Ocean Currents http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 12 Jan 2017 17:11:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 New Report Evaluates Risks of Vessel Traffic in the Bering Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/12/new-report-evaluates-risks-of-vessel-traffic-in-the-bering-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/12/new-report-evaluates-risks-of-vessel-traffic-in-the-bering-sea/#comments Thu, 12 Jan 2017 17:11:24 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13613

Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

As Arctic sea ice continues to melt, the Bering Sea—including the narrow Bering Strait—is experiencing more and more ship traffic. As ship traffic increases, so too do the risks, including oil spills, vessel strikes on marine mammals, air pollution, discharge of wastes into the water, and production of underwater noise.

A new report, commissioned by Ocean Conservancy and conducted by Nuka Research and Planning Group LLC, evaluates the risks from vessel traffic in the Bering Strait.

The Bering Sea is used by millions of seabirds, and an array of marine mammals including whales, seals, walruses and polar bears. Alaska Native peoples who live near the Bering Sea depend on its fish and wildlife as a key source of food and to support cultural practices that date back millennia. And the Bering Sea is home to rich commercial fisheries: in 2014, five of the top 10 most valuable commercial fisheries in the United States were based in or near the Bering Sea.

There’s no doubt that these waters are astoundingly abundant, and there is a lot at stake. So what did the risk assessment find about the risks posed by vessel traffic in the Bering Sea?

  • Right now, in the Northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait region, most oil exposure and risk is associated with vessels that service the region, primarily delivering fuel and goods to communities or exporting resources from mines. In contrast, in the Southern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, most oil exposure comes from vessels that are just passing through the region, transiting Great Circle Route.
  • “Lightering” (transferring fuel from one ship to another offshore via hoses) is a significant source of risk in the Northern Bering Sea.
  • In the future, as more ships transit the Bering Strait, there will be more oil spill exposure.
  • Much of the increase in ship traffic is expected to come from bulk carriers and tankers serving resource extraction projects elsewhere in the Arctic. These vessels are a particular concern because they generally use heavy fuel oil—a “persistent” fuel that, if spilled, would be virtually impossible to clean up and would likely have impacts for years. Cruise ship and tourism traffic is also likely to increase in the future.

Fortunately, the risk assessment makes clear that we can take pragmatic steps to reduce the risks from increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Sea. In doing so, we should make use of extensive traditional knowledge from Alaska Natives about the Bering Sea ecosystem to inform the development of mitigation measures and response planning. Some options could include:

  • Using routing measures such as traffic lanes and Areas to be Avoided to reduce exposure to hazards;
  • Improving vessel communications and monitoring systems to help avoid conflicts between vessels and subsistence hunters and to reduce impacts to marine mammal aggregations;
  • Tightening requirements for vessel waste management to avoid or reduce impacts of harmful pollution;
  • Engaging in rigorous planning for disabled vessels so that incidents don’t become accidents;
  • Evaluating lightering practices to determine whether there are ways to improve safety and reduce the risk of spills; an
  • Developing community spill response that incorporates not only local response capacity but also local input into response planning.

The Bering Sea hosts abundant marine life that supports the people of the region, as well as rich commercial fisheries. And now, the Bering Sea and Bering Strait are growing more important as an international shipping route. Ocean Conservancy is working with others who care about the health and resilience of the Bering Sea to advance practical, common-sense ways to reduce the risks associated with vessel traffic. Putting in place key measures to increase safety and reduce risk makes sense now, and will pay dividends in the future, as shipping transits through the Bering Strait and Bering Sea increase.

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5 Tough Questions for Rex Tillerson, the Ocean and YOU http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/11/5-tough-questions-for-rex-tillerson-the-ocean-and-you/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/11/5-tough-questions-for-rex-tillerson-the-ocean-and-you/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 14:29:36 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13605

It’s a new year, and I resolve to continue championing for ocean conservation in 2017—no matter how the tides may change in Washington, D.C. Will you help me?

