Ocean Currents » Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:18:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 California’s MPAs: A Pilgrimage to Where it All Began http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:00:15 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9597

At 1,400 miles in length, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on our planet and consists of more than 600 types of hard and soft corals. Thousands of varieties of fish and molluscs call this breathtaking maze home. And if that isn’t enough to impress you: the Great Barrier Reef is so massive it can be seen from outer space. Yes…outer space! Needless to say, visiting this special place has been on my bucket list since I was a kid and saw my first film chronicling the explorations of Jacques Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) also served as inspiration for California’s process to establish a statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs), an effort I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working to support. So when I was invited to speak about these areas at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney this November, I jumped at the opportunity to attend, and to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

It was spectacular. I shared turquoise blue waters with blacktip reef and tawny nurse sharks, took flight with white-spotted eagle rays, and floated quietly in the presence of loggerhead sea turtles. Best of all, I got to rub elbows with the folks who make the GBRMP possible.  And I learned that they spend a lot of time thinking about the same issues as we do: education and outreach, partnerships and local engagement, long-term monitoring, and best practices for enforcement.

Because the Great Barrier Reef is a single, complicated structure with trillions of delicately balanced living and breathing components, it is also ground zero for our increasingly warm and more acidic ocean. What happens to the sensitive, exposed habitats of the Great Barrier Reef in the next couple of years may be a harbinger of what’s to come in the rest of our ocean in the coming decades.

Heron Island, where I spent much of my time, is a coral island that sits directly on the Reef, just north of Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, where the world’s fourth largest coal export terminal is located. The Island is home to nesting green sea turtles, giant shovel-nosed rays, and a 400-pound Queensland grouper named “Gus.” It’s also home to the University of Queensland Research Station, where scientists are studying the effects of carbon emissions and warmer temperatures on local corals.

These scientists know that the fossil fuels we are burning—like coal—don’t just go into the atmosphere; they are also absorbed by the ocean. When this carbon pollution is absorbed by seawater, it turns it more acidic. In fact, the ocean is 30% more acidic today than it was 150 years ago. And increasingly acidic water is bad news for animals that build shells, including corals.

Warming waters, also as a result of carbon dioxide, mean more bleaching and more algae and diseases that corals have to recover from. Scientists in the Great Barrier Reef are looking at what this all will mean for the Reef and for the ocean as a whole.

While the situation is very concerning, it’s my hope that our global community will be able to significantly reduce carbon pollution and ocean acidification to keep our ocean—and the wonders that reside within it— healthy.

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Do You Want to Help Make History? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/08/do-you-want-to-help-make-history/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/08/do-you-want-to-help-make-history/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 13:00:32 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8962

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

History is about to be made… for the ocean!

Right now, the government is accepting public comments on a proposed plan that would create the world’s largest marine protected area!

Will you take action in support of this plan? We only have until August 15th to submit our comments.

Marine protected areas strongly improve our ocean’s health by fostering vibrant, healthy ocean habitats.

Located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean — about halfway between Hawaii and Australia — the expanded monument would protect a treasure trove of unique and irreplaceable natural resources including:

  • Almost 250 seamounts, or undersea mountains — the majority of which are unexplored.
  • An estimated 14 million seabirds representing 19 species that use these areas as feeding and breeding grounds, including the endangered black-footed albatross and Phoenix petrel.
  • Important habitat for protected species of sea turtles and marine mammals, some of which are critically endangered, like leatherback and green sea turtles, and the sei whale and blue whale.
  • Remarkably rich coral ecosystems, with corals up to 5,000 years old.

In the United States, more than 13 percent of our land has been reserved as protected parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, but the same level of care has yet to be given to our ocean, where only about 3 percent is protected. Our leadership in California resulted in protecting 16 percent of state waters, but there is still work to be done elsewhere.

Please take action today! We need your help.

We know there is opposition to this proposed marine protected area. Special interests are poised to submit thousands of comments against this ocean treasure.

