Florida Keys Shifting Baselines - Thoughts on World Oceans Day

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Since last December, we've been involved with a number of good friends in Key West, Florida, on a green initiative that includes the investigations of medicinal plants of the Florida Keys and northern Caribbean. Following from these interactions with students and colleagues at Duke University and in Key West itself, I had the good fortune of being interviewed last week together with conservation biologist Stuart Pimm on KONK-1630AM community radio by Erika Biddle for her biweekly Eco-Centric World program.

Raised in Germany, she participated in the formations of the first political Green Party after witnessing the destruction of the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) through acid rain and the River Rhein polluted through an eco disaster. In her extensive travels, she has experienced awe at the natural beauty of the earth and also outrage at the human disregard for its preservation. A Key West resident with her husband Joel for 16 years and a dedicated member of GLEE (Green Living and Energy Education) and the City's Clean KW task force.

I first cut my teeth on AM talk radio and was reminded that even for this relatively new radio station, the continued reach of such a resource remains strong despite recent downturns in other forms of media. I spent a delightful hour with Erika and Dr Pimm discussing the unique terrestrial and marine resources of the Florida Keys and we had a fair number of callers coming in with questions. Despite a common view of Key West as a tropical party place (which it is, on top of the arts and culture, nature, history, incredible snorkeling and diving), I'm ecstatic that people who live in this island paradise take their natural resources and unique fragile habitat so very seriously.

While preparing for our radio show, I was reminded of my friend Jennifer Jacquet who recently reinvented herself at ScienceBlogs.com with her own solo blog, Guilty Planet.

Jennifer is a PhD student with Dr Daniel Pauly at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre Sea Around Us Project.

Just to review from the old shifting baselines days, the shifting baselines syndrome implies that there is some sort of change through time (e.g. a population decline) and that that change must have been forgotten, and this leads to collective amnesia of what is natural or pristine. Pauly outlined this idea in his paper in 1995 and then called for the incorporation of unconventional data sources (e.g. anecdotes, photographs, old menus) into scientific analysis.

Demonstrating the way that our views on environmental impacts change over time as our frame of reference does, Jennifer cites a paper recently published by Loren McClenachan (Scripps Inst of Oceanography) in Conservation Biology entitled, Documenting Loss of Large Trophy Fish from the Florida Keys with Historical Photographs.

The paper tells the story as only the photographs can. As I cannot access the journal, Jennifer has been kind enough to post these photos, retrieved from the Monroe County, Florida Library over at Guilty Planet. I encourage you to take the time to scroll down her post and tell me if you notice any trends.


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