Posts Tagged saving mother ocean

Our Ocean at Work: A Whale of a Challenge

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Imagine yourself in New York City, yellow taxies zooming by you, cars endlessly blasting their horns, and a disarray of people, boundlessly marching through their concrete jungle like an army of ants. Suddenly from the corner of your eye you catch mist spraying into the air. You divert your focus away from the towering steel mountains looming over the horizon and zealously scan the seas. For a moment everyone is silent and everything is still.

Then BOOM a monstrous humpback whale bursts out of the water, fish flopping around out of its mouth, and thunderously careens back into the harbor leaving a wall of water in her wake.

Yes, there are whales in and around New York Harbor!

And this is just a day in the life of Paul Sieswerda, founder of Gotham Whale—New York City’s own non-profit citizen science-based whale research and advocacy organization.

Inspired by Jacques Cousteau, Paul has had an extensive career advocating for the ocean.

Paul portraitPaul portrait
© Rafeed Hussain

He spent 19 years working for the New England Aquarium and 21 years working for the New York Aquarium. Paul and his wife, Candie, even spent time raising a seal out of their home!

Paul delved into citizen science in the winter of 2006 when he began a seal monitoring program with the New York Aquarium. After reporting a steady increase in seal population over several years, Paul’s study garnered the interest of American Princess Cruises. As it so happened, Paul’s citizen science-based results validated the business’s interest in embarking in a seal watching venture, spurring the local blue economy.

When Paul retired in 2009, he continued his seal study as a volunteer naturalist. Reports of whale sightings from fishing vessels, cargo ships, and other ocean stakeholders led American Princess Cruises to a new venture in whale watching. Gotham Whale was eventually born from this crossroads of science and industry in the summer of 2011.

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© Rafeed Hussain

From 2011 to 2016, Sieswerda has recorded a drastic seasonal increase of whale abundance from 5 to 165 individuals in just 5 years! He has also accumulated data on whale behavior, feeding frequencies, entanglements, and GPS locations.

Paul has recorded thousands of dolphin sightings over the years, as well.

“Citizen science is the most cost-effective way to accumulate information,” he says.

It would cost millions of dollars in time, boat usage, and salaries to collect the wealth of data that Gotham Whale has collected.

Today, that data is available through the New York State Geographic Information Gateway. It helps managers responsible for planning the future of New York state waters and Long Island Sound to visualize where whales are located as they make decisions about where specific ocean uses should and possibly could occur.

Sieswerda’s data is currently being used to inform the Long Island Sound Blue Plan, a state ocean planning process in Connecticut. Gotham Whale has also been actively engaged in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regional ocean plans, providing input on where whales are located. 

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© Rafeed Hussain

Paul believes ocean planning is, “such a great idea because it simply makes all the sense in the world. It’s not politically driven; it simply brings all of the various perspectives into one place so that good decision-making can be done.”

As whales are increasingly seen at the entrance to one of the busiest ports in the world, the data from Gotham Whale can help other ocean users make smart decisions to protect and invest in valuable ocean assets—including the whales and dolphins that now call it home.

To board the American Princess and become one of Paul’s citizen scientists this spring, click here!


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Our Ocean at Work: Mussel-ing into the Atlantic

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Founded in 1623 by pioneers, the fate and fortune of Gloucester on the eastern tip of Cape Ann in Massachusetts has always been anchored to our ocean. Not only is it America’s oldest fishing port, Gloucester also boasts the oldest continuously operated fishing company in Gorton’s. For almost four centuries, fisherman have gone out onto the waters of the Atlantic to haul in rich catches of lobster, cod, Atlantic herring, pollock, monkfish, white hake and haddock, among others.

A large number of residents still rely on our ocean for their livelihoods. But as global and regional catches have seen significant declines coupled with shifts in fish stocks due to warming waters, Gloucester’s economy has suffered.

In order to ensure fishermen’s way of life and coastal communities like Gloucester can continue to thrive, innovative approaches to grow the local economy are needed.

The idea of an offshore mussel “farm” was brought to the table by Ted Maney and Mark Fregeau, biologists at the Northeastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center (NEMAC) at Salem State University. “With the depressed fishing economics going on in the Northeast, this is a new avenue for fishermen,” says Ted Maney. “They could either do this full-time or supplement what they are doing now by setting up or working on a mussel farm.”

