The Blog Aquatic » government shutdown News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Money Down the Drain: Tallying the Cost of the Government Shutdown Fri, 01 Nov 2013 17:50:06 +0000 Jeff Watters NOAA research ship Ronald Brown

Credit: NOAA

The U.S. government shutdown began one month ago today. Thankfully, the government has been reopened, and the fiscal showdown is fast becoming a distant memory that we’re all trying to forget. But details are slowly emerging on the shutdown’s actual costs and damage. We’ve gotten our hands on some of that information, and when it comes to our oceans and coasts, it doesn’t look pretty.

Based on information given to us by sources within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the cost of just one small part of the shutdown—recalling NOAA’s fleet of research ships and planes—added up to more than half a million dollars.

That’s half a million dollars just for NOAA’s ships and planes to return to port and sit idle while the shutdown fight played out on Capitol Hill. That’s half a million dollars that will come out of NOAA’s already-tight operations budgets. And that’s half a million dollars that could have been spent on ocean research and conservation instead.

In addition to the giant pile of cash that was wasted to literally accomplish nothing, the shutdown also interrupted critical research expeditions that now might never be completed. For example, surveys of marine mammals and sea turtles—including endangered leatherback sea turtles—were interrupted and canceled.

The shutdown blocked coastal mapping and underwater surveys along the mid-Atlantic, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state, along the Southern California coast and in Delaware Bay. Collection of long-term data sets for climate research was stopped. And fisheries surveys in the North Pacific, Gulf of Alaska and the East Coast continental shelf were brought to a halt.

Here is a detailed account of each of NOAA’s research ships and planes, what they were doing when the government shutdown ended their work and how much it cost to return them to port temporarily while the shutdown persisted:

  • NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown had to spend $277,000 and 13 days traveling the 2,600 miles to return to port, stopping the Atlantic 20 Degree West Hydrographic Survey to complete a decade’s long data-set integral to the study of global climate change.
  • NOAA’s 56RF (Twin Otter) plane had to return 2,800 miles from Monterey, Calif., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $7,000, stopping the survey of endangered leatherback turtles.
  • NOAA’s N57RF (Twin Otter) plane had to return 1,200 miles from Westhampton, N.Y., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $3,000, stopping the mid-Atlantic marine mammal and sea turtle survey.
  • NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow had to spend $14,000 and one day to return 200 miles to port, stopping the Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey to determine the distribution and abundance of fish and marine life over the East Coast continental shelf.
  • NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson had to spend $14,000 and one day to return 200 miles to port, stopping the Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey to assess their biomass, community structure and biological composition. The ship was also scheduled to examine physical and chemical oceanography and recover several moorings in the Gulf of Alaska.
  • NOAA’s N42RF (P-3) plane did not deploy to Fairbanks, Alaska, as scheduled to study Arctic weather in newly ice-free regions and test hypotheses in ocean heat storage and the impact on atmospheric temperature and humidity. This survey is important for understanding the rapidly changing Arctic environment.
  • NOAA’s N68RF (King Air) plane had to return 1,100 miles from Atlantic City, N.J., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $16,500, stopping the coastal mapping along the mid-Atlantic. These maps provide important information used for shipping, navigation and more.
  • NOAA Ship Fairweather had to spend $56,000 to return 1,000 miles to port (which took four days), stopping hydrographic surveys of the Southern California coast.
  • NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson had to spend $10,000 and one day to return 250 miles to port, stopping a hydrographic survey of Delaware Bay.
  • NOAA Ship Rainier had to return 1,700 miles to port (which took seven days) at a cost of $105,000, stopping hydrographic surveys of the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

And this is just a snapshot of the shutdown’s effects on widely used ocean research conducted by one government agency. As we look ahead to the next fiscal showdown in January, when current funding for the government will run out again, let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself. The ocean, the people who make their living from it and American taxpayers can’t afford it.

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Government Resolution Rises but Ocean Health Still Sinks Thu, 17 Oct 2013 12:00:11 +0000 Nick Mallos Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, where it washed ashore.

