The Blog Aquatic » Atlantic Ocean http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Why The Nassau Grouper Needs Endangered Species Protection http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/12/13/why-the-nassau-grouper-needs-endangered-species-protection/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/12/13/why-the-nassau-grouper-needs-endangered-species-protection/#comments Thu, 13 Dec 2012 14:59:22 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3862
Nothing exemplifies the challenges of managing reef fish quite like the woeful tale of Nassau grouper. Once an iconic emblem of healthy Caribbean reefs (see Carmen Yeung’s recent post on endangered corals) and a staple of subsistence fisheries, this shallow water grouper is now threatened with extinction throughout most of its natural range.

Despite its large range — and area through the Caribbean and some of North and South America’s Atlantic Ocean — several characteristics of this grouper species make it particularly vulnerable to depletion:

  • These fish grow slowly,
  • don’t reproduce until later in life,
  • appear in shallow waters close to shore and thus human populations, and
  • they are popular at the dinner table.

While these things don’t necessarily condemn a fish to threatened or endangered status, one particular trait of the Nassau grouper does: They reproduce only once per year at the same place, at the same time and they do so by the tens of thousands. Or they did.

Fishermen, islanders and visitors of the Caribbean in the 1960’s and 1970’s tell stories of swarms of spawning Nassau grouper so large and dense they filled your entire underwater view — every year, once per year, at the same time, in the same place.

But the same behavior that makes for one incredible scuba dive also makes for one profitable and easy fishing trip, and one by one the seemingly endless aggregations of spawning Nassau grouper were fished out of Caribbean waters. Those same locations that were filled with fish in the 1960’s now have one or two lonely fish coming back to them on their annual pilgrimage. Even with some protections against fishing, the aggregations have never returned and fishermen and fishery managers alike learned all too late that sometimes you can’t unring the bell.

Here in the United States, the Nassau grouper has been protected from directed fishing effort for years and we still have yet to see a measurable recovery. Maybe we never will. The federal government recently announced it will conduct a review of all the available information on Nassau grouper and determine if listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is warranted. This is a long process that may be able to help bring an iconic population back to health.

ESA listing is – by its very definition – a management and recovery tool of last resort. Ideally, we would like to see Nassau grouper populations managed responsibly and rebuilt to healthy levels so the species doesn’t need to be listed under the ESA. Letting fish populations dip so low that they require this last resort action is bad for all involved: the fish, the fishermen, the tourists and local economies. For the sake of Nassau grouper, let us hope that ESA listing works and that we do not have to contemplate its use for any of our other reef fish species.

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Generations Connected to the Sea, Washed Away by Sandy http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/11/19/generation-connected-to-the-sea-washed-away-by-sandy/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/11/19/generation-connected-to-the-sea-washed-away-by-sandy/#comments Mon, 19 Nov 2012 21:06:47 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3510

Aerial photo of Mantoloking, New Jersey after Hurricane Sandy. Photo credit: Greg Thompson/USFWS. Used under a Creative Commons license.

This is a guest post from Pam Weiant. Pam is a marine scientist with Ph.D. from UC Santa Barbara. She is founder of a Strategic Environmental Planning (StEP), a consulting company that focuses on natural resource planning and management, and works as a watershed specialist for Malama Maunalua, a community non-profit organization in Hawaii. Previously, she advised the marine program of The Nature Conservancy in Hawaii.

The sea soaked and the winds pounded our family home on the Jersey Shore for hours and hours on October 29, just as numerous hurricanes and Nor’easter storms had for decades. But Hurricane Sandy was different. At some point, under the cloak of darkness that night, Sandy’s punishing power brought our house down.

The neighbors’ homes on both sides of ours in Mantoloking are scarred but still standing. Where our house once stood and hosted five generations of our family, there is now only sand and debris. Everything is gone, including the giant antique stove where my grandmother used to prepare the catch of the day.

The house in Mantoloking was a constant part of my childhood, and I’m still finding it hard to believe we won’t be returning. The town, about one-mile long and four blocks wide, is situated on a barrier island with the Atlantic Ocean to the east and Barnegat Bay to the west.

I attribute my decision to become a marine scientist to my childhood years spent in Mantoloking. Through my work, I have spent time studying in many coastal areas such as the Gulf of California, Coral Sea, Southeastern Atlantic Ocean, Eastern Pacific Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.  Yet, in my mind, no place compares with the Jersey Shore.

It was a welcome respite from the “real” world of the city, offering time to reconnect with cousins, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Feet and bikes were the main mode of transportation, and entertainment came in the form of crabbing in Barnegat Bay, trips to Meullers bakery and swimming in the ocean. And many years later, it’s brought me such joy to share the house with my own children — now 8 and 5 — whose smiles are never bigger than upon arrival at “The Aquarium,” our nickname for the home.

