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Marine life needs help to survive

Overfishing, habitat loss, oil spills, marine debris, toxic waste it's easy to feel pessimistic about the future of our oceans.

As we embark on a new year, sharks, the perfect predator, are in trouble. Swordfish stocks are at an all-time low. Bluefin tuna, one of the largest, fastest and most magnificent creatures on earth, slowly disappear.

Seabirds die by the hundreds of thousands as they compete with humans for food from the sea. Dolphins and turtles also drown in trawls and nets, victims of wasteful fishing practices.

Worldwide, between a quarter and a third of all fish taken from the sea are unwanted and thrown back dead, a waste of nearly 30-million tons of marine life each year.

On land, habitat loss costs the nation's commercial fisheries about $208-million annually in reduced catches. As more people move toward coastal areas, wetlands will continue to give way to development.

But all is not gloom and doom. Several good, publicly supported organizations work on local, national and international levels to assure that our oceans will thrive through the next millennium.

The National Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program has taken great strides to educate the public to the threats mentioned above. Led by Dr. Carl Safina, a lifelong fisherman and seabird scientist, this worthwhile program shows just how intricately linked all marine life is.

The program publishes an excellent newsletter. Contact the membership department at the National Audubon Society, 700 Broadway, New York, NY 10003, for information.

You can also pick up a copy of Safina's new book, Song for the Blue Ocean, at most bookstores. The book has been compared with Rachel Carson's pioneering bestseller, The Sea Around Us, because it expertly shows the connection between the ocean and our survival.

The National Coalition for Marine Conservation is another nonprofit group working to protect ocean fish and their habitat. Started in 1973 by fishermen interested in preserving stocks of offshore fish, the NCMC has focused on ensuring the stability of a valuable food and recreational resource and maintaining the ocean's biodiversity.

The only organization working exclusively for ocean fish (as opposed to nonfish animals such as dolphins and turtles), the NCMC pays particular interest to large pelagics such as billfish, tunas and sharks. For membership information, write to 3 W Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176.

For more than a quarter of a century, the Center for Marine Conservation has practiced and preached protection for the seas. The center's work has benefited whales and seals, sea turtles and sea birds, finfish and coral reefs.

Some noteworthy actions include promoting state and federal requirements for turtle excluder devices to protect sea turtles from drowning in fishing nets; creating marine sanctuaries and the first "no take" marine reserves; winning the global moratorium on commercial whaling and reforming the Magnuson Fisheries Conservation and Management Act _ the law governing management of U.S. fisheries _ to stop overfishing, reduce by catch and protect important marine habitats.

But the CMC is probably best known for its International Coastal Cleanup in which hundreds of thousands of people worldwide scour shorelines for discarded nets, fishing line and other garbage that kill marine life.

Write the CMC at 1725 DeSales St. NW, Washington, DC 20036, or call them locally at (727) 895-2188.

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