Ocean Currents http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Sat, 29 Aug 2015 12:30:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Investing in Ecosystem Restoration Will Help us Weather Future Storms http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/29/investing-in-ecosystem-restoration-will-help-us-weather-future-storms/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/29/investing-in-ecosystem-restoration-will-help-us-weather-future-storms/#comments Sat, 29 Aug 2015 12:30:01 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10691

This blog originally appeared on AL.com.

Ivan. Camille. Katrina. On the Gulf Coast, these names are as familiar to us as those of close family members. But while the names of the strongest hurricanes live on in our memories, the lessons they teach us about risk and vulnerability are often lost in the post-storm chaos of rebuilding our lives to some semblance of normal.

This year we mark 10 years since Hurricane Katrina and 5 years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Both disasters reminded us that a healthy ecosystem is critical to our protection from natural and human-made disasters.

Over the last several decades, extensive loss of protective habitats like dunes, barrier islands and wetlands have left us more open to the barrage of water that often accompanies hurricanes. As our communities grew, we treated soggy land as a worthless asset and drained our wetlands to build new homes and new shopping centers.

We built bulkheads around our yards, cutting off the water from the land in an effort to engineer ourselves to safety, losing valuable marshland in the process. Growth is necessary, but what we didn’t know then was that, far from being worthless, our wetlands play a critical role in our ecosystem and are invaluable in their ability to absorb storm surge and potentially reduce the devastating power of a large storm. We know better now what role our natural landscape plays in protecting us, and if we want to continue making our home on the Gulf, we need to put nature back to work for us.

Change is the only constant in an environment as dynamic as the Gulf Coast. Although hurricanes have altered our landscape for hundreds of years, their increasing frequency and severity, coupled with our insatiable desire to build our castles on the sand, forces us to confront an uncertain future and begin to adapt our way of life to ensure that we can continue to call this beautiful place home.

The question that remains is: what role do we want to play in shaping our collective future? What if we envisioned our communities in the context of the place we live? What if we had the funding necessary to protect our communities in ways that also grew our economy and created a model for how to prosper in an era of risk and vulnerability?

I believe the effort to restore the Gulf following the BP oil disaster presents a unique opportunity to make our communities and environment more steadfast and resilient from hurricanes and other disasters. In July, the U.S. government announced an $18.7 billion settlement in principle with BP. This money can be used for a wide variety of purposes, but if our leaders are wise, they will invest in ecosystem restoration that will make the next Katrina less devastating to us economically and culturally. Wetland buffers, living shorelines and healthy oyster reefs are just a few of the restoration projects we can undertake with BP money to provide us with a natural first line of defense against hurricanes.

Resiliency is a term that is being thrown about more and more these days. Some people define it as “the ability to bounce back from a disaster more quickly and with minimal disruption”.

I propose that bouncing back only to make the same decisions that led to your getting knocked down in the first place isn’t resiliency – it is the textbook definition of insanity. It’s time to take our future into our hands. Investing in projects that restore natural habitats and natural processes will pay dividends now and into the future.

If you care about rising insurance rates, if you care about fishing, if you care about protecting your family, then you care about restoring our natural resources. Full stop. As we remember what we lost on August 29, let’s not forget what we stand to gain if we invest in our natural resources.

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Join Us for the 30th Annual International Coastal Cleanup http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/28/join-us-for-the-30th-annual-international-coastal-cleanup/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/28/join-us-for-the-30th-annual-international-coastal-cleanup/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 12:57:51 +0000 Michelle Frey http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10687

The 30th Anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup is almost here! Help Ocean Conservancy to keep our beaches and waterways clean. Please join us at a cleanup near you.

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Lessons From the Mediterranean About Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/26/lessons-from-the-mediterranean-about-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/26/lessons-from-the-mediterranean-about-ocean-acidification/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 12:36:58 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10677

Today’s guest blog comes from Jason Hall-Spencer — a Professor of Marine Biology at Plymouth University in the United Kingdom. His research spans seamount ecology, fisheries , ocean acidification, aquaculture and conservation. He’s also working on marine protected area design using satellite vessel monitoring for fisheries management. He does his fieldwork all over the world, at volcanic CO2 vents in the Mediterranean, coral reefs in the Arctic, the NE Atlantic, and off Papua New Guinea. Follow him on Twitter at @jhallspencer.

In 2006, when I first heard about ocean acidification, I started running expeditions near underwater volcanoes in the Mediterranean where CO2 bubbles up through the sea floor, acidifying large areas for centuries. We have found similar ecosystem shifts at all the seeps, so I am now convinced that ocean acidification will bring change.  In a recent article I attempt to put this topic into context, focusing on two major causes of change – the corrosive effects of CO2, and the way the extra carbon is used as a resource.

