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Roughly 250 beaches in northeastern Brazil are affected by the mysterious oil spill. Shutterstock / Joa Souza

By Emily Petsko

Update, Nov. 7: Brazilian authorities named a Greek-flagged vessel as the culprit of the oil spill, but backtracked on Wednesday when they announced that four other suspected tankers were also being investigated. Three of the crude-carrying vessels are owned by Greek companies, and the fourth suspect is owned by a Belgian company, according to Reuters.

By Emily Petsko

Update, Nov. 7: Brazilian authorities named a Greek-flagged vessel as the culprit of the oil spill, but backtracked on Wednesday when they announced that four other suspected tankers were also being investigated. Three of the crude-carrying vessels are owned by Greek companies, and the fourth suspect is owned by a Belgian company, according to Reuters.

Update, Nov. 4: Brazilian and international media are now reporting that fragments of oil have reached the Abrolhos Marine National Park. This story is still developing.

One by one, the golden beaches in northeastern Brazil have begun to turn black. Thick clumps of oil have been washing ashore since late August, killing marine animals, threatening the livelihoods of coastal communities and tainting 2,500 kilometers of coastline spanning nine Brazilian states. Once-pristine beaches now look like something resembling a Rorschach inkblot test. And the complex root systems of carbon sink mangrove forests have become polluted mazes.


This oil spill is one of the largest environmental disasters in Brazil’s recorded history — and for months, no one knew where it was coming from. The Brazilian government has responded with delayed action and defensiveness, first blaming neighboring Venezuela for the spill while also suggesting that Greenpeace was somehow involved. President Jair Bolsonaro’s tactic is familiar: He previously accused environmental groups of setting fires in the Amazon rainforest, without any supporting evidence.

Brazilian investigators now say that a Greek-flagged vessel hauling Venezuelan oil is the culprit, according to the latest reports. The ship reportedly spilled oil 700 kilometers from Brazil’s coast in late July while traveling to Singapore.

“There is strong evidence that the company, the captain and the vessel’s crew failed to communicate with authorities about the oil spill/release of the crude oil in the Atlantic Ocean,” prosecutors said, according to The Guardian.

While the mystery appears to have been solved, this environmental crisis is far from remedied. It took exactly 41 days for Bolsonaro’s administration to enact a national plan from 2013 that specifically outlines how to address large oil spills in Brazilian waters.

Ademilson Zamboni, vice president of Oceana Brazil, said the government must apply the plan while also investigating the source of the spill, calling the incident “very serious.” Some fear that the oil could soon reach the country’s largest coral reef, located within the Abrolhos Marine National Park. The Abrolhos region is home to the largest biodiversity in the South Atlantic.

A colorful coral within the Abrolhos Marine National Park. Shutterstock / Leo Francini

A report released by the Brazilian Navy says that over 1,000 tons of oil have already been removed from beaches in the region. Without a coordinated federal response, citizens have had no choice but to take action themselves, putting their own health at risk. Volunteers, some in their bare feet, have been using shovels and their gloved hands to scoop and remove oil deposits. In one striking photograph, a 13-year-old boy, coated in oil and wearing a plastic garbage bag, is seen wading through waist-high waters off the coast of Pernambuco. He said he and his relatives had just wanted to help.

Volunteers remove oil from Jardim de Alah Beach in the state of Bahia. Shutterstock / Joa Souza

The problem extends far beyond the shore, too. “It is easy to clean up oil from beaches, but not from mangroves and rocky shores,” Zamboni says. “And the longer it remains in these places, the worse the damage it causes. The main problem is that we do not know how much oil is yet to arrive. And it may last a long time.”

This is exactly the type of disaster that Oceana and its allies have worked hard to prevent. Just weeks ago, environmental advocates successfully convinced companies that the risk of drilling for oil off the coast of Bahia, a state in northeastern Brazil, was too high. When the government attempted to auction off four oil fields near the Abrolhos Marine National Park, the would-be bidders fell silent. Oil industry analyst Adriano Pires told the Associated Press that companies “didn’t want to get themselves in the middle of an environmental mess.”