Please take action today before the comment period closes — we only have until August 15th to submit our comments.

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5 Reasons to Celebrate California’s MPAs http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/12/11/5-reasons-to-celebrate-californias-mpas/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/12/11/5-reasons-to-celebrate-californias-mpas/#comments Wed, 11 Dec 2013 15:31:29 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7103

They grow up so fast! I can’t believe it’s already been a year since California established the first statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs). I remember when these special places were just a glimmer in our collective eye—when scientists, fishermen, agencies and conservationists were still flirting with the idea of protecting coastal waters in a string of underwater parks from Mexico to the Oregon border.

And now here we are, one year later, celebrating a first birthday on December 19 and 124 fun reasons to get outside, get in the water and raise a glass to California’s future. Looking forward and looking back, here are some of my favorite reasons to celebrate:

1. Booming business

At a time when the economy is still top of mind for most Americans, California’s MPAs actually protect the jobs of people who rely on the tourism industry. It’s no secret that California’s world-famous coast attracts millions of tourists every year, but what may be news is that California’s ocean economy totals $43 billion. From tourism and recreation to fishing, California’s beaches mean big business. So whether visitors are into tide pooling, bird-watching or kayaking, protected areas draw in new people and enhance their wildlife experience, which means money in the bank for local innkeepers, restaurants and gear shops. Check out our new video, How Do You MPA?, for more activities that get people excited about visiting protected areas.

2. Better surf sessions

MPAs protect all of California’s key habitats, from river mouths and submarine canyons to rocky reefs and kelp forests. Thick coastal kelp canopies mean twin benefits for surfers: They shelter the greatest biodiversity of coastal marine species, but also protect breaks from the afternoon winds, refining the ocean surface and grooming swells to extend surfing hours. Whether you’re a big wave surfer at Mavericks or just getting your feet wet at Asilomar, there are loads of MPAs to surf in California for almost any level of experience. And the fact that these surf spots are protected means a better chance that you’ll encounter dolphins, harbor seals or sea otters during your session.

3. Wilder diving adventures

Suit up in your finest (and warmest!) neoprene and take the plunge to discover what lies beneath the waves in California’s coastal waters. As one of the oldest MPAs in the state (it was established in 1960, then expanded in 2007), Point Lobos State Marine Reserve is an iconic example of what decades of protection can mean for habitat and wildlife, where wolf eels, lingcod and exotic-looking nudibranchs and anemones set the scene for an adventurous diving experience. Here are 10 California protected areas that offer a spectacular diving and snorkeling experience.

4. More critters

Like our land-based parks (think Yosemite!), California’s marine protected areas enhance our recreational experience while also allowing us to protect the ocean wildlife along our 1,100-mile coastline. Awe-inspiring species like elephant seals, giant sea bass and Garibaldi all stand to benefit from marine protections, and early results from the Channel Islands and Central Coast show that protected areas are already doing their job for species like spiny lobster and some types of rockfish. Check out the top 10 animals you might spot in one of California’s protected areas.

5. Unprecedented public participation

More than 10 years in the making, California’s marine protected areas were designed by the people for the people. Hundreds of fishermen, tribal leaders, divers, surfers, conservationists, business owners and government officials worked to map out protections for their regions. Tens of thousands of people provided input in meetings and through written comments, making this a trailblazing public process. The torch has been passed today, as thousands of volunteer citizen scientists are now monitoring sea life and ocean uses through programs like LiMPETS, MPA Watch and Reef Check.

This continuity of public involvement is certainly something worth celebrating. After all, without all these dedicated ocean lovers, California wouldn’t have a network of protected areas in the first place. With that in mind, I encourage you to pledge your support for the ongoing protection and monitoring of the MPAs by signing this petition. Your continued support will ensure that these places are protected for many anniversaries to come.

