Ocean Currents » tourism http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Tue, 27 Sep 2016 13:42:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Local Concerns of Opening the Arctic and the Crystal Serenity http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/local-concerns-of-opening-the-arctic-and-the-crystal-serenity/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2016/09/08/local-concerns-of-opening-the-arctic-and-the-crystal-serenity/#comments Thu, 08 Sep 2016 13:15:19 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=12793

Guest blog by: Austin Ahmasuk

Last month the Crystal Serenity set sail from the Alaskan port of Seward on a voyage through the Northwest Passage to New York City, making it the first cruise ship of its size to attempt this journey. The luxury liner stopped at ports of call along the Alaskan coast, including the town of Nome (population 3,850). Thanks to Nome resident Austin Ahmasuk for sharing his perspective with us.

Peering seaward south of River Street at 7:57 am, I saw the ship climb over the horizon as it materialized out of the fog. The P/V Crystal Serenity, with 1,700 passengers and crew aboard, arrived on time as predicted and slowly made its way shoreward. My eyes were glued to its deliberate movements. I knew it was big and, as the largest cruise ship to visit Nome got closer, its size towered in contrast to Nome’s normally modest waterfront.

I scanned for signs of its escort vessel, the RRS Ernest Shackleton. It surely must be near to provide assistance in case something went wrong. But the Ernest Shackleton was nowhere to be seen. The website showed that it was in Baffin Bay, Canada several thousand miles distant!

If something were to go wrong—an oil spill or shipwreck—our small town’s local volunteers and handful of response vessels would be the ones expected to answer the call.

Luckily, nothing went wrong and so we avoided a disaster.

The Crystal Serenity loomed over Nome and filled the viewfinder of my camera as it began to ferry passengers to shore. I had paid so much attention to what was happening on the water I didn’t notice the commotion behind me. It appeared every available van and bus was summoned to accept the tourists. Ship to shore boats were lowered over the side from gantries. The ship was large enough it created its own leeward sanctuary of calm water.

The efficiency of it all was impressive. This cruise really had it nailed down, everything ran like clockwork. Heck, they didn’t need a port!

As the people made their way around town, it reminded of the days when I was a kid when busloads of tourists who had arrived by plane came to Nome. So, I had seen something like this before, but not for a long time. The people looked much the same from what I can remember. As a kid growing up in Nome, my friends and I would often be fishing and we usually became the tourist attraction. People would take pictures. Sometimes, we would hand over the pole and let them reel one in.

The powers that be made sure this visit would please the guests, signs were everywhere it seemed, welcoming people to Nome. The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Alex Haley even spent time cleaning up a portion of Nome’s beach. Local road crews graded streets and cleared vegetation.

But, as I headed to the west side of Nome’s port for some different camera angles, this newest stage of shipping history took a different turn.

There is virtually no existing infrastructure to handle anticipated increases in Arctic vessel traffic. Nome is on the front line. On the west side of our port, administrative change has impacted the landscape, and is just the beginning of the negative impact that if continued will have an astounding impact beyond my lifetime.

The port site is a well-known pre-historic site that was destroyed when the Snake River mouth was moved to its present location to make for port improvements. The site traditionally called sanispik in my language means “place on the side” and has been used by generations for subsistence.

But now the government allows only Transportation Worker ID card carrying persons to enter its restricted areas. Alaska Native people have been using the mouth of the Snake River for millennia. But now a layer of a far removed bureaucracy governs who comes and who goes.

Then my thoughts got dirty—and by that I mean sewage. Surely 1,700 people on board must be generating waste. So, I looked up figures for average daily waste streams of a cruise that size. Those figures of course vary but we can assume some 12,000 gallons of blackwater alone as a conservative estimate are generated each day. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) stipulates treating those waste streams inside 12 miles, but the gloves are off outside that boundary. Luckily, the Crystal Serenity has stated that on its maiden voyage, it will treat wastewater outside of 12 nm, even though not required by law.

