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Amelia A.
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Carl Safina

      . . . friend of the ocean. Dr. Safina earned his Ph.D. studying sea birds having grown up loving the ocean. He received a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship and a Pew Scholar’s Award in Conservation and the Environment.  His first book, Song for the Blue Ocean won the prestigious Lannan Literary Award. He founded the National Audubon Society’s Living Oceans and is now the President of Blue Ocean Institute. His latest book is Eye of the Albatross.


When you defend your fish, your fishing improves, reports ocean advocate Carl Safina, who has seen it happening in the North Pacific. But when you defend your fishing, your fishing deteriorates, he says, pointing to the North Atlantic. Dr. Safina is a leading environmentalist, founder of the Living Oceans program for the National Audubon Society, winner of a MacArthur “genius” award and a fisherman.

Wherever people are working to reduce effort and rationalize the amount of fishing power based on the resource, both the people and the resource are doing much better, Dr. Safina demonstrates in his second book, Eye of the Albatross. He compares this sensible approach to living in balance with one’s bank account. If you live on the interest instead of spending all the capital, you will have the interest forever. If you spend all the capital, you’ll feel a lot richer for a short while and then you’ll have nothing left. Unfortunately, the second scenario describes how fisheries still proceed in much of the world.

Do individuals make a difference?  No one else can, Dr. Safina is convinced -- humans are now so dominant on the planet that people really do shape the world. We must act on our hopeful impulses instead of capitulating to despair, he counsels. That’s how we’ll solve very real threats to the world’s oceans and the creatures that live in, on and over them. While Dr. Safina has seen both the good and the ill of human activity, he follows his own good advice in Eye of the Albatross, which he calls “Visions of Hope and Survival.”

There’s no getting away from the effects of humans, Dr. Safina has seen, but he is adamant that his is not false hope. He knows better than most that there is no body of water on the planet that does not abound in threats to its creatures, from fishing gear to plastics and industrial chemicals now found everywhere. But acting hopefully is more true than defaulting to inaction, he says, certain of the outcome of resigning to defeat. With the help of Amelia the Albatross, Dr. Safina tells stories of people all over the world -- from scientists to anglers -- who are countering the vast effects of humans.

There is currently a paradoxical trade-off, Dr. Safina says. Some things certainly are getting better. Fortunately, the days of people wiping out an islands’ species by converting all the creatures to cash, driving them to extinction, seem to be over.  This positive trend is especially notable in the North Atlantic. But now there’s a much more pervasive threat. Fishing gear threatens sea creatures everywhere. Consider the albatross. Their chance of being around fishing boats is virtually 100%, every week of their very long lives, which can last 40 to 50 years. So they’re always exposed to danger, even when humans have set their sights on another species. The hazard of getting clipped or snagged or drowned are very high for any individual, high enough that populations of all kinds of sea creatures are steadily declining.  

There are solutions, Dr. Safina reminds us. People are starting to do some of the things that are necessary to ensure the survival of the albatross and other inhabitants of the sea. So Carl Safina turns his face away from despair to celebrate people working for solutions.  And he calls us to join them.

[This Program was recorded March 18, 2002 in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Carl Safina tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell why he chose albatrosses to help us fill in the vast blue spaces on the world’s map. Dr. Safina describes lifelong interests which led him to write about the central role sea birds play for everyone fishing in the ocean, from fishing fleets to individuals.



Conversation 2

Dr. Safina describes a suite of birds adapted for roaming vast distances of open oceans, particularly the albatrosses of whom he speaks in his second book. He suggests how surprisingly similar sea birds are to people while assuring us that he looked at albatrosses for their own sake. Dr Safina compares how people and birds adapt to their surroundings. He describes how all species call on both learning and initial tendencies as we struggle to survive. He reports on what has been learned about how albatrosses live out their lives and how they have adapted to their watery habitat.


Conversation 3

Bringing us up to date on how scientists now track and study the life cycles of ocean birds and big fish, Dr. Safina applauds a pioneering scientist who is helping us all understand the world. Dr. Safina reports on great strides being made in understanding how sea creatures live. He reminds us that billions of birds are constantly moving across the face of the planet. While he does take simple pleasure in learning about sea creatures, Dr. Safina also is concerned about hazards these species face because so few people realize how many are disappearing. He expands with examples.


Conversation 4

Adaptations tuned to extremes over vast expanses of time can be both a bird's strongest asset and weakest link when it comes to coping with humans, says Dr. Safina, who gives examples of how distant islands can be either havens or prison.  Some things are getting better, Dr. Safina is glad to report, while he also points out a paradox -- threats on land are decreasing while threats from fishing gear at sea are dramatically on the rise. There are solutions, Dr. Safina is confident, and he tells stories of how people are beginning to implement some of those solution. He makes a strong argument for why it is realistic to stay hopeful in the face of daunting challenges.


Conversation 5

Fisheries in the North Atlantic have crashed while those in the North Pacific are rebuilding and doing well, Dr. Safina reports. He describes how differently fishing people in a variety of places now approach the sea.  When people work to rationalize the amount of fishing power based on the resource, both the people and the resource are doing better, he has found. He compares the process to living off interest or consuming capital, and offers an example from the North Pacific.  He reminds us how powerful a small number of people can be in changing the world. He gives two graphic examples of the global impact of humans.


Conversation 6

Dr. Safina sketches out new scientific hypotheses for how birds are able to navigate across astonishing expanses. He calls us to act on hopeful impulses. People do make all the difference he says, because people do now shape the world -- for good or ill.



The oceans have a true friend in Carl Safina and so do we. We are grateful for both. We applaud both the lyrical quality of Carl’s writing and the courage he exhibits in
gathering his material.

“The sea is where all life begins ...”

Related Links:
The Blue Ocean Institute has a rich variety of information about our oceans and about seafood which is safe and appropriate to eat.  The seafood guide is available here.

Both of Carl Safina's lyrical books, Eye of the Albatross and Song for the Blue Ocean, are published by Henry Holt & Company.

Our first program with Carl focused on his Lannan Prize winning Song for the Blue Ocean.

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