The wreck of the cruise ship Costa Concordia in Italy is a sobering human tragedy, with at least 11 deaths and more missing. Sadly, it could become an environmental tragedy as well.
The Costa Concordia capsized Friday night near the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, the largest marine sanctuary in the Mediterranean. The park is home to a variety of dolphins and whales, and its corals and seagrass create an important habitat for a variety of other plants and animals. Oceana visited the area during a 2006 expedition, documenting the health of the marine life there.
If the shipâ€™s fuel leaks before the salvage team has a chance to drain it, the endangered and threatened species that live near the wreck will suffer.
"The tragic wreck occurred in a protected area that is home to many endangered species, so a spill would cause severe damage to organisms such as cetaceans, sharks and coral," said Ricardo Aguilar, research director at Oceana Europe. This would be a great tragedy for the area, which in the past has suffered coral death due to climate change.
We here at Oceana extend our sympathy to the victims and their families. We can only hope that the tragedy ends here, and does not have a lasting impact on the underwater inhabitants of Giglio Island.
The Mediterranean monk seal, like its cousin the Hawaiian monk seal, is one of the most endangered mammals in the world.
Estimates suggest that they number around 400 total, with the largest populations in Greece and Morocco. Mediterranean monk seals are larger than their Hawaiian relatives, and unlike most seals, their pups are born with black fur.
Mediterranean monk seals are not migratory and can usually be found in small groups or alone. They eat primarily fish and cephalopods, and they can communicate about dangers using high-pitched noises.
Pregnant seals used to give birth on beaches, but due to habitat loss they now typically do so in sea caves, which are more protected. At about one week old, Mediterranean monk seal pups enter the water for the first time. Only about half of pups survive their first two months.
Among Mediterranean monk seals, both long-term fostering and milk-stealing are common between unrelated mothers and pups. However, mothers and pups remain together for as long as three years.
Mediterranean monk seals have a long history -- they even appeared on coins around 500 BC. Beginning in the 15th century, they were heavily hunted for skin and oil. Now, fishermen often kill Mediterranean monk seals, either in an attempt to eliminate fishing competitors or accidentally, as bycatch.
Over the past few months weâ€™ve been reporting how sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico have been drowning in shrimp nets in appalling numbers.
Well, we have an update today â€“ and the news is mixed.
In response to the revelation this summer that hundreds of sea turtles were dying, the government has stepped up its enforcement effort. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), between mid-April, the start of shrimping season, and late October, NOAAâ€™s enforcement officers inspected more than 444 vessels to see if they were equipped with turtle escape hatches (also known as turtle excluder devices, or TEDs).
The verdict? 371 of the boats had TEDs in compliance with the law â€“ leaving 73 of them either without TEDs or with the hatches tied shut or improperly installed.
While weâ€™re happy to hear that NMFS is keeping up with TED enforcement efforts, these new numbers mean that only 83% of the boats are following the rules in place for the Gulf shrimp fishery to protect sea turtles from extinction. And that is simply not good enough.
Learn more about Oceanaâ€™s sea turtle campaign and stay tuned!
For those of you out there who still send snail mail â€“ and I know there are some of you â€“ we have some fun news. The U.S. Postal Service has issued a special â€śSave Vanishing Speciesâ€ť stamp to benefit endangered species including elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, great apes, and â€“ you guessed it -- sea turtles.
While we would have picked the sea turtle to be the face on the stamp, there are as few as 3,200 Amur tigers left in the wild, so the big cat was chosen, and we have to admit it turned out beautifully.
Each stamp is 55 cents, 11 cents above the cost of a first class stamp. Those extra cents will benefit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Serviceâ€™s five Multinational Species Conservation Funds, including the Marine Turtle Conservation Act (MTCA).
Only the fourth of its kind ever created by the Postal Service, this stamp is now available in post offices nationwide and will remain on sale for at least two years.
The MTCA is funded by annual U.S. Congressional appropriations. As U.S. lawmakers focus on spending cuts in 2011 and the years to come, the sales of the wildlife stamp are an important source of funding for these animals. If all 100 million stamps are sold over the next two years, it will net about $10 million for these vanishing species.
And if itâ€™s a success, the program could be extended. Since its inception, the Breast Cancer Research stamp has raised more than $80 million.
So go ahead, send your next letter with a sea turtle in mind â€“ get your own set of these beautiful new stamps!
Last week the U.S. government issued bittersweet news for loggerhead sea turtles.
First, the good news: After almost four years of debate, the government decided to upgrade Pacific loggerhead sea turtles to â€śendangeredâ€ť from â€śthreatenedâ€ť under the Endangered Species Act. The bad news is that Atlantic loggerhead turtles will still be considered â€śthreatened,â€ť despite the recommendations of the governmentâ€™s own scientists.
