The Blog Aquatic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:27:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Mythical Ocean Animals http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/mythical-ocean-animals/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/mythical-ocean-animals/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 16:00:54 +0000 Jackie Yeary http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9447

The ocean, in its vastness, is home to some amazing animals—and some amazing myths. The sailors and explorers we studied in history class are famous for more than their voyages and discoveries. Their travels often came with tales of fantastic creatures, too strange to be true. This Halloween, we thought we’d revisit some of the ocean’s most famous mythical creatures. 

Mermaids

Mermaids have a long, complex mythology, appearing in everything from Homer to Hans Christen Anderson. As you’re probably aware, historians believe this legend originated with sailors who had a little too much salty sea air.

Imagine you’ve been at sea for several weeks with a diet consisting solely of hard tack and rum. Suddenly you spot a beautiful mermaid off the starboard bow! Slow down, captain… that’s probably just the rum talking. You’re really just looking at a manatee or a dugong.

Manatees and dugongs make up a group of animals known as the Sirenia, whose name is derived from the mythological women found in Greek mythology. Also known as sea cows, the Sirenia are aquatic mammals that spend their days grazing in seagrass beds. All four species of Sirenia are considered vulnerable under the IUCN Red List.

The Kraken

No creature was more feared by sailors than the kraken—a gigantic mythical beast said to be “round, flat, and full of arms, or branches,” that rises up from the sea to eat fish and fishermen alike. Its massive size is said to cause whirlpools capable of sinking ships, and its spreading muddy cloud to darken the water.

The inspiration behind the legend of the Kraken is most likely the giant squid, the largest of which was nearly 43 feet long. In addition to its eight arms, giant squid have two feeding tentacles tipped with suckers. They use these tentacles to catch prey and bring toward their sharp beaks. Little is known about the behavior of the giant squid, as very few have been seen alive. Most of what scientists know comes from the bodies of giant squid that wash ashore.

Unicorn

When most people think of unicorns, they don’t think of the ocean. However, in medieval times, it was commonly believed that narwhal tusks belonged to the legendary unicorn. Highly prized, these tusks supposedly contained magical powers.

In reality, a narwhal’s tusk is an enlarged tooth, usually found on males. Scientists aren’t positive what it’s used for, but have proposed theories from attracting mates, to more recently sensing the environment.

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Deepwater Horizon Victims on BP: “I Can Make Them Pay, but I Cannot Make Them Apologize.” http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/deepwater-horizon-victims-on-bp-i-can-make-them-pay-but-i-cannot-make-them-apologize/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/30/deepwater-horizon-victims-on-bp-i-can-make-them-pay-but-i-cannot-make-them-apologize/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:00:49 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9443

My stepdad was working on a rig in the Gulf of Mexico when I heard that one of BP’s drilling platforms had exploded that Tuesday night in April 2010. Luckily he was not on the Deepwater Horizon, but I wondered who was—did I know them? Did their families live nearby?

There are many sides to the tragedy of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, and a new documentary released yesterday, “The Great Invisible,” delves into the lives of the survivors, the decisions made by BP and Transocean to forgo safety measures, and the frustration that many communities felt as they pieced their lives and livelihoods back together after the well was capped.

To me, the most compelling stories from the documentary were those we don’t often hear—the stories of survivors Doug Brown and Stephen Stone. Doug was hired by Transocean as chief mechanic for the Deepwater Horizon, and he’d worked on the platform since it was first built in 2001. Before the explosion in 2010, Doug had complained to Transocean that the reduction in mechanical staff posed a real safety issue.

But staff cuts were not the only issue aboard the Deepwater Horizon. “There were 26 different mistakes made,” said Keith Jones, father of Gordon Jones—a drilling engineer who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The cement hadn’t cured, he said, there was rubber in the drilling mud and the hydraulics for the blow-out preventer were not working. These stories from staff aboard the Deepwater Horizon support the presidential oil spill commission’s conclusion that the BP oil disaster was caused by a culture of complacency, rather than a culture of safety.

