The New York Times > Science > Environment > The Oceans, He Says Firmly, Attention Must Be Paid
Dr. Jeremy Jackson has devoted his career to getting people to pay attention to the oceans. In scientific journals, in talks at places as diverse as Unesco headquarters and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Dr. Jackson tells everyone around about a world slipping into ecological degradation.
From the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, where he directs the Geosciences Research Division, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, or STRI, where he has a part-time appointment, Dr. Jackson has deplored declines in coral reefs, the virtual disappearance of large marine fish and losses of coastal and marine ecosystems. He helped create a Web site, shiftingbaselines.org, to point out that the changes people saw in their 20th-century lifetimes were just small snapshots in a larger picture of environmental decline that has been accelerating for 200 years.
In March, he and colleagues published a call to arms in the journal Science on behalf of the world's corals. In many areas, they say, "degraded reefs are little more than rubble, seaweed and slime."
They called on scientists to stop arguing about the relative importance of overfishing, pollution, climate change and other causes of coral death and instead to work together to turn things around. And they told them how to do it, in an accompanying list of recommended actions.
"He is a rock star," said Daniel P. Schrag, director of the Harvard Center for the Environment, who said he stopped eating farm-raised salmon after hearing Dr. Jackson thoroughly denounce aquaculture.
"This is someone who has deep insight into food webs and physical and biological ocean processes and marine ecology, and a deep understanding of geological time," Dr. Schrag said. "He looks at the modern record and the last few centuries of spectacular and terrifying decline with deep understanding."
Hearing Dr. Jackson describe the problems of the oceans made Dr. Schrag think about ways to tell people about climate, his own area of specialty. "His ability to communicate what's going on inspired me," Dr. Schrag said. "He's my hero."
It was Jackson's own his daughter who turned him into a public crusadeer. His scholarly papers had been met with wide acclaim, but he was brought up short when his daughter told him, "You know, Papa, no one at my school has ever heard of the problem of overfishing. "
That was what inspired him to help organize shiftingbaselines.org. Its aim, he said, is to convey important information with humor - because "people have only so much tolerance for dead fish." The site includes short films, a blog, links to studies and news articles, information on events relating to marine ecology and even a photo, produced by the site's co-founder Randy Olsen, showing what Mount Rushmore would look like if it represented the Jackson Five - Jesse, Michael, Andrew, Shoeless Joe and Jeremy.
Progress is slow, Jackson says, but "the fact that more attention is being paid to the oceans is good."