Ocean Currents » arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 21 Apr 2017 20:52:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 International Arctic Fisheries Cooperation: Just in Time? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/05/international-arctic-fisheries-cooperation-just-in-time/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/05/international-arctic-fisheries-cooperation-just-in-time/#comments Wed, 05 Apr 2017 13:51:37 +0000 Scott Highleyman http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14086
At the human level, cooperation is a way of survival in the Arctic. It’s how indigenous people have not only survived, but thrived, in what are extreme conditions to those of us from the temperate zone of the planet. Scaling up cooperation from families and communities to the level of nation-states is just as important for the Arctic and takes many of the same skills: listening to diverse views, learning from past mistakes, a precautionary approach to changing circumstance and a willingness to compromise.

I saw all these skills in play at a meeting of ten nations last month discussing how potential commercial fishing should be handled in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO), the international waters surrounding the North Pole. This 1.1 million square mile area of ocean has been frozen year round for hundreds of thousands of years. Although still frozen in winter, up to 40% of the CAO has been open water in recent summers. Under international law, such high seas areas are open to commercial fishing unless countries come together to impose rules and management measures. Fishing hasn’t started in the area yet but history teaches that exploratory fishing will push into any untapped ocean, often before scientists have a chance to figure out baseline ecosystem conditions and the size of fish stocks. Scientists tell us this could be especially problematic in the Arctic Ocean where fish like Arctic cod are an essential conduit of life, transforming energy from plankton to the upper trophic level of seabirds, seals, whales and polar bears.

How to approach this issue: compete for potential new fishing grounds or–reflecting the need to cooperate in the Arctic–join together to promote cooperative science to understand this newly emerging ocean while agreeing to delay the start of fishing? Fortunately, for the Arctic, cooperation seems to be carrying the day. As reflected in the Chairman’s Statement, the talks in Iceland, the fifth negotiating session in a little more than a year, displayed a continued determination to prevent the start of unregulated commercial fishing in the area, safeguard the marine ecosystem and promote a joint program of cooperative science that would provide answers before future fishing is considered. While a few issues remain under discussion, the Chair pledged to circulate a complete draft text with recommendations for the countries to consider for acceptance by mid-May or reconvene this summer for a final negotiation.

The nations participating are the United States, Russia, Norway, Greenland, Canada, Japan, Iceland, South Korea, China and the European Union.  In the United States, support for the agreement comes from unusual partners in Alaska, including the commercial fishing industry, Alaska Native organizations and environmental groups. The U.S. began working toward an agreement based on a resolution authored by Republican Senators Ted Stevens and Lisa Murkowski and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Alaskans learned the hard way that high seas areas without fishing rules–like the Bering Sea “donut hole” between Alaska and Russia–can be quickly overfished. The CAO agreement is modeled after precautionary Arctic fisheries plans put into place by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service in the U.S in 2009 and Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Inuvialuit resource managers in Canada in 2014. In 2012, over 2,000 scientists from around the world called on Arctic countries to take similar precautionary action for the CAO. And the Inuit Circumpolar Council in 2014 called for a fisheries moratorium in the area until adequate science and management measures with full Inuit participation was in place.

After several years of meetings among Arctic nations, in 2015 the U.S., Russia, Norway, Greenland and Canada issued a declaration committing them to not allow their fishing vessels to start operating in the area. They also pledged to seek a binding agreement with additional nations who operate commercial fishing fleets that operate in distant waters.

This led to the five negotiating sessions among the 10 states culminating last month in Reykjavik which I attended as a member of the U.S. delegation. Reaching final agreement in the coming months would be lightning speed by international diplomatic timelines but just-in-time delivery for the Arctic ecosystem and the people it supports. Stay tuned.

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Action After Tragedy: The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/22/action-after-tragedy-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/22/action-after-tragedy-the-exxon-valdez-oil-spill/#comments Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:06:01 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13996

This is one anniversary that I don’t like celebrating.

