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Protecting Their Own Ocean Backyard

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I was honored to take part last month in the first marine debris cleanup that Ocean Conservancy has sponsored in Alaska. On May 12, Michael Levine, a senior Arctic fellow for Ocean Conservancy, and I arrived on St. Paul, a wind-swept, rugged and wildly beautiful volcanic island in the Pribilof Islands of the Bering Sea. There we joined the Aleut tribe and St. Paul School in a cleanup of one of their shorelines. Thanks to the help of students in the fourth and fifth grades, middle school and high school, we picked up close to 300 pounds of debris. This included fishing nets, lines, buoys and an assortment of plastics and foam pieces that washed up onto a fur seal rookery within walking distance of the town of St. Paul.

St. Paul’s far-flung location between Russia and Alaska in the Bering Sea fosters biological richness, with over 200 species of birds and the world’s largest population of Northern fur seals. But the island’s location also makes it a focal point for marine debris carried by ocean currents. The question arises then, how to remove this trash?

Fur Seal GazeFur Seal Gaze
The northern fur seal is an eared seal found along the North Pacific. They tend to live alone or in pairs, and rarely come to land, except to breed. © Patricia Chambers

The impact of marine debris on sea birds and marine wildlife is a real cause of concern among many in the community of St. Paul. Birds and marine mammals become ensnared in plastic waste or ingest tiny plastic particles. Ultimately this can have an impact on human food chains as well, since the community relies on the natural bounty as part of their diet and way of life.

During the cleanup, the young students of St. Paul spent the last two days of the school year—known as Pribilof Days—collecting over 500 pieces of debris, including packing bands and fishing gear. Their effort will make a local seal rookery safer this summer. Next year, Ocean Conservancy hopes to expand this effort. And if the eager and energetic team of young stewards is any indication of things to come, we can count on making a big difference together.

One of the greatest joys of traveling to rural communities for these projects is the opportunity to meet people and share a common bond of appreciation and concern for the area’s unique beauty. During Pribilof Days, Michael and I met so many wonderful, down-to-earth people, from the teachers and staff at the St. Paul School and the Aleut tribe’s Ecosystem Conservation Office, to the local bird guides, known as “bird nerds”, researchers and locals who showed us around the island.

Eider DuckEider Duck
A King Eider duck resting on a “seagrass throne.” A large and spectacular duck, the King Eider lives in Arctic coastal waters foraging on sea beds up to 80 ft. deep. © Patricia Chambers

A few days after the cleanup was over, I headed to the St. Paul airport, eager to return home and share the stories and photos I’d gathered. But a low ceiling of clouds had moved in, and my flight was delayed, not once but twice over the next three days. Michael had departed on one of the few flights leaving the island as soon as our project was finished, so I was on my own. While waiting to leave, I couldn’t help but consider how my delayed travel plans were but a small reflection of the greater challenges of removing large amounts of marine debris in remote locations like St. Paul. Weather is unpredictable and harsh, logistics are complicated, and removing the debris is arduous and may even require larger machinery.

Although finding solutions to this problem won’t be easy, I feel hopeful as I look back on the cleanup and remember the faces of the young, concerned citizens of St. Paul. Their determination to protect their own ocean backyard serves as a reminder that even the smallest acts can make the biggest differences in the world.

Southside CliffsSouthside Cliffs
Part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, this windswept walk above sea cliffs on the Southeast side of St. Paul Island is teeming with seabirds during summer breeding season. © Patricia Chambers

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8 Ocean Animals Who Could Pull Off a Heist

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When I first heard that there was going to be an Ocean’s 8 movie with a female cast, I had two main thoughts: one—this is an awesome idea and I can’t wait to see it, and two—most importantly, I would love to see another remake starring an actual “ocean’s eight” pulling off a heist.

Picture it: eight different sea creatures trying to make it in the big reef city. One has the brains, one has the brawn and they all have the ability to survive underwater. After falling on some hard times, their old ringleader brings the gang back together for one last big catch: robbing Poseidon, king of the sea. Using their unique set of skills, the aquatic team bands together for their biggest caper yet, and hijinks ensue.

