Diving into a New World

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

As you know, understanding and appreciating marine life and ocean ecosystems is incredibly important – after all, oceans cover nearly ¾ of Earth’s surface. Most people learn about the oceans from TV shows or classes in school, which may foster an awareness, but not necessarily a connection.  To really feel the oceans, I think you’ve got to “see to believe.”

I’ve had an appreciation for the oceans as long as I can remember, and ate up every ocean-focused show on the Discovery Channel from giant squids to sharks. I spent many summers visiting the ocean, but I still felt I was missing something.  About a year ago, this all changed.  I stumbled across classes for scuba diving, and decided to give them a shot.  This turned out to be one of the smartest things I’ve ever done, as diving has given me some of the most amazing experiences of my life.

There are so many benefits to diving. It’s different than going on a safari through the Serengeti or trekking through the jungle because if done correctly, you don’t disturb the environment.  I love being able to immerse myself in the marine environment without disrupting anything while watching animals acting naturally.

Every dive I’ve gone on has been unique – each time I go underwater, I find myself in a new adventure, picking up insights I wouldn’t be able to get from a book. I never know what I’ll see; sometimes a moray eel will pop its head out as I swim past, or I’ll spot a sea turtle swimming off in the distance. This is such a great escape from the bustle and stress of everyday life – on the surface of the ocean, especially near the beaches, you’ll probably find yourself in the midst of a lot of splashing, yelling and crashing waves – fun, but not exactly peaceful.  As you descend into the depths of the sea, however, you’ll be right in the middle of a blissful world of solitude, where often the only sound you hear is the bubbling from your regulator. I think it’s one of the most calming processes I’ve ever experienced.

One of the greatest gifts diving has given me is the huge appreciation I now have for all the creatures in the sea, great or small. As I float above amazing varieties of fish and coral, I am able to fully appreciate why we have to work to save them and their environment. For example, coral reefs, which many take for granted, have been severely degraded through climate change and human activities. This is painfully obvious when you see them up close. While this was difficult to see, it helped me realize that we must work to protect this living habitat that supports so much of the life in the seas. In fact, diving made me even more of an avid environmentalist because it provided a way for me to really understand that not only are the oceans worth protecting, they need our help now.

I had this realization the first time I dove, and at that point, I knew I wanted to make marine conservation my life’s work. Not everyone will change their career path after diving – but I do think everyone will walk away with a new perspective on the oceans. So, whether you dive to discover a new environment, release tension or to simply see some awesome animals, I recommend diving to everyone who is able and has the opportunity to learn. I guarantee it will be as rewarding for you as it has been for me and you’ll never forget the experiences. You’ll be able to plunge into a world completely different from what we know on land and will gain a whole new appreciation and respect for all the creatures who call the ocean home.

Date Posted: January 31, 2011 @ 11:30 am Comments Off

Musings on the 112th Congress

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

One of the reasons Congress is such a fascinating body to study is that changes in the personality and behavior of the House and Senate occur every time a session begins anew. As 112th Congress kicks into gear, this is certainly no exception. With the change of power in the House, priorities will also change – as will the treatment of ocean and environmental issues. Though these changes may require different and more novel strategies on the part of those fighting for the oceans, we believe that opportunities to do good for the ocean will come to light, and with hard work and a little luck, we’ll be able to take advantage of them.

The most important result of the Republican takeover of the House is that it gives them control of the committees where legislation originates. Cong. Doc Hastings (R-WA) will be taking over as chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, and based on his voting history and comments early this year, it can be assumed that he won’t likely be good on ocean issues like former chair (and ocean champ) Cong. Nick Rahall (D-WV). If this proves to be true, “good” ocean bills won’t originate from his committee, and other committees may behave similarly.  On the other hand, there are ocean champions like Cong. Connie Mack (R-FL) and his wife Mary Bono-Mack (R-CA) in the Republican Party who care about important issues such as coastal water quality. Ultimately, success in ocean conservation will require finding common ground with a broad group of Republicans on certain ocean issues they will be willing to move.

Realistically, there will be a need to play defense against bad ocean policy that could appear. Having strong champions such as Cong. Ed Markey (D-MA) as the ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee will help solidify this line of defense. Cong. Markey is a skilled debater and passionate environmentalist and has already put a stake in the sand on drilling. We can expect him to continue this and put up even more of a fight if Cong. Hastings pushes a strong extractive agenda.

The final line of defense, however, will be in the Senate, where Democrats still hold a small majority. Champions like Senator Barbara Boxer have shown a long history of fighting environmental attacks, and have already thrown salvos to fend off anticipated attacks on EPA’s authority.  The known Committee and subcommittee chairs are solid and are in position to ensure ocean issues don’t lose ground in this Congress. Other strong champions in the Senate include Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), who has been consistently tough in opposing offshore drilling both before and after the Gulf oil spill.  He also joined Senator Boxer in stating that he will fight any attempt at rolling back EPA regulations in this Congress. Yet another Senator who will be fighting with them is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), who introduced the National Endowment for the Oceans with fellow ocean champion Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and can be expected to keep providing a strong voice on ocean issues in the Senate.

The essential question to ask ourselves at this point is, which issues will carry the day? In this political climate, the biggest priorities are jobs and the economy – as they so often are. A big challenge we face in this Congress is that even with a friendly Senate, we’re unlikely to see many bills that don’t address these hot-button issues. Luckily, ocean health and economic prosperity are not mutually exclusive, and we still have many champions fighting on our side for the oceans: 22 of 26 were victorious on Election Day. Will the 112th Congress present new challenges for ocean conservation? Yes, but we believe positive stories for the oceans will also emerge as this new Congress gets to work.

Date Posted: January 17, 2011 @ 9:54 am Comments Off

Ocean Champions Comments on the Arizona Shooting

Posted by: Mike Dunmyer

Ocean Champions offers our deepest sympathies to the victims of the Arizona shooting and their families.  We hope for a speedy, complete recovery for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and others who were wounded.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends of Christina-Taylor Green, John M. Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwin Stoddard, and Gabriel Zimmerman; great Americans who will not be forgotten.

Date Posted: January 10, 2011 @ 2:28 pm Comments Off

Ocean Champions Applauds Commerce Sec. Locke

Posted by: David Wilmot

Today Secretary Of Commerce Gary Locke rejected a request for emergency action to increase catch limits in the New England groundfish fishery.  We applaud Secretary Locke’s stand on adhering to the established process and to his commitment to economically and environmentally sustainable fisheries.  Our understanding is that the new groundfish “sector” management system implemented by the New England Fisheries Management Council only 7 months ago is working.  In fact, according to NOAA data, revenues in the groundfish fishery are up over 17% so far this fishing season, while the sector fleet seems to be staying within their catch limits.  This is good news and given the decades of overfishing in New England exactly what Ocean Champions hoped for when we supported the council’s decision to implement a sector program last year.  Managing New England fisheries has never been easy and we look forward to supporting Secretary Locke’s efforts to build a sustainable and thriving groundfish fishing industry to the benefit of current and future generations of fishermen.

Date Posted: January 7, 2011 @ 6:23 pm Comments Off