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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Volunteers Help Protect Baby Sea Turtles From Ocean Trash

Posted On May 1, 2013 by

baby sea turtle heads toward the surf

Credit: nps.gov

Starting today, hundreds of volunteers will begin heading to the beach every morning just before sunrise in search of tracks left by some exciting visitors: female sea turtles coming ashore under the cloak of darkness to lay their eggs.

May 1 marks the start of sea turtle nesting season in the southeast United States; it’s the only time of year when these animals return to dry sand after spending almost their entire lives in the ocean. Female sea turtles tend to return to the same stretch of beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs. After hatching, baby sea turtles must dig their way out of the sand and sprint to the surf while avoiding predators ranging from foxes and raccoons to sea birds and ghost crabs.

The dedicated volunteers who walk these beaches every morning look for signs of new sea turtle nests so that they can monitor and protect the nest sites and track how many turtles hatch. Yet on most walks, these volunteers find more trash on the beach than sea turtle tracks.

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Five Reasons to be Hopeful About President Obama’s Budget

Posted On April 10, 2013 by

President Obama’s budget proposal for the 2014 fiscal year was released today, shedding light on the Administration’s funding priorities for the coming year. While the budget has a long way to go before it is enacted, here are five reasons that the initial outlook for the ocean is promising:

1. The overall budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would rise to $5.4 billion from $4.8 billion after the sequestration.

In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, it became clear that coastal resilience and planning for the protection of coastal communities is essential. NOAA’s habitat restoration and protection, and coastal resilience programs are key tools that we need to rebuild our coastal communities smarter and safer. Coastal wetland buffer zones in the US are estimated to provide $23.2 billion per year in storm protection and a single acre of wetland can store 1 to 1.5 million gallons of flood water or storm surge.

Sandy will not be the last major storm to hit our shores, and NOAA activities such as coastal mapping, storm surge modeling and forecasting and restoration can provide the data, tools and other items necessary for decision-makers to plan for long term resilience and reduce future disaster costs.

2. President Obama’s budget provides the tools we need to end overfishing

The commercial fishing industry accounts for $32 billion of the US economy, and the sustainable management of fisheries is vital to ensure the health of our coastal economies and ecosystems. NOAA has made great strides toward ending overfishing by establishing annual catch and accountability measures in all US fisheries. The president’s budget acknowledges the importance of these efforts and provides critical funding for core data collection, catch monitoring and stock assessment programs within NOAA that are crucial to ending overfishing.

3. The budget also supports investments that promote well-coordinated ocean and coastal science and management activities throughout the country.

Regional Ocean Partnerships connect state and federal agencies, tribes, local governments and stakeholders to tackle ocean and coastal management issues of common concern, such as siting offshore energy, habitat restoration, coastal storm mitigation and marine debris. While the priorities, structures and methods of each partnership may differ to suit the needs of each region, they are collectively working towards an improved ocean environment and a stronger ocean and coastal economy. The president’s budget supports these partnerships, in part because two new partnerships have been created in the Caribbean and the Pacific in just the past year.

4. The budget provides assistance in targeting the increasing problem of ocean acidification.

The rapid acidification of the earth’s ocean caused by uptake of CO₂ from the atmosphere is making it harder for some species, such as oysters, to properly develop via the formation of their shells. Furthermore, it alters a vast number of biological processes necessary for healthy ecosystems and the coastal industries that depend on them.

Scientists are rapidly expanding our knowledge of the impacts of ocean acidification, and the president’s budget funds the Integrated Ocean Acidification program at NOAA so it can continue to increase our understanding of this emerging economic and environmental threat.

5. President Obama’s budget supports ongoing efforts to deal with Marine Debris

Marine debris has become one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world’s oceans, beaches and waterways. In its various forms marine debris includes derelict fishing gear, plastics and trash. Marine debris causes wildlife entanglement, ghost fishing, destruction of habitat, navigational hazards, vessel damage and pollutes coastal areas. Research has demonstrated that persistent debris has serious effects on the marine environment, wildlife and the economy.

The debates over government funding will certainly continue in the coming months, but this initial proposal from the Obama Administration is a great start for the ocean. Funding aimed at programs that support ocean health benefit both coastal ecosystems and the economies they support. At this early stage, the president’s budget is movement in the right direction on ocean conservation.

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“Midway” Film Tells Story of Plastics in Our Ocean Through Plight of Albatross

Posted On March 28, 2013 by

MIDWAY : trailer : a film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.

Artist Chris Jordan is best known for his large-scale images that deconstruct huge numbers while making a statement about our mass consumption habits. For example, the tiny pieces of plastic in “Gyre” represent the pounds of plastic that enter the world’s ocean.

Jordan’s latest project, “Midway,” is a feature-length film that expands on the plastic pollution problem by focusing on the plastic fragments that fill up albatross stomachs as they try to feed in the open ocean. Scientists estimate that 4.5 metric tons of plastic arrive on Midway Atoll every year in the stomachs of the albatross.

The trailer includes some disturbing images of dead and dying birds, but as the narrator says, “Do we have the courage to face the realities of our time and allow ourselves to feel deeply enough that it transforms us and our future?” We can only hope the answer is “yes.”

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Japan Tsunami Anniversary: the Journey So Far and What’s to Come

Posted On March 11, 2013 by

Credit: NOAA

Tokyo. Sendai. Kamaishi City. Portland. Honolulu. Hilo. Kahului. Lincoln City. Newport Beach. These are places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit over the past year – for a very unfortunate reason. Two years ago on this very day, the ocean reminded the world of its astounding power when the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami devastated the country’s northern coast. While significant recovery work remains to rebuild Japan, an increased focus has been placed on the exorbitant quantity of marine debris generated by the tsunami’s receding waters. At the same time, international entities are collaborating on tsunami debris response measures, while researchers learn a great deal about marine debris in general.

