We can breathe a momentary sigh of relief. This Monday, the Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to maintain protections off California and Oregon for the critically endangered population of Pacific leatherback sea turtles. However, in 2014 these federal fishery managers will consider another proposal for allowing driftnets into sea turtle habitat southwest of Monterey, California.
At the meeting a few days ago in Tacoma, Washington, the Council considered a full array of proposals to expand the use of drift gillnets off California and Oregon and into an area currently designated to protect Pacific leatherback sea turtles. But Oceana‚ÄĒwith the help of our partners, and support of our avid Wavemakers‚ÄĒsuccessfully thwarted those efforts by presenting new science on the decline of leatherback sea turtles; by revealing scientific data showing massive wasteful bycatch of large whales, dolphins, sharks, and other fish by the drift gillnet fishery; and by bringing forward the public uproar over the proposed expansion of the driftnet fishery into a currently protected area.
Mile-long drift nets hang like invisible curtains in the water column to catch swordfish, but they unselectively entangle other marine life traversing through the open ocean. To numerically paint the portrait of this wasteful fishery, for every five swordfish caught in 2011, one marine mammal was killed and six fish were tossed back dead. When it comes to whales, this fishery takes many species, but one of particular concern is the sperm whale. The largest of the toothed whales, sperm whales have the largest brain of any animal and it is estimated that 16 of these amazing endangered whales were taken in the drift gillnet fishery in 2010 alone.
During Shark Week we love watching majestic great whites on TV, but if we don‚Äôt act soon to protect them, recordings will be the only place they exist.
In the Pacific, great whites are important predators. As the largest predatory fish on the planet, they can reach lengths over 20 feet and weigh more than 5,000 pounds. They‚Äôre shaped like torpedoes and can swim through the water at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour. Great whites can detect electromagnetic currents in the ocean and have such a sharp sense of smell that they can identify blood in the water from up to 3 miles away. You can‚Äôt deny that these are impressive animals.
As fearsome as they might be as predators, they‚Äôre not the killing machines that they‚Äôre often identified as. They use all those prey-detecting skills to help keep the marine food web intact ‚ÄĒ without great whites, the ocean‚Äôs balance would be thrown off.
But that might be what the future holds, if nothing is done. A recent study found that there may only be a few hundred adults left swimming off the coast of California and Mexico, far fewer than anyone expected. And those that are left face deadly dangers from fishing nets.
Newborn great whites are often killed by commercial fishing gear off of Southern California and Baja California, making it hard for the populations to stabilize.
Sharks have inhabited the oceans for more than 400 million years and now they‚Äôre disappearing because of human actions. We‚Äôre working to get US great whites the protection they need ‚ÄĒ sign today to help get great white sharks on the Endangered Species Act.
Shark Week starts on Sunday ‚Äď stay tuned for lots more sharky updates!
Great news! Today the Oregon House passed a bill making Oregon‚Äôs first network of marine reserves and marine protected areas (MPAs). The bill, which Oceana has been actively supporting, now goes to the governor‚Äôs desk for a signature.
The bill calls on state agencies, the State Fish and Wildlife Commission, and State Land Board to create marine reserves and adjacent MPAs at Cape Falcon, Cascade Head and Cape Perpetua.
The three new marine reserves and MPAs add 109 square miles (70,000 acres) to the already designated 9 square miles of area at Redfish Rocks and Otter Rock. All areas combined total less than 10 percent of Oregon‚Äôs Territorial Sea; leaving the vast majority of Oregon‚Äôs Pacific waters open to fishing and development. The marine reserves will be ‚Äėno-take‚Äô and the MPAs will allow activities like fishing for Dungeness crab and salmon, while prohibiting bottom trawling, the harvest of forage fish, and offshore development.
Marine reserves have positive ecological benefits inside and outside of their protective boundaries, as fish and wildlife populations increase and then spill over into adjacent areas.
‚ÄúThis is a great first step in protecting sensitive and important ecological areas off our coasts,‚ÄĚ said Whit Sheard, Pacific counsel and senior advisor with Oceana. ‚ÄúThis bill represents some difficult compromises, but it is a critical step forward for the long-term management of our publicly held ocean resources.‚ÄĚ
Oceana will continue to work with regional managers and local communities to ensure the future well-being of the Pacific Ocean off Oregon and its wildlife.
Today the Oregon Senate passed Senate Bill 1510, which brings Oregon‚Äôs first network of marine reserves and marine protected areas off the Oregon coast one step closer to implementation.
An ecologically significant network of marine reserves and protected areas would make the entire Oregon near-shore ecosystem more healthy and resilient to increasing pressures from overfishing, habitat damage, and changing ocean conditions from global warming and ocean acidification.
The bill will now have to pass the House before heading to the Governor‚Äôs desk for signing. If it does, Oregon‚Äôs marine reserve and protected area sites will total 118 square miles and make up less than 10 percent of the Pacific Ocean waters in the state‚Äôs jurisdiction. (See a map here.) We see this as a great start, but we hope Oregon will continue to identify all of its important ecological areas and ultimately build an ecologically significant network of protected areas and reserves for the full coast.
