What a relief to finally hear some promising, hopeful and, quite frankly, exciting news about protection for our oceans. September’s headlines about President Obama designating Papahānaumokuākea off of Hawaii and the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts in the Atlantic as National Monuments could not have come at a better time. Every day there is a broadcast, article, or radio commentary about climate change and the devastation taking its toll on our blue planet. Ten years ago information regarding ocean risk was something you searched for in an environmental magazine or maybe the science section of a newspaper. It is telling that the coverage of climate science related to our oceans is now every publication’s front page news. This hopeful sign signals that conservation groups are no longer “preaching to the choir” and that generations are learning and becoming keenly aware of the importance of protecting our oceans for our future. With his announcement at the Our Ocean Conference, President Obama declared that “The health of our planet’s oceans determine, in large part, the health of our bodies and the health of our economies.” Thank you President Obama, for putting the health of our oceans on the world stage and for giving us hope that this might be the first wave of more protection of vulnerable marine areas.
“Mahalo” (thank you in Hawaiian) to President Obama and many others for Monument designation expansion of the pristine area of Papahānaumokuākea off the coast of Hawaii. It is now the largest protected area (land or sea) in the world! This is big world news this week and hopefully sends a message to everyone of the importance of protecting vital habitat everywhere in our oceans. Protected areas are the basis of climate refuge and, according to Douglas McCauley from UC Santa Barbara in this NPR interview, the area of Papahānaumokuākea is one of the most spectacular places on earth. “You put on a mask, and the mask essentially becomes a time machine. You put your head under water, and you’re looking at what the ocean looked like on reefs thousands of years ago. It’s what Hawaii-the reefs that we see when we go on vacation out there-looked like before we impacted and disturbed this ecosystem,” says McCauley.
Marine protected areas have proved to be a hotspot for the study of climate change and have demonstrated that when left alone, without fishing, tourism or reef disturbance, protected areas are able to rebound from damaging human activity. W2O co-founder and Chair of Trustees of the New England Aquarium Donna Hazard is so grateful for the news from Hawaii but also knows that she wants to see more areas protected. She is particularly concerned about the Atlantic where it might be more difficult to imagine the abundance of diversity under the dark blue cold waters. “It’s so important to protect those biologically diverse habitats. It would be great if I could just know that during my lifetime I could help secure more marine protected areas for the next generation. We can’t afford to let this opportunity pass by without trying to protect the most worthy scientifically significant marine areas,” Hazard passionately remarked when speaking about the possibility of a monument in the Atlantic. “I am hopeful that the wonderful press and excitement about the Monument expansion of Papahānaumokuākea will help propel the movement for more marine protected areas,” Hazard added.
Boaters will tell you that plastic is their friend for making sure food is fresh and transportable. Reusable hard plastic dinnerware and shatterproof glasses are boating standbys, especially for enjoying refreshments above deck. Storing food on a boat means thinking about avoiding condensation and tightly sealed containers that are light weight are the favorite choice. It would be great to decide to go plastic free completely while boating but today a doable goal would be to decide to refuse single use plastic or plastic that we use once and then throw away. There are choices you can make to reduce the amount of plastic pollution that ends up in our oceans.
After our visit to Sailors for the Sea, and checking out their “Green Your Galley Guide,” we were inspired to look a little closer at how to make a day out on the water single use plastic free. Most day sailors and boaters are really “picnic-ing” on a boat with transportable foods usually eaten at the dock, on a mooring or anchored in a safe harbor. The first step to a plastic free day starts at home. Here are some tips to help you take the important steps to healthy plastic free choices for you, your family and our oceans.
- Make your food! Create a simple meal at home and avoid picking up prepared foods in single use plastic containers. Transport food in insulated reusable bags in glass or metal containers.
- Find a basket with handles, like the one Emily is passing up above, or a deep wide tray for handing food and drinks above and below deck.
- Bring a large cooler and fill it with ice and water at the dock rather than opting for that case of water bottles. Filling it up at the dock ensures it will stay cold for the trip and is easier to transport from home. Using insulated reusable water bottles are also a handy solution.
- Life tastes better with real cutlery! Stock bamboo or metal on your boat instead of single use plastic.
- Transport your gear in reusable bags or choose to invest in a “boat” bag. The one pictured below is 20 years old, has clocked many miles at sea and is still as good as new.
