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

The Story of Earth Day: Oceans, Activism and a Senator

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

Earth Day is one of our favorite holidays for many reasons. Not surprisingly the best reason is because celebrating the Earth is really about celebrating our oceans. Why? Because 70% of Earth, the blue planet, is covered in oceans. The ocean also drives weather, holds over 96% of the Earth’s water, and provides half of the oxygen we breathe each day. Without the oceans, there wouldn’t be whole lot to celebrate on Earth Day.

In fact, a love of oceans was one of the primary catalysts for the very first U.S. Earth Day back in 1970. While the UN deserves credit for coining the idea of an Earth Day first, in the United States it was Senator Gaylord Nelson who started Earth Day with his environmental teach-in. Against the backdrop of the anti-war movement, Senator Nelson was moved to action by the Santa Barbara oil spill off the coast of California in 1969. The impact of the spill on the ocean not only moved Senator Nelson, but also helped to redefine the American environmental community.

This event is the largest oil spill off the coast of California and is surpassed only by the Deepwater Horizon and Exxon-Valdez spills. The spill, which lasted for days and caused a massive loss of marine life, sparked a renewed fervor in the emerging West coast environmental movement. Heightened media attention bombarded an audience of social activists with images of the tragic results of the spill, galvanizing a new media and environmental movement. This activism produced not only the first Earth Day, but ultimately helped to create some of our cornerstone environmental policy including the EPA and the Clean Water Act. In many ways, the media, activists, and other actors created a window of opportunity that was ripe for an ocean champion in the Senate.

It is important to remember that Earth Day’s founder, Gaylord Nelson, was a Senator. Maybe he would be an ocean champion today! Without smart, passionate politicians fighting for our oceans in Washington it is impossible to take all that activism and awareness and turn those windows of opportunity into actual policy change.

Date Posted: April 22, 2013 @ 12:23 pm Comments Off

Blue Vision Summit

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

Less than one month from today, May 13-16, the Blue Vision Summit will commence in Washington, DC.  Every two years, diverse ocean activists come together to share solutions and encourage their representatives to support pro-ocean policies.  Organized by the Blue Frontier Campaign, these Seaweed Rebels represent the true grassroots movement in marine conservation.  Ocean Champions is a proud and continued sponsor of this event.

The Summit includes speakers, skill development, award presentations, and, most importantly, meetings on Capitol Hill.  Two years ago, 300 Seaweed Rebels converged on Washington, DC. This year, we hope to see the upsurge grow, including marine all starts like Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Wyland, Jim Toomey and many others!

Please join us!

Like on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XMhhif

Follow on Twitter: @Blue_Frontier

Share w/ hashtag: #BVS4

Date Posted: April 17, 2013 @ 2:08 pm Comments Off

My Ocean Story

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

My ocean story starts in diapers. That’s when my dad introduced me to the Atlantic ocean for the first time. Every year since I can remember, we spent a week on Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Outer banks. Many things have changed in my life over the years, but the special place in my heart for this beach never has. The campground hasn’t changed much either- still cold showers and the same hierarchy of good camping spots. There is nothing more soul refreshing than sitting in those dunes to watch the sunset or diving into the cool waves after a sweaty bike ride around the island. For me, the ocean is not only relaxing and beautiful, it is where I recharge on family memories no matter how far away they are.

My dad at our campsite during my trip to Ocracoke last summer before I moved to CA.

The story goes well beyond Ocracoke. I spent the greater part of my childhood camping across the country with mom, dad, sister, and sometimes the dog. I learned at a very young age that nothing worthwhile in this world can be seen from a car window. You have to get out and explore. From the wetlands of the Chesapeake Bay to the stunning beaches of New Zealand, there is no sensation more satisfying than dipping your toes in the water for the first time each summer. Now that I am relocated to the West coast, I realize that Californians might not be able to relate to this. But I think we can all relate to that incredible feeling when you are looking out over the ocean. The ocean is a vast, infinite future, but at the same time it grounds me in my past and connects me with my family. It’s an incredible sense of having roots and wings at the same time.

