Ocean Currents http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 19 Jun 2015 18:06:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 A Canary in the Ocean Coal Mine http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/19/a-canary-in-the-ocean-coal-mine/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/19/a-canary-in-the-ocean-coal-mine/#comments Fri, 19 Jun 2015 15:30:17 +0000 Corey Ridings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10336

Another crucial U.S. fish stock is rebuilt, reinforcing the importance of a strong Magnuson-Stevens Act

Earlier this week federal managers of West Coast U.S. fish stocks found that canary rockfish is rebuilt. This is great news for fishermen, seafood consumers, and conservationists, as it means a healthy population that puts more fresh seafood on American plates and supports a stronger ocean ecosystem. Canary rockfish is important in its own right as a species, but this finding allows for increased fishing of other fish populations that swim alongside it – canary is common as bycatch, or non-targeted species that also get caught in fishing gear, and increased catch levels will enable greater fishing opportunities of other species.

The Pacific Fishery Management Council, the federal group that co-manages our nation’s fisheries off of Washington, Oregon, and California approved the analysis done by NOAA Fisheries today, starting what will most likely be a revision of catch limits, and an official update to the “Status of Stocks,” NOAA Fisheries’ official score-keeping tabulation of stocks nationally.

A rebuilt population declaration comes as a bit of a surprise; canary rockfish were in year 15 of an updated 29-year rebuilding plan. Canary was found to be overfished in 2000 after unsustainable fishing pressure in the 1980s and 1990s and a rebuilding plan that reduced catch and set limitations on fishing gear was put in place to rebuild the population from less than 6% of the historic population size. That means this good news of rebuilding shouldn’t have arrived until 2029. But better data, an improved model for assessing the health of the species, and good recruitment (the number of eggs that survive to become young fish in a given year and replenish a population, a highly variable feature in many fish), and a commitment to rebuilding by managers and fishermen led to this outcome sooner than expected. Some top-notch science, a boost from nature, and a robust rebuilding strategy paid off.

Although this good news is cause for celebration, it is also a reminder of why we must remain vigilant. A changing climate and unstable ocean conditions mean shifts in fish stock productivity, and likely other ecosystem changes we have yet to foresee.

Ironically, Congress is in the midst of rolling back the mandate for rebuilding programs such as this one. If the Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization bill that passed the House of Representatives earlier this month becomes law, successes such as this will become rarer. Opponents want “flexibility” to increase fishing opportunities and continue overfishing today; however this short-sighted approach would push rebuilding even further into the future, costing fishermen, seafood consumers, and the ecosystem in the meantime.

A rebuilt canary population should be more than just a happy tweet, but also a timely reminder of what rebuilding can accomplish and a warning to stay strong on critical requirements of the law.

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Using Big Data to Restore the Gulf of Mexico http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/16/using-big-data-to-restore-the-gulf-of-mexico/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/16/using-big-data-to-restore-the-gulf-of-mexico/#comments Tue, 16 Jun 2015 14:18:14 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10325

If I ask you to close your eyes and picture “protection for marine species,” you might immediately think of brave rescuers disentangling whales from fishing gear.

Or maybe you would imagine the army of volunteers who seek out and protect sea turtle nests. Both are noble and worthwhile endeavors.

But 10 years of ocean conservation in the southeast United States has taught me that protecting marine species doesn’t just look like the heroic rescue of adorable species in need.

I’ve learned that it also looks like the screen of 1s and 0s from the movie The Matrix.

Let me explain.

Much of what goes on with marine life in the Gulf of Mexico—and much of the rest of the ocean—is too dark and distant to see and measure easily or directly. Whales and fish and turtles move around a lot. This makes it difficult to collect information on how many there are in the Gulf and how well those populations are doing.

In order to assess their health, you need to know where these marine species go, what they eat, why they spend time in certain areas (for food, shelter, or breeding?), and more. This information may come from a number of places—state agencies, universities, volunteer programs, you name it—and be stored in a number of different file formats.

Until recently, there was no real way to combine all of these disparate pixels of information into a coherent picture of, for instance, a day in the life of a sea turtle. DIVER, NOAA’s new website for Deepwater Horizon assessment data, gives us the tools to do just that.

Data information and integration systems like DIVER put all of that information in one place at one time, allowing you to look for causes and effects that you might not have ever known were there and then use that information to better manage species recovery. These data give us a new kind of power for protecting marine species.

