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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Santa Barbara Oil Spill Jeopardizes the Golden Beaches of Our Golden State

Posted On May 21, 2015 by

When oil began flowing from a ruptured pipeline along the wild and scenic shoreline up the coast from Santa Barbara, California, the community’s coastal life flashed before its eyes:  thriving fisheries, popular and pristine beaches, teeming populations of whales and marine mammals, and a new network of protected areas set up to safeguard these coastal treasures.  The awful images of oiled beaches and sea life are appearing on our screens at a time when visitors are flocking to the coast for Memorial Day weekend.

Recreational and commercial fishing have been ordered closed in the wake of the spill. Fishing grounds along the rural coast west of Santa Barbara support a good deal of the harvest of some of California’s highest-value fisheries. Spiny lobster, red sea urchin and market squid are harvested along this coastline, and are among the top five commercial fisheries in California, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of fish and providing healthy seafood for local and distant consumers. Recreational fishermen ply these waters for calico bass, white seabass and halibut while enjoying the scenic surroundings and spending dollars locally. Surfers, scuba divers, beachgoers and whale watchers explore, play and spend in even greater numbers.

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The Evidence Mounts: Another Study Links Dolphin Deaths in the Gulf to BP

Posted On May 21, 2015 by

Yesterday, scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new results from a series of studies in which they have investigated the unusually high number of dolphin deaths occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. Since 2010, scientists have conducted autopsies on dead dolphins to try and understand why they are dying.

They found significantly higher numbers of dolphins with severe lung disease and lesions on their adrenal glands in oiled areas than in non-oiled areas. Dr. Stephanie Venn-Watson described the adrenal disease as forcing dolphins to precariously balance on a ledge which cold temperatures, pregnancy and infection can push them off, resulting in death. The lesions observed in dolphins were “some of the most severe lung lesions ever seen in wild dolphins throughout the U.S.” according to lead Pathologist, Dr. Katie Colegrove. NOAA is decisive in concluding that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster caused the dolphin deaths in the Northern Gulf: “The timing, location, and nature of the detected lesions support that contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused these lesions and contributed to the high numbers of dolphin deaths within this oil spill’s footprint.”

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The 2014 International Coastal Cleanup Data Are In

Posted On May 19, 2015 by

Another year, another incredible volunteer effort—I’m excited to share with you today the findings from last year’s International Coastal Cleanup. In 2014, more than 560,000 people picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash along nearly 13,000 miles of coastlines. Thank you to all the volunteers, Coordinators and partners who participated and devoted countless hours and resources!

Last year’s Cleanup had the largest weight of trash collected during any Ocean Conservancy Cleanup since its inception 29 years ago. Volunteers from 91 countries gathered detailed information from their Cleanups to provide a snapshot of the most persistent forms of trash found along the beaches and waterways that’s impacting our ocean.

This data represents what was found at the 29th Cleanup – each and every year hundreds of thousands of volunteers step up to meet the challenge and help clean up the beaches and waterways in their communities. There’s no doubt in my mind – as the Cleanup report will show you – the unparalleled effort of volunteers around the world results in cleaner beaches, rivers and lakes for all to enjoy.

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Postcards from Florida

Posted On May 15, 2015 by

In honor of the 5-year memorial of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Ocean Conservancy interviewed residents about the spill, its impacts and what the Gulf means to them. Over the next 87 days—the length of the spill itself—we will be releasing “postcards from the Gulf” to share their stories. This blog is the third of a four-part series featuring some of the full-length interviews from our postcards.  Be sure to follow Ocean Conservancy on Facebook and Twitter over the next couple of months to see all of the postcards.

The headlines we often hear about the Gulf of Mexico can get you down, from oil disasters to ocean acidification and coastal pollution. But it gives me hope to see young leaders of the next generation recognize the value of sustaining a healthy Gulf. Cole Kolasa, a high school student on the Gulf Coast of Florida, is one of the young leaders of tomorrow, who I believe embodies the spirit of the next generation that will alter the course of history and begin to restore the actions of the past. This is what he has to say about his Gulf of Mexico. 

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Thanks to the Ocean… It’s Like a Mother to Us!

Posted On May 10, 2015 by

Let’s take a moment on Mother’s Day to remember the ocean. Like mothers everywhere, the ocean looks out for us in the most basic ways. It’s easy to take those things for granted. Thanks, Mother Ocean, because you:

Gave us life. Earth scientists believe that the first life on Earth arose in the ocean, which brought together chemicals in a rich “soup” that gave rise to primitive cells. These early life forms evolved and diversified into the myriad organisms that exist today.

Keep us warm. The ocean stores a tremendous amount of heat that regulates the planet’s overall temperature. Ocean currents redistribute heat around the Earth to keep temperatures relatively stable. Not too hot and not too cold, the Earth’s small overall temperature range is critical for our survival.

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Making Even Better Decisions About Sea Scallop Harvests

Posted On May 7, 2015 by

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, flippy whale, sai kung

How do you like to make big, complicated decisions? I like to write lists of pros and cons associated with the choice I’m leaning towards. That’s served me well for changing jobs, selling houses and more.

But for complex systems, like fisheries, simply comparing pros and cons of one choice isn’t enough. There are many moving parts in a fishery, and they are interconnected. For example, when fishermen harvest sea scallops, they reduce the overall number of scallops in an area, and change the age and size distribution of individual scallops. At the same time, factors like rising water temperature, availability of food, or quality of habitat can also affect scallop populations, and external factors like the price of scallops or gasoline can influence the intensity of fishing effort. So, changes in a fishery often lead to outcomes that don’t necessarily generate neat bullets you can compare on a balance sheet.

It’s especially challenging to plan for both short and long term changes in a fishery. Most fisheries are managed to accommodate short-term changes that last a few years, like natural fluctuations in population size. But fisheries management today generally doesn’t also consider long-term changes spanning many decades, like warming and ocean acidification, even though we know those changes are gradually tilting the playing field for many marine species.

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Lessons From History on Ocean Acidification

Posted On April 29, 2015 by

fish and corals in the Florida Keys

Photo: NOAA

Part of my job involves fielding worried emails and phone calls about alarming-sounding science news, especially when it relates to ocean acidification. Recently a study in Science made a big splash, generating headlines like “Ocean acidification caused the largest mass extinction ever” and “Acidic oceans helped fuel extinction.” And those are some of the calmer headlines. Naturally, people are saying, “This is scary stuff! Are we going to see the same thing?” Let’s take a look.

When studying major global changes like warming, ocean acidification, or ocean oxygen loss, scientists often look back in the geological record to see what happened when Earth experienced similar conditions before. That helps scientists put global change in the proper perspective.

In past geological ages when volcanic activity has been high, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have risen and dramatically changed the Earth’s climate and ocean chemistry. Last week’s Science study focuses on one of these periods—the Permo-Triassic (P-T) boundary. It’s one of the most “rapid” releases of volcanic carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, taking 60,000 years. As slow as that seems, it’s fast for the Earth—60,000 years out of a 4.5 billion year old planet’s life is like half a day of a 100-year-old person’s life. All this volcanic carbon dioxide drove rapid ocean acidification towards the end of the P-T boundary, and a major extinction of ocean life followed. Marine life with calcified shells and skeletons, like corals, shellfish and calcifying algae, were pretty much wiped out.

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