Today marks the 26 anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska where nearly 11 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean over the course of three days. Exxon failed to carry out its pre-approved oil spill response plan because their response barge was “out of service and unavailable for use.” Even if the barge were operational, it lacked enough skimmers and booms to handle the spill. Government officials and local volunteers quickly began spearheading the cleanup. Despite their best efforts to make up for Exxon’s systematic failure, only 14 percent of the spill was removed. This massive spill caused then Governor of Alaska, Steve Cowper, to declare a state of emergency. Oil from the spill can still be found today and some places may be as toxic as they were 26 years ago.
Now, more than two decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Arctic Ocean is still threatened by risky oil drilling. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) released an analysis that showed a 75 percent chance of at least one major spill if companies were allowed to develop oil in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast. Rapidly forming sea ice, fog, high winds, extreme cold and lack of infrastructure make it nearly impossible to clean up an oil spill in Arctic waters. Even in the Gulf of Mexico, only 19 percent of the oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster was removed or dispersed.
Ocean Conservancy prides itself on contributing to thoughtful, science-based restoration approaches in the Gulf as we work toward returning the region to its rightful place as a natural treasure and economic engine for the entire country.
But, everyone’s patience gets tested from time to time. After seeing the latest “report” from BP, we’ve had enough of reacting thoughtfully to BP’s continued PR efforts to discredit the scientists and environmental groups working to restore the Gulf and honor the lives and livelihoods lost in this disaster. Below, we have provided a spin-free translation of the introductory letter to BP’s latest effort to convince you that they are the victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
Earlier this year, President Obama took executive action to protect some of the Arctic Ocean’s most significant marine areas from the threats posed by oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately, some areas of the Arctic Ocean were left open to oil companies, and oil giant Shell has been gearing up to make another attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released an analysis that details how Shell’s proposed drilling operations may impact whales and seals. The results? Tens of thousands of of animals may be exposed to noise that could disrupt vital life activities like migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, and sheltering. NOAA’s analysis determined that more than 50,000 seals and more than 6,000 whales–including belugas, bowheads, grays, and humpbacks–could be affected by Shell’s proposed drilling activities.
Good news for vaquitas this week! The Mexican government will ban the use of gillnets in the Gulf of California, the only place vaquitas call home, for the next two years. This is a much-needed protection for the critically endangered vaquita. In fact, there are less than 100 left in the world.
This is a vital first step in rebuilding the population of the world’s smallest porpoise. Vaquitas are often caught as bycatch in gillnets, which ensnare and kill them.
Three years ago, I teamed up with an economist, a human geographer, and another ocean acidification scientist to lead a study that would identify ocean acidification “hotspots” around the United States – places where ocean changes will be large and coastal communities depend heavily on shellfish harvests, but where people don’t have many resources to guard against losses of these harvests. We gathered a group of 20 science and policy experts to study the issue at the National Science Foundation-funded National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Since then, we’ve synthesized information about the oceanography, shellfish harvests, and coastal communities across the United States in a formal risk assessment. We’ve just published our results in Nature Climate Change this week.
In June of 2013 the international body that manages tuna fish in the Eastern Pacific Ocean drafted and approved a resolution to protect whale sharks. The resolution isn’t groundbreaking; the New York Times didn’t report, Anderson Cooper wasn’t on the scene, and Greenpeace didn’t raise the flag. In fact, in the year it took to make U.S. compliance official via rulemaking in September 2014, even the fish-heads and whale shark lovers here at Ocean Conservancy barely noticed. This is a good thing.
Too often fisheries management is mired in relatively small, but high-profile, fights. The fact that the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) quietly prohibited tuna fishermen, who hail from many nations around the Pacific, from using whale sharks as de facto Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) marks another small but important step towards saving some of the world’s most iconic species and preserving a healthy ocean.
Over the past five years, unusually high numbers of dolphins have been dying in the Gulf of Mexico. The National Marine Fisheries Service declared an unusual mortality event back in December 2010. While it’s easy to assume that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is to blame for these sick and dying dolphins, it’s important to have the scientific evidence to hold BP accountable.
Last week a group of 16 scientists published a paper with detailed information when and where dolphins are dying across the five Gulf states. Since first reading this paper last week, I’ve been thinking about what it means that the clusters of dolphins with the highest and longest mortality rates were those in Barataria Bay following the oil disaster, and also those where oil landed in Mississippi and Alabama in 2011. The authors of the study don’t hesitate to make inferences about the connection to the oil disaster, and so neither should we.