Ocean Currents » alaska http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 26 Apr 2017 18:18:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Victory in the North http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/09/victory-in-the-north/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/09/victory-in-the-north/#comments Fri, 09 Dec 2016 19:25:08 +0000 Becca Robbins Gisclair http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13479

Celebrate with me—I have some incredibly exciting news! President Obama just declared important protections for the northern Bering Sea and the Bering Strait by establishing the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.

The Northern Bering Sea and Bering Strait is like no place on Earth. It is home to indigenous communities  who have relied on the rich resources of the area for millennia. The traditional subsistence way of life is inextricably tied to this rich marine ecosystem. President Obama responded to requests from over 70 tribes in the region to create the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area.

The Executive Order issued by President Obama establishes comprehensive management for the region that establishes a role for Alaska Native tribes and traditional knowledge into federal management. The order also provides important safeguards against threats from increased vessel traffic and oil and gas development, and maintains the current closure to bottom trawl fishing, while allowing existing commercial fishing and sustainable economic development to continue.

The Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience area is one of the most historically, environmentally, and culturally significant places on our planet. It sustains one of the largest marine migrations on the planet. Bowhead and beluga whales, walruses, seals and over 12 million birds from all over the world pass through the waters of the Bering Strait every summer on their way to and from the productive Arctic feeding and breeding grounds. There are now crucial protections in place that will preserve this amazing region of our entire planet.

Will you join me in saying THANK YOU to President Obama?

Here are five reasons I’m applauding the President’s recent declaration! The Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area is:

  1. One of the most historically, environmentally, and culturally significant places on our planet.
  2. A cultural and food security stronghold for the Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Saint Lawrence Island Yupik, and Inupiat peoples who have lived in the region and depended on its rich marine resources for thousands of years.
  3. Home to one of the largest marine mammal migrations in the world, as millions of animals, including beluga and bowhead whales, walruses, and seals, travel through the funnel of the Bering Strait every year on their way to and from feeding and breeding grounds in the Arctic.
  4. A critical seabird migration corridor where millions of seabirds, from multiple continents, make their way to the Arctic each spring to take advantage of the seasonal burst of productivity, which also supports invertebrates and fish.
  5. A key source for vibrant small-scale local fisheries. Communities along the coast engage in small-scale fisheries for salmon, crab, herring, and halibut. These commercial fisheries provide an important source of jobs and income in the mixed subsistence-cash economy. The protections in President Obama’s order will help ensure that these fisheries can endure.
  6. On the frontline of climate change. Climate change and the rapid depletion of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean are altering the ecology of the area, as the ice melts earlier in the year and freezes later. This impacts fish and wildlife populations, and traditional hunting and fishing practices. As Arctic sea ice melts, the area also becomes more accessible for ship traffic, industrial fishing and oil drilling, posing a threat to Arctic wildlife and the subsistence way of life.

This is such wonderful news! On behalf of the Arctic wildlife, and the entire planet, please join me in taking action and saying THANK YOU to President Obama and his administration.


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6 Reasons to LOVE Arctic Important Marine Areas http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/29/6-reasons-to-love-arctic-important-marine-areas/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/10/29/6-reasons-to-love-arctic-important-marine-areas/#comments Sat, 29 Oct 2016 13:21:00 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13245

This was originally posted as part of the Vital Arctic Ocean Areas blog series. See all posts here

This summer we were fortunate to share a blog series brought to us by Arctic scientists — experts working to study and understand the habitat, species and ecological changes happening at the top of the world. It’s rare for those of us who live a ways away to see a glimpse of this vibrant, and beautiful place, but our blog series aimed to bring YOU into the Arctic Ocean. We shared scientist stories about how truly special this place is. And how important the Arctic is, not only to the animals and people that thrive there, but to the overall health of our ocean. If you missed reading the blogs, we encourage you to check them out now. Here are just a few of the reasons we think you’ll enjoy reading the series.

