Not long into the process of choosing my area of specialty, and digging into the research, it became clear that there is huge potential in the ocean for solutions to some of our most debilitating health problems. Diabetes, arthritis, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, even infertility…have all been seen to respond to omega-3 supplementation. As the research about this continued to pile up, it became clear to me that humans are completely dependent on healthy oceans in order to have good health themselves.
Unfortunately, we don’t seem to understand the “healthy oceans” half of that equation.
Rather than look at the science and the data, which suggest that we can get omega-3’s from any ocean-related food source, we’ve become obsessed with salmon. The demand for wild salmon has placed stress on those populations. It is likely our obsession with this one fish that created demand for genetically altered, quick-growing salmon, and that has subsequently created outrage.
Here are some challenges to this obsession with salmon.
Did you know: lake trout actually has more omega-3 fatty acids per ounce than salmon?
Did you know: wild salmon aren’t always 100% wild? That they often spend up to the first two years of life in hatcheries before being released in the ocean? Our misperception of the definition of the word “wild” has made it difficult for fish farming to take hold as a sustainable solution to our increasing demand for fish.
Did you know: as of this month, five different species of farmed seafood (oysters, rainbow trout, Arctic char, barramundi, and mussels) made the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program’s list of Super Green Choices?
Did you know: domestic catfish farmers have received endorsement from Sea Choice, the Endangered Fish Alliance, Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Monterey Bay Aquarium for their green practices?
Our attitude seems to be that because the ocean is big, that there’s more than enough fish for everyone. Not true!
Did you know: Chilean sea bass, grouper, mahi mahi, red snapper, and several types of salmon have been rated as “avoid” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium because they are either overfished or cultivated in ways that harm the environment?
Beyond just the salmon vs. “green fish” issue, we’ve also been slowly suffocating our oceans, making it hard for any life to thrive. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico definitely got our attention, but that region has been sick for years. Algae growth made possible from fertilizer runoff that enters the Gulf through the Mississippi scavenges all available oxygen, suffocating all life in the vicinity. That “dead zone” was recently estimated, during peak season, to be the size of the state of New Jersey. The oil slick only accelerated a death of a vibrant sea zone that was already in process.
Also, our addiction to plastics and pharmaceuticals has created a huge problem for sea life.
Did you know: there is an island of plastic in the Pacific Ocean estimated to be twice the size of the state of Texas? Americans alone are estimated to toss 2.5 million plastic bottles into the ocean every hour.
Did you know: 80% of domestic water tested contained residues of acetaminophen, birth control pills, blood pressure medicine, codeine, antipsychotics, and antibiotics?
It’s turning out, these compounds interfere with reproduction in sea life just as they do in humans.
The irony is, just as we’re realizing the vast potential the ocean holds for improving our health, we’re killing that potential with the very medications and chemicals we may not even need if we better valued what gifts the ocean has.
Personally, I had to stop watching the news not long after the oil spill disaster. I couldn’t bear to watch yet another pelican drenched in oil, or hear about animals slowly cooking to death in their own haven. But I knew turning my head was the absolute worst thing I could do. I had to do something. I decided that as horrible as the incident was, it was a graphic tipping point that had the potential to force us to finally pay attention to the slow, silent death the ocean has long been experiencing. This may be our opportunity to change our choices in a way that will work to bring the ocean back to its former splendor.
I created a webinar with the hope it would educate friends and colleagues about the many challenges the ocean faces in the face of human wastefulness. If you attend the “LA Helps LA” fundraiser, it would be my honor and pleasure to provide you with a copy.
The more who know, the more who care. The more who care, the more who will choose differently. We’re the species with the ability to make a difference. All the others…are depending on us, the humans, to do it right.
Monika M. Woolsey, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and exercise physiologist and founder of the inCYST Institute for Hormone Health, a resource center for professionals and people with an interest in stress-related and hormone disorders. You can find her blog at www.incyst.com.