Photo: Susan White / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

While the federal government goes back to work today, the end of the shutdown did not arrive in time to save an important effort to problem-solve for our planet’s greatest natural resource—the ocean.

The U.S. State Department’s International Oceans Conference, which was scheduled to take place next week, has been indefinitely postponed. In June, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that he intended to make ocean health a top priority. To achieve this, Secretary Kerry convened high-level ocean experts—including Ocean Conservancy CEO Andreas Merkl—to identify actions the United States and other countries could take to move the ocean toward a sustainable future. He said:

We are committed to addressing threats including pollution, overfishing and ocean acidification… This fall, I will host an international oceans conference to further explore these issues and work toward shared solutions.

Thanks to the shutdown, this badly needed shot in the arm for the ocean has been delayed. We very much need to build on the amazing individual actions that conservationists are taking around the world and work with our leaders to systematically address our most pressing ocean problems. This conference would be a big step in that direction.

Secretary Kerry and other key decision-makers and ocean leaders from around the world recognize that the present threats challenging our ocean are not just environmental, they are also personal. Atop this list is ocean plastic pollution. Plastic pollution affects our local economies, our local beaches, our health and the safety of our food. The everyday decisions we make have very real, lasting implications for our well-being and that of the ocean.

I’ve said before: At its core, plastic pollution is not an ocean problem, it is a people problem. And because people are at the center, this means we can solve it if we have the vision and the temerity to confront the problem head-on. At a time when momentum seemed to be on our side and conservation leaders and international decision-makers were prepared to build a road map for the ocean’s future, indecision and partisanship yet again intervened.

This is certainly no way to run a government or protect our ocean.

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Three Ways the Shutdown Is Having Real Ocean Impacts Tue, 08 Oct 2013 22:29:14 +0000 Jeff Watters

Credit: Drew Koshar

It has now been more than one week since the federal government shut down, and stories about how the shutdown is impacting the ocean are beginning to flow in.

Last week, I wrote on how Congress’s failure to reach a consensus on a funding bill would impact government agencies conducting operations in the ocean, and how government data utilized by scientists, fishermen and state and local officials would no longer be accessible.

But now, the shutdown isn’t just a theoretical exercise in government. It’s impacting both people and the environment.

Here are three examples of ways that the government shutdown is causing real pain and doing real damage:

This year, the “deadliest catch” might not get caught. Because of the shutdown, Alaskan crab fishermen preparing for the season could be forced to stay in port. The federal government issues permits that fishermen need to go out on the water and the crab fishermen can’t do their jobs until those permits are issued. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the seafood industry contributes 78,500 jobs and an estimated $5.8 billion to Alaska’s economy. At least for the crab fishermen, this year’s bounty might be in danger if the government stays closed for much longer.

Our Antarctic research stations are on the verge of closing. Scientists funded by the government are also seeing the adverse effects of the congressional stalemate. In fact, if the shutdown continues through mid-October the entire field season for the National Science Foundation’s Antarctic program will be cancelled, postponing the work of hundreds of scientists focused on glaciology, ecology and astrophysics for at least a year. This would place America behind other countries in important scientific research and hold back those scientists who depend on this funding.

Roadblocks for investigation into mystery mass dolphin deaths. Even the conservation community is feeling the pain of the shutdown. In the Mid-Atlantic, a viral epidemic has been killing hundreds of bottlenose dolphins for months. The body count is nearing 700, yet the shutdown threatens to decelerate the investigation and leave research centers with piles of dead dolphins and not enough scientists to study them.

The full impact of this government shutdown will only be known after it ends, but the picture is already looking bleak. Important, time-sensitive scientific research is being delayed and people’s livelihoods are on the line. We’ll continue to monitor the situation, but if there’s one thing that we know for sure it’s that this shutdown is clearly harming Americans and our ocean resources.

