Ocean Currents » Ocean Life http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 29 Jul 2015 17:42:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Take Action to Help Save Whale Sharks http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/10/take-action-to-help-save-whale-sharks/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/10/take-action-to-help-save-whale-sharks/#comments Fri, 10 Jul 2015 12:00:40 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10434

The largest fish in the ocean is one of the most majestic, too: the whale shark. These gentle giants are also in danger.

Right now, there’s a very simple way to protect them, and you can help. Off the coast of Mexico, thousands of whale sharks gather to feed and mate every year. Unfortunately, there are two cruise ship companies whose cruises currently travel through this important area where whale sharks congregate in large numbers and swim slowly at the surface of the water.

The beauty of this area is bringing more and more visitors each year, and unfortunately, they are having some negative effects on the whale sharks. There is an easy step to be taken in protecting whale sharks in this region, and we hope you’ll take just a moment to let Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises know how important it is to you that they adjust their course by 7 miles to protect these magnificent animals.

Whale sharks can reach over 40 feet in length, and they swim slowly while close to the surface with their mouths open to eat their staple food source, plankton. This makes them particularly vulnerable to ship strikes, which is why it’s so important to adjust cruise ship routes to protect them.

Ships are currently required by Mexican law to go at least 3 miles east of Isla Contoy, but just 4 additional miles would keep the ships from passing through this critical whale shark area and prevent possible negative interactions with these incredible creatures.

Just 7 miles can save whale sharks. Please encourage Carnival and Royal Caribbean to help make a difference for whale sharks.

http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/10/take-action-to-help-save-whale-sharks/feed/ 0
They’re Back! The Return of the Big Predators to Coastal Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/09/theyre-back-the-return-of-the-big-predators-to-coastal-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/09/theyre-back-the-return-of-the-big-predators-to-coastal-waters/#comments Thu, 09 Jul 2015 12:00:25 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10412

This guest blog comes from Dr. Chris Lowe, a professor of marine biology and the director of the CSULB Shark Lab

Despite the potential Discovery Channel royalties, it’s not easy being at the top of the food chain. Apex predators like sharks, that occupy the top of a food chain, are typically few in number because of certain characteristics (e.g. slow growth, low reproduction, delayed maturity and high longevity). And they are greatly dependent on animals lower on the food chain, thus dependent on the environmental conditions that support these food sources.

Humans, the Earth’s reigning “apex predator,” are clearly an exception to this rule. The human population has grown exponentially, particularly along coastal communities, bringing with it a litany of impacts on our coastal ocean, including habitat loss, pollution and overfishing. Rapid coastal development in California back in 1940s-1970s, resulted in some of the worst coastal water and air quality that existed anywhere in the country.

But since the 1970’s California has significantly improved water and air quality due to strict environmental regulations on discharge and emissions.  In fact, California now has some of the most conservative environmental regulations in the country when it comes to water and air quality.  As a result of strict regulations on waste water discharge, the state has cleaner water now than it did in the 1970s even with three times more people living along the coast.

Yet, despite all of this legislation and regulation, we’re constantly bombarded with “doom & gloom” messages about the state of our ocean. Have any of those state and federal legislative and regulatory acts resulted in any net benefits over the last four decades?  If I were to tell you things may be getting better, and the evidence for this is seen in the recovery of our marine predator populations — would you believe it?

While it’s taken decades, many marine predator populations are increasing due to better water and air quality, improved fisheries management and a restoration of ecosystem function — all of which occurred regardless of an ever growing human coastal population.

Over the last nine years, my students and I have studied juvenile white sharks off the coast of southern California as part of a collaborative effort with Monterey Bay Aquarium. Because newborn white sharks can be found in coastal waters off southern California, scientists hypothesize that this area is a nursery for white sharks in the Northeastern Pacific Ocean.

Because of their protection through state (1994) and federal laws (2005), juvenile white sharks that get accidentally caught in gillnets are no longer being sold to fish markets and restaurants and many are instead being safely released back into the ocean. This steady increase in the number of young sharks being caught in the fishery since 1994 is likely attributed to population growth, which also suggests that conservation measures put in place to protect white sharks is working even with existing fishery interactions.