Milk jugs, plastic bags, fishing nets, food packaging, straws; these are now common sightings for avid ocean fanatics. Mark Davis and the “crew” at Sailors for the Sea are on a mission to educated boaters and sailors about how to make sustainable choices and still enjoy being out on the water.
From serious ocean racers, to the average weekend enthusiast, participation in activities on the water while being an ocean steward is a relatively new concept for most. “It use to be that out of sight out of mind mentality,” says author and sailor Barbara Beck of Annapolis Maryland. “I remember ocean racing and tossing large green garbage bags overboard without much thought, hoping they would sink to the bottom.” Today most boaters know about pollution in the ocean but are unaware of how they can be part of the solution. “At our yacht club there are efforts to “go green,” says Beck, “but those efforts often fall short because there doesn’t seem to be easy solutions and people opt for convenience.” Sailors for the Sea is hoping to educate boating enthusiasts that opting for convenience is creating a bigger problem and destroying our oceans for future “Sailors.”
The “Sailor” in our title is “anyone who travels across a body of water”, says Mark Davis, president of Sailors for the Sea. “We won’t be taking on other sports or events because we are very focused on the community of boating and sailing,” says Davis. Sailor for the Sea, headquartered near the harbor in Newport Rhode Island, is creating useful tools and delivering a global healthy ocean message to all sailors and boaters across the U.S., Europe and Asia. With the support of Sailors, enlisted volunteers follow “best practices” which begins with assembling a “green team.” With their programs for clean regattas next generation educational lessons through KELP and a new Clean Boating Guide, their mission is to make boaters “catalysts for change.” Good for you, Good for our oceans!
Suntan lotion is at the top of the list for your summer holiday. Choose one that is healthy for you and for our oceans.
Consider this the next time you are investing in skincare protection for you and your family: most suntan lotions are harmful to marine life. Researchers at NOAA and the National Park Service warn us that, “the products covering our skin wash off when we enter the water, and it adds up! Research tells us that 6,000-14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion are emitted into coral reef areas each year. This means that our most popular reefs, such as those in our national parks, are exposed to the majority of sunscreens.” Scientists tell us that no sunscreens are completely “reef safe” and in fact, according to a study by the Coral Disease and Health Consortium (CDHC) and Cheryl M. Woodley, PhD, over 3,500 sunscreen products worldwide contain Oxybenzone (also known as BP-3;Benzophenone-3) which is known to have toxic effects on marine life.
Tropical Snorkeling.com has a guide to better choice mineral-based sunscreens that might be right for you and your family. Proprietors of the site, Galen and Nicole give the low down on which are water resistant, which are oily and which ones go on clear (Yes!). Remember: when you can, use clothing (rash guard, hat, wetsuit) to cover up!
Good for you. Good for our oceans.
More on the science and research for this topic:
Happy World Ocean Day from Women Working for Oceans (W2O)
I am thrilled to be working with W2O on outreach and advocacy this summer and New England Aquarium’s World Oceans Day was the perfect first assignment. The event drew hundreds of families, all interested in learning more about our precious ocean resources and what they can do to preserve them.
W2O’s booth and education activity focused on the importance of Cashes Ledge, 80 miles off of the New England coast, and our work with partner organizations to try and have it established as a National Monument. Children colored in pictures of ecologically important marine organisms as part of a letter writing campaign to urge President Obama to designate protection for Cashes Ledge. Even the littlest participants had touching and remarkable things to say about the ocean and were eager to talk about the animals they were designing. It was exciting and refreshing to see such passion for the environment and enthusiasm for ensuring these ocean treasures are healthy and available for years to come.
Interacting with the next generation of ocean conservationists, I was inspired by the level of interest in action demonstrated by World Oceans Day and am excited to move forward with this and other W2O projects. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year will bring!
Emily Conklin holds a BA in Biology from Wheaton College and is a Masters of Science Candidate in Marine Biology at Northeastern.
For more information on how you can help Save Atlantic Treasures, HERE
This place is not a fantasy, but exists today only 80 miles east of Boston in the Gulf of Maine
Imagine, if you will, an underwater cathedral of rock off the coast of Maine, where ledges of stone that rival Mount Washington provide a foothold for the largest cold water kelp forest in the Atlantic.
