Oceana Magazine Summer/Fall 2013: Making Waves

Sharks gain protections in Europe, California

© Jim AgronickThe European Union has officially adopted a strict ban on shark finning following years of campaigning Oceana and our allies. Finning has technically been prohibited in the EU since 2003, but an exemption allowed countries to issue special permits for fishing vessels to remove shark fins onboard, which made it nearly impossible to detect and monitor finning. The cruel practice of shark finning is also incredibly wasteful; finning only uses one to five percent of the shark’s weight. Upto 70 million sharks are killed each year, primarily to support the demand for sharkfin soup. The E.U.’s new policy has global implications as the European fleet is the largest exporter of shark fins to Asia. And in the United States, in response to a petition filed by Oceana and our partners last summer, the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously in February to make the West Coast great white shark population a candidate for endangered species listing. While the state decides whether or not to permanently list great whites, the sharks will receive the full protections given endangered species. New scientific studies show that great white sharks off the West Coast are genetically distinct from other great white sharks, and that the number of sharks in this population is alarmingly low. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will conduct a one-year in-depth status review for its listing determination in February. In the meantime, it is now illegal to catch a great white shark in California.

 

Offshore drilling leases invalidated in Belize

This spring, in an extraordinary win for Oceana and our allies, the Supreme Court of Belize invalidated offshore oil drilling leases in the country. For two years, Oceana has campaigned in Belize to prevent oil drilling in this biodiversity hotspot. Belize is home to a 186-mile stretch of the Mesoamerican Reef, the largest coral reef system in the Western Hemisphere. The Belizean government had secretly leased all of Belize’s waters for oil exploration and drilling to 18 different oil companies. Thanks to a lawsuit filed by Oceana and allies, the Supreme Court nullified the leases, citing an inadequate assessment of environmental impacts on the part of the oil companies and government before entering these contracts and a failure by the companies to demonstrate the ability to drill safely in Belize’s tropical waters. The government has appealed the ruling. The ruling, if upheld, will provide the basis for stopping offshore oil drilling in Belize. The Belizean Court of Appeal, unfortunately, lifted the immediate injunction on any oil drilling that accompanied the Supreme Court’s initial ruling. In 2011, Oceana collected 20,000+signatures, which should have triggered a national referendum on whether to allow offshore oil drilling in Belize. But the Belizean government disqualified over 8,000 of these signatures, stopping the possibility of a vote. In response, Oceana quickly organized a People’s Referendum, which drew 30,000 Belizeans to the polls to vote on offshore drilling in the national waters. In that unofficial vote, 96 percentof Belizean voters cast their ballot against offshore drilling, sending a loud and clear message to the country’s leadership. Oceana continues to push for a full ban on offshore drilling in Belize.

Shell retreats on Arctic Drilling

The Arctic Ocean is once again safe from offshore oil drilling—at least for this year. Royal Dutch Shell, the only company with approved exploration plans, declared in early March that it will not pursue oil drilling activity in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas in 2013. This announcement follows a 2012 season plagued with high-profile mishaps and violations. Shell’s attempts last year concluded with a thud when its drill rig, the Kulluk, ran aground on a remote island near Kodiak, Alaska on New Year’s Eve. In a Department of the Interior press conference, organized to announce the results of their investigation into Shell’s problems, Secretary Salazar said it: “Shell screwed up.” Oceana has been at the forefront of the battle over the future of the Arctic Ocean, and continues to campaign to protect this remote and important region from the proven risks of ocean oil drilling.

Offshore wind and wave energy makeheadway in Maryland and Oregon

After campaigning and guidance from Oceana, roughly 2 percent of Oregon’s waters have been identified as suitable for marine renewable energy projects like offshore wind and wave power. Oceana helped guide the planning of marine renewable energy in Oregon. The new marine spatial plan maps and identifies all of the state’s important and unique ocean habitats, such as offshore reefs, kelp beds, seabird colonies, seal and sea lion habitats and gray whale foraging areas, and sets strong standards for protecting these areas from development. Developers will have to show they will meet the new standards for protecting ecological resources, fishing and other existing uses. With this new plan, Oregon is taking a sensible approach to protecting the ocean while building a clean energy future. Maryland has also established itself as a leader in offshore wind energy. The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Actof 2013, which was signed into law byMaryland’s Governor Martin O’Malley thisspring, will help spur the development of at least 200 megawatts of offshore wind energy off Maryland’s coast, enough to power 200,000 homes. The law will require utilities in the state to provide their customers with a specific amount of power generated from offshore wind. Oceana has led a coalition that worked to make this bill law.

Portugal nominates Gorringe Bank as Marine Protected Area

This spring, Portugal nominated the Gorringe Bank as a Marine Protected Area under the EU’s Natura 2000 network. The Gorringe Bank is a chain of seamounts rich in marine life located 186 miles off the Atlantic shore of this coastal European country. Since 2005, Oceana has been fighting to bring attention and recognition to this natural resource, which is currently unprotected and subject to destructive bottom trawling. Expeditions by the Oceana Ranger in 2011 and 2012 revealed a high diversity of life and complex habitats throughout this underwater mountain chain, which juts more than three miles from the ocean floor. Oceana scientists discovered that kelp forests, sponge aggregations and coral gardens vie for space along its slopes while whales, sharks, swordfish and seabirds visit its waters. Unfortunately, an increasing amount of trash, especially abandoned fishing gear, was also found in the course of these expeditions. A designation as a Marine Protected Area will preserve the Gorringe Bank’s biological riches for ages to come.