Figure 1.  Number of white sharks reported captured in gillnet fisheries each year (left axis – bars).  Number of gillnets set per year (right axis – lines and symbols).  Blue bars represent white sharks less than 1 year old (< 6’ long), red indicate juvenile white sharks between 1 and 7-12 years old (6.5-12’ long), yellow indicates subadult and adult white sharks (over 7-12 years old, > 12’ long), and green indicates sharks of unknown size.

Harbor seals, northern elephant seals, fur seals, dolphins, grey whales and blue whales have also shown similar dramatic come-backs resulting from protection. These population recoveries over the last 20 years have no doubt provided the adult portion of the white shark population with substantial food resources in coastal waters and have certainly enhanced the population’s ability to grow.

The recovery of white sharks off California may be the best example of a conservation success story that we have to offer. It shows we can fix things, once we identify the problem, even with a growing human population. While there’s still a lot to be done for our ocean on a global scale, this is a testament to our collective desire and sacrifice for a cleaner, healthier ocean.

About Dr. Chris Lowe

Dr. Chris Lowe is a professor of marine biology and the director of the CSULB Shark Lab.  He and his students use various forms of new technology to study the behavior and physiology of sharks, rays and economically important fishes. For more information about the CSULB Shark Lab check out their website (www.csulb.edu/explore/shark-lab), Facebook: CSULB Sharklab, and Twitter: @CSULBsharklab

http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/09/theyre-back-the-return-of-the-big-predators-to-coastal-waters/feed/ 2
So You Like Shark Week? Time to Spread the Love. http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/08/so-you-like-shark-week-time-to-spread-the-love/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/08/so-you-like-shark-week-time-to-spread-the-love/#comments Wed, 08 Jul 2015 12:26:03 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10391

This guest blog comes from Sonja Fordham, she directed Ocean Conservancy’s shark conservation work from 1991 to 2009. She’s now based just up the block from Ocean Conservancy’s DC headquarters, running Shark Advocates International, a non-profit project of The Ocean Foundation. Learn more about Sonja’s work from the Shark Advocates Facebook page and website: www.sharkadvocates.org. Sonja is live-tweeting Shark Week programming; follow @SharkAdvocates for conservation policy tidbits and ideas for helping sharks of all shapes and sizes.

Shark Week has been around a bit longer than I’ve been working in shark conservation. The record-breaking cable television event has changed a lot since the early days, as has shark conservation policy and my focus for advancing it.

When Shark Week debuted in 1988, sharks – despite their inherent vulnerability to overfishing – were essentially unprotected worldwide, and “the only good shark is a dead shark” was a popular maxim. When I was hired by Ocean Conservancy (then known as the Center for Marine Conservation) in 1991, there were no federal limits on shark catches in the U.S., even though a surge in recreational shark fishing (sparked by the movie “Jaws”) followed by development of targeted commercial shark fisheries (due largely to a hike in Asian demand for shark fins) had seriously depleted several Atlantic coastal species. Even finning – the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fin and discarding the body at sea – was legal.

We’ve come along way since then. By 1993, we had a U.S. finning ban and fishing limits for 39 species of Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico sharks. In 1997, take of several of those species – including great whites – was completely prohibited, following similar protections for white sharks off California that were secured in 1994. By 1999, the world had taken notice of the sharks’ plight and adopted an International Plan of Action to help guide conservation efforts on a global scale. In 2000, U.S. east coast landings of spiny dogfish sharks, which had reached nearly 60 million pounds in 1996, were cut dramatically to science-based levels. In 2002, basking and whale sharks became the first shark species to be listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

By 2003, closely related rays (aka “flat sharks”) were finally getting well-deserved attention: substantial fisheries for Northeast U.S. skates came under management, and critically endangered smalltooth sawfish became the first U.S. marine fish to be listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), thanks to an Ocean Conservancy petition. In 2004, the U.S. secured the first international ban on finning. The U.S. was also a leader in the 2010 adoption of a special agreement for migratory sharks under the Convention on Migratory Species, and the groundbreaking listing of five commercially valuable shark species and both manta rays under CITES in 2013.

These are just a few of the steps in what has been steady progress in shark conservation since the early 1990s. Resulting recovery has been documented in species like Gulf of Mexico blacktip sharks, Northeast U.S. spiny dogfish, and great whites off both U.S. coasts. There is, of course, still much work to be done. The Shark Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimated last year that a quarter of the world’s sharks and rays are threatened, with rays being generally more depleted and less protected than sharks. We must not only accelerate the pace of beneficial change for big sharks, but also expand safeguards to at-risk smaller and flatter species.

