The Right Place at the Right Time: Recovery of North Atlantic Right Whales

North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) were voraciously hunted for centuries. These whales were the perfect target for shore whalers: they stayed close to shore, swam slowly, and floated upon death. These attributes caused the species to nearly go extinct, until they became the first cetacean species to receive protection after the First Convention for the International Regulation of Whaling in 1931. These whales have been protected from whaling since the implementation of the Convention’s ruling in 1935, but the population has been unable to fully recover. This is largely due to the growth of the shipping industry. In the past 50 years, the number of commercial shipping vessels has tripled, and the size of these vessels has increased by a factor greater than six. This growth has led to numerous collisions between whales and ships, making it the leading cause of mortality for E. glacialis. However, things are starting to look up for right whales.

Habitat Area

Habitat Area

In 2003, Canada decided to move the shipping lanes transecting the Bay of Fundy four nautical miles to the east, taking the ships out of critical feeding grounds for right whales, and reducing the potential for collision by 80%. This unprecedented ruling was brought about by a very unlikely partnership: an aquarium and an oil company. Irving Oil has the largest shipping fleet within the Bay of Fundy, but worked with many different groups within both Canada and the U.S. in the hopes of increasing conservation measures for E. glacialis. With their complete support of these measures, the shipping lanes have been successfully moved, with negligible impacts on the shipping companies.

The U.S. followed Canada’s example in 2007, shifting international shipping lanes out of areas within the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary where right whales congregate. The U.S. furthered their protection of E. glacialis by implementing a 10 knot speed restriction for vessels over 20 m in length in 2008, making it permanent law in 2013. This speed restriction has reduced the risk of collisions between right whales and ships by 80-90%.northern right whale size

Because of these implementations, right whale numbers have increased from 350 individuals in 2003 to 450 in 2012, with an average annual rate of increase of 2%. The number of calves per year has also increased from 11 (in 2001) to approximately 22 every year. In fact, Dr. Moira Brown of the New England Aquarium has said that as of 2012, no known collisions with right whales have occurred in the Bay of Fundy. Moving the shipping lanes and providing speed restrictions are not the only measures that have been taken for the conservation of E. glacialis, however.

In order to further reduce the number of ship strikes occurring within the U.S., the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association have collaborated to create Right Whale Listening Network. These organizations have placed acoustic buoys within shipping lanes to detect the vocalizations of right whales. When a call is heard, it is analyzed by a research lab to confirm the presence of a right whale. If it is a right whale, an alert is sent to ships located near the source of the sound so they can take necessary precautions to avoid a collision.northatlanticwhale

The increase of E. glacialis shows the world that it is both possible and plausible to conserve this species with minimal impact on our own lives. If these measures are used as a precedent for other countries to conserve their whales, it is probable that we might just be able to save numerous species. If these implementations can work for the U.S., they can work for just about everywhere else.

Article by Hillary Ballantine:

Hillary Ballantine is from a small town in central Ohio, a long way from the ocean. She became mesmerized by marine life at a very young age, and always knew she wanted to help save the whales. She graduated from Coastal Carolina University with a B.S. in Marine Science and a B.S. in Biology, and is currently attending graduate school at Antioch University New England, earning a M.S. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Conservation Biology. She has worked with educating the public on marine life at Myrtle Beach State Park, and hopes to further her experience in both the education and scientific aspects of conservation.

Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation Appoints a New Board Member

Dec. 15, 2014WILMINGTON, Del.The Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation (MOSF), a Delaware-based marine conservation nonprofit, today announced the appointment of Shilpi Chhotray to the organization’s Board of Directors, effective immediately. Ms. Chhotray’s appointment expands the Board to 7 directors.

“MOSF is committed to building a strong Board of Directors, which is comprised of talented individuals that are dedicated to the promotion of successful marine conservation initiatives. We are delighted to have Ms. Chhotray join the MOSF team, her considerable talents and expertise in marine science and policy will be a great asset to our growing organization,” said Jennifer Pitzer, Managing Director of MOSF. “We appreciate her willingness to serve as a director and look forward to benefitting from her experience, expertise and enthusiasm.”