Of course, this idea is far from new. For years, NOAA and ocean advocates have both been talking about a concept known as “ecosystem-based management” for marine species. Put simply, ecosystem-based management is a way to find out what happens to the larger tapestry if you pull on one of the threads woven into it.

For example, if you remove too many baitfish from the ecosystem, will the predatory fish and wildlife have enough to eat? If you have too little freshwater coming through the estuary into the Gulf, will nearby oyster and seagrass habitats survive? In order to make effective and efficient management decisions in the face of these kinds of complex questions, it helps to have all of the relevant information working together in a single place, in a common language, and in a central format.

A view of the many sets of Gulf of Mexico environmental data that the tool DIVER can bring together. (NOAA)

So is data management the key to achieving species conservation in the Gulf of Mexico? It just might be.

Systems like DIVER are set up to take advantage of quantum leaps in computing power that were not available to the field of environmental conservation 10 years ago. These advances give DIVER the ability to accept reams of diverse and seemingly unrelated pieces of information and, over time, turn them into insight about the nature and location of the greatest threats to marine wildlife.

The rising tide of restoration work and research in the Gulf of Mexico will bring unprecedented volumes of data that should—and now can—be used to design and execute conservation strategies with the most impact for ocean life in our region. Ocean Conservancy is excited about the opportunity for systems like DIVER to kick off a new era in how we examine information and solve problems.

This blog was originally published on NOAA’s Response and Restoration Blog.

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Enter the 2015 Marine Wildlife and Seascape Photo Contest http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/12/enter-the-2015-marine-wildlife-and-seascape-photo-contest/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/12/enter-the-2015-marine-wildlife-and-seascape-photo-contest/#comments Fri, 12 Jun 2015 17:28:18 +0000 Jackie Yeary http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10316

That perfect sunrise while you were walking barefoot on the beach. That snorkel trip when a dolphin swam right up to you.

You know the feeling of getting the perfect photo. Now is your chance for everyone else to see it too!

Enter your pictures into the 2015 Marine Wildlife and Seascape Photo Contest now. Don’t wait. The deadline is June 23.

You just might see your photo on the next Ocean Conservancy calendar—that more than 100,000 people (including me) will have hanging on their wall. Plus you could win some wicked cool prizes.

This year’s prize categories include:

  • A gray whale blue bag from our partner Rockflowerpaper
  • A travel softshell cooler from Landshark Lager*
  • An Ocean Conservancy winter hat
  • An Ocean Conservancy plush animal
  • A one-year membership to Ocean Conservancy

After you enter, share the link with your family and friends for your chance to win the People’s Choice Award! Our panel of judges will select the Grand Prize Winner and the five category winners.

Good luck!

*Winners must be 21 or older to receive the Landshark Lager cooler.

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Ocean Plastic is a Problem We Can Solve – Together http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/08/ocean-plastic-is-a-problem-we-can-solve-together/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/08/ocean-plastic-is-a-problem-we-can-solve-together/#comments Mon, 08 Jun 2015 14:25:45 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10309

Charlie Enright, a Rhode Island native, is skipper of Team Alvimedica, the youngest of the seven international teams in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race which began last October and recently completed Leg 7 (out of nine) in Lisbon, Portugal. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s premier offshore race, an exceptional test of sailing prowess and human endeavor, which began over 40 years ago. At 30, Enright has already accumulated thousands of offshore miles and inshore racing results—including a Transatlantic and Rolex Fastnet Race in 2011. Before dedicating himself full time to the Volvo Race campaign, he worked at North Sails Rhode Island and managed multiple sailing campaigns for All American Ocean Racing. Charlie is an Ambassador for 11th Hour Racing, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation, which establishes strategic partnerships within the sailing and marine communities to promote collaborative systemic change for the health of our coastal, offshore, and freshwater environments.

You can follow Charlie on Twitter @enright_charlie or Instagram @cte02809.

Andreas Merkl is in his third year as CEO of Ocean Conservancy, a D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to the health and productivity of the ocean that covers over 70 percent of the planet. Merkl is an experienced strategist with a lifelong commitment to environmental causes. Prior to taking the helm at Ocean Conservancy, Merkl served as a principal at California Environmental Associates, a San Francisco-based think tank and consultancy focused on the management of the natural resource commons. Earlier in his career, he was a founding member of McKinsey & Company’s Environmental Practice and vice president and co-founder of the CH2M HILL Strategy Group, a leading provider of environmental management consulting worldwide. Andreas is on Twitter as @andreasmerkl.

