Ocean Currents » Science & Conservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 27 Feb 2015 16:41:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Where Are the “Hotspots” For Ocean Acidification? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/24/where-are-the-hotspots-for-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/24/where-are-the-hotspots-for-ocean-acidification/#comments Tue, 24 Feb 2015 14:38:21 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9921

By now, coastal communities are asking: “Who’ll be hit next by ocean acidification? And what can people do?” Until now, we haven’t known where exactly in the United States ocean acidification is most likely to affect marine ecosystems, and where the effects on people could be greatest. (Fortunately, several forward-thinking states are already studying the issue and recommending next steps!)

Three years ago, I teamed up with an economist, a human geographer, and another ocean acidification scientist to lead a study that would identify ocean acidification “hotspots” around the United States – places where ocean changes will be large and coastal communities depend heavily on shellfish harvests, but where people don’t have many resources to guard against losses of these harvests. We gathered a group of 20 science and policy experts to study the issue at the National Science Foundation-funded National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Since then, we’ve synthesized information about the oceanography, shellfish harvests, and coastal communities across the United States in a formal risk assessment. We’ve just published our results in Nature Climate Change this week.

There were a couple results that really surprised us. Most amazing of all, we found that there is no single region in the United States that maxes out all the scales: no place has the greatest chance of ocean acidification, the greatest dependence on shellfish harvests, and the lowest amount of resources to fight it. While that’s good news, it does make the job of comparing hotspots across the country much harder.

Different shellfish-harvesting areas of the country face risk from ocean acidification from different mixtures of factors.

The Pacific Northwest, whose $272 million, 3,200 job Pacific oyster industry has already been endangered by ocean acidification, faces risk from multiple oceanographic factors like dissolving atmospheric carbon dioxide, upwelling, and nutrient pollution, and it also depends heavily on money and jobs from shellfish harvests. But the area is full of experts on ocean acidification, who have worked together with growers to fight it. The Northeast United States doesn’t have as many oceanographic risk factors, but it is home to many extremely valuable and historic shellfish industries. Think of New Bedford, Massachusetts’ sea scallop fishery, New England’s quahog and chowder clam harvests,  and Virginia and Maryland’s recently reborn Eastern oyster industry. These areas haven’t invested as heavily as the Pacific Northwest has to study the issue and develop defenses, even though a lot of money and jobs are at stake. The Gulf Coast also doesn’t have as many ocean risk factors, but certain counties and parishes, like Plaquemines, Terrebonne, and St. Bernard parishes in Louisiana, make a lot of money from oyster harvests. There are almost no efforts in the Gulf region to track acidification and take defensive action to protect local jobs and income.

Another shocking result was how little information exists about how our nation makes a living from the water. As this was a synthesis project, we limited ourselves to data that had already been collected rather than going door-to-door and doing our own surveys. While there are fantastic public databases concerning some aspects of marine harvests, there are some gigantic holes. For example, we don’t know which coastal towns could lose the most jobs if shellfish harvests decrease. But that’s powerful information that will help citizens plan for a changing ocean.

I’m glad that so many states are already studying what ocean acidification will mean for them. But our new study reminds us that planning ahead for acidification doesn’t just mean focusing on the water. We also need to think about people and harvests, too. Strengthening coastal communities or safeguarding shellfish harvests involves sharing knowledge within communities, and teaming up to research new ways to sustain marine populations. Some inventive solutions are already being tested: Pacific Northwest shellfish growers are “sweetening” water in their hatchery tanks with carbonate minerals, and they are thinking how to breed more resilient young shellfish. Communities are considering how to cut nutrient pollution that worsens ocean acidification while they work on long-term projects to cut carbon dioxide emissions too. Strategic investments in ocean acidification research that will prepare coastal communities for the future also need to include work on land, to gather key data about people and to strengthen their ties to each other to share ideas and solutions.

Figure: Cartoon showing all the risk factors in our study. Upwelling, river discharge, and nutrient pollution worsen ocean acidification. At the same time, ocean acidification (ocean acidity, in the figure) will reach a critical point for shellfish larvae at different dates around the country (gray tones). On land, dependence on shellfish harvests and communities’ ability to cope can be combined into a social vulnerability score (red tones).