While the studio execs in Hollywood have yet to respond to my emails, I wanted to share with you my dream casting for the next remake. Here are the top eight ocean creatures that I’d want to help me pull off a heist:

The Sailfish: The Getaway Driver

  • One of the fastest fish in the sea, the sailfish can reach speeds of up to 68 miles per hour. Though they usually use this speed to catch their prey, it would definitely come in handy to help the rest of the gang make a quick escape.


The Anglerfish: The Deep Sea Expert

  • In a heist, it’s vital to enlist someone who knows the seedy underbelly of the city: someone who hadn’t merely adopted the darkness, but was born into it, molded by it. The anglerfish is the queen of the ocean’s deep. With their sharp, translucent teeth and bioluminescent lures, female anglerfish are some of the most intimidating fish in the sea.


The Oyster: The Jewelry Maker

  • Now, you might be thinking, “This all sounds great, but what are they going to do when Poseidon realizes his treasure’s been stolen!?” Fret not! This is where the humble oyster comes in. Though not all oysters produce pearls, the team would need to enlist one that does to produce some decoy treasures. In this scenario, the oyster would also make other jewelry/precious metals and would wear quirky hats. Just go with it.


The Tusk Fish: The Handyman

  • For most ocean creatures, breaking into a safe is a near impossible task—not having thumbs, for one, adds a certain degree of difficulty. If only there were a fish that was an expert in using tools to break into things…OH WAIT! THERE IS ONE! Tusk fish are one of the few fish that have been observed using tools. Much like how they use the side of pieces of coral to break into their dinner, the tusk fish would use the tools at their disposal to break into the safe.


The Mantis Shrimp: The Secret Weapon

  • Every team needs a wild card—someone you don’t think is a threat but comes out of nowhere to create chaos. The mantis shrimp may be small, but has incredible eyesight and ridiculous strength. It can smash its prey with the force of a 22-caliber bullet, easily breaking through the shell of a mollusk or even glass!


The Cuttlefish: The Master of Disguise

  • Cuttlefish are arguably one of the coolest creatures in the sea. They’re astonishingly smart, and they can change their color and even shape to match their surroundings. In any heist, it’s vital to have a camouflage expert, and there’s no ocean denizen more qualified than the cuttlefish.


The Bottlenose Dolphin: The Right-Hand Cetacean

  • Every heist needs a ringleader, and every ringleader needs a right-hand man, and the bottlenose dolphin makes a perfect partner in crime. Though they’re extremely intelligent and speedy swimmers, the real value of a dolphin in a heist situation is their charisma.  Who could stay mad at a smiling, squeaking dolphin? These guys could charm their way out of any sticky situation, and outsmart the guards at every turn.


The Octopus: The Mastermind

  • Finally, we’ve gotten to the brains of the operation, the one who brings our motley crew together, our protagonist—the octopus! With eight arms, three hearts and one big brain (not to mention eight smaller bundles of neurons, one for each arm!), the octopus is well equipped to mastermind a heist. They’re one of the smartest invertebrates in the ocean, and they’ve been shown to be excellent at puzzles while living in captivity. They’re also excellent at squeezing through small spaces and camouflaging themselves. Moreover, octopuses traditionally like to spend time alone, making them all the more compelling as the protagonist of a group heist film. By the end of the movie, our hero octopus will have gained the real treasure: friendship.


Whether or not you agree with my picks for the ocean’s eight, I think we can all recognize that there are some pretty amazing fish in the sea.  And Hollywood, if you’re reading this, I’m available to executive produce the project.




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World Oceans Day 2018

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For most people on most days, the ocean is out of sight and out of mind. But not today. On World Oceans Day, we celebrate the beauty and bounty of the most defining feature of our planet—the big, blue ocean.

Many of us feel a pull to it—that irresistible impulse to marvel at the unending waves, to dig our toes in the sand, to cast a line, to catch a wave, to dive below. When we are extraordinarily lucky, we get to experience the ocean on weekends and summer holidays. And some of us get to call the ocean and coast home year-round. But most of us live vicariously through images and videos, often on Instagram. For the most part, we live our lives and don’t have to think about what the ocean means to us and how much we need it.

