Obama Proposes Bold Expansion of Pacific Ocean Marine Sanctuaries

On June 17 President Obama announced that, by executive order, he intends to make a vast stretch of the Pacific Ocean the world’s largest marine sanctuary.

Launching a broad campaign to address significant maritime issues such as overfishing and pollution, on June 17 President Obama announced that, by executive order, he intends to make a vast stretch of the Pacific Ocean the world’s largest marine sanctuary—off limits to fishing, energy exploration and other activities. The administration also plans to create a mechanism to allow the public to nominate new marine sanctuaries off U.S. coasts.

The proposal, which will take effect later this year, calls for the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument to expand from about 87,000 square miles to almost 782,000 square miles. The designated ocean area encompasses a remote, uninhabited region adjacent to islands and atolls controlled by the U.S. and extends up to 200 nautical miles offshore from these territories.

The proposal faces the objection of the U.S. tuna fleet that operates in the region. Up to 3% of the annual U.S. tuna catch is caught in the western and central Pacific. When the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument was created by President George W. Bush in 2009, sport fishing was exempted to counter industry opposition. If the protected area expands, recreational fishing interests will probably seek to retain the existing exemption to avoid setting a precedent, even though sport fishing activity in the expanse is scarce.

A public comment period this summer will provide the Departments of Commerce and Interior with up-to-date information on the level of commercial activity in the area and make any necessary modifications.

The potential expanded area would include a five-fold increase in the number of protected underwater mountains, halt tuna fishing, and shelter dozens of species of marine mammals, endangered sea turtles, as well as a variety of sharks and other predatory species, and protect some of the world’s most pristine and biologically rich marine ecosystems.

As part of the administration’s increased focus on maritime issues, the President will also direct federal agencies to develop a comprehensive program to fight seafood fraud and the worldwide black-market fish trade, and review of steps the U.S. can take to stop illegal fishing, which does untold damage to marine ecosystems and to coastal nations around the world.

Obama has also been advised to consider expanding the borders of the monuments Bush created in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Marianas Trench.

Other countries are also creating marine reserves. The British government is moving to protect the area around the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific, and the small Pacific island of Kiribati plans to close an area roughly the size of California to commercial fishing by year’s end.

“The President’s proposed action is a huge step forward for the ocean,” said Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Expanding these protections will provide a safe haven for coral gardens, seamounts, and the rich waters that support hundreds of species of fish, sea turtles, giant clams, dolphins, whales and sharks, conserving them for future generations. This represents a commitment to the kind of bold action needed to restore the failing health of our ocean, on which we all depend, and continues the bipartisan tradition of ocean protection. We hope it sets the stage for taking similar action to protect key areas of our ocean around the U.S. and the world.”

 

Iraq PM urges global fight on Al-Qaeda

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Thursday pleaded for a major international effort to combat Al-Qaeda and terror networks, likening the fight to a third world war. In Washington for a series of meetings hoping to drum up more support for Iraq, Maliki…

Iraq PM urges global fight on Al-Qaeda (via AFP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki Thursday pleaded for a major international effort to combat Al-Qaeda and terror networks, likening the fight to a third world war. In Washington for a series of meetings hoping to drum up more support for Iraq, Maliki…

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Japan coastal whaling 'will wipe out species,' says agency

A London-based environmental group charged Thursday that Japan’s coastal whaling programme was on track to wipe out the marine mammals from local waters. The number of whales being caught off the coast is on a steady decline, the Environmental Investigation…

Japan coastal whaling ‘will wipe out species’: campaigners (via AFP)

A London-based environmental group charged Thursday that Japan’s coastal whaling programme was on track to wipe out the marine mammals from local waters. The number of whales being caught off the coast is on a steady decline, the Environmental Investigation…

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'The Ocean Is Broken'

Nothing could have prepared yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen for the devastation all around him as he sailed the Pacific.

tsunamiBy GREG RAY, The Newcastle Herald (Australia).

It was the silence that made this voyage different from all of those before it.

Not the absence of sound, exactly.

The wind still whipped the sails and whistled in the rigging. The waves still sloshed against the fiberglass hull.

And there were plenty of other noises: muffled thuds and bumps and scrapes as the boat knocked against pieces of debris.

What was missing was the cries of the seabirds which, on all previous similar voyages, had surrounded the boat.

The birds were missing because the fish were missing.

Exactly 10 years before, when Newcastle yachtsman Ivan Macfadyen had sailed exactly the same course from Melbourne to Osaka, all he’d had to do to catch a fish from the ocean between Brisbane and Japan was throw out a baited line.

“There was not one of the 28 days on that portion of the trip when we didn’t catch a good-sized fish to cook up and eat with some rice,” Macfadyen recalled.

