Archive for the Saving Mother Ocean Category

These Creepy Ocean Animals Will Make You Say “Nope”

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We’ve got some news to share: while Friday the 13th only comes around a few times a year, these ocean-dwelling animals exist as their creepy selves all year round. From a crustacean the size of a small cat to a squid with the word ‘vampire’ in its name…you’re in for a frightfully disturbing read if you haven’t seen these creatures before.

Giant Isopod

giant isopod - Expedition to the Deep Slope 2006, NOAA-OEgiant isopod - Expedition to the Deep Slope 2006, NOAA-OE
© NOAA-OE: Expedition to the Deep Slope, 2006

  • Scientific name: Bathynomus giganteus
  • If you get the heebie jeebies from creepy-crawly things…um…don’t look. This enormous crustacean is actually cousins with land organisms like the pillbug (or roly-poly), and over time, it’s thought to have adapted to protect its body from the alarmingly high pressure levels that manifest with the deep sea.

Vampire Squid

vampire squid - mbarivampire squid - mbari

  • Scientific name: Vampyroteuthis infernalis
  • Apparently, the literal translation of this species’ scientific name is “the vampire from hell.” So we included it in this post, for obvious reasons (cue creepy vampire-esque musical accompaniment). You may be shocked to learn that this animal isn’t all that vicious or hellish after all. Its primary source of food is actually tiny drifting particles, called “marine snow.” Other than that, it pretty much floats along slowly and minds its own business.

    Goblin Shark

    Goblin Shark - Nat Geo KidsGoblin Shark - Nat Geo Kids
    © National Geographic KIDS

  • Scientific name: Mitsukurina owstoni
  • With an extremely goblin-like snout that extends far beyond its mouth, this creepy species has an alarming set of chompers. Ligaments attached to the jawline enable it to stretch out and extend its mouth, grabbing its prey quickly and pulling it back into its jaws before it’s able to escape.


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© A. Corbis/Dorling Kindersley DKfindout!

  • Scientific name: Chauliodus sloani
  • With an elongated lower jaw, this fish is a sight to see. Brilliantly frightening, the sides of its body are lined with luminescent organs. Its trademark (much like the angler fish) is a light-producing photophore at the tip of its lengthy spine, which produces light that flashes on and off to attract unsuspecting small prey.

Frilled Shark

frilled shark - Awashima Marine Park:Getty Imagesfrilled shark - Awashima Marine Park:Getty Images
© Awashima Marine Park/Getty Images

  • Scientific name: Chlamydoselachus anguineus
  • If sea monsters exist, they probably look a little something like this. With 25 rows of piercing teeth, this ancient creature also has ‘fluffy’ edges around its gills…but we don’t recommend trying to cuddle it. It’s probably not the best idea, unless you’d like a serrated chomp mark comparable to nothing you’ve seen before. Not to worry, though; these sharks are typically bottom-dwellers, so the likelihood of running into one on the shoreline is slim to none!

Terrible-Claw Lobster

terrible claw lobster - Tin-Yam Chan:National Taiwan Ocean University, Keelungterrible claw lobster - Tin-Yam Chan:National Taiwan Ocean University, Keelung
© Tin-Yam Chan/National Taiwan Ocean University, Keelung

  • Scientific name: Dinochelus ausubeli
  • Nothing makes you say “nope” quite like a lobster that seems to have a chainsaw for an arm. However, you may be surprised to learn that this creature, in all its 31mm of bodily length, is actually fully blind. So, while it may appear horrifying in photos, the tiny specimen could likely do you no more harm than a typical prawn. Why exactly this species presents with one utterly distinct appendage is still up for debate in the scientific community, but one thing’s for sure: they’re a jaw-droppingly brilliant sight to see!


Chimaera - NOAA Ocean ExplorerChimaera - NOAA Ocean Explorer
© NOAA Ocean Explorer

  • Scientific name: Chimaeriformes
  • While the cartilaginous anatomical makeup of this shark may seem similar to its counterparts within the shark and ray family, its appearance can take many people aback. After all, it’s nicknamed “ghost shark” for a reason…they’re definitely fascinating, but they appear like phantom swimmers, lurking along the sea floor of the deep, dark sea.