Here’s what we’ve noticed about the sea life around those natural CO2 seeps in the Mediterranean: algae seems to thrive, whereas animals with calcium carbonate shells—like plankton—dissolve away. We see a lot of brown seaweeds on the seafloor, and they often overwhelm slower-growing competitors like corals. Although life is abundant at CO2 seeps, there is far less diversity than we see elsewhere.

Reefs formed by corals or mollusks are severely weakened as CO2 levels rise, which is clearly a concern since ocean waters around the world are becoming increasingly acidified. As reefs weaken, we will see ripple effects onshore and in the water. In the tropics, weakened reefs will likely worsen coastal erosion, which is already a problem due to rising sea levels, increased storminess and the loss of protective habitats such as mangrove swamps.

Some plants and animals, typically the ones without shells, can adapt to the effects of long-term acidification. Jellyfish, anemones and soft corals do especially well, but when we transplant hard corals into areas with an average pH of 7.8, they dissolve away. So acidified oceans could end up dominated by much fewer species living among crumbling reefs and competing with soft-bodied jellyfish and seaweed.

What does all this mean for temperate coastal habitats and fisheries? I’m not sure. These highly productive waters may provide oysters, mussels and corals with enough food to cope well with these conditions, which make forming their shells more difficult.

Next year I hope to begin studying natural analogues for future ocean conditions in the north Atlantic, as this will reveal which organisms have more chance of coping. Perhaps algae will counteract acidification by absorbing CO2 – this could help those who earn their living through shellfish aquaculture, or who depend on reefs for coastal protection and tourism.

The past five years’ work shows ocean acidification is a serious issue with real financial costs, and that marine life is already being affected. This evidence is helping galvanize change as governments get serious about cutting emissions. Investing in research is absolutely worth it – ‘forewarned is forearmed.’ We now know that systems that are under less stress are more resilient  – I hope this new body of knowledge helps improve coastal management and strengthen marine regeneration efforts.

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Our Gulf Heroes: The People Behind the Recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/25/our-gulf-heroes-the-people-behind-the-recovery-from-hurricanes-katrina-and-rita/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/25/our-gulf-heroes-the-people-behind-the-recovery-from-hurricanes-katrina-and-rita/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 12:30:36 +0000 Rachel Guillory http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10671

Ocean Conservancy, along with many communities along the Gulf of Mexico, is commemorating 10 years since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the Gulf Coast. While many of the stories you may hear this week focus on Katrina’s impact on New Orleans, we must not forget that coastal communities in all five Gulf states were affected that summer in 2005. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita served as a wake-up call for me, as they did for many others. These record-breaking storms taught me that my home, the Gulf Coast, was extremely vulnerable and, more importantly, irreplaceable. The devastation that those hurricanes caused is the reason I work to protect the Gulf, and the people and wildlife who call it home.

While Ocean Conservancy’s Gulf Restoration Program did not yet exist in 2005, we work with a number of amazing organizations and community leaders who spearheaded the recovery efforts after Katrina and Rita. In 2010, many of these folks once again answered the call to serve their communities when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began. Although there are many more than we can list here, these are a few of our Gulf heroes.

1. The Steps Coalition

Named after the phenomenon following Hurricane Katrina where many people returned to their homes to find nothing but the steps to their front doors, the group set out to build a healthy, just and equitable Mississippi Gulf Coast in the wake of the storm. Their work spans a variety of issues affecting Mississippi, from ensuring that Mississippians get fair access to health care, to protecting historic black communities like Turkey Creek from flooding, to reminding our Gulf Coast leaders that meaningful public engagement is essential for Gulf restoration to be successful in the wake of the BP oil disaster.

2. Gulf Restoration Network

For over 20 years, Gulf Restoration Network has served as the prominent regional voice for environmental issues across the Gulf of Mexico. This organization serves as a watchdog for communities on the Gulf Coast, and no fight is too small. With a long history of speaking up for sensitive, wild places and coastal communities, they monitor our beaches for tar balls that continue to wash ashore from the BP oil disaster,  bring together fishermen and chefs to talk about sustainable fishing, and actively advocate for our leaders to make decisions that protect people, wildlife and natural habitats.

3. The Nature Conservancy

Even before the BP oil disaster began, The Nature Conservancy was working to restore the oyster reefs, wetlands and coastal forests along the Gulf Coast. Together with our own Bethany Carl Kraft and many other leaders in Alabama, they helped create 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama, an ambitious campaign to build 100 miles of oyster reefs that will in turn support more than 1000 acres of coastal marsh and seagrass. Oyster reefs and marshes serve as natural buffers to the storm surge that accompanies hurricanes, by breaking down the waves and thus preventing loss of life and property in our communities.

