The Blog Aquatic » Science & Conservation News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 27 Nov 2014 11:00:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why I Haven’t Given Up On the Ocean, and Why You Shouldn’t Either Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:09:34 +0000 Sarah Cooley

Photo: Cate Brown

It’s been a depressing few weeks in ocean news. I’ve seen lots of downer headlines lately about new studies saying we’ve “screwed the oceans” with carbon dioxide pollution, left a dirty “bathtub ring of oil” in the Gulf of Mexico, and dumped so much plastic in the ocean that whales are choking to death. Plus I can’t escape the bickering in every media outlet about whether or not the carbon emissions agreement between U.S. and China means anything. You’re probably exhausted by it all too. But before you totally tune out, thinking that the ocean’s problems are just TOO big, let me tell you why I haven’t given up on the ocean.

As you know, I’m a scientist, so I like to think first about how science will help us out of this fix. My colleagues and I have been working on ways to break down what puts individual communities at risk for ocean acidification. We did this recently for Alaska, and now we’re finishing a similar study for the whole United States. Turns out, it’s not just oceanography that puts human communities at risk – it’s also the ways humans depend on marine harvests, and the ways communities are put together socially. This is great news for community leaders, who can encourage future regional development that will decrease these risks. The scientists who reported on the Gulf’s oily bathtub ring also point out that their research sheds light on how oil moves and breaks down in deep water, which offers ways to “avoid and mitigate oil spills in the future.” This is great news for accident response planners and restoration experts. And finally, studies of how marine animals eat plastic debris does shed light on how these animals hunt and behave (a tiny silver lining in a very, very, dark cloud), but most importantly, these studies have grabbed everyone’s attention. People around the world are appalled by this. And as a result, there is a growing movement to address ocean trash that is co-led by plastics manufacturers.

By breaking problems down into smaller-scale causes and effects, ocean research continues to find ways we can intervene and avoid a future without wildlife, clean water, or clear air. Even for big, bad problems like carbon dioxide and plastics pollution, we make progress step by step.

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5 Reasons You Depend on Healthy Fisheries Fri, 21 Nov 2014 18:20:55 +0000 Ellen Bolen

Happy World Fisheries Day! Today we celebrate the fish and fishermen who are vital to a healthy ocean and thriving coastal economies. Whether we live near the water or not, we all depend on healthy fish populations for a healthy ocean and economy.

Fish are truly amazing – coming in all different shapes and sizes and living in nearly every corner of the ocean.

In honor of World Fisheries Day, we’re paying tribute to our gilled friends of the sea. Here are five fin-tastic ways that we all depend on healthy fish populations:

1) Healthy fish create a healthy environment.
We all know that little fish are eaten by big fish, and big fish are eaten by bigger fish—all the way up the food chain. But fish can serve other roles in their environment, too. In some instances, fish literally shape the environment around them. Fish contribute nutrients to their local ecosystems—helping algae and seagrasses to grow and become abundant for all ocean critters to feast upon.

2) Healthy fish support a strong economy.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 2013 report on the status of Fisheries of the United States, 11 million anglers took 71 million recreational fishing trips and commercial fishermen brought in a total of $5.5 billion in revenue to the United States!

3) Healthy fish feed hungry people.
Do you enjoy a good sushi dinner? So do lots of other people. The United States is the world’s third largest consumer of seafood after China and Japan. With such a taste for seafood, it’s important that we carefully manage our fisheries so future generations can enjoy it too!

4) Healthy fish attract sightseers.
Fishing is isn’t the only industry contributing to a healthy economy. Scuba divers, snorkelers and other recreationists bring in lots of money to coastal communities’ tourism industries.

5) Healthy fish make healthy people.
Believe it or not, fish are an important part of our medical industry. While 77% of fish caught in the commercial sector was used for human consumption, fish are used for more than just food.  An ocean commission report lists chemicals and biological materials from marine organisms now in use or development, including 10 anti-cancer drugs, drugs to fight inflammation, fungus, tuberculosis, HIV, malaria and dengue.

Ocean Conservancy has worked for more than 22 years to support sustainable U.S. fisheries. Thanks to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the United States has made great strides in rebuilding domestic stocks and ending overfishing in U.S. waters.

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Gulf Leaders Hit the Mark on Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:10:20 +0000 Kara Lankford

Photo: NOAA

Here at Ocean Conservancy, we blog about many issues—some are calls to action, some are educational, but this one is a call to celebrate! Today, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced more than $99.2 million for 25 restoration projects across the Gulf of Mexico.

The best part of this news is that Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have chosen to invest in projects that will restore the Gulf beyond the shore. These projects will provide much-needed funding to:

As detailed in Ocean Conservancy’s booklet Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore, we are a major champion for projects that restore the offshore species in the Gulf, as well as the underwater habitats that they call home.

We believe it is important to invest in the recovery of these animals that spend much of their lives offshore because the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began in the deep water of the Gulf. The coastal and marine environments are two halves of a single whole, and restoration of one will be incomplete without the other.

