Ocean Currents » Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Action After Tragedy: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/22/action-after-tragedy-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/22/action-after-tragedy-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:06:01 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13996

This is one anniversary that I don’t like celebrating.

Friday will be the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Nearly 11 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean over the course of three days. Even today, there are still some places in Prince William Sound where you can find oil that is as toxic as it was 28 years ago.

But, I’m optimistic that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and work together to make sure another Exxon Valdez doesn’t occur off the coast of Alaska. We saw first-hand what happens when we don’t take preparedness seriously.

Will you join me in taking action to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Now, nearly three decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, the Arctic Ocean is facing threats from increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait.

As Arctic sea ice continues to melt, the Bering Sea—including the narrow Bering Strait—is experiencing more and more ship traffic. As ship traffic increases, so do the risks, including oil spills, vessel strikes on marine mammals, air pollution, discharge of waste into the water and production of underwater noise. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help protect the Arctic.

Take action today by asking the U.S. Coast Guard to take steps to reduce the risks of increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Sea. This can’t wait—we need to put in place key measures to increase safety and reduce risk in the Arctic waters.

The Bering Sea is used by millions of seabirds and an array of marine mammals including whales, seals, walruses and polar bears. Alaska Native communities rely on these resources for food security and cultural practices that date back millennia.

There’s no doubt that the Arctic Ocean is unique and important—there is a lot at stake if we don’t work together to do all we can to protect this region. Please take action today by asking the U.S. Coast Guard to reduce the risks from increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Sea.

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New Report Evaluates Risks of Vessel Traffic in the Bering Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/12/new-report-evaluates-risks-of-vessel-traffic-in-the-bering-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/12/new-report-evaluates-risks-of-vessel-traffic-in-the-bering-sea/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 17:11:24 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13613

Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

As Arctic sea ice continues to melt, the Bering Sea—including the narrow Bering Strait—is experiencing more and more ship traffic. As ship traffic increases, so too do the risks, including oil spills, vessel strikes on marine mammals, air pollution, discharge of wastes into the water, and production of underwater noise.

A new report, commissioned by Ocean Conservancy and conducted by Nuka Research and Planning Group LLC, evaluates the risks from vessel traffic in the Bering Strait.

The Bering Sea is used by millions of seabirds, and an array of marine mammals including whales, seals, walruses and polar bears. Alaska Native peoples who live near the Bering Sea depend on its fish and wildlife as a key source of food and to support cultural practices that date back millennia. And the Bering Sea is home to rich commercial fisheries: in 2014, five of the top 10 most valuable commercial fisheries in the United States were based in or near the Bering Sea.

There’s no doubt that these waters are astoundingly abundant, and there is a lot at stake. So what did the risk assessment find about the risks posed by vessel traffic in the Bering Sea?

  • Right now, in the Northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait region, most oil exposure and risk is associated with vessels that service the region, primarily delivering fuel and goods to communities or exporting resources from mines. In contrast, in the Southern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, most oil exposure comes from vessels that are just passing through the region, transiting Great Circle Route.
  • “Lightering” (transferring fuel from one ship to another offshore via hoses) is a significant source of risk in the Northern Bering Sea.
  • In the future, as more ships transit the Bering Strait, there will be more oil spill exposure.
  • Much of the increase in ship traffic is expected to come from bulk carriers and tankers serving resource extraction projects elsewhere in the Arctic. These vessels are a particular concern because they generally use heavy fuel oil—a “persistent” fuel that, if spilled, would be virtually impossible to clean up and would likely have impacts for years. Cruise ship and tourism traffic is also likely to increase in the future.

Fortunately, the risk assessment makes clear that we can take pragmatic steps to reduce the risks from increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Sea. In doing so, we should make use of extensive traditional knowledge from Alaska Natives about the Bering Sea ecosystem to inform the development of mitigation measures and response planning. Some options could include:

  • Using routing measures such as traffic lanes and Areas to be Avoided to reduce exposure to hazards;
  • Improving vessel communications and monitoring systems to help avoid conflicts between vessels and subsistence hunters and to reduce impacts to marine mammal aggregations;
  • Tightening requirements for vessel waste management to avoid or reduce impacts of harmful pollution;
  • Engaging in rigorous planning for disabled vessels so that incidents don’t become accidents;
  • Evaluating lightering practices to determine whether there are ways to improve safety and reduce the risk of spills; an
  • Developing community spill response that incorporates not only local response capacity but also local input into response planning.