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Quietly, Without Fanfare, Another Step Forward in Protecting the World’s Largest Fish http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/19/quietly-without-fanfare-another-step-forward-in-protecting-the-worlds-largest-fish/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/19/quietly-without-fanfare-another-step-forward-in-protecting-the-worlds-largest-fish/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 17:32:18 +0000 Corey Ridings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9912

In June of 2013 the international body that manages tuna fish in the Eastern Pacific Ocean drafted and approved a resolution to protect whale sharks. The resolution isn’t groundbreaking; the New York Times didn’t report, Anderson Cooper wasn’t on the scene, and Greenpeace didn’t raise the flag. In fact, in the year it took to make U.S. compliance official via rulemaking in September 2014, even the fish-heads and whale shark lovers here at Ocean Conservancy barely noticed. This is a good thing.

Too often fisheries management is mired in relatively small, but high-profile, fights. The fact that the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) quietly prohibited tuna fishermen, who hail from many nations around the Pacific, from using whale sharks as de facto Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) marks another small but important step towards saving some of the world’s most iconic species and preserving a healthy ocean.

FADs are physical objects placed in the ocean by fisherman that encourage fish to congregate around them. They make catching multiple fish at a single time easier. In this case some fishermen were using a live “FAD,” aka the whale shark, as a way to catch fish. Unfortunately they were catching the whale shark at the same time. But no longer, at least by international agreement.

It is perhaps fitting that such a small victory was regarding such a large animal. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish, and are objectively one of the most beautiful creatures that live in the ocean. Often confused with whales (for obvious reasons) they are striking creatures with highly distinctive coloration and grow as large as school buses. They are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fishermen in some parts of the world still targeting them for food. Their life history traits make them especially vulnerable to overfishing though, and beyond new measures like the one made by the IATTC, additional efforts around the world are needed to ensure their survival. Fortunately, other small, lower-profile efforts are already underway in other parts of the world…

Donsol, Philippines. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), in collaboration with the local government, operates an eco-tourism program where domestic and foreign tourists swim with whale sharks, while ensuring conservation measures are met… Former local fishermen are employed as guides, and boat operators spend the season motoring snorkel-clad tourists between whale sharks and the beach. Donsol, a sleepy town on the southern tip of the island of Luzon, has emerged as a destination resort town with whale shark tourism supporting much of the local economy. Hand-painted whale sharks grace the walls of the local elementary school, and the smell of delicious Bicolano cooking (think seafood meets coconut and chili pepper) wafts from the town center. Donsol serves as an example of how some species are worth more in the water than in a net to the local community – the economic effects from tourists and the value of the whale sharks to the natural ecosystem outweigh the money to be gained through the sale of whale shark as meat.

This model is taking root across the globe, as coastal towns like Donsol support themselves economically and conserve natural resources at the same time. These communities are well-aware of the conservation threats and consequences that exist in their waters, but lack of local opportunity can leave people with little choice, but to harvest local resources as a matter of survival. Local innovations are now giving people other choices.

The ocean needs these small, barely noticed victories, as they add up to a larger picture of a world that cares deeply about the state of our oceans. They are politically inexpensive, but they matter. They also important because they are forward-looking – resolving and preventing issues that are relatively small now, but could become a much larger threat if allowed to continue and grow. A single platform cannot provide the depth or breadth needed to solve a problem as large and complex as preserving the ocean’s biggest fish. Diplomats and bureaucrats making quiet, low-profile advances, and coastal communities trying something new in hopes of economic security and conservation, these are vastly different arenas and actors but both necessary. They aren’t sexy, and don’t get much attention, but are vital to ocean politics and management that can maintain a thriving ocean.

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Update: Investigating Dolphin Deaths in the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/18/update-investigating-dolphin-deaths-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/18/update-investigating-dolphin-deaths-in-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Wed, 18 Feb 2015 21:00:50 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9895

Photo: Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Over the past five years, unusually high numbers of dolphins have been dying in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Marine Fisheries Service declared an unusual mortality event back in December 2010. While it’s easy to assume that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is to blame for these sick and dying dolphins, it’s important to have the scientific evidence to hold BP accountable.

Last week a group of 16 scientists published a paper with detailed information when and where dolphins are dying across the five Gulf states. Since first reading this paper last week, I’ve been thinking about what it means that the clusters of dolphins with the highest and longest mortality rates were those in Barataria Bay following the oil disaster, and also those where oil landed in Mississippi and Alabama in 2011. The authors of the study don’t hesitate to make inferences about the connection to the oil disaster, and so neither should we.

