Week of 1/27/08

Dear EarthTalk: What is the status of sharks around the world? I see occasional stories about sharks attacking humans, but on balance aren’t we a lot more brutal to them then they are to us?

—Pam Hitschler, Radnor, PA

It’s true that humans do a lot more damage to shark populations than vice versa. Marine biologists report that sharks are in rapid decline around the world. In the North Atlantic Ocean, shark populations have declined more than 50 percent over the past 20 years alone, with some species now nearing extinction.

Experts see the primary cause as overfishing, which depletes sharks as well as their prey. Sharks are especially vulnerable to illegal "longlines" (fishing nets strung across dozens if not hundreds of miles of ocean), where they get inadvertently snared along with the tuna and swordfish fishermen intend to catch.

Rising demand for shark fin soup in is also contributing to the demise of sharks. According to a report by Wildaid, shark fins are among the most expensive seafood products in the world, selling for some $700 per kilogram on the Hong Kong market. With prices like that, many longline fishermen, who are already operating illegally, are happy to augment their incomes by "finning" a few sharks along the way. (Finning is the practice of removing a fin from a shark and discarding the rest of the carcass at sea.)

Sharks are in rapid decline around the world, mostly due to overfishing, which wipes out the sharks themselves as well as the food they depend upon. Sharks face an especially uphill battle to survive in the face of human predation because they have few births and take a long time to mature.© Getty Images

Often, threatened wildlife species manage to maintain their numbers in spite of excessive human predation. But sharks face an especially uphill battle, says renowned shark expert Ransom Myers, because they "take a long time to mature and have relatively few babies."

So what is being done to save sharks? In the U.S., the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act is the primary law that oversees the conservation of U.S. fisheries and has established various management regulations for 39 species of sharks in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico. It outlaws finning if the carcass is discarded but not if the rest of carcass is kept, clearly an unfortunate loophole.

The U.S. also helped develop a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization treaty (the International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks) whereby 87 countries agreed to develop their own plans for the conservation of sharks. However, only two countries—the U.S. and Australia—have lived up to the agreement. The U.S. plan is administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which has been working with regional fisheries authorities to make sure fishermen are sticking to cautiously low quotas regarding the number of sharks they are allowed to catch.

What can consumers do to save the sharks? The Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California urges consumers to avoid all shark products, not just on restaurant menus but also all souvenirs such as jaws and teeth, and shark-cartilage pills, which have been touted as cancer cures but which have been proven to be completely ineffective and are now widely considered a scam. The aquarium also encourages consumers to support with their pocketbooks conservation groups working to protect sharks and oceans, and specifically those working to set aside marine reserves that are off-limits to fishing.

CONTACTS: Wild Aid; Monterey Bay Aquarium

Dear EarthTalk: What are some of the best online sources of environmental information?

—Hip2bGreen, Seattle, WA

Surfing eco-cyberspace has never been so easy. The Internet is teeming with environmental websites, 'blogs and social networking portals, offering everything from hard news and in-depth feature articles to green consumer information and lifestyle tips.© Getty Images

One of the best places to start in venturing out into eco-cyberspace is the website of a green group you already know—perhaps one for whom you have donated money or volunteered. Most groups use their websites to keep their supporters updated on the issues they cover, and provide links to many other green websites. Beyond such groups, several independent "third-party" sources also provide useful information on a wide range of environmental topics, from consumer tips to news to action alerts.

One leading green website is Grist (grist.org), which reports environmental news in a witty and engaging manner, billing itself as "gloom and doom with a sense of humor." Checking out Grist‘s daily rundown of environmental news is de rigueur among eco-activists, and many regular folks keep tabs on it, too. Other excellent news sources include Environment News Service (enn.com), and Environmental News Network (ens-newswire.com). And one new kid on the block is The Daily Green (thedailygreen.com), which bills itself as the "consumer’s guide to the green revolution." Owned by major magazine publisher Hearst, The Daily Green offers news, green tips and advice, and a plethora of green home, food and lifestyle topics.

The Green Guide (thegreenguide.com), run by National Geographic, is probably the best online source for green consumer information, specializing in green living tips, product reviews and environmental health news. Looking for guidance on saving water around the house, choosing among non-toxic paints or packing greener lunches for your school-age kids? The Green Guide would be a good place to start.

If you’re interested in more comprehensive looks at green issues and topics, emagazine.com posts much of the content of its flagship E — The Environmental Magazine, along with weekly news and commentary. Visitors can also access 18 years worth of in-depth articles—the magazine has been turning out bi-monthly print issues since 1990—on just about every green topic imaginable.

Those interested in social networking and the environment should look to Care2 (care2.com), the world’s largest online environmental community. The site offers its eight million members free e-mail accounts and provides lots of background information on just about every environmental issue.

A handful of green "blogs are starting to get a lot of media attention and web traffic. The king of them all is Treehugger (treehugger.com), which offers several posts each day from a stable of thinkers committed to environmental issues. Its coverage is not comprehensive, but Treehugger excels at tapping into trends in environmental thinking and culture. Another source of environmental tips and culture online is IdealBite (idealbite.com), a blog-style site offering up "bite-sized ideas for light green living."

And then there are the "click-to-donate" websites, where visitors can read up on a variety of conservation campaigns and then contribute money via credit card. Ecology Fund (ecologyfund.com), the The Rainforest Site (therainforestsite.com) and Red Jellyfish (redjellyfish.com) are some of the leaders in this category.

So cue up that br

owser and start clicking. You"ll be amazed at what you can learn, let alone accomplish!