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Letter from the Editor

I admit it: I never saw the movie Jaws. I've always been squeamish about gore and dismemberment. But I calculate that, along with most Americans, I've seen the Jaws poster about three thousand times. The poster is featured on our cover this summer, with a moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) in place of those famous teeth. (Before you ask: Yes, the Jaws swimmer was nude. Ours is more modest. We're a serious environmental magazine with a reputation to keep.)

Our cover illustration puts the humor of the thing foremost. In her cover story, Lily Whiteman also uses a little humor to convey how bizarre -- from the anthropocentric point of view -- are those quivering, globular, watery beings called jellyfish. But as she shows us, the idea of the seas filling up with jelly and tentacles is appalling. It's not just the gross-out quotient that makes this a horror movie image. The damage to marine ecosystems that leads to jellyfish epidemics, and results from them, raises its own kind of fear. Like roaches, raccoons, and Canadian geese, jellyfish are highly adaptable creatures. In degraded or depleted ecosystems, they can crowd other life out. Whiteman relates that when comb jellies (a species biologically similar to true jellyfish) invaded the polluted, overfished Black Sea, they multiplied so wildly that within twenty years they outweighed the world's entire annual fish catch -- ten times over.

Ever since 1981, when we reported on the push for oil drilling off the California coast, OnEarth (known originally as The Amicus Journal) has been tracking the saltwater environment. Many of our sea stories from years ago are still depressingly current. In Summer 1988, Oliver Houck wrote grimly that it was political "heresy" to talk about controlling the pesticides and other pollutants that wash off farms and eventually into the oceans; today, agricultural runoff is still one of the two biggest sources of U.S. water pollution. In Spring 1994, Susan Pollack predicted that the collapse of the Newfoundland cod industry foreshadowed future overfishing disasters. This May, biologists recommended a virtual shutdown of one of the major U.S. West Coast fisheries.

The news isn't all bad. In our last issue, David Helvarg described the growing movement to create undersea preserves where one can "take only pictures and leave only bubbles." Another positive development is the Pew Oceans Commission, an independent panel led by Leon E. Panetta, which is reviewing ocean policy and will present recommendations to President Bush in January.

But marine problems won't be solved until humans recognize that we can't treat the oceans as an infinite food source and an infinite waste dump. With all due respect to Jaws, we're causing more trouble for the monsters of the deep these days than they are for us.

Kathrin Day Lassila

OnEarth. Summer 2002
Copyright 2002 by the Natural Resources Defense Council