Ocean Currents » Policy http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 12 Feb 2016 14:45:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Our Ocean Remains a Presidential Priority http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/09/our-ocean-remains-a-presidential-priority/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/09/our-ocean-remains-a-presidential-priority/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 18:41:11 +0000 Addie Haughey http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11450

Strong funding proposed for ocean conservation in President Obama’s final budget proposal.

Today, President Obama laid out his final “to-do list” in the form of his proposed federal budget for the coming fiscal year. Ocean Conservancy is pleased to see this administration continue to prioritize the ocean, not least because it contributes more than $343 billion annually to the nation’s GDP and supports 2.9 million jobs through fisheries and seafood production, tourism, recreation, transportation and construction.

You’d be right in thinking President Obama’s proposed budget is a big deal for our ocean.

Of course it’s not a done deal but we should still take a moment to celebrate that our ocean remains a significant priority as we work together to tackle huge challenges like climate change through science-based solutions and effective policies.

The president has proposed $5.8 billion in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), our nation’s premier ocean agency. This would include $1 billion for the National Marine Fisheries Service and $570 million for the National Ocean Service – two key parts of NOAA that protect, restore, and manage our ocean and coasts. NOAA’s mission is to make sure that we have a healthy ocean that can support the economy and the communities that depend on it.

Ocean Conservancy is encouraged to note these three recommendations made today:

  1. A $12 million increase for investments in finding solutions to the challenge of ocean acidification. NOAA’s ocean acidification program coordinates research, maintains a water quality monitoring program to track acidification, develops strategies and techniques for business and communities to adapt, and provides critical research grants to improve understanding of ocean acidification’s environmental and socioeconomic impacts.
  2. An initial investment of $10 million for the first-ever federal ocean trust fund. The National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund was created by Congress late last year in a major victory for ocean champions on Capitol Hill, who have pushed for such a fund since it was first recommended by the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy in 2004. This initial investment will allow the new fund to begin its important work, providing grants that improve our understanding of the ocean and support sustainable ocean uses.
  3. A four-fold increase in grants to support ocean resilience in regions across the country. Building resilience is critical for communities and economies that are facing major changes in the ocean, from climate change to emerging ocean industries like offshore wind. Resilience can only be achieved at the regional level, with communities, states, and federal agencies working together to share their collective knowledge and experience and establish a unified direction. NOAA’s innovative grant program supports this approach.

What next?

There is a long way to go before the budget is finalized.  The President’s budget is just the first step in a multi-month process in Congress to arrive at a final budget for next year. In the coming months both the House and the Senate will respond to the President’s budget with proposals of their own.

I know that you will work with Ocean Conservancy to advocate for the best investments to ensure our ocean, and the people that most depend on it, continue to thrive.  You can help President Obama make this vision a reality for the ocean next year by reaching out to your Member of Congress to express your support for a healthy ocean.

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Mid-Atlantic Moves Forward on Ocean Planning with its Regional Ocean Assessment http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/05/mid-atlantic-moves-forward-on-ocean-planning-with-its-regional-ocean-assessment/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/05/mid-atlantic-moves-forward-on-ocean-planning-with-its-regional-ocean-assessment/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 19:16:13 +0000 Katie Morgan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11436

Ocean Conservancy has worked to support smart ocean planning in the US by engaging ocean users from dozens of industry sectors, the conservation community, and the public alike since the National Ocean Policy was announced in 2010. Along the way, we have seen strong engagement from a wide variety of ocean voices, incredible data portals, and exciting collaborative efforts among stakeholders. This year is a big year for ocean planning and ocean communities in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic: we will finally see the culmination of hard work and collaboration from individuals, organizations, governmental officials and more, with both regions set to release draft ocean plans in the first half of the year. While we eagerly anticipate the release of the draft ocean plans, we are beginning to see exciting work products come out, that help inform the public and expand upon our existing knowledge of our ocean ecosystem and economy.

Last week, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO), a five state partnership of New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia, met with the public to discuss their work on marine life and human use data, and previewed an ambitious and wide-ranging website on the vast natural resources and economically-important uses of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean, which contribute to the health and vibrancy of the region’s coastal communities. This website, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Assessment (ROA), is a comprehensive information resource developed to support the regional planning process, distilling key information on ocean ecosystems and the ocean economy into easily digestible summaries for decision-makers, stakeholders, and the general public.

