You might not have heard, but sharks are in trouble from an unlikely source—our own federal government. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the government agency tasked with managing our nation’s fisheries, is taking steps to undermine state laws that protect sharks.
Last month, the International Whaling Commission released a report that, for the very first time, established a firm connection between a sonar mapping tool used for offshore oil and gas exploration and the deaths of marine animals.
In 2008, about 100 “melon-headed whales” stranded in a shallow lagoon in northwestern Madagascar. Despite their name, melon-headed whales are actually a type of dolphin, found in deep oceans near the equator. They’re similar in size to a bottlenose dolphin, with dark grey coloring and a large, rounded head. At least 75 dolphins—three-quarters of those stuck in the lagoon—eventually died from dehydration, starvation, and sun exposure in the shallow waters.
Wednesday night I had the honor of being on stage with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and HBO CEO Richard Plepler at Oceana’s Partners Award Gala in Los Angeles. The gala honors individuals who make outstanding contributions to the cause of protecting our oceans.
I have some wonderful news out of our European offices that I’d like to share with you. Last Wednesday, the European Parliament took a tremendous step forward in restoring the health of our oceans and our fisheries. They voted to significantly limit harmful subsidies that enable overfishing, leading to the collapse of any of Europe’s fisheries.
We live in a world increasingly divided and governed by partisanship. At times, it can be frustrating for those of us who want to make a difference.
That is why I am proud to let you know about the Oceana’s relationship with two remarkable leaders from different sides of the aisle, both united in their desire to save our oceans: Hillary Rodham Clinton and James Connaughton.
I have more great news to share with you about Oceana’s campaign to halt the use of deadly seismic airguns on our Atlantic coast. On September 6, Oceana delivered more than 100,000 petitions to Tommy Beaudreau, director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. Those petitions urge the government to stop the proposed use of seismic airguns, which the energy industry wants to use to search more than 300,000 square miles of the Atlantic for buried oil and gas deposits.
Oceana’s new book, The Perfect Protein is available for sale at your local book store and online. Authored by myself and Suzannah Evans, with a foreword by Bill Clinton, this book explores the connections between ocean conservation and food security.
The new ideas presented in The Perfect Protein are gathering attention, and I want to share some of the coverage it received in the press and digital media:
It’s not often that a government delay is cause for celebration, but this time the oceans caught a break. After campaigning by Oceana and our allies, the Department of the Interior decided to postpone their decision on whether to allow seismic airgun use off the Atlantic coast until next March.
This is the third time Oceana has successfully delayed the decision, allowing us the chance to build opposition and to urge more lawmakers to protect marine mammals by opposing testing. It also gives the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration time to update its outdated standards for the level of noise that is harmful to sea life.
If you’re a Marylander like me, this is a time to be proud. The Old Line State has stepped forward, making ocean conservation a priority and providing an example that other states would be wise to follow.
First, Maryland became a leader in developing offshore wind energy by passing The Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2013, which was signed into law by Governor Martin O’Malley this week. The measure will help spur the development of at least 200 megawatts of renewable energy off Maryland’s coast – enough to power about 200,000 homes.
While wind turbines already dot Europe’s coast, the United States has yet to construct a single offshore wind farm. Maryland’s legislation marks an important milestone on this country’s path to a clean ocean energy future.
This victory was made possible by the tireless advocacy of Oceana and a diverse coalition of environmental, faith, business and community groups, all of which recognized the need to transition to this clean and abundant form of energy, and away from fossil fuels. Special thanks to Chesapeake Climate Action Network, National Wildlife Federation, Maryland League of Conservation Voters, Maryland Sierra Club and Environment Maryland for helping to pressure lawmakers to take this first step towards a greener energy portfolio for the state.
Second, both the Maryland House and Senate passed a bill to prohibit the sale and trade of shark fins. Pending the signature of the Governor, Maryland will become the first state on the East Coast to adopt such a ban. Approximately 100 million sharks are killed each year, primarily to support the demand for shark fin soup. While shark finning is banned in the U.S, this brutal practice—which involves slicing the fins off a live shark and then dumping it back in the water where it is left to die—is still occurring around the world. By stopping the shark fin trade in state, Maryland can help protect sharks worldwide.
So congratulations Maryland, but remember, there’s a lot of work still left to do to protect our oceans. As for the rest of the states, what are you waiting for?
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
If you watched this week’s State of the Union address, you may have heard President Obama announce that he was opening 75 percent of our “potential offshore oil and gas resources.”
The good news is that this isn’t news; it’s simply a reiteration of the administration’s current five-year drilling plan that fully protects the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as much of the U.S. Arctic. The bad news, however, is that plan expands offshore drilling to include much more of the Gulf of Mexico than ever before – and worse yet, some of the Arctic. It’s as if the massive 2010 spill never happened.
In other good news, the President expressed his wish to reduce subsidies for oil companies. The oil companies receive about $10 billion a year in tax breaks, and the Obama administration has proposed cutting $4 billion.
I applaud the President’s commitment to reducing subsidies for the big oil companies, although I wish he would go further and eliminate them completely.
Unfortunately, the State of the Union address, as well as this week’s Republican primary debate in Florida, reiterated that our political leaders still fail to grasp a basic economic fact: that increasing our domestic supply of oil will not lower our prices at the gas pump.
Oil is a global commodity, and prices are set on a world market. Multinational companies who drill for oil – like Shell, B.P. and Exxon – will sell to the highest bidder. That may be the U.S. It may just as well be India or China.
As we learned during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, there’s more at stake. National Journal writer Beth Reinhard asked the right question at Monday’s Republican debate when she noted drilling in Florida will create at most 5,000 jobs, while an oil spill threatens the 1 million jobs that depend upon tourism, which contributes $40 billion each year to Florida’s economy.
That’s a high price to pay to help oil companies continue to make record profits. And yet Rick Santorum, on the receiving end of her question, reiterated his support for more domestic drilling.
Unfortunately, oil companies are powerful players in the election season. They dole out enormous contributions to the candidates, which may explain why we see misinformation on both sides of the political aisle.
Here at Oceana, we’ll stick to the facts. More offshore drilling won’t lower your price at the pump, and we’ll continue to fight to protect our beaches and seafood from dirty and dangerous drilling.