We extend a hearty handshake to the folks at NFWF and to our state leaders for recognizing this intrinsic connection. We also commend NFWF and the states for taking a regional, ecosystem approach by funding restoration projects across multiple states and funding streams, so that these projects build on each other to create a comprehensive, integrated restoration effort. It’s so important to leverage the fines from BP and other responsible partners so that restoration of the Gulf is larger than the sum of its parts.

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Kids Show How to Fight (and Win!) Against Ocean Trash Thu, 13 Nov 2014 15:25:44 +0000 Sarah Kollar

November 1 was a cold, dreary morning in Boston and when I arrived at Wollaston Beach to take part in a beach cleanup, the rain and wind grew more intense. I questioned whether we could even have a cleanup, but all doubt was swiftly wiped away when I met the staff and students from Park School.

I should have known that these fourth, fifth and now sixth graders, who successfully campaigned for Dunkin’ Donuts to stop using Styrofoam cups, weren’t going to let the weather get them down.  As part of their school’s Green Club, these kids are seriously passionate about the environment. When they learned that expanded polystyrene (EPS)—the material used in foam-style cups—virtually never breaks down in the environment and often winds up in our oceans, they decided to act.

Their petition on landed them a meeting at Dunkin’ Donuts’ Corporate Headquarters where they expressed their concerns about the 1.7 billion coffees served a year in disposable EPS cups, which could have major consequences for the ocean. As a result of this and the 280,000-plus signatures the campaign has garnered, Dunkin’ agreed to switch to more environmentally-friendly alternatives to serve their tasty beverages.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to meet these students who are true ocean heroes that are tackling trash at the source, one item at a time. Their enthusiasm and dedication motivated our group to hit the beach in the rain and collect all the trash we could find. We found the regular trash culprits including cigarette butts, plastic bottle caps, and plastic pieces. The experience came full circle though when we found Dunkin’s iconic pink and orange straws, foam pieces and Dunkin’ Donuts cups in their entirety!

Chatting with the students and their teacher and club advisor Mr. Ted Wells, I learned that their advocacy efforts for the ocean and environment in general are far from over. While Dunkin’ Donuts won’t be completely EPS free by the students’ goal of Earth Day 2015, the Park School Green Club promises to see the effort through. And they are sure to be involved in many more environmental projects and campaigns to come.

After making a difference on the beach, we retreated indoors for some well-deserved hot cocoa.  The students and volunteers were pleased to enjoy their drinks in reusable Ocean Conservancy mugs, which were a thank you for their hard work and for being active ocean advocates. Besides, trash free champions would never want to drink their cocoa from disposable cups!


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Bicoastal State Action on Ocean Acidification Tue, 11 Nov 2014 14:24:07 +0000 Guest Blogger

By Guest Authors Mick Devin, Jay Manning and Eric Schwaab

Last week at the Restore America’s Estuaries Summit hundreds of people gathered near the nation’s capital to talk about coastal restoration and management practices. We were invited to lend a voice to a significant new coastal threat – - ocean acidification.  Acidification threats have been recognized by coastal communities and businesses as not just a concern for restoration practitioners, but to the fishing and aquaculture businesses that support the economies of many coastal communities. Ocean acidification threatens fish and wildlife around the world, but also jobs and livelihoods in coastal communities throughout the US.

The most well-known example of acidification impacting coastal businesses and communities happened in 2007 and 2008 with the shellfish industry in the Pacific Northwest. Hatchery owners, working closely with scientists, found that acidification was killing billions of baby oysters. As a result, shellfish farms and hatcheries along the West Coast faced serious financial losses. These businesses have been able to take steps to respond to the continued threat of acidification, and bounce back.  But there are many more businesses and sectors around the US, and in our states in particular, that are at risk due to acidification.

Up to a third of all carbon pollution in the atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean, causing a chemical change in seawater that turns it more acidic.  This makes it harder for shell-building animals to survive.

Based on community concerns, our states have taken recent action to better understand and respond to ocean acidification.  As chairs of the Maine, Washington and Maryland state panels on ocean acidification, we spoke alongside NOAA Ocean Acidification Program Director Libby Jewett about better monitoring, enhanced coordination, mitigation opportunities and other specific actions planned or underway.

Our three states contribute billions of dollars to the national economy through our coastal communities and fisheries, yet our iconic lobster, blue crab and shellfish fisheries may be vulnerable to acidification impacts.  We are taking steps now to respond and are committed to doing even more. Washington has already established research and policy centers to work on this issue, and Maine and Maryland are issuing reports for legislative actions in the coming months.

It was great to share experiences and discuss how to collaborate and tackle a problem that is inherently bigger than all of our states combined.  However, we are encouraged and hopeful that with each state that takes action, we will find ways to roll back acidification and its negative impacts.

About the Guest Authors:

Mick Devin is co-chair of the Maine Commission on Ocean Acidification, and was recently re-elected as a member of the Maine State House of Representatives, representing Maine’s 51st District.

Jay Manning is the former Chief of Staff to Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire, and Co-chair of the Washington State Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification.  He is currently an environmental lawyer and consultant based out of Olympia, Washington.

