The Blog Aquatic » Jeff Watters News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Four Ways the Senate Supports Ocean Investments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 21:16:09 +0000 Jeff Watters Just a week after the House of Representatives passed its proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved its NOAA proposal, funding research and activities that influence the health and strength of our ocean economy and coastal communities.

The Senate proposal takes a cue from President Obama’s request, and would invest in several key ocean programs. It would:

  • Fund ocean acidification research at $11 million, recognizing our need to understand how acidification will impact businesses and ecoystems, as well as the need to develop tools to mitigate its impacts. Although this proposal is still $4 million less than the President’s request, the Senate level is a strong step towards protecting marine environments and the communities that depend on them.
  • Provide at least $5 million for competitive Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, which will help communities prepare for changes to marine ecosystems, climate impacts, and economic shifts. These grants will bring together partners on a regional scale to promote resilience and address shared risks.
  • Increase Climate Research funding by $2.19 million to support the Arctic Research Program. Temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the global average and seasonal sea ice is diminishing rapidly. Funding to expand and improve NOAA’s Arctic Observing Network is critical to track and understand these profound changes and provide products that support our ability to adapt.
  • Provide the requested $6 million for NOAA’s Marine Debris program, which supports existing monitoring and research efforts to better understand accumulation rates of debris and debris sources. The program catalyzes scientific research efforts to quantify the direct and indirect economic impacts caused by marine debris on coastal communities and economies that rely on them.

These investments are a stark contrast to the low funding levels we saw for these ocean priorities in the House version last week.  Up next, the Senate proposal heads to the floor for a vote, and then to conference where members from both chambers will reconcile the House and Senate versions. It will be up to ocean champions in Congress to ensure that strong ocean funding makes it into NOAA’s final budget for next year.

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The Ocean in Congress this Week: Good News and Bad News Thu, 29 May 2014 17:57:06 +0000 Jeff Watters

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will debate the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations bill – an important bill for the ocean because it sets the annual budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many amendments will be introduced to alter the bill; as far as the oceans are concerned, there’s good news and bad news.

Let’s start with the good news:

On the heels of some very important steps to tackle ocean acidification last week, Representative Bonamici (D-OR) led the charge to ensure that this issue, which is threatening American businesses and livelihoods, receives increased funding from Congress.

A few months ago, President Obama called for increased investments in funding ocean acidification research and monitoring. Unfortunately the U.S. House of Representatives has failed to answer that call so far. An amendment offered by Representative Bonamici would have increased the funding level for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification research program from $6 million to $15 million – the amount that the President says we need, however this amendment did not pass the house.  These dollars would have supported critical research to improve our understanding of acidification impacts on vulnerable communities and businesses.

Luckily, the U.S. Senate still has an opportunity to grab the baton from Rep. Bonamici and support full funding for this research when they take up their own NOAA funding bill next week.

But here’s the bad news:

A Member of Congress from a landlocked district in Texas is continuing his efforts to thwart common sense ocean planning. Representative Flores (R-TX) introduced an amendment that tries to block the nation’s premier ocean agency, NOAA, from smart ocean planning and other activities to support a healthy ocean through the National Ocean Policy.

This amendment is the sixth attempt in the last two years by Rep. Flores to undermine smart planning for the ocean, but none of his amendments have become law – thanks to strong opposition from Ocean Conservancy members, the Obama Administration, and the U.S. Senate.

We need to hold strong against this latest attack. Being smart about how we use our ocean allows us to look at the big picture and work together to make informed, balanced choices for a healthy ocean and the millions of jobs and livelihoods that depend on it. Planning maximizes what we get out of the ocean while minimizing the threats to the ocean’s health. It prevents conflicts like wind farms being planned in major shipping routes, balances uses like sand mining and commercial fishing interests, and protects key biological resources without impeding the needs of our defense infrastructure.

You can help by telling your member of Congress to oppose this amendment.

It’s clear that we have a challenge ahead, but we are hopeful that leaders in the U.S. Senate will prioritize the people and communities that depend on a healthy ocean by funding critically important ocean research and planning.

