And The Winner For…

“Not Having the Faintest Idea of What They Are Doing Award” Goes To…


I really I have no idea what they are thinking by placing 150 2-3 ton granite blocks on the seafloor. Mark at blogfish and Miriam at Oyster’s Garter spell it all out so I don’t have to. I guess I’m back to not liking GreenPeace again.

For an idea of how much 450 tons is:

33 Big Bens
2.5 blue whales
2.4 International Space Stations

God I love

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.

17 Replies to “And The Winner For…”

  1. When reading your post I of course assumed Greenpeace might actually be doing something sensible like helping create an artificial reef habitat. Then I read the posts you linked to.

    What the hell were they thinking? That is monumental stupidity (literally with that much granite). What is it with groups like Greenpeace and PETA who take a good idea like protecting the environment and preventing cruelty to animals and take it to a level that hurts their credibility and their cause far more than their opponents ever could?

  2. Let’s look at this yet another way: figure at five blocks deployed at the most per day of ship time, pragmatically resulting in probably 45 days of large-vessel field time — at the current average research vessel rate of $15,000/day, that’s $650,000 JUST in ship time (no salaries, nothing for the cost of the blocks themselves, etc.). Unfortunately, doesn’t do monetary exchanges, but we can all think about the type of scientific research that could’ve been done with those funds instead.

  3. Greenpeace – the PETA of the Sea!

    Attention grubbing idiots. Next time, they will protest dumping garbage in the ocean by spilling oil near dumping grounds and setting it on fire.

  4. Dave, Good perspective. Its amazing how resources are used. I don’t know the size of the Greenpeace vessel, but a 279 footer I’ve been on runs about 45K/day and I think ship time includes all the expenses of the crew though, salaries, overhead, delicious shipboard meals (i’m not being sarcastic either! I’ve had some excellent food on research vessels).

  5. I don’t know that sabotaging fishing is on quite the same level as tree spiking.

    Tree spiking kills, and it kills marginal workers who have few alternatives for their livelihood.

    A few torn nets are not in the same league.

    Mark and Miram win my “Failing to Keep a Sense of Perspective” award.

  6. John,
    Callum’s post and Greenpeace’s response do address why the Sylt Outer Reef SAC should be protected. You will here no argument about that or the lack of real protection for this particular SAC. However, they do not address why dumping 450 tons of granite into the North Sea is a reasonable way to solve the problem.

    I have believe that there may be some serious issues with this plan. Your organization has ensured us that no blocks have landed on reef itself. Yet my personal experience is that gear deployed off the side of the ship rarely lands were expected. Has anyone mapped the area to ensure that the blocks are actually where they are supposed to be. The blocks themselves also are creating a considerable disturbance to the ocean floor even if it is not on the reef. Just because the muddy bottom and its organisms are not charismatic does not mean their environmental role is any less important. Current changes around the blocks will also affect food availability and larval input into the area.
    Other blogs have hashed out why these blocks may promote invasive species in the area. Trading in one environment for another is not a solution.

    Was an environmental impact statement conducted and approved by an unbiased third party? Is an environmental impact assessment planned for now?

  7. C’mon, Craig, this is a guerilla action, not an EPA certified Department of Transportation toll road through a Southern California surf break. European marine habitats are way outside our jurisdiction. We shouldn’t impose prejudice on the Greenpeace action.

    Besides, Europeans appear to be decades ahead of the USA in terms of coastal environmental management. If Callum Roberts says dropping blocks in seagrass beds is the right thing to do in this case, I’m inclined to agree.

  8. We shouldn’t impose prejudice on the Greenpeace action.
    Calling Bullshit on you!

    This is why I can’t take Greenpeace seriously as an organization. One minute they are doing a superb job in habitat mapping and measuring biodiversity of the deep sea in Alaska. The next moment they are acting irrationally and unilaterally doing something that is really not well-thought out (seemingly since they have consistently failed to address the scientific concerns). No organization is above scrutiny, especially when they are asking for your money!