We celebrated just days ago as manta and devil rays received new protections from Eastern Pacific fisheries. Recognition that these species usually have just one baby after a long pregnancy is helping to spark safeguards around the world, and yet closely related and similarly vulnerable cownose rays spending their summers in the Chesapeake Bay remain completely unprotected in the face of wasteful bow-hunting tournaments and targeted seafood marketing campaigns.

Scientists are encouraged by signs that Florida’s sawfish population may be rebuilding, yet education programs critical to safe release are woefully underfunded, due to declining ESA appropriations from Congress. Lack of public concern for New England’s skates means ending overfishing and ensuring rebuilding are not high priorities for the region’s fishery managers. Similarly, smoothhound sharks (aka smooth dogfish) remain subject to targeted, unregulated fisheries and one of the world’s weakest finning bans, due to insufficient outrage.

Mockumentary on Megalodon notwithstanding, Shark Week programming appears to be changing for the better with greater focus on real scientists and lesser known species.  While we’re likely several years away from specials dedicated to thorny skates or dusky smoothhounds, we’re pleased for the associated opportunities to spread the love and fascination for big, bad sharks to the scores of related species that also need public admiration and attention.  Indeed, continued evolution toward broader and increasingly positive public perceptions of sharks is key to the survival and sustainability of this entire group of fascinating fish.


Sonja Fordham has two decades of shark conservation experience. She directed shark policy projects at Ocean Conservancy from 1991-2009, played a lead role in the EU Shark Alliance from 2006-2012, and founded Shark Advocates International as a project of The Ocean Foundation in 2010. Her work focuses on publicizing the plight of sharks and advocating science-based remedies before fishery management and wildlife protection bodies. She has been a leading proponent of many landmark shark conservation actions, including U.S. and European safeguards, various finning bans, the United Nations International Plan of Action for Sharks, multiple measures by international fishery organizations, listings under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and agreements under the Convention on Migratory Species.  Sonja is Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Conservation Committee Co-Chair for the American Elasmobranch Society. She has co-authored numerous publications on shark fisheries management and serves on most of the U.S. federal and state government advisory panels relevant to sharks and rays.  Sonja has received the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award, a Mid-Atlantic Council Fishery Achievement Award, the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award, and the IUCN Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.

http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/08/so-you-like-shark-week-time-to-spread-the-love/feed/ 1
Become a Citizen Scientist with SharkBase http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/07/become-a-citizen-scientist-with-sharkbase/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/07/become-a-citizen-scientist-with-sharkbase/#comments Tue, 07 Jul 2015 12:48:12 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10382

Our guest blog comes from Dr. Ryan Kempster, a shark biologist in the Neuroecology Group at the University of Western Australia, and founder of the shark conservation group Support Our Sharks (SOS).  Ryan founded SOS to inform the world about the plight of the most vulnerable shark species. His research focuses on the sensory biology and conservation of sharks and rays.  Sharks have always been his passion, and protecting them his goal.  To do this, Ryan has embarked on a career in research to better understand sharks. He takes every opportunity to communicate his findings to the general public in the hope that he can inspire others to follow in his passion for protecting these amazing animals.

It’s Shark Week! While sharks are getting all the attention this week, I want to take the opportunity to introduce you to an exciting global shark database: SharkBase. This is your chance to get involved and become a Citizen Shark Scientist! In order to protect sharks, we need to learn more about them. Effective management of sharks starts with an understanding of their population status, which can then tell us about their future conservation and how we can help protect them.

Unfortunately, many shark species (and their close relatives the rays, skates and chimaeras) are at significant risk of unrecoverable decline, with some species having declined to near extinction in recent years. I believe that Citizen Science could hold the key to improving our understanding and management of shark* populations, whilst also advancing community education. This is why my team and I have developed SharkBase, a global shark* encounter database helping to map the distribution and population structure of sharks* worldwide.

Through SharkBase, we are building a global network of Citizen Scientists collecting vital information about these important animals. Using the data gathered by SharkBase, we will not only be able to map the distribution of sharks globally, but, as sharks play a vital role in marine environments, we can also use this information to infer patterns of marine ecosystem health. All data is freely available to download from the SharkBase website, and is used by researchers around the world to assist in the management of shark* populations.