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How Members of Congress are Taking Action on Ocean Acidification Fri, 23 May 2014 18:20:46 +0000 Jeff Watters

Photo: Brian Kusko

There was a flurry of activity on ocean acidification this week in, of all places, the Halls of Congress. Not one, but two different bills on ocean acidification were introduced in the House of Representatives. And more importantly, these bills were written by a new generation of members of Congress anxious to tackle the threat that ocean acidification poses to the people, businesses, and communities that they represent.

On Tuesday, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree introduced legislation, the Coastal Communities Acidification Act of 2014, that would require federal officials to analyze the risks ocean acidification poses to coastal and island communities around the United States. The Congresswoman’s home state of Maine has hundreds of rural coastal communities that rely heavily on fisheries, shellfish, lobsters, and other ocean resources – communities that may stand to lose a lot in the face of ocean acidification. Congresswoman Pingree’s bill comes on the heels of action by the Maine State Legislature, which passed a law earlier this month to establish a commission to study ocean acidification in Maine. But Pingree’s federal bill goes much further, calling for officials to examine the very real economic and social risks that ocean acidification could pose to all coastal communities across the country.

Then on Thursday, Congressman Derek Kilmer from Washington state introduced a bipartisan bill to help spur new technologies and scientific innovations in ocean acidification research. Titled the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act, Kilmer’s bill would give federal ocean acidification research programs the ability to run prize competitions, much like the X-Prize. Congressman Kilmer announced last week that he would be introducing the bill, and yesterday a bipartisan group of cosponsors joined him in fulfilling that promise: Representatives Capps (D-CA-24), Heck (D-WA-10), Herrera-Beutler (R-WA-3), Huffman (D-CA-2), Peters (D-CA-52), and Reichert (R-WA-8).

Ocean acidification is a very real threat to both the ocean environment and the people who depend on it for their livelihoods.  These bills are a step in the right direction and we need to see more action like this. The more members of Congress we have who are willing to support creative solutions and develop a vision for how to address this problem, the better. We applaud Representatives Pingree and Kilmer for their leadership, and we hope to see many more members of Congress doing the same in the future.

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Five Amazing Facts About Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Our Newly Confirmed Head of NOAA Thu, 06 Mar 2014 23:02:39 +0000 Jeff Watters Kathryn Sullivan

Photo: NOAA

After a lengthy confirmation process, the U.S. Senate finally acted earlier today to confirm Dr. Kathryn Sullivan to be the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This won’t be a big change for NOAA because Sullivan has been serving as acting NOAA administrator since February 2013. Sullivan is a superb choice to lead our nation’s primary ocean agency, and we are thrilled that she has finally received Senate confirmation. In light of today’s news, here are five things you should know about our new NOAA administrator.

1.       She’s a real-life astronaut. Seriously.

While much of her scientific career has focused on the ocean, the prospect of flying into space was too much to resist. She was selected by NASA in 1978 and officially became an astronaut the following year. During her career as a NASA astronaut, Sullivan flew to space on three separate space shuttle missions aboard the space shuttles Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis. In these three missions, she logged more than 532 hours in space. She also became the first American woman to perform a spacewalk. Her distinguished accomplishments earned her the honor of being inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2004.

2.       A single book got her hooked on the ocean.

Describing her career path into oceanography in a blog last year, Sullivan said it all started with a single book in a single class during her freshman year of college. Like all University of California, Santa Cruz freshmen, she was required to take three out-of-major courses. So, she wound up in an introductory marine biology course – not her intended course of study. Here is how Sullivan described her experience reading the memoir Great Waters by Sir Alister Hardy: “I realized that oceanographers led exactly the kind of life I had dreamt of as a child, lives full of inquiry, exploration and adventure. I was hooked!”

3.       She served in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an oceanographer.

Not satisfied to just serve her country as a NASA astronaut and through high-level positions at NOAA, Sullivan also served as an oceanographer in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 1988 to 2006.

 4.       She helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope.

During her career as a NASA astronaut, Sullivan not only became the first American woman to conduct a spacewalk, but was also part of the space shuttle crew that deployed one of the world’s most famous satellites: the Hubble Space Telescope. That five-day mission in April 1990 aboard the space shuttle Discovery began a new era of space exploration.

