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Ocean Currents

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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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.”

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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.

Continue reading »

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.

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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.

Continue reading »

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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.

Continue reading »

Confronting Ocean Acidification: It’s Going to Take a Village

Posted On October 2, 2012 by

I’m really hoping last week was a turning point for the ocean. After spending a sobering week in Montereyat a gathering of over 500 ocean scientists, where I learned the latest about the threat of ocean acidification to the health of the ocean, I’ve concluded we are all going to have to pull together if we want a livable ocean in the future.

Since the first global conference on ocean acidification in 2004, a large and passionate group of scientists has coalesced to determine what is happening to our ocean.  Some of these leaders were profiled in the Washington Post yesterday, names that aren’t yet known to the general public but who are firsthand witnesses to a changing ocean. Folks like Dick Feeley, Gretchen Hofmann and Jean-Pierre Gattuso are ocean pioneers, working overtime to understand the threat that our continued burning of fossil fuels poses to the ocean.  Their insights and those from many of their colleagues are now pouring in across a range of scientific disciplines from oceanography to ecology and evolution. While last week’s conference shows that the science on specific species and how they might react is variable and nuanced, one conclusion is clear – ocean acidification is real, it is happening now and it is impacting real people. Scientists can’t yet predict exactly what will happen to every species, but it is clear that the ocean of the future will be fundamentally different from that of today, unless we work together to stem the tide of ocean acidification. Continue reading »