This week, Rex Tillerson, nominee for Secretary of State, will begin Senate confirmation hearings. As Mr. Tillerson is questioned by senators about his qualifications for the job, we want to make sure he’s asked about the ocean.

For Mr. Tillerson’s entire career, he’s worked for a single company—ExxonMobil. As Exxon’s CEO, he was obligated to work for the interests of Exxon’s shareholders.

But if he’s confirmed as Secretary of State, will he work for the American people, our country and our country’s environment?

Ask your Senators to submit ocean questions for Mr. Tillerson to answer on the record.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “does the Secretary of State have anything to do with ocean conservation?” Great question! Here are a few examples:

  • The State Department pursues international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as the Paris Treaty) that impact ocean acidification, ocean temperatures and sea level rise.
  • The State Department plays a key role in protecting the Arctic, as part of the Arctic Council and the decisions made at the U.S. and international level.
  • The State Department launched the Our Ocean Conference three years ago, and has worked closely with foreign governments on international commitments for ocean conservation.

It’s time to draw a line in the sand—ocean conservation is so important and we can’t turn back all of the progress we’ve made. Accountability starts today! Will Mr. Tillerson commit to working for the interests of the American people? Will you join me in holding the upcoming Trump Administration accountable to you, me and the ocean?

Please take action today by asking your Senators to submit ocean questions for Mr. Tillerson to answer on the record.

Together, we will continue to protect the ocean!

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Why are Whales Stranding in the Gulf? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/10/why-are-whales-stranding-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/10/why-are-whales-stranding-in-the-gulf/#comments Tue, 10 Jan 2017 14:00:56 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13592

In recent months, two young sperm whales stranded themselves along the coast of Louisiana. These events highlight the importance for quality health and diagnostic information for the marine mammals in the Gulf of Mexico. What could kill one of the greatest predators to ever exist on earth?

These animals are harmed by many of the same factors that harm us, like food scarcity, chronic exposure to pollutants, disease and a poor environment. For humans, we have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to control and prevent disease and injury. To operate effectively, the CDC relies on consistent and timely data gathered across the U.S. and beyond. Somewhat analogous to the CDC for marine mammals like dolphins and whales, the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program compiles data on diseases and the well-being of sick or injured animals.

However, there has been a long-standing problem with this program in the Gulf. Appropriately trained staff available to collect priceless data points to understand emerging health concerns, or who have the capacity to help recover a live whale or dolphin, have always been stretched thin. The limited support available to the diverse group of organizations that collect this information has caused problems with data consistency. Lack of consistency inhibits development of an effective database that enables detection of longer-term trends across the region.

But this situation is beginning to change in the Gulf. Much needed capacity is now growing thanks to investments resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and partnerships with aquariums in the region. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has provided grants to Mississippi, Alabama and Florida to improve rehabilitation capacity and increase the ability to better assess long-term trends in Gulf populations from the condition of stranded animals. SeaWorld has formalized a partnership with the Texas Marine Mammal Stranding Network to provide rehabilitation facilities in San Antonio along with providing additional diagnostic and veterinary capabilities.

Each of these investments is an important step in our ability to diagnose and solve problems that are harming these majestic creatures of the ocean. The Gulf of Mexico is blessed with a diversity of marine mammal species, and with the $144 million included in the BP settlement to help marine mammals recover from the BP oil disaster, we have a real opportunity to improve the health of these animals. However, we cannot claim to spend this money wisely to mitigate harm if we do not understand trends in their overall health. In other words, we can’t manage what we don’t know. To do this we must continue to capitalize on every opportunity to build a world-class network of trained response teams, diagnostic capabilities and epidemiology information systems. Without this capacity we severely hinder our ability to ensure these species are plying the oceans for generations to come.

