The Blog Aquatic » West Coast http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 Sea Star Epidemic Plagues Oregon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/23/sea-star-epidemic-plagues-oregon/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/06/23/sea-star-epidemic-plagues-oregon/#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 17:49:24 +0000 Carmen Yeung http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8617

Since June 2013, millions of sea stars along the West Coast have disintegrated and died. Scientists have relentlessly tried to identify the cause of the “sea star wasting syndrome.” (See map of locations with outbreak.)

Typically, the first signs of an afflicted sea star are white lesions appearing on its body. Shortly thereafter, sea stars lose their limbs and their internal organs disintegrate. Although sea stars have the ability to regenerate limbs, the disease often progresses too quickly for them to recover. The exact cause of this disease is unknown. Scientists believe that sea star wasting syndrome may be due to a viral or bacterial infection, and could be exacerbated by increased water temperature. Populations of the ochre and sunflower sea stars, two common West Coast species, have been hit especially hard. Similar die-offs have occurred in the past, but never at the magnitude we see today, and over such a wide geographic area.

Oregon’s sea stars seemed to have been spared the dreadful fate of their West Coast neighbors. However, in recent weeks, Oregon’s monitoring networks have estimated that 30-50% of ochre sea stars in the intertidal area show symptoms of the syndrome. Researchers project that they may see local extinction of ochre sea stars at some Oregon sites.

While pretty to look at, most people do not usually think about the importance of sea stars. They’re not economically beneficial like oysters or salmon. And when you think of the ocean’s top predators—sea stars don’t usually come to mind.

However, sea stars are ravenous hunters who serve an important role controlling sea urchin and other invertebrate populations. Without some sea star species, unchecked populations of sea urchins have the ability to devastate kelp beds, which act as important nesting and foraging grounds for many species of fish.

Though sea star wasting syndrome may only affect sea stars themselves, the impact of the disease can cause a ripple effect through the marine ecosystem. This devastating outbreak highlights the need for consistent science funding and continued marine research. Once the cause and transmission of the disease are known, scientists will have a better idea how the environment will be impacted and whether sea stars will be able to recover.

How can people help? West Coast residents and divers can help scientists by recording observations of where they have and haven’t seen the wasting syndrome in sea stars at seastarwasting.org. This information will help researchers assess and, hopefully reverse this devastating syndrome.

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A Major Sea Change: Ocean Acidification Becomes a Top Priority http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/26/a-major-sea-change-ocean-acidification-becomes-a-top-priority/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/09/26/a-major-sea-change-ocean-acidification-becomes-a-top-priority/#comments Thu, 26 Sep 2013 17:30:23 +0000 Julia Roberson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=6702

Earlier this month, the Seattle Times unveiled their most ambitious multimedia project ever: Sea Change: The Pacific Ocean Takes a Perilous Turn.

After months of travel across the Pacific, journalists Craig Welch and Steve Ringman unveiled the thorough and striking series of videos, photographs and interviews that underline just what ocean acidification will mean for people. Welch and Ringman capture a changing ocean, focusing on how increasing acidification will impact communities along the Pacific Rim including American crab and shellfish industries.

The iconic oyster industries on both the East and West coasts have been coping with the effects of ocean acidification for almost a decade now—and research is showing that crabs and other shell-forming species may be seeing direct impacts soon.

The species in the crosshairs are not only culturally relevant, but also economically valuable—supporting jobs and feeding millions. This is serious business for the United States and other nations that depend on a healthy ocean.

Ocean acidification is finally bubbling to the top of the list of priorities for industry, science, government and conservations groups alike. Last week, the XPRIZE Foundation announced a $2 million prize to develop better ocean acidification sensors. The entire West Coast is working together to better understand ocean acidification and how state governments can react.

Even Washington, D.C., is getting in on the action. The Senate and House ocean caucuses hosted congressional briefings on ocean acidification featuring shellfish industry and agency leadership.

And the Seattle Times isn’t the only media outlet spreading the word. The Daily Astorian and the Sacramento Bee both featured op-eds this month about local industry concerns.

Increasing coverage of this important issue is getting people to start paying attention. But as the threat it poses to our ocean continues to loom even larger, we can’t let the momentum stop here.

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What To Do If You Find Tsunami Debris Washed Ashore http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/20/what-to-do-if-you-find-tsunami-debris-washed-ashore/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/09/20/what-to-do-if-you-find-tsunami-debris-washed-ashore/#comments Thu, 20 Sep 2012 15:01:38 +0000 Nick Mallos http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3013

Ocean Conservancy created a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that highlights the most common items of debris that have been washing onto West Coast beaches. Click the image to download the complete version.

