Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Environmental Issues

This page includes a collection of assorted environmental issues in no particular order. It is not meant to be a systematic critique - just odd bits and pieces I come across or that I have been mulling over. Of course the nay-sayers out there can have a field day with this page, but then again one day they might just wake up to the damage we are doing to this planet and to the seas we sail on.

Overfishing in the Mediterranean

SESAME The Southern European Seas: Assessing and Modelling Ecosystem changes

Human Impact on the Oceans

One hour in ... Observations in seas and oceans

Smirnoff: The sea fights back

Fish farms

From the Skylax blog 28-04-09

More on overfishing with predictions on the end of tuna fishing in the Mediterranean

This article is from The End of the Line where you can sign up to pledge your support and lay claim to the 2 hectares of ocean each of us is responsible for.

Watch the trailer for the film The End of the Line HERE

Bluefin tuna fishing season starts in the Mediterranean

With concern over bluefin tuna stocks growing among environmental groups, we round up the latest news at the start of the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishing season.

A large tuna is caught by fishermen

A large tuna is caught by fishermen

Reuters report that a new WWF report says overfishing is set to wipe out bluefin tuna in three years.

The news agency says: “Overfishing will wipe out the breeding population of Atlantic bluefin tuna, one of the ocean’s largest and fastest predators, in three years unless catches are dramatically reduced, conservation group WWF said.

“As European fishing fleets prepare to begin the two-month Mediterranean fishing season, WWF said its analysis showed the bluefin tuna that spawn - those aged four years and older - will have disappeared by 2012 at current rates.”

Sergi Tudela, head of fisheries at WWF Mediterranean, said: “For years people have been asking when the collapse of this fishery will happen, and now we have the answer.”

AFP report that the season, which is usually two months long, will be cut short by 15 days, as happened last year when quota limits were reached two weeks before the scheduled end.

The AFP story states: “The Mediterranean tuna fishing season will be 15 days shorter this year with quotas and fleets also cut, EU sources said Wednesday: but environmentalists complained it was too little, too late.

“The bluefin fishing season begins officially on Thursday and will end on June 15, two weeks earlier than the scheduled 2008 season.

“At the same time the European Commission has reduced allowed quotas by 27 percent overall. It has also negotiated a cut in fishing capacity for the industrial fishing ‘purse seiners’ which use huge cylindrical nets to scoop up their catch.”

The Times says that the ‘king of sushi’ tuna is on the brink of dying out.

David Charter, Europe Correspondent, writes: “Bluefin has become such a soughtafter delicacy in the Far East that ever higher prices are being paid for one of the ocean’s swiftest predators - and the rich red meat that makes it so desirable.

“But the size of the individual fish caught each year has dropped and conservationists fear that even recent restrictions imposed by the European Union will not save enough adults to keep the bluefin stocks viable.”

Marine conservation organisation Oceana blame the EU for the state of Mediterranean bluefin tuna stocks.

They said: “The bluefin tuna fishing season begins today for the Mediterranean purse seiner fleet, under the auspices of management measures that supposedly guarantee control over the fleet, but in reality ignore scientific recommendations and authorise unsustainable catches.

“In addition, illegal catches abound and Oceana calls for the immediate closure of the fishery to halt the decline of the species.”


From the Skylax blog 21-03-08


The Southern European Seas: Assessing and Modelling Ecosystem changes, a bit of a mouthful of an acronym to produce the sweet sounding SESAME, is a project to investigate and model climate change and it's effects in the Mediteranean and Black Seas. It is an intergovernmental project and hopefully will provide some data on what has happened (water temperatures in the Aegean are already 2 degrees celcius higher than average) and what will likely happen as temperatures increase. All of this will impact on sailing in these seas so the project has a direct relevance to those of us who sail there.

For more info go to the SESAME website

Background Information

The Mediterranean and Black Sea regions have been the historical birthplace and centre of many civilisations and cultures for thousands of years. The Mediterranean Sea is currently the most nutrient impoverished large body of salt water, and a region of large-scale industrial and agricultural activity, while it remains the primary recreational area in Europe. The Black Sea, on the contrary, is burdened by excessive loads of nutrients and hazardous substances from the coastal countries and the rivers that enter it, with the most important river being the Danube.

