The Blog Aquatic » noaa News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 21 Nov 2014 18:20:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 This is a First For Sharks Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:00:09 +0000 George Leonard

Happy Shark Week! We have some shark news to share with you — help is on the way for scalloped hammerhead sharks! Will you join us in thanking the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for helping these sharks by granting them protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Thank NOAA today for protecting endangered scalloped hammerheads.

Scalloped hammerheads are the first sharks ever to receive this protection. They’re extremely vulnerable to shark finning and fishery bycatch throughout much of their range. This is a much-needed boost for this critically important and threatened species. In the last 20 years alone, the number of scalloped hammerheads has fallen by 75 percent. A loss like this has impacts throughout the rest of the ocean’s ecosystem. Sharks play a key role in controlling the abundance of prey they feed on.

Thank NOAA today for protecting endangered scalloped hammerheads.

I truly hope you’ll join us in thanking NOAA for protecting scalloped hammerheads. This is a great first step in the road to their recovery and to having a healthier ocean.

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Toilets Are Scary, Sharks Are Not Tue, 12 Aug 2014 13:00:44 +0000 Guest Blogger

Photo: Armando Jenik

This post was written by Ocean Conservancy’s Digital Communications Intern, Maggie Tehan. Maggie is a recent graduate from Clemson University where she majored in Communication Studies and minored in Writing. When she’s not working at Ocean Conservancy, you can find Maggie expressing her biting wit on social media (pun intended), cheering on her favorite football teams, and wishing she had a permanent ocean view. 

What emotion comes to your mind when you think about sharks? For many people around the world, that emotion is fear. But why is there so much fear surrounding the topic of sharks?

Unfortunately, sharks have a well-known negative image, instilled in us by movies and news stories that continue to terrify people. The media has introduced a sense of fear in us and because of this distorted framing; sharks have been branded as villains or “man-eaters,” and have been feared and hunted for centuries. But is the media really classifying the right group as villains?

Humans fear the unknown and assumed threats, but sharks fear the legitimate perils that they face everyday. I know what you are thinking, what should sharks be afraid of? Well, it’s us. Humans threaten sharks livelihood day in and day out.  Sharks are some of the most biologically vulnerable creatures in the ocean because they grow slowly, mature late and produce few young.

In the 400 million years that sharks have roamed the ocean, they have been hunted for their meat, fins, teeth and more. Every day, 250,000 sharks are pulled out of the ocean and killed for their fins, meat and liver oil or as bycatch when they are accidentally caught in fishing nets or on hook and line. Humans slaughter more than 100 million sharks every year. Recently, overfishing has caused severe declines in shark populations.  The spiny dogfish shark, previously one of the most ample shark species in the works is now depleted off the U.S. East Coast.

Additionally, sharks face the threat of finning, the practice of cutting off the shark’s fin and tossing the carcass back into the water where they face a certain death. Shark fins are highly prized ingredients to a so-called delicacy, shark fin soup.  While shark finning has been banned in all U.S. waters, it still occurs legally in many parts of the world.

The negative media spotlight continues to hinder shark conservation efforts. Sharks are apex predators, which means they play a vital role atop the ocean food web, balancing many trophic systems. Because of this, shark conservation is crucial. The absence of sharks would threaten to affect the balance of delicate marine ecosystems that we have come to know and love.

Every year, dogs, bees, snakes, and pigs kill more people than sharks do. And in a single year in the United States, 43,000 people were injured by toilets while only 13 were wounded by sharks. That’s right—your toilet is 3,000 times more likely to hurt you than a shark.  Don’t let your misguided fear hinder shark conservation efforts and instead be educated on the legitimate risks associated with sharks.

Thanks to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. government is now protecting scalloped hammerheads under the Endangered Species Act. Scalloped hammerheads are the first shark species to ever receive such federal protections. You can do your part too, let NOAA know that you appreciate and support what they have done to protect scalloped hammerheads.

Let’s all be informed, aid conservation efforts and avoid being another shark’s nightmare.

