The Blog Aquatic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:52:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 A New Approach to Ocean Pollution http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/18/a-new-approach-to-ocean-pollution/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/18/a-new-approach-to-ocean-pollution/#comments Thu, 18 Dec 2014 15:49:42 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9652

How much plastic do you think is in the ocean? Just last week, a paper was published that estimates 5.25 trillion plastic particles, weighing about 269,000 tons, are floating in the ocean. This news helps confirm what many scientists have been saying for years: that plastic pollution in the ocean isn’t just in the famous “garbage patches” – it’s everywhere.

This is very bad news for our ocean. Once in the water, plastic breaks into tiny pieces that collect harmful industrial pollutants. While this paper looks only at the plastic floating in the water, there is much more plastic in other parts of the ocean. Some of the plastic ends up the famous garbage patches – the rest is dispersed throughout the water, resting on the ocean floor and trapped in Arctic ice. This highly-polluted plastic is also ingested by animals.

Read more at Forbes.com >>

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Ocean Voices Heard in Funding Bill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/16/ocean-voices-heard-in-funding-bill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/16/ocean-voices-heard-in-funding-bill/#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 16:10:26 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9622

Photo: Cate Brown

Congress is often accused of not listening to the needs of the people.  But the people who depend on a healthy ocean made sure their voices were heard this year, and based on the recent funding deal, Congress listened.

Buried in the massive, must-pass funding bill for federal programs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) $5.4 billion budget for fiscal year 2015 includes an overall increase of $126 million with key investments in critical ocean programs that matter to people and communities. Congress delayed the decision for over two months as they hashed out a compromise between very different ocean funding levels in the House and Senate, but the deal struck this week puts the ocean on a strong footing for next year:

  • The National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service will each receive around $10 million in additional funding this year – modest but important increases that will help people who depend on data and monitoring from these departments.
  • Regional Coastal Resilience Grants will be funded at $5 million – these grants will help communities prepare for changes to marine ecosystems, climate impacts and economic shifts.
  • Ocean acidification research will receive $8.5 million, a $2.5 million increase over the current funding level – these dollars will support efforts to improve our understanding of how acidification impacts businesses and ecosystems, as well as development of tools to mitigate those impacts.
  • All attempts to undermine the National Ocean Policy (NOP) through harmful policy riders were removed from the final bill, ensuring that coordinated smart ocean planning processes  throughout the country can move forward.

These investments show the impact of vocal ocean advocates on Capitol Hill. Over 140 people who care about the ocean or depend on it for their livelihoods signed letters of support or came to Washington, DC to meet with their Members of Congress on the need to better understand and prepare for ocean acidification. Over 280 ocean users and advocates argued for the benefits of smart ocean planning, successfully convincing Congress to remove harmful attacks from the bill and to fund key grant programs that support work around the country.

Ocean advocates include aquaculture farmers, seafood distributors, fishermen, renewable energy developers, and shippers, as well as citizens who value ocean conservation, which includes religious groups, recreational users, local elected representatives, and tribal officials. What they all have in common is the understanding that without smart ocean planning efforts, research dollars to solve challenges like ocean acidification, and robust ocean conservation programs, the ocean resources and environment sustaining coastal communities and economies cannot thrive.

We also saw more ocean champions within Congress. For example, nineteen Senators signed a letter supporting coastal resilience programs, and 86 Representatives demanded the removal of all harmful NOP attacks from the final appropriations bill – that’s one out of five Members of Congress standing up for the ocean! These Members of Congress, from Hawaii to Maine, represent millions of constituents that benefit from and care about our ocean.

There is more work to be done – just 15% of NOAA’s funding increase for this fiscal year will go to the National Ocean Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. These modest increases are meaningful, but investments in NOAA need to be more balanced across the agency’s many important missions, from predicting the weather to creating resilient coastal communities.

