The Blog Aquatic » George Leonard News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:44:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Petition: Save the Vaquita Sat, 23 Aug 2014 13:37:58 +0000 George Leonard

The smallest porpoise in the ocean is facing the biggest chance of extinction. With fewer than 100 remaining, the vaquita, a tiny porpoise found only off the coast of Mexico, is the most endangered marine mammal in the world.

The few remaining vaquitas need your help, now!

Sign the Petition: Save the vaquita from extinction!

Imagine losing this species, entirely. The tiny vaquita seems to always be seen smiling, but those smiles are depleting. This swift decline of the population is a direct result of fishing nets. These vaquitas are getting caught in nets, and dying completely preventable deaths.

The Mexican government is set to decide the fate of the vaquita this September. Be a big voice for the smallest porpoise in the ocean! Tell the US government to work with Mexico to ban the gillnets that threaten the future of the vaquita. If we don’t speak up now, the vaquita species could vanish completely this decade.

Help keep the smiling vaquitas roaming the ocean, today!

Take Action: Tell the US to protect the vaquita.

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This is a First For Sharks Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:00:09 +0000 George Leonard

Happy Shark Week! We have some shark news to share with you — help is on the way for scalloped hammerhead sharks! Will you join us in thanking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for helping these sharks by granting them protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Thank NOAA today for protecting endangered scalloped hammerheads.

Scalloped hammerheads are the first sharks ever to receive this protection. They’re extremely vulnerable to shark finning and fishery bycatch throughout much of their range. This is a much-needed boost for this critically important and threatened species. In the last 20 years alone, the number of scalloped hammerheads has fallen by 75 percent. A loss like this has impacts throughout the rest of the ocean’s ecosystem. Sharks play a key role in controlling the abundance of prey they feed on.

Thank NOAA today for protecting endangered scalloped hammerheads.

I truly hope you’ll join us in thanking NOAA for protecting scalloped hammerheads. This is a great first step in the road to their recovery and to having a healthier ocean.

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Sharks are Fin-tastic: Ocean Conservancy’s Google Hangout Mon, 11 Aug 2014 13:00:26 +0000 George Leonard

It’s shark week and you’re invited to join us for a fin-tastic Google Hangout all about sharks!

Did you know that there are roughly 400 species of sharks? While many people fear sharks, the reality is that sharks have more to fear from humans than humans do from sharks. Join us as we talk about the coolest (and often unknown) facts about sharks, the greatest threats facing sharks today, and our biggest hopes for shark conservation. It promises to be a fin-tastic Google Hangout that you won’t want to miss!

Sharks are Fin-tastic
Ocean Conservancy’s Google Hangout
Thursday, August 14, 2014
11:00am EST

RSVP Today!

I’ll be moderating our Google Hangout. I’m in good company with our panelist of shark experts, including: David Shiffman, Dr. Joe Quattro and Juliet Eilperin.

I really hope you can join us! The Google Hangout is an online video chat that is going to be informative and interactive. You can submit your questions ahead of time by tweeting with the hashtag ‘#SharkWeekOC.’

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Nowhere to Hide: More Than Fish May be Impacted by Plastic Pollution Wed, 23 Jul 2014 21:00:35 +0000 George Leonard

The problem of plastics in the ocean has been receiving a lot of attention recently.  You might even say it’s “trending.” As it should be.  Ideas about how to clean up the mess are circulating around the internet, including input from professional ocean scientists on how likely these ideas are to really be effective.  But the cutting edge of scientific inquiry is assessing the extent to which plastics in the ocean – especially tiny fragments called microplastics – are impacting marine life.  A recent study suggests it’s not just fish that might be eating plastic.

While microplastics have increasingly been documented in a range of fish from different parts of the ocean, a team from the UK has now shown that sea creatures aren’t just eating plastic, they are breathing it.  In an elegant laboratory study, researchers at the University of Glasgow found that crabs exposed to microplastics uptake these particles through respiration and then retain them on their gills for as long as 3 weeks.  This occurs despite the fact that crabs have a specialized appendage called a gill raker (similar to a windshield wiper) for clearing dirt and debris from crabs’ respiratory tracts.

