A Sea of Success in 2015

Written by: Gabe Andrews

Skimming Skimmer

Our senses are constantly bombarded with the woes of the world. The familiar fragrance of gasoline permeates our nostrils in stalling traffic; smog encircles the burbs and bronchi. We hear the stories of violence and unrest from the talking heads on television, to which we’ve become distressingly accustomed. We see images of plastic oceans and oceans of plastic. We glaze over.

The oceans, though they feel everything we do, are not burdened by the knowledge of an uncertain future with unstable humans.  They live on, especially when we give them room to do so. 2015 was a good year for oceans. We should talk about it and why it matters.

2015 Heroes 

  1. Palau. This western Pacific island made an awe-inspiring move last October. With the stroke of a pen, 500,000km2 of ocean found protection from industrial and foreign fishing. That’s an area representing an astonishing 80% of Palau’s waters [1].
  1. Chile. Following in the footsteps of the late Doug Tompkins, Chile preserved 397,000km2 of it’s waters, with an additional 631,000 km2 proposed to join the club [1].
  1. New Zealand. The Kiwis have always had a reputation for being green, but they upped their game last year when they designated 620,000km2 of ocean as a non-take preserve [1], which is essentially the area all of New Zealand’s land mass. Doubled.
  1. The United Kingdom. Rounding out the groundbreakers (or seabreakers) for 2015 is another island nation. With the declaration of the Pitcairn Island Marine Reserve, the UK created the largest fully protected marine area in the world with a whopping 834,000km2 of South Pacific waters secured [1].

Courtesy of Marine Conservation Institute

In total, these four countries conserved an area the size of two Alaskas. Besides a victory for depleted fish stocks and crumbling coral reefs, the designation of some 2,982,000km2 as marine protected area (MPA) in 2015 could also help ecosystems cope with the effects of our carbon appetite.

Climate change threatens to bring more than stronger storms, longer droughts, and crop crises. We notice these things because our eyes are fixed on the land and skies around us. But our oceans may face even greater pressures [2]. Researchers predict that intact habitats are the best defense against such stress. Marine ecosystems protected at a large scale have a stronger capacity to “absorb climate impacts.” [3]. With an estimated worldwide coral loss of 70% by 2050 [4] we need to encourage all of the resilience we can. In addition to absorbing climate impacts, MPAs provide a buffering capacity for bordering waters [5], often with spillover effects that restore ecosystem dynamics [6]. Coupled with enhancing diversity, healthy communities have the ability to increase resistance to—and recovery from—disturbance over time [7], a promising thought given the projected changes that lie ahead.

Loggerhead Sunrise. By: Gabe Andrews

In all, we have protected 2.2% of our oceans in 13,674 designated areas around the globe; awaiting proposals could bring the total up to 3.6% this year [1]. Small nations like Palau and New Zealand have given us reason for optimism. Using different models on land and at sea, we can work together to protect habitats that could assuage the consequences of climate change and help diversity thrive. As cohorts of citizens, we should continue to urge our elected officials to protect ecosystems and their functions. As individuals, we should reduce our consumption and our carbon footprint. Beyond the practical necessity to preserve vast stretches of ocean, lies the appeal to remember that “if there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” [8]



  1. MPAtlas Marine Conservation Institute: http://www.mpatlas.org/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2016
  2. U.S. EPA: Climate Change Indicators in the United States: http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/science/indicators/oceans/. Accessed 23 Feb. 2016
  3. Graham, et al.,2008. Climate warming, marine protected areas and the ocean-scale integrity of coral reef ecosystems. PLoS ONE 3(8) e3039.
  4. Mcleod, E. et al., 2009. Designing marine protected area networks to address the impacts of climate change Designing to address marine the area protected of climate impacts networks change. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 7(7), pp.362–370.
  5. NOAA Marine Protected areas http://marineprotectedareas.noaa.gov. Accessed 23 Feb. 2016.
  6. Micheli, F. et al., 2012. Evidence that marine reserves enhance resilience to climatic impacts. PLos ONE 7(7), e40832
  7. Bernhardt, J.R., and Leslie, H.M. 2013. Resilience to climate change in coastal marine ecosystems. Annual Review of Marine Science 5, pp.371-392.
  8.  Eiseley, L. C.,1953. The Flow of the River. The American Scholar22(4), 451–458


Catch the Bug

He ate not one, but two daddy longlegs. Cricket Powder

It was the day our Phys. Ed. teacher successfully grossed out a busload of unruly preteens and impressed an image that I –nor any of my classmates – would ever forget. The teacher was my father, and my friends recount the story even to this day.

