The Blog Aquatic » ocean News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:44:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Celebrating Victories This World Oceans Day Sun, 08 Jun 2014 13:00:20 +0000 Brett Nolan

Photo: Michele Hoffman Trotter

Happy World Oceans Day! While we continue to fight for a healthy ocean, today is the perfect time to reflect on recent ocean victories.

  1. More than half a million volunteers picked up more than 12 million pounds of trash in honor of International Coastal Cleanup.
  2. Maine and Maryland became the first East Coast states to enact legislation to combat ocean acidification.
  3. The National Research Council reported that 43 percent of overfished populations in the U.S. have been rebuilt already or will be rebuilt within a decade.
  4. Shell announced that it would not drill for oil in the Arctic in 2014.
  5. The red snapper population is on the rise, which is good news for the species and Gulf fishermen.
  6. In just four months, we removed over 7,000 items of trash from beaches where sea turtles nest thanks to your support.
  7. The 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tackled ocean acidification for the first time.
  8. Dr. Kathryn Sullivan was confirmed as the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  9. Hilton Worldwide announced they are eliminating shark fin dishes from their menus.
  10. President Obama’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015 invested heavily into the ocean’s health.
  11. The 9th Circuit Court ruled that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management must reassess its original, very low environmental impact analysis on drilling for oil in the Arctic.
  12. Ed Markey, an ocean advocate from Massachusetts, was elected to the U.S. Senate.
  13. Australia created its largest fully protected marine sanctuary.
  14. Virginia’s oyster business is seeing a much-needed boom, showing a healthy bay makes a healthy business.
  15. Twenty-five years later, sea otters have fully recovered after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.
  16. San Francisco became the first major U.S. city to ban the sale of plastic water bottles.
  17. Indonesia created the world’s largest manta ray sanctuary.
  18. Supporters like you helped us defeat Congressman Bill Flores, a former oil executive, from gutting the National Ocean Policy. With your continued support, we can make a National Ocean Policy a reality.
  19. The National Research Council confirmed the major barriers to safely drilling for oil in the Artic including the lack of infrastructure, information and preparedness to deal with adverse environmental conditions.
  20. YOU stepped up to protect our ocean by following Ocean Conservancy today! Be part of victories like these next year!
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Don’t Forget the Ocean on Earth Day Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:00:36 +0000 Brett Nolan

As you celebrate Earth Day, don’t forget that over 70 percent of the Earth’s surface is under the ocean—it makes up 99 percent of the living space on our planet, and is home to half of all species on Earth! More than 2.6 billion people depend on the ocean as their primary source for protein.

Even if your home is landlocked and you don’t eat fish, the ocean is a key part of your life. Did you know that half of all the oxygen in the atmosphere comes from the ocean? The ocean is so important to us; please join me in celebrating it today. And share the ocean love by sending an Earth Day ecard to your friends!

With serious threats from plastic pollution to ocean acidification facing this vital resource, Earth Day is also a great time to take action to protect the ocean!

You can write to your representative in Congress urging them to expand funding for ocean acidification research. By carrying a reusable bag, you can ensure a plastic bag never reaches a beach where sea turtles nest. Eat responsibly and locally caught seafood to satisfy your sushi craving. When you’re filling your boat’s gas tank, fill up only 90 percent of it. This will reduce the risk of spills from overfilling.

Other easy ways to protect the ocean:

  • Carry a reusable mug.
  • Print double-sided documents.
  • Use cold water to reduce energy and your utility bills.
  • Use a drying rack for your clothes.
  • Use cloth napkins.

As you plant a tree or stroll through a forest, please remember that so much of what we call home lies beneath the waves.

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Presenting Our New Solutions at the Camden Conference Thu, 20 Mar 2014 11:01:34 +0000 Andreas Merkl

Last month, I was invited to speak at the Camden Conference in Maine. This conference brings experts from a number of disciplines together with policymakers, industry leaders and college students to discuss some of the biggest issues facing our world today. This year’s theme was “The Global Politics of Food and Water,” and I spoke about how the ocean sits at the nexus of these issues.

Right now, the ocean is in a period of uncertainty. Climate change and a growing population are changing the chemistry of the ocean and the life that calls it home. But instead of viewing the ocean’s changes in a negative light, I think we have an incredible opportunity to become better problem-solvers. We can break free from old resource management models to find new solutions for our changing ocean. We can effectively address these new complexities; it’s not too late.

You can watch my presentation, as well as those from others at the event, by clicking here.

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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 People have Spoken: Massive Pushback to Genetically-Engineered Salmon Sat, 27 Apr 2013 00:02:50 +0000 George Leonard

Two and half years ago, genetically engineered salmon exploded on the national stage.  April marked another big milestone in the ensuing debate about whether genetically engineered animals will be allowed in the U.S. food supply.  This isn’t some esoteric, pointy-headed debate.  It really is about the future of food and what you feed your family. And as an ocean conservation organization, we are especially concerned about the consequences for the future of seafood, wild fish and healthy oceans.