The Bering Sea hosts abundant marine life that supports the people of the region, as well as rich commercial fisheries. And now, the Bering Sea and Bering Strait are growing more important as an international shipping route. Ocean Conservancy is working with others who care about the health and resilience of the Bering Sea to advance practical, common-sense ways to reduce the risks associated with vessel traffic. Putting in place key measures to increase safety and reduce risk makes sense now, and will pay dividends in the future, as shipping transits through the Bering Strait and Bering Sea increase.

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A New Year, a New Set of Rules for Polar Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/06/a-new-year-a-new-set-of-rules-for-polar-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/06/a-new-year-a-new-set-of-rules-for-polar-waters/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:03:31 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13581

It’s 2017, and a suite of new standards and practices are now in place for vessels operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The new set of rules—called the Polar Code—is designed to increase ship safety and environmental protection in high-latitude waters. Adopted by a specialized agency of the United Nations called the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Polar Code sets standards for ship safety and for prevention of pollution from international shipping. The Polar Code took effect on January 1 of this year (with a one-year phase in period).

The Polar Code is so important because as sea ice continues to decline, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to vessel traffic. But as more ships operate in those remote and challenging waters, there are substantial safety and environmental risks—including possible impacts to food security of Arctic indigenous peoples.

The Polar Code includes both mandatory and recommendatory measures intended to mitigate the risk of Arctic shipping. For instance, vessels operating in polar waters must now apply for a Polar Ship certificate, which requires an assessment of the vessel’s suitability for intended operating conditions. The Polar Code also requires voyage planning that, among other things, helps to avoid aggregations of marine mammals and seasonal migration areas. It also bans discharge of oil or oily mixtures and noxious substances, and places relatively strict limitations on discharge of sewage and garbage.

While the Polar Code is unquestionably a major step forward, it does not address all the safety and environmental challenges related to Arctic vessel traffic. For example, use and carriage of heavy fuel oil—the dirtiest and most difficult-to-recover oil if spilled—is banned in Antarctic waters, but the Polar Code still allows vessels to use and carry it in the Arctic. Ocean Conservancy is working with partners to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.

The Polar Code does not address the discharge of harmful graywater, imposes no mandatory measures to reduce the threat of invasive species, and does not limit harmful air emissions from vessels traveling in Arctic waters. More broadly, the Polar Code only applies to certain types of vessels that operate in the Arctic, and does not fully address concerns about lack of infrastructure and maritime information in the region. There are also challenges with respect to enforcement of the Polar Code.

As you can see, there’s still plenty of work to do to increase safety and protect Arctic waters from the impacts of shipping. But, I’m optimistic that the Polar Code is a step in the right direction, and a good start to the new year. Ocean Conservancy will continue to work with the IMO and our partners to strengthen the Polar Code and ensure that new regulations protects the ecological heritage of this unique and fragile region at the top of the planet.

 

 

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Breaking News: Obama Puts the Brakes on Risky Arctic Drilling http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/18/breaking-news-obama-puts-the-brakes-on-risky-arctic-drilling/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/11/18/breaking-news-obama-puts-the-brakes-on-risky-arctic-drilling/#comments Fri, 18 Nov 2016 18:57:46 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13355

I have some really uplifting news to share with you from the Arctic! The Obama administration has decided to remove Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea leases from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program. This means that companies will not be able to obtain the right to drill in pristine and vulnerable Arctic waters.

The decision protects wildlife living in the Arctic (and found nowhere else on Earth)—like polar bears, bearded seals, walruses and bowhead whales. It also ensures that offshore drilling in the Arctic won’t contribute to climate change in a region that’s already warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world.

More than 50,000 ocean supporters spoke up and took action on behalf of the Arctic Ocean over the summer and fall—and our voices were heard!

Please join me in saying thank you to President Obama for taking action to protect the Arctic.

Offshore drilling is risky, and in the Arctic, it’s as dangerous as dangerous gets. A major oil spill in the remote and icy waters of the Arctic would be all but impossible to clean up. In fact, there is very little infrastructure and very few resources to support a cleanup effort. An oil spill at the top of the world would be a disaster for the people and wildlife who depend on a healthy Arctic Ocean for survival.

We can’t risk a disaster in the Arctic. That’s why this victory is so important!

