Itâ€™s no secret that the health of our oceans is under extreme threat.
With dangers like overfishing, climate change and ocean acidification, keeping our oceans healthy is a complex problem that has proved difficult to address.
Scientists and policymakers now have a little help, however, with the recent creation of the Ocean Health Index. Developed by a multidisciplinary team of researchers, the index provides an overall score for global ocean health, using 10 different social, economic and ecological criteria such as water quality, habitat, livelihoods, and coastal protection.
The research findings, published in the journal Nature last week, gave our oceans a collective score of 60 out of a possible 100 points. Scores were calculated for 133 different regions located around the world, with marine waters from some countries ranking as low as 36 while others as high as 86. The United States scored only a little higher than the global average, with 63 points. Disturbingly, only 5 percent of these regions scored above 70 points.
The new issue of Oceana magazine is hot off the presses! In this issue, I interviewed Oceana senior advisor Alexandra Cousteau, who also graces this issue's cover.
The granddaughter of famed ocean explorer and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau, Alexandra doesnâ€™t take her family legacy lightly. She spends her days advocating for ocean and water conservation around the world. Oceana welcomed her as a senior advisor to the organization in February, a role she will juggle along with many others, including being a mother to her baby daughter ClĂ©mentine. Besides lending her expertise to Oceana, Alexandra is a National Geographic Explorer, founder of Blue Legacy International, and brand ambassador for Oceana expedition partner Revo Sunglasses. Here's what she had to say:
Tell me about your familyâ€™s history with the oceans.
Clearly my family has a long history with the oceans. Itâ€™s hard to tell my story without talking about my grandfather because itâ€™s a multi-generational continuation of what he started. He spent years imagining the aqualung, finally co-inventing the regulator with Emile Gagnan in 1942. And it hasnâ€™t evolved that much (since then) â€“ the technology is incredibly simple. It allowed him to pull back the curtain on 70 percent of the planet that up until that point nobody could have imagined. My grandfather was really the first to tell stories about whatâ€™s there and help people understand it.
Whatâ€™s your earliest ocean memory?
My first dive was when I was seven. My grandfather took me in the Med off the coast of Nice. He had fashioned a small scuba set for me, a little mask and a little tank with rubber suspenders and what seemed like a huge regulator on my small face. I was hesitant at first because I didnâ€™t understand the technology; breathing underwater was just counter-intuitive. Before I had a chance to protest, he looked down at me, gave me a wink and pushed me in. I took a few tentative breaths and as soon as I saw that it worked I started swimming down, I was so excited. I found myself surrounded by these small silver fish which were swimming in unison in a circle around me.
Youâ€™ve been waiting with bated breath to find out who this yearâ€™s Ocean Heroes are, and the time has finally come to announce our winners!
We received over 400 fantastic nominations this year, and narrowed it down to six adult finalists and five junior finalists. Thousands of your votes determined the winners, and weâ€™re excited to announce that our adult Ocean Hero is Captain Don Voss and our Junior Ocean Hero is James Hemphill.
Captain Don Voss, from Fort Pierce, Florida, is the owner of the Marine Cleanup Initiative Inc., a debris collection organization that cleans up Floridaâ€™s waterways. Over the last 11 years, the company has grown from six volunteers to over 400, who have collectively removed over 300,000 pounds of marine debris. Don started SCUBA diving as a form of therapy after he was wounded in Vietnam, and his love for the ocean motivated him to help clean up the waterways that he loved to dive in.
Don was thrilled to hear that he had won, and is excited for the future of his work.
â€śIâ€™m 64 now and keep thinking Iâ€™ll go back to recreational diving, but every time I go back in the water I find myself picking up debris. People need to understand that this is an ecosystem and that every one thing affects the next thingâ€¦ What Iâ€™ve learned from my grandchildren, if you want an adult to stop doing something, you tell the kids. Iâ€™m hoping is that I can get more kids involved with diving, I can get less debris in the water and the water quality improves.â€ť
And if thereâ€™s any kid whoâ€™s involved with getting debris out of the water, itâ€™s our Junior Ocean Hero, James Hemphill. At 15 years old, James has already been working in ocean conservation for several years. Heâ€™s the president of Project Green Teens, a student-run environmental group that promotes conservation in Virginia Beach. They have removed 2,300 pounds of trash from Virginia waterways, and are currently working on a plastic bag ban in Virginia Beach.
James wants kids his age to know that getting involved in conservation is easy, and you can make a big difference by making some changes in your lifestyle.
â€śStart out with the little creeks that run into the ocean and start small where you can physically see the results. Get a group of friends that are interested and experiment. Thereâ€™s no such thing as failureâ€¦ itâ€™s just a matter of how much effort youâ€™re willing to put into it.â€ť
Congratulations to Don and James, and all of our amazing finalists!