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Honoring the Women Who Fight for Our Ocean (Part 2) Thu, 27 Mar 2014 12:47:41 +0000 Jackie Yeary In honor of Women’s History Month, Ocean Conservancy will be publishing a three-part blog series highlighting some of the amazing female scientists who study and protect our ocean.

Kathryn Sullivan

We recently told you about Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, the astronaut-turned-ocean champion who was just confirmed as the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA aims to provide “science, service and stewardship” to the American people. It works to understand and predict changes in weather, climate, the ocean and coasts, and to conserve and manage marine ecosystems and resources.

If being the first American woman to walk in space isn’t impressive enough for you, she’s also earned her chops as an ocean explorer.

After working as an astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, she served as an oceanographer in the U.S. Navy Reserve for 18 years, and became chief scientist for NOAA in 1993. She has also served as NOAA’s assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and deputy administrator. Sullivan’s roles have given her experience in a variety of topics, including fisheries biology, climate change and marine biodiversity.

With such a lifelong passion for the ocean, we’re happy to see her leading NOAA. She has proven that she cares about protecting the ocean and the people who depend on it. After being approved as head of NOAA, Sullivan said, “NOAA provides the environmental intelligence that helps citizens, businesses and governments make smart choices. Mission first, people always—this is my commitment to the American people and to the NOAA workforce.”

Sue Moore

Dr. Sue Moore is a NOAA biological oceanographer who studies the ecology, bioacoustics and natural history of whales and dolphins living in the Arctic. She currently serves on a variety of boards and committees for which she uses her scientific expertise to protect marine mammals from the effects of man-made sounds, whaling and other threats.

Moore has served on the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission to push for the use of scientific data in the protection and management of vulnerable whale species. She’s also worked with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory and as an associate professor at the University of Washington.

Recently, some of her research has used acoustic sonobuoys and hydrophones (tools for recording underwater noises made by whales) to determine the number and distribution of whales, seals and other animals in the Arctic while seeing if sounds could be linked to behavioral patterns. As we continue to see changes in the Arctic, marine mammals are canaries in the coal mine. Scientists can gather insight into physical changes in their ecosystem through their behavior and response.

“Marine mammals can act as ecosystem sentinels because they respond to climate change through shifts in distribution, timing of their movements and feeding locations,” Moore said. “These long-lived mammals also reflect changes to the ecosystem in their shifts in diet, body condition and physical health.”

Sarah Cooley

Dr. Sarah Cooley is an earth scientist who currently works as the science outreach manager for Ocean Conservancy’s Ocean Acidification program. She recently joined us from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts where she researched communities affected by ocean acidification.

At Ocean Conservancy, Cooley continues to work with oceanographers, fishery scientists, economists, geographers and policy specialists to collect data on how quickly ocean acidification is occurring, how it affects marine species, how humans use those species and the potential it has to impact society and the economy.

Cooley has already begun a number of projects, including attending the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu. She’s also active in the social media sphere, sharing her thoughts on all things related to ocean acidification.

Regarding her passion for developing solutions to ocean acidification, Cooley said, “My hunger for exploring people’s experiences of global change has now lured me into the policy world. I’m excited to distill technical knowledge into lessons that real people can use to plan ahead.”

To view part 1 of the series, please click here.

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Honoring the Women Who Fight for Our Ocean Mon, 10 Mar 2014 15:28:39 +0000 Brett Nolan

In honor of Women’s History Month, Ocean Conservancy will be publishing a three-part blog series highlighting some of the amazing female scientists who study and protect our ocean.

Dr. Sylvia Earle

Dr. Sylvia Earle has been studying and advocating on behalf of our ocean for more than half a century. Earle didn’t just get her feet wet when she started studying marine life – she dove right in. She was one of the first scientists to study the ocean firsthand by scuba diving. In the late 1960s, Earle applied to a research mission called the Tektite project led by the U.S. Navy, NASA and the Department of the Interior. This was an opportunity for scientists to live 50 feet below the ocean’s surface in a closed environment. With more than 1,000 logged hours of underwater research, she was the most experienced applicant. However, the officials in charge felt uncomfortable with a woman living underwater with men. Earle then led an all-female aquanaut team on a mission called Tektite II, Mission 6 in 1970. She and her fellow female scientists spent 14 days on the ocean floor studying marine life.

