A Deep Sea Mystery

by Ben Pile

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water?

World?s oceans in ?shocking? decline

Warns Richard Black at the BBC.

The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists.

In a new report, they warn that ocean life is ?at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history?.

They conclude that issues such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change are acting together in ways that have not previously been recognised.

The impacts, they say, are already affecting humanity.

The panel was convened by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), and brought together experts from different disciplines, including coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists.

Call me a cynic, but I no longer take claims about ?expert panel of scientists? at face value. Sadly, Richard Black of the BBC does.

Who are the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) anyway? A visit to their website barely gives any information about itself at all. It doesn?t appear even to have an email address, let alone a postal address. There is no mention of who is running it, or what organisations are involved. Isn?t that a bit odd, for ?an expert panel of scientists?.

Looking at the final report [PDF] produced by IPSO, there is similarly little mention of the organisation?s relationship to the rest of the world, such that we can see for ourselves what kind of a panel of experts they really are. However, at the top of the report is the following text:

The Deep Sea Conservation Coalition (DSCC) is a coalition of over 60 organizations worldwide promoting fisheries conservation and the protection of biodiversity on the high seas. The DSCC has been actively involved in the international debate and negotiations concerning the adverse impacts on deep-sea biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction from bottom trawling and other methods of bottom fishing on the high seas since 2003/2004.

Ok. So who the hell are the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition?

Surprise, surprise?

A coordination team works together with a Steering Group that currently consists of the Ecology Action Centre, Greenpeace International, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Natural Resources Defense Council, Pew Environment Group and Seas at Risk. The DSCC has developed a formidable international team of scientists, policy and communication experts, lawyers and political activists who on behalf of the deep sea have established a strong reputation and profile on the issue at the UN and in other fora.

The ?panel of experts? ? IPSO ? may well be expert. But, look, again, we see Greenpeace?s name up there, steering the research ? in its own words ? alongside the Pew group, and Friends of the Earth.

I don?t believe a word of it. This is not scientific research, it?s ?grey literature?, put out by yet another grey institution, the true nature of which is concealed from first appearances. Not far behind, the agenda is revealed.


I?ve been browsing the IPSO site, which is very poorly designed. The most charitable thing I can say about IPSO is that it is a project by Dr Alex Rogers, to pass himself off as an international research programme. Here he is, talking about the end of the world, like all good zoologists should.

I made a bit of a mistake above. I thought that the front page would list its most recent research. It turns out that the research I was looking at, which was sponsored by DSCC was last year?s. This year?s project was sponsored by The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). So who are the IUCN?

[The IUCN] helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges. It supports scientific research, manages field projects all over the world and brings governments, non-government organizations, United Nations agencies, companies and local communities together to develop and implement policy, laws and best practice.

IUCN is the world?s oldest and largest global environmental network ? a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.

IUCN?s work is supported by more than 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. The Union?s headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, Switzerland.

So, yeah, another NGO lobbying outfit, in cahoots with government and businesses, blurring the lines between activism, scientific research, and so on.

Back to IPSO. Here?s the web-page that relates to the new report. It describes the background to the report:

The 3 day workshop, co-sponsored by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), looked at the latest science across different disciplines.

The 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries produced a grave assessment of current threats ? and a stark conclusion about future risks to marine and human life if the current trajectory of damage continues: that the world?s ocean is at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history.

So it turns out that this report took the scientists just three days of chin-wagging. Says the report:

The workshop provided a rare opportunity to interact with other disciplines to determine the net effect of what is already happening to the ocean and is projected to do so in the future.  Over the  three days 27 participants from 18 organisations in 6 countries (Annex 1) assessed the latest information on impacts and stresses, and the synergistic effects these are having on the global ocean.

Through presentations, discussions and recommendations the workshop documented and described the cumulative effects of such impacts, how these commonly act in a negatively synergistic way, and why therefore concerted action is now needed to address the consequences set out in this report.

Now, this is being presented as the product of a scientific process. But it turns out that it?s a little conference of self-selecting individuals, clearly given to a particular agenda.

The scientific outcomes from this workshop will be used first and foremost to strengthen the case for greater action to reduce anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide related to climate change and ocean acidification while also reducing other stressors.  The findings underscore the need for more effective management of fisheries and pollution and for strengthening protection of the 64% of the ocean that lies beyond the zones of national jurisdiction. They thereby form a major contribution to implementation of the major IPSO report on the Global State of the Ocean. This event follows on from the IPSO/Royal Society event in 2009 that focussed on the future for coral reefs.

