The Blog Aquatic » research News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 19 Sep 2014 14:44:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Modest Pledge Makes a Big Difference for Ocean Acidification Research and Collaboration Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:30:16 +0000 Sarah Cooley  

The right-hand end of the long, low pinkish building across the harbor houses the International Atomic Energy Agency Laboratory in La Condamine, Monaco, which hosts the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre.

Despite this week’s excited headlines about ocean research and conservation during Secretary Kerry’s “Our Oceans” conference, you still might have missed Prince Albert of Monaco’s Monday announcement that the U.S. State Department and Department of Energy have pledged a total of $640,000 to the Ocean Acidification International Coordination Centre (OA-ICC), based at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) Monaco lab.

This is great news for ocean acidification research and decision-making around the world. The OA-ICC engages scientists in international collaborative research, education, and advice to policymakers. For example, the OA-ICC and its partners have put out several informational brochures for the public in many languages about ocean acidification, and OA-ICC-affiliated scientists have presented at high-level international events like this week’s “Our Oceans” conference and the past five sessions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties. But the OA-ICC’s best known activity among specialists is their news stream, which is a thoughtfully-curated daily feed (available by email, Twitter, or RSS) about ocean acidification news stories, research outcomes, opportunities, and educational materials. The OA-ICC gets a lot done for a small price tag.

The State Department’s support will allow researchers and policymakers to continue to study ocean acidification globally and find meaningful solutions for people and communities impacted. We thank Secretary Kerry, HSH Prince Albert of Monaco, the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Energy, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Principality of Monaco for their continued support of ocean acidification research and collaboration at the international level.

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

Kathryn Sullivan

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

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

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

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

Sue Moore

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

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

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

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

Sarah Cooley

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

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

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

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

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

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Money Down the Drain: Tallying the Cost of the Government Shutdown Fri, 01 Nov 2013 17:50:06 +0000 Jeff Watters NOAA research ship Ronald Brown

Credit: NOAA

The U.S. government shutdown began one month ago today. Thankfully, the government has been reopened, and the fiscal showdown is fast becoming a distant memory that we’re all trying to forget. But details are slowly emerging on the shutdown’s actual costs and damage. We’ve gotten our hands on some of that information, and when it comes to our oceans and coasts, it doesn’t look pretty.

Based on information given to us by sources within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the cost of just one small part of the shutdown—recalling NOAA’s fleet of research ships and planes—added up to more than half a million dollars.

That’s half a million dollars just for NOAA’s ships and planes to return to port and sit idle while the shutdown fight played out on Capitol Hill. That’s half a million dollars that will come out of NOAA’s already-tight operations budgets. And that’s half a million dollars that could have been spent on ocean research and conservation instead.

In addition to the giant pile of cash that was wasted to literally accomplish nothing, the shutdown also interrupted critical research expeditions that now might never be completed. For example, surveys of marine mammals and sea turtles—including endangered leatherback sea turtles—were interrupted and canceled.

The shutdown blocked coastal mapping and underwater surveys along the mid-Atlantic, in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in Washington state, along the Southern California coast and in Delaware Bay. Collection of long-term data sets for climate research was stopped. And fisheries surveys in the North Pacific, Gulf of Alaska and the East Coast continental shelf were brought to a halt.

Here is a detailed account of each of NOAA’s research ships and planes, what they were doing when the government shutdown ended their work and how much it cost to return them to port temporarily while the shutdown persisted:

  • NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown had to spend $277,000 and 13 days traveling the 2,600 miles to return to port, stopping the Atlantic 20 Degree West Hydrographic Survey to complete a decade’s long data-set integral to the study of global climate change.
  • NOAA’s 56RF (Twin Otter) plane had to return 2,800 miles from Monterey, Calif., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $7,000, stopping the survey of endangered leatherback turtles.
  • NOAA’s N57RF (Twin Otter) plane had to return 1,200 miles from Westhampton, N.Y., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $3,000, stopping the mid-Atlantic marine mammal and sea turtle survey.
  • NOAA Ship Henry B. Bigelow had to spend $14,000 and one day to return 200 miles to port, stopping the Autumn Bottom Trawl Survey to determine the distribution and abundance of fish and marine life over the East Coast continental shelf.
  • NOAA Ship Oscar Dyson had to spend $14,000 and one day to return 200 miles to port, stopping the Juvenile Walleye Pollock and Forage Fish Survey to assess their biomass, community structure and biological composition. The ship was also scheduled to examine physical and chemical oceanography and recover several moorings in the Gulf of Alaska.
  • NOAA’s N42RF (P-3) plane did not deploy to Fairbanks, Alaska, as scheduled to study Arctic weather in newly ice-free regions and test hypotheses in ocean heat storage and the impact on atmospheric temperature and humidity. This survey is important for understanding the rapidly changing Arctic environment.
  • NOAA’s N68RF (King Air) plane had to return 1,100 miles from Atlantic City, N.J., to Tampa, Fla., at a cost of $16,500, stopping the coastal mapping along the mid-Atlantic. These maps provide important information used for shipping, navigation and more.
  • NOAA Ship Fairweather had to spend $56,000 to return 1,000 miles to port (which took four days), stopping hydrographic surveys of the Southern California coast.
  • NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson had to spend $10,000 and one day to return 250 miles to port, stopping a hydrographic survey of Delaware Bay.
  • NOAA Ship Rainier had to return 1,700 miles to port (which took seven days) at a cost of $105,000, stopping hydrographic surveys of the Straits of Juan de Fuca.

