The Blog Aquatic » policy http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:00:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Celebrating Victories This World Oceans Day http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/08/celebrating-victories-this-world-oceans-day/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/08/celebrating-victories-this-world-oceans-day/#comments Sun, 08 Jun 2014 13:00:20 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8438

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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Four Ways the Senate Supports Ocean Investments http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/06/four-ways-the-senate-supports-ocean-investments/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/06/four-ways-the-senate-supports-ocean-investments/#comments Fri, 06 Jun 2014 21:16:09 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8450 Just a week after the House of Representatives passed its proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved its NOAA proposal, funding research and activities that influence the health and strength of our ocean economy and coastal communities.

The Senate proposal takes a cue from President Obama’s request, and would invest in several key ocean programs. It would:

  • Fund ocean acidification research at $11 million, recognizing our need to understand how acidification will impact businesses and ecoystems, as well as the need to develop tools to mitigate its impacts. Although this proposal is still $4 million less than the President’s request, the Senate level is a strong step towards protecting marine environments and the communities that depend on them.
  • Provide at least $5 million for competitive Regional Coastal Resilience Grants, which will help communities prepare for changes to marine ecosystems, climate impacts, and economic shifts. These grants will bring together partners on a regional scale to promote resilience and address shared risks.
  • Increase Climate Research funding by $2.19 million to support the Arctic Research Program. Temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the global average and seasonal sea ice is diminishing rapidly. Funding to expand and improve NOAA’s Arctic Observing Network is critical to track and understand these profound changes and provide products that support our ability to adapt.
  • Provide the requested $6 million for NOAA’s Marine Debris program, which supports existing monitoring and research efforts to better understand accumulation rates of debris and debris sources. The program catalyzes scientific research efforts to quantify the direct and indirect economic impacts caused by marine debris on coastal communities and economies that rely on them.

These investments are a stark contrast to the low funding levels we saw for these ocean priorities in the House version last week.  Up next, the Senate proposal heads to the floor for a vote, and then to conference where members from both chambers will reconcile the House and Senate versions. It will be up to ocean champions in Congress to ensure that strong ocean funding makes it into NOAA’s final budget for next year.

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The Ocean in Congress this Week: Good News and Bad News http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/29/the-ocean-in-congress-this-week-good-news-and-bad-news/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/29/the-ocean-in-congress-this-week-good-news-and-bad-news/#comments Thu, 29 May 2014 17:57:06 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8416

This week, the U.S. House of Representatives will debate the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations bill – an important bill for the ocean because it sets the annual budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Many amendments will be introduced to alter the bill; as far as the oceans are concerned, there’s good news and bad news.

Let’s start with the good news:

On the heels of some very important steps to tackle ocean acidification last week, Representative Bonamici (D-OR) led the charge to ensure that this issue, which is threatening American businesses and livelihoods, receives increased funding from Congress.

A few months ago, President Obama called for increased investments in funding ocean acidification research and monitoring. Unfortunately the U.S. House of Representatives has failed to answer that call so far. An amendment offered by Representative Bonamici would have increased the funding level for NOAA’s Ocean Acidification research program from $6 million to $15 million – the amount that the President says we need, however this amendment did not pass the house.  These dollars would have supported critical research to improve our understanding of acidification impacts on vulnerable communities and businesses.

Luckily, the U.S. Senate still has an opportunity to grab the baton from Rep. Bonamici and support full funding for this research when they take up their own NOAA funding bill next week.

But here’s the bad news:

A Member of Congress from a landlocked district in Texas is continuing his efforts to thwart common sense ocean planning. Representative Flores (R-TX) introduced an amendment that tries to block the nation’s premier ocean agency, NOAA, from smart ocean planning and other activities to support a healthy ocean through the National Ocean Policy.

This amendment is the sixth attempt in the last two years by Rep. Flores to undermine smart planning for the ocean, but none of his amendments have become law – thanks to strong opposition from Ocean Conservancy members, the Obama Administration, and the U.S. Senate.

We need to hold strong against this latest attack. Being smart about how we use our ocean allows us to look at the big picture and work together to make informed, balanced choices for a healthy ocean and the millions of jobs and livelihoods that depend on it. Planning maximizes what we get out of the ocean while minimizing the threats to the ocean’s health. It prevents conflicts like wind farms being planned in major shipping routes, balances uses like sand mining and commercial fishing interests, and protects key biological resources without impeding the needs of our defense infrastructure.

