This month (June 2014), we have been making incremental progress towards getting into the field for the second year survey effort for the Lower Muscle Ridge scallop closed area. Basically, overcoming barriers to collaborative research takes time. Some organizations, like the Maine Department of Marine Resources and the University of Maine already have systems in place to allow their divers to do field work off of commercial fishing vessels while, others have not yet ventured into that realm. I am in the process of putting those systems in place for the Hurricane Island Foundation so our staff will be able to conduct research dives from commercial fishing vessels as well as our own. Doing so can take some time, but it's all in the name of having a safe SCUBA diving operation which is of the utmost importance if we want to continue doing research-related diving in the future. This process involves creating documents that outline the potential risks of participating in field work on a boat and underwater, as well as identifying ways we plan to mitigate those risks by being prepared with safety equipment and identifying the closest medical facilities to our field site. We are also developing a project dive plan that outlines our anticipated diving activity. Diver conduct will adhere to the University of Maine's diving safety manual until we create one specific to the Hurricane Island Foundation. Eventually, we will create a diving control board made up of experienced scientific divers who will review our dive plans to ensure we are operating safely. We are also considering pursuing an organizational membership with the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS), an organization that specializes in establishing and maintaining scientific diving standards.
If you're looking for some springtime reading that will help you gain some perspective on the scale of marine resource exploitation, I recommend The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts. This is a great nonfiction book that provides an in-depth account of marine resource exploitation dating back to the 11th century medieval Europe. Using firsthand accounts from early mariners and a variety of other sources, Roberts creates a colorful illustration of human reliance on marine resources and inspires awe about the life our oceans once supported. Roberts also warns about the dangers of shifting ecological baselines--a phenomenon where each generation assumes the current conditions they personally experience are the norm rather than looking at historic landings, species diversity, and average body size of different species. The ocean has historically supported a greater diversity of species and in higher abundance than today. If we look at the ocean's current status only within the context of our lifetime, we easily lower our standards, and a "successfull" rebound of a species may be only a fraction of its historic abundance. You can see a great photo series of shifting baselines here. While it is a sobering subject, Roberts' writing is very engaging and his call to action is inspirational and necessary if we want to improve the state of marine resources. I do believe that we can achieve a balance between resource extraction and protection and hopefully maintain the commercial fishing industry as a viable livelihood that honors past generations of mariners.
For his work, Roberts was awarded the 2008 Rachel Carson Environment Book Award from the Society of Environmental Journalists.