Ocean Currents » ocean health http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 30 Sep 2015 23:26:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Inventing an “Easy Button” for Ocean Acidification Measurements http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/28/inventing-an-easy-button-for-ocean-acidification-measurements/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/28/inventing-an-easy-button-for-ocean-acidification-measurements/#comments Tue, 28 Jul 2015 15:30:10 +0000 Ryan Ono http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10554

Measuring ocean acidification is tough — we can’t see it, and we have to use specialized instruments to measure it properly. Scientists use specialized laboratories to make the most accurate chemistry measurements of deep ocean waters. Worse, even the most affordable instruments to get this data still costs tens of thousands of dollars. This makes life difficult for shellfish growers, marine resource managers, and decision-makers who are trying to monitor ocean acidification and protect businesses, fisheries and local communities.

But these measurement hurdles are shrinking. Over the past two years, the Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE has hosted a competition for teams to develop devices that could most accurately or affordably detect ocean acidification conditions. In these two categories, 77 very different teams comprised of surfers, teenagers, and the more predictable engineers and scientists from around the world entered the competition. This video chronicles one team’s struggle to meet the competition deadlines and pass the performance tests, as well as how excited engineers get when making complicated gizmos.

Finally on Monday, XPRIZE announced Sunburst Sensors of Missoula, Montana as the 1st place winner for their t-SAMI device in the accuracy category, and their i-SAMI device in the affordability category. Accuracy was judged by how close each device’s pH readings were to tests made with complicated lab equipment, and how consistent readings were over time. Each device was subjected to a battery of tests to measure pH in coastal waters and waters nearly two miles deep. Affordability was more straightforwardly judged: the device with the lowest manufacturing costs and all-around usability and accuracy took the prize (the i-SAMI costs less than $1,000 to make).

These advances in both accurately and affordably measuring pH may seem small, but it’s major progress. By comparison, the gold standard of ocean acidification monitoring requires a full-blown laboratory equipped with sensors that cost between $20,000 and $30,000 each. XPRIZE’s winning devices will really make it easier for scientists, managers, and businesses to better understand our ocean and what threatens it. That will directly help us make more smart decisions about how to protect the ocean and its creatures.

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To the Point (and Nonpoint): Understanding Sewage Pollution and Stormwater Runoff http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/03/to-the-point-and-nonpoint-understanding-sewage-pollution-and-stormwater-runoff/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/06/03/to-the-point-and-nonpoint-understanding-sewage-pollution-and-stormwater-runoff/#comments Wed, 03 Jun 2015 13:05:28 +0000 Allison Schutes http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10293

Photo: Corduroy LeFevre

As a boater or marina operator, you have probably experienced first-hand the effects of pollutants. Although you may make every feasible effort to prevent pollutants from entering your local waters, not all sources are easy to pinpoint. Here is a quick refresher of some of the most common types and sources of contaminants.

Most pollution can be categorized as “point” or “nonpoint” discharges. Point sources of pollution – such as outfall pipes – introduce pollution into the environment at a specific site or point. They are generally the easiest to identify, monitor and regulate.

By contrast, nonpoint source pollution comes from a plethora of diffuse sources and is unconstrained in movement. Nonpoint source pollution is caused by water (typically rainfall or snowmelt) moving over and through the ground. Sources include storm drains and runoff from parking lots, roadways or agricultural land.

Sewage: Point Source Pollution

Even though it’s not fun to discuss, sewage is an important topic when it comes to ocean health because it degrades water quality by introducing waste and potentially harmful microbial pathogens into the environment. Untreated sewage can enter the water from faulty residential, municipal or marina septic treatment systems or from direct discharges from shoreside facilities and boats.

Simply put, sewage makes water look bad and smell even worse. As a result, marinas and boaters must play a role in reducing sewage pollution.


  • Remember that it is illegal for vessels to discharge raw sewage within 3 nautical miles of the U.S. coast and the Great Lakes.
  • Install and use a marine sanitation device as required by law.
  • Bring portable toilets ashore for proper disposal.


