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Pulitzer Center Update July 30, 2013

This Week: When the Fish are Gone


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The Sea of Cortez is—or was—a vast and lush underwater paradise. Industrial fishing operations are...

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Fishermen sort the mornings catch on an industrial trawler in Guaymas, Sonora. Early in the season, there is plenty of shrimp (brown) but as the season wears on most of it will be bycatch (white). Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.


Global warming, pollution and overfishing are killing the world's oceans. Pulitzer Center grantee Erik Vance, in a deeply reported piece for Harper's, takes us to Mexico's Sea of Cortez, a place that Jacques Cousteau once described as "the Aquarium of the World."

"It hosts an astounding 950 fish species, 10 percent of which are found nowhere else in the world," Erik writes. "Fishermen working the sea's 26,000 boats are both rich and poor, newcomers and inheritors of thousands of years of tradition. The sea is perfectly situated to supply the hungriest markets—the United States, Japan, and now China—and over the past few decades it has seen one of the world's largest drops in biomass. Eighty-five percent of its species either are being fished at their maximum or are over-exploited. Consequently, there is no better place on earth to look at the future of global fishing and the crisis facing the oceans."

It's hardly a secret that the Sea of Cortez—and the world's oceans—"are headed for disaster," says Erik in an interview on The Leonard Lopate Show, but there are solutions if people start paying attention. Pulitzer Center grantee Dominic Bracco II collaborated with Erik on the reporting and provides a remarkable gallery of photographs. Erik and Dominic also collaborated on a video documentary published by Harper's.


Jeff Stern, who has lived and worked in Afghanistan on and off since 2007, says that the first thing he does upon returning to Kabul is head for the rooftops. From there he takes the measure of the city and its changes. On his current trip, as a Pulitzer Center grantee, Jeff surveys the Afghan capital's changing landscape—and the implications for its inhabitants as the U.S. prepares to withdraw its troops by the end of the year.

Most analysts are deeply pessimistic about Afghanistan's chances, but Jeff, writing for The Atlantic, takes a different view:

"[T]he feeling I have is that the Taliban is facing a simple numbers problem. There are just too many people who've built houses here, too many people opening restaurants, too many people playing soccer, too many people learning new languages, too many people, for the Taliban to do more than insert slivers of violence info city life, to serve as a disruptive criminal syndicate settling scores, capable of terrific violence and trauma, but not of ever really coming back."


"WILL the world eradicate polio? If it does, some of the credit may go to a 73-year-old billionaire horse-breeder from the Indian city of Pune." Pulitzer Center grantee Esha Chhabra makes that provocative claim in an essay for The Economist.

Oral polio vaccine, developed in the 1950s, has brought India close to the finish line, she writes, with no new polio cases in more than two years. Cyrus Poonawalla, a pharmaceutical magnate, wants to get India across the finish line of total eradication, by substituting a safer but more expensive injectable polio vaccine (IPV) for the low-cost oral version that is commonly used today.

Esha reports that Poonawalla is willing to subsidize the more expensive version as a "philanthropic gesture." His hope is that economies of scale will eventually help reduce the cost.

"Offering IPV at a deeply discounted price is likely to rattle big pharma companies," she writes. "But for Mr Poonawalla this is what it takes to get the vaccine's price down."


Grantee Paul Salopek's seven-year walk around the Earth is an inspired journalistic enterprise. We have been equally excited by its educational potential, using Paul's long trek to engage students in the story of where we have been—and where we are headed. Contributing editor Kem Knapp Sawyer captures the spirit of Paul's venture in a richly illustrated feature for the KidsPost section of The Washington Post.

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Foreign troops are leaving Afghanistan. As the decade-long effort to secure the country draws to a...


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