YOU can help – whether you have personally encountered a shark* or not, you can contribute to SharkBase and help researchers better understand these important animals. Simply sign up at www.shark-base.org and get started.

Here are just a couple of the ways that you can get involved:

  1. Log your past, present and future shark* encounters with SharkBase. If you have photos of sharks* on your computer, you can log these as long as you know the date and location they were taken. You don’t even need to know the species, as our scientists can identify them for you. Alternatively, if you don’t have a photo, but you have a sighting recorded in your dive log or trip diary, then you can submit this sighting (as long as you know the species, date, and location of the encounter).
  2. Log other people’s shark* encounters with SharkBase. Everyday, thousands of photos and videos of shark* encounters are uploaded to the internet. You can log these sightings as long as you know the date and location. Simply type the web address of the source material (ie: YouTube link or Google image, etc.) into the sighting record so that our scientists can verify the sighting and remove duplicates.

For more information on how you can get involved, visit the SharkBase ‘Get Started’ page (http://www.shark-base.org/get_started). We look forward to welcoming you on board as a SharkBase Citizen Scientist.

* includes sharks, rays and chimaeras.

http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/07/become-a-citizen-scientist-with-sharkbase/feed/ 2
Best to Be Aware, Rather than Beware, of Sharks http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/06/best-to-be-aware-rather-than-beware-of-sharks/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/06/best-to-be-aware-rather-than-beware-of-sharks/#comments Mon, 06 Jul 2015 12:00:10 +0000 Adena Leibman http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10360

As the summer season kicks into full gear, beachgoers across the country are packing their sunscreen and heading to the coast. And though millions of people each year enjoy the ocean without consequence, a couple of unfortunate shark attacks have made the news recently.

Experts are analyzing temperature, current patterns and other ocean conditions to determine what, if any, unique combination of factors could have spurred this above average number of bites. Most likely though, it is merely a consequence of more people being in the water. As populations along the coast grow and more people spend time in the ocean, the probability of interactions between sharks and people increases.

However, it is important to keep these events in perspective. The actual likelihood of being bit by a shark is extremely low. There are a number of probability comparisons to pull from, but one of my favorites is that your likelihood of being bitten by another person in New York City is about 100 times greater than finding yourself on the wrong end of a shark.

There are over 400 species of sharks—ranging in size from the world’s largest fish to a shark that can fit in your hand—that show an amazing array of diversity. Aside from the more well-known species like white sharks and hammerheads, there are also the slow moving filter-feeders known as basking sharks, spinner sharks that are known to leap out of the water, and even the oddly enchanting goblin shark. Some are even downright adorable.

Nearly all of them are at real danger at the hands of humans. Each year, millions of sharks are killed in fisheries, either as targeted species or accidental bycatch. Further, there is still a tragic demand for shark fins in some countries. Finning is a brutal practice that often involves removing the fins from the shark while it is still alive, and then returning the mortally injured animal back into the ocean to drown or bleed to death. Though we are seeing growing support for eliminating the practice of finning, there is still a long way to go. In the meantime, a quarter of sharks and rays (close relatives of sharks) are threatened with extinction.

Sharks predate dinosaurs and have been swimming the seas for nearly 450 million years. Yet, now they are facing some of the greatest challenges to their survival. Being well-informed on what fish products you purchase, supporting campaigns to ban shark finning in your state, and helping educate people about the wonder of sharks are great ways to start getting involved in shark conservation.

But in case you still have some hesitation about entering the water, we’ve collected some simple pointers below that can help ensure you have a safe and fun summer:

1)     Stay in good company: Avoid swimming alone and try to stay near a lifeguard stand, if possible. Sharks tend to target solitary prey and in case you get into trouble, it’s always good to have someone nearby who can help.

2)     Avoid hot spots: Stay clear of piers, stormwater and effluent outflows, sandbar ledges and other sharp drop-offs, and places where people are actively fishing. Avoiding these areas that generally attract bait fish and subsequently sharks will help keep you clear of possible negative interactions.

3)     Play it cool: Sharks have evolved to be fine-tuned hunters who are very sensitive to visual, olfactory, and other sensory cues. For a shark, erratic movements, changing color patterns and blood point to what it interprets as injured—and thus easy—prey. Avoid frantic splashing (by you or your pet) and shiny or reflective jewelry and clothing. Do not enter the water if you are bleeding.

