Author Archive

We Are the Carriers of Water

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Maggie Sanders has a commanding presence.

That thought emerges and crystallizes within a few seconds of meeting her. She gives me a rundown of the projects she’s currently tackling and my eyes widen with each addition to the growing list.

Stacks of applications, research articles and project proposals litter the perimeter of her desk. It is evidence of her tireless commitment to studying climate change resiliency, which she doggedly pursues along with her full-time responsibilities as the Executive Secretary for the Nisqually Department of Natural Resources. As the representative to the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification (OA Alliance), my colleague, Melia Paguirigan had the opportunity to learn about how the Nisqually Tribe emphasizes education and outreach to protect their treaty trust resources, culture and community from the impacts of ocean acidification.

Maggie spoke to me about the importance of storytelling, the transference of traditional ecological knowledge and how to reclaim your voice. I hope she inspires you as she inspired me.

© Maggie Sanders

Emily Okikawa: What role does storytelling play in educating people about environmental challenges?

Maggie Sanders: When I attended The Rising Voices: Collaborative Science with Indigenous Knowledge for Climate Solutions program in March, it was challenging to collaborate with Western-based science that does not understand federal Indian law or policy or even what a treaty is. When they were talking about traditional ecological knowledge—what is was, what it means and why it is important—they just didn’t understand. So I told them a story.

I come from the last whale hunter of the Makah nation. My great-grandfather would immerse himself in the environment for two to three months. However long it took. He would bathe in the waters and scrape his skin with cedar to prepare himself to go out and whale hunt. Traditional ecological knowledge is important because the ceremonial hunting traditions my great-grandfather practiced needed to be passed down to my grandfather who needed to pass it down to my brother who needed to pass it down to his son. And so on. It was a pivotal moment in understanding the importance of storytelling and how traditional ecological knowledge meshes with Western science. We’re still stumbling, but it’s working because we’re collaborating and working for the same goal.

Okikawa: Thank you for sharing such a powerful story—I have goosebumps! How have you seen these spaces changing over time?

Sanders: The first time I attended the conference, I was shocked to see that there were very little indigenous people, let alone women in the field. I was discouraged and I almost didn’t want to stay. I kept thinking and wondering where’s my place? What’s my role here? Should I be here? But, this year the women really took over the conference. I received words of encouragement from other strong indigenous women and I learned a lot about how to interact and work with outside entities and people. When we did a water ceremony, another indigenous woman told me, “Women are the carriers of life. We are the carriers of water. Respect women.” It was powerful.

Okikawa: That is really inspiring—especially for young women of color working in the environmental field. What advice would you give to the next generation who are looking to follow in your footsteps?

Sanders: Remember that your ancestors really sacrificed a lot to get us to where we are now and what we’re doing here today. I feel that it’s extremely important that the next generation knows their culture and their history and how they relate to Mother Earth. They need to know how important it is to protect their treaty trust resources for their children in the next generations to come. They need to teach their children their traditional ways through culture, language, traditional ecological knowledge and bringing the elders to tell their story to the children so that it can be passed down to the next 10 generations.

© Maggie Sanders

Okikawa: Environmental work can often be challenging, what gives you hope?

Sanders: I feel that it’s a part of my moral obligation and duty as a Makah tribal member. It’s a part of my identity and culture. It’s a part of who I am. My grandfather bathed in the Wa’atch River every single day. So water is sacred. All our animals and plants are sacred. To me, the work is rewarding in itself and the outcomes that are produced are enough to make me happy.

Okikawa: Do you have a message for non-indigenous people about how we can be better allies and accomplices?

Sanders: That’s a tough one. Well, everyone wants to work together and collaborate and I think the key is communication and cultural sensitivity. Know whose land you’re on. Acknowledge when you’re walking into someone’s space and if there was a treaty involved before engaging with indigenous communities regarding treaty trust resources.

Maggie is a testament to how the salient role of knowing and understanding your roots is the basis of a community’s strength and resilience. For those of us who exist at the crossroads of intersectionality, I want to leave you with this piece of advice that Maggie shared with me about navigating situations where you feel like you have to fight to have your voice heard.

“Don’t compromise who you are or your integrity for the benefit of another.

Be who you are and stand for what you believe in and for what you feel is right.”

© Maggie Sanders

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4 Reasons to Be a Part of the Ocean Conservancy Photo Contest

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Summertime is officially here and among the many incredible things it brings along with it is the annual Ocean Conservancy Photo Contest! Whether you have coastal photos from previous vacations or underwater pictures from a stellar scuba session, we want to see them entered into our Annual Photo Contest!

  1. This year, we have five turtle-y awesome categories to enter:
  • Coastlines Seascapes
  • Human Impact
  • Marine Wildlife
  • People the Ocean
  • Underwater Wonders

I know our winners are out there somewhere—are you one of them?