In 2013, NEMAC put forward a proposal for a mussel farm in federal waters off Cape Ann. A phased approach would begin with a 400-foot longline submerged to a depth of 50 feet and anchored to our ocean floor. One hundred 25-foot lines would be suspended from the longline on which mussels would grow. When expanded, this farm could eventually cover 33 acres with buoys marking the location of the underwater farm.

Our ocean is an increasingly busy place and the proposal for the mussel farm needed review and approval by several federal and state agencies to ensure it would not impact other ocean uses and the marine ecosystem.

Using the Northeast Ocean Data Portal, Maney and his team were able to access data and information on complex ocean uses including vessel traffic, essential fish habitat and potential overlap with Endangered Species Act listings. Using the vast amount of data available on the portal, they were able to site their proposed mussel farm in a way that would have little or no negative impacts on fishing activity, commercial and recreational vessel traffic and protected marine resources. For example, they were able to site the mussel farm in an area that avoided important feeding areas for protected whale species.The data portal provided access to data that could have otherwise meant lengthy negotiations and long delays to the plan.

“The Northeast Ocean Data Portal was instrumental in obtaining the necessary information to complete these assessments,” notes Maney.

Thanks to the data portal, the permitting process and cross-check with existing laws became easier and more efficient.

In 2015, NEMAC was issued a permit by the Army Corps of Engineers to establish the mussel farm. By August 2016, Fregeau and Maney began setting up the initial 400-foot longline that was expected to produce a yield of approximately 15,000pounds of mussels. This farm is now a sustainable complement to traditional wild fisheries, helping broaden and diversity the coastal economy.

Today, the NEMAC blue mussel farm is the first offshore shellfish farm in federal waters on the Atlantic Coast–and a terrific example of how ocean planning works!


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Upcycled DIY Decor for a Trash-Free Holiday

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We all know the feeling. You walk into your local department store or discount retailer, ready to purchase a few needed household items. And then it hits youthe bright sparkling lights, the elaborate wreaths, the hundreds of festive figurines all meticulously aligned in holiday splendor along the store’s entryway. With a season as feel-good and joyful as this one, it can be hard to resist the glitter and gumdrops sometimes. We just want a way to fill our homes with that very same joy that these object spark in us, right?

Yes. However, there’s something many people don’t realize as they fill their shopping bags with seasonal decor every year. While there are countless things we could buy at the store, what may surprise you are the bounty of decorative possibilities lying just under your nose. Get your Do-It-Yourself shoes on, because every single one of these decorations can be created from basic household items, the majority of which you may be discarding into your waste bin on a regular basis! So save those plastic soda bottles, and keep a few of those empty toilet rolls…the things you can ‘upcycle’ and create from what you thought was trash just may shock you.

Toilet Paper Rolls Wreath

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© A Cultivated Nest

Hold onto those toilet paper rolls, because this is one wreath that’s far too cute not to try making this year. Hang it anywhere in your house, or even spray it down with some outdoor sealant to keep it from getting weathered on your front door!

What you need:

Toilet paper rolls

Dried cranberries or red beads

Hot glue


Wine Corks → Miniature Reindeer

© MomsMenuPlanner

There are two types of people in the world: those who save their wine and bottled beverage corks to ‘eventually make a craft someday,’ and those who simply discard them. Well, this December, we think everyone should be the first of the two! All it takes is a handful of corks and a few other items around the house, and you’ve got yourself one of the cutest little reindeer that anyone who walks through your doors will have ever seen. Try adding a bow (or bowtie) for some additional flair!

What you’ll need:

A handful corks

Select one: Black beads, sharpie, raisins, black buttons (for eyes)

Select one: Red bead, small red pom pom, red button, cherry (for nose)

Sticks OR felt tubing for antlers and tail

Optional: Red or green ribbon/bow

Clothespins → Decorative Snowflakes


If you’re a frequent user of clothespins, you probably know how easy it is for them to break, get lost, or chewed by a four-legged family member! Keep at least a few of them from going to waste this year by creating these adorable snowflakes out of them. You’ll have to break them apart anyway, so don’t throw the broken ones away!

