Ocean Currents » noaa http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 28 Apr 2017 22:26:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Support Research to Stop Ocean Pollution http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/03/support-research-to-stop-ocean-pollution/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/04/03/support-research-to-stop-ocean-pollution/#comments Mon, 03 Apr 2017 14:00:56 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=14070

Science does not lie. It’s unbiased and based on what is. And the science shows there’s no doubt about it: ocean pollution is a big problem.

Scientists have recorded nearly 700 species of marine wildlife that have been affected by marine debris. With an estimated eight million metric tons of plastic waste entering the ocean every year from land, that means marine species will be living in an ocean that could contain one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025!

And there’s much more to the problem than floating bags, bottles and fishing nets—as many as 51 trillion pieces of microplastic (plastic pieces less than five millimeters) now circulate in the ocean. The sources of these microplastics are diverse, resulting from large products breaking into smaller pieces or the shedding of microfibers from tires and even yoga pants.

Fortunately, we’re not the only ones worried about ocean plastic pollution. Just this week, four leading senators introduced bi-partisan legislation to help solve this problem. The Marine Debris Act Amendments of 2017 was introduced by Senator Sullivan (R-AK), Sen. Murkowski (R-AK), Sen. Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen. Booker (D-NJ).

This legislation will support the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) research to better understand the impacts of this growing threat and identify solutions to stop the flow of plastic waste into our ocean, including reducing and better managing solid municipal waste.

Take action today by telling your Senators to support this important piece of legislation.

For more than 30 years, Ocean Conservancy has been at the forefront of solutions targeting marine debris with partner organizations and individuals around the world. Starting with our first International Coastal Cleanup on the beach of South Padre Island, Texas, we have helped mobilize nearly 12 million volunteers in support of preventing marine debris.

No American wants to visit a polluted beach this summer and this legislation will support NOAA’s continued efforts to help stop the marine debris crisis.

Taking action and working together will help us move towards a healthier, more resilient ocean for ourselves and for future generations.

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Trump Proposed Slashing NOAA’s Budget—Something Amazing is Happening in Response http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/20/trump-proposed-slashing-noaas-budget-something-amazing-is-happening-in-response/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/20/trump-proposed-slashing-noaas-budget-something-amazing-is-happening-in-response/#comments Mon, 20 Mar 2017 20:02:19 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13954

We know that the Trump administration wants to cut NOAA’s budget bone-deep, proposing a nearly one-billion-dollar budget cut for America’s world-class ocean agency. But something amazing has been happening in the days since those devastating cuts were leaked to the Washington Post: People are saying “No!”

Americans are making clear that they’re not willing to stand by and let NOAA get gutted. The agency’s work is just too important. And our friends and neighbors are starting to fight back.

Today, in a massive show of support for NOAA and the world-class scientists that predict our weather, explore our oceans, and protect our marine fish and wildlife, 371 organizations and community leaders from across America sent a letter asking Congress to just say no. The letter expresses “extreme dismay” at the proposed cuts, and asks Congress to block the Trump administration’s NOAA cuts from becoming a reality.

The organizations and community leaders who signed this letter come from every corner of America and every walk of life, from oyster farmers and state legislators to bird watchers:

  • Organizations and individuals from 29 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have added their voices to this letter. It got signatures from Montana and South Dakota to California and Florida.
  • It includes signatures from than 100 prominent researchers and scientists.
  • More than 50 national and regional organizations joined the letter, ranging from environmental groups to business and industry interests.
  • 22 members of the Maine’s State Legislature signed on, ensuring an especially strong shout-out of support for the importance of NOAA for the state of Maine and its coastal economy.

When the Washington Post reported on the devastating cuts that might befall NOAA, it was a major wake-up call. But the good news is, people are showing up and speaking out against it.

We asked you to send a letter to your Senator asking Congress to block these budget cuts and we are blown away by the response. Tens of thousands of people across America have sent letters to their Senators so far. And we’ve had hundreds more calling their members of Congress, too!

And you know what? It’s starting to work. A bipartisan group of Senators from Maine, Hawaii and Alaska have sent a letter to the Trump administration expressing deep concerns about the proposed NOAA budget cuts. If members of Congress keep getting more emails and phone calls each day from concerned citizens, those six senators will just be the beginning.

What happens next depends on all of us, and the chorus of voices supporting NOAA is growing.

Will you be a part of it?

