The Blog Aquatic » Policy http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:39:06 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Shell’s Kulluk Disaster Featured in New York Times Sunday Magazine http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/02/shells-kulluk-disaster-featured-in-new-york-times-sunday-magazine/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/02/shells-kulluk-disaster-featured-in-new-york-times-sunday-magazine/#comments Fri, 02 Jan 2015 15:19:09 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9668

Photo: Coast Guard

In late December of 2012, one of Shell Oil’s Arctic drillships, the Kulluk, snapped its tow-line during a powerful storm in the North Pacific. After multiple failed attempts to re-establish a tow, the Coast Guard evacuated the crew of the Kulluk, rescue tugs abandoned their efforts to pull the ship to safety, and the Kulluk grounded on Sitkalidak Island near Kodiak, Alaska.  The January 4 issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine tells the dramatic story of the events that led up to the disaster in an article entitled, The Wreck of the Kulluk.

The Sunday Magazine story tells a gripping tale, especially if you like accounts of drama on the sea. Aside from being a good read, the story makes clear that Shell and its contractors easily could have avoided the disaster. Before leaving port, the tug’s tow master predicted that Kulluk’s planned route “guarantees an ass kicking.” Warnings signs don’t get much clearer than that. But the tow master’s caution, like many other warning signs—was ignored.

I wrote about Shell’s multiple mistakes and its failure to recognize risk in this blog post, which was published soon after the Coast Guard released a report on its investigation into the Kulluk incident. Another  Coast Guard investigation led to the recent announcement that Shell contractor Noble Drilling would plead guilty to eight felony charges and pay more than $12 million in fines relating to violations onboard Shell’s other Arctic drillship, the Noble Discoverer.

Unfortunately, Shell wants to return to the Arctic this coming summer. The oil giant has submitted plans to bring the Noble Discoverer and another drillship to the Chukchi Sea this year. That could spell double trouble for the Arctic. Tell the Secretary of the Interior to say “no” to Shell’s risky drilling plans. Please sign our petition today.

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Ocean Voices Heard in Funding Bill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/16/ocean-voices-heard-in-funding-bill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/16/ocean-voices-heard-in-funding-bill/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:10:26 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9622

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:

  • The National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service will each receive around $10 million in additional funding this year – modest but important increases that will help people who depend on data and monitoring from these departments.
  • Regional Coastal Resilience Grants will be funded at $5 million – these grants will help communities prepare for changes to marine ecosystems, climate impacts and economic shifts.
  • Ocean acidification research will receive $8.5 million, a $2.5 million increase over the current funding level – these dollars will support efforts to improve our understanding of how acidification impacts businesses and ecosystems, as well as development of tools to mitigate those impacts.
  • All attempts to undermine the National Ocean Policy (NOP) through harmful policy riders were removed from the final bill, ensuring that coordinated smart ocean planning processes  throughout the country can move forward.

These investments show the impact of vocal ocean advocates on Capitol Hill. Over 140 people who care about the ocean or depend on it for their livelihoods signed letters of support or came to Washington, DC to meet with their Members of Congress on the need to better understand and prepare for ocean acidification. Over 280 ocean users and advocates argued for the benefits of smart ocean planning, successfully convincing Congress to remove harmful attacks from the bill and to fund key grant programs that support work around the country.

Ocean advocates include aquaculture farmers, seafood distributors, fishermen, renewable energy developers, and shippers, as well as citizens who value ocean conservation, which includes religious groups, recreational users, local elected representatives, and tribal officials. What they all have in common is the understanding that without smart ocean planning efforts, research dollars to solve challenges like ocean acidification, and robust ocean conservation programs, the ocean resources and environment sustaining coastal communities and economies cannot thrive.

We also saw more ocean champions within Congress. For example, nineteen Senators signed a letter supporting coastal resilience programs, and 86 Representatives demanded the removal of all harmful NOP attacks from the final appropriations bill – that’s one out of five Members of Congress standing up for the ocean! These Members of Congress, from Hawaii to Maine, represent millions of constituents that benefit from and care about our ocean.

There is more work to be done – just 15% of NOAA’s funding increase for this fiscal year will go to the National Ocean Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These modest increases are meaningful, but investments in NOAA need to be more balanced across the agency’s many important missions, from predicting the weather to creating resilient coastal communities.

 

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Fishing with Captain Monty (and Planning for the Mid-Atlantic’s Future) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/09/fishing-with-captain-monty-and-planning-for-the-mid-atlantics-future/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/09/fishing-with-captain-monty-and-planning-for-the-mid-atlantics-future/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 15:58:15 +0000 Christine Hopper http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9584

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.

The day before our fishing excursion, members of the public representing an array of ocean users gathered in Ocean City Maryland to address this exact issue. State, federal and tribal government representatives from the mid-Atlantic are leading a “Regional Planning Body” (RPB) that has begun to develop the region’s first smart ocean plan. Public stakeholders joined the meeting in Ocean City to discuss with RPB members their input on what that ocean plan will look like. Voices ranged from commercial fishermen, local surfers, charter-boat operators, and offshore wind developers who all gathered for a sit down discussion with the RPB members. Captain Monty was there too, talking about the value of the reefs we fished to the charter fishing industry and the need for data on reefs and fisheries to be reflected in the ocean plan.

Established in April, 2013 the Mid-Atlantic RPB has its eyes set on implementing an ocean plan by 2016. It is tasked with developing, along with stakeholder and public input, a plan with all the necessary data and information to support informed decision-making on ocean uses, and to help coordinate growing offshore usage while balancing and sustaining the ocean’s ecological health.

