Ocean Currents » conservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 27 May 2016 15:06:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 18 Million Fewer Pounds of Trash in Our Ocean: This Year’s Ocean Trash Index Has Arrived http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/26/18-million-fewer-pounds-of-trash-in-our-ocean-this-years-ocean-trash-index-has-arrived/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/26/18-million-fewer-pounds-of-trash-in-our-ocean-this-years-ocean-trash-index-has-arrived/#comments Thu, 26 May 2016 14:11:22 +0000 Allison Schutes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12157

Once again, the time has come to share the results of last year’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC)! This is an especially exciting year for the Ocean Trash Index because we’re celebrating the Cleanup’s 30th anniversary!

Each year, I’m amazed by the number of people who care about the health of our ocean. During the 2015 ICC, 791,336 people removed 18,062,911 pounds of trash from 25,188 miles of coast around the world. These volunteers collected trash on their local beaches and waterways and provided Ocean Conservancy with a snapshot of the most persistent forms of trash found along the beaches and waterways that’s impacting our ocean.

Volunteers part of the 2015 International Coastal Cleanup joined  the ranks of more than 11.5 million people who’ve joined the Cleanup over the last 30 years. I’m so grateful for the hard work of our volunteers, cleanup coordinators and local partners who help make the Cleanup a reality. We couldn’t do our work without their tremendous support.

This year—as in years past—one of the most commonly found items of trash were plastic drinking straws. These straws pose a real danger to animals like sea turtles, albatross and fish, who can eat them. That’s why we’re asking large, national restaurant chains make a difference for our ocean! You can help us take action by signing our petition asking restaurants to skip the straw.

Keeping straws out of our ocean, one drink at a time, will have a huge impact on the health of our ocean and the animals who call it home. Looking for more great ways to help create Trash Free Seas®? Try our suggestions below:

  • Check out the 2015 Ocean Trash Index and our infographics from the report  to learn more about the most pervasive types of trash.
  • Download Clean Swell, our newest app, and let us know what types of trash you’re collecting from your local beach. The app is available for both iPhone and Android.
  • Reduce your purchases of single-use disposable goods. Going reusable ensures throwaway plastics never have the chance to make it to beaches, waterways, or the ocean.
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10 Things to Know About the Walrus http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/19/10-things-to-know-about-the-walrus/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/05/19/10-things-to-know-about-the-walrus/#comments Thu, 19 May 2016 13:30:41 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12079

This blog was written by Roger Di Silvestro, a field correspondent for Ocean Conservancy.

When you think of walruses, you may picture their tusks—the huge pinniped’s most familiar characteristic. But there is so much more to these “elephants of the sea”! Here are some less-obvious facts about these ice-dwelling creatures.

1. Biologists classify the walrus as a carnivore, or meat eater, which puts the animal in the same broad category as wolves, foxes and lions.

2. The polar bear, weighing as much as 1,200 pounds, is often touted as North America’s largest terrestrial carnivore. But it’s a mere wisp compared to the ocean-going male walrus, which can tip the scales in excess of 3,700 pounds.

3. Walruses depend on sea ice, and spend much of the summer on flows from which they dive into relatively shallow waters in search of food. In winter, the walruses go to shore and feed in near-shore waters. They communicate with grunting and roaring sounds.

4. Despite their size and their ability to stay underwater for up to half an hour, walruses are not deep divers—they usually feed at depths of less than 300 feet.

5. Walruses find much of their food by poking around on the ocean floor. When a walrus finds a tasty crab or clam buried in sand, it creates powerful suction with its mouth to vacuum it up. Walruses are not picky eaters—they feed mainly on mollusks, but will also eat worms, cephalopods, crustaceans and more. They even nosh on an occasional seal, though observations of walruses hunting their close relatives are rare.

6. Walruses are able to locate buried food thanks to the 400-700 stiff bristles, or vibrissae, which grow on their muzzles. Like a cat’s whiskers, vibrissae are sensitive to touch, telling the walrus when it has come in contact with an appropriate food. Vibrissae can grow up to a foot long, but scraping against sand and rock usually keeps them shorter.

7. Adult walruses have few enemies, mostly due to their massive size and sharp tusks, which can grow to more than three feet long. Bears sometimes attack young walruses, as do orcas. A bear attack on a beached walrus herd can make the pinnipeds rush headlong for the safety of water, causing injuries to adult walruses in the general crush and making them vulnerable to bear attacks.

