Marine Ecosystem Restoration Success Stories

Seagrass beds off Virginia’s Eastern Shore went from barren sediment to abundant meadows in 20 years in the world’s largest restoration project. credit: JAY FLEMING

Thanks for Science News for this wonderful example of successful ecosystem restoration.

How planting 70 million eelgrass seeds led to an ecosystem’s rapid recovery

The study is a blueprint for capitalizing on this habitat’s capacity to store carbon

In the world’s largest seagrass restoration project, scientists have observed an ecosystem from birth to full flowering.

As part of a 20-plus-years project, researchers and volunteers spread more than 70 million eelgrass seeds over plots covering more than 200 hectares, just beyond the wide expanses of salt marsh off the southern end of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Long-term monitoring of the restored seagrass beds reveals a remarkably hardy ecosystem that is trapping carbon and nitrogen that would otherwise contribute to global warming and pollution, the team reports October 7 in Science Advances. That success provides a glimmer of hope for the climate and for ecosystems, the researchers say.

The project, led by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and The Nature Conservancy, has now grown to cover 3,612 hectares — and counting — in new seagrass beds. By comparison, the largest such project in Australia aims to restore 10 hectares of seagrass.

The results are “a game changer,” says Carlos Duarte. Continue reading

Common Octopus, Uncommon Story

My Octopus Teacher is available on Netflix

I was not avoiding it, exactly, but by night time my attention span diminishes. From a reluctant start at 7:30pm yesterday, assuming I would fall asleep less than half way through, my absorption became total from the first minute and remained so until the end. It was a compelling conclusion to a very long day. Film reviews rarely appear here, but New Scientist gives me good reason to share more than my own opinion:

My Octopus Teacher review: The strange lives of cephalopods up close

In many ways, the octopus is a tough proposition: a soft-bodied mollusc that carries the bulk of its brain in its arms, that can render itself solid without a skeleton or liquid despite its beak, that evolved separately from nearly every other organism on Earth. That otherness is at the heart of our fascination with octopuses: can we even aspire to understand something so foreign? A new Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, follows one man’s attempt. Continue reading

Brilliant & Ominous

When you genuinely smile and then recoil a moment later, you are responding to what this artist wants you to see and then understand. The animation is brilliant and its short message on how ocean litter/marine plastic is harming marine life is ominous. The  Artist Statement that accompanies it is not required reading, but it is there for the taking:

Two years ago, an experience on a small island inTaiwan changed my life. It was the closest I’d lived to the sea, being only a ten minute drive away. Everyone can enjoy the beach with its white sand and turquoise ocean. At the time, I went snorkeling almost every week. Seeing such alluring tropical fish and coral reefs still lingers in my mind. However, I also cannot forget the scenes of tons of human waste lying around the shore as if it was a part of nature. Continue reading

Scientific Expeditions Then, Considered Now

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The HMS Challenger set sail from England in 1872 and changed the course of scientific history (Credit: North Wind Picture Archives/Alamy)

Thanks to the BBC for reminding us of the value of such voyages in earlier centuries, and their contributions to science, among other things:

HMS-Challenger: The Voyage That Birthed Oceanography

The 3.5-year voyage to the furthest corners of the globe reshaped marine science and permanently changed our relationship with the planet’s oceans.

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During the four-year journey, the ship uncovered many new species and shaped our understanding of the seas (Credit: LeeYiuTung/Getty Images)

In the foyer of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, England, stands a ship’s painted figurehead. It towers well above head height and depicts an armoured knight with a silver chest plate, a raised visor and a thick handlebar moustache. The knight’s eyes have a faraway gaze in them – and well they might. This wooden statue is the sole remnant of a square-rigged ship that once embarked on a three-and-a-half-year voyage to the furthest corners of the globe, reshaping marine science, unearthing all manner of underwater oddities and permanently changing our relationship with the planet’s oceans. The vessel’s name was HMS Challenger. Continue reading

Mangroves for the Win

Mangrove restoration in Madagascar. Photograph: Alamy

Our previous posts about the multiple positives of planting trees in response to climate change and toward the goal of economic recovery didn’t take coastal ecosystems into account. These regions tend to be extra vulnerable to the increased pressures of extreme weather, not to mention being the home of many vulnerable populations.