Whether or not there really are plenty of fish in the sea is up for debate, and as anyone who has fished will tell you, it depends on where you’re fishing. One thing is for certain however; there are plenty of ocean users competing for a finite set of resources, and their voices are hard to hear unless they are seated at the table together. Regional ocean planning provides a venue and a “common table” for this important dialogue between a wide array of ocean users and managers. We are excited about the opportunities for smarter and more sustainable decision-making that this process provides, and hope that with the help of a regional ocean plan, Captain Monty and we will be hauling up fish from the mid-Atlantic waters for decades to come.

For more information on upcoming opportunities for stakeholder participation please visit the following regional sites:

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Time to Get to Work on Restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/04/time-to-get-to-work-on-restoration/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/04/time-to-get-to-work-on-restoration/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 19:24:29 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9575

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.

One approach might be to ensure that all habitats, from Brownsville, Texas to the Florida Keys, and longleaf pine savannas to deep-water corals, are better understood and protected in some way. Another approach might be to look at problems affecting water quality – including stormwater runoff, leaky septic tanks and a lack of natural buffers like oyster reefs – and address those holistically in priority areas across the Gulf Coast.

Thankfully, the Council has posted the full descriptions of all 50 projects on their website where anyone may read them and select their favorite projects. We commend the Council for their commitment to restoring our environment in a way that is transparent, comprehensive and based on the best available science.

Ocean Conservancy is also excited to see projects included in the Council’s list that will restore deep-water corals and map the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. Deep-water corals were damaged extensively by the BP oil disaster, and the Department of Interior project to recover and restore this unique habitat will hopefully help this fragile ecosystem recover.

Additionally, the Department of Commerce project to map habitats in the Gulf of Mexico is absolutely critical, considering how little we know about the Gulf seafloor and its importance for things like fishery productivity. We consider these to be necessary and important components of comprehensive restoration, and welcome their inclusion on the roster of potential projects.

This is an exciting time for Gulf restoration, and we are eager to get to work on behalf of a resilient and healthy marine ecosystem. If you share our excitement, sign our petition and urge the Council to select projects that restore the Gulf beyond the shore.

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BOEM Report: 75% Chance of Spill in Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/02/boem-report-75-chance-of-spill-in-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/02/boem-report-75-chance-of-spill-in-arctic/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 13:00:43 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9560 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.

But there was a major problem. In 2010, a federal court found that the environmental analysis underpinning Lease Sale 193 was unlawful; the court required the government to revise its analysis and reconsider the sale. Unfortunately, the government failed to fix all the problems and in January of 2014, another federal court ruled that the revised environmental analysis was faulty. In response, the government announced that it would prepare yet another revision and once again reconsider the sale of the leases.

All of which brings us to the end of October, when BOEM released its third major environmental analysis of the 2008 lease sale: the Draft Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Lease Sale 193.

Beyond the 75% chance of one or more large spills, as we’ve described before, there is no way to effectively clean up a large oil spill in Arctic waters. Constantly changing sea ice, fog, high winds, extreme cold, remoteness and lack of shoreline infrastructure all combine to make meaningful cleanup all but impossible. And after Shell’s error-riddled 2012 drilling season, it is clear that we cannot trust oil companies to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean is risky business. BOEM’s latest environmental analysis demonstrates that the consequences of a mistake are enormous. Join with Ocean Conservancy in telling BOEM to protect the Arctic Ocean by saying no to drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

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Why I Haven’t Given Up On the Ocean, and Why You Shouldn’t Either http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/26/why-i-havent-given-up-on-the-ocean-and-why-you-shouldnt-either/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/26/why-i-havent-given-up-on-the-ocean-and-why-you-shouldnt-either/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:09:34 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9549

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.

By breaking problems down into smaller-scale causes and effects, ocean research continues to find ways we can intervene and avoid a future without wildlife, clean water, or clear air. Even for big, bad problems like carbon dioxide and plastics pollution, we make progress step by step.

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/the-9th-circuit-of-appeals-rules-in-favor-of-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/14/the-9th-circuit-of-appeals-rules-in-favor-of-the-ocean/#comments Fri, 14 Nov 2014 19:30:42 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9515

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.

We felt strongly that Shell’s unconventional preemptive lawsuits were improper under the law. And we were concerned that Shell’s lawsuits were an attempt to intimidate nonprofit organizations and discourage them from opposing risky Arctic drilling. As a result, we and the other organizations moved to dismiss Shell’s preemptive lawsuits.

And this past Wednesday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with us.

The dismissal of Shell’s preemptive lawsuit sends a strong signal to Shell and other oil and gas companies:  Intimidation will not work and conservation organizations have a right to question and challenge federal permits that authorize risky Arctic drilling. Arctic wildlife and people who live in coastal communities in the Arctic depend on a clean and healthy ocean. We won’t stand by while Shell puts them all in danger, even if it means having to go to the courts to defend our—and all U.S. citizens’ —rights to ensure that our Arctic resources are protected.

And make no mistake, Shell’s proposals to drill in the Arctic Ocean pose a significant threat. In fact, a new federal analysis determined that there is a 75% chance of a large oil spill if oil and gas development and production goes forward in the offshore Arctic. A large spill could be catastrophic for the wildlife and the people who depend on the Arctic ocean—and cleaning up a spill would be all but impossible given the remoteness of the region, sea ice, severe weather, and lack of infrastructure.

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