First-Ever National Ranking Shows Most Coastal States Failing to Protect Oceans

Kip Evans Photo
Seattle WA – Today two leading marine science and conservation organizations, the Marine Conservation Institute and Mission Blue, issued the 1st-ever quantitative, scientifically rigorous national ranking of states’ protection of their ocean waters.  SeaStates: How Well Does Your State Protect Your Coastal Waters? shows that most states and territories are failing to safeguard our nation’s marine life, seafood and coasts.
Oceans are crucial to our health and economy.  Coastal counties include only 5.71% of the area in the lower 48 states but generate 35.54% of the Gross Domestic Product.  Indeed, coastal counties generate $7,992 more GDP per person than inland and Great Lakes counties. “Despite so many threats to their health, states are failing to protect our ocean waters,” said Dr. Lance Morgan, President of the Marine Conservation Institute. “No-take marine protected areas are the gold-standard for healthy oceans, but far too few states and territories are designating them.” SeaStates measures the percentage of state’s waters they strongly protect.  Being free from fishing, oil drilling and other extractive uses allows marine life in no-take marine reserves to thrive and recover their former abundance.  That’s crucial because marine animals and plants maintain healthy oceans essential to people.
As coastal areas face increasing overfishing and climate change, strong marine protected areas maintain biodiversity, fisheries and coastal economies.  Dozens of studies show that no-take marine reserves provide more effective protection than weaker protected areas, often providing an overflow of marine life into surrounding waters.  Many marine scientists recommend designating at least 20% of state waters as no-take areas as the best way to sustain ocean health. “Whether you love our oceans for their beauty, for their fishes and marine mammals or for generating half of the oxygen we breathe, you should want them to be strongly protected.  But most states in this report get a score of zero and only a handful are protecting even 1%. That’s not good enough when our oceans are facing grave threats like overfishing and pollution.
>'A Day of Remembrance' at Grand Isle
America’s oceans and people deserve better,” said eminent marine biologist and President of Mission Blue, Dr. Sylvia Earle. “The United States has a long way to go if we want to be a world-leader in marine conservation.” SeaStates shows that 15 coastal states (AL, AK, CT, DE, GA, LA, MD, MA, MS, NH, NJ, NY, RI, SC, TX) out of 23 have no (zero) no-take areas.  Six states (FL, OR, WA, NC, VA, and ME) have designated barely 1% or much less of their coastal waters as no-take areas.  Only 2 states strongly protect over 5% of their waters in no-take reserves.
Hawaii ranks 1st for ocean protection with 22.9% fully protected (most inside the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument), while California ranks 2nd with 8.7%. “SeaStates shows that very few places are getting the protection they need” said Dr. Morgan “and most states are doing a very poor job of safeguarding your oceans.  It’s time for that to change.  Seabirds, whales, groupers and deep sea corals all need refuges where we do everything possible to protect them.” The science team at Marine Conservation Institute compiled SeaStates using MPAtlas.org, the world’s best information source on marine protected areas. To read the full report visit www.SeaStates.us

The Marine Conservation Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to securing protection for the oceans’ most important places.  Founded by marine ecologist, Dr. Elliott Norse in 1996, Marine Conservation Institute sees the big picture and uses the latest tools in collaboration with scientists, government officials, businesses and conservation organizations to recover healthy, living oceans around the world for us and future generations.  See www.marine-conservation.org

Feature Photo Credit: Kip Evans Photography

A Reaffirmation of Hope at the Seattle Aquarium

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In a fantastic event last night at the Seattle Aquarium, Sylvia Earle and Greenpeace’s Phil Radford announced the Bering Sea Canyons as the official 19th Hope Spot. The event attracted a large turnout and impassioned speeches in defense of the new Hope Spot. Moreover, a bonafide airship was in play to promote the event!

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The Bering Sea isn’t just chilly…it’s also super cool: these 770,000 square miles of tempestuous waters off the coast of Alaska and Siberia are home to immense populations of fish, seabirds, marine mammals and ancient corals, as well as the Bering Sea Canyons, the largest and deepest submarine canyons in the world — larger than the Grand Canyon. This rich ecosystem has supported indigenous tribes for thousands of years and currently provides over half the seafood caught in the United States.

If half the total US catch sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. Sadly, under this enormous commercial pressure, the Bering Sea is in decline. Since the 1960’s, the region has seen steep declines in top predators — i.e. whales, sea lions, seals — with some populations dipping by over 80 percent of historic levels. Moreover, trawling nets are decimating ancient corals and sponges in the deep canyons, which are critical to the ecosystem and are hundreds to thousands of years old.

The Bering Sea was a rich ecosystem of harmony, and now it faces collapse due to the pressures of industrial fishing. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is the steward of these precious waters and, as such, they must protect the sensitive habitats, so the Bering Sea can continue to be a flourishing ocean ecosystem into the future. With the global ocean in a general decline, the preservation of the Bering Sea as a Marine Protected Area — or Hope Spot — is critical.

