Trash and Treasure

“One person’s trash can be another’s treasure.” This has never been more true than today. We live in a world that is overflowing with trash, yet we also face resource scarcity, environmental degradation, and decision-paralysis regarding how to address the trash that we are so quickly generating. Fortunately, technologies, communication, and collaboration are rapidly expanding the capacity for creating solutions.

The trash that is piling up around the world is affecting everything from biodiversity to economic efficiency to once beautiful land and seascapes. What if we took a market-based approach to addressing trash, using it as a resource base? There is a great deal of effort being expended to develop methods for turning trash into treasure, but there is still a great deal of work to be done. Here are some links, please add to the conversation:


Happy World Oceans Day!

There are many environmental challenges facing the oceans worldwide. Sometimes it can be difficult to get people enthusiastic about contributing to ocean preservation. One of our favorite stories about small actions making a meaningful impact is The Starfish Story.

The original version of the story apparently appeared in The Star Thrower, a collection of essays by the naturalist and writer Loren Eiseley. The story quickly entered the popular culture and variations have appeared in other books and on many websites. One version appears below. No matter how small your actions may seem, even a small change in behavior can have an incredibly positive impact. Oceans represent a critical source of biodiversity and life for our planet. Especially today, please take at least one step that contributes to protecting our oceans!

The Starfish Story adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley 1907 – 1977

Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out “Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”

The young man paused, looked up, and replied “Throwing starfish into the ocean.”

“I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this, the young man replied, “The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.”

Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, “But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, “I made a difference to that one!”

An aquarist’s personal reflection on the saltwater aquarium industry

As a longtime friend of Marine Earth Capital’s (MEC) founders, I am honored to contribute to the Gaia Endeavors blog.  Brett is the reason behind my SCUBA certification, Arya and I have been longtime school mates and travel companions. I took an immediate interest in MEC given my current hobby, keeping a saltwater aquarium. As life took over, I found less time for SCUBA diving. I can’t remember how it happened, but late one night I had the insatiable urge to put a piece of the reef in my apartment. After loads of research, some trial and error, and encouragement from my wife, I took the plunge. I have successfully kept a wide range of fish, soft corals, large polyp stony corals, small-polyp stony corals, and marine invertebrates over the last three years. It did not take long to realize how my hobby is dependent on healthy reef habitat and the immense potential for captive bred endeavors.

Saltwater aquarists currently rely on obtaining fish specimens that are wild-caught. Unlike the freshwater industry where 90% of fish are captive-raised, some estimate only 10% of saltwater fish are captive-raised. Slightly more than 1,000 different species of reef fish are collected for the aquarium industry, the majority taken from reefs in Southeast Asia. Only recently have some countries banned the use of reef-harming chemicals to stun and capture fish. Enforcement remains a challenge. A UN Environmental Program report in 2002 estimated that 27 million specimens were caught each year for the saltwater aquarium industry.

The market for corals enjoys a much more robust aquaculture presence. The community has created a diverse coral trade/buy/sell market, and a number of retail operations are successful thanks to aquaculture philosophy. Advances in equipment, technology, and the spread of knowledge via Internet communities have made large-scale coral propagation a reality.

Efforts are currently underway to create a sustainable market for live stock. Oceans Reefs and Aquariums (ORA) operates a large-scale facility in Florida and the Marshall Islands. ORA has an industry reputation for beautiful coral morphs and has captive-bred numerous species of fish for the industry. Dr. Mac at PacificEast Aquaculture has established a number of relationships with local villages in Indonesia and the Philippines. A growing number of communities, realizing the need to begin sustainable practices, have stopped harsh capture methods in favor of captive-raised ones.

The community is not yet well informed regarding fish appropriate to keep in a captive system. Lots of fish, while beautiful, are not suitable. Many fish do not live in harmony with corals in a closed system. The physical constraints of an aquarium tank make it difficult for some species to live healthy captive lives.

Saltwater aquariums are beautiful, and through them we can gain insight into brilliant and diverse underwater ecosystems. However, the hobby should not contribute to the decline of healthy reefs, which face enough man-created hardships. It is my hope that hobbyists and entrepreneurs can create sustainable endeavors to keep our hobby thriving and to keep information flowing freely so we do not decimate populations of wildlife we should not be keeping in our living rooms.