The Blog Aquatic » science http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:19:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Fishermen and Scientists Work Together to Track Sick Fish http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/21/fishermen-and-scientists-work-together-to-track-sick-fish/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/21/fishermen-and-scientists-work-together-to-track-sick-fish/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:22:59 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8776

University of South Florida Professor Steven Murawski began studying diseases in fin fishes after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill when Gulf of Mexico fishermen began reporting a surge in fish with visible lesions. Credit: C-Image. Caption from phys.org

Fishermen are on the water every day, which means they are often the first to notice when something changes. After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we heard reports from fishermen that they were catching more fish with lesions than they had ever seen before. Immediately after hearing these reports, Dr. Jim Cowan at LSU began investigating the frequency, location and cause of the reported lesions. Many other scientists have collected data on this same issue, and last week a group from the University of South Florida published the first round of results in a scientific journal.

Through extensive study, the scientists ruled out other potential causes, such as pathogens or oceanographic conditions, and concluded that the BP oil disaster is the likely cause of the fish lesions. Oil has a distinct chemical signature that allows scientists to differentiate between different origins, and contamination in the sick fish was a better match to oil from BP’s Macondo well than any other source.

For the Gulf, studies that help us understand the lingering impacts of the BP oil disaster are critical to achieving recovery. They are also a reminder that we cannot close the door on studying the effects of the disaster or the impact of our restoration efforts until we are certain the job is complete. The results of the USF study are only the beginning of this story about how fish were impacted by the BP oil disaster. In order to achieve complete recovery, we need long-term research on how lesions and other oil impacts affect the survival and reproduction of fish, how their populations are responding to habitat and water quality restoration efforts, and what that means for the fishermen who first identified the problem.

Location of sampling stations and the percent of skin lesions per station for June–August 2011. The percent of skin lesions at a station is indicated as follows: white circles = 0%, red graduated circles = 0.1–2.0%, 2.1–4.0%, 4.1–6.0%, and >6.0% (from smallest to largest). The gray shading is the cumulative distribution of surface oil occurring during the duration of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) event. Map credit: Murawski et al., 2014

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800,000 and Counting: The Soaring Deepwater Horizon Bird Death Count http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/22/800000-and-counting-the-soaring-deepwater-horizon-bird-death-count/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/22/800000-and-counting-the-soaring-deepwater-horizon-bird-death-count/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 18:21:58 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8379
According to a new study, scientists estimate that between 600,000 and 800,000 coastal seabirds died because of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, a number far greater than any previous estimate. Understanding the ripple effect of 800,000 coastal birds dying in the Gulf of Mexico is critical to the recovery of this special place. These findings come from a study to be released this summer in Marine Ecology Progress Series, which was recently reported in the New York Times.

This new estimate for bird deaths in the Gulf is unprecedented for an oil disaster. For context, the estimate of dead birds following the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill was around 300,000.

What are the ecosystem effects of 800,000 birds dying?

In response to the study results, BP has released statements refuting the methodology and objectivity of the authors. Many of the studies that BP cites as counter arguments have not been shared with the public, and as far as we know, have not been peer reviewed. BP’s veil of confidentiality prevents the public from understanding their methodology and results. This is an obvious double standard, and we must ask ourselves:  who has more to gain from discrediting these findings and underestimating bird mortality than BP?

In order to increase transparency and have an accurate discussion about how to best estimate bird mortality or other impacts, it is necessary for all of the data and methods be on the table. This is critical information that managers and scientists need in order to know the full extent of the injury. And BP is blocking this information because they’re in the middle of a legal battle over the oil disaster.

The bird death  study comes at a time when BP is refusing to pay for key science critical to fully understanding the effects of the disaster on natural resources. This science is part of a series of ongoing studies under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) that BP previously funded. The fact that they are refusing to pay for this science at a time when some NRDA studies are underway, is telling. It is imperative that BP fund ongoing and future NRDA studies. These studies, required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, are designed to assess the extent of injury to natural resources and the subsequent restoration needed to compensate for that injury. Trustee agencies carry out NRDA studies, but the responsible party—in this case BP—is required to pay for them.

