We Work Hard For the Ocean’s Health – Now it’s Our Turn!

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

Do you love the oceans? Of course you do! How about working on your health while being able to take in the ocean and beautiful Huntington Beach State Park in Murrell’s Inlet, SC? Well, we’ve got the race for you: we’re pleased to announce that Ocean Champions is once again sponsoring the Long Bay Triathlon! This year, the race will fall on Saturday, November 5 and will encompass a half-mile ocean swim, 14-mile bike and a 3.1-mile run, all through the picturesque coastline of South Carolina.

We believe that ocean health is connected strongly to human health, and in this coastal triathlon, you’ll be able to experience the connection first hand! The tri will wind through Huntington Beach State Park, an amazing natural area that includes not only three miles of beach but also salt marshes, one of the world’s most productive ecosystems. A lot of the marsh is now registered under the South Carolina Heritage Trust Program to help preserve its pristine nature. So, to fully appreciate this park you can even stay the weekend and camp, bike, bird watch or just comb the beach while taking in the great views.

We’d love to see you all out there, showing your appreciation for the oceans while having a lot of fun. And never fear – since the tri is in November, you have plenty of time to train! Many like to enter the race not only for the challenge but also just to spend a few hours on a Saturday afternoon with fellow ocean lovers who are looking for some healthy competition! For information on the triathlon, please feel free to check out the site here. You can find out more information on the race, see last year’s participants and even register online. We hope to see you there in November!

Date Posted: February 25, 2011 @ 9:30 am Comments Off

House Budget Resolution is Bad News for the Oceans

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

The House’s continuing resolution for fiscal year 2011 (HR 1) passed in the wee hours of the night on Saturday. Unfortunately, this resolution is chock full of amendments that could do great harm to the environment if signed into law. Unless these amendments are blocked in the Senate, they are sure to spell big problems for the oceans.

A consistent theme was to attack the EPA’s authority by attempting to choke off its funding for several important programs. Just a few examples include:

  • Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) attached a rider that prevents federal funds from being spent on a total maximum daily load (TMDL) for chemicals or a watershed implementation plan for the Chesapeake Bay. This is a blow to the Chesapeake’s ecosystem as it takes away the first real teeth in the battle to save the bay.
  • Rep. Tom Rooney (R-FL) also introduced an amendment that would stop the EPA from using funding to implement or enforce new water quality standards for Florida’s lakes and flowing waters, likely exacerbating its already debilitating red tides. The Harmful Algal Bloom Bill (HR 3650), which we at Ocean Champions pushed for to decrease toxic tides, is an attempt to mitigate the problem that this amendment would only worsen.
  • Pro-coal interests were successful once again with Rep. David McKinley’s (R-WV) amendment to stop EPA from developing standards that list coal ash as hazardous waste. These and other amendments encourage the continued reliance on fossil fuels, making it difficult for the administration to succeed in its goal to further develop the clean energy market.

Congressman Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced another amendment to HR 1 that caught our eye.  It prevents any new limited access privilege program (LAPP, widely known as catch shares) at any fishery under the jurisdiction of the South Atlantic, Mid-Atlantic, New England or Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council. Now, this proposal doesn’t decrease funding for catch shares – it simply means that fisheries other than those in Alaska and the West Coast will not have the right to opt into the catch shares program if they wish.  As such, it also could take away federal funding that would have been available for those fisheries.  LAPPs have enjoyed bipartisan support and are proven to rebuild fisheries while improving the economics available to fishermen. Taking away the freedom of choice from select fisheries around the country to opt into the program is simply not right.  Ironically, this amendment could also increase the deficit, as a study has just come out showing that LAPP programs reduce government support, while traditional fisheries management programs increase it.  It is worth noting that nearly all of our Congressional champions (including three of four Republicans) voted against this bad amendment.

While it is discouraging to see environmental initiatives attacked in these ways, it’s also not surprising because many of the newly elected conservatives have been putting a bulls-eye on these programs since November. The real battlefield will be in the Senate, where we expect many of our champions to fight hard against these bad amendments. Additionally, Obama has also sent strong signals to Congress, stating that he will veto any bill that “undermines critical priorities,” such as cutting funding to greenhouse gas regulation.

As the battle draws near, we will need your help to beat back some of these bad House provisions. Senators will need to hear from their constituents that they value clean air, clean water and of course, healthy oceans. We’ll keep you posted, so stay tuned!

Date Posted: February 23, 2011 @ 11:12 am Comments Off

What Obama’s Budget Proposal Means for the Oceans

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

On Monday, President Obama released his 2012 budget proposal. It provided an interesting look into what the administration is attempting to define as of its priorities for the coming year.   Congress, of course, has its own priorities and will see the President’s budget as merely an input to their process, which may result in a very different output.  Nonetheless, the President’s budget shows his willingness to send leadership signals on several issues that are important to the health of our oceans.