This type of investment seems like a win/win.

Oceans panel presses coastal states to invest in ‘blue recovery’

Report says there are substantial economic benefits to be had from ocean conservation

Investing in the marine environment offers many coastal states the possibility of a “blue recovery” from the coronavirus crisis, according to a report setting out substantial economic benefits from ocean conservation.

Ending overfishing and allowing stocks to recover while ensuring fish farms operate on a sustainable basis would generate benefits of about $6.7tn (£5.3tn) over the next 30 years, according to an assessment of ocean economics by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy.

This would require reforming perverse subsidies that encourage overfishing, and better regulation of fish farming, but the returns on such investment would repay the outlay 10 times over, the report says.

Mangrove restoration on tropical coastlines offers a quick way to generate jobs in seeding and planting, and returns of about $3 for every $1 spent, in the form of more productive fisheries as well as storm protection.

The costs of offshore wind energy generation have plummeted in recent years, making clean energy generation at sea a viable prospect for many countries for the first time. The UK has long been a pioneer in the field, but many other countries have been slow to take it up.

The report found that the technology has matured so quickly that investors can generate returns of up to $17 on each $1 spent, opening up a potential bonanza globally of $3.5tn by 2050 if governments put the right conditions in place.

Ngedikes Olai Uludong, Palau’s ambassador to the UN and one of the panel members, said offshore wind energy could spell an explosion in highly skilled green jobs. “Technologies like offshore wind offer a rate of return that makes more and more sense,” she told the Guardian. “It looks like it is taking off. I’m seeing interest from countries that I’ve never seen interested before.”
Continue reading

Citizen Science: 89 Years Old and Counting

Microscopic plankton: they provide a food source for fish, seabirds and other marine life, as well as absorbing CO2 emissions

Although we’ve highlighted citizen science so many times on these pages, it never occurred to me that some of these projects have spanned nearly 9 decades.This particular project’s device is called a continuous plankton recorder (CPR). An apt acronym, indeed.

Tiny plankton tell the ocean’s story – this vast marine mission has been listening

Since 1931 ‘citizen scientists’ on ships have enabled data collection on the tiny building blocks of the sea. Now this research could shape how we tackle the climate crisis

On a clear day, from their small, unassuming warehouse on the south Devon coast, Lance Gregory and Dave Wilson can see right across Plymouth Sound to the Eddystone lighthouse. Today, they’re watching a ferry from Brittany, the Armorique, pull into dock.

Behind it, the ferry is towing a one-metre-long device shaped like a torpedo. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s part of the planet’s longest-running global marine survey.

The device is called a continuous plankton recorder (CPR), and it’s one of 53 such devices that Gregory and Wilson manoeuvre using forklifts in their warehouse, surrounded by racks of distinctive yellow boxes and clipboards covered in spreadsheets.

They dispatch these CPRs in bright yellow boxes to “ships of opportunity” – ferries, cargo or container vessels that have agreed to volunteer for the mission. Once a ship leaves port, the crew attach the device to the stern using steel wire, then toss it overboard.

Trailing along behind the ship, it collects data for the CPR survey. The mission is vast but the subject is minuscule: plankton, the tiny organisms that drift in the ocean. Every marine ecosystem relies on plankton for its basic food source, and it generates half the oxygen we breathe. Perhaps more than any other organism, it is crucial to all life on our planet.

The CPR survey is the longest-running marine science project of its kind. It began in 1931 when the scientist Sir Alister Hardy investigated how herring were influenced by plankton in the North Sea. This month the distance surveyed will reach an impressive 7m nautical miles, equivalent to 320 circumnavigations of the Earth.

Since that first tow from Hull to Germany 89 years ago, the equipment has hardly changed. So far a quarter of a million samples have been analysed, representing a vast geographical spread over the course of the past century. The immense scope has allowed scientists to see dramatic patterns in ocean health, across both time and space, building a much clearer picture of how our marine environments are changing.