Shilpi Chhotray is a Manager of Stakeholder Engagement at Future 500 in San Francisco, CA. Future 500 is a global nonprofit specializing in stakeholder engagement and building bridges between parties at odds. She has seven years of experience related to marine science and policy, with a focus in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, federal marine policy, and ocean exploration. Ms. Chhotray has worked with NGOs, government entities, and the private sector to develop solutions for often challenging environmental problems. Prior to joining Future 500, Shilpi worked for Blue Earth Consultants, where she consulted on high priority projects for ocean protection, including supporting the development of a marine protected area implementation plan for the state of California. At Ocean Gate, she developed underwater submersible programs for research scientists, policy-makers, filmmakers, educators and youth to witness marine ecosystem dynamics first-hand.

Ms. Chhotray holds a Master of Earth and Environmental Resources Management, with a concentration in Marine Affairs, from the University of South Carolina and a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Policy and Planning from Virginia Tech University. While in graduate school, she conducted a thesis on marine protected areas and community-based involvement in the Carolinas region of the United States. During this time, she was a climate outreach research assistant for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program where she worked on climate adaptation strategies with stakeholder engagement.

Ms. Chhotray joins MOSF’s existing Board of Directors:

·       Armin Afsahi, Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni and Community Engagement at the University of California, San Diego

·       Kim Brown, a UK-based business owner, serial entrepreneur, consultant, and author. Kim and her family are current sailing around the world on a 56’ Oyster sailboat.

·       B.R. McConnon, III, founder, Chairman, and CEO of DDC Advocacy, an international full-service advocacy firm in Washington, D.C.

·       David Pitzer, Vice President and CIO of Frederick Mutual Insurance in Frederick, Maryland

·       Dr. Tiffany Moisan, Oceanogrpaher and Research Physical Scientist in the Hydrological Sciences Lab at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Wallops Island, Virginia

·       Rosemarie Watkins, retired, former Director of International Policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C.

About the Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation

Founded in 2013, the Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation (MOSF) is a Delaware non-profit dedicated to the positive global promotion of successful marine conservation and education initiatives. MOSF researches and documents proven, successful marine conservation projects that balance ocean health and human prosperity. With the support of public and private sector partners, projects are selected for documentation and replication based on a model that evaluates financial feasibility, long-term sustainability, and the use of scientifically sound practices. MOSF engages coastal communities, at a grassroots level, to ensure that project implementations are culturally sensitive, community-driven and receive the support they need to thrive.

See the actual press release online.

“Two Billion People are Coming to Dinner and We Are Not Ready to Serve Them.”

“It’s ok to use the oceans, it’s not ok to use them up.

“This was the succinct, and eminently tweetable, summary of the Economist Magazine’s World Ocean Summit offered by Jane Lubchenco, currently a professor at Oregon State University and former Administrator of NOAA.

The World Ocean Summit brought together about 300 people divided between NGOs, government officials, journalists, business people and financing organizations. The depth and breadth of knowledge about oceans and fisheries was evident everywhere and made the meeting fascinating. One day of the meeting was devoted to a variety of in-depth sessions on many subjects.  I had the opportunity to speak in the Aquaculture session.  Below is a summary of my remarks at that meeting.

To begin, I was struck by the first sentence in the program outlining the session.  It introduced aquaculture by saying: “As a counterpoint to the better stewardship and sustainable harvest of wild-catch fisheries, one controversial view suggests aquaculture as a solution to feeding the world.”

oyster farming 2I would suggest to you that aquaculture is decidedly not a counterpoint to improvements elsewhere; it is an adjunct.  The proper conjunction applied to seafood from wild catch and aquaculture is AND not OR. Better stewardship of wild fisheries is imperative as are the development and implementation of sustainable practices in aquaculture.

In addition, I must say that I was puzzled by the statement that aquaculture as part of the solution to feeding the world should be at all controversial. Both the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Wildlife Fund say that 87% of the world’s wild fisheries are harvested at or above their sustainable limits. From a very practical point of view, what this certainly means is that we cannot harvest more seafood from the oceans; what it likely means is that we should be harvesting less.

In the face of our population increasing from 7-9 billion in the next 25-40 years I contend that the only way for us to continue to eat fish is to farm them.

As corollary to this we must impose some very important expectations on aquaculture and its growth.  While there are many, I would suggest these as two major expectations of aquaculture:

  • It must result in the net production of fish.
  • It must be sustainable.

fishfarm3Some definitions are warranted here. Net production of fish means that aquacultural operations must result in the increase of fish or seafood biomass on the planet. This calls to question capturing and feeding wild fish to farmed fish and I will discuss this in greater depth below.