But this time, on that whole long leg of sea journey, the total catch was two.

No fish. No birds. Hardly a sign of life at all.

“In years gone by I’d gotten used to all the birds and their noises,” he said.

“They’d be following the boat, sometimes resting on the mast before taking off again. You’d see flocks of them wheeling over the surface of the sea in the distance, feeding on pilchards.”

But in March and April this year, only silence and desolation surrounded his boat, Funnel Web, as it sped across the surface of a haunted ocean.

North of the equator, up above New Guinea, the ocean-racers saw a big fishing boat working a reef in the distance.

“All day it was there, trawling back and forth. It was a big ship, like a mother-ship,” he said.

And all night it worked too, under bright floodlights. And in the morning Macfadyen was awoken by his crewman calling out, urgently, that the ship had launched a speedboat.

“Obviously I was worried. We were unarmed and pirates are a real worry in those waters. I thought, if these guys had weapons then we were in deep trouble.”

But they weren’t pirates, not in the conventional sense, at least. The speedboat came alongside and the Melanesian men aboard offered gifts of fruit and jars of jam and preserves.

“And they gave us five big sugar-bags full of fish,” he said.

“They were good, big fish, of all kinds. Some were fresh, but others had obviously been in the sun for a while.

“We told them there was no way we could possibly use all those fish. There were just two of us, with no real place to store or keep them. They just shrugged and told us to tip them overboard. That’s what they would have done with them anyway, they said.

“They told us that his was just a small fraction of one day’s by-catch. That they were only interested in tuna and to them, everything else was rubbish. It was all killed, all dumped. They just trawled that reef day and night and stripped it of every living thing.”

Macfadyen felt sick to his heart. That was one fishing boat among countless more working unseen beyond the horizon, many of them doing exactly the same thing.

No wonder the sea was dead. No wonder his baited lines caught nothing. There was nothing to catch.

If that sounds depressing, it only got worse.

The next leg of the long voyage was from Osaka to San Francisco and for most of that trip the desolation was tinged with nauseous horror and a degree of fear.

“After we left Japan, it felt as if the ocean itself was dead,” Macfadyen said.

“We hardly saw any living things. We saw one whale, sort of rolling helplessly on the surface with what looked like a big tumour on its head. It was pretty sickening.

“I’ve done a lot of miles on the ocean in my life and I’m used to seeing turtles, dolphins, sharks and big flurries of feeding birds. But this time, for 3000 nautical miles there was nothing alive to be seen.”

In place of the missing life was garbage in astounding volumes.

“Part of it was the aftermath of the tsunami that hit Japan a couple of years ago. The wave came in over the land, picked up an unbelievable load of stuff and carried it out to sea. And it’s still out there, everywhere you look.”

Ivan’s brother, Glenn, who boarded at Hawaii for the run into the United States, marveled at the “thousands on thousands” of yellow plastic buoys. The huge tangles of synthetic rope, fishing lines and nets. Pieces of polystyrene foam by the million. And slicks of oil and petrol, everywhere.

Countless hundreds of wooden power poles are out there, snapped off by the killer wave and still trailing their wires in the middle of the sea.

“In years gone by, when you were becalmed by lack of wind, you’d just start your engine and motor on,” Ivan said.

Not this time.

“In a lot of places we couldn’t start our motor for fear of entangling the propeller in the mass of pieces of rope and cable. That’s an unheard of situation, out in the ocean.

“If we did decide to motor we couldn’t do it at night, only in the daytime with a lookout on the bow, watching for rubbish.

“On the bow, in the waters above Hawaii, you could see right down into the depths. I could see that the debris isn’t just on the surface, it’s all the way down. And it’s all sizes, from a soft-drink bottle to pieces the size of a big car or truck.

“We saw a factory chimney sticking out of the water, with some kind of boiler thing still attached below the surface. We saw a big container-type thing, just rolling over and over on the waves.

“We were weaving around these pieces of debris. It was like sailing through a garbage tip.

“Below decks you were constantly hearing things hitting against the hull, and you were constantly afraid of hitting something really big. As it was, the hull was scratched and dented all over the place from bits and pieces we never saw.”

Plastic was ubiquitous. Bottles, bags and every kind of throwaway domestic item you can imagine, from broken chairs to dustpans, toys and utensils.

And something else. The boat’s vivid yellow paint job, never faded by sun or sea in years gone past, reacted with something in the water off Japan, losing its sheen in a strange and unprecedented way.

BACK in Newcastle, Ivan Macfadyen is still coming to terms with the shock and horror of the voyage.

“The ocean is broken,” he said, shaking his head in stunned disbelief.