Please join your voice in this cause. Sign the Greenpeace petition to help protect the Bering Sea Canyons and reach out to support in any way you can.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man on Ice

Photo of the Day ~ Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man On Ice

Da Vinci’s 500-year-old Vitruvian Man was reinvented on the Arctic Sea Ice in 2011 with the help of Mission Blue Partner Greenpeace and Los Angeles artist John Quigley in an effort to “draw attention to how climate change is causing the rapid melting of sea ice beyond most predictions.”

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Constructed with copper banding, which was later removed and recycled, a team of Greenpeace activists laid out “Melting Vitruvian Man” on an ice sheet which was the size of four olympic-size swimming pools, following artist Quigley’s specifications.

Using Greenpeace’s ice-breaker, the Arctic Sunrise, they travelled to a remote area 500 miles from the North Pole, after scouting for the perfect ice canvas from the air. The installation was created in the Fram Strait between Greenland and Norway’s Svalbard Islands.

“We came here to create the ‘Melting Vitruvian Man’ … because climate change is literally eating into the body of our civilization,” said artist John Quigley.

Feature photo: Rick Cobbing/Greenpeace

Sylvia Earle’s warnings about Gulf deserve prime-time attention

Dolphins (c) Ron Wooten

Oceanographer Sylvia Earle’s warnings about Gulf deserve prime-time attention

By now most of us have seen those feel-good television spots featuring a Louisianan, an Alabaman, a Mississippian and a Floridian, all smiling and boasting good-naturedly about the relative advantages of their home state as a tourist destination. With a clear emphasis on the many pleasures of the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico shared by all.

The object is to draw visitors to spotless beaches and crystal waters, along with historical attractions, golf courses and, of course, food! Endless buffets of mouth-watering dishes served fresh from the bounty of the Gulf.

The message to prospective tourists is that the widely publicized miseries brought by the April 2010 BP spill are a thing of the distant past. A homegrown BP spokesman proclaims that things are better than ever, and urges one and all to come on down!

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The ads are sponsored and paid for by BP, as part of its settlement for the harm caused to these same waters and fragile coastlines by the 2010 Macondo spill offshore Louisiana. And they’re very effective. We’d guess they’ve raised the visibility and favorable images of all four states by a measurable amount.

We don’t for a minute believe that the Macondo spill, which claimed 11 lives and spread its tarry mess across environmentally sensitive areas for hundreds of miles, was a good thing in any way, shape or form. It was a nightmare that must not be repeated.

But we concede the spill may have served one unintended but constructive purpose: raising national and international awareness of the Gulf of Mexico’s many valuable uses – as home for a large and prosperous fishing industry, host to oil and gas rigs that supply 30 percent of our nation’s petroleum needs and not incidentally, as a place of subtle natural beauty that is attractive as a tourist destination.

If our neighbors to the east get an economic boost from the BP ads, and the Gulf itself claims a place in more people’s minds, so much the better. Up to a point.

That point is the one at which we make a 180-degree swivel to embrace the quite different views of oceanographer Sylvia Earle concerning these ads and the larger consequences of selling the Gulf to tourists.

For more than half a century, Earle has served as the conscience of the Gulf. Explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, the diminutive Earle is referred to by her legion of admirers as “Her Deepness,” for both her skills as an intrepid diver and her depth of thought about vital issues such as the long-term health of the Gulf and all of the world’s oceans.

Crude Oil to the Horizon (c) Ron Wooten Photography

If Sylvia Earle had her wish, the tone of BP’s advertising campaign would look and sound quite different:

  • It would make the case for creating a national parks system in Gulf waters that would mirror those inspired on land by the likes of President Teddy Roosevelt and the conservationist/photographer John Muir. During the administration of George H.W. Bush, the small but biologically rich Flower Garden Banks 100 miles south of the Louisiana/Texas border were declared a marine sanctuary, and George W. Bush used his power as president to establish the largest area in the ocean where even the fish have a safe haven around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. It is an idea whose time has come.
  • It would de-emphasize gorging on shrimp, tuna, grouper, snapper and other native Gulf species in favor of “fish watching,” a la the bird watching done on the North American flyway on the coast not far from Houston.
  • It would make the case for giving what she calls the Great Blue Engine of the Gulf of Mexico a break from fishing and other extractive activities in special, vital areas. Giving back to the ecosystem that has given us so much.
  • It would showcase the bigger picture: Nearly 60 percent of the freshwater rivers, streams and creeks in North America eventually flow into the Gulf – and that is not always a good thing. Agribusiness in the Midwest on a huge scale has yielded enormous deposits of fertilizer that create seasonal “dead zones” downstream at the mouth of the Mississippi. These dead zones could soon spread as far west as Galveston Bay, harming highly valued recreational and fishing resources in this area.

We could elaborate. But Earle’s reputation speaks for itself. And she speaks ably in defense of the health of the Gulf of Mexico.