I would like to offer an operational definition of sustainable from two perspectives. From the point of view of the environment, sustainability means practicing now in ways that do not diminish our ability to practice in the future.  The question I pose to myself is “What do we need to do so that we may continue to farm our fish in seven generations?” If we have this as our foundational focus then we are very likely to be asking and answering the most important questions.

The second important aspect is the sustainability of farming operations.  Farmers must profit adequately from their work so there is sufficient incentive to remain in aquaculture.

These two goals-net production of fish raised sustainably-seem axiomatic. This is a good thing because it means our challenge then becomes how to go about achieving them and it is here that our work begins.

What then are some of the most important challenges?

There are many, however, I wish to hold up four to you as particularly important. Solution of these four do not resolve all issues but they make a very significant contribution in our journey to the farming practices that allow us to produce fish seven generations hence.


Wild fish such as anchoveta, sardines and mackerel are caught, rendered to fish oil and fish meal and subsequently included in the diets of farmed fish. Dependency of aquaculture on these wild fisheries must be broken.  Historical practice in salmon aquaculture is that 3-4 kg of wild caught fish are required to make the feed to raise 1 kg of salmon. This is untenable. Our proper goal is not to use the wild caught fish efficiently but, rather, to develop the aquacultural practices that result in us not using them at all.  As the FAO and other organizations have said-We cannot continue to capture wild fish to feed farmed fish. I will end below with two very hopeful stories about how this challenge is being addressed.

Both biodiversity and the environment must be maintained/retained at and near farm sites. Much is subsumed in these needs.  Farms must be sited away from fragile ecosystems; the vagaries of interaction between farms and the local environment must be discerned; and farms must not be placed in areas of high carbon sequestration. All agriculture, whether land or water-based, has effects on the environment.  In the case of aquaculture, effluents in their many guises must be controlled so that they do not adversely affect the environment-this means the water column, the benthos and adjacent areas.

The aquacultural practices of the future must reduce risk and raise productivity. Disease can result in cataclysmic losses.  We witnessed this with Infectious Salmon Anemia virus outbreaks at salmon farms in the Faroe Islands in 2000 and in Chile in 2008.  Currently there is a bacterial disease caused by Vibrio parahaemolyticus afflicting shrimp in Asia. This devastating disease may affect the ability of farmers to stay in business at all much less produce now in the face of the challenge.

Managing disease has, as one component, the cultural practices in place at farms. A public heath analogy is the overall healthfulness of lives led in Victorian London and current day New York City.  Populations treated differently will respond differently and research is needed to help us understand what those best practices are.

With that said, there is one area where we know what we need. There is a crying need for rapid development of vaccines.  With respect to disease, the best answer is to prevent it and not to treat it. Vaccines are crucially needed. Governments should help vaccine providers by establishing judicious and efficient trial programs that facilitate practical, rapid introduction of preventative measures.

Lastly, improved governance will enhance both environmental health and economic growth. Local, national and international attention to regulation that effectively fosters the twin goals of net production sustainably obtained is greatly needed. For this to happen, governments need to be more invested in aquaculture as a central player in agricultural production.

How best do we approach our goals and challenges?

In their pursuit expertise and contribution comes from many venues. NGOs and academic institutions help to identify and prioritize important environmental issues.  Farmers, in consultation with those experts, then need to make the actual changes that happen on the water.  Greatest benefits will be seen when this is a collaborative relationship with both partners assuming good will on the part of the other. From a parochial viewpoint, Verlasso has had continual conversations with environmental NGOs since our inception.  By having conversations early we were able to incorporate their input as we developed.  I believe we are better producers for having had those discussions. Also from my parochial point of view, I have found a huge reservoir of good will.  People in the NGOs have been generous with their time and advice on questions we have posed to them.

Kampachi Farms

I mentioned earlier that I would tell you two stories about aquaculture that show a hopeful future. The first is a group called Kampachi Farms.  Neil Sims, its owner and founder, raises yellowtail tuna.

Tuna are carnivorous fish and their culture could make a significant call on fish meal and fish oil. With years of research Neil has now designed a tuna diet that contains no fish meal whatsoever. He is about to expand his operations and his new diet, over the next few years, will become a notable contribution to reducing pressure on wild caught and rendered fish. I would also say that the fish is simply delicious. His diet has not in any way compromised the quality of his tuna as delightful food.


