The Blog Aquatic » Policy News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:21:33 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Do You Want to Help Make History? Fri, 08 Aug 2014 13:00:32 +0000 Samantha Murray

Photo: US Fish & Wildlife Service

History is about to be made… for the ocean!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please take action today! We need your help.

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

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

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Stop Congress from Fishing for Trouble Thu, 31 Jul 2014 13:00:35 +0000 Ellen Bolen

© Wesley Hitt / Alamy

We’ve made incredible progress in reversing overfishing. This has been good for both the environment and jobs in fishing. Through smart fishery legislation, we’ve been able to bring back fish populations that were crashing due to years of overfishing.

But all of our progress is about to be destroyed! In the House of Representatives, Rep. Hastings (R-WA) is working to reverse the very legislation that has brought our ocean and fishermen such success. Rep. Hastings is trying to pass legislation that would create a new law that would allow overfishing and would eliminate deadlines to rebuild fish populations.

We can’t let this happen. Decades of progress will be reversed if this new legislation is passed. Will you help protect our ocean from overfishing?

Please take action today and tell your Congressional Representative to vote NO to Rep. Hastings’ legislation when it comes to the floor.

Healthy fish populations are essential to ocean ecosystems and to the local economies that depend on them. Please take action today! Together, we can truly make a difference.

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New Report Will Promote Integrated Arctic Management Wed, 30 Jul 2014 15:03:53 +0000 Andrew Hartsig

Photo: Chris Clifone

With a new University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) report, we finally have a comprehensive view of oil, gas, and commercial transportation development in Arctic Alaska.

In a report to the President issued last year, a federal interagency working group called for a new, integrated approach to stewardship and development decisions in the U.S. Arctic. This new approach—called “Integrated Arctic Management”—is intended to integrate and balance “environmental, economic, and cultural needs and objectives” in the region.

Effective application of Integrated Arctic Management demands not only an understanding of Arctic ecosystems, but an understanding of the impacts of industrial development in the region. Until now, information on industrial development in the U.S. Arctic has been available only in piecemeal fashion, scattered throughout a range of documents and publications. This has made it difficult to understand how planned and proposed development activities will intersect with existing industrial operations to affect the region as a whole.

Fortunately, the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) recently released a report that addresses this information gap. The new report, entitled “A Synthesis of Existing, Planned, and Proposed Infrastructure and Operations Supporting Oil and Gas Activities and Commercial Transportation in Arctic Alaska,” takes a holistic view of industrial infrastructure and operations on Alaska’s North Slope. While the report is an independent publication of UAF, Ocean Conservancy provided support for the project and the underlying research and analysis.

The report compiles information about oil and gas activities and commercial transportation in the U.S. Arctic from a range of sources, including environmental analyses, planning documents, and industry materials. The report considers wells, roads, pipelines, and facilities that already exist in Arctic Alaska. It also looks at planned and proposed industrial infrastructure that may be built and operated in coming years, such as offshore energy development that could result from Shell’s oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea. To help readers visualize the scope and scale of development operations, the report includes a variety of maps depicting different portions of the Arctic and the region as a whole. By assembling this information in one place, the synthesis gives stakeholders and decision-makers a valuable reference for the region that has been previously unavailable.

There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding increased energy development in Arctic Alaska, but the report makes clear that if planned and proposed projects go forward, they could result in a significant expansion of industrial infrastructure and operations in the region, both onshore and offshore. This could include the construction of hundreds of new structures, thousands of new wells, and thousands of miles of new pipelines and roads. The new industrial development would greatly expand the industrial “footprint” in Arctic Alaska.

The report does not take a position on this potential expansion of industrial development in the U.S. Arctic. It does, however, give decision-makers and stakeholders ready access to information that can help them better understand how proposed industrial development activities may combine in ways that could have profound impacts on Arctic ecosystems and people. In doing so, it can facilitate integrated, long-term decision-making that will minimize and mitigate negative impacts associated with development. This will provide a strong foundation from which to explore alternative visions for Arctic conservation and development—something that Ocean Conservancy plans to pursue in the coming year.

