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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Voices Heard in Funding Bill

Posted On December 16, 2014 by

Photo: Cate Brown

Congress is often accused of not listening to the needs of the people.  But the people who depend on a healthy ocean made sure their voices were heard this year, and based on the recent funding deal, Congress listened.

Buried in the massive, must-pass funding bill for federal programs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) $5.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2015 includes an overall increase of $126 million with key investments in critical ocean programs that matter to people and communities. Congress delayed the decision for over two months as they hashed out a compromise between very different ocean funding levels in the House and Senate, but the deal struck this week puts the ocean on a strong footing for next year:

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Fishing with Captain Monty (and Planning for the Mid-Atlantic’s Future)

Posted On December 9, 2014 by

Our team at Ocean Conservancy is twenty-five nautical miles off the coast when Captain Monty Hawkins anchors the Morning Sun and we drop our fishing lines. We are lucky enough to be fishing for sea bass, easily one of the tastiest fish in the mid-Atlantic. Captain Monty specializes in precision fishing of natural, shipwreck and artificial reefs off the coast of Maryland. Once we get a primer from him on the ins and outs of catch limits and size requirements, we are off and fishing.

It is easy to see the lure of this magnificent body of water. Looking out onto the vast ocean, a sea turtle swims past the boat. On our way back to land, we are accompanied by dolphins and watch in awe as they surface in splashing trails nearby. What isn’t visible to the naked eye is that these ocean waters are a major economic driver for the region, sustaining a robust seafood industry, recreational fishing and tourism activities. The economic success of the region relies heavily on the ecological health of its ocean and coast, along with responsible planning for uses like commercial and recreational fishing, offshore energy, and more.

Unlike projects on land, the ocean is managed on a sector-by-sector basis and by a myriad of government agencies, often with little communication among them. This hurts both Ocean Conservancy’s and ocean industries’ ability to manage ocean use on a science-based and sustainable basis. Current and emerging ocean businesses often go through time-consuming, expensive and frustrating permitting processes by multiple levels of government. Without better data, coordination, and smart planning for sustainable use, growing ocean development can lead to conflicts and confusion. These issues threaten the food, jobs and recreation we rely on from our ocean.

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Time to Get to Work on Restoration

Posted On December 4, 2014 by

Photo: Rob Peterson

There’s a right way and a wrong way to spend millions of dollars restoring the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a federal and state entity responsible for spending a portion of the RESTORE Act dollars, is doing it right by releasing all of the candidate projects to the public far before any decisions are made.

A total of 50 project proposals for comprehensively restoring the Gulf in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster were made publically available this week, and the line-up includes some great concepts for restoring watersheds, deep-water corals, acquiring new lands for conservation and promoting living shoreline habitat.

The Council will choose some combination of the 50 submitted projects in a package, called a Funded Priority List, to address habitat and water quality in a big way. Approximately $150 to $180 million is available for this funding opportunity, and the challenges for the Council will be where to focus the Funded Priority List and how to combine projects to achieve the goal of comprehensive, ecosystem-wide restoration.

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BOEM Report: 75% Chance of Spill in Arctic

Posted On December 2, 2014 by

Large ice flows in the Arctic Ocean

Copyright Corbis. All rights reserved.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently released a revised environmental analysis of oil and gas activity in the Arctic Ocean.

BOEM’s latest analysis leaves no doubt that development and production of the Chukchi Sea oil and gas leases could be devastating to the Arctic marine ecosystem. Perhaps most troubling, a statistical analysis used by BOEM indicates that there is a 75% chance of one or more large spills over the lifetime of Chukchi Sea development and production. BOEM admits that a very large oil spill could result in the death of large numbers of polar bears, bowhead whales, seals, and marine and coastal birds.

The agency is accepting comments until December 22. Join Ocean Conservancy in telling BOEM to say no to risky Arctic drilling.

This environmental analysis and opportunity to comment has been a long time in the making. Almost seven years ago, in February of 2008, the federal government auctioned oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. The auction was known as Lease Sale 193, and it purported to give successful lessees—including Shell—the conditional right to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

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Why I Haven’t Given Up On the Ocean, and Why You Shouldn’t Either

Posted On November 26, 2014 by

Photo: Cate Brown

It’s been a depressing few weeks in ocean news. I’ve seen lots of downer headlines lately about new studies saying we’ve “screwed the oceans” with carbon dioxide pollution, left a dirty “bathtub ring of oil” in the Gulf of Mexico, and dumped so much plastic in the ocean that whales are choking to death. Plus I can’t escape the bickering in every media outlet about whether or not the carbon emissions agreement between U.S. and China means anything. You’re probably exhausted by it all too. But before you totally tune out, thinking that the ocean’s problems are just TOO big, let me tell you why I haven’t given up on the ocean.

As you know, I’m a scientist, so I like to think first about how science will help us out of this fix. My colleagues and I have been working on ways to break down what puts individual communities at risk for ocean acidification. We did this recently for Alaska, and now we’re finishing a similar study for the whole United States. Turns out, it’s not just oceanography that puts human communities at risk – it’s also the ways humans depend on marine harvests, and the ways communities are put together socially. This is great news for community leaders, who can encourage future regional development that will decrease these risks. The scientists who reported on the Gulf’s oily bathtub ring also point out that their research sheds light on how oil moves and breaks down in deep water, which offers ways to “avoid and mitigate oil spills in the future.” This is great news for accident response planners and restoration experts. And finally, studies of how marine animals eat plastic debris does shed light on how these animals hunt and behave (a tiny silver lining in a very, very, dark cloud), but most importantly, these studies have grabbed everyone’s attention. People around the world are appalled by this. And as a result, there is a growing movement to address ocean trash that is co-led by plastics manufacturers.

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of the Ocean

Posted On November 14, 2014 by

Photo: Steven Dingeldein

Good news! The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals just dismissed a case in which Shell sued Ocean Conservancy and several other conservation and Alaska Native organizations.

That’s right. Shell sued us. And not just once—three times.

Several years ago, federal agencies issued a series of permits that Shell needed to carry out drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean. Shell was worried that conservation organizations like Ocean Conservancy would challenge the validity of those permits, which might hinder its ability to drill. In response, Shell initiated a series of highly unusual preemptive lawsuits, naming Ocean Conservancy and others as defendants and asking the court to declare that the federal permits were lawful in all respects.

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U.S. Announces Ambitious Program to Save the Arctic

Posted On November 14, 2014 by

Photo: USFWS

At this month’s Arctic Council meeting in Yellowknife, Canada, the U.S. Department of State announced key initiatives that it plans on pursuing when it assumes the two year Chair of the eight-nation council in April 2015.

These initiatives, presented under the theme of “One Arctic:  Shared Opportunities, Challenges, and Responsibilities,” will focus largely on reducing the causes of and impacts from climate change and will include projects ranging from reducing emissions of short lived climate pollutants to developing a circumpolar Arctic network of Marine Protected Areas.

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