  1. You have plenty of time to submit your photos!

We’ll be accepting submissions until July 9, 2018 at midnight EDT. Afterwards, you and your friends will be able to vote for your favorite photos online. This contest is open to the public and free to enter, so feel free to invite your fellow ocean-lovers to participate.

  1. We have otter-ly amazing judges this year.

Our panel of expert judges is searching for photographs of charismatic ocean critters, beautiful coastal scenery and photos that remind them of the beauty and power of our ocean. And while the winners will definitely get bragging rights, that’s not all they’ll be winning. This year, ALL winners will receive a framed award featuring their beautiful photo, as well as limited-edition Ocean Conservancy merchandise. And our extra-talented, big winner一Judge’s Choice一will also receive a $500 gift card to BH Photo!

  1. You will earn bragging rights with your friends and family! When the voting period opens, you’ll be able to ask your friends and family to vote for you.

And, don’t forget to follow along Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, where we’ll be sharing some of our favorite entries throughout the contest!

I can’t wait to see what you’ve got to share!

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President Trump Rescinds the National Ocean Policy

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Today President Trump rescinded the National Ocean Policy and replaced it with a new set of ocean policies for the federal government to focus on.

National Ocean Policy

When the National Ocean Policy (NOP) was announced in 2011, it was the result of decades of research, public outreach and the recommendations of three separate ocean policy commissions, including one established by President Bill Clinton and concluded under President George W. Bush.

The NOP established the National Ocean Council (NOC), bringing together leaders from federal agencies with a stake in our ocean, including NOAA, NASA, Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Science Foundation and the Office of Management and Budget. For the first time ever, the NOC elevated ocean leadership within the federal government to the White House level. The NOP directed federal agencies to form Regional Planning Bodies comprised of federal agencies, states, tribes, and fishery management councils and to develop regional ocean plans based on the understanding that ocean ecosystems and management challenges are intricately connected. It also defined principles to guide federal agencies in management, ensuring the ocean is healthy and resilient.

Under the NOP, it was the policy of the U.S. to protect, maintain and restore the health of ocean ecosystems; support sustainable ocean uses; and increase our scientific understanding to respond to climate change and ocean acidification.

These principles guided comprehensive management of our ocean across dozens of federal agencies, leading them to address challenges like illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) seafood fraud, harmful algal blooms, maritime safety, and national security.

New Ocean Policy

The new Ocean Policy to “Advance the Economic, Security, and Environmental Interest of the U.S.” moves away from this visionary policy for ocean health, which has provided a model for how our oceans can and should be managed. Retreating from this vision is a step back from addressing ocean ecosystems in a comprehensive framework.

What this new policy does do is provide ocean management tools that have the potential to build on the work of previous administrations to improve ocean data and reduce conflicts. Specifically, there are four key components of the Trump administration ocean policy we will watch closely:

  1. Regional Ocean Partnerships. State level, governor-created organizations that work to set ocean management priorities and engage states, federal agencies, and stakeholders in a common sense way to keep the blue economy working. The focus on ocean planning at a regional level means that states will work together and with federal agencies to define ocean management priorities. The new policy directs federal agencies to assist coastal states and regions in achieving their management goals.
  2. Publically accessible, regional ocean data portals. Regional data portals provide access to maps, data, and information needed by state and federal agencies, industry, conservation, and researchers. These portals help establish a common understanding among stakeholders about ocean resources and thus lead to more informed management decisions.
  3. Coordination across federal agencies. With over 140 laws managed by over 20 federal entities with jurisdiction over the ocean, coordination across agencies is critical for conservation, the ocean economy, and scientific research.
  4. Ocean leadership at the White House. The National Ocean Council has been replaced with the Interagency Ocean Policy Committee. This committee retains leadership over ocean issues in the government, but has a narrower scope of focus areas than the NOC did. The Interagency Ocean Policy Committee will create subcommittees specific to ocean science and technology and ocean resource management.

What does this transition in policy mean for our ocean?

The change, unfortunately, likely means a shift away from some key conservation guiding principles that the Obama Administration pursued to ensure a healthy and resilient ocean. However, we now have a clearer view into this administration’s ocean priorities, and a chance to work to ensure that this policy supports ocean ecosystems and coastal communities.

Ocean Conservancy has worked for over a decade on ocean planning, engaging a broad set of stakeholders from commercial fishing, recreation, tourism, shipping, maritime trades, conservation, and research. We have been deeply engaged in facilitating dialogue and ensuring ocean voices are heard on Capitol Hill and at the White House. We will work to hold the Trump Administration accountable and ensure the commitments outlined in this policy are achieved.

We are committed to our ocean and our community.

