Ocean Currents » conservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 31 Mar 2015 18:33:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Congress is Still Fishing for Trouble http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/12/congress-is-still-fishing-for-trouble/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/12/congress-is-still-fishing-for-trouble/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 14:30:34 +0000 Ellen Bolen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9980

While we may have a new Congress, they are still fishing for the same trouble.  Despite hearing from more than 31,000 Ocean Conservancy members to throw the bill back,  Representative Don Young (R-AK) reintroduced the same legislation attempting to weaken our federal fisheries law that former Representative Doc Hastings was pushing last year.

Last week, the House of Representatives continued its attempts to weaken our nation’s federal fisheries law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Our nation’s fisheries have made remarkable progress ending overfishing and rebuilding fish populations under this law, and we cannot afford to reverse course. Weakening the Magnuson-Stevens Act would harm the ocean environment and threaten the long-term sustainability of coastal fishing communities, businesses, and jobs. Weakening the Magnuson-Stevens Act is something that we simply cannot afford.

This bill is a step back for America’s fisheries, fishermen and coastal communities. Instead of gutting our nation’s fishery conservation safeguards, we should be strengthening the Magnuson-Stevens Act to support healthy, productive fisheries and fishing communities.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/03/12/congress-is-still-fishing-for-trouble/feed/ 2
Quietly, Without Fanfare, Another Step Forward in Protecting the World’s Largest Fish http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/19/quietly-without-fanfare-another-step-forward-in-protecting-the-worlds-largest-fish/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/19/quietly-without-fanfare-another-step-forward-in-protecting-the-worlds-largest-fish/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 17:32:18 +0000 Corey Ridings http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9912

In June of 2013 the international body that manages tuna fish in the Eastern Pacific Ocean drafted and approved a resolution to protect whale sharks. The resolution isn’t groundbreaking; the New York Times didn’t report, Anderson Cooper wasn’t on the scene, and Greenpeace didn’t raise the flag. In fact, in the year it took to make U.S. compliance official via rulemaking in September 2014, even the fish-heads and whale shark lovers here at Ocean Conservancy barely noticed. This is a good thing.

Too often fisheries management is mired in relatively small, but high-profile, fights. The fact that the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) quietly prohibited tuna fishermen, who hail from many nations around the Pacific, from using whale sharks as de facto Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) marks another small but important step towards saving some of the world’s most iconic species and preserving a healthy ocean.

FADs are physical objects placed in the ocean by fisherman that encourage fish to congregate around them. They make catching multiple fish at a single time easier. In this case some fishermen were using a live “FAD,” aka the whale shark, as a way to catch fish. Unfortunately they were catching the whale shark at the same time. But no longer, at least by international agreement.

It is perhaps fitting that such a small victory was regarding such a large animal. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish, and are objectively one of the most beautiful creatures that live in the ocean. Often confused with whales (for obvious reasons) they are striking creatures with highly distinctive coloration and grow as large as school buses. They are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, with fishermen in some parts of the world still targeting them for food. Their life history traits make them especially vulnerable to overfishing though, and beyond new measures like the one made by the IATTC, additional efforts around the world are needed to ensure their survival. Fortunately, other small, lower-profile efforts are already underway in other parts of the world…

Donsol, Philippines. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), in collaboration with the local government, operates an eco-tourism program where domestic and foreign tourists swim with whale sharks, while ensuring conservation measures are met… Former local fishermen are employed as guides, and boat operators spend the season motoring snorkel-clad tourists between whale sharks and the beach. Donsol, a sleepy town on the southern tip of the island of Luzon, has emerged as a destination resort town with whale shark tourism supporting much of the local economy. Hand-painted whale sharks grace the walls of the local elementary school, and the smell of delicious Bicolano cooking (think seafood meets coconut and chili pepper) wafts from the town center. Donsol serves as an example of how some species are worth more in the water than in a net to the local community – the economic effects from tourists and the value of the whale sharks to the natural ecosystem outweigh the money to be gained through the sale of whale shark as meat.

This model is taking root across the globe, as coastal towns like Donsol support themselves economically and conserve natural resources at the same time. These communities are well-aware of the conservation threats and consequences that exist in their waters, but lack of local opportunity can leave people with little choice, but to harvest local resources as a matter of survival. Local innovations are now giving people other choices.