A dead turtle on a beach in the Brazilian state of Ceará. © OCEANA / José Machado

Drilling in that area has been averted for now, but the fight continues to stop offshore drilling in Brazil and many other countries where Oceana works. Spills such as the one now coating Brazil’s coast — and approaching the very area just spared from drilling — also prove that other steps must be taken to protect our oceans.

Better transparency at sea, for example, could help identify the individual ships responsible for oil spills. “If vessel tracking — useful for both fishing and oil — were in place all over the world, we could have more clear information,” Zamboni says.

But until that happens, and until the Brazilian government takes decisive action to stem the spill, once-beautiful beaches will continue to turn black.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Oceana.

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A woman carries fish in Nauta, Peru. Oceana / Shutterstock / Christian Vinces

By Emily Petsko

For many, the end of October evokes images of falling leaves or Halloween's ghosts and ghouls. But those of us focused on oceans also know October as National Seafood Month.

By Emily Petsko

For many, the end of October evokes images of falling leaves or Halloween’s ghosts and ghouls. But those of us focused on oceans also know October as National Seafood Month.


Oceana works to save the oceans and feed the world, and we can’t do that without sustainable seafood. We help our oceans thrive by promoting fishery policies that follow science-based quotas, reduce bycatch, put an end to overfishing and protect fragile habitats. These tactics not only help marine life flourish — a win in its own right — but also ensure that our oceans can continue to nourish the people who need it most.

Seafood is an indispensable part of many people’s diets, livelihoods and cultural traditions. This is especially true for populations that don’t have access to an alternate source of healthy, affordable protein. In recognition of National Seafood Month, here are five ways that seafood can sustain and support communities around the world.

1. Seafood can provide a healthy source of protein to a growing population.

Right now, 821 million people around the world are living in hunger. This problem isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon, especially with the population projected to grow by 2 billion people over the next 30 years. But by ensuring that fisheries are managed sustainably, and within scientifically sound parameters, we can restore ocean abundance and put enough fish in our waters to feed a sizable portion of the planet. If we look after our oceans properly and avoid overexploiting their resources, they could provide a nutritious meal every day for 1 billion people.

2. Seafood could fill the micronutrient void that exists in many developing countries.

Enough fish are caught in many developing countries to nourish their populations, and yet malnutrition remains a persistent problem. How can this be? A team of researchers, including Oceana Science Advisor Dr. Eddie Allison, found that the fish being caught in tropical countries are chock full of important micronutrients — including calcium, iron, zinc, selenium, omega-3 and vitamin A — but they don’t always end up on local people’s plates. That’s because much of the catch is exported, sometimes for the sole purpose of being churned into fishmeal and fed to carnivorous farmed fish like salmon, which are ultimately consumed by people in higher-income countries.

This has consequences for both local people and the economy. “A lack of fish-derived nutrients has been found to have a large effect on public health, notably infant mortality and hence GDP,” Oceana Board Member and fisheries scientist Dr. Daniel Pauly wrote in a response to the study, which was led by Dr. Christina Hicks. That’s why, when we consider the benefits of seafood, it’s important to also consider who has access to those benefits.

3. Seafood tends to be a low-carbon food, so it reduces the strain on the environment.

Compared to land-based animal proteins like beef and pork, wild-caught seafood has a significantly lower carbon footprint (as long as it’s not being carted around the planet by plane). Plus, it requires virtually no fresh water or arable land to harvest it. At a time when concerns over habitat destruction and climate change are growing, it’s more vital than ever to rethink our global food systems.

A recent report from the High Level Panel for A Sustainable Ocean Economy suggested that climate change could be mitigated, in part, by shifting global diets towards plant- and ocean-based options. “Food from the sea, produced using best practices, can (with some notable exceptions) have some of the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per unit of protein produced of all protein sources,” the panel wrote.

4. The fishing sector provides jobs to millions of people — half of whom are women.

Women and children fish in Pemba, Mozambique. © OCEANA / Ana de la Torriente

Roughly 120 million people work in capture fisheries around the world. Over 95% of those people live in developing countries, and nearly half of them are women. Although fishing is typically viewed as a “masculine” occupation, many women make a living by spearing octopus, digging for clams, diving for abalone and packing and processing seafood. This industry is particularly important in small island nations. In Palau and Seychelles, for instance, 10% to 50% of their GDPs may be derived from fisheries, according to Forbes.