8. The scientific name for the walrus genus is Odobenus, which is Greek for “tooth walker,” so-called because walruses sometimes use their tusks to haul themselves onto ice.

9. The brownish, heavily seamed skin of the walrus is over 1.5 inches thick and covers a layer of blubber that can get to 3.9 inches thick.  The skin grows paler as the animals age, until the dark brown of the young fades to cinnamon in mature animals. The color depends partly on blood flow to the skin; when in cold water, blood flow to the skin reduces, so the skin of a pink walrus can turn nearly white.

10. Walruses breed from January to March while winter is in full swing, and females give birth about 16 months later. A newborn calf can weigh 100 to 165 pounds and may stay with the mother for two years or more, though usually weaned after a year.

The Ocean Conservancy is using science-based solutions to tackle the biggest threats to our ocean, including ones that threaten walruses and other wildlife. See how you can take action.

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Inspiring the Next Generation of Ocean Advocates to Leave Their Mark http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/18/inspiring-the-next-generation-of-ocean-advocates-to-leave-their-mark/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/18/inspiring-the-next-generation-of-ocean-advocates-to-leave-their-mark/#comments Mon, 18 Apr 2016 19:39:07 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11937

Most college students like me are familiar with the all-too-common rollercoaster: late nights spent pondering the future, deciding how to leave our proverbial mark on the world. We feel weightless as the pieces of one puzzle seem to fall into place, but then watch miserably as those visions crumble, battered by new uncertainties.

But I have known of my purpose for years: to save the ocean.

Ever since I was little, I have found the ocean’s vast complexities intriguing. The ocean influences almost every aspect of life on our fragile planet—an awe-inspiring fact that is underscored as I learn more as a student of environmental science and policy at the University of Maryland.

Despite my passion to fight for the ocean, I have occasionally ridden that rollercoaster, questioning my capacity to make a difference. How can one individual really make a difference in saving the biggest entity on our planet?

I needed a healthy dose of inspiration, and quickly.

And inspiration is exactly what I received today at Ocean Conservancy, where I work as an intern with the government relations team. It was delivered by Representative Sam Farr of the 20th District of California, who has been a true champion of our ocean during his decorated Congressional career.

I listened in fascination as the Representative eloquently reflected on his ocean conservation journey. As a founding member of the bipartisan House Oceans Caucus, the Representative works to inform Members of Congress about topics from marine debris to ocean acidification. He has introduced robust ocean legislation and initiated the B-WET education program, nurturing the next generation of budding ocean enthusiasts.

The Representative stressed the importance of the individual activist’s voice, noting that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease…so we gotta keep on squeaking.” I am inspired to “keep on squeaking,” because the Representative’s tenure has taught me two significant lessons:

1. My generation is not starting from scratch–we are building on the strong foundation laid by Representative Farr and other ocean advocates. Ocean conservation is gaining ground due to the collaboration of Members of Congress, environmental nonprofits and other marine champions. Even whilst economic and international security issues dominate the political sphere, these trailblazers secure funding for ocean research, strengthen marine policy and expand environmental outreach: effectively giving ocean issues a vital seat at the table. Their dedication is lighting the way for others like me to follow.

2. Saving the ocean is in the best interest of all life on Earth. The beautiful thing about the ocean is that amid our growing differences, the ocean remains, reminding us that we are all intrinsically connected to everyone and everything. We breathe the same air, drink the same water, and live on the same globe–vital resources that are provided by the intricacies of ocean processes. There is no option to be or not to be a steward of the blue, because without it, we would be lost.

Congressman Farr retires at the end of 2016, but leaves a powerful message: “We need grassroots support to say our ocean is important. It starts with you.”

These are words that inspire me–and should inspire us all–to never doubt one individual’s capacity to make change. Rather, they are the words that keep us up at night, pondering not the uncertainties of the ocean, but the possibilities of saving it.

Thank you, Congressman Farr, for your inspiring legacy!

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Samantha Bingaman is an intern with the government relations team at Ocean Conservancy. She is a junior environmental science and policy major with a concentration in marine and coastal management at the University of Maryland, and loves to study and spend time on the coast.