The ocean needs these small, barely noticed victories, as they add up to a larger picture of a world that cares deeply about the state of our oceans. They are politically inexpensive, but they matter. They also important because they are forward-looking – resolving and preventing issues that are relatively small now, but could become a much larger threat if allowed to continue and grow. A single platform cannot provide the depth or breadth needed to solve a problem as large and complex as preserving the ocean’s biggest fish. Diplomats and bureaucrats making quiet, low-profile advances, and coastal communities trying something new in hopes of economic security and conservation, these are vastly different arenas and actors but both necessary. They aren’t sexy, and don’t get much attention, but are vital to ocean politics and management that can maintain a thriving ocean.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/02/19/quietly-without-fanfare-another-step-forward-in-protecting-the-worlds-largest-fish/feed/ 0
42 Years of the Marine Mammal Protection Act http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/21/42-years-of-the-marine-mammal-protection-act/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/21/42-years-of-the-marine-mammal-protection-act/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 13:10:37 +0000 Jackie Yeary http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9358

Marine mammals are some of the most beloved animals in our ocean. Whether you have a soft spot for majestic whales, playful seals or adorable sea otters, you have reason to celebrate. Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, an important piece of legislation that protects all marine mammal species found in U.S. waters.

The Act protects whales, dolphins, polar bears, walruses and many other marine mammals (approximately 125 species). This Act “prohibits, with certain exceptions, the ‘take’ of marine mammals in U.S. waters and by U.S. citizens on the high seas, and the importation of marine mammals and marine mammal products into the US.” This means any attempt to harass, hunt, capture or kill marine mammals is illegal without special permits.

Some threats faced by marine mammals face come from boaters and tourists. You can reduce these threats by following the guidelines developed by NOAA for responsible marine wildlife viewing. The guidelines may differ slightly by region or species, but there are also general rules to follow if you encounter a marine mammal in the wild—such as keep a respectful distance, and never attempt to touch or feed the animal.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act has given threatened and endangered species a chance to rebound. Hopefully, with increased awareness and continued protection, the marine mammals we love will continue to thrive in our ocean, and people will enjoy these amazing animals for generations to come.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/21/42-years-of-the-marine-mammal-protection-act/feed/ 0
The Gulf is Home to a Small Group of Really Big Whales http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/#comments Fri, 03 Oct 2014 19:45:10 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9312

When I think of the great filter-feeding whales, I don’t tend to think of the Gulf of Mexico. However, I was recently reminded that the Gulf is home to some of these amazing whales. They are called Bryde’s (pronounced BROO-dus) whales, and they are found around the world, but only 33 of them live in the northern Gulf. A recent genetic study by NOAA biologists reveals that this small group of whales may be a completely unique subspecies!

These Bryde’s whales are unique in their size, as well as in the calls that they use to communicate with each other. Through genetic analysis, scientists have determined that this subspecies has undergone a dramatic decline in population. “It’s unclear based on the genetics exactly when [the decline] occurred,” said Michael Jasny, director of the marine mammal program at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “It’s possible humans were involved in the decline, through whaling or industrial activities.”

With only 33 whales and little genetic diversity, the newfound subspecies is particularly vulnerable to threats such as ship strikes, noise and pollution. The Bryde’s whales’ home range is also adjacent to the Mississippi Canyon, the area where the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster occurred, raising questions about how this small group of whales may have been impacted by that disaster.

The NRDC has submitted a petition to have the Gulf of Mexico Bryde’s whale federally listed as endangered. As a genetically distinct subspecies, these whales are eligible for additional protections under U.S. law—protections that are necessary if we want to improve their chance for survival and recovery.

Scientists are continuing to study these whales. The information they gain will help them understand the history, biology, status and conservation needs of Bryde’s whales and others that live in the area—such as the Gulf of Mexico sperm whale population discovered last year —because the first step in protecting something is understanding what it needs to survive. This information is also a key part of restoring the Gulf of Mexico to the vibrant, diverse ecosystem that we depend on.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/10/03/the-gulf-is-home-to-a-small-group-of-really-big-whales/feed/ 30
Ocean Acidification Wrecks Sharks’ Smellovision http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/20/ocean-acidification-wrecks-sharks-smellovision/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/20/ocean-acidification-wrecks-sharks-smellovision/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:06:23 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9054

Scarier than any movie shark that can smell a drop of blood miles away (they can’t, by the way) is this week’s news about sharks’ sense of smell. A team of Australian and American scientists has just shown that smooth dogfishes (also called dusky smooth-hound sharks) can’t smell food as well after living in ocean acidification conditions expected for the year 2100. These “future” sharks could correctly track food smells only 15% of the time, compared to a 60% accuracy rate for unexposed sharks.  In fact, the acidification-exposed sharks even avoided food smells!

