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OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS OF MARINE BIOTECHNOLOGY: PROCEEDINGS OF THE OCTOBER 5-6, 1999, WORKSHOP Social and Regulatory Aspects of the Marine Environment Raymond A. Zilinskas There appears to be a consensus among workshop presenters on the need to widely publicize two subjects pertaining to marine biotechnology: the problems that can be alleviated or solved by biotechnological applications and the success stories of biotechnological applications. I hasten to add that we cannot and should not assume the vast burden of publicizing what biotechnology has done and might do; however, it is important to make known more widely the accomplishments and promises of marine biotechnology. I was shocked earlier when I heard about severely damaged corals and reefs. Because I am a SCUBA diver and have visited reefs in many parts of the world, I think of myself as somebody who should be knowledgeable about these problems. Yet until yesterday, I had not known of the awful disease and other threats to the health of corals and reefs. I would estimate that the level of ignorance among the general public is at least equal to mine. So how do we inform the public about these threats that well might endanger the well-being of our planet? Furthermore, what can we do about presenting to the public information about how biotechnological solutions might be applied to counter these threats? Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, CA
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OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS OF MARINE BIOTECHNOLOGY: PROCEEDINGS OF THE OCTOBER 5-6, 1999, WORKSHOP SOCIAL ASPECTS Identifying Public Perception I know from personal experience that educating the public about scientific and technical advances can be very difficult. In 1996 and 1997, I managed a project called “The Human Genome Project: Reaching the Minority Communities in Maryland.” As the name suggests, the objective of the project was to inform minority communities in Maryland about the Human Genome Project (HGP) as well as the ethical, legal, and social issues it might engender (Zilinskas and Balint 2000). The method decided on to convey this information was to hold a 2-day conference to which approximately 200 community leaders from mainly the Hispanic and African-American communities were invited. The first morning of the conference was devoted to presenting basic facts about the HGP. I will never forget when, during the discussion that followed that first morning, a lady stood up and asked, “Why have they been keeping this information from us? Who are they that keep this information from us?” By the time the conference ended, it had been demonstrated to the participants that nobody was suppressing information about the HGP; that there had been numerous articles in newspapers and magazines, as well as reporting on television and radio on the subject. Yet at the beginning of the conference, there appeared to have been a general perception among participants that important information had been withheld from them. Afterward, I thought about possible reasons why this misperception of information being withheld would appear. One reason might be that the information is being presented in such a way that it is not readily understood by laypersons. Another reason could be that for each one of us there is a kind of self-censorship at work when we are presented with a mass of information. I know that when I read newspapers, magazines, and journals and when I watch television, I select reading or watching subjects that are of most interest to me. If I have time, I might move to subjects of potential or secondary interest. Therefore, because I find the HGP and its social implications interesting, I will read articles or watch programs that deal with these topics. However, people who have not been introduced to these topics probably would focus on subjects of more interest to them and skip right by anything to do with the HGP. In any case, for almost all of the conference participants, the HGP was an unknown subject, as demonstrated by results from a survey of the participants before, after, and 1 year after the conference. The survey also demonstrated that once the participants had a good introduction to the subject of the HGP, it remained interesting to them and they tended to
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OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS OF MARINE BIOTECHNOLOGY: PROCEEDINGS OF THE OCTOBER 5-6, 1999, WORKSHOP follow developments related to it. In fact, some of them got involved in the political process at the state level in legislative activities that aimed to address privacy and other concerns. What I try to show by telling this story is that we have to find a way to make marine biotechnology understandable to more members of the public and thus get them interested in following developments related to this area of science. To do this, we must go beyond what, for example, Sea Grant does. Maryland Sea Grant has a very nice little newsletter they send out quarterly; I think it is wonderful, and I use it as a basic resource. However, I do not think it is known to the general public who might be interested or should be aware of these things, especially at the state legislative or federal congressional level. Although I am not certain how we do it, I think it is very important to include this aspect of how to deliver information about marine biotechnology effectively to the public and its representatives in the package of requests for proposals (RFPs) that the sponsors of this workshop might develop. Measuring Prospective Support We might also recommend something about testing or measuring public perceptions about marine biotechnology. As Dr. Prince stated, almost as a “truism,” everyone accepts bioremediation. Although this may be true, I would like to learn whether this truism has a firm foundation. To do so, this workshop's sponsors might consider supporting a project that would measure public perception about a prospective bioremediation activity in an ecologically sensitive region such as the Chesapeake Bay, the Santa Barbara Channel, and the Puget Sound (see Mendelssohn, this volume). Any of these areas could at any time be the site of a serious oil spill from either shipwrecks or leaky off-shore installations. Such a project might involve setting up a focus group whose membership would consist of the major stakeholders—people who manage beaches, tourist promotion agencies, local fisheries, public health officials, and citizens from local communities. This focus group could be presented with a scenario of a major oil spill and be asked to consider different options of dealing with it, including bioremediation. A project such as this probably would, at a fairly low price, provide a good idea of how those most likely to be affected by an oil spill would want this kind of disaster managed, including determining how they would view bioremediation and its application. So, those are my major comments about public perception.