Because we know the precise time at which debris was deposited into the ocean, researchers have had an unparalleled opportunity to examine how debris moves in the marine environment. With each confirmation of tsunami debris washing ashore, oceanographers at University of Hawaii’s International Pacific Research Center have refined their models and are predicting when and where large volumes of tsunami debris will wash ashore with greater levels of confidence. Current predictions indicate significant debris accumulations will commence in June. However, these models are merely predictions and no one can say for certain what we will see or when we will see it. This uncertainty further underscores the importance of remaining vigilant for potential tsunami debris in the coming months.

Last summer in Alaska, Hawaii, Washington and Oregon, “waves” of similar debris items began washing ashore. This wave was followed by an unusually large number of appliances found on Hawaiian beaches. The three segments of docks that were swept out of Misawa came to rest on the Oregon and Washington coasts over a span of six months. By studying these events, oceanographers were able to determine that the amount of wind affecting debris — better known as “windage” — largely determines the speed at which debris drifts across the ocean. This phenomenon largely explains why we’ve seen these waves of debris.

In November, the Japanese government announced it would donate $6 million to the United States and Canada to help mitigate the costs of tsunami debris response efforts and debris clean up.

This tragic event has engaged a broad network of dedicated responders from both sides of the Pacific, including government representatives at NOAA and the Japanese Ministry of the Environment, NGOs like the Japanese Environmental Action Network and Ocean Conservancy and passionate volunteers. Ocean Conservancy has developed a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that serves as an educational tool for those volunteers along the West Coast.

Today, on the two year anniversary of the tsunami, I board a plane destined for Tokyo where I will meet with the Japanese Ministry of Environment and Japanese and U.S. NGOs to discuss tsunami response efforts to date, and preparations moving forward. During my stay, I will again have the opportunity to tour the coastal towns near Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. And while in my mind I am optimistic that the recovery effort will be near completion, I know the reality is that Sendai — and much of Japan — has a long road to recovery, but physical recovery is only step one. In Sendai, many elementary and middle-aged students have not returned to the beach or ocean since 3/11 because the emotional trauma is too great. For many of them, these places have become synonymous with terror, destruction and death.

The ensuing threat of tsunami debris is great, but we must never forget that the tsunami was first and foremost a human tragedy — unpreventable, unpredictable and unavoidable.

So today, March 11th, 2013, honor the people of Japan with a moment of silence and ask the simple question, “How can we help Japan?”

 

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Ocean Ghosts Are Deadly

Posted On March 7, 2013 by

Entangled Sea Turtle

Credit: NOAA

Yes, there are ghosts in the ocean. Not your typical ghouls, goblins or gremlins; but there are innumerous inanimate creatures posing far greater danger to the underwater realm: ghost nets.

Ghost nets are just one component of the larger issue of derelict fishing gear, which comprises nets, lines, crab, lobster and shrimp pots, and other recreational or commercial fishing equipment that has been lost, abandoned or discarded in the marine environment. With the introduction of synthetic gear following WWII, the effectiveness of fishing gear to snag and capture fish has become extraordinary.

Unfortunately, too often this gear becomes lost, abandoned or discarded in the marine environment where it can remain intact for hundreds of years. The same characteristics that make fishing nets incredibly effective at catching fish also create an extraordinary hazard when they go afloat. Once adrift in the ocean, derelict gear can remain intact for years destroying habitat, threatening navigation and entangling fishes, sea turtles, whales and other marine animals; this latter consequence is known as “ghost fishing.”

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Five Tips for a Low-Trash Super Bowl Tailgate

Posted On February 2, 2013 by

Fans at a football game

Image adapted from mattradickal flickr stream

Heading to a tailgate for Super Bowl XLVII? Here are a few quick tips to reduce your trash impact and keep our planet healthy while cheering on your team.

Make your own food: Opt for delicious homemade salsa, grilled meats and salads over store-bought or take out options. You’ll eat (a little) healthier, be able to buy in bulk and can use your own reusable containers to bring everything in.

Cloth beats paper: If cloth were an option in rock, paper, scissors, it would totally beat all three. Bring cloth napkins and towels for clean up and you’ll not only eliminate fly-away possibilities, but you’ll also greatly reduce the trash produced. Make them from cloth in your team’s colors and show some extra team spirit to boot!

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Trash Talk on Capitol Hill

Posted On December 17, 2012 by

That’s not an oil slick — it’s debris from last year’s Japanese tsunami that washed into the ocean. Credit: U.S. Pacific Fleet flickr stream

There’s plenty of trash talk on Capitol Hill these days – but probably not the kind you are thinking about. It’s not talk about the fiscal cliff or the elections, it’s all the recent talk on the Hill about ocean trash. Recently we heard that the government of Japan gave the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration $5 million to address the ongoing problem of marine debris that resulted from the 2011 tsunami, the President’s disaster request for Superstorm Sandy included a request for funds to assess marine debris and, perhaps the trashiest conversation of all, the House and Senate passed the Marine Debris Reauthorization Act.

Last Wednesday night, after months of hard work by staff in both chambers – and on both sides of the aisle – the Senate passed the Marine Debris Reauthorization Act as part of the Coast Guard Reauthorization bill.  The House passed the bill last week.  Perhaps you are wondering what reauthorization even means. (I’m not sure schoolhouse Rock covered this portion of lawmaking.)

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