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Marine Protected Areas Around the Globe: Looking Back, Moving Forward and Sharing Recipes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/04/marine-protected-areas-around-the-globe-looking-back-moving-forward-and-sharing-recipes/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/04/marine-protected-areas-around-the-globe-looking-back-moving-forward-and-sharing-recipes/#comments Mon, 04 Nov 2013 18:00:08 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6927 bouillabaisse med roulle

Photo: cyclonebill via Flickr

I’ve recently returned from the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Marseille, France. The experience of meeting so many different kinds of people, all equally passionate about the ocean, has inspired me. It’s planted a desire to follow up and exchange marine protected area stories—and recipes—from California with those from around the world.

To that end, please join me this Wednesday, Nov. 6, from 2-3 p.m. PST for a lively and fun Twitter Party, where you can share the global MPA stories you heard at IMPAC3. Missed the Congress? No problem—we’d like to hear your thoughts about MPAs, even if you weren’t there. Follow @ThePacificOcean, @OurOcean and @HealTheBay, or #MPAsWork to join the conversation (and win prizes!) this Wednesday.

Sarah Sikich (Heal the Bay) and I (Ocean Conservancy) will be leading the party, but it’s largely driven by participants. Topics will include: our evolving need to understand MPAs over the last decade, Sylvia Earle’s 50 Hope Spots, the value of urban MPAs, the issue of large MPAs and quantity versus quality, our shared MPA lessons from around the world and, of course, where we go from here.

That last issue is particularly exciting: how do we take what we’ve learned, distill it down to something instructive and move forward together? Well, just like a perfect Marseille bouillabaisse, there are a few essential ingredients that must be assembled to design and implement the best MPA in the world.

The first thing the classic Provençal dish requires is a good, local recipe. Everyone does it a little differently, and it’s important to respect local culture. This holds true for MPAs as well. Write something down—a mandate if you can get it—that lays out clear goals and objectives for your specific marine protected area.

Next, start with a long, slow simmer of local Mediterranean fish, spices and herbs. Likewise for your MPA, start with a local stakeholder simmer, though in this case it might be more like a slow stew—at least at first. Get fishermen and tribes and divers and everyone else who cares about the ocean involved early to think about setting up the new protections. Arm them with clear science guidelines to bookend the conversation and ensure the outcome follows the recipe closely enough to meet the goals of the MPA.

The perfect Marseille bouillabaisse requires fresh fish of certain types, from the firm-fleshed to the gelatinous to the shellfish. Likewise, the quality of what’s protected by your MPA, not just the square mileage, is important. Protection needs to include specific habitats—like rocky reef, bull kelp or deep submarine canyon—that will best benefit marine life.

Overall, it’s best to keep the fish stew simple. Don’t go experimenting with new flavors or convoluted ways to accommodate individual dietary restrictions. Likewise, create an MPA with simple rules. No-take areas are by far the easiest to understand and enforce. After that, tinkering with the rules can degrade the integrity of the overall outcome.

It’s important to note that the process doesn’t end when the stew is cooked! The way you serve and eat this delicacy is at least as important as the way you’ve made it. Similarly, an MPA effort mustn’t end once protections are created. Implementation is at least as important as adoption, and follow-through is of paramount importance. This includes education, to enhance MPA compliance among fishermen and local communities, and monitoring, to learn how your MPA is working. Engaging partners like citizens, tribes and fishermen in both enforcement and monitoring efforts is a great way to ensure your MPA has the stewardship necessary for the long haul.

The French dish is traditionally served with a side of croutons that are meant to be individually rubbed with fresh garlic and dipped in a mayonnaise-like rouille by the diner. If you’re new to the process, that may seem complicated, so if you see someone sitting next to you who doesn’t know how to eat it properly, help them out. Similarly, it’s crucial to help ocean users and decision-makers understand the new MPA, especially in the beginning. Signs and maps help people understand new regulations, and outreach to managers will help them integrate the new protections into future coastal and ocean management decisions so that the MPA can be enjoyed to its maximum benefit.