You can help by telling your member of Congress to oppose this amendment.

It’s clear that we have a challenge ahead, but we are hopeful that leaders in the U.S. Senate will prioritize the people and communities that depend on a healthy ocean by funding critically important ocean research and planning.

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How We Can Respond to Increased Shipping in the Bering Strait http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/28/how-we-can-respond-to-increased-shipping-in-the-bering-strait/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/28/how-we-can-respond-to-increased-shipping-in-the-bering-strait/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 12:50:56 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8407 Recent posts on The Blog Aquatic have focused on the Bering Strait: the 50-mile-wide gateway that separates Alaska from Russia, and that provides the only marine passage between the North Pacific and the Arctic oceans.

Two weeks ago, we highlighted the extraordinary abundance of wildlife that migrates through the Bering Strait each spring—from bowhead whales and ice-dependent seals to walruses and seabirds. We also emphasized the importance of the region’s highly productive marine ecosystem to the residents of coastal communities who rely on marine resources to support their subsistence way of life and cultural traditions.

Last week’s blog entry described how the retreat of seasonal sea ice in the Arctic has facilitated the steady growth of vessel traffic through the Bering Strait. We noted that these additional ship transits will cause more air, water and noise pollution; elevate the risk of ship strikes and the potential for introduction of invasive species; and increase the odds of major spills that could have catastrophic effects on the ecosystem. And we described how the Bering Strait’s harsh environmental conditions, remoteness, and lack of infrastructure combine to increase operational risks and create enormous challenges for those who would respond to accidents in the region.

How should we respond to these threats?

We can take one option off the table right away: closing the Bering Strait to vessel traffic is not a viable approach. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and customary international law, the Bering Strait is considered an international strait, which means that vessels of all nations have rights to “continuous and expeditious transit of the strait.”

Fortunately, there are more pragmatic ways to mitigate the risks associated with increasing vessel traffic in the Bering Strait. Some of these measures include:

  • Improve weather forecasts and nautical charting: Weather and sea-ice forecasts in the Bering Strait are not optimal; the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) admits that weather “prediction capabilities are currently poorer in the Arctic than in other parts of the United States.” Better forecasts would help mariners identify and manage risks. In addition, the Bering Strait, along with other marine waters in the U.S. Arctic, is not charted to modern standards. NOAA’s April 2014 Arctic Action Plan describes current charting data as “inadequate or nonexistent” and recognizes that better charting “would improve maritime safety and efficiency” in the region. Nautical charts are essential tools for maritime navigation.
  • Establish vessel traffic lanes. Designating mandatory lanes for ship traffic in the Bering Strait would increase safety and reduce the chance of collisions. It would also help ensure that vessels stay well offshore, providing additional response time in the event that a ship loses propulsion or experiences some other difficulty. Additional response time may prove critical in this remote area.
  • Designate areas to be avoided. As the name implies, designation of areas to be avoided establishes regions of the ocean that are off-limits to ship traffic. In the Bering Strait, strategic designation of Areas to be Avoided would help ensure that vessels steer clear of hazards and areas that may be especially sensitive to impacts from traffic.
  • Enhance communications and reporting systems: Establishing a more robust communication and reporting protocol for the Bering Strait region would facilitate information exchange among the Coast Guard, vessels, and local communities. Some of this information exchange could be accomplished automatically, using the automatic identification systems (AIS) carried by most vessels. Two-way communication could help alert mariners to the presence of marine mammals, subsistence activities, or hazardous ice conditions in the area. Enhanced vessel monitoring could assist with the early identification of vessels in distress and encourage mariners to comply with regulatory requirements.

These are just a few possibilities. Other options are available to enhance safety, limit water and air pollution, and improve response speed and capacity in the event of an accident in the region.

While none of these options is particularly complicated, implementation of regulatory measures in the Bering Strait is made more challenging because of the region’s status as an international strait. For example, that status places limits on the ability of the United States to regulate foreign-flagged vessels transiting the strait. More comprehensive regulation can be achieved through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), but the IMO’s processes can take considerable time to unfold.

