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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.