In the end, securing a science-based MPA with local community support and the stamina to stand the test of time follows a fairly simple recipe.  I hope these lessons, largely taken from last month’s Congress, can be applied by others.

Agree or disagree with this recipe for the best marine protected area (and bouillabaisse) in the world? Join us on Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. PST for our MPA Twitter Party to share your thoughts.

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The Top Three Lessons From Marine Protected Areas Worldwide http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/24/the-top-three-lessons-from-marine-protected-areas-worldwide/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/24/the-top-three-lessons-from-marine-protected-areas-worldwide/#comments Thu, 24 Oct 2013 19:15:35 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6875 Aerial view of Double Cone Rock State Marine Conservation Area

Photo: Kip Evans / Ocean Conservancy

The following is an excerpt from a post that originally appeared on National Geographic NewsWatch.

We may be from more than 80 countries, and we don’t all speak the same language, but after just two days, the 1,200 participants at the 3rd International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Marseille, France, are bonding. We all believe marine protected areas (MPAs) play an important role in the future of our ocean. Throw in some shared awe over a bowl of bouillabaisse (so. much. fish!) and a few bottles of Provençal rosé, and we’ve got more than enough fodder to fill five days of conversation.

The best part of these conversations is their authenticity and substance. Like a secret handshake we all learned during our years spent advocating for, designing, monitoring or otherwise implementing MPAs, we’ve got a shorthand that—in spite of our differences—allows us to speak in a single language about protecting our global ocean. As a result, three things keep resonating in the presentations and conversations at IMPAC3:

1. Our MPA stories are remarkably alike. They usually start with the realization that the local marine wildlife and habitat are not what they once were.

  • In Madagascar, people created the Velondriake MPA when local economically important octopus populations declined.
  • In the Mediterranean, artisanal fishermen were alarmed at the drastic changes in their local waters and supported the creation of the Marine Park in the Strait of Bonifacio.
  • In California, we recognized the decline of local rockfish and the importance of rocky reefs and passed the Marine Life Protection Act, a law which called for the nation’s first statewide network of MPAs and resulted in protection of 16 percent of the state’s 1,100-mile coastline.

Read more at National Geographic NewsWatch.

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California Delegation Shines Spotlight on Marine Protected Areas at International Conference http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/18/california-delegation-shines-spotlight-on-marine-protected-areas-at-international-conference/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/18/california-delegation-shines-spotlight-on-marine-protected-areas-at-international-conference/#comments Fri, 18 Oct 2013 15:00:53 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6846 Aerial view of San Miguel Island of the Channel Islands, California

Photo: Jonathan Hubbell / Photo Contest 2011

This blog originally appeared on Surfrider’s Coastal Blog and was authored by:  Samantha Murray of Ocean Conservancy, Sarah Sikich of Heal the Bay and Stefanie Sekich-Quinn of Surfrider.

If you’ve been lucky enough to go for a dive, surf or kayak at the Channel Islands, it’s hard not to be captivated by the cathedral kelp forests, large fish cruising the reef and clean waves breaking under your surfboard. These islands, along with special places throughout the entire California coast, enjoy protections that allow the marine wildlife inside to thrive.

Like underwater parks, the marine protected areas (MPAs for short) here act as safe havens for marine life and giant kelp forests that call southern California’s coastline home. And the good news is that globally, MPAs are on the rise. There are over 6,000 MPAs worldwide, yet less than 2 percent of our ocean is protected.

Next week, ocean scientists, policymakers, leaders and conservation professionals will be convening in France to share ideas about how to foster MPA effectiveness around the world at the 2013 International Marine Protected Areas Congress. And California’s story will be among those in the fold.

A delegation of California ocean leaders will be speaking about California’s MPAs and showcasing the Marine Life Protection Act as a model for public engagement and science integration in MPA design, as well as soaking up global MPA stories from around the world.