Enright and Merkl:  While one of us is a native of Rhode Island and part of the Millennial Generation and the other hails from Germany and came of age in the 1970s, we share one thing in common – a great passion for the ocean.

Enright: As a sailor, I race through the ocean’s surface on some of the fastest sailboats in the world. The ocean is my home, and it is everyone’s backyard. When I’m not sailing, I try to get home to the Ocean State, Rhode Island, where I’m from and where my family – including my wife and soon-to-be-born son – make our home. Having grown up here, the sailing and the sea are in my DNA.

Merkl: And as CEO of Ocean Conservancy, I wake up every morning thinking about how to solve tough ocean challenges. When I can, I explore some of the deepest ocean recesses in my beloved dive spots of Indonesia.

Enright and Merkl:  We have different day jobs and have had different life experiences. But one thing we completely agree on:  the ocean, in every spot from the fragile Arctic to the most remote areas of the Southern Ocean, is besieged by plastics.

Enright: This is my first Volvo Ocean Race and I’ve been shocked by the amount of plastic debris seen throughout the first seven legs of the nine-leg race. I’ve sailed from Alicante on Spain’s Costa Blanca to Abu Dhabi, on to Sanya in southeast China, then to Auckland, Brazil and Newport before reaching Lisbon. The sailors have been surprised by the amounts of trash and floating plastic they’ve encountered, especially in stretches of ocean near population centers such as the Malacca Strait. The Volvo Ocean Race produced a short documentary film that includes the reactions of many of my fellow racers. Our goal in doing this is not only to increase awareness of ocean plastic but also to inspire action. As the skipper of Team Brunel observes, “Plastic, plastic, plastic…it doesn’t matter where you point.” We sailors agree:  the ocean is being overwhelmed by plastics and other debris even in the most remote spots, and it needs to be cleaned up.

Merkl:  I wish I could say that the teams of Volvo Ocean Race had an uncommon situation in their distressing encounters with ocean plastic, but that is simply not the case. It is a pervasive and proliferating catastrophe that, left unchecked, will continue to escalate until in a few short years – as soon as 2025 - we can expect to see one ton of plastic for every three tons of finfish in the ocean. We know from recently published research that approximately eight million metric tons of plastics enter the ocean annually from land-based sources. This has produced nothing less than a global crisis for ocean waters, marine wildlife and habitat, human health and safety, and wasted resources and lost revenues for many nations, especially those in developing countries where the economies are already strained.

Merkl and Enright:  But we are not without hope. We are optimistic because we CAN solve this problem.

Merkl:  At Ocean Conservancy we are working through our Trash Free Seas Alliance® with corporations, scientists and nonprofits – all working together to stem the tide of plastics entering the ocean from land. It’s a sophisticated strategy to support locally relevant waste management interventions in countries where the plastics leakage is occurring.

A mechanism must be implemented to ensure plastics are collected, securely transported, and then properly disposed of so that these materials are recovered and not lost to the ocean. In addition, there must be international collaboration of industry, governments, aid agencies and NGOs to advance efficient and effective waste management in developing economies where plastic leakage is currently greatest. With implementation of this two-pronged solution, we can begin to see drastic reductions in the amount of plastics that end up polluting the seas.

Enright and Merkl:  The ocean provides much of the food our global population consumes, along with the air it breathes and the waters that nourish it. In addition, the ocean provides for the two of us – and for countless others – the source of our greatest happiness and pleasure as we sail its waters and explore its depths. We owe this miraculous and marvelous system all we can muster to protect it and its inhabitants. Science has shown us where a large majority of the plastic waste is coming from and current research is showing us what we can do to stem the tide of plastics entering the ocean. Let’s make sure that future Volvo Ocean Races do not encounter the vast amounts of plastics that the 2014-2015 Race has observed. Let’s focus our efforts on solving this global problem – together.

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Aftermath of Santa Barbara’s Oil Spill: What’s Happening in the Marine Environment? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/04/aftermath-of-santa-barbaras-oil-spill-whats-happening-in-the-marine-environment/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/04/aftermath-of-santa-barbaras-oil-spill-whats-happening-in-the-marine-environment/#comments Thu, 04 Jun 2015 14:37:56 +0000 Greg Helms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10302

Oil on the beach at Refugio State Park in Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Nearly two weeks after a ruptured pipeline spilled 105,000 gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara, hundreds of tired and oil-soaked workers are still on site working to scoop, boom and skim what they can of the 21,500 gallons estimated to have reached the ocean. As the slick spreads on the surface, and more oil sinks beneath the waves, a complicated environmental, chemical and biological process is unfolding in the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. While every oil spill differs depending on local conditions, science and past history allow us to anticipate some of the long-term impacts to marine wildlife, habitats and communities.