As the authors of the new study indicate, it is very likely that even this new examination of bird deaths underestimates the true number of birds killed by the disaster. For example, birds living in the coastal marshes or past 40 kilometers from shore (what scientists call offshore pelagic birds) are not included in the total. The range of impacts estimated in this new study contributes to our evolving understanding of what should be done to restore injured bird populations. Ocean Conservancy is focused not only on tracking the best available science to determine the full impact of the BP oil disaster, but also how we can restore the Gulf’s marine and coastal environments. There are opportunities to use innovative technologies to monitor and restore bird populations in the Gulf. We’ll explore these solutions in a future blog.

To view where some of the coastal seabirds make their home in the Gulf, our Marine and Coastal Atlas has maps of the northern gannet, brown pelican and royal tern.

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Connecting the Head and the Heart: Taking Action on Ocean Acidification http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/01/connecting-the-head-and-the-heart-taking-action-on-ocean-acidification/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/05/01/connecting-the-head-and-the-heart-taking-action-on-ocean-acidification/#comments Thu, 01 May 2014 11:45:25 +0000 Sarah Cooley http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8157 Even though ocean acidification is a pretty young issue, scientists and journalists already have developed two distinct storylines about it. Scientists start with the details and describe the impacts of ocean acidification last. Journalists put the impacts up front and fill in the details where they fit in. But to create long-lasting action around ocean acidification, we need to connect the two approaches in a new way. Here at Ocean Conservancy, we’re working on exactly that.

Scientists describe what studies came before, what questions remain, how they did their study, and then what they learned. Typical scientific explanations of ocean acidification start by describing how increased atmospheric carbon dioxide changes ocean chemistry in ways that slow the growth of marine creatures with hard shells and skeletons– from tiny sea snails to massive corals. After lots of detail, scientists point out that coastal communities could see decreased fisheries harvests, leading to hunger or economic losses, or loss of coral reef protection from storms. The big stories that matter to people, about hunger, economic losses, and storm flooding, get buried in the details.

Journalists, on the other hand, start with the hook. Media coverage of the Pacific Northwest oyster collapse often started by profiling shellfish growers who had suffered losses, then described the discovery of ocean acidification as the culprit. These stories often ended with hope, describing possible fixes growers were trying. Stories with heart, about people, helped drive action about ocean acidification in Washington State. Concerned citizens in Maine and Maryland have heard these stories, and are also taking action to understand the local impacts of ocean acidification. Similarly, recent coverage of the latest study showing how quickly sea snails, or pteropods, are being harmed by ocean acidification starts with the scientists’ astonishment at their own results, rather than strictly focusing on the details of the study.

The happy downside of the journalists’ approach is that we don’t have many sad stories about ocean acidification today—but every new day could bring them. The happy downside of the scientists’ approach is that from all of the technical details and reams of data we must sift through, we’ve got lots of evidence about what is likely to happen. The science says more sad stories are coming if we don’t act soon. Ocean acidification has never happened this fast, as far back as we can read Earth’s history. But ocean chemistry changes that developed over thousands of years caused mass extinctions in the past – what will this major change that’s developed over just two centuries do? From the Earth’s point of view, ocean acidification is happening in the blink of an eye, but it’s hard for humans to take action on changes happening over decades to centuries.

Action against global change in the climate and oceans needs more than a single news story or science lecture. We know we need to commit to cutting the carbon pollution we’re putting into the air and ocean. We also know that it’s hard to do this.  To help get us there, we need people speaking out about the waste we’re pumping into our environment and how it’s impacting them or their businesses.  Here at Ocean Conservancy, we are working with partners to highlight these stories, and bring them to the attention of decision makers. We are also distilling the science into nuggets that directly answer citizens’ and decision-makers’ questions. When it comes to communicating about big, global issues in a way that can lead to meaningful, lasting change, both the journalists’ and scientists’ approaches are needed.  Neither the heart nor the head can succeed alone, so we’re connecting the two in a fresh approach.

See more stories of people who will be impacted by ocean acidification. Learn more about ocean acidification. Join the conversation around #oceanacidification with me, @co2ley, on Twitter!

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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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Honoring the Women Who Fight for Our Ocean (Part 3) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/31/honoring-the-women-who-fight-for-our-ocean-part-3/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/31/honoring-the-women-who-fight-for-our-ocean-part-3/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 23:00:09 +0000 Brett Nolan http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7965 In honor of Women’s History Month, Ocean Conservancy will be publishing a three-part series highlighting some of the amazing women who study and protect our ocean. 

