The Blog Aquatic » Andreas Merkl News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:21:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ocean Conservancy Talks Trash… and Solutions Mon, 16 Jun 2014 15:23:46 +0000 Andreas Merkl

Photo: Thomas Jones

Plastic in our ocean — I think we can all agree this isn’t a good combination. The question is what do we do about it? This year, Ocean Conservancy and our partners collected the largest amount of trash in the 28-year history of our International Coastal Cleanup. In that time, volunteers have removed more than 175 million pounds of trash, much of it plastic, from beaches and waterways around the world. From this first-hand experience, we know the problem is getting worse, and it goes deeper than you might think. The good news is this is a problem we can fix. It will require a new approach to how we deal with plastic pollution, but it is a global issue we can and must solve. Let’s consider the facts. In the next 25 years, ocean plastics could grow to 300-500 million tons, or about one pound of plastics for every two pounds of fish in the sea. So where does it all go? We can’t yet say for sure, but when plastic fragments into smaller, bite-sized pieces, we do know that it is being ingested by fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and a host of other ocean creatures. Because plastic particles adsorb pollutants in concentrations that can be 100,000 to 1 million times greater than that found in surrounding seawater, the implications to the health of marine life are profound and deeply troubling.

Read more at the Huffington Post

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Presenting Our New Solutions at the Camden Conference Thu, 20 Mar 2014 11:01:34 +0000 Andreas Merkl

Last month, I was invited to speak at the Camden Conference in Maine. This conference brings experts from a number of disciplines together with policymakers, industry leaders and college students to discuss some of the biggest issues facing our world today. This year’s theme was “The Global Politics of Food and Water,” and I spoke about how the ocean sits at the nexus of these issues.

Right now, the ocean is in a period of uncertainty. Climate change and a growing population are changing the chemistry of the ocean and the life that calls it home. But instead of viewing the ocean’s changes in a negative light, I think we have an incredible opportunity to become better problem-solvers. We can break free from old resource management models to find new solutions for our changing ocean. We can effectively address these new complexities; it’s not too late.

You can watch my presentation, as well as those from others at the event, by clicking here.

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Misguided Lawsuit Threatens the Chesapeake Bay’s Recovery Thu, 13 Feb 2014 19:44:48 +0000 Andreas Merkl

Terrapin Beach Park in Stevenson, Maryland

There was a time when the water of Chesapeake Bay would appear to boil, but it was actually millions of oysters ejecting filtered water. The bay’s waters, the old timers tell us, were crystal clear. But agricultural run-off and untreated wastewater flowed into the Chesapeake for years, fouling the water and making our nation’s largest estuary a shadow of its former self.

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) organized the cleanup efforts of six states within the bay’s watershed, including Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The efforts to limit pollution going into the bay included improving municipal wastewater treatment systems (known as point source pollution) and reducing agricultural runoff (known as nonpoint source pollution). Plans were in place, actions were being taken, and traction was being made.

This progress is now in jeopardy.

Recently, attorneys general from 21 states (most of which are nowhere near the Chesapeake, including North Dakota and Kansas), voiced their support of the American Farm Bureau and The Fertilizer Institute, in their suit against EPA for the agency’s work to restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay. The reason?   As written in the amicus brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit by the attorneys general, “If this [cleanup] is left to stand other watersheds, including the Mississippi River Basin, could be next.”

I had to read this several times to believe it. What their argument comes down to is this: If the Chesapeake Bay wins, our nation loses. And if the restoration succeeds, other watersheds might meet the same “fate.” The plaintiffs actually argue that the act of restoring one of the greatest places in the United States is governmental overreach. Amazing.

This lawsuit is completely misguided. Restoration of our waterways is essential to our nation, environmentally and economically.

Each year, agricultural and industry runoff sends millions of pounds of phosphorus and nitrogen into our waterways, ending up in larger bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico or the Chesapeake Bay. The excess nutrients create “dead zones” – areas that have too little oxygen to support life – in the water. Some marine animals, including shrimp and fish, leave the area in search of better conditions. Other animals that can’t move, like mussels and oysters, die.

Dead zones aren’t rare. In fact, they’re becoming all too familiar. One of the most famous dead zones appears in the Gulf of Mexico each summer, negatively impacting coastal and marine waters off Louisiana and Texas. Last year, researchers from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium measured dissolved oxygen concentrations off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas to determine the dead zone’s size. It was about 5,800 square miles, or roughly the size of the state of Connecticut.

In the Gulf specifically, there’s evidence that long-term consequences of the seasonal dead zone are taking hold. The lack of oxygen is taking its toll as ecosystems may be shifting as ocean floor habitats are largely devoid of life for months in some areas. Brown shrimp in Louisiana are forced to move, and other species – like croaker – are thought to suffer from reduced growth rates and reproductive success.

We get our food in all kinds of ways – some terrestrial, some aquatic. One form of food production should not hurt another. Farming should live in harmony with fishing. That is not a political issue. Fishermen and farmers are first and foremost proud practitioners of trades that provide all of us with the grain and protein we need. There is no reason why both cannot co-exist. And yet, when the waters die, and the fish leave, fishermen suffer as they are forced to go farther out to find displaced fish. When the oysters die, family-owned businesses are jeopardized.

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the most productive fishing grounds in the world. The commercial fish and shellfish harvest from the states lining the Gulf totaled 1.6 billion pounds and was valued at $754 million in 2012. And recreational fishermen bring in even more business to the region. More than 20.7 million people visited the Gulf specifically for fishing trips. Those people spend money on food, hotels and souvenirs.

