Carl Safina at PopTech 2008

Oceans in Balance: Carl Safina spends a lot of time on the ocean and what he’s seen is beyond alarming. A reformed fisherman (at one point he was even hunting Mako sharks), Carl noticed over the years that the fish he was after were becoming scarcer and scarcer. One day chasing tuna, he experienced a moment of epiphany that changed him from hunter to protector.

The creatures in the sea, he realized, were as much part of our world as we are and yet we’ve been treating their habitat both like an endless food source and a dumping ground. In 1990, he founded the Living Oceans Program at the National Audubon Society, where he worked for a decade. Then in 2003, he co-founded the Blue Ocean Institute, whose goal is to use science, art and literature to inspire a closer relationship to the sea and implement conservation solutions.

As part of the Pop!Tech opening remarks, Carl showed the crowd images of baby albatross chicks stuffed with swallowed cigarette lighters, hundreds of carcasses of sharks who were killed just for their fins, and the vast waste of unwanted fish that’s the sad outcome of commercial shrimp fishing. Carl says that in the (relatively) short time we’ve been on the planet, we’ve eaten 90% of the fish in the sea. In the same way our endless quest for land has wiped out whole species of animals, so has our desire for unfettered access to seafood erased entire populations of fish.

So what can we do? In keeping with a key theme of the conference, one simple action is to consume less. And when you do eat seafood, ensure you are eating something that has been safely, sustainably caught or harvested. The Blue Ocean Institute provides a Guide to Ocean-Friendly Seafood on its site to help us make more informed choices.