Dr. Anne Salomon

Dr. Anne Salomon grew up right by the sea in Vancouver, British Columbia, and it’s where she fell in love with the coast and the outdoors. She studied general biology at the landlocked campus of Queen’s University. She missed the coast and went west for her master’s degree at the University of British Columbia where she studied marine ecology. After completing that degree, Salomon was U.S. bound and received her Ph.D. in zoology.

Salomon was born with a sense of adventure. She started sailing at the age of five. She credits catching her first fish as her inspiration for studying the ocean. “I think catching my first fish gave me an appreciation of the importance of ocean resources and the reality of it being part of our culture and economic system,” she said. She worked with coastal communities in Alaska and New Zealand to better understand the relationships between different species, including marine life and humans.

Currently, Salomon is studying how humans alter coastal ecosystems and how that affects the biodiversity of the ecosystems. Of all of her accomplishments, she’s most proud of her students. “I now have a lab and a whole team,” Salomon said. “I’m so lucky and so proud of creating this space for all these wonderful people to excel and learn and share knowledge.”

Dr. Nyawira Muthiga

Dr. Nyawira Muthiga, a marine conservation scientist, has dedicated her career to protecting coral reefs and advocating for sustainable fisheries management in Kenya and throughout the western Indian Ocean. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Nairobi. She is the director of the Kenyan marine program at the Wildlife Conservation Society. Prior to this, she was the head of the coastal and wetland program at the Kenya Wildlife Service.

Muthiga improved the management of marine protected areas, places where regulations protect the natural habitat and native species, around the Indian Ocean by developing plans and trainings, as well as by building public awareness. She also oversaw a plan to reduce the effects of climate change on coral reefs in the region. She even uses her expertise to protect sea turtles by working with several local organizations in Kenya.

In a talk about Kenyan marine protected areas, Muthiga said, “Fishermen have started realizing what different kinds of fishing gear will do to their catches and that protection is a way of increasing their catches and a way of potentially improving their livelihoods. More and more communities are now coming up and saying we want to start some kind of initiative where we either restrict the gear or where we close the area.”

Dr. Lekelia Jenkins

Dr. Lekelia Jenkins, a Baltimore native, grew up fishing and crabbing with her family on the Chesapeake Bay. She studied biology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She went on to get her Ph.D. in marine conservation from Duke University. Jenkins originally wanted to study terrestrial conservation at Duke. After taking a couple classes in marine conservation and marine policy, she was inspired to study the ocean. “I came to understand how much progress needed to be made in marine conservation in comparison to terrestrial conservation,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins studies the effects humans have on the ocean through the invention and adoption of marine technologies. She is especially interested in bycatch reduction devices and tidal energy technology.

On how her research has changed her life, Jenkins said, “It has allowed me to travel the world, meet interesting people and do my small but important part to save the world. It has also made me a more conscious consumer and that ripple effect has spread to my friends and family.”

She does have some advice for young women who want to become scientists. “Talk to people who have the type of career you’d like. Find out how they got there, what skills and education they needed. Find out what their workday is like. Is it really as fascinating and glamorous as you think?” She also added, “A career as a scientist isn’t just about doing good science. It’s about the reputation you make for yourself, the positions that you hold, the grants you’ve received, the people you collaborate with and the awards you’ve won. You can do great science but without the other things your work is less likely to be recognized or to have impact.”

Read more from this series:

Honoring the Women Who Fight for Our Ocean (Part 1)

Honoring the Women Who Fight for Our Ocean (Part 2)

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Presenting Our New Solutions at the Camden Conference http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/20/presenting-our-new-solutions-at-the-camden-conference/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/03/20/presenting-our-new-solutions-at-the-camden-conference/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 11:01:34 +0000 Andreas Merkl http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=7857

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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Money Down the Drain: Tallying the Cost of the Government Shutdown http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/01/money-down-the-drain-tallying-the-cost-of-the-government-shutdown/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/11/01/money-down-the-drain-tallying-the-cost-of-the-government-shutdown/#comments Fri, 01 Nov 2013 17:50:06 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6919 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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