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A Trashy Way to Go

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On February 27th, 2018, a sperm whale washed ashore on the beach of Cabo de Palos in southern Spain. The whale was young and thin, measuring about 33 feet in length. Beach goers curiously gathered around, considering how the young whale met this fate.

In the weeks since then, experts from the El Valle Wildlife Recovery Center conducted a necropsy of the sperm whale, recently announcing the determined cause of death. The young sperm whale was found to have 64 pounds of plastic inside its stomach; none of these plastics were digestible or passable. The unfortunate result was an infection of the abdomen called peritonitis. Recounted items unearthed from its gut included a plastic bag, a jerry can and derelict fishing gear.

The data from this heartbreaking event reinforce what we unfortunately already know all too well. Research published by Ocean Conservancy scientists and colleagues in 2016 revealed that abandoned fishing gear is the deadliest form of debris followed closely by plastic bags. To date, more than 800 species of marine animals have been affected by debris. And with eight million metric tons of plastic entering our ocean annually, fatal encounters like this one in Cabo de Palos will only continue unless we stem the tide of plastic pollution today.

Where does all the plastic go once it enters the ocean? The jury is still out on whether it ends up in the deep sea or on the coastlines, which could bring this particular incident to the spotlight. Sperm whales feed in the deep sea, sometimes reaching 10,000 feet below the surface. They are known to have huge sucker marks from tall-tale battles with the elusive giant squid, which (usually) make up 80% of the sperm whale’s diet. This particular whale’s foe in the deep blue is no mystery to us: man-made plastic is guilty as charged.

Join us in the fight for Trash Free Seas®. There are many small actions you can take to make a tangible difference for our ocean. Whether it be participating in a cleanup, reducing your use of single-use plastics or reaching out to your local representative with your concerns about marine debris—what you do matters. As you head outdoors for the nice weather in these coming months, take a few minutes to pick up any trash you see at your local park or beach. Keeping track of the debris you find with Clean Swell will help inform policy, science and industry solutions. Together, we can turn the tide of plastic pollution for our ocean and the lives that depend on it.

The more you NOAA: NOAA Fisheries is committed to the conservation and management of sperm whales and continues to take many targeted actions to recover their numbers, including responding to entangled or stranded sperm whales.

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Greenhouse Gases, the Queen of England and Narwhals

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Just last month, the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency tasked with regulating global shipping, celebrated its 70th anniversary at its headquarters in London, with a ceremony that included a dedication by Her Majesty, the Queen of England.

Here are five things you need to know about the IMO and our work to protect our blue planet:

  1. More than 80% of global trade is carried by the international shipping industry, and the IMO regulates all aspects of global shipping, ranging from ship design to pollution. The IMO has 173 member states and three associate states. The Marine Environment Protection Committee was established in 1973 and is tasked with coordinating global policy on preventing and controlling pollution from ships.
  1. Ocean Conservancy’s Arctic program is working at the IMO and Arctic Council to develop a policy that will ban the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by vessels in Arctic waters. A spill of HFO has been identified as one of the largest threats to the Arctic marine environment and emissions from HFO use are high in black carbon, a climate forcing agent that accounts for 7-21% of shipping’s climate warming impact. The IMO has previously banned the use of HFO in Antarctic waters.
  1. Global shipping accounts for nearly 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions but was NOT included in the landmark Paris climate agreement, the most recent component of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Our colleagues at the Clean Shipping Coalition are working at the IMO to ensure adoption of a plan to immediately reduce these emissions, which without further action could grow to become 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
  1. Small island nations such as the Marshall Islands are helping to lead the charge at the IMO. Due to sea level rises associated with climate change, the difference between a 1.5 degree global temperature rise and a 2 degree temperature rise may be the key to the ultimate survival of these countries. As such, 44 nations have already signed onto a declaration calling for the IMO to adopt an ‘ambitious’ greenhouse gas strategy in line with limiting global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees.
  1. Ocean Conservancy is currently participating in the IMO negotiations and, along with our conservation and indigenous community partners, is calling for a strategy that ensures shipping regulation is part of tackling climate change and preventing the planet from warming more than the ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius and remains well below the 2 degree ceiling established in the Paris climate agreement. Furthermore, we believe that any adopted IMO strategy must include immediate and long term measures, including the possibility of full decarbonization by 2050.