Verlasso Farms

At Verlasso, we are salmon farmers.  Salmon, as I noted earlier, require a significant amount of fish oil to provide the omega-3s they require from their diets. At Verlasso we feed our fish a diet containing a yeast that makes the essential omega-3 and, in doing this, we lower the amount of fish oil we use in our diets by about 75%. This means that instead of 3-4 kg of fish in for 1 kg of fish out, we are 1 in and 1 out. We wish to take this further.  However, in the last year, by feeding our diets we have saved over 6 million pounds (about 3 million kg) of feeder fish compared to what would have been consumed by a traditional salmon diet.

Let me conclude by saying again that aquaculture will succeed for us, writ large, when it results in the net production of fish produced sustainably by farmers who make a return that incentivizes them to remain farmers.

There is a real urgency for us to move to this status.  2 billion people are coming to dinner pretty soon and we are not ready to serve them.



Scott E. Nichols

Scott is responsible for Verlasso’s NGO engagement and the ways we evolve aquaculture to meet the ever-growing demand for fish while preserving the ecosystems where fish are raised.  Previously, Scott worked extensively on biodiversity projects in Africa and South America, giving him a deep appreciation for developing comprehensive approaches to sustainable food production.  Scott’s education includes a Ph.D. in biochemistry from UCLA and Wharton’s Advanced Management Program.  “I have a complete and total belief that we must act with urgency to find the most sustainable ways to produce good and healthy food. Big and little steps are both important.” 





Proposed Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve

Have you ever heard of the Pitcairn Islands? As an ocean lover, I was surprised that I had never heard of this amazing chain of islands in the southern Pacific Ocean; their closest neighbor, New Zealand, is a distant 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) away.pitcairn-island-location-on-map240x180 A British Overseas Territory, humans only inhabit one of the four islands and the waters surrounding them are teaming with fish, marine mammals, turtles, and pristine coral reefs. Boasting some of the clearest seawater in the world, the remote location of this area has helped keep it protected and allowed sea life to thrive.

Since early 2011 the Pew Environment Group’s Global Ocean Legacy project has been working with the Pitcairn islanders on the idea of establishing a large-scale marine reserve within their waters. In March of 2012, the National Geographic Society and Global Ocean Legacy teamed up to perform a scientific expedition to Pitcairn and surveyed the underwater landscape. Following this expedition, the islanders of Pitcairn joined with the Pew Environmental Trust and the National Geographic society to call upon the British government for the establishment of a large highly protected marine reserve within the exclusive economic zone (the area of ocean from the shoreline out to 200 nautical miles) of the Pitcairn Islands.

sharksandcoralHome to the two southern most coral atolls, the deepest, well-developed coral reef in the world, and two known active hot spots of biological richness, Pitcairn is of great interest to marine and conservation scientists. Despite the fact that researchers have only just begun to explore this area, they have already identified 1,249 marine species. This population includes 22 species of whales and dolphins, 2 sea turtles, 365 species of fish, and 48 marine species already classified as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened.

If approved, the Pitcairn marine reserve would be the largest highly protected marine reserve in the world encompassing over 834,000 square kilometers. As a large no-take reserve, the local population would be able to continue the low impact traditional sustenance fishing that they do today, but large commercial fishing would be restricted. The local economy would likely benefit from the increased interest in scientific research, conservation, and tourism. Last month, the Deputy Mayor of Pitcairn visited London in order to champion their cause, they returned home with high hopes that the British government will endorse the proposed marine reserve area.


Copyright © The PEW Charitable Trust

A beautiful video on the Pitcairn marine reserve.

Priority Investments for Sustainable Fisheries

MOSF was mentioned in a National Geographic article this morning. We are very happy that our mission of focusing on the “what IS working and how to reproduce IT” in marine conservation and education is resonating with others.

Please read and SHARE with your friends and thank you for your support!