Guilt is a prevailing sentiment among the survivors interviewed for the documentary. Despite his complaints about staff issues, Doug feels guilty as a lead Transocean staff member aboard the platform and even planned to commit suicide after the explosion. Stephen Stone worked as a roustabout on the Deepwater Horizon. “I didn’t really tell anybody that I was involved,” he said, “because I didn’t know if I should be proud of it or embarrassed by it, you know? And I still don’t know.” Keith said he had felt proud when his son Gordon got the job. “I bragged about getting my son work on the Deepwater Horizon,” he said. Gordon and his wife were expecting a second child when he was killed in the explosion.

Keith attended the screening at the New Orleans Film Festival last week. When asked by an audience member if there was any amount of money or convictions that he felt would truly hurt BP the way they have hurt his family, Keith, a lawyer based in Baton Rouge, said of his opponents in court, “I can make them pay, but I cannot make them apologize.”

BP is facing a fine as high as $17 billion to restore the Gulf of Mexico. Many survivors of the explosion, including Stephen and Doug, are still waiting on their settlements. But no amount of money will ever really reverse the damage caused, nor could it bring back Gordon and the 10 other people whose lives were lost.

The film’s director Margaret Brown, a native of Mobile, Alabama, said that she felt inspired to create this documentary because, even though she grew up on the Gulf Coast, not until the BP oil disaster did she fully understand that there is a “factory under the Gulf of Mexico that we’re all connected to.” That factory has led to great wealth in our region for a century now, but it also comes at great cost. As we work to ensure that the fish, birds and other wildlife in the Gulf are recovering, our thoughts are with the people and families who were directly affected by the BP oil disaster and who are also still recovering.

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What’s Lurking in the Ocean’s Depths? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/29/whats-lurking-in-the-oceans-depths/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/29/whats-lurking-in-the-oceans-depths/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 17:00:53 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9419

Trick or treating in the ocean can be a matter of life or death. Meet four ocean creatures who might just surprise you!

Vampire Squid

You’ve no doubt heard of the famous vampire bat, but did you know that there’s a vampire squid? Don’t worry. It won’t fly out of the ocean to suck your blood. These cephalopods don’t even spray ink like other squids. They produce a bioluminescent mucus cloud that can glow for up to 10 minutes. They were given their names due to their blood red eyes, which can also look blue depending the lighting. Their bodies definitely reflect the gothic nature of vampires by being black or red. A web like material connects their tentacles. They can even envelop their bodies in their tentacles and webbing to shield themselves from predators.

Vampire squids live in really cold depths of the ocean with very little oxygen. This makes them far less threatening to humans than their name suggests. In order to conserve energy, they simply drift along the ocean currents and only eat dead plankton and fecal matter. Instead of fangs, vampire squids eat with their beaks.

Goblin Shark

The goblin shark is an incredibly amazing and terrifying shark. Males can grow up to 8 feet long and females can be up to 11 feet in length. They’re often a pale white color with blue fins. Their most distinctive feature is their jaws. Unlike your jaws that move up and down, their jaws can project from their mouths like the movie Alien! Goblin sharks locate their prey by using electroreceptors in the nose. Because these sharks inhabit the dark ocean depths, fishermen can sleep well at night, knowing that only a few have ever been caught.

Their range is suspected to be very wide. These bottom dwellers have been documented in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

Smallspine Spookfish

The smallspine spookfish, lives in the deep ocean. As their name suggests, they’re pale white like ghosts and have an elongated snout, which can track prey with sensory nerve endings. In fact, they sort of resemble the ghost dog from the Nightmare Before Christmas! Not many have been seen or documented because they live in extreme depths, like more than a mile below the ocean’s surface. As if they weren’t scary cool already, they also have a venomous spine. Unfortunately not much else is known about them, so they’re a regular fish of mystery.

Giant Devil Ray

The devil ray isn’t as scary as it sounds. They’re not actually named for their devilish behavior, but rather from the fins on top of their heads that resemble devil horns. The only way they might scare you is if you see a large dark shape in the water before you realize what it is! They often sport dark colors on the top of their bodies and are typically white on the bottom half. They swim using their pectoral fins, flapping them almost like wings. Giant devil rays are really gentle giants. They only feed on plankton and small fishes.

The only truly devilish thing about them is that they’re endangered. By-catch is a major threat to this species. Since they spend a lot of time close to the surface, ocean traffic and oil spills also pose serious threats to these gentle giants.

