The Beacon

Blog Tags: Pacific Ocean

Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation Grants $3 million to Oceana

(Photo: Oceana / Jenn Hueting)

Oceana is pleased to announce that we have been awarded a $3 million grant from the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. The grant will aid our efforts to protect threatened ocean habitat and keystone marine species in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.

“Protecting our planet’s oceans and the marine species that call it home is one of the most pressing sustainability crises facing humanity today and a moral imperative that we must acknowledge,” DiCaprio said. “It’s my hope that this grant will help Oceana continue the tremendous work that they do daily on behalf of our oceans.”


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Hungry Sea Otters Fight Climate Change

sea otter

Humans have an unlikely ally in the fight against global warming: sea otters.

According to a new study out of the University of California Santa Cruz, the playful, foraging mammals play a vital role in managing kelp forests, which in turn are capable of absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide. Sea otters prey on sea urchins, which, unchecked, can ravage kelp forests, but thriving sea otter populations help keep the urchins in check.

The study looked at 40 years of otter and kelp data from Vancouver Island to the Western Aleutian Islands in Alaska. The researchers found that in areas where otters flourished, so too did kelp. In fact, the kelp was able to absorb 12 times more carbon in areas that were not overrun by sea urchins. Giant kelp can grow as tall as 30 meters and kelp forests are provide important habitat for a number of fish species, including blue sharks.

"Right now, all the climate change models and proposed methods of sequestering carbon ignore animals," one of the study’s lead authors, professor Chris Wilmers said. "But animals the world over, working in different ways to influence the carbon cycle, might actually have a large impact.”

The study’s authors noted that the carbon sequestered by otter-aided kelp forests alone could be worth between $205 million and $408 million on the European Carbon Exchange, a market for trading carbon credits.

Populations of California sea otters, which once numbered around 15,000 along the Pacific coast, were decimated in the 18th and 19th centuries by hunters. In 1938, one lone colony of 50 otters discovered near Big Sur represented the entire population. Today that number has rebounded to almost 3,000 but the animal still faces threats, especially from parasites and infectious diseases which thrive in polluted waters. Otters, which depend on their fur coats for insulation, are also especially vulnerable to oil spills.

A decision is expected this December about whether to reopen a “no-otter zone” enforced by the Fish and Wildlife Service which extends from just North of Santa Barbara to the Mexican border in California. The zone was originally established in 1987 to help the fishing industry, and sea urchins have removed large swaths of kelp forest in the area.


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Tonight: Ted Danson Narrates ‘Great White Highway’

There is still a lot of mystery surrounding great white sharks. ©Terry Goss

Shark Week is almost over, but one of the most exciting shows of the year is airing tonight.

Tonight at 9 p.m. (Eastern and Pacific) tune in to Discovery Channel to watch “Great White Highway,” which follows the secret lives of great white sharks off the Pacific Coast. And perhaps you’ll recognize the narrator – he’s the one and only actor and Oceana board member Ted Danson.

Here’s the show's description:

Right outside the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is home to some of the biggest great white sharks in the world... but only for part of the year. Teams of scientists from Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey Bay have spent years tagging and tracking these sharks to find out why they come here, why they leave and where they go when they do — out into the Pacific on the Great White Highway. But the sharks have kept much about their lives completely secret, leaving researchers with little information about what they spend their summers doing and almost no idea about where they mate or bear their young. Now, armed with new technologies, the team is hoping to wire the ocean and find out how these sharks live their lives — and why California is one of the biggest stops on the Great White Highway. 

And if you haven’t already, add your name to our petition to list the US West Coast population of great whites on the endangered species list.



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This Shark Week, Save Great Whites

greatwhite

Great whites play an important role in the ocean ecosystem ©Terry Goss

During Shark Week we love watching majestic great whites on TV, but if we don’t act soon to protect them, recordings will be the only place they exist.

