The Beacon: Alena Kuczynski's blog

Victory: Court Rules in Favor of Oceana on Bycatch

© Oceana/ Jesus Renedo

Great news for the oceans: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has ruled in favor of Oceana in a suit that will require commercial fisheries from North Carolina to the Canadian border to monitor and report the amount of bycatch, or untargeted marine life, they discard.

This victory may seem like a small step, but it is a triumph against one of the biggest problems facing our oceans today. Bycatch is a major player in the destruction of marine ecosystems, and occurs when fishing gear indiscriminately traps marine life in nets, trawls, and fishing lines.

Tons of fish are wasted and thousands of marine mammals, sea turtles, sharks and sea birds are injured or killed every year as bycatch. While the new law does not place limits on bycatch, it represents a crucial and long-awaited step in increasing the transparency in commercial fishing.

“For more than 15 years NMFS has violated the law, managing America’s fisheries without reliable information about how much fish and other marine wildlife is being shoveled over the side of boats, often dead or dying,” said Gilbert Brogan, northeast representative for Oceana. “This ruling is a significant step towards improving the management of U.S. fisheries in the Atlantic.”

Congratulations to everyone who helped win this victory for more abundant oceans!


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Ocean Acidification Threatens Global Food Security

oysters

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

It makes sense that ocean acidification is bad for marine life. But who knew it could have far-reaching effects on human health as well?

A new report by scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) shows that ocean acidification is threatening global food security by hindering the growth of clam, oyster, and other mollusk populations – staples in many nations’ diets.

Without healthy and reliable mollusk populations, countries may be forced to switch to aquaculture. Countries like Haiti, Senegal, and Madagascar, however, lack the ability to make this switch and are thus especially vulnerable to the impacts of mollusk shortages. And of course, problems like this never exist in a vacuum; even developed countries such as the U.S. will feel the effects via a potential drop in GDP.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a theoretical problem – the deleterious effects can already be seen in both ecosystems and economic realms alike. In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, scientists have observed that coral growth has slowed, and Pacific Northwest oyster farms have already experienced declining economic yields. Further effects, which will no doubt be broader in scope, will probably be seen in 10 to 50 years if we do not make a concerted effort to halt ocean acidification.


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Ranger Discovers Deep-sea Coral Reef in Mediterranean

News from the deep: Oceana's crew aboard the Ranger has discovered a previously undocumented coral reef in the Alboran Sea in the high seas of the Mediterranean.

The reef, which is located more than 1,300 feet below the surface and covers over 1 million square feet, is formed primarily by white coral. With this discovery, Oceana with be able to glean additional data from the reef to support our efforts to declare new marine protected areas in the Mediterranean.

Coral reefs are the backbone of many marine ecosystems, and deep-sea corals area among the most vulnerable. Tragically, many reefs are destroyed by bottom trawling, a fishing technique akin to clear-cutting that devastates coral reefs and creates seafloor wastelands devoid of life.

And coral reefs aren’t the only habitats that suffer. The area around the newly discovered reef is flourishing with other important habitats including gorgonian gardens and rare glass sponge fields. In order to protect this region, Oceana is planning to present the data to the Barcelona Convention in the near future, pressing officials to list it as a protected area.


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Breaking: Chile Passes Shark Finning Ban

shark

Fantastic news! Earlier this afternoon, the Chilean National Congress passed a nationwide ban on shark finning.

This groundbreaking decision comes on the heels of a very similar ban passed by the United States Congress last December, and puts both countries at the forefront of shark conservation. Oceana drafted the Chilean bill in January, and we are elated to see it pass into law – without a single dissenter.

Shark finning is an inhumane practice that often involves throwing the rest of the shark’s body back into the water once the desired fin is obtained. Despite its cruelty, shark finning is incredibly rampant, due to culinary demand from Asian countries such as China, where shark fin soup is popular.

With the passage of this bill, Chile joins a growing list of countries leading the way in shark conservation. Because sharks do not respect national boundaries, this legislation will help protect shark populations and ocean health in Chile and beyond.


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Oceana Uncovers Dangerous Mercury Levels in Fish

© Oceana/Juan Cuetos

Spain’s biggest newspaper, El País, featured Oceana prominently in this morning’s cover story. The article describes Oceana’s unrelenting effort to make previously confidential research regarding unsafe mercury levels in large fish freely accessible to the public, highlighting an important victory with implications for the health of the Spanish populace and the transparency of the Spanish government.