Photo: (c) Ron Wooten

Through her work with the National Geographic Society and her association with the Harte Research Institute for the Gulf of Mexico at Texas A&M Corpus Christi, she already has a sizable megaphone with which to communicate needed warnings about the dangers facing our aquatic front porch.

Wouldn’t it make for interesting viewing if BP chose to do a series of commercials featuring Sylvia Earle and some of her warnings about the Gulf?

We think so. In the interests of full disclosure about the problems still facing the Gulf of Mexico, those views deserve the kind of prime-time television platform a BP-sponsored ad campaign would offer. What say, BP?

Originally published (c) Houston Chronicle, Editorial

Supplemental Feature Photo (c) Ron Wooten Photography

The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea

Sylvia Earle, David Helvarg & John Frawley

The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair With the Sea

Written as a celebration of the California coast and the forces that protect it, “The Golden Shore, California’s Love Affair with the Sea” is a passionate tale of one of the most unique and stunning natural habitats to be found anywhere on earth, the 1,100 miles of the California Coast. San Francisco Bay area author and ocean activist David Helvarg is uniquely qualified to take us on this journey of love and the struggle to protect the rugged wilderness that defines the western border of the continental United States.

It may be a slightly dysfunctional love affair. For better or for worse, with ups and downs, lots of hard-learned lessons, and just like in real life, sometimes the lawyers get involved. But ultimately, California’s legacy as a global leader for ocean conservation remains strong. Perched at the edge of the planet’s largest ocean, the Pacific looms large in the consciousness of Californians. “Without the Pacific,” says Helvarg, “California is just a long skinny clone of Nevada.”

Have you ever heard the saying, “so goes California so goes the Nation?”   Ocean advocates across the nation are hoping these words ring true when it comes to protecting important ocean resources. The State of California now officially owns a complete network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs.)  These MPAs encompass rich, coastal ecosystems from Oregon to Mexico—creating sanctuaries for marine life to thrive.

The final set of MPAs went into effect in the north coast on December 19, 2012—completing a nearly 10-year process to establish MPAs along California’s populated coastline.  California is the first state in the nation to have established such a comprehensive system.  16% of our coastal waters are now protected in some fashion.

Check out Helvarg’s video – it’s quirky, fun, and head-over-heels in love with the ocean, about what makes the California coast unique, and how it represents a model to the rest of the world for coastal and ocean policy.

“One of the unique advantages,” says Helvarg is that “California was populated later than most of the other 50 states, remaining largely a wilderness until after World War II. Before the population surged from the Gold Rush, it was even more pristine. Even today, when 25 million people live in coastal counties south of the Golden Gate Bridge, the five counties to the north have less than a million people combined.”

“And there are ways that the Pacific Ocean is naturally resilient – you have these unique patterns, the California current for example, that’s been called the ‘Serengeti of the Sea,’ that brings wildlife from northern climes down to California coastal regions. There is a great upwelling zone that creates a bouillabaisse of life that feeds everything from sea lions to white sharks to blue whales.

“The first offshore drilling rigs began to operate in the 1890’s near Summerland in southern California. The pollution at the turn of the 20th century moved Santa Barbara voters, just to the North to vote, “No more oil.” It took another 60 years to convince them that engineers had developed safe methods for offshore drilling. And on the third drilling of the Union 76 platform, there was a massive blowout. The shock of the 1969 spill led Californians to call for the protection of the coastline, which eventually led to the creation of the milestone California Coastal Commission. We made a choice not to turn our coast into an urban seawall. US-1 is still one of the most scenic routes on the planet.

“Choosing not to go the way of Waikiki or Miami Beach turned out to be a good economic choice as well. The major players like the Navy and the Ports and the real estate interests realize that they have to work within the context of sustainable coasts and clean waters because that is what the people of California want.

“Worldwide, about 50% of the people live within 100 miles of the coast. In CA 90% of us live within 20 miles of the coast. This is where we live, this is where we play and where we earn our living. We have come to understand that we can only do that when we recognize that we are part of the natural world, and that the Pacific is our liquid blue frontier.

Says Mission Blue founder, Dr. Sylvia Earle, “THE GOLDEN SHORE is a thrilling read.  Join master storyteller David Helvarg on a heart-pounding journey into the tumultuous past, provocative present and promising future of California’s wild blue frontier.”

And Jean-Michel Cousteau has this to say, “Having lived in California for 44 years I was surprised by how much I learned from David Helvarg’s book THE GOLDEN SHORE.  It blew my mind.  If you have the same love affair for the beautiful California coast and ocean as I do, this marvelous and compelling book is a must read.”

David Helvarg is founder and Executive Director of the Blue Frontier Campaign, a Washington DC based organization working for ocean and coastal conservation.  He is currently organizing The Blue Vision Summit 4 and the 6th Annual Peter Benchley Awards.

By Deb Castellana/Mission Blue

Featured photo ~ Dr. Sylvia Earle, David Helvarg and John Frawley