4)     Remain aware of your surroundings: Maintain a safe distance to shore and swim during daylight hours, avoiding sunrise and sunset. Stay alert for shark sightings and other safety warnings.

5)     Be respectful: Of course, if you spot a shark do not harass it. It is important to remember that sharks are powerful animals that deserve our respect. Understand that you are the one evading their territory. So please take care of our ocean and sharks, and have a great beach season!

For more information on sharks, please join us for our science series this week as part of our “Shark Week” coverage.

http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/06/best-to-be-aware-rather-than-beware-of-sharks/feed/ 1
Victory in the Gulf: BP Finally Pays Up http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/victory-in-the-gulf-bp-finally-pays-up/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/victory-in-the-gulf-bp-finally-pays-up/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 19:24:57 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10369

Five years ago today, oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig was still gushing unabated into the Gulf of Mexico, impacting countless wildlife, oiling shorelines and devastating coastal communities from Texas to Florida. Shortly after the disaster occurred, both President Obama and BP promised to restore the Gulf of Mexico, and today marks the single biggest step forward in restoring the Gulf.

Today BP and the five Gulf states have agreed to an unprecedented $18.7 billion settlement to resolve the outstanding fines that BP still owes for damaging the Gulf. While details are still emerging, here are some of the highlights:

  • $5.5 billion to resolve Clean Water Act civil penalties, with some portion of that money being directed to each of the five Gulf states. This includes approximately $1.3 billion that will go to the RESTORE Council to implement comprehensive restoration from Texas to Florida, from the coast to the blue water. Read more about the RESTORE Act and restoration here.
  • $8.1 billion (including $1 billion down payment BP already provided for early restoration) to resolve natural resource damages that are directly related to the impacts of the oil disaster. We are particularly pleased to see that this allocation includes $1.24 billion for projects in the open ocean! This means that we will be able to restore impacts beyond the shore, where the disaster began and where we continue to learn about troubling impacts to fish, corals and dolphins.
  • $350 million to continue assessing the damage caused by the disaster.
  • Finally, $5 billion will go to the Gulf states to resolve economic claims.

One of Ocean Conservancy’s key concerns is that our government leaders are able to address long-term impacts from the disaster that we might not know about today. We are pleased to see a dedicated restoration reserve to address injuries documented after the settlement agreement. We know from other oil spills that understanding the full impacts to wildlife and habitats can take decades to fully understand, and we need to make sure we have money set aside to address impacts if and when they emerge.

After five years of work from Ocean Conservancy’s staff and our many partners, we are relieved to see one chapter of our Gulf restoration work end and a new one begin. One thing is clear: there is still a lot of work to be done, and it will take all of us working together to ensure that all of this money is spent in  the spirit it was intended and in a way that honors the lives that were lost in the tragic events of April 20, 2010. It’s time to get down to the business of restoring the Gulf and create a legacy that we can all be proud of.

Thank you for all you have done to help protect the Gulf of Mexico, a national treasure and my home.

http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/victory-in-the-gulf-bp-finally-pays-up/feed/ 1
Ocean Plastic is a Problem We Can Solve – Together http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/08/ocean-plastic-is-a-problem-we-can-solve-together/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/08/ocean-plastic-is-a-problem-we-can-solve-together/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 14:25:45 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10309

Charlie Enright, a Rhode Island native, is skipper of Team Alvimedica, the youngest of the seven international teams in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race which began last October and recently completed Leg 7 (out of nine) in Lisbon, Portugal. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s premier offshore race, an exceptional test of sailing prowess and human endeavor, which began over 40 years ago. At 30, Enright has already accumulated thousands of offshore miles and inshore racing results—including a Transatlantic and Rolex Fastnet Race in 2011. Before dedicating himself full time to the Volvo Race campaign, he worked at North Sails Rhode Island and managed multiple sailing campaigns for All American Ocean Racing. Charlie is an Ambassador for 11th Hour Racing, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation, which establishes strategic partnerships within the sailing and marine communities to promote collaborative systemic change for the health of our coastal, offshore, and freshwater environments.

You can follow Charlie on Twitter @enright_charlie or Instagram @cte02809.