Here’s the back story: in 2003, Spain’s Spanish Institute of Oceanography (IEO) conducted a large research study that documented levels of mercury and other heavy metals in large fish such as various sharks, swordfish, and bluefin tuna.

The results of the study were not good: 62.5 percent of the 128 mako shark samples and 54.2 percent of the swordfish samples contained high, unpermitted levels of mercury. Despite this alarming evidence, the results were never released due to concerns about its possible impact on the fishing industry.


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Oceana Identifies Carnivorous Sponge in the Mediterranean

carnivorous sponge

Carnivorous sponge (Asbestopluma hypogea) among cnidaria and other sponges in Spain's Balearic Islands. © Oceana

Exciting news from across the pond: Oceana scientists, along with scientists from German and Italian universities, have identified carnivorous sponges in the deep waters of the Mediterranean in Spain and Italy.

Although the species, Asbestopluma hypogea, was first discovered in the 1990s, very little was known about it until recently. Oceana’s research vessel, Ranger, made crucial discoveries about the sponge’s habitat using an underwater robot (ROV) during its 2007 and 2010 expeditions.

Asbestopluma hypogea is no ordinary sea sponge. Most sea sponges obtain nutrients by filtering tiny food particles out of the surrounding water as it flows past the sponge – but not Asbestopluma hypogea. This tiny carnivorous sea sponge has adapted to life in areas where food is scarce. They capture small crustaceans using filaments covered with hook-like spicules, taking more than 10 days to finish each meal. And that’s despite having no digestive tract, limited mobility and being very tiny (between 1 and 1.5 centimeters). How cool is that?


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Oceana Joins National Aquarium for Sea Turtle Release

kemp's ridley sea turtle

A rehabilitated Kemp's ridley sea turtle is released back into the wild. © Oceana/Dustin Cranor

Yesterday was an exciting day for 5 rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Last November, the endangered sea turtles were found stranded on the beaches of Massachusetts after having fallen victim to cold stunning, which is essentially sea turtle hypothermia.

They were immediately transported to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, where they received medical attention at the Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP). After more than six months of rehabilitation, the sea turtles were finally deemed healthy enough to survive on their own.

MARP staff and members of the public gathered on the shore of Maryland’s Point Lookout State Park to bid farewell to the rehabbed turtles. Oceana was also there to help out, and campaign director Beth Lowell personally released Rudolph, one of the sea turtles re-entering the open ocean.


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‘Oceana’ a WaPo Political Bestseller

You may have heard by now that actor and ocean activist Ted Danson wrote a book called "Oceana: Our Endangered Oceana and What We Can Do to Save Them". Washington Post writer Christopher Schoppa has also heard the news; he recently featured Danson’s book in his Political Bookworm column, naming it one of the most important new political bestsellers. "Oceana" currently ranks #4 on the WaPo's political bestseller list, right behind Henry Kissinger's book, "On China."

Check out the Washington Post feature to learn why Schoppa is urging his readers to pick up a copy of "Oceana", and learn more about Danson’s motivations for writing the book.


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Plastic Bag Makers Sue ChicoBag

© Flickr user doviende.

ChicoBag is one of the most popular brands of reusable bags. Their totes are colorful and stylish, and they help us avoid the need to create more of the plastic waste that is clogging our rivers and streams and creating massive garbage patches in our oceans.

But in a low blow meant to drain green companies like Chico Bag of time and resources, a trio of plastic bag manufacturers is suing ChicoBag for exaggerating the dangers of plastic bags to the environment.

Although some of ChicoBag’s online statements about plastic bags were indeed outdated, the company quickly corrected the errors as soon as it was notified of them. But the plastic bag trio, which includes manufacturer Hilex Poly, had no interest in ceasing fire.


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Slideshow: NYC World Oceans Day Clean-up

How did you celebrate World Oceans Day? Oceana headed straight to the river. Teaming up with Nautica, we braved the heat and skimmed trash out of the Hudson River in an effort to protect both the river’s natural beauty and the health of its marine life.

What did we find? Fewer cigarette butts than you might think, but plenty of bags, bottle caps and other plastic debris – just the types of trash that are most dangerous to fish and other aquatic life that may end up ingesting or becoming entangled in the plastic.

If you missed World Oceans Day, don’t worry! You can still pledge to be an ocean hero throughout the summer by committing to cleaning up your local waterway, eating sustainable seafood, or recycling.


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