Red Tide, Climate Change, and Watching Paris

I don’t share many political posts or messages.  This one is definitely a mixture of science and politics, but it’s also about people power, leadership, and looking for hope from modern-day climate warriors. Across the world tragedy seems to fill the news. Shootings, bombings, forced migrations, religious hatred, etc.  Paris was the center of a lot of this attention, and Paris has the world’s attention for an additional reason.  Leaders from all over the world are gathered in Paris to negotiate the climate.  Back in my home, Missoula, Montana, I see photos of friends participating in rallies all over town against coal and  friends on the university campus sitting and fasting in silence through ten hours of 0 degree temperatures in order to support efforts happening in Paris.  Social media makes people power… more powerful.

photo credit: Nick Triolo

photo credit: Nick Triolo

This year Obama rejected the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel  recently signaled the end of fossil fuel dependence in Paris by demanding governments commit to 100% renewables by 2050. But in the Paris talks there have been no true leaders from the wealthiest nations, no beacons of hope coming from climate change’s greatest contributors. It appears that at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, the poorest countries are embarrassing the richest countries by showing that developing nations can be the most meaningful leaders in combating climate change.

That being said, while the world focuses on the the talks in Paris, climate change is affecting the most vulnerable countries in real time. Here in parts of the Eastern Visayas, we’re experiencing what is called a red tide. Red tides, or algal blooms, have been known to be happening for quite a long time, but there is evidence to support that these harmful events are closely linked to climate change and ocean temperatures.

IMG_8962 - Edited

Red tide is caused by a few species of dinoflagellates that usually takes on a red or brownish color. These events occur when marine or fresh water algae rapidly accumulate and color the surface of the water. Note, not all these blooms cause water discoloration, and the red tides are not actually associated with any tidal movement in water (hence the term algae bloom).  Some red tides produce natural toxins or deplete dissolved oxygen, which can lead to wildlife mortalities for coastal species of fish, birds, and marine mammals. Algal blooms like these can be the result of natural ocean currents, but they can also be caused by nutrient loading from human activities, coastal water pollution, and rising ocean temperatures.  El Nino events are also thought to trigger algal blooms in the Pacific.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has recently imposed a shellfish ban in two bays and several municipal waters in Leyte, Samar, and Biliran provinces after conducting water sampling activities. Red tide calls for the prohibition of gathering, trading, and consuming shellfish from these areas and can affect this livelihood sector tremendously. Although fish can still be safe for human consumption, they must be washed carefully and cooked thoroughly.  Fisherfolks are often fully dependent on coastal resources, and I’ve come across more than a few local news items interviewing fisherfolk about how receiving these kinds of warnings from BFAR can affect their daily lives.  

Fisherfolk meeting to discuss local issues

Fisherfolk meeting to discuss local issues

Below is an excerpt from the Sunstar (Tacloban):

Fishermen and coastal residents, who mainly rely for their daily subsistence from Maqueda Bay, were saddened about the BFAR warning. Fisherman Jovito Barrantes of Buri Island in this city, whose livelihood depends largely on dried squid, told The Freeman that it will again take a couple of months before they can harvest squid and get these dried,  which is more pricey than fresh squids. “Even if we tell our customers that our dried squid were thoroughly cleaned, no one will believe us especially that these are small squids. We have to look for an alternative income for now,” Barrantes said.

Livelihoods of these folks are affected by climate change already

Livelihoods of fisherfolks in the Philippines are affected by climate change already

Thought provoking guerrilla artwork, focused on climate change seems to be taking over Paris.  Silent protesters in Montana endure 0 degree temperatures in support of climate protesters all the way across the world.  Here, I helped our office deliver letters of warning to fishing communities, letters that might inform them that for the next weeks or months they must find another way to support their families.  Maybe these individuals aren’t keeping close tabs or aren’t even aware of the talks in Paris, but without choice they are woven into the fabric of the outcomes. 

I’m not sure if this post is about climate talks in Paris or dinoflagellates, but I think the point is that it’s supposed to be about both.  The choices of nations and world leaders will affect local fishing communities on the other side of the world, and individuals who fight for systemic changes on behalf of the earth have a strong voice in that, whether they are shouting or silent.

carry on climate warriors,



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