Think of the ROA this way: It is like an executive summary for dozens of resources on the ocean, including the ocean data portal, distilling vast information sources in to easily understandable sections on the ocean ecosystem and economy. The ROA brings together the best available information on ocean ecosystem and ocean uses in the Mid-Atlantic, and is a gateway for even greater information sources. Paging through the website, you will easily find additional data sources, reports, and webpages ranging from ocean acidification to commercial shipping. Key data points are turned in to facts and figures, visually drawing the visitor in while conveying important information that will ultimately help guide the planning process and decision-makers in the future.

The ROA is a living document that will continuously be updated as additional data and information become available, and will remain a critical resource for a wide variety of users into the future. This is just one of many exciting products we expect to be released in the coming months, as both the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast prepare their ocean plans for completion by the end of 2016.  We will continue to update you here as the planning process continues and if you are interested in additional, more detailed information please sign up for our newsletter.

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Protecting What We Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/04/protecting-what-we-love/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/02/04/protecting-what-we-love/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 22:20:46 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11424

Our coastal communities are rallying to protect our oysters and our ocean

It’s no secret: I love oysters.

(And so should you. They keep our ocean and waterways healthy. And taste spectacular too.)

But we haven’t always done right by my favorite shelled creatures. It’s a fact reinforced by a slew of recent reports—plastic trash in the ocean could be hurting baby oysters, said the Washington Post and a new University of Miami study that found that the Atlantic Ocean has absorbed 100 percent more man-made carbon pollution in the past 10 years as it did the previous decade, spelling trouble for marine life and coastal communities.

It made me doubly grateful for the large dose of optimism delivered at the Climate of Change event hosted by the Maine-based Island Institute last night. It was the Washington DC premier of four short films that shone a spotlight on the changes taking place in our ocean. More importantly, they all focused on solutions that support coastal communities across America.

“A Climate of Change: Collapse and Adaptation in the Apalachicola Oyster Fishery” was a stand-out for me.

And no, not just because of luscious close-ups of oysters.

For 10 minutes I was immersed in the story of a small Florida town where oystermen still harvest their catch by hand in one of our country’s last wild oyster fisheries. It’s a community that has been built on the half shell. Drought, freshwater shortages, and then the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in 2010 have had a devastating impact. Where there once were 150 oyster processing houses, there are now only nine. But the community is rallying. Apalachicola received federal funding to reseed the bay. It is putting oystermen back to work and helping to ensure a viable oyster fishery in the future. There is clearly a long way to go for Apalachicola but things are on the upswing.  By sharing their story they are also inspiring other communities to take action.

Local action to tackle acidification

Ocean Conservancy is getting the word out to make sure people on both the East Coast and West Coast understand the changes taking place in our ocean. I’m particularly concerned about ocean acidification; it’s already impacted oyster growers on the West Coast, and could impact fishermen and shellfish growers on the East Coast as well. We need to reduce our carbon emissions to tackle ocean acidification at its root, but there are many things we can do locally, too.

We’re working with partners and people on the front lines to create support for local and regional actions to address acidification. I am proud to be part of the Ocean Conservancy team that prepared a toolkit that identifies actions that states and communities can take to tackle acidification, which was published just last week in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. We hope it will be a useful part of a growing resource base for communities to adapt. It’s heartening that states like Maine, Washington and Oregon are already taking action.

So when the news stories get especially grim, I am grateful to be part of the solutions. And for glimpses from places like Apalachicola where smart, passionate people in our coastal communities are working hard to protect what we love.

 

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Gulf States Turn Down Management of Red Snapper http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/28/gulf-states-turn-down-management-of-red-snapper/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/28/gulf-states-turn-down-management-of-red-snapper/#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 21:14:44 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11411

Why would you turn down a good thing?

“No, thank you.” That’s what Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Mississippi said to a tool that would have empowered them to create individual and specific regulations for private fisherman in state waters at the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council today.

This plan, called “Regional Management,” would have delivered a real and meaningful chance for private recreational fishermen from throughout the five states to fish under regulatory conditions that cater directly to their local needs. Fishermen from each state need to fish at different times of year, with different techniques and different local knowledge, out of ports that range in character and culture from Naples, Florida to Venice, Louisiana to Brownsville, Texas.

The benefits are clear.

Anglers would have customized access to red snapper. There would be greater accountability from the private recreational component. And it would lower the likelihood that the recreational component exceeds the overall red snapper quota season after season. In the long run, fewer quota overages and greater stability in the fishery would mean red snapper would continue to successfully rebuild and catch limits would continue to increase as the stock rebounds.

As an avid recreational fisherman and an Ocean Conservancy representative at the meeting, I was extremely disappointed that the voting bloc led by the five Gulf states rejected the plan.

The state wildlife agency representatives remained intractable. Not only were they unable to agree on the state red snapper quota allocations, they were also unwilling to move forward with the amendment without charter fishermen. The latter prefer federal management where they already have prospects of developing new management tools to benefit their fishery and expand access for their clients.

