The Blog Aquatic » Science & Conservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:00:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Deepwater Horizon Victims on BP: “I Can Make Them Pay, but I Cannot Make Them Apologize.” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/deepwater-horizon-victims-on-bp-i-can-make-them-pay-but-i-cannot-make-them-apologize/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/deepwater-horizon-victims-on-bp-i-can-make-them-pay-but-i-cannot-make-them-apologize/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:00:49 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9443

My stepdad was working on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico when I heard that one of BP’s drilling platforms had exploded that Tuesday night in April 2010. Luckily he was not on the Deepwater Horizon, but I wondered who was—did I know them? Did their families live nearby?

There are many sides to the tragedy of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, and a new documentary released yesterday, “The Great Invisible,” delves into the lives of the survivors, the decisions made by BP and Transocean to forgo safety measures, and the frustration that many communities felt as they pieced their lives and livelihoods back together after the well was capped.

To me, the most compelling stories from the documentary were those we don’t often hear—the stories of survivors Doug Brown and Stephen Stone. Doug was hired by Transocean as chief mechanic for the Deepwater Horizon, and he’d worked on the platform since it was first built in 2001. Before the explosion in 2010, Doug had complained to Transocean that the reduction in mechanical staff posed a real safety issue.

But staff cuts were not the only issue aboard the Deepwater Horizon. “There were 26 different mistakes made,” said Keith Jones, father of Gordon Jones—a drilling engineer who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The cement hadn’t cured, he said, there was rubber in the drilling mud and the hydraulics for the blow-out preventer were not working. These stories from staff aboard the Deepwater Horizon support the presidential oil spill commission’s conclusion that the BP oil disaster was caused by a culture of complacency, rather than a culture of safety.

Guilt is a prevailing sentiment among the survivors interviewed for the documentary. Despite his complaints about staff issues, Doug feels guilty as a lead Transocean staff member aboard the platform and even planned to commit suicide after the explosion. Stephen Stone worked as a roustabout on the Deepwater Horizon. “I didn’t really tell anybody that I was involved,” he said, “because I didn’t know if I should be proud of it or embarrassed by it, you know? And I still don’t know.” Keith said he had felt proud when his son Gordon got the job. “I bragged about getting my son work on the Deepwater Horizon,” he said. Gordon and his wife were expecting a second child when he was killed in the explosion.

Keith attended the screening at the New Orleans Film Festival last week. When asked by an audience member if there was any amount of money or convictions that he felt would truly hurt BP the way they have hurt his family, Keith, a lawyer based in Baton Rouge, said of his opponents in court, “I can make them pay, but I cannot make them apologize.”

BP is facing a fine as high as $17 billion to restore the Gulf of Mexico. Many survivors of the explosion, including Stephen and Doug, are still waiting on their settlements. But no amount of money will ever really reverse the damage caused, nor could it bring back Gordon and the 10 other people whose lives were lost.

The film’s director Margaret Brown, a native of Mobile, Alabama, said that she felt inspired to create this documentary because, even though she grew up on the Gulf Coast, not until the BP oil disaster did she fully understand that there is a “factory under the Gulf of Mexico that we’re all connected to.” That factory has led to great wealth in our region for a century now, but it also comes at great cost. As we work to ensure that the fish, birds and other wildlife in the Gulf are recovering, our thoughts are with the people and families who were directly affected by the BP oil disaster and who are also still recovering.

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Good News For Gulf Fishermen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/29/good-news-for-gulf-fishermen/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/29/good-news-for-gulf-fishermen/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:42:23 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9423

The prognosis for the long-term recovery of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico brightened considerably last Thursday with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s passage of a measure known as “Amendment 40”—also known to fishermen as “Sector Separation.” Amendment 40 will allow separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper.

Although the red snapper fishery in the Gulf is managed as a single stock, the reality is that fishermen from the Florida Keys to South Texas face different situations and fish for different reasons. A for-hire captain who takes customers out of Southwest Florida and deep into federal waters may have a different set of concerns or needs than the weekend recreational angler who has a boat and likes to go red snapper fishing with friends and family but might not venture far from their home marina in the Florida Panhandle, Louisiana, or Texas. It is because of these vastly different situations among fishermen that a new management strategy was needed to address individual concerns, while also ensuring that conservation and rebuilding of the stock remains paramount.

