Ocean Currents » Science & Conservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 27 May 2016 15:06:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Join the Fight for Trash Free Seas with Clean Swell http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/24/join-the-fight-for-trash-free-seas-with-clean-swell/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/24/join-the-fight-for-trash-free-seas-with-clean-swell/#comments Tue, 24 May 2016 13:30:32 +0000 Sarah Kollar http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12132

Beach season is finally upon us! This Memorial Day, people all over the country (myself included) will flock to the coasts to soak up some much-needed sunshine. But nothing ruins a good vacation day like a beach covered in trash—especially because  trash poses a huge threat to our ocean and the animals that call it home.

Ocean Conservancy is committed to keeping our beaches and ocean trash free. For 30 years we have sponsored the International Coastal Cleanup, where 11.5 million volunteers from 153 countries have collected 220 million pounds of trash. And we’re not the only ones who care about ocean trash: Every day, all over the world, concerned people take the problem into their own hands by cleaning up their local waterways.

Now we have a way to make your beach cleanups more exciting than ever (as if protecting our ocean wasn’t enough!). Introducing our brand-new Clean Swell app: a fun and easy way to keep track of the trash you collect. The app is free and available to download on both iOS and Android systems.

With Clean Swell, simply “Start Collecting” wherever you are around the world and record every item of trash you pick up. The data you collect will instantaneously upload to Ocean Conservancy’s global ocean trash database. This delivers a global snapshot of the ocean trash problem and provides researchers and policy-makers insight to inform solutions. You can even check your “Cleanup History”, so anytime, anywhere, you can see the impact you’ve had on making our ocean a cleaner and healthier ecosystem.

Here are some of the app highlights:

  • Track your progress: We’re making it easier than ever to see the long-term impact your cleanups have on the ocean. See the total distance cleaned, the total weight of the trash you collect and a historical record of your cleanup efforts.
  • Contribute to science: When you add to Ocean Conservancy’s global ocean trash database, you’re helping to create ocean trash solutions by identifying trends. The app also provides scientific facts about the impact of trash on ocean animals and shares tips on how you can help.
  • Share your results: You can share your cleanup results and photos with friends via Facebook, Twitter, and email right from the app.

Join us in a global movement to keep beaches, waterways and the ocean trash free. This weekend, while you’re enjoying some quality beach time, don’t forget to collect any trash you may see and use Clean Swell to record your efforts! The ocean, and the people and animals that rely on it, will thank you.

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Caring for Crabs is Caring for the Coast http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/23/caring-for-crabs-is-caring-for-the-coast/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/23/caring-for-crabs-is-caring-for-the-coast/#comments Mon, 23 May 2016 14:40:15 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12140

San Franciso Bay Area Dungeness crabber Captain John Mellor

“We’re like the Giants. We’re your hometown team,” said Captain John Mellor last week as he described the San Francisco Bay Dungeness crab fishing fleet. Capt. Mellor’s pride in his work as a crabber is paired with a love for what he does. But, his feelings are mixed with fear for the future. A West-Coast wide toxic algae bloom shut down the fishery last year, leaving him out of work for five months. Fishermen and researchers are also worried that ocean acidification could represent a looming threat to the fishery that could cause future fishing disruptions.

Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) pointed out that understanding ocean acidification’s effects on Dungeness crab is “an economic imperative” as he introduced Thursday’s briefing, which he co-hosted with Rep. Don Young (R-AK). He underscored the need to know more about how Dungeness will respond, because the commercial fishery and the recreational activities around the crabs are a particularly important financial engine for the West Coast.

After a screening of the new short film “High Hopes,” which offers a five-minute look at the concerns of scientists and Dungeness crabbers about the fishery, NOAA scientist. Dr. Paul McElhany and Capt. Mellor participated in a question-and-answer session with about 50 attendees. McElhany described his new research, which shows that young Dungeness crabs grow slowly under ocean acidification conditions simulated in the lab, and many don’t survive to adulthood. He explained, “It’s important to think about ocean acidification now, while the fishery is healthy,” to get ahead of any lasting problems that may arise in the water.