Earle founded a global initiative called Mission Blue made up of more than 50 organizations and scientific teams. It spreads awareness and motivates ocean lovers to protect the 70 percent of our planet that is underwater.

In a 2009 TED Talk, Earle said, “I’m haunted by the thought of what Ray Anderson calls ‘tomorrow’s child,’ asking why we didn’t do something on our watch to save sharks and bluefin tuna and squids and coral reefs and the living ocean while there still was time. Well, now is that time. I hope for your help to explore and protect the wild ocean in ways that will restore the health and, in so doing, secure hope for humankind.”

Rachel Carson

In 1962, Carson alerted us all to the dangers of DDT, a chemical used in insecticides, with her book Silent Spring. The book reported the negative effects DDT was having on members of the entire food chain, including birds and humans. The thought of a spring without singing birds was enough for Carson to speak up and cause a public uproar. She appeared frequently in the media to talk about the dangers of pesticides and man’s role in nature. She wrote for publications like The New York Times and appeared on news outlets like CBS to demonstrate how interconnected our world truly is.

Before studying the detrimental effects DDT was having on wildlife and humans, Carson was an accomplished marine biologist. While in college, Carson completed a fellowship at the U.S. Marine Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. Her first book was called Under the Sea-Wind, which described the lives and behaviors of marine life.

In 1936, Carson was the second woman to ever be hired by the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. During her 15-year tenure with the Bureau of Fisheries, she used her writing skills to spread scientific information to the country. She wrote reports on marine life for radio spots and brochures on fish populations. Being a scientist who could write for the masses led her to becoming the editor-in-chief for all U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publications.

Perhaps the best gift she gave to humanity was a sense of humility. She said in a CBS program, “We still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven’t become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself.”

Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Dr. Jane Lubchenco was the first woman to hold the positions of under secretary of commerce for the oceans and atmosphere and administrator, from 2009 to 2013, at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Before that, she taught at Harvard for two years and at Oregon State University for more than 30 years. She has studied biology, zoology and ecology.

Lubchenco focused her four years at NOAA on fighting climate change and overfishing. She helped develop the first National Ocean Policy, a unique approach to better protecting our ocean. Since ocean health isn’t bound by state lines, this policy helps states and regions work together to protect their shores. A true educator, Lubchenco made it a priority for NOAA to provide information to the American people on the ocean and our atmosphere. She even oversaw NOAA’s entrance into the digital age with the creation of its first social media channels.

Lubchenco founded the Leopold Leadership Program, which provides training to scientists on how to best inspire action to combat the world’s sustainability challenges through their research, at Stanford Woods Institute. She is also a founding board member of Climate Central, an organization dedicated to providing news and information on climate change.

After being confirmed at NOAA, Lubchenco told NPR, “I believe that scientists have an obligation to share what they know in a way that is relevant and understandable to decisions that people are making. Science should be at the table, and that’s part of the role of scientists regardless of what hat they wear.”

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Five Amazing Facts About Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Our Newly Confirmed Head of NOAA Thu, 06 Mar 2014 23:02:39 +0000 Jeff Watters Kathryn Sullivan

Photo: NOAA

After a lengthy confirmation process, the U.S. Senate finally acted earlier today to confirm Dr. Kathryn Sullivan to be the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This won’t be a big change for NOAA because Sullivan has been serving as acting NOAA administrator since February 2013. Sullivan is a superb choice to lead our nation’s primary ocean agency, and we are thrilled that she has finally received Senate confirmation. In light of today’s news, here are five things you should know about our new NOAA administrator.

1.       She’s a real-life astronaut. Seriously.

While much of her scientific career has focused on the ocean, the prospect of flying into space was too much to resist. She was selected by NASA in 1978 and officially became an astronaut the following year. During her career as a NASA astronaut, Sullivan flew to space on three separate space shuttle missions aboard the space shuttles Challenger, Discovery and Atlantis. In these three missions, she logged more than 532 hours in space. She also became the first American woman to perform a spacewalk. Her distinguished accomplishments earned her the honor of being inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2004.