Friday will be the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Nearly 11 million gallons of oil spewed into the ocean over the course of three days. Even today, there are still some places in Prince William Sound where you can find oil that is as toxic as it was 28 years ago.

But, I’m optimistic that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and work together to make sure another Exxon Valdez doesn’t occur off the coast of Alaska. We saw first-hand what happens when we don’t take preparedness seriously.

Will you join me in taking action to ensure it doesn’t happen again?

Now, nearly three decades after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, the Arctic Ocean is facing threats from increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait.

As Arctic sea ice continues to melt, the Bering Sea—including the narrow Bering Strait—is experiencing more and more ship traffic. As ship traffic increases, so do the risks, including oil spills, vessel strikes on marine mammals, air pollution, discharge of waste into the water and production of underwater noise. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help protect the Arctic.

Take action today by asking the U.S. Coast Guard to take steps to reduce the risks of increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Sea. This can’t wait—we need to put in place key measures to increase safety and reduce risk in the Arctic waters.

The Bering Sea is used by millions of seabirds and an array of marine mammals including whales, seals, walruses and polar bears. Alaska Native communities rely on these resources for food security and cultural practices that date back millennia.

There’s no doubt that the Arctic Ocean is unique and important—there is a lot at stake if we don’t work together to do all we can to protect this region. Please take action today by asking the U.S. Coast Guard to reduce the risks from increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Sea.

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5 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Whales http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/18/5-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-whales/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/18/5-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-whales/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2017 12:00:35 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13764

There’s no question that whales are some of the most iconic animals in the sea. From the massive blue whale to the quirky narwhal, these charismatic mammals have captivated people for centuries.

For World Whale Day, we’re taking a moment to celebrate the ocean’s most recognizable residents with five little-known facts about whales.

1. It’s all in the family. Whales are in the order cetacea, which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. They are all mammals, meaning they breathe air, produce milk for their young and grow hair. They’re also highly specialized for marine environments, and have streamlined bodies with nimble dorsal fins and tails, and compressed neck vertebrae. There are nearly 80 species of cetacea, nearly all of them marine, except for some species of river dolphin.

2. You’re krill’n me. There are two suborders, or types, of whales. Baleen whales (called mysticeti) filter their food through huge baleen plates made of flexible keratin (the same material that makes up your hair and fingernails). They move slowly through the ocean with their mouths open to filter shrimp, krill and other small animals through the baleen to eat. Baleen whales include humpback whales, blue whales, North Atlantic right whales and bowhead whales. The other type is called odonotoceti whales, or toothed whales. Unsurprisingly, toothed whales have teeth that they use to sense, capture and/or eat prey. Whales in this category include narwhals, belugas and sperm whales.

3. Go big or go home. Whales have a big record to their name: The blue whale is the largest animal that ever lived (yes, including dinosaurs). They can grow up to 100 feet long and weigh up to 200 tons. Their heart alone is the size of a small car! Despite their size, they keep their eyes low on the food chain: they eat krill, or small crustaceans that grow to about three inches in size. A blue whale can eat up to four tons of krill in a day.

4. Cold never bothered whales anyway. You can find a few whale species in the chilly waters of the Arctic. To survive, they have specific adaptations that help them eat, mate and live in frigid conditions. Bowhead whales, for example, have massive skulls that can be over 16.5 feet long—or about 30-40 percent of their entire body length—that they use to break through the ice. Beluga whales have a five-inch-thick layer of blubber and dorsal ridge that help them navigate through the harsh icy waters, too.

5. Olympic-level divers. Whales are among the world’s deepest divers. When hunting squid, a sperm whale may spend as much as an hour on a dive to more than 3,000 feet, where the temperature hovers at 36 degrees F and the pressure is more than 1,400 pounds per square inch. Impressive, but not if you happen to be a Cuvier’s beaked whale—scientists recently observed one diving to about 10,000 feet (nearly two miles) and staying under for 138 minutes, a record for both length and depth.