Oil produced offshore of Santa Barbara is particularly heavy and thick, likely worsening the effects of external exposure to marine birds, mammals and fish.  These effects include smothering those animals that can’t move, and impairing the ability of some animals to insulate against cold water.  Marine birds that become oiled may lose the ability to fly, forage and feed their young. Highly mobile birds and marine mammals that frequent the ocean surface, where spilled oil initially collects, are especially vulnerable. They may be exposed to oil in one location only to sicken or die elsewhere.  The spill’s location in shallow, nearshore waters exposes a particularly rich array of wildlife and habitats to damage, including shorelines, sea grass, kelp beds, rocky reefs and kelp forests.

Spilled oil on the sea surface that is not captured by booms and skimmers will undergo changes as it’s agitated by waves and currents, and weathered by wind and sunlight.  Uncollected oil begins to degrade and form the orange emulsion “mousse” that is a familiar visual from past oil spills. During this weathering process, some of the oil will collect in low spots and around reefs and rocky outcrops.  This brings the smothering and oiling effects of the spill to the seabed, where the bulk of the near shore ocean’s animals are located.  This sub-surface oil is less visible and more difficult to clean up, and its effects may be the most persistent and profound posed by this tragic incident.

The weathering of spilled oil releases especially toxic aromatic hydrocarbons that can pass through the gills of fish, and enter nerve fibers causing paralysis. Chemical compounds that weather slowly may persist in the environment for months or years. Some will remain suspended in the water, later forming tar balls and “pancakes” that can continue to foul beaches and shorelines for years to come. Some will sink to the sea floor, where exposure of this decaying oil will threaten the growth and reproductive success of bottom dwellers such as sea urchins and sea stars. Oil buried in the sediment layer decays more slowly and can be re-released over time.

While oil is not entirely foreign to local ecosystems, nature is not accustomed to large volumes of crude oil being released suddenly. Several natural oil and gas seeps, which slowly leak some crude oil into the environment, exist in the Santa Barbara Channel. This does not mean local wildlife is immune to the toxic effects of oil; in fact, scientific experiments show this not to be the case.  However, there are numerous species of bacteria and fungi that have evolved to take advantage of the energy stored in petroleum.


These microorganisms can aid in the long process of recovery by digesting hydrocarbons using special enzymes.  Blooms of these bacteria and fungi in response to the sudden availability of hydrocarbons is among the ways the marine ecosystem will absorb the oil spill over time, although there is much that is unknown about these processes.  The microbiology of marine systems is complicated, and the potential effects of such blooms may be considerable.

The Santa Barbara Channel is one of the most prolific and well-studied marine ecosystems in the world.  Both of these facts may contribute some hope for the eventual recovery from this oil spill.  While the area’s biological richness undoubtedly increases the count of marine animals injured and killed by the spill, scientists believe that more diverse and healthy ecosystems are more resilient and can recover more quickly and completely from damage and disturbance.

Furthermore, because the Channel has for decades served as a marine laboratory for scientists from nearby UC Santa Barbara and elsewhere, we have extensive information on ecosystem conditions before the spill, which will be critical in accurately  assessing the damage, informing mitigation and remediation efforts, and tracking results.  Studies accompanying Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) established in the area in 2012 brought significant additional information of this type to bear. Having this baseline will help guide restoration efforts, and ensure full accountability and compensation by the pipeline operator. Early efforts to survey damage to marine habitats and wildlife are crucial to long term restoration and are as essential as the clean-up efforts of response workers on the beach.

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To the Point (and Nonpoint): Understanding Sewage Pollution and Stormwater Runoff http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/03/to-the-point-and-nonpoint-understanding-sewage-pollution-and-stormwater-runoff/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/03/to-the-point-and-nonpoint-understanding-sewage-pollution-and-stormwater-runoff/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 13:05:28 +0000 Allison Schutes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10293

Photo: Corduroy LeFevre

As a boater or marina operator, you have probably experienced first-hand the effects of pollutants. Although you may make every feasible effort to prevent pollutants from entering your local waters, not all sources are easy to pinpoint. Here is a quick refresher of some of the most common types and sources of contaminants.

Most pollution can be categorized as “point” or “nonpoint” discharges. Point sources of pollution – such as outfall pipes – introduce pollution into the environment at a specific site or point. They are generally the easiest to identify, monitor and regulate.