I’m thankful to the Obama Administration for putting the brakes on risky offshore drilling and protecting our Arctic waters. Tell President Obama that you’re thankful, too!

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The Future: Arctic Five-Year Plan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/18/the-future-arctic-five-year-plan/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/18/the-future-arctic-five-year-plan/#comments Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:59:59 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13139 We have less than a month to keep the Arctic Ocean safe from offshore drilling.

Right now, President Obama is preparing a new five-year leasing plan, and it could allow risky oil and gas leasing to go forward in the Arctic Ocean. We can’t let that happen.

Can I count on you to help protect the Arctic?

The future of the Arctic will be determined in these next few weeks. Offshore drilling is risky, and in the Arctic it’s as dangerous as dangerous gets. A major oil spill in the remote and icy waters of the Arctic would be all but impossible to clean up. In fact, there’s virtually no infrastructure or adequate resources for a cleanup. It would be a danger to not only the people and response teams involved, but a threat to this fragile ecosystem.

The answer is simple: We can’t risk a disaster in the Arctic. That’s why we need you.
Will you join Ocean Conservancy in asking the Obama Administration to exclude Arctic lease sales from the final version of the five-year plan?

The time to act is now. The Administration needs to know this issue is important to you!

Until we can ensure the safety of wildlife and the ocean ecosystem, we can’t afford to include Arctic leasing in the five-year plan. Arctic wildlife like polar bears, bowhead whales and walruses are found nowhere else on Earth. It’s up to us to protect their Arctic home from the dangers of offshore drilling.

Take action for the Arctic. Ask President Obama to keep Arctic leasing off the five year-plan.

Please take five minutes to stand up for five years in the Arctic.

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Luxury Cruises and Other Realities of a Changing Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/29/luxury-cruises-and-other-realities-of-a-changing-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/29/luxury-cruises-and-other-realities-of-a-changing-arctic/#comments Thu, 29 Sep 2016 18:14:59 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13031

© Diane Bondareff, Crystal Cruises

With far less attention than she garnered at the start of her journey, Crystal Serenity sailed into New York City on September 16, 2016, becoming the first cruise ship of her size to complete the journey through the Northwest Passage.

For us at Ocean Conservancy, the success of this expensive pleasure cruise is yet another symbol of a changing Arctic. The science is clear: global climate change is hitting this fragile region faster and more furiously than perhaps any other place on the planet.

The precipitous decline of seasonal sea ice is a clear example. In an announcement that came less than 24-hours before Crystal Serenity reached her final port, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean dropped to the second lowest level on record during the summer of 2016.

Less sea ice in the Arctic means more opportunities for companies like Crystal Cruises—and indeed, the cruise line is already booking tickets for another trip through the Northwest Passage in 2017.

And it’s not just cruise lines that will take advantage of changing Arctic conditions. Vessel traffic through the Bering Strait is projected to increase anywhere from 100 – 500% by 2015 from what it was in 2013.

This increase in vessel traffic leads to more environmental  risks to the Arctic, ranging from oil spills that are virtually impossible to clean up, to noise pollution that can have devastating impacts on marine wildlife, to the introduction of disruptive invasive species. The opening of the Arctic may also have unforeseen impacts on local communities in places—like Nome, Alaska, where Austin Ahmasuk lives and shared his thoughts with us in this blog. Some of his concerns are shared by Native communities in Canada.

As a science-based conservation organization with a deep commitment to the Arctic, Ocean Conservancy will continue to champion protection of the Arctic.

We advocate strong measures to improve ship safety and minimize threats to Arctic wildlife:

  • We are supporting the U.S. Coast Guard’s efforts to finalize a Port Access Route study of the Bering Strait region. Designation of a vessel traffic lane and Areas to be Avoided will improve safety and help protect the amazing ecosystem of the Bering Strait region.
  • We are calling on the International Maritime Organization, the body that governs international shipping, to phase-out the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.
  • We are also working on efforts to reduce ship strikes on marine mammals, improve vessel communications systems, enhance spill response preparedness, and reduce discharge from large, ocean-going vessels traveling in Arctic waters.

There is a lot at stake. Not just for the Arctic but for all life on the planet.