Broad blades of kelp lift towards the surface, converting energy from the sun into life supporting oxygen and providing cover for a staggering abundance and diversity of marine life.
Here you can still find both large and small sharks and fish like cod, pollock and tuna of the size our ancestors described.
Lobster and sea stars, anemones and sponges cover the bottom like clumsy, multi-colored fists of large fingers reaching to a wash of nutrients in the water.
Upwards to ten thousand whales, dolphins and porpoises at a time come to the surface to feed on the abundance of smaller fish and plankton. Seabirds on the surface hunt for leftovers and bring this enormous cauldron of productivity and energy back to land. You needn’t jump in a time machine to go there. This place is not a fantasy, but exists today only 80 miles east of Boston in the Gulf of Maine as an extension of the mountain range of Acadia National Park. The area is simply known as Cashes Ledge and it is part of our Atlantic Treasures, a fragile place being considered for marine protection through designation as a National Monument.
The rugged mountainous rocks of Cashes Ledge interrupt the river of currents flowing through the Gulf, creating smaller upending rivulets that deposit nutrients on canyon edges, fueling the start of the food chain. The larger catch upon which New England fisheries depend, such as cod and tuna, reproduce and feed on smaller fish here before ranging to the open ocean. Tiny gears turn progressively larger gears in a simple, yet elegant mechanism that is as ancient as our earth. It is these uninterrupted gears that support our healthy seas, which in turn sustain us.
“I spent a lot of time flying aerial surveys over this area,” says Scott Kraus, Ph.D.,the Aquarium’s vice president of research and one of the leading experts on the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale. “One day, we encountered a multi-species aggregation of dolphins and whales that extended along the shelf edge for nearly 10 miles. There must have been 10,000 animals, and it looked like the equivalent of the Serengeti in Africa—only instead of wildebeest, giraffes, antelope and lions it was grampus, pilot whales, striped, spotted and common dolphins and sperm whales.”
But Cashes Ledge is under threat as waters warm globally. The Gulf of Maine is warming at a rate faster than 99% of other areas worldwide. Some ocean animals have started to show signs of stress from habitat changes as they search for cooler waters. A movement to permanently protect Cashes Ledge through designation as a National Monument needs your support today. Protecting Cashes Ledge, a feeding and breeding ground for so many populations of fish and marine mammals, would be the equivalent of protecting the principal of an investment, ensuring that future dividends can be paid.
Please join us in protecting this New England treasure. Sign the petition here and urge your congressmen elected officials to voice their support in protecting Cashes Ledge.
More about the species, habitat and health of Cashes Ledge from the scientific assessment proposal on marine National Monuments including work from Dr. Scott Krauss and the New England Aquarium
Laura Parker Roerdan, a W2O board member, is Executive Director of Ocean Matters.
Stop Ocean Noise That Threatens Marine Life
We think of our oceans as a silent underwater world. In reality, the ocean is full of noise. Diving on any given day, anywhere in the world, you might hear fish chomping, waves crashing, mammals calling to each other and even rain falling. Sink a hydrophone in the ocean and discover a marine jungle of animal noises from the tiniest shrimp to the largest blue whale. Marine life depends on this soundscape for mating, finding food, navigation and avoiding predation.
This ocean cacophony was all natural until the advent of the industrial revolution when human-made sounds from blasting, drilling, military, and shipping began drowning out these important biological cues. To search for oil and gas, arrays of airguns are towed behind ships and release intense blasts of compressed air into the water–think about a dynamite explosion underwater every 10 seconds for days and sometimes months on end. Airgun noise can displace and confuse whales, dolphins and porpoises by interfering with their ability to communicate.
Recently, the Obama administration moved to prohibit lease sales for testing in the Mid and South Atlantic for 2017-22. That decision does not halt seismic permitting in the Atlantic. The federal government will likely propose opening up Atlantic waters for oil and gas exploration with airgun surveys, affecting many marine mammal species, including the endangered North Atlantic right whale. According to the Department of Interior’s own estimates, the proposed seismic airgun array blasting in the Atlantic could harm up to 138,00 whales and disrupt their behavior over 13 million times. Take action to stop ocean noise. Tell your elected officials that you do not want them to support seismic testing.
