The Beacon: Rachael Prokop's blog

Government Fails on Offshore Drilling Report Card

Friday will mark two years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing the worst accidental oil spill in history. One would hope that an accident like this would lead to monumental changes in safety regulations, but sadly that is not the case.

Today, we released a report card that grades the failures of the United States government and the oil and gas industry after the oil spill.

“Politics continues to triumph over common sense. It’s outrageous that so little progress has been made to make offshore drilling safer,” said Jacqueline Savitz, our senior campaign director. “It appears that the government has done little more than require actions that were already being done voluntarily, even on the ill-fated rig – it’s as if they are letting the industry regulate itself.”

We gave the grades based on how well the government and industry followed recommendations they were given after the spill. They received “F” grades in most of the categories, but in three instances the government did make small but ultimately unsatisfactory efforts, earning “D” grades.

Overall, “both industry and government get ‘F’s’,” Savitz said. “Without stronger regulations, and better inspection and enforcement, oil companies will continue to put profits over safety and there will be more problems. It’s not a matter of whether there will be another oil spill, but when.”

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to stop new offshore drilling, please visit www.stopthedrill.org.


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A Big Win for Sea Turtles in the Atlantic

A loggerhead sea turtle hatchling. © Oceana/Cory Wilson

We’re happy to announce a victory for sea turtles in the Atlantic this week.

The scallop fishery has long been a threat to sea turtles, who get caught up and drowned in the heavy equipment. Scallops are often collected by dredges— heavy metal nets attached to a flat scoop that drags along the ground, collecting everything large enough to fit in the net. These dredges are hazards in sea turtle habitats, where they catch, drag, and drown sea turtles along with the desired scallops.

All six sea turtle species in the United States are threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, making these deaths all the more tragic.

Fortunately, there’s a new type of gear that includes something called a Turtle Deflector Device (TDD). With a TDD, dredges can push sea turtles out of harm’s way instead of pulling them into the nets.

This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced new regulations for the Atlantic scallop fishery that will require TDDs in areas and during times when sea turtles are known to be present.

We are excited about these new rules, which will save many sea turtle lives.

Gib Brogan, our Northeast representative, said that “Oceana is relieved that after 10 years of requests, NMFS has finally taken action to reduce the scallop fishery’s deadly interaction with threatened sea turtles. We support TDDs as a solution to sea turtle bycatch in the scallop fishery and commend the industry and its research partners for their work to develop this new gear.”


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Blowout Causes North Sea Gas Leak

Gas has been leaking into the United Kingdom’s North Sea for three days, after an attempt to close an underwater oil well caused a blowout.

Oil drilling accidents happen more often than you might think. Smaller spills and leaks don’t usually make the news, although they can still affect the local environment. And this is why offshore drilling is so dangerous—it’s even harder to contain a leak when it’s underwater.

In this case, there is not much that can be done for the time being. The actual well is plugged, but the highly-pressurized gas (a light crude oil called condensate) is coming from a reservoir close to the surface. It’s possible the leak might close itself within a few days. But if it doesn’t, the only way to resolve it will be to drill a relief well, which will take six months. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s how the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico was eventually resolved.

The comparisons don’t end there. Jake Molloy, regional organizer for RMT union, also compared the two accidents: “It’s unprecedented. High pressure gas flowing from a well with no means of preventing it. We are in the realm of the unknown, comparable to the Deepwater Horizon.”

This leak will not have the same scope of destruction as the Gulf leak, since the condensate is thin and will hopefully evaporate. But after two days, there was already a sheen of condensate two miles long in the North Sea. A vapor cloud is visible rising from the rig, and the area has been evacuated out of fear of an explosion.

Accidents occur everywhere we drill, and there is no way to safeguard the environment from the effects of oil. Shell is currently on its way to begin drilling in the Arctic, far from civilization. If a spill occurs there, the story could be even worse. Join us in calling on President Obama to protect the Arctic environment and all the animals that call it home.


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Happy World Water Day!

© Oceana/Carlos Suarez

All around the world, people are struggling to get access to clean water for drinking and growing crops. As the climate changes, many farmlands are drying and people are finding it harder and harder to keep their crops watered and still have enough to drink.

