COMMENTARY: Into the Blue

Forget about listening into the conch shell to hear the sounds of the ocean, right now one of the best ways to learn about current news in the marine world is by tuning into Blue Frontier Campaign"s Blue Notes. Founded in 2003 by veteran writer and activist David Helvarg, the Blue Frontier Campaign encourages citizen activism on issues related to the current and future health of the ocean. Blue Notes provides readers with the grassroots information needed to inspire people to act both individually and collectively in order to save our blue planet. Written in a witty and accesible style by 50 Ways to Save the Oceans author Helvarg, Blue Notes is a refreshing way to receive environmental news. Read below to see for yourself.


In 2004, when Blue Frontier held its Blue Vision Conference, the Pew Ocean Commission had published a strong call for action and the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy was about to publish theirs. There was a lot of speculation about "BOB," a Big Ocean Bill, which might emerge from their combined recommendations. It didn’t happen. Instead the combined commissions went on to grade government response to their work with a D and a D+.

Still, at last June’s Ocean Week in Washington, DC, change seemed to be in the air (and the water) moving forward with all the deliberate speed of a hungry sea hare.

The Marine Fish Conservation Network’s annual conference focused on the positive—new science and conservation oriented reforms to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishing Act. Outgoing Executive Director Lee Crockett recalled how the Network thought it had achieved its aims with reforms in 1996 and then abolished itself, only to see those reforms undermined by built in conflict-of-interest within federal fisheries councils and agencies. This time the Network, with more than 190 organizational members, plans to remain as vigilant as a frigate bird over a school of anchovy.

Meanwhile, Lee will be joining the newly formed $70 million Pew Environment Group, which will incorporate the National Environmental Trust and Pew’s environmental program, to form what could be the super-trawler of the marine conservation fleet with its focus on climate change and ocean protection.

Other highlights of Ocean Week included the annual National Marine Sanctuary Foundation awards dinner and Capitol Hill symposiums. With the establishment of the Northwestern Hawaiian Island marine monument, America’s marine sanctuaries grew to seven times their previous size this year. Along with Bob Ballard, Sylvia Earle, Jean-Michael Cousteau, Leon Panetta, a new ocean celebrity was introduced at their dinner—Sam the Sea lion, spokes-pinniped for the Sanctuaries. Unfortunately Sam, who was supposed to appear live, could only make a video appearance for fear Pam Anderson would spray paint his fur coat. BFC would like to take this opportunity to deny rumors concerning Sam and Patty, the 50 Ways to Save the Ocean book cover sea lion. Their publicists insist they’re only friends and have not taken a salmon off a hook since their brief stints in rehab.

Roz Savage plans to be the first woman to row solo across the Pacific.©


Greenpeace is in the process of building a new all-weather ship. Other marine groups have diesel ships and sailboats. But I feel confident in saying Blue Frontier has the only 24-foot trans-oceanic rowboat. Actually it’s Roz Savage’s rowboat and she’ll be captaining it on her way to becoming the first woman to row solo across the Pacific (

Totally coincidentally, Margo Pellegrino is also off on a one-woman voyage, a three-month outrigger canoe trip from Miami to Maine that began May 7 ( Margo will be stopping along the way to raise money for local chapters of Surfrider, to meet with local seaweed activists, and to raise awareness of the bottom-up solutions that exist to help restore our living seas.

Pellegrino is now more than half way, having reached her home state of New Jersey. She and her family also stopped by in Washington, DC to meet with members of the House Oceans Caucus including Representative Jim Saxton (R-NJ) and Tom Allen (D-ME) who’s running for Senate in his home state and knows more about the ocean than your average Maine lobster. Margo continues to inspire seaweed activists all along the eastern seaboard (and beyond) and is getting lots of support from NET and Surfrider among other groups.

Pellegrino does, however needs a few places to stay along the way, especially in New York and Maine, and wants get some more media coverage, so if you are able to help please call or write Blue Frontier (, 202-387-8030) or Amber at the National Environmental Trust (, 202-887-8800). You can check out her route on her website.

Roz will be launching her boat from San Francisco in July on her way to Hawaii, then Tuvalu, and then Australia. Each segment of her journey will require about 70 days of rowing. She’s doing this to raise awareness about plastic pollution of our ocean and will also be promoting Blue Frontier"s book, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean. She"ll be talking about different ways people can use less plastic and campaigning for bans on non-essential uses. As of this past month Roz’s Pacific Journey is now an official project of the Blue Frontier Campaign. We’re honored to have her aboard.