Every single one of us needs the ocean, whether or not you sail its waters or sit on its shores, whether you enjoy seafood or love whales and otters. The ocean is fundamental to the functionality of our home planet.

Without the ocean, there would be no life. It is as simple as that.

Phytoplankton that lives on the surface of the ocean produces about half the oxygen on the earth. If you like to breathe, you need the ocean.

The ocean holds almost all of our planet’s water–about 97%, and is a key driver of our planet’s water cycle. If you depend on freshwater and everything that grows and lives because of it, you need the ocean.

The ocean is a primary food source for more than 2.6 billion people. If you like to eat fish, you need the ocean.

Over the past several decades, the ocean has absorbed almost all of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere–more than 90%.  If you like a habitable planet, you need the ocean.

And right now, the ocean needs us.

For us to continue to enjoy the surf and the sand, the scallops and the seafood, the summers and the springs, we need to pay some attention to what we’re doing because our ocean has been bearing the brunt of our activities in four damaging ways:

First, we love all the ocean has to offer us a little too much. For example, illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is depleting fisheries in many places around the world. It’s impacting coastal communities and local economies, especially in vulnerable developing communities.

Second, we willingly risk our ocean for dangerously short-term gains. For example, risky offshore oil and gas development could have catastrophic, irreversible impacts on fragile marine life.

We can feel the impacts of overfishing. We have witnessed the impacts of an oil spill. The harm to the ocean is direct. We decide whether to make changes to avoid that harm. We rebuild fish populations using smart, science-based management like what we have here in the United States. We constrain or prohibit oil and gas development–and when its expansion is proposed, we fight back to protect our coastal communities and livelihoods.

Third, we are increasingly cognizant of the fact that all rivers and waterways ultimately lead to the ocean. We see this every year during our International Coastal Cleanup, when volunteers pick up thousands of pounds of trash off our beaches, and hear this from scientists, who found that 8 million metric tons of plastic flows into the ocean every year—bobbing on the surface, in the deepest trenches, carried to the Arctic and to the remotest islands.

And finally, the ocean is bearing the brunt of climate change. As we increase our carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases, the ocean is becoming warmer, more acidic and is rising–threating coastal communities and livelihoods here and around the world.

Many of the choices we make as a society have gotten us to where we are today.

We now have the opportunity, on World Oceans Day, to remember how important the ocean is to us, and how our choices–every day–affect the ocean.

When we can understand the problem, we can find a solution. And part of that solution is recognizing that if we’re not talking and thinking about the ocean when we’re talking about food, or fresh water, or energy development, or reducing and managing our trash, or climate change, we’re not having the right conversation.

If you think of our ocean as a giant security blanket for the planet that has long protected us, insulated us, absorbed our injuries and nurtured us, one thing is increasingly clear. It is beginning to fray. The good news is that we have the will, skill and power to repair it.

Today, on World Oceans Day,

let’s remember that the ocean needs us as much as we need it.

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A Historic Win for California’s Coast and Ocean

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On Tuesday, Californians took an important step to protect our state’s coast and ocean. California has long been a leader on coastal, ocean and environmental issues, and voters showed this week that they continue to support the state’s leadership and investment in our environment. The passage of Proposition 68 showed that voters will unite to preserve our future and natural resources, and also to move towards a more just, equitable and forward-looking environmental movement.

Ocean Conservancy has a long history of working on ocean policy in California.  And we have strongly supported Proposition 68 since it was introduced in the state legislature last year. The projects that will be funded through this historic natural resource and parks bonds will help address some of the most pressing issues related to the ocean, including ocean acidification, sea level rise and protections associated with critical coastal habitat, such as the Pacific Flyway. Despite past efforts to conserve and enhance California’s natural resources, ocean and coastal waters have not always been a priority, leaving them vulnerable to pollution and climate change. Most notably, when the last natural resources bond passed over a decade ago, the component related to oceans did not focus on many of these pressing issues.

