It’s a little like asking how many stars in the sky? Or how many grains of sand are there?
They are questions that cannot be answered with any accuracy.
Sure, technology has made it possible for scientists to make educated guesses – estimates. The very fact that fish live in a mainly unexplored ocean means there can be no correct answer.
Just as the universe is filled with undiscovered galaxies, the ocean reaches depths we have so far been unable to explore.
Why does it even matter how many fish in the sea?
Many recognise the negative impact we have on our planet and do their bit to reduce their carbon footprint.
The people resisting the concept of climate change and our contribution to it can make an even bigger difference.
The language we use when trying to explain the issues and our power to fix them is crucial.
When we approach these people with loaded statements and judgmental observations, we are only adding to their resistance.
HOW MANY FISH IN THE SEA?
A loved one, a sceptic, recently asked this question in a Facebook post.
I was wondering how the media can tell us unequivocally that in a given number of years there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. How many fish are there?
It’s a fair enough question. The temptation to illustrate an important point with a stunning prediction is all too easy to succumb to.
The plastic vs fish claim was declared a few years ago by world record-breaking yachtswoman Dame Ellen MacArthur. She has made it her life’s mission to educate people about the devastating effects of plastic on the environment.
MacArthur broke the record for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe in 2005.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was launched in 2010. Its mission is to “accelerate the transition to a circular economy”.
The Foundation’s study into plastics found that 95 per cent of plastic packaging is lost to the economy each year after a single use.
Even more startling was the claim that without change, there would be more plastic than fish by weight in the ocean by 2050.
The study proposed setting up a new system to slash the leaking of plastics into nature.
The Foundation works hand in hand with industry leaders to achieve this goal.
MacArthur’s vision is for a “new plastics economy” in which the industry, governments and citizens work together to ensure that plastics never become waste and cut the leakage into natural systems.
We are trying to change a system, not one business. We need to change the way people think, the way things are designed, the materials that are put into them.
Dame Ellen MacArthur
HOW TO DETERMINE HOW MANY FISH ARE IN THE SEA
The short answer is, it’s not currently possible to come up with the exact number of fish in the sea.
Estimates are made using fishery-dependent data which is collected by commercial and recreational fishers. This data, also known as catch data, is limited to the part of the sea where people actually fish.
As it is not possible to determine the actual number of fish in the sea, the statement needs to be used with care. If not, it can add to the sceptics’ belief that all environmental claims are exaggerated. It becomes an excuse to do nothing.
CLAIMS CAN HARM THE CAUSE
There are many other claims that only serve to convince the sceptics that they are right.
The National Parks Association (Australia) released a controversial document – the Torn Blue Fringe document – in 2008. This document discussed New South Wales (Australia) coastal ecosystems and sustainable management of recreational fishing. The document advocated for more marine parks.
In response, the NSW Advisory Council on Recreational Fishing hired the services of a respected professor to review the document.
Professor Bob Kearney came with the right credentials. He was awarded Order of Australia for services to fisheries research and management.
In a nutshell, his response to the Torn Blue Fringe document was that it was based mainly on an anti-fishing ideology and did not address the core environmental issues affecting fish and fish habitat.
Kearney claimed; “The overestimation of the impacts of fishing and the associated advocacy for further restriction on fishing appears to have been used to create a distraction from identifying and managing the real threats to NSW marine ecosystems, fisheries resources and biodiversity”.
WHEN SCARE TACTICS HARM THE CAUSE
When so-called experts are giving a one-sided view not backed up with evidence, it only serves to harm us more.
There are many who do not believe that human activities are responsible for global warming. Some don’t recognise there is global warming. Using scare tactics and over-exaggerating a problem adds to their cynicism.
Combine that with unsubstantiated claims and the sceptics are happy to turn their backs on the whole thing and refuse to even listen to the facts.
Being passionate about making positive change and influencing others to do the same can dictate how we present things to people. However, honesty, backed up by irrefutable facts is the only way to approach this. Otherwise, there is little difference between the conservationists and the big company making untrue claims about how their products work.
Claims made by environmentalists regarding Tasmanian deforestation did nothing to help the environmental cause and in fact probably set it back years, according to some.
Then there are the well-meaning conservationists who could actually be responsible for causing harm to the environment.
In her book, Nature Crime: How We’re Getting Conservation Wrong, Rosaleen Duffy claims that unjust impositions placed on local communities pit them against conservationists.
“The assumption that the ends justify the means results in a situation where the international conservation movement and their supporters around the world assume they are making ethical and environmentally sound decisions to save wildlife,” she says. “In fact, they are supporting practices that have counterproductive, unethical and highly unjust outcomes.”
In the same way, judgemental statements and expectations can pit individuals against conservationists.
WHEN FOOD, THE GREAT UNITER, BECOMES THE GREAT DIVIDER
Take the vegetarian argument, for example.
The ideology is that the amount of animals we need to supply ourselves with meat takes up too much room. And that they are atrociously treated.
Lobbying governments for better care and respect for these creatures makes more sense than creating division by demanding everyone give up meat completely.
As always, there are two sides to the argument and some conservationists would claim a vegetarian only diet could actually hurt the environment and therefore, animals.
There are not many (or any) who could refute Australian conservationist Steve Irwin’s love and dedication for animals and the environment.
One of the first questions people love to ask environmentalists is if they have considered becoming vegetarian.
When this question came up for Steve Irwin, he had an interesting reply.
I went through a big stage of my life where I thought,
you know, maybe it would be better to be a vegetarian,
so I researched it.In no uncertain terms did I research it.
Let’s say this represents one cow, which will keep me in food
for, let’s say, a month. Now that cow needs this much land
and food. Well, you can imagine, that cow needs x by x amount
of land, and you can grow trees in it. Around that cow, you can
have goannas, kangaroos, wallabies. You can have every other
single Australian animal in and around that cow.
If I was a vegetarian, to feed me for that month, I need this much land, and nothing else can grow there. Herein lies our problem.
If we level that much land to grow rice and whatever,
then no other animal could live there except for some insect
Which is very unfortunate.
ASK YOURSELF HOW MANY FISH IN THE SEA
This is not an argument about whether or not our current behaviour is harming our planet.
I’m a believer. I think there will be more plastic in the sea than fish if we don’t change our ways quickly. And it is already having devastating effects on our marine life.
I also applaud the work of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and all the other organisations and individuals working hard to save our planet.
We can keep it easy and still make a huge difference.
It’s important we remember there are two sides to every argument and to acknowledge that in our conversations if we want to avoid widening the divide.
When we push too hard we just end up pushing people away.
Next time you are having a discussion about the environment, ask yourself; “How many fish in the sea?”
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.