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George Leonard: I am a Scientist http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/15/george-leonard-i-am-a-scientist/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/15/george-leonard-i-am-a-scientist/#comments Wed, 15 Mar 2017 18:26:57 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13913

As the buzz around alternative facts gets louder and research budgets are slashed, the importance of highlighting the role of science in our lives and the people behind it becomes even more important. Ocean Conservancy is proud to introduce you to our best and brightest scientists through the “I am scientist” series. We hope you will be inspired by people that have an insatiable curiosity about the natural world, a sharp mind that is dogged in its pursuit of facts and a tenacity to find solutions to tackle some of the biggest ocean challenges of our time.

In this kickoff interview, we invite you to get to know George Leonard, Ocean Conservancy’s Chief Scientist, who spoke to Erin Spencer.

Erin: What science experiment most fascinated you as a kid?

George:  As I kid in the 70’s, I watched every episode of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau that came out. One of the most memorable experiments for me took place in the “Sleeping Sharks of Yucatan” where 6-foot-long sharks appeared to sleep in underwater caves with no apparent water flow. Scientists knew at the time that sharks generally had to swim to stay alive. Cousteau and his crew released nontoxic dye in the water near the sharks and observed that these sharks could actually pump water across their gills where no apparent current was present. I thought it was so cool that scientists could do simple experiments like this to learn something new about how the natural undersea world worked. I was hooked by bedtime! And I vowed to get my scuba license as soon as possible, one year later at the age of 13.

Erin:  Who is your scientific hero and why?

George: Nowadays my scientific heroes are marine biologists who play an active and impactful role in society to help people understand and tackle the challenges that our ocean faces.

In many respects, Dr. Jane Lubchenco (former NOAA Administrator) is solely responsible for giving academic scientists the confidence to play leadership roles outside the classroom. She realized that coastal communities and ocean-dependent industries could benefit from a closer relationship between scientists and the people whose livelihoods depend on the very ecosystems that scientists study every day. Seventeen years ago, I worked with her to launch an effort called COMPASS. It was a novel partnership between scientists, a communication agency, a book publisher, and a public aquarium to help scientists step out of what is often called the “ivory tower.” It played a critical role in making marine science more accessible and relevant to people’s lives.

Erin: When did you decide you want to be a scientist?

George: I was always interested in math and science but it took me until I was 23, two years out of college, and working at a financial company in Boston to get to that realization. One day I was at New England Aquarium, looking up at the giant ocean tank when I whispered to myself “This is what I really want to do—I want to study the ocean, how it works, and why it matters.” I went home that night and started looking up information on graduate programs. Within a year, I had moved to California and was diving in the kelp forests off Cannery Row in Monterey, learning how these incredibly beautiful ecosystems functioned and uncovering why a healthy Monterey Bay remains so important to the coastal communities of California today.

Erin: Why, personally, does science matter to you?

George: Science is personal because I see it in nearly everything.  I am writing this from the doctor’s office, where I am picking up a prescription for antibiotics that will beat back an infection which generations ago might have killed me. I drive a car smart enough to sense an impending collision and avert disaster, an engineering marvel founded on a deep appreciation of the fundamental laws of physics. I am able to buy sustainable wild-caught fish at my local fishmonger. Its availability is a direct result of resource managers adhering to a scientifically-determined estimate of how many fish are in the sea and how many can be sustainably caught. I live in a state that is prone to natural disasters, from drought and fire to flood and landslides. Over 200,000 of my fellow residents narrowly averted disaster when flood control engineers took emergency measures to reduce water levels in the Oroville dam last month. High level math and engineering was needed to keep my neighbors safe. And I am proud to say I am part of a community of thoughtful and committed scientists across the West Coast that is working to understand how our changing climate will impact our communities, from residents high in the Sierra Nevada, to farm workers in the agricultural fields of the central valley to the fishermen and coastal residents along the shores of San Francisco Bay. Many aspects of my life wouldn’t be the same without the hard, honest, committed work of scientists. For them, I am deeply grateful.

Erin: What’s the hardest thing about choosing science as a profession?

George: Choosing a career in science isn’t easy but it can deeply rewarding. You need to have a passion for learning and applying that learning from school and through research to solve problems to make the world a better place for all of us. This takes drive, diligence and perseverance. You likely won’t get rich doing it but in many ways, you will live a life of service, which is pretty noble.

Erin: How does your science help people and communities?