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Good News For Gulf Fishermen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/29/good-news-for-gulf-fishermen/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/29/good-news-for-gulf-fishermen/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 14:42:23 +0000 J.P. Brooker http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9423

The prognosis for the long-term recovery of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico brightened considerably last Thursday with the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council’s passage of a measure known as “Amendment 40”—also known to fishermen as “Sector Separation.” Amendment 40 will allow separate management of private recreational anglers and for-hire charter vessels that fish for red snapper.

Although the red snapper fishery in the Gulf is managed as a single stock, the reality is that fishermen from the Florida Keys to South Texas face different situations and fish for different reasons. A for-hire captain who takes customers out of Southwest Florida and deep into federal waters may have a different set of concerns or needs than the weekend recreational angler who has a boat and likes to go red snapper fishing with friends and family but might not venture far from their home marina in the Florida Panhandle, Louisiana, or Texas. It is because of these vastly different situations among fishermen that a new management strategy was needed to address individual concerns, while also ensuring that conservation and rebuilding of the stock remains paramount.

The problem has been made worse by the fact that the science-based recreational quota for red snapper landings has been exceeded every year for twelve of the past fifteen seasons, often by hundreds of thousands of pounds. If this continues, we will jeopardize the efforts to rebuild this valuable fishery and conservation measures to end overfishing will be undermined.

Amendment 40 allows for management strategies that are better tailored to the individual needs of fishermen. Private recreational anglers will get the majority share, or 56 percent of the allocation, which will ultimately result in a season that is managed and designed with their unique needs and concerns in mind. The remaining 44 percent is reserved for members of the public who don’t own a boat and hire guides to take them out on the water. This will enable these charter captains to better schedule fishing days for their clients as their season becomes more predictable and stable.

This new approach to red snapper management is the result of nearly seven years of work. Numerous alternatives were developed and discussed at council meetings and public hearings around the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of written and spoken comments in favor of Amendment 40 were received by the council from fishermen, charter-for-hire captains, environmental groups, and concerned citizens from across the country.

Last week’s decision represents a practical and levelheaded solution that balances the needs of this ecologically and economically important reef fish and the sometimes competing demands and needs of an increasingly growing fishing public.  Amendment 40’s passage shows how the process can work successfully on behalf of all stakeholders, from fishery managers to fish conservationists to on-the-water fishermen. And, of course, the fish.

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What’s Haunting Our Ocean? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/whats-haunting-our-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/whats-haunting-our-ocean/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 21:08:43 +0000 Allison Schutes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9405

Photo: Ocean Conservancy

What’s haunting our ocean? Ghost crabs or witch flounder? What about devil rays or goblin sharks? Sure, there are tons of monsters and ghouls hidden beneath the waves, but like in any scary movie, the most dangerous villains may be the least obvious.

Let’s take cigarette butts for example. When you think of the ocean, they’re probably not the first thing or even among the top ten things you think of. Yet, they’re the most common specter we find on our beaches year after year. In 2013, volunteers collected over 2 million cigarette butts.

Food wrappers are other trolls lurking around our beaches. International Coastal Cleanup volunteers removed more than 1.6 million of them last year alone.

Plastic beverage bottles are also regular beach phantoms. In 2013, we found more than 940,000 plastic bottles on local beaches and shorelines. You can put them to rest by drinking out of a reusable water bottle.

Don’t think the litter caused by the 940,000 plastic bottles is the end of their terror. Volunteers found more than 847,000 bottle caps that were beheaded from their bottles still on the beach. This is even scarier because bottles without their caps can be doomed to sink to the bottom of the sea where they’ll spend all eternity.

If you wanted a scarecrow on the beach, you’d be able to build him just with the plastic straws you find there. More than 555,000 were found on beaches and shorelines last year. We don’t need sage to banish straws from the beach though. If you skipped the straw every time you were at a sit down restaurant, you can help remove their presence from your beach.

Plastic grocery bags are common ghosts on the beach with more than 440,000 exorcised by International Coastal Cleanup volunteers last year. Once they enter the ocean, they can trick sea turtles into thinking they’re jellyfish, the sea turtle’s favorite meal. Sea turtles who swallow plastic bags can suffer from digestive problems or even death.

