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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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So You Like Shark Week? Time to Spread the Love.

Posted On July 8, 2015 by

This guest blog comes from Sonja Fordham, she directed Ocean Conservancy’s shark conservation work from 1991 to 2009. She’s now based just up the block from Ocean Conservancy’s DC headquarters, running Shark Advocates International, a non-profit project of The Ocean Foundation. Learn more about Sonja’s work from the Shark Advocates Facebook page and website: www.sharkadvocates.org. Sonja is live-tweeting Shark Week programming; follow @SharkAdvocates for conservation policy tidbits and ideas for helping sharks of all shapes and sizes.

Shark Week has been around a bit longer than I’ve been working in shark conservation. The record-breaking cable television event has changed a lot since the early days, as has shark conservation policy and my focus for advancing it.

When Shark Week debuted in 1988, sharks – despite their inherent vulnerability to overfishing – were essentially unprotected worldwide, and “the only good shark is a dead shark” was a popular maxim. When I was hired by Ocean Conservancy (then known as the Center for Marine Conservation) in 1991, there were no federal limits on shark catches in the U.S., even though a surge in recreational shark fishing (sparked by the movie “Jaws”) followed by development of targeted commercial shark fisheries (due largely to a hike in Asian demand for shark fins) had seriously depleted several Atlantic coastal species. Even finning – the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s fin and discarding the body at sea – was legal.

We’ve come along way since then. By 1993, we had a U.S. finning ban and fishing limits for 39 species of Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico sharks. In 1997, take of several of those species – including great whites – was completely prohibited, following similar protections for white sharks off California that were secured in 1994. By 1999, the world had taken notice of the sharks’ plight and adopted an International Plan of Action to help guide conservation efforts on a global scale. In 2000, U.S. east coast landings of spiny dogfish sharks, which had reached nearly 60 million pounds in 1996, were cut dramatically to science-based levels. In 2002, basking and whale sharks became the first shark species to be listed under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

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Become a Citizen Scientist with SharkBase

Posted On July 7, 2015 by

Our guest blog comes from Dr. Ryan Kempster, a shark biologist in the Neuroecology Group at the University of Western Australia, and founder of the shark conservation group Support Our Sharks (SOS).  Ryan founded SOS to inform the world about the plight of the most vulnerable shark species. His research focuses on the sensory biology and conservation of sharks and rays.  Sharks have always been his passion, and protecting them his goal.  To do this, Ryan has embarked on a career in research to better understand sharks. He takes every opportunity to communicate his findings to the general public in the hope that he can inspire others to follow in his passion for protecting these amazing animals.

It’s Shark Week! While sharks are getting all the attention this week, I want to take the opportunity to introduce you to an exciting global shark database: SharkBase. This is your chance to get involved and become a Citizen Shark Scientist! In order to protect sharks, we need to learn more about them. Effective management of sharks starts with an understanding of their population status, which can then tell us about their future conservation and how we can help protect them.

Unfortunately, many shark species (and their close relatives the rays, skates and chimaeras) are at significant risk of unrecoverable decline, with some species having declined to near extinction in recent years. I believe that Citizen Science could hold the key to improving our understanding and management of shark* populations, whilst also advancing community education. This is why my team and I have developed SharkBase, a global shark* encounter database helping to map the distribution and population structure of sharks* worldwide.

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A Canary in the Ocean Coal Mine

Posted On June 19, 2015 by

Another crucial U.S. fish stock is rebuilt, reinforcing the importance of a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act

Earlier this week federal managers of West Coast U.S. fish stocks found that canary rockfish is rebuilt. This is great news for fishermen, seafood consumers, and conservationists, as it means a healthy population that puts more fresh seafood on American plates and supports a stronger ocean ecosystem. Canary rockfish is important in its own right as a species, but this finding allows for increased fishing of other fish populations that swim alongside it – canary is common as bycatch, or non-targeted species that also get caught in fishing gear, and increased catch levels will enable greater fishing opportunities of other species.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal group that co-manages our nation’s fisheries off of Washington, Oregon, and California approved the analysis done by NOAA Fisheries today, starting what will most likely be a revision of catch limits, and an official update to the “Status of Stocks,” NOAA Fisheries’ official score-keeping tabulation of stocks nationally.

