Ocean Currents » Science & Conservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 24 Nov 2015 20:06:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 An Ocean of Gratitude for Mikulski and Ruckelshaus http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/24/an-ocean-of-gratitude-for-mikulski-and-ruckelshaus/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/24/an-ocean-of-gratitude-for-mikulski-and-ruckelshaus/#comments Tue, 24 Nov 2015 16:02:50 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11114

Photo: Cate Brown

This Thanksgiving, we are grateful for the dedicated champions of ocean conservation.

Two of them—Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and William Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—will receive Presidential Medals of Freedom at a ceremony at the White House today.

Maryland native Senator Mikulski has always been committed to ocean and coastal issues, especially in efforts supporting the Chesapeake Bay. She has served in Congress since 1977 and in her long and storied career, has always been elevated ocean conservation, taking a strong stance on issues like sustainable seafood and fighting for federal investments to support ocean conservation, science and research. Senator Mikulski was a powerful ally for the ocean as the first female Senator to chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. We do not doubt that her service will inspire the next generation of champions.

Widely respected, William D. Ruckelshaus shaped a new era of environmental law in the United States. He was the first (and fifth) administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency established in 1970. As a member on the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy during the George W. Bush administration, Ruckelshaus also played a seminal role in shaping “An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century.” This 2004 report was a watershed moment for ocean policy that recognized the importance of oceans as a critical part of our national economy and way of life. Ruckelshaus continues to advance meaningful ocean policy reform through his role at the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.

Please join Ocean Conservancy in congratulating Senator Mikulski and William D. Ruckelshaus and thanking them for being true champions for our ocean.

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An Ocean of Thanks http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/an-ocean-of-thanks/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/an-ocean-of-thanks/#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2015 20:00:34 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11105

This has been a good year for the ocean. The hard work of ocean advocates — like you —has resulted in a series of victories moving us towards a cleaner, healthier ocean for the communities and animals that depend on it.

Join me in celebrating a few of the ocean successes we’ve seen over the past year:

  • Ocean plastic is now on the top of the international agenda, and we’re on the way towards an action plan to reduce ocean plastic by half.
  • The $20.8 billion BP settlement for their Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 is based on real science, on transparent governance and contains essential provisions for ocean health and science.  Things are looking good for the Gulf.
  • The Arctic regulatory environment is now configured in a way that post-Shell, new exploration in U.S. waters in the next decade is almost impossible. Things are looking better for the Arctic.
  • The International Coastal Cleanup celebrated 30 years. For three decades, Ocean Conservancy has inspired millions of volunteers around the world to clean up their coastlines. Last year, an astounding 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash — equivalent to weight of 38 blue whales. Things are looking better for our beaches.
  • We have pioneered a far better way to make ocean planning decisions in New England and the mid-Atlantic, and the first wind farm is a direct beneficiary of that.
  • We’re blazing new trails in figuring out entirely new approaches on how to think about commercial fishing.

None of these remarkable victories could have happened without you. I want to express my sincerest gratitude for your support, and I hope I can continue to count on you as we continue to work tirelessly for our ocean.

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Nationwide, Fisheries Landings Continue to Break Records Thanks to Sound Management http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/nationwide-fisheries-landings-continue-to-break-records-thanks-to-sound-management/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/23/nationwide-fisheries-landings-continue-to-break-records-thanks-to-sound-management/#comments Mon, 23 Nov 2015 08:00:35 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11085

A couple of weeks ago I went on a mackerel fishing trip out of St. Petersburg, Florida, with a 35-year commercial fishing veteran. It was a beautiful day and there was the slightest tinge of autumn out on the Gulf of Mexico, and we quickly caught the day’s order of Spanish and King mackerel. Heading back through John’s Pass I asked my friend, who also fishes for Gulf snapper and grouper, how business has been and without missing a beat he said “The last two years have been the best of my career.”

That commercial fishing captain’s booming business is a story reverberating in fisheries across the country, and is borne out in the 2014 Fisheries of the United States report issued by NOAA Fisheries this fall. The report, which is released annually, shows that U.S. fishermen landed 9.5 billion pounds of fish and shellfish with a dockside value of $5.4 billion, a volume that is higher than average for the past five years.

Recreational fisheries are seeing steady increases in landings as well. Here in the Gulf of Mexico the iconic red snapper fishery saw the highest allowable catch on record, at 14.3 million pounds of fish for 2015. Higher catch limits will ultimately result in more days on the water for recreational fishermen headed to the gulf to wet their lines from across the country as the stock continues to rebuild.

Out on the water, fishing is good because of good management practices put into place by federal regulators under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. Simply put, the law works, and commercial and recreational fishermen are reaping benefits while stocks continue to rebuild end ecosystems continue to rebound.

