California’s Bill to Ban Shark Fins Passes Committee; Next Stop: Senate Floor!

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

Everyone would agree that sharks are amazing creatures – these powerful predators of the sea have been around for almost 450 million years, surviving through a few mass extinctions. Sharks have been the ultimate survivors – until now, that is. Many people are fearful of sharks, but thanks to overfishing, it’s sharks that should be afraid of people. One of the biggest threats to sharks can be found in a practice called “finning,” but now, one of the largest consumers of shark fins, California, is taking steps to ban this horrendous practice.

Shark finning is a gruesome and inhumane process that involves cutting off the fins of a live shark and dropping the rest of the body back into the ocean where the shark drowns or bleeds to death. Shark meat is not worth as much, so the body is thrown overboard to make way for more fins, which can sell for $600 per pound. Many of these fins are used for shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy – the soup itself can run as much as $100 a bowl.

Finning has destroyed shark populations in recent years: up to 73 million sharks are killed each year only for their fins. Scientists now say as many as 90% of the sharks in the open oceans have disappeared. Because they’re large apex predators, sharks are slow to mature, so they haven’t been able to bounce back from the overfishing, and if we continue at our levels of fishing and finning now, sharks could be gone within a generation. There’s some good news for sharks, though – throughout the world, people are recognizing this threat, and finning and the sale of shark fins has been banned in many countries, as well as in Hawaii, Oregon and Washington. Now California, the largest consumer of shark fins outside of Asia, is also beginning to step up.

Assembly Bill 376, introduced by Assemblymembers Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) and Paul Fong (D-Cupertino), would ban the possession, sale or distribution of shark fins. People holding a commercial fishing license would be exempted, but it would be illegal for restaurants and retail outlets to have fins. Violators would be guilty of a misdemeanor and face fines from $100 to $1,000. The bill, which was approved by the Assembly 65-8, will now be sent to the Senate floor after passing through committee. Previously, the bill was held in suspense file for 10 days, which is a holding place for bills that carry appropriations over a specified dollar amount. Last Thursday, however, the bill was voted out of committee, marking a huge victory for all in support of this important bill.

Banning shark fins just makes sense: it’s not just bad for the sharks and marine ecosystem, but also is bad for human health. The fins are loaded with mercury and heavy metals that are 42 times higher than safe levels for humans. All of these facts make it obvious why the tide has been turning on this issue and the number of supporters of the California bill continues to grow. These supporters range from celebrities such as basketball superstar Yao Ming and actress Bo Derek to organizations like the Asian Pacific American Ocean Harmony Alliance and many more.

It’s exciting to see this bill picking up steam, and we’ll be following its progress as it is discussed on the Senate floor. Of course, it’s important for our elected officials to know we support getting rid of this cruel practice, so to all you Californians, make sure you continue to let your Senators hear your feelings on the issue. This is one huge step in preserving our oceans for future generations, so let’s get this bill passed!

Date Posted: August 29, 2011 @ 11:26 am Comments Off

Long Bay Sprint Triathlon: Support Your Health & the Oceans!

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

We at Ocean Champions know our supporters and friends are beautiful specimens of the human form and are of course in top physical shape. That’s why we’re excited to be once again sponsoring the Long Bay Sprint Triathlon, which will take place at Huntington Beach State Park in Murrells Inlet, SC! This fun event is back for a second year and promises to offer both great views of the beach and ocean as well as a great opportunity to get some exercise while hanging out with fellow ocean lovers.

The tri will take place on November 5 and will include a ½-mile ocean swim, 14-mile bike ride, and 3.1 miles of running. The race will be enjoyable for experienced triathlon participators and beginners alike, as the main goals are to provide a fun way to get out and enjoy the outdoors while – both things we can all get behind! Huntington Beach State Park will provide the perfect setting for the tri, as it includes 3 miles of pristine beaches and many salt marshes (which are incredibly productive ecosystems). In fact, you can experience the park in many different ways if you take the trip to South Carolina for the triathlon, from camping and hiking to fishing and boating.

This great environmentally-themed sprint triathlon was created and is now directed by Rob Grimes. Rob has been involved in triathlons for over 15 years and started racing at the local level, where he says he knew almost everyone. However, as the races grew bigger, he realized he missed smaller, more intimate races that didn’t make you run with thousands of strangers. That’s why he created the Long Bay Sprint: to have a race that was small enough that “people didn’t get lost in the numbers and one where they would also get recognized for their achievements.” In 2010, he added the environmental awareness aspect of the race, which focuses mostly on ocean protection. It’s obvious why we chose to partner with Rob on this great event!

We’d love to see all of you out there in November, not only to participate in some healthy competition, but to also just have fun and remember why we love the oceans. We believe that ocean health is linked directly to human health, so this is a great way to connect the two. And don’t worry: you still have about two and a half months to train (as if you needed it)!

