[Edited May 2 2016 to improve readability on DK5 and attempt to recapture the original formatting]
In an article up today over at The Guardian (in their infamous "Comment is Free" section), entitled "Why whale poo could be the secret to reversing the effects of climate change," Philip Hoare shares with his audience the recent studies that appear to reveal the global environmental engineering cetaceans could be capable of:
Not only do the nutrients in whale poo feed other organisms, from phytoplankton upwards – and thereby absorb the carbon we humans are pumping into the atmosphere – even in death the sinking bodies of these massive animals create new resources on the sea bed, where entire species exist solely to graze on rotting whale. There's an additional and direct benefit for humans, too. Contrary to the suspicions of fishermen that whales take their catch, cetacean recovery could "lead to higher rates of productivity in locations where whales aggregate to feed and give birth". Their fertilizing faeces here, too, would encourage phytoplankton which in turn would encourage healthier fisheries.
Please hop over to The Guardian to read the short piece in whole. A year ago here on Daily Kos, I reviewed George Monbiot's Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. While that diary was of course focused on the review, I still found time to share a 5x15 segment in which Philip Hoare shares his experiences studying cetaceans up close and personal. I'm going to repost the section on rewilding the sea here so that you can watch Philip make his case while also reading a bit more about this all works:
And then there were Whales
"The Ocean Sky" by desmondWOOT over at deviantART
When you leave behind the sea, you lose perhaps the most mystifying and enrapturing life experiences humans have the chance to be exposed to: marine megafauna. There exist few places besides the veil between our terrestrial world and the marine realm where we can still experience megafauna the way humans have for millennia. The unmistakable headrush that washes over your body as a shark drifts aloofly underneath as, balanced atop your kayak, you pole over beds of sea grass; the sense of incompetence when watching a pod of dolphins play with the fish that have been eluding your best attempts all evening; or the almost humorous experience of finding yourself floating in the middle of an "informal gathering" of manatees... all doubtlessly strike a chord deep inside many of us who have had the honor to be there.6 Philip Hoare, an accomplished author and broadcaster, relates his experience of a whale watching expedition out of Cape Cod:7
These moments are not just milestones on our journey through this life. They dye the fabric of your very being with awe, wonder, and a sense of respect for life itself. Deprivation from the natural world- either from chosen separation or enforced through either cultural or economic forces- leads to ecological boredom. While not fully supported by science, it has been widely reported that something as simple as a kitchen garden at a school changes the behavior of even the most challenging students. Attention disorders, behavioral problems, student engagement- all can be partially alleviated by allowing children to be children: young human beings with a thirst for knowledge that only the forever changing patterns of nature can fully quench. Whales and their fellow cetaceans offer an experience entirely different than those stemming from our terrestrial homes. Those living in maritime communities know very well the campaigns to save these, and other charismatic creatures: save the whales, dolphins, manatees, sea otters, sea turtles... the list goes on. And for good reason- the emotional connection forged during edifying experience leaves us wishing to do all we can for them. Emotional arguments can be persuasive, but they are not always the most compelling. Our appreciation of them and the world in which we live can go much deeper, as both Philip Hoare and George Monbiot are keen to point out. Let us go beyond emotion and into the world as we can objectively observe it; and then return with knowledge that only further vitalizes our passion. 6. Quicky: Is a group of manatees called a pod or a herd? :) Save the Manatee Club's FAQ to the rescue. 7. Philip Hoare is an author whose latest book, The Sea Inside, is "a collage of personal memoir, cultural history and travelogue about the ocean's strangeness and beauty." Please check out, directly, the 5x15 talk he gave about his experiences, from which this quote was taken. [4:00-5:22].
"I filled my chest with air and duck-dived to the bottom. I had no flippers, and the seabed, perhaps two and a half fathoms down, was at the limit of my dive. I touched the beast." -George Monbiot, Feral, 228.
"The global ocean is the largest, most complex, and unexplored habitat for life on Earth." Oceans and Life. Interactive Oceans, University of Washington. The last remnants of the great cetacean populations of the world's oceans (and rivers) are still powerful enough for researchers to lend us laymen yet another host of reasons to fight for their survival and resurgence. Cetaceans act as global nutrient pumps.8 Not just by their natural defecation, but by their sheer mechanical power, too: "the mixing power caused by movements of animals in the oceans is comparable to that of the wind, waves[,] and tides."9 You did catch that, right? These creatures have as much power as natural phenomenon generated by astral bodies like the sun and moon. And what does all of this mechanical and biological action mean? Well, it sets off a trophic cascade whose enormity is almost impossible to comprehend. And this is just one of many oceanic trophic cascades that "are, if anything, even more remarkable than those of the terrestrial ecosystem."10 Trophic cascades are the effects on the food web (and therefore ecosystem) that the addition or removal of organisms result in. The massive fertilization and oxygenation of the world's oceans by large marine mammals- that we no longer receive- is surely well under the radar of the vast majority of the earth's human beings. And it isn't just whales, the near extinction of sharks across the globe is accelerating the decline of the ocean's ecosystems as well. Feral's chapter on "Rewilding the Sea" brilliantly describes the breathtaking beauty and profound sorrow of the state of our seas. But unlike many environmental books today, Monbiot aptly draws the reader's attention to what happens when we apply a bit of rewilding:11
Philip Hoare @ 5x15 from 5x15 on Vimeo.