NOAA administrator for fisheries Eileen Sobeck noted that “sustainable fisheries generate billions of dollars for our economy, help keep saltwater recreational fishing as one of our nation’s favorite past times, and help coastal communities remain economically resilient.” For my commercial fishing friend, keeping fisheries sustainable will keep his business prosperous, and thankfully there is good evidence for staying optimistic.

The 2014 Fisheries of the United States report can be found here.

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Inspiration at 30 Feet http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/20/inspiration-at-30-feet/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/20/inspiration-at-30-feet/#comments Fri, 20 Nov 2015 14:00:00 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11075

I looked up just as the water above me darkened. Within an arm’s length, a massive whale shark passed over my head, its tail methodically propelling it forward. I caught its improbably small eye looking intently at me as it glided past. Directly behind came a second whale shark and then another.

But I wasn’t swimming in the ocean – I was 30 feet below the surface, at the bottom of the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium. As a marine scientist, I’ve logged a lot of dives in places from tropical reefs to temperate kelp forests. But I’d never been this up close and personal with the world’s biggest fish. In the wild, whale sharks can grow to 40 feet and nearly 50,000 pounds; those at the Georgia Aquarium are a relatively “small” 25 feet in length.

This jaw-dropping experience was made possible by Dr. Alistair Dove, Director of Research and Conservation at Georgia Aquarium and the newest member of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas Alliance®.  Along with April Crow of The Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Al was our local host last week, when Ocean Conservancy brought together industry members, conservation organizations and scientists in Atlanta to continue our collective work to stem the tide of plastics entering the world’s ocean.  As Ocean Conservancy’s Chief Scientist, I’m working to bring the latest science to bear on the Alliance’s efforts and I had the honor of guiding the group through two days of productive deliberations.

Under Al’s lead, the Georgia Aquarium has made solving marine debris one of its core conservation initiatives. Marine debris resonates with their nearly 2 million visitors a year because plastic in the ocean is unambiguously a problem of humanity’s making and one the aquarium can play a leadership role in helping solve.

When he isn’t working on ocean trash, Dr. Dove’s primary research focuses on understanding whale shark biology, ecology and evolution. He regularly studies the annual aggregation of whale sharks off the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico in search of elusive breeding behavior. An active and persuasive voice on social media (you can follow him on Twitter at @AlistairDove), Al shares his research experiences widely and he seeks to bring these findings and those of the other aquarium research and conservation initiatives to a range of audiences. With an infectious laugh and a keen sense of humor, Al shared these experiences with the members of the Trash Free Seas Alliance®, as the whale sharks and other denizens of the Ocean Voyager exhibit swam by the two-foot-thick viewing window.

My two days at the Georgia Aquarium reminded me why I decided to pursue a career in marine biology 25 years ago.  From the smallest of phytoplankton to the largest of whale sharks, ocean animals are infinitely fascinating. A healthy marine food web comprising these creatures is critical to humanity’s well being. Science shows us that we need to do more to protect the world’s ocean.  Doing so will need the support of the general public, who often get exposed to the ocean only at an aquarium, like the one in Atlanta. Bringing that experience to more people is a prerequisite for better decision-making, from personal choices on the use of disposable plastic to international leadership to reduce carbon emissions to protect the ocean from climate change.

All of us at Ocean Conservancy are looking forward to our new partnership with Dr. Al and the Georgia Aquarium. Together we can inspire the private sector, elected officials and the general public alike to work on behalf of ocean conservation so whale sharks and all the ocean’s creatures can continue to inspire us well into the future.

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Q&A With Claudine Hauri on her Work in the Southern Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/19/qa-with-claudine-hauri-on-her-work-in-the-southern-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/19/qa-with-claudine-hauri-on-her-work-in-the-southern-ocean/#comments Thu, 19 Nov 2015 14:00:51 +0000 Sage Melcer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11067

Ocean Conservancy spoke with Claudine Hauri about her publication this week in Nature Climate Change on the future impacts of ocean acidification on the Southern Ocean, the body of water surrounding Antarctica and the southern tip of South America. Claudine is a postdoctoral fellow at the International Pacific Research Center of the University of Hawaii and Research Assistant Professor at the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks and focuses on how physical, chemical and biological systems influence variability of ocean acidification and carbon cycling in the ocean.

 Q: What does your study show about ocean health?

A: We found that over the next several decades, ocean acidification will quickly change the chemistry of the Southern Ocean so that pteropods, small snails that are important to the marine food web, may struggle to form their shells. Our results suggest that the duration of conditions that are harmful to pteropods may increase abruptly from one month to more than six months in less than 20 years upon their onset. Given that we expect these conditions to get worse, it’s uncertain whether pteropods can adapt.

Q: How does this research fit into your previous work?

