Oceana Magazine Fall 2012: Making Waves
Leatherback sea turtle becomes California state symbol
The California legislature and Governor Brown designated the endangered Pacific leatherback sea turtle as California’s official state marine reptile and declared October 15 as the state’s annual Leatherback Conservation Day.
Oceana was a key champion of the bill and won statewide support from thousands of California citizens and more than 30 conservation entities including the California Fish and Game Commission. This new symbol of the Golden State recognizes the importance of California waters to the survival and recovery of this endangered and ancient sea turtle species and encourages further conservation efforts.
‘Freezing the menu’ for forage fish
After campaigning by Oceana, the Pacific Fishery Management Council finalized its decision to prohibit the development of new fisheries for currently unmanaged forage fish off the West Coast.
Forage fish are the ocean’s small fish and invertebrates, such as lanternfish, smelts, saury and small squids, which serve as prey for larger animals, including dolphins, whales, seabirds, and fish species like salmon, tuna and rockfish. They have immense ecological and economic value, but can only serve their role as prey when they are left in the water.
The decision to “freeze the menu” builds on Oceana’s previous success to prohibit a fishery on krill, and sets up a process and timetable for interim protective measures and a regulatory process to implement a long-term prohibition on new fisheries.
Coal-fired power plant defeated in northern Chile
A planned coal-fired thermoelectric power plant known as Castilla in northern Chile was rejected by the Chilean Supreme Court, a victory for Oceana and its allies.
Coal-powered thermoelectric power plants are notoriously dangerous to the environment. This plant was planned for the Punta Cachos area off of Chile’s northern coast, just a few miles from important habitats for Humboldt penguins and sea turtles. As part of its operations, the plant would have released warm water into the ocean, which would have negatively affected the entire ecosystem.
Despite initial approval by the local environmental commission, the plant was opposed by the local community and various other organizations, including Oceana. The community fought against the plant and won, getting its approval revoked, but the company appealed, bringing the case to the Supreme Court, which finally ruled against the plant. Oceana continues to campaign in Chile against plants like Castilla, which generate pollution that negatively impacts coastal ecosystems, the safety of the local air and water, as well as the health of local communities.
Victories for sharks in Europe
For the first time in its 60-year history, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean took action for shark protection. The Commission adopted measures for the management and conservation of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean. Twenty-three Mediterranean countries endorsed a proposal from the European Union that bans the unsustainable practice of shark finning, prohibits trawling in some sensitive near-shore habitats, and requires countries to collect and report data on catches of some threatened species.
In another win for European sharks, the EU also voted in favor of strictly protecting 10 threatened species of sharks and rays in the Mediterranean Sea. These species, including hammerheads, tope, and shortfin mako, have declined dramatically in numbers – some by as much as 99 percent during the last century – while others have vanished from parts of the Mediterranean where they were once common. Oceana was the only NGO pushing for this measure.
Finally, the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament voted to support a strict ban on shark finning both in European Union waters and on EU ships worldwide. The new policy, which must be approved by the rest of Parliament, would close loopholes in the EU’s existing shark finning policy, which allowed some vessels to remove fins at sea.
Spain’s Doñana National Park saved from oil drilling
The Spanish government put an end to proposed oil industry development that would have threatened Doñana National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Plans to build an oil refinery in the Gulf of Cadiz, not far from Doñana, would have led to higher ship traffic in the area and a higher risk of oil spills or accidents during the tankers’ unloading operations, threatening animals such as the avocet and purple heron. Oceana is currently working to create a Marine Protected Area in this section of the Gulf of Cadiz, which would be linked to the National Park. Oceana identified the threats posed by the construction of this oil refinery in 2005, and has been campaigning against it with other groups.
Illinois bans shark fin trade
Illinois became the first inland state to ban the trade of shark fins, following similar bans passed by California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii in the growing national movement to protect sharks.
Although Illinois is far from the ocean, it imports large amounts of shark fins that are used in the Asian delicacy shark fin soup. This market demand for fins creates an incentive for the continued practice of shark finning, where a shark’s fins are sliced off at sea and the body is thrown overboard while the shark is often still alive. Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year for their fins, contributing to population declines as large as 99 percent in recent decades.
While shark finning is illegal in the United States, there are few federal laws that address the trade of shark fins. In fact, many shark fins are imported into the U.S. from countries with few or even no shark protections in place.