Eric Schwaab is the chair of the Maryland Ocean Acidification Task Force, and former US Department of Commerce acting Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management, and Assistant Administrator for Fisheries at NOAA.  He is currently the Senior Vice President and Chief Conservation Officer at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland.

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Fishues: NOAA’s 2013 Report on Fisheries of the United States Mon, 03 Nov 2014 14:00:16 +0000 Robyn Albritton

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released their 2013 report on the status of Fisheries of the United States. This annual report from the National Marine Fisheries Service is a critical survey of United States recreational and commercial fisheries, and is important for tracking changes on the water. The past few years have seen major successes in ending overfishing and rebuilding U.S. fish stocks. This is due in part to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which the law that protects and promotes sustainability of fisheries in the U.S. Check out some fun fish facts below!

  • Big catch: Last year, commercial fishermen caught an astounding 9.9 billion pounds of fish. That’s 31 pounds of fish per person in the United States!
  • Eat up: Of the fish brought in by the commercial sector, 77% was used for human consumption. Doesn’t take a brain sturgeon to realize that we love our seafood.
  • Don’t forget to feed Fido: 15% of fish caught last year was used to feed animals in the U.S.
  • You’re shore to love this: Commercial fishermen brought in a total of $5.5 billion in revenue to the United States economy. That would buy you approximately 1.1 billion bags of goldfish snack crackers.
  • Go fish: In 2013, 11 million anglers took 71 million recreational fishing trips. We bet they had a whale of a good time!
  • Brrrrr: Dutch Harbor, Alaska is the most productive commercial fishing port in the country, bringing in a whopping 753 million pounds of fish. Thinking about moving? They get an average of 91 inches of snow and 221 inches of rain each year.
  • Don’t be crabby: Blue crab landings decreased by 36% from 2012. Don’t worry – the fishery still brought in 134 million pounds of crab!
  • And the bronze goes to…: The U.S. is the world’s third largest consumer of seafood! China and Japan took gold and silver, respectively.
  • Aw, shucks: Oyster aquaculture brought in an impressive $136 million in revenue last year!
  • Don’t run a-wave! For more fishy facts, check out the 2013 Fisheries of the United States Report.
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Where Did the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Go? Fri, 31 Oct 2014 17:47:22 +0000 Alexis Baldera

You may remember images like this one following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster—oil smeared across Gulf Coast beaches like a dirty bathtub ring. New research released this week suggests that a similar oily bathtub ring is lying on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists determined that an oily patch created by the BP oil disaster remains on the Gulf seafloor, stretching across roughly 1,250 square miles. They came to these conclusions using data collected as part of the Natural Resources Damage Assessment at over 500 sampling locations in the Gulf. The source of the oil is most likely the subsea oil plumes that moved underwater—oil that spewed from the Macondo wellhead but never made it to the surface. As oiled particles fell out of the plume and settled on the Gulf seafloor, they created what the researchers are calling a “patchwork mosaic” of contaminated sites. The patches get more spread out the further they are from the wellhead, leading the scientists to conclude that there is still more oil lying beyond the edge of the bathtub ring, but it probably just hasn’t been detected yet.

The U.S. government estimates the Macondo well’s total discharge was 210 million gallons. The lead researchers of this study, Christopher Reddy and David Valentine, recognize the challenge of tracking millions of gallons of oil in the deep ocean. “Keep in mind that we’re trying to track 30,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 carbon atoms (and twice that number of hydrogen atoms) in a hostile, ever-moving environment,” the authors said in a recent blog. Their research sheds light on the mystery of the submerged oil that never came ashore or reached the Gulf surface.

You might remember earlier studies that supported the hypothesis that microbes in the water column and deep sea consumed large amounts of the BP oil and gas. At first glance, this new study seemed to contradict those findings, but in reality they are complimentary. To understand how all of these pieces fit together, we need to be thinking about two types of hydrocarbons, or the chemical structures of oil and gas particles. First, there are the water-soluble hydrocarbons, which are what the oil-consuming microbes eat. Second, there are the water-insoluble, non-digestible hydrocarbons, which are the types of oil products reported on for this new study. Both studies are helping us understand the fate and distribution of the oil and gas released during the BP oil disaster.

“The evidence is becoming clear that oily particles were raining down around these deep-sea corals, which provides a compelling explanation for the injury they suffered,” said Valentine. “The pattern of contamination we observe is fully consistent with the Deepwater Horizon event but not with natural seeps–the suggested alternative.”

In light of recent attempts by BP to minimize the oil disaster, this study is another link that ties BP to the impacts in the deep waters of the Gulf. As science progresses and new findings emerge, more and more studies are reminding us that this was an offshore disaster, and projects to restore the Gulf are needed offshore, as well as on the coast. So far the vast majority of restoration projects have targeted damaged coastal habitats or lost recreation days due to closed fisheries and beaches. These projects are no doubt important, but in order to achieve full restoration to the Gulf ecosystem there needs to be a shift to a more balanced portfolio that addresses the marine resources, such as fish, sea turtles, dolphins and deep-sea corals, in addition to our beaches, marshes and fishing piers.

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