EARTH MATTERS: HAPPY BLUE YEAR!

Happy New Year!, American Littoral Society

Happy New Year!, American Littoral Society

For this coming year, I have several fishes – I mean wishes – for the ocean. Here are a few:

• Less plastic

Plastic is one of the most persistent pollutants in the ocean, and one that can cause serious harm to living organisms. We have made big strides recognizing the problem, with more attention to the issue of marine debris (including through Telluride’s own Bag It! (http://www.bagitmovie.com) and Ocean Conservancy’s Trash-Free Seas program (http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/), and the recently-passed Marine Debris Reauthorization Act (http://theblogaquatic.org/2012/12/17/trash-talk-on-capitol-hill/)).

Cities have passed bans and fees for plastic bags, and Concord, Massachusetts, just passed a ban on single serving plastic water bottles (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/02/plastic-bottles-banned-concord-massachusetts_n_2395824.html).

We need to keep finding ways to reduce our use of plastics, and to keep the plastic we do use out of the ocean.

• Healthy fisheries

Healthy fisheries are important as part of healthy ecosystems, and also for the benefits they provide to humans, including food and livelihoods. But wild fisheries are under threat from many sources – illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing, overfishing, pollution, climate change, and many others. Yet we have had some victories in protecting important fisheries, for instance, there are finally regulations on the menhaden fishery on the Atlantic coast (see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/us/catch-limits-put-on-menhaden-unglamorous-but-crucial-fish.html?_r=0).

We need to keep working to address these issues so that we can have healthy fisheries for generations to come.

• Broader awareness of ocean acidification and efforts to address the issue

Ocean acidification is a huge emerging issue that is already starting to have ramifications on the health of ocean ecosystems. (See http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/ocean-acidification/ for more information on ocean acidification, the problems it can cause, and some solutions.)

The main driver of ocean acidification is the CO2 we release into the atmosphere, which is a huge issue that remains completely inadequately addressed. There are steps we can take locally, though, that can also help. Washington State, one of the first places to notice the effects on its shellfish industry, has adopted a policy to address the issue,(http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-11-27/national/35512233_1_ocean-acidification-washington-state-human-generated-carbon-emissions). Other states and local governments can do the same and we need to keep up the pressure nationally and internationally to create lasting solutions to our carbon emissions.

• Ecosystem-based management of ocean and coastal areas

Beautiful menhaden, Sanibel Sea SchoolEcosystem-based management means looking at all components of an ecosystem – chemical, physical, biological, human – together and managing for whole systems, rather than single sectors or species. That is, instead of deciding to site a marine protected area based on a single species, you would look at how different species interact, what human uses exist in the area, how ocean currents travel from the proposed protected area to other important habitats in the region, etc. Or instead of just deciding to go ahead and drill for oil at a particular site, you would determine what potential harms the drilling could cause not just at that site, but also to the whole ecosystem.

The National Ocean Policy adopted by President Obama in July 2010 (that I have written about previously – see https://www.tellurideinside.com/2012/02/earth-matters-national-ocean-policy.html) calls for ecosystem based management of our coasts, Great Lakes, and ocean. In the coming year, we need to move forward on implementing the National Ocean Policy by using smart ocean planning to take a science-based, precautionary, and comprehensive, coordinated approach to managing our vital ocean resources.

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