If you haven’t guessed already, my parents are environmentalists. For me, conservation is a family value. It took me a long time to acknowledge this, but here I am studying environmental policy to conserve the places where the land meets the sea. More importantly, I am focusing on social-ecological linkages: the role humans play in these ecosystems, and the role these ecosystems play in our lives.

However, these coastal ecosystems, where the water and sea meet, are disappearing quickly. We’ve lost over 90% here in California, and the story is the same all around the world. The threats are complicated and no one solution can work by itself. Conserving these places full of biodiversity and family memories involves science, policy, storytelling, restoration, and (as working with Ocean Champions has taught me) politics. Good legislation doesn’t happen easily. Even the best science and policy are nothing without strong allies in Congress. No matter what approach you prefer, top down or bottom up, legislation is critical to conservation.

Great ocean policies start with great ocean champions in Congress.

I look forward to taking this political knowledge with me to Washington D.C. next year to ensure that one day my children can feel this link between the ocean, themselves, and their families.

A storm rolls in over the brackish marshes of Ocracoke Island

Date Posted: April 11, 2013 @ 12:54 pm Comments Off

Every Dollar Counts

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

Every day we are faced with a plethora of choices. Some are more important than others, like choosing a career. Others, like buying a quick lunch, often go unnoticed. These little daily choices about how we spend our money are some of the best ways to show our love for the ocean. This approach (demand-side, voting with your dollar) empowers the consumer to use their spending habits to demonstrate their values. Rational profit-driven companies will follow these preferences in order to keep making money and consequently those little decisions will add up to make a big difference.

Ocean ecosystems face many pressures, but one of the most obvious is declining fish stocks. Large predatory fish stocks have been decimated by 90%, and as a result we are fishing down the food chain for smaller prey species on which other marine animals depend. Additionally, the fishing practices themselves can hurt the oceans. Bottom-trawling disrupts the seafloor and destroys important habitat (you can even see these impacts from space). Longlining and gillnetting have high rates of by catch. Add climate change pressures and a growing global middle class demanding more and more seafood and the challenge becomes even greater for healthy oceans. However, as responsible consumers we can make decisions that discourage these irresponsible fishing practices and relieve pressure on threatened species like bluefin tuna.

Supporting businesses and people that treat our land and oceans as valuable resources increases demand for this form of corporate responsibility and creates an incentive for businesses to use sustainable seafood. Choosing sustainable over unsustainable sends a strong message to producers. It makes irresponsible fishing less profitable and supports those who are on the cutting edge of responsible fishing.

In order to help you in the quest to buy sustainable seafood we will be highlighting one sustainable seafood restaurant a week across the country. Get familiar with our primary reference for all things sustainable seafood, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. Remember, we do have the power to make a difference, with each and every dollar we spend…. every day.

Date Posted: March 29, 2013 @ 9:48 am Comments Off

Trash Free Seas

Posted by: Kelsey Schueler

For the ocean, trash is much more than just an eyesore, it’s deadly. Each year more than 14 billion pounds of trash flow into the ocean as marine debris. It is estimated that this debris kills millions of seabirds and over 100,000 marine mammals each year. While the problem is huge – more than 7 million square miles – there are solutions that can help. One solution, the Trash Free Seas Act, is moving right now in the Senate.

The Trash Free Seas Act will reauthorize and strengthen the Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act of 2005 (MDRPRA), which supports important NOAA and Coast Guard work to research, remediate, and remove marine debris. The new Trash Free Seas Act provides key enhancements to previous legislation:

  • Greater regional and international coordination of mitigation efforts
  • Additional research and assessment for the NOAA Marine Debris program
  • More focus on economic effects of marine debris (for example the decline in tourism that may be associated with littered beaches)

Solutions proposed in the Trash Free Seas Act are important steps to tackling this multifaceted problem. In order to get a better understanding of the issues, let’s start from the beginning.