Mellor and McElhany both agreed that developing partnerships between scientists and the industry could go a long way towards providing data critical for understanding what Dungeness face. Mellor reminded attendees that seafood, including Dungeness, is “a public trust, but ultimately it’s the lifeblood of San Francisco Harbor.” So it’s important for us to take care of that. Continued strong research funding for ocean acidification’s research on species like Dungeness crab will go a long way towards caring for the family-owned fishing businesses and coastal communities on the West Coast.

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10 Things to Know About the Walrus http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/19/10-things-to-know-about-the-walrus/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/19/10-things-to-know-about-the-walrus/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 13:30:41 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12079

This blog was written by Roger Di Silvestro, a field correspondent for Ocean Conservancy.

When you think of walruses, you may picture their tusks—the huge pinniped’s most familiar characteristic. But there is so much more to these “elephants of the sea”! Here are some less-obvious facts about these ice-dwelling creatures.

1. Biologists classify the walrus as a carnivore, or meat eater, which puts the animal in the same broad category as wolves, foxes and lions.

2. The polar bear, weighing as much as 1,200 pounds, is often touted as North America’s largest terrestrial carnivore. But it’s a mere wisp compared to the ocean-going male walrus, which can tip the scales in excess of 3,700 pounds.

3. Walruses depend on sea ice, and spend much of the summer on flows from which they dive into relatively shallow waters in search of food. In winter, the walruses go to shore and feed in near-shore waters. They communicate with grunting and roaring sounds.

4. Despite their size and their ability to stay underwater for up to half an hour, walruses are not deep divers—they usually feed at depths of less than 300 feet.

5. Walruses find much of their food by poking around on the ocean floor. When a walrus finds a tasty crab or clam buried in sand, it creates powerful suction with its mouth to vacuum it up. Walruses are not picky eaters—they feed mainly on mollusks, but will also eat worms, cephalopods, crustaceans and more. They even nosh on an occasional seal, though observations of walruses hunting their close relatives are rare.

6. Walruses are able to locate buried food thanks to the 400-700 stiff bristles, or vibrissae, which grow on their muzzles. Like a cat’s whiskers, vibrissae are sensitive to touch, telling the walrus when it has come in contact with an appropriate food. Vibrissae can grow up to a foot long, but scraping against sand and rock usually keeps them shorter.

7. Adult walruses have few enemies, mostly due to their massive size and sharp tusks, which can grow to more than three feet long. Bears sometimes attack young walruses, as do orcas. A bear attack on a beached walrus herd can make the pinnipeds rush headlong for the safety of water, causing injuries to adult walruses in the general crush and making them vulnerable to bear attacks.

8. The scientific name for the walrus genus is Odobenus, which is Greek for “tooth walker,” so-called because walruses sometimes use their tusks to haul themselves onto ice.

9. The brownish, heavily seamed skin of the walrus is over 1.5 inches thick and covers a layer of blubber that can get to 3.9 inches thick.  The skin grows paler as the animals age, until the dark brown of the young fades to cinnamon in mature animals. The color depends partly on blood flow to the skin; when in cold water, blood flow to the skin reduces, so the skin of a pink walrus can turn nearly white.

10. Walruses breed from January to March while winter is in full swing, and females give birth about 16 months later. A newborn calf can weigh 100 to 165 pounds and may stay with the mother for two years or more, though usually weaned after a year.

The Ocean Conservancy is using science-based solutions to tackle the biggest threats to our ocean, including ones that threaten walruses and other wildlife. See how you can take action.

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Will Ocean Acidification Affect Dungeness Crabs? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/18/will-ocean-acidification-affect-dungeness-crabs/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/18/will-ocean-acidification-affect-dungeness-crabs/#comments Wed, 18 May 2016 18:55:45 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12122

2016 hasn’t been a good year for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery. The fishing season that typically spans the winter months – worth $212 million in 2014  – got significantly delayed this year when Dungeness crabs tested high for domoic acid, which sickens humans, and managers shut down the fishery. The crabs had fed heartily on a giant toxic bloom of Pseudonitschia algae, which produce domoic acid, and which were thriving in an unusually warm body of water stalled offshore, affectionately called “the blob.” The bloom also shut down other West Coast shellfish fisheries, too. The lost harvests equal lost income for West Coast communities. San Francisco Bay Area crabber John Mellor says, “If crabs were to disappear from the picture, I think it would be the end of my fishing career at this point.”