First up is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) budget. NOAA has a small ($56.8 million) proposed decrease from its last budget (2010) of $5.5 billion. Within this total, the National Marine Fisheries Service, which manages U.S. fish stocks (a major issue for Ocean Champions) is also looking at a small decrease of $15.1 million, putting it at $993.1 million. NOAA’s approach is to improve its understanding of fishery health through increased assessments and research, and to rebuild them through recovery grants and innovative management frameworks like catch shares. Their budget includes a $54 million request for catch shares infrastructure to provide those fisheries that have already opted into the program with the tools for success.  On that note, we were very pleased to see continued support for catch shares, which are a priority for NOAA Administrator, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, and have a growing history of success for both fish and fishermen.

The Department of Energy gets a boost from the President with a budget increase of 12% from 2010 to $29.5 billion (though total outlays will drop because 2009 stimulus money will run out). Obama is focused on clean energy investment, and if the administration has its way, solar, geothermal, biomass and wind energy would get big increases. In fact, the budget would devote $3.2 billion to energy efficiency and renewable energy, which is a $1 billion increase over the 2010 appropriation.  Every little bit counts here, as reducing CO2 emissions is the only way to stop the increasing acidification of our oceans – a process that threatens the entire food web.  On the flipside, Obama has proposed major cuts in subsidies given to the oil and gas industry.  While we support such a move, it is unlikely to get very far in Congress.

Each year, the USDA budget includes funding for land conservation that can help reduce agricultural runoff.  Unfortunately the President’s budget included cuts in many of these programs, affecting many acres of wetlands and farmlands. Specific programs getting reductions are the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) All three of these programs are voluntary; EQIP and CSP and provide farmers and ranchers with an opportunity to reduce pollution, runoff and emissions through paying much of the costs of becoming more environmentally sustainable, such as foregone income and incurred costs in improving equipment or management activities. Under a similar type of framework, WRP provides technical and financial aid to landowners with wetlands on their premises to conserve these habitats. Cutting or slowing funds to these projects could mean bad news for efforts at lessening runoff and improving riparian buffers, which improve coastal water quality.

Of course, we can’t forget the battle-worn EPA in this discussion. Partly to appease Republicans, Obama has proposed a $1.3 billion decrease from 2010 to a $9 billion EPA budget. While this isn’t necessarily good news, the EPA has vowed to restore air and water quality with strict rules. And while grants for state and local water projects will decrease under the proposal, leading to a delay in clean drinking water projects and grants, the money would keep flowing toward enforcement of the new air pollution regulations that some Republicans are trying to abolish.

With the President’s budget out, the real battles will now begin in Congress.  We’re happy with the leadership signals on catch shares and renewable energy investment, and will look in depth at the impact of the recommended cuts in USDA conservation programs.  Ultimately, Ocean Champions will be working to build political support for the provisions that can do the most good for the oceans, and we’ll keep you informed every step of the way!

Date Posted: February 16, 2011 @ 11:04 am Comments Off

Ocean Love

Posted by: Mike Dunmyer

At Ocean Champions, we take ocean issues pretty seriously.  We believe deeply that political hardball can help save the oceans, and we spend our time figuring out how to keep “punching above our weight” as we fight extractive interests like Big Oil and its champions (such as current House Natural Resources Committee Chairman, Doc Hastings (R-WA).  However, with Valentine’s Day approaching, it’s fitting to take a minute to talk about emotional connections to the ocean.  OC’s Chris Laughlin shared her feelings in a great blog last year, and our newest intern, Elizabeth Maksymonko opened up about her love for diving recently.  Now, it’s my turn…

I spent the early part of my childhood in Hawaii, and more than thirty years later, I still have vivid memories of my first ocean experiences.  Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, camping in the sand at Bellows Beach and learning to surf on Castle Beach (not exactly Pipeline, but hey, I had fun!) are etched forever in my mind.  It seems my family and I spent every weekend on one of Oahu’s many beautiful beaches, such that not putting my toes in the sand felt abnormal. I think the only clothes I owned were bathing suits, and I can still conjure the feeling of the Hawaiian sun drying my saltwater-soaked skin.

As I got older, we moved back to the east coast, though unfortunately, not all the way to the coast.  Up through high school and college, I was a couple hours away by car, but was able to spend every summer working in Dewey Beach, Delaware, and would occasionally drive down on winter weekends to get my fix.  As you all know, life gets a little more complex at this age, and the ups and downs you experience can be a lot more extreme.  Whenever I got down, I would be drawn to the ocean, and no matter what was happening, everything would fall into place once I got in front of it (or better still, in it).  This process healed a lot of wounds and gave me the strength to pick myself up and get back into the game.  It was at this point that I began to feel I owed the ocean something for all the peace it had given me.