Ocean Revival

I’m beginning to believe there may be seawater in my veins. My earliest childhood memories have me gazing out over the vast Pacific Ocean, tide pools were my playground, and my bus stop for school stood on the side of scenic Highway 1 on the California coast between Carmel and Big Sur. As an adult, I confess that spend a disproportionate amount of time researching and dreaming of amazing travel destinations, almost all of which seem to be located on the water. A recent search led me to a new underwater park in Southern Portugal… yes, you read that correctly, an underwater park.

ocean-revival-is-a-nonprofit-organizationCreated by the MUSUBMAR Association, a non-profit association created to promote and develop the underwater tourism industry in Portugal, the Ocean Revival project is the worlds largest artificial reef structure. In accordance with OSPAR Convention rules, four decommissioned vessels from the Portuguese Navy were cleaned of all environmentally hazardous materials or dangers for divers. The ships were then deliberately sunk, one-by-one, to create an artificial reef in an area with ideal conditions for the proliferation of marine life.

oceanrevival-padiCurious about artificial reefs and their affect on the environment, I decided to dig a little deeper. In an article by the National Geographic Society, University of Tel Aviv marine biology professor Yehuda Benayahu, who studies artificial reefs in the Red Sea, stated, “When a ship sinks, it immediately becomes shelter for marine organisms. Such habitats provide new food sources, greater protection for juveniles, and more space for settlement.” The artificial reefs that are a part of Dr. Benayahu’s research studies include sunken ships ranging from 16 to 130 years in age. Many of the artificial reefs are located near natural reefs, enabling the scientists to compare the two environments at various stages of reef development.

With the steadily increasing popularity of scuba diving and the increasing accessibility of recreational diving, many scientists have expressed concerns about the strain it may cause coral reefs and their inhabitants. U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Mark Eakin points out, “The presence of artificial reefs as an alternative dive site can reduce the stress placed on the natural reefs… in many cases, artificial reefs will decrease the total dives on natural reefs.”

Well-planned artificial reefs, like the Ocean Revival site, can actually be beneficial to the environment.

sealifeonshipThe Ocean Revival project was founded on “the belief that sustainable tourism is a viable way to protect bio-diversity and the preserve the environment.” The dive site, which opened in late 2012, is located in an area of southern Portugal called the Algarve. This area is unique in that it is situated where the waters of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean mingle. Good weather and clear, calm water prevail for most of the year and as a well-established vacation area there are a number of tourist attractions for those who don’t scuba dive. Dive operators in the area offer a broad range of services from introductory dive certification classes for new divers to less structured tours for advanced divers.

Learn more about OceanRevival and their amazing work.

Diving the Almeida Carvalho Hydrographic Vessel

17 Points of View of the Hermenegildo Capelo Frigate Scuttling

Sustainable Aquaculture

fish-farmingAs wild fish stocks decline in several parts of the world, marine aquaculture, the farming of aquatic species, is filling the gap. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than 1 billion people depend on fish as their main source of protein. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says as of September 2013 aquaculture provides nearly 50% of the world’s supply of seafood. In fact, over the last decade, aquaculture has quickly moved up the ranks to become the fastest growing sector of food production worldwide.

Like any human or animal activity, aquaculture can and does have an impact on the environment. However, when practiced responsibly, the impact of aquaculture on our marine populations, marine habitats, and our water quality can be minimized. As a rapidly a developing industry, aquaculture has experienced growing pains and faced stumbling blocks. For aquaculture, those problems seem to primarily focus on environment issues including water pollution, degradation of ecosystems, and the depletion of wild fish stocks for feed pellets. At the community level, conflicts have arisen related to water allocation, land use and commercial fishing.


Merimbula boardwalk oyster farm post 5In some cases, aquaculture can both bolster our seafood supply and benefit the ecosystem. An example of this is oyster aquaculture;oysters naturally clean the water, remove nitrogen, accelerate denitrification, enhance water clarity, promote eelgrass survival, and provide excellent habitat for myriad juvenile fish and crustaceans. Additionally, aquaculture creates employment and business opportunities in coastal communities, provides safe and sustainable seafood, and supports marine fish populations and habitats.

Governments, non-governmental organizations (also known as NGOs or non-profits), and the people in the marine aquaculture industry are working together to come up with reasonable and attainable regulations. The goal is to find a balance so that we can meet the global demand for seafood and do so in a manner that has a benign or positive affect on local communities and the environment. In the US, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is working with their partners to develop innovative techniques and management practices that ensure we are protecting our marine ecosystems as aquaculture production expands around the world.


oyster farming 2Because different regions have different market needs, a one-size-fits-all approach would be impractical. Internationally, producers and other interested parties must work together to come up with models to address local and regional issues. Aquaculture farmers understand that sustainable practices are critical to environmental and human health, and their long-term economic success.  Aquaculture and wild fish stocks can and should complement each other to provide both a healthy diet and sufficient food supplies for the world population. In the long term, a healthy aquaculture industry will assure healthy fish populations worldwide.