 

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Cruising the Northwest Passage: A Symbol of a Rapidly Changing Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/17/cruising-the-northwest-passage-a-symbol-of-a-rapidly-changing-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/17/cruising-the-northwest-passage-a-symbol-of-a-rapidly-changing-arctic/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 18:28:05 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12643

Photo: Ocean Conservancy / Sarah Bobbe

SEWARD, ALASKA – Small only in comparison to the rocky peaks surrounding the city, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity easily dwarfed every other structure in Seward, Alaska. On August 16, she slipped her moorings and started a month-long voyage through the Northwest Passage with over 1,700 passengers and crew onboard. 

This is an important milestone to us. The impact of climate change has now ushered in an era where a luxury cruise ship is able to sail from the North Pacific to the Atlantic via the fabled Northwest Passage—a route that once defeated even the most intrepid explorers. While other vessels have made the transit, this is the first time a tour ship of this size—almost the length of three football fields—has attempted the passage. Crystal Serenity’s journey is yet another symbol of a rapidly changing Arctic.

Bowhead whale and calf in the Arctic Ocean
Photo: NOAA / National Ocean Service

For those onboard, this could well be the trip of a lifetime. After all, the Arctic inspires awe and wonder around the world with its wild beauty, unparalleled wildlife and resilient peoples. Passengers will likely see a variety of wildlife including  walruses, gray whales and millions of migratory birds that summer here. During their shore excursions, they will have the opportunity to interact with remote Arctic communities. Wherever they go, we hope they tread lightly.

This journey is not without risk.  The Crystal Serenity has taken careful measures to prepare for its voyage but the Arctic is a harsh, punishing environment. Extreme distances and unpredictable weather conditions will pose a challenge if there in an emergency or accident. As more cruise ships attempt the Northwest Passage in the future, they may be less prepared. This will put a high degree of responsibility on small local communities and services. And it’s not just cruise ships. Other commercial vessels have started to make greater use of Arctic waters too.

While increased access means more opportunities, it also could put wildlife, local communities and an already fragile ecosystem at grave risk.

  • Disruption to marine life: Some species of the Arctic marine ecosystem, particularly marine mammals, could be lethally impacted by vessel traffic-related ship strikes and noise—especially through the narrow Bering Strait, the only marine passage between the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Additionally, increase ocean noise can result in habitat displacement, behavioral changes and alterations in the intensity, frequency and intervals of whale calls.
  • Threat of an oil spill: An oil spill could have devastating consequences in Arctic waters. What’s more, most large seagoing vessels use heavy fuel oil (HFO), also known as residual fuel or bunker fuel, due to its low cost. which is up to 50 times more toxic to fish than medium and light crude oil spills.  It also produces significantly higher emissions of toxic sulfur, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter than other fuel alternatives. Fortunately, the Crystal Serenity is not using HFO—but future operators may not take this precaution.

Crewmembers aboard the cruise ship Crystal Serenity plan and react during a fire drill while members of Coast Guard Sector Juneau inspections division monitor their performance in Juneau, Alaska, June 22, 2016.
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard / Jon-Paul Rios

  • Extreme distances and unpredictable weather: In the event of an emergency or accident like an oil spill, the lack of effective response techniques and extremely limited response capacity will be very challenging. If a spill were to occur near Barrow, Alaska, the nearest major port of Dutch Harbor would be 1,300 miles away by boat. The nearest Coast Guard station at Kodiak is a 950-mile flight.
  • Uncharted waters: Although the Arctic summer sea ice will be near its seasonal minimum during the next few weeks, the Northwest Passage is not entirely ice-free. Sea-ice forecasting is limited, and traveling in Arctic waters demands cautious and prudent navigation, which becomes even more challenging given that less than 2 percent (about 4,300 square nautical miles) of the U.S. Arctic waters has been surveyed with modern multibeam technology.

Photo: NOAA National Ocean Service

As part of a science-based conservation organization with a deep commitment to the Arctic, our team has been calling for measures that will improve ship safety and minimize threats to the Arctic wildlife:

  • Improving navigational safety by using ship routing measures, such as recommended traffic lanes and Areas to be Avoided.
  • Removing the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters by working with partners to influence the International Maritime Organization, the body that governs international shipping.
  • Supporting efforts to reduce ship strikes on marine mammals, improve vessel communications systems, enhance spill response preparedness, and reduce discharge from large, ocean-going vessels traveling in Arctic waters.

We will be following the journey of the Crystal Serenity closely until it docks in New York in September, wishing her a safe passage.

 

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