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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy


Arctic Sea Ice Hit the Second Lowest Minimum on Record

Posted On September 15, 2016 by

Polar bears are highly dependent on sea ice.

Today, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that sea ice in the Arctic Ocean hit the second lowest minimum on record during the summer of 2016.

It matters.

This is why:

Sea ice is the foundation of the Arctic ecosystem. Wildlife like the iconic polar bear depends on sea ice to hunt prey such as ringed seals, forage and breed. As their sea ice habitat continues to diminish, it is estimated that by 2050, global polar bear populations will decrease by 30%.

Sea ice is tied to indigenous culture and the subsistence way of life. The Arctic is home to indigenous communities that depend on a healthy marine environment to survive. As sea ice diminishes, many communities are being forced to travel much further to hunt, and face new challenges like more frequent, more severe storms.

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Recreational Fishing: Protecting a Way of Life

Posted On September 8, 2016 by

By Dennis McKay

All my life, I’ve measured the “good life” with days on the water fishing. Escaping work, shunning worry and forgoing the pressures of daily life to enjoy the elemental world of water, weather and a fish has defined the happiest moments of my life. Actually, it’s a natural inheritance since my family has called Alabama and these Gulf waters home for several hundred years.

As with any natural inheritance, I tend to be protective of my roots. Supporting my protective bent, the United States has some of the best fisheries management practices in the world. The overall law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, is effective because it is implemented using science-based rules, such as annual catch limits and rebuilding timelines, as currently defined by National Standard 1 (NS1). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is responsible for establishing and assessing these rules, and the nation’s eight regional fisheries management councils are mandated to execute them.

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Local Concerns of Opening the Arctic and the Crystal Serenity

Posted On September 8, 2016 by

Guest blog by: Austin Ahmasuk

Last month the Crystal Serenity set sail from the Alaskan port of Seward on a voyage through the Northwest Passage to New York City, making it the first cruise ship of its size to attempt this journey. The luxury liner stopped at ports of call along the Alaskan coast, including the town of Nome (population 3,850). Thanks to Nome resident Austin Ahmasuk for sharing his perspective with us.

Peering seaward south of River Street at 7:57 am, I saw the ship climb over the horizon as it materialized out of the fog. The P/V Crystal Serenity, with 1,700 passengers and crew aboard, arrived on time as predicted and slowly made its way shoreward. My eyes were glued to its deliberate movements. I knew it was big and, as the largest cruise ship to visit Nome got closer, its size towered in contrast to Nome’s normally modest waterfront.

I scanned for signs of its escort vessel, the RRS Ernest Shackleton. It surely must be near to provide assistance in case something went wrong. But the Ernest Shackleton was nowhere to be seen. The website showed that it was in Baffin Bay, Canada several thousand miles distant!

If something were to go wrong—an oil spill or shipwreck—our small town’s local volunteers and handful of response vessels would be the ones expected to answer the call.

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Exploring the Remote Midway Atoll

Posted On September 2, 2016 by

Just last week, President Obama announced that he will quadruple the Papahānaumokuākea Hawaii Monument—creating the world’s largest protected marine area. At 582,578 square miles, Papahānaumokuākea will be nearly four times the size of California and 105 times larger than Connecticut. This is huge news for the endangered Hawaiian monk seals, sea turtles, sharks and more that call this uniquely biodiverse seascape home.

Nicholas Mallos, Director of our Trash Free Seas program, traveled to Papahānaumokuākea in 2010 to see first-hand the beauty—and the dangers—in this spectacular ecosystem.

Setting foot on land more than 1,000 miles from your nearest neighbor, one might suspect to find themselves in an unspoiled environment with little or no sign of human presence. Unfortunately, on Midway Atoll, this is not the case. Part of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, Midway is at the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago, roughly equidistant from Asia and North America.

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5 Amazing Reasons to Love Papahānaumokuākea, Even More

Posted On September 1, 2016 by

Last week, we learned President Obama is creating the world’s largest marine protected area by expanding the Hawaiian national monument of Papahānaumokuākea! We’re excited. Seriously excited. In honor of that announcement, here are five reasons we love Papahānaumokuākea, and how its expansion just means more to love.

1. The name

While we (still) might be struggling with the pronunciation, the name Papahānaumokuākea holds rich cultural significance, meaning the union of two native ancestors in Hawaiian mythology. The name itself is a combination of the Earth Mother, Papahānaumoku, and the Sky Father, Wakea, who together created the islands and its people.

Say it with me, PAH-pa-ha-NOW-muh-kua-kay-yah.

(We’ll keep working on it)

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Whale Sharks Move onto the Endangered List

Posted On August 30, 2016 by

Written by Dr. Alistair Dove

You may have seen in the press the recent announcement from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, that whale sharks (along with the enigmatic wing head shark) have been downgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List.  I thought it might help to explain exactly what that means, so I’ve done it as a sort of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

What’s “the IUCN Red List”?
The Red List is a sort of master-file about the conservation status of different species.  As you can see from the screen capture below, the ranking goes from Least Concern (LC) for really common species, all the way down to Extinct (EX), with a couple of other categories for species that haven’t been evaluated (Not Evaluated NE) or that were evaluated but there wasn’t enough scientific data to decide on a status (Data Deficient DD).  All of these levels are recoverable, except for Extinct (EX); there ain’t no coming back from gone.

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When Doing the Right Thing is Also Fun!

Posted On August 29, 2016 by

By Chef Kyle Bailey

Doing the right thing can also be fun. For chefs like me, working within the limits required under U.S. sustainable fisheries management law these last ten years hasn’t been a burden, it’s been a bonanza.

Prior to 2006, when overfishing was still rampant in U.S. waters, the fishermen I buy from would often bemoan the fact that they didn’t have Atlantic cod, bluefin tuna or swordfish—the fish species American cuisine had grown to rely on. In other words, no fish and chips, no tuna sushi and no swordfish steak would be on the menu that night.

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