4. National Wildlife Federation

Louisiana loses a football field-sized area of wetlands every hour, due in part to cypress logging, leveeing the Mississippi River, channels cut through the wetlands for oil and gas pipelines, as well as invasive species like nutria. For these reasons, Louisiana is at extreme risk to sea level rise and storm surge caused by hurricanes. The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet was a navigation channel that eroded the wetlands around it and caused extensive damage to communities in the New Orleans area during Hurricane Katrina. The National Wildlife Federation, along with many other organizations, fought hard to have the channel closed and the wetlands restored. This new report outlines the work that has yet to be done to complete the rebuilding of this important wetlands area.

It is vitally important that we restore the Gulf not just to repair what was damaged by the BP oil disaster, but to promote resilience against future storms and sea level rise. Climate change can make hurricanes stronger and more frequent, and restoring the Gulf with fines from BP gives us the opportunity to also adapt to these changing conditions. If we continue to see hurricanes with the destructive strength of Katrina and Rita, and, subsequently Gustav, Ike and Isaac, we must build up our coastal defenses and invest in making communities more resilient so we can bounce back from these events. The Gulf of Mexico is unlike any other place on earth, and the residents of the Gulf Coast deserve a healthy Gulf where they can work, play and live. Personally, I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

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Get Ready for the 30th Anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/19/get-ready-for-the-30th-anniversary-of-the-international-coastal-cleanup/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/19/get-ready-for-the-30th-anniversary-of-the-international-coastal-cleanup/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 19:09:37 +0000 Allison Schutes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10662

Photo: Jackie Yeary/Ocean Conservancy

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup. It’s hard to believe that what began 30 years ago as a Cleanup on just a handful of beaches in Texas has grown to a yearly global Cleanup that involved thousands of volunteers, hundreds of countries and removes millions of pounds of trash from our coasts.

I’m proud to be part of the Ocean Conservancy team that has ensured that the Cleanup occurs year after year. Right now, we’re making sure our dedicated Coordinators all around the world have all the supplies and materials that they need to once again have a successful Cleanup.

Can I count on you to join us this year – it’s our 30th Anniversary after all.

Find a Cleanup near you!
We have an easy-to-use map where you can search the globe and find a beach Cleanup near you.

In last year’s Cleanup, more than 500,000 people picked up more than 16 million pounds of trash along nearly 13,000 miles of coastline around the world.

In the past 29 years of Cleanups:

  • More than 10 million volunteers that picked up more than 175 million pounds of trash from about 340,000 miles of shoreline.
  • Volunteers found 59 million cigarette butts, which, if stacked end to end would stretch from Washington, D.C. all the way to Miami.
  • Volunteers found more than 10 million plastic bags, which required 1,047 barrels of oil to produce.

As you can see, for 30 years the International Coastal Cleanup has been bringing people together to help protect the ocean… and, thanks to volunteers, we’ve been truly making a difference.  But, we can’t do it alone. We need YOU to join us this year. Please join a Cleanup near you.


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The RESTORE Act in Action: Council Releases $183 Million in Projects to Restore the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/13/the-restore-act-in-action-council-releases-183-million-in-projects-to-restore-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/13/the-restore-act-in-action-council-releases-183-million-in-projects-to-restore-the-gulf/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 18:37:09 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10650

Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its first list of projects totaling $183 million to restore the Gulf in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. This is the first funding allocated under the RESTORE Act, which directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act civil penalties related to the BP oil disaster to the Gulf Coast for environmental and economic restoration.

We are digging into the details of the project list, but our initial reaction is largely positive– not only because the projects selected will likely achieve important environmental benefits, but because the Council has also taken a few lines straight out of Ocean Conservancy’s and other partners’ playbooks.

Here are a few quotes from the draft project list we find especially compelling (and familiar):

“The Council also plans to leverage other restoration resources and to combine projects in a way that produces environmental benefits greater than the sum of the individual activities.  Effective leveraging of existing resources is critical for maximizing the ‘bang’ for each coastal restoration ‘buck.’”

“Many stakeholders cautioned the Council against distributing the available funds in a way that supports disconnected (although beneficial) restoration projects. In other words, the Council was asked not to engage in ‘random acts of restoration.’”

“The Council proposes to invest in a broader monitoring and coordination effort that would build on existing programs and establish protocols and standards to enable data to be aggregated. This investment would help the Council evaluate progress towards comprehensive ecosystem restoration and leverage ongoing efforts.”

“…Monitoring, community investments, and other Gulf-wide activities designed to lay a foundation for comprehensive restoration and effective use of future funding opportunities.”

This draft project list is really good news, and it’s a product of the hard work that Ocean Conservancy, along with our partners and supporters like you, have put into this effort over the last five years. Here is a short timeline that shows how today’s announcement came to be.

