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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Court Upholds Shell’s Spill Response Plans Despite Past Failures and Serious Questions

Posted On August 6, 2013 by

Workers in the ArcticYesterday in Anchorage, the U.S. District Court of Alaska upheld the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s decision to approve Shell Oil’s plans for preventing and cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. The court’s decision is a setback, but it doesn’t change the fact that Shell has failed to meet its obligation to operate safely and responsibly in the Arctic at every turn.

The 2012 Arctic drilling season for Shell was remarkably calamitous. From the beginning, Shell experienced failures when their drillship the Noble Discoverer nearly ran aground in Unalaska Bay near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. By the end of the drilling season, the same drillship developed propulsion problems and needed to be towed into port in Seward for repairs.

Then in late December, the Kulluk, Shell’s other Arctic drilling unit, ran aground off of Sitkalidak Island after heavy seas snapped the towline between it and Shell’s tugboat. After a salvage operation plucked the Kulluk off the coast—thankfully with no major injuries or spills—it was eventually dry-towed to Asia for repairs in March.

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Happy Anniversary to Vital Ocean Policy

Posted On July 20, 2013 by

humpback whale breach

Credit: Phil Wrobel / Photo Contest

It was just three years ago yesterday that President Obama signed the Executive Order establishing the National Ocean Policy. We’ve come a long way so far, and we are starting to realize the policy’s considerable promise.

As I’ve written about before, the National Ocean Policy and the subsequent Implementation Plan are historically significant. President Obama recognized that a healthy ocean is a productive ocean and thus established the policy to ensure that we work together to balance use and conservation.

This policy directly addresses the key challenge of our time: how to meet the enormous resource demands of a rapidly growing global population without destroying the natural systems that sustain us. The ocean, of course, is at the center of every aspect of this challenge—food, energy, climate and protection of our natural resources.

Our ability to manage impacts on the ocean will make a crucial difference in making this planet work for 9 billion people. As the ocean is asked to provide in so many ways, it is inevitable that we need to prioritize, coordinate and optimize. That’s where the National Ocean Policy—a set of common-sense principles to help protect our ocean resources—comes in.

This anniversary offers an opportunity to look ahead. Read more at National Geographic’s News Watch blog.

Why Exploring the Ocean is More than Cool, it’s Vital

Posted On June 11, 2013 by

The submersible Deepsea Challenger which James Cameron piloted to the deepest parts of the ocean floor, on display outside Senate office buildings in Washington, DC — credit Julia Roberson

Later today filmmaker and ocean explorer James Cameron will be headlining a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee about the importance of funding ocean science and exploration. Also on display outside the hearing is the Deepsea Challenger, the submersible Cameron piloted in a historic solo dive to the Challenger Deep in the Marianas Trench.

Fantastic voyages like the one taken by James Cameron are truly inspiring for the sheer physical accomplishment. But they are also a stark reminder of how little we still know and understand about the ocean. In a world where the chemistry of the ocean is now changing faster than life can adapt, it’s vitally important that we learn as much as we can about the ocean to better prepare for the future.

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Ocean Acidification: A Pain in the Arctic

Posted On May 17, 2013 by

credit – Ocean Conservancy

No matter where you live, if you go outside and start walking north, at some point you’ll reach the Arctic Ocean. A vast expanse at the northern reaches of the planet, the Arctic Ocean supports a dizzying array of ocean wildldife, including the charismatic – and much threatened – polar bear. Most readers of The Blog Aquatic know that summer sea ice has been rapidly melting, caused by human-induced climate change from our ever rising global carbon emissions. Indeed, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the global atmosphere just broke a new record high.

But more poorly understood is that carbon dioxide is beginning to undermine the Arctic ocean itself through a process called ocean acidification. No less than 10 key scientific findings  can be found in a just-released assessment of ocean acidification undertaken by an international group of independent scientists.

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A Break from Drilling Doesn’t Mean a Break From Protecting the Arctic

Posted On May 16, 2013 by

Spring has arrived here in Anchorage. This time of year brings a lot of welcome changes: the days are longer, it’s warmer outside, snow is melting and waves of migratory birds are making their way back to Alaska. In recent years, springtime has also signaled the start of something much less welcome: attempts to drill for oil in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

Fortunately, that’s not going to happen this year. As I’ve written about before, Shell’s disastrous 2012 season now has the company sidelined for at least a year as it tries to recover.ConocoPhillips recently decided to postpone indefinitely its plans to conduct exploration drilling on its offshore leases in the U.S. Arctic. Last year, Norwegian oil company Statoil announced that it would not attempt to drill in the Chukchi Sea until at least 2015 and French oil major Total warned that it was too risky for energy companies to drill offshore in Arctic waters at all.

But that doesn’t mean the work is over – far from it.

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Say No to Dumping Trash in Arctic Waters

Posted On May 7, 2013 by

Everyone knows dumping trash into the ocean is a bad idea, right? Well, apparently not everyone. At a recent meeting of the International Maritime Organization, the U.S. delegation—led by the U.S. Coast Guard—opposed a proposal to ban the dumping of garbage in the Arctic Ocean.

The Arctic is one of Earth’s most pristine ecosystems, home to some of the world’s largest seabird populations and iconic wildlife like polar bears, belugas and the extremely long-lived bowhead whale. The unspoiled nature of the Arctic doesn’t mean it’s without threats.

In fact, today the Arctic faces unparalleled challenges from oil and gas development and other industrial activity, increasing water temperatures and climate change impacts—all jeopardizing the integrity of the Arctic marine ecosystem. Adding ocean trash to this list of pressures is simply not acceptable.

Ocean Conservancy is working to help employ science-based solutions that will ensure Arctic waters remain healthy and clean. Allowing vessels to deliberately dump waste into the Arctic just doesn’t fit into the equation for a resilient Arctic ecosystem.

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Vanishing Arctic: How Less Research Could Eliminate The Last Frontier

Posted On April 29, 2013 by

Credit: Jarred Sutton

In a recently published paper, climate scientists predicted that seasonal temperature patterns in the Arctic could shift the equivalent of 20 degrees latitude toward the equator by the end of the century. Roughly, this shift would be like the difference between the extreme northern tip of Quebec and New York City.

While such rapid changes would have significant effects on Arctic food webs, scientists don’t know exactly how these changes will play out or the extent to which they will alter Arctic ecosystems. While the recent paper focused on Arctic lands, the need for additional research and monitoring is even more acute in the offshore environment.

That’s why legislation introduced earlier this year by Senator Mark Begich of Alaska is so important. Senator Begich’s legislation proposes to establish a permanent program to support research, monitoring and observation of processes vital to the Arctic Ocean’s ecosystem. Such a program could lead to significant advances in Arctic marine science. The better we understand rapidly changing marine ecosystems, the more likely it is that we will make smart conservation and management choices in the region.

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