We will ensure this policy is responsive to the needs of states, regions, and stakeholders. We will also continue to urge this administration to prioritize ocean conservation, and we will work with anyone–from local communities, non-profits, and private sector stakeholders to state governors and federal agencies–that shares that vision with us. We will fight to ensure all ocean users continue to have a voice in ocean management decisions, operating from a belief that if everyone is engaged we secure better outcomes for coastal communities, economies and the environment.

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Holding Strong for Our Ocean

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To mark National Ocean Month this June, the Trump administration continues to roll back critical pieces of policy that keep our ocean healthy and working.

I’m particularly dismayed at his decision to repeal the historic National Ocean Policy (NOP) today.

This common-sense plan was good for the economy, jobs, local communities, national security and the environment. Signed by President Obama in 2010, and based on recommendations from the 2004 U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy appointed by President Bush, this visionary strategy laid the foundation for integrated ocean management across all levels of government, tribes and coastal communities. For the first time, we had an ocean agenda that placed a premium on collaboration and supported conservation and sustainable use. Over the years, we’ve seen how it yielded real results for our ocean.

President Trump replaced it with a new executive order entitled “Ocean Policy to Advance the Economic, Security, and Environmental Interests of the United States.” 

While it retains some pieces of the policy to benefit the blue economy, what we’ve lost is the balance required to manage the ocean as an integrated and interdependent system.

It retains four key components for ocean management that were foundations of ocean planning: regional ocean partnerships, publically accessible regional ocean data portals, improved coordination across federal agencies and leadership at the highest levels. I do not doubt that industry leaders and states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic who spoke up strongly in favor of measures like ocean planning made a positive impact on the administration’s decision.

For over 10 years, we’ve advocated for smart ocean plans that benefit coastal communities and businesses that rely on the ocean. We’re glad that some of this important work has been embraced by the president, and we will continue to hold the administration accountable for delivering on the new executive order.

The president’s decision comes against a backdrop of other attacks by this administration on our ocean. Here are four of the most concerning examples, which have been followed by unprecedented pushback from concerned citizens and members like you:

  • 2018 began with a Trump administration proposal to open more than 97% of U.S. waters to offshore oil and gas leasing. Over 18,000 of you have expressed your opposition to opening the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic to new oil and gas development. We know that this fight is going to be long, and we’re going to need you every step of the way.
  • In February, President Trump proposed–again–over $1 billion in cuts at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including a $273 million slash to grants and programs that support critical work like hurricane recovery, marine debris research and climate adaptation programs in states and local communities. And yet, despite the administration’s proposal, Congress has heard that you value NOAA and has rejected some of the most illogical cuts–thank you.
  • In May, the Trump administration put spill prevention and oil rig safety in jeopardy as it pushed for changes to safety measures implemented after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy. The Well Control and Blowout Preventer rule was the result of six years of research, analysis and stakeholder consultation. It was put in place after a tragedy that cost 11 men their lives and resulted in an estimated 210 million gallons of oil and 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants dumped into the Gulf of Mexico. The administration is taking public comments on this proposal until July 10, 2018. Now is the time to let the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement know that the real bottom line is the safety of Americans and the health of our ocean. Please take action now.
  • And last month, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt unveiled new regulations on “strengthening transparency in regulatory science,” which would exclude science based on confidential data–like health studies–from environmental rulemaking at the EPA unless that private information is made public. The proposed rule would greatly limit the data and models that the EPA would rely upon when setting health standards. That wouldn’t just be a loophole–it would be a legal requirement for the EPA to ignore the best available science.

Making your voice heard on key policy issues is vitally important. And there are other things you can do during National Ocean Month that will make a difference to our ocean. Let’s remember our commitment to the ocean is not just in June, it’s every month.

  • Download our free CleanSwell app, which is available for both iOS and Android. Trash and plastic in our ocean is a huge and growing problem, and every piece of trash picked up off our beaches makes a difference. This summer, use CleanSwell to track the items you pick up, the weight of the trash you collect and keep a record of your cleanup efforts. And every single item is uploaded to our global ocean database, which is an invaluable resource for researchers working to solve the ocean trash problem.
  • We still need your help to protect the Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic from risky oil gas drilling, and to protect the safety rules put in place after the Deepwater Horizon disaster. You can help prevent this from happening by taking action now.

In spite of the threats, we are making progress, we are making a difference, we are pushing back against risky proposals that threaten our ocean and coastal communities. And every day, we can take action that helps the ocean.

Together, we are a force for our ocean.