The two seas are interconnected, however, they have distinct and very different characteristics. Despite their differences, they are both equally susceptible to climate change and anthropogenic pressures, as years of intense development and exploitation have resulted in significant change to the fragile natural resources of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. Coastal urbanisation, industrialisation and touristic exploitation, intensive agriculture, riverine and atmospheric inputs and fisheries are only some of the anthropogenic forcings which have exerted a progressively growing pressure on this environment, and, as a result, put its integrity at stake.

Furthermore, and in spite of the importance of these delicate environments, there seems to be a lack of information for the two regions that could help in dealing with these man-made pressures. Discovering how these ecosystems function could help in developing policies and strategies for sustainable development, and this is where SESAME will play a crucial role. As an Integrated Project, SESAME will approach these two regions as a coupled climatic/ecosystem entity for the first time, and will assess the changes in the western and eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea over the last fifty years, as well as, simultaneously, predict changes in the ability of these ecosystems to provide good and services in the next fifty years to come. Its innovation lies in the in the close merging of economic and natural sciences.


Human Impact on the Oceans


Human Impact on the Oceans

These maps of the oceans first appeared in the AAAS Science Journal (Feb 15th 08) and were then reproduced in the NY Times Sunday March 8th and the Observer March 8th. This is the first comprehensive attempt to map the human impact on the oceans and these maps are truly shocking. I've scanned this map as after a brief search I can't find the originals online and we leave for Skylax tomorrow. Still the scan is just about readable to see how little of the oceans are left in terms of commercial shipping activity (the top map) and the human impact (the bottom map using 17 sets of data including things like fishing, pollution, temperature changes, acidification, etc.)

Also in the news has been the huge floating mass of rubbish in the North Pacific. Where a current eddy between northerly E-going currents and southerly W-going currents circulate around a locus, the North Pacific gyre collects all the garbage, principally plastic, that is floating in the oceans.

This is from the Greenpeace site

The “Eastern Garbage Patch”



The North Pacific sub-tropical gyre covers a large area of the Pacific in which the water circulates clockwise in a slow spiral. Winds are light. The currents tend to force any floating material into the low energy central area of the gyre. There are few islands on which the floating material can beach. So it stays there in the gyre, in astounding quantities estimated at six kilos of plastic for every kilo of naturally occurring plankton.  The equivalent of an area the size of Texas swirling slowly around like a clock. This gyre has also been dubbed “the Asian Trash Trail” the “Trash Vortex” or the “Eastern Garbage Patch” ....more

And a video Synthetic Sea from the research vessel Algalita on the North Pacific gyre and the immense plastic cess-pit there. The vid is quite long and you will need a good broadband connection to view it.



One hour in ...

These informal and not very scientific observations are notes I made of what I could see in the various seas and oceans we have sailed in from Greece to the Caribbean in 2007 and the Pacific in 2008. They are not rigorous or systematic, just a light observation on the heavy subject of our polluted seas.

30th September 2007

One hour in the Ionian Sea

37deg41’.80N 017deg28’.13E to 37deg38’.09N 017deg21’.06E

1030 to 1130

Brown ground dove hitching a ride

Polystyrene slab

Blue plastic carrier bag

Small plastic bit

Ship on horizon to the S

Line of plastic detergent bottles (marking long-lines?)

Small bit of painted wood


October 2007

One hour in the western Mediterranean

1200-1300 local time

37 52’.57N 00 06’.25W to 37 49’.65N 00 02’.18W

Wind east 20-25 knots

Big cross-sea 2-2½ metres

1 small loggerhead turtle

Yacht off to port (it’s been there all night)

2 small bits of polystyrene

1 plastic water bottle

1 plastic long line ball

1 plastic food container

1 small yellow bird (migrating?)

1 small strip of plastic

Clump of polypropylene rope

2 loggerhead turtles swimming together

1 blue plastic bag

Short bit of rope

1 plastic detergent bottle


One hour in the Western Atlantic Gibraltar to Canaries November 2007

1400-1500 local (UT + 1)

34 28'.37N 08 33'.32W   to   34 24'.07N 08 38'.13W

Light Portuguese trades. Wind NE 3. Sea moderate. Skylax motor sailing. s/y Sunrise off to starboard 3-4 miles.