It is also, says Gregory, “one of the oldest citizen science projects in the world”. Continue reading

Counting Turtles


Great Barrier Reef LogoAt first glance, it looks like art. As most great nature photography, whether amateur or taken by professionals, often does. But this is tech-driven professional science. Thanks to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation for this primer:

COUNTING TURTLES IS A SCIENCE

So how do you count more than 64,000 turtles at once?

With drones – and now we have the science to prove it.

Our Raine Island Recovery Project researchers are investigating the best way to count all the turtles at the world’s largest green turtle nesting area. The highly respected PLOS ONE journal has just published their findings (see the paper). Continue reading

Oceans’ Call to Action

© Alexis Rosenfeld

We’re a day behind on World Oceans Day, but John Tanzer’s words are lasting, despite the date.

Don’t Waste A Crisis – A World Oceans Day Call to Action.

By John Tanzer, Oceans Practice Leader, WWF International

It was early March when the realization hit. Our Year of Ocean Action wasn’t going to happen — at least not in the way so many had been planning. 2020 would be extraordinary, but for all the wrong reasons. Our Super Year was meant to be the launch platform for a decade of strong global efforts to restore the ocean. Clearly, the attention and resources we had hoped to harness have been in much demand elsewhere.

I was not looking for a “silver lining” to the suffering and loss caused by the coronavirus, but somewhere in the back of my mind was a quote about not letting a crisis go to waste. Was it Winston Churchill who said it? Or a contemporary politician?

It turns out, it was not Churchill, and it wasn’t even a politician. The line can be traced back at least as far as 1976, to M. F. Weiner’s article in the journal Medical Economics, “Don’t Waste a Crisis — Your Patient’s or Your Own.” Weiner apparently meant that a medical crisis can be used to improve all aspects of a patient’s well-being.

So, it wasn’t a callous sentiment about seizing the upper hand in a moment of chaos. It was an acknowledgement that a crisis may arise which so disrupts the norm that all preconceptions are set aside, and all solutions are on the table.

Continue reading

Virtual Ocean Dialogues

Another example of Costa Rican leadership and team action. The Virtual Ocean Dialogues, held by the World Economic Forum, “bring to light ambitious and inspiring solutions as well as tangible opportunities for positive change, and galvanize urgent global action for a healthy ocean. It will also spotlight some of the solutions that emerged as critical for the recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, including the role of the ocean in building the resilience that our economies and communities need to recover and eventually face other potential future shocks.”

The opening address by Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada included statements about present and future actions.

“Costa Rica has historically been a leader in conservation,” Quesada says. It has doubled forest coverage in recent years and is aiming for a zero-emission economy by 2050.

Now it wants to turn its attentions to the sea. “We are working towards a sustainable approach for ocean management,” he says.

It is “committed to promoting a global blue economy transformation”, prioritizing mangrove forests, aquaculture and coastal biodiversity.

Continue reading

The Little Things In Life

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At a time when microscopic phenomena are the cause of fear and loss, it is surprising and enlightening to read about microbial discoveries that could help answer some of the eternal questions about life, the universe, and everything.

The Last Place on Earth We’d Ever Expect to Find Life

Surfing On Light

Starting in 2012, bioluminescence has been on our radar, and the phenomenon never fails to impress. We appreciate  the potential utility, and will continue linking to the science. But for now, consider California, hard hit by so many other unwelcome phenomena, and how it deserves a bit of light fun now:

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Blue waves, illuminated by the light of bioluminescent organisms, crash along the coast of Blacks Beach in the community of La Jolla. Photograph: KC Alfred/ZUMA Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Bioluminescent waves dazzle surfers in California: ‘Never seen anything like it’

Crowds are coming to see the light show as beaches begin to reopen after an almost month-long closure due to coronavirus

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A surfer rides a wave as bioluminescent plankton lights up the surf around him, in Newport Beach, California. Photograph: Mark J Terrill/AP

Mother nature has provided a radical gift to nighttime beach-goers in southern California, in the form of bioluminescent waves that crash and froth with an otherworldly light.

