The Paula Gordon Show
Seeing Beneath the Seas

     There's nothing wrong with people using what lives in the sea, according Carl Safina, but there's something terribly wrong with people using the oceans up. Safina's a scientist and one of the growing number of voices sounding an alarm that the abundance and vitality of the world's oceans is at serious risk. We're treating the ocean like it's the last buffalo hunt, Safina says, fishing down and fishing out the coastal areas of the world.

      Carl Safina is respected world-wide as a scientist. He is an adjunct professor at Yale University, founder of the National Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program, which he directs. Safina's book, Song for the Blue Ocean, is being compared in importance to the dire news Rachel Carson delivered in Silent Spring decades ago.

      Ordinary people, world wide, are beginning to pay the price in lost jobs and cultures, lives ruined, land destroyed and wild creatures disappearing in record numbers as we plunder the seas and coastlines of the world. In the United States alone, depletion caused by overfishing costs $8B and 300,000 jobs a year.

      It's OK to be selfish about this, according to Carl, who says he eats more seafood than anyone he knows. If we don't begin to protect the wild creatures of the sea, they won't be there to eat. That goes for tuna and salmon, swordfish and sharks and a host of other ocean wildlife. And aquaculture won't solve the problem. Unlike cabbages which grow on sunlight, fish still eat fish, even when they are grown in captivity. Energy inefficiencies, habitat disruption, pollution and displaced local people accompany much of the world's attempts at aquaculture.

      There are people pointing the way out of today's dilemmas. They're Carl's heroes. They are struggling, he says, but not unrealistically. He sees us making inroads. 1997 was declared The Year of the Reef by the United Nations, 1998, The Year of the Ocean. In the U.S., we now have the Sustainable Fisheries Act . There's currently a lot of pressure to do away with provisions of the Act before they're phased in, but getting it passed at all would have been politically infeasible only five years ago. Politicians are beginning to realize that depleting species is not just an "environmental" issue, it also costs money and jobs. Lots of jobs.

      Carl Safina has encountered alarming realities along the world's coasts and beneath the seas. He's described what happens when humanity is viewed in a business context, rather than business in a human context. The informed public will respond once they see beneath the surface of the world's oceans, he insists. So he carries on. We have to have hope, he contends. If we don't have hope, we're hopeless. And hopeless, for Carl Safina, is simply not an option.

Carl Safina

      ... founded the Living Oceans Program at the National Audubon Society, which he directed until founding Blue Ocean Institute. An internationally regarded scientist, he is an adjunct professor at Yale University, served on the Mid-Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, the Smithsonian Institution's Ocean Planet advisory board and the World Conservation Union's Shark Specialist Group. Carl is an avid fisherman who eats lots of seafood.


Conversation 1

Carl Safina tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell the all-encompassing affects humans have had on our planet during the 20th century, including the grim reality that we've fished down and fished out a lot of the coastal areas around the world. He tells us what scientists have known and the informed public is coming to know about struggles to restore the oceans' abundance. He explains why we have been slow to think of fish as wildlife.


Conversation 2

An avid fisherman and lover of seafood himself, Carl does not object that we are using what lives in the sea. He objects that we are using the ocean up. He describes how remarkably complex and highly evolved many of the sea's creatures are. He simplifies the issue further: tuna tastes great on the grill. At the rate we're going,we won't have it any more. He urges us to look below the oceans' surface, to see the oceans' wild animals. He's confident they'll speak for themselves. He describes the powerful link between the wellbeing of the oceans and economies around the world, then gives an overview of what's happening to coral reefs, globally.


Conversation 3

Carl describes the complex interconnections between people's actions on land and coral reefs. No matter what you think man's role on the planet is, Carl describes the direct consequences people are suffering from having overshot the limits of what the oceans can sustain -- $8B and 300,000 jobs annually in the US alone. He tells why growing seafood in captive conditions is a double edged sword. He recalls how we reduced the number of land animals we eat and warns that we now are about to do the same thing with seafood. He tells the story of what happened to Newfoundland when the cod population collapsed.


Conversation 4

Carl tells his own story and explains why ecology now always includes the affects of humanity. He tells why he included biology, politics, communities, social concerns, the changes in the physical environment in his book. He shows how the logging companies used loggers and logging communities as fuel, recounting the actual costs of logging companies exporting jobs and timber, at great cost to both the Pacific Northwest's communities and the land. He describes how clear-cutting destroys forests and how tree farms planted in their place are no replacement for the dead forests. He demonstrates how clear cutting is connected to the steep declines of all of the salmon between British Columbia and California.


Conversation 5

Carl takes heart from today's heroes. He describes increasing awareness of our problems and the recovery of some fish populations. He tells how the United States government, which he admires, is being compromised, with public interest and public accountability giving way to the power of corporations. He expresses his concern that instead of having business in a human context, we now have humanity in a business context. He tells why our human ability to deceive ourselves is dangerous, denial conspiring with deceit to make the unsustainable and violent sound benign and benevolent. He describes how the work of scientists is used and abused.


Conversation 6

You have to have hope, according to Carl, or you're hopeless. He finds hopelessness unacceptable. He directs us to The Audubon Magazine (May/June '98) for guidance in what to order and eat. He describes progress made in the last 5 years, hopeful that lawmakers will not succumb to pressures to dilute the effects of new laws. He reminds us it took lot of effort and work for politicians to realize destroying the environment is costing money and jobs, and he urges us on.



Barbara Hendricks at Goldberg/McDuffy was perserverent in bringing us together with Carl Safina, in spite of illness. We are very grateful, indeed.

We appreciate Yi Shun Lai's efforts to make sure we had The Audubon Guide to Seafood.

Related Links:

Song for the Blue Ocean is published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

In 2003, Carl founded Blue Ocean Institute.  There is a wealth of materials on the oceans available at the Institute website.

Our second program with Dr. Safina focused on Eye of the Albatross.


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