The Food and Drug Administration’s final comment period has now closed on the agency’s draft decision to approve an engineered variant of farmed Atlantic salmon.  We hope you let your voice heard by submitting comments to the agency. 

If you joined the chorus of voices, you are certainly  in good company. As the deadline  approached, there was a massive outpouring of concern from nearly every sector of society.  Among others, these include:

  • Nearly 1.5 million members of the public have written to FDA requesting that the agency complete a full Environmental Impact Statement before a decision to approve the fish is made.  It is worth noting that the agency has refused to do this to date even though this request has been in front of the agency since their plans went public in September 2010.
  • Dr. Anne R. Kapuscinski, a world-renowned expert on the environmental risks of GE fish, submitted to FDA a scathing review  that essentially showed that the agency had ignored all the recommendations she made back in September 2010. Given she literally wrote the book on risk assessment of GE fish, it is stunning that agency officials have simply looked the other way.
  • Congress has joined the debate. Both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have introduced legislation on GE salmon.  The bills would require the FDA to fully evaluate the risks of GE fish to wild fish and healthy oceans as well as require labeling of any GE food, so consumers simply can make informed purchasing decisions in the marketplace.  A group of 12 Senators has also written directly to FDA Commissioner Hamburg expressing their concerns over the approval process.  And in an important symbolic gesture earlier this spring, the full Senate passed by voice vote a non-binding budget amendment that would require labeling of GE fish.
  • Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the market for GE fish may be drying up before the fish even arrives at store shelves.  Major retailers like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and other retailers representing over 2000 stores across the United States have pledged to not sell the fish, even if the government approves it.  As every business knows, you need a willing buyer for your product if you are going to stay in business.  It increasingly looks like a market for GE fish won’t exist in the U.S. – unless the FDA does the necessary analysis to rigorously show little risk of harm to consumers or the environment.

Shortly before the deadline, we submitted our comments to the FDA – all 37 pages of them.  I welcome you to read about our concerns here.  And I encourage you to follow me on Twitter at @GeorgeHLeonard. 

 While the comment period has closed, this isn’t the end of the debate about the future of fish.


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Philippe Cousteau on CNN: Ocean is Source of Hope and Solutions Mon, 25 Mar 2013 17:26:25 +0000 Guest Blogger  

Credit: Ocean Conservancy

Ocean Conservancy’s Dennis Takahashi-Kelso and Board Member Philippe Cousteau tour Bay Jimmy, LA. and the surrounding marsh affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

This post originally appeared on from Ocean Conservancy Board Member Philippe Cousteau. Explorer, social entrepreneur and environmental advocate, Philippe Cousteau is a special correspondent for CNN International. He is also the co-founder and president of the leading environmental education nonprofit EarthEcho International.

My grandfather Jacques Cousteau and my father Philippe dedicated their lives to revealing the ocean’s wonders and helping us understand our connection to this vast expanse of water. Their work inspired generations and filled people with awe.

Times have changed and so have circumstances and perceptions about the ocean. In recent years, the focus has been on the very serious challenges the ocean faces and the impact these challenges are already having on our daily lives.

The effects of climate change, pollution and overfishing should be making headlines because the ocean and all of us — and I literally mean all humankind — who depend on its resources are facing the very real prospect of the catastrophic collapse of ocean ecosystems if we continue on our current course.

Despite the challenges our ocean faces, I believe it’s time to recapture the sense of wonder and inspiration my grandfather and father felt when they gazed on its surface. In fact, the ocean can and should be a source of hope and solutions for a brighter future.

Before you accuse of me of eschewing cold hard reality for a world view through rose-colored glasses, hear me out. What I’m proposing is that we step back and look at the potential a healthy ocean has to provide us with a prosperous and sustainable future.

Just take a moment to think about what the ocean does for us on a daily basis: it produces half of the world’s oxygen; it provides more than one billion people with their primary source of protein; its natural eco-systems like coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands provide protection against coastal erosion and natural disasters such as tsunamis; it regulates our climate; and a healthy ocean fuels sustainable businesses and a strong economy in industries such as seafood, tourism, pharmaceuticals and shipping.

That’s really only the beginning. Check out Ocean Conservancy’s “Why the Ocean Matters” feature if you want to be truly amazed. My point is the answers to many of our greatest environmental and social challenges literally surrounds us.

For the ocean to continue to do what’s it’s done for millions of years and serve the needs of a rapidly expanding human population, it needs to be healthy. Biodiversity, coral reefs, wetlands and trash-free seas aren’t just terms on a page they are environmental imperatives that dictate the future of the planet.

We have the know-how and resources to conserve and restore the aquatic and marine systems that keep the ocean and us healthy. As my grandfather once said, “The technology that we use to abuse the planet is the same technology that can help us to heal it.”

