Oceana Magazine Summer 2012: Making Waves
New marine reserves approved in Oregon
After campaigning by Oceana and its allies, Oregon has passed a law creating the state’s first network of marine reserves and marine protected areas (MPAs).
These three new marine reserves and adjacent MPAs add 109 square miles to the state’s existing nine square miles of protected waters, and they include diverse rocky reefs, kelp forests, and important habitat for sea birds and harbor seals. The marine reserves prohibit all extractive uses and development, while the marine protected areas allow limited fishing but not bottom trawling or fishing for forage fish such as sardine and anchovy.
Scientific studies have shown that marine reserves and MPAs can increase the abundance, size and diversity of marine life, and the benefits extend to adjacent unprotected waters as the populations swell and swim past the boundaries of the reserves.
A safe haven for Pacific leatherbacks
The National Marine Fisheries Service designated nearly 42,000 square miles off the U.S. West Coast as a safe haven for Pacific leatherback sea turtles. The new protected area is the first permanent safe haven for leatherbacks designated in continental U.S. waters and is the largest area set aside to protect sea turtle habitat in the nation.
Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtles in the world, weighing up to 2,000 pounds. Scientists have recently found that leatherbacks travel an astonishing 6,000 miles from Indonesia to this area of the Pacific to feed on jellyfish. Leatherbacks are fast disappearing—numbers have dropped by as much as 95 percent since the 1980s.
Oceana has been campaigning to get these areas protected as “critical habitat” for the endangered leatherback since 2007. The new protections will require that any federally permitted activities, including offshore drilling, be reviewed by the federal government to ensure that they don’t negatively impact leatherbacks.
Oceana will continue to campaign to get additional protections that minimize the negative impact of commercial fishing, water pollution and marine vessel traffic on leatherbacks when they are migrating through these important feeding grounds.
New devices save sea turtles
Sea turtles living in the waters of the U.S. Mid-Atlantic can now swim a little safer, thanks to new equipment on scallop dredges that will reduce the number of turtles killed by the scallop industry.
In April, the National Marine Fisheries Service approved new regulations that require the scallop fishery to modify its dredges, which are steel triangular frames that pull mesh bags of four-inch steel rings. These dredges have crushed and drowned untold numbers of sea turtles. Under the new rules, scallop fishermen must use Turtle Deflector Dredges during important migration and feeding times for the turtles. The devices include wedge-shaped gear modifications that push turtles up and out of the way as the dredge passes. Scientists estimate that sea turtle mortality will be reduced by at least 56 percent with the new gear.
The scallop industry in the eastern U.S. stretches from Maine to North Carolina and catches about 60 million pounds of scallops a year. The dredgers share the waters with sea turtles, primarily loggerheads. All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are listed as threatened or endangered with extinction under the Endangered Species Act.
Saving food for Steller sea lions
Oceana scored a victory for Steller sea lions when a federal court ruled to uphold protections for the Western population of the endangered marine mammal.
The protections were put in place by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to reduce competition between large-scale commercial fisheries, and endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutian Islands. The fisheries were taking so much of the sea lions’ food that NMFS ruled they were potentially causing jeopardy to the future viability of these giant pinnipeds.
In 2010, Oceana campaigned for and won new rules against bottom trawling in certain areas where sea lions feed. The State of Alaska and fishing industry groups sued to have the sea lion protections thrown out. The new ruling means that Steller sea lions will have a better chance of surviving in their Aleutian habitats.
Alibaba.com stops selling manta ray products
Oceana collected nearly 40,000 signatures from online supporters asking international commerce website Alibaba.com to pull manta and devil ray leather products from their website. The company quickly responded, pulling the products and promising to prohibit sales of animals protected under UN policies in the future, which includes manta and devil rays.
Manta ray populations are overexploited for their skin and other body parts. Manta ray skin is turned into leather, and Oceana found several such products for sale on Alibaba’s site, including manta ray cowboy boots and wallets.
Spanish national park saved from oil development
The Spanish government nixed a proposed oil industry development that would have threatened Doñana National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, after campaigning by Oceana and our allies. The park is an area of marsh, shallow streams, and sand dunes, and is home to one of the few large stretches of undeveloped coastline remaining in Spain.
More than half a million birds winter in the park each year, and the area is home to many rare species, including the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle. Oil companies attempted to install an oil refinery discharging mooring station and pipeline in the waters of the Gulf of Cadiz near Doñana. This station would have resulted in many more tankers visiting the area and an increased risk of spills and accidents during unloading operations.