The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog

Swim at your own risk

It's hot. Not "well, duh, it's August" hot, I mean really hot. I mean having a barbeque in Zimbabwe hot. But this isn't a global warming blog, I leave that to the more-than-capable climate bloggers. I'm an oceans guy and this blog is about the oceans, or rather, the beaches.

If you're like me, you endure the baking temperatures by reminding yourself that the beach is only a work week away. The thought of a dip in the Chesapeake Bay, helps me feel a little cooler (but just a little). So it's no surprise that last week's Washington Post article on the Bay's pollution caught my eye.

Natural Resources Defense Council released a report after documenting more than 20,000 days of ocean, bay and Great Lakes beach closures and advisories nationwide last year. I was saddened, but not surprised, to learn that more than 40 Maryland beaches, including several on the bay, violated public health standards at least a quarter of the times they were tested. In fact, the water is so dirty that public health officials warn people who swim in it to wash with soap afterward and to avoid entering the water with an open wound.

Instead of having to clean myself after swimming in the bay, I'd prefer it if we just cleaned up the bay itself. And apparently so would NRDC. It's suing the Environmental Protection Agency for failing to modernize the beachwater health standards as ordered by Congress six years ago. That would be one jury duty I'd look forward to.

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A+ for "Altered Oceans"

It's hard enough to get reporters to write a story on the threats facing our oceans - but five? The LA Times did just that this week with its "Altered Oceans" series. And I'm not just talking about a couple hundred words buried on page 7, they brought out the big guns for this one. This series is a full multimedia package: videos, graphs and enough photos to fill the national gallery of art.

While the bells and whistles are top-notch, it's the content that makes this presentation blogworthy. I'd expect nothing less from Kenneth R. Weiss. He's long been one of the leading writers on ocean issues.

When Ken describes the threats facing our oceans, he does so without the sensationalist hype that plagues many reporters. Instead, his journalism is fact and science-based, hard hitting and yet you don't need a PhD in marine biology to get the point. In fact, it's right there in the title. Our oceans are altered, and we must act now to restore them.

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Where's the buzz?

Last week, USA Today's Nick Jans reported on the triple ocean victory in the last four months - three closures of federal waters totaling an area twice the size of Texas. Nick wonders how the largest act of conservation in our nation's history could have slipped below our collective radar screens. Don't blame us, Nick. We issued press releases, e-mailed our supporters and I even blogged about it. Twice.

Since other news agencies treated the victories as "snoozers," Nick took it upon himself to emphasize the importance of these closures, and the threats still facing our oceans in this succinct yet informative article. Thanks, Nick.

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The WTO Takes a Time-out

One of this week's dramas on the world stage was the news from Geneva that the World Trade Organization was forced to break off the trade negotiations known as the Doha Development Round. Key players had reached an impasse on ever-prickly agriculture tariffs and farm subsidies and it was clear a breakthrough was not in sight. So the Director-General of the WTO recommended the move, which he later likened to a "time out" at a sporting event.

We can only hope that this is merely a time out. That's because the Doha Round contains what is in our view the single biggest thing that could be done right now to save world fisheries from irreversible collapse: eliminating government subsidies that build overcapacity and drive overfishing around the globe.

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MIMBY - Mercury in My Backyard (and Yours!)

Conservation groups have spent the last few years fighting to make sure that FDA warnings about mercury are actually shared with consumers and we're starting to have some Continue reading...

Ouch! Jellyfish Invasion in the Mediterranean

If you've never felt the stinging sensation of a jellyfish, count yourself lucky. It's like lemon juice in a paper cut, but longer lasting. The only thing worse than a jellyfish sting, is hundreds of jellyfish stings.

Scientists recently announced a jellyfish bloom on the Spanish Mediterranean coast, and the crew onboard Oceana's Ranger is witnessing the invasion firsthand.

What's causing the massive increase? Glad you asked:

  • increase in "nutrients" (aka ocean pollution);
  • increase in water temperature (aka global warming); and
  • decrease in predators (aka overfishing)

For all of you right-brained people, get a sense of the situation through this new video.

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How to Get House Republicans To Flex Their...Environmental Muscle?

Yes folks it's true. On Monday, the House demonstrated that they can and will - on occasion - vote yes on conservation issues, when Rep. Richard Pombo put forward and the House passed a new version of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that left the Dolphin Deadline intact.

This was truly an amazing victory and I'm not just saying this because my organization - Oceana - led the work that pulled this off. We took on those who wanted to kill the deadline - the key timeline for government to ensure that commercial fishing operations minimize the catch of dolphins and other marine mammals in their activities -- and won. The amazing part is how we did it, by going to Republicans and proving that supporting legislation that "kills Flipper" is not good politics for Republicans or Democrats.

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French Driftnetters Beware

After more than two months at sea, our catamaran - the Ranger - has documented dozens of illegal Italian driftnetters...and we've got the footage to prove it! Watch the video.

We've worked closely with the Italian Coast Guard and - thanks to our tips - many of these vessels have been arrested.

But Italians aren't the only ones using these massive illegal nets to scoop up fish and other creatures, like dolphins and whales. Now we're headed out to catch French driftnetters in the act. Stand by for more excitement from the Mediterranean.

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Happy ending for courtroom drama

Following up on my previous blog, the legal battle between the Navy and the environmental community has come to a close (at least for now). Last Friday, a settlement was reached ensuring that measures will be taken to reduce the harm to whales, dolphins and other marine life caused by high-intensity, mid-frequency sonar. Great work by NRDC and others. Stay tuned for the next episode of this contentious issue...

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Hold the Anchovies

Ridiculously high quotas set by the French and Spanish governments have seriously depleted adult anchovy stocks. What would the world be like without anchovies? Fox's Futurama paints a stark portrait.

The minimum amount of anchovies for sustainable fishing is 28,000 tons, but anchovy stocks today hover around 19,000 tons. In response to the Association of Spanish Artisanal Fishermen and Oceana's pressure, the European Commission banned anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay until Dec. 31.

Futurama fans will appreciate the episode "A Fishful of Dollars." Fry finds himself a rich man, but blows all his money on the last known can of anchovies in existence. Skip ahead to seven and a half minutes to start the anchovy story line, and keep an eye out for a special appearance (sort of) by Oceana's board member Ted Danson.

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