BP has repeatedly stated that the disaster didn’t adversely impact dolphins, but we know that oil negatively affects marine mammals and that the highest incidents of strandings were in oiled areas. Sure, it’s possible that other factors may have harmed these dolphins, such as changes in water temperature and salinity. It’s also possible that some of these dolphins may have suffered from infections, but overall, this area was heavily impacted by the BP oil disaster, and it’s also possible and probably more likely that the BP oil disaster tipped the scales for many of these dolphins, making them more vulnerable to other stressors (like cold water or infections).

Throughout their paper, the authors stress the importance of more detailed research to determine the exact causes of death in each of these clusters. This highlights the importance of sustained and long-term data collection. Without historic data we wouldn’t have the context needed to understand the significance or determine the causes of the dolphin deaths in the Gulf.

Marine mammal stranding networks are vital to understanding the health of dolphins in the Gulf. These experts act as first responders when a dolphin is found stranded on a beach or in shallow water, but budget cuts limit the capacity of these stranding networks to respond. Restoration dollars, provided by the penalties paid by BP and other responsible parties, can help these stranding networks save the lives of stranded dolphins. The future of our understanding of this unprecedented event depends on our commitment to gathering the data we need to make marine restoration a reality in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Trashing Paradise: The Case of the Philippines http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/16/trashing-paradise-the-case-of-the-philippines/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/16/trashing-paradise-the-case-of-the-philippines/#comments Mon, 16 Feb 2015 13:00:42 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9864

A guest blog by Andrew Wynne

An island archipelago nation laying in the western Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is commonly known for its idyllic beaches, rugged volcanic interior, routine natural disasters, and amicable people. But perhaps less known is the battle against solid waste that is currently enveloping the country. I spent two and a half years on the front lines of this battle as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer and can attest to what a study published just last week in the respected journal Science found; the Philippines, along with a small number of other developing countries, is a major vector for plastics and other debris flowing into the global ocean.

With the vast majority of the population and economy tied to the coastline, managing solid waste is exasperating already stressed resources and forcing individuals into economically inefficient ways of making a living that strain the coastal environment. In addition, the Philippines’ location in the western Pacific Ocean likely leads to the transportation of waste around the globe, thereby affecting everyone from local barangays to American coastal cities.

The fundamental issue is how to solve this large and growing problem on land, and in doing so, protect the ocean from the harm that debris causes. The Philippine government has adopted a number of laws needed to help mitigate solid waste.  The problem is these laws and product bans don’t work well if community members don’t understand the consequences of their actions or know why these policies were designed. This lack of awareness about solid waste and its effects on local waterways and the ocean is ultimately crippling the Philippines’ national process to confront the problem. To stem it nationwide, a concerted effort is needed from the ground-up, one that actively involves community members in the discussion.

I recently returned from Tabaco City, Albay, a port city in Southern Luzon facing the Pacific, where I was a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer working on coastal resource management. After seeking input from local leaders and experts, I worked with Bicol University Tabaco Campus (BUTC) and Dean Plutomeo Nieves to develop and launch the Save the Rivers, Save the Sea Program.

Begun in January 2014, this three-year program has been using a participatory, community-based approach to address solid waste management, improve river water and habitat sustainability, and thereby protect our ocean. Local students and youth representatives are both the facilitators and target audience; the program seeks to empower them to initiate action, repair existing degradation, and be leaders in sustaining their local ecosystems for future generations.

Thus far, 36 BUTC students have facilitated a community needs assessment amongst almost 300 local households. The students interviewed residents and sought information related to solid waste management practices, community involvement, and river usage. River water quality testing and cleanup events are ongoing, and future program activities will include educational campaigns to inform and educate the community and the establishment of a Bantay Ilog, or “river watch team.”  With this groundwork in place, the Save the Rivers, Save the Sea Program hopes to facilitate the co-management efforts needed for future urban river sustainability and solid waste management in Tabaco City.

With proactive national and provincial policies, local awareness and activism, and financial resources to build a foundation of leadership, we can take the next step in stemming the flow of debris in the rivers and coastal environment of the Philippines.  This will be one small step in solving the global problem of plastics pollution in the ocean identified last week in Science. While it is troubling that the scientists found that the Philippines is a major source of ocean trash, efforts such as the Save the Rivers, Save the Sea Program can be a model for how other local communities can contribute to a global effort to protect the oceans from the threat of land-based debris.

About Andrew Wynne

Andrew Wynne is a graduate student in Environmental Studies at the University of Charleston, South Carolina and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. He served in the Philippines (2012-2014) as a Coastal Resource Management Advisor, and hopes to continue to educate and inspire others to create healthy coastal environments. A SCUBA diver and former college athlete, Andrew lives an active lifestyle fueled by travel and exploration, but never strays too far from the water.

