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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

Tell the Department of Interior to Protect Walruses

Posted On October 10, 2014 by

When I first saw the photo above, I couldn’t believe it was real.

Those are 35,000 walruses – packed together onshore in Alaska.

If you’re saying to yourself “that doesn’t look normal,” you’re right. Packs like this were unheard of before 2007.

The sea ice walruses usually rest on is disappearing, forcing them to come all the way to shore between feedings. These changes to sea ice are putting walruses at great risk.

Now, Shell has proposed a plan to drill for oil in the waters where walruses live, feed, and raise their young. Risky Arctic drilling will cause even more stress for the walruses that are already struggling to cope with the loss of sea ice. We need to stop Shell’s plan.

Click here to tell the Department of Interior to protect the walrus’s home. Say no to risky Arctic drilling.

New Report Will Promote Integrated Arctic Management

Posted On July 30, 2014 by

Photo: Jay DeFehr

With a new University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) report, we finally have a comprehensive view of oil, gas, and commercial transportation development in Arctic Alaska.

In a report to the President issued last year, a federal interagency working group called for a new, integrated approach to stewardship and development decisions in the U.S. Arctic. This new approach—called “Integrated Arctic Management”—is intended to integrate and balance “environmental, economic, and cultural needs and objectives” in the region.

Effective application of Integrated Arctic Management demands not only an understanding of Arctic ecosystems, but an understanding of the impacts of industrial development in the region. Until now, information on industrial development in the U.S. Arctic has been available only in piecemeal fashion, scattered throughout a range of documents and publications. This has made it difficult to understand how planned and proposed development activities will intersect with existing industrial operations to affect the region as a whole.

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Alaska in the Spotlight: Supporting Communities Facing the Big Risks From Ocean Acidification

Posted On July 29, 2014 by

The total risk of Alaska’s boroughs and census areas from ocean acidification. Red areas are at highest risk, while blue areas are at lowest risk. Population size (circles), commercial harvest value (dollar sign size), and subsistence fishing significance (fish icon size) contribute to the total risk. Reprinted from Progress in Oceanography.

We know that some people will be more at risk than others as a result of ocean acidification. We have seen this with oyster growers in the Pacific Northwest.  Scientists are now trying to determine what puts certain regions at greater risk than others from ocean acidification. Before I came to Ocean Conservancy, I helped lead a study on this question for Alaska, and it’s just been published in Progress in Oceanography this week.

My coauthors and I found that many of southwest and southeast Alaska’s boroughs and census areas (similar to counties or parishes in other states) face social and economic risk from ocean acidification – namely, many of the foods they eat and sell for income, all coming from the sea, are threatened by changes in the ocean’s chemistry.

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My Labor of Love

Posted On May 21, 2014 by

Colleen Rankin is a debris cleanup veteran. She lives in Blue Fox Bay, Alaska. Colleen regularly hauls debris from miles away back to her home, where she re-uses whatever she can and stores the rest for eventual disposal.

I am fortunate to live in one of the most remote locations on Earth. I have one seasonal neighbor 5 miles away and another family 25 miles from there. The closest town is 40 miles from us. All of us live on different islands separated by the powerful waters of the Gulf of Alaska. To live here is to witness the rhythm of the interdependent cycles of life on these beaches  ̶  the sea depositing kelp and seashells on the shorelines, creating what I call the line of life. We see bears, birds and other animals foraging in them. We call it the ocean’s gift of nutrition.  I have felt a part of an ancient world. But that is changing. And even here on the coast of Alaska, I’m surrounded every day by reminders of people from far away places.

That’s because the beaches near my home are literally covered in plastic, trash and netting. I take my skiff out and fill it with debris, stopping only because the boat is full to capacity. The beaches are accumulating trash at an alarming rate, and I am giving back to this beautiful place that has enriched my life so much in the most obvious way I can. And that is cleaning the beaches, sometimes the same beach over and over.

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Increased Shipping Could Cause Serious Impacts in the Bering Strait

Posted On May 20, 2014 by

The Bering Strait—the only marine gateway between Pacific and Arctic oceans—is a key biological hotspot. As this recent blog post explained, the strait hosts an extraordinary abundance of wildlife. Every spring, huge numbers of marine mammals and birds migrate north through the strait on their way to Arctic waters.

In recent years, the Bering Strait has also turned into a hotspot for shipping. As sea ice in the Arctic retreats, vessel traffic is growing steadily. A recent analysis by the U.S. Coast Guard notes that “commercial ventures in the Arctic have increased maritime traffic in the Bering Strait. From 2008 to 2012, traffic through the Bering Strait increased by 118 percent.” Many types of vessels contribute to the growth in maritime traffic. Some of these ships provide supplies to coastal communities, some support oil and gas activities, and some travel between Europe and Asia across the Arctic Ocean on the Northern Sea Route along the Russian Arctic coast.

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Coast Guard Report Shows Shell Failed to Recognize Risk in the Arctic

Posted On April 4, 2014 by

Photo: Coast Guard

This past Thursday, the U.S. Coast Guard released a report on its investigation into the grounding of Shell’s Arctic drilling rig Kulluk near Kodiak, Alaska on December 31, 2012. A tug lost control of the Kulluk in heavy weather on the way to Seattle after Shell’s failed attempt to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean in 2012.

The Coast Guard report provides a detailed account of the events before the Kulluk ran aground and identifies a number of causal factors, including lack of experience in Alaska waters, failure to recognize risks, use of inadequate equipment, insufficient planning and preparedness and major problems with the primary towing vessel.

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Exxon Valdez Oil Disaster 25 Years Later

Posted On March 23, 2014 by

Photo: Valdez-Cordova Census Area County, Alaska/Creative Commons

On March 24, 1989, a few hours after the Exxon Valdez spill began, Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper and I boarded the tanker. At the time I was serving as Alaska’s commissioner of environmental conservation. We flew on a single-engine floatplane from the town of Valdez to a cove near the tanker, hitched a ride on a Coast Guard boat, climbed a long rope ladder dangling from the deck, and found our way up to the bridge. From there, we could see that there was hardly any response activity underway.

After several hours, we flew back to Valdez, where we went directly into a community meeting—still wearing our oily boots—to report on what we had seen on the water. Already on the stage of the community hall were Exxon officials, who had arrived from Houston. The auditorium crackled with tension; the audience, including many fishermen—who for years had opposed the shipping of oil by tanker and who felt that their livelihoods were at stake—were angry and frightened. It reminded me that a big oil spill is always a human crisis, not just an environmental disaster.

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