Recognizing the problem is vast, and that no organizations or governments appear to have a particular interest in doing anything about it, Macfadyen is looking for ideas.

He plans to lobby government ministers, hoping they might help.

More immediately, he will approach the organizers of Australia’s major ocean races, trying to enlist yachties into an international scheme that uses volunteer yachtsmen to monitor debris and marine life.

Macfadyen signed up to this scheme while he was in the US, responding to an approach by US academics who asked yachties to fill in daily survey forms and collect samples for radiation testing – a significant concern in the wake of the tsunami and consequent nuclear power station failure in Japan.

“I asked them why don’t we push for a fleet to go and clean up the mess,” he said.

“But they said they’d calculated that the environmental damage from burning the fuel to do that job would be worse than just leaving the debris there.”

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Article used by permission of the author. The original article was published October 18, 2013 by The Newcastle Herald in Australia. Here it is: http://www.theherald.com.au/story/1848433/the-ocean-is-broken/

Underwater Mapping Sonar Linked to Whale Stranding for First Time

Dead stranded melon-head whale, Madagascar 2008. (Photo: Helen Garrard)
Dead stranded melon-head whale, Madagascar 2008. (Photo: Helen Garrard)

Introduction: An independent scientific review panel has concluded that the mass stranding of approximately 100 melon-headed whales in the Loza Lagoon system in northwest Madagascar in 2008 was primarily triggered by acoustic stimuli, more specifically, a multi-beam echosounder system operated by a survey vessel contracted by ExxonMobil Exploration and Production (Northern Madagascar) Limited. In response to the event and with assistance from International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) led an international stranding team to help return live whales from the lagoon system to the open sea, and to conduct necropsies on dead whales to determine the cause of death. According to the recently issued final report by the WCS, this is the first known marine mammal mass stranding event of this nature to be closely associated with high-frequency mapping sonar systems. Based on these findings, there is cause for concern over the impact of noise on marine mammals as these high-frequency mapping sonar systems are used by various stakeholders including the hydrocarbon industry, military, and research vessels used by other industries. The report concluded: “The potential for behavioral responses and indirect injury or mortality from the use of similar MBES [multi-beam echosounder systems] should be considered in future environmental assessments, operational planning and regulatory decisions.” (Environmental News Network)

Editor’s Note: On September 20, 2013, the California State Lands Commission adopted recommendations by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to modify some of the mapping equipment accepted for seismic surveys in state waters. The Commission agreed to exclude the use of large-radius boomers in sensitive marine habitat, particularly in Morro Bay Harbor Porpoise habitat. However, Commission staff would not entirely rule out the use of high-frequency multi-beam echosounders, instead tying their use to a case-by-case acoustic analysis and the significant-impact threshold under the Commission’s recently updated Mitigated Negative Declaration.


Underwater Mapping Sonar Linked to Whale Stranding for First Time

By LENNY BERNSTEIN, Washington Post

The mysterious stranding of about 100 melon-headed whales in a shallow Madagascar lagoon in 2008 set off a rapid international response — a few of the eight- to 10-foot marine mammals were rescued, necropsies conducted, a review panel formed.

Did they follow prey into the lagoon? Were they sick? Was it the weather or chemical toxins?

The panel recently gave its best answer, and it is causing ripples of concern. For the first time, a rigorous scientific investigation has associated a mass whale stranding with a kind of sonar that is widely used to map the ocean floor, a finding that has set off alarms among energy companies and others who say the technology is critical to safe navigation of the planet’s waters.

The independent review panel appointed by the International Whaling Commission concluded Sept. 25 (2013), that a high-powered, “multi-beam echosounder system” (MBES) was “the most plausible and likely behavioral trigger” for the stranding. About 75 of the animals, which normally inhabit deep ocean waters, died.

A contractor for Exxon Mobil was using the sonar system — which sends “ping” sounds from a vessel toward the ocean floor — in a channel between Mozambique and Madagascar to determine where an oil and gas exploration rig might be safely constructed. Computers use the returning echo from the pulses of sound to map the ocean floor.

The panel of five scientists “systematically excluded or deemed highly unlikely” nearly every other possibility before settling on the use of the MBES, which previously was considered relatively benign, according to the group’s report.

“The evidence seems clear to us that [the MBES] was pretty likely” the cause, said Brandon L. Southall, the panel’s chairman and a marine biologist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. He said he hopes the report will cause governments, regulatory agencies and private companies to “realize that some of the types of mapping sonars have the potential to cause reactions in marine mammals that can be detrimental.”

Exxon Mobil, which helped select the panel and partly funded the rescue of some of the whales in 2008, rejects the conclusion, contending that the evidence is too flimsy for a determination that could have a far-reaching impact.