Fish Farming in California




Truly Down Under

Let me introduce Shea Megale. Shea is a remarkable young woman and her love of life and pursuit of dreams make for an extraordinary story. She is an adventurer, writer and soon to be author of her 10th young-adult novel. Shea has been featured on the Today Show, written up in national news publications, and her books are available on Amazon. To learn more, check out her site at: Shea was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), an extremely rare genetic condition. SMA is a genetic neuromuscular disease characterized by muscle atrophy and weakness. Although Shea is confined to a wheelchair much of the time, it certainly doesn’t define her. Her optimism and sense of adventure have taken her to some remarkable places including a recent trip to Australia, New Zealand, and a visit to the Great Barrier Reef. At the reef, Shea had the opportunity to get out of her wheelchair and explore a whole new world. This is Shea’s story, told in her own words, in a recent post.


I remember, when I was younger, I used to lie in bed in total darkness and watch the green light on my smoke detector blink. All night. Even that young I remember thinking how fascinating it was that in a room of pitch darkness, that tiny light seemed to suck me right out of the dark. I was only drawn to it.

Isn’t that how the world works? We live surrounded by constant pain and wrongfulness and yet are sustained by mere seconds of redeeming beauty.

That’s what I realized today underwater 60 miles from the shore. We’ll get to that bit.

First we should cover my first two days in Cairns.

Cairns is the rainforest. We stayed in stilted bungalows in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest. It showered hard all night long and drummed against the skylight. Insects and lizards were some of the many species we found camping at the bungalow.

But in order to get to the bungalow, we had to catch the ferry before it closed. Our flight was an hour delayed. The luggage was held up. The car we rented was an unanticipated stick shift. Nothing was going our way for making this ferry.

Dad raced around winding streets in the rain and jacked the lever to and fro. We zoomed into the ferry dock to see the booth closed. All of us sighed in despair. Dad twisted the engine off in defeat.

Then, across the crocodile infested river, a light flashed. The ferry came back for us.

A man named Wallaby, literally the most Australian person you can imagine, opened the gate for us and waved us in. His accent was nearly indecipherable, his glasses were thick, and he wore a floppy brown hat over yellow hair. Thank goodness for Wallaby.

The following day was spent sampling exotic fruit, cruising the Daintree River in search of crocodiles (we saw a huge one), and walking the forest paths. With black silt, running water, and deep armies of mangrove, I felt like an explorer. I daydreamed it was true.

And then we boarded the ship to the Great Barrier Reef.

I need to admit that I have been dreading this experience the whole trip. Dad, who is never seasick, became green on the bouncy ride over. He didn’t let me know how nervous he was for me until after.

The main instructor’s name was Beau. He’s 49 with a long brown mane, light hair puffing out of the collar of his red shirt, and these beautiful teal eyes that were amazingly caring and human.

He gave the introductory divers a demo, but kept looking over at me with a mixture of gentleness and measurement, as if trying to figure out how this would be possible.

Finally he sat down at my level with a touch of sadness and said that their referring doctor had left it up to him whether or not to take me diving. He asked lots of questions and watched me steadily.

And he could not bring himself to deny my spirit.

great-barrier-reef-beautiful-coral-australiaThree hours later, I was dressed in my wetsuit. Dad carried me down to the water but he had to leave me alone there. He would be a pupil himself. So down there, on a grated ledge next to the point, Beau and two other instructors loaded my gear. One was a big giant grey-bearded teddy bear named David. David loved to laugh. The other was an ex army, young diver named Des. As Beau attached my mask, he said “You like all this attention from three Australian guys don’t ya?”

I love how Australians can see right through me.

Des carried me to the ledge and held me. Beau jumped in the water.

I was given the oxygen. I became Darth Shea.

Haaaa-hooo. Haaaaa – hooo.

Now Beau began to talk to me real calm and kept his eyes firm on me. He wanted to see that I could independently clear my mask and reinsert my oxygen.