  • Provide portable or stationary pump-out units or information on nearby pump-out facilities.
  • Give boaters access to dumping stations for disposal of portable toilet waste.
  • Provide clean onshore restrooms and encourage their use.

Stormwater Runoff: Nonpoint Source Pollution

Nonpoint pollution sources are difficult to measure and regulate because they tend to be diffuse and widespread. Stormwater runoff can pick up fertilizers and animal waste from agricultural fields; litter and household chemical from streets; and oil and other substances from roadways and parking lots. In marinas, principal runoff pollutants come from parking lots and hull maintenance areas.

The most visible pollutants in stormwater runoff are small pieces of trash. But runoff also carries hidden dangers, such as excessive nutrients, toxins, heavy metals and bacteria.

Boaters and marina operators can help reduce the effects of stormwater runoff by using non-toxic cleaning products; disposing of trash properly; and stenciling messages near storm drains to remind people about the direct connection to local waters.

Sewage pollution and stormwater runoff can severely harm water quality, wildlife and habitats – even local economies. Although any single discharge or runoff event may be small, it is the cumulative effect of many small inputs that is so destructive.

To learn more about how you can help reduce sewage pollution and stormwater runoff, see Chapter 3 and Chapter 6 of the Good Mate manual.


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How to Keep the Ocean Healthy While Working Toward a Healthier You http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/14/green-your-workout/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/01/14/green-your-workout/#comments Mon, 14 Jan 2013 15:00:47 +0000 Sarah van Schagen http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3938 a runner at the beach

Credit: puuikibeach via Flickr

Looking for some extra motivation to keep that resolution to go to the gym? How about saving the planet? It’s easy to incorporate small changes into your workout routine that will actually benefit our ocean’s health.

Here are four ways you can help keep the ocean healthy while working toward a healthier you: 

  1. Take a reusable water bottle to the gym. The average American uses 167 plastic bottles per year, and these long-lived disposables are among the top debris items littering coastlines and waterways around the world. You can help keep plastic beverage bottles out of our ocean by keeping a refillable water bottle in your gym bag. You’ll be able to stay hydrated and save money.
  1. Rethink your commute. Cars are the largest component of a typical household’s carbon footprint, burning lots of fossil fuels but not a lot of calories. Try walking, biking or incorporating public transportation into your commuting routine to increase your daily activity level while helping keep our air and water cleaner and healthier.
  1. Carry a trash bag when you head out for a hike. No matter how far you live from the coast, trash can travel via storm drains, streams and waterways out to the open ocean. If your workout takes you outdoors, pick up any litter you find along the way. Each time you squat to collect debris, you’ll be working your lower body—and depending how much you haul away, you may get an upper-body workout as well.
  1. Be a responsible boater. If your workout takes you out on the water, make sure you know how to keep the ocean clean and healthy while on the water and at the dock. Follow Ocean Conservancy’s Good Mate tips to help protect shallow reefs, keep pollutants out of the water and ensure you maintain a safe distance from aquatic wildlife.


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5 Questions with International Coastal Cleanup Coordinator Hilberto Riverol of Belize http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/15/5-questions-with-international-coastal-cleanup-coordinator-hilberto-riverol-of-belize/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/15/5-questions-with-international-coastal-cleanup-coordinator-hilberto-riverol-of-belize/#comments Sat, 15 Sep 2012 16:00:38 +0000 Catherine Fox http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2749

Hilberto Riverol of The Scout Association of Belize has coordinated the International Coastal Cleanup for his country over the past 20 years, teaching scouts how they can help keep the ocean clean and healthy. Credit: John Carrillo.

Since 1911,  The Scout Association of Belize has taught children to protect and care for the environment on a daily basis. As it happens, their small Central American country on the Caribbean is a rugged place of great natural beauty. Coastal waters host extraordinary marine life, especially along the world’s second largest barrier reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So back in 1992 when Hilberto Riverol, national scout executive with the association, heard that the Ramada Hotel in Belize City was gathering volunteers for the country’s first International Coastal Cleanup, he signed up.  Some 600 participants including the scouts removed more than three tons of trash from approximately 18 miles of the coast.