Since then problems like ocean acidification have worsened, with growing CO2 emissions fundamentally changing the chemistry of our ocean and disrupting the species and habitats that call it home. Sea level rise too has increased in intensity over the last decade, with flooding events and coastal erosion increasing in frequency and severity. Proposition 68 will allow California to more effectively implement projects that bolster its climate preparedness and resiliency, including in coastal communities.

With Prop 68’s success, over $1 billion will go to protecting local communities from flooding, with over $200 million more dedicated specifically for coastal and ocean protection, restoration and adaptation to coastal climate change. In total, $4 billion will be invested in natural resources and disaster prevention, cleaning up contaminated drinking water, increasing local water supplies, and providing safe parks for children and future generations. Prop 68 breaks new ground by ensuring disadvantaged communities that are “park poor” and vulnerable to climate change get the attention they need and deserve.

With the passage of Prop 68, we will be able to protect our coastline, increase access to our coast and beaches, protect the ocean from runoff and pollution, improve our fisheries and increase the resilience of our natural systems and our communities’ ability to adapt to climate change. Without Prop 68, this would have been much harder to do.

Prop 68 is especially ground-breaking in this focus on social justice and equity as well as its recognition of the need to address climate change. It passed with an especially broad coalition of supporters that is focused on the equitable, inclusive and sustainable implementation of Prop 68 for the long-term challenges ahead. Ocean Conservancy is immensely pleased that the voters of California recognized the value of Proposition 68 and turned out at the ballot box this week. We look forward to continuing to work with members of this regionally diverse coalition to ensure a safe, just and vibrant future for our coast, ocean and coastal communities.

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Do You Know Where Your Plastic Goes?

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Do you know where your used plastics go once your recycling bin leaves your house?

Until recently, the answer was usually China.  For years, China had been a leading importer of scrap and recycled materials—particularly scrap plastic—from around the world. In 2016, it imported 7.3 million tons of plastic scrap from developed countries, which accounted for 56% of global imports of these materials. In 2017, CalRecycle estimated that a third of all recyclable materials in California were exported to foreign markets, with 62% going to China at a total vessel value of $5.2 billion. As a rapidly developing economy, China needed inexpensive raw material, such as recyclable plastic and scrap, to feed growth. On the export side, countries had huge incentives to send their waste to China. As an example, it was cheaper for the U.S. to ship scrap materials to China than it was to process them locally.

But now, all of that is changing.

After decades of massive scrap imports, China struggled to manage the increasing flow of materials, the quality of which was declining while contamination rates increased. Instead of clean and sorted materials, China was receiving scrap material shipments with food and product residue and scrap bales with materials that were outside of bale specifications. Ultimately, this was lowering the value of the material, increasing processing costs and resulting in higher instances of unusable materials needing to be discarded—causing stress on communities and the environment.

In response, China notified the World Trade Organization in July 2017 of its intention to ban the import of 24 different kinds of waste, including some post-consumer plastics, beginning January 2018. In November 2017, China announced its limits for material contamination rates at 0.5% (the previous limitation was 1.5%) for most imported recyclables not mentioned in the ban. Achieving these very low levels of contamination is challenging, and most Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) in the United States, or anywhere, are not yet prepared to comply with this directive.

What are the consequences?

Now that imports to China are restricted, exporting countries are turning to other potential buyers to receive their scrap. Among these countries are Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand. Southeast Asia has already witnessed a drastic increase of plastic scrap imports, with 62% growth in Vietnam, 117% in Thailand and 65% in Indonesia. But in these countries, there is already pressure on existing waste management systems, resulting in the leakage of plastic and other waste into the ocean. Scientists estimate that China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam together currently contribute more than half of the eight million metric tons of plastic waste that enters the ocean annually from land. Most of these inputs have been attributed to insufficient waste collection and recycling systems; thus, increasing scrap plastic imports for some of these regions, particularly those with high instances of contamination, could be very problematic.

What is the impact for the United States?

Based on an analysis conducted by the Recycling Partnership, Dive Waste and Resource Recycling Magazine, the impact of China’s ban fluctuates across states in the U.S. Those heavily impacted are being forced to slow down processing rates in their MRFs in an attempt to comply with the 0.5% contamination rate policy. As a consequence, some of the materials that used to be collected as recyclables may be getting sent to landfills to relieve the congestion caused by slower processing rates.