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OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS OF MARINE BIOTECHNOLOGY: PROCEEDINGS OF THE OCTOBER 5-6, 1999, WORKSHOP REGULATORY ASPECTS Existing Regulations We appear to have many regulations that govern activities in the marine environment. A short time ago I read an article about mariculture (i.e., aquaculture in the marine environment) in which it was stated that mariculture is the most regulated industrial activity in the United States, even more regulated than the nuclear power industry. Although I have no way to judge the accuracy of this statement (especially since someone who wanted more freedom for the aquaculture industry wrote it), there are in fact many regulations for putting anything new into the marine environment, possibly involving the federal government, regional boards and agencies and, at times, international agreements (Stenquist 1998). What would be the reaction of regulatory agencies if somebody proposed to coat ships or man-made structures in the ocean with a newly developed proteinaceous substance that prevented biofouling? I do not think we know. The people here from industry do not seem to be worried about it. Is that because they have researched this subject and have found that there is nothing to worry about, or is it because they do not know and are not going to worry about it until they have a new product slated to be applied in the marine environment? If indeed regulatory problems might attend such an introduction, then such an advance in marine biotechnology might well be hindered. Recommendations I certainly do not favor more regulations. What would be helpful for researchers and developers involved in marine biotechnology would be to investigate whether existing regulations could, first, be simplified and, second, be put on a firm scientific basis. The major reason for attempting these two steps would be to create a stable and straightforward regulatory path for developers who would like to introduce a new application based on biotechnology into the marine environment. Therefore, I suggest that it would be timely for agencies interested in sponsoring scientific research in marine biotechnology to also sponsor social science research that would cast light on the regulatory barriers that might hinder introductions of materials into the seas. I also suggest that agencies interested in sponsoring research in marine biotechnology make a special effort to encourage basic research that would be undertaken for the purpose of generating data and information
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OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS OF MARINE BIOTECHNOLOGY: PROCEEDINGS OF THE OCTOBER 5-6, 1999, WORKSHOP to meet the four familiarity criteria that underlie the EPA's 21 Points to Consider as well as those of the USDA and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (an intergovernmental organization headquartered in Paris to which most of the world's industrialized nations belong). This effort would most likely require a multidisciplinary effort that would involve marine ecologists, marine ichthyologists, marine microbiologists, oceanographers, risk assessors, and specialists in other disciplines. Such an effort is necessary if we are to move ahead with the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for applications in the marine environment, including mariculture and bioremediation. ANTICIPATING THE FUTURE Already, between 25 and 35 fish species have been transformed (i.e., a transformed organism is one that has DNA from a foreign source incorporated in its genome), as well as an unknown number of shellfish and marine bacterial species. While researching developments in marine biotechnology in preparation for writing a recent book (Zilinskas and Balint 1998), I heard rumors about the introduction of genetically modified fish into the marine environment of some Asian nations (possibly China, Taiwan, and Thailand). Even if we were to disregard these rumors, it is a fact that much of this kind of scientific development is being undertaken by Asian nations, many of which depend on the seas to supply them with a substantial part of their food requirements. It is reasonable to believe that if scientists in one of these nations were to develop a transgenic fish species perceived as offering substantial benefits to mariculture, it would be applied for this purpose. If so, some would escape. Even if we do not have the scientific knowledge to fulfill the familiarity criteria, it is safe to assume that the technology push will sooner or later result in the introduction of GMOs into the open marine environment. So instead of saying, “No, no, it is not going to happen, nobody is going to do it without proper preparation, we are not going to allow it to happen,” we should assume that it will happen; perhaps not in the United States or other Western nations, but somewhere. If so, we might as well try to prepare for such an event. A good way to prepare is to try to generate scientific data about the marine environment, phenomena, and organisms that would make it possible for scientists and regulators to perform risk assessments of proposed introductions of GMOs into the oceans. Appropriate regulations could then be developed and adopted by national legislative bodies. All nations might not do so, but at least there would be a possibility for them doing so—something that is not the case today. For these reasons, I believe this would be an excellent program to undertake within the framework of what we are trying to do here.
