Posts Tagged beach cleanups

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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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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