So what does this mean? 

The unfortunate outcome of the states’ failure to proceed with Regional Management is that private anglers will likely continue to see their seasons throttled, rebuilding progress of the stock is jeopardized, and quota overages in the recreational fishery will persist.

Click here to learn more about red snapper. 

 

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Ocean Acidification: States Taking Action http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/27/ocean-acidification-states-taking-action/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/27/ocean-acidification-states-taking-action/#comments Wed, 27 Jan 2016 13:00:05 +0000 Ryan Ono http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11359

Ocean acidification is one of those big, scary problems that scientists have been warning us about for years.  Carbon emissions are being absorbed by the ocean, turning it more acidic – spelling trouble for oysters, clams, mussels, as well as corals, salmon and even sharks. We know that reducing global carbon emissions is key to solving ocean acidification.  The UN Climate Meeting in December was a resounding success, but what can people and states do, today, that will make a difference to their communities and businesses impacted by acidification?  Turns out, quite a lot.

There is no one size fits all approach, but my colleagues and I have been tracking the efforts underway, and have noticed that many states are sitting up and taking action.  In seeking to make local actions more achievable in other locations, we’ve complied and analyzed these efforts in a paper that was published today in Frontiers in Marine Policy.

Actions to tackle acidification range from relatively straightforward and simple to the politically challenging. Holding information exchanges between scientists, managers, shellfish growers and fishermen to discuss the current understanding of acidification’s local impacts is one example.  Publicly calling for an increased investment of research and water quality monitoring is another.  Strengthening regulations on nitrogen runoff pollution or directly cutting carbon emissions at the local level are trickier options, but the suite of options explored here show that action is possible. And by taking action, we can protect our coastal communities, businesses and livelihoods.

Click below to explore how states from Maine to Alaska, Florida to Oregon, are tackling ocean acidification.

The official ribbon cutting of the touch-screen kiosk designed to teach users about ocean acidification. Photo credit: Bjorn Olson


Homer, Alaska—The Alaska Marine Conservation Council launched its interactive ocean acidification kiosk in summer 2015. The touch-screen, all-weather kiosk is an educational tool containing informational videos on ocean acidification, as well as testimonials from fishermen, scientists and community leaders from coastal Alaska, providing unique information and viewpoints on this important issue. The kiosk will move from its Homer location to Kodiak in spring 2016. Users learn about ocean acidification and its impacts in the port of Homer. Photo credit: AMCC 


Homer, Alaska—The Alaska Marine Conservation Council launched its interactive ocean acidification kiosk in summer 2015. The touch-screen, all-weather kiosk is an educational tool containing informational videos on ocean acidification, as well as testimonials from fishermen, scientists and community leaders from coastal Alaska, providing unique information and viewpoints on this important issue. The kiosk will move from its Homer location to Kodiak in spring 2016. Users learn about ocean acidification and its impacts in the port of Homer. Photo credit: AMCC


Homer, Alaska—The Alaska Marine Conservation Council launched its interactive ocean acidification kiosk in summer 2015. The touch-screen, all-weather kiosk is an educational tool containing informational videos on ocean acidification, as well as testimonials from fishermen, scientists and community leaders from coastal Alaska, providing unique information and viewpoints on this important issue. The kiosk will move from its Homer location to Kodiak in spring 2016. Paul Dobbins of Ocean Approved is standing with instruments to measure CO2, pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, temperature, and depth. Photo credit: Island Institute


Casco Bay, Maine—In November 2015, the Island Institute, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Ocean Approved kelp farm started a pilot project to test the potential of seaweed aquaculture as a means to store enough CO2 to remediate local waters.  Shellfish located in close proximity to seaweed aquaculture farms may have higher survival rates due to improved carbonate chemistry, and the seaweed product might benefit from increased productivity and growth. Kelp growth after only two months at Paul Dobbin’s farm off of Little Chebeague Island, Maine. Photo credit: Island Institute

Casco Bay, Maine—In November 2015, the Island Institute, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences and Ocean Approved kelp farm started a pilot project to test the potential of seaweed aquaculture as a means to store enough CO2 to remediate local waters.  Shellfish located in close proximity to seaweed aquaculture farms may have higher survival rates due to improved carbonate chemistry, and the seaweed product might benefit from increased productivity and growth. Hatchery Research Manager Benoit Eudeline carefully monitors the water chemistry inside the Taylor Shellfish Farms shellfish hatchery in Quilcene, WA. Photo credit: Red Box Pictures

