had flown to Honolulu in the morning and made the hour-long drive across the island to the North Shore despite the heavy downpour.
“The rain hasn’t stopped us before,” said Nomi Carmona, president of Babes Against Biotech, a group that works to oust legislators who receive funding from biotech companies and one of the organizers of the “Ahola Aina March: Collaboration for a Better Tomorrow.”
“I haven’t done a whole lot of protesting since my college days, but I came out because this is important—it’s about our food,” said Mike Smola, a local art historian. “Its ridiculous to have bioengineering experiments in a closed ecosystem like this island.”
With its green-blue water and massive winter waves, O‘ahu’s North Shore is best known as a surfing mecca that hosts the international Triple Crown of Surfing competitions every December. The last big one—the Billabong Pipeline Masters—was held here on Saturday. But this part of the island is also where the biotech companies have thousands of acres of GM crop fields. Biotech giant Monsanto, for instance, leases more than 1,000 acres of land around Hale‘iwa from Kamehameha Schools, a private trust that owns about half of Hawai‘i's farmland.
Which is why the organizers—a coalition of community and food rights groups including, ‘Ohana O Kaua‘i, Hawaii SEED, Hawaii GMO Justice Coalition and The Mom Hui—chose to hold the event in Hale’iwa, the biggest town in the North Shore. The idea was to tap into the momentum of the international surfing competition, which draws a lot of media attention, and raise awareness about GMOs and Big Ag. The “Michael Jordans” of the pro-surfing world—stars like Kelly Slater and John John Florence—had been promoting the march during the past week, and they and several other pro-surfers turned up for the Sunday march.
“GMO is probably the most talked about issue in the pro-surfer world right now and that’s because most pro-surfers have made their careers here on the North Shore and they don’t want to see it polluted,” said Kyle Thiermann, founder of Surfing for Change and 2011 Brower Youth Award winner, who was filming the march for a short video documentary he’s making on the issue.
The goal of the event was to march a mile down the Kamehamehea Highway to the Hale’iwa Beach Park for a rally and non-GMO potluck party with some live music and dancing thrown in.
There was some confusion in the beginning, with the local department of transportation pulling the march permit because of unsafe weather conditions and a power outage that took out traffic lights. But the organizers decided to press on anyway.
“Walk safe,” advised Dustin Barca, a pro-surfer turned activist from Kauai and one of the key organizers of the march. “Let’s keep it respectful but let’s make some noise!”
And after a round of prayers and a resounding blow of the conch, off they set down the wet highway, chanting, “A’ole, a‘lole, a‘ole GMO! Monsanto has got to go!” (“A‘ole” means “no” in Hawaiian)
The local police, after a failed attempt to deter the marchers, helped out by closing off part of the highway and diverting traffic. As the marchers proceeded down the road, passing cars honked in support and people from the stores and restaurants along the single-lane road stepped out to wave and join the chanting. The rain slowed down to a drizzle and gradually petered off by the time the marchers reached Hale’iwa Beach Park.
“For me the ua [rain] that came down upon is a blessing,” said Ellie Cochran, the Maui council member who introduced a GMO regulatory bill on her island two weeks ago. Water, said a clearly emotional Cochran, “cleanses” and “purifies” and that’s just what Hawai’i needs right now.
In the past year Hawai‘i has turned into ground zero for the battle over genetically modified organisms. There’s been a growing groundswell of grassroots opposition against the five big biotech companies—Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont, Dow Agrochemicals and BASF—that have been expanding their operations here, occupying tens of thousands of acres of former sugar and pineapple plantation lands to grow and test transgenic seeds. Hawai‘i currently has the largest number of experimental GMO crops in the U.S.
The islanders’ pushback against GMO companies came to a head in the past month when the island councils of Kauai and Hawai‘i (also known as Big Island) passed bills to regulate the industry. Much of this movement is centered around the Hawaiian idea of “Aloha ‘Aina”—or “love for the land—and the growing concern that their land, and health, is being affected by these companies’ heavy use of pesticides.
“Our generation took on the U.S. military and we won because of Aloha ‘Aina—which has nothing to do with negativity and has everything to do with passion and love and respect, and that’s what this younger generation is doing now,” veteran Hawaiian political activist Walter Ritte, who had been involved in the effort to wrest the island of Kahoolawe from the control of the U.S. military in the 1970s, told Earth Island Journal. “It is difficult to do this [organize a united movement] here because it’s expensive to travel between the islands, but we have taken the movement to each of the islands and shown that it can be done.”
But Ritte acknowledged that marching, “while good for the soul, is not going to get us where we have to go.” The anti-GMO movement must get involved in electoral politics, he said.
Continued public support of legislative efforts to regulate the biotech industry will be crucial once the Hawai‘i state legislature begins its new session in January. There’s already some talk of the state government introducing legislation that could nullify the Kauai and Big Island bills. (From 2007 to the current filing period, the biotech industry and its lobbyists have spent at least $515,775 on campaign contributions in Hawaiian legislative, gubernatorial and county council elections, according to a Babes Against Biotech analysis. The state government here is heavily pro-Big Ag.)
