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The Blog Aquatic

News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy

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Protecting the Ocean: How Does Your State Measure Up?

Posted On May 30, 2013 by

Northern California’s Lost Coast boasts three no-take reserves. caloceans.org

How well is your state protecting the ocean? If you live in Hawaii, you’re far ahead of the rest of us. If you live in California or the U.S. Virgin Islands, at least you have something to point to. But overall, as a new scientific ranking of states’ ocean protection shows, most have not taken adequate measures to defend America’s marine life. The report was issued by two leading marine science and conservation organizations, the Marine Conservation Institute and Mission Blue, and is the first-ever quantitative ranking of states’ protection of their ocean waters.

SeaStates: How Well Does Your State Protect Your Coastal Waters? measures how much of a state’s waters have safeguards against overfishing, oil drilling and other extractive uses. No-take marine reserves, in particular, get high marks for allowing ecosystems and related marine life to prosper. According to many marine scientists, as much as 20 percent of state waters should be set aside for the best results – currently, Hawaii is the only state in the country to have met that goal.

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Video: America’s Ocean Economy: Challenges and Opportunities

Posted On May 24, 2013 by

This is a guest blog post from Jennifer McCann, Director of U.S. Coastal Programs at the University of Rhode Island (URI) Coastal Resources Center and Director of Extension Programs for Rhode Island Sea Grant.

In Rhode Island and beyond, coastal communities are working on plans to manage the ocean’s resources in ways that generate new industries, support job creation, and provide food and services to an ever-increasing population.

This film is the first in a series that explores this effort with ocean practitioners from around the world and provides an overview of economic issues related to ocean planning. Over the coming weeks, I’ll share the remaining three films in the series, which focus on offshore renewable energy, fisheries and the environment.

The film series is supported by several funders and partners, including The URI Coastal Resources Center, Rhode Island Sea Grant, Ocean Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, and Marine Affairs Research and Education (MARE), the team behind OpenChannels.org. Media firm Zygote Digital Films Inc. developed the series.

Gulf Killifish: Late to Hatch and Slow to Grow

Posted On May 7, 2013 by

Important questions about the impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster still linger. Some effects could go undetected for years. To fully restore the Gulf, and to make sure the Gulf and its people are recovering, we need to establish a long-term monitoring and research program. While we wait for confidential government studies to become public, little clues are emerging that give us insight into which species were injured and what this might mean for the Gulf ecosystem.

A study reported in Environmental Science and Technology tells us that one species to keep an eye on is the Gulf killifish. Through their ongoing research, the authors (Dubansky et al., 2013) determined that killifish from oil-contaminated marshes in Louisiana were impacted by the disaster. Specifically, they collected eggs from oiled and non-oiled sites before and after the disaster and raised them in a lab. The eggs from oiled sites took longer to hatch than eggs from non-oiled sites. When the late eggs did hatch, the larval fish were smaller and more likely to have heart defects than those from non-oiled sites. This indicates that the developing fish will not be able to survive and reproduce as well as eggs from non-oiled sites.
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Volunteers Help Protect Baby Sea Turtles From Ocean Trash

Posted On May 1, 2013 by

baby sea turtle heads toward the surf

Credit: nps.gov

Starting today, hundreds of volunteers will begin heading to the beach every morning just before sunrise in search of tracks left by some exciting visitors: female sea turtles coming ashore under the cloak of darkness to lay their eggs.

May 1 marks the start of sea turtle nesting season in the southeast United States; it’s the only time of year when these animals return to dry sand after spending almost their entire lives in the ocean. Female sea turtles tend to return to the same stretch of beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs. After hatching, baby sea turtles must dig their way out of the sand and sprint to the surf while avoiding predators ranging from foxes and raccoons to sea birds and ghost crabs.

The dedicated volunteers who walk these beaches every morning look for signs of new sea turtle nests so that they can monitor and protect the nest sites and track how many turtles hatch. Yet on most walks, these volunteers find more trash on the beach than sea turtle tracks.