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Using Big Data to Restore the Gulf of Mexico

Posted On June 16, 2015 by

If I ask you to close your eyes and picture “protection for marine species,” you might immediately think of brave rescuers disentangling whales from fishing gear.

Or maybe you would imagine the army of volunteers who seek out and protect sea turtle nests. Both are noble and worthwhile endeavors.

But 10 years of ocean conservation in the southeast United States has taught me that protecting marine species doesn’t just look like the heroic rescue of adorable species in need.

I’ve learned that it also looks like the screen of 1s and 0s from the movie The Matrix.

Let me explain.

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Aftermath of Santa Barbara’s Oil Spill: What’s Happening in the Marine Environment?

Posted On June 4, 2015 by

Oil on the beach at Refugio State Park in Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Nearly two weeks after a ruptured pipeline spilled 105,000 gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara, hundreds of tired and oil-soaked workers are still on site working to scoop, boom and skim what they can of the 21,500 gallons estimated to have reached the ocean. As the slick spreads on the surface, and more oil sinks beneath the waves, a complicated environmental, chemical and biological process is unfolding in the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. While every oil spill differs depending on local conditions, science and past history allow us to anticipate some of the long-term impacts to marine wildlife, habitats and communities.

Oil produced offshore of Santa Barbara is particularly heavy and thick, likely worsening the effects of external exposure to marine birds, mammals and fish.  These effects include smothering those animals that can’t move, and impairing the ability of some animals to insulate against cold water.  Marine birds that become oiled may lose the ability to fly, forage and feed their young. Highly mobile birds and marine mammals that frequent the ocean surface, where spilled oil initially collects, are especially vulnerable. They may be exposed to oil in one location only to sicken or die elsewhere.  The spill’s location in shallow, nearshore waters exposes a particularly rich array of wildlife and habitats to damage, including shorelines, sea grass, kelp beds, rocky reefs and kelp forests.

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To the Point (and Nonpoint): Understanding Sewage Pollution and Stormwater Runoff

Posted On June 3, 2015 by

Photo: Corduroy LeFevre

As a boater or marina operator, you have probably experienced first-hand the effects of pollutants. Although you may make every feasible effort to prevent pollutants from entering your local waters, not all sources are easy to pinpoint. Here is a quick refresher of some of the most common types and sources of contaminants.

Most pollution can be categorized as “point” or “nonpoint” discharges. Point sources of pollution – such as outfall pipes – introduce pollution into the environment at a specific site or point. They are generally the easiest to identify, monitor and regulate.

By contrast, nonpoint source pollution comes from a plethora of diffuse sources and is unconstrained in movement. Nonpoint source pollution is caused by water (typically rainfall or snowmelt) moving over and through the ground. Sources include storm drains and runoff from parking lots, roadways or agricultural land.

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Congress Wants More Attention on Ocean Acidification

Posted On June 1, 2015 by

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, MassMatt

Last month, federal lawmakers signaled their concern for healthy coastal communities when six House Republicans and Democrats introduced a bill directing the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to assess the vulnerabilities of these communities to ocean acidification. The bill, entitled the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2015 (H.R. 2553) takes an important step in helping these impacted individuals understand what acidification means for them specifically, and what can be done to protect themselves and their marine resources such as fisheries.

Although ocean acidification has generally been associated with oyster, mussel and clam die-offs, coral reefs are also threatened, and scientists are increasingly finding that important fisheries such as king and Dungeness crab, and summer flounder, won’t fare well in an increasingly acidic world. Given the millions of livelihoods at stake, we applaud Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-1) and Vern Buchanan (FL-16) who introduced the bill along with their cosponsors for using foresight in trying to get ahead of this issue, and protect the jobs and way of life for thousands of individuals and families.

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