[4:00-5:22] And it was on the last day, and I was about to go back [...] and I was early, so I had time to kill. And I saw a sign advertising "whale watching, twelve dollars." And I kind of felt ambivilient about this. I kind of thought, "am I going ot get another kind of mediated aquarium show ... another revisited experience like that?" Nevertheless I conquered my, doubts, paid my $12, got on the boat, stood on the prow of the boat. Probably slightly defiantly saying, "Ok, show me." Half an hour later, a fifty ton, fifty foot humpback breached right in front of me. This huge animal had left its environment into ours. This animal that shares the air with us, was suddenly suspended in this halo of diamond sea drops - and I do poeticize, but it was a poetical moment- and I responded in a very poetical and lyrical and literary manner: I said, "FUCK" This huge animal, Megaptera novaeangliae, big winged New Englander, a barnacled angel, presenting itself for my edification.
When fishing stops, the results are remarkable. On average, in 124 marine reserves studied around the world, some of which have been in existence for only a few years, the total weight of animals and plants has quadrupled since they were established. The size of the animals inhabiting them has also increased, and so has their diversity. In most cases the shift is visible within two to five years. As the slower-growing species also begin to recover, as sedentary lifeforms grow back and as reefs of coral and shellfish re-establish themselves- restoring the structural diversity of the seabed- the mass and wealth of the ecosystem is likely to keep rising for a long time. [emphasis added]
As I have noted in earlier diaries and comments- and as Monbiot states the case for as well, is that in addition to "spillover" from these reserves, improved oceanic health is directly related to terrestrial health due to the migration patterns of oceanic species into rivers and streams.12 Trophic cascades indeed. Setting aside marine reserves of all types should be a no-brainer. Oceans cover 2/3 of the earth's surface. There is more than enough space and more than enough evidence for preserves to be created and strictly enforced. Rewilding the ocean also happens to be relatively easy. 8. Joe Roman & James J. McCarthy. "The Whale Pump: Marine Mammals Enhance Primary Productivity in a Coastal Basin." PLOS ONE.org. 2010. 9. George Monbiot, Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding (London: Allen Lane, 2013), 234-235. Note, previous citation and the following were included by Monbiot in his book, I simply want to add a working link. Also: Kakani Katija & John O. Dabiri. "A Viscosity-enhanced mechanism for biogenic ocean mixing." Nature. 2009. 10. Monbiot, 234. 11. Monbiot, 248-249. It is hard to resist excerpting from Feral as the research is so deep and the prose so engaging, so I hope that this falls within fair use. For structural diversity on a garden scale, see my diary on "Layers." 12. See my last full diary about the documentary "Green Gold."
The oceans represent perhaps greatest potential source of carbon sequestration, food security, and untold other resources if only we will take the actions necessary to bring this about: Declaring marine preservation zones and backing up the decision through whatever means necessary. Preferably through integrated, whole systems approaches that will provide a means of living for the local fishers who rely up on these tracts of ocean- whether they be off the coast of the United States or Thailand or West Africa.
Local communities should be supported by the rest of us while the fishing grounds recuperate from centuries of abuse. Communities should be involved in education, reskilling, organism hatchery jobs, establishment and running of marine veterinary hospitals, establishment of infrastructure where necessary (artificial reefs where appropriate), and maintenance of marginal ecosystems (between the ocean and land- estuaries and such). None of this is anything that appropriate taxation of the richest among us could not pay for at the drop of a hat. Nor is it anything that even a small fraction of our- or the world's- military budgets could accomplish.
And by any means necessary I mean police action to deter and interdict poaching in any marine preserve, anywhere on the planet. Applied ecology, whether through design systems- such as permaculture or holistic management- or entire fields of study- agroecology and agroforestry- is rapidly changing the way in which we perceive and interact with this planet. To some, the changes are a bit scary.
Remember my first diary in which I shared a story about the work of Willie Smits in Indonesia- creating a sanctuary for orangutans from abused land that not only accomplished this goal, but provided the local people with the means to avoid the mistakes of the past. His success was met with criticism from some environmentalists because, get this- it worked too well. If it works this well, then what is to stop the rape of the planet? So better to criticize than to herald the tremendous power of the environment to heal with human intervention. Good thing that criticism hasn't stopped Willie Smits from continuing his work, see the new "Village Hub" he has helped create.
Already the comment thread on Philip's article is beginning to fill with the all-too-predictable "but if this will be used by the corporations to continue destroying the world!" purists. Let us hope that the rest of the world will see these new ways of behaving for what they are: potential to reverse damage our actions have caused in the past, restoring hope for the future.