Even with the house gone, I feel that the sea and the shore are deeply a part of me. Perhaps it is the expansive beaches that are unobstructed for miles, or the perfect sand that is not too fine and not too coarse, or the glow of the light at sunrise and sunset, or the miles and miles of Atlantic Ocean.  Every day the ocean is different: One day, low tides with a huge sandbar ideal for body surfing; another day, rough waters excellent for drifting with the current; or, perfect conditions with gentle, rolling waves.  Every day brought new surprises: Whales breaching, pods of dolphins, schools of skates, runs of fish, and mysterious fins.

With the exception of new windows and a fresh coat of paint, our house remained pretty much the same as when my great-grandfather bought it decades ago.  As such, it was full of memorabilia from a previous era. My grandfather’s taxidermied collection of prize fish decorated the walls on the first floor, and prints of fishermen and shore birds lined the upstairs hall and bedroom walls, all a testament to a time when larger fish could be caught from our ocean.

The house’s lifetime witnessed other changes. Parts of Barnegat Bay were dredged and filled or armored for houses, and East Avenue became developed with more and bigger houses, leaving less open space and less natural habitat. Mantoloking did its best to keep the natural charm of high dunes and seagrass as the main strategy to protect the houses. But this was too much of a storm.

As scientists learn more about how climate change may have made Hurricane Sandy’s impacts worse, I hope we will take heed of the advice they offer to minimize the chance that a storm of this magnitude will wreak havoc like this again. I hope officials up and down the coast will plan for better coastal protection together, so there can be a coordinated effort to strengthen our coast’s natural defenses to protect natural resources and livelihoods.

It is tragic what has been lost. My heart goes out to the other victims of the storm who have experienced even greater losses.

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An Ocean Louisiana Purchase in the Making http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/22/an-ocean-louisiana-purchase-in-the-making/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/22/an-ocean-louisiana-purchase-in-the-making/#comments Tue, 22 May 2012 18:41:34 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=721 Louisiana Purchase map

Credit: Library of Congress

Imagine if the United States could lay claim over vast stretches of pristine open ocean and coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. What if we could expand our nation’s control over the marine environments in the Arctic, the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea? And how might it benefit our country if we could extend our existing maritime borders along the East Coast, West Coast and the Gulf of Mexico?

It would be like a giant ocean Louisiana Purchase. Except this time, the United States wouldn’t have to pay a dime.

Expansion of U.S. borders may seem like the stuff of history books. But what I’m talking about here isn’t history. And it isn’t fantasy. It’s a very real choice facing the U.S. Senate right at this very moment.

Tomorrow, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin considering ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, a U.S.-initiated agreement that the United States has abided by since the Reagan Administration and yet to this day the Senate has failed to approve.

The treaty is the set of global “rules of the road” for the world’s ocean, and yet the United States – which controls more ocean area than any other single nation – has been sitting on the sidelines unable to reap the treaty’s benefits because of the Senate’s inaction.

Hopefully, that will soon change. At the urging of a vast and non-traditional alliance of environmental, business, labor and national security groups, the Senate is poised to finally consider doing what it has failed to do for so long – ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty.

And the benefits of doing so could be enormous.

Under the treaty, nations can lay claim to the seafloor outside of the traditional 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone if they can demonstrate that the continental shelf extends beyond the limit. The United States has many areas where this shallow coastal environment extends beyond 200 miles, meaning that ratification of the treaty could bring a massive expansion of our country’s ocean borders – and exclusive access to those ocean seabed resources.

Preliminary studies indicate that the United States may be able to lay claim to another million square kilometers of ocean. This would be an expansion of U.S. waters roughly twice the size of California or nearly half the size of the Louisiana Purchase.

Throughout America’s growth as a nation, many of our expansions – from the Louisiana Purchase to the purchase of Alaska – were controversial in the moment. But looking back through the lens of history, each one has proven to be vital to the success of our nation.

As the Senate considers the Law of the Sea Treaty, there will undoubtedly be naysayers, but this is history in the making. By expanding our maritime borders now, we’ll be able to reap the benefits long into the future.

Update: Just to be clear, the expansion of U.S. jurisdiction over additional ocean talked about here is just one part of what is a very comprehensive treaty. The Law of the Sea Treaty also contains extensive provisions on protecting the ocean environment – one of the reasons so many environmental groups support the treaty.

If the U.S. finally became a signatory to the treaty, it would not only help ensure that the U.S. followed the common-sense rules of the road for protecting the ocean, but it would also give the U.S. the international credibility and leverage to ensure that other nations also did their part to help protect the ocean environment. For those who are interested in learning more, you can take a look at Part XII of the treaty on protection and preservation of the marine environment.

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