And this is just a snapshot of the shutdown’s effects on widely used ocean research conducted by one government agency. As we look ahead to the next fiscal showdown in January, when current funding for the government will run out again, let’s hope history doesn’t repeat itself. The ocean, the people who make their living from it and American taxpayers can’t afford it.

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Plight of Albatross Inspires Scientist to Clean Up Beaches Wed, 10 Oct 2012 20:09:59 +0000 Sarah van Schagen Albatross on Midway Atoll

Credit: Nick Mallos

How do scientists choose their life’s work? For avid surfer Nick Mallos, a love of the ocean made marine biology an easy choice. But it was a black-and-white bird with a 6-foot wingspan that inspired him to focus his research on marine debris and clean up as many beaches as he can.

Nick first encountered the Laysan albatross during a grad school research trip to Midway Atoll in the North Pacific. With over 450,000 nesting pairs, Midway Atoll is home to the largest Laysan population in the world. The birds cover the 2.4 square-mile area, nesting in every available nook, from abandoned WWII gun turrets to grassy cracks in the pavement.

But once you look beyond those birds, “you realize there’s this scattering of plastic over the entire island,” Nick says. “It’s impossible to not see plastic – it’s just everywhere. The most perverse part of it is that it’s most heavily concentrated around every nest.”

Plastic fragments in a dead albatross skeleton

Credit: Nick Mallos

That’s because most of the plastic on the island arrives in the gullets of the adult albatross who accidentally ingest it while fishing at sea. Then they regurgitate that food-and-plastic mixture when feeding their chicks. Scientists estimate that some 4.5 metric tons of plastic arrive on the island every year in the stomachs of the albatross.

“It’s just very surreal being in this beautiful environment where the waters are as turquoise blue as you can imagine and the beaches are pure white, and then you see this array of unnatural color across the island, which is all plastics,” Mallos says.

The inner core of the island is littered with small, fragmented plastics like bottle caps, toothbrushes and cigarette lighters – all carried there by the birds.

“I was 1,200 miles from Oahu, the nearest urban center, and there were consumer products everywhere,” Mallos says. “I could have outfitted an entire bathroom cabinet with what I saw there.”

That realization really got him thinking about the full scale of the ocean trash issue. Six months later, he joined Ocean Conservancy as a marine debris specialist and has since worked to better understand how trash affects our ocean and how we can prevent it from reaching our beaches in the first place.

What motivates you to participate in beach cleanups?

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Wetlands: Going, Going, Gone? Wed, 27 Jun 2012 21:10:04 +0000 Guest Blogger

Credit: NOAA

A quiet victim went unseen in many of the images of oil-soaked animals publicized during the BP oil disaster. While many of us were moved by the plight of animals caught up in this man-made disaster, we should also be concerned for the wetland plants quietly suffering in the background.

Because of an expanding human footprint and natural processes, Gulf wetlands are declining at an accelerated rate exacerbated by the BP oil disaster. A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, reported on in The Advocate, shows the BP oil disaster doubled the erosion rates of wetlands in some areas.

This critical habitat offers hurricane protection to the coast and serves as the nursery grounds, homes, food source and safe-havens to countless marine species. The Mississippi River is still working, as it has for thousands of years, to create these remarkably productive wetlands.

According to the study, marsh plants in Barataria Bay that were covered 70-80% in oil died. The loss of the glue that holds marshlands together left the ground susceptible to increased erosion. Heavily oiled areas actually show twice the normal five foot rate of erosion in the year-and-a-half after the BP oil disaster: a loss of ten feet.

Research shows that when marsh grass was replanted, some seedlings survived  in slightly oily sediment, but others weren’t so lucky. Replanted marsh grass in areas of wetlands that suffered heavier oiling and an increased erosion rate induced by the BP oil disaster simply died.

