Two articles I read the other day, both related to the seas, affected me in opposite ways. First, in the morning last Wednesday, I found this piece, courtesy of Yahoo: “The Ocean is Broken.”
“They told us that this was just a small fraction of one day’s by-catch. That they were only interested in tuna and to them, everything else was rubbish. It was all killed, all dumped. They just trawled that reef day and night and stripped it of every living thing.”
Macfadyen felt sick to his heart. That was one fishing boat among countless more working unseen beyond the horizon, many of them doing exactly the same thing.
No wonder the sea was dead. No wonder his baited lines caught nothing. There was nothing to catch.
I had a similar sickening feeling a few years ago when I went to Ocean City, MD and saw, at the dock, a fishing boat with what must have been hundreds or thousands of horsecrab crabs in its nets. And then I thought, “This is not the only fishing boat doing this.” No, somewhere, certainly not far away, are dozens, hundreds, of boats doing the same every day. How many are they catching? And what else do they drag up from the bottom? And what happens to those?
Horseshoe crabs predate the dinosaurs, and we use them for bait? Really?
When I read “The Ocean Is Broken,” I felt—again—that uneasy dread I’ve had for quite some time in the back of my mind: that my children’s children will be the last generation of humans. That in the next 30 or 40 years, we’ll fish the oceans until there’s nothing left, the same way we over-hunted the passenger pigeon. That we’ll kill off tigers and elephants for their pelts and bones and tusks, we’ll cut down rainforests and bulldoze the habitats other animals rely on for feeding and breeding, we’ll consume or accidentally contaminate the freshwater that is already, in some parts of the world, growing scarce.
And then, after we’ve directly or indirectly exterminated many species, when we’ve made barren many parts of the world, when millions more people suffer and die from disease and starvation than do today—then something will push us over the brink. An evolved pathogen, resistant to antibiotics, that attacks us—or the crops or livestock that makes up our food supply. That nations will go to total war for water or arable land. Or something else, something unforeseen.
And the worst part, for me, is to imagine that in 30-40 years, when mankind goes extinct, I will be old and useless, unable to save my daughters or their children. That they and I will simply perish along with the billions—and there’s nothing I can do to prevent that, or help them.
It’s this dread that has partially inspired and informed Lost Dogs, my work-in-progress novel.
And then, when I was feeling depressed and resigned to our mutual doom, I came across this article: Yao Ming’s efforts to save sharks.
“People said it was impossible to change China, but the evidence we are now getting says consumption of shark fin soup in China is down by 50 to 70 percent in the last two years,” said Peter Knights, executive director of WildAid, a San Francisco-based group that has promoted awareness about the shark trade. The drop is also reflected in government and industry statistics.
“It is a myth that people in Asia don’t care about wildlife,” Knights said. “Consumption is based on ignorance rather than malice. ”
Simply amazing that a culture can change so much for the better in a mere two years (especially considering the resistance to change in the Mediterranean to the mass killings of songbirds, as documented by National Geographic in its July 2013 issue). How many hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of sharks have Yao Ming and the people he works with saved in the last two years? And how many millions more in the future?
And it need not stop there, as the Washington Post reports:
Buoyed by the results of the shark fin campaign, conservationists are now turning their attention to the trade in ivory and rhino horn. Some 25,000 elephants were poached last year, and 668 rhinos killed in South Africa alone, with China the largest market for ivory, and the second largest for rhino horn behind Vietnam.
But attitudes can change, and the Chinese government is not intransigent. A major investor in Africa, it does not want to be seen as the reason for widespread insecurity caused by poaching. In September, it started sending text messages to every Chinese cellphone user who touched down in Kenya, warning them to “not carry illegal ivory, rhino horn or any other wildlife.”
Maybe we (as in, “the entire human race”) are getting it. Maybe we’ll pull this off. Maybe my last years don’t need to also be the last years of my children and grandchildren.