  • In the weeks and months following the oil disaster, countless groups like the Women of the Storm began a concerted effort to ask our House and Senate members to draft a bill that would send BP fine money to the Gulf of Mexico for restoration.
  • On July 21, 2011, Senators Mary Landrieu (LA) and Richard Shelby (AL) introduced the RESTORE Act, a bill that would send 80 percent of any Clean Water Act civil penalties to the Gulf for economic and environmental restoration. Environmental organizations, sportsmens groups and the business community banded together to support RESTORE, and with these new alliances in place, we worked tirelessly at the local, state and national levels to build the bipartisan support needed to pass the bill.
  • On June 29th, 2012, the RESTORE Act passed both the House and Senate as an amendment to the transportation bill by votes of 373-52 and 74-19, respectively. And though the Act wasn’t a perfect vehicle, we celebrated in the Gulf for its potential to fund critical restoration initiatives in the region.
  • In January 2013, Transocean Deepwater Inc. announced it had reached a settlement with the U.S. Dept. of Justice to settle a number of claims, agreeing to pay $1 billion in civil penalties for violations of the Clean Water Act. This agreement sent $800 million to the Gulf Restoration Trust Fund, effectively putting the RESTORE Act into action for the first time.
  • Today, August 13, 2015, the Council announced its first set of proposed restoration projects, funded by the Transocean settlement.

Progress takes time. Solutions are hard-won and we have to overcome politics, complexity and moments of crippling doubt to get there, but it is so worth it. Look how far we can go when we work together to build a better world.

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Ode to Oysters (or, Happy National Oyster Day!) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/05/ode-to-oysters-or-happy-national-oyster-day/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/08/05/ode-to-oysters-or-happy-national-oyster-day/#comments Wed, 05 Aug 2015 19:57:42 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10639

© Rick Freidman / Ocean Conservancy

Oysters – my all-time favorite seafood, and often my favorite food, period. I can be sitting in an oyster bar, miles from the ocean, and when I eat one I can practically feel sand between my toes and smell the salt in the air. I would eat oysters every day of the week if I could. But I understand that they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. A quick poll among my colleagues revealed that people seem to fall into two camps – rabid oyster lovers, or those that think they taste like salty sea snot (I’m looking at you, George Leonard). But love them or hate them, oysters are a major part of the ocean and coasts we know and love, and National Oyster Day is the perfect time to learn a little more about these animals:

  1. They’re some of the hardest working animals in the ocean. An adult oyster is capable of filtering 25-50 gallons of water a day! Check out this time lapse from Florida Oceanographic Institute of a tank of oysters cleaning water. The entire Chesapeake Bay could be filtered in just five days before oysters were reduced to just 1% of their historic population. Speaking of the Chesapeake, it’s an Algonquin Native American word that means “Great Shellfish Bay.”
  2. They don’t just filter water– oyster reefs shelter fish and crabs, and with filtered water comes more seagrass, which is a feeding and breeding ground for other species that we love to eat – like rockfish and blue crabs.
  3. Oysters take on the flavor of the water where they’re grown. One of my favorite oyster businesses on the East Coast, Rappahannock River Company, has a fantastic little restaurant in Topping, Virginia, called Merrior. Owner Travis Croxton put a twist on the term ‘terrior,’ used to describe the environment in which a particular wine is produced, to describe the marine environment where their oysters are grown. East Coast oysters tend to be saltier and brinier while West Coast oysters tend to be a little sweeter.
  4. Oysters and oyster growers are vulnerable to ocean acidification. As carbon emissions are absorbed by the ocean, the sea water becomes more acidic, and oysters have trouble building their shells. In 2006 to 2008, some oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest nearly declared bankruptcy because they lost more than 80% of the baby oysters (or oyster larvae). The good news is that states like Washington, Oregon, California, Maine, and Maryland – where coastal communities depend on a healthy ocean to grow and harvest oysters, clams, mussels, lobsters – are taking action to tackle acidification. These actions include funding for research on commercially important species – like salmon or lobster – that may be impacted by acidification, and exploring ways to reduce pollution from land (like stormwater runoff and other types of coastal pollution) that makes acidification worse. And just last week Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) introduced a bill that would improve the monitoring of ocean acidification and direct federal agencies to examine how coastal communities would be impacted.
  5. The recently released Clean Power Plan is good for the ocean, and therefore oysters. While states across the country are doing what they can to address ocean acidification, to truly solve this problem we need to reduce the amount of carbon pollution being absorbed by the ocean. The Clean Power Plan announced earlier this week aims to reduce emissions from power plants – the biggest sources of carbon pollution – by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. As an oyster lover I’m thrilled that we are now facing a future of cleaner air and cleaner water.

Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk of oysters is making me very hungry. Guess what I’ll be having for lunch today? And if you’re eating oysters today, don’t forget to take a #shellfie and tag Ocean Conservancy on Instagram or twitter – we’ll share it. Happy National Oyster Day!

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