The Beacon

Blog Tags: Gulf Of Mexico

Gulf Sea Turtles Still Not Safe

loggerhead sea turtle

Loggerhead sea turtle. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Over the past few months we’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 – 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, NOAA’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 – leaving 73 of them either without TEDs or with the hatches tied shut or improperly installed.

While we’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 Oceana’s sea turtle campaign and stay tuned!


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Thursday Trivia: Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

kemp's ridley sea turtle

A Kemp's ridley sea turtle. © Oceana/Cory Wilson

Starting today, we’ll be doing a weekly trivia feature of one of the fascinating species that lives in the oceans. Today’s animal is the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest and most endangered species of sea turtle. These turtles are usually solitary and live primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, sometimes venturing up the Eastern Seaboard.

The relatively small range of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is one of the reasons its population has been declining. When population concentrations are high enough, females come onshore to lay their eggs arrive together in mass landings (the name of these landings is our weekly trivia question on Twitter, so answer now to win!) Eggs and hatchlings make easy prey for dogs, herons, and humans—and some cultures believe sea turtle eggs are aphrodisiacs.

Adult sea turtles are particularly at risk of drowning after being accidentally caught in the nets of shrimp trawlers and other fishermen. Adding turtle excluder devices to nets allow turtles to escape and have made a difference in turtle bycatch deaths, although these rates are still high. Oceana’s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe.

You can learn more about Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles from Oceana’s marine wildlife encyclopedia and from the Encyclopedia of Life.


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CEO Note: Calling on President Obama and Congress to End Tax Breaks For Oil Companies

Last night in his speech before the joint session of Congress, President Obama asked this important question:

“Should we keep tax loopholes for oil companies? Or should we use that money to give small business owners a tax credit when they hire new workers?”  

The stakes are significant.  The multi-national oil companies receive more than $4 billion in tax breaks every year from the United States, according to The New York Times.

And of course international companies like Exxon, BP, and Shell spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbyists and political campaigns in the United States to ensure that they keep those American tax breaks.

Earlier this year, President Obama tried to reduce the tax breaks handed out to oil multinationals, but Congress refused to consider it in this spring’s budget talks.

And all the while, oil companies continued to spend some of their record profits on perpetrating the falsehood that Americans need them to keep drilling in the American ocean and the American Arctic in order to save us money at the pump.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it. Increased domestic drilling will have little to no effect on your gas prices, because the price of oil is set on the international market. Surging international demand, or reductions in international production, has a much bigger effect on your gas prices than do slow and incremental changes in domestic production. 

Moreover, when we expand domestic drilling and allow hazardous actions like BP took last year in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, we take all the environmental risk at home, but share any oil finds with the international market. Does that seem smart to you?

The international oil companies want Americans to believe that if we let them drill enough, and give them big enough tax breaks, the American price of gas will drop. The facts show that’s not true.

Offering oil companies tax breaks in the hopes they’ll lower your gas price is like offering your teenager a bigger allowance in the hope they’ll take smaller portions at dinner.


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What if an Oil Spill Happened in the Arctic?

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.

Less than a year after the Deepwater Horizon gusher was finally sealed, oil companies are claiming they can drill safely in the Arctic Ocean, an even more fragile and forbidding environment than the Gulf of Mexico. Unfortunately, our government seems to be suffering from amnesia, too.

This month, Shell Oil received a conditional approval from the federal government to drill four exploratory wells next summer in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. The company claims that it can end a gushing spill like the Deepwater Horizon in just 43 days and clean up 90 percent of oil lost.

These claims aren’t based in historic experience and have little scientific evidence to back them up. Crews were only able to recover 10 percent of the oil escaping the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico last summer, and only 8 percent of oil from the Exxon Valdez spill.

The most recent oil spill drill in the Beaufort Sea was in 2000 and was described as a “failure.” Mechanical systems like skimmers and booms in calm but icy conditions simply didn’t work. The technology has not improved since then. Just watch this video of a failed cleanup test:


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The Real Reason for High Gas Prices

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana; this post also appeared on Politico.

Why do we take terrible risks to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere along our coasts?

Most people would say we drill to protect ourselves from big fluctuations in the price of a gallon of gas that are caused by the major upheavals in the Middle East. Look at this chart (data from the Energy Information Administration):

Their argument is that the more oil we can produce domestically, the lower the price we’ll pay at the pump. It’s not that they like the sight of oil wells off our beaches. The main reason they are doing so is they think it will save them money – especially as gas prices approached $4 a gallon recently.