1. Sustaining life

Both year-round and seasonal residents of the Arctic Ocean rely on a remarkable burst of productivity driven by sunlight that occurs during the brief summer months. During this short ice-free season, nutrient-rich waters provide fuel and sustenance for an amazing variety of species. This incredible abundance makes the Arctic Ocean critically important to whales, seals, walruses, birds, and fish, and other creatures. Read more…

2. More than meets the eye

Amazing creatures live beneath the surface of the Arctic Ocean! You may not want to dive into the icy waters to explore — but scientists have braved the cold to discover an ecologically diverse abundance of fish and invertebrates. In some of the most important marine areas, millions of microalgae coat the underside of ice floes, and a universe of crabs, snails, brittle stars, sea stars and polar cod live around and amid the sea ice. Read more…



3. It’s truly for the birds! 

Birds from all over the world flock to the Arctic. Seabirds big and small fly to the Arctic Ocean region to nest, lay their eggs and raise their chicks. Millions of birds take advantage of the richness of the Arctic summer to fill up and refuel before continuing their migratory journeys. It would take too long to list all the birds that use some of the more unique and bird-friendly places in the Arctic, but a few include: Black-legged Kittiwakes, Thick-billed and Common Murres, Horned and Tufted Puffins — King, Common, Steller’s, and Spectacled Eiders, Long-tailed Ducks, and Arctic, Yellow-billed and Red-throated Loons. Read more…

4. Abundant wildlife

There is an abundance of wildlife in the Arctic Ocean — including some of the most iconic animals in the world. Polar bears prowl the ice looking for ringed seals. Other Arctic seals include ringed seals and massive bearded seals. Pacific walruses, too, call the Arctic home. They dive from ice floes and use their sensitive whiskers (called vibrissae) to locate mollusks on the ocean floor. A variety of whales swim in much of these waters, including communicative beluga whales and enormous bowhead whales, some of which can live over 200 years. And gray whales undertake an epic migration — up to 12,000 miles round-trip — to spend summers to take advantage of some of the richest areas of Arctic marine habitat. Read more…

5. The importance of durability during times of change

While the entire Arctic Ocean is important, some key areas have persistent sea ice or notable levels of primary productivity that fuel the food chain. Scientists in our blogs are finding that this is often tied to geophysical features in the ocean. Even in the Arctic where temperatures are warming twice as fast as those elsewhere on Earth, the areas that are productive today are likely to be for many years to come. That’s why it’s so important to protect the vital marine areas — because of their durability. Keeping these areas healthy will have enduring benefits for the larger Arctic marine ecosystem. Read more…

6. So much left to discover

Scientists and researchers still have more to learn and explore. We are only beginning to understand how rich and diverse the Arctic Ocean region is and how important this area of the world is to communities who live there, the rest of the U.S., and the planet. We need to continue to study and learn more about this varied and rapidly changing ocean ecosystem as well as learn from the expertise of Alaska Native residents of the Arctic. Only then, will we truly know how to preserve an intact Arctic ecosystem — and what’s at stake if its most valuable habitat is compromised or harmed. Read more…

The Vital Arctic Ocean Areas blog features posts by scientists about important marine areas in the U.S. Arctic identified by science. Based on the Arctic Marine Science Synthesis.

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The Science of Protecting the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/28/the-science-of-protecting-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/28/the-science-of-protecting-the-arctic/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2016 17:04:40 +0000 Janis Searles Jones http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13012  

A year ago, President Obama became the first sitting US President to visit the Arctic.

He stood on the banks of Bristol Bay with a freshly caught salmon in hand, joined schoolchildren in a traditional Yup’ik dance, and stood at the toe of the rapidly shrinking Exit Glacier. He experienced awe-inspiring Alaska with its rich cultures and traditions that depend on a healthy, thriving environment. He also saw the effects of climate change firsthand from the ecological impacts of a receding glacier to a village forced to relocate because of severe coastal erosion.

After that trip President Obama said, “What’s happening in Alaska is happening to us…it’s our wakeup call.”

Exactly a year later today, President Obama has convened the first-ever White House Arctic Science Ministerial, bringing together science ministers and indigenous leaders from around the world to focus on collaboration and opportunities around Arctic science.

This could not come at a better time for the people and communities in the Arctic. President Obama deserves our thanks for his bold leadership and recognition of science as a vital foundation for Arctic conservation.

Scientific collaboration is vital to observing, monitoring and understanding the rapid changes taking place in the Arctic. I am thrilled that indigenous communities from the region are part of the meeting taking in place in Washington DC today. Their keen knowledge and understanding of their natural environment is an essential complement to Western scientific understanding and management choices. This may be a region comprised of many nations but it belongs to the world.

What we do with our knowledge is just as important as scientific collaboration. Communities and ecosystems around the Arctic are already reeling from the impacts of global climate change. We must invest in climate resilience. And now is the time to minimize risks from threats like oil and gas development and increased vessel traffic in the Arctic.