Furthermore, crabs might get a double-whammy of plastics as researchers confirmed that crabs can also be exposed to plastics the good old fashioned way – by eating mussels (their primary food) who themselves have been contaminated with plastic as a result of filtering water for their microscopic prey.

If you are an ocean creature, there may be nowhere to hide from plastics.  Whether large or small, if you make your living by filtering water for food, you could uptake plastics.  If you munch prey that has taken up microplastics, you can also be exposed. And if you breathe in water through gills, as nearly all of marine life does, you also can be exposed to plastics.  While scientists have now demonstrated the various mechanisms by which this exposure can occur, what remains to be uncovered is how pervasive this impact is throughout the world’s oceans and whether it poses a threat to humans who eat many of these sea creatures. Last week’s study confirms that the more we learn about plastics in the ocean, the more concerns grow.

But there are reasons to remain optimistic. The global challenge of plastic in the ocean got a big boost from Secretary Kerry’s Our Ocean Summit last month, where the topic shared the stage with other major threats like global overfishing and ocean acidification. Efforts are underway to ban some uses of plastic that harm the ocean and for which there are good substitutes; Illinois recently banned the sale of cosmetics containing synthetic microbeads, the millions of bits of plastic that escape waste water treatment facilities and find their way into the Great Lakes and the oceans. Four other states are considering similar legislation. California is considering a new trash policy, which would make preventing plastics and other materials from entering waterways a statewide priority.

Individuals can make a huge difference, too. You can sign up to clean your local beach or waterway during the International Coastal Cleanup this September 20th. And don’t forget to take the Last Straw Challenge to keep millions of straws from having a chance to find their way to the ocean.

While emerging science points to a large and growing impact of plastics on ocean wildlife, together we can all turn the tide on trash by fighting for a healthy ocean.

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What’s Needed to Put an End to Ocean Cleanups Wed, 21 May 2014 20:07:27 +0000 George Leonard

This week Ocean Conservancy is releasing its yearly data report highlighting the efforts of the nearly 650,000 dedicated volunteers who removed over 12 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways around the world during the recent International Coastal Cleanup. The release of these data is a great opportunity to celebrate the success of this event, but let’s also use this occasion to highlight the fact that much more needs to be done if society is ever going to rid the ocean of trash. It’s time to shift the emphasis from cleaning up to stopping trash from ever reaching our coasts and waterways in the first place.

Accomplishing trash free seas can’t be done by any one sector of society, but individuals must first embrace their responsibility to keep our ocean clean. Ocean Conservancy data show that personal behavior is behind much of the trash found on our coasts and in our oceans and waterways. Topping the list each September are cigarette butts, bottles, cans, caps, bags, food wrappers and cutlery, much of this left behind by careless beachgoers.  Strange finds, like mattresses, car parts and even a loaded handgun, show that many still view the natural world as an acceptable place to dump unwanted possessions. The vast amount of trash we collect each year highlights the need for a much greater respect of our natural places and all that they provide to our communities and economies.

Read more at National Geographic’s NewsWatch >>


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Ocean Acidification: A Pain in the Arctic Fri, 17 May 2013 21:04:30 +0000 George Leonard

credit – Ocean Conservancy

No matter where you live, if you go outside and start walking north, at some point you’ll reach the Arctic Ocean. A vast expanse at the northern reaches of the planet, the Arctic Ocean supports a dizzying array of ocean wildldife, including the charismatic – and much threatened – polar bear. Most readers of The Blog Aquatic know that summer sea ice has been rapidly melting, caused by human-induced climate change from our ever rising global carbon emissions. Indeed, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere just broke a new record high.

But more poorly understood is that carbon dioxide is beginning to undermine the Arctic ocean itself through a process called ocean acidification. No less than 10 key scientific findings  can be found in a just-released assessment of ocean acidification undertaken by an international group of independent scientists.

Their assessment will be presented to the Arctic Council Ministers in Kiruna, Sweden this week. Called the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), the scientists spent the last three years detailing the effects of ocean acidification on the Arctic, and exploring the consequences for the four million people living there.