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The More You NOAA: What the Trump Budget Cuts Mean for Maine’s Oyster Business

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Bill Mook started Mook Sea Farm in 1985 after attending the University of Maine as an oceanography graduate student. Situated on the banks of the Damariscotta River in Maine, Mook Sea Farm grew American oysters for the half shell market and supplied seed clams, scallops and oysters to other East Coast shellfish farmers. Today, their hatchery produces only American oysters (more than 120 million juveniles annually). While they still sell oyster seed, market oyster sales now represent the greatest part of their business.

In addition to being a leader in the shellfish industry, Bill Mook is also a staunch water quality champion and a vocal advocate for ocean acidification mitigation strategies. Along with helping to form a citizen’s water quality monitoring group for the Damariscotta River (which eventually expanded to much of Maine’s coast), he’s also spearheaded several research projects that assess the impacts of ocean acidification on his shellfish business.

However, the federal agency that funds these important research projects, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently under threat. In February, the Trump Administration proposed over $1 billion in cuts to NOAA for fiscal year 2019, nearly 20% of the agencies entire operating budget. This would affect American businesses across the nation that, like Mook Sea Farm, rely on NOAA funding to support their livelihood.

I had a chance to speak with Bill Mook to talk about Mook Sea Farm, what cuts to NOAA would mean for his business and what the ocean means to him.

Bill and Joe on boatBill and Joe on boat
© Mook Sea Farm

Emi Okikawa: What made you first aware of the effects of ocean acidification?

Bill Mook: In 2009, we were experiencing great difficulty growing our larvae. We lost a few batches, but mostly we observed that a cohort would suddenly stop feeding and we’d have to do series of water changes and coax them back to health.

Often times, instead of the normal 14 days to go through the larval cycle, it could take anywhere from 18 to 28 days. That put a big pinch on our production because when that happens a couple times, it represents an entire spawn which equates to a loss of 15 million oysters seeds.

We began to connect the dots to ocean acidification after meeting with some West Coast hatchery operators who described the problems they had experienced and how they figured out that they were caused by changing carbonate chemistry.

Okikawa: How is NOAA important to the work that you do?

Mook: NOAA provides information we use on a regular basis. Every morning when I wake up, I listen to the NOAA buoy reports and the NOAA weather forecast. Our business is very dependent on accurate weather information.

We also benefit from the Sea Grant programs, because they fund some of our research and development projects. I think that leads into what I see as the longer term of value of NOAA, which is helping us to understand some of the changes that we see taking place in our natural environment.

We appreciate NOAA funding work on ocean acidification. Through funded research, NOAA provides information that we’ll be able to use to plan our future and try to understand what changes we’re facing. NOAA is a very important part of getting all those answers.

Okikawa: Why was it important to you to come to Washington D.C. in March to meet with lawmakers and get to tell your story?

Mook: Well, the president’s budget proposed a one-billion-dollar cut to a five-billion-dollar budget. And given how important NOAA is to not just us, but everyone in the fisheries industry, we just thought that this was not a sustainable budget. It would really just gut key programs and leave us at a competitive disadvantage worldwide and really negatively impact our prospects for continuing to grow and improve our businesses. We believe that accurate information is key to our resiliency in the face of rapidly changing environmental conditions.

In my case, coming from Maine, there is a very large and strong support for NOAA. Senator Angus King, Senator Susan Collins and Congresswoman Chellie Pingree are completely and totally on board. So, my goal coming down there was not so much to influence them to change their views or to impress upon them the importance of NOAA, but rather to provide them with stories that they could use to convince their colleagues to make sure that NOAA stays funded.

© Mook Sea Farm

Okikawa: What were some of those stories you wanted to highlight for lawmakers to better understand the impacts?

Mook: Those of us producing food from the sea are not just providing healthy and sustainably grown food. We are important to the fabric of small coastal communities that are emblematic of an American way of life that people treasure. The rapidly changing climate is already costing us and poses a serious threat to our future. Agencies like NOAA are crucial to our ability to understand what’s happening with these environmental changes

If you look at the precipitation data over a 50-year period, there’s been more than a 70 percent increase in very heavy precipitation events in the northeast. That has a very direct impact on us. For example, when there’s more than two inches of rainfall in 24 hours, the state of Maine closes down the impacted areas until they can test the waters to ensure they are clean and that there are no bacterial contamination issues. During that time, which can be up to a week, we can’t harvest or ship our products. That’s lost revenue.

Another impact of a severe weather event is that ocean acidification is exacerbated during times of heavy runoff. When you get big precipitation events you also get an influx of fresh water. At least for us, on the Damariscotta River, runoff is as important a factor in ocean acidification as the amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere because (among other things) freshwater runoff is more acidic than seawater. I see NOAA as being the logical place where those kinds of problems are researched to find solutions.

Okikawa: And lastly, why is the ocean important to you?

Mook: Well, it’s the lifeblood of my business. It’s my livelihood. M y business totally and completely depends on having a good healthy marine environment.