The problem has been made worse by the fact that the science-based recreational quota for red snapper landings has been exceeded every year for twelve of the past fifteen seasons, often by hundreds of thousands of pounds. If this continues, we will jeopardize the efforts to rebuild this valuable fishery and conservation measures to end overfishing will be undermined.

Amendment 40 allows for management strategies that are better tailored to the individual needs of fishermen. Private recreational anglers will get the majority share, or 56 percent of the allocation, which will ultimately result in a season that is managed and designed with their unique needs and concerns in mind. The remaining 44 percent is reserved for members of the public who don’t own a boat and hire guides to take them out on the water. This will enable these charter captains to better schedule fishing days for their clients as their season becomes more predictable and stable.

This new approach to red snapper management is the result of nearly seven years of work. Numerous alternatives were developed and discussed at council meetings and public hearings around the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of written and spoken comments in favor of Amendment 40 were received by the council from fishermen, charter-for-hire captains, environmental groups, and concerned citizens from across the country.

Last week’s decision represents a practical and levelheaded solution that balances the needs of this ecologically and economically important reef fish and the sometimes competing demands and needs of an increasingly growing fishing public.  Amendment 40’s passage shows how the process can work successfully on behalf of all stakeholders, from fishery managers to fish conservationists to on-the-water fishermen. And, of course, the fish.

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Yes, BP Did Damage the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/yes-bp-did-damage-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/yes-bp-did-damage-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:19:05 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9398

In an opinion piece published Tuesday, the oil giant BP would have us believe that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster wasn’t all that bad for the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, they admit the event was a tragedy, and, sadly, both people and wildlife perished. But, they quickly point out that the effects from the disaster were not as dire as predicted, and recovery is already happening or perhaps complete.

But those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. We know that marine ecosystems affected by oil spills much smaller than the BP oil disaster, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, take decades to recover. And with only four and half years behind us since the Deepwater Horizon exploded, we see a steady drumbeat of peer-reviewed articles documenting evidence of harm. The full effects of 210 million gallons of oil on the Gulf cannot be easily dismissed, especially when the injury studies BP conveniently cites are not yet available to the public. A deep dive into the real evidence of the BP oil disaster reveals several holes in BP’s story.

To read the rest of this story, please view our article on Politico’s website.

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42 Years of the Marine Mammal Protection Act http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/21/42-years-of-the-marine-mammal-protection-act/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/21/42-years-of-the-marine-mammal-protection-act/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 13:10:37 +0000 Jackie Yeary http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9358

Marine mammals are some of the most beloved animals in our ocean. Whether you have a soft spot for majestic whales, playful seals or adorable sea otters, you have reason to celebrate. Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, an important piece of legislation that protects all marine mammal species found in U.S. waters.

The Act protects whales, dolphins, polar bears, walruses and many other marine mammals (approximately 125 species). This Act “prohibits, with certain exceptions, the ‘take’ of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the US.” This means any attempt to harass, hunt, capture or kill marine mammals is illegal without special permits.

Some threats faced by marine mammals face come from boaters and tourists. You can reduce these threats by following the guidelines developed by NOAA for responsible marine wildlife viewing. The guidelines may differ slightly by region or species, but there are also general rules to follow if you encounter a marine mammal in the wild—such as keep a respectful distance, and never attempt to touch or feed the animal.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act has given threatened and endangered species a chance to rebound. Hopefully, with increased awareness and continued protection, the marine mammals we love will continue to thrive in our ocean, and people will enjoy these amazing animals for generations to come.

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The Gulf is Home to a Small Group of Really Big Whales http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 19:45:10 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9312

When I think of the great filter-feeding whales, I don’t tend to think of the Gulf of Mexico. However, I was recently reminded that the Gulf is home to some of these amazing whales. They are called Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whales, and they are found around the world, but only 33 of them live in the northern Gulf. A recent genetic study by NOAA biologists reveals that this small group of whales may be a completely unique subspecies!

These Bryde’s whales are unique in their size, as well as in the calls that they use to communicate with each other. Through genetic analysis, scientists have determined that this subspecies has undergone a dramatic decline in population. “It’s unclear based on the genetics exactly when [the decline] occurred,” said Michael Jasny, director of the marine mammal program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It’s possible humans were involved in the decline, through whaling or industrial activities.”

With only 33 whales and little genetic diversity, the newfound subspecies is particularly vulnerable to threats such as ship strikes, noise and pollution. The Bryde’s whales’ home range is also adjacent to the Mississippi Canyon, the area where the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster occurred, raising questions about how this small group of whales may have been impacted by that disaster.