What you’ll need:


Wood finish (to keep them shiny and non-splintering)

Hot glue

White paint

Lightbulbs → Charlie Brown Characters


Hey, don’t throw away those burnt out bulbs! Some of the cutest little characters can be made out of those spherical pieces of trash, even with as little as just a sharpie. If you’re a fan of these classic movies, you’ll definitely need to give this idea a try.

What you’ll need:

White light bulbs

Paint (if making character other than snoopy)

Colored markers

Felt tubing (if desired)

Plastic bottles → Festive Trees

© Upcycled Wonders

Oh, the dreaded plastic bottle. With the countless number of empty plastic soda containers washing up on our shores and being found in our ocean, discarding these bad boys can fill a person’s heart with guilt. Even after recycling, you may feel guilty for the output of waste, even so… this holiday season, though, it’s only positive vibes on the horizon. Take that empty bottle, grab a pair of scissors and try creating this adorable Dr. Seuss-like tree. See a full demonstration on how to create this up-cycled masterpiece here!

What you’ll need:

An empty green plastic liter bottle



Optional: a handful of mini bulbs to spare from your tree

Old Greeting Cards → Cocktail Markers

© HGTV: Brian Patrick Flynn

You know those old seasonal greeting cards, the ones from people you’re not as close with, but that are still pretty to look at and you don’t want to get rid of them (or, you just feel bad throwing them in the trash)? At the end of the day, they’ll either end up piling up in your desk drawer for years, or you’ll end up disposing of them anyway. Clear up both physical and mental space by creating something unique eye-catching from these greeting cards. Cut them in simple donut shapes for an easy DIY cocktail marker set… you’re welcome.

What you’ll need:

Greeting cards and scissors (that’s it!)

Empty tins and Cans → Snowmen

© Practically Functional

Save those soup cans and empty coffee tins, too, because it doesn’t have to snow for you to make a cute snowman this year! Paint a few different sizes of tin containers white, and you’ve created a homemade ‘Frosty’ that can be saved with your holiday decor for years to come.

What you’ll need:

Empty tin cans of various sizes

White paint

Sharpie or felt pieces (or even cardstock)

Fabric from old, unused clothes (to make accessories like a scarf for the snowman)

A stick or two for arms

A soda bottle topper and circular piece of paper painted black (if you’d like it to have a top hat!)

Egg Cartons → Candy Canes

© Meaningful Mama

An especially easy craft to make with little ones, there are countless things you can make from an egg carton, but this candy cane is a favorite of many for the holidays. Cut out the 12 half-domes of an egg carton, paint half of them white and half of them red and string them together with a piece of simple string or thread. If you want, glue can be used as well. When you have guests over, they likely won’t know what it’s made of until they get a closer look!

What you’ll need:

An egg carton per candy cane


Glue or string

Red and white paint

Bottle Caps → Ornaments

© Chickabug Blog

It might be satisfying to pop the top off a soda or beer bottle, but it’s not such a good feeling when you go to dispose of it, not knowing where in our ocean it could have the potential to end up! Remove that worry by creating wholesome, one-of-a-kind ornaments from these bottle tops. Whether you decide to create a wreath or snowmen with these tiny objects, they’re surely better off here than they are exposed to nature. They even make great gifts, too!

What you’ll need:

Bottle caps

A bit of ribbon/bow or wire (to make the tree branch ‘hook’)



Paint, if desired

Whatever other accessories or bits of flair you wish to place on the item

Empty Mason Jars → Sparkling Mermaid Jars

© GottaLoveDIY

Whether you get them from empty jelly containers or old mason jars, this is one of the easiest ways to light up a room with seasonal (and seaside!) cheer. Grab that jar, a handful of seashells and a few miniature ornaments from your tree and you’ve got yourself what’s called a ‘mermaid’ jar, full of oceanside holiday inspiration. Put in a string of lights or place next to a piece of driftwood or artificial coral to amp up the coastal vibes.

What you’ll need:

Empty jar

Seashells (or other beachcombing treasures)

A few mini ornaments from your tree (if desired)

A string of lights (if desired)

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans generate approximately 25% more trash during the holiday season compared to other times of the year, totaling about 1 million extra tons of waste.

During a season of gratitude, gatherings and positive vibes, it seems more than admirable to try and at least take even the tiniest of steps toward a less waste-filled holiday season.

