The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

How to Get House Republicans To Flex Their...Environmental Muscle?

Yes folks it's true. On Monday, the House demonstrated that they can and will - on occasion - vote yes on conservation issues, when Rep. Richard Pombo put forward and the House passed a new version of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that left the Dolphin Deadline intact.

This was truly an amazing victory and I'm not just saying this because my organization - Oceana - led the work that pulled this off. We took on those who wanted to kill the deadline - the key timeline for government to ensure that commercial fishing operations minimize the catch of dolphins and other marine mammals in their activities -- and won. The amazing part is how we did it, by going to Republicans and proving that supporting legislation that "kills Flipper" is not good politics for Republicans or Democrats.

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French Driftnetters Beware

After more than two months at sea, our catamaran - the Ranger - has documented dozens of illegal Italian driftnetters...and we've got the footage to prove it! Watch the video.

We've worked closely with the Italian Coast Guard and - thanks to our tips - many of these vessels have been arrested.

But Italians aren't the only ones using these massive illegal nets to scoop up fish and other creatures, like dolphins and whales. Now we're headed out to catch French driftnetters in the act. Stand by for more excitement from the Mediterranean.

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Happy ending for courtroom drama

Following up on my previous blog, the legal battle between the Navy and the environmental community has come to a close (at least for now). Last Friday, a settlement was reached ensuring that measures will be taken to reduce the harm to whales, dolphins and other marine life caused by high-intensity, mid-frequency sonar. Great work by NRDC and others. Stay tuned for the next episode of this contentious issue...

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Hold the Anchovies

Ridiculously high quotas set by the French and Spanish governments have seriously depleted adult anchovy stocks. What would the world be like without anchovies? Fox's Futurama paints a stark portrait.

The minimum amount of anchovies for sustainable fishing is 28,000 tons, but anchovy stocks today hover around 19,000 tons. In response to the Association of Spanish Artisanal Fishermen and Oceana's pressure, the European Commission banned anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay until Dec. 31.

Futurama fans will appreciate the episode "A Fishful of Dollars." Fry finds himself a rich man, but blows all his money on the last known can of anchovies in existence. Skip ahead to seven and a half minutes to start the anchovy story line, and keep an eye out for a special appearance (sort of) by Oceana's board member Ted Danson.

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It's Not Easy Being a Coral Reef

Coral reefs just can't catch a break. It's not enough that deep sea corals are ripped from the ocean floor by destructive trawling -- now shallow water corals are contending with global warming.

High sea temperatures stress coral, making them susceptible to disease and premature death. Last year, up to 40 percent of coral died in abnormally warm seas around the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the stage is set for the same to happen this year. Two days ago, ENN reported that Caribbean Sea temperatures have reached their annual high two months ahead of schedule.

Then yesterday, the Washington Post highlighted a growing and lesser known problem facing all coral reefs: ocean acidification. The escalating level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is making the world's oceans more acidic, which, by the end of the century, could literally dissolve coral reefs.

Have you ever tried putting a penny in a can of Coke for a couple of weeks? Think of coral reefs as the penny and the ocean as the can of Coke. Then put the can of Coke on top of your stove and run over it with a bulldozer ... you've just replicated the ocean environment coral reefs are experiencing.

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Acronym more powerful than navy

If you think the World Cup is exciting, try keeping up with the current legal battle between the Navy and the environmental community. On June 28, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups filed a temporary restraining order against the Navy's use of sonar testing.

Naval exercises are set to begin next week in the Pacific Rim, where naval forces from eight nations are gathering for training. High-intensity sonar can damage whales' brain and ears, and lower intensity sonar can block their ability to navigate, find food, and avoid predators.

On Friday, the Defense Department responded to the lawsuit by exercising a national security exemption authorized by Congress in 2004. Based on the exemption, the Navy will not be bound by requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for six months.

But on Monday, a U.S. District Judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Navy based on NEPA -- the National Environmental Policy Act. Fortunately, this country has more than one law against the needless infliction of harm to endangered whales and the environment.

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Flying Under the Influence

You may have heard about the "intoxicated pelican" that has been making a splash in the news this week. Granted, it's not every day that a brown pelican crashes into the windshield of a car after being poisoned from a naturally occurring toxin found in algae blooms in California. This type of poisoning actually caused the invasion of frantic birds back in '61 that inspired Hitchcock's classic film The Birds.

But where is the buzz around the bigger story? Starving baby pelicans have been washing up on California beaches in disturbing numbers. Some are suggesting the emaciated birds are the result of a shortage of the sardines, anchovies, and other small fish on which pelicans feed. Perhaps pelicans will become the poster child of overfishing, the way polar bears are for global warming.

As for our tipsy friend in California? "She's hanging in there," said Lisa Birkle, assistant wildlife director at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.

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I'll See Your 140,000 Square Miles and Raise You...

Two weeks ago, environmentalists' collective jaw dropped as President Bush designated 140,000 square miles in the Hawaii Islands a national monument. Not to be upstaged, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries countered today with an announcement it was protecting more than 370,000 square miles of seafloor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands.

NOAA's decision establishes the largest protected area in U.S. waters, and the third largest such area in the world. This designation is the result of five years of intense work by Oceana and others to stop destructive trawling.

Now, the question remains: Can President Bush beat 370,000 square miles?

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What Really Happened to Your Missing Sock

There's a wonderful new advertisement for an Italian washing machine that emulates deep sea life. A clever concept, brilliantly executed. If you've got 30 seconds to spare, check it out here.

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Oceana's Version of Neighborhood Watch

If you think about the fact that the Earth is 71% water ... patrolling our oceans is a pretty daunting task. So over at Oceana, we thought we'd give local coast guards a hand.

Our catamaran -- Ranger -- is currently in the Mediterranean as part of our 2006 driftnets expedition. For those of you that don't know, driftnets are large nets that indiscriminately catch massive amounts of fish and other creatures (like dolphins and whales). They are so destructive that many countries -- including the U.S. and the European Union -- have banned their use.

Our crew has identified several illegal driftnet vessels during the voyage and we have notified the Italian authorities on each occasion. The collaboration has been incredibly successful and many ships have been exposed. Just two days ago, working off of our tips, the Coast Guard arrested eight fishing boats.

The fishermen are so furious about the driftnet laws that they took a page out of the progressive playbook and had themselves a sit in last month, blockading two train stations. The protest wasn't enough to persuade the EU to reverse the ban, so the law remains on the books and Ranger remains in the Mediterranean on the look out.

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