Quilcene, Washington—In response to the loss of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest region between 2005 and 2009, Taylor Shellfish Farms rapidly ramped up monitoring and research with an impressive collaboration of industry, university and government scientists.  In the following years, they have installed sophisticated equipment to monitor the corrosive water flowing through their farms and either dodge it or treat it in their hatcheries by adding sodium carbonate to adjust the pH. Hatchery Research Manager Benoit Eudeline carefully monitors the water chemistry inside the Taylor Shellfish Farms shellfish hatchery in Quilcene, WA. Photo credit: Red Box Pictures


Quilcene, Washington—In response to the loss of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest region between 2005 and 2009,  Taylor Shellfish Farms rapidly ramped up monitoring and research with an impressive collaboration of industry, university and government scientists.  In the following years, they have installed sophisticated equipment to monitor the corrosive water flowing through their farms and either dodge it or treat it in their hatcheries by adding sodium carbonate to adjust the pH. Hatchery Research Manager Benoit Eudeline carefully monitors the water chemistry inside the Taylor Shellfish Farms shellfish hatchery in Quilcene, WA. Photo credit: Red Box Pictures


Quilcene, Washington—In response to the loss of oyster larvae in the Pacific Northwest region between 2005 and 2009,  Taylor Shellfish Farms rapidly ramped up monitoring and research with an impressive collaboration of industry, university and government scientists.  In the following years, they have installed sophisticated equipment to monitor the corrosive water flowing through their farms and either dodge it or treat it in their hatcheries by adding sodium carbonate to adjust the pH. Dr. Christopher Langdon collecting samples of coral to study their rate of recovery following the 2014 bleaching event in the Florida Keys. Photo credit: Kelsy Armstrong

Miami, Florida—The Langdon Lab at the University of Miami is addressing the knowledge gap on what ocean acidification could mean for Florida’s iconic coral reefs that pump billions of dollars in the state’s economy each year and protect valuable real estate from coastal erosion.  The group has produced research showing that low pH causes low coral fertilization and settlement success in the species studied.  This could contribute to the already rapid decline in coral numbers unless mitigating steps are taken immediately. State legislative action on ocean acidification

 

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How Dangerous is Ocean Plastic? Insights From Global Experts on the Greatest Threat to Marine Wildlife http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/12/how-dangerous-is-ocean-plastic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/12/how-dangerous-is-ocean-plastic/#comments Tue, 12 Jan 2016 20:00:53 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11233

By George H. Leonard, PhD and Nicholas J. Mallos MEM

Over the course of the 30-year history of the International Coastal Cleanup, volunteers have removed over 200 million items from beaches and waterways around the world.  The top-ten list of items removed includes items like plastics bottles, plastic bottle caps, aluminum cans, cigarette butts, derelict fishing gear and a range of disposable plastic goods and food packaging. The scientific literature is replete with anecdotal information of marine wildlife impacted by these marine debris items. Indeed, over 690 species (from the smallest of plankton to the largest of whales) have been documented to be negatively impacted by marine debris.

But until now, the consequence of different marine debris items to populations of these animals – and the mechanism by which they do so – has been far less clear. Experimentally testing the impact of plastic items to whole populations of marine wildlife is technically challenging (if not impossible) and for species that are of threatened or endangered status, legally prohibited as well as morally questionable. But we have just published a paper in Marine Policy along with our colleagues Drs. Chris Wilcox and Denise Hardesty at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia that uses elicitation techniques to overcome these challenges. Our analysis provides key insights into the relative threat of different debris items to a healthy ocean that should provide additional impetus to decision makers to tackle this growing problem.

Elicitation is a widely used technique to rigorously quantify the professional judgement of a community of experts on a specific issue. It has been used to evaluate threats to endangered sea turtles as well as provide insights into coastal risk management under changing climate conditions. In today’s connected world, we used the worldwide web to reach out to a large number of experts around the world that had professional experience with marine debris, its interactions with marine wildlife, or had undertaken taxa-specific research on sea turtles, marine mammals, or seabirds. Using a detailed survey instrument, we asked them to use their professional judgement to estimate the likelihood that different taxa would encounter specific products in the ocean, estimate the severity of the impact of those encounters, and allocate this impact among three types of threats (entanglement, ingestion or chemical contamination). Applying a statistical model allowed us to rank order the relative impact of 20 different marine debris items on seabirds, marine mammals and sea turtles.