As Ocean Conservancy has a history of successful work at the IMO we are cautiously optimistic that this international body will do the right thing. Due to the complexity of regulating greenhouse gas emissions at the global scale, nations should work to implement strategies to achieve short-, mid-, and long-term goals, with an aim of having a complete path to sustainability adopted by 2023.

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Behind the Scenes with NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer

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Today, NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, is setting out to explore corals, shipwrecks and much more on the Gulf of Mexico seafloor, and they’ll be livestreaming their discoveries. To get a behind-the-scenes look at the work NOAA does on these missions, a few of us from Ocean Conservancy toured the Okeanos Explorer while it was docked in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Just a day away from embarking on their 23-day-long expedition in the Gulf of Mexico, the vessel was alive with movement. We watched people weave in and out of the ship’s narrow hallways, and quickly climb up flights of stairs before darting out of view. Chatter echoed around us against the backdrop of wind and waves and seagull calls. After getting a peek into mission control, and an up-close look of the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) Deep Discoverer, we had a chance to talk to Brian Kennedy, the expedition coordinator, about his role aboard Okeanos Explorer, his hopes for the upcoming expedition, and the importance of NOAA’s deep ocean exploration mission.

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© Rafeed Hussain

Rachel Guillory: So, yall are gearing up to start your mission today. What does coordinating this kind of a mission involve?

Brian Kennedy: Well, usually NOAA has identified an area of the sea floor that is underexplored or maybe other federal agencies need more information about an area to make informed management decisions.

Then we open it up to a community cruise planning process. People suggest dive sites, and I’ll figure out all the logistics. Then I get to sail with the crews and execute the plan we came up with, barring weather delays, mechanical problems and other things that we didn’t plan for, but inevitably occur.

Guillory: Is there anything in particular that you are excited about seeing during this upcoming mission?

Kennedy: The cool thing about the ship is that we’re always going somewhere new. Almost every time we put the ROV down, it’s to visit an area of seafloor that no human has ever seen before. There is always that thrill of discovery, that expectation of, “what are we going to see today?” We routinely see species that might be new!

Guillory: What was your favorite highlight of the December mission in the Gulf of Mexico?

Kennedy: Well, we found a whole lot of chemosynthetic habitat. These are natural areas where, in cold seeps, methane bubbles out of the seafloor and you get these vibrant chemosynthetic communities. Those are always exciting because you’re seeing this little oasis of life interspersed in long stretches of mud or silt. Every time we discover one of those, we’ve found a whole new ecosystem that no one’s ever seen before.

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© Rafeed Hussain

Guillory: You’re the first pair of eyes on certain parts of the seafloor.

Kennedy: Absolutely. That’s really the goal of the ship: we’re a hypothesis-generating ship, not hypothesis-testing ship. So we don’t go out there with a specific research objective. We go out there to collect as much data as we can and disseminate it as widely and as quickly as possible to help spark ideas for researchers. At the same time, this first look at unexplored areas often provides critical information for ocean resource managers.

Guillory: My favorite thing about the Okeanos Explorer is hearing the excitement and enthusiasm from some of the scientist narrators during the livestream.

Kennedy: One of the great things about this vessel is the education outreach component. Everything we do is livestreamed so people can really share that moment of discovery with us as we’re exploring. It really is an amazing thing to see something come across the screen and know that it’s very potentially a new species or that no one’s ever seen that organism before in that location.

Guillory: It’s really a privilege to visit a NOAA research ship– not something everyone gets to do. What role does NOAA play in our daily lives?

