Ocean Resources: In Search of Blue Water

Once relatively neglected in relation to such A-list Hollywood concerns as rainforests, the increasingly dire plight of the oceans is now attracting the attention of researchers, environmentalists, regular folks and even some celebrities anxious to learn more about and help protect marine ecosystems. Until relatively recently, the only way to find out what was happening beneath the waves was to watch The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, but now there is a host of organizations and websites about ocean issues.

Some sites are little more than online advertisements for the organizations or individuals behind them. Some are basic educational resources. Others are full of bells and whistles: videos, live cams and interactive flash features. Several provide exhortations to take action, and information on people and organizations to contact.

For an initial, one-stop overview of ocean science, uses and resources, start with the UN Atlas of the Oceans, www.oceansatlas.com, which includes a host of facts, figures, maps and statistics. Some of the maps require registration to access. Elsewhere in the UN family, there’s the United Nations Environment Programme’s ocean resources, www.unep.org/ themes/marine.

Another primary source is the new book edited by David Helvarg, Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide: The Blue Movement Directory (Island Press). It lists more than 2,000 organizations and institutions working on ocean issues, and can be previewed on the web at www.islandpress.org/helvarg.

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), www.epa.gov/owow/oceans, and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), www.noaa.gov/ocean. html, offer background on ocean science, current marine issues, and what the feds are doing about them. NOAA’s site is more visually appealing and wide-ranging, with some nice interactive features.

The report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy is available online at www.oceancommission.gov, as is the more penetrating publication of the Pew Oceans Commission, www.pewoceans.org. Nothing flashy about either, but plenty of background reading.

Some of the country’s more renowned and venerable research establishments maintain an ocean-friendly presence in cyberspace. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, www. whoi.edu, boasts a fascinating site with plenty of informative articles culled from the pages of its magazine, Oceanus. The Monterey Bay Aquarium site, www.mbayaq.org, contains backgrounders on the aquarium’s exhibits—including an abundance of neat live cams—as well as on its ongoing field research projects and its conservation work. It also features information on its "Seafood Watch" program, including regional guides detailing which fish and shellfish are considered "safe" to buy and eat, from an environmentally responsible perspective.

The aquarium is a partner in the Communication Partnership for Science and the Sea (COMPASS) program, along with SeaWeb, www.seaweb.org, whose extensive website features a comprehensive database of marine science publications, a series of ocean briefing papers, all past and current editions of its monthly newsletter, Ocean Update (which—full disclosure—I edit), and links to its offspring campaigns, including the Seafood Choices Alliance, www.seafoodchoices. com, an umbrella organization for environmental groups and seafood industry professionals developing sustainable seafood options.

There is a multitude of nongovernmental organizations working on ocean issues, each of them with a different focus and emphasis. All of these websites provide contact information and details on how to donate, volunteer, or otherwise become involved. Greenpeace, www.greenpeace.org/usa/cam paigns/oceans, in many ways the granddaddy of nonprofits seeking to save the seas (or at least the large mammals therein) has an oceans site that concentrates on its principal concerns of commercial whaling, overfishing, and deep sea bottom trawling.

Another venerable organization, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), offers Ocean Rescue, http://worldwildlife.org/ oceans, which includes information on featured projects including the innovative Smart Gear competition, which solicited proposals for ways to adapt fishing gear to reduce or eliminate unwanted by-catch.

Relative newcomer Oceana, www.oceana.org, allows visitors to track the progress of its research vessel at sea and read logs from its crew members, as well as keep up to date on the latest news—as does the site of the venerable Cousteau Society, www.cousteau.org/en.

Most organizations" websites have a particular feature that helps them stand out in a crowded field. The Natural Resources Defense Council, www.nrdc.org/water/oceans/default.asp, allows virtual visitors to examine ocean topics either "in brief" or "in depth": browsing through issue overviews, or getting to grips with more detailed white papers. Conservation International maintains a portal, http://portals.conservation.org/marine, that not only includes details on its own activities but also those of other organizations, and provides links to, and downloads of, a host of reports and publications.

In addition to the usual news and views, the website of the Ocean Conservancy, www.oceanconservancy.org, includes a handy series of online fact sheets on various species of fish and marine wildlife, and access to back issues of its Blue Planet magazine. The Blue Ocean Institute, www.blueoceaninstitute.org, offers detailed background on the sustainable seafood issue, as well as an online image library. The Coral Reef Alliance, www.coralreefalliance.org, and its partner organization, the International Coral Reef Action Network, www.coralreef.org, also offer a photo bank, as well as an "education library" of reports and information. The National Geographic Society hosts a "virtual tour" of the famous Great Barrier Reef at www.nationalgeographic.com/earthpulse/reef/reef1_flash .html.

For the inner dude in all of us, the Surfrider Foundation, www.surfrider.org, provides surf reports and beach weather from around the world, and also hosts a comprehensive and highly interesting "State of the Beach" survey: click on the state of your choice to see how it rates. And if, after reading all that the above have to offer, you find yourself deeply motivated to somehow get involved beyond merely donating to any of the larger nonprofit groups or eating only sustainable seafood, then check out the Blue Frontier Campaign, http://bluefront.org. It provides a directory of 1,200 grassroots organizations along the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts, and the shores of the Great Lakes, as well as Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

KIERAN MULVANEY is the author of The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling and At the Ends of the Earth: A History of the Polar Regions (both Island/Shearwater).