What's Happening Out There?

Another UFO, A Drone Disaster, and Hurricane Predictions...

This newsletter will always feature personal sailing adventures (and misadventures). But I’d also like to deliver news about the oceans and sustainability that help me better understand (and sometimes question) our relationship with the watery expanses of the planet, and the choices we make as sailors. So I’ll be sending out some newsy newsletters on a more regular basis (frequency yet to be determined). The content won’t be conventional news about sailing and results. It’ll be a bit more, well, eclectic. Here goes…

Foiling Fatality? I’ve long been annoyed? saddened? troubled? by the seeming increase in the incidence of collisions between fast foiling boats and undersea life (and also by the deliberate efforts by the self-proclaimed ocean- and planet-loving sailing community to obscure the fact that whales, sharks and other creatures are being sliced and diced by our love of speed and foiling. (Yes, non-foiling boats also injure and kill sea life, but foils are faster and sharper so more lethal).

Here’s the latest incident, at the SailGP regatta in Taranto, Italy, (click the image below for video) which evokes plenty of sympathy for Jimmy Spithill and SailGP USA, but absolutely none whatsoever for whatever they hit.

A post shared by @jspithill

But, hey, it’s a viral moment. As long as no one worries too much whether the sailing world has taken out one more hapless animal just going about its business underwater, sponsors love that sh*t.

Sailing teams of course don’t want to be hitting anything (not least because it takes them out of races). But the truth is that, right now, there is no solution to this problem other than slowing boats down and getting them off foils. I can hear the howls of outrage and protest already (except from the America’s Cup originalists who would love to see foiling abandoned). Fast is fun! Young people won’t watch or get excited! The sport will lose sponsorship and TV revenue!

Maybe. But I am not sure I care. Shouldn’t sailing have as a core principle the goal of doing no harm, or at least minimizing harm? In fact, isn’t that where humanity in general needs to be headed in all things? The oceans are in enough trouble already. If we can’t start there, then we are part of the problem not part of the solution (as so many sailing sponsors try to claim).

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How Many Hurricanes? Well, the season has officially started. I tend to ignore most pre-hurricane season predictions because they are so highly speculative and often wrong (and the predictive ranges below are so wide as to be almost pointless). We can’t ignore one simple fact, though: the oceans are warming, which means the general trend will be toward more frequent and powerful named storms.

Be careful out there, and hope we never get to Wanda.

Arctic Adventure: My favorite cruising Norwegian, Andreas Heide, is heading North once again, setting out on a 3000-mile counter-clockwise circle of Arctic waters to try and communicate the fragility and needs of a critical region that is being powerfully impacted by human activity and climate change.

The voyage is called Arctic Sense 2021, and you can track Andreas and his vessel, Barba, here. I predict there will be whales, lots of great footage of whales.

Drone Dummy: Speaking of Do No Harm, a careless (and illegal) drone operator managed to singlehandedly doom thousands of elegant tern babies by flying and crashing a drone into Southern California’s Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. The alien drone scared off some 3000 nesting tern mothers, who abandoned up to 2000 eggs:

“It was devastating,” Melissa Loebl, an environmental scientist who manages the reserve, told The Washington Post. “That’s one of the largest losses we’ve had.”

Drones, which California Fish and Wildlife officials say are prohibited on state reserves, can look like a “giant bird, a giant predator,” to the elegant terns, said Michael H. Horn, a professor emeritus of biology at California State University at Fullerton.

“That’s going to cause them to abandon,” Horn told The Post.

What will the penalty be? Maybe the drone operator should be dropped from a height onto a beach, too? At some point, doing serious ecological damage (negligent birdicide?) needs to carry serious penalties. Really.

Think, people, think! And stop chasing the likes…

If You Build It They Will Come: To end on a positive note, let’s go inland for a moment and watch a fabulous compilation of videos of all sorts of animals using crossings that are purpose-built to help them transit human obstacles (like highways). From The Times’ story accompanying the videos:

The engineers were used to building overpasses for vehicles, not wildlife. But every spring and fall, collisions with mule deer and pronghorn spiked in the Pinedale region of Wyoming, where Route 191 disrupted the animals’ age-old migration paths. So the state Department of Transportation joined with the state wildlife agency and nonprofit groups to create a series of crossings, including the one pictured above. Collisions have dropped by roughly 90 percent.

“It felt like we finally found something that works,” said Jennifer Hoffman, an engineer at the Wyoming Department of Transportation. “People are pretty hesitant to do something new. Once you’ve done it, and it does what you said it would do, they’re willing to do it more.”

Examples like that, along with earlier success stories from Canada and Europe, have led to a broad consensus on the value of animal crossings, according to environmentalists and transportation officials alike.

“This is the time of the wildlife crossing,” said Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy at the National Wildlife Federation. “This issue has been building for decades and it was like pulling teeth. And now everyone who works on these issues seems to get it.”

Here’s more, from Vox. I can watch this stuff all day (wait, I just did).

See, smart and effective solutions to protect wildlife exist! Now if only we could figure out how to create some sort of equivalent safe passage across busy sea lanes, to protect whales from ship strikes.

That’s it for today. Hope to go sailboat racing tomorrow night. Stay tuned…

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