 

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Stand Against Risky Oil Drilling in the Arctic Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/11/stand-against-risky-oil-drilling-in-the-arctic-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/11/stand-against-risky-oil-drilling-in-the-arctic-ocean/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 15:13:20 +0000 Whit Sheard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9611 Arctic sea ice

© Corbis. All rights reserved.

If we don’t act now, the U.S. government could open up more Arctic waters to exploratory drilling as soon as this summer!

This after the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s (BOEM) own report said there is a 75% — yes, 75% — chance of a large spill if companies like Shell are allowed to develop and produce in Arctic waters.

We can’t stand by and let that happen.

BOEM is holding a public comment period from now until December 23rd before making a critical decision about offshore drilling in the Arctic. They need to hear from you now.

Take action now: Tell the U.S. government to stop risky Arctic Ocean drilling.

With ever-changing sea ice, freezing temperatures, limited visibility, gale-force winds and no Coast Guard base for almost 1,000 miles, cleaning up a major oil spill in the Arctic would be incredibly difficult if not outright impossible.

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California’s MPAs: A Pilgrimage to Where it All Began http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/10/californias-mpas-a-pilgrimage-to-where-it-all-began/#comments Wed, 10 Dec 2014 13:00:15 +0000 Samantha Murray http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9597

At 1,400 miles in length, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living structure on our planet and consists of more than 600 types of hard and soft corals. Thousands of varieties of fish and molluscs call this breathtaking maze home. And if that isn’t enough to impress you: the Great Barrier Reef is so massive it can be seen from outer space. Yes…outer space! Needless to say, visiting this special place has been on my bucket list since I was a kid and saw my first film chronicling the explorations of Jacques Cousteau and the crew of the Calypso.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) also served as inspiration for California’s process to establish a statewide network of marine protected areas (MPAs), an effort I’ve spent the better part of the last decade working to support. So when I was invited to speak about these areas at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney this November, I jumped at the opportunity to attend, and to visit the Great Barrier Reef.

It was spectacular. I shared turquoise blue waters with blacktip reef and tawny nurse sharks, took flight with white-spotted eagle rays, and floated quietly in the presence of loggerhead sea turtles. Best of all, I got to rub elbows with the folks who make the GBRMP possible.  And I learned that they spend a lot of time thinking about the same issues as we do: education and outreach, partnerships and local engagement, long-term monitoring, and best practices for enforcement.

Because the Great Barrier Reef is a single, complicated structure with trillions of delicately balanced living and breathing components, it is also ground zero for our increasingly warm and more acidic ocean. What happens to the sensitive, exposed habitats of the Great Barrier Reef in the next couple of years may be a harbinger of what’s to come in the rest of our ocean in the coming decades.

Heron Island, where I spent much of my time, is a coral island that sits directly on the Reef, just north of Gladstone, Queensland, Australia, where the world’s fourth largest coal export terminal is located. The Island is home to nesting green sea turtles, giant shovel-nosed rays, and a 400-pound Queensland grouper named “Gus.” It’s also home to the University of Queensland Research Station, where scientists are studying the effects of carbon emissions and warmer temperatures on local corals.

These scientists know that the fossil fuels we are burning—like coal—don’t just go into the atmosphere; they are also absorbed by the ocean. When this carbon pollution is absorbed by seawater, it turns it more acidic. In fact, the ocean is 30% more acidic today than it was 150 years ago. And increasingly acidic water is bad news for animals that build shells, including corals.

Warming waters, also as a result of carbon dioxide, mean more bleaching and more algae and diseases that corals have to recover from. Scientists in the Great Barrier Reef are looking at what this all will mean for the Reef and for the ocean as a whole.

While the situation is very concerning, it’s my hope that our global community will be able to significantly reduce carbon pollution and ocean acidification to keep our ocean—and the wonders that reside within it— healthy.

