The Beacon: Rachael Prokop's blog
We’d like to send out a great big “Thank you” to all of our activists and supporters this Thanksgiving.
Oceana’s grassroots activists have taken action over 600,000 times this year—sending letters, calling legislators, joining demonstrations—and all this hard work has led to some amazing victories.
Oceana can only win protections for ocean creatures and ecosystems because of our supporters. Here are some of the victories they helped win this year:
Today we moved closer to a complete ban on shark finning in the European Union!
The Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament voted in Brussels today to support a strict ban on shark finning, both in European Union waters and on EU ships worldwide. The European Union contains several major shark fishing nations, responsible for 14% of all reported shark catches worldwide.
This new policy would close loopholes in EU’s existing shark finning policy, which allowed some vessels to remove fins at sea. It will have to be approved by the rest of the Parliament before it can go into effect.
Shark finning is a cruel and wasteful practice where fishers cut off a shark’s fins, often while it is still alive, and then toss the rest of the shark overboard to die. Sharks everywhere are facing strong fishing pressures, with many species now classified as threatened or endangered. When only fins are collected, more sharks can be caught, and the species may not be identifiable on-shore, putting threatened and endangered sharks at more risk.
The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 made shark finning illegal in US waters, requiring fishers to bring the entire shark to shore. In the EU, shark finning has technically been prohibited since 2003, but the policy voted on today will remove an exemption that allowed some vessels to continue removing fins on-board and made enforcement of the ban difficult.
Put together, EU countries form the largest shark fishing entity in the world, and we are thrilled that the Parliament is taking this important step to protect sharks in their waters, after several years of campaigning by Oceana's team in Europe. “The vote of the Fisheries Committee sends a strong message to the wider Parliament: the EU, which catches the largest share of sharks worldwide, must set a global example when it comes to policy on shark finning,” says Xavier Pastor, Executive Direction of Oceana Europe.
Great news from Chile: A planned coal-fired plant, located dangerously close to several biodiverse marine habitats, was shot down by the Chilean Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Coal-powered thermoelectric power plants are notoriously dangerous to the environment. This plant was planned for the Punta Cachos area off of Chile’s northern coast, just a few kilometers from important habitats for Humboldt penguins, sea turtles, and one of Chile’s few seagrass meadows. As part of its operations, the plant would have released warm water into the ocean. This change in temperature could have affected the entire ecosystem, reducing the numbers of mollusks, crustaceans, jellyfish, algae, and sea grasses, all of which are food for the local sea turtle colony.
Despite initial approval by the local environmental commission, this power plant is opposed by the local community of Totoral and various other organizations, including Oceana. The community of Totoral fought against the plan and won a victory, getting their approval revoked, but the company appealed, bringing the case to the Supreme Court. We are pleased that, in the end, the Supreme Court sided with the community, and the oceans.
Oceana’s team in Chile has been working hard to fight against the pollution caused by plants and factories like this one, which affect the coastal ecosystems as well the safety of the local air and water. Congrats to all who helped win this victory for Chile's oceans!
We have some good news from Chile -- Oceana has been fighting against the approval of a thermoelectric plant, Punta Alcalde, and we are excited to announce that the plant’s permit was denied this week.
The plant was to be built in Huasco, which is already suffering from severe air pollution from four coal-powered thermoelectric power plants and an iron plant operating nearby.
Despite the already grim situation in Huasco, Punta Alcalde did not comply with the government requirements needed to ensure that the plant would not worsen the air quality of the area.
In Huasco and other industrial communities in Chile, these plants have been pumping warm water and pollutants into the oceans, destroying the local ecosystems and raising mercury levels in fish. On land, toxic clouds and heavy-metal contamination are sickening the local populations. A video from another such town, Ventanas, shows the human toll: the fishing industry there is devastated and people are dying with heavy metal contaminants in their bodies.
Oceana has been campaigning for better pollution standards in Chile and working to prevent the construction of new coal-powered thermonuclear plants. Give today to support our work to protect Chile’s people and marine life from severe pollution.
Congratulations to our team in Chile for this significant step forward for the people and marine life of Huasco!
New York state is the largest importer of shark fins on the East Coast, but if a new bill passes, this fact could be history.
This trade is driven by a demand for shark fin soup, which can sell for hundreds of dollars. Sadly, shark numbers are dropping worldwide due to relentless fishing for fins, and in many places sharks have their fins cut off while still alive (a cruel practice called “finning”). Finning is illegal in the United States, but the demand for fins in New York and elsewhere in the US add to the pressure. Imported fins can come from countries with less regulations, and many shark populations in the US are dropping dangerously low, with some hammerhead populations falling as much as 98%.
But New York is considering a bill that would ban the trade of shark fins within the state, and we’re so excited to announce that it’s moving forward! After a huge push by Oceana and other shark supporters, which included thousands of your signatures and personal pleas from Leonardo DiCaprio and January Jones, both the Senate and Assembly committees passed the bill. Now it’s up for a vote in the Assembly and Senate. But the New York legislation session ends this week, which means they have to act soon.
We’re still gathering signatures to send to New York legislatures. Please sign today and pass the petition along to your friends. The world’s sharks need you.
When you think of Illinois, “shark fins” may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But this inland state does have a shark fin trade, and it may soon be history.
After Oceana collected over a thousand signatures from concerned Illinois citizens this week, the Illinois Senate voted to pass a shark fin ban in the state. The bill is now heading to Governer Pat Quinn’s desk, awaiting his signature. If it passes into law, Illinois will be the first non-Pacific (and first inland!) state to ban shark fins in the United States.