The next year—and every year since—the association has embraced the role of organizing the event under Hilberto’s devoted leadership as Belize coordinator. We asked him to share his perspective on 20 years of Cleanup events.

1. What drew the Scout Association of Belize to participate in the Cleanup?

Since our founding, scouts have made a significant contribution to environmental causes.

Scouts learn firsthand what’s trashing the ocean when they record everything they find during the International Coastal Cleanup. Credit: Jose Riverol.

Participating in the Cleanup, these boys and girls have learned that there are many problems affecting marine life. Gathering data makes scouts even more aware of the importance of keeping our shoreline clean. They see the danger trash causes when carelessly disposed of in our ocean.

2. What changes and growth have you seen over 20 years?

From a small group of volunteers back in 1990, the Cleanup in Belize has grown over the years. Support from the business community has been consistent. The donation of garbage bags, gloves, rakes, promotional material and radio and television advertisements goes a long way and is very important in helping to cover the overall cost of organizing and holding the event.

The volunteers, who come from all walks of life, seem to be more aware of problems posed by marine debris; as a result, there is a stronger desire to get involved in the Cleanup. (There has also been an increase in recycling in Belize, particularly plastic, paper and glass bottles).

Now we have the participation of many youth and environmental groups, as well as secondary school students. In fact, one secondary school in Belize City makes it mandatory that the entire school of 400+ students must participate each year. The data they collect form part of their school curriculum.

3. Do you have a favorite story from the Cleanup?

No, because each year of organizing and participating in the Cleanup is a different experience. We find everything from money and condoms to dead fish and sea creatures trapped in nets. The latter is what motivates the hundreds of volunteers to come out year after year.

4. What inspires you to support the Cleanup year after year?

If you can make a change, no matter how small it may be, to protect marine life and have cleaner beaches for everyone to enjoy, this is the motive to keep the International Coastal Cleanup alive for years to come.

My favorite quote is from the founder of the scout movement, Lord Baden-Powell:

“Most of us who have been sowing the seed will not, in the nature of things, be here to see the harvest; but we may well feel thankful, indeed jubilant, that our crop is already so well advanced…”

5. What has impressed you most about the International Coastal Cleanup experience?

I believe that the International Coastal Cleanup is of great value to me—and to the thousands of volunteers who have participated over the years—because it demonstrates what can be accomplished by giving just a few hours one day each year.

It gives us all the opportunity to take back from our environment and nature what has been carelessly put there. And it fills us all with pride knowing that we indeed care for and look after nature, particularly marine life and our ocean. The satisfaction of knowing that so many people care for our ocean is engraved deeply in my heart.

Did you participate in a Cleanup event today? Share your stories in the comments section! And remember, it’s never too late to head outside and clean up trash in your neighborhood!

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What’s in a Number? Insights and Opportunities for Ocean Health http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/29/whats-in-a-number-insights-and-opportunities-for-ocean-health/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/29/whats-in-a-number-insights-and-opportunities-for-ocean-health/#comments Wed, 29 Aug 2012 21:31:33 +0000 George Leonard http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2528

Credit: Mario Chow

What if you could take the pulse of the ocean? What if that measure could integrate all the threats and impacts to the ocean, rather than evaluating each one separately?  And instead of dwelling on these negatives, the metric could express the health of the ocean by quantifying and adding up the most important ways the ocean benefits humans.  Most importantly, the measure wouldn’t portray humans as separate from nature, but rather embed us deeply in this “seascape” and empower us – all of us – to chart a course for the future of the ocean.

The newly released Ocean Health Index (OHI) may very well get us there.  The OHI takes on the big issues – pollution, habitat destruction, invasive species, fishing and climate change – and its findings should cause us all to think hard about what we want the ocean to provide.  The short story is that the global ocean scores 60 out of a possible 100 points, with large variation among the 171 countries and territories evaluated.  Whether you view the glass as half empty or half full, there is clearly considerable room for improvement. 