“While Exxon Mobil is not accepting responsibility for the stranding in light of the uncertainties in the report, we did cooperate and provide funding for the response effort in 2008 and the review panel because we are working in Madagascar,” spokesman Patrick McGinn said.

Another skeptic is Larry Mayer, a professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping. “From my reading of that report, it’s not clear how they could have come to that conclusion,” Mayer said. “Any of the other possible conclusions are just as likely.”

The report could have significant consequences for U.S. government agencies and others around the world that use the MBES to map ocean floors. “If it endangers the ability to use these sort of systems .?.?. it could lead to all kinds of dangerous downstream consequences,” Mayer said.

And Joseph Geraci, an adjunct professor of comparative medicine at the University of Maryland who has studied cetacean strandings for 40 years, said he was troubled by the strength of the language in the panel report.

“I’m not sure on the basis of a single event where there are two activities that the words ‘most plausible cause’ are the right ones,” he said. “It’s only those three words that made me pay attention.”

But Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Ocean Giants program of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society, hailed the panel for pushing the envelope on possible factors in the strandings and deaths of marine mammals.

“I think what we would like to see is the most effective regulations that will minimize the risk [of mass strandings] to sensitive whales and dolphins,” Rosenbaum said.

U.S. Navy sonar has been implicated in harm to whales and dolphins, environmental groups contend. A federal judge last month ordered federal biologists to reconsider permits that could allow the Navy to kill or disrupt marine mammals during antisubmarine warfare exercises off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

But in 2008, the Supreme Court allowed similar drills off Southern California to be held without protections for marine mammals.

Other environmental groups are skirmishing with energy companies over the use of “seismic air guns,” devices that send much louder blasts of compressed air toward the ocean floor to help find oil and gas trapped below.

The noise from an MBES is better compared with an industrial-­size version of the fish-finders widely used by recreational anglers, Southall said. That is part of the reason his panel’s finding is so controversial: the pinging sound is used so widely around the globe, in so many forms, that most involved have considered it relatively harmless.

But it may be time to adjust that thinking, Southall said. He acknowledged that no study of whale strandings will achieve the kind of certainty that Exxon Mobil and others would like but said that this one provided a rare opportunity to consider a wide range of possibilities and disprove them.

Because the Wildlife Conservation Society has a presence in Madagascar, it was able to quickly respond to the stranding, rescuing some of the whales and conducting necropsies on the dead, Rosenbaum said. And because regulators, conservation groups and energy companies were together at a conference in Chile at the time, they were able to put together a coordinated rescue response and later work together to form the review panel.

“It seemed to be a very uncommon event,” Southall said, “and we were able to go through almost all the factors that we looked at and rule almost everything else out.”

A 2009 coup and later unrest in Madagascar, an island nation in the Indian Ocean that is off the southeastern coast of Africa, delayed the study, which was resumed in 2012 and released late last month.

Exxon Mobil contends, among its other objections, that the stranding began before its contract vessel arrived off the shores of northwest Madagascar. The company has provided satellite photographs of objects on other nearby beaches before the melon-headed whales fled into Loza Lagoon, but the panel concluded that they most probably were small fishing boats.

Nevertheless, Exxon Mobil has changed its practices to prohibit the use of an MBES near an underwater cliff face, because the panel raised the possibility that the sound pulses echoed off one in this case and had an unusual effect on the whales, McGinn said. Southall said the whales already were in unusually shallow water for unknown reasons.

The bottom line for the company, McGinn said, is that “our contract vessel happened to be there in that time frame, but there are so many uncertainties in the area that we’re not sure it’s us.”

(Originally published October 6, 2013 in the Washington Post. Used with permission.)

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The full report can be found at: http://iwc.int/index.php?cID=454&cType=html

UN panel's climate report sparks concern

UN panel’s climate report sparks concern (via AFP)

Scientists, environmentalists and politicians reacted with concern Friday as a UN climate panel warned temperatures could rise by as much as 4.8 degrees Celsius (8.6 degrees Fahrenheit) this century due to man’s voracious energy consumption. “Yet another…

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Iran's Rouhani Reaches Out to President Obama

Rouhani ‘breaks ice’ despite missed handshake with Obama (via AFP)

Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani has broken the ice by reaching out to Washington, a reformist newspaper said Thursday, while Iranian conservatives too hailed his charm offensive at the UN General Assembly. Aside from expressing the desire for a…

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US urges UN action, Syria sees stalemate

US urges UN action, Syria sees stalemate (via AFP)

The United States called Thursday for a binding UN resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons next week, as a senior Syrian official said the country’s conflict has reached a stalemate. A “definitive” UN report has proved that the Syrian regime was behind…

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