“It’s our job to make sure that county bills not only not get preempted, but become more powerful,” Ritte told the gathering at the beach later. “I’m pleading with all of you to register to vote. Your vote is your spear. It’s your weapon to fight the corporations.”
There is also the possibility of the biotech companies suing the Kauai and Big Island county governments on the grounds that the new laws unfairly target their businesses. “These are some cutting-edge issues that the courts have never seen before, so it’s going to be interesting,” said Paul Achitoff a Honolulu-based attorney with the environmental law firm EarthJustice. “This is all kind of new right now. A few years ago the state was controlled by industry, but now there are more things like this [march and regulatory bills] happening. It’s all in a state of flux.”
Visit EcoWatch’s GMO page for more related news on this topic.
By Robert J. Orth, Jonathan Lefcheck and Karen McGlathery
A century ago Virginia's coastal lagoons were a natural paradise. Fishing boats bobbed on the waves as geese flocked overhead. Beneath the surface, miles of seagrass gently swayed in the surf, making the seabed look like a vast underwater prairie.
Why Didn’t Seagrasses Recover Naturally?<p>Development, nutrient runoff and other human impacts have damaged marshes, mangroves, coral reefs and seagrasses in many bays and estuaries worldwide. Loss or shrinkage of these key habitats has reduced commercial fisheries, increased erosion, made coastlines more vulnerable to floods and storms and harmed many types of aquatic life. Rapid climate change has compounded these effects through <a href="https://theconversation.com/ocean-warming-has-fisheries-on-the-move-helping-some-but-hurting-more-116248" target="_blank">rising global temperatures</a>, more <a href="https://theconversation.com/more-frequent-and-intense-tropical-storms-mean-less-recovery-time-for-the-worlds-coastlines-123335" target="_blank">frequent and severe storms</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/as-climate-change-alters-the-oceans-what-will-happen-to-dungeness-crabs-61501" target="_blank">ocean acidification</a>.</p><p>In the late 1990s, local residents told two of us who are longtime students of seagrasses (Robert "JJ" Orth and Karen McGlathery) that they had spotted small patches of eelgrass in shallow waters off Virginia's eastern shore. For years the conventional view had been that seagrasses in this area had not recovered from the events of the 1930s because human activities had <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aquabot.2005.07.007" target="_blank">made the area inhospitable for them</a>.</p><p>But studies showed that water quality in these coastal bays was <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02782971" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">comparatively good</a>. This led us to explore a different explanation: Seeds from healthy seagrass populations elsewhere along the Atlantic coast simply weren't reaching these isolated bays. Seagrasses are underwater flowering plants, so seeds are among the main ways they reproduce and spread to new environments.</p>
Eelgrass beds were restored in four bays at the southern tip of Virginia's eastern shore on the Atlantic coast. David J. Wilcox/VIMS, CC BY-ND
Sowing a New Crop<p>From our <a href="https://doi.org/10.2307/1941597" target="_blank">earlier research</a>, we knew that when eelgrass seeds fall from the parent plant, they sink to the sea bottom quickly and don't move far from where they land. We also knew that these seeds don't germinate until late fall or early winter. This meant that if we collected the seeds in spring, when eelgrass flowers, we could hold them until the fall, helping them survive over the months in between.</p><p>We decided to try reseeding eelgrass in the areas where they were missing. Starting in 1999, we collected seeds by hand from underwater meadows in nearby Chesapeake Bay – plucking the long reproductive shoots, bringing them back to our laboratory and holding them in large outdoor seawater tanks until they released their seeds naturally. After about 10 years we started gathering the grasses using a custom-built underwater "lawn mower" to collect many more of the reproductive shoots than we could by hand.</p><p>In 2001 we sowed our first round by simply tossing seeds from a boat. Our first test plots covered 28 acres of mud flats in waters 2 to 3 feet deep. Returning the following year, we saw new seedlings sprouting up.</p><p>Each year since then, the <a href="https://www.vims.edu/" target="_blank">Virginia Institute of Marine Science</a> and the <a href="https://www.nature.org/en-us/about-us/where-we-work/united-states/virginia/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nature Conservancy's Virginia Coast Reserve</a>, along with staff and students from the <a href="https://www.vcrlter.virginia.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Virginia</a>, have led a team of scientists and citizens to collect and seed a combined 536 acres of bare bottom in several coastal bays.</p><p>These initial plots took off and rapidly expanded. By 2020 they covered 9,600 acres across four bays. Several factors helped them flourish. These bays are naturally flushed with cool, clean water from the Atlantic Ocean. And they lie off the tip of Virginia's eastern shore, where there is little coastal development.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a482c2146febd6782c99960c2b55feb8"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K9NyfPLINtk?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Sheltering Marine Life and Storing Carbon<p>Since eelgrass disappeared from these bays in the 1930s, human understanding of seagrass ecosystems has evolved. Today people don't pack their walls full of seagrass insulation but instead value different services they provide, such as habitat for fish and shellfish – including many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12645" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">commercially and recreationally important species</a>.</p><p>Scientists and government agencies also have recognized the importance of coastal systems in capturing and storing so-called "<a href="https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/bluecarbon.