Here at Oceana, our focus is usually on salt water, but that doesn’t mean we’re not concerned about fresh water and all the people who rely on it.

It’s all interconnected: Freshwater rivers flow into the ocean, and the oceans provide water-conserving meals. Wild seafood requires no fresh water to grow or feed, which means more water is available for human consumption. But we can only rely on the ocean for food as long as fish are available. Overfishing, pollution, and climate change mean less fish in the ocean, which in turn means less water for drinking.

Water is essential to human life, whether it is in a well or in the ocean. Today we want to remind everyone that you don’t have to choose between saving the oceans and saving suffering humans… They are one and the same.

Do your part for World Water Day. Live your life with the health of the oceans and the planet in mind. You can start by checking out the 10 Things You Can Do to Save the Oceans.


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Victory! Alibaba.com Stops Selling Manta Ray Products

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

We have great news to share with you today! We recently asked you to help us protect manta rays from being made into leather by asking Alibaba.com to take manta ray products off their website. Nearly 40,000 of you responded by signing our petition, and Alibaba listened!

Last Friday, they called us to say that they will no longer be selling manta ray products. Today, we got their statement in writing and are proud to be able to announce their commitment to sustainability. In the past, they’ve taken down listings for shark fins and other unsustainable animal products. And now, thanks to your efforts, they will also refrain from selling animals protected under UN policies, including manta and devil rays.

We are amazed at the response we got from all our wonderful supporters on this topic. We here at Oceana would like to thank all of our supporters for sharing your voices, and we’d especially like to thank Alibaba.com and their CEO Jack Ma for responding so quickly and positively. Thanks to all of you, manta rays are now swimming a little more safely.


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Shell Sues Oceana, Others Over Arctic Drilling

You’ve probably heard that Shell is planning to drill in Arctic waters. But now the plot thickens: In a bizarre move, Shell has decided to preemptively sue a group of environmental groups, including Oceana, to attempt to silence our voices and remove our right to challenge their spill response plan.

Naturally environmentalists have been fighting against Shell’s plan — the Arctic is a fragile environment, and an oil spill there would be a tragedy for Arctic communities, seals, polar bears, and more. Even the US Coast Guard has said they don’t have the resources to deal with an Arctic spill.

Oceana has been campaigning to prevent unsafe drilling in the Arctic, along with many other environmental groups. Greenpeace made the news recently for protesting aboard an Arctic bound oil-drilling ship with actress Lucy Lawless.

The truth is, there is no known technology to clean up spilled oil in icy Arctic ocean conditions. Shell does not have some magic solution. Clean-up crews at the recent Gulf of Mexico spill were only able to recover about 10% of the spilled oil, and that was in a warm environment with relatively calm seas.

In the icy Arctic 1,000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard station, clean-up efforts would be extremely difficult if not impossible. By saying otherwise, Shell is misleading the public and the government.

We’ll keep you posted as this curious lawsuit unfolds...


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Fishy Business: Can You Trust Your Seafood?

Can you trust that the seafood you bought is actually what it claims to be? In a new report titled, “Fishy Business: Do You Know What You Are Really Eating?” Oceana explains how seafood mislabeling and species substitution can have dangerous consequences for public health and ocean ecosystems.

Seafood fraud is more common than people think. Seafood takes a long journey from the ocean to your plate, with plenty of opportunities for fishermen and merchants to fudge the truth—and very little in the way to stop them.

Some expensive fish are switched out for more common varieties. Seafood may be weighted down with ice, meaning you’re paying for more than what you get. And fish caught unsustainably may be falsely labeled as an eco-friendly option, which means even careful consumers could still be funding unsustainable fishing.

The FDA only inspects 2% of imported seafood, but up to 70% of seafood may be mislabeled in some manner. Obviously, the FDA needs to make seafood a priority. “Consumers have a right to know what they are eating and where it came from.  Yet, frankly, customers are being ripped off,” said Oceana’s Beth Lowell.  “Fraud of any kind is wrong, illegal and must be stopped.”

Eating dinner shouldn’t be a guessing game. Today, the House is considering the FDA’s 2013 budget, and we’re calling on them to pay attention to seafood.