I couldn’t. My head was flailing. The weight just barely had my face smacking the water. But I could breathe.

Beau, by policy, should have pulled me out right there. But he looked at me as the waves lapped, just me and him, and said “Do you want to just go down?”

With literally all my strength, I nodded.

And he tore me into the water.

I rocketed down diagonally. The world transformed into coral and ocean and I breathed hard and fast into the oxygen.

I’m scared. I’m scared. God, I’m scared. I’m scared, God.

I had no control.

I had to learn to let it go.

And then I was there. I was underwater in the Great Barrier Reef. I was doing what half the ABLED population would never do.

Huge fish ribboned around my face. Little ones scattered as my hand reached out.

Several times Beau’s weathered hand reached in front of my face and made the okay sign. A question. I answered identically. Sometimes he would turn me so I could gaze into his teal eyes through the mask. Reading me. I was okay.

sp_three_green_turtles_great_barrier_reefHe took me everywhere. I felt no fear being held by him. The most beautiful, fascinating creature in the water that day were the humans.

Finally Beau turned me towards open water. Vast turquoise blue. I puffed. And puffed. Above was the grate of the pontoon. Already it was over.

He popped me out of the water. David reeled me up into his massive arms.

I took out the oxygen and laughed. “That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever done in my life. Pretty brave, huh?”

“Yeh did great, dahlin!” came Beau’s reedy voice somewhere.

David and Beau lifted me up and then David carried me alone all the way to my chair.

I did it. I dove.

Dr. Crawford said that I have a sixteenth of the muscle regular people have, but what I do have works ten times harder than any regular person’s muscle; every second of my existence. I felt it. Everything was exhausted.

I feel it now.

My muscles work hard to compensate for everything against me. But the greatest muscle I own is the one that Beau saw through my mask in my eyes before he decided to plunge me under.

That’s the one that makes my life worth living. That, like the little green button, is my little green light.

I love you all. I’m okay. More than okay.
And I’m truly Down Under.


Sea Stars – Because “Starfish” Aren’t Really Fish At All

For years, scientists have been trying to get us to stop calling these wonderful creatures “starfish.” Relatives of the sand dollar, sea urchin, and sea cucumber, a better name would be “sea stars.” There are almost 2,000 species of identified sea stars in the oceans and they vary widely in color, texture, size and shape. Sea stars normally live to be anywhere between 5 to 35 years old in the wild.


Red Starfish

Sea stars are marine invertebrates and typically have a central disc and five arms; however, some species have as few as four arms and others have as many as 10, 20, or even 40. They live in all of the oceans in the world and have adapted to both very warm and very cold climates. Sea stars only live in salt water though, if you put a sea star in fresh water it would die.

The main predators of sea stars are sea otters, rays, sharks, seagulls and different types of fish. They do have some pretty cool defenses though, they use camouflage to blend in with their surroundings, they can drop an arm to escape and then grow a new one in it’s place, and they have armor which protects them from many attackers. Sea stars armor consists of a tough covering on their upper side, which is made up of plates of calcium carbonate with tiny spines on the surface.

These marine animals feed on common ocean creatures like clams, mollusks, coral, and dying fish, they have a very unusual method of eating them. They eat clams and other shelled creatures by prying the shell open and then pushing their stomach out through its mouth and into the bivalve’s shell. Once it has digested its food, the sea star will slide its stomach back into its body. This strange way of eating enables sea stars to eat prey that are larger than their mouths.

Star Fish

Star Fish

Sea stars move using hundreds of tube feet, which are located on their underside. Some sea stars, like the adult sunflower sea star, can move at an incredible one meter per minute using its 15,000 tube feet. These tube feet are also used by sea stars to hold their prey.

Did you know that sea stars don’t have blood in their bodies? Instead of blood, they use seawater to pump nutrients through their bodies via a water vascular system. The sea star pumps seawater through its sieve plate, or madreporite, into its tube feet to extend them and then muscles within the tube feet retract them.

While sea stars aren’t totally blind, they can’t see anywhere near as well as humans. They have something called an eyespot on the tip of each arm, which allows them to sense light and shapes. If you look carefully at the tip of a sea stars leg, you might notice a red or black dot – that is its eyespot.

