Great news from the west coast! Last week, the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a ban on the sale of polystyrene foam. Foam packing, cups and mooring buoys will be prohibited starting January 1, 2017. This is a major win for the health of our ocean and marine life!
As you may already know, the problems associated with expanded polystyrene (foam) products is that they often fragment into small pieces once in the ocean, where fish, sea turtles or seabirds can mistakenly eat the tiny plastic bits. Nearly 425,000 foam cups, plates and food containers were removed from beaches by volunteers during the 2015 International Coastal Cleanup alone. And even more astounding are the more than 950,000 pieces of foam volunteers found on beaches around the globe during the 2015 Cleanup.
On July 5th, the Mid-Atlantic States become the second region in the nation to release an ocean action plan for their shared federal waters, an historic move that follows a similar release by the New England states in May.
Over the past 3 years, the Mid-Atlantic has been at the forefront of regional ocean planning in the United States. Along with the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic states chose to develop their ocean plan after President Obama’s National Ocean Policy was announced in 2010. Led by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Planning Body which is comprised of six states, two federally recognized tribes, multiple federal agencies and the Fisheries Management Council, the region is now poised to not only better manage its ocean resources, but to plan more comprehensively for its future. The release of this draft plan, in combination with the Northeast Plan, is a major step towards more coordinated, science-based and stakeholder-informed ocean management. Between the two regions, ocean plans now benefit ocean users and resources from Virginia to Maine.
So what does this plan mean for you as an ocean user?
As the state representative for the Florida Keys and South Miami-Dade County, there are few things more important to our well-being than the health of our unique marine environment. We are home to the Everglades, the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world and the only living barrier reef in the continental United States. Since I took office, I have made it a priority to do everything I can to help raise awareness about our water issues in Tallahassee and we’ve made great progress in the last four years when it comes to improving water quality.
Despite this progress, there are still many stressors facing Florida’s oceans and ocean acidification (OA) is a particularly significant threat. Its impacts on our marine ecosystems are less visible so it has not been as widely discussed as other environmental threats, but that is starting to change, and I am excited to help bring further awareness to this issue. Side effects of acidification like decreases in coral reproduction, growth and calcification as well as slower shellfish growth mean that this is not an issue we can afford to ignore. Already, other fisheries across the country are seeing serious economic impacts from OA and if it continues unchecked, the impacts to Florida businesses and residents could be equally devastating.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) just took a huge step in preparing our ocean, fisheries and coastal communities for climate change. This type of foresight and required coordination is difficult, and hasn’t happened as often as it should in the past. The Western Regional Action Plan (WRAP) lays out why and how NFMS will develop, use, and apply science that helps West Coast fishery managers prepare for climate change.
I’m glad to end this week with great news for both fishermen and fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
On June 23, federal fisheries managers in the Gulf voted strongly in favor of keeping an innovative concept that is working well to provide recreational red snapper fishermen greater access while delivering greater economic stability for charter captains.
Amendment 40, known to fishermen as Sector Separation, allowed separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper. Approved by the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council in 2014, it sought to ensure that conservation goals stay on target. It was designed to allow for greater precision in managing the unique needs of two very different sets of fishermen with accountability as the key. It limited the likelihood that the fishery as a whole took more fish out of our ocean than allowed by law.
Last month, a collection of maps representing one of the largest known efforts to assemble and disseminate spatial data for multiple species of marine life was released in New England. This powerful new information database characterizes over 150 marine species through map based visualizations.
These data enhance our fundamental understanding of marine species and where they exist in the ocean, bringing us a step closer to a more comprehensive assessment of marine resources. In the end, the goal is to better inform decision-makers who are tasked with improving ocean ecosystems and enhancing our ocean economy.
Reef-building corals find refuge from climate change in mangrove habitats. Photo credit: Caroline Rogers, USGS.
Dr. KimberlyYates will be a panelist at an ocean acidification roundtable we are hosting in Miami this week. There, she will join other scientists, Florida elected officials and local businesspeople in discussing what ocean acidification has in store for Florida’s marine life and its coastal communities. Follow the meeting on Twitter via #FL_OA on Friday, June 17!
OC: Your research focuses on several marine habitats in Florida: coral reefs, estuaries and mangroves. How are they coping with ocean acidification?
Dr. Yates: Most of what we know about how ocean acidification is affecting these environments comes from experimental research. We know some marine organisms will be negatively impacted, and some may benefit. For example, some species that form their skeletons and shells from minerals made of calcium carbonate, like corals and some shellfish, are negatively impacted. Ocean acidification slows the rate at which they grow their skeletons and shells, and can also cause calcium carbonate minerals to dissolve.
Other species like seagrasses and some marine algae benefit from ocean acidification because it increases their growth rates. Coral reefs have been degrading rapidly over the past few decades, and recent research shows that some reefs in the Florida Keys are beginning to dissolve during certain times of the year from ocean acidification…which was not expected to happen for another few decades. Estuaries and mangrove wetlands support many species of shellfish, and ocean acidification may negatively impact those species and the economies that depend on shell fisheries. We are still learning about how changes caused by ocean acidification are impacting these habitats.