2007 Grantham Prize Winner
Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling
The Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times’ five-part series, Altered Oceans, examined a profound disturbance in the ecology of the seas, in arresting and accessible detail. The articles by Kenneth R. Weiss and Usha Lee McFarling showed how man-made stresses are not merely sullying the Earth’s oceans, but altering their basic composition and chemistry. As a result, numerous marine animals are in retreat and the oceans’ most primitive life forms – algae, bacteria and jellyfish – are on the rise.
Grantham Prize Jury Comments on Altered Oceans
Numerous authoritative reports in recent years have documented the degradation of the world’s oceans, predicting a catastrophic decline in marine ecosystems and the fish species dependent on them unless urgent remedial measures get under way.
But the decline of the oceans is one of those problems that seems so remote and so big as to be beyond the power of ordinary human beings to do anything about. Therein lies one of the great virtues of Kenneth R. Weiss’s extraordinary series, “Altered Oceans,” in the Los Angeles Times. The forces that are killing the oceans, he and colleague Usha Lee McFarling reported, are almost entirely the result of human actions. And the remedies will also depend on us humans.
The Times series describes in arresting and accessible detail profound disturbances in the ecology of the seas. Stresses resulting from human activities have not merely polluted the oceans but altered their basic chemistry. As a result, fish, corals and marine mammals are in retreat and the oceans’ most primitive life forms — algae, bacteria and jellyfish — are proliferating.
The reporters did more than simply research the literature and talk to the best minds. They went to the scene to make the case. Weiss swam to the mouth of a giant sewer pipe in south Florida, watched as a marine biologist probed the brain of a sea lion fatally damaged by algae, examined dying coral reefs off the coast of Jamaica, probed the causes of a harmful algal bloom in the Gulf of Mexico, and exhaustively inventoried the plastic junk and other detritus that fouls even the most remote beaches.
This extraordinary series gives life to all those generalities about the decline of the oceans in a way that should grab the imaginations not only of politicians responsible for taking corrective steps but also of ordinary readers. The leaders of the bipartisan House Oceans Caucus distributed copies to every member of the House with a cover letter urging that they review it because the “conditions it describes are a threat to our national security, economy and environment.” And hundreds of readers wrote in to thank the Times for describing the crisis in such vivid, persuasive detail and for educating them about where the blame ultimately lies: at humanity’s doorstep.
About the Altered Oceans Team:
Kenneth R. Weiss
Ken Weiss covers the coast and oceans for the Los Angeles Times. He began working for the L.A. Times in 1990. From 1992 until 1996 he served as an assistant city editor in Ventura and then returned to the ranks of reporters covering higher education, government and politics. Before coming to the L.A. Times in 1990, Weiss spent six years in Washington, D.C., as a correspondent for newspapers owned by the New York Times and as a reporter for States News Service. In addition to The Grantham Prize, the “Altered Oceans” series won a number of national and international awards including the Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting, George Polk Award for environmental reporting, Columbia Journalism School’s John B. Oakes Award, the Scripps Howard Foundation’s National Journalism Award, and American Geophysical Union’s Walter Sullivan Award for Excellence in Science Journalism. Weiss was born and raised in the Southern California. He received a bachelor’s degree in folklore from University of California, Berkeley, where he was editor of the college newspaper, The Daily Californian
Usha Lee McFarling
Usha Lee McFarling is a free-lance science writer and until recently was a national science reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Prior to working for the L.A. Times, McFarling worked for the Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, the Boston Globe and the San Antonio Light. She was awarded an MIT/Knight Science Journalism Fellowship in 1992. McFarling earned a masters degree in biological psychology/animal behavior in 1998 from the University of California, Berkeley. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1988 from Brown University where she had been a science reporter at Rhode Island’s second largest newspaper: the Brown Daily Herald. She was a 2007 co-recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism.