Ocean Currents » Science & Conservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:00:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Breaking Arctic News http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/28/breaking-arctic-news/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/28/breaking-arctic-news/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 13:00:26 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9767

Yesterday, President Obama issued permanent protections from future oil and gas drilling for some of the Arctic Ocean’s most significant marine areas. The President’s action is an important and positive step to limit risky drilling, and will help protect the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, including vital walrus habitat at the Hanna Shoal.

At the same time, however, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) issued a draft proposed program that calls for additional oil and gas lease sales in other areas of the Arctic, even though oil companies have not shown they are able to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic. Extreme conditions like changing sea ice, fog, and high winds make meaningful cleanup all but impossible. A disaster like the Deepwater Horizon in the Arctic would devastate marine wildlife and jeopardize food security in Alaska Native communities.

Join us in sending a message to BOEM: No Arctic Ocean drilling.

Stand against reckless drilling in the Arctic Ocean. Tell BOEM not to sell Arctic oil and gas leases in the 2017-2022 program.

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BP Back in Court http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/20/bp-back-in-court/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/20/bp-back-in-court/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 13:00:22 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9713

BP once again must appear in court today as the final phase of the BP trial begins in New Orleans. This is the third phase of a multiyear trial to determine how much BP and other responsible parties should pay for their role in the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Just last Thursday, the Judge issued another ruling, finding that 3.19 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf. This means that the maximum fine BP will face is $13.7 billion. This final phase of the trial will focus on eight factors, as required by the Clean Water Act, including BP’s history of prior violations and the seriousness of this violation.

A key factor in court will be BP’s efforts to minimize the harm. In other words, did BP do enough in responding to the disaster to justify lowering their fine? Yes, BP took efforts to stop the flow from the well and the spread of oil, but BP also lied about the rate at which oil was spewing from the well.

The economic impact of the penalty on BP will be interesting to watch as well. The court will need to determine whether this inquiry focuses on BP (the parent company) as a whole or only on its subsidiary, BP Exploration & Production, known as BPXP. BP is expected to argue that the recent dip in oil prices should be factored into this inquiry. (This assertion, as you might expect, has been met with criticism.)

A third factor will be the issue of simple vs. gross negligence. That question was answered back in September when the court ruled that the oil disaster was the result of BP’s “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct,” Though this sounds like legalese, this ruling is extremely important; it means more funding will be available for restoring the Gulf. Funding for restoration projects via the RESTORE Act comes from Clean Water Act fines. And the finding of “gross negligence,” rather than ordinary negligence, means that fines can be as high as $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled, instead of $1,100. Eighty percent of the Clean Water Act fines will be used to repair and restore the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on it.

These penalty factors will be hotly debated during the trial starting today, and arguments will help determine whether the judge leans toward the high end of $13.7 billion or the low end of $7 billion. We can expect BP to argue for sympathy and leniency (i.e., “we’ve been punished enough; we’ve learned our lesson.”) BP will likely call attention to the money it spent on cleanup and capping the well back in 2010 (which was required by law). The courtroom action will last two or three weeks, and then the parties will file briefs with the court until late April. But there is no established timeline for when the judge will issue a ruling. And, of course, there is always the possibility that the parties could agree on a settlement.

Regardless of how this trial ends, a successful resolution must include funding to monitor the Gulf ecosystem over the course of 25 years, restoration that includes the offshore environment where the oil disaster began, and a transparent decision-making process that allows the public to participate in a meaningful way.

Many questions still loom, but we know a few things for certain. We know the people of the Gulf Coast and the coastal and marine ecosystems of the Gulf will feel the effects of the BP oil disaster for years to come. But from this disaster comes an opportunity to restore and chart a new path for the Gulf. Restoration is already underway, and this final phase of the trial gets us one step closer to justice and a healthier future for the Gulf.

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Tasting Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/15/tasting-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/15/tasting-ocean-acidification/#comments Thu, 15 Jan 2015 22:14:58 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9695

Photo: Russell Illig

Pink shrimp raised in tanks that simulate the more acidic ocean expected in the future just don’t taste right, according to a recently published research paper from Sweden.  For the first time, a scientific study has looked at the effects of future ocean conditions on the taste of seafood.

Teaming up with a professional chef, the researchers cooked and served local shrimp that had been raised for three weeks in high carbon dioxide conditions alongside shrimp raised in regular conditions. Volunteer taste testers then tried both kinds of shrimp and scored them on appearance, texture, and taste.