In the Pacific, great whites are important predators. As the largest predatory fish on the planet, they can reach lengths over 20 feet and weigh more than 5,000 pounds. They’re shaped like torpedoes and can swim through the water at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. Great whites can detect electromagnetic currents in the ocean and have such a sharp sense of smell that they can identify blood in the water from up to 3 miles away.  You can’t deny that these are impressive animals.

As fearsome as they might be as predators, they’re not the killing machines that they’re often identified as. They use all those prey-detecting skills to help keep the marine food web intact — without great whites, the ocean’s balance would be thrown off.

But that might be what the future holds, if nothing is done. A recent study found that there may only be a few hundred adults left swimming off the coast of California and Mexico, far fewer than anyone expected. And those that are left face deadly dangers from fishing nets.

Newborn great whites are often killed by commercial fishing gear off of Southern California and Baja California, making it hard for the populations to stabilize.

Sharks have inhabited the oceans for more than 400 million years and now they’re disappearing because of human actions. We’re working to get US great whites the protection they need — sign today to help get great white sharks on the Endangered Species Act.

Shark Week starts on Sunday – stay tuned for lots more sharky updates!


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Oregon Senate Passes Bill to Create Marine Reserves

otter rock in oregon

Oregon's Otter Rock. © Oceana/Will Race

Today the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 1510, which brings Oregon’s first network of marine reserves and marine protected areas off the Oregon coast one step closer to implementation.

An ecologically significant network of marine reserves and protected areas would make the entire Oregon near-shore ecosystem more healthy and resilient to increasing pressures from overfishing, habitat damage, and changing ocean conditions from global warming and ocean acidification.

The bill will now have to pass the House before heading to the Governor’s desk for signing. If it does, Oregon’s marine reserve and protected area sites will total 118 square miles and make up less than 10 percent of the Pacific Ocean waters in the state’s jurisdiction. (See a map here.) We see this as a great start, but we hope Oregon will continue to identify all of its important ecological areas and ultimately build an ecologically significant network of protected areas and reserves for the full coast. 


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New Report: Small Fish in Big Trouble

bryde's whale.

A bryde's whale enjoys a meal. © Randy Morse  www.GoldenStateImages.com

Did you know that the brown pelican relies on northern anchovy for food? Or that the endangered blue whale feeds exclusively on tiny krill at rates of up to 4,000 pounds per day? Or that a record number of young sea lions were stranded on California beaches last year because they didn’t have enough small fish to eat?

Individually they don’t look like much, but small fish and invertebrates called “forage species” school up to form massive underwater bait balls.

These forage fish are the foundation of the marine food web and provide food for nearly everything else higher up the food ladder. Forage species, such as Pacific herring, Pacific sardine, anchovy, smelts, squid and krill are the critical prey for whales, dolphins, sea lions, many types of fish, and millions of seabirds.

Our new report, “Forage Fish: Feeding the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem,” shows the value of forage fish for fisheries and wildlife – and demonstrates that it’s high time that our fisheries managers recognize their big impact in the ocean.

How many forage fish are needed to feed our ocean’s wildlife and preserve the benefits forage species provide us? That is the question we are asking managers to answer and take into account when setting catch quotas. 

As consumers we enjoy forage fish without even realizing it. Activities, such as whale watching, enjoying fresh wild salmon for dinner, and going sport fishing, are all possible because those top predators survive on forage fish. And they are important for the economy, too -- tourism, recreation activities, and fishing brought in over $23 billion in GDP to California, Oregon, and Washington combined in 2004 alone.

Oceana is the first conservation group to assess the current status of Pacific forage fish. Our new report details the role of forage species in the California Current marine ecosystem, the threats to forage species populations, and the flawed management structures currently in place. The report documents the large gaps in stock information and show the fisheries mismanagement taking place at multiple levels of state, federal and international government.

Providing and maintaining a healthy, sustainable ocean ecosystem does not mean shutting down existing fisheries—but it does call for change. The challenge is to extend the principles in our new report to create a new way of managing our resources that goes beyond single-species management, and considers the role of forage species within the ecosystem as a whole.