Thanks to our corporate sponsors at Nautica and Revo Sunglasses for helping make the Ocean Heroes Awards possible. Our winners will receive a prize package that includes a $500 gift card to Nautica and a pair of Revo sunglasses, made with a 100% recycled frame and polarized lenses, perfect for spending days out on the water.
Our Ocean Heroes finalists love the ocean, thatâ€™s clear from the work they do. But each finalist has their own unique story about what inspired their love for the oceans and their need to protect the waters and the life in them. Youâ€™ve met our finalists, now get to know them better then vote for your favorites.
We asked each of our finalists about what inspired them to get involved in ocean conservation, and hereâ€™s what they had to say:
Sara Brenes: I have always loved the ocean and especially sharks. I watched the movie Sharkwater and I was blown away by what was happening to sharks. I had no idea, and all I could think about was ways to help them. I asked my mom if I could start a charity and she did not realize I was serious. But I kept bothering her and bothering her and speaking to people about it and then it happened. I just could not imagine a world without oceans. I love being in the ocean and I cannot imagine our world without ocean life. I want to be able to share this love with my children one day and other people as well. I decided to make it my mission to educate people and I learned I could help to change people's opinions, especially by having shark encounters myself and sharing my experiences.
The Calvineers: Editorâ€™s Note: This message comes from Bill McWeeny, the Principal Investigator and mentor for the Calvineers. The Calvineers grow up in Castine, Maine, surrounded by the waters of Penobscot Bay. Many of the students' parents attended and/or work at the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine. The ocean is very much a part of these students' lives. I use my connections to the Ocean in their classes weekly, and I have them read Rachel Carson. The first generation Calvineers formed the volunteer project in 2004 because they were interested in animal rights. This theme is strong in the present Calvineers. This group has many reasons for being inspired in ocean conservation, from wanting to work closely with wild animals to looking for ways of expressing a love of nature (through anatomy and art form).
Sam Harris: I was born to do it. I don't know I'm pretty sure I'm half shark. My heart just says do it. I have known this since I was a baby.
James Hemphill: I started taking an interest in wildlife when I was five years old hiking in the marine estuary trails and cypress swamps at First Landing State Park with my dad. The fact that I lived in a coastal city and vacationed in the Outer Banks sparked my passion and respect for the ocean. I swam and played at the beach and Chesapeake Bay and kayaked the Currituck Sound since I can remember. I learned the importance of marine ecology at a young age. This is my home. Every day I see and smell the water. If I donâ€™t do something to clean it up, who will?
Teakahla WhiteCloud: I was inspired watching my parents and seeing the baby hatchlings dying because of artificial lights and no one was doing anything about it here. I thought we should help because we need to keep sea turtles on our Earth. So if I have to make sure they live still in the oceans then I have to put all the hatchlings that I can into the ocean and ask other kids to help.
Rick Steiner: At the age of 21 (1975), I first came to Alaska on a NOAA ship surveying the Katmai coast, and that's when I fell in head-over-heels in love with Alaska and the oceans. Over the following decades, I witnessed the continual degradation of ocean ecosystems, punctuated by the overnight disaster of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. This intensified my outspoken, science-based advocacy in Alaska, the nation, and globally.
Michele Hunter: Upon visiting Pacific Marine Mammal Center (called Friends of the Sea Lion at that time) over 20 years ago, I was moved and inspired by the good work that this organization was doing. I came back the next weekend to visit and inquired about volunteering. The Director at that time, Judi Jones said she had a feeling about me and moved me up the waiting list and I started as a Sunday morning volunteer.
Donald Voss: I was wounded in Vietnam and used swimming and scuba as the device that allowed me to walk again when it was thought to be unlikely. I have over 10,000 logged dives and have been to most exotic dive locations around the world. There is no place that is not damaged by humans and human trash. I have fashioned a reasonable method to remove this trash and restore the beauty that was there to assist my soul and body when I needed some help. I have a passion to reverse this problem. This is something I can do that matters, and I have the time to do it.
Kristofor Lofgren: I love the ocean. There is nothing that I enjoy more than living, playing, and being near its power. The ocean is the single most valuable natural resource we have on this planet. To not be involved in taking care of it seems negligent at best.
Dave Rauschkolb: The 2009 Florida Legislature passing a bill in the House of Representatives to open up Florida's waters to near and off shore drilling. I am a lifelong surfer and am passionate about the preservation and importance of every drop of water I have surfed in.
Hardy Jones: I was originally inspired by the works of Jacques Cousteau. But the real inspiration came when I began diving in the late 1950s and saw the wonders of the ocean world. I have been sustained by feedback from people young and old around the world to the messages we offer via film, books, and internet.
Voting will be open until Wednesday, July 11th. Vote for your favorite finalists today!