Kennedy: NOAA is so integrated in so many things; we’re always working with different agencies and partners! NOAA in a lot of ways is that silent partner that most people don’t hear about because we’re not doing flashy work necessarily, but focusing on a steady, daily grind. When you think about the harmful algal blooms predictions, NOAA does that. NOAA is even responsible for space weather prediction, which most people don’t know about! When people first wake up, they check the weather. Even if you’re looking at the Weather Channel or Weather Underground or Accu Weather, much of the raw data and all the weather satellites are all maintained by NOAA. From the sea to space, NOAA affects people’s daily lives.

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© Rafeed Hussain

As NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer gets ready for its next expedition, the conversation with Brian not only highlighted just how much there is to explore in the open ocean but also why NOAA is so critical to understanding our oceans.

April 20th marks eight years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began. The aftermath of such a terrible tragedy revealed to us how little we actually know about the Gulf ecosystem. Without a baseline understanding of the Gulf’s marine life prior to the disaster, it is challenging to fully measure injury, restore those species and gauge whether or not they are recovering. One of the best ways to restore the Gulf beyond the shore is through exploring those unknowns, through expeditions like NOAA’s Okeanos Explorer, which focus on research, education, and above all, the pursuit of knowledge.

Join us all month long as we follow the Okeanos Explorer mission in the Gulf of Mexico on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and visit their website.

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Good News for Alabama Sea Turtles and Dolphins!

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Eight years ago, this month, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. That summer, BP oil killed hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, while more than 28,000 sea turtle eggs were relocated from their nests in Alabama and Florida to the Atlantic Coast where they could hatch on safer, unoiled beaches.

Today, we have great news. Alabama has chosen to spend over $7 million of the fines paid by BP and other responsible parties to help marine life, like sea turtles and dolphins, recover from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. A new draft restoration plan from the Alabama Trustee Implementation Group (made up of state and federal agencies) identifies 22 projects to restore wildlife and habitats damaged by the BP oil disaster. This plan makes it clear that Alabama places great value on their marine species.

I am especially excited to see seven of these projects for sea turtles and marine mammals. Both the sea turtle and marine mammal restoration projects include enhanced capacity for the stranding networks, which we know are critical to respond and rehabilitate injured and stranded animals. There are projects to increase education efforts and enhance enforcement of existing laws to better protect sea turtles and marine mammals. In addition, one of the projects includes a study to determine where beach lighting is most problematic to wildlife and how to reduce it. Beach lighting can be very dangerous for sea turtles, because when they hatch on the beach, they are guided into the water by the light of the moon, and artificial lighting can confuse them and even encourage them to crawl the wrong way.

Beyond reducing known sea turtle stressors like beach lighting and strandings, the Trustees took their plan one step further and funded a study to better understand sea turtle populations in coastal Alabama. This project is raising the bar for restoration planning, because it helps us understand where sea turtles are and how they’re using the environment. This helps scientists better understand what is causing sea turtle populations to decline, and how we can address that decline with specific management action. In other words, it helps us figure out how we can invest future restoration dollars that have the biggest impact on sea turtles. We praise the suite of projects identified for sea turtles in coastal Alabama, because they not only address known stressors but also set out to answer key questions about these animals that will help plan future restoration projects.

If you would like to weigh in on the draft restoration plan, comments are due by May 4th, and if you’re in Alabama and want to learn more the Trustee Implementation Group is holding a public meeting on April 18th. Find out more here.

Our work to restore the Gulf beyond the shore has only just begun. Speak up for fish and corals as well—ask the Trustees to support even more projects to ensure that our Gulf marine life recover from this disaster.

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Rushing to Judgment in the Arctic

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President Trump and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are in a hurry to open Arctic waters to risky offshore drilling. Last week, they kicked off a planning process for a new oil and gas lease sale in the Beaufort Sea—even though the Beaufort Sea is currently off-limits to new leasing.

What’s going on here?

