Blueprint of a Sanctuary

"Blueprint of a Sanctuary" is an AustralAsia magazine article by photojournalist Todd Essick. It reveals the behind the scenes activism targeting the Republic of Palau that defeated ecocidal legislation and promoted the creation of the world's first national shark sanctuary, an area of 237,000 sq. miles of the Pacific. My involvement is described in the second half of the article.

Creating the Palau Shark Sanctuary was a milestone in marine conservation: a global movement was ignited that followed Palau's lead. The Marshall Islands, the Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, New Zealand, New Caledonia, the Maldives, Honduras, Venezuela, Brunei, Bahamas, Tokelau, French Polynesia, Raja Ampat, Samoa, Semporna, Northern Marianas, Guam and St. Maarten have also declared their waters as shark sanctuaries. These havens ban the capture of sharks in over 7 million sq. miles of ocean, an area larger than South America.

I echo the author's praise of Dermot Keane, my Palau colleague who first envisioned the sanctuary. Unmentioned in this article, Director Tom Bussanich (Division of Budget, Office of Insular Affairs), Mark Bezner (Charge d'Affaires, Palau) and Director Alcy Frelick (Office of Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Island Affairs) were instrumental in voicing environmental and fiscal concerns at bilateral hearings with Palau.

Lasting positive change takes more than 1-click petitions and PR fanfare. The essential catalyst is strategically building leverage. A pivotal event in this campaign was revealing Palau's breach of environmental and monetary obligations with the U.S. regarding the Compact of Free Association (COFA), a treaty wherein the U.S. provides defense, funding and services to Palau.

A Resounding Cry for Reason

"A Resounding Cry for Reason is Vital at CITES" is a Gulf Times editorial that I wrote as the Shark Research Institute's Director of Conservation Strategies at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the UN treaty between 178 nations which convened in 2010 in Doha, Qatar. This op-ed piece broadcast why sharks urgently needed CITES protection. Distributed in English, French and Spanish, this preemptive article came out prior to the shark proposals voted on throughout the upcoming week.

In a critical proposal for a trade ban on the endangered Atlantic bluefin tuna, Japan orchestrated a fervent campaign to deny protective status. Japan imports 80% of all bluefins and has immense freezing capacity to store all they can buy. They're literally banking on this species' extinction, upon which their stockpile of bluefins will soar in value.

Japan and its compromised allies colluded with the Chinese delegation, exchanging votes to deny a trade ban for bluefins in return for Japan's coalition to vote against protections for sharks. A similar offer was attempted by a bloc of African states towards the EU, an obscene swap of "your tuna for our elephants", which the Europeans rightfully rejected.

Despite overwhelming scientific evidence supporting protection, not only bluefins, but all proposed marine species were refused trade bans. At least 2/3rds of the delegates voted as Japan dictated. This solely profit-driven outcome was the complete opposite of what CITES was created to prevent.

On the night before the tuna vote, Dr. Sylvia Earle spoke to delegates at an event honoring Palau for shark conservation. She emphasized the critical need to protect tunas, sharks and all aquatic beings. Dr. Earle said: "We have 10 years, no more, it is happening right now in our time. If we do nothing and continue the way we are, it will be all over. More and more will simply vanish. And it will be our fault."

A Sea of Deceit and Capitulation

The following is the introduction by Carol Muske-Dukes to "A Sea of Deceit and Capitulation," an article I wrote in opposition to the Obama administration's shameful attempt to enable the resumption of commercial whaling:

"I'm taking a moment to bring you a statement of urgent import from an environmental activist, protector of international ocean wildlife – who is making a profound plea to the Obama administration to reverse its cynical and cruel support of the lifting of the ban on commercial whaling – a "bow" to Japan. Former Senator Barack Obama stated that "As president, I will ensure that the U.S. provides leadership in enforcing international wildlife protection agreements, including strengthening the international moratorium on international whaling. Allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable." Yet at the March intersessional IWC meeting, the Obama administration was the chief proponent in encouraging the plan to resume commercial whaling and is encouraging other nations to follow.

Come on. Political compromise (the kind derived from international debt pressure and lobbyists) has become the "theme" of this administration – selling out on the unethical and indefensible butchering and barbaric torture of whaling, the murder of sentient beings – is a kind of metaphor for what is happening to liberal ideals.

Here is a statement from Edward Dorson, Director of Conservation Strategies for the Shark Research Institute. Thank you for reading this and following up with a click on the link to the Shark Research Institute's Campaign to Prevent the Resumption of Commercial Whaling."

