July 21, 2014

Insights Into the International Field of Ocean Science

Ocean science researchers

Associate Director of the Lawrence Hall of Science, Craig Strang, reflects on his recent trip to Tokyo, Japan:

July 12, 2014
Tokyo, Japan

I am at the Fifth Biennial International Pacific Marine Educators Network Conference, taking place in Tokyo and the Iwate Prefecture of Japan. I was the keynote speaker at the first two meetings, and am making a presentation later this afternoon.

Yesterday was the conference’s field trip day. We visited the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the largest fish market in the world. It was an amazing, incredible, and overwhelming experience. I saw more species of marine life at the market than I have ever seen in any public aquarium, including forms of life that I hardly knew existed, much less knew were edible. The abundance of marine life on sale for consumption left me with conflicted emotions. While it was fascinating and fun to see the diversity of consumerism at the market, it was also disturbing to realize that we are taking this much marine life out of the ocean — every day — just at Tsukiji. I wondered if the photos I took might eventually provide a historic record for my grandchildren of how much life there used to be in the ocean.

Fish Market Tsukiji fish market.

I visited Tsukiji once before in 2008 and remembered seeing large amounts of whale meat for sale in several locations. On my most recent visit, I asked our guide if our group could see whale meat like last time. Our guide declined, explaining that because there is so much international pressure on whaling laws Tsukiji no longer allows tourists to visit the areas where whale meat is sold.

Later in the day, we went aboard the research vessel of the Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology. We heard about the research on fisheries being conducted by the ship. A representative of the Japan Ministry of Education also told us about the network of 41 different fishery high schools in Japan that train students for careers in the fisheries industry. The representative informed us that in the 1960’s there were 52 fishery high schools. The number of fishery-oriented schools is declining because of the decline of the fishing industry. Japan is slowly running out of fish — a factual confirmation of my uncomfortable impressions at Tsukiji earlier that day.

Research vessel Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology research vessel.

Tomorrow, the entire conference will leave Tokyo to travel by bus to Iwate, where we will visit the area devastated by the March 11, 2011 Tsunami. We will learn more about the impact of the Tsunami, the recovery efforts, and the current preparation efforts for the next tsunami.

Learn more about the Fifth Biennial International Pacific Marine Educators Network Conference.

The Lawrence Hall of Science supports ocean science literacy through formal and informal education initiatives. Learn more about MARE, the Hall’s ocean science education program.