It is good news that marsh plants can be reestablished in somewhat oily sediment; the bad news is that wetlands with higher levels of oil residue and erosion won’t be able to support life without help. BP must be held accountable for all impacts. Some results of the disaster, like the ones discovered in this study, are just beginning to be fully understood. A long-term research and monitoring program and a well-funded and robust science program will help to ensure that BP makes it right.

Ocean Conservancy is committed to doing everything we can, in coordination with all willing partners, to advocate for science-based restoration plans that go beyond the oil disaster and address the entire Gulf as one interconnected ecosystem. And while wetland restoration is a key component, we need further steps to complete the picture. We must:

  • protect the region’s cultural and natural heritage;
  • increase economic opportunities;
  • enhance recreational opportunities;
  • slow the rate of land loss;
  • and sustain the entire ecosystem.

Together, we will build a vision of a healthy and prosperous Gulf.

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Even in the Ocean, Every Rose Has Its Thorn Fri, 08 Jun 2012 16:09:33 +0000 Nick Mallos Debris found during cleanup near Yokohama, Japan

Debris collected from Transect #1 at Sea Paradise Beach -- Nick Mallos

Mawar is the Malaysian word for rose, but Typhoon Mawar has been nothing but a thorn since we arrived in Yokohama, Japan. Like hurricanes, typhoons form when tropical depressions escalate into cyclones; in the Pacific, these cyclones are called typhoons, while in the Atlantic they are known as hurricanes.

This past weekend, Mawar delivered heavy rain and sustained winds of 110 mph to the Philippines, gusting up to 130 mph and taking the lives of eight Filipinos. We felt peripheral effects of Mawar in Japan as intensifying winds and strong gusts jostled boats and tested the strength of dock lines in the marina.

So far, Mawar has delayed our departure on the Algalita/5 Gyres Japan Tsunami Debris Expedition by almost one week. To say anticipation and angst on board has been high would be an understatement. However, we have not allowed our time on land to be wasted.

Several of us traveled to a nearby beach that sits adjacent to the Sea Paradise Amusement Park. With roller coasters and a Ferris wheel as backdrop, we surveyed the crescent-shaped beach using NOAA’s Shoreline Monitoring Protocol, incorporating a microplastics sampling component recently designed by 5 Gyres Institute.

Plastic fragments dominated the rag line — the tide line on the beach where seaweed, shells and debris accumulate — and cigarette butts and food wrappers comprise the majority of items found toward the berm. None of the items we found indicated this debris was tsunami-generated.

Nick Mallos on the bow of the Sea Dragon ship

Nick Mallos awaiting Typhoon Mawar on the bow of Pangaea Exploration's Sea Dragon.

If our delayed departure has caused anyone to lose sight of the tsunami-related objectives of our expedition, there was a big reminder this morning via news of a 70-foot dock from Japan washing ashore on the Oregon coast.

As our departure nears, uncertainty still lingers regarding our debris encounters. We know we will find plastic and trash, but what type and how much, if any, tsunami debris we will encounter remains unknown.

No indecision exists among my crewmates though. The passion and determination for trash free seas exhibited by each crewmember is inspiring, and there’s no question that we are ready for whatever Poseidon has in store for us.

This evening, I opened a card with words inside that flawlessly capture the spirit and purpose embodied by each person aboard this expedition:

“This is your world. Shape it or somebody else will.” – Gary Lew

Fortunately, the weather is looking up and we plan to set sail at first light. Check out Ocean Conservancy’s Scientist at Sea Center to stay up-to-date with my progress.

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Follow Me on a Journey to the Center of the Ocean Tue, 29 May 2012 19:14:18 +0000 Nick Mallos Nick Mallos

Nick Mallos

I’ve been in Japan for a week now, witnessing firsthand the devastation caused by the tsunami 15 months ago and helping with ongoing cleanup efforts as much as I can. At the end of the week, I set sail on the Algalita/5 Gyres Japanese Tsunami Expedition that will take me out to the middle of the Pacific Ocean in search of tsunami debris that was washed out to sea.

National Geographic has asked me to share updates about the expedition on their News Watch blog, so I posted my first entry while still on dry land.

Here’s an excerpt:

Documenting what types of materials are out there, and how they are responding to currents and wind, will help us understand the trajectory of the debris and what it means for our ocean and coastlines. I’m hoping this research expedition will provide a snapshot of what might show up on our shores.

Another goal of this trip is to enrich Ocean Conservancy’s broader study on ocean debris and plastic pollution. It’s important to remember that the vast majority of debris in the ocean was there a long time before last year’s tsunami disaster and was caused not by nature but by humans.

Stay tuned for more updates as I continue on this journey — and join Ocean Conservancy’s Trash-Free Challenge to help reduce your impact on our ocean.

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