President Obama has raised the alarm for the Arctic. This wakeup call is no less urgent today than it was a year ago. Change is happening, and it is happening at a more rapid pace than most predicted. In the end, the Arctic will be different, but with your help it can still be a vital and vibrant place – one that inspires presidents and people, remains a refuge for icons of nature, provides food for millions and keeps our planet healthy and thriving.

Without a doubt, our actions today shape the Arctic of tomorrow.

Researchers scoop water from melt ponds on sea ice in the Chukchi Sea. The water was later analyzed from the Healy’s onboard science lab.
© NASA/Kathryn Hansen

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Local Concerns of Opening the Arctic and the Crystal Serenity http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/local-concerns-of-opening-the-arctic-and-the-crystal-serenity/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/local-concerns-of-opening-the-arctic-and-the-crystal-serenity/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 13:15:19 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12793

Guest blog by: Austin Ahmasuk

Last month the Crystal Serenity set sail from the Alaskan port of Seward on a voyage through the Northwest Passage to New York City, making it the first cruise ship of its size to attempt this journey. The luxury liner stopped at ports of call along the Alaskan coast, including the town of Nome (population 3,850). Thanks to Nome resident Austin Ahmasuk for sharing his perspective with us.

Peering seaward south of River Street at 7:57 am, I saw the ship climb over the horizon as it materialized out of the fog. The P/V Crystal Serenity, with 1,700 passengers and crew aboard, arrived on time as predicted and slowly made its way shoreward. My eyes were glued to its deliberate movements. I knew it was big and, as the largest cruise ship to visit Nome got closer, its size towered in contrast to Nome’s normally modest waterfront.

I scanned for signs of its escort vessel, the RRS Ernest Shackleton. It surely must be near to provide assistance in case something went wrong. But the Ernest Shackleton was nowhere to be seen. The website showed that it was in Baffin Bay, Canada several thousand miles distant!

If something were to go wrong—an oil spill or shipwreck—our small town’s local volunteers and handful of response vessels would be the ones expected to answer the call.

Luckily, nothing went wrong and so we avoided a disaster.

The Crystal Serenity loomed over Nome and filled the viewfinder of my camera as it began to ferry passengers to shore. I had paid so much attention to what was happening on the water I didn’t notice the commotion behind me. It appeared every available van and bus was summoned to accept the tourists. Ship to shore boats were lowered over the side from gantries. The ship was large enough it created its own leeward sanctuary of calm water.

The efficiency of it all was impressive. This cruise really had it nailed down, everything ran like clockwork. Heck, they didn’t need a port!

As the people made their way around town, it reminded of the days when I was a kid when busloads of tourists who had arrived by plane came to Nome. So, I had seen something like this before, but not for a long time. The people looked much the same from what I can remember. As a kid growing up in Nome, my friends and I would often be fishing and we usually became the tourist attraction. People would take pictures. Sometimes, we would hand over the pole and let them reel one in.

The powers that be made sure this visit would please the guests, signs were everywhere it seemed, welcoming people to Nome. The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley even spent time cleaning up a portion of Nome’s beach. Local road crews graded streets and cleared vegetation.

But, as I headed to the west side of Nome’s port for some different camera angles, this newest stage of shipping history took a different turn.

There is virtually no existing infrastructure to handle anticipated increases in Arctic vessel traffic. Nome is on the front line. On the west side of our port, administrative change has impacted the landscape, and is just the beginning of the negative impact that if continued will have an astounding impact beyond my lifetime.

The port site is a well-known pre-historic site that was destroyed when the Snake River mouth was moved to its present location to make for port improvements. The site traditionally called sanispik in my language means “place on the side” and has been used by generations for subsistence.

But now the government allows only Transportation Worker ID card carrying persons to enter its restricted areas. Alaska Native people have been using the mouth of the Snake River for millennia. But now a layer of a far removed bureaucracy governs who comes and who goes.

Then my thoughts got dirty—and by that I mean sewage. Surely 1,700 people on board must be generating waste. So, I looked up figures for average daily waste streams of a cruise that size. Those figures of course vary but we can assume some 12,000 gallons of blackwater alone as a conservative estimate are generated each day. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) stipulates treating those waste streams inside 12 miles, but the gloves are off outside that boundary. Luckily, the Crystal Serenity has stated that on its maiden voyage, it will treat wastewater outside of 12 nm, even though not required by law.