However you label it:  marine debris, ocean plastics, plastic pollution, it all comes from the same source. Human activity and improper trash disposal adds up to a lot of trash. All of our single use products like plastic bags and utensils accumulate over time. Improper disposal of items like old fishing equipment, cigarette butts, and water bottles is a direct source of pollution in and around coastal areas and at sea. Yet many miles away from the coast, storm runoff can carry this pollution significant distances across land, which ultimately ends up in the sea.

Once the marine debris has made its way to the ocean, it does not disappear.  Materials like metal and rubber are very slow to degrade. Plastics simply break down into smaller and smaller pieces called microplastics. While we might not be able to see these tiny particles, it’s still there, and very hard to manage. Microplastics also disrupt food chains. The tiny particles can block sunlight from reaching critical algae and plankton species. In addition, they can release toxic chemicals during the degradation process.

The toxic pollution released from debris breakdown in the oceans has detrimental health effects for many species, including humans. In fact, toxic BPAs from water bottles have been found throughout the ocean. These toxic chemicals impact development, ecosystem health, and a variety of other indicators for flourishing species. Ingestion and entanglement also affects the health of more than 270 marine species unable to differentiate the debris from food. Marine debris has been found in the stomachs of all kinds animals causing blockages, dehydration, and starvation.

Negative consequences from marine debris continues to pile up, because plastics that are designed to last will never go away. Ocean currents circulate the material until it accumulates into the 5 major gyres. Without strong legislation to address these issues, marine debris will continue accumulating and marine and human health will continue to be impacted.

Date Posted: November 30, 2012 @ 1:59 pm Comments Off

Vote the Ocean Today!

Posted by: Chris Laughlin

There simply isn’t anything more important than electing a Congress that reflects your values and priorities.  At Ocean Champions, we value healthy oceans.  We’ve endorsed 46 candidates across the House and the Senate; from Pacific states, Atlantic states, Gulf states, and some in between.

Helping to elect the men and women who will fight for conservation and help take back Congress for our oceans is the most important thing we do.  If you care about the ocean, voting for a champion is one of the most important things you can do.

So when you venture out to the polls today and see any of these champions on your ballot, remember to Vote the Ocean!

Date Posted: November 6, 2012 @ 12:49 pm Comments Off

Phase II: Sink Southerland

Posted by: Liz Parissenti

This week, Ocean Champions is excited to begin Phase II of the “Sink Southerland” campaign to defeat Congressman Steve Southerland, Ocean Enemy #1.

During Phase I, we asked you to vote for Ocean Enemy #1 and Rep. Southerland was your overwhelming choice. No surprise there; he is a true ocean bully. We have spent the last few months preparing for Phase II in order to defeat him and his terrible ocean policies.

We have already listed the many ways in which Rep. Southerland plans to dismantle fisheries, destroy jobs, and pollute the environment. Of course, we aren’t alone in our distaste for his policies.  There are many fishermen and voters in his district who vocally oppose Representative Southerland’s ideas for our ocean.

Congressman Southerland’s track record is especially abominable when compared with our (to date) 39 endorsed Ocean Champions.  Ocean champions in Congress are strong leaders who fight for healthy oceans and are not afraid to push for policies that help both fish and people. These role models are a striking contrast to the unfounded, often absurd policies pushed by Rep. Southerland. This election is a chance to take back Congress for our oceans by electing more ocean champions and defeating ocean enemies like Southerland.

Our “Sink Southerland” campaign runs on the donations and support of people who want to show this Congressman that he can’t act with impunity. There are consequences for his destructive ocean policies, and our ocean champions set an example of the forward-thinking attitude his Florida district deserves.

The oceans have a voice, and it is shouting “Sink Southerland!” You can add your voice today and show Rep. Southerland that the ocean community has spoken.

