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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Champion to Depart White House as Accomplishments Are in Jeopardy

Posted On December 3, 2013 by

Today, President Obama announced that Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), will step down in February. Obama hasn’t named a successor yet, but that person will have sea-size shoes to fill – because Ms. Sutley has been a true champion for the ocean.

Ironically, the announcement of her departure comes as certain members of Congress are working to undermine one of her most important accomplishments: the National Ocean Policy (NOP).

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Three Ways the Shutdown Is Having Real Ocean Impacts

Posted On October 8, 2013 by

Credit: Drew Koshar

It has now been more than one week since the federal government shut down, and stories about how the shutdown is impacting the ocean are beginning to flow in.

Last week, I wrote on how Congress’s failure to reach a consensus on a funding bill would impact government agencies conducting operations in the ocean, and how government data utilized by scientists, fishermen and state and local officials would no longer be accessible.

But now, the shutdown isn’t just a theoretical exercise in government. It’s impacting both people and the environment.

Here are three examples of ways that the government shutdown is causing real pain and doing real damage:

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As Gulf Faces Tropical Storm Threat, Shutdown Keeps Oil Spill Experts Off the Job

Posted On October 4, 2013 by

Credit – National Weather Service: National Hurricane Center

Heading into the weekend, there are three very disturbing realities coming together that make those of us who care about the ocean very uncomfortable:

  1. Tropical Storm Karen is making its way through the Gulf of Mexico and heading straight towards a vast field of offshore oil rigs and pipelines. Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are already under tropical storm watches and warnings.
  2. When tropical storms and hurricanes hit this region, they can cause a lot of oil spills. For example, the damage that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused to rigs and pipelines resulted in  spills totaling 17, 652 barrels (or roughly three-quarters of a million gallons) of petroleum products. Even more oil was spilled from on-shore facilities. Not to mention the fact that a major storm might also churn up submerged oil from the BP oil spill, sending it back onto our shores and beaches.
  3. Because of the government shutdown, many of NOAA’s oil spill experts – employees of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – are furloughed and off the job.

Talk about bad timing.

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Create an Ocean-Friendly Organic Garden (Part 2)

Posted On March 21, 2013 by

After our first blog post about greening your garden practices, are you not yet convinced of the benefits to organic farming? That’s fine, because this second installment was written with the goal of illustrating all of the benefits that can come from gardening the organic way. Part 1 was designated for the “how” questions surrounding organic gardening, but in Part 2 we’ll tackle the “why” factor.

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This Week’s Top Tweets: March 9 – 15

Posted On March 17, 2013 by

Our top tweets of the week range from innovations and milestones in scientific study of the ocean to the tangible impacts of trash and pollution we’ve seen recently–and a little hope for a lot of sharks, manta rays and sawfish. With the BP trial continuing in the midst of all this, losing that hour from daylight savings has definitely been noticeable in ocean news this week! Read on for more details.

1. Manatees in Danger

Our most popular tweet this week brings sad news from the coast of Florida, where record numbers of manatees have been killed from the red tide. The total is up to 184, and with an already endangered population, this is a terribly heartbreaking problem. The manatees ingest the red tide that has settled on sea grass (their main food source), then the toxins essentially paralyze the victim, causing it to drown. For more information, check out this infographic from naplesnews.com.

2. Death by Garbage

https://twitter.com/OurOcean/status/311197334727958528

This tweet is about a sperm whale that fatally ate a total of 37 pounds of garbage and beached itself on the coast of Spain. Incidents like these show that some of the ocean’s largest creatures are not immune to our crippling habits of not disposing trash properly, and are perhaps some of the most illustrative reasons that can spur people to change their daily routines to be more ocean-wary. If you’re looking to do the same, try using the tips we’ve suggested in our mobile app, Rippl, to make an easy transition to bettering the environment.

3. Protection from Finning–Finally!

https://twitter.com/OurOcean/status/312172453227032576

The ocean world got some fantastic news this week! The shark finning industry which has decimated populations of this indicator animal has finally been put on a leash, with several species now under international protection. Any further exports of these animals will require a permit that certifies sustainable and legal fishing.