I was born in and raised in Nome, I am old enough to remember the days of the honey bucket in Nome when people used buckets as household toilets. I remember the honey bucket truck and the man who disposed of people’s honey buckets. Is the Crystal Serenity just a glorified honey bucket? The Crystal Serenity’s population is half the size of Nome. This floating city is allowed under MARPOL to generate untold amounts of untreated waste beyond 12 miles.  Fortunately the Crystal Serenity is treating their waste, but, as more and more passenger vessels make their way to this region, will they too treat wastewater when not required by law? No one wants waste in the ocean and I doubt most of us have the kind of optics to see what is going on 12 miles from shore, but who wants to monitor blackwater?

There have been steady cumulative impacts from all this progress and few stories are covering that impact and few probably will until a catastrophe happens. The Crystal Serenity represents a global force of change in the Arctic that has the potential to severely impact the life of Alaska Native people and the environment. Alaskans who are concerned about the environment are asking questions with a critical eye towards the future. For over 100 years, Alaska Native people in Nome have been displaced to some extent by progress, I only hope this global force of change creates a significant departure from the past.

About the Author: Austin Ahmasuk is a lifelong Nome resident, hunter, trapper and fisher.

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Cruising the Northwest Passage: A Symbol of a Rapidly Changing Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/17/cruising-the-northwest-passage-a-symbol-of-a-rapidly-changing-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/17/cruising-the-northwest-passage-a-symbol-of-a-rapidly-changing-arctic/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 18:28:05 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12643

Photo: Ocean Conservancy / Sarah Bobbe

SEWARD, ALASKA – Small only in comparison to the rocky peaks surrounding the city, the cruise ship Crystal Serenity easily dwarfed every other structure in Seward, Alaska. On August 16, she slipped her moorings and started a month-long voyage through the Northwest Passage with over 1,700 passengers and crew onboard. 

This is an important milestone to us. The impact of climate change has now ushered in an era where a luxury cruise ship is able to sail from the North Pacific to the Atlantic via the fabled Northwest Passage—a route that once defeated even the most intrepid explorers. While other vessels have made the transit, this is the first time a tour ship of this size—almost the length of three football fields—has attempted the passage. Crystal Serenity’s journey is yet another symbol of a rapidly changing Arctic.

Bowhead whale and calf in the Arctic Ocean
Photo: NOAA / National Ocean Service

For those onboard, this could well be the trip of a lifetime. After all, the Arctic inspires awe and wonder around the world with its wild beauty, unparalleled wildlife and resilient peoples. Passengers will likely see a variety of wildlife including  walruses, gray whales and millions of migratory birds that summer here. During their shore excursions, they will have the opportunity to interact with remote Arctic communities. Wherever they go, we hope they tread lightly.

This journey is not without risk.  The Crystal Serenity has taken careful measures to prepare for its voyage but the Arctic is a harsh, punishing environment. Extreme distances and unpredictable weather conditions will pose a challenge if there in an emergency or accident. As more cruise ships attempt the Northwest Passage in the future, they may be less prepared. This will put a high degree of responsibility on small local communities and services. And it’s not just cruise ships. Other commercial vessels have started to make greater use of Arctic waters too.

While increased access means more opportunities, it also could put wildlife, local communities and an already fragile ecosystem at grave risk.

  • Disruption to marine life: Some species of the Arctic marine ecosystem, particularly marine mammals, could be lethally impacted by vessel traffic-related ship strikes and noise—especially through the narrow Bering Strait, the only marine passage between the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Additionally, increase ocean noise can result in habitat displacement, behavioral changes and alterations in the intensity, frequency and intervals of whale calls.
  • Threat of an oil spill: An oil spill could have devastating consequences in Arctic waters. What’s more, most large seagoing vessels use heavy fuel oil (HFO), also known as residual fuel or bunker fuel, due to its low cost. which is up to 50 times more toxic to fish than medium and light crude oil spills.  It also produces significantly higher emissions of toxic sulfur, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter than other fuel alternatives. Fortunately, the Crystal Serenity is not using HFO—but future operators may not take this precaution.

Crewmembers aboard the cruise ship Crystal Serenity plan and react during a fire drill while members of Coast Guard Sector Juneau inspections division monitor their performance in Juneau, Alaska, June 22, 2016.
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard / Jon-Paul Rios

  • Extreme distances and unpredictable weather: In the event of an emergency or accident like an oil spill, the lack of effective response techniques and extremely limited response capacity will be very challenging. If a spill were to occur near Barrow, Alaska, the nearest major port of Dutch Harbor would be 1,300 miles away by boat. The nearest Coast Guard station at Kodiak is a 950-mile flight.
  • Uncharted waters: Although the Arctic summer sea ice will be near its seasonal minimum during the next few weeks, the Northwest Passage is not entirely ice-free. Sea-ice forecasting is limited, and traveling in Arctic waters demands cautious and prudent navigation, which becomes even more challenging given that less than 2 percent (about 4,300 square nautical miles) of the U.S. Arctic waters has been surveyed with modern multibeam technology.

