Last Friday the White House released a report on the accomplishments of the National Ocean Policy (NOP). The NOP set forth a vision to ensure our oceans and coasts are healthy and resilient, and implements the recommendations of the bipartisan U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy to improve federal coordination and effectiveness in managing our ocean resources.
“The accomplishments of the National Ocean Policy reflect the tremendous momentum we’ve seen from the Administration to address the most pressing issues facing our ocean and coastal communities,” said Ocean Conservancy’s Director of Ocean Planning Anne Merwin. “Businesses as diverse as shipping and maritime, commercial fishing, recreation, and conservation groups have all expressed their strong support for smart management of our ocean, because of the real, practical, and local benefits they are seeing thanks to this important work.”
In honor of the 26 anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, dozens of Arctic lovers gathered in front of the White House to show their support for a clean and healthy Arctic Ocean. Individual ocean supporters, people from groups like Ocean Conservancy, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club, Alaska Wilderness League, and Friends of the Earth US all stood together to tell the Obama Administration to protect the Arctic from risky oil drilling. I was fortunate enough to be able to join these Arctic advocates.
The Exxon Valdez disaster took place in Prince William Sound in south-central Alaska. Over the course of three days, nearly 11 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, Alaska’s Arctic Ocean is threatened by risky oil drilling. Shell Oil has proposed drilling exploration wells in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska as soon as this summer. That’s why people chanted, held signs and demonstrated outside of the White House.
Today marks the 26 anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska where nearly 11 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean over the course of three days. Exxon failed to carry out its pre-approved oil spill response plan because their response barge was “out of service and unavailable for use.” Even if the barge were operational, it lacked enough skimmers and booms to handle the spill. Government officials and local volunteers quickly began spearheading the cleanup. Despite their best efforts to make up for Exxon’s systematic failure, only 14 percent of the spill was removed. This massive spill caused then Governor of Alaska, Steve Cowper, to declare a state of emergency. Oil from the spill can still be found today and some places may be as toxic as they were 26 years ago.
Now, more than two decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Arctic Ocean is still threatened by risky oil drilling. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released an analysis that showed a 75 percent chance of at least one major spill if companies were allowed to develop oil in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast. Rapidly forming sea ice, fog, high winds, extreme cold and lack of infrastructure make it nearly impossible to clean up an oil spill in Arctic waters. Even in the Gulf of Mexico, only 19 percent of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was removed or dispersed.
Ocean Conservancy prides itself on contributing to thoughtful, science-based restoration approaches in the Gulf as we work toward returning the region to its rightful place as a natural treasure and economic engine for the entire country.
But, everyone’s patience gets tested from time to time. After seeing the latest “report” from BP, we’ve had enough of reacting thoughtfully to BP’s continued PR efforts to discredit the scientists and environmental groups working to restore the Gulf and honor the lives and livelihoods lost in this disaster. Below, we have provided a spin-free translation of the introductory letter to BP’s latest effort to convince you that they are the victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
Earlier this year, President Obama took executive action to protect some of the Arctic Ocean’s most significant marine areas from the threats posed by oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately, some areas of the Arctic Ocean were left open to oil companies, and oil giant Shell has been gearing up to make another attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released an analysis that details how Shell’s proposed drilling operations may impact whales and seals. The results? Tens of thousands of of animals may be exposed to noise that could disrupt vital life activities like migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, and sheltering. NOAA’s analysis determined that more than 50,000 seals and more than 6,000 whales–including belugas, bowheads, grays, and humpbacks–could be affected by Shell’s proposed drilling activities.
Good news for vaquitas this week! The Mexican government will ban the use of gillnets in the Gulf of California, the only place vaquitas call home, for the next two years. This is a much-needed protection for the critically endangered vaquita. In fact, there are less than 100 left in the world.
This is a vital first step in rebuilding the population of the world’s smallest porpoise. Vaquitas are often caught as bycatch in gillnets, which ensnare and kill them.
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.