A: My previous work analyzes how ocean acidification may change the intensity, duration and frequency of such harmful conditions along the U.S. West Coast. There, the seawater is naturally enriched with CO2 due to seasonal upwelling of deep, CO2-rich water. Ocean acidification over the last few decades has pushed the seawater closer to becoming harmful for pteropods. As a result, they have to expend more energy to fight dissolution and are exposed to increased risk of mortality and infection. If acidification causes pteropods to die off, a crucial food source for many organisms such as salmon and whales will be gone.

Q: How did you come to focus on ocean acidification in the Southern Ocean for your most recent publication?

A: The Southern Ocean and the U.S. West Coast have a lot in common. Just like the waters along the West Coast, the Southern Ocean is naturally closer to the threshold critical for pteropod survival, and these tiny sea snails also play an important role in the food web. So I decided to look at the Southern Ocean a little closer and get a better understanding of how long and where these ecologically important tiny sea snails may be exposed to harmful conditions over the next century.

Q: What would you most like people to know about your research?

A: Ocean acidification is on the brink of threatening many of our marine ecosystems. The only way to mitigate this risk is to make immediate and significant reductions in our carbon dioxide emissions.

To learn more about the future impacts of ocean acidification on the Southern Ocean, you can find Claudine’s complete study here; along with a video she produced on her research.


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Mississippi: A Model For Restoring the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/18/mississippi-a-model-for-restoring-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/18/mississippi-a-model-for-restoring-the-gulf/#comments Wed, 18 Nov 2015 19:29:07 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11058

Since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began over five years ago, various settlements with BP and Transocean have given way to a veritable alphabet soup of restoration processes: NFWF, NRDA, RESTORE, NAS and so on. Each process has its own set of funding and restrictions, which can exhaust the many dedicated people who are engaged in restoration with multiple sets of public meetings and comment periods. But the fish and crabs and wetlands in the Gulf don’t care where the money comes from to restore their health and their habitats.

Of all five Gulf Coast states charged with restoring the Gulf, Mississippi has demonstrated an understanding of this concept of interconnectivity the best. Last week the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality released the Mississippi Gulf Coast Restoration Plan. The plan includes a new model of Mississippi’s environment and extensive input from the public on what restoration issues matter most to them. The plan will be used to guide restoration decision-making regardless of where the money comes from, creating a one-stop shop for the public to provide their input in the coming years. The plan was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), which received over $2 billion from BP and Transocean criminal settlements to restore the Gulf.

NFWF was busy last week, also announcing $80 million in new projects across the Gulf. We are particularly excited to see a continued commitment to restoring the Gulf beyond the shore, including fisheries monitoring in Florida and Alabama, and enhancing the marine mammal stranding network in Florida. Thank you to Florida and Alabama for your work in the marine environment and to the other states who funded important coastal restoration work.

We will continue to track all of the restoration work in the Gulf and share our insights with you, no matter how thick the alphabet soup gets!

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What We Know Now About the BP Oil Disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/11/09/what-we-know-now-about-the-bp-oil-disaster/#comments Mon, 09 Nov 2015 20:00:14 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11026

It takes 635 pages to describe exactly how the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster impacted the Gulf ecosystem. This is what the Trustees released in the “Injury to Natural Resources” chapter of the Draft Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (which totals over 1,400 pages), a plan that will guide the spending for a over $7 billion of the $20.8 billion settlement with BP.

We know that not everyone has the time to peruse hundreds of pages of information, so Ocean Conservancy and the National Wildlife Federation partnered to summarize what we now know about impacts. This summary is based on five years of government research, which recently became available when the details of the BP settlement were released last month.

The numbers in the report are staggering. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and birds died, and many more were exposed to oil. Trillions of larval fish and invertebrates were killed by BP oil discharged into Gulf waters. An area 20 times the size of Manhattan around the now-plugged wellhead is polluted by oil. Deep-water corals, some of them hundreds of years old, were killed. In addition, due to the challenge of measuring the impact to some animals and places, the Trustees describe many of their conclusions as underestimates. What we do know is that the oil disaster affected the entire northern Gulf ecosystem, and the long-term effects are still unknown.

Long-lived or slow-growing animals that were impacted by the BP oil disaster will likely take decades to recover. For example, spinner dolphins are estimated to need 105 years to recover, and slow-growing deep-water corals may take hundreds of years. In light of this, it is essential that restoration is paired with continued long-term monitoring and research to track these animals and habitats to understand if they are on the path to recovery, and to reassess our restoration activities if they are not responding to our efforts.

More than five years have passed since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and as we look back to better understand the magnitude of this environmental disaster, we must also remember to look forward. In addition to identifying the extent of ecosystem injury, the Trustees also recommend a comprehensive suite of restoration approaches to move the Gulf toward recovery.

Learn more about how you can shape this process for the next 18 years.

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