    This is a serious disturbance to the community. They are no better than the trawlers at this point. What is the difference between taking chunk of metal and dragging it on the seafloor and tossing a few tonnes of large boulders over the side of a ship and smashing the seafloor. Sure, trawling occurs at higher frequencies. I know very well what the clear-cutting looks like. What Greenpeace has done is artificially replaced one habitat with a very different one. Craig’s concern about disturbance is a real one. Miriam’s concern about invasives is a real one, given the history of inasives getting a foothold in EU waters. Marks concern about ecosabotage and ecoterrorism is real one, especially given that actions like these make harder to for conservationist’s to be seen as serious scientists. My concerns about habitat replacement are a real one as well.

    If Callum Roberts says dropping blocks in seagrass beds is the right thing to do in this case, I’m inclined to agree.
    I don’t give a shit if its Callum Roberts or the merry ole queen of England defending this action. Name-dropping isn’t an argument! No one has addressed the scientific problems with this action. Everyone is skirting around trying to help out their friend Mr. Greenpeace out of trouble like some big fraternity. Callum’s post and Greenpeace’s comments on Mark’s blog and elsewhere are trying to justify an irresponsible action post hoc. By saying, we did it because we had to, does not address the root of the problem with Europe’s SAC system. Callum’s post was good at raising the problem and giving a history of the issues.

    But this is not “bold” and this is not helping the face of conservationism. I hope they will be monitoring their artificial habitat to ensure invasives do not take a foothold. It is not the government’s responsibility to pay for the monitoring (not that they would) since GreenPeace did this of their own accord.

  9. I want to make it clear this is not a personal attack on you peter. I have a lot of respect for what you have done in conservation and science.

  10. Dear Kevin, you’re a punk. Just kidding. You know I love you. We can disagree on this. Obama said something about this today on the radio that really resonated with me. America needs to learn to respectfully disagree. We embody that here, right now. My opinion was posted in the comments at BlogFish but I will reiterate them here for the record.

    “Deep-Sea News writers are split on this issue. Snags may NOT be a bad thing if the action stops bottom trawling. These blocks are analogous to glacial erractics, a natural phenomenon that creates habitat and foils bottom trawlers. But, endangering life and limb is unacceptable. Could the snags really capsize a boat? I doubt it.

    Let’s face it guys, chances are good that these blocks create more habitat than they destroy. Large blocks penetrate the benthic boundary layer, and create stepping stones for naturally (and not so naturally) dispersing species.”

    We can talk more about invasive species later. After you suck it up. ;)

  11. Peter,

    They are not analogues to glacial erratics. They may create new habitat in the area but it is artificial. Greenpeace has to be held accountable for their actions and as such should be required to show their actions did not significantly impact the marine system. The point is that none of us know exactly how 450 tons of granite introduce in this area will affect the system. We can only base it on the best scientific information. That information casts doubt that these actions will be environmentally benign. An issue that Greenpeace has still failed to scientifically justify

    Greenpeace does not have the right to alter marine habitats. Greenpeace does not have the right to take unilateral action on any part of the ocean without questioning or review. To do so is nothing less than abominable.

  12. I certainly agree that we can disagree, even if you are wrong ;p

    For the record here was my reply to your comment on Mark’s Post, which didn’t receive any further reply.

    “Peter, thats the point. Creating habitat is the problem. And don’t ignore or blow off the issue of disturbing sediment habitat. We blog about dumping a lot of DSN and it negatively affects sediment fauna. This is dumping. Greenpeace is too focused on a single issue to think about how its actions affect the ecology of the area.

    I agree with you that it likely won’t harm fisherman. But come on, this is stepping way over the line.

    Did Greenpeace think about the fish and mobile invertebrates that feed on sediment fauna or fauna at the benthic boundary layer? If previous studies are to show anything they just depressed local diversity. And diversity is another factor in the resilience of communities to invasion or trophic collapse. Either Greenpeace failed to look at the issue broadly and in depth to understand what this action entails to the local ecology OR they do know and don’t care which is equally irresponsible. What happened to the science in this mix? Or the policy for that matter?”

  13. The difference between my opinion and my esteemed colleagues is that I don’t assume to know more about this situation than Greenpeace or Callum Roberts, so I will give each of them the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. Like my colleagues here at DSN, I hope that the recruitment dynamics and community succession will be monitored by trained scientists and presented before the pubic a few years from now.