I was born in and raised in Nome, I am old enough to remember the days of the honey bucket in Nome when people used buckets as household toilets. I remember the honey bucket truck and the man who disposed of people’s honey buckets. Is the Crystal Serenity just a glorified honey bucket? The Crystal Serenity’s population is half the size of Nome. This floating city is allowed under MARPOL to generate untold amounts of untreated waste beyond 12 miles.  Fortunately the Crystal Serenity is treating their waste, but, as more and more passenger vessels make their way to this region, will they too treat wastewater when not required by law? No one wants waste in the ocean and I doubt most of us have the kind of optics to see what is going on 12 miles from shore, but who wants to monitor blackwater?

There have been steady cumulative impacts from all this progress and few stories are covering that impact and few probably will until a catastrophe happens. The Crystal Serenity represents a global force of change in the Arctic that has the potential to severely impact the life of Alaska Native people and the environment. Alaskans who are concerned about the environment are asking questions with a critical eye towards the future. For over 100 years, Alaska Native people in Nome have been displaced to some extent by progress, I only hope this global force of change creates a significant departure from the past.

About the Author: Austin Ahmasuk is a lifelong Nome resident, hunter, trapper and fisher.

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Make Your Holiday Greener http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/make-your-holiday-greener/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/07/02/make-your-holiday-greener/#comments Thu, 02 Jul 2015 12:04:15 +0000 Guest Blogger http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=10347

The Travel Foundation is a non-profit organization that works with the travel industry to integrate sustainable tourism into their business — to protect the environment and create opportunities for local people in tourism destinations. Their annual Make Your Holidays Greener Month, during July, celebrates the locations around the world we love to visit and encourages visitors and the travel industry alike to take part in a cleanup — the Big Holiday Beach Clean.

Earlier this year, a report from the World Wildlife Fund valued the world’s ocean at $24trillion – a figure largely calculated from the value of fishing, shipping and tourism.  Whilst many already view the ocean as priceless, the attempt to put a monetary value on it highlights to businesses around the world the importance of taking action to protect marine ecosystems.

For tourism, the ocean and sea are vastly important.  Many of the holidays we take have beaches and coastlines at their center and these environments are an inherent part of the product marketed by tourism companies to their customers.  As a result, this industry is well placed to mobilize action, particularly on the growing and pervasive threat of marine litter.

The Make Holidays Greener campaign is focusing its efforts on engaging travel companies and their customers in celebrating cleaner, greener beaches.  The campaign is organized by sustainable tourism charity, the Travel Foundation, in partnership with Travelife a sustainability certification system for hotels and accommodations.  The organizations are urging hotels, tour operators and other tourism companies to support the campaign by organizing a beach clean this July and by reducing plastic waste.

Beach cleans are a great way to engage customers, staff and local communities in a positive and memorable action, with publicity generated by the campaign helping to spread the message more widely. The Make Holidays Greener infographic about plastic waste, which has already been shared widely, highlights that everyone can make a difference by taking simple actions – such as disposing of litter and cigarette butts properly, taking a reusable bag and bottle to the beach and not using straws.

Plus, every bag of rubbish taken out of the environment makes a difference to birds, turtles, fish, dolphins and other marine life, and the more people who participate, the greater the impact. Last year the campaign gathered great momentum with over 100 companies taking part, cleaning 97 beaches in 22 countries.  It is hoped that these efforts will also feed into the Ocean Conservancy’s database and support further efforts to minimize waste going into our seas.

The campaign website makeholidaysgreener.org.uk features a range of free resources, including how to organize a beach clean, support for hotels to reduce plastic waste, and top tips for holidaymakers.  Follow us on Twitter, @TravelTF, and join the conversation using #greenerhols.

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The Ground Beneath Their Feet: The Threat of Ocean Acidification to a Small Island http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/10/the-ground-beneath-their-feet-the-threat-of-ocean-acidification-to-a-small-island/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/10/the-ground-beneath-their-feet-the-threat-of-ocean-acidification-to-a-small-island/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 23:18:04 +0000 Alexis Valauri-Orton http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8723

What if the ground beneath your feet, the very foundation of your life and livelihood, was at risk of eroding away?  What if the very thing from which you and your community draw 95% of your wealth was at risk of disappearing?