8-10 petrels (?) flying south.

4 shearwaters

1 plastic bottle


One hour in the Western Atlantic: Canaries to Mindelo (Cape Verdes) November 2007

1130 to 1230 local time (UT+1)

23 37'.06N 18 55'.17W   to   23 31'.71N 19 02'.26W

Sky overcast with rain clouds to the south. Skylax with 1 reef in main and trades blowing 18-20 knots. Speed 7-7.5 knots.

Pod (c. 12) Atlantic spotted dolphins playing around the boat.

Madeira storm petrel flying around boat.

4 shearwaters

Lu sleeping

Another dozen or so Atlantic spotted dolphins join the first pod spotted and play around boat.


One hour mid-Atlantic

14th December 2007

 Midway between the Cape Verdes and Antigua

18 00’N   44 24’.92W

1330 (UTC-1) Course 300 magnetic

Squall clouds and rain. Wind E Force 5. Sea 2-2.5 metres. Cross swell.

Skylax two reefs in the main and genny equivalent of No. 3 out.


  1. One storm petrel.
  2. Lots of flying fish.
  3. One tropic bird.
  4. The odd strand of seaweed.
  5. Puffy trade wind clouds


One hour in …


One hour in the Caribbean Sea

13 29’.12N 075 27’.8W to 13 24’.64N 075 33’.20W

0800 to 0900 local time (-5 hours UTC)

Wind east Force 4. Sea moderate.

1 yellow plastic bag (unusual)

Lots of flying fish

1 orange butterfly heading NW

1 Tropic bird (unusual although there have been lots of boobies and petrels)

Sky clouding over



One hour in the Equatorial Pacific

01 13’.98S 095 20’.72W

1000 to 1100 local time (-6 hours UTC)

Wind southeast Force 5. Sea 2 metre swell. 5% cloud cover with puffy trade wind clouds. Sunny.

Lots of flying fish (when flying are they still a school or do they become a flock or a squadron?)

Small squid on the deck from the night.

Several storm petrels.

1 turtle (Green turtle? Actually I saw it 10 minutes before I started this hour!)



One hour in the north Pacific

05 54’.34S 121 04’.78W to 05 54’.80S 121 12’.41W

1240 to 1340 local time (-8 hours UTC)

Wind ESE Force 4. Sea 1½ metres with local chop. 20% cloud cover. Sunny.

Huge schools of flying fish.

1 petrel (chasing flying fish?)

8 tropic birds.

Large and small petrels catching flying fish in front of Skylax.



The sea fights back

From the Skylax blog Aug 01 2007

Now I don't think you have to go out and buy the stuff (unless you really really want to), but it's a good clip of the sea fighting back against all the crap that is dumped into it. And yeah, I understand about incorporating dissent to neutralise it, in this case using eco themes to sell a product that may not necessarily be all that eco...

From WWII fighter planes to Viking war ships, everything that has ever sunk into the sea gets thrown back onto land.



This is a bit on fish farms from the Skylax blog

04 July 2007, 14:27:00

Fish farms


Recently I had an email about the fish farms in the Gulf of Gulluk on the Turkish coast.


Dear Rod Heikell,


The reason we email is about the Gulf of Gulluk. We were taken by surprise by the large increase in the number of fish farms in this bay from last year to this. Nearly all of them are uncharted and most of them display no lights at night. As few sailors sail at night in these waters so we suppose the navigation hazard should not be overplayed. However, the effect these farms appear to have had on the water quality seems to be substantial. Last year for example the water in the bay at Iassos was clear and so too was the water in Paradise Bay. This year much of the water is very cloudy and unpleasant.


A fish farm expert told us that there are approx 12 million fish in farms in the Bay. This apparently equates to pollution from a town of 650,000 people. If this is correct it is hardly surprising that the water in this bay is fast becoming contaminated what with a west wind as normal and no tides to clean things out.