Rather than purchasing tons more decorations this year that come wrapped in plastic and other harmful waste materials, fill your tank with what matters most: spending time together. Whether that means adventuring outdoors into the snow, watching a beautiful winter sunset on our ocean or coming together to make a family crafting project out of items that could have ended up harming marine life, the possibilities are boundless. With so many fantastic creative options to help keep our ocean clean during December this year (not to mention that the kids will love), which of these are you most excited to create?

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What’s at Stake: National Marine Monuments

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In a deeply worrisome and unprecedented move, the Secretary of Interior just recommended that the Trump administration dismantle some of our nation’s national marine monuments. Three of our nation’s most culturally important marine areas could now have their boundaries modified and be opened up to commercial extraction.

Interior Secretary Zinke is targeting three ocean monuments:

  • Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the Pacific Ocean: 55,608,320 miles of protected water established by President Bush in 2009 and expanded in 2014. When it was expanded in 2014, this monument was the largest marine protected area in the world, making it the global crown jewel of ocean conservation.
  • Rose Atoll Marine National Monument in American Samoa/Pacific Ocean: 8,609,045 miles of protected water established by President Bush in 2009.
  • Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument in the Atlantic Ocean: 3,114,320 miles of protected water established by President Obama in 2016 as the first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.

As Americans, we all have a common moral obligation to preserve the outdoors for our children and grandchildren. And there’s a lot at stake.

  • Important habitat: National marine monuments provide critical habitat for whales, sharks, seabirds and other at-risk marine wildlife.
  • Our tradition of conservation: Since the establishment of monument designation more than a century ago, our tradition of protecting our national treasures has been upheld. Opening up national monument to commercial extraction would be unprecedented.
  • Bipartisanship: Support for national monuments is bipartisan and overwhelming. Studies have shown that an overwhelming 90% of voters support Presidential proposals to protect some public lands and waters as parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness.

These protected habitats must be preserved.

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Our Ocean at Work: Buoying Boater Safety off Cape Cod

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As we watch ships out on our ocean cruise across the sea, navigating with apparent ease, it’s tempting to think that piloting ships on our ocean is as simple as driving a car down a road. But the reality is much more complicated. Roads have a system of well-established tools like traffic signals and speed limits to help us drive safely. Out on our ocean is a different story. Knowing current wave conditions is critical for mariners to safely navigate crowded seas. That requires buoys that measure and broadcast those conditions. But where to put these buoys?  It’s not like placing a traffic light or speed sign, to guide cars in clearly marked lanes on flat asphalt. How do you get a buoy close enough to where ships transit to be useful, but not so close that it might be accidentally run over and destroyed by boats that don’t exactly stay in between two white lines?

Enter ocean planning.

In the heavily trafficked waters of Cape Cod Bay, the Cape Cod Canal forms an ocean highway through which ninety-five percent of loaded tugs and barges pass. But until recently, real-time, live data showing weather conditions had not been available, leaving mariners without a critical tool to help them safely navigate the canal. Placing a wave-monitoring buoy was clearly an important safety priority, but where to put it? While the buoy needed to be placed close enough to core shipping routes to provide accurate data for ships, there were concerns about heightened collision risks, which limited the number of places where the buoy could be dropped. Tom Shyka, a scientist with the Northeastern Regional Association of Coastal Ocean Observing Systems (NERACOOS) and was called in to help make the decision.

Shyka knew just what to do. Accessing data from the Northeastern Ocean Data Portal, he pulled up data showing watercraft traffic throughout the bay. The data was displayed on an interactive map, where the scientists’ used an interactive ‘drawing’ feature to mark out potential buoy locations and discuss pros and cons of each based on the other information contained in the Data Portal. With feedback from other project partners including the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, NOAA’s National Ocean Service, and several others, the project managers were able to effectively evaluate the options and identify the best possible location for the buoy.

In 2016, the buoy was placed in an area north of the Sandy Neck region of Cape Cod Bay. Today, it continuously measures and provides real-time data on wave and temperature conditions in the bay. This allows ship captains and pilots to safely and efficiently transit through the busy Cape Cod Canal. Not only that, it also allows the National Weather Service to enhance its forecasts, the U.S. Coast Guard to better operate its search-and-rescue operations and the U.S. Geological Survey to plan beach nourishment projects.

Thanks to the ocean planning tools and data used in this project, ship pilots, weather forecasters, fishermen, whale watch operators, recreational boaters and more now have the information they need to stay safe on the waters of Cape Cod Bay.