Both fishermen and scientists are asking what’s next for this fishery. It’s possible that ocean acidification could be the next big challenge it faces. NOAA research shows that Dungeness crab larvae exposed to ocean acidification in the laboratory develop slowly, and more of them die before adulthood. In addition, research from the University of California, Los Angeles shows that Pseudonitschia (toxic algae) produce more domoic acid under simulated ocean acidification conditions in the laboratory. But, the science is still young.

We need to know more about how Dungeness crab will respond to ocean acidification and all the overlapping environmental changes happening in our waters. Bay area crabber Josh Churchman agrees, “We could use a little more information and education about [ocean acidification], I would say.” Our new short film, “High Hopes,” takes a 5-minute look at the concerns of scientists and Dungeness crabbers about the fishery. The recent NOAA research promises to be just the first of many studies that will help us shield Dungeness crabs, certainly one of our staff’s favorite seafoods, from ocean acidification.

 

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Standing Before the Senate to Address the Ocean Plastics Problem http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/17/standing-before-the-senate-to-address-the-ocean-plastics-problem/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/17/standing-before-the-senate-to-address-the-ocean-plastics-problem/#comments Tue, 17 May 2016 15:25:15 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12073

Earlier today, I testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the problem of ocean plastics and how it negatively affects ocean animals. Ocean plastics are a problem that affects us all. From our fisheries to our beaches to our protected environments—ocean plastics are a cause of concern for all Americans.

The growing tide of ocean pollution is a problem for sea turtles that ingest plastic, sea birds that get tangled in fishing lines and marine mammals that wash ashore with belly’s full of trash.

I’m grateful to the Senate for passing the U.S. Marine Debris Research, Prevention and Reduction Act of 2006, which authorized the creation of the Marine Debris Program (MDP) within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NOAA MDP has been instrumental in informing and catalyzing marine debris research and solutions in the United States and abroad.

In order to stem the tide of ocean plastics, however, more action is required by Congress. In my testimony before the Senate, I urged Congress to:

  • Increase funding for independent research on ocean plastics; and
  • Identify opportunities to partner with industry for sustainable solutions.

I commend the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for having this public testimony and bringing sorely needed attention to this issue. We hope that this hearing will be just the beginning of concerted action against the problem of ocean plastics, and that together we can work toward a future of trash free seas.

Thank you to the more than 11,000 ocean advocates who joined Ocean Conservancy’s call to action—and sent in letters to their Senators. I was able to deliver YOUR letters to the Senate during my testimony. It was nice knowing that I wasn’t alone, but that all of you were standing with me as I testified before the Senate. Thank you!

Together, with scientists, governments, businesses and YOU—we can push for real solutions that help reduce marine debris and save countless animals that depend on a healthy ocean for their very survival.

 

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Shell Spills 88,000 Gallons of Oil in Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/13/shell-spills-88000-gallons-of-oil-in-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/13/shell-spills-88000-gallons-of-oil-in-gulf/#comments Sat, 14 May 2016 01:16:06 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12067

Today, the Coast Guard reported that Shell’s Brutus oil platform, about 90 miles off the coast of Louisiana, has spilled more than 80,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This is a bad week for Shell—just Monday, Shell gave up most of its oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. Although it is too early to know the extent of environmental damage from the Shell spill, we do know that the Gulf of Mexico is still damaged from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster six years ago.

Thankfully, the leak has been secured, and clean-up efforts are underway, as a result of NOAA and the Coast Guard’s immediate response. There are 52,000 boreholes drilled into the Gulfseafloor, the result of a century-old search for oil and gas. Much of the time, offshore oil production proceeds relatively safely and without much public interest, but when things go wrong in the Gulf of Mexico, they can really go wrong.

As soon as the news broke last night, my news feed was filled with rhetoric from two extremes: those who say that drilling is an economic imperative and a matter of national security, no matter the cost, and those who say that all drilling must stop now, no matter what.

But that cannot be the singular focus when the risk associated with oil and gas exploration and drilling is something that the people who make their homes in the Gulf region grapple with every day. The Gulf is a complex place and the undeniable reality is that thousands of people rely on it for their livelihood.

For our ocean and the people that rely on it, we can and should do better in the Gulf–and other places where drilling occurs.