Any impressive whale trivia we missed? Or just want to post some love about your favorite whale species? Let us know in the comments

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A Commitment to an Arctic Free of Heavy Fuel Oil http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/06/a-commitment-to-an-arctic-free-of-heavy-fuel-oil/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/02/06/a-commitment-to-an-arctic-free-of-heavy-fuel-oil/#comments Mon, 06 Feb 2017 13:15:33 +0000 Sarah Bobbe http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13719

In a time of uncertainty for people and the environment, I am happy to write that a positive step towards a more sustainable Arctic took place last week at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway.

Hurtigruten, a world-leading expedition cruise ship operator, joined international environmental organizations to launch the Arctic Commitment.

The Arctic Commitment asks businesses and organizations to step forward and call for a phase-out of polluting heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping. The Arctic Commitment makes a clear challenge to businesses and organizations to spearhead the protection of Arctic communities and ecosystems from the risks posed by the use of HFO to power ships.

HFO, the most common fuel used by the maritime industry, is also the world’s dirtiest fuel. HFO is the residual product of crude oil that is refined and stripped of more valuable components, leaving concentrated amounts of contaminates like sulfur, ash, vanadium, aluminum, silicon, asphaltenes and more. If spilled, HFO is the most difficult fuel to clean up because it persists in the environment for long periods of time, and is nearly impossible to recover. HFO is also a source of harmful black carbon, which contributes to the rapid warming of the Arctic region. Due to the dangers it poses to the marine environment, its use and carriage have already been banned in Antarctica.

By officially recognizing the threats posed to local communities and to Arctic ecosystems by spills and emissions from HFO, the Arctic Commitment has signalled that further action is critical to safeguarding the environment and wildlife, as well as human health and food security.

Ocean Conservancy will continue to work towards phasing out the use of HFO. We will collaborate with partners to gain more signatures to the important Arctic Commitment.

We will also urge the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the organization that banned HFO use and carriage in the Antarctic, to phase out its use in Arctic waters. Ocean Conservancy is working to ensure that the phase out of HFO use in the Arctic is officially addressed by the IMO at its next Marine Environmental Protection Committee Meeting in July.

Stay tuned for more updates as we work towards keeping Arctic waters free of heavy fuel oil.

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5 Tough Questions for Rex Tillerson, the Ocean and YOU http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/11/5-tough-questions-for-rex-tillerson-the-ocean-and-you/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/11/5-tough-questions-for-rex-tillerson-the-ocean-and-you/#comments Wed, 11 Jan 2017 14:29:36 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13605

It’s a new year, and I resolve to continue championing for ocean conservation in 2017—no matter how the tides may change in Washington, D.C. Will you help me?

This week, Rex Tillerson, nominee for Secretary of State, will begin Senate confirmation hearings. As Mr. Tillerson is questioned by senators about his qualifications for the job, we want to make sure he’s asked about the ocean.

For Mr. Tillerson’s entire career, he’s worked for a single company—ExxonMobil. As Exxon’s CEO, he was obligated to work for the interests of Exxon’s shareholders.

But if he’s confirmed as Secretary of State, will he work for the American people, our country and our country’s environment?

Ask your Senators to submit ocean questions for Mr. Tillerson to answer on the record.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “does the Secretary of State have anything to do with ocean conservation?” Great question! Here are a few examples:

  • The State Department pursues international agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (such as the Paris Treaty) that impact ocean acidification, ocean temperatures and sea level rise.
  • The State Department plays a key role in protecting the Arctic, as part of the Arctic Council and the decisions made at the U.S. and international level.
  • The State Department launched the Our Ocean Conference three years ago, and has worked closely with foreign governments on international commitments for ocean conservation.

It’s time to draw a line in the sand—ocean conservation is so important and we can’t turn back all of the progress we’ve made. Accountability starts today! Will Mr. Tillerson commit to working for the interests of the American people? Will you join me in holding the upcoming Trump Administration accountable to you, me and the ocean?