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As Gulf Faces Tropical Storm Threat, Shutdown Keeps Oil Spill Experts Off the Job Fri, 04 Oct 2013 21:33:00 +0000 Jeff Watters

Credit – National Weather Service: National Hurricane Center

Heading into the weekend, there are three very disturbing realities coming together that make those of us who care about the ocean very uncomfortable:

  1. Tropical Storm Karen is making its way through the Gulf of Mexico and heading straight towards a vast field of offshore oil rigs and pipelines. Parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are already under tropical storm watches and warnings.
  2. When tropical storms and hurricanes hit this region, they can cause a lot of oil spills. For example, the damage that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused to rigs and pipelines resulted in  spills totaling 17, 652 barrels (or roughly three-quarters of a million gallons) of petroleum products. Even more oil was spilled from on-shore facilities. Not to mention the fact that a major storm might also churn up submerged oil from the BP oil spill, sending it back onto our shores and beaches.
  3. Because of the government shutdown, many of NOAA’s oil spill experts – employees of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration – are furloughed and off the job.

Talk about bad timing.

Based on the Department of Commerce’s contingency plan for the government shutdown, it appears that NOAA’s division that deals with oil spills only kept a small handful of employees on duty to “maintain minimal on-hand response activities.” This means that many of NOAA’s oil spill experts are locked out of their offices and unable to even check their government email accounts. The number that remain at work is very small – so few, in fact, that they could probably split a pizza for lunch. So for all oil spills across the entire country… that’s it. That’s all that’s left. There’s nobody else.

Now don’t completely panic. It’s possible that in light of the approaching storm, the government may recall NOAA’s oil spill experts and deem them “essential” in light of a disaster. They still wouldn’t get paid, but we could have those experts on hand to map the spills, determine the spills’ trajectories, and provide the scientific support that the Coast Guard and other first responders will need.

But is this really any way to run a government or protect the environment?

Imagine if your local town or city experienced a shutdown that closed the police and firefighting departments, sent all of the officers and firefighters home – furloughed indefinitely without pay – but then said: “Don’t worry, we’ll call them back into work if a building catches fire or someone commits a crime.” No mayor would dream of running a city like that.

A local community deserves better, and so do the ocean and the environment.

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Government Shutdown Pulls Plug on Public Access to Ocean Data Tue, 01 Oct 2013 21:03:59 +0000 Jeff Watters Beach with caution tape across entrance

Photo: John Loo via Flickr

As the federal government closes down today—including vast portions of the agencies that help study and protect our ocean—the impacts are quickly being felt far beyond just the federal employees that are being sent home.

Non-government scientists, academics, state and local officials, and even schoolchildren who rely on ocean data provided by the government will find that many of the websites that deliver this valuable information have now been taken down.

In fact, if you try to go to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website right now, you’ll get a message saying, “Due to the federal government shutdown, and most associated websites are unavailable.”

Want to access ocean data from the Integrated Ocean Observing System? Too bad.

Looking to access some of the science done by the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research? Nice try.

Need to find data from the National Estuarine Research Reserve System? Yeah, right.

Searching for information on your local National Marine Sanctuary? Tough luck.

Have an inkling to look up some climate information? Not gonna happen.

Lacking the employees, tech support and funding to maintain the government’s websites, only the sites that convey information necessary to protect life and property will be maintained during the shutdown.

So while you can still access weather data, nautical charts, information on tides and currents, and some limited oceanographic information for ports and shipping, much of the rest of the ocean and fisheries data that NOAA provides will be taken down either in part or in full.

A few sites, such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Environmental Satellite Data Information System may still allow access to old data but won’t be updating their websites with new information. For much of the rest of NOAA, entire websites—both new and old data—will be completely taken down.

Far beyond just impacting federal employees, the shutdown is cutting off everyone’s access to important ocean data and information. This hurts folks from our nation’s top ocean scientists in universities who need that data to do critical research all the way down to a first-grader who might use NOAA’s websites and educational materials to write a report on dolphins or sea otters.

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Everything You Need to Know About How a Government Shutdown Will Affect the Ocean Mon, 30 Sep 2013 18:44:39 +0000 Jeff Watters U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Charles Mitchell, a rescue swimmer from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Mass., is hoisted back into an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter after retrieving Oscar, a rescue training dummy, 50 miles east of Boston, Mass., on March 25, 2008.

Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Connie Terrell, U.S. Coast Guard

If Congress can’t reach consensus on a government funding bill by the end of today, the federal government will shut down. Today is the last day of the federal government’s fiscal year, and Congress hasn’t passed any bills yet to … well … pay the bills and keep the government functioning. So unless Congress gets its act together really fast (and it doesn’t look like that’s very likely), we’ll have a government shutdown starting tomorrow.

Regardless of your views on who’s at fault or your opinion on the fight over Obamacare, the result of a shutdown is clear: Many of the federal agencies that manage our ocean environment will close up shop and send their employees home.

So here’s a look at which of the government’s ocean activities would stay open, which would be shuttered and what a government shutdown looks like for the ocean:

How do we know which parts of the government will stay open?

As you might expect, shutting down something as huge and far-reaching as the federal government is no small task. And because a government shutdown appeared to be looming, the Office of Management and Budget (which is part of the Executive Office of the President) asked all federal agencies to develop contingency plans for a shutdown. These plans detail what stays open, what gets closed, who goes home and what jobs get left undone.

Will a shutdown affect endangered species or marine mammals?

Luckily, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) law enforcement officers who are charged with protecting endangered species, critical habitats, and protected ocean and coastal areas such as national marine sanctuaries will remain on the job. Many Fish & Wildlife Service law enforcement officers who protect coastal species like sea turtles will also remain at their posts throughout a shutdown.

However, most longer-term management activities for endangered species and marine mammals—such as Endangered Species Act consultations, Marine Mammal Protection Act stock assessments, and the development and implementation of Endangered Species Act Recovery Plans—will all come to a halt during a shutdown.

Will there still be forecasts for weather and ocean conditions?

NOAA’s National Weather Service will continue functioning. Personnel will still be on hand to monitor for tsunamis and issue warnings if such an event occurs. And NOAA’s National Ocean Service will continue essential services important for shipping and human health such as real-time water level data, critical nautical chart updates and harmful algal bloom forecasting.

What about the Coast Guard and law enforcement on the ocean?

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard will only maintain emergency response, maritime safety and search-and-rescue activities that are “necessary for safety of life and protection of property.”

Fisheries enforcement patrols will be cut back drastically. Maintenance to navigation buoys will be curtailed. Services to shippers and recreational boaters like issuing or renewing licensing or seaman documentation will be stopped.

It’s unclear to what extent oil spill preparedness and response will be impacted. Law enforcement activities from NOAA and Fish and Wildlife Service will continue.

What will happen with federally managed fisheries?

For fisheries in federal waters, a government shutdown will likely cause a suite of delays and inconveniences. Coast Guard services will be delayed or shut down, and law enforcement patrols reduced. NOAA law enforcement will continue, as will essential management services from the National Marine Fisheries Service such as quota monitoring, fisheries observers and regulatory actions to prevent overfishing.

But a whole bundle of ongoing fisheries management activities like stock assessments, National Environmental Policy Act reviews and the preparation of Fishery Management Plans will likely come to a halt, ultimately delaying management decisions.

How will it impact offshore oil and gas drilling?

For offshore energy, it’s a mixed bag. Offshore renewable energy activities would be halted. Work on many offshore oil and gas drilling processes, like work on the National Environmental Policy Act will come to a stop, which would cause delays for companies seeking permits to drill. But emergency response personnel would remain on-hand, and some permitting actions necessary to facilitate safe ongoing drilling operations would continue.

Will it halt NOAA’s ocean research?

For the most part, the federal government’s ocean research activities will be shut down. NOAA’s research vessels will all be ordered to return to port, scientific staff will be sent home, and research efforts will be wound down. Some NOAA employees who maintain long-term experiments, manage the constant stream of long-term climate data from our satellites or who are funded through mechanisms other than the federal appropriations process may be allowed to stay on the job. But there’s no doubt that a government shutdown would be a blow to ongoing federal ocean research efforts.

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