But in what way is the product of the 3-day gloom-fest a ?scientific outcome?? No doubt, with a fancy name like ?International Programme on the State of the Ocean?, citations to the report it produces will impress people. Indeed, it sounds like an expensive, exhaustive survey of the world. But it was just a couple of dozen eco-warriors in a single room, chatting about their fears.


Barry Woods has emailed me with a bit more on the profiles of some of the attendees of this ?expert panel? ? the 27 people behind the ?World?s oceans in ?shocking? decline? report.

The attendees are listed on page 10 of the report. [PDF]

Barry Gardiner is Labour MP for Brent North, and Vice President Globe UK, the Global Legislators Organisation. Globe?s about pages say,

there exists a strategic opportunity to coordinate a legislative response to key global environmental challenges in advance of Rio +20. This response recognises and seeks to strengthen the central role of legislators and parliaments in tackling the major global environmental challenges, as well as placing a much greater emphasis on the role of legislators in holding governments more effectively to account for the implementation of international commitments.

I wonder what Barry Gardiner knows about marine ecology. He has a degree in philosophy, apparently, so not much then. So much for this panel of experts?

Dan Laffoley is Marine Vice Chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which seems to be the current sponsor, and is discussed above. Joining him is his colleague Aurelie Spadone.

Kelly Rigg – Executive Director, Global Campaign for Climate Action. No obvious expertise in marine biology, it says here,

Kelly Rigg is the Executive Director of the GCCA, a global alliance of 250 organizations cooperating under the banner of the tcktcktck campaign. She has been leading international campaigns for nearly 30 years on climate, energy, oceans, Antarctica and other issues. She was a senior campaign director for Greenpeace International during 20 years with the organization. After leaving Greenpeace she went on to found the Varda Group consultancy providing campaign and strategic advice to a wide range of NGOs, and led the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition?s campaign to protect the high seas from destructive bottom fishing.

Josh Reichert is Managing Director of the Pew Environment Group. They say of themselves,

In 1998, the Trusts established the Pew Center on Global Climate Change for the purpose of providing credible information, straight answers and innovative solutions to address global climate change. At the inception, the Business Environmental Leadership Council was created to engage the businesses community in the climate debate. The council included 46 companies, mainly Fortune 500 firms with combined revenue of more than $2 trillion and over 4 million employees. In 2007, the Pew Center played a major role in launching the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, an unprecedented alliance of nonprofit organizations and leading businesses?including General Electric and all three major U.S. automobile manufacturers?in support of federal emissions-reduction legislation

Although Reichart ?he has written more than 60 publications and co-produced films on the plight of fisheries and marine ecosystems?, it?s hard to see what expertise he has in marine ecology? ?Mr. Reichert holds an undergraduate degree in applied behavioral sciences from the University of California, Davis, and master?s and doctoral degrees in social anthropology from Princeton University?.

Conn Nugent is Executive Director of the JM Kaplan Fund

The Environment Program concentrates on marine conservation, especially in ocean waters that lie beyond the jurisdiction of a single national government. The program currently supports grantees working to: create international protections for species and ecoregions of the High Seas; educate scientists and the public about the value and vulnerability of the ocean as a world system; and foment civil society movements to protect Arctic waters and Arctic coastal communities.

Conn Nugent?s blog profile gives no indication of his or her qualifications in marine science:

Highlights: ? Exec Dir, JM Kaplan Fund (2000-present). Programs in environment, historic preservation, immigration: US, Mexico, Cuba, worldwide. ? Exec Dir, Intl Physicians for Prevention Nuclear War. 1985 Nobel Peace Prize. ? Founder/editor, LibertyTree.org, GothamGazette.org, WeLoveTheIraqiInformationMinister.org. ? Freelance writer, editor, graphic designer. Harvard College, Harvard Law School. Peace Corps. Teacher. Exec Dir: Planned Parenthood California; Bay State Charitable Trust; New Alchemy Inst; Five Colleges; Citizens Union. Prog Dir, Nathan Cummings Foundation. Articles on land use, architecture, defense, fiscal policy, medicine, sports.

So, not much evidence of the scientific expertise that is being claimed of this team. Yet there are a number of agendas at the table. And some well-funded agendas, at that.