California has created 29 marine wilderness parks covering 18 percent of its central coast.© Getty Images


I’m returning to California to set up Blue Frontier’s West Coast Office this summer. It"s interesting to note that California (state marine fish—the garibaldi) really is beginning to embarrass other coastal states and federal agencies that are supposed to protect our greatest publicly owned resource (hint: it’s a salty liquid medium that supports 97 percent of the planet’s biodiversity).

First there was the California and the World Ocean Summit and Ocean Compact agreed to by the Governors of California, Oregon and Washington. Now California has gone ahead and created 29 marine wilderness parks covering 18 percent of its central coast. These refuge zones are designed to help restore California’s depleted waters. Of the 204 square miles 94 will be "no take" preserves, though limited fishing and kelp harvesting will still be allowed in the other 110 square miles. Additional reserves will be selected for Northern California by 2008 and the southern Baywatch region by 2011.

Early advocates for the reserves such as Karen Garrison of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Warner Chabot of the Ocean Conservancy expressed guarded optimism. Zeke Grader of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations warned the reserves will only work if they’re combined with strong anti-pollution water policies. Even sports fishing outfits, which were among the marine wilderness parks’ strongest opponents, are now taking a wait-and-see position.

What we can expect to see is the return of giant black sea bass, rockfish, leopard sharks, rays, large lobsters rooting around rocky bottoms thick with sea stars, strawberry anemones and baby abalones, all shadowed by the dappled light of healthy kelp forests, rocky outcroppings, darting sea lions, and the occasional great white shark. As the late author Edward Abbey said, ‘

If there’s not something bigger and meaner than you are out there it’s not really wilderness.”

On a related front the California Lands Commission and California Coastal Commission have both rejected a plan for a proposed floating terminal for Liquefied Natural Gas off the Oxnard-Malibu coast. Natural gas is cleaner than other fossil fuels and seemed a good transition between coal, oil and non-carbon energy systems maybe 10 or 20 years ago. But now that the science is indicating we’re facing a clear and present danger from greenhouse gases, it makes no sense to be investing in and building fossil fuel infrastructure designed to last 50 years or more.

Finally (for now), California has begun to lead the nation in its "Green Ports" program to reduce air pollutants and other harmful emissions from the giant container ports of Long Beach/Los Angeles and Oakland. Among the advocates for this are the dockworkers of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). This is not surprising given the health and safety concerns and also the progressive history of this union. The lawyer for its founding organizer, a militant Australian import named Harry Bridges once remarked, “San Francisco has eight bridges, and the one you don’t want to cross is Harry.”

The Hagfish (Slime Eel) has been turned into a profitable new deep sea fishery off the US.


Unfortunately much of what goes on in Washington could make a hagfish gag, and marine scientists like Jeremy Jackson have long been warning us of the "rise of the slime"as we eat our way down the food web while also polluting our seas. Still I was a bit surprised to read an Associated Press story by Noaki Schwartz on how the Hagfish (a/k/a, Slime Eel) has been turned into a profitable new deep sea fishery off the U.S. The slime eels are being exported to South Korea, where they"re considered a tasty aphrodisiac (with sesame oil and salt) and selling for up to $20 a pound. I thought Viagra was supposed to have undermined the whole tiger bone, rhino horn, slime eel thing. Still, if you happen to be at a party and someone asks how a slime eel slimes, just tell them that when agitated it vomits up a protein secretion that reacts with seawater to create a thick mucus. Now you know.


I’m settling. My new home in the Richmond Marina (San Francisco Bay Area) is awesome. I’ve now got ducks instead of trucks on my street and am adjacent to a recreational boating marina that used to be part of the Kaiser shipbuilding basin during World War Two. Running along its shore is the ‘Rosie the Riveter’ Memorial Park honoring the women, African American and Hispanic workers who worked the jobs that helped save democracy. I’m old enough that I’m not going to worry too much about the heavy metals in the marine sediment from the construction of liberty ships. I’m just glad we beat the Nazis and their Fascist allies. They still have a liberty ship across the channel as well as two gantry cranes for the Port of Richmond. Ironically, I watched a big auto ship offloading Japanese cars onto the docks there the other day. Today, ours is a world far more interdependent then the last century’s but still highly dependent on marine transportation, trade, energy, protein, recreation and other saltwater driven economies.

Part of the struggle to protect our blue frontier is protecting culturally diverse waterfront communities and making sure that working waterfronts like Richmond’s and affordable and sustainable coastal communities can still exist along our last great commons.

(Editing and introduction by Kathryn Gutleber.)

CONTACT: Blue Frontier