By contrast, nonpoint source pollution comes from a plethora of diffuse sources and is unconstrained in movement. Nonpoint source pollution is caused by water (typically rainfall or snowmelt) moving over and through the ground. Sources include storm drains and runoff from parking lots, roadways or agricultural land.

Sewage: Point Source Pollution

Even though it’s not fun to discuss, sewage is an important topic when it comes to ocean health because it degrades water quality by introducing waste and potentially harmful microbial pathogens into the environment. Untreated sewage can enter the water from faulty residential, municipal or marina septic treatment systems or from direct discharges from shoreside facilities and boats.

Simply put, sewage makes water look bad and smell even worse. As a result, marinas and boaters must play a role in reducing sewage pollution.


  • Remember that it is illegal for vessels to discharge raw sewage within 3 nautical miles of the U.S. coast and the Great Lakes.
  • Install and use a marine sanitation device as required by law.
  • Bring portable toilets ashore for proper disposal.


  • Provide portable or stationary pump-out units or information on nearby pump-out facilities.
  • Give boaters access to dumping stations for disposal of portable toilet waste.
  • Provide clean onshore restrooms and encourage their use.

Stormwater Runoff: Nonpoint Source Pollution

Nonpoint pollution sources are difficult to measure and regulate because they tend to be diffuse and widespread. Stormwater runoff can pick up fertilizers and animal waste from agricultural fields; litter and household chemical from streets; and oil and other substances from roadways and parking lots. In marinas, principal runoff pollutants come from parking lots and hull maintenance areas.

The most visible pollutants in stormwater runoff are small pieces of trash. But runoff also carries hidden dangers, such as excessive nutrients, toxins, heavy metals and bacteria.

Boaters and marina operators can help reduce the effects of stormwater runoff by using non-toxic cleaning products; disposing of trash properly; and stenciling messages near storm drains to remind people about the direct connection to local waters.

Sewage pollution and stormwater runoff can severely harm water quality, wildlife and habitats – even local economies. Although any single discharge or runoff event may be small, it is the cumulative effect of many small inputs that is so destructive.

To learn more about how you can help reduce sewage pollution and stormwater runoff, see Chapter 3 and Chapter 6 of the Good Mate manual.


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Congress Wants More Attention on Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/01/congress-wants-more-attention-on-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/01/congress-wants-more-attention-on-ocean-acidification/#comments Tue, 02 Jun 2015 00:57:41 +0000 Ryan Ono http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10286

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons, MassMatt

Last month, federal lawmakers signaled their concern for healthy coastal communities when six House Republicans and Democrats introduced a bill directing the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to assess the vulnerabilities of these communities to ocean acidification. The bill, entitled the Coastal Communities Ocean Acidification Act of 2015 (H.R. 2553) takes an important step in helping these impacted individuals understand what acidification means for them specifically, and what can be done to protect themselves and their marine resources such as fisheries.

Although ocean acidification has generally been associated with oyster, mussel and clam die-offs, coral reefs are also threatened, and scientists are increasingly finding that important fisheries such as king and Dungeness crab, and summer flounder, won’t fare well in an increasingly acidic world. Given the millions of livelihoods at stake, we applaud Representatives Chellie Pingree (ME-1) and Vern Buchanan (FL-16) who introduced the bill along with their cosponsors for using foresight in trying to get ahead of this issue, and protect the jobs and way of life for thousands of individuals and families.

No one wants to be caught unprepared for acidification as the Pacific Northwest was when it dealt with the oyster baby die-offs of 2005-2009 in its hatcheries.  Right now important fisheries such as the salmon, Dungeness crab and lobster fisheries in the northwest and northeast parts of the country are in that particular proverbial boat, as they have little to no science on the impacts of acidification.

Funding this research and science to support local decision-makers with information is also critical in fighting ocean acidification, and in fact, Congress is deciding how much to spend on acidification research and monitoring right now.  For context, last year, Congress funded the NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) at $8.5 million for the year.  So far this year, it looks like this figure will hold steady thanks to Senator Maria Cantwell (WA), and Representatives Bonamici (OR-1st) and Heck (WA-10th) who led letters to their colleagues on the committees who make these funding decisions in support of the NOAA OAP budget which had a total of 64 members of Congress sign on in bipartisan support.

With these proposed assessments to inform communities from H.R. 2553, and the consistent support of federal funding, we hope our communities, coasts and marine industries can defend themselves from ocean acidification and continue thriving into the future.


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