Date Posted: October 4, 2012 @ 10:12 am Comments Off

Life near the ocean is good

Posted by: Liz Parissenti

As a native resident of San Jose, CA, I was lucky enough to grow up with the Pacific Ocean practically in my backyard. My family’s membership to the Monterey Bay Aquarium allowed us to spend a weekend (or two) every month looking at the wonders of the ocean, and I remember spending hours staring at the Open Sea exhibit, laughing at the otters, and reaching gleefully in the touch tank and bat ray enclosure. Life near the ocean is good.

I also can’t remember a time before I knew that the ocean was a beautiful mystery that I wanted to explore. When I graduated from high school and thought about my major at Stanford University, I assumed what many people assume – that marine biology is a hobby, and that working with the ocean “isn’t practical.” I’m not sure why I believed this, except it seemed too perfect to be able to work with an ecosystem that I love and make a living. Yet my classes, peers, and professors taught me that anyone can work on anything (truly) if they work hard and care about the people that lead to solutions.

Snorkeling in the Sea of Cortez, Baja California

During my sophomore year, I worked for a professor in Hawaii and earned my scuba certification. I found that underwater systems are the most dynamic places in the world. I then studied abroad in Australia, where I was able to dive and snorkel almost every day and have been obsessed with diving ever since. There’s nothing that can compare with the freedom and joy of being fully immersed in the ocean and seeing fish and ocean animals living on their terms. It is definitely humbling too, and the ocean never fails to awe me; I think if everyone could see the ocean as it exists beneath the waves, we would have a lot more ocean lovers and advocates.

In an effort to understand the ocean better, I completed an honors thesis on the giant squid Dosidicus gigas in Mexico – check out the photo, they are as big as I am! Creating scientific results was fascinating and rewarding and fun. However, I realized that without some powerful entity utilizing my science, someone who could apply this knowledge or change how people think about or interact with the ocean, it would be very difficult to change anything. The solution? In my opinion, policy.

Aboard the Don Jose, catching squid in Mexico.  The squid are people-sized!

I decided to pursue a Masters degree in Earth Systems from Stanford, an interdisciplinary program that allowed me to travel to Washington, D.C. and Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, CA, where I was able to work with two National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) departments. I experienced firsthand how federal agencies work with NGO’s, state and local governments, and with each other. It was fascinating and eye-opening, and showed me an entirely new side of working with the ocean. I want to dip my feet into a healthy, vibrant ecosystem – and I want my children and grandchildren to do the same. Without some serious policy work, the ocean of the future is going to be significantly different from the one that I know today.

Hopkinsia rosacaea, the nudibranch named after Hopkins Marine Station where I studied.  It’s one of my favorites – my scuba gear is pink too, so that people won’t lose me in bad visibility.

When I was at Hopkins, I lived near downtown Monterey and could smell the ocean every day. Waking up to the foggy California coast seemed irrelevant when I could dive, and I learned how to identify the myriad of gorgeous invertebrates, fish, and algae. I wish I could describe the upwelling of joy that California’s coast brings me (pun intended). It is truly a magnificent place with wonderful people who care about what lies offshore.

The ocean has seemingly unlimited facets, secrets, and beauties. Policy certainly has the first two, and I am also learning how policy can be collaborative and enriching and beautiful in how it provides workable solutions to enormous problems. Our oceans are in trouble – you don’t have to be a scientist to know that. I have now completed my Masters degree and am heading to Thailand in October to explore the reefs and local conservation efforts. Before I go, I want to make sure I understood how politics and policy work to affect change because they greatly influence ocean health.  My internship with Ocean Champions is showing me how the people we elect – those representatives who speak for us locally, in Congress, and in international forums – are such an important part of finding answers to the world’s ocean crises. I want to continue to learn, and am so excited to continue growing as a marine manager and ocean conservationist.

Aplysia spp., also known as a “sea hare” – these are my absolute favorite sea creatures, and this little guy was feeling friendly on the Great Barrier Reef!

Date Posted: September 24, 2012 @ 9:40 am Comments Off

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