As Above As Below
Part 2 – Above
I want to try and give you a broad view of all the different kinds of people, and the processes and businesses that rely on the sea, so that we can see how much of a resource it really is in our hyper-techno world that likes to think it takes us far away from having to rely on dirty nature.
I start with oil.
yes, that dirty word, the commodity our entire existence is now built upon. When oil prices go up, the price of everything else goes up with it.
Why is that?
simply it is because we use so much fertiliser on our crops (a main component in fertiliser) that we basically plough oil into our food. Most of our cheap fish and shellfish is caught by ginormous trawlers that are powered by oil. Plastics that we use even to package our food and make our hair shiny are made with oil. And planes that take is to the ends of the earth, also rely on oil. Oil is the bedrock of Western society, unfortunately, if developing countries want to imitate us, or even have enough money to eat, they also need to participate in the same market which has oil at its centre-even if their way of living is so basic they rarely come into contact with oil itself.
So how does this affect the sea?
Firstly 90% of the rubbish in the sea is plastic.
Secondly Oil reserves exist on and off-shore, i.e under the land, and under the sea. We have mostly used up the reserves onshore so offshore drilling for oil is seen as the most hopeful but also the most hazardous because it can involve depths of up to 2,300m down into the sea. When the oil is found it is transported from the well through an underwater pipe lying on the sea bed which either takes the oil to the country buying it, or drops it off on land for a tanker to fill up. The initial problem of where do the pipelines get laid? Through virgin forests? Through your local village?
check out some incredible photos of Canada’s Great Bear Forest, threatened by a pipeline; a pipeline for Exxon Mobil was laid in the Niger Delta, the most biodiverse area in Nigeria; or local to me, the UK’s gas supply being piped through the Brecon Beacons national park.
It is this pipe that burst in the recent Gulf Oil Spill off the coast of Mexico. So it is oil spills which, although rare (about 6 a year on average), can cause lasting and unending damage to the sea. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 will be visible on the Alaskan coast for 30 years; some of the fish stocks have never come back, and 90% of their salt marshes and magroves which prevent coastal erosion are still very damaged.
The 2010 Gulf oil spill was unfortunate enough to hit the coastal wetlands on the Gulf; when covered in an oil slick wetlands can’t be rejuvenated, they simply sit there covered in oil and die. These wetlands are, or should I say were, the main source of income for thousands of fisherman on the Gulf coast.
When the spill hit it was the beginning of the shrimp season, a time to make your money as a fisherman for sure. Being a fisherman is hard at the best of times, but when the middleman that you sell too is saying this:
“I made the mistake of looking at what happened in Alaska on the computer last night, then I couldn’t even sleep, they’ve still got problems over there. If it takes me 20 years to recover, I’m out of business. That’s my whole life down the drain.”
then you know the shit has really hit the fan.
Locals living on the coast were also advised that ‘people near the coast who experience nausea, headaches or other smell-related ailments to stay inside, turn on air conditioners and avoid exerting themselves outdoors.’ Apparantly health risks from the oil at sea include temporary, minor nuisances such as runny noses and headaches to long-term risks such as cancer if contaminated seafood ends up in the marketplace.
So you get it, although we need oil to sustain our lives currently (apparantly) it can ruin lives.
Canary in the Cage
The indigenous populations around the world are often described as the canaries of climate change, that is if they are feeling the effects then that is a sign of worse to come. This is so because indigenous people live in harmony with nature, they rely on the natural world for everything, and very rarely step into the modern culture of their native country because they feel satisfied and at one with their life. So if they are sounding alarms because their food sources are disappearing, or their homes being flooded, then we should realise something is going wrong.
Now I can understand why the 2 words ‘indigenous peoples’ turns people off, because they are fairly far from our reality, but I think that is why they are amazing, intriguing and wise, and that, in my book, makes them worth listening too.
The Bajau are Indonesia’s ‘sea gypsies’, they have entirely on their boats, at sea, for 200 years or so now. They are renowned for their deep sea diving-they purposely burst their eardrums at an early age, lying down for a week because of the dizzyness-living off the fruits of their seas and supplying some of the islands of Indonesia with highly prized fish for the Restaurants and sea cucumbers for soup and medicine.
If you were reading the UNfairplay blog for Copenhagen, or even this one, you might recall his Presidency Anote Tong featuring once or twice. He said that for Kiribati “Fishing accounts for about 45% of government tax revenue and is an important source of livelihoods.” That Government tax revenue goes into building sea defences, protecting their coral reefs, and creating schemes like the Pacific Oceanscape, as well as the usual hospital, schools and services malarky.
The Inuit are one of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic and subarctic regions of Greenland, Alaska, Canada, and far-eastern Russia. They adapted over centuries to life in a polar climate by becoming almost totally reliant on the sea to supply their food and other needs.
If you’ve ever seen footage of these ice lands that the Inuits inhabit, you’ll notice there is no vegetation, no soil, nothing, so caribou, seal, walrus, whale meat, whale blubber and fish were their major food sources, as well as the source of raw materials for clothing, tents and boats. Seals were hunted from ice floes or from skin-covered kayaks. Nowadays the Inuits live in the same sorts of houses we live in, they also eat mostly processed food and buy mostly westernised clothing, but although the tradition of hunting and fishing is still very strong, they have been starting to suffer from diabetes and tooth decay because of their new diets, and their rate of suicide is one of the highest in the world.
The Inuit people are often employed by oil companies, as the Arctic is now seen as the next major area of oil reserves that we should plunder, and the Inuits
are definitely behind them. Upon Greenpeace occupying an oil drilling platform which was exploring the potential for oil, the Prime Minister of Greenland told them to get off because they welcomed the oil companies with open arms if it signalled economic benefits and employment. If only they had heard of the Happy Planet Index which shows that more money, consumerist fast societies actually makes people less happy. The countries who did not experience war, famine or extreme natural disasters are the happiest, they are also the least developed; it’s a shame the Inuits don’t intend to return to relying on the sea for anything other than oil.
I’ll finish with a story closer to home. I live in a 200 year old harbour town called Aberaeron, on the west coast of Wales. This town was a thriving thanks to the harbour at its centre, harbouring massive ships bringing in coal, flour, tin, lime, slate and other essentials for the surrounding area. Since the imports changed and the harbour became less useful the working population of the town left to go elsewhere, so we are now left with a town full of retired residents and second homers. Import shipping was replaced with fishing for the area, which has now been replaced by recreational yachts and speed boats, with only 1 fisherman left who works from this harboue-my Dad gave up about 5 years ago due to declining fish stocks and the unprofitability of sustainable fishing compared to the mass fishing producing cheap and exotic imports from around the world. Our town has gone from being a bustling harbour town reliant on the sea to a touristy town of ailing old ladies and yachtsmen.
Lastly, as I touched on in Part 1, fishing is an important souce of protein for a large portion of the planet’s population, as well as directly employing over 36,000 people in the fishing and aquaculture industry. But it isn’t all fun and games: