My Ocean Story

Posted by: Jess Morten

 My Ocean Story

While I have always been someone drawn to nature, it was always the oceans that caught my interest and attention. Born and raised in the Northeast but with family in California, I grew up staring out at both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans, mesmerized by sandy horseshoe crabs in Long Island Sound and dense kelp forests in Monterey Bay.

Helping with a Plankton Tow in the Gulf of Maine

Helping with a Plankton Tow in the Gulf of Maine

Taking down behavioral data on a humpback whale in the Gulf of Maine

Taking down behavioral data on a humpback whale in the Gulf of Maine

When I first started out on the job scene after college in 2008, like so many other wide-eyed, young environmentalists fresh off their diplomas, I had a lack of clarity on the direction and narrowed field that I wanted to head towards in the environmental arena. Armed essentially only with my Environmental Studies degree and an ambitious passion for getting involved in poignant environmental causes, I set out to work as an intern/research assistant at three very different marine biology research organizations; The first in Gloucester, Massachusetts where I spent long, wind-burned days out on the (chilly!) gulf of Maine taking down behavioral data on humpback whales, the second in the San Juan Islands of Washington, where I again spent all day out on the water, this time as part of a population health assessment of the Southern Resident Killer Whales, and lastly in coastal Georgia, where I collected data from the sky as an aerial observer for a study assessing the population and reproductive health of North Atlantic Right Whales.

My Killer Whale research team in Friday Harbor, WA

My Killer Whale research team in Friday Harbor, WA

My Right Whale aerial survey team in Saint Simons Island, GA

My Right Whale aerial survey team in Saint Simons Island, GA

I left each of these incredible experiences reassured that my commitment to working in the nonprofit field, and especially the world of ocean conservation, was the right one for me. Those short years showed me so much: The diligence that goes into data collection, the patience that goes into conducting quality research, the effort that comes with working at a leanly staffed non-profit, the crucial importance of each and every grant that comes in, and–above all–the passion that is required to make a real impact. After this I headed to New York City, where I stayed for three years working for an international environmental NGO before taking the plunge and moving out to California for graduate school and my internship here at Ocean Champions.

I think I have always naturally been a pragmatic thinker, and it has certainly affected the way I have viewed and learned about environmental policy. I firmly believe that major environmental change won’t occur unless both sides of the debate are engaged on the issues, and that’s a big part of what makes me so proud to be a part of Ocean Champions, the only political voice for the oceans. Legislation is critical to conservation, and solid ocean legislation won’t occur without strong ocean and environmental leaders in Congress, defending our environmental rights and inspiring conservation efforts to save these resources we shouldn’t stand to live without.

Date Posted: May 2, 2014 @ 12:47 pm Comments Off

Toxic Algal Blooms: Coming Soon to a Lake Near You

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

Imagine walking along the shore looking out at your favorite childhood lake. The discolored surface is covered in a thick slime. The smell stings your nose, something between rotting fish and a sewer. You might start coughing, wheezing and feeling short of breath. This is a harmful algal bloom. If you haven’t already experienced one, it’s likely coming soon to a water body near you.

red tide

Algal blooms occur naturally and form the base of food webs, but some blooms produce harmful toxins that can kill fish, mammals, and birds, and make humans sick. Examples of harmful algal blooms (HABs) hot spots include the Gulf of Mexico and Lake Eerie. However, HABs are increasingly affecting inland lakes and waterways. Thanks to climate change, it will likely get worse. Warmer temperatures, intense storms and decreased water levels all contribute to HABs. Changing agricultural practices are also worsening the problem. According to a joint report from Resource Media and National Wildlife Federation, droughts and warm summers led 20 states to report freshwater HABs in 2012. This summer, a different set of 21 states reported inland HABs.   Unfortunately, these numbers are a major underestimation because there is no federal agency tracking lake closures or health warnings nationally, and not all states report or monitor HABs.

For states tracking HABs, there are irregularities between systems. For example, New York reported 50 cases of HABs this summer. While this was the highest number of HABs recorded in any state, this does not mean that New York has the worst HABs problem. It simply demonstrates that extensive monitoring is required to reveal the severity of the problem.

pond algae

Most of us don’t give a lot of thought to algae and the impact it’s having on fish, mammals, birds, humans and local economies, but we should. For example:

  • In California, Pinto Lake has some of the nation’s most toxic algae, which poisoned sea otters in the Monterey Bay.
  • Wichita, Kansas has spent several million dollars treating drinking water because elevated levels of HABs are so common.
  • For the first time, Kentucky found HABs in four lakes, which collectively draw over five million visitors.  Visitors have reported rashes and stomach problems.
  • Oregon’s Midsummer Triathlon became a biathlon after Blue Lake was closed due to toxic algae in August
  • In Florida a massive HABs outbreak in St. Lucie River and Indian River Lagoon is outraging local communities.

We’ve been working hard to pass the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act in Congress.  The HABs bill will develop and implement a national strategy and regional action plans to combat harmful algal blooms in our oceans and waterways.

Date Posted: December 12, 2013 @ 10:59 am Comments Off

We Are Thankful For You!

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

Happy Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving, we want to take the opportunity to say thank you for voting the ocean!

Thank you for supporting pro-ocean candidates, making your voices heard, engaging with us, and helping to shape Congress. With your support, we now have more strength on Capitol Hill than ever before! Together, we can deliver on the promise of ocean political power.

With the holidays around the corner, you can help strengthen the ocean’s political power by giving your friends and loved ones a gift membership to Ocean Champions. It’s easy to give the gift of healthy oceans – no malls, crowds or agony. Surfers, fishermen, divers, boaters and romantic couples all love healthy oceans, and they’ll love you for your thoughtfulness! In addition to your own information, include the recipient’s in the area marked “In Honor of,” and we’ll do the rest (just click here). We’ll send a fabulous Ocean Champions hat with your gift membership, so they can wear a symbol of yours and their ocean devotion!

Thanks again for your continued support. Wishing you and yours a blue/green, healthy and happy holiday season!

Blue Friday

Date Posted: November 28, 2013 @ 11:47 am Comments Off

To Eat Or Not To Eat? The Nuclear Tuna Question

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

The news is flush with headlines about the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi meltdown. From previously unreported leaks to the challenges of cleanup to the impact on our oceans, lots of folks are understandably concerned. Some of the most outlandish headlines focused on research published by Daniel Madigan, Zofia Baumann and Nicholas Fisher from analysis of radioactive materials found in 15 out of 15 tuna. These researchers’ findings have many asking, should I be eating nuclear tuna?

RW IT Med Tour Procida Island 06th August 2007 Ph. Care'

Photo credit: Marco Care

Before answering that question, there’s an underlying question to ponder: should you eat Pacific bluefin tuna at all? The clear answer is no. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, bluefin tuna is on the avoid list. Why? Because bluefin tuna are being fished unsustainably with stock depletion at 96.4%. In terms of human health, methyl mercury, a neurotoxin, is the major concern. The FDA already warns expectant mothers against consuming too much tuna.

If you’re eating bluefin tuna anyway, here is what you need to know: Tuna samples had cesium radiation levels 10 times higher than before the tsunami. However, this is not a health concern because the levels are still relatively low. You’d have to eat 5,000 to 8,000 pounds of tuna to be at risk.

Radiation sounds scary. But, it is important to remember that most food contains naturally occurring radiation. Bananas naturally contain about 20 times the dose found in radiated tuna. In fact, the seafood you have been eating for years contains traces of cesium left over from Cold War nuclear weapons testing.

On the other hand, there is reason for concern about local non-pelagic fisheries near Fukushima. Many bottom dwelling species that don’t move far from home show cesium levels 40% above health advisories. As a result, these fisheries remain closed.

Bluefin tuna, on the other hand, swim 6,000 miles across the entire Pacific from their Japanese spawning grounds to feeding grounds off California. As they swim across the ocean, radioactive materials in their flesh are diluted. By they time they reach California, radioactivity is 10-20 times lower than levels near Fukushima. It also means the cesium acts as a natural tracer to study migrations of fish, birds, mammals, and turtles.

bluefin (1)

Photo credit: Gerick Bergsma

While the human risk of eating Bluefin tuna isn’t much worse as a result of the Fukushima disaster, the Bluefin tuna’s risk of extinction from continued human consumption remains frighteningly high.  So, come to think of it, maybe it’s better if people believe they’ll grow additional arms and sprout eye stalks if they eat Bluefin tuna these days.

Date Posted: November 20, 2013 @ 2:29 pm Comments Off

Mysteries of the Deep: Oarfish Discoveries

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

Imagine an almost 20 foot deep-sea fish with a bright-orange, ribbon-like dorsal fin along its narrow bioluminescent body that lives in one of the earth’s last largely unexplored ecosystems. Now imagine stumbling into two of these fish in the same week! This is reality for researchers in Southern California. The exciting and puzzling discovery has sparked many to ask why? From Japanese legends that oarfish are harbingers of earthquakes, to hypotheses on shifting ocean conditions, the cause of death is still unknown.

Catalina Island Marine Institute

Catalina Island Marine Institute

In some respects, the oarfish are reminders of how little is known about the ocean. The rarely seen and rarely studied species lives in the mid-ocean mesopelagic zone, which receives almost no sunlight. Compared to the sea surface and floor, researchers have explored very little in the middle of the water column. While many smaller species call the mesopelagic home, the giant oarfish is quite unique. This over 20 foot behemoth floats in place, essentially swimming vertically while slurping up tiny organisms (check out rare footage of a live oarfish swimming). Their unique body shape likely gave rise to the notion of sea serpents.

As a result, samples are in high demand. The first oarfish, measuring 18 feet, was found off Santa Catalina Island. It is the largest oarfish reported in nearly 20 years. Around the world, researchers are anxious for a piece of tissue. Samples will be tested for toxins, including radiation from Fukushima. DNA samples were also collected to shed light on the oarfish’s nearest relatives. The vertebrae, gills, liver, heart and eyes will also be examined. Large parasites (up to six feet long) were discovered in the intestine.

Phil Hastings_Scripps Institution of Oceanography_UCSD

Phil Hastings, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

The second oarfish, a female with eggs, was dissected last week. Researchers found parasites, sand, and a small amount of krill in the stomach. The ear bones, which provide a wealth of information including the age, were not recovered from the damaged head. Scientists did not even attempt to weigh the massive fish, which had to be cut into four pieces for transport.

Many species like mako sharks and tuna, spend more time in the mesoplegaic than was originally thought. While it will take years for research results, it also represents an opportunity to learn more about the entire water column and how the ocean works.

Want to learn more? Check out this fantastic podcast with Russ Vetter, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center biologist.

Date Posted: November 4, 2013 @ 2:33 pm Comments Off

What Oysters Have to Say to Climate Change Deniers

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

While climate change denying luddites may say that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide isn’t changing our environment, oysters and other shellfish might disagree. If current trends continue, ocean acidification could reduce U.S. shellfish harvests by 25% over the next 50 years. Baby oysters can’t develop their shells in the acidic and corrosive waters, which means high mortality rates. This is bad news not only for the oysters, but also for the oyster industry. A critical component of the coastal economy, the industry provides thousands of jobs. Thus, ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest threatens the triple bottom line: people, profit, and the planet.

Today, the ocean is 30% more acidic than it was at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Decreasing pH (pH goes down, acidity goes up) limits available carbonate, which shellfish need for their shells.  Tides, waves and upwelling increase the impacts of ocean acidification on the Pacific Northwest, and the shellfish industry is suffering the first causalities, with regional oyster production dropping 20-30% in recent years. Last summer, many hatcheries were struggling to cope, so ocean champion Sen. Maria Cantwell ensured that new resources were devoted to water quality monitoring.

The shellfish industry provides thousands of jobs and is worth approximately $270 million a year to the U.S. economy. Whole communities depend on the shellfish industry for their survival. If we lose the shellfish industry, we also lose the cultural diversity in the communities it sustains. Technology has helped producers deal with acidification for now, but future climate models show that technology may not be enough.

Oysters are important not only to people and profits, but also to the planet. These helpful critters absorb CO2 and nitrogen, thus improving water quality. In fact one oyster can filter 30-40 gallons of water a day and reduce nitrogen pollution by 20%! Oyster reefs reduce wave action and storm surge, protecting our shores from erosion. Fewer oysters could lead to more toxic algae and dead zones, and more damaging storm surges.

Oysters are not the only species impacted by acidification. Pteropods, little sea snails that are a key food source, are also vulnerable to acidification. Disruptions to any one part of the ecosystem are sure to have cascading impacts throughout the food chain.

While we continue working towards comprehensive climate policy, we are fortunate to have leaders like Sen. Maria Cantwell working to protect her constituents in the Pacific Northwest. Her efforts to secure funding for NOAA regional Integrated Ocean Observing Systems have provided the industry with critical tools for monitoring ocean acidification. Using this technology, oyster growers can monitor fluctuations in water quality, avoiding the most corrosive and acidic waters.