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MSA: 40 Years of Rebuilding Fishing Communities http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/13/fish-town-usa/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/04/13/fish-town-usa/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 14:17:47 +0000 Jeff Barger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11912

Bright lights, shops bursting with souvenirs, the laughter of children, the smell of caramel popcorn complete with sunlight sparking rays off the emerald saltwater as America’s largest charter boat fishing fleet bobs in the marina—the “world’s luckiest fishing village” is open for business.

Fish, bait, boat

The lure of Destin—starting back to when Leonard Destin came to this Florida peninsula in the 1840s—has always been fish. Slowly, over the next century, others came. And with time and a growing community, came bigger boats and technological advances. By the 1960s, the once massive schools of fish that inspired Leonard to set up his first fishing camp were history. Boats were going out further for longer and hauling in less and less fish. They were competing fiercely on the water with other vessels—including those flying under foreign flags—for a resource that was fast-disappearing.

Rebuilding a national resource

In 1976, led by Senators Warren Magnuson (D-WA) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) , Congress passed the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) establishing the nation’s first marine fisheries conservation legislation. It extended U.S. jurisdiction from 12 to 200 nautical miles from shore, and emphasized scientific management for the long-term profitability of our nation’s fisheries. The act has gone through two authorizations, with the most recent one in 2006 adding science-based rebuilding timelines and annual catch limits to strengthen the legislation.

A journey to sustainable fisheries

Over the past four decades, fishing communities have had to make some tough decisions, often sacrificing short-term gains for long-term benefits. Focusing on the long game is yielding rich results. Thanks to the foresight of fishermen, scientists and decision makers, the US has a thriving coastal economy and one of the best fisheries management systems in the world.

On April 13, 2016, the Magnuson-Stevens Act embarks on its 40th year of supporting America’s journey to sustainable fisheries.

It continues to be championed by those that have invested in its promise, including generations of fishermen and coastal communities like Destin, Florida. It is helping the “world’s luckiest fishing village”—and America—prosper by rebuilding fisheries and putting an end to overfishing, ensuing our coastal communities continue to thrive.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act is critical for the future of sustainable fisheries. Do your part for a healthy ocean and ask your member of Congress to support a strong MSA today!

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What Do We Actually Know About the Ecological Impacts of Marine Debris? http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/31/what-do-we-actually-know-about-the-ecological-impacts-of-marine-debris/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/31/what-do-we-actually-know-about-the-ecological-impacts-of-marine-debris/#comments Thu, 31 Mar 2016 13:00:26 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11795

The following is a guest blog from Dr. Chelsea Rochman, who is currently serving as a Smith Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Biology.

For decades, we have heard concerns regarding the entanglement of marine mammals and sea turtles in marine debris. We see images of seabirds, turtles and whales washing up with bellies full of trash. And more recently, we see constant media attention on microplastics—small pieces of plastic debris less than five millimeters in size. Marine debris is everywhere. It is reported from the poles to the equator and from the surface to the seafloor. It has been recorded in tens of thousands of individual animals encompassing nearly 600 species.

With such vast and abundant contamination, comes a perception that marine debris is a large threat to the ecology of our ocean. As part of a working group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) facilitated by Ocean Conservancy and focused on marine debris, I worked with a group of scientists to ask if the weight of evidence demonstrating impacts matched the weight of this concern? The findings of our analysis have just been published.

The Weight of Evidence

 

“What do we actually know about the ecological impacts of marine debris?

To answer this question, we dove into the growing scientific literature and quantified perceptions regarding impact and evaluated whether individual studies had rigorously tested and demonstrated an effect.

Overall, we found hundreds of perceived impacts and substantial evidence of demonstrated impacts caused by marine debris. We showed that in almost every case where a perceived impact was properly tested, an impact was demonstrated. While we found most evidence at suborganismal levels, it is not a foregone conclusion that sublethal effects due to debris will result in an ecological impact. To be sure that such an ecological response exists, requires a heavier weight of evidence; i.e. more science!

Show Me the Data!

The majority of all impacts were caused by plastic items. For example, my own studies have demonstrated changes in gene expression related to endocrine disruption and stress in the livers of fish exposed to microplastic (Rochman et al., 2013 Sci Reports; Rochman et al., 2014 STOTEN). Still, evidence of demonstrated impacts above suborganismal levels remains extremely sparse, mainly demonstrating death to individual organisms. Causes of impact were mostly due to ingestion, followed by entanglement and smothering. The most common items reported to cause effects at the organism or assemblage levels were lost fishing gear and other items of plastic debris such as rope, bags, straws and degraded fragments. Interestingly, a recent study led by Ocean Conservancy and CSIRO determined that these same marine debris items are perceived to be among the most hazardous by experts in the field.