Why is this an important issue for Illinois? Chicago is a hub for shark fins in the Midwest, and lawmakers are concerned. Shark fins are considered an Asian delicacy, and one fin can sell for several hundred dollars. This creates a lucrative business for shark fishermen, some of whom use a cruel practice called “finning”—cutting the fins off a live shark and then throwing the bleeding animal overboard to die. Finning is illegal in U.S. waters, but fins sold in the U.S. may be imported from countries that allow finning. And even in the U.S., shark populations are struggling, with some populations having declined by 90%.
Every shark fin sold contributes to the disappearance of our sharks. We’re so happy that the Illinois legislature is recognizing the danger to our oceans, and we hope that Governor Quinn signs the bill and makes Illinois a Midwest leader for our oceans.
Our Baltic expedition came upon a sad sight this week: a dozen baby seals lying dead on the seafloor.
The team found the bodies while diving in Bogskär islet off of Finland, home to a small grey seal colony. The dead seals were about six months old, and one was found near a dead adult. The cause of death is a mystery—there were no visible injuries and the rest of the colony appeared to be healthy.
The deaths are being investigated, and hopefully we will find an answer to this tragedy. It’s possible that the seals were accidently caught and drowned in nets and then dumped back into the sea. They may also have suffered from a viral outbreak. Whatever happened, here’s hoping that it was an isolated incident and that the colony is able to recover from the loss of so many young seals.
Every day brings Shell a little closer to drilling in Arctic waters, home to seals, whales, and polar bears.
With that drilling comes the risk of an oil spill, which could be devastating to the ocean ecosystem and those dependent on it. But it’s not too late—there is still a chance for President Obama to turn Shell’s boats around and insist on good science and demonstrated response technology.
Drilling in the Arctic isn’t like drilling anywhere else. Stormy seas, freezing temperatures, and a lack of infrastructure create a dangerous and possibly deadly trifecta. If an accident occurs, it would be impossible to clean up the spilled oil and keep the water safe for the whales and seals who live there.
Oceana and its partners gathered more than one million signatures seeking good decisions about our Arctic Ocean resources. These signatures are being delivered to the White House today asking President Obama to turn Shell’s ships around and keep the Arctic safe.
But there is still more to do. Today, we’re asking you to call the White House and ask President Obama to stop Shell until we have the science and response capacity needed to make good decisions. We’ve made it easy for you—you can just dial 202-456-1111, or check out our handy form with talking points here. And then let us know how it goes!
We got an email recently from artist Maya Lin about her new project, What is Missing, and it is spectacular. Maya created a monument to the disappearing creatures and places on our planet, and put it on the internet to grow and evolve.
Her project is a powerful interactive website that showcases the disappearing creatures and environments on our planet through a “Map of Memory.” The map is covered in tiny colorful dots, and each dot represents a creature or place in danger. Change the Timeline from past to present, and now each dot represents conservation efforts by many groups including Oceana. A new category, Future, is in the works.
I chose a spot in the ocean and found myself watching a video on right whales. While a whale song played from my speakers, the story was told on the screen in simple, powerful facts, keeping me on the edge of my seat as I watched the whales’ struggles from old-time whalers to modern-day warfare testing. A shorter video on krill was surprisingly fascinating, with facts about their weight (less than a paperclip!) interspersed with the sad reality of how many animals will starve if we overfish them.
Other dots on the map contain simple facts or memories about the creatures highlighted, and you can even add your own memories to the map. You could spend hours on this site exploring the videos and memories of our world.
We applaud Maya Lin for this beautiful and powerful website, and can’t wait to see what it turns into as the stories grow and change.
Today marks the second anniversary of the Gulf oil spill. Oil has long stopped flowing from the leaking rig, but that doesn’t mean the disaster is over. Local fishermen have been making some off-putting discoveries: nets full of eyeless shrimp, clusters of clawless crabs, and more.
Oil and the dispersants used to break it up are making it into the food chain, which could account for some of these deformities. Al Jazeera has been interviewing people involved in the Gulf seafood business and published the disturbing results of those interviews today.
One fisher told them she is finding crabs "with holes in their shells, shells with all the points burned off so all the spikes on their shells and claws are gone, misshapen shells, and crabs that are dying from within …”
Another said that shrimp numbers have dropped dramatically, and that they see shrimp with tumors on their heads every day. Louisiana fishers have pulled up entire nets of eyeless shrimp. Some crabs have soft or misshapen shells. Fish and shrimp have tumors and lesions.
Such deformities happened even before the spill, but the high number of diseased and deformed animals being found after the spill shock both fishers and scientists. In some areas after the spill, a startling 50% of fish have these lesions.
One scientist said he thought the issues could be traced to chronic exposure to PAHs [a compound found in crude oil] released in the process of weathering oil.
And it’s not just fish that have been affected by oil. Gulf dolphins have been found sick and dead, and the numbers of dolphin carcasses found is likely only a fraction of the total amount of dolphins that were killed by the oil.
The sad state of sea life in the Gulf proves that even long after oil is gone from sight, it is still dangerous. It will take decades for the Gulf to recover from this accident. In the meantime, we here at Oceana are working hard to push for safer energy sources and keep oil drills out of our waters.
Please visit our Stop the Drill page to sign a petition for clean energy and learn more about the dangers of offshore drilling.
- Reducing Bycatch Casualties, One Whale at a Time Posted Mon, April 14, 2014
- New York, the New Windy City? Posted Mon, April 14, 2014
- Drill, Spill, Repeat: Shining a Light on the BP Gulf Disaster 4 Years Later Posted Tue, April 15, 2014
- Hands Across the Sand Posted Wed, April 16, 2014