We wish our suitcases were big enough to bring all of California’s MPA stewards with us! Unfortunately that’s not the case, so we look forward to bringing the Congress to you virtually. Check out this WebTV link to catch live streaming of the plenary sessions and other Congress happenings.

You can join the conversation by following us on Twitter and Instagram to read daily blogs, see photos and video, and learn about how communities are building MPAs around the world.

Next time you submerge in a California MPA to enjoy the majestic kelp forest, just think that at the same time someone else might be enjoying the corals along Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, whale sharks in Mozambique or diving iguanas in the Galapagos.

By listening to stories from MPAs around the world, we hope to learn how we can be better stewards of our local underwater parks. And by sharing our California stories with a global audience, we may even teach a few lessons of our own, helping to advance the goal of enhanced MPAs worldwide.

Read more perspectives on why Surfrider thinks MPAs are not only good for ocean ecosystems, but also for recreation here and here.

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Noted Scientists Debate Value of Large-Scale MPAs http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/11/noted-scientists-debate-value-of-large-scale-mpas/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/10/11/noted-scientists-debate-value-of-large-scale-mpas/#comments Fri, 11 Oct 2013 16:34:11 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6812

Credit: Alec Perkins

Two ocean experts went head to head this week over the value and environmental impact of creating large no-take zones – such as Australia’s recently designated 500,000-km2 no-take area in the Coral Sea. They took part in an online debate on Tuesday Oct. 8, which was sponsored by OpenChannels.org, MPA News, and the EBM Tools Network.

In one corner was Callum Roberts, a professor of marine conservation biology at York University (UK), who argued that the total environmental impact of large no-take areas is positive.

In the other corner was Ray Hilborn, a professor in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington, who argued that the total environmental impact of large no-take areas may be negative due to the need to make up food production in another way, either at sea or on land.

“Imagine we closed all the oceans to fishing,” opened Hilborn. “If 80 million tons of lost fish production was made up by chopping down rain forest to grow cattle, I think the global environment would be worse off.” Hilborn’s main argument throughout the debate was that making up ocean food production elsewhere would be environmentally damaging.

The problem with this rationale is that no one is proposing closing the entire ocean to fishing. Most scientists who support marine protected areas (MPAs) believe the right percentage is somewhere between 20-30% of no-take areas in our ocean.

In fact, most large MPAs are being proposed in remote places with little fishing. Roberts astutely pointed out that these MPAs actually ‘cost’ very little in terms of lost fishing yield. He went on to estimate that, for 10% cover of very large MPAs, he would expect a short-term loss of about 0.1% to 1% production. So a large MPA does not necessarily mean increased reliance on terrestrial sources of protein, such as beef.

This is why, regardless of size, when looking at MPAs we have to be careful in making assumptions about the correlation between the amount of ocean that restricts fishing and the amount of lost fishing opportunities. Location matters and so do factors like habitat type and existing uses. While some fishermen may need to hang up their gear if an important fishing spot gets closed and there are no alternatives, most fishermen tend to be opportunistic and fish in other nearby places when new protections take effect.

So why designate large MPAs if they’re not being fished anyway? Large protected areas in more remote locations ensure that the marine life inside will continue to thrive into the future, regardless of advances in fishing technology and gear. Meanwhile, scientific research from around the world has shown that marine reserves in more heavily used areas can increase the production of fish – and lead to long-term benefits both for marine wildlife and for fishermen.

A smart global MPA policy would therefore mean setting aside a mix of larger protected areas in these remote places, along with complementary smaller reserves in more heavily used locales that have enhanced recovery potential, like those in California.

Of course the protections need to be real – we can’t just create MPAs and walk away. Implementation, monitoring and enforcement are at least as important as the designation itself. That’s why California—and thousands of volunteers who are committed to the health of their local MPAs—is dedicated to the long-term implementation and monitoring of its MPAs.

For more information, check out the transcript of this debate, along with the comments and questions of the more than 700 people who participated as audience members.

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