Under the existing national program that governs offshore leasing from 2017 to 2022, the entire Arctic Ocean—including the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the coast of Alaska—is closed to new oil and gas lease sales. That program was completed after a thorough public process and was supported by millions of public comments. Nonetheless, the Trump administration has started to develop a new five-year program that could allow risky drilling off virtually the entire U.S. coastline, including the Arctic. In fact, Secretary Zinke released a draft proposed program for 2019–2024 earlier this year. Tell Secretary Zinke that’s a big step in the wrong direction!

We hope the administration will do the right thing and abandon the new planning process. If it continues, however, a new five-year program couldn’t be completed until sometime in 2019. The administration is supposed to be carefully considering its choices in the planning process and new sales in the Beaufort or Chukchi seas are not allowed until the plan is finalized.

But President Trump and Secretary Zinke have decided not to wait around. Instead, they are putting the cart before the horse by preparing for a Beaufort Sea lease sale before finalizing the new national program. They haven’t even released an assessment of the new national program’s environmental impacts—but they are still plowing ahead with preparations for a Beaufort Sea lease sale.

The law establishes a clear, step-by-step process for planning and leasing. In their rush to drill in the Beaufort Sea, President Trump and Secretary Zinke appear to be disregarding that process and pre-determining the outcome of the national five-year planning process. That’s not only bad governance, it puts our ocean at risk.

And there’s a lot at stake. The Beaufort Sea hosts an amazing abundance of marine life. Beluga whales congregate along the break between the continental shelf and deeper ocean waters. On the sea ice, ringed seals maintain dens in the snow where they raise their pups. In Harrison Bay and the Colville Delta, Arctic cisco and pink and chum salmon swim in the waters, while red-throated and yellow-billed loons and king and spectacled eiders gather to prepare for their fall migration. Enormous bowhead whales—some of which can live to more than 200 years old—follow ancient pathways on their seasonal migration through these Arctic waters. The Alaska Native people who live in communities along the Beaufort Sea coast are an integral part of this ecosystem, which supports a subsistence way of life that stretches back for thousands of years.

There is no compelling reason to rush to sell leases in the Beaufort Sea. In fact, in recent years, oil companies have walked away from investments there. Moreover, drilling operations in these waters could cause enormous damage. A major oil spill could have severe consequences and would be all but impossible to clean up. Even routine oil and gas operations create noise, air, and water pollution, and generate air and vessel traffic that can cause significant harm.

The Trump Administration is already headed in the wrong direction with its proposal for a new national five-year leasing program that could dramatically expand offshore drilling off almost the entire U.S. coastline. Instead of rushing toward a new and unnecessary lease sale in the Beaufort Sea, tell the Trump Administration not to open new areas of the ocean to risky offshore drilling.

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The More You NOAA: Local Voices Make a Big Impact

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Our ocean is powerful, covers two-thirds of the planet and is home to incredibly diverse ecosystems. Our ocean also supports growing human uses and economies. The role of managing our ocean resources in a sustainable manner is the job of our local, state and federal government agencies, often through collaboration.

Unfortunately, funding at the federal level for our premier ocean and coastal agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is currently under threat. This funding is critical to ensure proper management and collaboration. Despite the recent victories on NOAA funding for this current year, last month, the Administration proposed over $1 billion in cuts to NOAA for fiscal year 2019, a nearly 20% of the agencies entire operating budget. There are several key programs that could completely disappear or see significant funding reductions under that proposal, including our Coastal Zone Management program, National Sea Grant, Arctic Research, fisheries enforcement and more.

I sat down with Addie Haughey, Associate Director of Government Relations, to talk about the funding advocacy work she has been involved with, and the importance of communities reaching out to their elected officials.

Katie:     Can you tell me a little about the work you were doing in Washington, DC over the past few weeks?

Addie:    Money is on people’s minds on Capitol Hill right now, and in early March our team here at Ocean Conservancy—along with a dozen other individuals from Maine, New York and Florida, representing a variety of ocean-related backgrounds—met with congressional offices to talk about its importance! Our goal was to highlight how important funding is for all parts of NOAA.