Andreas Merkl is in his third year as CEO of Ocean Conservancy, a D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to the health and productivity of the ocean that covers over 70 percent of the planet. Merkl is an experienced strategist with a lifelong commitment to environmental causes. Prior to taking the helm at Ocean Conservancy, Merkl served as a principal at California Environmental Associates, a San Francisco-based think tank and consultancy focused on the management of the natural resource commons. Earlier in his career, he was a founding member of McKinsey & Company’s Environmental Practice and vice president and co-founder of the CH2M HILL Strategy Group, a leading provider of environmental management consulting worldwide. Andreas is on Twitter as @andreasmerkl.

Enright and Merkl:  While one of us is a native of Rhode Island and part of the Millennial Generation and the other hails from Germany and came of age in the 1970s, we share one thing in common – a great passion for the ocean.

Enright: As a sailor, I race through the ocean’s surface on some of the fastest sailboats in the world. The ocean is my home, and it is everyone’s backyard. When I’m not sailing, I try to get home to the Ocean State, Rhode Island, where I’m from and where my family – including my wife and soon-to-be-born son – make our home. Having grown up here, the sailing and the sea are in my DNA.

Merkl: And as CEO of Ocean Conservancy, I wake up every morning thinking about how to solve tough ocean challenges. When I can, I explore some of the deepest ocean recesses in my beloved dive spots of Indonesia.

Enright and Merkl:  We have different day jobs and have had different life experiences. But one thing we completely agree on:  the ocean, in every spot from the fragile Arctic to the most remote areas of the Southern Ocean, is besieged by plastics.

Enright: This is my first Volvo Ocean Race and I’ve been shocked by the amount of plastic debris seen throughout the first seven legs of the nine-leg race. I’ve sailed from Alicante on Spain’s Costa Blanca to Abu Dhabi, on to Sanya in southeast China, then to Auckland, Brazil and Newport before reaching Lisbon. The sailors have been surprised by the amounts of trash and floating plastic they’ve encountered, especially in stretches of ocean near population centers such as the Malacca Strait. The Volvo Ocean Race produced a short documentary film that includes the reactions of many of my fellow racers. Our goal in doing this is not only to increase awareness of ocean plastic but also to inspire action. As the skipper of Team Brunel observes, “Plastic, plastic, plastic…it doesn’t matter where you point.” We sailors agree:  the ocean is being overwhelmed by plastics and other debris even in the most remote spots, and it needs to be cleaned up.

Merkl:  I wish I could say that the teams of Volvo Ocean Race had an uncommon situation in their distressing encounters with ocean plastic, but that is simply not the case. It is a pervasive and proliferating catastrophe that, left unchecked, will continue to escalate until in a few short years – as soon as 2025 - we can expect to see one ton of plastic for every three tons of finfish in the ocean. We know from recently published research that approximately eight million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean annually from land-based sources. This has produced nothing less than a global crisis for ocean waters, marine wildlife and habitat, human health and safety, and wasted resources and lost revenues for many nations, especially those in developing countries where the economies are already strained.

Merkl and Enright:  But we are not without hope. We are optimistic because we CAN solve this problem.

Merkl:  At Ocean Conservancy we are working through our Trash Free Seas Alliance® with corporations, scientists and nonprofits – all working together to stem the tide of plastics entering the ocean from land. It’s a sophisticated strategy to support locally relevant waste management interventions in countries where the plastics leakage is occurring.

A mechanism must be implemented to ensure plastics are collected, securely transported, and then properly disposed of so that these materials are recovered and not lost to the ocean. In addition, there must be international collaboration of industry, governments, aid agencies and NGOs to advance efficient and effective waste management in developing economies where plastic leakage is currently greatest. With implementation of this two-pronged solution, we can begin to see drastic reductions in the amount of plastics that end up polluting the seas.

Enright and Merkl:  The ocean provides much of the food our global population consumes, along with the air it breathes and the waters that nourish it. In addition, the ocean provides for the two of us – and for countless others – the source of our greatest happiness and pleasure as we sail its waters and explore its depths. We owe this miraculous and marvelous system all we can muster to protect it and its inhabitants. Science has shown us where a large majority of the plastic waste is coming from and current research is showing us what we can do to stem the tide of plastics entering the ocean. Let’s make sure that future Volvo Ocean Races do not encounter the vast amounts of plastics that the 2014-2015 Race has observed. Let’s focus our efforts on solving this global problem – together.

http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/08/ocean-plastic-is-a-problem-we-can-solve-together/feed/ 0