5. Fisheries are vital to many Indigenous coastal communities.

Indigenous peoples eat roughly 2 percent of all the seafood caught annually around the world, according to a 2016 study written by Dr. Andrés Cisneros-Montemayor and co-authored by Dr. Pauly. Considering that Indigenous groups comprise just 5% of the global population, their seafood consumption works out to be 15 times higher than that of non-Indigenous peoples.

So what exactly does this mean? As the study’s authors put it: “Marine resources are crucial to the continued existence of coastal Indigenous peoples, and their needs must be explicitly incorporated into management policies.” Canada’s revamped Fisheries Act, which was championed by Oceana and our allies, is a good example of how this can be achieved. The new version of the Act recognizes Indigenous knowledge and states that the Minster of Fisheries and Oceans has a duty to consider any adverse effects that decisions may have on Indigenous peoples.

Fish at a market in Punta Gorda, Belize. © OCEANA / A. Ellis

From coastal communities to octopus fishers to people living in the tropics, it’s clear that millions of people around the world depend on abundant oceans. Of course, when we talk about the benefits of seafood, sustainability is an important caveat. Overfishing and destructive fishing methods are still ravaging marine habitats, rendering them less capable of providing for people’s nutritional needs in the future. That’s why, when you select a fish from a restaurant or your local supermarket’s seafood counter, it’s important to check the source. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a helpful tool called Seafood Watch that simplifies the process.

Want to learn more about how Oceana is helping to save the oceans and feed the world? Visit their campaign page here.

Reposted with permission from our media partner Oceana.

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Nigel Marple / Greenpeace

The circles on the map above, from IPNLF, represent pole-and-line fisheries around the world. Color corresponds to size, with green fisheries landing less than 4,999 tons per year, orange between 5,000 and 49,999 tons, and blue weighing in at more than 50,000 tons annually. Only the Maldives, Indonesia and Japan are blue.

Look for clearly-labeled skipjack or albacore, marked pole-and-line-caught. The safest bet is the cleanest method, even if pole and line supplies a tiny fraction of the tuna on grocer's shelves.

By Amy McDermott

Canned tuna is a staple in my pantry, and probably in yours. Americans and Europeans buy more of the squat little cans than anyone else, importing almost a million tons in 2018. Supermarkets carry at least 20 brands.


Yet, the fish we buy for $1.50 also dominates headlines as a creature in crisis because some tunas are badly overfished. It’s natural to wonder if any canned option is a sustainable choice.

Pick one with “pole and line” scrawled across its side for fish without a side of guilt, said Adam Baske, who specializes in tuna policy for the International Pole & Line Foundation or IPNLF, in London.

Pole and line refers to an ancient, artisanal fishing method that supplies about 10 percent of the world’s canned tuna today, mostly from the western and central Pacific and the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. It doesn’t have the bycatch issues plaguing other gears, that accidentally snare and kill millions of tons of marine life every year, and it’s more labor intensive, meaning it creates more jobs.

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/305813058 expand=1]

Reel Good Fish

Trot around a supermarket, and sooner or later, you’ll pass a wall of tuna cans. Grab one that says pole and line and feel yourself transported from the fluorescently-lit grocery aisle to the breezy waves of the tropics.

Fifteen fishermen stand shoulder to shoulder on a fishing boat, each holding a long pole, strung with a line and lure. They cast into an ocean simmering with tuna, and jerk fish out of the water one by one, flinging them into the back of the boat.

“Tuna just start flying through the air,” Baske said. “It’s exhilarating, it’s thrilling.”

Since the fishermen catch one tuna at a time, and pull them onto the boat right away, there’s little chance to hook unintended sharks, sea turtles and diving seabirds. The few that do bite fishermen’s hooks are set free before they drown.

Compared to other fishing methods, like longlines and drift gillnets that can discard more than half of their catch, pole and line is much cleaner. It hooks 1 to 2 percent bycatch in the western and central Pacific, the largest tuna fishery in the world, said Peter Williams, a fisheries scientist with the Secretariat of the Pacific Community or SPC, a regional development organization in New Caledonia. In the Maldives, pole-and-line bycatch is less than 1 percent.

That’s one reason the gear is so sustainable—another is the type of tuna it hooks.