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Fishing with Captain Monty (and Planning for the Mid-Atlantic’s Future) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/09/fishing-with-captain-monty-and-planning-for-the-mid-atlantics-future/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/09/fishing-with-captain-monty-and-planning-for-the-mid-atlantics-future/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 15:58:15 +0000 Christine Hopper http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9584

Our team at Ocean Conservancy is twenty-five nautical miles off the coast when Captain Monty Hawkins anchors the Morning Sun and we drop our fishing lines. We are lucky enough to be fishing for sea bass, easily one of the tastiest fish in the mid-Atlantic. Captain Monty specializes in precision fishing of natural, shipwreck and artificial reefs off the coast of Maryland. Once we get a primer from him on the ins and outs of catch limits and size requirements, we are off and fishing.

It is easy to see the lure of this magnificent body of water. Looking out onto the vast ocean, a sea turtle swims past the boat. On our way back to land, we are accompanied by dolphins and watch in awe as they surface in splashing trails nearby. What isn’t visible to the naked eye is that these ocean waters are a major economic driver for the region, sustaining a robust seafood industry, recreational fishing and tourism activities. The economic success of the region relies heavily on the ecological health of its ocean and coast, along with responsible planning for uses like commercial and recreational fishing, offshore energy, and more.

Unlike projects on land, the ocean is managed on a sector-by-sector basis and by a myriad of government agencies, often with little communication among them. This hurts both Ocean Conservancy’s and ocean industries’ ability to manage ocean use on a science-based and sustainable basis. Current and emerging ocean businesses often go through time-consuming, expensive and frustrating permitting processes by multiple levels of government. Without better data, coordination, and smart planning for sustainable use, growing ocean development can lead to conflicts and confusion. These issues threaten the food, jobs and recreation we rely on from our ocean.

The day before our fishing excursion, members of the public representing an array of ocean users gathered in Ocean City Maryland to address this exact issue. State, federal and tribal government representatives from the mid-Atlantic are leading a “Regional Planning Body” (RPB) that has begun to develop the region’s first smart ocean plan. Public stakeholders joined the meeting in Ocean City to discuss with RPB members their input on what that ocean plan will look like. Voices ranged from commercial fishermen, local surfers, charter-boat operators, and offshore wind developers who all gathered for a sit down discussion with the RPB members. Captain Monty was there too, talking about the value of the reefs we fished to the charter fishing industry and the need for data on reefs and fisheries to be reflected in the ocean plan.

Established in April, 2013 the Mid-Atlantic RPB has its eyes set on implementing an ocean plan by 2016. It is tasked with developing, along with stakeholder and public input, a plan with all the necessary data and information to support informed decision-making on ocean uses, and to help coordinate growing offshore usage while balancing and sustaining the ocean’s ecological health.

Whether or not there really are plenty of fish in the sea is up for debate, and as anyone who has fished will tell you, it depends on where you’re fishing. One thing is for certain however; there are plenty of ocean users competing for a finite set of resources, and their voices are hard to hear unless they are seated at the table together. Regional ocean planning provides a venue and a “common table” for this important dialogue between a wide array of ocean users and managers. We are excited about the opportunities for smarter and more sustainable decision-making that this process provides, and hope that with the help of a regional ocean plan, Captain Monty and we will be hauling up fish from the mid-Atlantic waters for decades to come.

For more information on upcoming opportunities for stakeholder participation please visit the following regional sites:

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Time to Get to Work on Restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/04/time-to-get-to-work-on-restoration/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/04/time-to-get-to-work-on-restoration/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 19:24:29 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9575

Photo: Rob Peterson

There’s a right way and a wrong way to spend millions of dollars restoring the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a federal and state entity responsible for spending a portion of the RESTORE Act dollars, is doing it right by releasing all of the candidate projects to the public far before any decisions are made.

A total of 50 project proposals for comprehensively restoring the Gulf in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster were made publically available this week, and the line-up includes some great concepts for restoring watersheds, deep-water corals, acquiring new lands for conservation and promoting living shoreline habitat.