I could not do what we’re doing if we didn’t have clean water. Simple as that.

*To see other stories about why NOAA funding is important click here

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Building a Partnership to Remove Marine Debris on Alaska’s St. Paul Island

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In May, my co-worker Patty Chambers and I were fortunate to be able to travel to St. Paul Island in Alaska’s remote Pribilof Islands to participate in a marine debris cleanup. We worked with students from the school to remove approximately 300 pounds of debris from a fur seal rookery near town.

As part of that effort, I spent nearly an hour working with several students from the high school and middle school, as well as a visiting teacher, to remove a huge piece of fishing net wedged under two boulders on the rookery. We were all on our hands and knees, digging, pulling and cutting with two pocket knives. We laughed, joked, and, ultimately, removed most of the net. Working as a team on something tangible and important stands out as one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences I’ve had in a long time.

In addition to participating in the cleanup, Patty and I spent time exploring the island. Everywhere we went, the community of 400 people was warm and welcoming.

We were shown incredible hospitality. Within an hour of arriving in St. Paul, we’d bumped into Patty’s seatmate during the flight. He took us on a driving tour to some of the beaches, showed us the wind turbines that generate about half of the power for the island, and pointed out the military presence on the island. We were given an impromptu introduction to the island’s museum that included a first-hand history of Russian and American fur seal harvests, glimpses of traditional art, and background about the unusual importance of baseball on St. Paul.

The people of St. Paul were generous hosts. We were treated to reindeer backstrap for dinner, fried halibut made by the students and a barbecue on the last day of school.

We also got to see some of the amazing beauty of the island. We hiked to the top of a volcanic hill and wandered into lava tube caves along the way. We walked long stretches of rocky and sandy beaches and were lucky to see the first of the tens of thousands of fur seals that will come later in the spring. We scoured cliffs for puffins, murres, kittiwakes and auklets. We looked out over the beautiful and seemingly endless ocean.

Patty and I planned for our next visit by scouting other “collector” beaches where marine debris washes up. I was saddened to see the shore covered in fishing line, net, buoys and plastic trash. Many of these beaches are the ones to which fur seals return, year after year.

We hope that this year’s cleanup is the start of a long-term, growing partnership to remove the debris from the beaches of St. Paul next year, and the year after that—until we can find a way to stem the tide of trash in our ocean.

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11 Fabulous Fathers with Fins

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Parenting can be tough. You can often find yourself sacrificing for your children in order to keep them happy and safe. Fathers play a special role in raising children. They make us feel safe, teach us how to survive and always ready to cheer us up with laughter. These qualities make us all appreciate our fathers here on land—and under the sea is not so different. As fathers of the sea, many fish and marine mammals strive to show off their skills as daring—and doting—dads!

Emperor penguin

Penguins - Media PressPenguins - Media Press
© Media Press

While Emperor penguins have flippers instead of fins, they’re still considered one of the most popular fathers of the sea. During the early months of the year in Antarctica, male penguins fatten up to prepare for their long challenge in March. After a female Emperor penguin lays her egg, the father must protect the egg while she leaves to hunt. For four months, he must hold the egg between the tops of his feet and brooding pouch to keep it warm, enduring harsh temperatures and lack of food. Talk about dedication!


Father Seahorse - Allwetterzoo MunsterFather Seahorse - Allwetterzoo Munster
© Allwetterzoo Münster

Seahorses are another popular father. They’re a rarity in the animal kingdom because the male carries the babies. After a courtship dance, which can last as long as eight hours, the female seahorse deposits eggs in the male’s stomach pouch and which are then fertilized by the male. The male can carry as many as 2,000 eggs in one pregnancy!

Sand goby

Sand Goby - Public DomainSand Goby - Public Domain
© Public Domain

The sand goby is a type of ray-finned fish found in the muddy or sandy waters off Europe’s coast and is another example of gender norm reversal. After the female lays her eggs, she takes off, leaving the male goby solely responsible for ensuring the safety of their eggs.


Arowana - Emily VoigtArowana - Emily Voigt
© Emily Voigt

Arowanas, a freshwater fish found in Africa, India, and Australia, are what is known as “mouthbrooders.” After a female arowana has laid her eggs, the male scoops them all up into his mouth until they hatch. Hatched eggs are called “fry” and the father slowly acclimates them to their surroundings, letting them explore and signaling them to return when there is danger. The father has to be very careful, however—if he is startled, he can accidentally swallow some of the young!


Pipefish - Aaron DownPipefish - Aaron Down
© Aaron Down

Found widely throughout the Pacific Ocean, pipefish are another exemplary father that take on a similar role to the male seahorse. Pipefish live in seagrass beds of tropical waters and have great camouflage to match the seagrass blades. Like the seahorse, the male carries the young in his brooding pouch and keeps them nourished until they are ready to hatch.