4. Studying Climate Change on the Largest Scale Yet

https://twitter.com/OurOcean/status/312261910865264640

Using plastic bags to study the effects of ocean acidification is definitely a perplexing story. Research concludes in June, so we’ll be sure to keep an eye peeled to let you know about the scientists’ findings!

5. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Ocean

https://twitter.com/OurOcean/status/312292084658864128

An interview in this article says that studying on a ship for longer than a month can yield a high price tag–the $50,000 per day kind of price tag. Scientists can skirt around those prices, though, if they find a commercial cargo ship that’s willing to take them on. Many ships are eager to have scientists do research aboard, as it continues a long tradition of “Ships of Opportunity.” When the only expense is for food along a journey, scientists can worry a lot less about how it will be funded and a lot more about their research.

That rounds out the top tweets from this week! Leave a comment and tell us which story you liked the most, and don’t forget to follow our Twitter handle, @OurOcean, in order to get updates as soon as they come out!

Salazar: Shell Screwed Up

Posted On March 14, 2013 by

Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

“Shell screwed up in 2012.” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar was bluntly accurate when speaking about Shell’s calamitous Arctic drilling program today.

The Interior Department’s new high-level, 60-day review – while not comprehensive – calls attention to serious shortcomings in Shell’s 2012 effort and recommends a more thorough, integrated approach to planning and oversight before deciding on whether to approve future Arctic drilling operations.

The review confirms what we already knew: that Shell simply was not ready to conduct safe and responsible operations in icy Arctic waters. It also demonstrates that federal agencies need to do a better job holding the oil industry accountable and setting higher standards for safety and environmental protection.

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Spotlight on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska: A Balanced Management Plan

Posted On March 11, 2013 by

Located in northwestern Alaska, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (or the “Reserve”) encompasses vast and pristine Arctic landscapes, lakes, rivers, coastal lagoons and barrier islands. The Reserve is the single biggest unit of public land in the country; covering nearly 23 million acres, it is roughly the size of Indiana.

The Reserve is home to caribou, wolves, wolverine and grizzly bears, and provides breeding habitat for birds from every continent. Its coastal areas provide important denning habitat for polar bears, while the lagoons and near-shore waters are used by beluga whales, walruses and several species of ice-dependent seals. Additionally, native subsistence communities rely on the Reserve’s fish and wildlife species.

There is no doubt that the Reserve contains world-class wildlife resources, but  as the name implies, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska also contains oil and gas resources. However, the energy resources are not as rich as was once believed. In 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey issued a new analysis and estimated the volume of undiscovered oil resources in the Reserve to be just 10 percent of what was previously thought.

Regardless of how much oil the Reserve contains, federal law requires the Department of the Interior to balance energy exploration and development with “maximum protection” of fish, wildlife and other surface values. Late last month, the Department of the Interior approved a comprehensive management plan for the Reserve that achieves this balance.

The newly approved management plan is the first of its kind to cover the entire Reserve, and  will protect the environment while also allowing oil and gas companies to access the majority of economically recoverable oil. Furthermore, it allows for future pipelines and other infrastructure in the event that oil and gas development proceeds in offshore areas.

Simultaneously, the plan provides important protections for some of the Reserve’s most sensitive habitats. It expands the Teshekpuk Lake and Colville River special areas, and creates a new special area for Peard Bay on the Chukchi Sea coast. The management plan provides significant protections for key coastal areas, including polar bear habitat, walrus and spotted seal haul out areas, and coastal lagoons important to beluga whales. In all, the newly approved management plan withdraws approximately 11 million acres of the Reserve from oil and gas leasing.

Ocean Conservancy joined with many other conservation organizations to support the new management plan for the Reserve, and the Department of the Interior’s decision to approve the plan represents a major step forward. By placing meaningful restrictions on oil and gas development to protect vital onshore and coastal habitats, the new plan demonstrates that it is possible to balance responsible energy development with conservation objectives. That’s a lesson worth remembering.