George: As Chief Scientist at Ocean Conservancy, I work with a team of experts to develop new knowledge and insights on problems that matter to the oceans and to people and use this information to develop actions that improve the ocean and people at the same time. Everything we do at Ocean Conservancy is founded on a deep understanding of science and respect for the independence of the scientific process, for if we don’t understand the problem objectively, we can’t develop solutions that will work for the long haul.  One of the best examples for me is our work on the establishment of a 1,000 mile long string of marine protected areas (MPAs) in California that is the envy of the rest of the world. Science was the foundation of this work, but it was designed to improve people’s lives too, whether they were a commercial fisherman or a recreational scuba diver. Ten years in the making, California’s MPAs are now delivering: the fish and fishermen are more abundant than ever.

Erin: What is the one thing you would tell a kid interested in science as a career?

George: Ask questions: science is a journey of discovery and the only way to learn new things is to ask questions.  If you find out asking (and answering) questions related to the natural world is fun, then science just might be a career path to you.

Erin: What is your favorite science joke?

George: There isn’t just one; there are books and books of them published by the one and only Gary Larson, who wrote The Far Side for 15 years from 1980 to 1995. You can flip to any page of his books and find yourself having laughed yourself right out of your chair. I didn’t generally think science was humorous until I came across his cartoons in the mid 1980’s when I was in college. While Gary Larson hasn’t published a Far Side cartoon for over 20 years, his work still causes scientists everywhere—including me—to laugh right alongside him.

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It’s Time to Do the Right Thing for Summer Flounder http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/10/its-time-to-do-the-right-thing-for-summer-flounder/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/10/its-time-to-do-the-right-thing-for-summer-flounder/#comments Fri, 10 Mar 2017 21:12:54 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13899

Charles A. Witek, III is an attorney, salt water angler and blogger.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries’ successful rebuilding of the summer flounder stock was one of the mid-Atlantic region’s greatest conservation success stories.

By 1989, summer flounder had become severely overfished. The total spawning stock was estimated at a mere 5,521 metric tons, and biologists were able to find very few fish that were more than two years old. After that, a very slow rebuilding process began, which was badly hindered by managers who subordinated the needs of the recovering stock to the short-term economic concerns of the fishing industry.

The rebuilding effort got a big boost in 2000, when a federal appellate court, in a case titled Natural Resources Defense Council v. Daley, slammed the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to adopt a rebuilding plan that had a realistic chance to end overfishing. Faced with a plan that had only an 18% chance of avoiding overfishing, the court observed that “Only in Superman Comics’ Bizarro world, where reality is turned upside down, could [the National Marine Fisheries] Service reasonably conclude that a measure that is at least four times as likely to fail as succeed offers a ‘fairly high level of confidence.’”

Such court found that, in order to comply with applicable federal law, a fisheries management plan must have at least a 50% chance of achieving its goals.

After that decision, the pace of the summer flounder recovery increased. Although elements of both the commercial and recreational fisheries were unhappy with the more restrictive regulations that were imposed, no one complained when the spawning stock increased nearly tenfold, to 53,156 metric tons, by 2010. Regulations were relaxed and, buoyed by an abundance of fish, both the recreational and commercial fishing industries thrived.

Unfortunately, some things are beyond human control. Beginning in 2010, the recruitment of young flounder into the population declined sharply. Although fishery managers have yet to determine a reason, such recruitment has remained below average for six consecutive years, and no one can predict when it will improve.

As a result, the spawning stock biomass has been steadily shrinking. In 2016, biologists completed an update to the summer flounder stock assessment and advised that “the stock biomass is dangerously close to being overfished, which could happen as early as next year if increased efforts to curb fishing mortality are not undertaken.”

In response to that advice, NOAA Fisheries determined that the annual catch limit for summer flounder had to be reduced by 30%.

Despite the clear need for such reduction, it was not well received in the recreational fishing community. Magazine editors, fishing tackle dealers and party boat captains were quick to condemn NOAA’s action, arguing that it was not based on good science, and would cause severe economic harm. NOAA Fisheries disagreed, with a spokeswoman for its Greater Atlantic Region Fisheries Office pointing out that the reduction is based on “the best scientific information available” and “is necessary to end overfishing and ensure that the stock does not become overfished.”

Despite such reassurances, two New Jersey congressmen, Rep. Frank Pallone and Rep. Frank LoBiondo are threatening to introduce legislation that would block the harvest reduction and extend the 2016 annual catch limit through the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Passing such legislation, should it be introduced, would be a grave error. The science underlying the current summer flounder stock assessment has undergone peer review by a panel of internationally-recognized fisheries experts. The need for the harvest reduction has been endorsed by the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s Science and Statistics Committee, composed of eighteen PhD-level scientists. When that many experts agree that summer flounder need help, it is prudent to listen.