Hardhead catfish

Catfish - Catfish LeagueCatfish - Catfish League
© Catfish League

The hardhead catfish is another great father found in North American waters. They are also  mouthbrooders and can carry up to 48 marble-sized eggs. Since females produce fewer eggs than most fish, males had to adapt in order to protect their eggs in the open ocean. During the 60 days that it takes for the eggs to develop and hatch, the father completely staves off food.

Siamese fighting fish

Siamese Fighting Fish - PDSiamese Fighting Fish - PD
© Public Domain

Siamese fighting fish, also known as bettas, got their name for their intense fatherly instinct. Male bettas build a nest of floating bubbles, coating each one with saliva so they won’t pop, for the female’s eggs. The male fights off everything—including the mother—to ensure the safety of the eggs. One might say he’s more than a little overprotective. The incubation period is short, however, with the eggs hatching after 24 to 36 hours. The male continues to protect the newborns until they are ready to survive on their own.


CardinalFish - Debi HenshawCardinalFish - Debi Henshaw
© Debi Henshaw

Cardinalfish are the last mouthbrooders on our list. They are only found in the tropical waters off the coast of the Banggai Archipelago, a group of islands in Indonesia. Unlike other mouthbrooders, the females release an egg mass close to the male which the male then fertilizes before taking them into his mouth. During the incubation period, the male sometimes open his mouth to rotate the eggs, keeping them clean and ensuring they have enough oxygen.

Sea spider

Sea Spider - Alexander SemenovSea Spider - Alexander Semenov
© Alexander Semenov

Surprisingly, Sea spiders are dutiful fathers that can be found all over the world. After fertilizing a female’s eggs, the male collects them all and secretes a substance to attach them to one of his appendages called an oviger. He carries the eggs with him until they hatch and are able to survive on their own.


Lumpsucker - E. Pringle:D. YoungLumpsucker - E. Pringle:D. Young
© D. Young

Found in the cold waters of the Arctic, North Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the lumpsucker is our most adorable dad. In order to attract females, male lumpsuckers build nests to show off their great parenting skills! Once a female selects his nest, she will lay up to 350,000 eggs and then return to her independent lifestyle. The male lumpsucker then fertilizes the eggs and protects them from predators and keeps them well oxygenated during their four to eight week incubation period.


Clownfish - David DoubiletClownfish - David Doubilet
© David Doubilet

Our final father figure has even had a movie dedicated to his resilient parenting instincts. The clownfish is a careful caretaker, fanning the water to give his eggs oxygen and keeping them clean. Their paternal instincts are so strong that even a bachelor clownfish will care for eggs from a different nest.

Regardless of whether they’re losing sleep over an energetic newborn or facing freezing temperatures to keep their egg warm, fathers of both land and sea deserve our thanks and appreciation this Father’s Day.

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Cleanup the Don

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This blog post was written by Lisa Erdle and Kennedy Bucci, Ph.D. students in the Rochman Lab at the University of Toronto.

On May 6th, 2018, we led our first annual Cleanup the Don inland coastal cleanup to remove trash along the Don River, keep trash out of Lake Ontario and raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution. Students and researchers from the University of Toronto joined forces with the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup, the International Coastal Cleanup and Paddle the Don, an annual event organized by the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) where local residents can canoe and kayak down the Don River.

The Don River is Toronto’s most urbanized watershed and is widely enjoyed by citizens and tourists alike. On any given day, one can see a wide variety of activities in the expanse of parkland in the ravines around the Don River. Cyclists, walkers, runners, anglers and others use the trails alongside the river, which is located a short walk from Toronto’s downtown core. But, it is also a river with plastic pollution throughout.

© Cole Brookson

At six locations, spanning over 10km of the Don River, teams collected 210 kg of trash, nearly half of which was recycled. Volunteers found many common items such as plastic packaging, coffee cups, plastic bottles and plastic bags. However, we were surprised to find a few unusual items like a vacuum cleaner, a toboggan and Venetian blinds! By number, cigarette butts were the most common item collected during the cleanup, and nearly 2000 were sent to be recycled. Despite their small size, they can be particularly harmful in the environment due to the toxic chemicals they contain.

While some pollution may originate from park-goers, wind and rain also carry plastic debris from land into rivers, lakes and oceans. And piece by piece, the pollution adds up.

Scientists estimate that between 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tons of plastic enter the ocean from land every year due to mismanaged waste. Plastic can also enter the environment as microplastic—small plastic less than 5mm in size. Canada is taking steps through the microbead ban, which will eliminate microbeads in personal care products (like toothpaste and facewash) as of July 1, 2018. However, policy does not yet address other sources of microplastics, such as microfibers that shed from textiles or synthetic rubber dust from tires.

