War-toons No 1
Laugh and learn

Here are the first 13 cartoons illustrating issues in the marine reserves debate (A year counts 4 quarters of 13 weeks each). Should you be looking for the numbers 1 to 3, they do not exist. Newspapers and magazines wishing to be franchised (syndicated) for publication, please contact the author. All copyrights Floor Anthoni.


For best printing results, adjust print setup such that two cartoons are printed on each page (all margins 0.2" for instance).
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Could there be a similarity in behaviour between DOC (the Department of Conservation in New Zealand) and a Jurassic monster like Godzilla (Size does matter)? Many believe there is. Driven by a handful of ideologists, DoC has given itself the mandate to usurp large parts of the sea for no-take permanent marine reserves. A land-based organisation taking control of the sea does not fit well with fishermen who are the only ones to lose out, without compensation. Ideally, we all want the best future for our children, and the reduction in fish stocks has caused concern. But isolated protected enclaves in the sea are not going to fix these problems. If DoC had a strong case, reason would ultimately prevail, but the 17 (or so) coastal marine reserves do not work since they are degrading, losing both quality and quantity of life. They are unsustainable and do not protect biodiversity. Yet DoC pushes ahead, obtuse to facts and reason, much like a Jurassic monster would. Do we really need more failing marine reserves?

Marine reserves prohibit fishing and thus protect from these kinds of threats, but there are many and much larger threats for which they offer no protection at all, like hurricanes, oil spills, chemical poisons, global warming, poisonous plankton blooms and above all, run-off from the land. 
In a short period of less than 20 years, degradation from land-based pollution has become the sea's number one problem. Quite unintuitively the seemingly harmless mud from the land causes so much harm in the sea. As rains become more intensive, and their rain drops increase in size, the devastating effects accelerate entirely beyond our wildest anticipation. Double the size of a rain drop, and the damage done to the sea will increase 30-100 fold, due to the combined effects of mass, velocity, volume, concentration, sea area soiled and persistence! The fine component of mud is clay, which locks up the fertility of the land, releasing it to the sea. Thus the coastal seas become overfertilised, resulting in dense plankton blooms which kill usually slowly but sometimes fast as some are extremely poisonous. The bottom line? Marine reserves do not protect against the sea's foremost threat. They no longer work. We must save the land in order to save the sea!

As a rule, the top predators are much fewer in number and biomass than their prey. They also grow larger, older and wiser. With their larger brains and longer life experiences, they patrol large territories while varying their diets. Not surprisingly, the hunters among them are also scavengers, feeding from dead animals. This pitches them rather unfairly against fishermen, resulting in them being threatened far more than their prey (up to 100 times more due to longer life expectancy, lower biomass, late fecundity and high curiosity). It is hoped that marine reserves, if these are large enough, would give them a fairer chance, and this has been borne out by scientific studies worldwide. There is a cost, however in having to feed large predators, resulting in less fish overall inside a reserve and thus a lower survival chance for prey fish, the subject of this cartoon. On the practical side, large predators such as groupers have not returned to either Goat Island or the Poor Knights, even after a quarter century of protection. Obviously, there is something amiss, but in a world where humans push nature aside, the main question remains: Do we need marine reserves just to save big predators?

DoC and some scientists are popularising the hypothesis that fishermen cause underwater habitats to change - by catching the large fish who also eat sea-urchins. The urchins then become more numerous, eating more kelp. There will be less kelp and more grazed habitat which is called urchin barrens. It is a logical although simplified consequence of (perceived) top-down ecological interaction between populations. In California a scientist observed that where the sea otter was hunted, the tall kelp also disappeared. The increase in sea urchins connected these observations but it could not be verified by others. 
Anyone can see that the 'old' Goat Island marine reserve has lost its urchin barrens, but this also happened in unprotected places like Kawau Island, Little Barrier and elsewhere. Only those places that first lost their whole kelp forest in 1993 due to dense plankton blooms that obscured the light, so necessary for kelp, lost their urchin barrens later on. DoC also ignored the death of most urchins in 1995 and 85% of the crayfish disappearing in 1998! All these symptoms are those of decay and not of a benefit resulting from protection. It is sad that DoC still uses the urchin barrens myth as a main argument in favour of marine reserves. But would you like your children to learn it at school as an unassailed truth?

Marine reserves have no borders, allowing fish to move freely in and out. Nearly all commercially fished species belong to the large monotonous habitats of sandy and muddy sea bottom and open water, and these fish migrate through marine reserves. So marine reserves have little meaning for them. Scientists have seen (resident) fish inside marine reserves become more numerous and somewhat larger too. It means that the density inside is higher than outside, and resident fish will spill out as they search for larger unoccupied territories. However, this effect is very small as confirmed by measurement (10%) as most die of natural causes (like predation) inside reserves. In fact, in good marine reserves one does not want breeding stock to spill out, and this can be achieved by making them large, and with boundaries following natural habitat boundaries. The bottom line is that the benefit of spillover is FAR LESS than the lost fishery inside the marine reserve and that this cost must always be weighed against proven benefits. We have large unfished areas in the sea, such as cable ways, known as de-facto marine reserves but these have not been studied for their benefits. Should we have more marine reserves before these de-facto marine reserves have been studied?