By highlighting the colossal importance of these tiny forage species, Oceana aims to ensure a healthy, diverse, productive, and resilient California Current marine ecosystem. Be sure to check out the full report and let us know what you think!


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Marshall Islands Creates World’s Largest Shark Sanctuary

A great white shark. © Oceana/ David P. Stephens

It’s not every day that you hear about the Marshall Islands. Scattered across a swath of the Pacific Ocean, these islands are home to only about 68,000 people. But as of this week, the waters around these islands may become home to a whole lot more sharks.

That’s because the government has decided to make all of its waters—more than 750,000 square miles, or about the size of Mexico—a shark sanctuary. This move will almost double the area in which sharks are protected globally.

Within the Marshall Islands, it will now be illegal to commercially fish sharks, sell any shark products, and use wire leaders (a type of fishing gear often responsible for shark deaths). In addition, all sharks caught accidentally must be released, and fishing boats will be required to bring all their catch directly to port for inspection—an important step in combating seafood fraud.  Fines for having shark products will run the equivalent of $25,000 to $200,000.


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Last Day in Washington: Techno-Colored Crabs

crab

© Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their last day in Washington, the team saw an orca, spiny dogfish, techno-colored crabs and more.

Washington Leg, Final Day

As we prepped the ROV for its first dive, an orca slowly made its way around the island, easily identified by its magnificent tall, black dorsal fin. It was dinner time as we arrived at Kellett Bluff in Puget Sound. A harbor seal moved effortlessly across the surface of the water carrying its dinner, a large salmon. As we readied for the dive, more rhinoceros auklets feasted on sandlance.

Once the ROV was deployed we soon saw several spiny dogfish swimming back and forth in front of the camera’s path. This grey shark is important because it serves as both predator and prey, and this abundant little shark can have large effects on its ocean ecosystem. It’s also important to note that spiny dogfish reproduce in a way that makes them extremely vulnerable to overfishing. The age at which they reproduce has been estimated to be from 10 to 20 and even 30 years.

In Andrew’s Bay the crabs stole the show. A crab that can only be described as techno-colored perched on a rock. It was miraculously camouflaged despite its bright orange and red colors. Another intriguing crab was wearing a hydroid coral as a headpiece. It proudly wore this fanned coral with a height equal to the length of the crab’s body. 


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Diving in the San Juan Islands

anemone

© Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their first day in Washington, the team saw a minke whale, harbor seals and more in the San Juan Islands.

Washington Leg, Day 1

Just before 5 a.m., captain Todd Shuster started the two quiet engines of the eco catamaran, Gato Verde. Shortly thereafter we were riding the waves out of Port Angeles Harbor.

Due to gale force wind advisories in the central Strait of Juan de Fuca, we were forced to re-route our diving to the San Juan Islands. For years, we have been interested in the abundant forage and orca whale populations, steep drop-offs and strong currents in this area. As we approached the islands we were exuberant, curious, and hopeful of what we would find today.

Living among the sand and rocks of Hein Bay, a bed of scallops and sea urchins were kept company by corals and a diversity of fish species. A brief appearance by a minke whale off the bank was a highlight of this dive.


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Exploring Oregon's Coquille Bank

© Oceana

This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlight: prehistoric hagfish.

Oregon Leg, Day 4

Today we ran the R/V Miss Linda twenty miles west of Bandon, Oregon to Coquille Bank. This offshore bank, also known as the Bandon High Spot, rises up off the continental shelf break to a relatively shallow 300 feet in depth. Oceana worked to protect this area from bottom trawling in 2005. The regulations went into place in 2006 and now five years after the area was protected, we had the chance to dive there with the ROV. 

In 2007, Drs. Mark Hixon and Brian Tissot published a scientific paper on the effects of bottom trawling at Coquille Bank. They found striking differences in the seafloor communities between heavily trawled and untrawled areas including more fish abundance and more diversity in the untrawled areas. They also found that bottom trawling affects marine life living in soft sediments and not just rocky seafloor habitats.


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