These challenges make it all the more important to get a head start on addressing the threats of increasing vessel traffic through the Bering Strait. Now is the time to set in motion the measures that will increase safety, reduce environmental risks, and enhance the capacity to respond effectively when something goes wrong.

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Oil and Ice Still Don’t Mix in the Arctic http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/30/oil-and-ice-still-dont-mix-in-the-arctic/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/30/oil-and-ice-still-dont-mix-in-the-arctic/#comments Wed, 30 Apr 2014 15:05:36 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8144

On April 23, the National Research Council (NRC) released a new report that reviews state of science and technology with respect to spill response and environmental assessment in the U.S. Arctic Ocean. Ocean Conservancy provided recommendations and comments to the NRC as it conducted its research last year.

Now that the NRC has published its final report, we are pleased to see that it confirms what we’ve known all along: there are major barriers to effective oil spill response in Arctic waters. These include lack of information, lack of infrastructure, and lack of preparedness to deal with adverse environmental conditions.

Knowledge gaps: baselines, data on physical and biological status, and understanding of the fate and behavior of oil under sea ice conditions are all inadequate.

The NRC report correctly notes that effective spill response and recovery requires a “fundamental understanding of the dynamic Arctic region.” Unfortunately, current knowledge of the Arctic marine environment is plagued by significant gaps. For example, the NRC found that existing data in the Arctic “do not provide reliable baselines to assess current environmental or ecosystem states” and cannot fully anticipate future impacts. It also determined that “[p]opulation sizes and trends for most U.S. Arctic marine mammals are poorly known,” and “shoreline and hydrographic data are mostly obsolete, with limited tide, current, and water level data and very little ability to get accurate positioning and elevation.” Other shortcomings? Spill trajectory models “have not been calibrated for the full range of environmental factors encountered in the Arctic” and “reliable oil spill trajectory models for oil fate and behavior under sea ice conditions have not been established.”

Infrastructure: equipment and services needed to support response teams are insufficient.

In addition to these knowledge gaps, the NRC report found that the Arctic’s lack of infrastructure “would be a significant liability in the event of a large oil spill.” Responders would be confronted with “a severe shortage” of basic services including “housing, fresh water, food and catering, sewage handling and garbage removal facilities, communications infrastructure, ability to handle heavy equipment, supplies, and hospitals and medical support.” Despite the U.S. Coast Guard’s best efforts, the NRC report concluded that “personnel, equipment, transportation, communication, navigation and safety resources needed for oil spill response are not adequate for overseeing oil spill response in the Arctic.” In short, spill response personnel would likely be unable to react quickly to an oil spill without “improved port and air access, stronger supply chains, and increased capacity to handle equipment, supplies, and personnel.”

Arctic environment: challenging environmental conditions in the Arctic create increased risk for responders.

Environmental conditions in the Arctic present another serious problem for oil spill response. The NRC report recognized that “Arctic conditions impose many challenges for oil spill response—low temperatures and extended periods of darkness in the winter; oil that is encapsulated under ice or trapped in ridges and leads; oil spreading due to sea ice drift and surface currents; reduced effectiveness of conventional containment and recovery systems in measurable ice concentrations; and issues of life and safety of responders.”

While the NRC report is dense and detailed, its overall message is simple: “[m]arine activities in U.S. Arctic waters are increasing without a commensurate increase in the logistics and infrastructure needed to conduct these activities safely.”

Fortunately, the NRC report contains a series of important recommendations designed to remedy some of the shortcomings that the report identified. Implementing those recommendations will take commitment, time and resources. But four years after the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and 25 years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, those are recommendations we should not ignore.

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Five Amazing Facts About Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Our Newly Confirmed Head of NOAA http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/06/five-amazing-facts-about-dr-kathryn-sullivan-our-newly-confirmed-head-of-noaa/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/06/five-amazing-facts-about-dr-kathryn-sullivan-our-newly-confirmed-head-of-noaa/#comments Thu, 06 Mar 2014 23:02:39 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7672 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 http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/04/obama-pushes-for-needed-boost-in-ocean-funding/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/04/obama-pushes-for-needed-boost-in-ocean-funding/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 23:24:35 +0000 Emily Woglom http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7647

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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