In the Chesapeake Bay, oyster harvests are less than 1 percent of historical levels due in part to changes in water quality. That said, the industry is still incredibly valuable. During the 2009-2010 season, the oyster harvest was valued at $4.4 million in Maryland and $5.1 million in Virginia. Most of the oyster farms along the East Coast are family-owned and provide hundreds of jobs to community residents. And those jobs support the jobs of others, including school teachers, grocery store owners, doctors and truck drivers.

Now, imagine the economic consequences that would be felt if the dead zones continued to take over bigger portions of our waterways and in a more permanent sense. Our fishing industry would collapse, costing real people their livelihoods and coastal communities their ability to survive.

These attorneys general may think they have the best interests of Americans in mind when challenging efforts to restore Chesapeake Bay, but their narrow view puts thousands of jobs and a significant U.S. industry at risk. Agriculture vs. fishing?  It’s a false dichotomy. We can have both.

Join me in telling these state attorneys general to end the lawsuit against the U.S. EPA, for the sake of the economy, the fishing industry and the environment. They should allow the restoration of the Chesapeake to continue. I couldn’t agree more with Will Baker, president of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, who was quoted in The Washington Post, “…don’t tell us how to restore clean water in our backyard. Together, we are well on our way to making our rivers and streams safer, improving habitat, protecting human health, and strengthening local economies.”

Take Action Now


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Wishing You a Year Full of Hope Thu, 09 Jan 2014 12:09:02 +0000 Andreas Merkl

It’s a brand new year and I wanted to take just a moment to acknowledge YOU and all you have done to keep our ocean healthy. Without you, Ocean Conservancy wouldn’t have achieved all that we did in 2013, from the International Coastal Cleanup to Arctic protection and restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. We owe you an ocean of thanks for all you do.

You and I both know that our ocean faces increasing changes and pressures every day, from climate change and plastic pollution to fishing and increased oil and gas exploration. This year, Ocean Conservancy will tackle the most pressing issues to find new solutions for a changing ocean. I hope I can count on you to join me in these efforts.

I promise that 2014 is going to be fascinating, as we charge ahead with ocean conservation initiatives and tackle new challenges along the way.

On behalf of our team here at Ocean Conservancy, I want to express our gratitude to you and all of our supporters. You continue to astound us with your generosity and activism. Thank you.

I wish you and yours a year full of hope and optimism. Together, we can make the world a better place in 2014.

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Oil Disaster Trial Phase 2: BP vs. Reality Wed, 23 Oct 2013 12:00:17 +0000 Andreas Merkl Seabirds in the Gulf are threatened by oil from the BP spill.

Photo: Kris Krug via Flickr

The following is an excerpt from a post that first appeared on Huffington Post:

It’s been more than three years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster grabbed worldwide attention. The explosive blowout that tragically claimed the lives of 11 workers on board the rig in April 2010 also unleashed an unprecedented amount of oil that flowed uncontrolled into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. The impacts have been staggering and ongoing.

BP’s actions to stop the oil, as well as how much actually spewed into the Gulf, were the subject of the second phase of BP’s trial in New Orleans, which concluded last week. The final phase of the trial will take place next year, after which the judge will determine the penalties. In the meantime, here are some things you need to know.

BP’s public messaging around the trial has usually fallen into one of three categories:

  1. We’ve done a lot already.
  2. We intend to pay for the damages.
  3. We’re being ripped off.

But here’s the truth:

  1. What they’ve done is far below what is needed to fully restore the Gulf economy and ecosystem.
  2. Their actions contradict their claim that they intend to pay for full restoration.
  3. The people of the Gulf are the ones who stand to be ripped off.

Read more at Huffington Post.

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Gulf Restoration Plan Is Step Forward for Recovery, but More Work Remains Fri, 30 Aug 2013 14:30:53 +0000 Andreas Merkl Oil washes ashore near Grand Isle, Louisiana

Photo © Cheryl Gerber / Ocean Conservancy

The following is an excerpt from a post that first appeared on National Geographic’s Ocean Views:

If we hope to meet the future resource demands of a growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us, we must put the ocean at the center of what we do. The ocean provides us with food, energy, transportation, carbon storage and more—it is truly our greatest natural resource.

Nowhere is this more true than in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is a national treasure and a significant driver of the U.S. economy, providing resources for food, recreation and livelihoods.

But the Gulf is still recovering from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster as well as decades of ecosystem decline. Restoring this region to health is the only way to ensure that we can enjoy its many benefits for generations to come.

That task lies in the hands of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which just released its “Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy.” This plan is intended to serve as a framework to implement a coordinated, Gulf-wide restoration effort using RESTORE Act funding. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something great for the Gulf.

The Gulf Council’s plan is another small but important step forward in Gulf recovery, but we aren’t there yet.

Click here to read the full post, including Ocean Conservancy’s recommendations for next steps.


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Happy Anniversary to Vital Ocean Policy Sat, 20 Jul 2013 14:00:45 +0000 Andreas Merkl humpback whale breach

Credit: Phil Wrobel / Photo Contest

It was just three years ago yesterday that President Obama signed the Executive Order establishing the National Ocean Policy. We’ve come a long way so far, and we are starting to realize the policy’s considerable promise.

As I’ve written about before, the National Ocean Policy and the subsequent Implementation Plan are historically significant. President Obama recognized that a healthy ocean is a productive ocean and thus established the policy to ensure that we work together to balance use and conservation.

This policy directly addresses the key challenge of our time: how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us. The ocean, of course, is at the center of every aspect of this challenge—food, energy, climate and protection of our natural resources.

Our ability to manage impacts on the ocean will make a crucial difference in making this planet work for 9 billion people. As the ocean is asked to provide in so many ways, it is inevitable that we need to prioritize, coordinate and optimize. That’s where the National Ocean Policy—a set of common-sense principles to help protect our ocean resources—comes in.

This anniversary offers an opportunity to look ahead. Read more at National Geographic’s News Watch blog.

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