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It’s Groundhog Day in the House of Representatives for Rep. Flores Mon, 21 Jul 2014 17:03:41 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen

Image derived from media by Columbia Pictures, Richard Cameron and Jeffrey Zeldman

One of my favorite scenes in the 1993 film Groundhog Day is when a melancholy Bill Murray is sitting at the bar with a couple of charming Punxsutawney locals and asks, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?“

So, last week when I heard about yet another attempt by Representative Bill Flores (R-TX) and his fellow House Natural Resources Committee members to undermine smart ocean planning through a rider attached to an appropriations bill, I couldn’t help but think about that scene from Groundhog Day and laugh.  In the movie, Bill Murray’s character is stuck living out the same day in agonizing perpetuity. In real life, Representative Flores continuously attaches anti-ocean planning riders to any bill he can. Ten times these riders have been introduced in the House – but so far each one has either been stripped out of the bill by ocean champions or the bill has died altogether.

At least in Groundhog Day, Bill Murray’s character takes the opportunity of being stuck living the same day over and over to learn jazz piano, French, and all of the answers to that day’s episode of Jeopardy. I’m not sure what is to be learned by introducing the same – ultimately unsuccessful – anti-ocean rider ten times.

Fortunately for the rest of us who live and work in coastal communities, Representative Flores’ attempts to slow down smart ocean planning efforts aren’t working; Planning efforts are actually ramping up. As John Podesta confirmed last month, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions will be finishing their ocean plans by 2016. In fact, Flores’ opposition has served to throw a spotlight on the tremendous public support that exists for planning.  Hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals representing a broad array of interests including commercial fishing, engineering and consulting, recreation and tourism, renewable energy, academics, tribes, faith-based groups, NGOs, and everyday citizens have written to Congress in support of smart ocean planning.  Thanks to this support from the public and all levels of government, planning is moving forward.

The movie Groundhog Day doesn’t resolve until Bill Murray’s character changes his ways. Perhaps Representative Flores will change his ways, too, once he realizes that smart ocean planning is a bottom-up solution that benefits communities, businesses, and the environment.

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New Case Study Shows How Smart Ocean Planning Helps Put Businesses in the Fast Lane Wed, 02 Jul 2014 20:45:52 +0000 Jayni Rasmussen

Photo: Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

This weekend, millions of Americans will head to the beach to celebrate Independence Day—and get stuck in traffic trying to get there.  But we aren’t the only ones getting tied up as we try to use the ocean: Businesses are too.  New business projects in any setting require jumping through some regulatory hoops, but projects in the ocean are notoriously more difficult to navigate. Unlike projects on land, the ocean is managed on a sector-by-sector basis and by multiple agencies (over 20 on the federal level, not counting states). Projects on the sea must often go through a time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating authorization process by multiple levels of government. For many businesses, this can mean months to years of time spent waiting instead of generating new jobs and revenue.

In a new case study released last month, Seaplan (an independent ocean science and policy group) looked at whether smart ocean planning can help.  They reviewed an undersea cable project in Massachusetts – where an ocean plan is already in place for state waters – and asked whether the ocean plan helped speed project approval.  After interviewing both the project administrators and government regulators, the answer was a resounding yes. Click here to read the full study.

Massachusetts was one of the first states in the nation to recognize the importance of smart ocean planning to help manage its coastal resources and promote balance between new and existing ocean uses. In 2009, the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan was adopted. The first project under the plan was a collaboration between Comcast and NSTAR Electric Company: the Martha’s Vineyard Hybrid Cable project. When this new cable—a hybrid bundling electricity with fiber optic cables—is finished, it will link Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard. The Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan allowed the Martha’s Vineyard project to be looked at comprehensively, so that regulators could streamline the permitting process.