What can we do?

This is a significant challenge, but also an opportunity to increase domestic recycling capacities. All of us can help make the situation better. We can cut down on our use of unnecessary, single-use plastics such as plastic bags and straws that contaminate the recycling stream, and do a better job of sorting our materials from the start and making sure they meet the collection standards in municipalities. These vary from place to place, but open lines of communication between municipalities or MRFs and the citizens they serve is the first step toward a strong collaboration that can benefit everyone.

One common practice that would greatly aid in cleaning up recycling streams is eliminating loose plastic bags from recycling bins/carts. Many curbside recycling programs don’t have the processing equipment needed to handle loose plastic bags (although this is not the case everywhere—remember to check with your local municipality or service provider); and putting loose bags in a container can also increase the likelihood of incidental littering since they are prone to flying away in the wind. The better move would be to bring a reusable bag with you so you don’t need to take a plastic bag at all.

Longer term, we can all support our cities and towns as they set standards for recycling rates and invest in the necessary systems and technologies to achieve them. We can also ask the companies we patronize to use more recycled materials, and ensure that their packaging is easily recyclable, so there is a clear market for this material here at home. The recycling sector—and the many businesses that are springing up to use recycled materials—can be a source of good jobs in our communities. We should support the investments that will allow them to thrive.


The United States, and other countries exporting materials like scrap plastic, must learn from the current situation, evolve and view the Chinese ban as an opportunity to implement new strategies to ensure their own waste management systems are high-quality and efficient. As citizens, we can help by starting with our own recycling bins, our purchases and our votes.  We can stem the tide of plastic into the ocean, and at the same time ensure we are not exporting our problems or our economic potential.

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One Year Later: Withdrawal from Paris Agreement Was a Dangerous Mistake

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One year ago today, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement—undermining the important work being done to protect millions of Americans who depend on the ocean for their businesses and livelihoods from the threat of climate change.

The impact of carbon emissions on the ocean isn’t an abstract danger. Coast communities are already feeling the impact. Fishermen are struggling as fish stocks migrate as the ocean warms. Oyster growers on the West Coast have already suffered massive losses because of ocean acidification. Communities in Alaska are bracing for a future where they will have to abandon their homes and rebuild their communities.

Despite this administration’s actions, Ocean Conservancy is encouraged to see many states, from the coasts to the Midwest, pledging to follow the standards set by the Paris Agreement.

As we begin National Ocean Month, we urge President Trump to reconsider the withdrawal of the United States from this important international agreement. Climate change—and protecting our coastal communities from its effects—shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

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Why Canada Needs to Protect Hudson Bay’s Beluga Estuaries

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A few years ago, I tagged along with a research team counting beluga whales in Canada’s western Hudson Bay. On one memorable July day, our boat was surrounded by 350 belugas, we spotted 11 polar bears and a bird expert recorded the sighting of 5,000 black scoters (an Arctic sea duck) in the water and an additional 4,000 flying overhead.

I was reminded of this staggering biological productivity by a recent report published by our Canadian partner, Oceans North, urging Canada’s federal government to make good on a promise to protect this beluga habitat by establishing a national marine conservation area in western Hudson Bay by 2020. Once established, a national marine park would ban oil and gas drilling, deep-sea mining and ocean dumping and would require ecosystem-based management of fishing.

© Oceans North

It would also create much-needed economic spinoffs for the town of Churchill, Manitoba, and nearby Indigenous communities, providing jobs, expanding tourism and triggering infrastructure improvements and new research.

Each summer, more than 55,000 beluga whales migrate to estuaries along Western Hudson Bay in the province of Manitoba. In the shallow waters of the Seal, Nelson and Churchill river estuaries, nearly one-third of the planet’s belugas gather to give birth, feed, molt and escape predation. Tourists from around the world flock to this region for a chance to see these awe-inspiring white whales in their natural habitat.

Protecting Manitoba’s Beluga Estuaries from Oceans North on Vimeo.