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Marine Monday: Valentine's Edition

spanish dancer eggs

A Spanish dancer's eggs, also known as a "sea rose." [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Happy (almost) Valentine’s Day!

Here on land, we give our sweethearts flowers to show our love. But what is the undersea equivalent of a rose? To answer that question, we’ve chosen three undersea creatures who seem to embody the spirit of Valentine’s Day.

Spanish Dancer

A Spanish dancer is a nudibranch, or sea slug, but these are much prettier than our above-ground slugs. They are free swimmers and wouldn’t make this list if it weren’t for their egg sacs, which are literally called a “sea rose.” And that’s exactly what they look like, a little rose growing under the sea.

But even the adults get in on the Valentine action, often colored bright red or pink and gracefully moving through the water like flamenco dancers. Watch out, though, because Spanish dancers and their sea roses are both toxic and best admired from a distance.

Mediterranean Red Coral

Mediterranean red coral is made of a hard red or pink skeleton, covered in small polyps that wave graceful tentacles. Its bright red color is truly eye-catching; so much so that people have been harvesting it for centuries to display and make into jewelry. It’s now difficult to find a thriving colony of red coral, and thus it should be off-limits as a Valentine gift. But taking your valentine on a dive to see some living coral would make for a lovely (albeit expensive) date.

Passion Flower Feather Star

We just love the name of this creature. The passion flower feather star is an echinoderm, like a starfish. They have many feathery arms—up to 20!—that look like red petals. They grip onto rocks or other hard surfaces and use the feathery appendages on their arms to trap plankton and other small foods. They mostly stay where they are, like a flower constantly in bloom, but will curl up into a protective ball if disturbed. They add a lovely spot of color to reefs and bays in southern Australia.

Our conclusion? Undersea gardens are just as beautiful as our rose gardens on land, but they are best left alone—like a rose, these creatures will not last long out of their habitats.

To learn more about exotic and unusual sea creatures, check out our marine wildlife encyclopedia.


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More than 100 Dolphins Beached in Cape Cod

common dolphin

© Oceana/Jesus Renedo

More than 100 dolphins have beached themselves in Cape Cod, Massachusetts this winter, and no one knows why.

In the northeastern United States, it’s normal for about 230 animals to beach themselves over the course of a year. But this year, 129 common dolphins have been found on Cape Cod beaches in the past month.

Examinations of the dolphins haven’t found any sign of illness or injury, adding to the mystery. Beaching or “stranding” happens when an animal gets trapped in shallow water and can’t swim back out to the ocean. This can be caused by disorientation from an unfamiliar landscape, loud noises, illness, or more. Because dolphins form strong bonds, they may follow each other and become stranded in groups.

One factor in Cape Cod might be an unseasonably warm winter, which kept the harbor free from ice and open to wandering dolphins. Combined with the geography of the Cape Cod harbor area—much shallower and confined than the open ocean—and dolphins’ habits of sticking close to their family members, these dolphins could easily find themselves in trouble.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare has been working to save the stranded dolphins and discover the cause of the mass stranding. To date they have been able to release 37 of the stranded dolphins back into the water.

Mass strandings are mysterious events. We may never know the cause, but we hope it comes to an end soon.


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Marine Monday: Antarctic Krill

What do blue whales, penguins and salmon have in common?

They all have the same diet. Much of the ocean is fed by a two-inch crustacean: krill. Antarctic krill congregate in huge masses in the Southern Ocean, dense enough to fill the belly of a blue whale, the world’s largest animal.

Penguins will march hundreds of miles to feast on krill, building up blubber that will help them survive their cold months on land. Even flying seabirds will dive in and partake of the abundance.

Without this tiny creature, the ocean would starve. But like so much else in the ocean, krill’s future is in danger. It is also a popular food for salmon, giving the fish’s meat that distinctive pink color. When humans build fish farms for predatory fish like salmon, we need to feed them. And that means that humans are now fishing krill to feed our farms, taking away potential meals from whales, penguins, and other wild creatures.

Oceana is working to prevent the overfishing of krill and the other small creatures that keep the oceans’ food chain going. To learn more about marine animals like Antarctic krill, visit our marine wildlife encyclopedia.


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