Great news this shark week! We just got word that Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber will sign a bill this afternoon banning the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins in the state. Oceana was instrumental in the passage of this bill, which passed the State House and Senate with bipartisan support.
The bill‚Äôs passage moves the U.S. West Coast closer to a full ban on the trade of shark fins, thereby helping to protect global populations of at-risk shark species that are being targeted in unsustainable and unregulated fisheries worldwide.
While shark finning is illegal in the U.S., current federal laws banning the practice do not address the shark fin trade. As a result, fins are being imported to the U.S. from countries with few or even no shark protections in place.
Governor Chris Gregoire of Washington State signed similar legislation into law on May 12, 2011 and a bill in the California legislature passed the Assembly and is currently under consideration in committee in the Senate.
We commend Governor Kitzhaber for his extraordinary leadership to protect the ocean‚Äôs top predators, and congratulate our Pacific colleagues for their work in achieving this victory!
Lucas visited picturesque Yaquina Head, a promontory southwest of Portland known for its views of the gray whale migration route and seabird nesting areas. Here he is on the water:
‚ÄúWe were all inside a landscape that was electrifying and it made you understand why the conservation movement is so profound and important,‚ÄĚ Lucas told GQ. ‚ÄúThat‚Äôs the thing I‚Äôve learned working with Oceana: If you deplete one little place like the ocean waters off Cascade Head‚ÄĒwhich is so magnificent and so lush with life‚ÄĒthat depletion begins this domino effect that rings true across a large area.‚ÄĚ
You can read more about Lucas‚Äôs journey at the GQ Gentlemen‚Äôs Fund. Needless to say, we‚Äôre thrilled that he has joined the cause to protect the world‚Äôs oceans.
Josh Lucas appeared in the Oscar-winning ‚ÄúA Beautiful Mind," and will also appear in NBC‚Äôs forthcoming drama ‚ÄúThe Firm.‚ÄĚ Catch him as Charles Lindbergh in ‚ÄúJ.Edgar,‚ÄĚ opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Judi Dench, in theaters this fall.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: On their final day in Oregon, the crew ventures into uncharted territory and finds a variety of corals and fish.
Oregon Leg, Day 5
Friday was our last day aboard the R/V Miss Linda and it could not have been a better day for working on the ocean. We left the Charleston Marina at 7 AM bound for the nearshore reef south of Cape Arago and west of Seven Devils State Park.
As we were working in and out of Charleston today, we invited guests to join our expedition including Dr. Craig Young, the director of the University of Oregon‚Äôs Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and Dr. Jan Hodder from the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology.
The University of Oregon has been operating marine studies in the Charleston area since 1924 with year-round research programs beginning in 1966. Dr. Young and his graduate students have made hundreds of deep dives in submersibles and sailed on oceanographic ships in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. Yet surprisingly, nobody has ever been to the areas we went Friday with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) and underwater camera.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlight: prehistoric hagfish.
Oregon Leg, Day 4
Today we ran the R/V Miss Linda twenty miles west of Bandon, Oregon to Coquille Bank. This offshore bank, also known as the Bandon High Spot, rises up off the continental shelf break to a relatively shallow 300 feet in depth. Oceana worked to protect this area from bottom trawling in 2005. The regulations went into place in 2006 and now five years after the area was protected, we had the chance to dive there with the ROV.
In 2007, Drs. Mark Hixon and Brian Tissot published a scientific paper on the effects of bottom trawling at Coquille Bank. They found striking differences in the seafloor communities between heavily trawled and untrawled areas including more fish abundance and more diversity in the untrawled areas. They also found that bottom trawling affects marine life living in soft sediments and not just rocky seafloor habitats.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: albatross and coral gardens.
Oregon Leg, Day 3
Last night we anchored the R/V Miss Linda just north of Bandon, Oregon and two miles offshore. We woke to calm seas and high anticipation for another day of work with the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV), surveying seafloor habitats.
Steaming west about six miles offshore we crossed paths with a rapidly moving pod of dolphins and we were graced with the company of black-footed albatross and sooty shearwaters.
As the ROV descended on the first dive, we passed through a swarm of krill just before reaching the seafloor 300 feet down. At the bottom we saw a garden of colorful corals, sponges and crinoids that looked like sword ferns in an old growth forest.
This is part of a series of posts about our Pacific Hotspots expedition. Today's highlights: more amazing basket stars, anemones and sea cucumbers.
Oregon Leg, Day 2
We pulled anchor early this morning and ran the R/V Miss Linda to the Orford Reef, just southwest of Cape Blanco.
Cape Blanco is the westernmost point in the continental U.S. and is the dividing line of two distinct biological regions for the near shore ocean ecosystem off the Oregon coast. South of Cape Blanco is also infamous among mariners for its high winds. Today, with 20 to 25 knot winds and seas building up to 12 feet, our work was more like the ‚ÄúDeadliest Catch‚ÄĚ than a reef survey.