This surprising result is also pretty sobering, when you consider how important sharks’ sense of smell is to nearly everything they do. Sharks have especially large, complex “nose” organs, which help them find food, mates, and predators, as well as find their way around the oceans. Many sharks, including the smooth dogfish, are very active at night and in the deep, dark ocean, so their sense of smell provides critical information about their surroundings. The researchers note that the sharks’ damaged sense of smell is probably due to the same changes in neurotransmitters reported in coral reef clownfish (yes, Nemo) that love the smell of predators in an acidifying ocean.

Despite their mighty reputation, sharks are under threat from overfishing, pollution, and habitat loss. Sharks that also can’t find food or avoid predators will probably not survive long, causing even more trouble for shark populations. They grow and reproduce slowly, too, meaning that sharks that die young aren’t replaced quickly. Scientists still don’t know yet if the smooth dogfish can adapt over several generations to improve their odds against the ocean acidification we will see over the coming decades, but it doesn’t look good.

Smooth dogfishes live along coasts from Maine to Florida, around the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean, and along the southeastern coast of South America. They might benefit somewhat from the actions that East Coast states like Maine and Maryland are taking against ocean acidification, but as species that migrate long distances, our best bet is to cut carbon dioxide emissions globally.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/20/ocean-acidification-wrecks-sharks-smellovision/feed/ 1
How Do We Restore the Gulf Beyond the Shore? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/18/how-do-we-restore-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/18/how-do-we-restore-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 20:19:54 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9034

In the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, everyone’s talking about how we restore the Gulf Coast. But the Gulf of Mexico is more than what we can see from the shoreline. If we restore the coast without restoring the deep waters, we’re only addressing half the problem.

That’s why Ocean Conservancy has created Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore. It’s a short guide to the wildlife that lives in the Gulf’s waters and it explains why it is so important that we ensure the health and safety of our fish, dolphins, seabirds, and whales (yes, whales in the Gulf!).

With over 15,000 species that call these waters home, and dozens of migratory visitors – Atlantic bluefin tuna, sperm whales and northern gannets, to name a few of my favorites – the Gulf plays host to incredible creatures and complex dynamics connecting land and sea. Even before the BP oil disaster, the Gulf was struggling under the weight of dead zones, overfishing, coastal habitat loss and more. With much of this damage underwater and out of sight, restoration becomes even more difficult to define, because we must imagine what we cannot directly see and estimate what we cannot directly count.

Along the coastline, restoration is defined as replacing something that has been damaged. It is a tangible process that creates new oyster beds, marshes and barrier islands. Beyond where the eye can see, however, restoration must take a different shape. Restoring deep-water species and habitats means gathering knowledge through science and technology that we can then use to reduce human impacts and other sources of stress and give marine species the best opportunity to recover on their own. This approach is known as natural recovery and there are few other ways to restore fish, dolphins, turtles or deep-sea corals.

In an era of shrinking budgets, science and knowledge have been something of a luxury in the Gulf. And now restoration funds resulting from this disaster offer an unprecedented opportunity to repair what was damaged, fix chronic problems and enhance what remains. The decisions we make now will impact the region for decades to come, and the only question that remains is: how do we invest in successful and strategic restoration projects and processes that restore the Gulf, on which so much depends?

The long answer? Restoration must be comprehensive: from the rivers that feed the estuaries, to the deepest expanses of the seafloor, where the BP oil disaster began, to the communities that call the Gulf Coast home. We must make smart and immediate investments that address pressing needs in the Gulf, as well as foundational projects that support ongoing and future restoration efforts. If we are going to use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect and enhance the Gulf and its unique culture, we must ensure that restoration of the marine environment is an integral part of our approach.

The short answer? Let’s make those decisions count.

Want to make a difference for the Gulf? Tell our Gulf leaders to include marine restoration projects as an essential component of Gulf restoration.

]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/18/how-do-we-restore-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/feed/ 0
Sight and Smell: How Traditional Methods Won’t Hold up Against Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/25/sight-and-smell-how-traditional-methods-wont-hold-up-against-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/25/sight-and-smell-how-traditional-methods-wont-hold-up-against-ocean-acidification/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 12:13:06 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8819

Ocean acidification is invisible to the naked eye.  It’s not something we can smell, not something we can feel with our fingers.  But in many parts of the world, that’s just how fishermen and shellfish farmers assess the water they work in.

Right now, the methods we have to understand and respond to ocean acidification are expensive, requiring a lot of equipment.  For example, oyster farmers in the Pacific Northwest rely on ocean monitoring systems that tell them the condition of the water, high-tech hatcheries that give them a controlled environment in which to rear their oysters, and buffering systems that allow them to neutralize the water coming in and make it suitable for oyster growth.