 5.       She is no stranger to NOAA.

Sullivan has been serving as acting NOAA administrator since early last year, but this isn’t her first round at our nation’s premier ocean agency. Back in 1993, she was appointed as NOAA’s chief scientist, a position she held until 1996. More recently, in 2011, she was appointed to the position of NOAA deputy administrator in which she oversaw NOAA’s challenging satellite acquisitions and environmental monitoring missions.

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Money Down the Drain: Tallying the Cost of the Government Shutdown Fri, 01 Nov 2013 17:50:06 +0000 Jeff Watters NOAA research ship Ronald Brown

Credit: NOAA

The U.S. government shutdown began one month ago today. Thankfully, the government has been reopened, and the fiscal showdown is fast becoming a distant memory that we’re all trying to forget. But details are slowly emerging on the shutdown’s actual costs and damage. We’ve gotten our hands on some of that information, and when it comes to our oceans and coasts, it doesn’t look pretty.

Based on information given to us by sources within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the cost of just one small part of the shutdown—recalling NOAA’s fleet of research ships and planes—added up to more than half a million dollars.

That’s half a million dollars just for NOAA’s ships and planes to return to port and sit idle while the shutdown fight played out on Capitol Hill. That’s half a million dollars that will come out of NOAA’s already-tight operations budgets. And that’s half a million dollars that could have been spent on ocean research and conservation instead.

In addition to the giant pile of cash that was wasted to literally accomplish nothing, the shutdown also interrupted critical research expeditions that now might never be completed. For example, surveys of marine mammals and sea turtles—including endangered leatherback sea turtles—were interrupted and canceled.

The shutdown blocked coastal mapping and underwater surveys along the mid-Atlantic, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state, along the Southern California coast and in Delaware Bay. Collection of long-term data sets for climate research was stopped. And fisheries surveys in the North Pacific, Gulf of Alaska and the East Coast continental shelf were brought to a halt.

Here is a detailed account of each of NOAA’s research ships and planes, what they were doing when the government shutdown ended their work and how much it cost to return them to port temporarily while the shutdown persisted:

  • NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown had to spend $277,000 and 13 days traveling the 2,600 miles to return to port, stopping the Atlantic 20 Degree West Hydrographic Survey to complete a decade’s long data-set integral to the study of global climate change.
  • NOAA’s 56RF (Twin Otter) plane had to return 2,800 miles from Monterey, Calif., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $7,000, stopping the survey of endangered leatherback turtles.
  • NOAA’s N57RF (Twin Otter) plane had to return 1,200 miles from Westhampton, N.Y., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $3,000, stopping the mid-Atlantic marine mammal and sea turtle survey.
  • NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow had to spend $14,000 and one day to return 200 miles to port, stopping the Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey to determine the distribution and abundance of fish and marine life over the East Coast continental shelf.
  • NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson had to spend $14,000 and one day to return 200 miles to port, stopping the Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey to assess their biomass, community structure and biological composition. The ship was also scheduled to examine physical and chemical oceanography and recover several moorings in the Gulf of Alaska.
  • NOAA’s N42RF (P-3) plane did not deploy to Fairbanks, Alaska, as scheduled to study Arctic weather in newly ice-free regions and test hypotheses in ocean heat storage and the impact on atmospheric temperature and humidity. This survey is important for understanding the rapidly changing Arctic environment.
  • NOAA’s N68RF (King Air) plane had to return 1,100 miles from Atlantic City, N.J., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $16,500, stopping the coastal mapping along the mid-Atlantic. These maps provide important information used for shipping, navigation and more.
  • NOAA Ship Fairweather had to spend $56,000 to return 1,000 miles to port (which took four days), stopping hydrographic surveys of the Southern California coast.
  • NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson had to spend $10,000 and one day to return 250 miles to port, stopping a hydrographic survey of Delaware Bay.
  • NOAA Ship Rainier had to return 1,700 miles to port (which took seven days) at a cost of $105,000, stopping hydrographic surveys of the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

And this is just a snapshot of the shutdown’s effects on widely used ocean research conducted by one government agency. As we look ahead to the next fiscal showdown in January, when current funding for the government will run out again, let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself. The ocean, the people who make their living from it and American taxpayers can’t afford it.