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Our Ocean at Work: Communities at Sea

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Fishing is inexorably linked to coastal communities. And, here on the East Coast many of those have traditions dating back centuries. As the ocean becomes increasingly busy and fish stocks shift with warming waters, the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Ocean Plans are actively working to ensure fishermen’s livelihoods, coastal communities and the blue economy can adapt and thrive. A year after those plans were finalized, the plans and data portals are working to ensure coastal communities have a voice in how our ocean is managed.

Never-before-developed data as part of the Mid-Atlantic Data Portal is increasing our understanding of commercial fisheries. Specifically, these innovative maps show Communities at Sea that highlight specific ports, fisheries, and gear type that are important in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. These maps are based on the methodology developed by Dr. Kevin St. Martin of Rutgers University and are more than two years in the making.

A federal agency staffer, state planner, or anyone interested in fisheries can now click on the open access, Communities at Sea data layers to understand, for example, where gillnetters from a particular port location fish. As any fisherman will tell you, the fish they follow don’t know or care about state boundaries. Fishermen, whose home port is in Newport News, Virginia, are also likely fishing in federal waters off the coast of New York. That means the decisions made off the coast of New York also affect communities and ports in other locations. This tool supports the Mid-Atlantic Regional Ocean Plan and ensures fishermen and the space they occupy on the water are represented in the data and as part of the ocean plan.

As part of the ocean planning process, fishermen also requested that the data portal include maps that highlight the fishery management zones including those for ocean quahogs, surf clams and scallops.

Additional datasets added to the portal use the Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) on board fishing vessels, which tracks vessel movement, to show where commercial fishing activity occurs. Datasets are grouped by specific categories such as scallops, herring or monkfish. This Mid-Atlantic VMS data is used courtesy of Northeast ocean planning colleagues and can be found on both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Data Portals. Together with the Communities at Sea data sets and fishery management zones, we now have a powerful tool and clearer picture of where important fishing areas are occurring.

The collective value of these maps is extensive. This data can help guide engagement with specific fishing communities when a potential management or permitting process occurs in the waters where they fish. This type of targeted engagement is a step to ensure fishermen have a voice in development activities affecting their fishing grounds and a crucial step to avoid future ocean use conflicts.

Read the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal team’s blog for more information on the methods behind the Communities at Sea data. Also, check out both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Data Portals for fishing specific data and updates.


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Our Ocean at Work: A Thoroughly Modern Tool for Ancient Mariners

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Flares of bright green with yellow streaks and intense spots of red and orange lights up a map of blue stretching out from the eastern shore.

This data visualization captures one of the most ancient ways our species has traversed the planet—on ships that carry us across oceans to distant shores.

Each line on the map traces the unique informational “fingerprint” that is a ship’s Automatic Identification System. Since 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard has been using this tracking system to maintain the safety and security for vessels of all kinds in American waters. Today, the AIS system receives over 92 million messages per day from more than 12,700 vessels along America’s coasts and Exclusive Economic Zone. Over the time that this vast volume of data has been collected, it has been recognized as a treasure trove to federal agencies and other ocean users—if it could be integrated into the data portals and other tools that fuel ocean management decisions in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.


Thanks to a joint effort with NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and the Marine Cadastre team, the Coast Guard tracking data is now publicly available on both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic  Data Portals. These data portals are a powerful tool allowing for layer upon layer of other data sources to be combined with the Coast Guard data, like wind energy development and the migratory routes of iconic marine wildlife like whales, allowing us to better visualize and anticipate potential conflicts. What emerges is a complex, comprehensive snapshot of ocean uses. Today, the AIS data layer is one of the most-used layers in both the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Data Portals.

Shared data is one of the foundations of successful ocean planning.

Together with innovative management tools and open engagement, it allows diverse ocean users to recognize areas that could spark conflict. Ocean planning allows people across business, industry and conservation to navigate a complex set of parameters to achieve better results.

By having AIS data readily available on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Data Portals, agencies like the Coast Guard can work with Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and NOAA to avoid potential conflict areas between high-traffic shipping routes and proposed offshore wind development or marine mammals migratory routes.