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Trashing the Ocean: New Study Provides First Estimate of How Much Plastic Flows into the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/13/trashing-the-ocean-new-study-provides-first-estimate-of-how-much-plastic-flows-into-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/13/trashing-the-ocean-new-study-provides-first-estimate-of-how-much-plastic-flows-into-the-ocean/#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 13:00:27 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9855

8 million metric tons. That’s 17 billion pounds. That’s a big number. It’s also the amount of plastics that scientists have now estimated flow into the ocean every year from 192 countries with coastal access.

A groundbreaking study was published yesterday in the international journal Science and released at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement for Science in San Jose, California. This work is part of an ongoing international collaboration among scientists at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara to determine the scale, scope and impacts of marine debris – including plastics – on the health of the global ocean. Spearheaded by Dr. Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer from the University of Georgia, and other experts in oceanography, waste management and materials science, this is the first study to rigorously estimate the flow of plastic materials into the global ocean.

For the last decade, scientific evidence has been mounting that once plastic enters the ocean it can threaten a wide diversity of marine life (from the smallest of plankton to the largest of whales) through entanglement, ingestion or contamination. The images of how plastics kill wildlife aren’t pretty. But if we are going to stop this onslaught we must know how much material is entering and from where.

The numbers published yesterday are daunting: the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean from land each year exceeds 4.8 million tons (Mt), and may be as high as 12.7 Mt. This is one to three orders of magnitude (10 – 1000 fold) greater than the amount recently reported in the high-concentration garbage patches. The amount entering the ocean is growing rapidly with the global increase in population and plastics use, with the potential for cumulative inputs of plastic waste in the ocean as high as 250 Mt within 10 years—that’s more than 550 billion pounds. Discharges of plastic come from around the globe but the largest quantities are estimated to be coming from a relatively small number of rapidly developing economies. In fact, Dr. Jambeck’s study determined that the top 20 countries account for 83% of the mismanaged plastic waste available to enter the ocean.

This last point is important.  It indicates that the global ocean plastic problem is actually solvable if we target our efforts at the regions where the flow is greatest. And the greatest opportunity to stem the flow exists in a small number of countries in Asia. Jambeck and her colleagues calculated that improving waste management by 50% in the top 20 countries would result in a nearly 40% decline in inputs of plastic to the ocean.  While this certainly won’t be easy, this would make a big dent in the problem.  To do so, we must move from a mindset of solely trying to clean up the ocean to one where we work together to prevent plastics from entering the ocean in the first place.  At Ocean Conservancy, we should know.  For 30 years, we have coordinated the International Coastal Cleanup and our data have shown this problem isn’t getting any better. Now, Dr. Jambeck’s findings confirm it is actually getting worse.

At Ocean Conservancy, we are committed to science-based solutions to the oceans greatest challenges like food security, climate change and ocean pollution. Yesterday’s study should be a call to arms to improve waste collection systems and practices in those parts of the world where the contribution to plastic pollution in the ocean is greatest. The clock is ticking; we must confront this challenge before plastics overwhelm the ocean.

As ocean advocates, our mission is to protect the long-term health of our ocean. Yesterday’s study shows that to do so we must look toward the land for solutions.

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An 11-Billion Pound Plastic Gorilla is in Our Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/12/an-11-billion-pound-plastic-gorilla-is-in-our-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/12/an-11-billion-pound-plastic-gorilla-is-in-our-ocean/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 19:01:16 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9827

Walk along a beach or waterway and you’re apt to see a food wrapper floating on the water or glimpse a beverage bottle made of plastic hovering near the shore. Read an article about the ocean gyres, the so-called “garbage patches,” and you’re likely to hear about the vast amounts of plastics that are polluting the seas.

Three years ago, researchers at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) set out to quantify – for the first time – the amount of plastic waste entering the ocean from land-based sources.  Their research shows staggering results – with annual plastics inputs into the ocean exceeding 4.8 million tonnes and possibly as high as 12.7 million tonnes (approx. 11-26 billion pounds). Because the quantities are growing rapidly due to increases both in population and in plastics use, there may be as much as 250 million tons (550 billion pounds) of plastic in the ocean within another decade.  These findings were published today in the February issue of Science and provide more in-depth information about what is happening with plastics in the ocean.