The fishing industry is focused on the short-term impacts of the harvest reduction, while fishery managers are focused on the long-term health of the stock. A short-term focus may prove more profitable for a year or two, but will soon lead to an overfished stock unable to support a thriving recreational fishery. On the other hand, by focusing on the summer flounder’s long-term health, managers can best assure that a healthy stock and a healthy fishery will survive well into the future.

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A NOAA Budget that Cuts to the Bone http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/04/a-noaa-budget-that-cuts-to-the-bone/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/03/04/a-noaa-budget-that-cuts-to-the-bone/#comments Sat, 04 Mar 2017 19:28:10 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13822

UPDATED: This blog was updated with new information on March 16, 2017

Early morning on March 16, 2017, the Trump Administration released its proposed budget—often called the skinny budget—that alarmingly confirms what The Washington Post reported about the devastating cuts for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Today, we learned that the budget for the Department of Commerce, which houses NOAA, would be cut by $1.5 billion. While the proposal lacks some specifics about NOAA’s budget, it makes clear that at least $250 million in grants and programs that support coastal and marine management, research, and education including Sea Grant would be zeroed out. The administration recognizes that these programs primarily benefit local stakeholder, industry and state– and they are cutting it out anyway.

Based on what we already know, NOAA faces a massive overall cut of $990 million to their operating budget. Cuts on this scale aren’t just “trimming the fat” to make the agency more efficient. They’re cutting straight to the bone.

It’s worth closely examining the proposed cuts, because they provide valuable information on how the Trump administration views our ocean and coasts—and the people that rely on them. If the proposed budget is approved by Congress, here are just a few examples of what could disappear:

  • The forecasting system in place to alert the over two million coastal Lake Erie residents of algal toxins in drinking water.
  • The Sea Grant College program would be completely eliminated, shuttering our nation’s highly-respected network of 33 university Sea Grant programs that help local businesses, communities and states leverage local university experts to find practical solutions to tough, on-the-ground ocean, coastal and Great Lakes challenges.
  • Coastal resilience and monitoring.
    • Rapid Response marine debris plan for the Gulf of Mexico region.
    • Oil spill studies, providing critically important information on how oil and ice interact if there is an oil spill in the Arctic.

The numbers reported by the Washington Post are not final and will likely change. But this snapshot into the administration’s plans is deeply, deeply unsettling.

What’s at Stake

The scope of responsibilities that NOAA carries is truly astonishing. America relies on the team of world-class professionals and scientists at NOAA to do essential work ranging from the bottom of the ocean all the way up to the reaches of space. It’s NOAA who is responsible for exploring and protecting the depths of our ocean. It’s NOAA who manages America’s fisheries. It’s NOAA who protects endangered marine mammals and other ocean wildlife. It’s NOAA who gives your local meteorologist the data they need to do their jobs and give you your local nightly weather forecast. It’s NOAA who forecasts and tracks hurricanes. And it’s NOAA who even predicts “space weather” to forecast solar storms that could disrupt our nation’s critical satellites, including GPS services that we all rely on every day. That’s right—NOAA even has a role in keeping the GPS on your phone up and running.

The services that NOAA provides aren’t theoretical. They’re very, very real. And they’re in your hands, on your television, and on your dinner-plate virtually every day. You don’t see a NOAA logo pop up each time NOAA touches your life, but NOAA is there—whether you’re aware of it or not:

Here are just a few more examples of NOAA’s work that Americans rely on every day:

  • NOAA’s National Fisheries Management Service oversees our nation’s fisheries and seafood sector, a $214 billion dollar industry. Fishermen rely on information from NOAA to make the most informed decisions on where to fish, how to fish and when to fish.
  • The Marine Debris Program keeps trash off our coastlines, supports partnerships and research to prevent more from going into our ocean and tackles the global threat of plastic pollution.
  • NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management provides states with the support to protect 61,000 miles of ocean and Great Lakes coastline.
  • Our Regional Coastal Resilience Grants support regional collaborations of states, tribes, local communities and public/private partnerships to address coastal vulnerability and risk—a program that received 30 times more requests for help than they could accommodate
  • NOAA’s Protected Resources works to slow, halt and reverse the population decline of endangered species, with a focus on Hawaiian monk seals, southern resident killer whales, white abalone, Cook Inlet beluga whales, Atlantic salmon, Pacific leatherback turtles, Sacramento River winter-run Chinook and Central California Coast Coho.
  • NOAA’s Climate Research advances the understanding and projecting the future impacts of climate change on fish stocks
  • The Sea Grant programs located in every U.S. coastal and Great Lakes state, Lake Champlain, Puerto Rico and Guam train the next generation of ocean and coastal experts and provide on the ground support in communities on issues like sustainable fisheries and workforce development.
  • NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research includes vital programs such as the National Severe Storms Laboratory and the Office of Ocean Exploration and Research and the Ocean Acidification Program.