The AIS data provided by the U.S. Coast Guard and the ability to visualize this data for working with other state and federal agencies demonstrates how ocean planning works. It is just one example of how this cooperative, common-sense approach can balance maritime safety and navigation risks while America’s ocean economy surges ahead.


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The Most Festive Shark There Ever Was?

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The 2017 holiday season is upon us, and no matter where we go, it seems we can’t escape the joyful music, vibrant light displays and perfectly wrapped gift displays alongside shop window setups. Every other commercial on television is about a special sale for this time of year, and Facebook is flooding with fun-filled holiday recipes to try. What you may not have known, though, is that December is chock-full of a spectacular list of other ‘holidays’ as well, countless of which perfectly match the typically festive vibes of the month. For example, December 15th boasts National Cupcake Day, while the 26th day of the month serves as National Thank You Note Day.

Another interesting one? December 4th: National Cookie Day!

Here at Ocean Conservancy, we’re taking this holiday as an opportunity to celebrate one of the least-known but most seasonally apropos creatures of the deep. How, you may ask? Well, while we all love our occasional snickerdoodle or sugar cookie, there’s a specific species of shark that we couldn’t help but think of as ‘National Cookie Day’ rolled around: the cookiecutter shark.

Wait…what’s a cookiecutter shark? Is that even a real thing?

Great question. The answer’s simple, though, and it’s yes!

Ocean Portal, Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History © Jennifer Strotman, Collections Program

All right, let’s start from the beginning. These sharks (their scientific name is Isistius brasiliensis) are rarely seen by people, because they live in the open ocean at depths of up to more 3,000 feet below the surface during the day. What we do see significantly more often, however, are the scars and marks they leave on their prey as a result of a feeding mechanism that has earned them their namesake. While some fear great whites for their sheer size and girth, these tiny predators don’t grow to be more than 22 inches long. What’s alarming here is not their size or ferocious appearance, but their unique method of attack. 

Isistius-brasiliensis-03Isistius-brasiliensis-03 Here’s how it goes. The cookiecutter shark locates its food source (which is typically much heftier in size, like a larger shark, whale or seal) and latches onto its prey. After securely attaching itself, it rotates its body in a full circle, carving out a piece of flesh typically a few inches in diameter. These wounds leave perfectly shaped and very evident scars on the prey, but usually aren’t enough to severely injure the animal. Because of this, cookiecutters are often referred to as a type of parasite, with their prey serving as a host for a short period of time. 

So, while we may see the scars of these sharks on commonly seen coastal marine life, how likely is it that a human being will see a cookiecutter itself in their lifetime? The answer, according to several experts, is honestly not likely at all. Only a couple incidents of cookiecutters biting humans have been recorded in all of history, and their primary residence in deep water far offshore keeps this little shark from ever being one you need to worry about…unless, of course, you’re in a submarine.

Florida Museum of Natural History © John Soward

 Evidently, they can be so determined that they’ve been known to attack submarines, leaving marks even in the sides of these sturdy vessels.

When you look at these scars, it wouldn’t be too far off to assume that someone baking cookies mistook a marine animal for a roll of cookie dough! Talk about a fitting name. While definitely pretty creepy, this is one case in particular where nature serves as weird, cool and slightly cute, all at the same time.

Want to learn more about the awesome and sometimes unbelievable wildlife that graces our ocean? Click here to check out our wildlife fact sheets; you just might learn something you never knew before! After all, there’s always something new to learn about our ocean.

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Our Ocean at Work: Kicking Things Off

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This is an exciting week for the ocean planning geeks here at Ocean Conservancy. We are kicking off an entire week of blogs highlighting real-world, local examples of how ocean planning is helping our ocean work.

We are celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic Plans being finalized. We are also noting progress made this year and looking to future success stories on the West Coast and Pacific Islands.

Ocean Conservancy has spent years advocating for smart ocean planning that includes robust data from industries who use the ocean and on important marine ecosystem components. We have worked to ensure everyone from fishermen to shipping companies, scientists, port operators, recreational boaters, surfers and conservation groups all have a voice in this process.

We have come a long way and it’s just the beginning!

We will continue to push for forward progress, however, this week we take a moment to celebrate real success in making the lives of people living and working on the ocean better.

Check back each day for a new example and follow #OurOceanatWork to see all the examples.