Sept. 14 2013. Introduction to Agroecology: Is it Anthropogenic or Bovigenic Climate Change?
Sept. 21 2013. Agroecology: "Rehabilitation of degraded land has the potential to double [...] agricultural land."
Sept. 29 2013. Agroecology: "...Outperform[s] the use of chemical fertilizers in boosting food production..."
Oct. 6 2013. Agroecology: "Wake up before it is too late"- UNCTAD's TER13 Report.
Oct. 27 2013. Agroecology: 1- Study Nature. 2- Facilitate Natural Functions. 3- Rediscover Abundance. April 9 2014. Agroecology: Ray Archuleta from NRCS: "The Soil is Naked, Hungry, Thirsty, and Running a Fever!".
June 12, 2014. Introduction to Agroecology: Soil Life Theory (Me on video!)
Reviewing (in my own way) George Monbiot's "Feral." Link.
Large Scale Damaged Ecosystem Regeneration [Diary]: Excellent, must see documentary: John Liu's Green Gold- extended version of "Hope in a Changing Climate" that was presented at the recent Rio summit. Another good article by John D. Liu. Finding Sustainability in Ecosystem Restoration.
Holistic Management [Diaries: First, Second, Third, Fourth]: The Savory Institute. The Africa Centre For Holistic Management. Holistic Management International. Seth Itzkan has put together a very good reference list for Holistic Management, here.
Permaculture: The Permaculture Research Institute is excellent (Updated: formerly PRI Australia). With almost daily updates from the world of permaculture (an ethical design system that utilizes agroecology [diary]), this site is on my "must check list" daily. Good news to be found here. There are some excellent video presentations from 2011's International Permaculture Convergence held in Jordan, which followed a permaculture design course taught at the world-renowned "Greening the Desert Part II" site in the Dead Sea Valley. Here is a link to the documentary about the site, and here is a photo update from Spring 2013. If you scroll to the bottom of this webpage, you will find links to video presentations given at the convergence. [Above links may be broken] Also, check out Permies.com and Richsoil.com/permaculture for Paul Wheaton's permaculture empire.
Ecological Gardening Here is a list of diaries I wrote that covered some of the very basics.
I. Basic Garden Ecology
Plants for a Future. Absolutely massive database for useful plants.
The first diary of this series revolves around three documentaries. The first is a TED talk by Willie Smits about rainforest restoration to provide habitat for orangutans and a standard of living for the local people using agroecological methods. Not only was the project highly successful, but climate moderation was demonstrated via satellite imagery. The second, The Rebel Farmer, is about Sepp Holzer, a very famous Austrian who practices his own version of permaculture. He has also written numerous books in addition to being in demand across the globe. The third presents "Greening the Desert"- which covers both sites in Jordan where Geoff Lawton and the Permaculture Research Institute have been applying permaculture with great success.
In no particular order:
John D. Liu: pioneering large scale damaged ecosystem restoration.
What If We Change: John D. Liu's project to inspire others to share their efforts to combat climate change and other problems.
Whole Systems Design: operating from Vermont, Ben Falk's permaculture design firm. Excellent site overview and talks on agroecology. Also a must see video from Hurricane Irene.
Permaculture News: PRI's YouTube branch Permasolutions: Offering permaculture inspired solutions to problems
Toby Hemenway: Author of Gaia's Garden and permaculture designer. Great talk on horticultural society.
Al Baydha: Pilot project in Saudi Arabia to regenerate "bare bones" landscape for Bedouins.
Eric Toensmeier: Author of Perennial Vegetables, coauthor of Edible Forest Gardens, and plant guru. Has an upcoming book on perennial agricultural solutions to climate change.
Paul Stamets: World famous visionary mycologist who will change the way you see the world. You'll never forget fungi after his speeches regarding their potential use and place in the ecosystems.
My favorite books:
Edible Forest Gardens, Vol I and II. David Jacke with Eric Toensmeier. Chelsea Green, 2006.
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. Sepp Holzer, translated by Anna Sapsford-Francis. Chelsea Green, 2010. Gaia's Garden. Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, 2009 (2nd edition).
Let the Water Do the Work. Bill Zeedyk and Van Clother. The Quivira Coalition, 2009.
The One Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka. Link will point you to a decent review.
Akinori Kimura's Miracle Apples. By Takuji Ishikawa, translated by Yoko Ono. This is an absolutely fantastic story. My favorite part is towards the end, chapter 22, when Kimura is told of his family's first success. Give it a read!
Feral: Searching for enchantment on the frontiers of rewilding. George Monbiot. Allen Lane, 2013. The Resilient Farm and Homestead: An Innovative Permaculture and Whole Systems Design Approach. Ben Falk. Chelsea Green, 2013.
For a much fuller list of books on the subject, see Toby Hemenway's Permaculture Reading List.
The Land Institute. Their goal is to develop highly productive perennial staple crops which will produce a living system as stable as natural prairies. This is the kind of pioneering research we should be funding. H/T to sfinx for bringing them up.