Ghoulish glass beverage bottles are big problems for beaches. More than 394,00 were collected last year alone.

Plastic grocery bags aren’t the only plastic bags haunting the beach. We found more than 368,000 other kinds of plastic bags creeping their away along the shoreline.

If you’re walking the beach, there’s a good chance a paper bag maybe stalking you. Howling winds can blow paper bags from far off and onto shorelines. Try to use a trashcan with a lid when throwing away easily blown away items.

Hundreds of thousands of beverage cans prowl beaches all over the world.

The sea monsters of folklore or even sharks with rows and rows of serrated teeth can’t make us scream in fright like these 10 things haunting our ocean and endangering marine life. Good thing we all have the power to stop these ocean threats.

Below is a map that shows which monsters are most commonly found on US beaches:

Take a deeper look into the cauldron and see which monsters haunt your local beach:

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Yes, BP Did Damage the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/yes-bp-did-damage-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/27/yes-bp-did-damage-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:19:05 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9398

In an opinion piece published Tuesday, the oil giant BP would have us believe that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster wasn’t all that bad for the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, they admit the event was a tragedy, and, sadly, both people and wildlife perished. But, they quickly point out that the effects from the disaster were not as dire as predicted, and recovery is already happening or perhaps complete.

But those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. We know that marine ecosystems affected by oil spills much smaller than the BP oil disaster, such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, take decades to recover. And with only four and half years behind us since the Deepwater Horizon exploded, we see a steady drumbeat of peer-reviewed articles documenting evidence of harm. The full effects of 210 million gallons of oil on the Gulf cannot be easily dismissed, especially when the injury studies BP conveniently cites are not yet available to the public. A deep dive into the real evidence of the BP oil disaster reveals several holes in BP’s story.

To read the rest of this story, please view our article on Politico’s website.

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An Ounce of Prevention is Worth Tons of Future Harvests http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/24/an-ounce-of-prevention-is-worth-tons-of-future-harvests/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/24/an-ounce-of-prevention-is-worth-tons-of-future-harvests/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:00:53 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9381 fishermen load scallops onto a boat

“Ocean acidification is a pocketbook issue here. It’s about dollars and cents and jobs,” said New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell in Massachusetts at Monday’s conference on Ocean Acidification and Southern New England. Organized by the Woods Hole Research Center, this workshop brought together fishermen, planners, ocean acidification experts, and policymakers to jumpstart action on ocean acidification. Mayor Mitchell noted, “There is no more appropriate place to discuss ocean acidification” than in New Bedford, where smart fisheries management has led to a scallop boom.  In fact, the city is the sea scallop harvest capital of the U.S. and its port consistently brings in the highest commercial fishery revenue in the country each year.

The workshop began reviewing the science of ocean acidification as it relates to Massachusetts’ oceanography and fisheries. There’s still a lot to learn, particularly about how iconic fisheries like sea scallops and lobster respond to ocean acidification.  But it’s clear that there is a lot to be worried about in New England. Seawater acidity is greater in these waters today than it was 35 years ago.


Folks closely affiliated with the sea scallop, oyster, lobster, and other fisheries spoke about the multiple environmental challenges they face, from coastal pollution that results in harmful algal blooms, to ocean acidification and warming. Fortunately, ocean acidification hasn’t caused measurable losses to New England fisheries yet, as it has in the Pacific Northwest with the oyster industry. But it’s clear that decision-makers in Massachusetts are starting to sit up and pay attention.

Representatives of Massachusetts state agencies, nonprofit organizations, and NOAA, joined by State Reps. William Straus (D-Mattapoisett) and Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket) highlighted new opportunities and many existing initiatives that can help partially address ocean acidification. The state already has goals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions statewide and decrease land-based pollution flowing into waterways.

Attendees generally seemed to favor convening a statewide study panel, such as those in Washington State, Maine, and Maryland, to assess how Massachusetts’ existing goals might expand to address ocean acidification concerns and the additional knowledge that is needed. Certainly, there is a great deal of interest in taking preventive action against ocean acidification in Massachusetts, to protect this state’s valuable and iconic fisheries and the communities and people that depend on them.

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