Date Posted: October 30, 2013 @ 9:53 am Comments Off

My Ocean Story

Posted by: Emily Scherer

The ocean has always been a part of my life – the summers laboriously spent swimming boeys in Jr Guards, the school trips to aquariums and marine research facilities, the beach days and bonfires that compose my high school memories, even the salty, temperate, air of the coastal community I call home. The ocean has been an unwavering presence, a constant source of joy, calm, and inspiration in my life–that is until I moved to New York City.

‘The Big Apple,’ ‘The Urban Jungle,’ ‘The Capital of the World,’ Manhattan — an acceptance into my dream school, Columbia University, brought me to New York. If you had asked me what I loved last year (during college applications), I would have said, “Politics, travel, global affairs, and dance.” Sure, I recycle and appreciate the environment, but I did not foresee an interest in conservation. I wanted to work in the field of International Politics, combining my passion for politics and travel with a knack for mediation. Culture, adventure, academics, I was poised and ready for The City.

Emily ocean view

Yet once I was away from it all, once I could no longer idly watch dark waves crashing against the rocks, spend a Saturday afternoon peering into tidepools, or take a morning walk along the shore – I felt incomplete. I was ignorant. Ignorant of the profound role the ocean, and my fortunate proximity to it, played in my upbringing. Scuba diving at a young age cultivated my sense of adventure while the sea’s various creatures and changing currents inspired an interest in the sciences. After a stressful day of school, I could always look forward to an afternoon spent playing in the water or relaxing to the steady swoosh of the waves. Spending this year away from the shore reminded me of my dependence on and respect for the ocean. When summer arrived, I wanted to find an internship that I could be passionate about, and that’s how I came across Ocean Champions: the pragmatic, political approach to protecting my truest companion. I loved the bipartisan appeal and straight forward approach, how they are for the oceans, not parties or politicians. It was the perfect way to combine my interests both in politics and the ocean, while utilizing the skills I’ve acquired at school.

SONY DSC

Though I most likely will not become a marine biologist or launch the next conservation non-profit, I will continue to use my studies of political science to protect what I am grateful for. Ocean champions highlighted the gap between information and action in our political system that it’s the politics, not necessarily the policies, that need the most attention when it comes to affecting change, a fundamental lesson that I will carry with me as a continue to earn my degree. Thank you Ocean Champions, I am so grateful for this opportunity.

Date Posted: October 24, 2013 @ 11:29 am Comments (1)

Ocean Story

Posted by: Trent Hodges

Everyone’s love for the ocean has a story.  The love comes from experiences that have taught us something or given us a sense of connection to the ocean and to each other.

I learned at a young age the raw power and joy of the ocean.  My uncle pushed me into my first wave when I was 6 years old and blessed me with a lifelong addiction.  However, for the majority of my childhood and young adult years, I only held on to that feeling in my dreams as my family packed and moved to Idaho.  Though I enjoyed a magical youth scaling mountains and plunging into crystal clear rivers, those visions of infinite blue and the glide of waves continued to haunt me.  Starting college in San Diego, I was finally able to pursue my wave obsession relentlessly and continuously took lessons from the ocean.  Lessons in humility, patience, fear, change, insignificance, and pure joy.  The ocean was my playground and my guru.

Very soon after, my ocean experience would expand and the lessons would become even more profound.  As a peace corps volunteer on the coast of Guatemala, I worked with small scale fishermen to promote ecotourism, sustainable fishing, and environmental education.  I was lucky to be able to throw myself in the ocean for fun, but realized that many people around the world depend on the ocean as a resource for their livelihood rather than spiritual renewal.  Though all of humanity depends on the oceans for life, my friends in Guatemala’s immediate survival depends on a productive ocean.  Seeing this link between humanity and our direct and indirect dependence on the oceans, I realized the necessity of fostering a holistic mentality, balancing the needs of people while manifesting a deep respect and stewardship of the marine realm.

I have also learned that our impact on the oceans is profound and transcends borders and boundaries.  I sailed with a crew of scientists and ocean lovers from San Diego to Hawaii on a 135 foot sailing ship quantifying marine plastic pollution in the North Pacific Gyre.  It was humbling to see that out in the middle of the ocean far from land, plastic is more prevalent than the phytoplankton that provide our oxygen.