For shellfish farmers who are worried about making a profit at the end of the day, it can be impossible to foot the bill for expensive technologies like these.  That’s where government support comes in. The oyster farmers of Oregon and Washington State were able to build their defenses against ocean acidification with help from the federal government, which directed half a million dollars to the development of these monitoring and adaptation systems.

In many places I visited, however, government support was limited and these important technologies were nowhere to be found.

In Ban Don Bay, the hub of shellfish farming in Thailand, I sat on a wooden long-tail boat at peak clam harvesting hours: 1 – 4 am.  Why the middle of the night?  Because that’s when the tide is low enough to dredge the mud flats by hand.  A young man single-handedly hauled a steel cage up onto the boat, dumping out the clams that had been dredged from the farmed-flats below.  He threw the empty cage overboard, while an older man steered the boat ahead.  The cage dragged along the bottom for a few minutes until the young man tugged on the rope again to haul the harvests on board.

Thousands of shellfish farmers work the mudflats of Ban Don Bay.  But they rely entirely on natural seed, having no hatchery to supply them.  Many farmers told me of how they had observed changes in the water—an increase in algal blooms, changes in the smell and color of the water—but they didn’t understand these changes, and had no way of knowing what caused them. Jintana Nugranad, a Senior Fisheries Biologist working within the Thai Government, told me of how she had fought to maintain a shellfish hatchery and expand monitoring efforts to support the industry in Thailand through scientific research on shellfish and seed production, but received no support in her efforts.

This was the case for much of the scallop industry in Peru as well.  Farmers collect natural seed from an island near Sechura Bay.  There are a few privately-operated hatcheries in the bay, but so far none of them have equipment to monitor the chemistry of their intake water, or to modify the chemistry of that water if it proves too acidic for their scallops to grow.  Scallop farmers were hopeful, however, that the government and private sector would support the development of hatcheries throughout the country.

In Hong Kong, oyster farmers told me how they hope for similar support from their government.  They work in Lau Fau Shan, in the Northwest corner of Hong Kong’s New Territories.  The region is famous for its oysters, and the only place in Hong Kong where oysters are still grown.  One of the farmers, Mr. Chan, explained to me that the hyper-capitalist structure of Hong Kong means there is little support or services provided for primary industries like his.  He pointed to China, just across the bay, and told me of how shellfish farmers there receive government support to invest in advanced technology.  But in Hong Kong, he told me, “e He pointed  The way we farm oysters is very backwards. We rely on traditional knowledge that has been handed down for maybe 2,000 years.  It is not scientifically advanced.”  He told me of how they use the moon to time their farming activities and smell the water to determine its quality.

Time and again, Mr. Chan told me of how he wished to have access to more advanced technologies.  “Can you help me?” he asked.  “Can you teach us what they do in America?”

Given how many environmental pressures these shellfish farmers face, ranging from industrial and agricultural runoff to changes in temperature and frequency of algal blooms, it’s remarkable that they have been able to survive in the industry.  But ocean acidification is a powerful and complex threat.  It cannot be seen without the help of technology, and it affects every drop of water surrounding these shellfish.  Without access to monitoring equipment to determine what is happening and where, and with limited resources and access to technology that may allow for adaptation, it will be very difficult for these shellfish industries to survive.

It is therefore critical that we expand research efforts to improve our understanding of ocean acidification as well as our methods for addressing it.  This is exactly what NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program is doing, but the program needs more funding to accomplish its goals.  Support our petition to increase funding for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program.

A man dumps a bucket of water over clams he has just dredged from the bottom of Ban Don Bay, in Thailand.  He harvests when the tide is lowest—in this case, in the middle of the night. Bamboo stakes mark the edge of shellfish farming beds in Ban Don Bay.  Some farmers sleep in wooden stilt houses at night. An oyster farmer from Surat Thani, home of Ban Don Bay, shows off his prize for having the highest quality of oysters in the region. A man and his wife smile as they sell their oysters at the local market near Ban Don Bay Juan is the manager of one of Peru’s only scallop hatcheries.  He doesn’t have the equipment to take high quality pH measurements in his hatchery. Mr. Chan pulls a string of oysters up from his bamboo rafts in Deep Bay, between Hong Kong and China. A man returns from harvesting oysters in Deep Bay. ]]>
http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/25/sight-and-smell-how-traditional-methods-wont-hold-up-against-ocean-acidification/feed/ 0