Collaborating with government scientists and Inuit partners, Oceans North has led beluga research in the Seal River region since 2012. That has included tagging and tracking six whales to learn about how they used the habitat and a boat-based survey to assess the density of beluga pods and their movements. Oceans North staff also worked with Inuit partners to organize an archaeological dig on Hubbard Point near the Seal River that uncovered evidence to prove Indigenous people have used this spot as a hunting camp for at least a thousand years.

Climate change and the resulting loss of sea ice means there’s an urgency to protecting the beluga estuaries of Western Hudson Bay. Earlier spring ice melts may put belugas at greater risk of predation by orca whales that previously had only limited access to this region. Vessel traffic is likely to increase with the loss of sea ice, resulting in environmental hazards such as pollution from fuel spills and a noisier marine environment.

Western Hudson Bay is one of the places in the Arctic that reminds us of the sheer abundance of the ocean. We applaud Oceans North for its years of work on this important issue and hope that Canada takes action soon to protect the beluga estuaries of Western Hudson Bay.

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Keeping Up with Nemo

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This blog post was written by Anna Smith, an Ocean Conservancy intern working with the Ocean Acidification program for the month of May 2018. Anna is a senior in high school and is looking forward to studying Environmental Sciences in college.     

Believe it or not, fifteen years ago today, everyone’s favorite clownfish had his big debut—our lovely friend Nemo! While the spotlight was on Nemo once again a couple years ago with his role in Disney-Pixar’s Finding Dory, we’re checking in with Nemo today to see how he’s doing, fifteen years after his first Hollywood appearance.

Sadly, Nemo and his friends are facing a reality not quite as uplifting as it may appear on-screen. Many of the difficulties that clownfish and anemonefish are experiencing have to do with the environmental threats affecting their homes, their host anemones. In recent years, large-scale coral bleaching events have resulted in detrimental impacts on coral reef communities and anemones around the world. Stressors including rising sea temperatures, ocean acidification and pollution have driven this coral bleaching, a process that involves anemones expelling the zooxanthellae that provide them with food and their beautiful coloration. And since clownfish depend on anemones for housing and protection, that’s a big problem for both corals and clownfish alike.

Research has shown that fish associated with bleached anemones suffer chronic stress, and high levels of cortisol—a stress hormone—have been detected in their blood. At the same time, this stress response has been linked to a drop in reproductive hormones in male and female clownfish; one study showed a 73% decrease in fertility among clownfish reacting to bleached anemones.  In addition, clownfish reproduce in only a small temperature range and warming waters can have fatal effects on their eggs. Not only does coral bleaching stress our little friends out and deter reproduction, but the mere loss of habitat that follows makes it difficult for them to survive.

Jason MarksJason Marks
© Jason Marks

Weirdly enough, coral bleaching and ocean acidification both severely affect the clownfish senses. Sounds are key cues that help clownfish navigate, detect mates and find food. Although it’s tough for us to sing underwater, sound actually travels very well underwater! Healthy coral reefs are cosmopolitan centers of aquatic life and are bustling, noisy places full of fish buzzing and chirping. These noises help clownfish navigate when trying to find a suitable habitat or seek shelter and assist in distinguishing between places settled by friends and those filled with predators. With coral reefs in rapid decline, these cues are becoming less ubiquitous and intense.

And that’s not all. Scientific studies have proven that increased levels of CO2 in the ocean actually make it difficult for clownfish to hear at all! In experiments on juvenile clownfish raised in water with CO2 levels of today, CO2 levels predicted and simulated for 2050, or for and 2100, researchers found that the clownfish raised in today’s conditions knew well to avoid the sounds of predator-rich reefs. Those raised in higher levels of CO2, however, didn’t seem bothered by the noise at all—they just kept swimming as if they couldn’t hear it! Without proper hearing, clownfish become much more susceptible to predation. Once they spend too much time away from their host anemones, they must rebuild their immunity to their anemone’s stinging nematocysts, which is quite an arduous task and again leaves them vulnerable to predators.