Next time someone talks about “starfish,” you can tell them that they aren’t really “fish” at all; they don’t have gills, scales or tails like fish do. These complex and beautiful animals are considered threatened by scientists due to pollution and loss of habitat, so we need to work together to keep our oceans clean, healthy, and thriving.

Watch Sea Stars move in this timelapse video.

Stars of the Sea from Karin Brussaard on Vimeo.

Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation Appoints Three New Members to Board of Directors

WILMINGTON, Del., March 26, 2014 /PRNewswire-iReach/ — The Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation (MOSF) today announced the addition of three new members to the organization’s Board of Directors. MOSF is dedicated to the global promotion of positive marine conservation and education initiatives.


“Today’s appointments reflect MOSF’s commitment to establishing a global leadership team of skilled individuals committed to the conservation of marine resources.  These individuals will be invaluable as we advance our work to promote and support marine conservation projects and education initiatives,” said Jennifer Pitzer, Managing Director of MOSF.

Armin Afsahi, Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni and Community Engagement at the University of California, San Diego

Kim Brown , Director of The Overseas Guides Co. Ltd., former owner and founder of Smart Currency Exchange Ltd. and co-founder of Business Wand LLP

B.R. McConnon III, Founder, Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at DDC Advocacy, a full-service public affairs advocacy firm

Armin Afsahi is Associate Vice Chancellor for Alumni and Community Engagement at the University of California, San Diego. In this capacity, Afsahi oversees university-wide alumni relations; annual giving; donor development; marketing and digital outreach; corporate relations and industry engagement. Afsahi serves as chief alumni officer for the university and also leads the UCSD Alumni Association and its Board of Directors; the organization serves more than 155,000 alumni worldwide.  He has served in executive leadership positions in private ventures and on the senior advancement teams at UCSD and Georgetown University, where he worked in the areas of alumni engagement, capital campaign planning, strategic business initiatives, board management, and corporate development. Afsahi serves on the board of the Council of Advancement and Support of Education and is a partner with San Diego Social Venture Partners.

Kim Brown is a business owner, serial entrepreneur, consultant, and author. In 2004, Kim founded UK-based Smart Currency Exchange Ltd., a foreign currency exchange, which reached over £500M in turnover before she sold her share in 2011. She is also the founder and a Director of The Overseas Guides Company (OGC) Ltd., a firm which helps overseas property buyers through the step-by-step buying process in over twenty countries; OGC is strategically aligned with, the UK’s number one property website. In 2011, she co-founded Business Wand, which is the parent company of and She has authored several property guides and her work has been published in over fifty newspapers and magazines, including Overseas Living.  She also has written a book titled, “How Life Really Works.” Kim recently embarked on a new adventure; she and her family have purchased a 56′ Oyster sailboat, and are setting sail around the world with their 3 ½ year old daughter. Follow her journey at

B.R. McConnon, III is founder, Chairman, and CEO of DDC Advocacy, an international full-service advocacy firm. DDC Advocacy is the largest firm of its type in the U.S. In this role, B.R. contributes long-term strategic direction and provides counsel to DDC Advocacy clients. Under his leadership, DDC Advocacy ranked 72nd on the Inc. 500 Fastest-Growing Private Companies list for 2002, and twice received the Deloitte & Touche Technology Fast 500 award for North America, including top 10 in Virginia. B.R. received his B.A. in Government and International Relations from Georgetown University. He is active in several outside business ventures and charities, including serving on the board of the J-Street Cup, a charity that he founded to raise funds for the Fisher House at Walter Reed Army Hospital, the American Heart Association, and the Bishop Ireton High School Alumni Association.

The new board members join MOSF’s existing Board of Directors:

  • Dr. Tiffany Moisan, Research Physical Scientist in the Hydrological Sciences Lab at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Rosemarie Watkins, retired, former Director of International Policy at the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C.
  • David Pitzer, Vice President and CIO of Frederick Mutual Insurance

About the Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation

The Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation (MOSF) is a Delaware non-profit dedicated to the positive global promotion of marine conservation and education. MOSF is collaborates with individuals, organizations, and businesses that are managing successful marine conservation projects and documenting how projects are carried out and how they can be replicated. Via the Internet and by visiting coastal communities, MOSF is building global relationships and a grassroots network of people who are committed sharing ideas to keep our oceans healthy.

Media Contact: Jennifer Pitzer, Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation

See the actual press release online.

SOURCE Marine & Oceanic Sustainability Foundation