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A New Year, a New Set of Rules for Polar Waters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/06/a-new-year-a-new-set-of-rules-for-polar-waters/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/06/a-new-year-a-new-set-of-rules-for-polar-waters/#comments Fri, 06 Jan 2017 13:03:31 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13581

It’s 2017, and a suite of new standards and practices are now in place for vessels operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The new set of rules—called the Polar Code—is designed to increase ship safety and environmental protection in high-latitude waters. Adopted by a specialized agency of the United Nations called the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Polar Code sets standards for ship safety and for prevention of pollution from international shipping. The Polar Code took effect on January 1 of this year (with a one-year phase in period).

The Polar Code is so important because as sea ice continues to decline, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to vessel traffic. But as more ships operate in those remote and challenging waters, there are substantial safety and environmental risks—including possible impacts to food security of Arctic indigenous peoples.

The Polar Code includes both mandatory and recommendatory measures intended to mitigate the risk of Arctic shipping. For instance, vessels operating in polar waters must now apply for a Polar Ship certificate, which requires an assessment of the vessel’s suitability for intended operating conditions. The Polar Code also requires voyage planning that, among other things, helps to avoid aggregations of marine mammals and seasonal migration areas. It also bans discharge of oil or oily mixtures and noxious substances, and places relatively strict limitations on discharge of sewage and garbage.

While the Polar Code is unquestionably a major step forward, it does not address all the safety and environmental challenges related to Arctic vessel traffic. For example, use and carriage of heavy fuel oil—the dirtiest and most difficult-to-recover oil if spilled—is banned in Antarctic waters, but the Polar Code still allows vessels to use and carry it in the Arctic. Ocean Conservancy is working with partners to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.

The Polar Code does not address the discharge of harmful graywater, imposes no mandatory measures to reduce the threat of invasive species, and does not limit harmful air emissions from vessels traveling in Arctic waters. More broadly, the Polar Code only applies to certain types of vessels that operate in the Arctic, and does not fully address concerns about lack of infrastructure and maritime information in the region. There are also challenges with respect to enforcement of the Polar Code.

As you can see, there’s still plenty of work to do to increase safety and protect Arctic waters from the impacts of shipping. But, I’m optimistic that the Polar Code is a step in the right direction, and a good start to the new year. Ocean Conservancy will continue to work with the IMO and our partners to strengthen the Polar Code and ensure that new regulations protects the ecological heritage of this unique and fragile region at the top of the planet.



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5 Fascinating Seabirds http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/05/five-fascinating-seabirds/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/05/five-fascinating-seabirds/#comments Thu, 05 Jan 2017 14:00:04 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13564

When it comes to iconic ocean animals, seabirds are often overlooked. But seabirds, or birds that make their living primarily from the ocean, are a crucial part of marine ecosystems. From the tiny least storm petrel to the massive wandering albatross, seabirds consume an estimated 7% of ocean productivity and are an important food source for marine and terrestrial predators.

In honor of National Bird Day, we’re taking a moment to celebrate five fascinating seabirds.

Atlantic Puffin

Atlantic puffins have some of the flashiest beaks out there, earning them nicknames like “sea parrot” and “clown of the sea.” Their beaks’ bright orange coloring is only that vibrant in the warmer summer months—as they’re showing off for potential mates during breeding season. After they find the perfect match, their beaks will fade to a dull gray for the winter months.
Atlantic puffins are attentive parents, and both males and females dedicate a lot of time to feeding and rearing their young. Birds only lay one to two eggs at a time and often return to the same mate and burrow every year.

Looking to spot an Atlantic puffin in the wild? Check out Iceland—the country’s rocky cliffs are a breeding home to about 60% of the world’s Atlantic puffins. See more puffin facts here.

Brown Pelican

Known for their iconic throat pouches, pelicans are some of the most recognizable seabirds. Brown pelicans will fly as high as 60 feet above the surface to scope out prey, then plunge into the water to scoop up fish in their stretchy throat pouches. To eat, the birds will tilt their bills downward to drain the water (those pouches can hold up to three gallons!) and then toss their heads back to swallow.