Ocean acidification didn’t affect texture at all, but it significantly hurt the shrimps’ appearance and taste scores.  Shrimp raised under regular conditions were more than three times as likely to be rated the best shrimp on the plate, and the shrimp raised with high carbon dioxide levels were about three times as likely to be rated the worst on the plate.

“Ocean acidification is often referred as the silent storm because you can’t see it, you can’t hear it, and you can’t smell it, but our research suggests that you just may be able to taste it”, says lead author Dr. Sam Dupont, in a statement from the University of Gothenburg, where the research was performed.

The researchers did not study exactly why the flavor and appearance changed, but it’s well known that stressed animals produce poorer quality meat. In fact, fish under stress can have a metallic aftertaste. The stress of ocean acidification might have changed these shrimps’ metabolism enough that they didn’t store fats and sugars normally, leading to these changes.

These intriguing results suggest that there could be many hidden ways that global change will affect the things we care about. It’s not just about shellfish growing slower or sharks not smelling their dinner. It’s also about how our dinner might taste!

 

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A New Approach to Ocean Pollution http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/18/a-new-approach-to-ocean-pollution/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/18/a-new-approach-to-ocean-pollution/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:49:42 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9652

How much plastic do you think is in the ocean? Just last week, a paper was published that estimates 5.25 trillion plastic particles, weighing about 269,000 tons, are floating in the ocean. This news helps confirm what many scientists have been saying for years: that plastic pollution in the ocean isn’t just in the famous “garbage patches” – it’s everywhere.

This is very bad news for our ocean. Once in the water, plastic breaks into tiny pieces that collect harmful industrial pollutants. While this paper looks only at the plastic floating in the water, there is much more plastic in other parts of the ocean. Some of the plastic ends up the famous garbage patches – the rest is dispersed throughout the water, resting on the ocean floor and trapped in Arctic ice. This highly-polluted plastic is also ingested by animals.

Read more at Forbes.com >>

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Stand Against Risky Oil Drilling in the Arctic Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/11/stand-against-risky-oil-drilling-in-the-arctic-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/11/stand-against-risky-oil-drilling-in-the-arctic-ocean/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:13:20 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9611 Arctic sea ice

© Corbis. All rights reserved.

If we don’t act now, the U.S. government could open up more Arctic waters to exploratory drilling as soon as this summer!

This after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) own report said there is a 75% — yes, 75% — chance of a large spill if companies like Shell are allowed to develop and produce in Arctic waters.

We can’t stand by and let that happen.

BOEM is holding a public comment period from now until December 23rd before making a critical decision about offshore drilling in the Arctic. They need to hear from you now.

Take action now: Tell the U.S. government to stop risky Arctic Ocean drilling.

With ever-changing sea ice, freezing temperatures, limited visibility, gale-force winds and no Coast Guard base for almost 1,000 miles, cleaning up a major oil spill in the Arctic would be incredibly difficult if not outright impossible.

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California’s MPAs: A Pilgrimage to Where it All Began http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:00:15 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9597

At 1,400 miles in length, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on our planet and consists of more than 600 types of hard and soft corals. Thousands of varieties of fish and molluscs call this breathtaking maze home. And if that isn’t enough to impress you: the Great Barrier Reef is so massive it can be seen from outer space. Yes…outer space! Needless to say, visiting this special place has been on my bucket list since I was a kid and saw my first film chronicling the explorations of Jacques Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) also served as inspiration for California’s process to establish a statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs), an effort I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working to support. So when I was invited to speak about these areas at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney this November, I jumped at the opportunity to attend, and to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

It was spectacular. I shared turquoise blue waters with blacktip reef and tawny nurse sharks, took flight with white-spotted eagle rays, and floated quietly in the presence of loggerhead sea turtles. Best of all, I got to rub elbows with the folks who make the GBRMP possible.  And I learned that they spend a lot of time thinking about the same issues as we do: education and outreach, partnerships and local engagement, long-term monitoring, and best practices for enforcement.

Because the Great Barrier Reef is a single, complicated structure with trillions of delicately balanced living and breathing components, it is also ground zero for our increasingly warm and more acidic ocean. What happens to the sensitive, exposed habitats of the Great Barrier Reef in the next couple of years may be a harbinger of what’s to come in the rest of our ocean in the coming decades.

Heron Island, where I spent much of my time, is a coral island that sits directly on the Reef, just north of Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, where the world’s fourth largest coal export terminal is located. The Island is home to nesting green sea turtles, giant shovel-nosed rays, and a 400-pound Queensland grouper named “Gus.” It’s also home to the University of Queensland Research Station, where scientists are studying the effects of carbon emissions and warmer temperatures on local corals.

These scientists know that the fossil fuels we are burning—like coal—don’t just go into the atmosphere; they are also absorbed by the ocean. When this carbon pollution is absorbed by seawater, it turns it more acidic. In fact, the ocean is 30% more acidic today than it was 150 years ago. And increasingly acidic water is bad news for animals that build shells, including corals.

Warming waters, also as a result of carbon dioxide, mean more bleaching and more algae and diseases that corals have to recover from. Scientists in the Great Barrier Reef are looking at what this all will mean for the Reef and for the ocean as a whole.

While the situation is very concerning, it’s my hope that our global community will be able to significantly reduce carbon pollution and ocean acidification to keep our ocean—and the wonders that reside within it— healthy.

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Fishing with Captain Monty (and Planning for the Mid-Atlantic’s Future) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/09/fishing-with-captain-monty-and-planning-for-the-mid-atlantics-future/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/09/fishing-with-captain-monty-and-planning-for-the-mid-atlantics-future/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 15:58:15 +0000 Christine Hopper http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9584

Our team at Ocean Conservancy is twenty-five nautical miles off the coast when Captain Monty Hawkins anchors the Morning Sun and we drop our fishing lines. We are lucky enough to be fishing for sea bass, easily one of the tastiest fish in the mid-Atlantic. Captain Monty specializes in precision fishing of natural, shipwreck and artificial reefs off the coast of Maryland. Once we get a primer from him on the ins and outs of catch limits and size requirements, we are off and fishing.

It is easy to see the lure of this magnificent body of water. Looking out onto the vast ocean, a sea turtle swims past the boat. On our way back to land, we are accompanied by dolphins and watch in awe as they surface in splashing trails nearby. What isn’t visible to the naked eye is that these ocean waters are a major economic driver for the region, sustaining a robust seafood industry, recreational fishing and tourism activities. The economic success of the region relies heavily on the ecological health of its ocean and coast, along with responsible planning for uses like commercial and recreational fishing, offshore energy, and more.

Unlike projects on land, the ocean is managed on a sector-by-sector basis and by a myriad of government agencies, often with little communication among them. This hurts both Ocean Conservancy’s and ocean industries’ ability to manage ocean use on a science-based and sustainable basis. Current and emerging ocean businesses often go through time-consuming, expensive and frustrating permitting processes by multiple levels of government. Without better data, coordination, and smart planning for sustainable use, growing ocean development can lead to conflicts and confusion. These issues threaten the food, jobs and recreation we rely on from our ocean.

The day before our fishing excursion, members of the public representing an array of ocean users gathered in Ocean City Maryland to address this exact issue. State, federal and tribal government representatives from the mid-Atlantic are leading a “Regional Planning Body” (RPB) that has begun to develop the region’s first smart ocean plan. Public stakeholders joined the meeting in Ocean City to discuss with RPB members their input on what that ocean plan will look like. Voices ranged from commercial fishermen, local surfers, charter-boat operators, and offshore wind developers who all gathered for a sit down discussion with the RPB members. Captain Monty was there too, talking about the value of the reefs we fished to the charter fishing industry and the need for data on reefs and fisheries to be reflected in the ocean plan.

Established in April, 2013 the Mid-Atlantic RPB has its eyes set on implementing an ocean plan by 2016. It is tasked with developing, along with stakeholder and public input, a plan with all the necessary data and information to support informed decision-making on ocean uses, and to help coordinate growing offshore usage while balancing and sustaining the ocean’s ecological health.

Whether or not there really are plenty of fish in the sea is up for debate, and as anyone who has fished will tell you, it depends on where you’re fishing. One thing is for certain however; there are plenty of ocean users competing for a finite set of resources, and their voices are hard to hear unless they are seated at the table together. Regional ocean planning provides a venue and a “common table” for this important dialogue between a wide array of ocean users and managers. We are excited about the opportunities for smarter and more sustainable decision-making that this process provides, and hope that with the help of a regional ocean plan, Captain Monty and we will be hauling up fish from the mid-Atlantic waters for decades to come.

For more information on upcoming opportunities for stakeholder participation please visit the following regional sites:

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