You can sign up for the triathlon online . We’ll see you in November!

Date Posted: August 18, 2011 @ 10:53 am Comments Off

Harmful Algal Blooms Bill: Onto the House Floor!

Posted by: Elizabeth Maksymonko

As you might have noticed from our blog, fighting toxic algae has been a major priority of Ocean Champions for years. These harmful algal blooms (or HABs) are nasty occurrences that destroy ecosystems, kill marine life and cost millions of dollars of damage in and health problems. The blooms have been causing big problems for many coastal areas for years, and they keep growing. Cleaning up these coastal waters is important to the critters that live there as well as to all of us who love and want to protect the ocean.

Everyone can agree that they don’t like dead zones mucking up their waterways, so HABs bills have generally enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. Last year, Ocean Champions worked with our friends in Congress to help pass H.R. 3650, Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2009, out of the House. Senators (and ocean champs) Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced the companion that nearly made it out of the Senate. Since then, we haven’t stopped fighting for cleaner coastal water, and that’s why we’re pleased that in this 112th Congress, H.R. 2484, Harmful Algal Blooms and Hypoxia Research and Control Amendments Act of 2011 has been introduced.

The newest HABs bill has passed out of Committee and is on its way to the House floor. Like the HABs bill in the 111th Congress, H.R. 2484 would implement research strategies and provide for a comprehensive action plan to reduce and address HABs and hypoxia. Under this bill, increased emphasis will be placed on developing technologies to control and respond to HABs and the dead zones. We were encouraged to see all members of the Committee agreeing on the core provisions of the bill. Of course, this bill is not without its faults, and there are some issues that concern our champions in the House. But we’ll continue to work with our champs in the House and Senate to produce the strongest bill possible to address this growing problem.

In the end, it’s important to remember that this bill has the opportunity to help clean up our coasts and strengthen both our marine environment and coastal industries. That’s why we’ll be fighting for it, and we’ll need your help. We’re very pleased that even during these times when environmental issues are often put on the back burner (or attacked outright!), this bill is picking up speed. But with many priorities competing for their attention, Members of Congress need to hear from constituents like you that clean coastal water is important.

Date Posted: August 16, 2011 @ 6:36 am Comments Off

Your Food Choices Affect Ocean Health

Posted by: Sam Meehan


For most Americans, our massive agricultural sector ensures that food is relatively inexpensive, readily available, and shortages are unheard of.  Unfortunately, this abundance now comes at a very high cost to the health of our oceans. Every day, thousands of gallons of farm waste, like runoff herbicides, pesticides, and excess fertilizer, end up in coastal waters, profoundly upsetting these delicately balanced ecosystems. Nitrogen, a key ingredient in fertilizer, is particularly detrimental.

According to the journal Bioscience, over half a million tons of nitrogen washes away from America’s farms and end up in our oceans. Incredibly, nearly fifty percent of the nitrogen applied to crops in the United States is surplus to the needs of the plants. The Rodale Institute estimates that this excess nitrogen fertilizer costs farmers an estimated $270 million dollars per year.  The addition of excess nitrogen to an ecosystem can lead to a phenomenon called hypoxia, in which the dissolved oxygen saturation is too low to sustain much life. Faster-moving animals such as fish can navigate away from these areas, but less mobile creatures such as clams and urchins, cannot escape and die en masse.

The result is a “dead zone,” an empty column of water essentially devoid of any life. The dead zone problem is steadily growing, as well. says that the number of global dead zones has doubled every decade since 1960, and that our oceans now feature 400 of these ecological disaster areas. Because the Mississippi River, a waterway that flows through many of our most productive farming states, empties into it, the Gulf of Mexico is particularly at risk to suffer from hypoxia and subsequent dead zones. Recently, one dead zone was measured at 20,000 square kilometers. While the situation is dire, there are steps we can all take to dial back the dead zone disaster.

Buying organic products (or growing your own fruits and vegetables) is one such simple step. Organic methods do not rely on synthetic herbicides or pesticides (like atrazine, the most common herbicide used in American agriculture, which has been banned in the EU for years and has been shown to disrupt reproduction in certain plants and animals), and they drastically reduce the amount of nutrients that run off into waterways. Increased consumer demand for organic products, along with the 2008 Farm Bill being the friendliest ever to organic farmers, shows that we can be cautiously optimistic about restoring life to these unfortunate dead zones.

For lots of useful information on organic agriculture, visit the Organic Farming Research Foundation’s website at: ofrf.org
And the Rodale Institute’s website at: rodaleinstitute.org

Date Posted: August 11, 2011 @ 9:35 am Comments Off