Acidification also challenges clownfish sense of smell. When larvae reach a certain age, they begin looking for an appropriate shallow and tropical coral reef habitat, ideally close to a vegetated island and away from their spawning point. In order to identify such a dwelling place, clownfish move towards the smell of tropical tree leaves and away from the odor of tea tree plants from swamps at the water’s edge, and their parents (an evolutionary adaptation to avoid inbreeding). In experiments resembling those conducted to test hearing, the majority of clownfish larvae raised in more acidic conditions were no longer repelled by the smell of predators, tea tree leaves or their parents. This means it will become more difficult for clownfish to find reefs offering the conditions that will ensure their survival and the health of their offspring.

Given all of these concerns, we are left wondering if Nemo, and the rest of his species, will truly be able to acclimate and survive these challenging times. Since many of these changes are happening so quickly and our oceans are acidifying at such a rapid rate, there might not be enough time for clownfish to properly adapt by evolving. If clownfish moved towards the poles to seek cooler waters, that would take them into increasingly acidified waters, and away from the tropical coral zone they need for habitat. Unfortunately, tropical corals are also struggling to keep up with temperature changes. Nevertheless, Mother Nature never fails to amaze us with her power and ability to work wonders. Although it may seem unlikely, only time will tell if Nemo will be able to adapt to his ever-changing home.

We’re sad that clownfish aren’t doing better on Finding Nemo’s 15th anniversary. We don’t want this movie to serve as a reminder of an extinct fish species to future generations. It is incredible, however, how much we have learned about clownfish due to prior research investments and how science allows us to so closely keep up with Nemo. This also gives us reason to be optimistic. With further scientific funding and research, we can continue to investigate clownfish and find ways to support Nemo on his journey.

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The Family Who Saved the Pacific Northwest Oyster Industry

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Everything started when Masahide Yamashita arrived in Seattle in 1902.

At 19-years-old, Masahide tried his hand at various import-export endeavors ranging from lumber to pearls. But as the relationship between Japan and America waxed and waned, so did his business prospects. Yet he persevered.

Parallel to Masahide’s struggle, the Pacific Northwest oyster industry was in dire straits. Overharvesting and pollution were causing significant die-offs in the region, plummeting oyster population numbers. Shellfish growers floated the idea of importing baby oysters from Japan, but mortality rates were high due to the stress of transportation.

Luckily, Masahide had accumulated experience from his other business ventures and he was able to formulate an efficient shipping method that preserved the baby oysters during their long journey from Japan.

Today, 98% of all oysters sold in Washington are Pacific Oysters (formerly “Japanese Oysters”)

© Patrick Yamashita

Without Masahide, the Pacific Northwest Oyster industry would never have survived.

Not long after Masahide had settled into the booming oyster business, World War II broke out. Anti-Japanese sentiment rose with startling intensity, fueled by the underlying fear of the “Yellow Peril.”

“Before evacuation, a man came down the hill to our tidelands,” Eiichi, Masahide’s son, tells me, “I was only around 17 or so just before the war broke out. I told him he couldn’t go out there and take our oysters. But the man said, ‘well, you’re not going to be here long anyway.’”

In February 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, forcing nearly 110,000 Japanese-Americans living on the West Coast to leave behind their businesses, possessions and homes. Ushered into euphemistically-named “relocation centers,” they found themselves in new and unfamiliar territory, surrounded by barbed wire and guard towers.

Masahide was taken to Fort Missoula in Montana, while the rest of the family, including young Eiichi, was sent to Tule Lake in California. They were incarcerated for three and a half years before finally being reunited.

© Patrick Yamashita

“It was hard,” Eiichi tells me, “Readjusting was hard. But the fortunate thing was that when we came back, the oysters were waiting for us. It was fortunate for us that we had enough oysters to get us started. It saved us.”

“So many people lost everything when they had to go to the camps,” Patrick adds, “They could only have two suitcases or something like that. And many people had businesses that they just had to close up…They lost all of that. They had to start over all over again.”

The interplay between struggle and hard work is a constant theme in the Yamashita story. Since stepping out into the tidelands at age thirteen, Eiichi has been a life-long oyster farmer and a tireless water quality champion after experiencing frequent tideland closures due to pollution.