This is the reality that Aitutaki, a small island in the Cook Islands, and many other small islands around the world, are facing.  Aitutaki, and its stunning lagoon, is protected by a coral reef.  Powerful ocean waves crash on the edges of the reef, but because coral reduces wave strength by 97%, the lagoon and the coral sand beaches remain still and calm.  The value of this protection, and the environment it creates, cannot be overstated.

I spent seven weeks in the Cook Islands as part of my Watson Fellowship studying how ocean acidification might affect communities, and for six of those weeks I called the 6.5 mi2 island with 1,800 residents home. During that visit, I saw not only how delicate the island’s ecosystem is in the face of global stressors like climate change and ocean acidification, but also the value of the thriving economy and society built squarely on its coral.

The skeletons of coral are made of calcium carbonate—the same substance that forms the shells of oysters, mussels and clams.  As the ocean becomes more acidic, it becomes more difficult for coral and shellfish to form the calcium carbonate they need. Eventually, coral won’t be able to rebuild its skeleton as quickly as it is broken down.  Recent studies show that by mid-century, a majority of coral around the world will have trouble building their skeletons.

If the coral protecting Aitutaki is damaged by ocean acidification, or rising sea temperatures, the whole island is at risk.  The coral not only protects the island from waves and storms, it also creates the spectacular lagoon and marine habitat that supports the island’s dominant economy: tourism.

An officer in the Cook Islands Ministry of Tourism told me that he believes tourism accounts for 95% of his country’s GDP.  Just like the scallops in Sechura, the economy based on coral and the lagoon extends beyond the water to an entire hospitality industry, ranging from food services to transport to lodging.  And just like in Sechura, the economic boon created by marine resources creates immense opportunities and growth for local communities and families.  Before tourism, the people of Aitutaki lived off the land and sea.  The influx of money from tourism has created a whole new way of life; one in which food is flown in to this remote island from around the world, where islanders go abroad for education, and where traditional knowledge of subsistence living has all but disappeared.

Minister of Marine Resources for the Cook Islands, Teina Bishop, explained the predicament of this new economy very plainly. “Tourism is our industry, and the pillars of tourism are our environment and our culture.  If the coral goes away, we lose tourism.  If we lose tourism, we lose income, and people will leave.”

Yes, tourism now dominates the economy of Aitutaki and allows islanders more than just a subsistence livelihood.  But ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures, the very stresses that threaten the tourism industry, would also damage the island and the ability of islanders to return to a subsistence livelihood. That means it’s just not the current way of life on Aitutaki that is threatened, it is all life.  It is their home that is threatened.

And that’s what struck me.  Ocean acidification could impact all life on small islands around the world—islands that, like Aitutaki, depend on coral for the very ground beneath their feet.  But that doesn’t have to be Aitutaki’s reality.  When I asked the Mayor of Aitutaki, John Baxter, about the future, he said, “I am hopeful.” There is momentum around the world to reduce carbon pollution—the main cause of ocean acidification—and cutting-edge research is being done to better understand how corals respond to changing oceans.  But more needs to be done, and we all need to do our part.  In the United States, you can support increased funding for science by signing our petition to Congress.  Research efforts here can lend important information to islands like Aitutaki, and help give Mayor Baxter a reason to be hopeful.