All the different offices and programs within NOAA feed into and support each other, so you can’t short-change one part without short-changing the whole. And these programs do a lot of good. The folks that came to town demonstrated some of that good for elected officials.

Katie:     What were some of the stories people were sharing?

Addie:    I spent time with our New York delegation. The stories they told about their work, and the benefits NOAA brings to New Yorkers and the environment were fascinating.

When many people think about New York City—even people who live there—they don’t often think about the vibrant ocean life that is right at its doorstep. But folks like Paul Sieswerda, Executive Director of Gotham Whale, connect New Yorkers to their ocean neighbors through whale watch cruises and citizen science. Folks can see humpback whales with New York’s skyline in the background! Paul has seen and been a part of the success stories of conservation efforts informed by data. NOAA scientists help collect data, benefitting whales and ports and weather forecasting.

NOAA also helps educate and inspire the city’s youth to be stewards of their environment. Groups like the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance facilitate such invaluable opportunities for residents from underserved communities.

Katie:     Why is it important that elected officials hear directly from constituents?

Addie:  The folks who visited us to share their stories with congressional offices are personally and professionally benefiting from NOAA and its diverse array of important programs. Elected officials really do listen to their constituents, and when those constituents have compelling examples of NOAA helping people, it shows how bad an idea it would be for congress to cut funding to those programs.

Katie:     So we know that there is a proposal right now that would cut over $1 billion from NOAA. But that is just the start to a long process of deciding how much money it will ultimately receive. What can we expect out of Congress next?

Addie:    The advocacy process for fiscal year 2019 funding is just starting. The House of Representatives has already started holding budget hearings to discuss what funding levels should look like for next year, and will start working towards their own proposals to respond to the Administration’s budget request.

Katie:     So Congress is just getting started in deciding how to fund ocean and coastal programs. What can people do to make sure their member of Congress knows their constituents support robust funding for key ocean and coastal programs?

Addie:    Call your member of Congress or write them a personal letter! Tell them that funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration needs to be robust, and that programs across the agency are critical for our environment and economy.

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When a Maximum is Minimum: What Low Sea Ice Extent Means for the Arctic

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In the Arctic, starting in autumn, cold weather causes sea ice to form and grow throughout the winter. By March, sea ice has extended as far as it will for the year, also known as the sea ice maximum. When spring warmth takes hold, the ice retreats again until September, when it reaches the annual sea ice minimum. NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Center have both announced that Arctic sea ice extent recently reached its winter maximum for 2018. Spring has arrived and the ice is now starting to melt. NASA began measuring sea ice extent from satellites in 1979. This year is the second-lowest maximum on record, surpassed only by last year. The four years with the lowest sea ice maxima are the last four years.

Reports about sea ice extent are usually accompanied by a map, comparing this year to past years (often the 1981-2000 average used as a baseline), or by a graph, with colored lines comparing the seasonal growth and decline of sea ice year by year. These figures are helpful ways of displaying basic information, but of course there is much more to the story than just the aggregate measure of how much of the ocean is covered by sea ice.


In February of this year, major storms hit the northern Bering Sea. In a winter with sea ice, the winds blow over the top of the ice, making snow drifts in the lee of pressure ridges created when ice floes ram together. The snow drifts create denning habitat for seals to bear young. The wind can push the ice onto shore, creating large ridges of ice that can even rise up bluffs and topple on the unwary. The archeological record shows ancient houses on the coast that have been crushed in this way. Fortunately, sea ice movement that violent is rare.

Without sea ice, winds create a very different hazard. In the St. Lawrence Island Yupik village of Gambell and the Iñupiat village of Little Diomede, big waves threatened buildings and beaches, compounding the damage from the wind itself. A power outage in Diomede may have contributed to a house fire at the end of the storm. Similar storms in open water conditions have caused major coastal erosion at other villages in northern and western Alaska, undermining buildings and nearly destroying a runway. In a village with no access except by air, that’s a big problem.