2.       A single book got her hooked on the ocean.

Describing her career path into oceanography in a blog last year, Sullivan said it all started with a single book in a single class during her freshman year of college. Like all University of California, Santa Cruz freshmen, she was required to take three out-of-major courses. So, she wound up in an introductory marine biology course – not her intended course of study. Here is how Sullivan described her experience reading the memoir Great Waters by Sir Alister Hardy: “I realized that oceanographers led exactly the kind of life I had dreamt of as a child, lives full of inquiry, exploration and adventure. I was hooked!”

3.       She served in the U.S. Navy Reserve as an oceanographer.

Not satisfied to just serve her country as a NASA astronaut and through high-level positions at NOAA, Sullivan also served as an oceanographer in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 1988 to 2006.

 4.       She helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope.

During her career as a NASA astronaut, Sullivan not only became the first American woman to conduct a spacewalk, but was also part of the space shuttle crew that deployed one of the world’s most famous satellites: the Hubble Space Telescope. That five-day mission in April 1990 aboard the space shuttle Discovery began a new era of space exploration.

 5.       She is no stranger to NOAA.

Sullivan has been serving as acting NOAA administrator since early last year, but this isn’t her first round at our nation’s premier ocean agency. Back in 1993, she was appointed as NOAA’s chief scientist, a position she held until 1996. More recently, in 2011, she was appointed to the position of NOAA deputy administrator in which she oversaw NOAA’s challenging satellite acquisitions and environmental monitoring missions.

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Obama Pushes for Needed Boost in Ocean Funding Tue, 04 Mar 2014 23:24:35 +0000 Emily Woglom

Photo: Jupiter Unlimited

The White House released President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 today. The proposal appears to be good news for the ocean and a great first step toward strong funding for ocean-health programs next year.

Of course, the budget documents that the administration released today are only part of the picture. They detail the big-picture, top-level budget numbers with only a small number of details, and individual program budgets won’t be released until later.

So what can we tell from what has been released so far? Last year, we focused on some key questions to help decide how the ocean is faring in the federal budget process. In particular, we asked whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) top-line budget number is sufficient, and whether there was appropriate balance between NOAA’s “wet” ocean and “dry” non-ocean missions.

When it comes to NOAA’s overall budget numbers, things look pretty good. Regarding the balance between wet and dry missions, the single biggest increase goes to the satellite line office, but the National Ocean Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service both see healthy increases as well.  We will not know details until additional numbers are released, but we do not see any red flags to suggest that things are way out of balance.

Here are some key takeaways based on what we know today:

Overall NOAA Funding Looks Strong: The White House demonstrated support for increased funding at NOAA. NOAA programs lead cutting-edge research on ocean health and support smart ocean management. NOAA is also the central agency tasked with ending overfishing. While NOAA’s FY 2014 funding level is an improvement over FY 2013’s abysmal sequestration level, the proposal from the White House shows how far we still have to go: It calls for a $174 million increase over FY 2014, recommending $5.5 billion in funding for NOAA in FY 2015.

Ocean Acidification Research Funding Sees a Big Increase: Notably, the president’s budget would provide a much-needed $15 million for ocean acidification research, an increase of $9 million. As the ocean absorbs the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, the carbon dioxide is changing the chemistry of the ocean and adversely impacting marine life. This is already having serious economic effects on shellfish growers and others who make their living from the sea. This money would help us better understand the problem and devise solutions that protect coastal economies.

Administration-Wide Attention to Climate Change: The new budget also establishes a Climate Resilience Fund. While we have yet to see specific details on how this fund will be distributed, it is designed to help states and citizens adapt. NOAA should have a critical role to play here. NOAA provides the services coastal communities need to be storm-ready and prepared for changing ocean conditions as well as changing economics. NOAA should be at the frontline of the Administration’s resilience efforts. We hope to see resources from the Climate Resilience Fund support NOAA initiatives and partnerships.