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The Little-known Life of the First African American Female Zoologist

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It’s been nearly six months since I left the shores of Hawaii for the nation’s capital, ready to embark on a new journey as a Roger Arliner Young Marine (RAY) Conservation Diversity Fellow. I can still remember landing at Reagan National Airport, filled with trepidation, with one suitcase and my backpack.

New home. New apartment. New mission.

This fellowship was created to inspire the next generation of marine conservation leaders from diverse backgrounds. It was named in honor of Dr. Roger Arliner Young, the first African-American woman to receive a doctorate in Zoology in 1940. She was a groundbreaking researcher and a staunch social activist who also struggled with both physical and mental illness. In her long career she encountered numerous obstacles because of her sex, her race and a pervasive classism.

Photo Source: ASU HPS Repository

Inspired by her legacy as a pioneering researcher, I was excited to learn she had attended and taught at Howard University in Washington D.C. I recently spent an afternoon looking for traces of Dr. Young at this famed Historically Black College with two other RAY Fellows, Melia Paguirigan and Derek Segars. After several hours we came up empty-handed. No building, no classroom, no plaque bears the name of Roger Arliner Young.

Despite receiving her bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1923, and eventually teaching there for a few years after completing her master’s degree, it was like she had never walked those halls. My request to the university to learn more about Dr. Young has gone unanswered.

So, here we are, 77 years after Dr. Young received her doctorate in Zoology, still caught in circular conversations about diversity quotas and quotients.

Progress is all too often gauged by the number of people of color that occupy cubicles, without regard to actually uplifting and empowering diversity. A report by Green 2.0 found environmental organizations and agencies have still not been able to break through the so-called “green ceiling.” Minorities make up only 12-16% of the green workforce and that figure has remained stagnant for decades.

In 2016, Ocean Conservancy, Oceana, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace and Rare began the RAY Fellowship to redress the balance. I am part of the change that is focused on inspiring the next generation of marine conservationists through networking, mentorship and professional development.  Currently, the Fellowship is continuing to expand partnerships, including Point Blue Conservation, who recently signed on as a member.

There is no denying that minorities suffer from a severe lack of representation and mentorship opportunities. We do not see ourselves reflected in the fields of study like environmental science, and we are absent from high-ranking positions of leadership.

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© Emily Okikawa

Many of us are still walking the same path as Dr. Young did. She did not have the guidance of a mentor who advocated for her as a woman scientist of color. In many ways, she did not even have the support of her community.

“Mentorship is key as a minority trying to get into a nontraditional field,” said Derek Segars, the Government Relations RAY Fellow at Ocean Conservancy.  “In my community, getting involved in this type of field—the policy area—is never really promoted to young black men. Not even just policy, but environmental advocacy in general are not really outlets that the black community has highlighted as areas for black intellectuals to invest their time in.”

“As a minority you face a lot more roadblocks and you have a lot fewer resources. You have a lot fewer people to look up to. You have a lot fewer people to look to for guidance—people who have gone through the same experiences to get to where you have to go,” he adds.

That same lack of representation even carries throughout our academic careers. The most striking thing about Dr. Young’s story is that she was imperfect and vulnerable in the most human of ways. She was far from the perfect student—and yet she fought for every step forward.

© Emily Okikawa

“Something that I really struggled with, as a young professional, as someone who has gone through the research world, and as someone who grew up in a small white town… it’s really hard to find role models who look like you and have your [life] experiences. You grasp at whatever you can,” said Melia Paguirigan, the Ocean Acidification RAY Fellow at Ocean Conservancy.

“What initially struck me about her is that when she started off in college she wasn’t an A+ student,” she comments, “What it came down to was that she was just a hard worker.”

What I take away from Dr. Young’s life is her uncompromising loyalty to herself and her passions. As an Asian American, I often struggle with the fear that my ethnic identity will eclipse all my other talents and skills. We all want to stand on our own merit, the strength of our convictions, our ability to persevere. That unapologetic self-advocacy is a virtue I am constantly trying to cultivate.

“We are changing things, we are making small differences,” notes Paguirigan. “At the end of this fellowship, we will have done what we set out to do—creating that path forward for the next generation of conservation leaders.”

For these, among many reasons, the life and achievements of Dr. Young deserve to be celebrated.

She represents the strength we need to emulate as the next generation of diverse, strong and articulate conservation leaders ready to break through that green ceiling.

© Emily Okikawa

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