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.
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.
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.
Anglers all over the Gulf of Mexico will spend their weekend getting ready for Monday, June 1, the first day of the 2015 Gulf of Mexico recreational red snapper fishing season. Thanks to the hard work of fishermen, managers and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, fishermen will be able to catch more red snapper this year than the past 8 years. While we are seeing increases in the allowable catch of red snapper, recreational fishermen have witnessed red snapper fishing seasons shrink year after year. This year the private boat-owning public can fish for a short 10 days while anglers fishing with charter-for-hire captains get 44 days. The charter-for-hire season is a solid increase over the 2014 season, which allowed only 9 fishing days for both components of the recreational fishing sector, but the short 10-day private recreational remains problematic. While there is no arguing that the longer charter-for-hire fleet is fantastic news for captains and their charters, the short private boat-owner’s season illustrates the need for management innovation for the private recreational fishing component that will help anglers access and enjoy the fruits of a healthy and growing Gulf red snapper population.
Ocean Conservancy engages with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle to benefit and protect our ocean and its wildlife. Congressman Sam Farr, founder and chair of the House Oceans Caucus, has championed legislation to protect the ocean and fought against legislation threatening the ocean during his 23 years in Congress. Farr is California’s Central Coast longest serving member — a district that includes the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the majestic Big Sur coastline. So it isn’t surprising that Farr is known for his passion for the ocean. He uses his position as a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee to bolster the nation’s land and ocean resources. We spoke with Farr recently about ocean issues in Washington.
1. You’ve always been a champion of the ocean in Congress, where does your passion come from?
After school when I was a young kid, I spent my evenings exploring the tidal pools along the shores of the Monterey Bay. I was fascinated by all the different species that would be in those pools and wanted to learn everything I could about them. What started as childhood curiosity eventually turned into a lifelong passion. In high school, I had a biology teacher that inspired me and so upon graduating, I left for college planning on becoming a biology teacher. Life had a different plan. I joined the Peace Corps after hearing President Kennedy’s call to action and that was the beginning of my public service career. Serving in office at the local, state and now federal level, helped me gain a better understanding of how dependent we are on the ocean for our health and livelihood. When I came to Congress 23 years ago, I made it my mission to help raise awareness and be an advocate for our greatest natural resource.
Hello! My name is Jessica Miller. I am an undergraduate at the University of South Carolina, where I just completed my sophomore year. I am majoring in biology and I intend to eventually pursue a career in research. Growing up in a small town in South Carolina, I developed a deep interest in science and knew I wanted to do something with animals. This summer I am traveling to Mexico to participate in an amazing study abroad program that will help with the conservation of endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, as well as provide valuable information on the degree of marine debris found in the area.
On May 8th, I traveled to Mexico for the first time in my life. While many people travel to the country to explore the sites and relax on the beaches, my intentions are slightly different. I have an awesome opportunity to conduct research with several other students in my study abroad program. What exactly is it that we will be researching? Sea turtles, of course! More specifically, the primary focus of my voyage is the conservation of the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. These turtles are endangered and quite unique as well.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are relatively small by sea turtle standards. They usually only grow to be about 3 feet long with a shell that is about 2 feet long. They are also one of the few sea turtles to nest during the day. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles also have a limited nesting habitat. They only nest along the Gulf of Mexico, which highlights one of the many reasons the Gulf is so important; and why the condition of its beaches is so important as home to a variety of marine organisms that do not exist anywhere else. More information on the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, along with other work being done in Tecolutla, can be found at the Tecolutla Turtle Preservation Project.
I had the great fortune to head south of the equator last September for Ocean Conservancy’s 29th International Coastal Cleanup. VIDA Peru, Ocean Conservancy’s longtime Cleanup partner in Peru, invited me to participate in a weeklong series of events on ocean trash, culminating with one of their country’s signature Cleanup events at Marquez Beach. Having been my first time to Peru, and South America for that matter, I was uncertain of the beach and waterway conditions I’d find. Unfortunately, as I spoke more and more with folks from VIDA Peru in advance of the Cleanups, my expectations of clean beaches were quickly dispelled.
I asked Arturo Medina, President of VIDA Peru, what the major culprits were for ocean trash in Peru. He noted that “the waste infrastructure is drastically lacking in Peru to handle the increased waste flows. Ultimately, it all ends up in the rivers, on the beaches and flowing into the sea. Legal and illegal dumpsites located directly on the beaches are also a major issue, yielding steady streams of debris into the water.” I witnessed this first hand as one such site was visible on the beach as I sat on my surfboard offshore—dump truck after dump truck offloading rubbish onto the sand.