Gulf of Mexico Restoration: This is also the first budget that reflects money coming into NOAA under the RESTORE Act, which directs certain fines and penalties from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to restoration and science in the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA will manage 2.5 percent of overall RESTORE funding for science, monitoring and technology needs, consistent with the Science Plan Framework just released in December 2013. NOAA, along with other federal agencies and the Gulf states, is steadily making headway toward implementing the RESTORE Act. This work will provide a solid foundation as restoration of the Gulf under RESTORE moves forward.

It may be a few weeks before we know more about the president’s proposals for specific ocean programs, from fisheries stock assessments to grants for Regional Ocean Partnerships. But considering the top-line NOAA funding proposal, we feel confident that ocean priorities will be strongly supported in the coming year.

While NOAA’s FY 2014 funding level is an improvement over FY 2013’s abysmal sequestration level, the proposal from the White House shows how far we still have to go: It calls for a $174 million increase over FY 2014, recommending $5.5 billion in funding for NOAA in FY 2015.

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The House Draft Fisheries Bill Doesn’t Add Up Thu, 27 Feb 2014 14:00:37 +0000 Ellen Bolen

Photo: Sara Thomas

In elementary school, we learned through basic math that 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 x 2 = 4. As we grew up, math became more complicated with different variables and formulas, but we always knew that 1 + 1 = 2 and 2 x 2 = 4. Fisheries math is not all that different.

Each year, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use fishery math and science to determine how many fish can be removed from fisheries in a sustainable manner, and the number of fish that can be removed is called the annual catch limit (ACL). If species fall below a level that is sustainable, managers put in a rebuilding plan – a roadmap to rebuild the stock to a healthy level.

Counting fish clearly isn’t nearly as easy as Dr. Seuss made it out to be (one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish), but the simple equation of “science-based annual catch limits + adequate rebuilding timelines = healthy and sustainable fisheries” is generally accepted among members of the fishing community. No matter which way we frame it, science-based catch limits and adequate rebuilding timelines are key components to keep our fisheries healthy and the fishing industry in business.

But this equation is in jeopardy, and so are fish populations.

On Friday, Feb. 28, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), the primary law governing our nation’s fisheries. A draft bill proposed by Chairman Doc Hastings, however, would alter the formula that we know is working for our fisheries.

The Hastings proposal would subtract out some of the science-based provisions that have led to success on the water while adding in several exemptions to promote short-term economic gains. This equation does not equal success for our fisheries, coastal communities or the long-term viability of the fishing industry.

Overall, the reauthorization of the MSA + the Hastings language = The Empty Oceans Act.

Some may think that this equation is a bold statement, but all you have to do is look at the numbers in the draft language to realize that it’s true:

  • 5 – The number of years the draft bill would allow overfishing to occur
  • 3 – The number of fisheries that are exempted from applying ACLs
  • 4 –  The number of other environmental laws that are affected by Chairman Hastings’ draft by placing the interests of the fishing industry over those of endangered species, sensitive habitat and the environment
  • 5 – Exemptions to the successful rebuilding provisions in the House draft bill that regional fisheries management councils can use to delay rebuilding
  • 7 – The number of types of data – collected with taxpayer dollars on a public resource – not available to the public
  • 30 – The number of pages of Chairman Hastings’ draft bill it took to roll back almost 20 years of progress, including:
    • 32 fish stocks that have been fully rebuilt due to the reauthorization provisions in current law
    • 20 fish stocks that are no longer experiencing overfishing since 2007 due to science-based ACLs, a cornerstone of sustainable fisheries
    • 0 – The number of ways the draft bill builds upon the successful formula for sustainable fisheries and improves fisheries management

These numbers just don’t add up to successful and sustainable fisheries. These numbers add up to depleted fisheries and long-term economic consequences for fishermen and coastal communities. We don’t need to subtract from the law. We need to add provisions to help us manage fisheries in a dynamic and changing ocean.

All these numbers add up to are empty nets.

Take action and tell your members of Congress to reject the proposed language drafted by Hastings in order to protect our nation’s fisheries.

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