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Senator Booker Can Be a Champion for the Ocean Thu, 31 Oct 2013 19:31:45 +0000 Jeff Watters

Photo: Nick Harris via Wikimedia Commons

Following his recent win in the special election, Cory Booker was sworn in today as the new junior senator from New Jersey. Booker will be filling the seat formerly held by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, whose distinguished career in the Senate included extensive work as a champion for the ocean. We want to congratulate the new senator, but also take a moment to highlight some of the important ocean issues that impact his home state of New Jersey and lay out our hopes for his time in the U.S. Senate:

  • A year ago, Superstorm Sandy illustrated the need for maintaining coastal resilience in mitigating the impacts of storms and bringing back communities, especially in New Jersey. Getting funding for restoration projects was surprisingly contentious last winter, but that battle highlights the need for the state to be represented by someone who will fight for the resources New Jersey needs to increase and maintain the resilience of their coastal communities.
  • The president’s National Ocean Policy (NOP) provides the best opportunity yet to create a comprehensive blueprint for our ocean and coastlines, accounting for offshore energy development, recreational and commercial fishing activities, and the improvement and maintenance of our coastal resilience. Supporting the policy and the funding of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body is essential for the health and well-being of New Jersey’s ocean and coast.
  • Simultaneously, New Jersey needs its new senator to stand strong in defending against attacks from those who oppose improving ocean and coastal management. The most recent example is a damaging House of Representatives amendment to the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) which is currently being debated in Congress. This amendment would restrict some parts of the federal government from participating in smart ocean planning or ecosystem-based management – efforts where its presence is vital.

Senator Booker has large shoes to fill as he begins his career in the Senate. However, by supporting strong policies that stand up for the health of New Jersey’s ocean and coastal environment, Senator Booker can be an environmental leader for both his home state and our nation as a whole.

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Three Ways the Shutdown Is Having Real Ocean Impacts Tue, 08 Oct 2013 22:29:14 +0000 Jeff Watters

Credit: Drew Koshar

It has now been more than one week since the federal government shut down, and stories about how the shutdown is impacting the ocean are beginning to flow in.

Last week, I wrote on how Congress’s failure to reach a consensus on a funding bill would impact government agencies conducting operations in the ocean, and how government data utilized by scientists, fishermen and state and local officials would no longer be accessible.

But now, the shutdown isn’t just a theoretical exercise in government. It’s impacting both people and the environment.

Here are three examples of ways that the government shutdown is causing real pain and doing real damage:

This year, the “deadliest catch” might not get caught. Because of the shutdown, Alaskan crab fishermen preparing for the season could be forced to stay in port. The federal government issues permits that fishermen need to go out on the water and the crab fishermen can’t do their jobs until those permits are issued. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the seafood industry contributes 78,500 jobs and an estimated $5.8 billion to Alaska’s economy. At least for the crab fishermen, this year’s bounty might be in danger if the government stays closed for much longer.

Our Antarctic research stations are on the verge of closing. Scientists funded by the government are also seeing the adverse effects of the congressional stalemate. In fact, if the shutdown continues through mid-October the entire field season for the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic program will be cancelled, postponing the work of hundreds of scientists focused on glaciology, ecology and astrophysics for at least a year. This would place America behind other countries in important scientific research and hold back those scientists who depend on this funding.

Roadblocks for investigation into mystery mass dolphin deaths. Even the conservation community is feeling the pain of the shutdown. In the Mid-Atlantic, a viral epidemic has been killing hundreds of bottlenose dolphins for months. The body count is nearing 700, yet the shutdown threatens to decelerate the investigation and leave research centers with piles of dead dolphins and not enough scientists to study them.

The full impact of this government shutdown will only be known after it ends, but the picture is already looking bleak. Important, time-sensitive scientific research is being delayed and people’s livelihoods are on the line. We’ll continue to monitor the situation, but if there’s one thing that we know for sure it’s that this shutdown is clearly harming Americans and our ocean resources.

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