This idea is not only intuitively appealing, it is repeatedly, and unambiguously, promoted by important government officials from both parties. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La) defended new legislation that would expand offshore oil drilling, saying “this bill would do more to lower gas prices at the pump than any other plan.” Sarah Palin criticized President Barack Obama, “His war on domestic oil and gas exploration and production has caused us pain at the pump.”


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More Dolphin Deaths in the Gulf

Dolphins leaping in the Gulf of Mexico. © Oceana/Carlos Suarez

Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana. You can follow him on Twitter @Oceana_Andy.

Nearly a year has passed since the Deepwater Horizon exploded and began a three-month-long oil spill. In the later months of last year, after the gushing oil well had finally been capped, some people – politicians and TV talking heads, really – tried to convince Americans that the Gulf had recovered.

It’s true that we still don’t know the extent of the damage wrought by last summer’s oil disaster. The subsurface gusher created a whole new scientific challenge when it came to understanding exactly what was going on. And we’ve said that it would be years before we understand the true cost of the disaster.

Just recently we got a sign that not is all well in the Gulf. Since January, more than 80 bottlenose dolphins have turned up dead – and half of those are newborn or stillborn calves. The government is calling it “an unusual mortality event.”


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Victory! Drilling Halted in Eastern Gulf, Atlantic and Pacific Coasts

In a huge victory for the oceans and Oceana, this afternoon Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that in the new five-year drilling plan, no new offshore drilling would be allowed in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico or off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. The Eastern Gulf of Mexico will be protected from offshore oil and gas exploration for the next seven years.

These areas were being considered for oil and gas development, and the Administration had previously indicated support for exploration in the Atlantic Ocean, as well as in the Eastern Gulf, though Congressional action would be needed in that area. They also announced the start of a new process to reconsider drilling in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea. This is a step in the right direction, but there is still more on the table and more that must be done to protect the Arctic Ocean.

Oceana has been working for many years to ban offshore drilling, and this victory provides an important step in the right direction towards protecting our oceans from the dangers of offshore drilling, and moving towards cleaner and safer alternative sources of energy.

 


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Hey Big Oil, Clean Up Your Mess

Today, Congress returns from elections to wrap up its work for this session, which means that time is running out for the Senate to pass any legislation in response to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The House of Representatives already passed their version of a spill response bill back in July, and now it is the Senate’s turn to act.

The Gulf of Mexico needs help, and it needed it yesterday. Of course, the only way to prevent another catastrophe like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is to ban new offshore oil and gas drilling. In the meantime, the least we can do is pass a bill to clean up and restore the devastation that the oil industry has inflicted upon our oceans and coasts.


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Photos from the Alabama Alps

Yesterday you heard about the Latitude’s foray into the Alabama Alps. Today, photos!

Here are some of the cool creatures our deep-sea ROV captured on camera. Which one's your favorite?

Special thanks to Nautica, whose support made our use of the deep sea ROV possible!


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Day 29: Heading to the ‘Alabama Alps’

Senior campaign communications manager Dustin Cranor is back on board the Latitude after a short hiatus on land, and he’s here to tell you about the latest leg of the expedition in the “Alabama Alps,” an ecologically rich reef in the Gulf of Mexico. More on that below in the video with our chief scientist, Mike Hirshfield.

Here’s Dustin:

Thursday, September 9

As Will Race and the rest of our Alaskan colleagues headed back to Juneau this week, a new crew was making its way to Gulfport, Mississippi to board the Oceana Latitude.

Our next mission? Documenting seafloor habitat areas along the continental shelf of the Gulf of Mexico that may have been harmed by underwater oil.

During this leg, Spanish ROV operators Jose Manuel Saez and Josep Fleta will use a device to reach depths of approximately 1,500 feet and film in high-definition.

The Oceana Latitude also welcomed support divers Thierry Lannoy (France) and Jesus Molino (Spain), as well as Maribel Lopez from Oceana’s Madrid office. Dr. Michael Hirshfield has also returned to the ship. Here he is talking about this leg of the expedition:

Dr. Michael Hirshfield on Oceana Latitude Describes Deepwater ROV Research Sept. 9, 2010 from Oceana on Vimeo.

 


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