The Council will choose some combination of the 50 submitted projects in a package, called a Funded Priority List, to address habitat and water quality in a big way. Approximately $150 to $180 million is available for this funding opportunity, and the challenges for the Council will be where to focus the Funded Priority List and how to combine projects to achieve the goal of comprehensive, ecosystem-wide restoration.

One approach might be to ensure that all habitats, from Brownsville, Texas to the Florida Keys, and longleaf pine savannas to deep-water corals, are better understood and protected in some way. Another approach might be to look at problems affecting water quality – including stormwater runoff, leaky septic tanks and a lack of natural buffers like oyster reefs – and address those holistically in priority areas across the Gulf Coast.

Thankfully, the Council has posted the full descriptions of all 50 projects on their website where anyone may read them and select their favorite projects. We commend the Council for their commitment to restoring our environment in a way that is transparent, comprehensive and based on the best available science.

Ocean Conservancy is also excited to see projects included in the Council’s list that will restore deep-water corals and map the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. Deep-water corals were damaged extensively by the BP oil disaster, and the Department of Interior project to recover and restore this unique habitat will hopefully help this fragile ecosystem recover.

Additionally, the Department of Commerce project to map habitats in the Gulf of Mexico is absolutely critical, considering how little we know about the Gulf seafloor and its importance for things like fishery productivity. We consider these to be necessary and important components of comprehensive restoration, and welcome their inclusion on the roster of potential projects.

This is an exciting time for Gulf restoration, and we are eager to get to work on behalf of a resilient and healthy marine ecosystem. If you share our excitement, sign our petition and urge the Council to select projects that restore the Gulf beyond the shore.

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BOEM Report: 75% Chance of Spill in Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/02/boem-report-75-chance-of-spill-in-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/02/boem-report-75-chance-of-spill-in-arctic/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 13:00:43 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9560 Large ice flows in the Arctic Ocean

Copyright Corbis. All rights reserved.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently released a revised environmental analysis of oil and gas activity in the Arctic Ocean.

BOEM’s latest analysis leaves no doubt that development and production of the Chukchi Sea oil and gas leases could be devastating to the Arctic marine ecosystem. Perhaps most troubling, a statistical analysis used by BOEM indicates that there is a 75% chance of one or more large spills over the lifetime of Chukchi Sea development and production. BOEM admits that a very large oil spill could result in the death of large numbers of polar bears, bowhead whales, seals, and marine and coastal birds.

The agency is accepting comments until December 22. Join Ocean Conservancy in telling BOEM to say no to risky Arctic drilling.

This environmental analysis and opportunity to comment has been a long time in the making. Almost seven years ago, in February of 2008, the federal government auctioned oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea off the northwest coast of Alaska. The auction was known as Lease Sale 193, and it purported to give successful lessees—including Shell—the conditional right to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

But there was a major problem. In 2010, a federal court found that the environmental analysis underpinning Lease Sale 193 was unlawful; the court required the government to revise its analysis and reconsider the sale. Unfortunately, the government failed to fix all the problems and in January of 2014, another federal court ruled that the revised environmental analysis was faulty. In response, the government announced that it would prepare yet another revision and once again reconsider the sale of the leases.

All of which brings us to the end of October, when BOEM released its third major environmental analysis of the 2008 lease sale: the Draft Second Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Lease Sale 193.

Beyond the 75% chance of one or more large spills, as we’ve described before, there is no way to effectively clean up a large oil spill in Arctic waters. Constantly changing sea ice, fog, high winds, extreme cold, remoteness and lack of shoreline infrastructure all combine to make meaningful cleanup all but impossible. And after Shell’s error-riddled 2012 drilling season, it is clear that we cannot trust oil companies to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic.

Drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean is risky business. BOEM’s latest environmental analysis demonstrates that the consequences of a mistake are enormous. Join with Ocean Conservancy in telling BOEM to protect the Arctic Ocean by saying no to drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

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