The first closure happened when Patrick was a junior in high school. Perplexed, he watched his dad continue to work and relay the oysters from the polluted water to clean water, increasing his handling costs and losing his profit margin. He couldn’t understand why his dad would go to such great lengths to continue his work.

“But I know better now,” he says, smiling. “It’s evidence of how Dad perseveres in spite of adversity. I think seeing him and mom struggle through that for years and years really taught us kids something about life and working hard…When you look at immigrant stories in the U.S., there are common themes like working hard for the sake of the whole family. That’s something that kind of evolves as the generations go on.”

Yet despite the hardship and the struggle and the suffering, Eiichi retains an incredible propensity for compassion.

© Patrick Yamashita

“My dad works so hard and throughout much of his life he really struggled financially because of water quality issues,” says Patrick. “Yet, whatever he had, he would share with other people, especially his own knowledge. There are young people just starting out as oyster farmers that turn to Dad for guidance. That’s another lesson I’ve learned—not just thinking about yourself but helping people to grow.”

Eiichi is such a pillar in the shellfish community that last year Leaping Frog Films made a documentary about his life, entitled Ebb Flow. It’s a testament to the resiliency of families like the Yamashitas and a potent example of how the values and legacies we pass down bind the generations through time.

The film, which touches on themes of family, the internment, the environment and the origin of the Pacific Oyster, has a message for every viewer. For Eiichi and Patrick, the film is an opportunity to promote understanding across diverse communities.

“I think one thing that I hope that people take from the documentary is that a lot of people in America would say [internment] could never happen again—We know better now. But I’m not so sure,” warns Patrick.

“It really does scare me at times because people do tend to have their own biases. As do I,” he admits. “We usually don’t realize that these biases can pass on to our future generations. But we really need to be mindful that those things can happen again unless we all stand up for everybody.”

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© Patrick Yamashita

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Good News About Our Nation’s Ocean Fisheries

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The numbers are in—and we have great news for America’s ocean fisheries! NOAA recently released its annual report to Congress summarizing how the United States is doing in managing its ocean fisheries. The Status of Stocks report for 2017 showed good improvement and is a testament to the impressive progress that we’ve made under our nation’s landmark fishery law, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA).

There is a lot to celebrate in the new report. The percentage of stocks that were overfished in 2017 was at an all-time low—just 15% of stocks. This means that the majority of the fish stocks tracked have large enough population sizes to provide sustained catch. In addition, only nine percent of stocks were experiencing overfishing, which is when the rate of fishing is too high. This remained the same as the previous two years and suggests that fisheries are in larger part successfully staying within science-based catch limits.

With three fish stocks rebuilt just last year, there have been a total of 44 stocks brought back to healthy levels since 2000. The stocks rebuilt in 2017 were three rockfishes from the Pacific coast. These populations were successfully rebuilt ahead of schedule, bringing the stocks back to sustainable populations before estimates deemed possible. This is no small feat, and it speaks to the strength of our management system. The trend in rebuilding is positive, but there are still many stocks in the process of being rebuilt and others where rebuilding plans are just now being developed.

Overall, the report shows just how far our fishery management has come. The situation today is a far cry from that of two decades ago, when more than a quarter of fish stocks were experiencing overfishing, almost 40% were overfished and none had been rebuilt. This turnaround was only possible because of the MSA and important revisions to the law that required managers to set science-based catch limits, take concrete steps to overfishing and make deadlines for rebuilding stocks.

Positive changes like these are part of what makes our fishery management a model for the rest of the world. But now isn’t the time to rest on our laurels—the work doesn’t end because many of our fish stocks are now doing well. Some of our iconic fish, such as the Atlantic cod, continue to be overfished and experiencing overfishing. Climate change poses growing challenges for managing our fish stocks sustainably.

The stakes are high. Healthy fish stocks are critical for a strong economy and environment. Fortunately, we are on the right path. Thanks to the MSA and the managers and fishermen who are working together to rebuild and sustain our fisheries, we can continue this progress and make sure that there are plenty of fish to catch today, tomorrow, and for years to come.

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