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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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East Coast State Legislators Begin Investigations on Ocean Acidification

Posted On May 9, 2014 by

Photo: Ted Van Pelt with Creative Commons License

When people think about the state of Maine, images of lobsters and lighthouses usually spring to mind. For the state of Maryland, people think of blue crab and the rivers feeding into the Chesapeake Bay.  Both states are closely associated with rich maritime traditions, however a change in ocean chemistry is rapidly occurring that could jeopardize not only their maritime way of life, but also the jobs and economic benefits that the ocean and coastal waters provide.

Ocean acidification is caused by carbon pollution from factories, cars, and power plants being absorbed by the ocean, turning it more acidic. In fact, the ocean absorbs roughly 30% of all carbon pollution we put into the atmosphere, and local pollution running off from the land into coastal areas can make acidification worse. Animals that have shells, like oysters, clams, mussels and crabs have trouble surviving in increasingly acidic water. In the Pacific Northwest  ocean acidification has damaged these animals, contributing to billions of baby oyster deaths, significantly impacting the hatcheries and oyster operations in these regions. The impact of ocean acidification on other animals, such as lobsters and fish, are not well understood.

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House of Representatives Ignores Calls for Investments in Our Ocean and the People that Depend on It

Posted On May 8, 2014 by

Just a few months ago, President Obama called for a much-needed boost in federal funding for our ocean. The U.S. House of Representatives, however, has refused to stand up and answer that call. The House’s proposed funding bill for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which was released this week ignores needed investments in critical areas of ocean science and conservation, and would even take steps backward, decreasing the amount of funding for our ocean from current levels.

Overall, the bill fails to provide  $22.7 million for the National Ocean Service and $46.6 million for the National Marine Fisheries Service that NOAA has requested – a total loss of nearly $70 million for our oceans, and $24.5 million below current funding levels.

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Regulation of Shipping in the Warming Arctic is a Hot Topic

Posted On April 11, 2014 by

With 90 percent of the world’s trade being transported across our ocean, it was only a matter of time before the receding sea ice in the Arctic Ocean captured the interest of the shipping industry. Shipping goods through the Northern Sea Route across the Russian Arctic coast, along the fabled Northwest Passage of the Canadian and U.S. Arctic coasts, or straight across the North Pole could save time and money. But at what cost? The Arctic Ocean is far from a safe place for vessels, and the inevitable accidents in this remote and rapidly changing region could devastate the fragile ecosystem. Fortunately, the International Maritime Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations that regulates global shipping, is developing a mandatory ‘Polar Code’ designed to minimize impacts of the anticipated Arctic shipping boom.

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Coast Guard Report Shows Shell Failed to Recognize Risk in the Arctic

Posted On April 4, 2014 by

Photo: Coast Guard

This past Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard released a report on its investigation into the grounding of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig Kulluk near Kodiak, Alaska on December 31, 2012. A tug lost control of the Kulluk in heavy weather on the way to Seattle after Shell’s failed attempt to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean in 2012.

The Coast Guard report provides a detailed account of the events before the Kulluk ran aground and identifies a number of causal factors, including lack of experience in Alaska waters, failure to recognize risks, use of inadequate equipment, insufficient planning and preparedness and major problems with the primary towing vessel.

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Communities Come Together to Restore the Gulf

Posted On April 2, 2014 by

Great things happen when people come together and collaborate on a shared vision, especially when that shared vision is a healthier Gulf of Mexico. This notion rang true at a series of workshops Ocean Conservancy helped to coordinate in Mobile and Baldwin counties on the Alabama Gulf Coast. These “Community Conversations” were an opportunity to share information with and collect ideas from residents and business owners about the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s (NFWF) Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund.

As you might remember, NFWF established this fund with $2.544 billion from a settlement resolving the criminal cases against BP and Transocean as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Alabama will receive $356 million over the next five years to fund projects that benefit Alabama’s coastal and marine wildlife and habitats. Last fall, 22 projects were selected to restore and protect our natural resources around the Gulf Coast. Alabama received $12.6 million for three projects, which will restore oyster reefs and watersheds around Mobile Bay.

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Galveston Oil Spill Threatens Multibillion-dollar Investment in Gulf Wildlife

Posted On March 27, 2014 by

Photo: Laronna Doggett

This week, as we recall the moment that the Exxon Valdez crashed into Bligh Reef just off the coast of a sleepy Alaska fishing town 25 years ago, a similar scene unfolds on the other side of the country. Under heavy fog, a barge traveling through Galveston Bay, Texas, collided with another ship and leaked an alarming amount of oil into the bay from its 168,000-gallon fuel tank. Due to bad weather, the oil is spreading quickly and has been spotted as far as 12 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.

Response teams are busy trying to contain the oil on the water’s surface with boom and skimmers, but the damage has already been done. Spring is a crucial time for bird migrations in Texas, with an estimated 50,000 shorebirds and seabirds roosting at the Bolivar Flats Refuge only two miles from where the spill occurred. Our partners at Audubon and Galveston Bay Foundation are on the ground reporting a number of birds that have been found oiled. The surface oil also poses a threat to dolphins and turtles, which frequently surface in the bay. The endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles living in the Gulf nest almost exclusively on the coasts of Texas and Mexico.

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Four Reasons Why an Arctic Oil Spill Could be Catastrophic

Posted On March 25, 2014 by

Photo: NOAA

Just after midnight on March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. In the days that followed, the tanker spilled approximately 11 million gallons of oil into the sound. Oil from the tanker eventually affected roughly 1,300 miles of coastline, some of it more than 450 miles away from the site of the spill. Experts estimate that the spill killed roughly 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles and up to 22 killer whales. Although the Exxon Valdez oil spill was not the biggest oil spill in the world, it is still widely considered to have caused more environmental damage than any other.

The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill is a good opportunity to evaluate the threat of an oil spill in the Arctic. In recent years, oil companies have expressed great interest in drilling in Arctic waters off the north and northwest coasts of Alaska. In addition, decreasing levels of summer sea ice mean that Arctic waters are experiencing more vessel traffic. Both drilling and shipping activities have the potential to cause a catastrophic oil spill in the Arctic region. What lessons from the Exxon Valdez spill can be applied to the Arctic?

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