Northwest 'Extinction Epicenter'
by Joel Connelly
Scientist-author Dr. Carl Safina, swimming against a tide of upbeat news at a Seattle breakfast, on Tuesday characterized the Pacific Northwest as "the world's extinction epicenter for ocean-going fish."
Safina based his judgment on what has happened to the region's salmon runs, extinct or threatened over two-thirds of the river habitat where they once ranged. He quoted an observation from Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder: "Death is one thing. An end to birth is something else."
Casting a wider net, Safina argued that two-thirds of the world's fisheries "are crashed and/or over-exploited."
Safina has written a series of acclaimed books, Song for the Blue Ocean and Eye of the Albatross and Voyage of the Turtle. He spoke to the annual spring breakfast of People for Puget Sound.
The breakfast focused on local achievements in preserving and restoring the marine habitat of Washington's inland waters.
Kathy Fletcher of People for Puget Sound talked about saving the Duwamish River, marveling that 1,000 people turned out on Earth Day to work on restoration projects along the industrial waterway.
The group found worthy recipients for its annual awards, named for longtime (1944-80) U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson, the man who kept supertankers off Puget Sound and stopped capture of Orcas.
Jean Takekawa, manager of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, was honored for a 10-year effort to breach dikes and restore 760 acres of tidal wetlands at the refuge, just north of Olympia.
John Fabian and the 4,000-member strong Hood Canal Coalition were honored for a protracted, successful effort to halt construction of a four-mile long conveyor belt (through eel grass beds) to an industrial port.
Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., was honored for seeding the Puget Sound cleanup, and steering it clear of mistakes that have hampered similar efforts in Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes.
"As you can see every day at Nisqually Refuge, nature has a great power to heal," said Takekawa. The restored tidal wetlands will allow young salmon to mature before they swim to the ocean.
But it is the condition of the oceans that bothers Safina.
"The entire chemistry of the ocean is changing: It is becoming more acidic," he said, noting a condition that has brought alarm to Northwest oyster growers.
He talked about consequences of the Arctic's shrinking and late-forming ice pack. The ice pack has, for centuries, protected Eskimo villages from late fall and early winter storms. "Their coastline is now undefended," said Safina.
Safina spoke of the village of Shishmarif, which wants to move but needs millions of dollars to reconstruct in a safe location. He changed locales with pictures of small Pacific islands where water levels are rising.
Safina has become a proselytizer. He has worked to enlist evangelical Christian activists in the campaign to curb global warming, saying: "If the ark sinks, we all go down regardless of where we think we come from."
And he talked about the Albatross. Safina flashed a map of the Pacific Ocean, tracking one bird on a journey 1,500 miles from its nest near Hawaii to feeding grounds in the North Pacific.
He then flashed another slide, showing a mother Albatross feeding plastic to its chick . . . and another showing a the carcass of a nearly grown chick, cut open to reveal a stomach packed with cigarette lighters.
Safina mocked those who claim it is "too expensive" to change the world's energy base.
He noted that the argument was once used to justify extermination of whales when the world's largest creatures were a major oil source.
He cited justifications that slavery was essential, when the agricultural economy of great Southern plantations was built on the backs of slaves.
The call to involvement ended with Safina delivering a blunt evocation of the architects of American democracy:
"What if the Founding Fathers had said, 'Screw it. We'll just make money'?"
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