Fishermen think, as they become less successful that the fish are still there but that they have just become smarter. The reality is that fish are harder to catch when their stocks are down. Predators like dolphins are disadvantaged because they have no cheap fossil fuel at their disposal, as they live in the balance between energy gained from food and energy spent on finding it. The laws governing the economics of exploitation are harsh for them, resulting in dolphins spending most of their time searching and hunting, leaving little for recuperating and playing. We see fewer dolphins and within their groups, fewer calves. What does that tell us? What chance does a Hector's Dolphin have?
Ironically, the dogma of fishing at Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) which leaves stocks 80% down, is a myth because fishing at 20% down will yield almost as much but at higher profit margins (fewer days to catch the same quantity). Anyone can understand that the cumulative weight gain of 1000 fish is half that of 2000 fish (up to a maximum). The conclusion for a healthy ecosystem in the sea is overwhelmingly: leave more fish in the sea. Yes, the Quota Management System can do it; the recreational fisherman can do it too. It's about time to act! What can YOU do?

Locking up large parts of the sea (the Greens and Forest&Bird want 20-30%) is too important a decision to be made by decree. It so happens that the majority in government have little knowledge of the sea, and they are easily misled by feel-good arguments that make no economical or ecological sense. The sea is an important resource and is easy to get to, as opposed to our National Parks, which essentially cover our wastelands. So we cannot base our reasoning on our knowledge of the land. The sea is simply too different. 
Even if we are going to decide completely unselfishly for the future of our (grand-) children, we must at the same time protect the environment, while increasing its potential harvests and maintaining the freedoms we enjoy now. What else makes living in this country so special? It is a task that cannot be taken lightly, and it needs to involve large numbers of people who need to be prepared to learn about our special marine environment. Above all it takes time. Are you prepared to learn and to take part?

A small country like New Zealand cannot afford to spend lavishly on research funding, so funds need to be targeted wisely. On the one hand, leaving scientists entirely free to decide for themselves what to study, can lead to unaccountable practices but also to fundamental research which could return dividends in a distant future. On the other hand, targeting funds to our immediate needs, would improve accountability but can result in short-term divided projects that do not add to our fundamental understanding of nature. Out of necessity, all funds originating from the taxpayer are funnelled through bureaucracies to the recipient scientists. One such funnel is the Department of Conservation.
We expect that in a working democracy, our departments and their bureaucrats are our servants, deciding wisely for us. But DoC has transgressed boundaries where it should not go: it perceives itself also as an advocate for marine reserves or conservation in general. In funnelling a large budget on marine research, it also influences the outcomes of this research, which has resulted in wasted effort and questionable results. Would you trust the research funded by tobacco companies?

Marine reserves are places in the sea where fishing is stopped forever but where other threats remain. Poisonous plankton blooms, caused by overfertilised seas, are responsible for profound fish kills (1973, 1983, 1992-4, 2001-3). Marine reserves of course do not prevent or fix this. But the finer points of this argument are that some scientists believe that somehow a marine reserve is in a better state to survive such threats, and also the threat from land-based pollution. They say that because a reserve is more balanced, it also functions better and is therefore more resilient to external shocks. Experimental proof is of course absent, but even ecological principles weigh against this argument. For instance, the top predators in the food pyramid, the ones we catch, have no measurable influence on the quantity and quality of the plankton, where the problems come from. It is just too easy to overestimate the perceived benefits of marine reserves.

People are incredibly smart at making technology (= knowledge used to advantage) work for them. It has given us such great advantage over the natural top predators (shark, dolphin, orca, seal, sea lion) that we are able to fish their prey stocks down to less than 10 percent. At such stocking levels, the natural top predators cannot survive. But they too use knowledge to advantage, and we should not be surprised that they will remember where fish abound, such as inside hot spots and marine reserves. We have witnessed a graphic demonstration of this at the Poor Knights' Northern Arch where short-tailed stingrays congregated up to 50 at a time - until the orcas discovered them and since then, kept stingray numbers well down. The strong message is that we must leave more fish in the sea.

The main enemy of the organisms attached to the rock face, is a potent mixture of dust, bacteria and decaying plankton organisms, raining from above as a result of the sea becoming murkier. It suffocates those animals filtering the water for food, like sponges and seasquirts while it infects with disease-bacteria those with delicate skins such as bryozoa, anemones, corals, hydroids and gorgonean fans. This threat to life is particularly large in calm places such as inside caves and in deeper water. But even here some organisms can be found that provide a cleaning service, such as some snails, hermit crabs, various starfish and sea cucumbers. Fish like the plant eating parore and the little triplefins living on the rock face, also provide a cleaning service but in the end, the threat wins. Only by saving the land can we save the sea!

A situation as depicted seems to belong only to remote foreign dictatorial states, yet a striking similarity exists with what is happening in some civilised societies like New Zealand. Driven by an ideology with little foundation, a government department has somehow lost the plot. Whereas we may be forgiven to think that bureaucrats are public servants and their departments accountable to the public, this may not always be the case. Employing the tactics of secrecy, surprise, confrontation, deceit and propaganda, some well-funded departments are riding rough-shod over the poorly funded populace, ignoring the foundations of democracy, consultation and education. In the process they create hate and desperation which can lead to ugly scenes.  Should this be condoned? Is this the way towards a better future for our children?

Government is an uneasy mix of doing what's right for other people, self-preservation, the climb for power and accumulating perquisites, with its own mannerism and seclusion. It can conveniently be thought of as having one's snout in the state's trough, funded by the public's taxes. Decisions are made far away from where the problems arise, and their solutions, dressed up in the niceties of Law, seem arcane. In subtle ways the decision makers are shielded from the costs of their decisions and how these affect people. It is as if they live in thin air, high on mountain tops, the subject of this cartoon. Politicians, law makers and policy makers have little touch with reality or the hand that feeds. As a result, many decisions are made without thinking the problems through, which leaves an unaffordable legacy for our children, particularly when it relates to the strange environment of the sea. Isn't it time for a moratorium on marine reserves? Are you prepared to learn more to become an informed conservationist?

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