You might have heard the news today that the Obama Administration released its final version of a rule called the Clean Power Plan. Years in the making, this rule from the Environmental Protection Agency aims to reduce emissions from power plants – the biggest emitters of carbon pollution – by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. We hear a lot about how carbon pollution causes our planet’s atmosphere to warm, and as a result, droughts, wildfires, and extreme weather events, are becoming more frequent, dangerous and costly to Americans and many others around the world. But what does carbon pollution mean for the ocean?
Oil on the beach at Refugio State Park in Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, 2015. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Nearly two weeks after a ruptured pipeline spilled 105,000 gallons of crude oil near Santa Barbara, hundreds of tired and oil-soaked workers are still on site working to scoop, boom and skim what they can of the 21,500 gallons estimated to have reached the ocean. As the slick spreads on the surface, and more oil sinks beneath the waves, a complicated environmental, chemical and biological process is unfolding in the waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. While every oil spill differs depending on local conditions, science and past history allow us to anticipate some of the long-term impacts to marine wildlife, habitats and communities.
Oil produced offshore of Santa Barbara is particularly heavy and thick, likely worsening the effects of external exposure to marine birds, mammals and fish. These effects include smothering those animals that can’t move, and impairing the ability of some animals to insulate against cold water. Marine birds that become oiled may lose the ability to fly, forage and feed their young. Highly mobile birds and marine mammals that frequent the ocean surface, where spilled oil initially collects, are especially vulnerable. They may be exposed to oil in one location only to sicken or die elsewhere. The spill’s location in shallow, nearshore waters exposes a particularly rich array of wildlife and habitats to damage, including shorelines, sea grass, kelp beds, rocky reefs and kelp forests.
When oil began flowing from a ruptured pipeline along the wild and scenic shoreline up the coast from Santa Barbara, California, the community’s coastal life flashed before its eyes: thriving fisheries, popular and pristine beaches, teeming populations of whales and marine mammals, and a new network of protected areas set up to safeguard these coastal treasures. The awful images of oiled beaches and sea life are appearing on our screens at a time when visitors are flocking to the coast for Memorial Day weekend.
Recreational and commercial fishing have been ordered closed in the wake of the spill. Fishing grounds along the rural coast west of Santa Barbara support a good deal of the harvest of some of California’s highest-value fisheries. Spiny lobster, red sea urchin and market squid are harvested along this coastline, and are among the top five commercial fisheries in California, bringing in millions of dollars in revenue from the sale of fish and providing healthy seafood for local and distant consumers. Recreational fishermen ply these waters for calico bass, white seabass and halibut while enjoying the scenic surroundings and spending dollars locally. Surfers, scuba divers, beachgoers and whale watchers explore, play and spend in even greater numbers.
There was a flurry of activity on ocean acidification this week in, of all places, the Halls of Congress. Not one, but two different bills on ocean acidification were introduced in the House of Representatives. And more importantly, these bills were written by a new generation of members of Congress anxious to tackle the threat that ocean acidification poses to the people, businesses, and communities that they represent.
On Tuesday, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree introduced legislation, the Coastal Communities Acidification Act of 2014, that would require federal officials to analyze the risks ocean acidification poses to coastal and island communities around the United States. The Congresswoman’s home state of Maine has hundreds of rural coastal communities that rely heavily on fisheries, shellfish, lobsters, and other ocean resources – communities that may stand to lose a lot in the face of ocean acidification. Congresswoman Pingree’s bill comes on the heels of action by the Maine State Legislature, which passed a law earlier this month to establish a commission to study ocean acidification in Maine. But Pingree’s federal bill goes much further, calling for officials to examine the very real economic and social risks that ocean acidification could pose to all coastal communities across the country.
March 24, 2014, marks the seventh annual California Ocean Day, when Californians from all corners of the state flood the capital, Sacramento, to send a unified message: take pride in our ocean! Ocean Conservancy and numerous other organizations – along with dozens of volunteers, college students and passionate citizens – will spend the day meeting with legislators to discuss key ocean-related issues. The goal is to inspire decision-makers to support policies that protect and restore California’s 1,100-mile coastline, the state’s most recognized attraction and home to its richest natural resources. Continue reading »
“THANK YOU.” For years, these infamous words have been seen all too frequently on the plastic bags found floating around pasture lands, city streets, beaches and in the ocean. The elusive plastic bag continues to be at the core of the ocean trash dialogue and California legislators will once again try to pass a statewide ban this year that would prohibit its distribution in the state–cleaner beaches and cityscapes being the primary justification. Last year, the attempt failed to pass by only a handful of votes.
People around the world are all too familiar with these items; volunteers for Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup have picked up more than 10 million plastic bags off beaches and other landscapes over the past three decades. In 2012 alone, the number was 1,019,902 to be precise. We know because we work with volunteers to count every last one. Ten million bags require more than 1,200 barrels of oil to produce. And once in the environment, a diverse array of animals, both in the ocean and on land, ingest these items with detrimental impacts on their health as a result.
Pacific bluefin tuna. Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries.
I’ve been receiving questions from concerned friends and family about how radiation from the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant is affecting the marine environment and human seafood consumption. As ocean lovers, I’m sure you’re equally concerned. After reading different scientific articles and speaking with experts, I found that there are local impacts from radiation to humans and marine life around Fukushima – but impacts from radiation on the rest of the Pacific Ocean are not expected to be harmful to human consumers and marine animals.