A range on insights can be had, if you take the time to delve into the study.  On average, fisheries are faring poorly, with a score of 25. Many fisheries are overfished or not being sustainably managed.  Globally, mariculture (ocean farming) fares even worse, largely because China is so far ahead of the rest of the world in farmed fish production.  Biodiversity of the world’s ocean was surprisingly high (83) but this may be the result of using “risk of extinction” (a very low conservation bar) as the relevant yardstick.  The status of ocean habitats also fared reasonably well at 88, but this may be because current trends were measured against the status in 1980, when much of the damage had already been done.  The ability of the ocean to store carbon is in steep decline; this should be a clarion call to restore coastal habitats like sea grasses, salt marshes, and mangroves that sequester carbon (and fight off climate change and ocean acidification) at a rate 50x greater than the more well-known tropical rain forests.

The closer one looks at the Ocean Health Index, the more questions it raises: What do the numbers really mean? How do we raise the scores? Can we raise the scores? What can I do to raise the score? How did the ocean get this way? And where do we go now?  This is pretty heady stuff.  At Ocean Conservancy, we plan to look more in depth at answers to these questions over the next few months.  Let us know which issues are of most interest to you.

Beyond these deeper questions, the Ocean Health Index is fundamentally a tool for all of us – policymakers, public citizens and industry – to ultimately make more informed and better decisions about the ocean.  If we are ready to roll up our sleeves, the OHI should help us work toward a vision for the future of the ocean that we really want.

Now is the time to chart that course – for our own health and the health of the planet.

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When It Comes to the Ocean’s Health Report Card, Let’s Set the Curve! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/28/when-it-comes-to-the-oceans-health-report-card-lets-set-the-curve/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/08/28/when-it-comes-to-the-oceans-health-report-card-lets-set-the-curve/#comments Tue, 28 Aug 2012 16:47:16 +0000 Anna Zivian http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=2511

What does a healthy ocean look like? The Ocean Index brings together scientific data on everything from coral to the economics of coastal communities to answer this critical question. Credit: Arthur Koch

At Ocean Conservancy, we often get asked “How is the ocean doing?” That straightforward question is actually quite difficult to answer. This vast resource, our planet’s life support system, faces many complex challenges. Quantifying them is no easy matter.

The new Ocean Index  announced in Nature is one way to assess and compare the health of ocean ecosystems across different countries. To date, there’s been no comprehensive source that brings together all manner of ocean-related research in one place. The Index is a good starting point.

Sixty-five scientists and other experts worked together to create this tool. They use a series of indicators to measure ten goals important to us all, including

The Index looks at the current status for each, as well as the likely scenario for sustainability into the future. Overall, the health of the ocean received a score of 60 out of 100. The United States is in the middle of the pack with a score of 63. 

Obviously, that leaves lots of room for improvement. On the other hand, it also means that there are several things that the U.S. is doing well. In fact, the paper calls out the National Ocean Policy for focusing on “…using comprehensive ecosystem-based management to address the needs of both humans and nature.”

The Index provides a solid basis for discussion, helping demonstrate how the decisions we make matter to our health and wellbeing, and showing us where to focus on solutions.

For instance, the goal of clean waters gets a global score of 78. The Ocean Index takes into account research on all kinds of impacts on water quality, from excess nutrients to oil spills and ocean trash.

Or take a look at coastal protection, which covers habitats like mangroves that protect our shores from storms: 73. Not so bad, but not where we want to be, either.
Putting together scientific information about concerns like habitat destruction and chemical pollution alongside key information like the cost of storm damage to coastal communities can boost the success of ocean conservation work.

The Ocean Index also shows how crowded the ocean really is, and how many different sectors rely on its resources, which is why we need smart ocean planning, (among other objectives listed in the National Ocean Policy), to help make smart choices when it comes to how our ocean is used.

As we move forward with the National Ocean Policy, we can use this collective scientific information in the Ocean Index to help make better decisions for the health of our coasts, ocean and communities. Working together, we can move to the head of the class.

Check back on The Blog Aquatic tomorrow for further analysis of the Ocean Health index from my colleague George Leonard.

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