Of the seven commercially-important tuna species (albacore, bigeye, skipjack, yellowfin, Atlantic bluefin, Pacific bluefin and southern bluefin), pole and line catches mostly skipjack, and some albacore, both of which have largely healthy stocks. It’s the most sustainable method catching the most sustainable tunas.

Yellowfin and bigeye are also canned, but their populations are overfished in some parts of the world, so they’re not such great choices. And then there are the bluefins, the major tunas to avoid. All three bluefin species are threatened, and two are endangered or critically endangered, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Bluefin are huge, powerful, lightning fast and driven to the brink by their popularity in sushi. You’re unlikely to find them in the canned aisle.

Choosing Well

Choosing a simple can of tuna can be daunting when you consider where the fish was caught, the status of wild stocks and which gear landed dinner. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a simple answer? Tuna won’t let you off the hook so easily, but a little digging turns up some straightforward takeaways.

Finding “pole and line” on the side of the can is the most instructive marker. In the Maldives, this kind of fishing dates back centuries, and remains the country’s most important fishery, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

“Unlike a lot of other places in the world, being a fisherman is a great job in the Maldives,” Baske said. “People are proud to be fishermen and want their sons to be fishermen. The fishery provides quite a bit.” Most of the pole-and-line-caught skipjack in U.S. supermarkets comes from 15 to 20-man operations in places like the Maldives, Baske explained.

Maldivians eat a pound of fish a day on average, the highest per capita consumption in the world. Seventy-one percent of the population’s protein comes from fish, and every other staple food is imported.

Other Pacific countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and the Solomon Islands also depend on tuna for food, said Williams of SPC. “Most of the catch from these countries are from small-scale artisanal fisheries,” he said, making tuna key to their food security.

The circles on the map above, from IPNLF, represent pole-and-line fisheries around the world. Color corresponds to size, with green fisheries landing less than 4,999 tons per year, orange between 5,000 and 49,999 tons, and blue weighing in at more than 50,000 tons annually. Only the Maldives, Indonesia and Japan are blue.

The Old Ways

Despite its benefits, pole and line is antiquated compared to industrial gears. Of the 2.5 million metric tons of tuna (worth $5.84 billion) hoisted from the western and central Pacific Ocean in 2017, just 6 percent came from pole and line, a historic low driven by the rise of more efficient gears in the 1960s.

Purse seiners now catch the vast majority of skipjack in the region: 79 percent in 2017. They’re much more efficient than pole and line, catching 50 to 100 times the tuna in a single encircling, purse-shaped net, Baske said.

Dead bycatch from purse seiners averages between 1 and 5 percent around the world, depending if and how fishermen attract tuna to the area. While that’s dramatically lower than gillnets or longliners, and only a tiny fraction are sharks (less than 0.5 percent by weight), vulnerable silky sharks are disproportionately affected. They are a slow-breeding, fish-eating species that hunt near the nets and account for more than 90 percent of purse seine shark bycatch. A quarter of all the silkies caught worldwide die in the purse seine fisheries of the western and central Pacific, according to the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

The silky shark’s predicament has some parallels to threats dolphins faced a few decades ago. If you bought tuna in the 1990s, you probably know the dolphin-safe label: a small, round badge guaranteeing dolphins didn’t die in the fishing process. Millions drowned back then, herded into nets with yellowfin. Laws changed in the intervening years, and today the vast majority of canned tuna sold in the United States is dolphin-safe, a certification enforced by NOAA Fisheries. Tuna should still have a dolphin-safe label today, but almost all of the canned brands do.

Silky sharks don’t have a label on tuna cans, nor do the sea turtles, seals or albatrosses dying in droves in industrial fishing gear. The side of the can is your best guide today.

Buying pole-and-line-caught tuna supports sustainable fishing around the world. Here, Arnold Baranutu and Dennis Manuel display their catch, hooked by pole and line, in Bitung, Indonesia. IPNLF

Look for clearly-labeled skipjack or albacore, marked pole-and-line-caught. The safest bet is the cleanest method, even if pole and line supplies a tiny fraction of the tuna on grocer’s shelves.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily realistic to say it will supply all of the world,” Baske said. But artisanal fisheries that catch tuna one at a time, he said, “can, and should, make up a bigger part of the global supply chain.”

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