Photo: NOAA National Ocean Service

As part of a science-based conservation organization with a deep commitment to the Arctic, our team has been calling for measures that will improve ship safety and minimize threats to the Arctic wildlife:

  • Improving navigational safety by using ship routing measures, such as recommended traffic lanes and Areas to be Avoided.
  • Removing the use of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters by working with partners to influence the International Maritime Organization, the body that governs international shipping.
  • Supporting efforts to reduce ship strikes on marine mammals, improve vessel communications systems, enhance spill response preparedness, and reduce discharge from large, ocean-going vessels traveling in Arctic waters.

We will be following the journey of the Crystal Serenity closely until it docks in New York in September, wishing her a safe passage.


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6 Surprising Facts about Wild Salmon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/10/6-surprising-facts-about-wild-salmon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/08/10/6-surprising-facts-about-wild-salmon/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2016 20:58:17 +0000 Becca Robbins Gisclair http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12607

Today is Alaska’s first Wild Salmon Day! Join us as we celebrate this iconic species with some unusual facts about salmon.

1. There are five species of wild salmon found in Alaska, King (Chinook) salmon, Red (sockeye) salmon, Silver (coho) salmon, chum (keta) salmon and pink salmon.

2. Wild salmon are anadromous, which means they start their lives in freshwater, then migrate out river to the ocean. The different types of salmon spend different lengths of time in the ocean, with King salmon spending the longest period in the marine environment. At the end of their lives, wild salmon migrate back into freshwater to reproduce (spawn). After laying or fertilizing eggs, they die, providing important nutrients back into the system. Salmon rely on clean, healthy marine and freshwater habitat to thrive.

3. Yukon River Chinook salmon migrate over 1,800 miles from the Bering Sea through Alaska to their spawning grounds in Canada. That’s like driving distance between Miami, Florida all the way up to Minneapolis, Minnesota!!

4.  Today, the Alaskan salmon fishery is a sustainable fishery largely due to a stringent fishery management system. The value of Alaskan commercial salmon catches peaked in 2014 at $900 million.

5. Recreational fishers come from around the world to Alaska for a chance to reel in salmon. The world-record largest King salmon caught on rod and reel goes to Les Anderson who caught a 97-pounder caught by on the world-renowned Kenai River.

6. Salmon are a critical source of food and culture for Alaska Native peoples throughout Alaska. Traditional preparation methods as well as modern day freezers provide a delicious and nutritious source of sustenance through the long Alaska winters.


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Five Reasons to Love the Arctic Tern http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/08/five-reasons-to-love-the-arctic-tern/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/06/08/five-reasons-to-love-the-arctic-tern/#comments Wed, 08 Jun 2016 17:30:17 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12237

Call up the Guinness Book of World Records! In the news this morning, we learned that a tiny bird from the Farne Islands, in England, has logged the longest migration ever recorded. The Arctic tern’s journey to Antarctica and back was recorded as a total of 59,650 miles—that’s more than twice the circumference of the planet. Astounding!

Here are five reasons that I love the Arctic Tern (and I hope you will, too)!

  1. Obviously, Arctic Terns are famous as long-distance fliers. Some Arctic Terns may migrate farther than any other birds, going from the high Arctic to the Antarctic.
  2. They redefine what it means to be a world traveler. The Arctic Tern’s migrations travel to every ocean, and to the vicinity of every continent.
  3. Their migration takes them through the beautiful Chukchi Corridor—a 50-mile wide strip of water offshore of northwest Alaska. The Alaska Coastal Current flows through the Corridor, and so does nearly every form of Arctic wildlife, from year-round residents to migrants.
  4. The Arctic Tern is small, but mighty!! They weigh only 0.22 pounds, are only a foot long and have a wingspan of about two and a half feet.
  5. I saved the best for last! Let’s do the math on how far Arctic Terns will travel during their lifetime. Arctic Terns can live between 15 and 30 years, meaning the record-breaking Tern could fly more than 1.8 million miles over its lifetime. That is the rough equivalent of four round trips to the moon.






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