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The People have Spoken: Massive Pushback to Genetically-Engineered Salmon

Posted On April 26, 2013 by

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. 

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Is There a New Species of Whale in the Gulf of Mexico?

Posted On April 5, 2013 by

The tan color on this map shows the range of sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico. The colored areas show the chance of sperm whales utilizing this habitat, with red being the highest.

Not quite a new species, but the population of sperm whales in the Gulf is distinctly different from their relatives. So different that last week, in response to a petition from WildEarth Guardians, the National Marine Fisheries Service announced that it will be taking a closer look at sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico in order to determine if they should be protected under the Endangered Species Act. Sperm whales across the world are already listed as an endangered species, but this new designation will recognize the Gulf population as a distinct group and protect and monitor it separately from the global population.

There are characteristics of sperm whales in the Gulf that may be sufficient to classify them as a distinct group. Gulf sperm whales do not leave the Gulf and are generally smaller and use  different vocalizations (probably learned culturally) than other sperm whales. Gulf sperm whales also face Gulf-specific threats such as oil and gas development, high levels of shipping traffic and noise, potential effects from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and water quality degradation near the mouth of the Mississippi River. As shown on the map above, the area southeast of the Mississippi River Delta is important for sperm whales. The outflow of nutrients from the river, upwelling along the continental slope and eddies from Gulf currents create unique ecological conditions that make this a productive area where sperm whales go to find food and potentially mates.

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The Ocean in a High CO2 World

Posted On March 25, 2013 by

Taylor Shellfish worker shucks oysters

Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells as the ocean’s chemistry changes, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods.
© 2013 Barbara Kinney/Ocean Conservancy All Rights Reserved

It’s easy to take for granted the many ways that the ocean keeps us alive—it sustains much of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate that surrounds us. The complex ocean systems that produce these benefits—from currents and photosynthesis to food chains—are often chaotic and unpredictable at smaller scales, but at large scales they come together in a dynamic equilibrium to ensure that life can thrive.

One of the ocean’s most important life-giving functions is its absorption of carbon dioxide emissions. But we have increased the amount of carbon pollution pumped into the air, and in turn, the ocean has absorbed more and more of it. As a result, the ocean’s chemistry is changing—it has become 30 percent more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. There is no uncertainty or doubt about this; it is a simple and eminently replicable chemical process.

Several of the comments posted by our readers on my last blog focused on this growing concern. My answer to those comments is this: overall there is no greater threat to the life on our planet than the effects of putting too much carbon into the atmosphere, and ocean acidification is a very large part of the problem.

It is, simply put, the largest chemistry experiment ever attempted. It is happening now, and it has real impacts on people and local economies today. Shell-building animals like oysters and sea snails are having trouble building their shells in overly acidic waters, and this has a ripple effect up the food web and across livelihoods. These impacts are likely small compared to what could come if CO2 concentrations keep increasing under the current “business as usual” scenario. At a certain point, shell-building animals will not be able to produce calcium carbonate, with immeasurable effect on the entire food chain.

We’re working with the world’s top ocean acidification scientists to raise awareness about this growing threat and on solutions with the people on the front lines who are already being affected, from oyster growers in Washington state to mussel growers in Maine. In the weeks and months to come, we at Ocean Conservancy will dive deeper to take a very hard look at carbon pollution. For instance, what impact might the Keystone XL pipeline, if approved, have on the ocean? It’s a vitally important question to answer.

At Ocean Conservancy, we understand that the ocean is not just a victim—it must be the part of the solution. The way we manage the ocean and the decisions we make about fishing, shipping, energy extraction and production, and more have huge implications for the future of carbon emissions and the ocean’s continued ability to sustain life.

As we explore this critical issue, we will do so from an “ocean-centric” point of view—we must determine what management decisions and policies we can inform and work on with fishermen, shippers, drillers, windmill builders and oceanographers that can transform ocean health.

We would love to hear from you on this.  There are solutions to be found, and it will take all of our ideas, passion and ingenuity to get there.