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">blue carbon</a>." In fact, we now know that seagrasses constitute a globally significant <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo1477" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon sink</a>. They are a key tool for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-64094-1" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slowing climate change</a></p><p>We are working to understand the valuable services that our restored seagrass beds provide. To our surprise, fish and invertebrates returned within only a few years as the meadows expanded. These organisms have established extensive food webs that include species ranging from tiny seahorses to 6-foot-long sandbar sharks.<br></p><p>Other benefits were equally dramatic. Water in the bays become clearer as the seagrass canopy trapped floating particles and deposited them onto the bottom, burying significant stocks of carbon and nitrogen in sediments bound by the grasses' roots. Our research is the first to verify the overall net carbon captured by seagrass, and is now being used to issue carbon offset credits that in turn <a href="https://vaseagrant.org/eelgrass-carbon-credits/" target="_blank">create more funds for restoration</a>.</p><p>One big question was whether restoring seagrasses could make it possible to bring back bay scallops, which once generated millions of dollars for the local economy. Since bay scallops no longer existed in Virginia, we obtained broodstock from North Carolina, which we have <a href="https://chesapeakebaymagazine.com/return-of-the-bay-scallop/" target="_blank">reared and released annually</a> since 2013. Regular surveys now reveal a growing population of bay scallops in the restored eelgrass, although there is still some way to go before they reach levels seen in the 1930s.</p>
Restored seagrass beds (dark areas) along Virginia's Atlantic coast, with sunlight reflecting from a small island. Jonathan Lefcheck, CC BY-ND
A Model for Coastal Restoration<p>Repairing damaged ecosystems is such an urgent mission worldwide that the United Nations has designated 2021-2030 as the <a href="https://www.decadeonrestoration.org/" target="_blank">U.N. Decade on Ecosystem Restoration</a>. We see the success we have achieved with eelgrass restoration as a prime model for similar efforts in coastal areas around the world.</p><p>Our project focused not only on reviving this essential habitat, but also on charting how restoring seagrasses affected the ecosystem and on the co-restoration of bay scallops. It provides a road map for involving scholars, nonprofits organizations, citizens and government agencies in an ecological mission where they can see the results of their work.</p><p>Recent assessments show that the restored zone only covers about 30% of the total habitable bottom in our project area. With continued support, eelgrass – and the many benefits it provides – may continue to thrive and expand well into the 21st century.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Jessica Corbett
Leaders of climate and conservation groups on Tuesday welcomed House Democrats' introduction of landmark legislation that aims to address the ocean impacts of human-caused global heating and reform federal ocean management—recognizing that, as Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva put it, "a healthy ocean is key to fighting the climate crisis."
<div id="a858f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99d487bc34e6e570edd2a3089e616347"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318606309256798208" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🎥 We're live! @NRDems, @RepRaulGrijalva, and @USRepKCastor are unveiling #OceanClimateAction legislation. W… https://t.co/pPdylA6cKQ</div> — Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (@Select Committee on the Climate Crisis)<a href="https://twitter.com/ClimateCrisis/statuses/1318606309256798208">1603215217.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="17f05" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="28d7040a5dd41c4d26fed8e93a225655"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318614724842524674" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">.@RepRaulGrijalva’s climate bill will ignite #OceanClimateAction to help fight inequality by prioritizing funding f… https://t.co/oeH1W214em</div> — NRDC 🌎🏡 (@NRDC 🌎🏡)<a href="https://twitter.com/NRDC/statuses/1318614724842524674">1603217223.0</a></blockquote></div>
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By Julia Conley
A federal judge in Washington, D.C. late Sunday struck down the Trump administration's proposed changes to the SNAP benefits program, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of people from losing badly needed federal food assistance.
<div id="e8d44" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="be49aabc36a5465eed30ca54f88f6b2d"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318171686232096772" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">A judge has ruled in our favor and blocked the Trump administration’s unlawful changes to SNAP. This decision is… https://t.co/5zeTafxMLm</div> — NY AG James (@NY AG James)<a href="https://twitter.com/NewYorkStateAG/statuses/1318171686232096772">1603111595.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="f47ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="381daa45528adda7398d5628d047294f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318175677724676096" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">There's a lot of competition for Vilest Policy Ever, but slashing food stamps during a pandemic that's causing mass… https://t.co/EYvb0C8Q3m</div> — Tamar Haspel (@Tamar Haspel)<a href="https://twitter.com/TamarHaspel/statuses/1318175677724676096">1603112546.0</a></blockquote></div>
<div id="946d8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3cff2dc2643fc55ab21d2a73881c7de8"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318168614541950976" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Trump: yes to Space Force, no to Food Stamps. Another equation that might be remembered in a few weeks. https://t.co/9IEDBaMy2o</div> — Matt Taibbi (@Matt Taibbi)<a href="https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/statuses/1318168614541950976">1603110862.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"Trump: yes to Space Force, no to Food Stamps," Taibbi tweeted.</p>
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