Fall is upon us, and with it comes a new season, new beginnings and new opportunities. The saying “hope springs eternal” evokes an entirely different season, but this autumn I’m feeling particularly excited and optimistic—and it has nothing to do with football. Great things are happening on ocean acidification, and this is an issue that I’m always happy to have something good to talk about.
State efforts to address this issue are essential. Ocean acidification is a global ocean health problem, caused by our increasing carbon emissions from factories, cars and power plants being absorbed by the ocean—but its impacts are local. Ocean acidification is putting American jobs and livelihoods at risk.
Scientists, artists, educators, citizens—we all view the world through different lenses but we can agree on one thing: there is no place for plastics in our natural environment. This was the sentiment that brought together Team GYRE, a group of 14 experts from drastically different backgrounds—science, art, education, film—to research, educate and eliminate marine debris from the ocean.
Over the course of seven days, my teammates and I surveyed some of Alaska’s most remote beaches in an attempt to document the scale and scope of marine debris on the vast coastline. Alaska is unique in that the magnitude of debris on its isolated pocket beaches are is among the largest concentration of plastics and trash on this planet, yet adjacent to these artifacts of human consumerism, magnificent wildlife thrive both above and below the ocean’s surface.
The video above, produced by National Geographic, perfectly illustrates this contrast.
If we hope to meet the future resource demands of a growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us, we must put the ocean at the center of what we do. The ocean provides us with food, energy, transportation, carbon storage and more—it is truly our greatest natural resource.
But the Gulf is still recovering from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster as well as decades of ecosystem decline. Restoring this region to health is the only way to ensure that we can enjoy its many benefits for generations to come.
That task lies in the hands of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, which just released its “Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy.” This plan is intended to serve as a framework to implement a coordinated, Gulf-wide restoration effort using RESTORE Act funding. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something great for the Gulf.
The Gulf Council’s plan is another small but important step forward in Gulf recovery, but we aren’t there yet.
Have you seen the BP commercials about the company taking responsibility for the worst oil disaster in U.S. history? I for one usually see at least one every week. That’s because for the past three years, the company has spent hundreds of millions on advertising trying to clean up their image. But unfortunately, BP hasn’t been as diligent about spending money to actually clean up the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster they claim to be taking responsibility for.
Even as their advertisements continue to run on air, BP is now fighting its own settlement and refusing to provide much-needed funding to the people impacted by the disaster and to restoration efforts critical to bring back the health of Gulf ecosystems and marine life.
Why? Because BP claims that the people who lost their jobs and their way of life are trying to scam the company. This despite the fact that while BP makes about $4 billion in profit every three months, many people who lost their livelihoods have waited more than three years to receive compensation for their losses.
Instead of taking responsibility for the oil disaster in the Gulf and all of the repercussions to the people and wildlife who call the Gulf region home, BP is going out of its way to shirk responsibility for paying economic claims they already agreed to in court.
This week, I’m sailing with Rozalia Project as a guest scientist onboard American Promise. I joined the crew in Bar Harbor, Maine, and I’m spending seven days sailing south through the Gulf of Maine with our journey concluding at the ship’s home port of Kittery, Maine.
My home away from home is Rozalia Project’s “mother ship,” American Promise. Not originally meant to be a garbage-hunter, American Promise has a storied past. She was designed by America’s Cup champion Ted Hood to sail around the world in record time. From November 1985 to April 1986, American Promise did just that when Dodge Morgan became the first American to sail around the world alone in record-breaking time.
One of the main goals of this sail will be to remove as much trash from the water as possible. Much of our work regarding marine debris is centered around the items found along our coastlines and floating on the surface of coastal and inland waterways. However, we know marine debris comes in all shapes and sizes and is present throughout the water column.
On a recent day that would otherwise have been perfect for fishing, a group of Maine fishermen and lobstermen opted to remain indoors. They gathered to discuss an issue serious enough to tie up the boats: the future of fishing in the face of climate change.
Increasing carbon pollution and its impacts on the ocean is something that may seem distant and far away for many. But fishermen are seeing changes now and living new realities today. Members of Maine’s fishing communities met recently to discuss these changes during a workshop hosted by the Island Institute, a Maine group dedicated to sustaining local coastal communities.
Shifting fish populations due to warming waters are bringing new species to Maine and pushing others out. Lobsters are more plentiful than ever, a would-be boon except for an excess of “shedders” (also thought to be because of a warming ocean) that sell for a much lower rate than the usual hard-shelled individuals.
Green crabs, an invasive species, have moved north as waters have warmed, and are eating their way through the local shoreline, leading local clammer Walt Coffin to conclude, “We’ll be out of business in two years.”
A scientist measures a juvenile tiger shark during a population survey. Photo: Claudia Friess / Ocean Conservancy
More than 70 species of shark occur in the Gulf of Mexico and along the U.S. Atlantic coast. Of those, we catch over a dozen large and small coastal species during the bottom longline population survey I’m participating in with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Here are five of the species we commonly spot:
Atlantic Sharpnose Shark This small shark is the most commonly caught species during our survey because it is ubiquitous in this region. In the right depths, it is not uncommon for us to catch around 50 of these small sharks per set of 100 hooks.
Population status: Due to their abundance in the western North Atlantic, their population status is not considered to be of great concern. Apart from humans, Atlantic sharpnose sharks also have other, larger sharks to fear as predators.