Marine debris generated from the March 11th tsunami is drastically different from the ocean trash that was already plaguing our ocean. Over the coming months, there may be many difficult-to-collect debris items from the tsunami such as housing and construction materials, fishing gear and vessels. We could also find potentially dangerous items such as combustibles, as well as personal items related to the victims. Therefore, it is critical that volunteers and beachcombers document each item of debris they encounter on beaches with the highest level of scrutiny.

To assist with this effort, Ocean Conservancy created a Tsunami Debris Field Guide that highlights the most common debris items that are washing onto West Coast beaches in significantly higher numbers than in previous years. Content for the field guide was informed by our database of Cleanup data, NOAA, the California Coastal Commission and International Coastal Cleanup West Coast State Coordinators.

The field guide is NOT intended to forecast the arrival of tsunami debris and it’s imperative to remember that debris from foreign countries regularly washes onto U.S. West Coast beaches, so Asian characters on debris alone do not confirm it originated during the tsunami. The field guide provides Cleanup volunteers an educational tool so they can identify potential tsunami debris while sauntering West Coast beaches. International Coastal Cleanup participants have been using the field guide during the International Coastal Cleanup, noting any suspected tsunami debris items in the Items of Local Concern section on the Cleanup data card. These data will be analyzed in the months following the Cleanup and compared with tsunami debris model predictions. There are also protocols for handling and reporting suspected tsunami debris on the field guide.

The Tsunami Debris Field Guide can be found at Ocean Conservancy’s Tsunami Debris Action Center, along with other information about tsunami debris, what to do if you’ve found suspected tsunami debris, and how to differentiate tsunami debris from ocean trash. You can also enter your email address below to sign up to receive tsunami debris updates as new information becomes available:

 

   
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If you see a significant debris sighting, please send a photo and as much information as possible to DisasterDebris@noaa.gov.

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An Ocean Louisiana Purchase in the Making http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/22/an-ocean-louisiana-purchase-in-the-making/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/05/22/an-ocean-louisiana-purchase-in-the-making/#comments Tue, 22 May 2012 18:41:34 +0000 Jeff Watters http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=721 Louisiana Purchase map

Credit: Library of Congress

Imagine if the United States could lay claim over vast stretches of pristine open ocean and coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. What if we could expand our nation’s control over the marine environments in the Arctic, the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea? And how might it benefit our country if we could extend our existing maritime borders along the East Coast, West Coast and the Gulf of Mexico?

It would be like a giant ocean Louisiana Purchase. Except this time, the United States wouldn’t have to pay a dime.

Expansion of U.S. borders may seem like the stuff of history books. But what I’m talking about here isn’t history. And it isn’t fantasy. It’s a very real choice facing the U.S. Senate right at this very moment.

Tomorrow, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will begin considering ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, a U.S.-initiated agreement that the United States has abided by since the Reagan Administration and yet to this day the Senate has failed to approve.

The treaty is the set of global “rules of the road” for the world’s ocean, and yet the United States – which controls more ocean area than any other single nation – has been sitting on the sidelines unable to reap the treaty’s benefits because of the Senate’s inaction.

Hopefully, that will soon change. At the urging of a vast and non-traditional alliance of environmental, business, labor and national security groups, the Senate is poised to finally consider doing what it has failed to do for so long – ratify the Law of the Sea Treaty.

And the benefits of doing so could be enormous.

Under the treaty, nations can lay claim to the seafloor outside of the traditional 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone if they can demonstrate that the continental shelf extends beyond the limit. The United States has many areas where this shallow coastal environment extends beyond 200 miles, meaning that ratification of the treaty could bring a massive expansion of our country’s ocean borders – and exclusive access to those ocean seabed resources.

Preliminary studies indicate that the United States may be able to lay claim to another million square kilometers of ocean. This would be an expansion of U.S. waters roughly twice the size of California or nearly half the size of the Louisiana Purchase.

Throughout America’s growth as a nation, many of our expansions – from the Louisiana Purchase to the purchase of Alaska – were controversial in the moment. But looking back through the lens of history, each one has proven to be vital to the success of our nation.

As the Senate considers the Law of the Sea Treaty, there will undoubtedly be naysayers, but this is history in the making. By expanding our maritime borders now, we’ll be able to reap the benefits long into the future.

Update: Just to be clear, the expansion of U.S. jurisdiction over additional ocean talked about here is just one part of what is a very comprehensive treaty. The Law of the Sea Treaty also contains extensive provisions on protecting the ocean environment – one of the reasons so many environmental groups support the treaty.

If the U.S. finally became a signatory to the treaty, it would not only help ensure that the U.S. followed the common-sense rules of the road for protecting the ocean, but it would also give the U.S. the international credibility and leverage to ensure that other nations also did their part to help protect the ocean environment. For those who are interested in learning more, you can take a look at Part XII of the treaty on protection and preservation of the marine environment.

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