The NRDC has submitted a petition to have the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale federally listed as endangered. As a genetically distinct subspecies, these whales are eligible for additional protections under U.S. law—protections that are necessary if we want to improve their chance for survival and recovery.

Scientists are continuing to study these whales. The information they gain will help them understand the history, biology, status and conservation needs of Bryde’s whales and others that live in the area—such as the Gulf of Mexico sperm whale population discovered last year —because the first step in protecting something is understanding what it needs to survive. This information is also a key part of restoring the Gulf of Mexico to the vibrant, diverse ecosystem that we depend on.

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International Coastal Cleanup Day 2014 http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/30/international-coastal-cleanup-day-2014/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/30/international-coastal-cleanup-day-2014/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 16:58:13 +0000 Michelle Frey http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9293 Every year, hundreds of thousands of volunteers all around the world remove trash from their local beaches and shorelines for the International Coastal Cleanup. View some of the photos we collected from the 2014 Cleanup.

Photo: Jackie Yeary/Ocean Conservancy Photo: Jackie Yeary/Ocean Conservancy Photo: Jackie Yeary/Ocean Conservancy Photo: Jackie Yeary/Ocean Conservancy Photo: Elyse Butler Mallams/Ocean Conservancy Photo: Elyse Butler Mallams/Ocean Conservancy Photo: Jackie Yeary/Ocean Conservancy costas 014 ]]>
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This is How We Can Make Shipping Safer in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/26/this-is-how-we-can-make-shipping-safer-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/09/26/this-is-how-we-can-make-shipping-safer-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 21:30:33 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9289

The Bering Strait is the only marine connection between the Chukchi Sea and Arctic Ocean to the north and the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean to the south. Just 55 miles wide, the Strait separates Alaska to the east and Russia to the west.

The Bering Strait is a biological hotspot. Millions of seabirds and hundreds of thousands of marine mammals use the Strait as a migratory corridor, and the Bering and Chukchi Seas are one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world.

But we’ve also noted that vessel traffic through the Bering Strait is growing. Earlier this year, an American company revealed plans to sail a luxury cruise ship from Seward, Alaska to New York City in 2016, using the fabled Northwest Passage. More recently, a Canadian company announced its intent to ship a cargo of nickel concentrate from northern Canada to China, also via the Northwest Passage. In addition to increasing interest in using the Northwest Passage north of Canada, traffic on the Northern Sea Route north of Russia is growing.

As vessel traffic increases, so too does the potential for adverse environmental impacts to the Bering Strait region. These impacts could include more pollution, ship strikes on marine mammals, and oil spills, among others. Growth in vessel traffic could also have adverse effects on the indigenous peoples; ship traffic could swamp their small boats, displace the animals they hunt, or cause waves that disturb archeological sites and culturally important places.

Fortunately, there are solutions that can make shipping safer and reduce the chances of accidents and spills in the Bering Strait region. A new article in the journal Marine Policy outlines some of these solutions, including:

1. Establishment of shipping lanes: Shipping lanes or recommended routes serve to confine vessels to particular pathways in some portions of the ocean. Use of shipping lanes can help to create regular patterns of use and ensure that vessels steer clear of potential marine hazards.

2. Designation of “Areas to be Avoided”: As the name implies, “Areas to be Avoided” are used to help ensure that vessels stay away from areas of the ocean that may be especially dangerous or vulnerable to disturbance. “Precautionary Areas” can also be used to alert mariners to areas that require special caution.

3. Imposition of speed restrictions: In some situations, slowing down can reduce the risk of ship strikes and decrease noise that may adversely affect marine mammals, especially in constricted areas.

4. Bolstering communications and monitoring: Establishment of routine reporting requirements for vessels transiting the Bering Strait could help keep both local communities and search and rescue officials aware of activity in the region. Use of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) could facilitate communication and monitoring, helping to prevent accidents and ensure compliance with regulations.

Other potential safety measures include improved charting for Arctic waters (many of which have not been charted to modern standards); more rigorous voyage planning; and pre-placement of equipment and rescue tugs that would enable quicker response to accidents.

These safety measures may be put in place in a variety of ways, ranging from voluntary adoption by industry, creation of regulations by U.S. agencies including the Coast Guard, or through international agreements between nations or under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization.

There is no “silver bullet” that can eliminate the threats posed by growing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait, but if sensible regulations and mitigation measures are put in place now, they will go a long way toward increasing shipping safety and reducing potential environmental impacts.

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