The event occurs every few years along the coast of southern California, though locals say this year’s sea sparkle is especially vibrant, possibly related to historic rains that soaked the region and generated algal bloom. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be On Line

There are themes we’ve returned to frequently since the beginning of this site, in the different ways we’ve posted about collective action conservation or cultural events. The titles of those posts began with the words, “If You Happen to be in…” – followed by the location of our conservation public service announcement.

The internet has obviously played an enormous role in people’s lives for decades now, but even more so in the time of Covid-19, when so many of life’s gatherings, from education to business meetings and conferences, has shifted to the virtual realm.

So, here’s a PSA for the Oceans. Hosted by Blue Planet, DC, with guest speaker Phil Karp (a frequent contributor to this site on themes of citizen science and marine conservation) this virtual seminar will discuss both the serious problem of marine pollution, but also some emerging solutions.

If you have an hour to spare on May 15th, join the conversation!

Details

Did you know that between 8 million and 13.5 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean every year, equivalent to a garbage truck full of plastic EVERY MINUTE?!

Plastic entering the ocean can cause harm to marine organisms and ecosystems, coastal economies and human health. This virtual seminar by guest speaker Phil Karp will examine the magnitude and dynamics of marine litter and ocean plastic along with emerging solutions. In addition, it will discuss what governments and consumers can do to address the problem.Phil Karp recently retired from the World Bank where he was Lead Knowledge Management Specialist in the Urban Development Global Practice. He is longtime diver, citizen scientist and ocean advocate focusing on the interface between marine ecosystem conservation and livelihoods of coastal communities.

Sign up today! Join below on May 15.
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89825590123

 

Marine Biodiversity and Public Health

Ocean ecosystems are rich sources of compounds used in medicine. Photo by Bob Embley/NOAA.

Life within the world’s oceans have an ineffable beauty that will always defy the limitations of our discoveries. If we ever needed reasons beyond that acknowledgement, then here are timely examples of the interconnected nature of life on earth and reasons to protect our oceans and the biodiversity within them.

The Ocean Genome Helps Fight Disease: Here’s How We Save It

The ocean plays a surprising role in fighting COVID-19. With death and infection numbers escalating daily, the World Health Organization has made it clear that countries need to do three things to successfully fight this pandemic: test, test and test.

The dramatic increase in demand for testing has drawn renewed attention to the ocean’s genetic diversity. This “ocean genome” is a rich source of anti-viral compounds. In particular, enzymes from a remarkable hydrothermal vent bacterium have been key to the technology in virus test kits, including those used to diagnose COVID-19. Similarly, a protein derived from a coral reef red alga around the Canary Islands has been valuable in the fight against the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, an illness caused by a coronavirus closely related to the one responsible for COVID-19.

This renewed attention to the genetic diversity of ocean organisms also brings conservation and equity concerns — the subject of two recent research papers commissioned by the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel). This research has found that multiple threats face the ocean genome, jeopardizing opportunities for new commercial and scientific uses. At the same time, there is an unbalanced relationship between low- and middle-income countries that are home to most marine biodiversity and higher-income countries, which possess the research capacity, technology, infrastructure and finances to develop marine biotechnology.

These recent papers lay out a clear list of actions that governments and marine researchers can take to safeguard the ocean genome and share its benefits equitably.

Continue reading

Salmon & Earth’s Fate

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Mark Kurlansky first came to my attention thanks to Seth, whose post I riffed on.  Then Seth pointed this out, and I have been on the lookout ever since. And today I was rewarded when listening to the author discuss his new book. Click any image below to go to that interview.

