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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Sea Star Epidemic Plagues Oregon

Posted On June 23, 2014 by

Since June 2013, millions of sea stars along the West Coast have disintegrated and died. Scientists have relentlessly tried to identify the cause of the “sea star wasting syndrome.” (See map of locations with outbreak.)

Typically, the first signs of an afflicted sea star are white lesions appearing on its body. Shortly thereafter, sea stars lose their limbs and their internal organs disintegrate. Although sea stars have the ability to regenerate limbs, the disease often progresses too quickly for them to recover. The exact cause of this disease is unknown. Scientists believe that sea star wasting syndrome may be due to a viral or bacterial infection, and could be exacerbated by increased water temperature. Populations of the ochre and sunflower sea stars, two common West Coast species, have been hit especially hard. Similar die-offs have occurred in the past, but never at the magnitude we see today, and over such a wide geographic area.

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Troubling News for Mahi-mahi in the Gulf

Posted On June 20, 2014 by

Photo: Kelly the Deluded via Flickr Creative Commons

As we watched the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster unfold on beaches and in bays of the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, we wondered, too, about the impacts beyond what we could see on shore. Some of the answers to that troubling question are rolling in. We previously learned about damage to fish embryos, and the latest news involves mahi-mahi, or dolphinfish. These fast-growing, colorful predators are a favorite target of recreational fishermen and restaurant-goers alike across the Gulf, and despite their savage speed, it seems they could not outrun the impacts of BP’s oil.

A new study from the University of Miami last week demonstrated that even “relatively brief, low-level exposure to oil harms the swimming capabilities of mahi-mahi, and likely other large pelagic fish, during the early life stages.” And while it’s troubling to hear that oil reduces the fish’s ability to swim fast – a necessity for finding food and evading predators –the more disturbing revelation is how little oil exposure it takes to cause this damage to such an economically important fish.

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Illinois Takes a Big Stand on Tiny Plastics

Posted On June 17, 2014 by

© Peter Hoffman / Aurora Photos

Last week, Illinois Governor, Pat Quinn signed state-wide legislation banning the manufacture and sale of cosmetic products containing synthetic microbeads. This legislation made Illinois the first state to take action against the harmful plastics, which are used as exfoliants in many personal care products including soaps, toothpastes and cleansers.

Governor Quinn’s strong stance against microbeads in cosmetics has major implications for the health of our ocean. All too frequently, these plastic bits find their way into the ocean where they pollute the water and are accidentally ingested by fish. Banning their manufacture and sale brings us one step closer to the trash free seas (and lakes) we deserve.

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Implementing Solutions in our “Plasticene Epoch”

Posted On June 16, 2014 by

Photo: Nick Mallos

Plastics are everywhere. And by that I don’t just mean in the physical sense, but also in terms of the media. Everywhere I look lately newspaper and blog headlines are focused on the increased pervasiveness of plastic pollution in our ocean.

In the New York Times’ Sunday Review, the Editorial Board highlighted the plasticization that’s taking place “From Beach to Ocean” around the world. Their focus was Kamilo Point, Hawaii. For the past decade, the Hawaii Wildlife Fund has worked tirelessly to keep Kamilo clean from the onslaught of plastic pollution that washes ashore daily by removing almost 350,000 pounds of debris. I’ve had the personal (mis)fortune of working at Kamilo and in some places I measured plastics densities upwards of 84,000 pieces per square meter of beach. These plastics are not in the form of bottles or caps or bags but rather the fragmented, millimeter-sized version of their original consumer product form. And on a nearby beach at Kamilo, geologists have identified a new kind of plastic-infused rock that will NEVER break down.

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Ocean Conservancy Talks Trash… and Solutions

Posted On June 16, 2014 by

Photo: Thomas Jones

Plastic in our ocean — I think we can all agree this isn’t a good combination. The question is what do we do about it? This year, Ocean Conservancy and our partners collected the largest amount of trash in the 28-year history of our International Coastal Cleanup. In that time, volunteers have removed more than 175 million pounds of trash, much of it plastic, from beaches and waterways around the world. From this first-hand experience, we know the problem is getting worse, and it goes deeper than you might think. The good news is this is a problem we can fix. It will require a new approach to how we deal with plastic pollution, but it is a global issue we can and must solve. Let’s consider the facts. In the next 25 years, ocean plastics could grow to 300-500 million tons, or about one pound of plastics for every two pounds of fish in the sea. So where does it all go? We can’t yet say for sure, but when plastic fragments into smaller, bite-sized pieces, we do know that it is being ingested by fish, sea turtles, marine mammals, and a host of other ocean creatures. Because plastic particles adsorb pollutants in concentrations that can be 100,000 to 1 million times greater than that found in surrounding seawater, the implications to the health of marine life are profound and deeply troubling.

Read more at the Huffington Post

The World is Ready For the Our Ocean Conference, and the Conference is Ready For You

Posted On June 12, 2014 by

Photo: Alexis Valauri-Orton

On June 16-17th, Secretary of State John Kerry and the Department of State will bring together scientists, stakeholders and leaders from around the world for the Our Ocean Conference. This international event will focus on three pressing ocean issues: sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and ocean acidification. I am honored to be speaking on the ocean acidification panel at this conference.

I will be sharing stories I gathered from my year-long Watson Fellowship, studying how ocean acidification might affect human communities around the world. Over that year, I saw just how far-reaching ocean acidification’s impacts could be. We already know, from our experience in the US, that it hurts shellfish growers and the communities that depend on them. But around the world, there are whole countries and communities that depend on threatened species, such as coral for tourism, and fish for food and livelihoods. The stories I heard convinced me that we need to raise awareness and take action against ocean acidification at the international level. Here are some of those stories:

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A One-Size-Fits-All Solution for the Ocean?

Posted On June 9, 2014 by

**Update: June 10, 2014**
Ocean Conservancy has been a leader in beach cleanup efforts for nearly 30 years and we are dedicated to continuing these efforts. We applaud Boyan’s creativity and ideas for an ocean cleanup and recognize that he has conducted a feasibility study to further outline the ocean cleanup model. However, the majority of concerns previously voiced by ocean scientists, as well as Ocean Conservancy, regarding the ecological, economical and logistical components of the technology still remain unanswered. Cleanups are an important part of the solution, but Ocean Conservancy believes that in order to address the growing issue of plastic pollution in our ocean, we must also focus on preventing plastic from reaching the ocean in the first place. In addition to our Last Straw Challenge, we will be rolling out a series of efforts over the coming year that we hope you’ll participate in, including the International Coastal Cleanup September 20th. Thank you for your feedback, and we hope to see you all at this year’s cleanups! 

FACT:  There are plastics in the ocean.

FACT:  Plastics are not good for fish, turtles, birds or marine mammals.

FALSE:  Ocean cleanup is the solution.

Over the past year, much attention—some positive, some negative—has been given to Boyan Slat’s revolutionary concept and prototype for “The Ocean Cleanup.”  Yes, perhaps in theory—and artistically sketched blueprints—you can boom, suck and snag plastics floating at the ocean surface. But in practice, it just doesn’t make sense—ecologically, economically or logically.

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