After college I began working in Washington, D.C., but continued to travel to the coast most weekends of the year.  I rediscovered surfing in my mid-twenties, and became obsessed with it in a way I never had been as a kid.  I started checking weather charts and surf prediction sites every day, praying for that happy convergence of a good swell with the right wind, timed to hit when I could be there (my past is littered with stories of “you should have seen it yesterday”).  I spent weekends following the tides up and down the Delaware / Maryland coasts, ending each day utterly exhausted and completely content.

In time I got married to a fellow ocean lover (and yes, I proposed on the beach).  We bought a little beach hovel (“shack” would oversell it) so we could ensure uninterrupted beach time as our family grew.  When we had our first and then second daughters, raising them around the ocean became a priority, and even though the trips got more logistically complex, we continued to head east as often as we could.  I’m now proud to say that Summer and Sky, ages ten and eight, are beach girls who rarely come out of the water from July through September.  Watching them play, my sense that I needed to help the ocean became more urgent – not only did I owe it to the ocean; I owed it to my daughters so that they could grow up experiencing the joys I had felt.  These feelings drove me away from my corporate career and over to Ocean Champions, first as a Board Member, and ultimately, as a partner.

Now I continue to surf, swim and snorkel, and continue to play in the ocean with my little girls.  I spend my days fighting to save what I love, and am confident that Ocean Champions is making a difference.  I hope that the choice I made sends a message to Summer and Sky, and see signs that it may have.  Both consistently pick up the trash they find on the beach, and are aware of the need for protecting marine animals of all types.  When I asked Sky recently what she loved best about the ocean, she said, “I like all the creatures – the dolphins, the turtles, the jellyfish, and even the crabs who pinch my toes!  I think they do that because they like me.”  Now that is ocean love!

Date Posted: February 11, 2011 @ 9:02 am Comments Off

Trading Away Our Coral Reefs

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

You have to feel a bit sorry for coral reefs and all the creatures that live within them: they’ve all had a tough time in recent years. Unfortunately, there’s a lot working against these immensely important ecosystems, starting with the effect climate change has had on the oceans. It’s a simple but damaging equation: oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and become more acidic. This acidification damages the coral, thereby damaging the entire ecosystem. This isn’t the only danger awaiting the coral reef species – you’ve probably heard that ocean warming is causing coral bleaching, and that overfishing is a major problem all over the world. But there’s yet another threat looming that many people aren’t aware of: the international trade of fish and coral species for ornamental uses. This means people are buying coral and other wildlife to use in their own aquariums, to wear as jewelry and to decorate their home – and it has a big negative affect on the oceans.

The numbers are both impressive and daunting. Today, the coral trade involves around 45 countries in the world. The trading removes 30 million fish, 1.5 million live coral, 2 million kilograms of dead coral and 2,500 metric tons of shells per year from the reefs for human use. The vast majority of these species are collected from the Philippines and Indonesia, where there is a weak national government capacity to control the trade. The U.S. imports around 60% of these corals and fish, so this market doesn’t exist without us.

Sadly, there are generally no regulations on international trade of coral reef species, as CITES has continually failed to come through on empty promises to protect these creatures. Because of this, the capture of the animals is often neither humane nor sustainable – traps, nets, poisons and even explosives have been used to stun and catch the fish. Even careful capture causes reef damage. Some species have been hunted to the brink of extinction – for example, precious and semi-precious coral have been collected for years in the same areas of the world for the creation of jewelry, and this puts continued stress on the corals. Many fish face this same uncertain fate, such as the Banggai Cardinalfish, a fish that is endangered and yet is highly popular in the aquarium trade, further decreasing its numbers. Many of the coral and fish captured for aquariums die after collection, encouraging overexploitation even more because of this high mortality rate. It’s a vicious cycle, one that needs to be broken immediately.

As the world’s leading importer of these ornamental species, the U.S. must step up to promote sustainable trade. Assuming an end to this business is unrealistic, we are in desperate need of a policy that requires that all coral reef wildlife that is traded to and within the United States has been captured and transported in a humane and sustainable manner. This will, of course, likely include a decrease in the huge amount imported into the country every year and perhaps an increase in their cost. Changing U.S. policy will encourage suppliers worldwide to follow suit with sustainable practices so they can continue importing to their largest consumer base. It won’t be easy to change such a large and dynamic market and it will likely be a long road to a completely sustainable coral trade. But it’s necessary that we work to improve the coral reef species trade – the coral reef ecosystems, and therefore our oceans as a whole, depend on it.