Loggerheads have declined by at least 80 percent in the North Pacific and could become functionally or ecologically extinct by the mid-21st century if additional protections are not put into place. Meanwhile, Florida beaches, which host the largest nesting population of loggerheads in the Northwest Atlantic, have seen more than a 25 percent decline in nesting since 1998.
In 2009, a team of government scientists published a report that classified both populations of loggerhead turtles as â€ścurrently at risk of extinction.â€ť In other words, the government dismissed its own scientistsâ€™ conclusions about Northwest Atlantic loggerheads.
The governmentâ€™s review of loggerhead status was prompted in 2007 by petitions from Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network, which asked the government to enforce stronger protections for loggerheads and their habitats.
Unfortunately, the government has also postponed measures that would establish critical loggerhead habitats, an important step in achieving improved protections for key nesting beaches and migratory and feeding areas in the ocean.
Weâ€™re making progress, but as you can see, thereâ€™s still a long way to go. Weâ€™ll continue working to protect sea turtles â€“ and you can help. Tell your representative to save sea turtles from extinction.
This is the seventh in a series of posts about this yearâ€™s Ocean Hero finalists.
Iâ€™ve spent the last week telling you about our adult Ocean Hero finalists, and now itâ€™s time to spotlight the younger set -- our inspiring junior finalists.
First up are 10-year-old Carter and 8-year-old Olivia Ries, who have been involved in saving the planet for an impressive portion of their young lives. In late 2009 they started their own nonprofit organization â€śOne More Generationâ€ť (OMG), whose goal is to raise awareness about endangered species around the world.
In 2010, OMG created the following video:
While the U.S. government continues to dawdle, loggerhead sea turtles continue to suffer. (Yes, they need your help!)
Yesterday the U.S. government failed to meet its legal deadline for issuing a final rule providing additional protections for loggerhead sea turtles, whose populations have faced severe declines over the last decade.
Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration Network filed legal petitions in 2007 urging the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Fish and Wildlife Service to uplist North Pacific and northwest Atlantic loggerheads from â€śthreatenedâ€ť to â€śendangeredâ€ť under the Endangered Species Act.
Then, a year ago, the government proposed to list loggerheads as endangered in response to a court-ordered settlement over prior delays. It has now failed to take timely action by missing the legal deadline to issue a final rule within one year.
For millions of years, sea turtles have been a vital part of ocean ecosystems â€“ but today they are on the brink of extinction as a result of irresponsible fishing and habitat destruction, among other threats. Weâ€™re working our hardest to save them, but we need your support.
All six sea turtle species that swim in US waters threatened or endangered, but itâ€™s not too late to save them. Donate today and join Oceana in the fight to protect sea turtles and restore ocean balance. With your donation, we will continue pushing for stronger fishing regulations and legislation that will help protect and sustain turtle populations for years to come.
Our goal is to raise $40,000, and we still have a long way to go. Please donate today to help us in the fight to save sea turtles from extinction. And if youâ€™ve already given, thank you -- now pass the word on via Facebook, Twitter, and however else you can!
Guest blogger Jon Bowermaster is a writer and filmmaker. His most recent documentary is "SoLa, Louisiana Water Stories" and his most recent book is OCEANS, The Threats to the Sea and What You Can Do To Turn the Tide.
The worst flooding in 130 years has turned eastern Australia into a giant wading pond, killing dozens of people, wiping out crops and livestock, destroying tens of thousands of homes and shutting down hundreds of towns and cities.
At risk at the edge of Queenslandâ€™s shores is the nearly extinct dugong â€“ the prehistoric marine mammal that looks part sea lion, part bulldog â€“ that feeds off the sea grass that line the coast. Unfortunately the floodwaters are inundating those feeding grounds with sediment, topsoil, rubbish and all sorts of debris on top of toxic industrial and agricultural run-off.
Environmental officials are concerned that the floods will similarly destroy wetlands, coral reefs and marine parks along Australiaâ€™s coast. Fresh water kills coral reefs, though it remains to be seen what the long-term effects will be from this particular flood.
Great news in the battle against illegal fishing: Morocco has passed an amendment banning the use, possession, manufacture or sale of driftnets.
Known as â€ścurtains of death,â€ť driftnets are a type of illegal fishing gear that can be nearly 100 feet high and 12 miles long. Because they are so passive and indiscriminate, driftnets snag whateverâ€™s in their path, including many marine mammals and other endangered species.
The UN passed an international moratorium on driftnets 15 years ago, and the EU instituted a ban seven years ago, but many French, Italian and Moroccan vessels have continued using them.