Sea ice is important habitat for Arctic marine mammals. It also plays a big role in regulating marine productivity. Sea ice algae grow on the bottom of the ice, supporting the bottom of the food web. By reducing the effects of wind on the water column, the ice helps create stable conditions for the spring plankton bloom that makes the northern Bering and Chukchi Seas among the world’s most productive. Take sea ice away, and we have a very different marine system.

Low sea ice extent at the end of winter also sets the Arctic Ocean up for a major retreat of sea ice over the summer. Weather conditions and other factors will determine how much ice is left at the September sea ice minimum, but thin ice now makes the Arctic susceptible to rapid melting or to winds that blow ice away from much of the ocean. As ice melts earlier in the spring, the open water has more time to warm, which will delay next fall’s freeze-up. Warmer water will also hurt some species and help others, nudging the Arctic marine ecosystem further away from what it has been.

Bowhead whales will continue to migrate north this month, as they have always done. Ringed seals will have pups. Indigenous hunters will be out to provide food for their families and their communities. But the conditions will be a little less familiar. The ice will be a little less reliable. Animals from the waters to the south will come a little farther into the Arctic. The maps and graphs will chart the progress of ice melt and growth, and it will be up to all of us to interpret what that means for the Arctic we care about.

But, there’s hope! At Ocean Conservancy, we work in the U.S. and across the Arctic to help citizens and decision-makers alike understand what’s at stake in this region. We advocate science-based solutions to ensure that Arctic waters remain healthy and clean. This includes working towards treaties designed to ensure cooperation on marine management, the development of a network of marine protected areas, and ensuring we have the best scientific information available to develop management plans for this remote and rapidly changing region.

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Jack Johnson’s Recycling PSA, and Other Takeaways from the 6th International Marine Debris Conference

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In the scheme of ocean-related conferences (of which there are actually quite a few now), the recently wrapped Sixth International Marine Debris Conference (6IMDC) was unique.

Whereas many international confabs are designed to attract heads of state or other high-ranking government officials, often gunning for framework agreements or commitments after two days of “high-level” discussions, 6IMDC was far more granular. Organized by NOAA and the United Nations Environment Programme and held in San Diego, the goal was to go deep in the weeds—the kelp, if you will. Over 70 technical sessions covered pretty much any and every aspect of the marine debris problem that you can think of, from grassroots organizing around plastic bag bans to corporate social responsibility on plastic production, from best practices in educating young students about ocean trash to social justice and inclusivity in the trash-free seas movement.

As if the 70+ sessions weren’t enough, the five-day conference also included a poster night, where researchers presented new findings on the prevalence of microfibers in Mediterranean fish populations, the impact of sunlight on the molecular structure of plastic, and the effectiveness of bottle bills in reducing plastic beach trash, among many other ocean trash-related inquiries. Mid-week, attendees were able to participate in one of several planned field trips, including a local beach cleanup; a visit to the working waterfront of San Diego Bay; and an ocean plastic monitoring cruise, to name a few. On the fourth night, the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival—which wrapped up just last month—screened a selection of film entries relating to ocean trash (including mini documentaries and even a few animated shorts like “Ain’t No Fish” and “Gloop”). And the venue itself, which of course was made completely zero-waste with reusable utensils, glasses and even chalkboard name tags, was decorated with student artwork on marine debris and featured a back room of professional art installations on the topic.

Given all that went on over the course of the conference and the many different ways of experiencing it—panel discussions, science presentations, art, movies and more—there’s no single fixed set of takeaways to report. But here’s what struck me:

Women are crushing it.

I think this Tweet says it all.There was no shortage of women scientists, officials, and activists showing leadership on the marine debris issue. In fact, all three scientists presenting at the “State of the Science Panel” plenary session were women, not to mention key members of an NCEAS scientific working group on marine debris that Ocean Conservancy initiated in 2011.

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© Jordana Merran

A lot of people care about marine debris and are working to solve the problem.