~ Carol Muske-Dukes is an author, Professor of English/Creative Writing at the University of Southern California and former Poet Laureate of California.

A Victorious Veto in Palau

Palau's President Toribiong was compelled to veto Senate Bill No. 8-50, despite its introduction by his brother in Palau's Senate. Killing this bill was, in fact, the most important victory toward establishing a true working sanctuary for Palau's waters.

Although Palau's shark sanctuary designation removed Senate Bill No. 8-44's legalized shark finning, SB No. 8-50 was stealthily passed in Palau's Congress shortly thereafter. As law, SB No. 8-50 would have denied Palauans from receiving fish catch export tax along with assigning General Santos City in the Philippines as Palau's transshipment port.

Without tax revenue incentive and with catches bypassing Palau's home port in Malakal Harbor, all Palauan regulatory oversight would have been removed – allowing the taking of endangered species, overshoot of catch quotas and rampant shark fishing & finning.

SB No. 8-50 never shared the global attention received by SB No. 8-44. Fishing concerns and compromised legislators played a shell game to portray the legalized finning sought by SB No. 8-44 as the sole threat to Palau's waters. With the passage of SB No. 8-50, Palauan fishing firms and their foreign counterparts anticipated unhampered exploitation with tunas, sharks and the live reef fish trade in Palau's EEZ.

In preparing a document ("Objection to Compact Review Claims") for dissemination to the U.S. and Palau Compact of Free Association review teams, I discovered that SB No. 8-50's brazen export tax exemption was its Achilles' heel – it presented a serious breach in Palau tax policy as declared to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) for its 2008 report to Congress, "Palauʼs Use of and Accountability for U.S. Assistance and Prospects for Economic Self-Sufficiency." The GAO assured U.S. Congressional committees that Palau's 2007 Tax Reform Task Force had promised the U.S. an increase in Palauan fish export tax rates.

Appeal to Veto Senate Bill No. 8-56

In tandem with efforts to defeat Palau Senate Bills' No. 8-44 and 8-50, I targeted Senate Bill No. 8-56, a very detrimental bill which sought to allow open seasons for the taking and selling of Napoleon wrasse, Bumphead parrotfish, and species of grouper. Along with decimating critically threatened fish populations, this bill as law would have also severely undermined Palau’s pro-conservation image as the world’s first national shark sanctuary.

This link presents my open letter urging Palau's President Johnson Toribiong to veto Senate Bill No. 8-56. The letter was also concurrently published by numerous marine conservation websites, Palau's Tia Belau and Island Times newspapers, as well as broadcast on the Oceania Television Network.

Due in large measure to the near instantaneous global response of conscientious people answering the call to endorse my stance as well as sending their own individual letters of protest to President Toribiong, Senate Bill No. 8-56 was vetoed on November 29, 2010.

Come Hell and High Water

"Come Hell and High Water: Last Call for a Living Ocean" is an article placed in The Huffington Post in June of 2012. Once I saw that the United Nations' Rio+20 Summit's position on the high seas was to ignore taking any real action for several years, I felt compelled to get this article out. I highlighted the need to immediately address overfishing, a form of ecological decimation that can be readily eliminated.

The Summit's final report, “The Future We Want,” was so lacking in interpretable action that Kumi Naidoo, executive director of Greenpeace, deemed it "the longest suicide note in history.” The repeated spectacles of nonsolutions like the one in Rio de Janeiro clearly indicate that meaningful environmental, economic and political transformation will only come from bottom-up coalitions.

The entitlement belief behind human supremacism is currently being practiced on a gargantuan scale, with externalized costs disrupting ecosystems at severe to cataclysmic expense to other species as well as most of humanity. The present socioeconomic system has overshot our planet's carrying capacity to the extent that irreversible disarray will soon become the only possible evolution.

Preventing such a disaster requires sustained and dedicated effort by all those who truly care about the future. The time has come to set our priorities straight as a species, lose the infantile egotism and work together en masse. A prime responsibility of all generations is to ensure that the world left to the next one is at least as vital and habitable to the one we live in today. People driven by reason and moral incentive must now take every measure to secure the viability of planet Earth. The outcome is solely in our hands, not corporate functionaries whose mandate is to wreak ever more havoc upon the natural, actual world.