Please take action today by asking your Senators to submit ocean questions for Mr. Tillerson to answer on the record.

Together, we will continue to protect the ocean!

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2016: A Year of Hope for the Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/30/2016-a-year-of-hope-for-the-ocean/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/30/2016-a-year-of-hope-for-the-ocean/#comments Fri, 30 Dec 2016 14:24:08 +0000 Janis Searles Jones http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13545 For many of us, the ocean is a place of hope—it inspires us and supports us and in turn, we work hard to protect it. 2016 has been quite a year, full of ups and downs. But when it comes to the ocean, 2016 was a year of fantastic victories that remind us what is possible when we come together in support of our ocean, and give us hope for our ocean’s future.

Every day, we wake up ready to fight for the health of our ocean, and thanks to the support of advocates—like you—we’ve celebrated some big wins. While we have plenty of work ahead of us to defend these victories, these are some of the wonderful things that happened in 2016 that give us hope for our ocean’s future:

The Arctic is a safer place (for now)

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration took action to protect the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas—as well as the Atlantic Ocean—from risky offshore drilling until 2022. The just last week, President Obama took an even bolder action, furthering his legacy as a leader in protecting the Arctic from the threats of climate change, by protecting 115 million acres of federal waters in the Arctic Ocean from oil and gas drilling (and an additional 3.8 million acres in the Atlantic Ocean). We’ll need your continued support to keep this fragile area protected in the coming years.

In the same announcement, President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau committed to working together to make Arctic shipping safer, moving forward with a plan to phase out heavy fuel oil and reaffirming a science-based approach fishery management in the Arctic. These bilateral promises between two Arctic nations give us hope for the future of this area, and a clear path for forward progress in the future.

But the good news for the Arctic doesn’t stop there—earlier in December, President Obama declared important protections for the northern Bering Sea and the Bering Strait by establishing the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area, in direct response to requests from Alaska Native tribes. Home to a number of Alaska Native tribes and one of the largest marine animals migrations, this region is one of the most historically, environmentally, and culturally significant places on our planet. This action is significant in that it establishes a clear role for local tribes in the management of the resources on which their culture depends—another ray of hope in 2016.

The U.S. made big (ocean) plans

Just this month, the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic finalized the first smart ocean plans in the United States. These revolutionary new ocean plans made history by bringing together the needs of many, many stakeholders and paved the way for smart ocean management around the region—and the country. These plans are the culmination of years of work, bringing both regions towards a more holistic, science-based and stakeholder informed ocean management process that will ensure the ocean economy remains strong while ocean ecosystems remain healthy. With your help, we’ll work toward implementing these plans and expanding them to other regions.

We just kept swimming…towards sustainable fisheries

This year, the U.S. celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a fisheries management act that is largely responsible for the strong state of our nation’s fish stocks. NOAA Fisheries also released the ““Ecosystem-based Fisheries Management Road Map,” a comprehensive, science-based plan that looks at the broader ecosystem when managing fisheries, rather than looking at one fish at a time. It’s a good step forward to help end overfishing and rebuild vulnerable stocks. We’re not out of the woods, though, and we will keep working with policymakers, fishermen and scientists to make sure we don’t lose any of our progress towards sustainable fisheries.

Obama left his marine mark

Thanks to the support of ocean advocates (like you!), President Obama protected important places on the far east and west of our country: expanding Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument—now the world’s largest marine sanctuary—in Hawaii, and establishing the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in New England. In just the span of a few weeks, Obama protected more U.S. waters than any other president in history. Together, we can ensure that these areas remain protected for years to come.

As 2016 comes to a close, let’s toast to the fantastic strides that have been made in the world of ocean conservation this year, and hold on to this hope as we look ahead to the work still to be done. As advocates that care passionately about our ocean and leaving a healthy planet for future generations, we will continue our commitment to using smart, science-based solutions to protect coastal communities and healthy marine ecosystems, and hope you’ll join us on this important journey!

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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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