    If fisheries are not required to perform an EIS before bottom trawling, why should we expect Greenpeace to do an EIS before stopping them? Is this dumping? Well, like Reefballs, which create habitat. Is it abominable? No. The snowman is abominable. Does it disturb sediment habitat? I would call this an “intermediate disturbance”, probably less destructive than frequent trawling.

    I believe these blocks are analagous to glacial erratics in terms of their size and shape, and the fact they were dropped on a relatively featureless seafloor (as I understand it) far from a place of terrestrial origin. Where I have seen them, 100-300m deep in the Northeast Pacific, they are covered with sessile and motile invertebrates, which in turn habitat for fish. On the NEPac continental shelf, every dropstone is an island.

    Time will tell whether this was the right move or not. All in all, these dropstones sound to me like an experiment no worse than bottom trawling. That’s just my opinion.

  14. Assume to know more? Really the things we are discussing here are basics. Regardless, arguing about experience and credentials here doesn’t negate the fact that Greenpeace is responsible for the consequences of their actions. The need to justify them to both the scientific community and the public. To allow them a free ride is not acceptable.

    You admit this needs to be monitored. Which means that a potential for disruption is feasible. Why else monitor it? The fact that environmental harm was within the realm of reason should have been more than enough to prevent Greeepeace from dumping the blocks (i.e. a precautionary approach).

    Keep in mind that these blocks are not naturally occurring glacial erratics. Indeed, what is the extent of naturally occurring hard substrate in the area? If any hard substrate is present will the same species colonize these blocks? Keep in mind that the scientific jury is still out on the “benefit” of artificial reefs. Several studies have actually suggested that may pull fish away from natural reefs. Are these blocks likely to pull biomass from the protected reef here?

    Again we shouldn’t be comparing this to the actions of the fishing fleets or the effects of bottom trawling. No one is arguing that they are not harmful. However, whatever this harm is does not cancel out any actions of Greenpeace. Indeed, Greenpeace as “protectors” of the environment should be held to a higher standard.

  15. There’s plenty of room here for thoughtful people to disagree, and Greenpeace isn’t ever going to be the group that pleases everyone. Some of the views here do seem to be based on some misunderstandings, though, so here are a couple clarifications to help inform the discussion:

    The German government has recognized the value of the area and it has been designated a Special Area for Conservation and part of the Natura 2000 network under the EU Habitats Directive, but this designation doesn�t confer real protection from harmful activities such as beam trawling, sand and gravel extraction and other harmful activities. It looks good on paper and so is best described as a �paper park�.

    Before undertaking this action we considered possible unintentional negative impacts and decided it was environmentally beneficial and that our placement of stones will allow the wider area to assume a more natural state.

    It is important to consider the context. Our chosen area is already recognized as including valuable habitats and species in need of protection and yet is currently subjected on a daily basis to a number of detrimental activities including beam trawling which involves the dragging of heavy gear over the seafloor and is known to be highly destructive to marine life. In addition, sand and gravel extraction is taking place within the area and this activity has a number of detrimental effects on the marine ecosystem. Where marine sediments are removed so are benthic organisms. Benthic biomass may be reduced by as much as 80% in affected areas and it may take up to 10 years for regeneration to take place. In the Wadden Sea, extraction sites have been found to refill very slowly and the bottom fauna has not fully recovered even after 15 years; large, long-lived bivalves being particularly affected. Sand and gravel also alters the seabed topography, sediment stability and will affect local hydrographic conditions, so changing the natural ecology. Sylt Outer Reef is not therefore a pristine area but one that has been heavily impacted by human activities -especially fishing – and needs to recover.

    The stones we are placing to prevent fishing in the area are natural rock and similar to naturally occurring stones found in the area, some of which are much larger than the ones we are placing in the marine reserve.

    We are not covering the entire area with stones, but placing them strategically over a small proportion of the total area but in such a way as to minimize any disturbance but still make an effective barrier to fishing vessels.

    It may also be of interest that biologist Harald Asmus from the Alfred Wegener Institute at List on Sylt has stated that the action is “no cause for concern ecologically.” Asmus is sure that “artificially adding some rocks now would not alter the character of the area, nor would it have any other impacts. The sediment is very mobile. They will in the course of time become covered with sand or remain stable on the surface and then be re-settled.”

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