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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Coal Mine Canaries In The Open Water

After three straight nights of a jellyfish onslaught, the hardened swimmers from San Francisco had to call it quits along the coastline of California.

So we ask, "What other sport is there that can be stopped by small invertebrates?"  What other sports or human activities are so negatively impacted by such small creatures?

As swimmers become bolder and take to the waters around the world, we are increasingly seeing this phenomena.

Open water swimmers are the coal mine canaries of the world's oceans. Because swimmers perform in such a natural state (i.e., swimsuit, cap and goggles) in places where no others go so unprotected, they experience things that no one else does.

At some point in the distant future, the world's media and scientific community can look back at the exploits and observer logs of open water swimmers from the late 20th century and early 21st century and wonder why they did not report more about swimmers who increasingly encountered a global proliferation of jellyfish of unprecedented proportions.

While swims in the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Caribbean and elsewhere are increasingly ending in a painful and disappointing outcome due to jellyfish, perhaps the open water canaries demonstrate in a very human way the larger ecological issues that are affecting our oceans and our planet.  Can the scars on the skin and venom in the system ultimately lead to a greater awareness and provocative calls for action?

Dr. Angel Yanagihara of the University of Hawaii, the world's leading expert on the box jellyfish, describes open water swimming relative to other athletic endeavors, "As far as sports go, arguably ocean swimming is the penultimate human activity involving the literal full immersion of mind, body and spirit into the ocean. Individuals who passionately feel called to swim and dive the oceans are also perhaps the most able to fully report back to the larger community the state of our oceans at a profoundly intimate level." Environmentalist Lewis Pugh asks audiences during his speeches about his pioneering swims,"What radical, tactical shift can you take in your relationship to the environment?"

Dr. Yanagihara explains the changes taking place, "Global climate change is not just a simple shift in temperatures, but a pivot point for species worldwide with a demonstrable risk of collapse of marine biodiversity.  This is compounded by unsustainable overfishing and pollution of near shore areas.  All these factors lead to a state where the ocean's invertebrates can thrive again after millions of years of being subdued by top vertebrate predators.  

I have watched schools of Hawaiian trigger fish devour local box jellies remaining in the reef during the day, but in other areas of the world when robust and voraciously feeding fishes are depleted by human activities (overfishing, pollutant-driven algal blooms with subsequent oxygen depletion), the jellies remain and proliferate."

Copyright © 2012 by Open Water Source

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