The assessment concludes that the Arctic is particularly sensitive to ocean acidification, in part because the especially cold Arctic water absorbs more carbon dioxide than warmer waters to the south. In addition, the region’s ocean food web is also unusually vulnerable because it consists of only a few keys species that are themselves vulnerable to changing ocean chemistry. Most troubling, ocean acidification poses real threats to local indigenous peoples who depend on Arctic resources for sustenance, for their livelihoods, and for their culture.

These new insights into ocean acidification in the Arctic foreshadow similar processes underway in waters south of the Arctic Ocean in the Bering Sea. In these sub-Arctic waters where future Filet-o-Fish sandwiches and California rolls prosper, ocean acidification also is a direct threat to Alaska’s fishing industry. Alaska’s signature catch of cod, salmon, and crab is enjoyed by seafood consumers across the U.S. and around the world. And with over $1.6 billion in revenue in 2010 – and 53,000 jobs at stake – Alaska is rightly worried about how acidification could impact their industry. A new study published by NOAA Fisheries scientist Dr. Chris Long has documented how more acidic waters decimate juvenile red king crabs and tanner crabs, an economically important fishery in Alaska. Along with the AMAP report, Dr. Long’s research is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how ocean acidification may disrupt northern marine food webs, including for economically important species and those of cultural significance.

All this paints a troubling picture of what may lie ahead for the world’s northern-most ocean. But it also underscores the vital role that scientific research and monitoring can play in helping anticipate what is to come, identifying ways to minimize impacts, and equipping seafood businesses and indigenous cultures with the tools to weather future changes. With the right data and information the United States, as a leader among Arctic nations, can help save the species and ecosystems upon which all peoples depend.

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The People have Spoken: Massive Pushback to Genetically-Engineered Salmon Sat, 27 Apr 2013 00:02:50 +0000 George Leonard

Two and half years ago, genetically engineered salmon exploded on the national stage.  April marked another big milestone in the ensuing debate about whether genetically engineered animals will be allowed in the U.S. food supply.  This isn’t some esoteric, pointy-headed debate.  It really is about the future of food and what you feed your family. And as an ocean conservation organization, we are especially concerned about the consequences for the future of seafood, wild fish and healthy oceans.

The Food and Drug Administration’s final comment period has now closed on the agency’s draft decision to approve an engineered variant of farmed Atlantic salmon.  We hope you let your voice heard by submitting comments to the agency. 

If you joined the chorus of voices, you are certainly  in good company. As the deadline  approached, there was a massive outpouring of concern from nearly every sector of society.  Among others, these include:

  • Nearly 1.5 million members of the public have written to FDA requesting that the agency complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before a decision to approve the fish is made.  It is worth noting that the agency has refused to do this to date even though this request has been in front of the agency since their plans went public in September 2010.
  • Dr. Anne R. Kapuscinski, a world-renowned expert on the environmental risks of GE fish, submitted to FDA a scathing review  that essentially showed that the agency had ignored all the recommendations she made back in September 2010. Given she literally wrote the book on risk assessment of GE fish, it is stunning that agency officials have simply looked the other way.
  • Congress has joined the debate. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced legislation on GE salmon.  The bills would require the FDA to fully evaluate the risks of GE fish to wild fish and healthy oceans as well as require labeling of any GE food, so consumers simply can make informed purchasing decisions in the marketplace.  A group of 12 Senators has also written directly to FDA Commissioner Hamburg expressing their concerns over the approval process.  And in an important symbolic gesture earlier this spring, the full Senate passed by voice vote a non-binding budget amendment that would require labeling of GE fish.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the market for GE fish may be drying up before the fish even arrives at store shelves.  Major retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other retailers representing over 2000 stores across the United States have pledged to not sell the fish, even if the government approves it.  As every business knows, you need a willing buyer for your product if you are going to stay in business.  It increasingly looks like a market for GE fish won’t exist in the U.S. – unless the FDA does the necessary analysis to rigorously show little risk of harm to consumers or the environment.

Shortly before the deadline, we submitted our comments to the FDA – all 37 pages of them.  I welcome you to read about our concerns here.  And I encourage you to follow me on Twitter at @GeorgeHLeonard. 

 While the comment period has closed, this isn’t the end of the debate about the future of fish.


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