Category Archives: Oceans

Thought Matters Publishes Excerpt of Hot, Hungry Planet

Thought Matters, an idea exchange for the highly opinionated, published an excerpt of Hot, Hungry Planet yesterday.

Here’s how the chapter on California and Syria: A Tale of Two Droughts begins:

In the late spring of 2014, while covering food sustainability at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sustainable Foods Institute, I took a trip to the Carmel Valley farm stand run by Earth-bound Farm. Earthbound Farm is the largest organic farming operation in the United States. It cultivates about 50,000 acres of produce, and I spent the morning walking in a small demonstration garden that was nothing short of paradise. Everything was a verdant green. Yet just beyond the farm, where the Carmel Mountains meet the horizon, was dry scrub and pale brown grass, a truer reflection of this parched land. The Golden State, which got its name from the grasses that turn a shade of palomino blond in summer, then green up again during the fall and spring rains, was looking more like the Brown State.

As California’s drought dragged into the next year, I couldn’t shake the sense of a crisis brewing in Carmel Valley. I was also hearing reports of conflict over water in war-torn Syria. I wondered, could water conflict on that scale ever occur here? I couldn’t blame Earthbound’s owners for choosing this idyllic spot, or other farmers for choosing any other location along California’s central coast, where morning fog moistens the otherwise dry landscape. When the founders of the farm first started growing raspberries on two and a half acres, they didn’t imagine it would expand to become America’s largest organic producer of salad greens and vegetables. But Earthbound’s growth was only one among the more recent in decades of farming expansion all across California, and especially the nearby Central Valley, since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Through the magic of irrigation, these farmers had made a desert bloom.

While Earthbound’s leafy expanse appeared intact, agriculture is in jeopardy throughout California and other western states. A 2015 investigation in ProPublica reported that California’s drought is part of a much bigger water crisis that is killing the Colorado River, “the victim of legally sanctioned overuse, the relentless forces of urban growth, willful ignorance among policymakers, and a misplaced confidence in human ingenuity.” Climate change will only exacerbate the problem.

Continue reading on Thought Matters and to buy your copy of Hot, Hungry Planet, please go here.

Ocean Acidification Poses Risks to Coastal Economies

Oysters, scallops and clams … they’re an iconic part of American cuisine and a critical source of jobs in many coastal communities. But the nation’s approximately one billion dollar shelled mollusk industry is at risk.

When cars, factories, and power plants emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some of the pollution gets absorbed by the oceans – increasing their acidity and making it hard for mollusks to build their shells.

According to a new report, the problem has economic consequences for coastal communities – from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay, and from the Louisiana Bayou to the Pacific Northwest.

Continue reading and listening at Yale Climate Connections.

Associated SESYNC Researcher(s):

Hot, Hungry Planet will be a book!

I’m happy to report that my book, Hot, Hungry Planet, will be published by Palgrave Macmillan. Look for it in Fall 2016. The contract is signed. Let the writing commence!


Hot, Hungry Planet is a narrative about the people attempting to reconcile the threat of climate change with the need to feed a growing world population. In Hot, Hungry Planet, I take readers on a global journey that explores the human story behind complex, hot-button issues of food security, social justice, climate change, and the environment. I started to post some of my food/ag/environment-related stories on this blog,, and you will find more original reporting here in the weeks and months to come. 

Verlasso reduces reliance on wild-caught fish for salmon feed

By Lisa Palmer

I ate farmed salmon for years before thinking twice about it. Then about ten years ago, beginning with news reports from Ken Weiss, an environmental reporter with the Los Angeles Times, I learned about the chemicals and pollutants associated with farmed salmon. I began to understand the unsustainable nature of salmon aquaculture; in addition to antibiotics, pesticides and artificial dyes to color the flesh of the farmed salmon, I learned that what they ate—fish meal made from anchovies, sardines and menhaden– was quickly depleting forage fish fromVerlasso AquaChile  the world’s oceans.

Fast forward to this past May in Laguna Niguel, California, at Fortune’s Brainstorm Green conference. Sustainably farmed salmon found its way onto my lunch plate. The fish, from Verlasso, a joint venture between DuPont and AquaChile, earned a “good alternative” rating last year from the Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch program—the first among Atlantic salmon raised in ocean pens to earn this distinction.  Verlasso salmon is raised on fish meal that is just 25 percent wild fish and 75 percent Omega-3 rich yeast.Verlasso

I caught up with Scott Nichols, the man behind the Verlasso venture, for a story in Future Food 2050. Here’s how it begins:

 As a child living in Hawaii, Scott Nichols woke early. By 6 a.m., the 5-year-old boy had usually reeled in his first catch from a pre-dawn fishing expedition with his dad. The first week that he carried his bounty—a whole fish—into the family kitchen for breakfast, his father gave him an impromptu lesson in gutting and cleaning fish. And a love affair with seafood was born.

Much later in life, Scott Nichols found himself in the lucky position of being able to turn that love for fish into a business venture. As a biochemist with a doctorate from UCLA who also studied business at the Wharton’s Advanced Management Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Nichols was in charge of DuPont’s business development. It was 2006, and the company had created an innovation around bio-based omega-3 fatty acids: DuPont’s genetically modified yeast could substitute for fish oils and preserve the omega-3 fatty acids. But Nichols knew it was a breakthrough in another area as well. “In the blink of an eye, I realized that we could solve a big problem with salmon aquaculture,” says Nichols, who now directs Verlasso, a joint venture between DuPont and AquaChile—an aquaculture operation based in Patagonia—that was formalized in 2009. Before the partnership, DuPont had been involved in supplying the aquaculture industry but had no experience in aquaculture production.

Fish oil produced from wild-caught fish supplies critical nutrients that farmed salmon need to grow, but these wild-caught fish are harvested unsustainably. By 2006, salmon aquaculture was consuming some 80 percent of the world’s fish oil and still growing at a rate of 8 to 10 percent per year. Oily fish like anchovies, menhaden and mackerel provide the main source of fish oils, and their harvests are threatened as their populations deplete.

To read the complete story, go to

“There seems to be precious little international enthusiasm to talk about how to reduce pressure on fisheries, but it is surely needed.” —Scott Nichols