The Beacon: Andy Sharpless's blog
Coral reefs just can't catch a break. It's not enough that deep sea corals are ripped from the ocean floor by destructive trawling -- now shallow water corals are contending with global warming.
High sea temperatures stress coral, making them susceptible to disease and premature death. Last year, up to 40 percent of coral died in abnormally warm seas around the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the stage is set for the same to happen this year. Two days ago, ENN reported that Caribbean Sea temperatures have reached their annual high two months ahead of schedule.
Then yesterday, the Washington Post highlighted a growing and lesser known problem facing all coral reefs: ocean acidification. The escalating level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is making the world's oceans more acidic, which, by the end of the century, could literally dissolve coral reefs.
Have you ever tried putting a penny in a can of Coke for a couple of weeks? Think of coral reefs as the penny and the ocean as the can of Coke. Then put the can of Coke on top of your stove and run over it with a bulldozer ... you've just replicated the ocean environment coral reefs are experiencing.
If you think the World Cup is exciting, try keeping up with the current legal battle between the Navy and the environmental community. On June 28, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups filed a temporary restraining order against the Navy's use of sonar testing.
Naval exercises are set to begin next week in the Pacific Rim, where naval forces from eight nations are gathering for training. High-intensity sonar can damage whales' brain and ears, and lower intensity sonar can block their ability to navigate, find food, and avoid predators.
On Friday, the Defense Department responded to the lawsuit by exercising a national security exemption authorized by Congress in 2004. Based on the exemption, the Navy will not be bound by requirements of the Marine Mammal Protection Act for six months.
But on Monday, a U.S. District Judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Navy based on NEPA -- the National Environmental Policy Act. Fortunately, this country has more than one law against the needless infliction of harm to endangered whales and the environment.
You may have heard about the "intoxicated pelican" that has been making a splash in the news this week. Granted, it's not every day that a brown pelican crashes into the windshield of a car after being poisoned from a naturally occurring toxin found in algae blooms in California. This type of poisoning actually caused the invasion of frantic birds back in '61 that inspired Hitchcock's classic film The Birds.
But where is the buzz around the bigger story? Starving baby pelicans have been washing up on California beaches in disturbing numbers. Some are suggesting the emaciated birds are the result of a shortage of the sardines, anchovies, and other small fish on which pelicans feed. Perhaps pelicans will become the poster child of overfishing, the way polar bears are for global warming.
As for our tipsy friend in California? "She's hanging in there," said Lisa Birkle, assistant wildlife director at the Wetlands and Wildlife Care Center in Huntington Beach.
Two weeks ago, environmentalists' collective jaw dropped as President Bush designated 140,000 square miles in the Hawaii Islands a national monument. Not to be upstaged, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries countered today with an announcement it was protecting more than 370,000 square miles of seafloor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands.
NOAA's decision establishes the largest protected area in U.S. waters, and the third largest such area in the world. This designation is the result of five years of intense work by Oceana and others to stop destructive trawling.
Now, the question remains: Can President Bush beat 370,000 square miles?
There's a wonderful new advertisement for an Italian washing machine that emulates deep sea life. A clever concept, brilliantly executed. If you've got 30 seconds to spare, check it out here.
Our catamaran -- Ranger -- is currently in the Mediterranean as part of our 2006 driftnets expedition. For those of you that don't know, driftnets are large nets that indiscriminately catch massive amounts of fish and other creatures (like dolphins and whales). They are so destructive that many countries -- including the U.S. and the European Union -- have banned their use.
Our crew has identified several illegal driftnet vessels during the voyage and we have notified the Italian authorities on each occasion. The collaboration has been incredibly successful and many ships have been exposed. Just two days ago, working off of our tips, the Coast Guard arrested eight fishing boats.
The fishermen are so furious about the driftnet laws that they took a page out of the progressive playbook and had themselves a sit in last month, blockading two train stations. The protest wasn't enough to persuade the EU to reverse the ban, so the law remains on the books and Ranger remains in the Mediterranean on the look out.
In this day and age, there's little you can't do online. Book a flight? Click. File your taxes? Click. Chat with Aunt Sally on the other side of the world? Click. Contact your representative? Not so fast.
Congress wants to add "logic puzzles" to its already difficult web forms in an effort to reduce the amount of e-mails it gets from those troublesome folks that elected them to office. Apparently, sending an e-mail like this one through an advocacy group, doesn't qualify you as a constituent with a legitimate concern. You need to answer questions like "what's 5 minus 1?" to get your Congressman (most likely, your Congressman's staffer) to read your e-mail.
Advocacy groups are not letting this slide. Oceana has joined with at least 30 other groups in a letter to Congress today stating among other things that this technology "raise[s] dangerous questions about the infringement of constituents' First Amendment rights." It's not yet clear whether we'll be sending this letter via snail mail.
In the last five years, I can count on one hand the number of times environmental groups have come together to praise a new policy by President Bush - and that one hand was probably making a fist. So for the ocean conservation community to be celebrating the president's announcement today, you know this is a VERY big deal.
George W. Bush is designating the world's largest fully protected marine reserve - 84 million acres to be exact. A biologically rich string of islands known as the Northwestern Hawaii Islands (NWHI) will now enjoy complete federal protection from commercial fishing activities as a new National Monument. This is fantastic news for the seals, turtles, albatrosses, sharks, corals and other marine life that call these waters home and a strange, welcome, happy, confusing moment for conservationists everywhere. Congratulations to our colleagues who worked so hard to make this happen, including the Pew Charitable Trusts, The Ocean Conservancy, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Environmental Defense, and especially all the groups in Hawaii. Read all about it.
The International Whaling Commission will gather this Friday in St. Kitts for its annual meeting. For 20 years now, Japan and other pro-whaling nations have done everything in their power to convince the IWC to reverse the whaling moratorium it set back in the 80s.
What remains a mystery is why Japan is so obsessed with the resumption of whaling. Recent polls suggest that fewer than half of Japanese people have ever tried whale meat, and just 1% eat it regularly. Over 2,000 supermarkets have stopped selling it in the last few years, due to lack of demand.
Last week, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission downgraded the listing of manatees as "endangered" to "threatened." Don't get me wrong: it's great that their numbers have increased. Scientists have counted 3,116 manatees in Florida waters -- up from 1,267 in 1991. But they also say the state's manatee population is predicted to decrease 50 percent in the next five years because of habitat loss, boat collisions, and red tide blooms.
So, just so we're all clear, the manatee is no longer on the brink of extinction -- but is expected to be on the brink again in 2011? At first I thought I was the only one who believed the manatee should be considered endangered until such time as scientists think it's likely that the population has recovered and can remain healthy. But then I saw that 17 environmental groups have already filed a petition with the state seeking to have the entire protection classification system revamped.
- Ocean Roundup: Chevron Withdraws Drilling Plans from the Arctic, Peru Issues Ban on Shrimp Fishing, and More Posted Fri, December 19, 2014
- Ocean Roundup: Humpback Whales Communicate to Feed at Night, Bangladesh Oil Spill Threatening Sundarbans Mangroves, and More Posted Wed, December 17, 2014
- Holiday Creature Feature: Christmas Tree Worm and Candy Cane Shrimp Posted Fri, December 19, 2014
- Ocean Roundup: Filefish Use Chemical Scent to Camouflage, Bangladesh Oil Spill Threatening Endangered Dolphins, and More Posted Mon, December 15, 2014
- Act: GrubHub, Take Shark Fin Off the Menu! Posted Wed, December 17, 2014