So how can we balance human needs and the integrity of the ocean for future generations?  It begins with an understanding that we must move forward in a positive direction to sustain the planet and the oceans we depend on.  That is why I am proud to be working for Ocean Champions and supporting elected leaders who understand that human health and thriving coastal economies are directly related to the health of our oceans.  The ocean provides half of the oxygen we breathe each day.  It holds over 96% of the Earth’s water and drives the weather.  Ecological economists have valued the goods and services provided by the oceans at $21 trillion (the value of land goods and services are only $12 trillion), and one in six jobs is marine related.

In the words of John Muir:  “not blind opposition to progress, but opposition to blind progress.”  Let’s continue to stand up for what sustains us and makes us whole.

Date Posted: October 22, 2013 @ 10:14 am Comments Off

What’s Killing the Manatees?

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

There are only about 5,000 manatees remaining in Florida. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 566 have already died this year. This mortality rate exceeds last year’s loss of 392. Why are so many manatees dying? A powerful, persistent red tide that has been lingering off the lower west coast since the fall. The red tide, aka Harmful Algal Bloom or “HAB,” contains a nerve poison toxic to both humans and animals.

Red Tides are a type of Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB).  Algal blooms can occur naturally, but human activities have greatly increased the frequency, intensity and duration of HAB events in recent years.  Harmful algal blooms can wreak havoc on marine ecosystems and animals. If a bloom is large enough, its sheer biomass can choke coral reefs and clog fish gills.  When these large blooms die, they are eaten by bacteria in a process that consumes oxygen, creating dead zones where marine animals cannot live.  If that weren’t bad enough, many harmful algal blooms also emit different toxins that can kill fish, birds, marine mammals (including manatees) and even humans.

Causes of Harmful Algal Blooms vary region by region and are not always well understood.  That said, scientists have established a fairly clear link between algal blooms and nutrient runoff from farms and lawns.  In Florida, the Caloosahatchee River carries this agricultural runoff from Florida’s productive farmland to the ocean near Fort Meyers, feeding the toxic red tide that has killed hundreds of manatees and driven humans from the beach with respiratory issues. Of course, the solution is not as simple as dealing with agricultural runoff. Global warming also increases sea surface temperature which is like tossing gasoline on a flame where HABs are concerned.

While the red tide dissipates, the toxins persist in seagrasses, shellfish, and other critters consuming the algae. Manatees may be the most obvious charismatic megafauna impacted by the red tide. However, the red tide can also shut down fisheries, reduce tourism, and impact other species. The problem is complex, but the solutions all start in the same place – Congress. In past years we’ve worked with our champions to move a good bill addressing toxic algae and dead zones, coming closer each year.  With more strong ocean champions in Washington D.C. than ever before, we can pass HABs legislation and continue the fight for healthy ocean ecosystems and the critters (like Manatees and people) who need them to survive.

 

Date Posted: June 26, 2013 @ 4:08 pm Comments Off

Life by the Ocean

Posted by: Julia Dolloff

Growing up in San Diego, I had the great fortune of living only a short car ride away from the ocean. As a kid, I spent every summer at the beach, either riding the waves with my boogie board or bobbing up and down in the waves as I tread the salty water below. Recalling my memories of playing by the water with my family and friends for so many years always brings me feelings of happiness and joy.

After high school I decided to attend the University of California, Santa Cruz. I fell in love with the campus because of its location in the redwood forest and its close proximity to the ocean, which I can see from campus everyday. During my time at school, I completed a UC sailing class, which turned out to be one of my most wonderful experiences at Santa Cruz. Sailing through the harbor was such a peaceful experience for me and seeing the wildlife up close in their natural habitat was incredible. I definitely plan on taking more sailing classes as well as other ocean sports classes so I can take advantage of the perks of living near the ocean.

After living near the ocean for my entire life, I couldn’t imagine living away from it for any length of time. I have had too many wonderful experiences at the beach and near the ocean that have provided me with both fun-filled joyous moments as well as peaceful and serene moments. The beach has always been one of my favorite places to be whether I am relaxing, walking, picking up trash, or hanging out with friends and family, I can always count on enjoying myself there.

As an intern at Ocean Champions, I have realized the importance of politics and the role it plays in getting vital policies enacted into law to protect both the ocean and the environment in general. I am gaining many important skills that are preparing me for a future career in environmental policy, and I’m having a wonderful time here while I’m learning.

Date Posted: June 21, 2013 @ 11:09 am Comments Off

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