Not too long ago, pesticide pollution was a serious threat to their survival. Direct exposure to pesticides like DDT greatly affected their ability to reproduce, and brown pelicans were seriously endangered as recently as 1970. Thankfully, populations are now thriving thanks to the ban of DDT and other harmful pesticides. See more brown pelican facts here.

Laysan Albatross

After having been severely threatened by feather hunters, Laysan albatross populations have since recovered to about 600,000 breeding pairs. They make a stunning summertime migration from their breeding grounds in Hawaii to the frigid Aleutian Islands and then back again in the winter, and non-breeders may be found throughout the North Pacific. Although their populations have rebounded, the birds are seriously threatened by marine plastics, which they ingest after mistaking it for food.

A defining feature about the albatross? They’re quite romantic. Most of these birds mate for life and are incredibly dedicated to their partners. They also take courtship very, very seriously: they can spend years learning the right mating rituals to attract the perfect mate. Once they are matched, they will stay faithfully by each other’s side until death. Writer Noah Strycker puts it best: “[Albatross] just might have the most intense love affairs of any animal on our planet.”

Double-crested Cormorant

The most widely-distributed cormorant in North America, these birds can be found from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands all the way south to Mexico. They are social birds, even from a young age, where young cormorants will leave their own nests to flock with other juveniles before returning to the nest to be fed.

These birds are exceptional divers. Using their strong, webbed feet, cormorants will propel themselves underwater to bite a fish, then return to the surface to flip the fish in the air and swallow it. Their feathers are not waterproof, though, so you can often spot them resting in the sun with their wings spread wide to dry.

Crested Auklet

One of the more unusually shaped seabirds, the crested auklet is recognizable by the “crest” of feathers hanging down over its face. Found on the islands and beaches of costal Alaska, crested auklets gather in large colonies to make their nests in crevices of rocks and boulders. They feed in crowds, too; you can see large flocks diving together in deep waters up to 100 feet below the ocean surface.

Crested auklets are not quiet birds—you can hear a range of honking and grunting noises from the large colonies. Even baby auklets are chatty: they “peep” when their parents are around and “whistle” when they’re gone.

Although there were an estimated three million crested auklets in North America in the 1980s, that number has declined, likely due to their sensitivity to pollution and oil and because of pressure from invasive mammals in the Aleutian Islands.

Did we miss your favorite seabird? Tell us in the comments!

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How to Tell the Difference Between a Dolphin and a Shark http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/04/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-a-dolphin-and-a-shark/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/04/how-to-tell-the-difference-between-a-dolphin-and-a-shark/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2017 17:28:23 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13556

Apparently, there has been some recent confusion about the difference between dolphins and sharks. Here at Ocean Conservancy, we were eager to dive in and help clear up the misunderstanding!

The debate launched unexpectedly into the public eye when a contestant on this week’s episode of The Bachelor wore a “dolphin costume” on the show. As an aspiring dolphin trainer, Alexis was eager to show her ocean enthusiasm to this season’s bachelor. Many others, including the heartthrob in question, argued it was a shark costume.

In an attempt to clarify any confusion (and help Alexis beef up her ocean knowledge), here’s an easy way to tell the difference between a dolphin and a shark:

Dolphins are mammals. Sharks are fish.

Dolphins are part of the Cetacean family, which also includes whales and porpoises. Like other mammals, dolphins are warm blooded, have some hair or fur, give birth to live young and nurse their young. They also have lungs, meaning they need to come to the surface to breathe using their blowhole.

Sharks on the other hand, are cartilaginous fishes of the class Chondrichthyes, meaning their skeletons are made of cartilage rather than bone. Sharks are part of the subclass Elasmobranchii, which also includes rays, skates and sawfish, and most sharks are cold blooded. Importantly, all fish breathe through gills, which take oxygen out of the water and seeps out carbon dioxide.

Sharks have gills, dolphins don’t.