What it all means.

As a nation of fishers, sailors and entrepreneurs that built much of its fortune out on the water and still relies on a thriving ocean that supports an economic engine worth $359 billion, we should be worried.

As a nation of farmers, growers and gardeners that relies on accurate weather patterns and predictions, we should be concerned.

As a nation seeking to grow and striving to prosper, we need to recognize that this proposal, along with the EPA cuts leaked earlier this week, is a worrisome sign that the Trump Administration may be planning a full-scale retreat from supporting the lives, livelihoods and safety of millions of hardworking people in America’s ocean, coastal and Great Lakes communities.

It’s important to remember, though, that even if that is the Trump Administration’s vision—and I truly hope that it isn’t—the President doesn’t get to make these decisions single-handedly. Congress also has a say. And so do the rest of us.

The time to speak up is now.

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Help Protect Endangered Species http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/17/help-protect-endangered-species/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2017/01/17/help-protect-endangered-species/#comments Tue, 17 Jan 2017 16:12:41 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13619

If you’re like me, you love the ocean—and especially adore the animals that call the ocean home like sea otters and beluga whales! Even if you and I never see them in person—it’s still really important to me that they’re protected.

This week, Senate confirmation hearings begin for two people who will have the most responsibility over marine wildlife:

  • Mr. Wilbur Ross to lead the Department of Commerce (which includes NOAA), and
  • Montana Representative Ryan Zinke to lead the Department of the Interior.

Please take action today—they need to hear from YOU that protecting ocean wildlife is a priority.

The Department of Interior and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) can determine the fate of iconic species like polar bears and sea turtles. Together, they determine critical habitat protections, monitor populations and rescue injured animals through the Marine Mammal Stranding Network.

Accountability starts now—please take action today!

Mr. Wilbur Ross and Rep. Ryan Zinke will both play a big role in protecting the ocean environment, including critical decisions about offshore drilling in the Arctic. Please join me in making sure the new administration hears from ocean lovers all over our great nation—by speaking up for marine life and making sure the Trump administration is accountable to you, me and the rest of our community.

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Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Data: New Monitoring Updates http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/20/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-data-new-monitoring-updates/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/12/20/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-data-new-monitoring-updates/#comments Tue, 20 Dec 2016 13:00:42 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=13529

The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico revealed a challenge with the way scientific monitoring information is shared and stored.

At the time, the scientific records of monitoring efforts in the Gulf of Mexico was dispersed across many entities from universities, natural resource management agencies, private industries to non-governmental organizations. In most cases monitoring systems were developed independently, often narrowed to specific questions, such as how many oysters should be harvested and how many should be left in the water?

Monitoring systems are rarely coordinated across states and other agencies, and the scattered nature of these information systems makes it difficult for any one group of scientists or organizations to find and access the full expanse of data available.

To help address this issue Ocean Conservancy produced the 2015 report Charting the Gulf: Analyzing the Gaps in Long-term Monitoring of the Gulf of Mexico. The report compiles an extended inventory of nearly 700 past and existing long-term monitoring efforts in the Gulf. Ocean Conservancy’s goal was to provide scientists, academics and restoration decision-makers with a cohesive inventory that could save time and money when planning monitoring for restoration projects or programs.

Recently, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration, charged with supporting science information needs during oil spills, began hosting Ocean Conservancy’s inventory of monitoring programs through NOAA’s map-based Gulf of Mexico Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA). Combining this monitoring data with ERMA is a great step towards creating sustained visibility of existing data sources in the Gulf.

“Ocean Conservancy’s gap analysis of long-term monitoring programs in the Gulf of Mexico will serve as a valuable resource for the NRDA Trustees as they plan, implement, and monitor restoration progress in the Gulf of Mexico over the next 25 years,” said Melissa Carle, Monitoring and Adaptive Management Coordinator, Deepwater Horizon Restoration Program.

The new gap analysis dataset in ERMA will allow trustees to visualize the footprint of existing monitoring programs, assisting in the identification and prioritization of gaps that impact planning restoration actions and evaluate restoration progress for the habitats and resources injured by the spill.

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