Here are a few places to start:

1. Better monitoring

Our Charting the Gulf report revealed that that Gulf’s offshore wildlife and habitats are not monitored to the same degree as those in the coastal areas. This monitoring is vital for species like bottlenose dolphins, which will likely need 40-50 years to fully recover from the BP oil disaster, along with deep-water corals, which could need hundreds of years to improve.

2. Commitment to restoring the Gulf beyond the shore

This new spill is one of a long list of stressors on the Gulf’s wildlife and habitats in the open ocean. BP has paid $1 billion to restore the open ocean, but the future of the deep waters of the Gulf is anything but secure. We must hold our Gulf leaders accountable and restore the Gulf’s deep sea, where the BP oil disaster began and where other spills are likely to occur.

3. Better response planning and risk assessment

The BP oil disaster taught us many lessons about the risks associated with oil drilling in the Gulf, especially the lack of updated response technology. We must apply these lessons to not just the Gulf, but in all areas where drilling and shipping pose a critical risk for our ocean.

I’m proud to live and work in the Gulf. While we tend to make national headlines when there’s been a disaster, the Gulf is beautiful, resilient and is on the path to recovery – as long as we stay committed and work together.

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Microplastics in Paradise http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/12/microplastics-in-paradise/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/12/microplastics-in-paradise/#comments Thu, 12 May 2016 13:00:50 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12056

At first glance, the waters of St. John, USVI, are pristine: Rich blues and greens mix in a postcard-ready Caribbean vista while schools of tropical fish dart just below the surface.

But beneath the shimmering turquoise waters lurks a hidden peril: microplastics.

Microplastics—or plastic particles less than five millimeters in size—are an emerging threat to marine ecosystems. These pesky plastics enter the ocean in a number of ways, including washing nylon clothes or using toothpaste or shower gel that has plastic beads. They also come from larger plastics that have broken down due to exposure to sun, sand and waves. Research suggests that as many as 51 trillion pieces of microplastic are estimated to be circulating the ocean, globally.

Because they’re so tiny, it’s easy to adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. But these small particles have big consequences. Pollutants like pesticides, PCBs and DDT adhere to microplastics’ surface and can then be ingested by fish, birds and other marine organisms. As plastics are ingested up the food chain, these chemicals accumulate, causing problems for marine predators and potentially humans. Chemical risks aside, consuming plastic is never a good plan—buildup of plastic materials can cause abrasions and digestive blockage in marine organisms.

We know frighteningly little about the long-term impacts and reach of microplastics. Thankfully, organizations worldwide (including Ocean Conservancy!) are looking to change that.

Last week I teamed up with Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to contribute to their Global Microplastics Initiative. The organization, which pairs the skills of the outdoor adventure community with the vision of scientists worldwide, is compiling a massive, comprehensive dataset on the prevalence of microplastics in aquatic ecosystems.

Sampling conditions could have been worse.

After completing an online training course to learn how to correctly collect samples (always be up current, don’t wear fleeces that might contaminate the sample, don’t open the sample after collection) I was ready to go. Armed with reef-friendly sunscreen, snorkel gear and an assortment of one liter sample bottles, I boarded the Sunshine Daydream charter boat in Cruz Bay harbor.

My guide for the day, Captain Rob, took me to some of the island’s best hidden snorkeling spots. I filled a sample bottle at each stop, carefully marking the coordinates, depth and conditions. As I gazed in awe at the schools of bait fish and vibrant corals, I felt a pang of worry at the impacts microplastics could be having on the reef ecosystem.

After a very long, very awkward conversation with postal workers curious as to why I was shipping so many duct-taped plastic water bottles, I sent my samples off to researcher Abby Barrows in Stonington, Maine. There, the samples will be analyzed to see just how prevalent microplastics are in the waters surrounding St. John.

Each water sample collected brings us one small step closer to quantifying the abundance and determining the impacts of microplastics—and how we can mitigate them. ASC’s database will help inform decision makers about the range of microplastics and provide valuable information that can be used in future research.

Although the issue of microplastics might seem massive, I’m happy to play my part in finding a solution: one water sample at a time.

Learn how you can contribute to ASC’s microplastics initiative, and see how Ocean Conservancy is fighting back against marine debris.

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