Official: Humans are causing long-term damage to oceans, and, in turn, themselves

FAIRFAX — Humans are polluting and overfishing the world’s oceans, and are setting sea creatures—and themselves—up for serious, negative, long-term effects.

Dr. Alonso Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in Front Royal, Va., made this point during a recent visit to a George Mason University communication class.

“We have six times more plastic than plankton,” Aguirre said.

With regard to fishing, the main problem is that of the by-catch, or the assortment of animals fishermen catch while fishing for other creatures, Aguirre said.

“For one pound of shrimp, you get ten pounds of juvenile fish,” he said.

Dolphins and larger fish also frequently become part of the by-catch, he said.

“Dolphins identify the big schools of fish and tuna follow to go feed on the small fish, too. So when the fishermen come, they throw the net around them, then [the] dolphins lose the capacity of their sonar, because the net interferes with their movements,” Aguirre said.

Other ocean-dwelling animals do not become victims of the by-catch, but die, as well, Aguirre said.

For instance, 6,500 football field-size patches of patches of coral die each day, Aguirre said.

“Up to 35 percent of 1,000 animal and plant species are at risk of extinction,” he said.

Humans are not helpless in this situation, however, Aguirre said.

Fishermen harvested 712,000 metric tons of farmed shrimp in 1995, and continue to harvest it today.

“Don’t eat it,” he said.

Officials at Monterey Bay Aquarium offer different advice on this matter. Aquarium officials state on their website that people should: “Become Aware [about the environmental impact of shrimp farming and shrimp consumption].”

Those officials write: “Shrimp farm development has destroyed millions of acres of coastal habitat worldwide. Try US farmed shrimp instead, a product raised under tighter US environmental standards.”

What does Aguirre recommend that people eat instead?

“I can tell you with security that most shellfish are okay to eat—clams, oysters, mussels. Some fish are good, too, like Atlantic salmon,” Aguirre said.

Diners should be more cautious when consuming tilapia, though, because those fish have high levels of contaminants, Aguirre said.

Aguirre then said listeners and eco-minded diners and shoppers should review the information available from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. From there, consumers can get an informational card for their wallets or an app for their phones, he said.

Consumers can obtain that information at:

Fisheries can also apply to have their establishments marked with a special sustainability seal, he said.

“Only about 25 percent will get it,” he said.


Mason students: Want to do more than dine safer? Come learn.

Dr. Alonso Aguirre, executive director of the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation, wants eco-minded Mason students to consider studying at his school.

“We just built a brand-new campus—a $15M facility—where we have space for about 120 students,” Aguirre said.

“So far, we have graduated 98 students, half of them from Mason,” he said.

Students who study at the school, which is located near Shenandoah National Park, study the scientific, economic and political aspects of the biodiversity changes that are occurring in the world, he said.

Among other courses, “We have applied communications where we actually teach science communication so scientists can translate what they do in the field and the lab to the general public, Aguirre said.

“It’s really a practical experience,” he said.

Interested students can find out more by visiting:

A version of this story appears in the book: Principles of public relations: Student handbook and guide to PR communication 330


About Elizabeth Grisham

I am a journalist, historian and communication researcher. I hold Bachelor of Arts degrees in history and communication from George Mason University and Master of Arts degrees in pre-doctoral American history and science communication, also from Mason. I study epidemics, public health policy and related communication practices. Law degrees and a Ph.D. in history--with a focus on public health--to come.
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