So how exactly did smart ocean planning smooth out the process? Seaplan narrowed it down to three reasons:

  • Anticipation: When authorities developed the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan, they used data and maps to make decisions ahead of time on which types of activities are best suited for certain locations. Because these decisions were already laid out, the cable project administrators were able to consider those decisions in project design. This clear direction gave Comcast and NSTAR the incentive to bundle their cables, therefore maximizing use of the space that the Plan dedicated for submarine cables.
  • Streamlining: To make smart decisions, the Plan utilized an online, interactive mapping tool called the Massachusetts Ocean Resource Information System (MORIS).  Government staff were able to use this tool to easily identify potential impacts on the project’s suggested geographic area. Then, using siting standards laid out in the Plan,  they found an ideal route for the cable. This, in addition to the Plan’s requirement for higher interagency communication, drastically cut down the time spent by agencies on reviewing the proposed project site.
  • Protection: The Plan helps decision-makers understand where sensitive marine resources like eel grass exist so that they can avoid those areas when siting projects. And by combining the Comcast and NSTAR projects into one, the cable has a smaller footprint on the ocean floor.

The Martha’s Vineyard Hybrid Cable Project is just the first of many projects to come. It’s expected that as the Massachusetts Ocean Management Plan matures, the benefits of smart ocean planning for both businesses and government regulators will increase.


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Washington, DC: “Farewell Foam… Hello Clean Water!” Tue, 01 Jul 2014 13:56:08 +0000 Nick Mallos

Volunteers cleanup plastic-foam along the Anacostia River in Washington, DC.

July 18, 2014 update: Our nation’s capital has banned plastic-foam food containers!

As a conservationist, ocean lover and resident of Washington, DC, I have some exciting news to share! Last week, lawmakers in our nation’s capital voted to ban the use of plastic-foam food and drink containers throughout the District by 2016. This is a fantastic step for the health of the Anacostia River and a major step towards trash-free seas!

Each year during Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, we see massive quantities of foam polluting beaches, waterways and coastlines—1.2 million items of foam during the 2013 Cleanup alone. And foam doesn’t just disappear. A best-case scenario would have a single plastic-foam cup fully “biodegrading” in 500 years; however, it’s likely that these plastics will never truly go away. Foam is lightweight and brittle, fragmenting into small pieces at the slightest touch. These properties are the very reason it disperses so easily and widely on beaches and into rivers and marine environments.  With each piece of foam that fragments into waterways or the ocean, the likelihood that fish, sea turtles, or seabirds will mistakenly eat those plastic bits increases, threatening the health animals and our oceans.

While ocean cleanups help to lessen the problem – they are not the long-term solution. Cities and communities banning products like foam and encouraging fewer single-use products with actions like bag taxes, along with the production of fewer disposable goods are key in preventing trash from reaching the water in the first place.

But, before this new legislation becomes law, there will be a second and final vote on the bill this summer. We’ll be keeping an eye on the progress of this bill and hope that DC joins the ranks of Seattle, San Francisco and many other cities that have banned foam containers.

And, don’t forget—YOU can make a difference. Take the pledge to turn the tide on ocean trash and fight for a healthy ocean.

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A Modest Pledge Makes a Big Difference for Ocean Acidification Research and Collaboration Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:30:16 +0000 Sarah Cooley  

The right-hand end of the long, low pinkish building across the harbor houses the International Atomic Energy Agency Laboratory in La Condamine, Monaco, which hosts the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre.

Despite this week’s excited headlines about ocean research and conservation during Secretary Kerry’s “Our Oceans” conference, you still might have missed Prince Albert of Monaco’s Monday announcement that the U.S. State Department and Department of Energy have pledged a total of $640,000 to the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC), based at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Monaco lab.

This is great news for ocean acidification research and decision-making around the world. The OA-ICC engages scientists in international collaborative research, education, and advice to policymakers. For example, the OA-ICC and its partners have put out several informational brochures for the public in many languages about ocean acidification, and OA-ICC-affiliated scientists have presented at high-level international events like this week’s “Our Oceans” conference and the past five sessions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties. But the OA-ICC’s best known activity among specialists is their news stream, which is a thoughtfully-curated daily feed (available by email, Twitter, or RSS) about ocean acidification news stories, research outcomes, opportunities, and educational materials. The OA-ICC gets a lot done for a small price tag.

The State Department’s support will allow researchers and policymakers to continue to study ocean acidification globally and find meaningful solutions for people and communities impacted. We thank Secretary Kerry, HSH Prince Albert of Monaco, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Energy, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Principality of Monaco for their continued support of ocean acidification research and collaboration at the international level.

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