Shark and Awe in the U.S. Senate

"Shark and Awe in the U.S. Senate" is a Huffington Post piece on the legislative mauling of the U.S. Shark Conservation Act of 2010. With this article, I sought action to stop political maneuvering from killing this vitally needed law.

These excerpts from the opening and closing paragraphs serve as a brief description of this travesty and what I asked people to do:

"The U.S. Shark Conservation Act, a bill that offered a critical lifeline for sharks, has recently been blocked by a dysfunctional U.S. Senate. Sharks are being decimated primarily to supply shark fin soup as an expensive status symbol delicacy to the burgeoning middle class of Asia, mainly in China. If not rapidly passed, the Act will have no purpose once sharks hit their impending point of no return. Resurrecting this legislation is necessary for both the preservation of sharks and our nation's fading conservation ethos."

"The U.S. Shark Conservation Act of 2010 is urgently needed, but corruption, ignorance, and political maneuvering has now precluded wise action by our Senate. People don't have to remain idle while the Senate stagnates. Citizens should write or fax their senators and demand they reintroduce and pass the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 (S. 850) at the next session of Congress along with rejecting the arcane filibuster and "hold" procedures that are strangling it. We mustn't bow to any destructive tradition, be it for soup or senators."

Thousands of personalized protests were sent in to keep this bill alive. The U.S. Shark Conservation Act was finally passed on 12/22/10, the last day of the lame duck session of the 111th Congress. This marked a substantial victory for the oceans, for ourselves, and for future generations.

Stop the Harvest of Goliath Grouper

This article comes from Dive Photo Guide. It presented a bogus proposal by sport fishing and spearfishing groups in Florida to enable the hooking and spearing of 800 Goliath Groupers over a 2 year period for the purpose of "scientific research."

My petition letter revealed this scheme's similarity to Japan's deceitful use of the International Whaling Commission's scientific research loophole in order to justify their wanton slaughter of whales. The attempt to slaughter these endangered Goliaths was ultimately denied by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWC).

2018 UPDATE: The FFWC held seminars in Florida throughout October of 2017 to hear concerns and comments from the public who took a stand to protect Goliath Groupers from yet another attempt by fishermen for an open season on the Goliath population. On April 26, 2018, the FFWC decided once again to keep protection in place.

The Great Fiji Shark Count

I'm a contributing photographer to the Great Fiji Shark Count, a unique and important program initiated by my friends Helen Sykes and Stuart Gow, two of Fiji's most experienced people in marine biology and consultation in environmentally responsible tourism. Throughout November and April of each year, the Great Fiji Shark Count gives fishers, divers and snorkelers, visitors and locals alike, the opportunity to help the marine environment by gathering vital information on the shark, ray and sea turtle species within Fiji's waters.

The Ocean Reglitterized

"The Ocean Reglitterized" was an exhibition of over 30 of my underwater prints shown at the Pelham Art Center in Pelham, New York. Going beyond aesthetic appreciation, the exhibit also explored people's complex relationship to the marine environment and the current crises taking place within the oceans. The aquatic scenes and species portrayed in my photography were accompanied by my commentary, "Staring at the Edge of the Abyss"*, urging people to take responsibility towards environmental awareness and protection of the seas.
* The text of "Staring at the Edge of the Abyss" is in the "Commentary" category in the menu above.

The U.S. Shark Conservation Axe of 2013

"The U.S. Shark Conservation Axe of 2013" is an article relating to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency's (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service's (NMFS) proposed implementation ruling on the Shark Conservation Act of 2010.

The NMFS's proposed rule would include preempting all of the U.S. state and territorial bans on the possession and trade in shark fins ― bans that NOAA-NMFS claim may "unduly" interfere with Federal law. The stakes are terribly high, as losing these shark fin trade bans would be a massive setback for shark conservation worldwide.

I described the full consequences of the proposed preemption ruling and singled out the vested interests behind it. I also urged the public to send in their individual comments and to sign on four petitions before the July 31, 2013 deadline for submission.

I concluded: "If preempted, states and territories that democratically enacted shark fin bans would be coerced into opening their markets to shark fins, a form of forced subsidization for the fishing industry."

UPDATE: During August of 2013, the Justice Department & NOAA made their first challenge to California's shark fin ban in an appellate case concerning the Chinatown Neighborhood Association in San Francisco. Thankfully, the California fin ban was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court. By September of 2016, eleven states and three U.S. territories had passed shark fin bans, and a national ban on the shark fin trade has recently been introduced in Congress as the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act.