Any culture carries its share of taboos, many of which fall into the culinary category. Americans shun the idea of eating insects (or arachnids), while two billion people around the world don’t give it a second thought. We love our hotdogs and cheeseburgers, but insects may be a novel weapon in our battle against climate change. This global crisis offers us an opportunity to get creative, and fast. What do bugs have to offer that bovines don’t?

Sustainability: The buzzword that makes environmental scientists groan and businesses “green”. Unfortunately, the word sustainability has lost much of its luster in episodes of overuse and misinformation. It has become a trendy term that no longer carries much weight. But insects may actually be a sustainable addition to our food systems. That is, a food system with “a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” (Merriam Webster). Our current agricultural system is littered with waste, with estimates of over 30% of our food being lost or tossed around the globe (1). Some of our food waste can be attributed to food labeling and improper portions, while other problems arise at the farm itself. With 40% of a cow edible, 60% is waste. For chickens and pigs, the figure lowers to around 45% waste. Meanwhile, a whopping 80% of a is cricket edible, with only 20% regarded as byproduct (2). Organic waste (wasted food or wasted cow) emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG). Move towards a more efficient food system, and GHG emissions will decline. Right now, agriculture accounts for about 10% of America’s greenhouse gases. Adding insects to the equation may help lower that percentage.  On a per gram basis, protein produced from certain insects emits 1% of the GHG of protein production from beef (3).

Courtesy of theguardian.com

Courtesy of theguardian.com

Some people will refuse to ever have grasshopper sushi or fried silkworm. For the fainter of heart, insects can supplement meals in a subtler way. Companies around the world have created nutritious ground insect products full of protein, iron, calcium and more. The bonus? A protein bar or shake without the worry of a stray cricket leg. Further down the food chain lies an even more promising idea for the most squeamish among us. Mealworms and black fly larvae have become an excellent supplement to chicken, pig, and fish feed. Insect farms in places as different as South Africa and Ohio have learned the benefits for this supplement. Let’s look at the current trends and future options.

Livestock and farmed fish are fed ground products and meals that require commercial production. Whether commercial grade fish meal or soybean meal, the assembly necessitates conversion of land and depletion of fish stocks, and GHG emissions permeate production. Not to mention, the method is an inefficient way to convert protein. On average, beef, pork, and chicken respectively require 10, 5, and 2.5kg feed to produce 1kg of meat (2).  In come maggots. Black soldier larvae (Hermetia illucens) don’t require such an intense supply chain. They are simply fed food scraps and farm waste without an an enormous planetary burden. They are earth’s recyclers. The industrious insects-to-be convert the waste to protein and compost. The plump larvae are then converted to insect meal for livestock and aquaculture. A model that sustains on inputs of waste is more efficient by nature.

Eating bugs will not save the world, nor is this a suggestion to end all traditional meat production. Our climate crisis can only be approached with a cooperative and creative character. We need solutions that inspect all aspects of our food systems, but we also need a willingness to change. Crickets aren’t all that different from lobsters and chickens would rather eat maggots than soy beans. We live in an interconnected world; it is time for our food system to mimic relationships that nature reveals.

We all need to refocus the lens we use to look at food. Oysters, milk, hot dogs, and honey could easily gross us out. Honey is bee vomit. These things exist in our culinary traditions, but someone somewhere overcame the ick-factor of mammary gland excretions from a four-legged ungulate, to give us the delicious decedents of dairy. I am not at the forefront of the insect-eating movement (people have been eating insects for millennia) but I gave it a try and I caught the bug. We don’t have to develop investment portfolios to support insect farming and alternative food systems; we make our investments with our shopping cart. Start easy with insect-based flours and try cricket and coconut chocolate chip cookies. Maybe, like me,  you can work your way up to crunchy cricket tacos. Soon enough you’ll catch the bug in no time.

(1) UNEP Food Waste Facts. Retrieved 26 January 2016, from http://www.unep.org/wed/2013/quickfacts/

(2) Van Huis, A. et al (2013). Edible insects. org. Retrieved 26 January 2016, from http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3253e/i3253e.pdf

(3) Oonincx, D. et al (2010). An exploration of greenhouse gas and ammonia production by insect species suitable for animal or human consumption. PLoS ONE 5(12). Retrieved 26 January 2016, from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0014445