Web_Large-SALMON_006_campbell Pink salmon school in the deep pools of the Campbell River, before venturing farther upstream to the spawning beds. British Columbia. (Credit: Tavish Campbell) Continue reading

Questions, Answers & Plans For Managing Environmental Challenges

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Experts have identified oceans as a key battleground in the fight to protect humanity’s natural ‘life support system’. Photograph: Christian Loader/Alamy

The plan provides one possible answer, its execution is an important question:

UN draft plan sets 2030 target to avert Earth’s sixth mass extinction

Paris-style proposal to counter loss of ecosystems and wildlife vital to the future of humanity will go before October summit

Almost a third of the world’s oceans and land should be protected by the end of the decade to stop and reverse biodiversity decline that risks the survival of humanity, according to a draft Paris-style UN agreement on nature.

To combat what scientists have described as the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history, the proposal sets a 2030 deadline for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems and wildlife that perform crucial services for humans.

The text, drafted by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, is expected to be adopted by governments in October at a crucial UN summit in the Chinese city of Kunming. It comes after countries largely failed to meet targets for the previous decade agreed in Aichi, Japan, in 2010. Continue reading

Crowd-Sourced Data from the Deep

Female sand tiger shark observed on the wreck Aeolus in (a) September 2016 and (b) 10 months later in July 2017. In the older photograph (a), fishing gear is visible in the mouth of the shark (inset). SPOT A SHARK USA BY TANYA HOUPPERMANS.

A great example of how data crowd-sourced from Citizen Scientists is helping to improve understanding of shark populations and behavior.

Female Sand Tiger Sharks Love Shipwrecks… Really.

Site fidelity – the tendency to return to a particular area – isn’t exactly new in a species of shark (e.g. reef sharkslemon sharks, even great white sharks). But that place is usually some sort of habitat… not a over 100-feet (34 meter) deep shipwreck. However, that is exactly the case for female sand tiger sharks (Carcharias taurus) off the coast of North Carolina!

Sand tiger sharks, also known as grey nurse sharks or spotted ragged-tooth sharks, are found globally in subtropical and temperate waters. Despite looking quite scary due to their tooth grins that never quite close, they are a slow-moving shark that are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A grey colored shark with reddish-brown spots throughout its body, they feast on a variety of animals such as a fish, crustaceans, squid, skates and even other sharks!

In September 2016, a citizen scientist wasn’t surprised to see an individual female sand tiger shark while scuba diving on the Aeolus shipwreck. Continue reading

No Age Limit in Citizen Science

Our most recent post about marine ecosystem citizen science connects the dots between the amazing community of people involved in gathering much needed information about the health of biodiversity in the deep.

Women’s photography of greater sea snake, once believed to be an anomaly in the Baie des Citrons, help scientists understand the ecosystem

A group of snorkelling grandmothers who swim up to 3km five days a week have uncovered a large population of venomous sea snakes in a bay in Noumea where scientists once believed they were rare.

Dr Claire Goiran from the University of New Caledonia and Professor Rick Shine from Australia’s Macquarie University were studying a small harmless species known as the turtle‐headed sea snake located in the Baie des Citrons, but would occasionally encounter the 1.5 metre-long venomous greater sea snake, also known as the olive-headed sea snake.

Goiran and Shine believed the greater sea snake was an anomaly in the popular swimming bay as it had only been spotted about six times over 15 years. From 2013, they decided to take a closer look at the greater sea snake to better understand its importance to the bay’s ecosystem.

“The study zone is in the most touristic bay in Noumea, so I often meet people when I am doing field work on sea snakes,” Goiran said. “When I was snorkelling on my own studying sea snakes, I used to meet a friend of mine called Aline that was snorkelling and taking photos on the same reef. In order to help me, she started taking photos of sea snakes and would send them to me by mail.

“I was very happy, so she asked her neighbour and friend Monique to help me too. Monique asked another friend, and soon there were seven grandmothers helping me.” The group named themselves “the fantastic grandmothers” and range in age from 60 to 75. Continue reading

Time To Make Lemonade

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A purple urchin at Bodega Marine Lab in California, which is running a pilot project to remove purple urchins from the ocean floor, restore them to health, then sell them as premium seafood. Photograph: Terry Chea/AP

With invasive species, sometimes the only thing to do with such lemons is make them tasty:

Sea urchin population soars 10,000% in five years, devastating US coastline

Voracious purple urchins in waters of California and Oregon pose threat to kelp forests and risk upending delicate ecosystems

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An aerial view of one of the last remaining kelp forests near Elk, California, on the Mendocino county coast, which has lost more than 90% of its bull kelp in less than a decade. Photograph: Terry Chea/AP

Tens of millions of voracious purple sea urchins that have already chomped their way through towering underwater kelp forests in California are spreading north to Oregon, sending the delicate marine ecosystem off the shore into such disarray that other critical species are starving to death.