Alexis’ costume had gills.

The verdict? It was definitely a shark costume.

For more than 40 years, the Ocean Conservancy has worked to protect the ocean and the people and animals who rely on it. Help us do that by donating now.

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2016: A Year of Hope for the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/30/2016-a-year-of-hope-for-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/30/2016-a-year-of-hope-for-the-ocean/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 14:24:08 +0000 Janis Searles Jones http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13545 For many of us, the ocean is a place of hope—it inspires us and supports us and in turn, we work hard to protect it. 2016 has been quite a year, full of ups and downs. But when it comes to the ocean, 2016 was a year of fantastic victories that remind us what is possible when we come together in support of our ocean, and give us hope for our ocean’s future.

Every day, we wake up ready to fight for the health of our ocean, and thanks to the support of advocates—like you—we’ve celebrated some big wins. While we have plenty of work ahead of us to defend these victories, these are some of the wonderful things that happened in 2016 that give us hope for our ocean’s future:

The Arctic is a safer place (for now)

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration took action to protect the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas—as well as the Atlantic Ocean—from risky offshore drilling until 2022. The just last week, President Obama took an even bolder action, furthering his legacy as a leader in protecting the Arctic from the threats of climate change, by protecting 115 million acres of federal waters in the Arctic Ocean from oil and gas drilling (and an additional 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic Ocean). We’ll need your continued support to keep this fragile area protected in the coming years.

In the same announcement, President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau committed to working together to make Arctic shipping safer, moving forward with a plan to phase out heavy fuel oil and reaffirming a science-based approach fishery management in the Arctic. These bilateral promises between two Arctic nations give us hope for the future of this area, and a clear path for forward progress in the future.

But the good news for the Arctic doesn’t stop there—earlier in December, President Obama declared important protections for the northern Bering Sea and the Bering Strait by establishing the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area, in direct response to requests from Alaska Native tribes. Home to a number of Alaska Native tribes and one of the largest marine animals migrations, this region is one of the most historically, environmentally, and culturally significant places on our planet. This action is significant in that it establishes a clear role for local tribes in the management of the resources on which their culture depends—another ray of hope in 2016.

The U.S. made big (ocean) plans

Just this month, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic finalized the first smart ocean plans in the United States. These revolutionary new ocean plans made history by bringing together the needs of many, many stakeholders and paved the way for smart ocean management around the region—and the country. These plans are the culmination of years of work, bringing both regions towards a more holistic, science-based and stakeholder informed ocean management process that will ensure the ocean economy remains strong while ocean ecosystems remain healthy. With your help, we’ll work toward implementing these plans and expanding them to other regions.

We just kept swimming…towards sustainable fisheries

This year, the U.S. celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a fisheries management act that is largely responsible for the strong state of our nation’s fish stocks. NOAA Fisheries also released the ““Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management Road Map,” a comprehensive, science-based plan that looks at the broader ecosystem when managing fisheries, rather than looking at one fish at a time. It’s a good step forward to help end overfishing and rebuild vulnerable stocks. We’re not out of the woods, though, and we will keep working with policymakers, fishermen and scientists to make sure we don’t lose any of our progress towards sustainable fisheries.

Obama left his marine mark

Thanks to the support of ocean advocates (like you!), President Obama protected important places on the far east and west of our country: expanding Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument—now the world’s largest marine sanctuary—in Hawaii, and establishing the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in New England. In just the span of a few weeks, Obama protected more U.S. waters than any other president in history. Together, we can ensure that these areas remain protected for years to come.

As 2016 comes to a close, let’s toast to the fantastic strides that have been made in the world of ocean conservation this year, and hold on to this hope as we look ahead to the work still to be done. As advocates that care passionately about our ocean and leaving a healthy planet for future generations, we will continue our commitment to using smart, science-based solutions to protect coastal communities and healthy marine ecosystems, and hope you’ll join us on this important journey!

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