Use this template to email or mail your Senator to stop ocean noise. Use this link, Find your Senator or Congresswoman/Congressman for the address.
If you live in Massachusetts:
Letter to MA Senator Markey
Your voice matters!
Sink a hydrophone in the ocean and discover a marine jungle of animal noises from the tiniest shrimp to the largest blue whale. Marine life depends on this soundscape for mating, finding food, navigation and avoiding predation.
This ocean cacophony was all natural until the advent of the industrial revolution when human-made sounds from blasting, drilling, military, and shipping began drowning out these important biological cues. Imagine, if you will, not Rachel Carson’s famous silent spring, but the opposite. Imagine if there was so much human-made noise in the spring that it drowned out all of the birds’ calls. What would happen to those birds? For marine life, the intrusion of these sounds in the mix is the equivalent of being asked to wear a blindfold.
So what’s at stake for our world’s oceans and for us? Here are six amazing things about sound and marine life:
- About half of all fish species are estimated to emit sounds. These sounds help fish find spawning grounds and function like the call of a bird does, as specie specific signatures. By understanding and tracking these sounds, scientists can also identify important spawning grounds in the oceans, track numbers of individuals in a species, and by doing so more strategically protect these important spawning areas.
- Scientists have discovered that each whale population has its own “language,” which is understood only by individuals of the same population. For a population that migrates hundreds of miles of ocean basin from feeding to mating grounds, most whales depend on hearing these songs to find other individuals to accurately navigate.
Impeding this important whale communication by drowning in human-made sound has implications for fisheries. Recent science has found (perhaps counter-intuitively) that increasing the population of large whales might help to increase the number fish in the ocean.
- As the largest creature on Earth, blue whales can also boast of being the loudest. At 188 decibels, their loudest vocalizations can be heard a thousand miles away and is louder than a jet, which peaks at only 140 decibels. Humans can’t hear most of the blue whale’s song, however—it’s too low. They sing at frequencies between 10 and 40 Hz (the unit measurement of sound frequency) and infrasound under 20 Hz cannot be heard by humans. While other large whales are rebounding, blue whales do not appear to be. Blue whales number in only 1% of their historic population. Scientists speculate their lack of comeback is due to the wide scale disruption of the marine ecosystem in the Southern Hemisphere by the blue whales population’s decimation. Without blue whales, there had been a cascade of other marine life losses that has made for a severely altered environment, one that continues to be difficult for other marine life to survive and rebound
- Dolphins are thought to have an individual signature whistle, invented as a calf and kept throughout its life. They use these whistles to call to one another and seem to be able to remember the calls of other individuals for decades. No other species other than humans and dolphins has been shown to have this capacity.
- Noise has always been a driver of evolution and adaptation in the sea, providing “acoustical niches” inhabited by different species. Scientists speculate that the ocean was actually noisier in pre-whaling 1800, before the addition of human generated noise. This speaks volumes about the biomass of a “healthy” ocean pre-1800 as compared to now.
- There is no place to escape from the intrusion of human-made sounds in the ocean. Sounds from shipping were recently recorded at the very deepest part of the ocean: the Mariana Trench, at 10,000 meters under the sea.
Join us at Beeps, Rumbles, and Blasts: How Human-Generated Noise Threatens Marine Life on April 7th featuring Dr. Christopher Clark of Cornell University and Dr. Scott Kraus from the New England Aquarium. For a sneak preview hear Dr. Clark speak briefly about the importance of this topic in this beautiful and short NPR production
“[If] I’m a blue whale my heart beats once a minute. My ‘metronome’ is completely different from yours. And yet I, as human observer, am expecting their communication to be somehow synchronized with mine? Whales have their own listening culture. It will take a long time to begin to understand it.” – Dr. Christopher Clark
Blog contributor Laura Parker Roerden is Executive Director of Ocean Matters and is on the board of Women Working for Oceans.
On April 7th, W2O, along with the New England Aquarium will present Beeps, Rumbles, and Blasts: How Human -Generated Noise Threaten Marine Life. Scientists Chris Clark and Scott Krauss will educate us about how shipping, seismic testing and other human generated noise create a cacophony of sound drowning out the voice of whales, dolphins and all marine life communicating to each other during feeding, migration, breeding, and while detecting predators.