Perceived, tested and demonstrated impacts of debris. Rows in each matrix represent different levels of biological organization. Columns represent order-of-magnitude sizes of debris from smallest (left) to largest (right). Shading in the individual cells of the matrix represent the magnitude of a) perceived b) tested and c) demonstrated impacts of debris. White represents 0, light grey 1 – 5, grey 6 – 10, dark grey 11 – 20 and black > 21 impacts. Diamonds in matrix 2c correspond to cells where at least one impact has been demonstrated by correlative evidence. 

Although we conclude that the quantity and quality of research evaluating ecological impacts requires improvement for risk to ocean health to be determined with precision, scientists have generated a lot of evidence over the last several decades regarding widespread contamination and suborganismal impacts of marine debris. Thus, there is enough information for policy makers, non-governmental organizations and industry to work together, such as through the Trash Free Seas Alliance® to strategize ways to invoke positive change now while scientists continue to rigorously increase our understanding of the ecological consequences of debris on ocean health.

For more information, the entire article can be found here.

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Lionfish: A Crash Course http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/17/lionfish-a-crash-course/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/17/lionfish-a-crash-course/#comments Thu, 17 Mar 2016 22:29:28 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11680

There’s big news in the fight against invasive lionfish. This week, Representative Carlos Curbelo of Florida’s 26th District introduced a bill that would make more funding available for researchers studying lionfish in their invaded range. The bill directs the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to award $1,500,000 in higher education grants to combat lionfish, including projects that help us learn about lionfish impacts and how to mitigate them.

In honor of this newly-introduced bill, we pulled together a refresher course on the lionfish invasion. Read on to see how lionfish are impacting the ecosystem (and what people are doing about it!)

Where are lionfish from?

Originally from the Indo-Pacific, lionfish were introduced off the coast of South Florida in the mid-1980s and have since become one of the most prolific invasive marine species in the world. They can now be found on coral reefs, shipwrecks, mangroves, seagrass beds and hard ocean bottoms throughout the western Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

Why are lionfish a problem?

Lionfish are the “Hoover vacuums of the sea”, and dense lionfish populations can consume up to 460,000 prey fish per acre per year. Lionfish consume over 70 different species of fish and invertebrates, some of which are ecologically and economically important in the invaded range, including juvenile grouper and snapper. With no natural predators in the invaded range and very high breeding rates (one female can spawn over 2 million eggs per year!), lionfish have spread rapidly and their range continues to expand.

Distinguished by their bold stripes and spines, lionfish are a favorite in the aquarium industry. But be careful — their spines are venomous, and contain a strong neurotoxin that can cause extreme pain and swelling if injected.

What are people doing about lionfish?

Fortunately, people are fighting back. Consistent local removal efforts can greatly reduce lionfish populations, allowing native fish to rebound. The Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) launched a series of lionfish derbies, or all-day fishing competitions, to help decrease numbers while raising awareness about the problem. This model has been replicated in many places throughout the invaded range, and also helps provide samples for research by bringing in large amounts of fish.

Lionfish are also delicious, and many people are adopting the “gotta eat ‘em to beat ‘em” mentality. Their white, buttery meat lends itself to any number of different recipes, and many restaurants throughout the Caribbean and southern United States are featuring lionfish on their menus to promote awareness while satisfying customers.

There is still much we can learn about lionfish to help research efforts. Representative Curbelo’s bill will help us mitigate the impacts of lionfish and work towards a healthier ocean.

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Sharing Stories of #WomeninConservation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/14/sharing-stories-of-womeninconservation/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/03/14/sharing-stories-of-womeninconservation/#comments Mon, 14 Mar 2016 13:45:34 +0000 Erin Spencer http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=11617

Last week, some of the best and brightest women in conservation came together to discuss their experiences in the field. The Twitter chat, hosted by Ocean Conservancy in honor of International Women’s Day, emphasized the importance of encouraging young women interested in science and supporting fellow females in conservation. Dozens of participants shared stories, photos and advice about the thrills and challenges of being a woman in the industry.

If you missed it, not to fear. See some of the responses below and keep the conversation going with #WomeninConservation!

Learn more about the inspiring women in the ocean conservation field:

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