Chunks of coral skeleton line the northern beaches of Aitutaki.  Over time, these skeletons break down and form the fine sand that fills the lagoon and delights tourists. An aerial photo I snapped on my way into Aitutaki shows how the brilliant turquoise of the lagoon dramatically shifts to a deep ocean blue, right where the coral drops off. Large waves crash on the edges of the coral reef, only a few hundred feet off shore. Tourists spent up to $10,000 to come to Aitutaki for the chance to catch and release the mighty bonefish, as these men are doing here. Tourists disembark a lagoon cruise that has just arrived at one of the islets within Aitutaki’s lagoon. Destination weddings are a large source of income for Aitutaki.  Here, Bishop Cruises (owned by Minister of Marine Resources, Teina Bishop), has assembled a marriage arch on the stunning beach of One Foot island. The shores of this islet, called Honeymoon Island, could erode quickly if strong waves reached them. Louis, Mike and Cruise play traditional island songs for the patrons on the Bishops Cruise to One Foot Island. Puna has been leading lagoon cruises for 20 years, and hopes the lagoon will stay healthy enough to support his children and grandchildren. A young girl performs island dances for a crowd at a beach restaurant. Islanders line up outside of the Cook Islands Christian Church on ANZAC Day.  What may be a week-long visit in paradise to some is a home with a rich history to others. Teina Bishop, Minister of Marine Resources, is working with his office to enact local measures that will protect coral. My host mother, Eikura, wades in the lagoon in the pouring rain, setting a net to catch our dinner.  She told me of how much has changed about her home since tourism took over the economy, saying that the young people simply don’t know how to fish and farm like she did as a child. Louis, one of the entertainers on the Bishops Cruise, introduced me to his young niece.  Islanders are worried that the youngest generation won’t know how to return to a subsistence living if tourism can no longer support their economy. John Baxter, the mayor of Aitutaki, poses next to the truck of his family’s business.  He is hopeful that Aitutaki will remain strong, despite the growing challenges the island and its ecosystem face. ]]>
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Smarter Arctic Choices Begin With More Arctic Science http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/21/smarter-arctic-choices-begin-with-more-arctic-science/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/21/smarter-arctic-choices-begin-with-more-arctic-science/#comments Fri, 21 Sep 2012 21:01:48 +0000 Andrew Hartsig http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3064
Today, Alaska Senator Mark Begich introduced important new legislation that would establish a permanent program to conduct research, monitoring, and observing activities in the Arctic. If passed, Senator Begich’s bill could lead to significant advances in Arctic science that can then be used to support decisions about the management of a region that is crucial not only to the people who live there, but to the world.

Senator Begich’s bill – the Arctic Research, Monitoring, and Observing Act of 2012 – recognizes that the Arctic is undergoing profound changes. Temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the global average, seasonal sea ice is diminishing rapidly, and there is increased interest in oil exploration, commercial fishing, shipping, and tourism. As the legislation acknowledges, however, lack of integration and coordination among existing Arctic research and science programs has limited our ability to understand the important changes that are taking place in the Arctic. And our understanding of the Arctic marine ecosystem, which provides irreplaceable benefits, is further hampered by a lack of reliable baseline data, critical science gaps, and limited documentation and application/use of traditional knowledge. In addition to urgently needed baseline data and analysis of ecosystem functions in Arctic marine waters, the legislation would enable the gathering of information about subsistence resources and patterns of use in local economies, which are essential to the people and cultures coastal communities in the Arctic.

Senator Begich’s bill takes several steps to address these problems. First, it calls on the U.S. Arctic Research Commission to establish a national Arctic research program plan to help coordinate scientific research activities in the region. Second, it funds a merit-based grant program that will support new scientific research and field-work in the Arctic. Third, the bill provides funding to establish and support long-term ocean observing systems and monitoring programs in the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea, and North Pacific.

If these provisions become law and are implemented correctly, they could function as a long-term, integrated science and monitoring program for the Arctic, something that Ocean Conservancy has long advocated. A coordinated research program would help fill important gaps in our knowledge of Arctic ecosystems and identify areas that are especially important to the functioning of the marine ecosystem. Just as important, a long-term monitoring and observing program would help us understand how the region is responding to climate change and industrial development.

This kind of understanding gives policy-makers, decision-makers and stakeholders the knowledge they need to make informed choices about activities such as oil exploration, shipping, and commercial fishing. It can also inform decisions about conservation. For instance, as scientists gain more knowledge about the Arctic marine ecosystem and as they integrate and synthesize that knowledge they will be better able to identify critical areas that should be protected from development activities. And that will help ensure that the Arctic Ocean remains an intact and productive ecosystem well into the future.

Federal agencies are already making management decisions that will have significant impacts on the future of the Arctic Ocean. Americans want those decisions to be based on sound science and to ensure sustainable uses of our ocean resources for this and future generations. The Arctic research, monitoring, and observing activities addressed by Senator Begich’s bill would take an essential step toward that goal.

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