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OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS OF MARINE BIOTECHNOLOGY: PROCEEDINGS OF THE OCTOBER 5-6, 1999, WORKSHOP Learning from the Past It might be that useful lessons can be learned from past introductions of exotic marine microorganisms; in other words, when microorganisms occurring naturally in one part of the world were transported and introduced into a new environment. If we could learn the fate of such microorganisms and their effects, if any, on the environment into which they were introduced, we could begin to generate information that bears on the familiarity criteria. I know that James T. Carlton of Williams College has done important work on the environmental effects of introduced exotic macroorganisms (Carlton 1995; Cohen and Carlton 1998). However, it appears that no one has done substantial work on the environmental effects of introduced exotic marine microorganisms. Of course, such investigations would be exceedingly difficult to carry out, but I do think it is possible with the help of the new biotechnologies and the recently developed tools of molecular biology such as polymerase chain reaction. It is reasonable to hypothesize that similar to introductions of exotic microorganisms in the terrestrial environment, exotic marine microorganisms introduced into a new site could have beneficial, innocuous, or negative effects on that site's environment. If an organism were introduced deliberately, the assumed intent would be to achieve a benefit. However, the opposite possibility cannot be ignored. An illustrative example has been reported in a study by the Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture Shrimp Virus Work Group (1997), which discussed the aftermath of the transportation of shrimp seed stocks from Asia to Central America and the United States. The imported seed stocks did improve the stocks of shrimp being aquacultured in the importing countries; however, the imports were contaminated with pathogenic viruses. As a result of these importations, some of the diseases that had devastated the shrimp aquaculture industry in several Asian nations were imported for the first time to Central America and the United States, where they caused heavy damage. International Awareness I understand from Dr. Denno's talk yesterday that the United States is not a party to the Law of the Sea or the Convention on Biological Diversity, international agreements negotiated during the time of the Reagan Administration. Nevertheless, we must consider that perhaps they represent an international norm of research and industrial activity. If so, it makes sense for our researchers and industrialists to adhere to their strictures, probably with the expectation that eventually the United States will join these treaties. It then follows that there is a need for social science
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OPPORTUNITIES FOR ENVIRONMENTAL APPLICATIONS OF MARINE BIOTECHNOLOGY: PROCEEDINGS OF THE OCTOBER 5-6, 1999, WORKSHOP research to explore how the Law of the Sea and the Convention on Biological Diversity will affect, for example, existing US laws and regulations, activities by US industries in the marine environment, and investigations by US researchers in the oceans. Perhaps the book Dr. Denno mentioned yesterday (Cicin-Sain and others 2000) will address some of these issues. But even if it does, it is safe to assume that all important issues will not be covered and that some of the issues it addresses will have to be investigated further. I think it is important for the agencies that wish to support marine biotechnology to fund research that explores linkages between the US regulatory regime and the international regime with the objective of determining how the two can be reconciled in such a way that minimum inconvenience will be experienced by our researchers and industrialists. REFERENCES Carlton JT. 1995 Marine invasions and the preservation of coastal diversity. Endangered Species Update 12(4/5):1-3. Cicin-Sain B, Knecht RW, Jang D, eds. 2000 Policy Issues in the Development of Marine Biotechnology. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Center for the Study of Marine Policy. (Forthcoming). Cohen AN, Carlton JT. 1998 Accelerating invasion rate in a highly invaded estuary. Science 279:555-558. Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture Shrimp Virus Work Group. 1997 An Evaluation of Potential Shrimp Virus Impacts on Cultured Shrimp and Wild Shrimp Populations in the Gulf of Mexico and Southeastern US Atlantic Coastal Waters. Washington, DC: National Marine Fisheries Service; US Department of Commerce; Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service; US Department of Agriculture; National Center for Environmental Assessment; US Environmental Protection Agency; and Fish and Wildlife Service, US Department of Interior Stenquist S. 1998 Federal and state regulations relevant to uncontained applications of genetically engineered marine organisms. In: Zilinskas RA, Balint PJ, eds. Genetically Engineered Marine Organisms: Environmental and Economic Risks and Benefits. Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers. p 139-180. Zilinskas RA, Balint PJ, eds. 1998 Genetically Engineered Marine Organisms: Environmental and Economic Risks and Benefits. Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers. Zilinskas RA, Balint PJ, eds. 2000 The Human Genome Project and Minority Communities: Ethical, Social, and Political Dilemmas. Westport CT: Praeger Publishers.
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