Photo Credits (clockwise from top left): Cousteau Society,digitalmedia.net, NOAA, NOAA, Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen, bobmccaughey.com, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, Oceana/Dustin Cranor, Oceana/Carlos Suarez, Oceana/Keith Ellenbogen (middle)
Kinsey is best known for her role as the tightly-wound head of accounting on â€śThe Office,â€ť and she also appeared in a video for Oceanaâ€™s sea turtle campaign alongside Rachael Harris (â€śThe Hangover.) Kinsey will be joined by sustainable chef and author Barton Seaver and Oceana campaign director Beth Lowell. Their stops will include a briefing on Capitol Hill and a reception at National Aquarium.
Oceana has found mislabeling of nearly one in five fish fillets sampled in Boston-area supermarkets, as well as the mislabeling of more than half of the seafood sampled in the Los Angeles-area. Oceana is calling on the federal government to make combating seafood fraud a priority as well as for traceability of seafood sold in the United States.
Did you know that protecting our oceans could be an answer to world hunger? A few weeks ago our CEO Andy Sharpless gave a talk at TedxSF about how saving the oceans can help feed the world.
We think itâ€™s a fantastic, thought-provoking presentation, please watch and pass it on:
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 â€śMap of Memory.â€ť 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 whalesâ€™ 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 canâ€™t wait to see what it turns into as the stories grow and change.
The Florida ocean conservation community said farewell to one of its greatest servants this week. John Halas, who was the winner of Oceanaâ€™s first annual Ocean Heroes contest, has retired after nearly 32 years of work protecting coral reefs in Florida.
Halas, a marine biologist and manager of the Upper Region of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, has been working to protect coral systems in Florida since 1981. After observing coral damage caused by careless anchoring, he took it upon himself to develop an environmentally friendly anchor and mooring buoy system that prevents damage to coral reefs and has worked to implement this anchorage system in 38 countries.
Weâ€™re sad to see John go but wish him a very happy retirement!
Stay tuned for this yearâ€™s Ocean Heroes contest, which kicks off with nominations on World Oceans Day, June 8.
On April 1st Oceana kicked off spring in high gear at the 2012 Nautica South Beach Triathlon. We set out for the warm waters of Miami to fundraise for the oceans, engage hundreds of new ocean advocates and connect with existing Wavemakers in one of our favorite ocean places. Thanks to Nautica, our passionate volunteers and dedicated athletes, we did just that â€“ and then some!
In the end, our athletes like Summer Osterman (Burgess Yachts), Deborah London, Bruce Sutherland and Laura Taglione, raised nearly $4000 for ocean conservation and our volunteers helped turn hundreds of curious attendees into Oceana Wavemakers by rallying their support around a new petition to help protect dolphins and other sea creatures in American waters.
In total, Oceana raised over $30,000 at the event thanks to athlete fundraising and contributions from Nautica that included proceeds from all the commemorative merchandise sales at their beachside pop-up tent throughout the weekend. 100 percent of all Nautica sales during race weekend went to Oceanaâ€™s mission to help protect the oceans! Not only that, but they supplied us with tent space, race entries and uniforms for our athletes â€“ helping keep us outfitted and visible throughout the entire weekend.
And despite a sudden downpour that left most of the expo waterlogged for much of the weekend, we had great weather â€“ especially on race day. Clear skis and water temps in the high 70s made for perfect racing conditions for Team Oceana and the 3,000 other folks that turned out to test their mettle through swimming, biking and running.
A special thanks goes out to our volunteers who helped rally new Oceana supporters and to the Nautica team for raising an impressive amount of money to help fuel our mission to protect the worldâ€™s oceans. Next up, Nautica Malibu Triathlon! We canâ€™t wait.
Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.
As we enter the last weeks of 2011, Iâ€™d like to thank you again for your support this year. Even as we continue to face global economic insecurity, your support has made it possible for Oceana to win important victories for the oceans.
Here are just a few of the victories you helped us achieve in 2011:
- Passing the Shark Conservation Act, which ended shark finning in the U.S.
- Banning the trade, possession and sale of shark fins in California, Washington and Oregon.
- Protecting Belizeâ€™s stunning coral reef system with a total ban on all trawling.
- Saving Chileâ€™s endangered Humboldt penguins and blue whales by preventing the construction of a coal-fired power plant near a marine reserve.
- Ensuring that Chileâ€™s commitment to clean up its farmed salmon industry has succeeded.
This is a special year for Oceana, because itâ€™s also our 10th anniversary year. In 2001, our founders decided that the world needed a conservation organization that could win real policy changes for the oceans on an international scale.
Since then, Oceana has expanded to six countries, garnered more than half a million supporters and protected 1.2 million square miles of ocean, including innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and the people who depend upon and enjoy the oceans. Our founders are pleased with the results, and we hope you are as well.
We continue to have ambitious goals, not just for 2012, but the next decade. I hope youâ€™ll continue to join us for the ride. Thank you again.