Our results are striking and provide key insights into policy needed to address impacts to wildlife.  Derelict fishing gear, including nets, fishing line, traps and buoys were found to pose the greatest overall threat to all types of marine wildlife, largely through entanglement. Given that fishing gear is purposefully designed to catch animals, this result isn’t surprising but it does suggest that focused attention is needed to reduce the threat of derelict fishing gear on marine species. The Global Ghost Gear Initiative is an innovative approach to confronting this problem and Ocean Conservancy is proud to be an active member of this effort.

Among the other items tested, plastic bags emerged as the next most impactful item for marine wildlife. Experts highlighted the tendency of animals like sea turtles to mistake them for food.  Disposable plastic bags have long met the ire of environmental activists and numerous efforts around the world have successfully banned them in some locales. In the United States, California became the first state to outright ban plastic bags. Our findings suggest that the policy attention plastic bags have received is scientifically warranted given the product’s large relative impact on ocean wildlife.  But other everyday items were near the top of the list. These include plastic utensils and balloons, the latter of which often have a length of twine attached which can entangle wildlife. Only non-plastic items were found at the bottom of the list.  These include glass bottles and paper bags, products that global experts ranked as relatively benign to seabirds, sea turtles and marine mammals.

Our results, however, suggest something more than a product-by-product approach to reducing plastics impacts in the ocean is vitally needed. A whole host of products (from caps to foamed packaging to straws and stirrers) were found to have at least some population impact. Science published earlier this year showed that upwards of 8 million tons (nearly 17 billion pounds) of plastics may flow into the ocean each year. That staggering number, combined with our new results on the relative impact of these products, suggest that a mechanism to prevent the full suite of plastic items found in oceans and waterways from ever reaching these habitats in the first place is critical to protect the majority of marine wildlife from plastic contamination.  In short, we must attack the totality of plastics in the ocean if we truly hope to protect the ocean’s health.

Much like the findings from our study, no single entity can solve our ocean plastics problem alone. It requires collective action from individuals and NGOs, to governments and the private sector to stem the tide of plastics.

Our new paper shows just how important this will be to the wildlife that calls the ocean home.

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Entangled, Eaten, Contaminated http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/12/entangled-eaten-contaminated/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/01/12/entangled-eaten-contaminated/#comments Tue, 12 Jan 2016 20:00:22 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11230

A comprehensive assessment of trash on marine wildlife 

There is a vast sea of trash in our oceans. For the first time, we now have a comprehensive picture of the toll it is taking on seabirds, sea turtles and marine mammals.

A new study in Marine Policy by scientists at Ocean Conservancy and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) mapped impacts ranging from entanglement, ingestion and chemical contamination of the 20 most commonly found ocean debris like fishing gear, balloons, plastic bottles and bags and a range of other plastic garbage found regularly in the ocean. Our research was based on elicitation, a widely-used technique to rigorously quantify the professional judgement of a community of experts, representing 19 fields of study.

The Results

  • Lost or abandoned fishing gear like nets, lines, traps and buoys pose the greatest overall threat to all types of marine wildlife, primarily through entanglement.
  • Consumer plastics were not far behind. Plastic bags emerged as the second most impactful item for marine wildlife. Plastic cutlery also was highly impactful. Experts highlighted the tendency of animals like sea turtles to mistake these items for food and eat them.
  • Paper bags and glass bottles were assessed to be the most benign marine debris.

Seeking Solutions

This study underscores the need to go beyond a product-by-product approach to reducing plastics impacts in the ocean. Consider the sheer volume of it—upwards of 8 million tons each year flow into the ocean according to a report from earlier this year.

The biggest takeaway from our report is that our strategies must encompass regional improvement in waste management systems and global changes in policy as well as local actions like changing consumer behavior and eliminating particularly problematic products. And much like the findings from our study, no single entity alone can solve our ocean plastics problem. It requires collective action from individuals and NGOs, to governments and the private sector to stem the tide of plastics from entering the ocean in the first place.

What We’re Doing

For the past three decades, Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup has documented the most persistent and proliferating forms of ocean trash on beaches and in waterways around the world. Without fail, the most common items encountered year after year are those disposable plastics we use in our everyday lives—like plastic bags, beverage bottles and food wrappers.

We are working hard to solve this problem. We are a proud and active member of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative, an innovative approach to confronting the threat of derelict fishing gear on marine species.

And Ocean Conservancy is also leading a powerful alliance to unite industry, science and conservation leaders under a common goal for a healthy ocean free of trash. Members of the Trash Free Seas Alliance® are working together to confront plastic inputs from the regions that matter most while they seek to reduce and reinvent products and services that damage ocean wildlife or ecosystems.

We also work with people like you—ocean lovers who recognize the importance of keeping our oceans trash free. Your choices really do matter to the future of our ocean.

Want to take a deeper dive? Read more here.

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