This year Canada holds the presidency of the G7. As part of its efforts to protect our oceans, Canada has indicated its intentions to support international policy for a zero-plastics-waste charter. At the national level, Canadians have recognized work is also needed to address single-use plastic, increase recycled content in plastic products, and to increase the national recycling rate.

There are many ways we are working to tackle the plastic pollution problem, and we encourage others to do the same:

  1. Avoid single-use plastic items: Using environmentally-friendly items such as stainless steel or glass straws and reusable water bottles, shopping bags and utensils, can help divert waste from landfills and the environment.
  2. Improve recycling at home: By learning better recycling habits, we can prevent recyclable products from ending up in a landfill. While the list of “recyclables” varies depending on where you live, there are often resources available to help. Where we live, the City of Toronto’s Waste Wizard identifies the proper bin to put your waste.
  3. Get involved in your community: Joining a cleanup in your area, (or leading one!) can help reduce plastic in the environment. The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup and International Coastal Cleanup have resources to help organize cleanups, as well as track and report data.

As we continue to lead cleanups, we are hoping to gain valuable information to answer questions such as: Do patterns of waste change over time? Will accumulation of litter in the Don River decrease as “waste literacy” in this watershed improves? We also hope that the data we collect can help provide a better estimation of plastic sources and increase scientific knowledge to inform effective policies to prevent further plastic pollution.

There is still a long way ahead to achieve zero-plastic-waste in our city and others, but our first cleanup showed us that the people care about the plastics problem and are willing to help. Over the next year, we have exciting plans to reduce waste entering Lake Ontario and increase waste literacy in our city. We look forward to seeing you out there!

Keep an eye out for future cleanups and activities from the University of Toronto Trash Team by following the Rochman Lab on Twitter. And follow Lisa and Kennedy on twitter to see more about their research.

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Protecting Treaty Trust Resource for Future Generations

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As a RAY Marine Conservation Diversity Fellow, I help coordinate and grow the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification (OA Alliance), a coalition of leaders developing on-the-ground solutions for challenges facing our ocean. Most days, I’m on the phone at my desk in Washington, DC with people from all around the world discussing how to protect coastal communities from the impacts of ocean acidification. Today, however, I’m back in my rainy hometown of Olympia, Washington to meet an OA Alliance member in person and learn about why this work matters.

Combating ocean acidification starts at home, with dedicated individuals rolling up their sleeves to take action. The Nisqually Tribe of Western Washington is an engaged member of the OA Alliance, focused on climate resiliency, action, education and outreach at a local and national level. Maggie Sanders, their OA Alliance representative shares with me how ocean acidification impacts their treaty trust resources, culture and community.

The ocean is important to the community because water is life. It’s a part of our culture and a part of our life, since time immemorial,” Maggie tells me. Tribes have a long history of living off the natural resources of this land. However, with the arrival of Europeans and the creation of the United States, traditional tribal life was drastically altered. Treaties between the United States and tribes were used to remove them from their land and relocate them to reservations.

Five treaties were negotiated in Western Washington between 1854 and 1855. Tribes agreed to move as long as their right to fish, hunt and gather in their traditional places was upheld. Early on, when the treaties were first implemented, fish and other seafood were plentiful and rights were easily maintained. However, as more people moved to Washington, environmental degradation increased and non-native commercial fisheries became more prevalent, resulting in depleted fish stocks. Tribes were wrongfully blamed for the disappearance of fish and the state began arresting them for fishing off-reservation despite their right to do so being outlined in the treaties. These arrests were unlawful because treaties hold a constitutional weight that surpasses state law.

In the face of low fish stocks, non-native commercial fishing continued to increase and fewer and fewer fish were returning to Washington rivers, making it impossible for tribes to observe their treaty rights. In an effort to raise awareness of their unjust treatment, tribal fisherman organized “fish-ins,” like “sit-ins,” and other forms of civil disobedience during a time known as “The Fish Wars.” Their protests resulted in brutal arrests.

The Supreme Court case, commonly referred to as the Boldt Decision, was a turning point in the tribes’ fight for recognition. It established tribes as co-managers of salmon with the state, created conservation standards that restricted the state’s ability to regulate treaty fishing, divided the harvest equally between the state and tribes and confirmed the state and federal government’s responsibility to protect salmon habitat so that treaty rights could be observed.

© Mel Ponder Photography

Even though tribal leaders made great strides in getting tribal treaty rights recognized, those resources are still under threat today from challenges like ocean acidification. The OA Alliance strives to bring attention to these impacts and support the great work that’s being done to mitigate it.  “I feel that indigenous voice needs to be more on the national and regional levels and sometimes indigenous voice is left out in those contexts. And so, I feel that being a part of an international alliance allows the indigenous people that extra voice,” Maggie says.