Date Posted: February 8, 2011 @ 8:07 am Comments Off

Why Political Hardball Can Save the Oceans

Posted by: David Wilmot

More than a decade ago a colleague and I were facing the prospect of losing another policy battle on Capitol Hill. Once again, we found that our compelling scientific case was not enough to carry the day and lamented, “If only fish could vote.” We should have said, “If only fish made political contributions to candidates to help them get elected.” Fish don’t but people do, which is why years later I cofounded Ocean Champions—the first (and still the only) ocean-focused organization working to elect political champions for ocean conservation.

Elections matter. If one cares about a public policy issue like conserving the oceans, success requires working closely with and rewarding (e.g., helping them get elected and reelected) those politicians who work to protect the oceans. It also requires holding accountable those politicians who would help destroy them. At the time of my “fish don’t vote” conversation, ocean conservationists focused on policy and were not involved in electoral politics. This has changed.

In 2003 and 2004, two ocean commissions, one independent1 and the other created by the federal government,2 released their findings. It was already widely understood that the oceans were in crisis, but the reports detailed the complexity and scale of the problems and proposed a number of policy solutions and reforms. At the same time, I was coauthoring an in-depth study of the effectiveness of the ocean conservation movement.3

Recognizing that there were successful public advocacy organizations that regularly won policy victories on Capitol Hill, our study set out to identify how. We found that they all employ the same tools and strategic elements, including fund-raising, communications, and grassroots organizing. However, one particular tool stood out—participating fully in the political process (professional and grassroots lobbying and direct involvement in the electoral process). Electoral politics is a fundamental aspect of our nation’s political process and the keystone to successfully advancing policy change. Thus, while a growing force of highly professional activists was working toward ocean reforms, they lacked the political power needed to achieve victory because they had not participated in the electoral process. Seeing this critical gap, Jack Sterne and I began the process of making the oceans a political issue by founding Ocean Champions.

As a political organization focused on oceans, and designed with the necessary political tools at our disposal (direct financial support to candidates, awareness building of candidates’ ocean conservation records, targeted campaigns to help pro-ocean candidates win), Ocean Champions represented a significant departure in the ocean conservation community. Initially, we had our skeptics. Many but certainly not all ocean advocates understood or accepted that full political engagement was necessary. Politicians, for their part, immediately understood, and pro-ocean candidates embraced us. They were grateful for our endorsement and support, and by showing our commitment to them we had a unique opportunity to help them strengthen their understanding and commitment to ocean conservation. (Needless to say, the politicians we have helped defeat understand the significance of ocean political action.) Many ocean philanthropists also saw the potential of political action and provided critical financial support. Today the majority of Ocean Champions’ support continues to come from individual donors who care about ocean conservation.

Ocean Champions’ electoral and legislative successes are encouraging. We have helped elect nearly 50 politicians (Democrats and Republicans) to the U.S. House and Senate. We endorse and support members of Congress with a résumé of leadership, such as Congressman Sam Farr (D-CA); we support members who we believe have the potential to become stronger leaders; and we help elect brand-new members who can become leaders on one or more ocean issues.

Photo courtesy of Doug DeMark:  David Wilmot talks with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse at the Ocean Champions reception honoring members of Congress in September 2010.

We have helped almost a dozen new members win (in some cases, their primary), ranging from Congressman Connie Mack (R-FL) to Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) to Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-FL). We have also helped defeat antiocean politicians. In 2006, working in a coalition with political environmental groups, we targeted Congressman Richard Pombo (R-CA), who earned the distinction Ocean Enemy #1. Highlighting his ethical lapses and his extreme position on offshore oil drilling, which ran contrary to many of his constituents’ views, Ocean Champions played a significant role in defeating a powerful Congressman who had made the fatal mistake of attacking our oceans.

It is encouraging that more and more members of Congress, including key committee chairmen and senior members, are providing the leadership needed to advance positive ocean legislation. Working in a pragmatic, nonpartisan way, with a focus on building real and lasting relationships, Ocean Champions advances critical ocean legislation on issues ranging from harmful algal blooms and dead zones, to fisheries reform, to our nation’s response to the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

Politics can be messy, and political action is not for the faint of heart. Yet by engaging in political hardball, Ocean Champions has strengthened the ocean conservation community and enhanced its presence and effectiveness on Capitol Hill in the critical battle for healthy oceans and thriving coastal communities.
References

1. Pew Oceans Commission. America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change. (Pew Oceans Commission, Arlington, VA, 2003).
2. U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy. An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century (U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, Washington, DC, 2004).
3. Wilmot, D, Sterne, J, Haddow, K & Sullivan, E. Turning The Tide: Charting a Course to Improve the Effectiveness of Public Advocacy for the Oceans. Report for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Oak Foundation, and Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation (2003).

Date Posted: February 3, 2011 @ 11:54 am Comments Off