We wonder whether your next edition of your Guide should perhaps make more mention of all the above. Also do you know if the Turkish authorities are trying to do something about this or are the big businesses owning these farms winning the day? We are all in favour of sustainable fish farming as locals have to make a living and produce food but what is going on in the Bay of Gulluk seems rather excessive.


Hope you can spare a moment to reply to this.


Best wishes


Alison and John Epton



Fish farm in the Gulf of Gulluk off Salih Adasi (see home page on Slylax)


Everyone cruising around the Mediterranean has noticed an explosion in the number of fish farms around the coasts and islands. In the beginning the fish farms were just an annoyance as they destroyed the ambience of a deserted bay or actually took up the best space in a bay. Now concerns have moved on to the environmental impact of the farms.

·         When you approach a fish farm the water turns to a cloudy green entirely different to the deeper water in the approaches and in bays where there are no fish farms. I suspect that this cloudy water is a form of eutrophication where uneaten fish food falls to the bottom and so enriches the water that it favours algal species which then deplete the amount of oxygen in the water and the diversity of marine life is drastically reduced. This cloudy green colour is typical of eutrophication and the water on inspection has lacked much in the way of marine life growing on the bottom or swimming in it. I have seen areas which are virtually bereft of weed cover.

·         The debris around the shore from the farms (and I suspect on the sea bottom), the increased number of flies around the fish food stocks, and the awful smell, reminiscent of factory farmed chicken or intensively reared pigs, is environmentally damaging.

·         It does not sustain wild fish stocks. As we point out below it takes 5 tons of fish feed to produce 1 ton of farmed fish.

·         Fish farm operators should attend a course and train the workers who distribute the food which includes antibiotics and trace minerals and other chemicals to keep the fish healthy in an enclosed environment – much like antibiotics fed to intensively reared chickens and pigs. Having been to a fair number of these farms, often located in remote locations, I don’t believe for a minute that the operatives here keep accurate records or accurately dispense the fish food and any additives fed to the fish. My guess is that badly paid workers are pretty much left to their own devices with the occasional visit from a ‘qualified manager’.

·         There is a danger that farmed fish escape into the wild fish stocks and breed with them, in so doing introducing the farmed fish gene pool to wild fish. How the two gene pools might differ is a matter of contention, but marine scientists have expressed concern over it.

·         Fish farms are not confined to the Mediterranean and it is growing at a staggering rate with environmental fears expressed in many other countries. Farming prawns in SE Asia has led to fears of eutrophication and increasing the salinity of coastal land.



I for one always ask if fish has been farmed and if it has I won’t eat it. Apart from anything else sea bass and bream from fish farms has an unpleasant muddy taste to it and god knows what else in the flesh.


Extract from Greek Waters Pilot 10th edition

Fish Farms in the EU


Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of the world food economy, and represents 31% of the total value of EU fish production. Greece, Italy and Spain account for 75% of all EU sea bass and sea bream production; in all over 100,000 tonnes of farmed fish. Other aquaculture sectors account for 160,00 tonnes of salmon (mainly Scotland and Ireland), and 750,000 tonnes of molluscs (France and Italy).

It is the development of sea-cage fisheries for fin-fish such as salmon, trout, sea bass and sea bream in the Mediterranean that carries concerns based on environmental, health and sustainability issues. Greece produces 50% (60,000 tonnes) of all EU farmed sea bream and sea bass (Italy has a 14% share). The continued expansion of captive blue fin tuna fattening farms in Spain, Malta and Italy is also raising concerns for the viability of wild stocks. Farmed fish has been seen as a solution to the natural poverty in fish in the Mediterranean, but it is becoming evident that these systems are causing more problems than they solve. They threaten the sustainability of wild fish stocks; it takes over 5 tonnes of wild fish to produce 1 tonne of farmed sea bass or sea bream. Fish farms pollute the coastal waters with toxic chemicals, and some farmed fish have also been found to be carrying unacceptably high levels of toxic chemicals.

(Figures above have been taken from a paper presented at the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries public hearing on ‘Aquaculture in the EU: Present situation & Future Prospects’ by Don Staniford (Oct 2002).


 Fish farm in the Ionian in Greece



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