When I ask Maggie why she advocated joining the OA Alliance, she says, “I felt that it was an extremely important issue in regards to treaty trust resources and an extremely awesome opportunity to collaborate with outside agencies and entities working towards the same goal. I felt that it impacts the world and also all tribes, including Nisqually. When I was thinking about this, I was thinking about how I’m from Makah, but the salmon, they go up the Nisqually and out to the ocean and back to the Nisqually. So we’re all interconnected.”

Maggie is currently organizing a community-based workshop for local tribes that will focus on the impacts of ocean acidification to shellfish, the environment and the community.  I ask her how her work on ocean acidification at a local level connects to her collaboration on an international level.

“…the ocean is a huge body of water and it takes a lot more than just one community to become involved. I feel that we all need to collaborate and partner together because the ocean reaches every point of contact. It’s a part of our responsibility as earth stewards to protect the ocean. And if other partners are willing to collaborate and the funding is there and the resources are there, it’s time to come together and work together on the international and national.”

Like Maggie said, “water is life,” and it connects us all. We are all in this fight together, which is why collaborative action at a local, state, tribal, national and international level is essential to protecting coastal communities globally. The OA Alliance is not only a way to share the stories of community leaders around the world, but also to celebrate the great work that has been done and the progress we are making for future generations to come.

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Trump Tries to Weaken Safety Rule for Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling

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Last month, the Trump administration announced plans to weaken offshore drilling safety rules that were put in place to prevent incidents like the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, which killed 11 workers and spilled 210 million gallons of oil into the ocean. Tell the administration that you oppose efforts to weaken offshore drilling safety rules.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement—BSEE for short—has proposed rolling back important safety measures that are part of a broader set of provisions known as the “Well Control Rule.” One of the key purposes of this rule is to prevent incidents in which operators lose control of the well they are drilling in the ocean floor. Loss of well control led to the Deepwater Horizon rig’s deadly explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

After that massive oil spill, BSEE carefully developed the Well Control Rule over the course of six years—with significant industry and stakeholder input—before finalizing it in early 2016. And so far, the rule appears to be working. For the first time in at least a decade, there were no reported loss of well control incidents in 2017 after the rule took effect, according to a BSEE chart summarizing offshore drilling safety incidents.

Despite the thoughtful development of the rule and its apparent success, BSEE has proposed changes that would undermine some of the rule’s key provisions including:

  • Eliminating provisions related to real-time monitoring of offshore wells, which could allow industry to adopt monitoring plans that are not as effective at identifying potential well control problems;
  • Rolling back a requirement aimed at reducing the risk of a collision between an approaching vessel (lift-boat) and a drilling platform, which could increase the odds of an accident that could jeopardize well integrity;
  • Eliminating an oversight mechanism that requires operators to share test results with BSEE for important safety devices called blowout preventers when BSEE is unavailable to witness the testing; and
  • Doing away with provisions that require BSEE oversight and approval of third-party organizations that verify inspection and test results for offshore safety equipment, potentially weakening the integrity of independent reviews.

The need for BSEE oversight of inspections and tests was underscored recently when the Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General found that an offshore operator attempted to cover up equipment failures, submitted falsified test results and violated other safety rules.

While not all oil and gas companies try to cheat the system, it’s clear that strong rules and vigorous enforcement are needed to ensure that offshore operators adhere to safety standards and are held accountable if they willfully ignore the rules. In fact, BSEE was created after the BP oil disaster specifically to promote safety and environmental protection in the offshore oil and gas industry. That’s why it’s so disappointing that BSEE now appears to be retreating from that mission in order to promote offshore oil and gas production and development.

As companies plan to drill in even deeper and riskier waters in the Gulf of Mexico, this is not the time to risk another disaster by cutting corners on safety. In fact, some members of Congress have already voiced opposition to these rollbacks: Senator Maria Cantwell (WA) and Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA) have sponsored legislation, the Clean Coasts Act and the Safe COAST Act, that would prevent BSEE from weakening the Well Control Rule.

Unfortunately, BSEE’s proposal is just the latest in a series of Trump administration actions that cater to the oil and gas industry while jeopardizing safety, the ocean’s ecosystem and the livelihoods of coastal residents and businesses that depend on a healthy marine environment. For example, the Trump administration issued a draft offshore leasing program that would open up virtually the entire U.S. coastline to risky offshore drilling, proposed a new offshore oil and gas lease sale in the environmentally sensitive Arctic waters of the Beaufort Sea as well as in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and has threatened to roll back Arctic-specific drilling rules in the near future.

Fortunately, there’s still time to make your voice heard. Join Ocean Conservancy in telling the Trump administration not to weaken offshore drilling safety rules. 




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