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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy



California Celebrates 19 New Underwater Parks, Completes First Statewide Network in Nation

Posted On December 19, 2012 by

The brand spanking new Double Cone Rock State Marine Conservation Area. Photo Credit: Kip Evans/Ocean Conservancy

Each day, many of us do small things we hope will benefit the ocean. We bring our own coffee mug. We pack our groceries into cloth bags. We wash our cloth napkins in cold water and buy our detergent in bulk. We bring our own to-go containers to the sushi spot – and we always order our fish based on what’s sustainable.

But the ocean is in trouble, and needs more than individual efforts for deepened protection. In California, efforts to restore the state’s depleted fish populations resulted in the Marine Life Protection Act, which passed the legislature back in 1999.

Today, the California network – the first in our nation – finally becomes complete: The North Coast marine protected areas go into effect. From the Oregon border to the Mexican border, the fish, birds, mammals and plants that depend on the dynamic habitats of the California coast now have a series of reserves and conservation areas that will allow their populations to recover where needed and protect them from depletion in the future. Not only is this good for the sea creatures, but a thriving ocean benefits all of California, from the fishermen whose livelihoods depend on healthy fisheries to all aspects of the state’s tourism-dependent economy – people come to California to see the ocean, be awed by the magnificence of migrating whales, explore the glowing tide pools along our beaches, delight in barbecuing lingcod, fresh-caught or bought off the docks.

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Leadership in a Time of National Division

Posted On November 7, 2012 by

Credit: George H. Leonard

After a year-long campaign, the voters have spoken and President Obama will lead the country for another four years. But while the Electoral College was decisive, the popular vote was essentially split; as a group, the American people remain deeply divided over many critical issues facing our nation – from health care to national defense.

This week, while national attention has been focused on politics at the highest level, fishery managers along the west coast quietly demonstrated unity and leadership by voting to advance important protections for forage fish – the small and often forgotten fish that form the base of the ocean food web.

Why is this such a big deal? Because as in politics, fisheries management is often divisive and making progress requires leadership. When our officials take important steps to better protect the ocean we should give credit where credit is due. Continue reading »

California to Address “Hidden” Decline in Recreational Ocean Bass Fishery

Posted On October 23, 2012 by

Kelp aka Calico Bass. Source: CDFG; Photo credit: Rob Johnson

Identifying threats to sea life isn’t always easy. What you see is often far from the whole story. Take kelp bass and barred sand bass, for example. These particular fish tend to get together in the same places at the same time of year. When it comes to spawning, they’re very much creatures of habit.

This makes it easy if your goal is catching them.  These fish also conveniently gather in the summer, when ocean and weather conditions are at their friendliest. You (and a few thousand others) could catch your limit and still be under the impression that these fish populations are healthy.

The problem is, at least in the case of the barred sand bass, we’ve discovered where almost all of the fish are. During the spawn, the overall size of the population doesn’t affect catch levels, due to advanced fish-finding technology and efficient fishing techniques.  Managing fisheries often presents the problem of distinguishing fish availability from fish abundance. Sometimes there are plenty of fish around and none interested in biting.  Here we find the opposite: we can find fish to catch even as their overall numbers are in real decline.

As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, “Big catches mask dwindling numbers of sea bass.”


Forage Fish: The Tiny Fish That Support Our Entire Ocean

Posted On October 23, 2012 by

California’s Fish & Game Commission is considering making big changes to better protect some of the ocean’s smallest fish.

If you live in California, you can help us protect these vitally important fish. For the sake of our ocean, we must ensure these improvements get passed.

Known as “forage fish,” small schooling fish like sardines, anchovies and herring — play a crucial role in the ocean food web and in our overall economic well being.

Need proof? Look toward the seabirds, who suffer a drop in birth rates when forage fish populations drop too low. Look toward marine mammals like humpback whales, which weigh around 40 tons yet rely almost completely on forage fish to survive. Or ask the fishermen—commercial and recreational fishermen agree that big fish need little fish. The fish we like to catch and eat, like salmon, tuna and rockfish, all feed on forage fish.

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Sunset Magazine Calls California’s New Ocean Parks “A String of Pearls”

Posted On October 16, 2012 by

One of Southern California’s most renowned dive and snorkel sites, La Jolla Cove’s protected area has recently been expanded.

Globally, marine protected areas aren’t new — but they are news! And in California, the first state to adopt a network along its entire coastline, residents and visitors alike are exploring these fabulous ocean parks. Sunset magazine recently took note:

A new park system is being formed—but not where you think. It’s underwater. And in 100 years, this could be viewed the way the establishment of our national parks is seen today. In 2012, California will complete the nation’s first-ever statewide network of marine protected areas, which will preserve kelp forests, reefs, and tidepools in sanctuaries scattered down the coast like a string of pearls, maintaining them for divers and kayakers as well. Iconic spots like Cape Mendocino and the Point Reyes Headlands will get new safeguards, and docents are even being trained to give tours. Other states are catching on too—and we hope this means our entire coast will be protected in the years to come.

Download the Sunset Magazine PDF here.


Sanctuary’s 20th Anniversary a Great Reminder of Long Road to Lasting Protection

Posted On October 9, 2012 by

Credit: NOAA

The evening was picture-perfect, a California postcard. There I stood, glass of wine in hand, on a deck at the Santa Cruz Yacht harbor gazing out over a glassy Pacific Ocean.

About 40 local activists from around the Monterey Bay region, including myself, had come together to commemorate and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

For those who have lived along California’s Central Coast for many years, the genesis story of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary is familiar. It has taken on a mythological aspect over time – complete with heroes and villains, plot twists and 11th hour political wheeling and dealing.

Following a classic story arc, the history of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary starts with a terrible disaster, progresses through ups and downs, and culminates with a victorious, happy ending.

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Trash Lab: Because Rope, Wrappers, and Butts are Not Created Equal

Posted On October 3, 2012 by

Ocean Conservancy scientists George Leonard and Carmen Yeung sort through trash found on Santa Cruz beaches to better understand what’s ending up in the ocean.

Not all trash is created equal. Why does it matter? For the person who tosses their water bottle or chip wrapper into a garbage can, maybe it doesn’t. But for the integrity and health of our waterways, beaches and ocean and its animals, it indisputably does.

Over the past 27 years, through our annual International Coastal Cleanup, Ocean Conservancy has compiled the world’s largest and most comprehensive database on ocean trash. During this time, the data collection methods used by Cleanup volunteers counted one cigarette butt as equal to one plastic bottle or one fishing net. On paper this quantification may make sense, but in the marine environment these items pose very different threats to animals and ecosystems. Large scale ecological impacts of marine debris in the ocean remain unknown, but Scientists at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) are currently researching this very question to determine the magnitude of impact for different types of marine debris.

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