Big technology like renewable energy, carbon sequestration and advances in aquaculture certainly have a major role in restoring the ocean and the planet to a healthy balance, but in many cases it’s a matter of giving nature the space and time to do what it needs to do with a helping hand from all of us.

“The good news is technology and future-focused groups are providing us with some great tools and resources to get inspired and make smart decisions
Philippe Cousteau, environmental advocate

Regulations that help replenish and protect fish stocks, restoration and conservation projects to protect and nurture natural barriers like reefs and wetlands, and reforestation efforts are all things that can have a huge impact on ocean health with no rocket science necessary.

Take fisheries for example, with two billion people joining us on this planet over the next 40 years, there will be a huge need for more sources of protein. If these needed protein sources were to come primarily from livestock there is the very real potential for catastrophic pollution of water and land, not to mention the exponential increase in carbon emissions.

But, by some estimates, simply managing fisheries better could feed up to one billion of those people and remember, seafood is 7-10 times more efficient as a source of protein than land-based meat sources … if managed properly.

If you are thinking this all sounds like the future of the ocean is in the hands of policymakers and big industry, please think again. Every hour of every day each of us have the opportunity to make choices with impact, from what we eat and the things we buy to the examples we set for our children and friends.

The good news is technology and future-focused groups are providing us with some great tools and resources to get inspired and make smart decisions. For example: the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch pocket guide and Ocean Conservancy’s Rippl app or EarthEcho’s Water Planet Challenge.

We can make sure the ocean continues to provide inspiration, wonder and solutions for generations, however, it all comes down to personal and collective will. Ask yourself this question: When you look upon the ocean 10 years from now, do you want to see a sad reminder of what could have been; or do you want to be filled with awe and inspired by a sense of endless possibilities?

Watch: Going Green: Oceans on Friday March 29 at 15:30 GMT

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When Facing Ocean Acidification it’s Location, Location, Location Thu, 07 Mar 2013 22:24:47 +0000 George Leonard

© 2013 Barbara Kinney/Ocean Conservancy All RIghts Reserved

For us landlubbers, it is obvious that place matters.  My home town in central California is a pretty different place than say, Washington DC, where I often travel to advocate on behalf of ocean conservation.  The weather is different, the food is different, and the culture – not to mention the politics – is certainly different.

It turns out that place really matters in the ocean too, especially as it relates to ocean acidification.  Never heard of ocean acidification?  Check out some of my earlier posts to learn more about the basics.  But what we learned from scientists last week is that the chemical characteristics of the ocean vary greatly from place to place, and as a result some areas may be especially sensitive to increases in carbon dioxide and other drivers of acidification.  A team of oceanographers led by Dr. Aleck Wang sampled seawater from Texas to New Hampshire and measured the total amount of carbon in the water as well as what scientists call “alkalinity.” The ratio of alkalinity to total carbon is a measure of the buffering capacity of the ocean, or in layman’s terms, the ocean’s ability to resist acidification. What the scientists found was that the Gulf of Maine is much more susceptible to acidification than the Gulf of Mexico or the southeastern coast. 

If you are a fisherman or fish farmer who makes a living from the Gulf of Maine, this is sobering news.  In fact, at last week’s Fishermen’s Forum in Rockland, Maine, our ocean acidification team heard from many in the fishing industry – lobstermen, clammers, and others – who are seeing major changes in the ocean environment and are deeply concerned.  Members of the Maine seafood industry are keen to do something to address these environmental challenges for they know their culture and livelihood depend on it.  Economically, a lot is riding on a healthy Maine coastline that will increasingly be undermined by ocean acidification and other effects of carbon on the ocean.

Other regions are rising to confront ocean acidification as well. The Pacific Northwest is under assault from rising acidity and the shellfish industry has been at the tip of the spear. Washington’s governor at the time, Christine Gregoire, established a Blue Ribbon Panel last year that recently released a series of regionally-specific recommendations on how the state can address this issue. Elected officials are now are now advancing concepts for state legislation to empower action. In part a response to Washington’s recent effort, California has now constituted an expert science panel to evaluate the extent of acidification in California’s ocean waters, identify ecological and socioeconomic research needs, and begin to identify private sector and public policy strategies to fight back.  As last week’s study by Dr. Wang shows, each region’s response needs to be grounded in a deep understanding of its local ocean.  But just as important, each regional response needs to be based upon a keen understanding of the local ocean industries and other local interests who depend on a healthy ocean.

It behooves other states to get out ahead of this impending challenge as well. Ocean acidification and the threat that carbon dioxide pose to the ocean may very well be the marine conservation challenge of our time. But all is not lost for people are now paying attention.  With a committed effort by scientists, ocean industries, private foundations, conservationists, policymakers and the general public, together we can help ensure the oceans continue to provide us with the goods and services upon which we depend, regardless of which place we call home.

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