Approximately 700 people attended this conference from all over the world, representing all aspects of the issue. I met scientists from Germany, Turkey, and Vietnam; advocates from tiny island states like Vanuatu and giant countries like Australia; students from the US, UK

© Jordana Merran

and Indonesia. There were researchers, activists, and plastics manufacturers; people who work on beach cleanups and underwater cleanups; entrepreneurs developing new ways of tackling ocean plastic; artists and more. Musician and ocean advocate Jack Johnson performed three songs at the closing plenary (including a “PSA” about ocean trash), just a day after his wife and manager Kim shared the many ways that the couple is working to reduce single-use plastic waste at music venues and concerts. See the performance by clicking here!

There are lots of different ways to tackle marine debris, and everyone can play a role.

Just as attendees were diverse, so, too, were their perspectives and approaches to tackling the ocean plastic problem. Some have prioritized cleanup activities. Others have prioritized education, and sensitizing the next generation to the threat of trash to healthy oceans. Some think that the answer is to ban all single-use plastics; others think materials innovation is the answer. Ocean Conservancy believes we need to focus on accelerating improvements in waste management in those countries that disproportionately contribute to the problem. But it’s also our view that none of these approaches alone will solve the global problem of ocean plastic; all of them together, however, stand a chance of stemming the tide.

We need more science.

Despite the headlines and the frequency with which we hear of new studies in the press, there’s an awful lot of stuff we don’t know when it comes to marine debris. Scientists are still trying to identify where all the plastic goes and how much is actually out there. And while we now know that many animals ingest plastic, the implications for their health are still unclear (and as Dr. Chelsea Rochman, an Ocean Conservancy science fellow and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, emphatically stated in her presentations at 6IMDC, we know nothing about the effects of plastic-contaminated seafood on humans.)

It’s clear from the conference that the ocean plastic issue has a hold on the scientific and ocean community; and though a seventh IMDC has yet to be announced (they are not an annual affair), the desire for more regular interventions like these was palpable. Rest assured that until the next one, Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas team, and the many folks dedicated to solving the marine debris crisis, will continue working toward a healthy ocean free of trash.

Student artwork featured at the 6th IMDC © Jordana Merran

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The More You NOAA: Score One for Our Ocean

Posted in Saving Mother Ocean | Comments Off on The More You NOAA: Score One for Our Ocean

Nobody said it would be easy. Thank you for stepping up for our ocean!

More than a year ago, we brought you some frightening news. The Trump administration had proposed a shocking $1 billion cut to NOAA, our nation’s premier ocean agency.

After that awful news broke, a remarkable thing happened. From all corners of the country, people that depend on and love our ocean started sharing their stories.  You signed a massive letter calling on Congress to reject harmful cuts to NOAA, bringing together everyone from scientists and ocean experts to local volunteers. You called your Representatives and Senators. You sent them emails and you visited their offices around the nation and in Washington, DC. And we began to see progress, especially in the U.S. Senate, who four months later proposed funding NOAA at much more reasonable levels.

The news media heard you as well, publishing articles from Maine to Florida to Alaska about the threat the proposed NOAA cuts posed to coastal communities and the ocean economy.

This week, we see the results of these efforts. Congress has delivered a final federal budget for this fiscal year that completely rejects harmful cuts to NOAA and replaces them with smart investments in our ocean we all depend on. Programs receiving robust funding include ocean acidification research that is providing tangible benefits to business owners, programs that support marine mammal first responders helping wildlife along our coasts, and the ocean navigation and observation work that protects mariners and out environment.

So thank you to everyone who called and emailed their elected officials, everyone who shared a story about how NOAA helps their job or their community, and especially to every Member of Congress who saw the threat of drastic cuts to NOAA and simply said “no way.”

It worked! We couldn’t have done it without you and we are ready to work with you to hold onto these important investments. Congress funds the government every year for just a single year. So this accomplishment is sweet, but short-lived, and the fight has already started ensure that we repeat this important accomplishment again next year.

But for now, our ocean thanks you, and so do we!

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