A recent count found 350m purple sea urchins on one Oregon reef alone – more than a 10,000% increase since 2014. And in northern California, 90% of the giant bull kelp forests have been devoured by the urchins, perhaps never to return.

Vast “urchin barrens” – stretches of denuded seafloor dotted with nothing but hundreds of the spiny orbs – have spread to coastal Oregon, where kelp forests were once so thick it was impossible to navigate some areas by boat. Continue reading

Citizen Science Deepdive

By collecting images and GPS data from citizen divers, scientists can get a better sense of the health of the entire Great Barrier Reef. (Damian Bennett)

Citizen Science has been a common thread for us on this site, linking creatures of land, sea and air as subjects of study. Marine Ecosystem citizen science has especially  fascinated us in terms of the creative thinking applied to problems of invasive species.

The collaborative goal of documenting such a vast ecosystem as the Great Barrier Reef, and using creative solutions to combat threats to this wonder of the natural world is inspiring, to say the least.

Massive Citizen Science Effort Seeks to Survey the Entire Great Barrier Reef

Only about 1,000 of 3,000 individual reefs have been documented, but the Great Reef Census hopes to fill in the gaps

The majority of individual reefs that make up the Great Barrier Reef have not been directly surveyed. (Damian Bennett)

In August, marine biologists Johnny Gaskell and Peter Mumby and a team of researchers boarded a boat headed into unknown waters off the coasts of Australia. For 14 long hours, they ploughed over 200 nautical miles, a Google Maps cache as their only guide. Just before dawn, they arrived at their destination of a previously uncharted blue hole—a cavernous opening descending through the seafloor.

After the rough night, Mumby was rewarded with something he hadn’t seen in his 30-year career. The reef surrounding the blue hole had nearly 100 percent healthy coral cover. Such a find is rare in the Great Barrier Reef, where coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 led to headlines proclaiming the reef “dead.”

“It made me think, ‘this is the story that people need to hear,’” Mumby says.

The expedition from Daydream Island off the coast of Queensland was a pilot program to test the methodology for the Great Reef Census, a citizen science project headed by Andy Ridley, founder of the annual conservation event Earth Hour. His latest organization, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, has set the ambitious goal of surveying the entire 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2020.

“We’re trying to gain a broader understanding on the status of the reef—what’s been damaged, where the high value corals are, what’s recovering and what’s not,” Ridley says. Continue reading

Slow Down On Tuna

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A new study finds that tuna harvests, including of some species considered “vulnerable,” have increased by an astonishing 1,000% in the last 60 years — a rate that some scientists warn is unsustainable. NiCK/Getty Images

Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for this warning:

We’re Pulling Tuna Out Of The Ocean At Unprecedented — And Unsustainable — Rates

If you’re in the mood for a tuna poke bowl or an old-school tuna niçoise salad, here’s a tip: Don’t hit up the Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland. It has been nearly six years since chef Jonathon Sawyer became a “tuna evangelist” after attending a meeting of like-minded chefs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. It was there that he made the decision to forgo tuna — both in his personal life and on the menus at all four of his restaurants.

It wasn’t always easy. Turning down the chance to eat famed chef Eric Ripert’s mouthwatering thin-sliced tuna over a foie gras torchon took some Superman-like strength, but for Sawyer, the mission is an important one. He’s not trying to get people to give up tuna altogether. Rather, he’s trying to raise awareness of the sheer quantities that are coming across our collective plates and serve as a gentle warning that all that fish is coming from a limited resource.

It turns out that his effort is hitting a seafood sustainability bull’s-eye. Continue reading