Once plastics enter the marine environment they disperse across our global ocean. There is no one single entry point for ocean plastic pollution. In fact, the global problem is comprised of a myriad of local inputs from beaches and waterways around the world. But the recent research shows that the largest amounts of plastic in the ocean come from a relatively small number of rapidly developing economies. In fact, 83 percent of the plastic waste that is available to enter the ocean comes from just 20 countries; chief among them are China, Indonesia, and the Philippines with the United States rounding out the top 20. The economies where plastic inputs are greatest are those where population growth and plastics consumption is severely outpacing waste management capacity. In many of these geographies waste collection is simply nonexistent.

While the results of the study are daunting there is a silver lining:  the science  produced at NCEAS suggests that the tide of plastics entering the ocean can, indeed, be reversed. Solutions to the growing problem of plastic pollution are achievable, given sufficient resources and commitment.

Reduction in plastics use, especially of single-use disposable products, and recycling of plastics in developed countries can help to reduce the amount of plastic waste that enters the ocean. Catalyzing locally appropriate waste systems in rapidly growing and developing economies is also a critical strategy to turn the tide on ocean plastic pollution.

As a marine scientist working on the issue of marine debris, I have been humbled by the discovery of the scale and scope of plastic inputs to the ocean.  The time is now, however, to move from a place of problem admiration and move to a place of intervention.  And I am optimistic because these findings point to a solution.

Tackling the problem of plastic in the ocean begins on land and this research confirms that. By cutting in half mismanaged waste in the top 10 countries alone, we could reduce plastic waste by more than 30%. Ocean Conservancy and its Trash Free Seas Alliance are working with businesses to identify the most effective ways to do just this and support improved waste collection in these high priority countries.

Stopping the avalanche of plastic isn’t just good for the ocean – it’s good for the health, economics and well-being of the communities where the trash originates.

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Interview: Building an Ocean Cleanup Brigade in Bangladesh http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/11/interview-building-an-ocean-cleanup-brigade-in-bangladesh/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/11/interview-building-an-ocean-cleanup-brigade-in-bangladesh/#comments Wed, 11 Feb 2015 14:00:20 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9838

Ocean trash.  Marine debris. You’ve heard it’s a problem. An ever-increasing amount of plastic pollution is entering our ocean every day. Surprisingly, many countries around the world lack the most basic trash collection services. As incomes rise, people are able to afford more and more plastic goods. But in many countries, the ability to collect and manage waste isn’t growing at nearly the same rate. As a result more plastic is ending up on beaches, in rivers and eventually the ocean.

We’re lucky at Ocean Conservancy to have an incredible network of passionate and devoted coordinators and volunteers through our International Coastal Cleanup who work tirelessly to keep their local beaches and waterways free of harmful plastic debris. Just last week, I had the honor of interviewing our Bangladesh Country Coordinator, Muntasir Mamun, about the problems with marine debris and how the Cleanups in his country have been successfully recruiting more and more volunteers.

OC: Why are you so invested in our ocean’s health?

Muntasir: Bangladesh is the biggest delta on Earth and has one of the largest natural sandy sea beaches. Due to over population, Bangladesh is heavily threatened by the impact of trash. Moreover, thousands of rivers are going across my country and ending up being at the ocean. So, the trash being in the rivers (intentionally or unintentionally) are going to be in the ocean. Not only that, geographically Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries from the impact of climate change.

OC: How did you first get started with the International Coastal Cleanup?

Muntasir: I heard about this program while I was attending an exchange program in Japan in 2005. One of the participants from the Philippines suggested that I become involved in Bangladesh since we have such a long coastal belt.

OC: What beaches have you helped clean up?

Muntasir: Cox’s Bazar and St. Martin’s Island

OC: Who did you work with during the Cleanup that inspired you?

Muntasir: I think the volunteers are the key inspiration factor for me.

OC: How has your Cleanup changed over the years?

Muntasir: When I first started this program in Bangladesh, 10 years ago, there were only four people involved. But now, it’s a program of more than thousands. Local government, corporations and educational institutions got involved in the program. The beach we used to see a long time ago, it’s cleaner than ever. The habit of littering was reduced and a number of trash bins have been installed.

OC: How would you describe your volunteers?

Muntasir: Volunteers are the heart of the International Coastal Cleanup. It’s the volunteers who keep the program running and successful.

OC: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve found during a Cleanup?

Muntasir: A huge abandoned fiberglass boat on the shore of St. Martin’s Island.

OC: Thanks for all your time, Muntasir, and for the tremendous effort you lead to keep the shores of Bangladesh free of trash!


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